The Local Food Report: how to cut a haddock

Oh, friends. I might be good at some things—picking the dark chocolate pieces from a pint of Ben & Jerry's mint chocolate chunk comes to mind, as does distracting myself online with archives of the The Blue Hour when I'm on a very tight deadline—but learning to fillet a haddock is not on that list. I tried, really I did, to listen carefully and learn the other day when Alex tried to teach me with his favorite blue handled knife, but it would appear I'm not cut out for whole fish.

It's not that I was freaked out. It would take a lot more than a whole haddock staring up at me from a cutting board to give me cold feet. It was more of a handling and anatomy-understanding inability sort of thing. We decided to do this as a soon-to-be-married send off radio piece, and also, it seemed high time, if we are going through with this whole marriage thing, that I learn how to cut a fish.

When we set up, Alex arranged the haddock so that it's top side was toward me, head to the left, tail to the right. He told me how to cut around the gill plate, to stick the knife in and feel around for the bones, and then to cut a half semi-circle sort of arch. He helped me stick the knife in on the head side, angle it flat, and cut down the ribs, along the backbone, to the tail. He told me to pull up gently on the fillet and run my knife over the backbone, next, and then to angle the knife down and free the meat on the other side. All this made sense.

What did not make sense was the way the knife moved in my hand, the way it sawed instead of slid, and most importantly, how on earth a person is supposed to keep a gentle yet firm hold strong enough to keep down a wet, slippery fish. I mangled the head loin when the knife slipped, and then on the belly side, I ran into a line of bones sticking up from the cutting board, perpendicular to the backbone (also known as the nape), and called it quits. I did ask to try again on the other side, but Alex was not willing to sacrifice quite that much line caught, $10.99-a-pound fish. That's my haddock down there, looking like a tattered, disastrous wreck.

Here's his, sitting all neat and pretty, ready for it's Food + Wine cover shot.

At any rate, the most interesting thing I learned from the whole debacle is that it is very, very important, if you're going to try and learn to cut fish, to first study the structure of the bones. Alex told me at the end, after I'd messed the fillet up, that the key to freeing the fillet is to understand the anatomy of the fish. If you know where the bones are, you know where not to cut, and then you can cut along the extreme borders of the meat without ruining all that nice interior flesh. After much online searching, I was very pleased to find this excellent drawing of a haddock skeleton. Although it's still a little difficult to see where the nape bones are (covered up by the pectoral fin? overlapping with the ribs?) it certainly clears the rest up quite a bit.

I was planning, before we did the lesson, on telling you step-by-step how to cut your own whole haddock, but given how well that went, I think it might be best if you take your cues over here. You'll notice that when the guy in the video does the fillet, he never tries to cut around the nape bones. He cuts down the backbone on the belly side from the head to the tail, but not all the way to the bottom side, just a few inches in. Then, starting at the head side, instead of trying to cut around the nape bones that are sticking up, he just tugs the fillet toward the tail a little bit, until the meat comes free from the perpendicular bones. Then he pushes the knife all the way through to the bottom of the belly, and cuts along the rib bones to the tail. I have a feeling that Alex would tell me this is not top-notch technique, but for a beginner, it seems like a good trick to try.

Luckily, despite my complete and utter lack of technique, the marriage is still on. Alex can be quite generous sometimes, and it appears that he is willing to commit to a lifetime of cutting fish. I'll see you when we get back, in exactly one month and a day.


Holding all the hurry

There is no point in trying to pretend. As of today, it is officially six days until we hand over our house keys, pack up the car, and drive to Maine to get ready for the wedding. Things are starting to get just the teensiest bit crazy around here.

This weekend, for instance, Friday I spent 45 minutes on the phone with my mother's very dear friend, going over all the final details for the flowers before finishing up my last column and arriving at the restaurant seven minutes late. Saturday a friend's mom and I did the practice hair run (big! and curly!) and I walked around doing the recycling at work like some sort of Jessica Simpson shake-those-curls-loose barbie doll, and Sunday Alex and I got the yard all squared away for freezing temperatures. It's been feeling sort of like a perpetual Christmas Eve, a long, drawn-out one, where for weeks and weeks on end you hurry around waiting for the big day, slowly ticking off the time in your head.

