Lunch in Truro Center

It's time for a picnic. I know it's chilly out, but the sun's here at least, and there's a new stop for lunch in Truro Center, so grab your blanket.

It's Mac's Seafood, no less—a rather unexpected stop. There are no tables inside the fish market, no chairs. But there's a fry-o-lator spitting and a grill fired up, and you can bet the lobster meat is fresh-shucked.

Mixed carefully with mayo, celery, red onion, and a splash of lemon juice, the salad can't be beat. Add in two slices to flame-toasted golden-buttered Rustica bread, hand-cut fries, and a side of pickle, and you have yourself a meal to write home about.

Of course, I'm a bit biased: it is the fish monger's store, after all. But I promise, it's worth the trip. If I were you, I'd get there before the cold sets in. But no hurry; this Truro Center manna will be around until New Year's Eve.


The Local Food Report: Rhode Island Greening pie

It isn't often I've made a green apple pie. Usually I stick to the reds, tossing in softening MacIntosh's or week old Rome's in an attempt to use the fruit before its peak.

But upon suggestion from Dorris Mills, whose family has been baking and selling apples for over a century now, I tried my luck with a bag of Rhode Island Greenings.

Chopping and peeling I mixed the fruit with sugar and cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of lemon juice before leaving it to sit. I rolled out a thick crust from a stiff, dry recipe passed along by a friend, and set the oven to heat.

The pie that emerged was stunning. The crust rose up in thick peaks, the fruit had baked into a moist yet cohesive filling, and the color of both fruit and dough had browned into a golden delight.

The taste was better still. Just as Dorris had predicted, the tart green apples kept their shape. They don't melt down, I remember her laughing, and she was right. The took to the sugar and spices well, too, soaking up the saccharine crystals into a sticky web of spice and juice. While McKown's will make a good pie, Rhode Island Greenings'll do you one better.

For a complete listing of the apple varieties Dorris grows at Noquochoke Orchards, complete with taste descriptions and season, visit their website.


Serves 6 to 8

In a large bowl, cut 2 sticks butter into pieces. Pour 8 tablespoons hot water over top. Sift together 3 cups flour, 2/3 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 teaspoons salt, and work into the wet butter and water. Pat dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and let chill 30 minutes.

Peel, core, and thinly slice Rhode Island Greening apples until they yield 4 cups. In a large bowl, mix with 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out one disk of dough and use it to line the bottom of a large pie plate. Spoon in pie filling and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Roll out top crust and place over fruit. Pinch edges into thick seams, remove excess dough, and cut several slits in the dough to let steam escape while baking. Bake 30 minutes at 425, then turn the oven down to 350 and cook for 20 minutes more, or until filling is thick and crust golden brown. Enjoy hot with vanilla ice cream.


Adieu, cantaloupe!

There's something off about the colors in this photo; something wrong with the contrast between fruit and cloth. I stared at it for quite a while before I could put my finger on it: it's the seasons that are behind the discord.

This melon is bright, pale orange like the light of so many summer evenings, and resting in a bowl of sunny yellow. The cloth—my favorite for the table this time of year—is more subdued, it's colors fading like the season.

I've no right to expect the melon to fit in. It is, after all, late October, and most of its kin were harvested at least by the middle of the month. It doesn't belong, anymore, amidst the falling leaves and freezing rain storms and the chilly hustle of autumn nights.

Going down, it was bittersweet. The cantaloupe seemed to symbolize the end of an era, the wrapping up of a season so well beloved. When the apples are gone—and at this I shiver—it truly will be the end of fresh fruit for breakfast, back to oatmeal and cranberries and the frozen berry contents of the freezer. This will be the first winter I've ever really tried this, ever really committed myself to a stretch of months without stolen South American blueberries and strawberries ripened under the California sun.

But without a bit of longing, it's true: there's nothing much to desire. From oats to next year's melons, I can only imagine the delight.


The brussel sprout & the locust

There was an accident, of sorts, yesterday. I apologize for my absence—but it was one difficult to stomach.

It involved the brussel sprouts, and a tree. A very large tree, one that the arborists had come to remove so that my winter garden could receive a bit more light, now that the sun has dipped in the horizon.

Of course the tree didn't fall in quite the right direction, and the garden so in need of light received instead a heavy blow. I heard all this over the phone.

When I arrived home to survey the damage, it wasn't so bad as my Route 6 hysteria had initially imagined. Only a narrow swath was hit: a chunk of winter scallions, the towering brussel sprouts, and a few tiny Italian kale. But still, I'd been babying those brussel sprouts since April! and the rest since August.

Luckily, the brussel sprouts were mature enough at least to be ready for dinner. I bathed them carefully, removed their bottoms, and put them into my finest Le Creuset for a proper burial. With a dab of olive oil, hot, and their tiny leaves unfolding, they sank into the pan to steam and let go. We said a final prayer over the table, and bit in to enjoy. They were every bit worth the seven month wait.


Serves 2

Remove the edible balls from 2 stalks brussel sprouts. Wash, clean, and cut the larger bottoms from the sprouts. In a heavy bottomed, deep frying pan or pot, heat up several tablespoons oil over medium heat. Drop in the sprouts, stirring once, and cover. Let steam, stirring occasionally, until tender. Eat hot.


The very last day

Today is the very last day of the Provincetown Farmers' Market. Two weeks ago, we lost Orleans, Tuesday, it'll be Sandwich. We are falling into winter all too quickly for my taste.

The season's over; I understand that. Daylight is shrinking, the earth cooling, weather growing more formidable by the day. But that doesn't mean the market has to be over.

