SHADBERRIES // The Local Food Report

A friend jogged by the other day, when Alex and I were walking home from picking shadberries. You might know the fruits as Juneberries, serviceberries, sarviceberries, Saskatoons, or the berries of shrubs in the Amalanchier genus. That's them up there, the gallon or so we picked on Saturday morning. 

What were you picking? she texted. We told her, and like most people we tell, she had no idea shadberries existed, or that you can eat them. We didn't either until a few years ago, but like most plant friends, now that we know shadbush, it's hard to imagine how we once didn't. It's native to the east coast, and it's everywhere. I pick the shrubs out visually by the way some of their leaves turn a golden orange early on in summer, almost as soon as they leaf out, and way before other foliage. 

Best of all, the shadbush berries are delicious—kind of like a cross between a beach plum and a blueberry, with small nutty seeds. Most of the time we just eat shadberries—they're so good, and also they don't keep that well—but in the rain this weekend I decided to experiment. I'd just talked about shadberries with Nat Taylor of Bird Haven for this week's Local Food Report, and prompted by that conversation Alex and I had gone out and picked a whole mess of the fruits. I found one recipe for Juneberry Jam and another for Saskatoon-Rhubarb pie, and before I knew it I'd torn through a bag of sugar. 

It was worth it. The shadberry-rhubarb pie was almost like a cherry pie, with hints of almond and a delightful gloppy-cherry texture. The jam was totally different—the color of blueberry jam, but with a flavor that was much plummier. 

So, cooked shadberries—a hit! We'll still probably eat most of the ones we pick in hand. But there's a new place in our summer routine for shadberry pie and shadberry jam. 


My favorite pie crust recipe comes from Yankee Magazine, linked here. As for the shadberries, look for fruits that are blushing from pink to purple. A blue-ish tinge is okay, too—just check the texture as some this color have gone too far. 

a top and bottom crust for a 9-inch pie
4 cups shadberries (Juneberries, serviceberries, Saskatoons, sarviceberries, shadblow berries, etc)
2 cups diced rhubarb
2/3 cup granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Combine the shadberries, rhubarb, and sugar in a large saucepan. In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, and cornstarch until smooth. (Don't skip it—this helps avoid cornstarch lumps in the pie!) Add the cornstarch mixture to the fruit mixture and warm over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is thick—this should take about five minutes. 

Roll out the bottom crust, drape it over a 9-inch pie plate, and spoon in the filling. Trim the edges of the dough so there's a 1-inch overhang around the pie plate, roll out the top crust, and either drape over top and cut steam vents or cut and weave a lattice. Trim any dough so there's a 1-inch overhang of top crust, then roll the bottom and top crusts together around the rim of the pie plate. Brush with a little cream and sugar mixed together and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and the fruit filling is bubbling. 

We ate ours at room temperature with a scoop of homemade sour cream ice cream, a combination I highly recommend. 



I went swimming yesterday. We took a walk, with friends, in the woods near where I grew up on the coast of Maine. The walk felt almost normal—we didn't hug in the parking lot, and everyone's noses and mouths were muffled—but the kids screeched and slid down ice-crusted snow and after a few miles someone small asked every five minutes how long until we got to the bay.

We did get there, eventually. The water was so still and the sky was so grey, and I was overcome with a desire to go swimming. It's something I've been doing this year—I'm not sure why, exactly—only that it's become a way to cope with all the things we cannot do, a way to rebel, a way to embrace every season, every temperature, every day. I've swum in ponds and in the ocean, in every month since last summer, but it had been a while, and I was surprised to find that the bottom was so cold the little ripples on the flats had hardened, and when my feet hit them they did not give way. 

I'm holding onto discoveries like these. The colors in the sky over my sister's house when I let the dogs out in the morning. The way the air smells when snow is coming. New mushrooms—what they look like, what we call them, whether they might be good for cooking. 

On the way back to the car from the bay, I saw one of the mushrooms I've started collecting. It's everywhere around here—near my sister's in Maine, where we've been staying for a few months to pool childcare and germs and sanity—and it's called the birch polypore. My friend Nicole who runs Delicious Living Nutrition turned me onto it this fall, and it's one of those mushrooms you notice everywhere once you have a search image. On a walk in December I picked a bunch, dried them for a few weeks, and then sliced them up to keep in a jar for broth and tea. (Sidenote: drying and then slicing is decidedly NOT the correct order for this operation. Slice, then dry! Otherwise, you'll be sawing.) I've found birch polypores now in the conservation area next to my parents' house, on our land in western Maine and—unexpectedly—when I was skiing the other day in a glade. 