Luckily, in the midst of all the chaos, cabbage season decided to show up. There is no vegetable like cabbage to keep you grounded, I think, and savoy cabbage works some particular magic. There's something about the way it ruffles—the way it's all composure and elegance on the outside, even though everything is tightly wound and scrunched up underneath. We've been braising it, recently, cooking it down with butter and onions and thyme and sherry until it collapses into a soft, tender heap, and it's been just the thing. We're sort of the same way by the end of the day, actually, come to think of it, Alex and the cabbage and I, all wilting just a little bit into our dinner plates.

Slowly, though, with the help of a bit of pork and herb butter and a hunk of bread, by the end of the meal, we perk back up. The cabbage lulls us into a soft, contented sort of haze, and we sit on the couch making lists about packing and to-do's and thank-you notes and RSVPs. It's nothing fancy or exciting, but I think the braised cabbage has been keeping us sane.

I'll be back on Thursday to tell you about a very special someone and how he taught me to fillet fish, but after that, I won't be around for a while. We'll be in Maine for a week, and then in Boston for a few hours, and then, if I pinch myself hard enough, in Paris for three days and Italy for two (!) whole (!) weeks. We'll be back November 28th, and I promise to be here on Monday, November 30th, with a whole new set of stories to tell.

Until then, I hope you'll enjoy this cabbage. It is very good, I promise, at holding all the hurry at bay.


I probably shouldn't admit this, but until the other day, I wasn't entirely clear on what the word braising really meant. I understood the results, and I was a big fan, but I wasn't quite sure how to get there. I went on sort of a braising kick reading online until I at least had a vague grasp on the term, but I'm hoping, one of these days, to pick up this book and learn a whole lot more. I have a feeling, based on the cabbage, that braising is my kind of thing.

3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 medium size head savoy cabbage, core removed and chopped into thin ribbons
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon sherry
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Throw in the onions and let them sweat for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently so they don't burn. Midway through add the thyme, and once the onions are soft and translucent, add the cabbage. Continue sauteing while stirring constantly. When the cabbage and onions have lost their moisture and are very dry, after about five minutes, pour in the chicken stock.

Continue stirring constantly, mixing the onions and cabbage with the stock, until the stock has been reduced by at least half. (There should be only a little bit of visible juice mixed in with the cabbage at the bottom of the pot, more of a glaze than a broth.) Add the milk and the sherry, and reduce the liquid by half again. When the milk and chicken stock form a nice, thick glaze, season the cabbage with salt and pepper to taste, and you're ready to eat.

We had this alongside a thick pork chop with a little bit of blue cheese herb butter on top and a slice of bread—it is the perfect vegetable accompaniment to that sort of hearty meat cut. A rib-eye would be good too—anything with heft and a good amount of fat. If you don't eat meat, though, it doesn't matter too much. I ate the cabbage the next day for lunch with just the herb butter and a hunk of toasted bread, and it was just as good.


The Local Food Report: to bookend the day

When Eben Franks was a kid, his grandparents had this cider press. It was an antique, from the early 1900s, built someplace in Indiana, and they never, ever hauled it out. He was fascinated by it—the way the gears interlocked, the strength of the wooden barrel, even the carefully engineered oak spout.

Unfortunately, there was only one rule about the cider press, and that was that he should never touch it. Ever. Needless to say, when his grandmother and grandfather passed away twenty-five years ago and Eben and his siblings went to Plymouth to go through the barn, he called dibs. He's been making cider, lots of it, every fall since.

It helps that he has a son, because as it turns out, making cider by hand is very hard work, and it's good to have a lot of boy-power lurking about. When I went over to Eben's house in Bourne to learn how to make a batch, I brought six pounds of apples—roughly three of those orchard bags—and it took the two of us a solid fifteen minutes of cranking and sweating and cursing to get the whole lot crushed. I can only imagine what it must have been like to look at an entire tree's or orchard's worth of apples and think, Oh goodie! Cider pressing time again.

I might be making this fact up, but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the early settlers of Truro thought the water tasted bad, so they drank almost entirely cider instead. Either they were terrible exaggerators, or they spent part of every day churning out the day's liquid. It must have been awfully hard to stay hydrated either way.