My mother sent me this email last week: It's official! she announced. Brunswick will have a winter farmers' market, every Saturday starting November 8th and running through the last Saturday in April. Hours are 9am to noon, in the Maine Barn at Granite Farm, 93 Casco Road.

Brunswick, my hometown, is in Maine. It is certainly colder there, and at a latitude where even less winter sunshine is to be expected, and yet the market is going to persist. There'll be storage onions and squash and winter greens and cabbage, and plenty of potatoes and meat and eggs, I bet, too. Brunswick isn't the first Maine town to do this; its neighbor, Bath, held one last year to riotous success.

There's no reason we can't start generating interest here for people to do the same. Surely we can find a central location—a restaurant closed down for the winter, a school gymnasium empty on a Saturday morning—and a group of farmers willing to continue selling year round. It may take a few seasons, to be sure, but if there are those of you out there willing to help me get started, I say we give it a try.

Comments posted to this blog are emailed to me directly. If you wish to send a private message, you can write me at elspeth.pierson@gmail.com. Let's get started!


Tarte Tatin

I know there's been a lot of dessert around here lately. Really, I do. But it's that time of year, and besides, it's not like you can't eat Tarte Tatin for breakfast, too.

I know, because I've been doing it for two days now. I sneak down into the kitchen, my bare feet hugging the cold tiles, and crack open the refrigerator until the light just barely clicks on. As though by heart, I reach blindly for the plate, and pull it from the reaches of leftover salad and bluefish paté.

This happens only in secret, of course; once the dog and his companion have rushed out the door to work and the house has settled into the quiet hum of a workday morning. I can hear the dishwasher as I eat upstairs at my desk, see the sunlight as it flickers over the chilly expanse of winter greens still struggling up in the garden. It is always a dilemma when the plate grows empty, licked clean of the last pastry flakes and caramel sauce. If I bring it down to the kitchen, there's a frightfully good chance I'll pile it high with more.

And so I leave it to sit, a shiny white glare on the edge of my desk, until lunchtime rolls around. It's always okay to have seconds for lunch. Especially when it's Tarte Tatin.

(adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food)

Serves 6-8

Quarter, core, and peel 4 large apples. Set aside, and in a separate bowl, mix 2 cups flour and several pinches salt. Cut in 12 tablespoons butter with a pastry cutter or by hand until butter is in very small, pea size pieces. Some large, irregular chunks are okay. Pour in 1/2 cup ice-cold water slowly, mixing well. Knead dough until cohesive. Divide into 2 balls, pat into disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate (there will be extra dough; you can save this for another project).

Slice apples into very thin slices, and arrange on bottom of well-greased pie or frying pan in several tight, fanned circles. Be sure there are no spaces between apples as they will shrink during cooking. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Heat until boiling; as the mixture bubbles it will begin to turn brown. At this point, remove from flame and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir until butter is combined. Pour over apples while still hot, and dot apples with 1 tablespoon butter.

Roll out one disk of pie dough very thin and cut into a 9-inch square. Place over top of apples, pinching edges into a ridge. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool slightly. Jiggle pan to ensure apples are free from bottom, put a serving platter on top, and flip tart onto platter. Serve warm (or cold for breakfast).


The Local Food Report: cranberry crisp

Driving across the island, the Nantucket cranberry bogs seem nearly as old as the soil itself. Rutted dirt roads wind through their midst, passing by ponds and heather moors and abandoned glacial till.

But in truth, berry cultivation is a relatively new activity on this seabound sand. In the mid 1800s, as the whaling industry collapsed and with it Nantucket's economy, the settlers turned to swampy land to earn a living offshore.

Before long, 234 acres of bog were turning out berries, developing names like Milestone and Windswept and a careful web of ditches and dikes. The vines have changed hands over the years, but the berries remain the same large, red globes the first cultivators fell in love with.

Today, the Conservation Foundation owns the bogs, managed under the careful guidance of Tom Larrabee with a bit of help from Executive Director Jim Lentowski. Lentowski is a true cranberry lover; in his recipe collection he holds chutneys and ciders, cookies and muffins, and a carefully gelled & molded red berry salad.

But his mother's cranberry crisp recipe, he says, is the best. Combining fresh berries and dough, it appears perhaps more cobbler than crisp, but it is delicious all the same.

(recipe courtesy of Jim Lentowski & the Nantucket Conservation Foundation)

Serves 6 to 8

Spread 2 cups whole, unfrozen cranberries across a well-buttered, shallow, 8-inch round pie dish. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts), and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle this mixture over the cranberries.

In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg with 1/2 cup sugar until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, and 4 tablespoons butter, chopped into small pieces. Beat well and spread batter over cranberries in an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve with ice cream.


Rainy day latte

This morning was one of those lazy, stormy sort of starts. It's hard to rally for such a day: windy, rainy, and altogether gray. There was only one way to get out of bed, really, and that was to bribe ourselves with a latte.

I'd purchased the magnificent milk frother a few weeks before. Sleek and silver, it churned hot milk into foam, pushing tiny bubbles into a fuzzy coat. On the stove, the teakettle steamed and finally whistled, screaming coffee at the top of its lungs.

The beans were Beanstock, roasted in Eastham to a dark, rich perfection. The milk was our raw, creamy liquid from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth. Boiling water poured over the grinds, coffee aroma steamed hot, and the cups warmed up on the shelf over the stove. Between the Beanstock and the foam, it was a latte worth getting up for.