Getting to know another mushroom like this feels like another way to gain a tiny toehold on certainty. I don't know if you've met Dr. Wenowdis (as in, we know this)—possibly Kate McKinnon's best SNL character ever (!)—but as she says, for so many questions, the answer is, "We don't know dis." When are we going home? We don't know this. When are we getting a vaccine? We don't know this! Will life ever feel normal again? This, we do not know. But Nora has taken to building tiny pipes out of legos and impersonating Dr. Wenowdis, and wonder of all wonders, we do now know this birch polypore species. 

What have we been doing with it? Well, mostly I've just been making something you'd call either tea or broth, depending on how you plan to use it. I've been drinking it with my lunch, and occasionally  sneaking it into things like chili (shhh). It is touted to have all sorts of health benefits, which I suppose doesn't hurt at a time like this. But mostly I just like knowing it—seeking it out, bringing it home, and folding the knowledge of another living thing into my days. 


I learned this mushroom from my friend Nicole—always, always double check with someone local and knowledgeable when you're collecting a new species. To make a tea, you simply take 5-8 grams of dried mushroom (depending how strong you want the flavor) and simmer it for an hour in 1 cup of water. Of course, it seems ridiculous to do all this work just for one cup of tea, so I usually use 20-25 grams and make a quart at a time. The "tea" also makes an excellent stock for soups. Some people say it's bitter, but I haven't found the bitterness overpowering. The tea smells like earth and mushrooms, with just a trace of bitterness. It's nice. 

Look for the birch polypore on dying or dead birch trees—they'll stick out like hard, kidney shaped shelves, and you should be able to easily pull them off. And, as always, leave some behind. 



Friends! Meet the Flying Dragon, a bitter hardy orange. Those small, golf-ball size fruits you see up there with all the blemishes are new to me, a discovery I made in the woods last fall. There's a house I walk by all the time on a bumpy dirt road near the bay, and last November I noticed what looked like oranges fallen all over the grass. I wanted to know: Could I eat them? If so, would the people who summered there mind if I went and collected the fruits from the ground?

To answer these questions I did what any reasonable nosey person would do: copied down the house number and looked it up in the assessor's database. This search led me to a name, which led me to some googling, which eventually led to some emailing. A year later this emailing has blossomed into a lovely, plant-based friendship. It turns out Sharon and her husband don't just have bitter hardy oranges, they also have currants and a special kind of European oak and concord grapes and a penchant for sharing. Despite the pandemic Sharon and I managed to actually meet this summer, standing at a good distance outside.  She offered currants and I made her some syrup for red currant margaritas, and she told me to go ahead and gather as many oranges as I'd like when the time came. 

The time is now. It turns out the oranges are edible—they're an introduced cultivar native to China and Korea, and further south they're considered invasive. They ripen in late October, through November and even into December. They were brought here originally for their rootstock—citrus can be dainty, and Americans were trying to jumpstart an industry. These days they're common in areas like Virginia and Pennsylvania, but this far north, they require a bit of babying. Sharon's trees are tucked into a sunny, protected courtyard, similar to places I've seen figs succeed. She says they're probably fifty-some years old, planted by an artist who owned the house in the 70s and 80s. 

What to do with them, however, was not initially clear. They're full of seeds and mind-bogglingly sour, not the kind of orange you want to bite into or juice. I did more googling. Finally, I connected with Micah LeMon, the bar manager at The Alley Light in Charlottesville, Virginia and the author of The Imbible. He makes them into a bitter hardy orange marmalade, and he then makes this marmalade into cocktails. Huzzah! 

Based on Micah's recipe, I made a batch. The flavor of the marmalade is otherworldly—a stark floral bitterness softened with pure sugar. I made one version with just oranges, and a second with oranges and cranberries. I tried and failed to pick a winner. This week on the Local Food Report, I interviewed Micah through our laptops at his empty bar. He "made me" a Hardy Handshake, the cocktail he makes with his bitter hardy orange marmalade that's a riff on the classic Pegu Club, featuring Tangueray with rangpur limes. The photo he sent looked delicious. And now, I'm off to whip up one of my own. 


6 cups whole hardy oranges
2 or 3 oranges, sliced thinly with seeds removed
6 cups water
6 cups granulated sugar

Rinse and scrub the hardy oranges thoroughly. Slice thinly and remove seeds. Boil both the hardy oranges and the regular oranges in the 6 cups of water for about 10 minutes. Then simmer them for an additional 40 minutes. Add the sugar and cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring regularly, or until the color starts to darken or caramelize (if you have a thermometer, you're looking for approximately 222 degrees F). If you want to preserve the marmalade, spoon it hot into sterile jars and seal according to manufacturer's instructions. 


