String-dried shiitakes

This Saturday, Julie Winslow announced that the box of shiitakes I so eagerly anticipated raiding each week would be her last crop until mid-August.

Sensing my disappointment, she offered consolation in the form of over-stocking advice. "Dry the mushrooms for later," she explained. "You'll never run out."

While she didn't offer much else by way of specifics, these hopeful words were enough to convince me to buy out the supply. With 2 pounds in my bag, I hurried home, eager to learn how to dry my stash.

An hour on the internet and several ear-marked book pages later, I hatched a plan. According to the experts, all a shiitake needed to shrivel into preservation was a spell of dry air, a bit of warmth, and a place guarded from sunlight.

I found all three in a basement corner warmed by the pipes of a hot water heater, kept dry by the whir of a dehumidifier, and shut off from daylight beyond the scope of one tiny window. Pulling out a needle and thread, I strung the mushrooms up to dry.

Three days later, I went down to do a load of laundry and was astonished to find the process complete. Some books had predicted the process would take a week, others up to two. Clearly, I had underestimated the powers of a thirsty dehumidifier. I pulled the mushrooms from their string, tucked them into a glass jar, and set them on the pantry shelf for safe keeping.

When shiitake hunger strikes, I'll have a steady supply on hand. Thank you, Julie.

Tarta de manzana

Several years ago, I spent a few months in Madrid, living on exchange with a family whose oldest daughter had spent the summer with my family in Maine. For the most part, the cuisine of the Semperes' home was unlike anything I'd ever tasted: thick vegetable purees, meat warmed over a flaming stone, huge shallow pans of seafood paella.

But there was one dessert that brought back the comforts of home. The tarta de manzana that my host mother made—apple tart, to translate—invoked New England fall with its tart, crisp fruit slices and thick creamy filling. Her crust I could never figure out, though I suspect it involved some cornmeal and a great deal of pounding, thin as brittle it was against the bottom of the pan.

My exchange sister, Rocío, and I used to sit at the kitchen table evenings, slicing away at the pie until the missing slivers began to look incriminating. Then we would tuck it away quickly and return to our reading.

I have never since tasted a tart quite so good as that Lourdes made; fruit tarts I've purchased or recipes I've found have never quite measured up. I emailed the Madrileños the other day to ask for the recipe, but yesterday evening, with a basket of apples fresh from the market, I embarked still waiting for it on my first attempt to recreate the dish. I mixed flour and butter, milk, egg yolks, and sugar, and sliced tart fruit into tiny half moons. I turned on the oven, glazed custard and fruit with honey, and set it in to bake.

The result was delicious—still not Lourdes delicious—but delicious nonetheless. Crust crunches hard against thick, creamy custard, while tart apples cut the sweetness of filling and glaze. Until I hear back, this recipe will suffice to satisfy my memories of that sweet Spanish tart.


Makes one 9-inch tart

Make pie crust, rolling very thin and pressing well against edges. Pre-bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until crisp. Set aside to cool.

Over a medium flame, heat 1 cup milk. In the meantime, whisk together in a separate bowl 3 egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour. When milk is steaming but not boiling, pour into egg mixture, whisking constantly. With pot back over flame, pour milk and eggs back in and continue whisking until mixture starts to thicken. Continue cooking and stirring 2-3 minutes with a plastic spatula to prevent bottoms and sides burning. Remove from heat and transfer into bowl. Press plastic wrap against the top of custard to prevent skin forming, and chill two hours or overnight.

Spoon the custard evenly into the pre-baked pie crust. Layer with thinly sliced apples and glaze with a heated mixture of 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon lemon juice (to prevent browning) using a pastry brush. Serve the same day.


Eggplant & tomato herb roast

At the Orleans market on Saturday, the eggplants were the first vegetable to catch my eye. Laid out at a stand I'd never seen before was basket upon basket of the vegetables in every shade from inky violet to pure white.

I asked the vendor, who introduced himself as John Stacy, to present the varieties as well. "We have dancers, Italian, the dark ones are Oriental charm, and the purple and white are called fairy tales," he explained. "The only get to be 5 or 6 inches long."

He went on to explain that he grows them for the Jimmy Fund. Along with mounting his bicycle for the annual Sturbridge to Provincetown ride, he also raising funds for Dana-Farber selling vegetables. After having a family member survive cancer with the institutions' help, the colorful eggplants he grows are his equivalent of a Jimmy Fund bake sale.

I bought one of each, inspired both by the story behind the vegetables and their vibrant skins. At home I warmed the oven and sliced the darkest and lightest of the bunch into thin rounds. Thrown into a bowl and tossed with olive oil, thyme, rosemary, and salt, they layered the bottom of a long rectangular glass pan in close rows. I covered them with sliced tomatoes, and then covered this layer with another of eggplant. With the oven blazing, they slipped in, softening over the flame into a flavorful roast.

Once cool, I added the vegetables to a salad of leafy greens and a sprinkling of blue cheese. Tossed, the vegetables' oil coated the lettuce and the cheese infused the mix with a rich, creamy flavor. It was the perfect tribute to vegetables of such good will.


Serves 4-6

Grease a 9 by 13 inch Pyrex pan. Thinly slice 2-4 eggplants, depending on size, and toss in a bowl with 1/3 cup olive oil, and thyme, rosemary, and salt to taste. Layer closely over the bottom of the pan. Thinly slice 4-6 medium sized ripe tomatoes and layer over top eggplant. Continue layering until all eggplant and tomatoes are used up. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes; cover and continue baking for another 30 minutes.

For a good lunch, serve at room temperature over salad greens with 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese.


Blackberry jam

My mother and I used to sit at the kitchen counter when we were younger, her picking the apple pieces from a jar of blackberry jam and me snatching them up to eat with sticky fingers. I found them delicious, she, a distraction.