Serves 2

Boil 1 cup water; pour over 2 tablespoons Beanstock espresso grinds. Heat up 3/4 cup whole milk; foam with electric frother. Pour a shot of espresso into each mug, top with milk and foam, and enjoy hot.


Sauteed cabbage

This isn't much of a recipe for those of you looking for a lengthy list of ingredients and a long stint at the stove. Sauteed cabbage only calls for two things: butter and cabbage.

But as my mother pointed out, if the ingredients are good, you don't need much more. She discovered the dish at a dinner party, begging the host for her recipe for this warm cabbage salad. With a blush the truth came out. I simply saute it in butter.

I didn't quite believe the story as she relayed it my way. I'd called her for a new coleslaw recipe; cabbage is here to stay, after all, but she'd offered the saute instead. Lacking a fire and hunkered down to face the possibility of an evening frost, I accepted the warming dish with hopeful skepticism.

The burner heated up quickly, spitting butter in the chilled kitchen air. With fat bubbling, I dropped in long thin strips of well-chopped cabbage, and the hearty greens began to melt. They softened into a willowy heap within seconds, and I spooned them onto my plate. A quick grind of salt and a dash of pepper, and I bit in to test their worth.

Rarely have I been so surprised by simplicity. The once-harsh green was now sweet, subtly salty and certainly tender. It had been transformed in an instant into a warm, autumn delicacy so easy and yet so good as to easily take the place of summer salads. For a chilly fall evening, in taste, price, and ease, it's a recipe that can't be beat.


Serves 4-6

Chop 1 green cabbage into long thin strips. Saute in 4 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan. Serve warm with salt and pepper in place of salad.


Country cranberry honey scones

The warm weather is over for good now, I fear. The wind's kicked up, the gray blown in, and the last visitors trickled away over the bridge last night.

It's always strange, this shift, but comforting, too. The start of a new season—one with cozy fires and shorter daylight but with more hours to laze—means the start of another term, too. It's baking season—time to warm bread over the pilot, brown biscuits on cookie trays, and bake the warm winter squashes into puddings and pies.

I kicked it off Sunday morning with a scone recipe. Country cherry honey scones, they were called, found tucked inside the pages of Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More. My mother and father had gotten me the book for my birthday, but between April and August there'd been little time to explore. Early Sunday morning, as the wind bore down, I settled onto a kitchen chair to find something warming to make.

The scones caught my eye immediately. There were a few substitutions to be made: they called for dried cherries and orange zest, sparkling sugar and half-and-half, but I was fairly sure we could make do without. I dug into the cupboard for a jar of dried cranberries, grated the rind from a lemon, and began mixing a batter. In went flour and honey, baking powder and butter, one large egg and a dash of whole milk.

I shaped the dough into a round, cut it into careful pinwheel slices, and set the triangles in on a cookie sheet to bake. Brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sugar, they emerged golden and shining, just in time for the table. One bite in, I was already hooked.


(adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More by Carole Walter)

Makes 12 scones

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 and 1/2 cups white flour, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest. Cut in 1 stick butter with a pastry cutter. Toss in 1/2 cup dried cranberries.

In a separate bowl, mix together 1 large egg, 1/4 cup honey, and 1/2 cup whole milk. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well. With floured hands, gently knead the dough several times. Put onto floured surface, divide in two, and pat each ball into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Cut each into 6 wedges and place scones on a well-greased cookie sheet. Brush with egg wash (made from 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon water whisked together) and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.


Top milk

Top milk is a discovery too tickling to keep to myself. As I flipped through a book of recipes the other day, I came across an entry for the phrase.
Top milk? I wondered aloud. I'd never seen the term in print.
In my head, of course, it was perfectly clear: I'd used a sort of top milk the other day in place of half and half, pouring the cream as best I could from a well-settled jug of milk. A bit of the skimmed liquid fell out as well, mixing with the heavy fat into something reminiscent of the cream that is best in coffee.
With no supposition that this imagined definition could hold true, I turned to Merriam Webster for assistance:

[Main Entry: top milk
Function: noun
Date: 1891
: the upper layer of milk in a container enriched by whatever cream has risen]

The date was a decade or so before homogenization and pasteurization changed the look of the milk bottle forever.
Before this new milk overshadowed the old raw, Louis Starr dedicated a whole book to the topic of proper milk feeding regimens. To my little patients—some of whom in the rapid passing of time, may soon assume parental duties—this volume is affectionately dedicated, he writes, introducing The Hygiene of the Nursery.

As this 1913 manual described, top milk is procured with a one ounce ladle, scooping the settled cream from a chilled quart bottle and putting it aside for a formula mixture.
This milk when used in making a properly combined food mixture gives a proportion of fat to proteins of 2 to 1, he instructs, blending top milk with sugar, lime-water, and water. For the first 6 months of life, he says, this should do any infant well when needed.

While I prefer cake over formula, it's amazing the fun a word can make.


(adapted from a recipe I found here)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13 inch Pyrex baking pan and dust lightly with flour. Sift together
1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cream 12 tablespoons butter and 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add 3 duck eggs (I found some at the Cohasset Farmers market, but extra large chicken eggs will also do), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, and mix well. Add 1 cup top milk slowly, mixing batter well as you pour.


Swiss chard

I've always loved Swiss chard—the rainbow of stalks, the thick, leafy greens, and the faint but charming bitterness it lends a cup of soup.

With roots in Sicilian soil, it is surprising the chill it can withstand. It thrives on neglect, spreading in delight down rows of poor, sandy earth where forgotten hands have strewn its seed.