My mother uses this as the base for a killer Old Fashioned. Just sub it in place of orange marmalade, or muddled orange and sugar, in your favorite version. 

bitter hardy oranges to yield 1 cup, sliced (a pound or so)
1/2 regular orange
1.5 cups water
2.5 cups sugar
2 cups cranberries

Wash the bitter hardy oranges and the regular oranges and slice very thinly. Remove all seeds. Place the orange slices (both types) in a large non-reactive pot. Add the water and bring to a boil, cook for ten minutes, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 40 minutes. Add the sugar and the cranberries and cook, stirring often, for another 30-60 minutes, or until the texture thickens. As with all jams, how long this takes will depend on the pectin level of your fruit. Cranberries and oranges are both high in pectin, so be careful—the texture of the mixture hot will always be thinner than when it cools. If you're new to jam/marmalade making, turn the heat off when you think you're not there but the mixture is thickening somewhat and let it cool. Then check the texture and decide if you need to keep cooking. Better to need to cook a little longer than to have turned your fruit and sugar into a rock-hard candy! 

When the texture is right, spoon the hot marmalade into sterile jars according to manufacturer's instructions. It will keep for far longer (years!) than it will take you to eat it. 


If you can't find bitter hardy oranges and you're feeling impatient, go ahead and sub regular old orange marmalade here. Taste before you add the sugar, though—you may find you don't need it. 

1 and 3/4 ounce Tanqueray Rangpur Distilled Gin
1 tablespoon hardy orange marmalade
a touch more sugar
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce passionfruit juice
a dash of Angostura cocktail bitters
2 dashes Angostura orange cocktail bitters
a wedge of citrus, to garnish

Pour the gin into a cocktail shaker. Spoon in the marmalade and add the lime juice, lemon juice, passionfruit juice, and bitters. Scoop in a good amount of ice. Shake well. Strain once, then strain again, to be sure you get the marmalade flavor without the marmalade texture. Serve straight up with a wedge of citrus. 



A neighbor reached out the other day about a bumper crop of currants. We started corresponding because of my curiosity about a bitter orange tree growing in her garden, and the other day she emailed about something new: groseilles. Groseilles are red currants, native to northern and western Europe. I've seen them at farmers markets, but they're usually expensive, and I've never had enough to experiment.

They're tart! So tart. Sally describes them as "sour and seedy," which is about as appealing as it gets. We read up on how people use them, and the consensus seems to be jelly. But frankly, I hate jelly. All that fruit boiled down into a concoction with almost no substance. It pains me.

Around that time I remembered the margaritas my dad makes with a prickly pear cactus syrup his friend R.P. sends from Texas. The syrup is a gorgeous vibrant purpley-pink, and a perfect balance of tart-sweet. I wondered: could we make an equally beautiful syrup from currants?

We could indeed. We boiled the currants down with a little bit of water, left them overnight to drain through a strainer, and simmered the juice with a bit of sugar. Eventually it formed a thick, beautiful pink syrup. I called my dad for the prickly pear margarita recipe, and we subbed in the currant syrup. The drinks were absolutely delightful: hot pink, perfectly tart, and not too sweet.

I've seen what I think are currants growing wild along the Herring River in Wellfleet—I'm going back this week to inspect—and cultivated currants at some farmers markets. If you want a red currant margarita in your life, well, now's the time. Keep your eyes peeled, and happy mixing.


We first tried these out on my father-in-law's birthday. I like to mix them up in a pitcher, but you can also make them one by one. Be sure to serve them in a clear cup so that you can admire the color!

1 part tequila (we used Espolón)
1 part lime juice
1 part currant syrup
1/2 part Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher. Salt the rim of your glasses if you like, add ice, and pour into individual cups.



We’ve been biking a lot lately. We’re down to one car and so while Alex is at work the girls and I make our way through the world on the bucket bike I picked up used when Sally was small. When Nora came along and got big and then bigger I added an electric motor, and so the bike and its four-seatbelt benches are now my de facto minivan.

The girls are used to it by now, the extra layer they’ll want on a trip home from the beach, the book to bring if our destination is far away. I like the speed we travel at on the bike, not as slow as walking but not so hurried as the car. I like what we notice at 15 miles per hour. The other day we were biking home from a swim when I suddenly saw a plant I’d been trying to find for years. I’d looked at pictures of elderberry plants on the computer and in books and friends have told me they forage them here, but every time I’ve brought home a leaf or a flower they’ve been wrong. Suddenly, though, biking home, I saw them everywhere. I was sure.