It was true they didn't really belong. We added them to our haul for pectin, stirring tiny chunks of tart apples into the thick, seedy mass of deep magenta berries in hopes that it would gel. With every thick spoonful that she spread on toast, my mother would oust the interlopers, picking them from their sweet roost and leaving them to her delighted child.

The flavor of apple-blackberry is still a favorite of mine. This week, when tart early apples appeared at the Provincetown farmers' market and the berries began to ripen, I walked, boxes in hand, down a nearby dirt road to pick my fill. Diving into the underbrush, I picked quart upon quart, stomping through poison ivy and thorny canes as the drupelets crushed beneath my fingers.

Later that afternoon, I found myself standing over a heavy bottomed pot, stirring berries and apples as a sweet steam rose on my brow. I'd called my mother for her recipe. "I don't have one," she'd said. "I just sort of wing it." And so winging it I was, consulting the Joy of Cooking for sugar ratios and adding apple chunks on sight.

Almost an hour later, as eight jars bubbled hot in a water bath over the back burner, the jam began to sheet off my wooden spoon and I knew time was up. I poured the preserves into the glass, wiped the rims with a sterile cloth, and sealed the berries away for winter toast. With seven jars full, I managed to tuck away the extra half cup into the eight for breakfast the next morning.

We woke early this morning, spoon it over hot cornbread, and sat down to enjoy—apple and all. It was just as good as I remembered.


Makes 7 pints plus a little extra for eating fresh

In a large, heavy bottomed, non-reactive pot, heat 3 quarts of fresh picked blackberries and 3 finely chopped tart, early apples over medium heat until the fruit begins to weep. Add 9 cups sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a slow boil, stirring frequently, and continue to simmer about 25 minutes, until the liquid begins to sheet off a wooden spoon.

Keep in mind that jam thickens quite a bit as it cools; you can always turn off the heat, let the mixture cool, and keep cooking if it's not thick enough—this is better than making 7 jars of rock hard jam. Test as you cook by pouring a small amount of the liquid onto a plate and waiting to see its consistency as it cools over the next few minutes.

When jam consistency is right, pour into 7 sterile pint jars, leaving one half-inch head room. Take care to clean rims of jars with a cloth dipped in boiling water and to seal with sterile lids. Screw caps on tightly as tightening later may break the seal. Leave upside down on a cloth to cool overnight; check seals, label, and store in a cool dark place.


Garlic preserves

The sweet, pungent aroma of garlic spitting oil is like a dinner bell. Be it July or February, the spicy heads warn hungry father, begging dog, and scampering children that a pan has hit the stove, and a warm, home-cooked meal can't be far behind.

The season for garlic is a long one, extended from its early spring appearance through the colder months by easy storage in a root cellar or basement corner. Perhaps that's why it's so pervasive: in stews and stir-frys, meat roasts and vegetable salads.

But there are still a few months it can't quite manage to survive; according to Gretel at the Orleans Farmers' Market, her garlic won't last much past December.

The idea of a New Year's garlic drought is hardly celebratory. With the season of garlic plenty in full swing and five heads piled atop each other in the kitchen basket, there seemed no better Sunday than today to begin tucking away a store for safe keeping.

With a traditional French recipe for pickling garlic in hand, I gathered a pound of garlic, peeled it, and dropped the tear shaped cloves into a boiling quart of water laced with a tablespoon of salt. While it bubbled away, I gave several small mason jars a hot water bath. I drained the water from the garlic, let the smell fill my nostrils, and filled the sterile jars according to the prescription of the gardeners & farmers of Terre Vivante.*

Soon after a boiling pickling syrup bathed the lot, readying them for the confines of the basement store room with the promise of escape one frosty January eve.


*from Preserving food without freezing or canning

Cover 4 pint mason jars in a canning pot with water. Bring to a boil and let sterilize 10 minutes. Peel one pound garlic. Boil one quart of water with one tablespoon of salt. Add the garlic and continue to boil for three to five minutes. Drain the garlic.

Fill each jar with the garlic, one bay leaf, and five black peppercorns.

Boil 1 cup vinegar along with 1/2 cup water and 1/4 sugar, pour this mixture over the garlic, and immediately close the jars. The garlic will keep for a very long time, and is particularly tasty in salads.

Ted Braam, Hagraulet-Du-Gers


Pea tendril & blue cheese quiche

Friday is fridge cleaning day. Be it milk jug or fruit box, every content must be divided between freezer, plate, and crisper before the chaos of market day arrives early Saturday morning.

Today the dilemma rested on a ball of pie dough. Neglected for several weeks, it sat solitary and tough, yearning for the tenderizing heat of the counter and a run at fame in the kitchen oven.

This noon it got its chance. Flattened by the rolling pin, the dough gave soft beneath my fingers as it molded to the shine and groove of three miniature tart pans. The eggs were next, whisked into oblivion and showered with cream. Finally, I ousted the pea tendrils and a crumbling hunk of Great Hill blue cheese.

All together, they leapt into the oven to dry by the flame. As runny yolks firmed into an airy quiche, pea tendrils crisped and tart crusts burned a deep golden hue. The Great Hill blue softened and sizzled, and I pulled the three tiny tartlets onto the table for lunch.

While bellies are full, the fridge now sits empty, waiting to see what the morning will bring.


Makes 4 miniature tartlets

Make pie dough. Roll out and press into 4 miniature tart pans, or one larger one. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 4 eggs and 1 tablespoon whole milk or cream. Pour evenly into pan(s). Add a small handful of pea tendrils to each tart, pushing down into the liquid so as to coat and partially submerge in egg mixture. Crumble 1 tablespoon blue cheese over top of each tart and bake for 10-15 minutes or until eggs are firm and cheese soft (a large quiche in one pan will take longer). Serve warm or at room temperature, for breakfast or lunch.


Carottes râpées

There is something about a fresh carrot that captures the imagination. Perhaps it is the smell, or the biennial nature of the plant, and maybe the knowledge that pulling a vibrant orange root from the earth is like taking a life in the midst of its prime.

