Strawberry basil smoothie

This morning in the garden, I noticed a lone rogue basil plant working its way skyward from beneath the shelter of a neighboring prickly yellow squash. I plucked three broad green leaves from its shady base, and headed inside for breakfast.

I had been planning to indulge in a frozen strawberry smoothie; amidst the humidity of the past few days, I'd tucked a cup of chopped berries into the freezer for an icy morning treat. As today dawned hot and muggy, I pulled them out to throw in the blender.

My early basil discovery proved a fortuitous addition to the smoothie's ingredients. Along with the dollop of Greek yogurt and tablespoon of lime juice that followed the partially thawed strawberries into the blender, in went the basil leaves to be tumbled against the rest.

Basil and strawberry are a common pair; they both emerge just as the heat of summer sets in, both cool and crisp and bursting with flavor. They're often spotted together on pizza, bruschetta, and salads, or muddled together in cocktails or lemonades. It's not as often, however, that the sweet and savory pair of summer are mixed in a smoothie. The chilly drinks tend to be the domain of the sweet, allowing only for the tamest of interlopers like peanut butter or carrots.

This morning's concoction proved that theory wrong. The sweetness of the berries balanced out the subtle, spicy flecks of basil and the acidic, bright sting of Key West's finest lime. It's a recipe to be repeated—perhaps next time as popsicles.


Serves 1

In a blender, combine until smooth: 1 cup partially thawed or fresh strawberries, 2 large basil leaves, 1 tablespoon Key West lime juice, 1 heaping tablespoon Greek yogurt. If berries are fresh, add 1/2 cup ice. Garnish with a third basil leaf and serve immediately.


Arlington piz-Za

It isn't often your first five minutes at a restaurant table involve a tutorial. Upon sitting down at noon sharp at Za, a Mass. Ave. Arlington eatery known for its pizza, salads and creative use of local ingredients, we received a crash course in How to Order 101 before even taking a swig of water.

Our waitress was well versed in her explanation; the pizza ingredients were fresh, she told us, picked or harvested locally that week, and changing often. She laid down two menus, one year-round and one comprised of seasonal "chalkboard specials," and explained that the two should be thought of as a collaborative experience. "For example there is no basil on the toppings list for our menu of make-your-own pizzas," she pointed out, "but since you see it on the specials, you are welcome to add it to any dish." The same, that afternoon, went for rhubarb, asparagus, bib lettuce, and strawberries.

We selected two chalkboard specials: the first, an asparagus, rhubarb, caramelized onion, cheddar, and parmigiano reggiano 10-inch round, and the second a layering of Maine Ducktrap smoked salmon, creme fraiche, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, red onions, caper, dill, and lemon vinaigrette. Other options for the day included a goat cheese and basil creation accompanied by strawberries from nearby Verril Farm in Concord, and a "Caesar's Pizza" of creamy potatoes, kalamata olive tapendade, crisp romaine, garlick croutons, and a fresh lemon-Caesar dressing.

When our pizzas emerged steaming, we each grabbed a slice of the thin, pliable dough (made, we were informed by the menu, of organic flour, honey, wild yeast, and salt). While a bite of our first selection lacked the rhubarb punch we were hoping for, the smoky flavor of the Maine cured salmon gave the second enough pizazz to cover both. The salads—mine a fresh Verril Farm bib lettuce, shaved red onion, local micro-green, and creamy mustard masterpiece and my tablemates an artistic heap of Verril farm strawberries and arugula—were better still. Dessert, a Verril strawberry covered lemon tart topped with a scoop of fresh whipped cream, sealed the deal. We left satiated and happy, hoping to return.

Still, even while Za is serving up good eats and is ahead of most competitors in using and advertising local ingredients, it didn't take the locavore premise far enough to truly blow me away. Even on the chalkboard special pizzas, the asparagus was from California (despite being in season locally) and the salmon (while smoked nearby) was a far cry from a Massachusetts fish. Certainly, not every ingredient can be sourced locally, but on a menu that comes with a tutorial in eating seasonally, I expected a bit more precision in the department of local fare.

That being said, if every menu came with a tutorial like that offered at Za's we'd be a more conscious state of eaters.


Beneath the mulberry tree

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking with my sister through the streets of Somerville near her Boston Ave. apartment when we noticed a rain of berries falling from the sky. We crouched down to examine the fruit on the sidewalk.

In color, shape, and size they resembled a blackberry, but when crushed lacked the sweet smell and boasted instead a dark, purple stain. Looking up, we saw that every bough of the neighborhood tree was laden with berries—some black, some red, and some white in various stages of ripeness.

We returned home to do some research, eager to find out the name behind the strange fruit. After reading through page upon page about edible fruit, we found the answer: our tree was a black mulberry.

Mulberry is an old fashioned fruit, remembered in the children's rhyme and folk recipes for berry cordial or sugared preserves. Despite its importance as a food for pies, jams, and livestock feed in earlier centuries, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the era of the grocery store and convenience mart. I had never encountered a mulberry in a recipe or at the market before that afternoon, let alone tasted one.

Intrigued by the prospect of a first stolen bite, we headed back to the grass beneath the tree to try a piece of fallen fruit. The flesh crushed easily against the tongue, with a taste somewhat reminiscent of a watered down blueberry or grape with a hint of citrus tang.

We couldn't eat more than a few; most of it had been ground into the sidewalk, and it was someone else's property after all. I wondered at the waste of it all—pounds of berries strewn unwanted across the walkway, with hungry mothers and grandfathers and children strolling over them by the hundreds. I pictured a time when a white sheet might be spread beneath the branches, collecting the block's worth of pies and jam.

Were the tree mine to care for, I hope I'd do the same. Perhaps one day I will. In the meantime, here's an old cobbler recipe for those of you with a mulberry of your own.


Serves 8

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together 8 cups mulberries and 1 and 1/2 cups sugar. Let sit and in a separate bowl mix together 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons sugar. Cut in 1 and 1/2 sticks butter with a pastry knife. Add 3/4 to 1 cup whole milk until it forms a sticky biscuit dough. Pour berries and sugar over the bottom of a large Pyrex pan and top with dollops of dough. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until dough is golden. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Sugar snap salad

Last night, I walked bare footed through the overgrown rows of my garden to see what might be ready for dinner. The air lay heavy against the forest of green, bearing down against the sturdy roots of the pole beans and the orange blossoms of the squash.