Elderberry flowers! I called back to the girls. I SEE them!

I wrote a little about seeing on this week’s Local Food Report, about the ways places we think we've known for years can open up in new ways. Last year I discovered wild cherries at my parents' house, in the yard where I played my whole childhood, and this spring I suddenly found they were also in our yard here. It's been making me think about how long it takes to really get to know a place, and about how so many conversations we're having now about land and history and repair are about that knowing. The older I get the more I understand that a year, a decade, a lifetime—these are just drops in a bucket.

Maybe because of the speed and scale of everything else happening in the world right now, we are holding onto familiarity in the kitchen. We’ve made a few new things—an absolute stunner of a tomato-feta-clam-shrimp dish from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem that I’ve had bookmarked for approximately 5 years, and a highly refreshing batch of this sangria with a handful of languishing fruit. Otherwise we’ve been making summer favorites: my mom’s chilled cucumber salad with a little sprinkle of fresh dill, Alex’s heavily red-onioned and dilled potato salad, Molly Wizenberg’s soul-satisfying fudgesicles, chicken salad, pesto pasta, and Raspberry Zinger sun tea. The mulberries are starting, too, which means we’re due for a batch of Berry Ricotta Cake from Standard Baking Co. and maybe some experimenting at my neighbor Sarah’s recommendation with some mulberry wine. (If you have any experience, please report!)

Probably the most exciting thing to happen around here lately, pending the ripening of the wild high bush blueberries, is that one of our hens has gone broody and tonight night we’re planning to sneak in and swap out her unfertilized eggs for 7 or so fertilized beauties from the coop of a friend with roosters. Whether or not we get any live chicks from this experiment remains to be seen, but we’re hoping.

In the meantime, if you do anything with elderberries—or their blooms!—please share. I’m dreaming up a locally foraged version of this amazing winter-support immune syrup now that I’ve discovered both elderberries and wild black cherries growing close to home.

Last but not least, I have some new writing I’m excited about up on Heated. It’s about migratory beekeepers, and the essential work they do to keep our agricultural system running. It’s both crazy that this is the system we’ve developed, and fascinating to learn about how they do their work. I hope you’ll give it a read.

Stay healthy out there, friends.

Update 7.15.20: we made this elderflower syrup, and it's delicious! 


AT HOME // elspeth

I have always been a homebody. I like to be at home, and I enjoy the work that happens at home. I don't mind days on end in a small perimeter. And yet this shutdown is so hard, in so many different ways.  

I feel immensely for those stuck inside. For those who are sick, or have lost loved ones, or are struggling to regain easy breathes or the ability to smell and taste. 

And I feel the uneasiness, the uncertainty. 

The uncertainty is big and hard to hold. 

We keep remarking in our house on spring. It is something to hold onto: the daily unfolding, the way each new discovery feels like a gift. We are experiencing each small change like never before. We exclaim with excitement over the return of the hummingbirds, the first foray of the bumblebees, the slow unfolding of the leaves. We wonder if it has been here all along, or if this spring is more magnificent somehow. We don't know. 

I want to sit with that uncertainty for a while. 

It is easy, I know, to dismiss this as privilege. People need to eat, Elspeth! People need money, people need each other. And there is truth in that dismissal. But I don't want to rush back to normal. No change will come from returning to the hurry we were in before. People have not been eating, people have not had enough money, we have not had each other. To return to normal is another kind of privilege, another kind of dismissal.

This pause is the closest we've ever come in my lifetime to real change. It's an invitation: to examine our relationships with each other, with our days, with money, with time, with our world. 

Let's feed people. Let's be generous. And let's take our time, holding the uncertainty. Letting it rise. Letting it take shape.

P.S. We have been cooking. A lot! Every meal, every snack.

—On afternoons when the girls start to feel at loose ends, I've been letting them choose a kitchen project. They pretty much always choose sweets, and the other day Sally lobbied hard for a rhubarb tart. We found one that was a cross between stewed rhubarb and lemon curd all folded into a nut-based crust, and it was SO GOOD. (Notes: we've been trying to cook more with nuts in our kitchen—inspired by the research I've been doing on shifting from perennial grain crops to tree nuts for staple foods, and we swapped the crust ratios here to use 1 cup almond flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour.)

—Now that the chickens have ramped up and the garden is coming in, we're overrun with eggs and greens and exploring creative ways to use the abundance! I've been itching for this spanikopita but our local market is out of phyllo dough, so we tried this recipe for "Bastaria," a phyllo-less version. It's like a feta-egg-spinach cobbler, which sounds strange, but is lovely in a homey kind of way. Best of all, it's good hot or room temperature, so it's an easy make-ahead dinner.