Anyway, Eben's childhood observations were right: this machine is a work of art. What you see right up there is a side view. Sticking down is the hand crank, which turns those two gears. They, in turn, push around a wheel on the other side, which spins the cutting blades inside that metal box. Above that, just out of view, is the hopper, the wooden shoot one picture up that you drop the apples through. Finally, in the bottom right of the picture you can see a wooden barrel, and just to the left of it, a little pile of apples shavings. When we were actively cranking the apples through, the barrel (lined with a burlap sack) was where the little pile of apple bits is, directly below the hopper. It catches the crushed apples while you crank, and then when you're done, you move it closer to the spout, so that you can crank down this enormous jacking screw and press the cider out.

The best cider, Eben thinks, comes from a blend of apples. He likes to get some tart, some sweet, some in between, and mix them all up for a perfect juice. When the cider first comes out, it's almost unrecognizable, because it hasn't been oxidized yet. Instead of the deep, rich brown we're used to, it's a light, golden color more like apple juice, and it tastes a little bit like it, too. Once I let mine sit around in the fridge for a day or so, it developed both the color and the taste, but it didn't last long.

Eben says his favorite way to drink cider is as a hot, mulled drink—the kind boiled with cinnamon sticks and nutmeg and allspice and poured steaming into a mug. Sometimes, he spikes it with rum, but only if the kids aren't around. Recently, I've been thinking that these two methods are a pretty good way to bookend the day. Hot mulled cider for breakfast, hot spiked cider as an after-dinner drink, and I'm pretty much content. I hope you will be as well.

Oh! and a quick P.S. Eben will be doing a cider making demonstration at the second annual Farm Day this Sunday, at Long Pasture (the Audubon Sanctuary in Cummaquid) from 1 to 4. He has over 500 apples to crank through, so he will most definitely be happy if you show up to help. There will also be a farmers' market in the morning, and all sorts of other agricultural fun.


Most hot mulled cider recipes are pretty much the same—cider, spices, sometimes rum—but I like this one because it uses ginger, which I think gives it an extra kick. Whatever combination you choose, it's pretty hard to go wrong.

1 gallon cider
1 (2-inch) knob fresh ginger
1 lemon, cut into quarters
2 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of allspice

Combine everything in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer it for ten minutes. Strain the cider through a large colander into a large bowl to remove the spices and fruit, and pour it back into the pot. If you're planning to serve the cider intermittently (if, say, you're hosting a party), keep it on the back burner, covered, over the lowest possible heat. And don't spike it until it's either going into individual cups or is not going to be heated up again—otherwise, eventually, you'll cook off the alcohol, and that would be sort of a waste.


Quite a night

I'm not really sure I should be telling you this, but on Friday, I was a Bachelorette. Yep—that's right—with the help of my sister and my mother and a whole gang of friends, I was transformed from a perfectly nice girl into a tacky-veil-wearing, high-heeled, boozy wreck of a bride-to-be.

It was quite a night.

I'm not going to tell you too much—I am hoping, after all, to maintain at least some itsy-bitsy shred of dignity—but I will say that it was not nearly so bad a rite of passage as I'd feared. There may or may not have been a Karaoke Funk-Mobile involved, and at least one not-to-be-named person doing The Worm, but other than that, things were pretty tame.

Really, though, if we're being honest, there is only one part of the evening that I would ever like to revisit, and that is the arrival of two quarts of my mother's Thai-spiced squash soup. I know we just talked about squash soup the other day around here, and I swear I'm not trying to turn you into some sort of strange beta-Carotene overdosed gang of Readers with Orange Hands, but this one is worth bringing it up again. It arrived in two quart-sized Mason jars with my mother and my sister and my friend Emily in the backseat of my parents' Volvo, and it was by far the most wholesome, most re-tell-able part of the whole evening.

The way my mother makes it is this:

She rounds up a winter squash or two, maybe an acorn or a butternut or even a kabocha, cuts them in half, and roasts them in the oven on a big cookie sheet. Then once they're cooled she scoops out their insides, drops them into a soup pot with some hot olive oil, a can of coconut milk, some red curry paste, and a splash of chicken stock, and that's it. There's a little blending to be done once everything's hot, just to make sure the soup is good and smooth, but otherwise, it's the kind of thing you can make the day before your daughter's bachelorette party when you still have a wedding to finish planning and a full time job and several bedrooms to paint and not even have to stay up very late.