As the weather cools down, the greens lose their edge. The bitter leaves of mid-summer give way to a softer, gentler sort of flavor, imbibing salads and stir-fries with an almost sweet hue.

My favorite lunch this time of year is to cozy up with a bowl of Swiss chard just barely steeped in a broth of pork or chicken stock and a dash of milk. The thin, comforting broth sucked from the marrow of a ham bone fills out with a splash of cream, the two lapping and splashing at the greens until finally they begin to let go. I add a bit of corn, sometimes, or perhaps a sliced onion or the miniature nesting cabbages from the stalk of a brussel sprout. No matter the weather or the tempo of the afternoon, it always makes for a soothing cup.

Yesterday afternoon, cozied up with a mountain of newspaper deadlines and a basket of cream biscuits with jam, I heated up a bowl and settled into the couch to enjoy. Dread gave way to calm, as the well-warmed greens fortified me for the long hours ahead.


Serves 1

Boil 3/4 cup pork, chicken, or fish stock. Throw in 1 cup (or more!) of chopped Swiss chard. Other vegetables of your choice (think brussel sprouts, sauteed onions, corn, broccoli, etc.) can also be added. Put a lid on the pot and let the chard steam until just wilted. Add a splash of milk or cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy hot.


The Local Food Report: Wellfleet oyster stew

I remember what last year's OysterFest brought to my breakfast. It was nine a.m.; I was downtown refusing coffee, muffins, and beer. Instead, clutched between my well-chilled palms I held a bowl of oyster stew.

The stew was everything a good cold weather breakfast should be: rich, warm, and filling. To be sure it was savory rather than oatmeal sweet, but it lasted me on foot long through the day.

Photo courtesy Sarah Reynolds

I remembered my breakfast last week, hungry for a fall-time dinner and hankering for soup. I pulled together milk and cream, seasonings and spices, and a good bowl of oysters with liquor. The stove flamed hot, and I sauteed onions and celery, salt and pepper, and thickened butter and flour into a hearty roux. In went milk and cream, a dash of sherry, and finally a heaping quart of fresh shucked oysters. As their rippled edges shrunk to lace, I took a bite, and the memories came flooding back.


(adapted from Mrs. Louis T. Parker's recipe in Charleston Receipts, put together by the women of the Junior League of Charleston, S.C.)

Serves 4-6

Melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup diced celery and 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion, and cook until tender. Shake in 3 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly. Pour in 1 quart whole milk, little by little, stirring all the while. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 blade mace and cook until boiling point is reached. Add 1 pint oysters with liquor and a dash of sherry if desired. Serve as soon as oysters are thoroughly hot and plump.


Ode to the Eastham turnip

The Eastham turnip is a gentle beast. Green feathered and violet tinged, it emerges from the earth to announce the fall.

It's autumn! it trumpets, hair flying and roots cast off. Unanchored, it sits in basement cellars and vegetable crispers, harkening the approach of winter.

When all is bare, I'll be here, it promises, blushing cheeks tinged lavender and smooth skin pale.

It's not quite time yet for the frosty spades, but I cannot help pulling a swift, risky turn off Route 6 and screeching to a farm stand stop. There are pounds upon pounds upon pounds of the root vegetable nestled beneath the cover of a dry blue blanket. Green tops peek out, and I reach beneath to pile my catch high on the scale. Four pounds, I discover, and throw $8 in the iron box.

There is no discussion when we arrive in the kitchen. I chop them boldly to pieces, they succumb to the murmur of onion and broth, and the silken soup is quickly done. I sit down with bowl and spoon, and let go to the prospect of falling leaves.


(adapted from First Encounter with a Turnip, a collection of recipes from the Friends of the Eastham Public Library)

Serves 4-6

In a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add 2 shallots, thinly sliced, and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add 3 small to mid-sized turnips, peeled and sliced thinly, 3 small new potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly, and salt to taste. Cover, stirring occasionally, and let cook 20 minutes, or until tender. Add 4 cups chicken broth and simmer partially covered for 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream, and puree soup until silky. Serve hot, sprinkled with nutmeg and fresh basil to taste.


Oatmeal chocolate chip catastrophe

Having already confessed my love for chocolate chip cookies, there is little left to admit but that I've made them, again. This time the sin was with oatmeal: thick, chewy rolled oats from up towards northern Maine, coupled with a good bit of butter, sugar, and plenty of chocolate.

I was inspired by an interview with Teri Horn, founder of Hyannis-based Kayak Cookies and creator of the Chocolate Salty Oat. We'd talked about the cookies for nearly an hour; she'd run through the oats she used and her butter tips, and we'd laughed through a few stories of disaster.

By the time I reached home, I was in a virtual cookie frenzy.

I pulled out my mother's oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe, warmed the oven, and mixed up a bowl of dry ingredients. Next, it was on to the wet: sugar and butter and eggs and milk, and finally I put the two together. The oven steamed hot, and in they went: 24 perfect drops of gold.

But when the sheet emerged, minutes later, my creations brought to mind one of Teri's calamitous stories. They had spread, thin as a sheet, individual oats stuck to the pan with huge craters of chocolate rising up. They were tasty, to be sure, and at the least not burnt, but they hardly compared to the bag of Salty Oats teasing me from the kitchen counter.

I turned to the Hershey's website to trouble shoot the disaster. "If homemade cookies spread too much during baking, the following problems may have occurred," it instructed with a militant groan. The oven could have been too cold, the baking sheets greased too heavily, oil substituted for butter. The cookie sheet could have been hot when I'd dropped the cookies, or perhaps fructose sugar was substituted for cane? No, at none of these had I failed.