—I posted this carrot soup over a decade ago, and I still make it all the time. It's so simple, so quick, so nutritious, and so satisfying. Also, we've been buying bulk with a few other families from our restaurant supplier during the shutdown to both avoid the grocery store and keep a little business headed their way, and when no one else wanted carrots we ended up with a 50 pound bag. Carrot soup !

—While we've mostly been eating seafood for protein, we feel very lucky to still have a few of the chickens we raised last summer in our freezer. We bought a case of cabbages early on, and holy moly if you have a chicken and a cabbage and have yet to enjoy the schmaltzy delight that is a whole chicken on a whole cabbage, don't wait another second.

—Last but not least, Excursion Bars. They're keeping us putting one foot in front of another as we move in tandem. Walnuts! Chocolate! Raisins! Oats. Featured in this week's Provincetown Independent along with a lot of other great local reads.

I think that's it. Big love your way. 


SPRING FORAGING // the local food report

Friends! I hope you are hanging in there. We are doing well, mostly by the grace of spring. This week on the Local Food Report I reached out to friends all over the Cape about what they're foraging. Together, we compiled a list of what's out there this time of year. The idea is to help you keep yourself healthy and fed during these difficult times. The links are either to old blog posts on these wild edibles, or other websites that have good identification guides. I've added pictures above the entry when I have them, and linked to guides where I don't. Let me know what I've forgotten in the comments! 


I only know of one watercress spot near me, (here's a link to an old Local Food Report on that) but I'm sure there are more. In the spot I know of the watercress is growing wild near a fresh water spring that forms a little stream that flows into the Herring River. Watercress does not like stagnant water, so look for it on the edges of fast moving fresh water streams or shallow rivers. It's excellent—peppery and zingy—and I like it best alongside egg salad. Here's an excellent guide to identification.


To be honest, I have never picked chickweed, though I see it all over our yard. But so many people swear by it that I felt I had to include it. And I have eaten it in winter salad mixes from my friend Victoria, and enjoyed it. This salad recipe sounds delicious, so maybe now's the time to try!


This is probably the green I forage most often in spring. It grows in moist soil in disturbed places—look for it along the side of dirt roads or along the banks of rivers, streams, or ponds. It's about the size you see above in most places I've checked recently, which means you're cutting just the small tips of plants. But they add up. They sting! Use gloves, and don't eat them unless they're cooked. My favorite ways to use it are as a substitute for spinach (in just about anything—this minestrone soup, spanikopita, etc) or in pesto. For a nettle pesto, I use this recipe, and it is SO GOOD. My kids can't stop eating it. (Note: if you don't have pine nuts, walnuts are also excellent.) You can also dry nettles and use them all year long to make a delicious and highly nutritious tea.


Who knew?! My friend Dave told me last fall you could eat day lily greens, and I tucked them into the category of maybe you can, but I bet you don't want to. Boy was I wrong. They are so, so good! Not raw (bad texture, weird flavor), but cooked. We've already cut ours to the ground once and eaten them sautéed several times with olive oil, onion, and garlic, and they were absolutely delicious. I used them the other day in place of spinach in this lentil soup (which, you might notice, does not call for spinach—I make the recipe as is and then add it), and my kids were none the wiser. You can cut them down to the ground two or three times in the spring without harming the plant—do it when they're about 6-8 inches tall and still tender. There's a good guide over here to harvesting—apparently later in the season you can eat the flowers and the roots, too. Day lilies are one of the first flowers up in our yard, and I'll never curse their abundance again.


Yes, you read that right. You can eat first-of-the-spring hosta shoots, and apparently, they're delicious. I only learned about this last fall, and mine are barely peeking out the dirt, so I haven't yet been able to give this a try. I fully intend to. Treat them like asparagus, and pick them while they're still short and tightly rolled.


Yes, there are morels around. You have to know where to look. More on that in this old blog post! Hint: know of any old apple trees?


I haven't seen any yet, but these should be up soon. You eat them like fiddleheads, which I'm familiar with from a childhood in Maine. More on this old Local Food Report with a forager in Truro, and in a video from my friend Nicole Cormier.


Most of these are super bitter. But if you find them in good soil—not on the side of the road, but maybe growing in your lawn or garden—they can be pretty tasty. My friend Michael says he makes a dandelion green kimchi—this one looks delicious. And I have sometimes made salads with sweeter ones! One note: Michael says to look for alternating sawblade leaves rather than symmetrical—he swears the symmetrical kind is more bitter. 


