TRIPLOID OYSTERS // the local food report

Like humans, most oysters have two sets of chromosomes (diploid). But what happens when instead, they have three?

You might expect disaster. After all, triploidy happens occasionally in all species, and as we know all too well, for people, it's almost always fatal. But for oysters (and amazingly, all kinds of other foods—think bananas and seedless watermelons), something different happens. The animal doesn't die. In fact, it does the opposite. It grows really, really fast. 

The thing is, regular diploid oysters put a lot of energy into reproduction. Starting in their second year, anytime the water temperature climbs above about 60 degrees F (mid-May through mid-September on the Cape), they're working to spawn. They can spawn multiple times over the course of the season, and each spawn requires a tremendous amount of energy. It can also affect their meat, making it watery and somewhat tough. On this traditional schedule, it takes 3 to 4 years for an oyster to grow to market size.

But triploids aren't worried about spawning. Which means that all the energy a diploid uses to spawn, a triploid can put into growing. Andrew Cummings, whose triploid seed you see up there, says his triploids reach market size in 18 months. In addition to being an economic boon, especially during our busy season, this also helps with disease management. Most diseases around here are cumulative, which means they take time to kill an oyster. The less time oysters are on the grant, the less time they have to get sick.

Andrew is one of the first local oystermen to embrace triploids. In other parts of the country—Virginia, for example—as much as 90 percent of hatchery seed sold is triploid. It's popular. But here, our our wild industry is still so robust that very few people are growing triploids. Because they grow so fast, they require extra handling, which means extra work. 

Also, the science of the process is fairly complicated. It took me an hour long conversation with Andrew, nine emails, a phone call to our local hatchery owner, and a phone call to the inventor of the process to understand exactly what goes on. 

To start with the basics, oysters are broadcast spawners. This means they send sperm and eggs out into the water column, these meet, and make a new organism. Sperm and eggs are both haploid (one set of chromosomes), so when they meet, they make a diploid organism.

To get a triploid, you need to spawn a tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) with a diploid. There are only a few labs in the world producing tetraploid oysters, and they're made by interrupting regular meiosis using a variety of different techniques ranging from heat to cold to chemicals. Labs interrupt meiosis first in a diploid to get a triploid, and then in a triploid to get a tetraploid. 

This sounds confusing, because the whole premise of triploid oysters is supposed to be that they're sterile. It turns out that rarely, a triploid oyster can produce eggs. But they produce maybe 50,000 to a diploid oyster's 20 or so million—not enough to make the oyster "ripe" and trigger spawning. In other words, these animals have eggs, but they're not fertile. They have to be spawned surgically, in a lab, in order to get a tetraploid.

The hatchery on the Cape, ARC (the Aquaculture Research Center in Dennis), keeps about 20 male tetraploid oysters on hand and spawns these with female diploids that growers bring in for brood stock. I talked with the owner, Dick Kraus, and he said only about 10 to 15 percent of seed sold on the Cape right now is triploid. 

If you love oysters, it's likely you've eaten a triploid at some point. Besides the fact that they tend to appear big and exceptionally healthy, they don't look any different from a diploid oyster. I'm curious to hear—what do you think? And if you have questions, fire away. I asked quite a few, so hopefully I have an answer.

Photo credits for this post go to Ralph Alswang. Thank you to Andrew Cummings for sharing.


FARM CITY // elspeth

Back soon. Very soon. In the meantime, excited about and wanting to share this:

I can't be at the reading—the restaurant opens April 17th, so I'll be there instead—but I will be at the workshop Sunday. See you there?


ON MY TOES // elspeth

Hi there. I've been wanting to stop by, but the girls have kept me on my toes lately. Besides, I don't have much new to share: all we've been making in the kitchen is wilted kale, fried eggs, this bread, this granola, and pot after pot of minestrone soup. Now that I've gotten on board, I can't seem to stop.

We did make a killer batch of peanut butter cookies, which I wrote about for this week's column in the Banner, and in the mornings we're stuck on this buttermilk smoothie with berries from the freezer. Wednesday we leave for Tahoe with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend (WAHOOO!), so in the meantime we're eating the last strange items from the fridge. (One olive, anyone? Half a soft, mushy apple?) 