But when I came to the section on brown sugar, I knew what I'd done to deserve disaster. "Dark brown sugar was used instead of light brown sugar," the accusation read, and I blushed at the strength of its truth. Yes, certainly that had been it. Despite the Maine organic flour and thick rolled oats, the stick and a half of Kate's Homemade Butter, and the hand-cut chunks of Baker's Chocolate Semi-Sweet (in varying sizes as Teri recommended, no less!) my cookies had spread. All on account of a sugar substitution I'd never even thought to suspect.


(substitioners beware!)

Makes 24 small cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat 1 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup butter, 1 egg, and 1/4 cup water in a large mixing bowl. Mix in 1/2 cup white flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 3 cups raw rolled oats, and 1 package chocolate chips. When well mixed, form into small balls and drop onto well-greased cookie sheet; bake 10 minutes or until golden.


Honey from the comb

There is nothing my mother loves better than good honey straight from the comb. She first found it in her Christmas stocking, toted up north from Wellfleet, the year I brought it from Rich's farm stand down the road.

This year, she sought it out, pulling in to check Sheila's carefully stocked shelves each time she passed the stand on her way out for a visit. "No luck," she'd say; Rich's was out of honey.

She found some finally at the Common Ground Fair, combs packed tightly into a small plastic box. She tried a box from the local coop, too, and a farm nearby, but when she spooned it out onto her fork, it was never the same. They were all too waxy, less delicate, and not quite so sweet.

So when I spotted the comb honey at Crow's Farm in Sandwich the other day, I had to pick some up. I packed two boxes into my brimming paper bag, and tucked one away for safe keeping. At home, I opened the other at breakfast. Popping in a piece of bread, I pulled out the butter and settled in to wait.

When the slice emerged toast, I carried it to the table and began to spread. First butter then honey melted into the grains, salty yet sweet and lingering long on the tongue. I can't say for sure, but I think it's as good as Sheila's honey. I'll have to wait for Christmas to get the last word.


Serves 2

Slice 1 Granny Smith apple very thinly. Slice 4 pieces bread, and put in to toast. When hot, spread each with 1 tablespoon blue or other soft cheese and 1 tablespoon honey from the comb. Layer with apple slices and eat warm.


Leftover fish paté

The cooking gods seem to have graced me with a string of lucky kitchen accidents recently. Beyond the poached-quince-turned-fruit leather-incident earlier this week, I've had already another one worthy of sharing.

It began as an attempt at fish sausage. I’d picked up a brochure on the delicacy, somewhere, and pulled it out in the face of a mountain of leftover codfish. There was something alluring about the idea of a seafood sausage; something thrilling in the imagined transformation of raw flesh of the sea into smoky, spicy links.

It didn’t work out this way, however; the fish was supposed to be raw, for starters, and my leftover mackerel had already been cooked, the salmon smoked for weeks. Atop that, I was supposed to have a sausage horn, and casing, and a dash of Pernod, none which graced the reaches of my cupboards.

But I still had the fish, and, unwilling to accept defeat, I forged doggedly ahead towards sausage. I pureed codfish and smoked salmon and herbs, crushed a handful of hot peppers and cilantro, and poured in cream and a lone, goopy egg white with a good dash of paprika. I ran the food processor pulse after pulse after pulse, until finally vegetables met flesh and a sort of paté-esque paste emerged.

The longer I tasted and hemmed and hawed, the clearer it became that in fact my fish sausage was paté. And so I switched directions: rolled out a batch of crackers, set the oven on to bake, and spread the first crisp wafer with my creation. It was delicious: spicy and firm, with plenty of veggies and a smoky fish flavor to boot. And while it may not have been what I was trying for, it certainly hit the spot.


Makes an appetizer dip for

Mince: 1 leek, 1 small, tart apple, 1 tomato, and 3 small hot peppers. Sautee leek in 2 tablespoons butter until soft, then add apple, tomato, and hot pepper. In a food processor, puree 1 lb. leftover cooked fish [I used a combination of 3/4 lb. pan-fried mackerel and 1/4 lb. smoked salmon, but any variety of different fish are likely to work]. Add 1 egg white, 2 tablespoons fresh minced cilantro, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 cup heavy cream and puree until smooth. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve chilled with crackers.


Quince leather

They started out as poached quince—the fruit leather, that is. I peeled the strange green crosses between apple and pair, sliced them down the middle, and set them in to boil. They simmered away, in honey and lemon, leaching tannins and rigidity until finally they sat, soft as mush.

The trouble was, the peculiar, impossibly hard fruits were now too soft. A few days earlier, when I'd picked them up at the market, this had been a mistake impossible to imagine. You could have thrown one from a moving car, stem and all, and found it still intact after the wheels ran it over.

A few of the poached halves were still good, of course, but most had gone over the tipping point from tender to mush. We ate those that hadn't, drizzled with the honey-lemon sauce, a sprinkle of salt, and a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg, and I threw those that had into the food processor.

I'd been wanting to make fruit leather for a long time now, to see if it was really possible like they said in the books. I'd never had the treat homemade, only bundled in plastic and tucked into lunchboxes, but I was eager to give it my best.

Without a dehydrator, this meant careful work. After pureeing the soft fruit with a few spoonfuls of honey, I spread it on a well-oiled cookie sheet with a thermometer on top, and sat down to work. Every hour or so, I turned on the oven to 200 degrees. The mercury shot up to 150, and I turned it off again—my attempt at a homemade machine.