Like an egg, the taproot is what the plant has tucked away for reproduction. If left in the ground, the orange store will grow a new rosette of leaves come spring, and a stalk of pure, white flowers in the heat of summer.

Oddly enough, it was the seeds and aromatic leaves of the plant, not the sugars, that we originally coveted. Like its cousin fennel, it offered leaves and seeds to season the pot. The carefully bred roots of the western Chantenay and Danvers didn't find their way in until hundreds of years later.

When holding such a marvel of history fresh in hand, it seems a shame to let it go to waste in winter recipes for soups or roasts. But sticks, too, can become monotonous, and so it is that I began to search out a recipe that would sacrifice neither crunch nor flavor.

I first got the idea for this one from Molly's Orangette, found tucked into a post musing over the loss of acceptable airline meals and possible substitutes. While I wasn't hopping on a plane, I was planning to bicycle to the green in town for a late afternoon picnic, a venture that merited many of the same requirements.

Hers was a French salad, simple, of grated carrots and a slightly tangy lemon-oil dressing. I checked the index of my only French cookbook, Chez Nous, and found a different twist on the European favorite with red wine vinegar and a touch of oregano. Consulting both, I came up with a version of my own: thin carrots, grated onion, cider vinegar, and a sprinkling of hand-picked thyme. While it made the journey, it didn't last long in the shade of the green.


Serves 2-3

Using the thin blades of a grater, grate 1 pound carrots and one quarter of a fresh white onion. Toss in a serving bowl with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons white or cider vinegar, a generous sprinkling of fresh ground pepper, salt to taste, and the pickings from several sprigs fresh thyme. Can be eaten at room temperature or chilled; travels well.


A nice cream stop

If you think Ben & Jerry's invented hippie ice cream, think again. Lawyer turned free spirit Robert Rock started scooping three years earlier in a Coolidge Corner basement to feed the after-hours appetites of Brookline's rock 'n roll finest. In a city bound by blue laws, sweet cream and acoustic guitar were the only groovy activities allowed after midnight.

What started as a rocker hangout quickly became a phenomenon. Upon request, Rock dubbed the shop Emack & Bolio's after two homeless clients for whom he did pro-bono work. He bought a commercial ice cream machine and started churning out legendary flavors like grasshopper pie and purple cow, and before long was opening up a posh-boutique style shop on Newbury Street.

Thirty years later, the homemade ice cream is sold in stores all over the state. Rock still hasn't revealed any of his secrets, though he will admit to strictly adhering to the use of only the highest quality extracts and ingredients complemented by a dash of rock and roll.

Here in Wellfleet, we're lucky enough to have not only A Nice Cream Stop selling Emack & Bolio's downtown on Main Street (508.349.2210), but even our own unique flavor: Wellfleet Mix. The sweet vanilla based cream is packed with caramel, nuts, toffee, cookie pieces, and chocolate chips, and is almost eclectic enough to do us justice.


Brandywine steak

The tomato was more still-life than salad. Perched atop the butcher's block, it glowed orange and scarlet, daring me to drop the ax. Ribbed, meaty shoulders cushioned its gnarled core, while cracks spread from beneath its seat in weepy seams.

The brandywine is known for flavor, not looks. The 19th century cultivar found its way into the mainstream in 1982, when elderly Ohio gardener Ben Quisenberry introduced it to the Seed Savers Exchange.

From there the brandywine took off, shading its broad, green potato leaves over soil plots across the county. Each plant produced only a few pink fruits, heavy in the hand and costly at the market. Soon sub-strains began to appear—purple brandywine and golden, Amish and Glick's, brandywine cherry and brandywine sport—some as hearty as the original, some without the flavor.

Today, the original is distinguished as Sudduth's brandywine, named for Mrs. Dorris Sudduth Hill who first passed the seed to Quisenberry, and saved from the same line of plants ever since. I have no way of telling if mine is a fraud; a forgery would likely pass along my unknowing tongue long before I learn enough to cry out. But the woman who sold it to me at the market was called Dorris, coincidence star-crossed enough to make me a believer.

I sink the knife into its core, circling quickly and finally pulling hard. I turn the noble fruit on its side and slice it into rings so meaty they appear as steak on the board. I plate them, arrange them with basil and sea salt, and drizzle the constellation with a sweet, creamy balsamic. Real or not, the taste is divine.


Serves 2

Cut the core from one unrefrigerated 1 pound brandywine and slice into rings. Plate fruit in a fan on 2 dishes. Thinly chop 6-8 large basil leaves into strips and layer over tomatoes. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Whisk together 2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise (see yesterday's post on summer slaw for recipe, leaving out garlic), 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, and 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard to make a creamy balsamic. Drizzle over top and enjoy.


Crisp summer slaw

The transition from leafy, spring greens to the crisp violet storage vegetables and emerald succulents of high summer has begun. Red cabbages and violet beets lie taciturn beside scarlet radishes and carrots the hue of the scorching sun. Snap peas, kohlrabi, and cucumbers replace red leaf and romaine, while spinach wilts in the noontime heat and falls dry to the earth.

With the transition comes a shift in salads; the soft, leafy arugula and buttery bibb mixes pass and crisp summer slaws slip onto the plate. The crunch of hard, tightly wrapped cabbage is softened by watery cucumber and the draping of a grated beet. Snap peas and kohlrabi echo with crisp sweetness, a concert in contrast against the damp raining humidity of the summer air.

From vegetable to salad, I use only a grater and a whisk. I rub the skin from the beets, staining the white porcelain of the sink a deep, gory red. The kohlrabi goes more quietly, green pastel and knobby knuckles giving way to pure white. The cabbage falls leaf by leaf, the snap peas in half, and the cucumber with limbs strewn across the board. In a large bowl, the gratings mix and bleed together, a violent sea of purple and green.

