Something old, and something new

I know everything has been a bit much lately. Heavy on the turkey and squash pie, and hardly a walk in between.

So today we're keeping things light. I know these tomatoes aren't pretty, but they're still hanging on, and that in and of itself is something to be commended.

They've been off the vine since October, after all, and are only just now beginning to ripen. They've long outlived their parents, pulled up by the roots and dangling dirt and vine as they were thrown to the wind. The bigger tomatoes turned first, picked green and left to ripen on the windowsill. Slowly, in groups, the cherries turned too, and today we'll eat the last batch.

But we're celebrating something new, too. This morning when I went out to check on my lettuces, I realized with delight that it's time to do some trimming. I picked a few spinach leaves here, a lettuce petal there, and a bit of rosemary, little droplets of condensation raining down on me all the while. The greenhouse was toasty compared to the yard—up to 50 degrees, even on this gray day.

Inside, with the very first greens washed and dried, I added the cherry tomatoes, a dash of sea salt, and a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil. A dollop of goat cheese topped it off, and we sat down to our lightest meal in days—and one grown almost entirely in our very own backyard—then, and now.


Serves 2

Wash and dry 3 to 4 cups mixed winter greens. Toss with 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and sea salt and pepper to taste. Top with 2 ounces crumbled chevre.


The Local Food Report: not-so-pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie, it turns out, is a fraud. That pie on your table right now? It's probably made with Hubbard squash, if you got the mix from a can.

Hubbards are bigger, and therefore easier for canning companies to deal with. They taste better than most pumpkins, too.

In fact there's only one pumpkin, the sugar pumpkin, that will yield a pie that's any good. Jack-o-lanterns turn quickly into a stringy, dire mess, too large and tough for the project. But growing sugar pumpkins commercially is not a workable idea—they're tiny, with only enough meat for a single pie.

But unless you're terribly picky, this news shouldn't matter much. It's most important in the shopping, for knowing what type of squash to buy. A disaster with baked jack-o-lantern can be enough to kill the idea of homemade pumpkin pie for years. Luckily, there are many more suitable squashes to choose from: Hubbard and butternut and ambercup and buttercup and Lady Scarlett's and probably dozens more. Almost any winter squash that's good for eating with brown sugar and a pat of butter—well, it's probably good for pie.

I like to make my pies with butternut. It's easy to find, easy to bake, and the skin peels off nicely when the time comes to puree. It's also the right color—it's bright orange flesh deepening with the spices and finally mellowing to a rich gold with the addition of cream. This year, I made my mother's recipe


Serves 6 to 8

Mix until well-blended: 2 cups butternut puree, 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream, minus 3 tablespoons, 3 tablespoons rum, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 slightly beaten eggs. Bake 15 minutes at 425; reduce heat to 350 and bake 45 minutes longer or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Just in case

Thanksgiving morning dawns in less than 24 hours. I hope you're ready, armed with your mother's creamed onions, heirloom pumpkin pie, and a big, juicy turkey. But just in case you're not, just in case this year your early planning slipped away a bit, I have a side dish for you.

The fishmonger created it the other night, with me too tired even to watch. It isn't often I make a plea for him to cook, but this night, I needed it. I slipped into the tub while he worked, sniffing the steam every now and again to see if I could catch of whiff of his creation.

I knew there was bacon involved, that much was clear from the start. But even between listening and calling down questions, I couldn't imagine what the rest could be. Eggs? No, too much chopping going on. It could be broccoli or carrots, or perhaps parsnips, but none of those sounded particularly good with bacon. Must be BLT's then, or maybe a bacon topped salad.

When I finally got out, well-warmed and hair dripping, I saw how far off I'd been. It was a salad of sorts, but a warm salad, Brussels sprouts and apple sauteed in bacon fat and topped with little slivers of the meat itself. He'd made a bed of greens, too, to plate the sprouts and apples over, and they melted deliciously into one emerald green dish.

It wasn't long before we'd demolished the tower. Greens, sprouts, and apples slid glibly down into our hungry bellies, bacon warming the ride. It was the perfect dish, it hit me soon after, for a Thanksgiving side, if only we would be cooking.

We won't; with eighty people celebrating in the same family, the turn doesn't often come. So instead, I'm offering it to you, as a back-up of sorts, because you never know what the holiday will bring.

Happy eating.


Serves 4

Fry 4 pieces bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan. While they cook, wash and halve the sprouts from 2 stalks Brussels sprouts. Set aside, then core and dice 1 medium sized apple. When bacon is done, remove from pan and set aside. Saute sprouts over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add apple and bacon, cut into small pieces, and continue cooking for several more minutes, adding olive oil if needed. When sprouts and apples are tender, serve warm, over greens.


Indian pudding

Technically, I suppose we shouldn't call this Indian pudding. There aren't many things that can be kindly called that anymore, unless of course they've actually come from the east. But somehow, corn and molasses don't sound nearly so comforting as Native American pudding, and so I think we'll stick with the old-fashioned name, at least for now.