With all but the middle strips, I overshot of course. Afraid of undercooking, I hardened the thin edges into long, brittle crisps. Relinquishing them to trial and error, I sat, marveling nonetheless, at the ones I'd managed. The morning's wet paste of fruit and honey had dried into a pliable, sticky sheet, just like those of the third-grade lunchroom. I took a bite; the flavor was there, and the texture, too, like a chewy bite of ambrosial nectar.

I wrapped what I'd made in thin, wax strips. The paper kept the leather from sticking; a rubber band offered to secure. Tomorrow, I'm hoping for another batch—this time, aiming for perfection.


Fills 1 cookie sheet with 1/8 inch pulp layer

Poach 4 quince, peeled, seeded, and cut in half, in 3 cups water, 1 cup honey, and the peels and juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a boil and then simmer until tender, about one half hour, turning fruit occasionally.

Blend quince in food processor with several tablespoons honey. The mixture should be easily spreadable; if not, add more honey or a bit of the poaching liquid. Spread on a well-oiled cookie sheet or screen, and dry in the oven (kept around 135 degrees) for 4-8 hours. It helps to keep on the convection fan, if you have one. Midway through, when the paste is beginning to harden, cut the leather into strips and flip. This will make removal and drying faster and easier. When dry and pliable but not crisp, roll up in wax paper and tie or secure with rubber band.


The Local Food Report: shiitake frittata

Shiitake mushrooms changed my opinion of fungi. Before them, I'd had bad portobello burgers, soggy white buttons, and roasted morels drowning in vinaigrette—none of which, to put it kindly, I could fall for.

But when I discovered my first fresh shiitake at the Orleans farmers market—plush, pleated, rich—I fell hard and fast, head over heels suddenly for a food group I'd never considered.

I brought them home in paper bags each week, tucked them into the hydrator, and mused over creamy bisques, mushroom pastas, and rich, heavy, tomato sauces.

And then last week, I had a shiitake frittata. I can't take credit for the cooking—that goes to the chef in the house—but I can say, without reservations, that it was one of the best frittatas I've ever had. With sautéed leeks and shiitakes, fresh, yellow eggs, and a good bit of cream, it puffed up and browned into a wide, golden dome.

The inside was perfectly done: airy and moist, with just enough substance. The mushrooms gave it a rich, meaty flavor, while the leeks added a touch of sweet. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it was the perfect plate.

Luckily, there's no need to worry about running out of the mushrooms any time soon. Though the farmers market ends this Saturday, I've got enough dried to last me the winter.

To get your own supply of shiitakes, head to the market this Saturday for the last morning of the season, and buy a bag to dry or a log to keep at home. While Julie Winslow, who sells the mushrooms, doesn't expect to have many this winter, you can give her a call at (508) 255.5354 if you're really desparate.

Next year, with a fresh supply of logs and the possibility of fruiting them in a greenhouse, she's hoping to grow year round. Be sure to let her know you're interested—we have to create the demand to see a supply.


Serves 4-6

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sauté 2 chopped leeks and 1/2 pound sliced shiitake mushrooms in 3 tablespoons butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together 10 egg whites and 3 eggs, or 8 whole eggs, with a dash of whole milk or cream. Add veggies and mix well. Pour egg mixture into a large, well-greased frying pan. Layer top with sliced tomato if available. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown; eat hot.


Garden finale salad

By yesterday evening, the garden was empty save for a dogged, heady patch of kale and a few struggling stalks of brussel sprouts.

The tomato plants were ripped up, spurned by their roots and left to compost near the wood pile.

Basil, thyme, and cilantro still sat guard in the brick row out front, but there was little left to watch, save for the stoic kale.

This will all change today, of course, as spinach and scallions replace peppers and tomatoes, and the showy, outrageous fruits of summer give way to a quieter sort of growth. But still, the upheaval from one season to the next required a celebration, of sorts, and so we decided to put together a last garden dish.

With the ripe cherry and heirloom tomatoes I'd picked, we put together a finale salad to bid the summer garden farewell. We sent it off in style; bright orange balls beside thick red slices with the cheer of a yellow plate. I threw our last beets in to boil, and, warm, they piled on. Their heat melted the Great Hill Blue into a thick cream, cut with a dash of vinegar and a good sprinkle of salt.

The colors were beautiful—as vibrant as the trees—but they were foreboding, too. Any winter plant, even the greens, would pale in comparison, save for the winter berry or perhaps a sprig of holly. But for now, this one last summer garden night, we reveled in the taste of the colorful season.


Serves 4

Slice 2 large heirloom tomatoes into thin rounds. Arrange on a plate in a circle; fill center with ripe cherry tomatoes. Top with 1-2 ounces crumbled Great Hill blue cheese and 3 warmed beets, sliced thin. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon white wine or cider vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy warm.


Green tomatoes

I took down my tomato plants this morning. I stepped out in my p.j.'s and slippers, down the steps and onto the chilly, dew-laden path, and began to strip the vines bare. It would frost well before the green fruit had a chance to ripen, and besides, I had a winter garden to make way for.

Dismantling the plants reminded me of taking down the Christmas tree; I worked slowly, methodically, wrapping each fruit in newspaper and dropping it gently into my basket. The event brought the same twinge of sadness, too, for a season too quickly passed and long months ahead idle with anticipation. When every last green globe was gone, I tore up the roots and cages and walked back to the house.