Finally, I whisk yellow yolks hard with the dripping stream of measured oil. Slowly they stiffen and lose translucence, emulsifying into a satisfying mayo. I grind in a clove of crushed garlic and a dash of vinegar, and pour the dressing over the slaw. Purple becomes pink, yellow turns to cream, and I sit down to a bowl of tangy summer salad.


Serves 12

Finely chop 1 small head red cabbage. Grate 3 small red beets, 1 head kohlrabi, and 1/2 medium sized cucumber. Snap in half 1 cup sugar snap or other edible pod peas. Combine in a large bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk 1 egg yolk until smooth. Drip in, whisking constantly, 1 cup olive oil, making sure to add slowly enough to keep mixture opaque. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 clove crushed garlic. Mix well. Spoon over slaw (there may be some leftover*), adding several tablespoons white or cider vinegar and fresh ground pepper to taste. Toss well and serve chilled.

*Garlic aioli will keep in the fridge for at least a week, if not longer.


Tomatoes Terre Vivant

Riding the tide of heat and humidity, tomatoes swept into town this week. In Orleans, the bell tolled to start the market and a sea of ferocious tomato-lovers descended upon the stalls, determined to buy that first box of yellow cherries or sweet red plums. Children ran around with green breakfast boxes, popping the treats like candy, never-minding what they spilled as the stampede whirled on.

In Provincetown, the heirlooms stole the show. Gargantuan, half-pound breeds tinged with red and green, yellow and orange, radiated like a rainbow of color waves out from the stem. The bubbled, bursting fruit lay piled on newspaper folds, selling in an instant at the caller's mention of a fresh cooked sauce or a caprese salad.

I succumbed along with the rest, four imperfect beauties hanging from my arm with the weight of a dumbbell and ripe red cherry boxes lined up row after row in my flat bottomed basket. At home in the kitchen, they seemed suddenly excessive, the impulse buy of a farmers' market shop-a-holic.

I got out the canning jars and headed towards the stove, but the thought of steaming sauce and a water bath in the heat of the day stopped me. Instead, I turned to an old French technique gleaned from the pages of a Terre Vivant compendium, Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning. According to Anne Duran from St. Front, with a handful of fresh basil, a few slices of onion, several spoonfuls of vinegar, and a whole lot of olive oil, I could skip the heat and still save my tomatoes for a winter sauce.


Makes 1 quart

Wash and dry one pint cherry tomatoes, making sure to select only fruits that are very firm and ripe and no bigger than a tangerine. Peel and thinly slice one green onion. Wash and dry 10-15 fresh picked basil leaves. Fill a sterile quart jar with tomatoes, layering with onions and basil as you fill. When the jar is filled to one and one half inches beneath the rim, sprinkle with several pinches coarse salt. Add 2-4 tablespoons cider vinegar or lemon juice, and cover with olive oil and a sterile lid. Store in a cool place (50-60 degrees) and eat after two to three months but within a year.


Blueberry peach cobbler

My mother and I vowed amidst the tinsel and trappings of Christmas in December that this year, we would give gifts of food. Not just any food—but local food.

First up was the Maine cheese sampler my sister and I gave our parents that same holiday. Next followed a bag of homemade granola for a friend recovering from surgery, a batch of Wellfleet oysters for my sister's birthday, a strawberry rhubarb pie to commemorate a group of employees' hard work, and finally, from my mother, a bag of fresh carrots as a house-warming gift.

So this afternoon, when I was informed on my way home from the market that I needed to pick up a present for a birthday barbeque, I wasted no time in rolling up my sleeves and digging through my purchases. Neither corn, shitake mushrooms, carrots, chard, or summer squash made the cut. Onions, green beans, and scallops fell short as well.

But the fresh peaches I'd picked up in Provincetown from Dorris, a charming older woman from a third generation Westbrook farm who specializes in apples (growing over 70 heirloom varieties) but also dabbles in other fruits, suited the occasion just fine. I threw in a pint of blueberries from neighboring Silverbrook Farms, and found my bowl filled with the makings for a birthday summer cobbler.

According to the guest of honor, it was every bit as scrumptious as I'd hoped. With only a spoonful of sugar, a cream biscuit crust, and six cups of fruit, it was quicker, easier, and healthier than any pie I could've made. With this latest Cape food gift warming my belly, I'd like to raise a toast—to good food, high spirits, and hale health.


Makes two 9-inch pies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, stir together 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Cut in 6 tablespoons butter with a pastry cutter until mixed well. Add just under 3/4 cup cream or whole milk and stir well. Add more flour as needed.

In a separate bowl, stir together 4 cups blueberries and 2 cups chopped peaches (about 1 pound). Add 2 tablespoons sugar and 4 tablespoons flour; stir well. Pour fruit into two 9-inch pie tins and top with drops of biscuit dough. Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden and fruit thickens.


Green tomato, hot pepper, & rhubarb chutney

Another vine fell victim to the pounding of midnight rain this week. I gathered the fallen fruit, dusted their battered bodies, and dressed them in a dish towel for their final hour.

While I mourned their ruddy potential, I knew this time around that the under ripe tomatoes could be put to good use.

When the time came, I chopped the tiny cherry fruits in half, threw them in a pot, and added a few stalks of the last of this season's rhubarb. The two stewed slowly together over the gas flame, strands of rhubarb melting into beading seeds and softening fruit. I threw in a few slices of hot pepper, a dash of vinegar, and a spoonful of honey and left the pot to simmer.

The liquid slowly evaporated, leaving a steaming stew of tart fruits and spice. The mid-summer chutney will be the perfect topping for tonight's catch: the first of the season's striped bass, char-grilled and fresh from the bay.