My mother has always had a soft spot for the dish. We used to go down to a clam shack along the rocks where I grew up in Maine on summer nights to feast on lobster rolls and steamers. Henry and Marty, the impromptu cooks, always beamed out of the kitchen at the end of the meal, fussing over my sister and me and pushing a paper basket of pudding onto the table.

It was rich, thick, and brown; molasses seeping through the paper and corn rough on our tongues. The pudding came topped with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and it was hot, too hot. We almost always burned our mouths with that first bite, cooling off quickly with the cold cream and digging in too soon for another.

I've been meaning to recreate it for a while, now, but it's quite a project for the average day. First you have to scald and stir, wiping up sticky molasses and taking care with the milk, and then there's the oven time—two hours, at least. But when you have a day, it's well worth the work.

It doesn't involve so much as you imagine, beyond the time and the mess. There will be a shopping trip to pay—I used up a quart of milk, nearly all of the molasses, and a good bit of cornmeal in the process—and probably an oven to clean. I despaired a bit at the beginning, as the pudding bubbled and burped, belching molasses onto the oven ceiling, but with one bite I was able to let even that offense go.

It was worth it, you see. The transformation of thin liquid and grain into a thick, sweet porridge is so startling, so delightful, that no scrubbing will deter me again. I can only hope you agree.


Serves 4-6

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease a large, heavy bottomed pot or baking dish. Scald 3 cups milk in a saucepan. Add 5-8 tablespoons cornmeal, and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 egg, beaten. Stir well, until butter melts. Pour into greased dish and bake 30 minutes. Pour 1 cup cold milk over pudding and turn oven down to 250. Cook 2 hours, or until top is brown and crisp. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.


Last call for raw milk

As you may know, I'm part of a milk coop that buys raw milk straight from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth. I've gotten a pig there, and several chickens, and even a turkey this Thanksgiving, but mostly, it's about the milk.

It isn't legal to sell raw milk at stores in Massachusetts. The laws vary state by state, some allowing cow sharing, others sales at farmers markets, and still others full delivery.

Growing up in Maine, where raw milk can be sold legally on store shelves, I was surprised to find it so much harder to find on the Cape. Once you get the grassy, full-fat taste of the stuff in your mouth, you understand, it's hard to go back to the stuff you find in plastic jugs. Raw milk isn't pasteurized, or homogenized, so the cream separates from the milk and floats to the top. Sometimes I skim it off for coffee or tea, other times to make butter, though you'd be surprised how much you need to make even half a stick.

Photo courtesy of Paskamansett Farms

The reason raw milk is so controversial is because of its potential to carry bacteria. Kept cool and clean, there's very little chance of contamination from a small, family farm. We drank raw milk for hundreds of years before industrialization came on the scene. But then, with hygiene and health conditions deteriorating quickly, scorching the milk offered a quick fix to dangerous bacteria. Rather than require clean milk, we decided to clean it ourselves, putting the industrial milk filled with hormones, corn, and anti-biotics on the shelves as we find them today.

Next week, our milk coop is splitting up. There's such a demand for the milk that we're breaking into two groups—one from Wellfleet and Truro, the other out towards Orleans. We take turns doing the pick-up—the more people we have, the less often you have to make the trip. And while it is a drive, I only do it a few times a year, and each time so far I've picked up an animal to boot.

The milk costs $3.50 per half gallon, and comes in on Saturdays. It's from grass-fed, antibiotic free cows, and it tastes to match. That being said, you have to do your own research to decide whether or not you're comfortable with un-pasteurized milk. If you decide you're interested in joining, now's the time.

Links to read up on raw milk:


Calico slaw

I've always liked the word calico. It echoes long forgotten kitchen aprons and oven mitts, warm mottled cats snuggled up by the wood stove. It's long since fallen out of fashion, but I can't help loving it still.

So when I found a recipe for Calico slaw, you can imagine I was charmed from the start. I dug it up online, on one of those endless recipe search sites, and copied it down immediately. The only trouble was, once I started paying attention, I didn't really like the creation.

I began shifting things around, hoping to keep the calico pattern of the slaw but change the ingredients a bit. I wanted a turnip slaw, not cabbage, and apples rather than green peppers. Carrots and onion I kept, and mixed up a bit of cilantro, oil, and cider vinegar in place of the ubiquitous "salad dressing" the recipe had in mind.

The resulting salad was very, very good, I have to say. It was tangy and salty, a bit sweet, and clean in the mouth when the cilantro rang in. The turnips were sweet and earthy, the apples perfectly crisp, and the carrots so fresh they practically jumped in my mouth.

I ate it for lunch yesterday, and again after breakfast today, and at this point, it's nearly gone. I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better way to eat half a turnip, 5 carrots, an onion, and an apple. I've certainly had my vegetables for the day.


Serves 4

Mix together 4 cups grated Eastham turnip (about 1/2 medium turnip), 2 cups grated carrot (about 5 medium carrots), 1 cup grated white onion (about 1 medium onion), and 1 cup grated apple (about 1 and 1/2 pieces fruit). Toss with 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped fine, and a dressing of 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, and sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve chilled.
*P.S. : If you make this slaw in mid-winter (as my mother just did), do not, I repeat, DO NOT grate the vegetables. Being a bit less firm than they might have been in the fall, they will simply turn to mush. Instead, julienne them into long, thin strips. This will yield a much better texture come February.