I plucked a head of bib lettuce, a few leaves of romaine, and the thin, wavering head of an early scallion. Then, I noticed the peas—entangled with the mesh of the chicken wire, hanging full and ripe and bursting out from the pod—was my very first crop of sugar snaps.

I caught them in their prime, each edible pod rich with the reticent sweetness of early summer and possessing a crispness particular to the just-picked variety. When I was through with the patch, empty tendrils buoyed back towards the sky and the plants stood free of their fruit.

The simple salad we enjoyed for dinner would, with other ingredients, have been nothing special, made up as it was of only lettuce, peas, balsamic, and oil. But with the distance from garden to table so short, it proved instead to be one of the best I've had this year.


Serves 2

Pick and wash 1 head Boston bib lettuce and several leaves romaine lettuce or other sweet early green. Dry and tear into small, wide salad bowl. Top with 1/2 cup sugar snap peas, broken in half. If desired, add several sprigs finely chopped chives, wild garlic, or scallion. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar; toss well and eat immediately.


Scallops and tinfoil

I do not normally endorse foods wrapped in tinfoil. Generally, what you find inside is nothing to write home about: soggy McMuffins or a BK broiler or perhaps a left over sandwich that's begun to show some mold.

Burritos, however, are one notable exception. By definition, the burrito should be wrapped in tinfoil; for ease of consumption, warmth containment, and hold-in-your-hand convenience, there is nothing better.

In the midst of a thunderstorm yesterday, I headed down to Mac's Seafood on the Wellfleet pier to pick up a scallop version of this Cape Cod summer essential. With the rain pouring down, the crowds were cleared out from the window, and I ordered my usual in record time. Scallops, black beans, rice, salsa, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and calamata olives were pushed together, rolled into a wrap, and encased in tinfoil before being handed to me through the bay side window.

The first round bite was replete with mollusk and stuffing. With new scalloping grounds recently opened up 60 miles off Cape, the bivalves are not only abundant this week, but also extra rich. In hopes of recreating the wrap at home, I'm working today to master this tortilla recipe.


Makes 8

In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 cups whole-wheat flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 3/4 cup water. Mix with your hands, adding water until the dough is firmly in a ball but not sticky. Knead for 5 minutes, then divide into 8 balls. Place these on a lightly floured surface and cover with a damp towel.

Light a medium flame under a cast iron skillet. Roll out dough balls one at a time until they are about 1/4 inch thick. Place each in the pan and cook on both sides for about 30 seconds, making sure that the pan is not too hot or the tortillas will burn.

Eat hot or keep refrigerated for several weeks or frozen for up to six months.

Pizza bianca

Last night we reaped the first meager harvest from our garden rows. Five violet streaked leaves of romaine, a handful of basil leaves, and one spring onion sat strewn across the cutting board, waiting in limbo for the calamitous clang of the dinner bell.

When the clock struck eight, down came the blade. Swiftly, silently, the green harvest heralds resigned to their fate. Tonight, they would provide the toppings for an impromptu pizza bianca.

I had heard about the dish on NPR. Driving lazily along the bayside on Saturday afternoon, the wavering voice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper drifted over the airwaves, bringing with it the tastes and smells of a Roman artisanal favorite. Pizza bianca, as Kasper and her guest Anya Von Bremzen (travel writer for Travel + Leisure; check out her article on eating on the cheap in Europe) explain, is the antithesis of American pizza. In other words, it lacks tomatoes and and cheese.

The Roman variation focuses instead on simplicity. A good dough, fine olive oil, and sprinkling of coarse salt are the key ingredients. Often ricotta and fresh vegetables serve as toppings, dotted across the crust as tiny accents rather than layered in the thick tradition of a New York pizza.

Following the season, we topped ours with our first tiny basil, a smattering of bok choy and romaine, sautéed spring onion rounds, the leaves of our burgeoning potted rosemary, and a few scattered dollops of Shy Brother's lavender cheese. A sprinkling of oats over the pan allowed the crust to crisp up in the oven, and we sat down to a meal that—at least in the vegetable department—was entirely the work of our own earthen hands.


Serves 8

Let 2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast dissolve in 1 and 1/3 cups very warm water for 5 minutes, or until bubbly. Add 1 tablespoon salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 3 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour. Mix well and knead 8-10 minutes or until elastic. Set aside to rise for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.

Punch dough down and divide into two balls. Preheat oven to 475 and set dough aside to rest. In a heavy frying pan, sauté one large chopped spring onion or scallion until tender. Add several sprigs of chopped rosemary, sauté for a minute longer, and turn off heat. Add several chopped lettuce, bok choy, or other spring green leaves to hot pan to quickly coat in oil (to keep moist in oven).

Roll out dough and place on cookie sheet sprinkled with oats (this will prevent dough sticking to pan and burning). Brush dough with several tablespoons olive oil and top with sautéed veggies. Add a handful of basil leaves and several dollops of soft cheese as desired. Crank sea salt and pepper over top to season, and cook for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy hot or cold as leftovers.


Quail eggs, toast rounds, and broccoli rabe

It is the season of gourmet breakfasts. As afternoons and evenings are turned over to the clamor and bustle of a restaurant kitchen and harried snatches of a midnight meal, the morning spread appears a peaceful, deliberate treasure.

This morning, I awoke early to see what pleasures a hungry riser might steal from the depths of the fridge. I began with quail eggs, an epicurean item by any measure. From there, I worked my way down; what began with tiny, speckled gold moved from a box of soft artisan cheese to a bunch of broccoli rabe to a pat of butter and finally to the utterly mundane: a slab of stale toast.

Nevertheless, it only took those first few finds to make a feast. I lit the stove, heated up a skillet, and dropped in a pat of butter to coat its cast iron flat. Next I spread a handful of the long, leafy broccoli rabe across the pan and covered it tightly to steam and sizzle. Stale bread became toast rounds, cut to the size of a tiny coaster and spread with a thimble of classic French cheese from Shy Brothers' Farm in Westport. With the rabe nearly tender, I pushed it to the side of the iron and cracked two quail eggs onto a layer of butter. In seconds, they were firming up, and I slid the over easy pair into a layered tower of toast and egg.

The rich, miniature yolk soaked down through the bread as I sliced and toppled the cheese laden spire. Broccoli rabe lent a bitter cut, while a few scattered strawberries sweetened the plate. Slowly, quietly, I sat back to enjoy the simple elegance of the meal, before giving way to the hurry of the day.