This stuff is everywhere. It'll be up soon, and the early shoots and leaves can be eaten. Do not eat it later on in the season—once it's bigger than about 9 inches or starts turning purple, it can be toxic. But it's delicious when it's young—here's an excellent way to enjoy it with bacon and cornbread.


Once you recognize this plant, you will see it truly everywhere. It's small right now, which is good. Ideally you want to pick it before it flowers. It's best for a pesto—I did a blog post on this a while ago with a recipe. That's Nora above picking some the other day—we mixed it with nettles to combine them for pesto. Delicious! 


This stuff is EVERYWHERE. You know that "grass" on the side of the road that sometimes gets curly and looks like chives? That's it. If you dig it up you'll find a little white bulb underneath. It's a wild onion, and it smells strongly of onion/garlic/all things allium. I picked a bunch the other day after my friend Patricia reminded me about them, and they were so, so good sautéed with a handful of nettles and kimchi! I ate them with a piece of homemade sourdough and a fried egg, and for a moment it felt like everything might be okay.


Most "wild" asparagus is really escaped old domesticated asparagus, but since it's so common around here, it's worth adding. Last year for the Local Food Report I dug through the archives of the Eastham Historical Society's oral histories and turned up all kinds of fascinating local history about the plant. If you have it in your garden it should be showing up in a couple weeks, and that's around the same time you'd want to start hunting wild spears on the side of the back roads. It's good so many ways, but I especially love this salad.


These mushrooms are a new-to-me foraging idea from my friend Nicole Cormier. Turkey tails are one of the most common mushrooms in North America, and get their name from their appearance. They're found mainly on dead or dying hardwoods. Reishi are found at the base of hemlock trees, and Nicole says she's found both all over the Cape. They're used to make immune boosting teas and tinctures.


These are just coming up in the dunes. Sally was the one who pointed them out to me—"Mom!" she said. "Come look! I bet these are edible." She was totally right. If you eat so many that they make up some ridiculous proportion like 30% of your diet, apparently they can be harmful, but in more reasonable amounts, they're a-ok. We ate them sautéed with little bits of homemade bacon and frozen peas and served them over pasta. YUM. One note: this time of year they're really hard to see, even when you know they're there. So check the dunes....and then keep checking til they jump out at you. They're very well hidden. One more note: soak them, otherwise they're sandy. 


ISOLATION BREAD // the local food report

Friends. (FRIENDS!) Ahem. Still here, still isolating. Day twelve. An unclear number to go. A friend told me recently she thought she could make it, if only she knew how much longer we had to go. I  remember saying those exact words when I was in labor with Sally. Sadly the answer now seems to be the same as it was then: no one really knows. Onward we go! 

In the meantime, in tiny snatches of time so messy and chaotic the outcome feels like a small miracle, my friend Sarah and I recorded another radio show. Sarah Reynolds North is a professional baker and a kick-ass human being, and of anyone I know she makes hands down the best sourdough. She and her wife and their three kids are, like many of us, home while workplaces are closed. They're marking time with bread, baking a daily loaf. Sarah was kind enough to record her process and share it with all of us. We, too, can eat delicious sourdough! 

Sarah and her family baked that loaf up there, crusty and Earth-shaped and galactic somehow. Sarah will be posting videos this week on her instagram feed @foundbread with tutorials on mixing, folding, shaping, and scoring. If we're really getting into it, she says, we should follow the hashtag #selfisolationsourdough, because there are other bakers sharing tips too. 

In the meantime, here's her recipe for a family loaf. For audio from this week's Local Food Report with Sarah, head on over here, where you'll also find posts of the videos mentioned in the recipe below. I've made six loaves in 12 days, bread consumption here is up 300 percent, and another loaf is rising as I type. I can do this, you can do this. Bacteria and yeast make good company! Bake on, friends. 


EH note: The great thing about sourdough is that all you need is flour, water, and salt. That's it! For info on getting a starter going, see this NYT post. I'll post Sarah's notes on feeding and maintaining a starter below the recipe for this loaf. And don't be intimidated by Sarah's precise measurements—if you've got a kitchen scale, they're easy enough to follow. And if not, there are plenty of tools online to convert measurements from grams or fluid mL to cups. 

What you'll need:

- a dutch oven or cast iron pot that's at least 10" wide and 6" deep
- a big mixing bowl (glass is best so you can watch the fermentation happen!)
- a well maintained starter
- a spatula
- you can use a mixer if you prefer, but this is easy enough to mix with your hands!