An invitation

This is an invitation. I'm helping to throw a dinner party, and I very much hope to see you there. It's a community supper, of sorts—on December 11th, at 7pm—a celebration of the fall harvest and the varied fruits of the season.

There will be lamb, from Border Bay Junction Farm in Barnstable, delivered whole and roasted in cuts from top to tail. There will be turnips, too, simmered into soup and served up hot and creamy from the roadside stand in Eastham.

There will be Brussels sprouts from Crow's Farm in Sandwich, greens from Tim Friary's garden at Cape Cod Organic Farm, and fruit pies made from local cranberries and apples.

It's being held at Willy's Gym—tucked back into a wood-floored, mirror paneled room out of the way of all the hubbub in Eastham. The executive chef from Mac's Shack, Jerome Watkins, is cooking there for the winter, and he'll be in the kitchen with me. Sarah Robins from the Flying Fish and Hillcrest Pizza will be there, too, along with her pastry chef Marissa Ferry.

I do hope you'll be there. Between the orchestration of flames beneath pots and pans, the roasting and the plating and the eventual serving, it could be quite a tiring day, and it would be nice to see some familiar faces at the table.

Reserve your spot soon, if you're coming—we can only serve so many (and five courses, too!). They have a list going at Willy's, and you can put your name in by commenting here, too. The cost is $35, which covers not just the food, but a little extra for the women at Safe Harbor Shelter in Hyannis, too. If you're anywhere near, I hope to see you there.


The Local Food Report: turnip pie

I hope you've brought your sense of adventure. Because today we are headed into murky territory. To be exact, we're making turnip pie. Still here? Good.

It wasn't my idea, I swear, but the nice ladies from the Eastham library convinced me, and now here we are. Turnips aren't the first winter vegetable to come to mind for pie; even I know that. But according to Geoffry Antoine, it can be done.

He created the recipe for the Eastham Turnip Festival several years ago. They host a turnip cook-off each fall, the only guideline being that the dish must include a turnip. He rolled out a piecrust, began boiling up a pot of Eastham's finest, and mixed and mashed until he found himself with a filling.

The ingredients were simple: eggs, sugar, cinnamon—salt and cloves and nutmeg, with a bit of heavy cream and a pinch of ginger at the end. It cooked like any other pie, for nearly an hour in an oven at first very hot, and then turned down for the duration.

It was so good, in fact, that it won the prize—not just any prize, mind you—but the Grand Prize. The women at the library didn't make it sound easy. Upon their insistence, I made the leap of faith in my kitchen last night. I thought of Geoffrey as I mixed—wondering what sort of a man the creator of turnip pie must be.

It was several hours before I found out. Between the boiling and the mashing and the rolling and the baking, I was just about exhausted when I finally picked up the spoon. But the fuss my tongue made! It began dancing and whooping, all lit up with cinnamon and root, bowing at the knees of the turnip. I still can't quite wrap my head around it, but I can promise you, that for some strange reason, you are bound to love turnip pie.


Serves 8

Prepare one 9-inch pie crust. Combine 3 eggs, slightly beaten, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger. Add 1 cup heavy cream and beat well. Blend in 15 ounces Eastham turnip, cooked and mashed. Pour into pan lined with crust. Bake in oven heated to 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes. The pie is done when knife inserted into center comes out clean.

*Geoffrey Antoine's recipe, Grand Prize Winner of the 2006 Turnip Festival, reprinted from First Encounter with a Turnip, a collection of recipes from the Friends of the Eastham Public Library.

A photo from the book Images of America: Eastham taken in 1928, when a special turnip harvest took place. George Nickerson, a longtime Eastham grower, was in the hospital during pulling time, so the whole town came to help. By the end of the day, they'd pulled 1,400 bushels for market. Not bad for a days work!


From top to tail

I love it how at farm stands and farmers' markets, you get the whole vegetable. No one's stolen the squash seeds or the beet greens, and the carrot tops are still intact.

This week, after a trip to Crow Farm in Sandwich (which will be selling vegetables until Christmas, mind you), I made an all-beet salad. It was my version of top to tail cooking, if you will, minus the animal and the endless parade of parts.

It was easy enough to put together—I simply peeled and sliced thin the beets, chopped up the greens, and threw the whole lot into a pan hot with oil and garlic. The leaves began to wilt, the beets to soften, and at last I blew out the flame and declared them tender. With a bit of chevre on top, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, I had a hearty fall salad.

It looked like Christmas with the colors—deep, maroon beets mixed with holly-hued greens and a sprinkling of white—just the thing to whip up for a holiday party or cold weather lunch. Even once the beet greens are gone, there'll still be spinach to gather, which with its deep forest green could easily step in.