Serves 1

In a heavy frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Spread 5-10 stalks broccoli rabe (rapini) across pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and let steam for 2-4 minutes. Push to side and add tiny dab of butter where eggs will cook; crack 2 quail eggs into pan and cook as desired.

Toast one piece stale bread and cut into two rounds slightly smaller than the size of the eggs in the pan. Spread each with 1/2 Hannahbell Classic French thimble or 1 teaspoon other soft cheese. Layer toast and eggs into two tier tower and serve alongside rapini and several strawberries.


Beach peas

I missed the peas at the Provincetown market; a woman in line just ahead of me yesterday afternoon scooped deep into the bottom of the basket, and the last pods walked away. Resigned to wait for the first harvest from my garden, I made my way back to the sticky heat of the car.

Driving home, the bay beckoned. My legs stuck to the creased black leather of the drivers' seat, and I veered off the highway towards Ryder Beach. Dune gave way to water, and the sultry weight of the day deliquesced.

Climbing back towards home, I noticed a stand of wild beach peas clinging to the sand. With tendrils reaching tenaciously at moving earth, they stretched across the foredune intermingled with roses and grass. The pods were just ripe, their fuzzy skin a brilliant green and bumped with the promise of tiny peas.

From only four plants, I picked enough peas to fill my makeshift gathering towel. At home, I began shucking. For every pod, I found perhaps two peas the size of a teardrop; not a great yield, but certainly worth the work. Within a half hour, a cup stood before me, ready to cook. While the tiny snacks can be eaten raw, they sweeten when served hot.

I arranged several lettuce leaves in the bottom of a heavy saucepan, sprinkled the peas, a dash of butter, and a sprinkling of sugar and salt on top, and ten minutes later we sat down to a foragers supper of petit pois. Tomorrow, I'm heading back to the dune for another harvest—this time for freezing.

PETIT POIS, or English peas

Serves 4

Line a Dutch oven with 4 large lettuce leaves. Layer with 1 and 1/2 cup tiny shelled beach peas. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of fresh pepper. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter, and cover with several more lettuce leaves. With a tight lid on top, cook for 8-10 minutes or until peas are tender, adding small amounts of water if peas begin to dry out. Serve peas atop lettuce leaves, or chop and serve together. Enjoy hot.


Orleans market update

It was a struggle this morning to make it to the market. Every week, I have worked to rise earlier, having watched the last cabbage or asparagus bunch slip from beyond my grasp onto the table of another.

Still, by 7:38 I was in the car, sleepy-eyed and ready to do the week's shop. A quick jaunt into the South Wellfleet General Store for an icy jolt of locally roasted Beanstock coffee revived me further, and within the quarter hour I hit the hidden Old Colony green in Orleans.

The first new find was broccoli rabe; a thin cluster of deep green leaves and petite florets sold for $3 a bundle from Tim Friary at Cape Cod Organics.

The second was a strawberry chocolate chip muffin from the Optimal Kitchen, a booth run by Orleans nutritionist Heather Bailey and specializing in healthy, wholesome baked goods. I assumed the strawberries were local, but when asked, Bailey hesitated. "Strawberries are in the top ten for pesticide levels," she explained. "For this fruit, I only buy organic." It wasn't til the day after she made her muffins that Friary brought the first organic berries to the market. Next week, says the baker, she'll switch.

Ben Chung (dentist by day, farmer by night) had his first batch of quail eggs for sale, now enthusiastically endorsed by the board of health and his kids. At $3 for ten eggs, the speckled rounds would make an exquisite accompaniment to any breakfast gathering.

Leafy greens and lettuces were everywhere; ranging from $7-$9 a pound and in every shape from kale to bok choy to cabbage to spicy anise. Spring onions and wild garlic also saw a growth spurt this week, with the size of each doubling or tripling as they sprouted skyward each day.

The lobster lady, Laurie, stood with her cooler at the eastern corner of the crowd, selling yesterday's catch at $8.99 per pound for today's dinner. While diesel prices are driving up her bottom line, she says she thinks she'll make it through the summer at under $10 per pound.

Julie Winslow was back with her shiitake mushroom logs, tempting me to buy another to accompany the one already stashed away in my shed. Perhaps in the fall; for now I'm content to wait for her next harvest, which should arrive in a week.

On my way home, arms loaded down with broccoli, bok choy, and berries, I ducked quickly into Stop n' Shop to pick up a wheel of cheese. The contrast in noises, air, and smells was startling—the chirp of the birds replaced by the squawk of a mechanical labeler, the sweet, heavy scent of berries whisked away by the stale cool of the air conditioner, and the cheerful clatter of voices silenced against the walls and aisles and the sterile sheen of the linoleum floor.

I picked up a slice of Great Hill Blue and a Maine-churned stack of Kate's Homemade butter, and ran for the door. Back in the car, I rolled down the windows and took in a breath of berry laden air. Now, on to the market of Provincetown.


The first zucchini

Zucchini begins so innocently. The first small, round fruit drops from the vine, and the season for the squash commences. For a week or two, this pace keeps up. We run out to the garden each evening before supper to see what the day will offer, delighted with another slender stalk.

It is not until several weeks later, when the baseballs begin to turn into bats, and neighbors begin sneaking bags of the green beasts onto car seats and bicycle baskets and refrigerators, that the overabundance turns malignant.

Thankfully, that phase is still weeks away in my garden. The tiny round perpetrator I picked up is from the Orleans farmers' market, coaxed along in Ron Backer's greenhouse to reach even this modest size by mid-June. Soon enough, I'm sure, he'll be stuffing them surreptitiously into our purchases, but for now, we're clamoring for that first taste of the season.

Last night, I sliced and sautéed my green monster against a backdrop of olive oil, spring onions, wild garlic, and rosemary. With the first bite, I gave thanks for this zucchini, and did my best to tuck away some gratitude for those to come.


Serves 2

Thinly slice 1 small zucchini, 1 spring onion, and several sprigs wild spring garlic. Pick the rosemary from 1 two inch twig and set aside. In a large frying pan, heat up 1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter. When the fat is hot, add onions. Sauté several minutes over medium-high flame, or until they begin to become translucent. Add zucchini and wild garlic. Cut rosemary into tiny pieces over pan. Stir frequently as the vegetables cook, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

This side is an excellent accompaniment to seafood, particularly scallops and white fish.