The tomatoes I tucked away, like ornaments, on the top shelf of a basement closet. It was cool down there, and dry thanks to the dehumidifier, and the tomatoes would keep well in their paper sweaters til Christmas time, at least. Unwrapped one by one, they'd ripen on the windowsill upstairs, soaking up the warmth and light until finally they blazed red as an August fruit.

Perhaps we'd make them into a stew, or a hearty pasta; a bit of cheer on a dreary November day. But for now, they could settle in to wait.


Pick green tomatoes at the end of the season and wrap them up individually in paper. Store them in a cool, dark room. Ripen as needed by unwrapping and exposing the tomatoes to warmth and light. They will keep for about three months.


Chicken roast

The bones are all that's left of the bird we roasted Saturday evening. It was my first chicken; my first attempt at transforming the cold, clammy flesh into something worthy of a warming fall celebration.

Our guests were bringing vegetables and dessert, and I'd kicked my roast-hungry sous chef out from the walls of the tiny kitchen, determined at last to learn this bird.

I'd picked it up in Dartmouth that morning—at Paskamansett Farms—packed it gently into a large white cooler to rest alongside two sister birds.

With the freezer already well stocked—there was a pig from the same farm, smoked into bacon and packed into sausage, a good supply of grass fed beef from a Foxboro farm, and assorted bundles of lamb from a Barnstable shepherder already in—the chicken and her sisters would round out the winter.

Confronting her in the sink, I rinsed and washed her body cavity with cold water, checking for an organ here or there and finally laying her down. I chopped onion and apple, carrot and butter, and threw a handful of breadcrumbs and cranberries into a bowl. With a spoonful of poultry rub and a good bit of salt and pepper, her stuffing was made.

With a few cloves of sliced garlic and a few sprigs of thyme in hand, I turned back to the bird. Slowly, carefully, I felt my way beneath her skin and began to spread the seasonings against her fat. The garlic rested heavy on her thighs and breast, and I rubbed her well with salt and pepper.

The oven heated up, and I began to stuff. I packed her full until finally her skin just stretched to conceal the bread, fruit, and fat, and sewed her up. I felt the heat begin to rise from the oven, and worked quickly to give her one last gift. Chopping quickly, I filled her pan with turnip, onion, and brilliant orange butternut squash.

It made for a magnificent send off—this ferry of herbs and color—wending its way towards the oven barrow. On the plate, it was equally splendid. Meat and root fell together, fruit crunched tart, and a savory gravy of herbs and fat filled out the meal. She didn't last long.

But today, meat gone and bones light, she's back to the soup pot for the final journey.


Make stuffing. Chop and combine in a bowl: 1 good sized carrot, 1 firm apple, and 1/2 large white onion. Add 1 and 1/2 cups torn bread, 1 stick butter, cut up, and 1 cup cranberries. Season with poultry rub and salt and pepper to taste; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pick and have handy several sprigs thyme. In a finger bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Peel 1 head of garlic and cut each clove into thin slices. Rinse whole chicken inside and out in cold water; put in roasting pan or dutch oven with 4 tablespoons olive oil drizzled over bottom. Gently work fingers between bird's skin and flesh, and push in garlic and thyme, spreading evenly over thighs and breast. Pack bird with stuffing; stake or sew shut with twine.

Peel and chop 2 cups butternut squash, 2 cups turnip, 1/2 onion, and 1 apple. Throw around chicken in pan. Cover with tinfoil or put dutch oven lid on, and put in to bake for about 1 hour, or until skin is crisp and bird cooked through. Put stuffing and root vegetables into serving pans; baste bird with juices and let rest 15 minutes before serving. Save bones and meat scraps for soup.


The Jam Kitchen

I'd heard mention of the Jam Kitchen before. It was mythical, almost, brought up over a pot of homemade blackberry jam or a hot batch of tomato sauce with women gathered around the kitchen table. No one I'd spoken with had ever been there, but they all had a vision.

There were row upon row of solid cast iron burners, the rumors imagined; a stool and station for every girl; an old-fashioned, industrial line-up simultaneously beautiful and efficient.

When I arrived for the jam-making workshop at dusk last night, I finally saw the place with my own eyes. A woman stood, sorting cranberries and apples, lining up pots and spoons and a long row of bowls.

It was every bit as charming as they'd said it would be: white tin basins, wide blue floorboards, windows from stool to ceiling for sun-cooking preserves.

We sat down quickly and were put to work. Down went the apple corer, out popped eight thick slices and a cylindrical core, and the knife took the chopping from there. The cranberries we had to eye carefully, picking out bruises and wrinkles and a few rogue stems.

With the fruit ready, the woman in charge lit a wave of blue beneath our burners, and we added sugar and lemon juice, and began to stir. It all happened so quickly—the popping of berries and rolling foam, the thickening against the spoon and finally a falling sheet. We scraped the foam and set to jarring.

The jar lids were sterilized with brandy, she told us. The alcohol killed off any lingering trouble, without all that fuss about boiling. When we'd packed and sealed our eight ounce jars, she ran them through the dishwasher, just to be sure. Labeled and cooled, they looked more professional than any jars I'd ever managed at home: with solid white lids in place of gold ball screws and caps, and a well-printed label, I tucked them away to give as holiday gifts.

recipe adapted from Mary Beers, Green Briar Jam Kitchen instructor

Makes 6, 8 ounce jars

Pick through 4 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) removing any stems and debris. Wash cranberries and place in cook pan. Peel and chop 4-6 apples into small chunks. Add 4 cups apples, 4 cups sugar, and 1/4 cup lemon juice to pan.

Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to a rolling boil. Caution: cranberries pop. Cook until thick and glossy, or until in the wake of the spoon as you stir you can see the bottom. Skim off any foam. Pour while hot into sterilized jars and seal.


Concord grape crisp

If you haven't yet picked up a tartlet pan, honestly, I don't know what you're waiting for. They are so cunning—fitting the most perfectly sized desserts for a hungry one or a generous two—and they can't cost more than a few stacks of well-saved quarters.

Plus, they tend to inspire a lot more dessert making, which in my house, is always a welcome thing.

Last night, it was grape crisp that caught the pan's attention. We had only a few grapes, a half cup at best, but a vision of grape pie and an already dough-lined pan. We heated pulp and skins, added a bit of sugar and a dash of lemon juice, and sprinkled over-top a good heap of oats and sugar and butter and flour.

What I pulled out of the oven—a violet, steaming engine, bubbling with Concord juice and hot, streaming butter—surpassed even the highest of tartlet expectations. Don't wait too many nights to make your own; between the season and the birds, the blue grapes won't last many more.


Makes 6 tartlets

Remove and save the skins from 5 cups grapes. Heat the grapes in a small saucepan until they come to a boil. Boil gently 5 minutes, then press through a colander or food mill to remove seeds. Add skins to pulp, and let stand several hours.

Line the bottom of 6 tartlet pans with a thin layer of pie crust. Add 2/3 cup sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, and 5 tablespoons flour to the grapes, stir well, and distribute the fruit mixture evenly between each tiny pan.

For the topping, stir together 1 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, and 3/4 cup white sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter with a pastry cutter. Grate the rind of 1 lemon and add zest. Stir topping well and spoon over top of fruit.

Bake with tartlet pans atop a cookie sheet at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp topping is golden brown. Enjoy hot, or cold the next day for a breakfast treat.


The Local Food Report: beach plum jelly

It was last summer when I first discovered the beach plum. Walking up and down the sea paths in Truro, I found myself surrounded. Sweet, pitted fruit hung from the dunes, a mosaic of violet and green.

It was a banner year, they all said, the women who'd been making jelly all their lives. The best, perhaps, in seven years, since that last good pick at the turn of the 21st.

We gathered our buckets and boots, and tromped through the poison ivy to pick what we could. Gallon upon gallon piled up in the kitchen, until we could manage no more.

The jelly was simple: hot fruit pressed into juice, a pile of sugar, and a bit of Certo to seal the deal. We tried jam, one batch, but the pitting was too much. Jar by jar, we filled the cupboards with jelly.

This year, I'd expected the same. We'd long ago eaten our last bite of purple-stained toast, and we were ready for more. I traipsed into the dunes, bucket in hand, to find the fruit scattered, twigs bare.

There were some who managed to make do: Terri Sayre, the jelly lady of Briar Lane, and the jam shop up in Chatham picked through the scarcity to come up with a supply. But with a good row of blackberry jelly, a few jars of rosehip, and a seemingly endless rack of gift jams, we already had enough toast topping for the winter.

Still, I can't quite squelch that hankering. Luckily, the Chatham Jam & Jelly Shop is open Monday through Saturday, 10-5, with beach plum jelly for sale while supplies last. For those of you with tenacity and a few lingering berries, here's a recipe to follow.


Heat 8 heaping cups beach plums with 1 cup water and cook until soft. Strain through a colander (that you need cheesecloth is a lot of baloney).

Stir together 4 cups beach plum juice and 6 cups sugar in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Bring to a rolling, rolling boil and put in 1 package of Certo. Bring back to a boil and let roll for 1 minute. Take off heat and pour into sterilized jars.

Click here for more information on a Cornell University beach plum study Cape Cod Cooperative Extension Director Bill Clark participated in...


Zucchini & brown rice soup

I'm fasting today. According to the radio announcers, the season has passed, already—the new moon sighted and another hungry Ramadan done. But once a year, for fall cleaning, I like partake, late or not.

It was easy at first. The fridge sat, tight-lipped and quiet. I'd had my fill of its contents last night: apple crisp and cold vanilla cream. But as the day wore on, and lunchtime rolled around, the peppermint tea began to roll around like an echo in my belly.

What it wanted, most of all, was to capture the zucchini from the kitchen counter. Strange, I know, after all these months of excess squash, but there it sat, heavy, beckoning, 3 perfect pounds of green. I imagined what I'd do with it: zucchini bread, zucchini pancakes, fried zucchini, zucchini soup.

It was early evening by the time I finally began to cook. I called my mother for her recipe for zucchini soup. She pointed me to the Victory Garden, a favorite cookbook she'd passed on from a library sale, annotated and all.

Beyond the zucchini, I found the rest in the garden. A pot of broth and rice simmered away on the stove, and I began to craft a batch of zucchini and brown rice soup. It'll be just the thing to break the fast.

adapted from the Victory Garden Cookbook

Makes 2 quarts

Wash, trim, and grate 1 lb. zucchini. Do not salt; the juices add flavor to the soup. Wash 1/2 lb kale leaves, dry, and cut into thin strips. Bring 6 cups chicken broth to a boil, stir in 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, lower heat, cover, and cook slowly until the rice is just tender, about 40 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, cook 1 and 1/2 cups sliced onions in 3 tablespoons butter until wilted and golden. Stir in zucchini and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. There will be moisture left in the pan. Mix in the kale, and cook, stirring, until barely wilted. Set aside. When the rice is cooked, stir in the zucchini mixture, heat through, and season with salt and pepper. The soup will have a beautiful green color and will be fairly thick. Thin with additional broth if you wish.


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