But something about using the whole beet—every last bit of it, minus the well-intentioned skin—is so satisfying that I think I wouldn't dare. Usually I wait too long on the greens, letting them sit idle in the crisper until they are wilted beyond repair. It seems fitting that instead they leave together with the beets, hand in hand without hesitation for the next.

Try the salad if you can—before the holidays set in and the bustle becomes too much—because I'm sure once you do you'll decide you want it on the table. I'm willing to bet you like it so much, in fact, that you'll want to practice at least once or twice, to get it perfect just in time. Until then, if you need any help with the leftovers—well, you know I'm always here.


Serves 4

Wash and cut the greens from 5 small beets. Dry and chop greens roughly. Boil beets for 10 to 20 minutes, or until they are slightly tender and you can slip the skins from them easily. Remove skins and slice into thin, 1/2-inch pieces. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat up 2 tablespoons oil. Drop in 1 clove garlic, minced, and cook 30 seconds. Add beets and greens and stir well. Let cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted but have not lost their color. Transfer into a serving dish, season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with 1 to 2 ounces chevre. Serve warm as a light main course or side salad.


Dune bogs

My friend Talilla took me adventuring the other day. A fine mist fell as we packed into the car, dog and bags and rain jackets jostling loudly.

We drove away from her house, past the East End playground and out towards the highway on Snail Road. At an old abandoned parking lot at the base of the dunes, we camoflauged the car behind a bush and piled out.

We wound up the sand track, rolling up and down the sea of dunes as we headed towards the water. The vegetation changed—trees gave way to shrubs, shrubs to beach grass, and finally sand to sea. The waves rolled in, crashing white, and we walked south along the shore.

It took us nearly a half hour to reach the bog. Talilla veered inland, suddenly, and there it was: a massive expanse of wild cranberries. The plants burned red. Growing amongst the berries were clumps of grass, and strange tan mushrooms the consistency of jello. We picked, stooped over, until we'd each filled a bag. The berries were firm, a deep scarlet, and big in hand.

When our backs began to ache, we straightened and turned home. We wandered back through the warm rain, searching out the expanse of pavement and the silver glint of my car. We hadn't picked much, I realized later, at home. A few cups, perhaps, barely enough for a pie. I wondered what to do with mine—a pudding, maybe a salad?

I found a few pudding recipes scattered online—most too sweet, one with rice, another with cinnamon and apples. But none were quite what I was looking for. It was morning, still, and I wanted a breakfast dish.

I decided to adapt a dessert pudding, cutting the sugar and raisins and adding an egg for thickness. The rest was easy: scalded milk, a cup of oatmeal, a few spoonfuls of sugar and the cranberries, halved. All told, it couldn't have taken more than 10 minutes to prepare, and after a half hour in the oven, it was ready to eat. I cleaned my bowl, twice, and scribbled the recipe down for safe keeping.


Serves 4

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, stir together 2 cups whole milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Stir well, and heat until very hot but not boiling. While you wait, half 2 cups fresh cranberries. Stir together with 1/4 cup white sugar in a bowl. When milk is hot, stir in 1 cup oatmeal, 1 egg, beaten well, and cranberries. Bake 30 minutes; enjoy hot with cream or milk.


Bobbing for bagels

We went to hear Molly O'Neill speak last weekend, up in Camden, Maine. I soaked up her booming voice and sardonic laugh as the sounds echoed off the walls of opera house, and the noise reminded me of my sister.

Even as very small children, we reveled in her New York Cookbook. We paged through Katharine Hepburn's brownies, Sophie Minkoff's spiced pumpkin bread, and Bagel Oasis very good bagel. We dirtied the pages with our sticky fingers, splattering photos and print with brownie batter and butter, and finally pulling our creations from the oven to present with pride to my mother.

The voice, though, was an unexpected addition to the memory. It was as though I could hear her now, speaking to us as we hurried from bowl to mixer, stove to sink, thundering down the words as we cooked. As the applause in the opera house drew to a close, I hurried upstairs to pick up my own copy of the cookbook I'd grown up with. I waited in line at the signing, watched as pen and hands signed the thin white paper, and tucked the book away for the car ride home.

Yesterday morning, I pulled it out again. I opened straight to the bagels, and began to scurry around the kitchen in search of ingredients. There wasn't much to gather—yeast, sugar, salt, and flour—but I could feel my sister helping all the same. We proofed and kneaded, waited and shaped, boiled and baked until finally they were ready. A row of 12 perfect rounds, slightly golden and dusted in cornmeal, they were slightly chewy, and every bit as wonderful as those two little girls had imagined.

adapted from Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook

Makes 12 bagels

Proof 2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar and 1 and 1/2 cups warm water. Wait 5 minutes, or until a slight foam forms, and add another 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir well and gradually add 4 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing the dough until flour is well incorporated. Knead until smooth, about 7 minutes. Cover bowl and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes.

Lightly flour a cutting board and place dough on top. Cut into six thick strips, then cut each in half to make 12 short, thick strips. Shape each strip into a wide circle. Place on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal; let rise uncovered in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fill a large, wide pot 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, drop bagels in batches into the water. Boil on first side for 2 minutes; flip and boil another 1 and 1/2 minutes. They should firm and puff up. Remove from water and let drain for a few minutes on a rack.