Lobster riches

Yesterday, I was unexpectedly spoiled. Twice in one afternoon, I sat down to a plate of lobster. The first I ate at the Naked Oyster in Hyannis (508.7786500). Late for a lunch meeting, I asked my patient friend to order for me—anything she pleased, so long as it would fill me up.

She didn't skimp. When I arrived, a delicately halved lobster salad wrap sat leaning towards me, beckoning with a thin, creamy dressing and the crunch of young, tender greens. Its companion, a cup of fingerling potato fries and paper thin Parmesan crisps, was equally delightful against the tongue. A half a round of strawberry shortcake (made with berries from Tim Friary's Barnstable farm, Cape Cod Organics—the same I'd picked up at the market) completed the meal. It's not often you find yourself recognizing the same ingredients out to lunch as you do in your own fridge.

Come dinner, I walked into the kitchen of Mac's Shack on invitation from chef Jerome Watkins, former executive chef at South Boston Kitchen & Wine Bar (617.269.7832, 77 Dorchester St.), and a celebrated addition to the Mac's staff. He had offered to make us a meal; I told him we'd take whatever he thought best.

I watched as he took a live lobster, and in one fell swoop chopped off the claws and the tail, and split the meat down the middle. From one bug, he made two lobster specials: each a pile of saffron rice heaped with sweet corn, fresh morels, fava beans, and spring peas and topped with a tail half and lone claw. He drizzled a rich, buttery sauce over top, and I dug into my second treat of the day.

While Jerome wouldn't give up his secret to last night's dish, he makes it most nights in the Shack kitchen at 91 Commercial Street in Wellfleet (508.349.6333). Stop in any time after 4:30 for dinner; though they don't take reservations, this dish is worth the wait.


Lone leek soup

It's strange, I suppose, given the season, but recently my kitchen has been occupied by soups. Cream of mushroom, borscht, cream of asparagus, and today, leek.

The sole leek turned up at the Orleans market, the last of its kind standing tribute to a passing season beside bunches of spring onions and garlic. I snatched up the cold weather warrior and brought it home to serve as rainy day companion to the ceramic orange soup pot.

Yesterday evening, as the air thickened with humidity and a stiff breeze began to form, I chopped it thin and threw it to be consumed by the crackle of a sizzling pat of butter. Translucent and left to simmer in a pint of chicken stock, the green and ivory slices turned slippery and tender. With a splash of milk and the whir of the food processor, the mixture turned into a rich, creamy soup.

Just back from a pre-storm walk, we dipped into the pot with a sort of adventurers' delight. The sky darkened beyond the window panes, and our spoons muddied themselves with the skins of winter. Tomorrow, perhaps, our appetites will follow the weather as it slips back into the season. For now, we're back to the hungry month of February.


Serves 2-3

Chop 1 large leek into thin slices; use all of bulb and almost all but the last few inches of green. In a large soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté leek until translucent. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer in 1 and 1/2-2 cups chicken or fish stock for 30 minutes, or until tender. Add a dash (1/2 cup or to taste) whole milk. Puree in food processor. Season with salt and pepper and heat to desired temperature. Serve hot.


Bleeding spade salad

To bring a salad into someone's home is a deeply personal act. As a home cook expressing yourself through the medium of the bowl, you reveal your palate for life. The careful marriage of colors, textures, food groups and tastes is an intimate creativity, and one most often kept to the home.

Within a family, women are identified through their craft. My grandmother's salads almost never involve greens. As a home cook in the 1950's, she conjured up potato salads, three layer aspic salads, mushroom salads, and cranberry pecan salads. They were the recipes of a generation that grew up in the hungry shadow of the Depression, and they hold little interest in the watery crunch of a leafy green.

My mother's salads are meals. She swaddles the bottom of a wide, flat wooden bowl with mustard greens, kale, spinach, and romaine and then makes her way up, layer by layer. In go green beans, sugar snaps, radishes, and carrots, followed by crumbled cheese, homemade croutons, and a thinly sliced steak. By the time you've eaten a plate, there's no need for a second course.

We're still waiting to see what my sister's salads develop into. They are certainly green, with a fair amount of substance on top, and perhaps a tendency to replacing dressings with cottage cheese. As she is still in her first month as an independent dweller, only time will unearth the final shape.

My salads are leftovers. As a friend once put it, "throw it on lettuce, and call it dinner." Today I started with a handful of spicy mixed greens from the farmers' market. The next layer was beets, pre-cooked and sliced into magenta spades that bled out across the bottom of the refrigerator in a fragile glass bowl. A sauté of scallion greens, celery leaf, and egg white graced the head of the heap, with two steaming squid tendrils, a spoonful of soldier beans, and a dollop of homemade yogurt balanced on top. With a dash of salt and pepper, the mixture morphed into my signature salad: lots of flavors, plenty of texture, and so much tasty juice that it hardly requires dressing.

While I'm sure you have you're own version, here's a recipe for mine.


Serves 1

Arrange one handful of varied greens in the center of a plate. In a skillet, sauté 1 cup chopped scallion greens and 1 sprig celery leaf in 1 tablespoon butter. After a minute or two, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 egg white. Cook until egg white is just firm; spread over top of greens. Cut one medium sized beet lengthwise into four spades; arrange in a circle leaning into center of greens. Behead and sauté 2 squid tendrils with 1/4 cup soldier beans and 1/2 tablespoon butter; place in salad center over 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt. Season with salt and pepper, and enjoy immediately. Vary with the season and as the contents of your refrigerator change.


Micro-greens: a garnish for the gourmet

Micro greens are the latest craze to hit the chef world. The tiny, premature leaves pack a flavor punch more potent than any of their elders. Their looks don't hurt either; the array of brilliant colors, filament thin stems, and delicate leaves are enough to draw attention to any plate.

Add to these attractions the fact that micro-greens have managed to capture the attention of growing crowd of chefs focused on serving local fare, and it's easy to see they've made it, biologically speaking, into the crowd of safely domesticated species—at least for the time being.

Cape Cod chefs are no exception. At the upscale Truro bistro, Blackfish, where I spend my evenings, chef Eric Jansen recently ordered several trays to soak up the sunshine out back. In the afternoons before service, he and the other cooks clip what they'll need for the night. Between the miniscule distance (both in time and miles) between plant and plate and the already potent flavor of the tiny greens, these garnishes taste powerfully fresh. I wouldn't want to eat a whole salad of them, but mixed in with the more delicate flavors of mature greens, they offer a taste worth savoring.