Makes 1 pint

In a saucepan combine 1 cup chopped green tomatoes, 1 cup chopped rhubarb, 1/2 cup chopped green onion (or 1 small chopped green onion), 3 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped hot peppers, pickled or fresh, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat over medium flame until all ingredients soften into a thick chutney. Can and process in hot water bath or spoon into a sterile jar and refrigerate for up to 4 months. Serve cool or hot over grilled fish or poultry.


Purple majesty

Ron Backer slipped me the ziplock like a tiny bag of gold. "Boil these," he said, "mash them with their skins on, and eat 'em hot." I pressed several dollars into his hand, and tucked the potatoes into my basket for safe keeping.

It wasn't until I cut them open that I understood. The purple majesty potatoes didn't just boast dramatic skin; they were dyed inside, too, with an intricate webb of deep violet and pale lavender veins.

I sliced them carefully on the kitchen butcher block and watched the rivers of color unfold. The water boiled; as I dropped them in, the stately rounds bobbed violently amidst the uproar.

These were not common potatoes; over three generations of trial and error, Sun Valley farmers developed them from a cross between an all blue and a white-fleshed cold chipper. The buttery, creamy result is packed with anti-oxidants and about the size of a new potato.

When mashed as Ron described with a bit of butter and a dab of cream, the majesties offered a lovely purple side to yet another dinner of sautéed summer squash. Someday, we'll get to the end of those vines. In the meantime, I'll be looking to the Orleans market for another pot of gold to play the jester.


Makes 2 cups

Wash and halve about 1 pound purple majesty potatoes. Boil 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain and put in food processor with 2 tablespoons butter, 4 chopped scallions, and 2 tablespoons milk or cream. Blend and serve hot.


Salsa fresca

I first made salsa several years ago in the kitchen of a restaurant. We used a case of tomatoes, several pounds of onions, and bunch upon bunch of bound up cilantro. In the end, the veggies were dumped into a five gallon bucket along with a few spices and juices and hauled into the walk-in refrigerator to soak until dinner.

It was hardly a recipe for the home cook, but the taste stuck. I found myself working to recreate it for dinner parties, atop grilled fish or perhaps as a dip, changing the proportions each time in pursuit of that perfect, industrial recipe taste.

It wasn't until last night that I thought for the first time I might have it right. As it turns out, the secret is in the produce, not the proportions. Using fresh hot house tomatoes from Coonamessett Farm, onions from the farmers' market, and cilantro from my own garden, the flavor finally hit that high, crisp note I'd been seeking. I spooned it over fresh grilled scallops, and dug in.


Makes about 2 cups

Finely chop one cup fresh tomatoes. In a food processor, blend 1/2-3/4 cup chopped fresh onion (with greens) and fresh cilantro to taste (I use several tablespoons). Add onions and cilantro to tomato mixture and mix in 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Let sit several hours refrigerated before serving to allow flavors to mix.


Berry freeze

A berry is a terrible thing to waste.

When my raspberries began to mold, strawberries to mush, and currants to soften, I threw them into a pot and began to cook. Unsure of where the experiment was headed, I watched as the fibers broke down, seeds spilled out, and a sweet haze rose steaming into the sunlight.

The berries soon formed a soup. Thick and seedy in its bulk, it reminded me of a popsicle stand I'd visited once in Mexico. There they had mashed the fruit, sweetened its paste, and frozen it into thick, vibrant slices of truly whole-fruit delights. I recalled one dotted with kiwi wheels, another with strawberries sliced into heart shaped diamonds, and a third translucent and white, flecked with ivory coconut.

As I began to sweat, I stirred in a dollop of honey, a bit of water, and a dash of cream into the soup until it coalesced into a thick amalgam of July fruit. I tested the sweetness, opened the freezer, and poured what would fit into a series of thin, plastic slots. Topping the juice with fitted sticks, I slammed the door and began the wait.

The next afternoon, I tested the results. Perhaps not so beautiful as the Mexican creations, but equally worthy of a hot days' rest.


Makes 8 popsicles

Cook 3 cups raspberries and one cup mixed currants, gooseberries, and strawberries or other berries over medium heat until soft. Mash and add 1 cup water and 1/8 to 1/4 cup honey. Stir until dissolved and well mixed and pour into 8 popsicle holders. Extra can be refrigerated and blended with ice and yogurt to make a smoothie or mixed with mint ice tea to add a sweet berry flavor.

Fried green tomatoes

The other day, I woke up to the sight of an Early Girl in distress. The tomato plant was snapped and fallen, brought back to the dirt by its own weight. The cage I had built offered little support against the heft of its fruit, and branches and leaves had returned to the earth with the force of a heavy gust.

The plant I mourned quickly, clearing its patch of dirt, unstaking its cage, and bringing its remains to nourish the compost heap. But the windfallen tomatoes were not so easy to let go. I gathered them in my shirt, dusting them off and admiring their color. Surely, there was some other way to enjoy these fruits that were not yet blushing.

Beyond pickling, the most common remedy I'd heard mention of was frying. I cracked an egg, made a whole wheat, cornmeal, and salt and pepper rub, and threw some bacon on the griddle. The tiny green warriors I sliced thin into a careful, slender carpaccio of flesh and seed. With a dip in the egg, the batter stuck. I threw in a few slices alongside eggs over easy, and within minutes the kitchen was filled with the sweet aroma of frying fruit.

Strange as it sounds, breakfast was so good, I just might pick a basket green on purpose.


Serves 2

Thinly slice 2 medium sized green tomatoes. Crack an egg into a pie pan and mix with a dash of milk or cream. Make a batter using 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup corn meal, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat up several slices bacon in a frying pan and let cook, leaving fat drippings in pan. Dip green tomato slices first in egg wash, then in batter, and fry in bacon fat until golden on both sides. Serve hot with bacon and eggs for a farmhouse breakfast.


Pistou Provencal

In southern France, cuisine without pistou is unthinkable. The Provencal cook uses the pounded paste in pastas and atop toast, and dropped cold into a hot bowl of summer minestrone.