Place the bagels on the baking sheet (dusted again with cornmeal, if needed), and bake 12 minues. Flip bagels an bake until golden brown all over, or about 7 minutes longer. Let cool slightly and eat with butter, jam, or cream cheese.


A shelter from the cold

Did I mention that there's a greenhouse outside?

I should have said something sooner, I know, but I'm just as surprised as you are. It's been a long time coming—since that crazed Saturday in August when I began planting for winter—but still, every time I glance outside, I can hardly believe it's there.

There were a few setbacks, to be sure. A tree fell on the garden in the midst of clearing the way; Grower's Supply sent the wrong size plastic, and a very short door frame, too. Damp leaves squashed a row of scallions; the carrots were planted too late; and the Vietnamese cilantro succumbed to cold before it could be ushered in.
But for a first try, I have to say I'd call the experiment a success. The spinach sprouts new leaves every day, the lettuce has begun to spiral, and the kale, though small, shows promise. The surviving brussel sprouts are just about ready for picking, and the radishes are gaining inches and leaves at an exponential rate.

Part of this, of course, is thanks to the seeds. The lettuce is a four season variety, the spinach a winter bloomsdale, and the radishes cold-loving nero tondo. But the stretch of plastic helps, too. On those nights when the temperature dips into the 30s and 40s, the garden sits warm beneath its watch.

We aren't quite there yet—next year, I'll plant with more organized walkways, I'll start the seedlings earlier, and I won't worry so much over density. I'll seed directly in the greenhouse for the more delicate plants like scallions and spinach, and I hope we'll have a real door. But all in all, for $800, I'd say it's an investment bound to pay off. In a January salad, that is.


We bought our kit from Grower's Supply. I can't say I'm raving about it—they got most of our order wrong, and then charged us extra for doing so. But, in the end, when we got the right pieces, it was quite a good kit. If you order from them, be sure to double check EVERYTHING on the phone. And order far in advance, and check the parts when you get them, before you start to build, just in case. That will save you a lot of frustration.

The construction is not a small project. It will take 2 able bodied people at least 2-3 days to complete. But once the frame is up, it's up, and taking the plastic on and off as the seasons change is easy.

Don't expect to erect the greenhouse over your plants. We did manage that, but I recommend putting it up in the spring, before you plant. Then you can plant your early seedlings inside, remove the cover when the weather gets nice, and put it back in place when it starts to get cold again. Winter seedlings (except the fragile ones) can be planted in trays, and then moved into the greenhouse once the summer plants have run their course and been pulled up, and the soil composted.

As for options besides plastic, there is a company called Moveable Greenhouses that makes gorgeous glass greenhouses out of Rockland, Maine, but they carry a hefty price tag. If I could afford to buy one, I would, but they are most certainly out of the range of the average grower. Someday, perhaps—it never hurts to dream.

Until then, good luck and happy planting!


Quince, meet toast

This is what happens when you leave a quince unattended. I hate to admonish a fruit so early in the morning, but really, it's been quite out of hand.

I'd been watching it for nearly a month, when its bedfellows had disappeared rather suddenly into the steam pot, and finally come to rest in a batch of fruit leather. It had been softening, slowly, but no where near the pace of, say, an apple or a pear.

I had neglected it, certainly, but I hardly expected the redress I received this morning. I had tiptoed, sleepy eyed, into the kitchen in search of breakfast. I'd seen the quince, complacent, and halved it face down in a pan to poach. With the stove at a simmer and an inch or so of water in the pot, I hurried up to the shower to clean up for the day. By the time I returned, a chaotic hiss had broken loose. The water was gone, the quince black, and the pot bottom scorched beyond repair.

It seemed so personal, somehow, like the quince had known my plan and sat eager in rebellion. Still, I managed to quell my disappointment, scraped the burnt skin and seeds from the fruit's surface, and mashed the remaining flesh with a bit of water and sugar. I pinched in nutmeg and cinnamon, set it back on the stove, and watched carefully over my unruly charge.

By the time the toast was hot, fruit and spice had softened into a thick paste. With a bit of butter and spread like jam, it turned out far too good for rebuke.


Serves 4 

Poach 1 quince until soft (taking care to continue adding water). Remove skin and core. Mash with 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture thickens into a paste the consistency of apple or pumpkin butter. This makes enough spread to serve four on breakfast toast.


Buckling down

It seems November has arrived for good. The light is different, suddenly, the trees stark, the sky a bleak, gray blanket over the woods. The chimney churns out smoke at a steady pace, filling the neighborhood with a thick, cozy, scent.

It is time to buckle down. The forays of Indian summer are past; the weather is contemplative, stern. The oats have bidden their time through strawberries and peaches, melons and apples, and this morning, finally, I returned for them.

They were patient grains—still sturdy and whole after a season's rest, still good from the 20 pound bag I bought last February by mail. They came from a farm in Maine, Wood Prairie Farm, along with the beans and flour and a few packets of seed. They were round, robust, the kind of oat with chew and a resonating wholesomeness of sorts. We ate them nearly every morning last spring, cooked in milk and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and then out the door to another frosty day.