It's especially good on a day like today, which is when I finally got to sit down in peace with a bowl. It helps that October seems to have very officially settled the fall weather in for good, and that I was able to pick the last of the season's cilantro, chop it up fine, and sprinkle it on top. But most of all, sometimes, it is just incredibly nice to sit down and realize that you are eating your mother's soup.


My mother found the original of this recipe at Heidi's 101 Cookbooks over here. It was easy enough to start, but she tweaked it to make it even simpler without sacrificing one bit of the flavor that makes it so rich. I think she usually uses acorn squash, but feel free to use any kind of smallish winter squash in the acorn-butternut genre—they'll all work. Also, she uses light, organic coconut milk, but full fat is fine, too. Other than that, there aren't many places to veer off track.

1 smallish winter squash (acorn, sugar pumpkin, butternut, or kabocha will all work)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 roughly 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon red curry paste, or more to taste
1/2 cup chicken stock, and more as needed
finely chopped cilantro, for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash in half, scoop out any seeds and stringy flesh, and place both hollowed out halves face up on a cookie sheet. Drop a few spoonfuls of water into the center well of each squash—this will help it avoid losing too much moisture around the edges and turning dark as it cooks. Bake the squash for roughly an hour, or until the flesh is very tender.

Heat up the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the squash, the coconut milk, the red curry paste, and the chicken broth, and bring everything to a boil. Puree the soup in a blender until it is very, very smooth, and return it to the pot. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and thin it with more chicken stock as needed. Leave the soup over low heat to simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors come together. Serve hot, and if you'd like, sprinkle a garnish of cilantro on top.

My mother says this is definitely one of those soups that is better the next day, and I agree. Letting it sit around in the fridge before doling it out at a dinner party or in lunch boxes won't hurt.


The Local Food Report: Cape Ann Fresh Catch

So. Remember all that talk about CSAs in the spring? You know—the Community Supported Agriculture model where you fork over a bunch of cash in March, pay for the farmer's start up cost, and get a weekly pick-up of fresh fruits and veggies all season long?

Well, there's a new kid in town. Introducing... the CSF. Community Supported Fishery.

This is what Steve Parkes of Gloucester calls The Hand Off. In which, a formerly sane man or woman agrees to show up on a specified day at a specified time once a week to meet a refrigerated truck and take home a plastic bag full of whole fish. Tails swing at faces, coolers and ice are packed into trunks, and at home, puzzlement ensues.

The thing about applying the CSA model to fish is that produce is no whole animal. People are accustomed to handling boxes of spinach and carrots and pears. These days, heck, they even know what to do with celeriac! Most people are not, however, entirely clear on the matter of how to gut and fillet whole fish. (My lovely, 600-pound-tuna-spattered fiancé being the exception.)

Teaching people how to deal with their pick-up has been the biggest challenge for Cape Ann Fresh Catch, the CSF I visited in Ipswich a few weeks back. It was started by the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and the Northwest Marine Alliance in an attempt to boost fishermen's income, and also to get fresh, just-off-the-boat, sustainably caught fish direct to consumers. They opened the truck doors in June, and so far, over 800 families have signed up.

Each member gets a weekly bag of whatever the 10 full-time local fishermen catch. A share costs $380 for 12 weeks, and there are stops in places every day of the week—Harvard Square, Acton, Ipswich, Gloucester, Marblehead, Cambridge, and a few others. Parkes—who calls himself the Boat to Fork Coordinator—is hoping they'll be able to do at least three sessions and go almost year round. It's tricky in February and March, he says, because weather makes it tough for the boats to get out, but otherwise, he and the fishermen are hoping to make a full-time gig of the thing. There are a few volunteers that help him out at each stop, too, checking names off of clipboards and sussing out what each family prefers of the day's choices.

There aren't always options, of course. For a while when things first started up, the catch of the day was all cod, all the time for quite a few weeks. But the other day when I talked with Parkes, every member could choose between flounder with whiting or cod with whiting, and they seemed pretty pleased overall.