Saturday morning at the Orleans market

By 8 o'clock this morning, a line of 15 people stood waiting for Tim Friary to open for business at the Orleans Farmers' Market. He had the golden ticket item: strawberries, fresh from Cape Cod Organics in Barnstable. Late at 8:05, I still managed to pick up 6 boxes: two for eating, and four to slice and freeze.

Greens were also plentiful. I saw the first cabbage of the season, its outer leaves unfolding onto the table to form a nest for the large, tightly wound center ball. One stand offered the lettuces: butter and oak leaf along with watercress, while another offered kale, and yet another spicy mesclun mix, baby spinach, and mixed greens.

Asparagus was—for the first time—a feature of more than one table, bundled next to the rhubarb and left to soak in a vase of cool water. I picked up a bunch of each along with the first, tiny, green-house coaxed zucchini of the season. Herbs began to appear: garlic chives, parsley, wild garlic, rosemary plants, oregano, mint, and peppermint. The more substantial treats had arrived as well: eggs, lobster, and honey to name a few. Table flowers, hand made soaps, lavender sachets, and baked goods (to compliment that early morning coffee stop at the Chocolate Sparrow) were amongst the other delights. Thanks to a bit of bargaining, I managed to snag a beautiful bouquet along with the glass pitcher it sat in for a mere $10.

Next week, from what I heard, there will be more of everything. While some early greens are tapering off, shaded spinach and chard still have a few weeks left. With more strawberries on the horizon (and the Wellfleet Strawberry Festival tomorrow!), I think it's just about time for another strawberry rhubarb pie.


Pass the pasta—crank, that is

Last week as I wound through the vendors of one of our local farmers' markets, I noticed a bag of shoe string pasta sitting atop a corner table. With an egg-y, cream colored hue, it looked fresh enough to eat right there. Eager to round out my week's shop, I picked up a bag and stashed it into my shoulder bag in exchange for a few wadded bills.

Too late, I began asking questions. I learned that the pasta was handmade by the seller himself, and as a semi-dried, curvy variety could be stored in the fridge for a few months without spoiling but ought not be left to the cupboard. It would be best eaten fresh, he added, cooked for only a few minutes as it didn't require the boiling time that the more brittle, stick straight store bought variety does.

"Where does the flour come from?" I asked, hopeful that the answer to this question would be less elusive at the farmers' market than on your average grocery package. It wasn't.

"I don't know, from the grocery store?" he replied, off-handedly.

My disappointment was manifest. It's not that the flour had to be local; I appreciate foods from across the globe (with chocolate and coffee at the top of the list), so long as someone along the line has been asking questions about taste, sustainability, and quality. The farmers' market, I had assumed, would be one place where these requirements were a given.

While I appreciate the sweat that the pasta peddler kneaded into the strands (the noodles, compliments to the chef, were delicious), I hope that time and the questions of local consumers will change his answer over time. The re-making of the way we think about food starts with what we buy and how we shop. Asking questions is simultaneously the most effective and eye-opening way to get involved.

At Phoenix Fruit, every time a customer asks about a certain product or local availability, the cashier jots the request down on a hanging clipboard. If there's enough demand, the Nada's Noodles or Eastham asparagus they were looking for might be tucked between the boxes of glistening lettuce and fresh pulled carrots on their next trip through the aisles.

For many pasta purchases to come, I'll likely still be asking the same question and receiving the same answer. Until it's easier to find out where the flour's from, I've decided to take up pasta making in my own kitchen. To that end, I found an old fashioned hand crank pasta maker at CreativeCookware.com, and am planning to roll out my first batch when it arrives next week. The ingredient list won't be long—I have in mind a recipe that calls for only Maine flour, Wellfleet eggs, and salt from the Maine Sea Salt Company—but at least I'll know where every item on it came from.

For now, that's something worth cranking for.


Makes one pound

Arrange 2 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a volcano on the counter. Crack two eggs into the well; mix gently with a fork, incorporating the flour as you go until the mixture begins to form a large ball. Knead on a well floured surface until dough becomes stretchy; about 7-10 minutes. Separate into three balls, cover with a bowl, and let rest 15 minutes. Flatten a ball with the palm of your hand until it is about 1/2 inch thick, and feed it through a hand crank pasta machine on the largest setting to begin rolling it out. Continue tightening crank until the dough is about 1/16th of an inch thick. Using machine blade of desired width, cut dough and hang to dry. Repeat with remaining two balls.


Strawberry crepes

Certain mornings, I can only tempt myself from beneath the quilt by cooking breakfast in my head. I think through the contents of the refrigerator, past the strawberries and the jug of milk, into the yogurt and out through the honey. I pass through the pantry, tipping over the powdered sugar and finally dipping into the flour, until a recipe worth getting up for is sizzling against my skull.

This morning it was crepes. Every breakfast this week has involved the four quarts of strawberries I picked up at the farmers' market. We'd had plain berries, berries with cream, berries with granola, and berries with yogurt—all good, but none anything beyond the ordinary. The thought of a sweet, thin round slathered with melting yogurt, bursting with berries, and sprinkled with powdered sugar was enough to get me into my slippers.

Downstairs in the kitchen, I pulled out the food processor and started mixing. In went the flour, the milk, the eggs, and the butter, along with a dab of strawberry jam. With a bit of good luck, all four of the crepes managed to slip from the pan without sticking, and we sat down to a magnificent morning feast.

Happily, there's enough batter to get me up tomorrow morning, too.


Makes 4-8 crepes, depending on pan size

Mix in a food processor or blender: 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup warm water, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons strawberry jam, 2 eggs, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. When batter is smooth, ladle several tablespoons into hot, lightly buttered pan. Tilt pan to coat bottom; let cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until cooked almost through, then flip carefully using fingers and a spatula. Let second side cook for 30 seconds to a minute, slide out of pan. Spread with a spoonful of full fat Greek yogurt and top with sliced strawberries.


Chilled beet borscht

At nine o'clock last night, it was still too hot to cook. I looked through the fridge for a cold option, but yogurt, cold beets, and pickles looked none too promising. Until I remembered my mother's summertime favorite: chilled beet borscht.