Today, I managed to make them while holding on to the season. I cooked them in milk, gently, added cinnamon and nutmeg, and finally stirred in a good dollop of homemade applesauce to the cooling pot. The fruit blended seamlessly into the porridge, and I sat down to put in a good day's work.


Serves 1

Heat up 1 cup milk until hot and steaming (do not boil). Add 1/2 cup oats, and stir, bringing to a gentle boil. Let cook 5-10 minutes, or until oats and milk become a thick porridge. Turn off heat, and stir in a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and 1/4 cup applesauce. Top with cream and cinnamon sugar to taste; enjoy hot.


Fish tacos

By the time we set out the fixings, our guests had been there for hours. It was a potluck, of sorts—a celebration. The gifts piled up in the form of venison, wagyu steak, fresh dug steamers, and pollock.

Once a full inventory was taken, we set the menu: fish, game, and beef tacos, with a primer of Orleans clams.

I threw together a tortilla dough, and began thinning the dense flour balls with a rolling pin. A friend joined in using an already empty wine bottle, and the room began to sweat. The gas ran high, another friend manned the pan, and we churned out a full stack of soft, pliable wraps.

Meanwhile, another friend took to the toppings. He chopped cabbage and lettuce, simmered beans and spice, and finally sliced a lone tomato before looking around for more. A basket of ground cherries caught my eye, and we dropped them in to soak, half-ripened green balls falling from their dusty husks.

By the time we finally settled into our chairs, the gentle comfort of good food and company sat heavy in the air. There was a toast; perhaps two, and we talked into the night—plates scraped clean, dogs licking their chops, women bustling through the kitchen with dishrags and soap. We gave thanks for family and friends, and for the lingering fruits of the season, and settled in for a restful fall night.


Serves 12

Make ahead a double batch of flour tortillas. Keep warm (wrapped in cloth) in the oven. Cut 6 pounds pollock into 12 steaks. Mix 1 tablespoon each of: cumin, chilli pepper, cayenne, black pepper, and salt. Rub spices on fish, drizzle with olive oil, and set aside. Arrange on a long platter 1 cup cabbage, cut into very thin strips, and 1/2 cup ground cherries. Make a hot aioli from 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Sriracha). In a hot pan, sear pollock for several minutes on each side. Bring out to table along with tortillas, and let guests create their own tacos.


Surprise, surprise

I saw two things this weekend in Maine that I thought I'd never see. This first was the fishmonger, down on one knee. (Yes, I agreed! Anyone with a bake ahead cake recipe, or some idea of how many whole pigs it takes to feed two hundred hungry guests, please report immediately.)

The second surprise, more startling still, was a Myer lemon tree, hidden from the fog and wind by a subtle layer of plastic, and in full bloom nonetheless. Tucked into the eaves of a Down East greenhouse, it sat warmed by a woodstove and the gentle hum of the sun.

It was on the grounds of Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch's famous Four Season Farm that we found the tree, on a tour through their greenhouses after a noontime meal. I was there to interview the year-round gardeners, to learn how they kept their plates so green in the months of white and gray.

The farm was beautiful, full, laid out in a clearing that once belonged to the estate of Helen and Scott Nearing, the back-to-the-lander legends. The Nearings hadn't touched the land when Eliot came looking exactly forty years ago, and so they sold it to him at the price they'd paid: $33 an acre.

His thrift is as inspiring as theirs. Together with Barbara, he runs the farm from January through December with very little waste, changing crops with the season and working with the weather rather than against. On that gray November noon, she served us a hearty meal of whole wheat pasta, fresh cauliflower and peppers, Tuscan kale and carrots, and a warming sauce of Tahini and lemon. I never guessed the lemons could have been local—until I walked into the greenhouse, that is.

As it turns out, the Myer lemons do just fine over the winter. So long as they're potted and moved into a greenhouse or sunny room for the duration, they'll likely keep fruiting for months to come. Just be sure to re-pot the plant periodically, keep its soil moist, and feed it from time to time. It may be a labor of love, but the promise of Florida sunshine on a winter's day ought to chase any doubts away.


Love in the season of applesauce

Just last week, I was teasing the fishmonger for falling head over heels for a pie crust. And now, here I am, crumpled at the feet of an applesauce bunt cake.

It was a hasty romance, tied up in anticipation of a friend's fast approaching birthday and an afternoon whir of fallen leaves. I'd called my mother; it was 5pm. I have to have made a cake, showered, and driven to a party by 6:30pm, I pleaded. Got a recipe in mind?

She did. Once we'd established that I had a jar of applesauce (just made, and perfectly pink), and a bunt cake pan on hand, she began streaming orders. Two sticks of butter, she commanded. Two cups sugar, two cups applesauce, 3 cups flour. It went on like this; me scrambling for cinnamon and nutmeg, spoonfuls of vanilla and baking soda pouring in, and a last minute combing of the cupboards for anything remotely like raisins.