806 grams flour (ideally 50% whole wheat flour and 50% white bread flour)
  • * A note on the flour - I have written this recipe for a high extraction flour (a flour that is milled while sifting only some of the bran out, making it a mostly whole grain flour), so at home it's ideal to use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% bread flour for this recipe. But we are all doing our best with what grocery stores have to offer right now or what's in our cupboard. This will work with whatever combination of wheat flour you have. If you want to add in a little rye flour, give it a try! Or spelt. Or einkorn.
613 mL tap water (not too warm, not too cold)

145 grams of leaven, the starter you made the night before (usually ready after sitting in a 65-70 degree kitchen for 10 hours or so)

23 grams salt


MIX: Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl. (A tip: if you pour the water in your bowl first, the flour is easier to incorporate!) To mix, push your hands into the dough and squeeze your hand into a fist like you're pinching the dough with your whole hand. Do this over and over until all the ingredients are incorporated. It will feel sticky. 

FOLDS: Let the bowl of dough sit with a kitchen towel over it for about 30 minutes. Then fold the dough. (There is a video of this here.) Pull one side of the dough from the edge of the bowl up and over into the middle. Do this four times so all of the dough has been folded into the middle. You'll feel how the dough is still sticky but starting feel more cohesive and stretchy. You're helping the gluten form!

Repeat this in another 30 minutes.

FIRST PROOF: Let the dough continue to rest and rise for another 5-7 hours on the counter (or overnight in the fridge). You're looking for the dough to rise about 30-40% of it's original size. It may not double in size completely, but you want it to feel a little puffy to the touch and look bubbly from the side. If your kitchen is warm, this will happen more quickly!

SHAPE: Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and give it a rough fold in half so some of the floured dough is now on the top. Begin to pull the dough towards you with the pinky side of your hand dragging along the counter. (There is a video of this here.) Then let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Come back to the dough and flour some counter space next to it. Scoop it up with two hands and place it on the newly floured space. Now with your fingers, push the edges of the dough in and under the dough ball so that you are pushing the dough into the flour underneath. You want a tight smooth surface on the top of the dough before you scoop it up and into a floured bowl with those tucked in edges facing down. 

FINAL PROOF: From this stage you want to give the dough another couple of hours to rise again, or you can put it in the fridge with a lid overnight and bake it in the morning. When you touch the dough with your finger, the shape of your finger should slowly spring back. The dough never gets as full and puffy as a yeasted loaf of bread gets, so be aware of that. Sourdough is a different kind of dough and takes its time, but tastes so much better!

BAKE: Preheat your oven to 490F and put a cast iron pot with the lid into your oven to heat. This technique will give you steam which gives you that crusty and golden colored loaf you're looking for! (If your dough has been in the fridge overnight, take it out while your oven is preheating.) When the oven is ready, pull your pot out of the oven, open the lid and put a small bit of parchment paper down to stop from sticking. Try and move quickly now as you don't want too much heat to escape. Pick the dough straight up out of the bowl and flip it over onto the counter with the bumpy seam side up. And then pick your dough up again to drop it right into the cast iron pot, seam side up. 

Now, another option at this point is to put your dough seam side down onto the counter before you bake it, score it with a very sharp knife or razor blade and put it in cast iron pot with the scored side up, but I find that this rugged floured seam up look comes out beautifully and allows the bread to open up really well during the bake just as well. It's also one less step!

Bake at 490F for 25 minutes with the lid on. Then remove the lid and lower the temperature to 430F for 25 more minutes for the last part of the bake. A good way to tell when the bread is done is by tapping the bottom of the loaf with your finger. You want to hear a hollow sound. You can also test the internal temperature - you're looking for 200F.

Bread cuts best when it's cooled, but I can never wait so if you're like me, dig into it with some butter and enjoy! This bread keeps just fine face down on your counter top for several days. You can also store it in plastic or in the freezer, but plastic creates moisture and it will lose that delicious crust!

*If this loaf of bread is too big for your family to eat within a week, cut it in half and freeze one half. Sourdough has great freezing tolerance. Or, you can divide this recipe fully in half and make a smaller loaf.


To feed your mother in preparation for baking:

25 grams of the mother
100 grams of high protein flour
100 grams water at around 68/70F

Mix with your hands. Let it sit on the counter with a dish cloth over it or a loose lid for 8-10
hours until slightly domed and bubbly.

Temperature is KEY for fermentation. In the summer, you’ll want to use colder water to feed
your starter and if your room gets warmer than 68/70F, your starter will be ready to bake with
sooner! So, consider leaving it to rest in a cooler spot.

If you’re going away:
  • for a week?
    • - feed it before you leave and put it in the fridge where the fermentation slows
  • for a couple of days?
    • - feed it and put it in the fridge, or
    • - feed the starter with less water as that slows down the fermentation as well



Hello friends. How are you doing out there?