With the heatwave raging on and no end in sight, it was time to get creative. I threw the cold beets into the food processor along with some of their cooking juice, a leftover container of sautéed scallions and celery leaf, and a dash of heavy cream. The resulting mixture was a deep, soupy, magenta nearly as beautiful as it was delicious. The best part is, it can be cooked early in the morning or late at night, when the air is cooler and the kitchen more inviting.


Serves 3-4

Put on 3 cups water to boil with 4 medium sized beets. Cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes, saving cooking water. In a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter. Sauté 1 cup chopped scallion, 1/8 cup chopped celery leaf, and 1 cup sweet pea tendrils or other greens. Add 1 teaspoon salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes.

Set up food processor and add cooked beets and sauté mixture along with 1 cup beet water. Puree and season to your taste with any or all of the following, making sure to sample as you go: 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/8 cup white wine, 1/2 cup chicken broth, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar. If consistency is too thick, thin with beet broth. Chill for several hours; serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or a sprinkling of scallions.


Cape Cod Shiitakes: Chinese mushrooms take root in Orleans

The last local edible I would expect to find at a Cape Cod farmers' market is a mushroom. The fungi for me conjure up visions of dare-devil foragers, slinking into the woods with empty sacks and returning with bulging bags of gold. The sounds of a back alley restaurant transaction play in the background, punctuated with the crisp whir of dollar bills changing hands.

If I'm not reading that script, it's a biology nerd shakily consulting his mushroom guide as he reaches to pluck an uncertain fate from a backyard log.

The possibility of farming mushrooms had never really resonated with those visions. I knew of a place that was growing shiitakes in Maine—Oyster Creek Mushroom Company—but they were also purveyors of wild mushrooms. So when Julie Winslow offered me a locally grown bag of meaty shiitakes, I was happily surprised.

Winslow grows the mushrooms at Cape Coastal Farm in Orleans. The process begins with a log, which is drilled with holes, inoculated with shiitake spawn, and sealed with wax. When the weather is right, Winslow soaks the logs overnight in a tub of water to initiate fruiting, and the harvest begins about 10-14 days later. Managed well, the logs each produce about 1/3 of a pound of mushrooms 3 times a year for at least four years, but up to ten. Not bad for a species native to Asia.

Excited as I was by the prospect of local mushrooms, I was an easy target for Winslow's next sell: one of the logs itself. They stood piled up in front of the farmers' market stand, offering a bargain at $20 a log (I did the math; my yield over four years would be just under 4 pounds, bringing the cost per pound in at almost exactly $5. That's a pretty good deal on a product that sells in grocery aisles for upwards of $10 per pound.) I handed over my last Andrew Jackson of the morning and toted my log back to the car.

Too bad I didn't read the fine print. The instruction sheet that Winslow handed me with the log reminds the reader that hot weather in the 80's (read: from now until September) is not conducive to fruiting. I tucked it into the shed for safe keeping.

In the meantime, I'm getting my shroom fix from the bag of shiitakes Winslow sold me from Cape Coastal's logs. Today I threw the thick meaty fringe of the fungi against a pat of hot butter and let them soak up the flavor of several Orleans scallions before pureeing the mixture into a creamy shiitake bisque.


Serves 6

Chop 1 and 1/2 cups scallions, 1/4 cup celery leaf, 1 tablespoon garlic chives, and roughly 4 cups shiitake mushrooms. Heat 4-6 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy sauce pot. Sauté scallions and celery leaf for about 5 minutes, then add mushrooms, garlic chives, and 1-2 teaspoons salt. Cover and let cook 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring from time to time.

Scoop mushroom mixture into blender making sure to include any juice. Add 1 cup milk and puree. Pour mixture back into sauce pot. Simmer on low, adding 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper, 1/4-1/3 cup white wine, and an additional 1/2-1 cup milk depending on taste and thickness. Simmer until flavors combine; serve hot with a sprinkling of chives.

*Scallions, celery leaf, garlic chives, and shiitake mushrooms are all ingredients that can be purchased locally at the Orleans and other Cape farmers' markets, depending on season and availability.


Sweet, sweet strawberries

I smelled them before I saw them. The air was sticky and heavy, the salt breeze hot. The smell of freshly blackened pizza floated into the street, tinged with a sweetness I could have identified anywhere. Fresh picked strawberries had blown into town.

The source had to be nearby; I spotted a woman on a bicycle, dodging and weaving through the Saturday crowd clutching a green box tightly covered with plastic and a rubber band. I walked into Ryder Square, and there it was: a sea of sweet, red berries.

A palpable flush rose over me as I stepped up to the famers' market table buy a box. Fresh, Massachusetts fruit was finally in season, and I could hardly believe my good luck at having stumbled upon it this humid afternoon. I cashed in $26 for four quarts; no bargain, but a fair price considering the early season. I wondered how much the out of season quarts cost at Stop n Shop—perhaps $3 or $4 each—meaning they offered a savings of roughly $10. With an ocean's difference of taste between the two, I didn't regret a penny as each plump berry burst against my cheeks.

This morning, I washed a quart and set the fruit out in a pottery colander for breakfast. As we lazed our way through the Sunday paper, we ate our way through the entire pile until only a heap of green crowns remained. Given how long its been since this house saw fresh fruit, I'm willing to bet the other three quarts won't last the week.


Coonamessett Farm in Falmouth (508) 563-2560 offers pick-your-own with a day pass ($8 for adults, $6 for kids) and is expecting the berries to ripen up within the next week and a half.

Tony Andrews Farm in Falmouth (508) 548-4717 offers pick-your-own strawberries (along with rhubarb and spring peas) starting next Saturday, June 14 every day from 8am to noon until the fields are picked out. Bring your own containers.

The Baker Farm in Marshfield (781) 834-4021 offers pick-your-own strawberries beginning in mid June; call for details.

If you don't feel like picking, stop by your local farmers' market over the next few weeks. Vendors will be offering local berries starting next week.


Quail eggs: coming soon to the Orleans Farmers' Market

This morning at the Orleans Farmers' Market I received a most unusual gift. I swapped a dollar for a bundle of garlic chives with Ben Chung, East Orleans dentist and backyard grower, and he reached into his van to pull out a surprise. Carefully, he tucked a tiny speckled quail egg into my palm.

With any luck, he told me as I walked away, he and his kids would be selling them by the dozen in two weeks time. The family started keeping them for meat, but soon became too attached to the birds to use them for slaughter. Instead, he said, they bring in about 20 speckled eggs every day. As I bartered for bib lettuce and rhubarb and spring onions, I tucked the miniature gift into my sweater pocket for safe keeping. By the time I made it to the car, I had all but forgotten it.