Figs are what I turned up in the end. They were perfect, really, leftover from our summer roommates and long forgotten amidst corn starch and oats. I chopped them to bits, stirring gently, and poured the cake into a well-buttered pan. Upside down, it cooked, baking through my shower, the inevitable outfit dilemma, and right up to the honking of an eager horn. In the nick of time it flipped, still steaming, onto a serving platter and out to the car.

When it was finally cool and cut, I was startled by how deep I felt it. The moist crumbs seemed to rumble in my mouth, reverberating through the hollows and dancing off my tongue. It was warm, autumnal, eager—rife with thick, seedy figs and the gentle specter of apples. In short, there was little I could do to resist.

The others seemed to feel the same—gulping down thick chunks of the stuff, until finally nothing but golden crumbs remained soft on the plate. I called my mother to thank her, later, describing the tumbling hunger and the quick disappearance of it all, and she said my father had made it first. He doesn't bake much, but when he does, he doesn't miss.


(adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins)

Serves 10-12

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch bunt pan. In a mixing bowl, cream 2 sticks butter with 2 cups sugar. Add 2 cups applesauce and 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well. Sift in dry ingredients: 1 and 1/2 cups white flour, 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons baking soda. Add 1 cup chopped figs*; stir well. Pour batter into bunt pan and cook approximately 1 hour, or until firm but moist. Let cool in pan 15 minutes; turn onto serving plate and let cool completely.

*Fig trees can survive in our area as long as they are well protected over the winter. They go dormant during periods when temperatures stay between 20 and 40 degrees (F). Their roots and trunk base can be well insulated with wood chips or other thermal protection and they will do quite well outside. The fruit makes one of the best treats both fresh and dried.


The Local Food Report: Boston Marrow Squash

Ok, so technically this is the round end of an orange Hubbard squash. It's not a Boston Marrow, though the two are look alikes, at least from this angle. While the Hubbard lacks the curved, elongated neck of the Boston Marrow, it could easily pass from behind.

I would have a picture of the real deal, rather than this imposter, but it's been impossible to find. I visited farmers' market after market, farm stand after stand, and to no avail. The Boston Marrow squash truly is disappearing.

But there is one less tangible place I've encountered it. Tucked between the careful pages of local food author Gary Nabhan's book, Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods, there it was. In bright and glossy orange, it jumped from the page with startling statistics. Brought to popularity in the mid-1800s, the squash can now be found from only two commercial seed companies: D. Landreth Seed and Heritage Harvest Seed.

Even one of the companies Nabhan lists in his book as one of the last to sell the seeds no longer does. Those have been hard to get for a while, now, the friendly operator informed me. We stopped carrying them a few years back. It's no surprise, then, that the squash are disappearing from our dinner tables.

The time to save the squash, if we decide too, is now. That's the easy part, of course. You simply order the seeds instead of Hubbard or butternut, and nurse the tiny seedlings through the spring. A year from now, you'll serve your friends a stunning pie or soup or autumn gratin, and they'll wonder at the magnificent taste. It won't be hard at all to do, you simply have to choose to.

If you need convincing, Nabhan's written a load of books on the subject. There's Where our Food Comes From, which tells the story of a great Soviet botanist who traveled the world in search of seeds to ward against hunger. There's Coming Home to Eat, on the pleasures and politics of eating locally, and plenty of other more specific reads, too. In case you need to munch while you read, here's Nabhan's recipe for the ancient New England standing dish of Boston Marrow Squash. If all else fails, you can always grab a Hubbard.

adapted from Gary Nabhan's Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods

Serves 6-8

Slice and dice about 4 lbs. Boston Marrow squash. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot half full with squash, and cover with water. Cook over low heat (preferably on a woodstove, where you can leave it to stew all day). When water is largely evaporated and squash is tender, remove from heat and add (to 4 cups squash) 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Mix well and serve hot.

To see the New York Times' map of Gary Nabhan's 13 food nations, click here. Roll mouse over "Clambake Nation" for a list of 12 endangered foods in our area.


Green peppers & dip

It always startles me how late in the season green peppers come in. They rush onto the tables of the last farmers' markets, harried and out of breath but stunning just the same.

I bought my last two over a week ago, on the streets of Provincetown, while a dog fight played out at my feet. I picked them carefully from the finale table, and tucked them atop storage onions and winter squash in my well-laden bag.

They sat at home until just yesterday. Still perfectly crisp, their skin cool and green, they split without caving beneath the weight of the knife. I cut them into slices and arranged them carefully on a plate next to my computer. Word after word I typed, crunching through the sweetest of peppers as the afternoon slipped by.


Serves 6 to 8

Beat together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1/2 cup sour cream. Add 1/4 cup parsley, chopped, 1/4 cup chives, chopped, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. (The herbs in my garden are still hanging on. If yours are not, try your own blend of dried herbs in place of the fresh ones). Mix well and enjoy with veggies.


Voting night

There's something soothing about foods that crunch beneath your teeth. Potato chips, crackers, celery—they all do the trick. But this election night (tonight!) calls for something a bit more politically correct.