While we pack—for temperatures that seem to range from 19 to 65 degrees, which is a challenge all in itself—I've been thinking a lot about this amazing woman. What would it be like if your whole wardrobe fit in a carry-on? Nice, I think, once you got it right. The more people I'm responsible for, the more things we have to take care of, and the less I enjoy the process. I like the idea of downsizing. 

What do you think? Could you live with cocoa as bronzer? Bringing jars every time you go to the market? One quart of annual waste? I'm guessing there is no one size fits all, but I'm curious to hear other people's experiences.

P.S. The arugula is up! We'll see if it ever makes it to salad-cutting size.


SEED ORDERING 2015 // the local food report

Can you believe it's that time already? Contrary to what the DPW director of Eastport, Maine predicts for his town (no sidewalks until July), the mountains of snow WILL melt here. Whether it's next week or next month, we'll be ready! So ready. And in that spirit, I offer you our annual 2015 Seed Ordering Guide. 

This year's advice comes from Helene Simon of Orleans. She grew up in Bolsta, Sweden, just outside of Stockholm, and she comes from a long line of women gardeners. She grows all kinds of Swedish plants—currants, Swedish strawberries, gooseberries—but her favorites are the cold weather tubers. So this year, we're focusing on root vegetables. Here are Helene's picks, starting with potatoes.


E.H. Note: On sourcing potatoes: you can plant them here as early as mid-late March (depending on the season; we'll see about this year), but most companies don't ship until mid-April. I've gotten around this in the past by buying seed potatoes from local farmers or simply using my own leftover storage potatoes, though this is not officially recommended because of the potential for disease.

The Kennebec is exactly what you picture when you think potato. It's white inside, brown on the outside, high yielding, and an excellent all-purpose eating potato. It hails from Presque Isle, Maine, where it was developed in 1941.

Désirée comes from the Netherlands. Red-blushed skin and creamy yellow flesh make it pretty, and it's good in the kitchen for everything from roasting to mashing to salads. Helene particularly likes it because the potatoes tend to be big and store well.

The yellow Finn is a European variety with yellow flesh and skin. It's a solid mid season potato, and it's got very moist flesh, which makes it a top notch pick for baking and topping with butter or sour cream.

You've heard of this one. Big, with thin skin and yellow, waxy flesh, the Yukon Gold is a favorite with chefs because it does well with both dry and wet heat. It was developed in the 1950s by Dutch and Belgian immigrants in Ontario looking for a taste of home.


These are an old favorite. Perfectly round, incredibly sweet, reliable germinators. Helene says to mound soil around the bulb as they grow to get a bigger root.


Very sweet, long, slender, smooth roots. Pale ivory color. Helene says sometimes she has great luck with these, sometimes they get woody, but in general she likes them. Parsnips grow like carrots, so they like a light soil and you can succession plant them from spring through mid summer.

Helene's trying the Javelin for the first time this year because she's looking for a crop to keep in the ground all winter. Parsnips get sweeter after a frost, and this variety can be planted in late summer and left until spring. They're faster growing and bigger than Lancer, so they can get by on a little less sunlight and be harvested once the ground's workable again in March or April.


E.H. Note: I always have trouble with carrots. When I told Helene this, she gave me some tips. She says it's important to have a nice loose soil—she recommends mixing in some peat if yours is heavy—and she also says it's important to go slowly and space the seeds evenly when you're planting. They can only grow big if they have enough room, and thinning can disrupt the roots. To avoid this, she recommends thinning using a pair of scissors—instead of pulling the unwanted carrots out, snip off their greens and they'll die without making their neighbors get uprooted or crooked.

Last year, I planted mine too close, so they're small, but they're still sweet! In fact, I still have a row out there, waiting to be harvested once the snow melts.

Napoli overwinters in the ground well, just like Javelin. It also stores well, so you can pull it in late fall after a frost and keep it in a root cellar all winter long. It's a standard orange carrot: straight, smooth, and cylindrical, with blunt roots and lots of greens on top.

Helene likes these as a fresh-eating, summer carrot. As the name implies, they're incredibly sweet, and they grow fairly long and straight. 