Pistou (meaning pounded in the Provencal dialect) is a simple blend of crushed garlic, basil, salt, and olive oil. Traditionally, it is made with mortar and pestle, hand ground into a thick, creamy, pungent paste and set on the table in the very same bowl.

With the basil in my garden struggling to reach sunlight below the shade of the looming squash, I picked the final leaves today and declared a gourd victory. The thin, pointed herb leaves wouldn't last long off the stalk, and so I pulled out our large, wooden mortar and dusty pestle and wiped them down for a morning's use.

First the garlic crushed beneath the heavy sticks' weight, releasing its pungent flavor and absorbing that of the smoky salt I sprinkled in. Next went several drops of olive oil and a handful of basil leaves, slowly blended by hand into the white allium paste. Leaf by leaf, drop by drop, the paste doubled in volume, and then tripled. By half hour's end, almost a cup graced the bowl. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of fresh herb and bulb, and an aching arm accompanied me to table as I sat down to a slice of toast spread with pistou.

While the season will offer plenty more basil and a milleau of garlic, the rest of this batch is now tucked into the freezer, hidden away for safe keeping and topping off a warm winter stew.


Makes almost 1 cup

With a food processor or mortar and pestle, crush the cloves of one head garlic and 1 teaspoon salt into a thick white paste. Slowly, add 1 cup basil leaf by leaf and 4-5 tablespoons olive oil little by little, mixing as you go until all is added and the pistou is a thick paste. Serve spread on toast, atop a minestrone stew, or on pasta. Freezes well.


Gazpacho gourmet

I received the book as a Christmas gift in December. Wrapped in tinsel and ribbon, it seemed to hold the weight of the world.

When I tore the paper to reveal the cover, I saw it did. It was The French Laundry Cookbook, a collection of recipes from the ultimate in American fine dining. One hundred and fifty Thomas Keller recipes sat heavy in my hands, and I hadn't the slightest idea of what to do with them.

I didn't open the book again until yesterday. Inspired by the drop in humidity and the crispness of the light, I peeked in again. This time, it seemed right. The page opened to gazpacho, and I looked to the pile of produce spilling out from the wooden basket on the hutch. I readied myself for a first French Laundry attempt.

It was far simpler than I'd imagined. Making gazpacho with Thomas Keller was a lot like making gazpacho with my mother, except that he was much quieter, and harbored a stern penchant for exact measurements.

As I sliced through tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and peppers, I became emboldened. I halved his recipe, tweaked it here and there, and made substitutions with newfound freedom. I have no idea how close the dish my liberties created tastes to the original Thomas Keller. Similar or not, however, it is the perfect antidote to a hot July night. Grab a spoon, dig in, and enjoy.

adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook

Serves 4 as a small starter soup, 2 as a meal

Chop and throw in a blender or food processor: 1 large green onion, 1 small green pepper, 5 small roma tomatoes, 4-5 pickling cucumbers, 1 clove garlic, and 1 teaspoon cilantro. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1/8 cup olive oil, and 3/4 cup tomato juice. Blend until pureed. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend; serve chilled with a dollop of Greek yogurt or a drizzle of balsamic dressing.


Raspberry, gooseberry, currant pie

Yesterday morning I arrived at Coonamessett Farm in Falmouth at the commence of the work day. Tanned summer farm hands bustled in and out of the farm store and café with armloads of cabbage, kale, leeks, and cauliflower. Horse and rider pairs trotted by a fenced in enclosure outside, and the bray of a spirited donkey echoed across the grass.

I had found the farm first online; as one of the few Cape farms to offer a steady supply of pick-your-own produce, it had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time before my gas tank and I finally mustered to the cause.

We were not disappointed. For a fee of eight dollars, I was allowed to make my way past the shelves of fresh baked bread, through the porch of the busy café, and into the "clubhouse" to pick up picking supplies. I grabbed a flat of pint boxes and headed to the raspberry patch.

The back left hand field of the farm boasted about 15 rows of berries, enough to fill my eight boxes in an hour's time. The conical stems yielded fruit easily. I ate as I picked, crushing juicy red flesh and seed between my teeth and finally making my way with stained hands back through the rows towards the store counter.

As I walked, I couldn't resist pulling up a few bunching leeks. Then a head of cauliflower caught me eye, and one of red cabbage, and finally a few budding eggplant and a handful of green peppers. By the time I made it to the register, I had a few boxes of hothouse tomatoes, too.

By the time I made it home, the raspberries were already beginning to soften. I rolled out a crust and began making a pie. A seventies era version of the Joy of Cooking suggested combining the berries with currants; I tossed in a mixed cup of the small red fruit and gooseberries, and crushed all three together. The pie emerged an hour later, filling the room with a sweet red steam and begging for a fork.

I was happy to oblige.


Makes one pie

Mix 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose flour in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Cut in 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons chilled butter; mix well with a pastry cutter. Add 4-5 tablespoons ice cold water until the dough forms a ball. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and roll out dough for crust bottom. Cut off edges and set aside for lattice top.

In a separate bowl, mix 3 cups raspberries and 1 cup mixed gooseberries and currants with 2/3 cup sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, and 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice. Mix well until all sugar and flour are absorbed. Pour into pie bottom. Roll out remaining dough and cut into strips; weave into lattice top.

Bake 30 minutes at 425 and then turn temperature down to 350. Bake an additional 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling has set. Enjoy hot or cold with vanilla ice cream.


Refrigerator pickles

The yellow and green streaked pickling cucumbers have been sitting in my hydrator since Saturday morning, whisked away from the market and tucked into the refrigerator for safe keeping.

With each morning trip to the kitchen weighed down by the moist, oppressive heat of the sky, it has been hard to do little more than stare at the short, stinted vegetables.

There were other excuses, too; no dill, vinegar almost at jar's bottom, a shortage of mustard seed and cardamom.