At home when I reached into my pocket to retrieve the remembered treat, the shell was crushed. The weight of the plants or perhaps my own hand against my hip had broken it to pieces, much to my disappointment. But just as I began to peel the mess from my pocket, I realized that it wasn't such a disaster after all. Ben had given me the quail egg hard-boiled, ready to peel. Crushing it had just begun the process early.

I sat down to a salvaged snack of hard-boiled quail and chicken egg salad with sautéed spring onions and toast. While the taste of the two egg types is fairly similar, the miniature version has more yolk in comparison to white and seemed a bit richer. Different or not, the size and beauty of the shell are tempting enough. I'll be back in two weeks looking for more.


Serves 3

Soft boil 11 quail eggs. Peel and drop into a medium sized bowl.

In a separate bowl, begin making mayonnaise. Crack remaining raw quail egg and add 1/2 teaspoon cold water. Mix well with a whisk or fork. Measure out 1/2 cup olive oil. Emulsify by adding very slowly—drops at a time at first—to egg mixture, whisking constantly until it turns opaque. At this point start to add oil slightly more quickly, continuing to whisk constantly, until the mayo reaches the desired consistency. Add 2 finely chopped spring onions with greens and stir well.

Mash hard boiled eggs. Add mayo and stir together. Add mustard, salt, and pepper to taste.

Enjoy on toast, with several pieces local bib lettuce.


Backyard beauties

Today I ate my first tomato of the season. I may have cheated the weather a bit, but not so much as you might imagine.

The red fruit is a Backyard Beauty, a brand vine-ripened in a hothouse in Madison, Maine. Beauties are only sold in New England, and only shipped within 24 hours of harvest. According to the company, they never make it very far.

Big name grocery stores in Maine and several other states carry the product year round; the tomato I ate came from a Hannaford Brothers store in Brunswick, Maine, where my mother does her weekly shop.

According to her, it takes less energy to heat a greenhouse in Maine than it does to cool one in Georgia. State of the art grow lamps, thermal blankets, heated gutters, and a rainwater re-claimation system keep the 24 acre greenhouse in check the environmentally friendly way. The Backyard Beauty website claims its greenhouse land is 20 times more productive per acre than a traditional New England farm; adding to its list of merits land conservation activist.

My BT (as I am waiting to pick up more lettuce tomorrow at the farmers' markets, the sandwich was minus the L) was delicious. With home baked toast, smoked bacon, and home whipped mayo, it was hard to beat. But to be honest, the tomato was nothing to rave about. It tasted, after its out of season journey from Maine to Cape Cod in the back of my parents Volvo, like every other tomato that has been grown commercially and shipped too far. For my next bite, I think I'll wait for a heat wave beauty from our own sandy ground.

Until then, make it a BL, minus the T.


Cultures, cream, and cheesecloth

In keeping with my recent attempt to keep the refrigerator and pantry stocked with necessary all-American staples, I decided to make yogurt yesterday. Reaching into the back of the cupboard, I dusted off the yogurt incubator given to me last year by my sister, and picked up a small container of whole-fat Stoneyfield vanilla at the store.

With or without an incubator, there isn't much to making yogurt. I heated up several cups of milk until almost boiling, watched with a thermometer until its temperature dropped to about 115 degrees, and stirred in a dollop of Stoneyfield as a starter. Into two sterile plastic containers, I poured the mixture and turned on the machine. This morning, we had yogurt.

But even after a year of attempts, it still wasn't the yogurt I was craving. Even when I use a Greek starter, the thick, creamy consistency of Mediterranean yogurt has always eluded me in my culturing attempts. This morning was no exception. The consistency of my jars was more reminiscent of a watery Dannon than a Fage Total.

A bit of hunting around online turned up the solution. The Greeks strain their yogurt through cheesecloth, removing more of the excess whey and leaving a thick, curdy cream. I grabbed a piece and started pouring; within minutes, a bowl of velvety, rich yogurt sat before me. I spooned in some strawberry jam, sprinkled it with granola, and we sat down to a Greek-American breakfast.


Fill a thermos with milk; pour milk into pot and heat until almost boiling (do not boil, as this will ruin the proteins in the milk). At the same time, boil water in a teakettle. Once boiling, pour water into thermos and over top; let sit 5-10 minutes to sterilize.

Once milk is hot, turn off heat and let cool to about 115 degrees, or until the liquid does not burn to the touch but feels uncomfortably hot after several seconds. Stir in several spoonfuls of live yogurt cultures, either from a previous batch or a store bought container. Pour water from thermos and pour in milk. Close tightly; let sit 8-15 hours, keeping container still.

Open thermos and pour or spoon yogurt into cheesecloth. Let drain for several minutes over sink or bowl. Move thickened curds from cloth into container; spoon out and enjoy!

Keep refrigerated.


Mutiny in the pantry

The other day, Alex's friend Adam arrived for the summer. Planning to live in our basement for a few months, he brought with him the necessary material items, along with the trappings of a Stop n' Shop visit. A bunch of Eko-bananas filled the empty fruit basket, boxes of cereal were stacked atop the fridge, and a bag of pretzels was tucked into the cupboard alongside a jar of honey mustard dip.

When the crisp pop of a jar of peanuts opening reverberated through the kitchen, Alex swung around and looked at Adam like a starving child. With the same eyes, he noted the cereal, pretzels, pringles, and bananas. Blame it on age (our generation was, after all, raised during the era of the snack cupboard), but he was clearly feeling deprived.

"Why don't you ever buy Kashi any more?" he demanded, suddenly wondering at the empty cupboard. "And what happened to the fruit? Where's the food?"

I started to explain, but he held up a hand. "Let me at least enjoy Adam's peanuts in peace," he pleaded. Clearly, he had had just about enough of this experiment. Though I left the two of them to their snacking, a nagging feeling of failure to feed remained with me through the day.

That evening, determined to please the hungry mouths of my household without sacrificing too many of my local-food ideals, I took stock of the pantry. I found ten pounds of oats, 5 pounds of flour, a quart of honey, jars and jars of jam in every flavor from beach plum to strawberry, two of cranberry chutney, a row of pickled beets, a loaf of bread, and a jar of tomato sauce. Surely from these items, along with the milk, butter, beets, greens, meat, rhubarb, seafood, cheese, and apple cider in the fridge, I could make at least one snackable food.