E.H. Note: Kohlrabi isn't technically a root vegetable; it's in the cabbage family. But while it tastes like cabbage, it looks more like an incredibly weird turnip, and it grows more like one too. You can plant kohlrabi in March for an early summer harvest. If you don't know what to do with them, check out this recipe for Coconut Curried Kohlrabi with Swiss Chard from the archives. So good!

This green Kohlrabi gets an early start in the spring—Helene says she often plants hers in March. The pale green balls are ready when they're about 2-3 inches in diameter, and they taste similar to cabbage, only moister and with more crunch.

Happy planting everyone! And if you're interested, past shows on seed ordering and garden prep:


WINTER FRUIT // elspeth

Three is a mercurial age; the amazing thing about having children is that you experience each age again as they go through it. Today was a good day for three. The first day back to school, the day the ballet slippers turned up, the day of the hand-me-down leotard. It came on the heels of a terrible week for three, a week of frustration and tantrums and coughing and tears. We all four were glad for three today.

Twenty-nine, thirty-six, those are other stories. Are we doing it right? I don't know. It's our first time through. 

We are trying. This weekend we opened the door to the wood room and realized we were almost out. And so we spent Saturday loading and stacking, walking back and forth over the snowy path from pile to door, pile to door. Later that afternoon, we examined the freezer. We found it in good shape—empty enough, but still some lamb, blueberries, ratatouille. Just enough to see us through. Same went for the supply of tired apples in the extra fridge downstairs, the kitchen's wire basket of winter squash.  

I've been trying to come up with new ways to use this food-on-repeat, this food-to-see-us-through. With blueberries, it's too cold for smoothies or icy fruit on cereal, so instead I've been making a compote. I warm up the blueberries in a saucepan, cook them down with a pat of butter and a spoonful of honey. If I have it, I add a squeeze of lemon juice. The resulting sauce is not quite jam, not quite plain fruit. It's good chilled, and it's excellent warm, especially spooned over thick plain yogurt. 

The squash I peel and chop and boil, and then I make the pumpkin custard from Nina Planck's Real Food. There's no sugar in it, just maple syrup, and the rest of the ingredients on the list are whole, good. 

And then of course, there are the apples. They are no longer much good for slicing. They are soft, mushy—baking fruit. I do what my mother did: hollow them out, stuff them with maple syrup and granola and bake them in a dish of water until they get softer still. Top them with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I peel them and slice them and fry them in the morning with butter and cinnamon, serve them alongside eggs and toast. And I quarter them, sprinkle them with salt, drizzle them with maple syrup, and dot them with butter. Then I fire on the oven and fill the house with the smell of roasting apples til they're soft. I smash them with the back of a wooden spoon, pack them into jars, eat some and tuck the rest into the freezer for Nora's first applesauce. 

It's none of it fancy cooking, not this. But we're three and twenty-nine and older and younger, and at times like this it tastes good.

Is your house full of tired winter fruit? Nina Planck published her recipe for pumpkin custard on her Facebook page, over here. For baked stuffed apples, this is the basic idea but for the stuffing I just use homemade granola, a pat of butter, and a drizzle of maple syrup. The roasted applesauce comes from Judy Rodgers. Fried apples...have you never made these? What can I say...I've got Richmond roots. Feel free to sub maple syrup for the sugar. Finally, my blueberry compote looked a lot like this, only with a pat of butter cooked down too. 


DEEP WINTER // the local food report

Those hairy, gnarled specimens up there are two celeriac roots, also known as turnip-rooted or knob celery. Or celery root. They're not exactly lookers, but they are tasty. The hands holding them belong to Nicole Cormier, founder of Farm Fare Market in Sandwich and a year round CSA with deliveries all over the Cape. 

Surprisingly, Nicole didn't start out looking to sell local food. She comes to the movement as a nutritionist, and she got into this whole business venture when she was on the hunt for an office space. She saw a unit across from Café Chew in Sandwich, and it spoke to her. The only thing was, it had two rooms. She knew what to do with one: turn it into an office where she could see clients and help them fight health issues like diabetes and obesity with food choices. 