This afternoon, facing the prospect of wilted cucumbers and a vine's harvest wasted, I finally headed into town. Bag in tow, I combed the shelves of the Marketplace for needed ingredients. Back home, I paged through book upon book until I found what I was searching for: a recipe for refrigerator pickles, no flame needed, that would sit crisp and cool for snacking on the shelves by week's end without a canning pot in sight.

With a garlic dill version in hand, I traded spices and vinegars here and there until it was pared down to my taste. I reached into the drawer and began readying the tiny green lengths. Off went the tops and tails, leaving the pale, exposed flesh to soak up the sting of a cider vinegar brine. A large clove of garlic, several sprigs of dill, a sprinkling of pickling spices, and a good dose of smoked salt later, the cucumbers dove in for a two day brine—the last of their adventures before a good long sit in the fridge.


Makes 4 pints

Run four pint jars and lids through the dishwasher on high heat. Make a brine from 2 quarts water, 1/4-1/2 cup pickling salt , and 2 cups cider vinegar. Clean cucumbers and trim tops and tails. Pack jars with cucumbers and fresh dill and garlic (peeled) to taste, adding pickling spices as desired. Fill packed jars with brine; leave at room temperature for 3 days, then refrigerate for snacking. Pickles should last several months in refrigerator.


Bound Brook blueberries

It was a rare winter afternoon that my black lab, Fisher, and I did not get out for a walk. Be it raining or snowing, we headed to the trails that criss cross Bound Brook Island and immersed ourselves in daydreams of a village long past. We walked by the stone marker of Wellfleet's original one room schoolhouse, across the street to the birthplace of banana king Lorenzo Dow Baker, and finally down to the bay to see what might be jumping.

Come spring, we began to notice the bushes. Matted against sunny hillsides or cowering in the flickering shade of a five fingered pine, greening clusters of low bush blueberry plants covered the island's forest floor. We returned week after week until in early June tiny white berries began to appear. Crowned and firm, they promised a hot July pie for a morning's sweat.

Then summer descended, with its crowds and hurry and our walks first dwindled and finally ceased. Fisher sat lonely on the deck, howling at squirrels and the wind and anything else that would listen. When he chewed up a phone book, I knew it was time to return.

We went this morning, chased by the black flies and green heads and the dripping heat of our own moving bodies. When we reached the trail, I realized we had arrived for a reason. Tiny ripened berries burst from the ground, beckoning us off the well worn path and into the thickets of shrubs and fruit.

The picking was slow. The wild berries yielded only a cup before the flies chased us from their perch, certainly not enough for a fresh baked pie. We ran, fruit perilously clutched in my shirttails and feet pounding furiously, until finally we reached the car and sped away from the bay side bugs.

This afternoon, I sat down to a bowl of the fresh picked berries. The yield may have been small, but the taste was every bit worth the effort. Still, they didn't quench my hankering for a pie. For that, I think I'll head to Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth. From what I hear, the berries are big, and will be ripe for the picking towards the end of the month. For details and availability, call 508.563.2560.


Peas from the pod

Some evenings, company is more important than the food you keep. After a day cleaning house, four too long unseen friends came over for supper. With one lost to the west coast, two to work, and the last to the big city upstate, it was a gathering of overdue reunion and well worn laughter.

The food that sustained it was as warm as the conversation. A primavera pasta of scallops and peas shucked this afternoon in the hammock off the back porch steamed in bowls as our chatter turned from memories to predictions.

As the candles burned down, bowls shone clean and the last shimmer of prosecco was drained from glasses one by one around the table. The heavy comfort of good food and beloved company settled over the table, and the final evening of a celebratory weekend came to an end.


Serves 5

Boil 1 pound pasta; drain, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, melt 3-4 tablespoons butter. Sweat 2 chopped green onions until translucent, sprinkling salt to taste. Add 4 chopped scallions and 1 minced clove garlic and sauté several more minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup half and half, cream, or milk and reduce down by half. Add 2 cups of white wine in 1/2 cup portions, each time reducing down by half and making sure to keep pan hot. After adding one cup, add 2 cups fresh peas and 5-8 large scallops. Continue testing and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. When all wine is added and peas and scallops are cooked to taste, add pasta and toss with sauce. Serve hot.


Gooseberry fool

The season has officially begun. Swept in by the fourth of July festivities, it has descended on Provincetown like a haze. The weekend marks the start of a crazed Commercial Street, too crowded to drive and some days offering barely room enough to walk, filled with voices and laughter and the wafting temptation of edibles for sale.

This noon, it was the farmers' market that drew the crowd. The formerly sparsely peopled Ryder Square was swarmed for the first time since Labor Day, filled with hungry visitors and cooks and restaurateurs. Suddenly, by the will of the earth, the produce multiplied to match. Tables just weeks ago populated by a few green onions and rogue berry boxes were now teeming with swiss chard and lettuces and shelling peas and broccoli and summer squash and bok choy and herbs.

The best find, however, lay not in the abundance but the variety of the table goods. Beside the strawberries sat several boxes of pink, purple, and white fruits. Pearled and translucent, they had the skin of tiny grapes and the seeds of a pomegranate. Their taste, farm owner Andy Silverbrook informed me, was even more delicate.

The berries were a mix of gooseberries and currants. Silverbrook Farm is located in one of the few regions of the state, Andy explained, where the bushes will produce. The fruits, cultivated for hundreds of years in Europe and popularized as garden fixtures in the 1700s, are far less prominent in modern American horticulture and cookery. As most remember currants only from historic stories and references, it seems fitting to offer an old-fashioned recipe.

Gooseberry fool, corrupted from the French term foulé, is a traditional compound made of gooseberries scalded and pounded and served with whipped cream.


Serves 2

In a large saucepan, combine 1 cup mixed gooseberries and currants with tops and tails removed and 1/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until liquid begins to thicken (about 5 minutes). Mash berries with a ricer or fork and simmer several minutes longer. Chill.