The thing about a CSF is, the fishermen do the bulk of the choosing for you. They decide which species to go after—which are less fished out, which are in season, which are at their peak this time of year. Some weeks, there might be all kinds of options. Others, off Cape Ann at least, cod might be the only one. It means that as a member you might not always get something different, but you will always get what is freshest and best. Most days, Parkes says, the fish he delivers was caught that morning, and a few times this summer, it was so just-out-of-the-sea it hadn't even gone into rigor mortis yet.

The exciting thing is, this week, the guys from Gloucester—Parkes and the fishermen and the organizers over at the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association—are all coming down to Chatham to talk with folks here about bringing the model south. The idea has been slowly moving down the coast—it started, after all, with a bunch of shrimp fishermen in Port Clyde, Maine—and finally, it's getting to us. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

P.S. A friend of mine actually did a radio piece on the CSF in Port Clyde, which is well worth listening to, especially if you're interested in the history and politics behind the idea. If you click on the link up there and scroll down, you can hear her segment on her blog.


A little kabocha sunshine

You know that part in the wedding vows where you promise to love and comfort and honor and keep each other in sickness and in health? Well, I think the God of Marriage has decided to test us. Not in some big, scary way, but instead, through this hilarious little device She calls a cold. (In ancient Greece at least, the God of Marriage was a woman, Hera. I'm pretty sure she's still out there, presiding over rituals and testing prospective couples and chasing bad suitors away.)

Anyway, a cold sounds pretty tame, doesn't it? When Alex spent the whole day in bed last Tuesday I thought maybe he was getting cold feet or overwhelmed by work or even just vying for a plate of cookies and a cup of tea, but now, I understand. This cold is NOT tame.

Instead, this cold is the kind that sneaks up on a Sunday afternoon while you're out in the garden puttering happily around, pulling the oak leaves from the strawberry patch and planting fresh rows of spinach in the greenhouse and potting your herbs for the cold winter months, and attacks. It throws your left nostril into continual sneeze preparation mode, takes away your taste buds, and kicks you into bed.

If it weren't for friends who leave kabocha squashes on your doorstep, I'm not sure we would have made it through.

The kabocha squash is the one on the right there, the deep ruddy orange one with the pumpkin shaped body and the tall stem. Kabocha is a Japanese variety, and while normally it has dark green skin and bright orange insides, this particular version is called a Sunshine kabocha. It tastes the same—smooth and a bit pasty, kind of like a cross between a butternut and a hubbard—but it is much, much more cheerful looking. And when you're in your room with the heat cranked up to 75 and the door shut tight and the covers up to your chin, nice bright Sunshine kabocha soup makes an excellent therapeutic tea.

Luckily, I made the soup last week when Alex was sick, before I got hit. I armed us with shallots and kabocha sunshine and chicken broth and ginger, and it appears to have done the trick. Between the soup and the half empty bottle of terrifyingly green Nyquil on the bathroom counter and a bowl of autumn olive sorbet brought over by a friend, we are most definitely on the mend.

I hope you don't need this soup—not at least, for any of Hera's tests—but just in case, you might make a batch. It's always good, in a month like this, to have a little kabocha sunshine on hand.


This recipe is adapted from one I found in Cooking Light last fall. While the original called for butternut squash, I think you could swap any variety with a nice orange flesh in and get very good results. If you do decide to use another variety, like say, butternut, keep an eye on the liquids. I ended up using twice as much chicken broth as Cooking Light called for, which I think might have been because of the pasty, suck-the-moisture-in nature of kabocha squash. Try adding 2 cups at first, then work your way up until you have the consistency you want.

1 medium-size kabocha squash (butternut, sugar pumpkin, or Hubbard would probably work too), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 small shallots, peeled and halved
1 (1 and 1/2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons fresh sliced chives
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Toss the squash, shallots, ginger, oil, and salt together in a large casserole dish. Cover with tinfoil and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake 30 minutes longer, or until the squash is soft. Combine the roasted vegetables and chicken broth in a blender (in batches, depending on how much space you have) and puree until everything is smooth. Pour the soup into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for roughly 5 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. Serve piping hot garnished with fresh sliced chives and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. A side of toast, especially if you're under the weather, never hurts as a side.