But the other room? This was less clear cut. After some thinking, she decided to turn it into a local food pantry. She figured this would help her clients learn about and access nutritionally superior local foods, and she could use it as an educational tool. But pretty quickly the "pantry" took on a life of its own. All sorts of people—clients and the public at large—started coming in to buy what she was stocking. She started a summer CSA, then spring, fall, and winter buying programs. And she added local cheeses, grains, beans, meats and a raw milk club offering on top of the produce. Today, she works with several western Massachusetts farms to source grains and beans, and eight farms along the south coast to source produce. She says the most exciting time is the off-season, because you never know what you're going to find. 

Massachusetts-grown triticale? Who would have thought! Same goes for hydroponically grown herbs and Jerusalem artichokes.

She's not alone in her enthusiasm for local winter foods. Island Grown Farm just started its first winter CSA, which focuses on greens. I've mentioned the Pioneer Valley grain and bean CSA out of Amherst, MA a number of times on this site, and it's going strong. This year they offered fourteen types of New England-grown grains and beans! The Orleans Winter Farmers' Market is off to a successful start, with markets at the middle school on the first and third Saturdays of every month. Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable is running its first heritage-breed pork CSA this winter, and Shared Harvest CSA offers a "Deep Winter" pick-up in Bourne in January and February. Hooray!

You can listen to Nicole talk about her favorite unusual winter veggies on this week's Local Food Report.



That beautiful bowl of color up there is minestrone soup, Ina Garten's. I never liked minestrone growing up—it always seemed watered down, even with plenty of Parmesan and salt. I'm not sure if these memories are of homemade or canned soup, but either way, minestrone didn't make much of an impression. Alex, on the other hand, has nothing but excellent memories of minestrone. He thinks it was his grandmother's, but he is equally unsure about the origin; it also could have been Progresso. At any rate, he keeps requesting it, and so this morning I made a pot. The worst that could happen, I figured, is that he could eat it all himself. 

Ha! Fat chance. Sally took one bite and then ate two bowls in rapid succession. I devoured mine, then mopped up the bowl with a piece of toast. Alex said I told you so. 

I chose Ina's recipe because she does not skimp on anything, particularly flavor. Also, she calls this a winter minestrone, and she's right: pretty much everything in it is something that can be found locally this time of year. Bacon, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, spinach, and squash are all going strong at the farmers' market, and we have plenty of dried beans, crushed tomatoes, and chicken stock put up. 

In fact, no one even asked for grated Parmesan or salt. If I could take it back all those years of minestrone-hating, I would. 

And finally, a picture. Meal by meal, Nora is increasingly insulted that we do not make her a bowl, and today she looked especially bereft. Soon, kiddo. 


This is a thick, hearty soup, but it's not overly rich or filling. It's jam packed with winter veggies, and in our house it's a great way to get Sally to wolf down things like squash and onions that she sometimes turns down when they're cooked up individually.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cups diced carrots
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 and 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
3 cups crushed tomatoes 
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 cups cooked beans (cannellini, great northern white, or garbanzo are nice)
2 cups cooked small pasta
5 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup white wine
optional: pesto or grated Parmesan for serving

Warm up the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook for 5-8 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the onion, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies start to soften. Pour in the tomatoes and chicken stock, add the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (You probably won't need much salt if you have a high-sodium broth, so keep that in mind.) Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and let the soup simmer uncovered for thirty minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Just before you're ready to eat, add the beans, pasta, baby spinach, and white wine. Bring back to a boil and serve hot. Top with a dollop of pesto or grated cheese if you like. Toast makes a nice accompaniment.


FISH FOR FAMILIES // the local food report

I met Marcia at the Family Pantry in Harwich. She was one of many women there who knew her way around a kitchen, and she said that although she'd never tried dogfish, she knew exactly what to do with it.

"To start you do some black pepper, a little salt and then you get some chopped onions, scallions, thyme, and I'm a Jamaican so I'll use some jerk seasoning. So we're gonna sauté that down in a little bit of fat in your frying pan or your skillet and then you'll dice the fish and you'll add it in there. For the sauce, you'll use coconut milk, and you'll cook it down for like five minutes, and you're good to go."