In a large mixing bowl, whip 1/4 cup cream until it begins to peak. Add 1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt, several drops vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon sugar and beat until stiff. Fold in chilled berry puree; serve cold with ginger snaps or other crisp cookies.


Soldier bean re-fry

It's pantry cleaning season. With squash flowers turning to fruit and green tomatoes gaining weight on the vine, the time has come to clear the dark, musty shelves of last year's dry goods and make room for a new crop.

This early July pause between the wealth of August and the long, uncertain supply of winter and spring sees the bottom of oat tins, jam jars, and flour bins. Licked clean and dry, the shelves and containers line up one by one, waiting patiently for a refill.

The soldier beans on my kitchen hutch have been especially composed. They have watched as the oats, pasta, beach plum jelly, and pickles have gone before them, popped open and tucked into the fridge, and then one day gone entirely. They have said goodbye to the lamb, the squash, and the berries in the freezer, and even a container of last summer's thawed gazpacho.

Finally several days ago, I went to them. I cracked open their lid, poured several cups from the jar, and picked them over. I rinsed them in the colander, set them into a crock, and covered them with cool water for a soak.

Then again, I forgot them. They sat for three days—three long, hot days—before I noticed them again, and when I did, I feared it was too late. The water looked cloudy and white. A quick rinse, however, proved the beans resilient; firm and smooth, they were ready for the pot. I filled it with cold water and a dash of olive oil and salt and poured the soldiers in, turning the flame to simmer beneath the silver bottom.

Several hours later, the beans were tender. With most of the water evaporated, they mashed easily. I chopped a purple scallion and crushed a clove of garlic for seasoning; a crank of salt and pepper, several spoonfuls more of oil, and a turn in the frying pan, and they were ready to eat.

I thought of making them into a burrito, or perhaps a sandwich of some sort, but after all they'd been through, it seemed too much. Instead I ate them plain, on a plate, topped with a scallop and a side of fresh sugar snaps, and let their strength soak in and take root in my belly—a more fitting end, I thought, for such a patient batch of bold, red-eyed soldiers.


Makes 3 cups cooked beans

Soak 2 cups dried soldier beans overnight. Drain and rinse, picking over for discolored or bad looking beans. Simmer in a large pot with 6-8 cups water for 2-3 hours or until tender; drain. In a large cast-iron frying pan, heat up 3-4 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add beans and mash. Stir in 4 chopped scallions, 1 clove minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook several minutes, or until flavors are absorbed.

Serve hot or reuse in burritos, quesadillas, sandwiches, dips, sides, or over toast.


Battered summer squash

The summer squash on my kitchen counter has a pale, sea green complexion. Its skin is thin and unblemished, its stalk prickly and unwelcoming. It is small—small enough to fit easily in the grip of my hand, and firm in its freshness.

I picked it up at Hatch's Market in Wellfleet, from one of the baskets of fruits and vegetables tucked away in a bustling corner of the parking lot behind Town Hall. It's color drew me in; the lure of the pastel and the promise of the first, crisp round of the season. I brought it home along with a handful of fresh garlic and a basket of eggs and began to contemplate lunch.

Lying against the grain of the kitchen counter, the squash stood out as though aware of its fate. I heated up a pan, axed it into rounds, and cracked an egg into a bowl. It was high noon, and time for a platter of fried summer squash.

The lightly battered halos of squash hit the pan with a sizzle, spitting garlic and bread crumb and yolk into the air with a thick, bulbous aroma. Still hot, they hit the roof of my mouth and I settled in to enjoy this first of the surfeit of summer gourds.


Serves 2

Slice one thick, 6-inch summer squash into rounds, discarding tip and end. Crack an egg into a shallow bowl and whisk well. On a separate plate, crumble one slice stale bread. Add one clove minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a cast iron frying pan. When hot, dip squash rounds first into egg and then batter with bread crumbs and garlic. Fry for 1-2 minutes or until batter is golden brown, taking care not to overcook.

TIP: If extra egg wash remains after all rounds are dipped, add another egg and make an omelet to serve aside the squash.


Breakfast tartlet

This week may call for a bit of creativity. I missed the market on Saturday, and by last night the refrigerator had been emptied of local produce from top to bottom. With the shelves clean, it was easy to see this morning what lingering jars and bags needed to go.

The first that caught my eye was a tiny ball of pie crust. Unbaked and forgotten, it had been sitting in the cheese drawer since the night I crafted four individual lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pies for a friend's birthday almost a month before. Upon closer inspection, it appeared happily unspoiled and ripe for the oven.

The Greek yogurt I'd used as a starter for my own batch appeared next. Carefully covered and tucked against the back wall, it remained white and creamy as the day I'd bought it.

Finally, I hit upon a half-eaten jar of last year's strawberry jam, opened a week or so ago and quickly dwindling. With this year's on the way, it could afford to be eaten.

I pressed the pie dough into a tiny, three-inch tart pan and carefully cut the excess dough from atop its scalloped edges. After ten minutes in a 425 degree oven, it was crisp and golden and beginning to puff. I pulled it out to cool and readied the toppings. A dollop of Greek yogurt spread across the bottom of the shell, melting into a warm, spreadable cream. When it reached halfway up the top of the tart, I topped it with a spoonful of strawberry jam.

As I dug my fork in, cold berries and cream yielded to the warm, doughy crust. It may have been a breakfast created from the necessity of empty shelves, but it certainly didn't taste that way.


Serves 1

Press 1 small ball leftover pie or tart dough into a 3-inch tart pan. Trim excess dough from top edges, and bake at 425 for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Pull from oven and without allowing to cool, drop in 2 tablespoons thick Greek yogurt. Spread evenly across bottom, filling shell halfway up sides. Top with 1 tablespoon strawberry or other fruit jam. Enjoy warm.


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