The Local Food Report: Fromage à Trois

Well. Do I have a top-notch surprise for you today, or what? All I can say is, it's lucky Lisa Raffael is so good at baking cakes. Because if she weren't an A-list cake baker, she wouldn't have been featured in places like Bride and the Improper Bostonian and Weddings. And if she hadn't gotten all that good press, she might not have been able to afford such a nice, big, cool refrigerator, which means that Kathleen Kadlik, who shares her workspace, might never have been able to start making cheese.

If Kathleen Kadlik had never been able to start Fromage à Trois, then I wouldn't have been able to make you these gorgonzola-dolce-burata stuffed pears wrapped in flaky pie crust, which believe-you-me would have been a sorry, sorry thing. If I weren't so heart-set on my red velvet cupcakes, I'd cancel my beet order and hire Lisa to bake my wedding cake as a thank you right now. Because excuse my French people, but these gorgonzola pears are damn good. Yes siree Bob, they are.

I probably also ought to go right back to the beginning and thank Michelle, who posted a comment back in August about finding Fromage à Trois at the Falmouth Farmers' Market and about how delightfully enchanted she was. Michelle, I'm sorry it took me so long, but I swear, if you say go, I will never hesitate again.

I actually met Kathleen accidentally at the Sandwich Farmers' Market. She usually sells her cheese there, but on this particular Tuesday she'd been unable to get her milk order in time, and so she was wandering around deciding between peaches and raspberries instead. Someone, I think Lori the lobster lady, had the good sense to introduce us and we set up a date for Saturday at the Provincetown Farmers' Market the next week. I went to see her on a sunny September afternoon, and we talked about life and love and the ubiquitous Vermont Cheese Making Dream and how she'd taken a different route instead and ended up sharing a kitchen with Lisa until my very polite friend had to tap me on the shoulder and remind me that she had been waiting for me, staring at the arugula, for a solid forty-five minutes.

And that sort of carrying on was before I had even tasted the cheese, let alone put the pears in the oven.

At any rate, after much hemming and hawing over whether or not to get mozzarella or string cheese or ricotta or burata and a few more patient nudges from my friend, I ended up bringing home a little tissue paper wrapped bag of the burata stuffed with gorgonzola dolce to try. (I think Kathleen calls it "Blue Bell," but I can't quite remember.) I tried it on salad, and then over hot pasta, and finally, at Kathleen's recommendation, I ate it in little slivers with a balsamic drizzle and chunks of soft, fresh pear. Right about then is when the stroke of genius hit.

What if the cheese was hot and gooey and inside the pear?

In my head, there were all sorts of symbols crashing and violins crescendoing and the room I think even swayed a little bit, and then I got to work. I rolled out a piece of extra pie crust I had in the fridge. I got out my little leaf cookie cutters and a knife and I cored the pears from the bottom almost to the top, leaving the stems. I cut the burata into small, stuffable chunks, cut the pie crust in half, and turned the pears on their sides. I cranked the oven up to 350, put Aretha Franklin on, and stuffed those pears full. I swaddled them in pie crust, smoothed the wrapping so it fit like a glove, and stuck a few cookie cutter pear leaves around the top. Then I danced around the kitchen for 20 long, ecstatic minutes, waiting for the timer to ding.

And when it did—when the buzzer went off—those pears didn't last 5 minutes around me. There was only one of me, and two of them, so you'd think they might have been able to put up a fight, but as soon as I cut them open and the crust flaked off and the burata-gorgonzola river began to stream across the plate, they didn't stand a chance. In Hungry Woman vs. Pear, I won handily.

Before another week goes by, I recommend you do the same. I don't want to hear any excuses about how you missed the market or oooh Falmouth is such a drive or some nonsense about not getting your oven buzzer to work, because there isn't much time to waste. The markets are shutting down, one by one, and for the time being, they're the only place Kathleen sells. So get out your umbrella and your wool socks and your baseball cap, and with any luck, I'll see you there.