After a long stare, I settled on granola. Cereal seemed to be the biggest score I needed to settle, and so I began the process of oven roasting the oats. As for the fruit, I decided to make a new allowance for bananas. After all, the first importer of the fruit, Lorenzo D. Baker, started bringing them to his hometown of Wellfleet in 1870. Had my great-grandmother grown up here, she'd surely have seen a slice or two in her morning routine.

Between the granola and the fruit, the mutiny was quelled by morning. Still, the experience reminded me that every locavore has a limit. It's not so disastrous to pick up a banana every once in a while, whether in Baker's neighborhood or not.


Makes enough to fill one gallon jar

Preheat oven to 350. Melt 1 stick butter over low heat. Stir in 1/2 cup honey. Pour over 6 cups of oats in two 9 by 13 Pyrex pans, stir until oats absorb liquid. Bake, stirring frequently, for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool overnight; store in an airtight jar or container.


Chive blossom balsamic dresses up Orleans arugula

The pot of chives on the back porch was in full bloom yesterday morning when I stepped outside to sweep the pollen from the shaded planks of yellow wood. The pungent lavender petals dusted dusted my fingertips a grainy gold, and I snapped their stalks between my thumb and forefinger.

Trimming the flowers, my mother had told me that morning, would keep the onion from going to seed. Once cut, however, the blossoms were too pretty to throw away.

I remembered having once seen them on a salad, and set about looking through cookbooks and recipes. Turns out the edible blossoms are edible in just about any fashion, but are generally served raw as a garnish or used to flavor dressings or vinegar. I decided to embark on a dual experiment in salad dressing; using half of the petals for a spur of the moment oil and vinegar, and leaving the rest to infuse a bottle of white vinegar.

The salad dressing was a simple oil and balsamic. Tinged with mild onion, it was an excellent match for the bag of peppery Orleans arugula I had picked up at Phoenix Fruits earlier in the week.

As for the vinegar, I'll have to wait at least a month for the first taste. Until then, I'll simply admire the bobbing blossoms.


Cut 10 just opened chive blossoms. Separate florets and finely chop stems. Combine 1/2 cup oil with 1/8 to 1/4 cup dark balsamic vinegar. Add 1 tablespoon mustard; whisk well. Add salt and crushed black peppercorns to taste, and sprinkle in chive clippings and florets. Serve over arugula or other peppery spring greens.


New local logo for the Diary

In keeping with my attempts to shop locally, I made sure to contact Brewster calligrapher Rick Paulus when it came time for a new logo. As the former calligrapher to the White House, he knows how to use a pen.

Since beginning his career in 1985, he's trained under first full-time White House calligrapher A.B. Tolley, served as engrosser for the State House, and worked as calligrapher for the Clinton administration. Most recently, however, he moved home to Brewster to open up his own studio.

Tucked into a modest clapboard shed behind his house at 2814 Main Street, the studio is decorated with bold blues and stark white. Exquisitely decorated papers lettered with sayings and invites are scattered about to dry, and his friendly dog is sure to greet you with tail wagging.

Already over the short course of its first season, Cape Lettering Arts has made quite a mark on area customers, myself included. If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check it out.

Thanks, Rick, for a job well done!


Of course I can! A glance at the closely intertwined histories of sugar and canning

I have been using what seems to me like an enormous quantity of sugar recently. Between the rhubarb pies, the canned pie filling, and the beets, at least 15 pounds have flown off the cupboard shelves. I have been justifying this by telling myself that my great-grandmother (the Michael Pollan reference point for how to eat) would have used plenty of sugar to preserve things the same way.

But would she? Sugar has never been local to New England, and was a luxury until not so many years ago. She would likely have known how to substitute honey or maple syrup in pies or breads, but not in canning. Over the course of nine months in a mason jar, there's no telling what could go wrong.

Wondering just how much canning she would have done, I did a bit of research. First, I turned up what I already knew, but hadn't really thought about. Sugar was first made affordable in the late 1700s by slave labor; it's no coincidence that Nicholas Appert came up with canning around the same time. But while Appert fed Napoleon's army with the first on-the-go meals at the start of the 19th century, it wasn't until the 1880s that summertime canning became a domestic ritual for American women.

Even so, jars were expensive, and records of canning classes during both World Wars suggest that not every home was well-versed in the preservation method early on. By WW2, however, proficiency had reached a level where home canners were allowed extra ration sugar—up to one pound for every four quarts of finished fruit. The above illustration from the War Food Administration in Washington D.C. encouraged women to put up fruits and vegetables during the summer and fall so that commercially canned goods could be sent to soldiers overseas, an effort seen alongside the Victory Garden as the ultimate in patriotism.

But the World Wars were the era of my grandmother, not my great-grandmother. Recipes in my grandmother's hand-scribbled book from Maw-Maw, my great-grandmother, are few and far between. Nonetheless, I did manage to turn up a few for canned items: Maw-Maw's quince preserve, "strictly southern" watermelon rind preserve, and green tomato pickles. All called for a good amount of sugar, putting me in the safe zone in Michael Pollan's terms.

While that's good enough for now, I'm still curious about we ate before the era of cheap sugar and mason jars. What if sugar prices rise as much as flour already has? Surely, there are other methods of preservation using local ingredients. Thanks to Amazon, answers should be arriving soon. Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning is an exploration of Old World preservation methods compiled by the French gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivant.

As Maine garden guru Eliot Coleman puts it in the introduction, "Food preservation techniques can be divided into two categories: the modern scientific methods that remove the life from food, and the natural 'poetic' methods that maintain or enhance the life in food." I'm hoping to learn a thing or two about the latter.

And in case your hot house tomatoes are greening up:


Slice 1 peck green tomatoes and 12 onions very thinly. Sprinkle with salt and layer on bottom of large pot. Take 1/4 pound ground mustard, 1/4 pound white mustard seed, 1 ounce whole cloves, 1 ounce ground ginger, 1 ounce whole allspice, 1 ounce celery seed, and 1 ounce black pepper grains and mix well. Put in pot in alternate layers with tomatoes and onions. Cover with 1/2 gallon vinegar and cook till tender; about 3 hours. Use sugar to taste—about 3 pounds is good for above recipe. Put spices in cheesecloth bag (allspice, cloves, and whole peppers). Put in sterile jars.


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