There is an industrial food crisis to account for, after all, so on this night of all nights, junk food would hardly be right. (You never know the subliminal message your snacks could be sending to those west coast voters as they close the polls).

My kitchen message, I decided, would be seasonal. The terribly erratic jack-o-lantern I carved from a pumpkin picked up down the street sat empty on the living room table. The seeds lay out to dry on the kitchen counter, atop a cookie tray and alongside a jar of salt.

It was only a matter of minutes before I had the oven cranked up, blazing away at 350 and beckoning warm. I sprinkled the seeds with water and salt, and popped them in to bake. In 5 minutes flat, I'd concocted this evening's snack.

Ten minutes later, I heard the seeds begin to pop and ran to the oven to check their progress. They were beginning to brown, salt shriveling against tempered pods, and the smell of pumpkin oil spread through the kitchen. When the last pop had burst forth, I pulled the seeds out to dry, and settled in to pray.


Serves 2 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and clean seeds of 1 large jack-o-lantern (other winter squash seeds will do just as well, but given the season, I'll bet you can rustle up some pumpkin seeds). While still wet (they must be wet for the salt to stick), sprinkle with salt to taste. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until seeds are golden brown.


Molly's tomato soup

I wish I could tell you I came up with this recipe myself, but truly, that's not the case. I borrowed it from Molly, who has a good many recipes worth perusing. But honestly, it's so simple, it's amazing none of us have ever thought of it before.

The occasion for Molly's soup was the last tomatoes of the season, of course. Though her recipe calls for the fruits canned, I had a heap of red, sunny globes, bought on the cheap as the farmers market rode out on the coattails of fall.

They were starting to go—there was a reason for the sale—and I'd purchased many more than an afternoon lunch could take care of. The freezer was already bursting with sauce and the cupboard with jars, and so I turned instead to this hearty fall soup.

The soup pot was ready, spitting hot, when the first onions piled in. With oil and salt, they softened into translucence, and garlic came along. Next fell lipstick peppers and fresh ground black kernels, vietnamese cilantro and another pinch of salt. With base flavors at the ready, it was time to drop in the tomatoes.

They softened slowly at first, red meat crumpling into herbs and oil, the whole mess burping and jumping until it practically leapt from the pot. Finally, the flame hunkered down, and they settled in to simmer. A half hour later, a velvety red liquid emerged: chunky, flecked with green, and absolutely wholesome. With hats off to the fruit, we promised to make another pot just as soon as the season allowed.


(adapted from Molly's recipe, which was adapted from a Martha Stewart Living cutout, April 1995)

Serves 4

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté 1 medium white onion, chopped finely. Add 1 clove garlic, minced, and cook until onions are translucent. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, 1/4 cup Vietnamese cilantro, torn, (alternatively, you can used chopped cilantro stems, as Molly does), 1 small hot pepper, seeded and minced, 2 pounds tomatoes if chopped fresh, and 28 ounces if canned, and 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice. Let simmer 30 minutes, and enjoy hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.


Sunday supper

The clocks skipped back today, shifting the season for good. Afternoon light faded as I worked my hands into the chilly cavity of a chicken, and we prepared the oven for a roast.

It was the perfect evening for the bird. We'd picked it up from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth several weeks before, frozen solid beside its two sister birds.

When a turkey arrived from the same fields this morning, there was squawking in the freezer. Packed solid, it showed something had to go. With Sunday evening looming and no dinner in sight, the carefully packed chicken got the first ticket out.

It didn't help the bird's cause that a rotisserie sat, unused, in our beloved new oven, just itching to be used. I left the meat to thaw and returned hours later to find it ready to dress. Rubbing the meat with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh cut rosemary, I allowed it to sit while I rummaged around for twine. Rope offered the next best option, and so around the bird it wound.

With the oven hot, we stuck the bird between the hungry jaws of the spit and watched it begin to spin. Slowly, with excruciating appeal, it began to turn. Dripping fat and sizzling skin filled the oven, and we settled in to wait.

An hour or so passed; potatoes were mashed, salad whipped up, a jar of beach plum-cranberry chutney pulled from the pantry. Red wine was poured, gravy made, and stuffing pulled from the oven. Finally, brilliantly, the bird emerged from the oven. It was mouthwatering in its perfection, perfectly cooked on all sides, and wonderfully browned. The smell filled the dining room and we dug in to enjoy an old-fashioned Sunday supper.


Serves 4-6

Wash a 5-8 pound chicken with cold water. Drizzle with olive oil, and rub with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Tie wings in close to body; spear onto rotisserie. In a large Pyrex pan (big enough to fit beneath the bird and catch drippings) toss 1 large beet, peeled and diced, 1 apple, diced, and 1 lb. winter squash, peeled and diced, and 1 cup torn bread with salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil to taste. Place pan beneath chicken on floor of oven, and turn on rotisserie. Let cook 1 to 2 hours, or until meat and vegetables are cooked through and tender and bird skin is brown. Remove meat from oven, place on serving platter, and allow to rest 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy alongside vegetables.


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