Marcia represents one of almost nine hundred households who's received local seafood through a new program called Fish for Families. It's a partnership between the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance and the Family Pantry in Harwich, and the idea is to get nutritionally-dense, high quality local seafood to Cape Cod families in need. It's funded in part by Cape Cod Healthcare, and their Director of Community Benefits, Lisa Guyon, says it's a win-win-win. Not only does it support local fishermen and promote sustainable species like dogfish and skate, but it can also help vulnerable populations manage diet-related chronic diseases by providing them with unprocessed, nutritious food. 

As of November 2014, Fish for Families had reached 887 local households—75 percent of the Family Pantry's clients—and distributed almost 7,000 pounds of local seafood. The goal for 2015 is to increase that to 25,000. Pretty neat, right?


IT SNOWS // elspeth

Aaaand it snows again! And it snow days again! And yes, that's become a verb, because four out of the past four or 4/4 or 100% of the past four school days have been snow days. Which I find simultaneously extremely exciting and extremely annoying, depending on the moment.

No one could be more pleased about this development than Nora, which is ironic because she doesn't even go to school. But Sally is home and I'm home and much of the time Alex, even, has been snowed in, and this is one tiny girl's idea of heaven. I wish I could tell you I've been cooking up all sorts of fabulous recipes, but I haven't. I didn't even make it out to shop until yesterday; we've subsisted the rest of this stormy week on leftovers from my mom's visit and popcorn and kale and banana bread. But today is the day I think. Alex brought home some swordfish from the market, and I have some winter carrots and a tub of nice thick Greek yogurt. I'm going to use these fixings along with some fennel seeds from this year's garden to make my friend Sarah's seared halibut swordfish with coriander and carrots. I promise to report back soon, power willing.


FITS THE BILL // elspeth

Nora's asleep. Sally and my mom are downstairs, getting ready to go build a fort under the picnic table on the deck. Alex has shoveled out and is making the rounds: checking his parents' house and the restaurants, attempting to shovel them out. Yesterday he made it to the Shack, only to find the upstairs door ripped off and three feet of snow inside. The storm may have missed New York, but we've got at least two feet here and it's still coming down. 

I am cozy upstairs, sipping a cup of hot cocoa and waiting patiently for that banana bread you see up there to cool. It's a recipe I've been meaning to try for a while, and if it tastes as good as it smells and looks (and as good as the batter tasted), I'd say it's a hit. It's from 101cookbooks.com, a riff on the lemony olive oil banana bread I love that Heidi adapted from Melissa Clark. My mom is here for the week, which means she's been doing most of the cooking and I've had time to catch up on old issues of Saveur and Food & Wine and Bon Appétit. Last night she and Alex and I stayed up reading on the couch until almost eleven, an unspeakably late hour in our new Kid World, and I got all sorts of winter cooking inspiration for the weeks ahead.

Hopefully you're also cozied up in a place with heat and power and a full fridge! Here's what I'm eyeing:

Chickpeas & Chard with Poached Eggs for my little greens, beans, and eggie lover.

—We've been looking for something special to do with the first ripe Meyer lemon from our tree, and this Roasted Citrus & Avocado Salad looks just right. Maybe the next one will go into Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart?

—Dreaming of the Beef Bourguignonne Pot Pie in the February issue of Bon Appétit. Hopefully Seawind Meadows will be at the winter farmers' market with some chuck next week.

Miso-Glazed Turnips? Who would have thought. Same goes for Naomi Pomeroy's Celery Soup. Yum!

—A trip down memory lane...Nancy Silverton's excellent-looking recipe for Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs is inspired by time spent at her second home in the town where we went on our honeymoon—Panicale, Italy.

—GAAH! This Caramelized-Honey Brûlée fits the dessert bill around here. Hardly any refined sugar, a local honey topping, and plenty of Victoria's eggs! The only question is...who has a torch I can borrow?!

—And finally, a kitchen item. If you're looking for a lovely, American-made gift for the cook in your life, these linen dish covers featured in January's issue of Food & Wine are beautiful, washing-machine safe, and look like they'd hold up a whole lot better than the vinyl ones we have. (And if you're into sustainable kitchen goodies, while you're at it check out Massachusetts-made Snack Taxis and Vermont-made Bees Wrap! Both well-loved in our home.)

I think that's all. Nora's squawking for milk, so I'd better go. Happy snow day, friends.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.