I hope you are doing well. I hope you remain in good health and good spirits, and that you have love and supplies to see you through. I hope you have no reason to be lost in grief. It's strange, this thing—the way it is sweeping the world, the ways it is spreading not just germs but also new rules and new normals and new fears. 

I wanted to come here today, though, not to talk about fear. I wanted to notice out loud the other things I see happening: people slowing down, listening to each other, thinking about each other, reaching out, offering care. I am hearing the same thing from friends near and far: how are you? what do you need? how can we support each other?

I am seeing this from our kids, too, from small bodies who I sometimes worry do not know their good fortune, cannot see beyond their own needs. On Saturday these same girls decided to write a bundle of notes to our neighbors. Many people in our town are over 65, and they've absorbed enough for this to make them worried. They rode their bikes around the neighborhood to deliver one note to every house on our street. We have lived here for more than ten years, I realized as we went, but we rarely see most of our neighbors. We do not gather regularly. I'm sure we could all offer a hundred reasons—some people are seasonal, the summers are busy, we all are busy. But they are excuses, really. I think if we're honest the real reason has more to do with the values our culture teaches: we don't want to impose, we don't want to intrude, we respect each other's space, it's good to be busy.

The kids' notes were covered in drawings. Inside I helped them ask two simple questions: Are you here? Do you want to connect to support each other? 

The notes we've gotten back make me think that deep down we've all been looking for another kind of excuse. An excuse to connect, to check in, to come closer, to not be so separate. We've been looking for it for a long time, I think. It makes me wonder: is this what it takes?

"It has already been time," healer Dori Midnight writes in her beautiful poem Wash Your Hands. "It is already time that we might want to fly on airplanes less and not go to work when we are sick. It is already time to slow down and feel how scared we are. We are already afraid, we are already living in the time of fires."

That, I thought when I read it. That is what I am feeling.

So far of course is it easy to feel this more than fear—we are lucky, our family is healthy. We are cooking from our pantry and our freezer—sourdough and soups and roasted chickens. We are doing the work we can. We are drinking tea we foraged last summer and building a tree fort and worrying and worrying and trying not to worry. We are thinking of ways to help. We are counting our blessings.

Sally made the card in the photo above last night, after much frustration. When she did, she walked over beaming to show me. "Read inside, Mama," she said. I read it out loud: "I learn how with many failures and tries."

You are right, I told her. We all learn how with many failures and tries. It has already been time to slow down, it has already been time to sing in the streets. We have been trying and failing to re-connect, but we learn how with many failures and tries. We will do our best to stay connected, we will do our best to stay healthy. We will do our best to see the good. We will keep trying.


MIGRATORY BEEKEEPERS // the local food report

Right now in California, twenty-five hundred miles away, a million acres of almond trees are blooming. A million! Here's what it looks like, in photos from documentary producer Peter Nelson:

Photos Courtesy Peter Nelson
Farming on this scale is difficult for me to imagine, living on Cape Cod. The sea is a mile and a half from my house in either direction; we are a tiny ribbon of a peninsula. A million acres of anything is impossible. And yet it's a very real scale in other parts of the country. 

This week for the Local Food Report I interviewed Peter Nelson. He's from Hudson, New York, and in addition to film-making, he's also a backyard beekeeper. He became fascinated with migratory beekeepers—honeybee keepers who travel all over the country with their bees on semi-trailers—pollinating big crops all over the United States. He made a film about his experience called The Pollinators, and these are stills from the documentary. 

Most people have no idea migratory beekeepers even exist—they do their work at night, moving bees while they're all back in the hive and unloading into orchards and fields in the dark—let alone how important they are to our huge, industrial food system. Almost every migratory hive in the United States is in California right now, pollinating the almonds. Soon enough some of them will be here, unloaded next to the cranberries. They pollinate over 400 crops, some completely dependent on pollinators to set fruit, others with greatly improved yields. One of the migratory beekeeping businesses featured in the film is just north of Boston, and farmers are relying on them more and more as native pollinators struggle.

It turns out here in Massachusetts, bumble bees are more efficient pollinators for crops like cranberries. But while historically the state had 11 species of native bumble bees, today we're down to 7, and all but 1 of those 7 are in decline. Massachusetts now has a Pollinator Plan, and scientists from four New England states have joined together to research and issue recommendations.

The Pollinators is showing this Saturday, March 7th in Woods Hole, and again on Wednesday, April 8th at the Wellfleet Cinemas. Both showings will have a live Q & A with Peter Nelson afterwards. If you're around, it's a fascinating look into a little known seasonal dance.


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