BLUE BELL PEARS, in a pastry crust

This recipe was inspired by a number of things. First of all, there's a recipe in one of my French cookbooks for pears wrapped in pastry with a brown sugar-almond stuffing where the picture shows the fruits with their stems. I did a riff on that last week with a macadamia nut-maple syrup stuffing, and I kind of got hooked on baked pears. Secondly, I have been begging my mother for a set of those tiny leaf cookie cutters like the ones they're always making elaborate pumpkin pies with in the Williams Sonoma catalog for ages, and she found me a superb knock-off set that I was itching to put to use. And of course, lastly, there is absolutely nothing better than gorgonzola dolce burata, pie crust, and a fall pear.

4 medium-size pears
4 ounces "Blue Bell" cheese (burata stuffed with gorgonzola dolce)
one batch pie crust (enough for a top and bottom)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Core the pears from the bottom up, taking care to leave the stems attached. Roll out the piecrust in a square and cut it into four equal-sized sections. Place a pear in the center of one of the piecrust sections and stuff one ounce of the cheese into the empty core. Pull the piecrust up around the pear, smoothing out any wrinkles by pressing them with your fingers against the fruit. Pinch off any extra dough at the top and set it aside. Repeat this process with the three other pears.

When all the pears are completely covered with crust, roll out the remaining pinched-off dough and cut it into small leaf-shaped pieces either with a knife or using tiny cookie cutters. Arrange two or three of these "leaves" around the stem of each pear and press them against the piecrust beneath. Place the pears upright in an un-greased casserole dish and bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the fruit is soft. Enjoy hot.

To make a meal of them, serve the pears alongside a bed of mixed greens dressed with a sweet balsamic.


Something solid and normal

I have been trying not to tell you anything about the wedding this week. I have been trying to put it on a shelf, to sit down squarely, and to write you about something solid and normal, like butternut squash or apple pie or turkey soup. I have daydreamed stories about scalloped potatoes and cranberry crisp and basil-tomato-mozzarella sandwiches, but the trouble is, I haven't been making any of those things. I have been planning and thinking about and going over the wedding again and again—with my mother, with Alex, and with his mother, too.

This weekend was especially taken up by It That Shall Not Be Named. Alex and I went up to Wellesley, where he grew up, for a shower thrown by his mother's friend. My mother came down and my sister and her boyfriend, too, and we got all gussied up in black dresses and blue button downs and orange ties and brown boots and ate a whole heap of good food, including quite a few of Judy Harrington's famous grape jelly meatballs. (It sounds strange, I know, but I swear you have never tasted anything like those things.) And after the wine and the high heels and the hugs and the trash bags of wrapping paper, when all was said and done, we drove home with a ridiculous pile of loot.

We felt sort of like bank robbers on the car ride home, worried about getting out for a sandwich or a bottle of fizzy water or a pit stop lest we return to a rubble of missing dinner plates and broken glass, but we made it back unscathed. And when we did, we realized that no one had warned us about the next part. We realized that we had a rather full house and some very important decisions to make over the next few months about what stays and what goes, and then we took a vote about what to do. My vote was to unpack the car into the guestroom, to pile up the boxes and shut the door and lock it and throw away the key and come back after the whole wedding hoopla is over and do the opening all over again (it would be like Christmas! twice!), but Alex informed me that this was not how things would go. We would unpack the car now, and we would unpack it for real. Meaning that there would be all sorts of unpleasant things involved like cleaning out closets, going through clothes, and throwing backpacks from elementary school away. It seemed like a good way to make a mess of an otherwise perfectly wonderful weekend, but the man was determined.

Luckily for everyone's sanity, we unpacked the dinner plates first. They are Gien, from France, and they make plain, un-buttered toast look like a meal for Cherie Blair. I pulled out a batch a pesto from the freezer, and we made a pot of pasta before the big clean. There were still spiders in the entryway closet and packing peanuts all over the floor, but the plates—our first meal on our very own handpicked china—made it all much more okay. In fact, it made it rather splendid.

I have a feeling that from now on, between the wedding and the husband and the perfectly creamy plates, dinner will make me feel that way every single day.


This pesto, adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, is the one I grew up with, and is one of my all-time favorite sauces. My mother used to make huge batches in the summer to freeze so that we could have homemade pesto all winter long. As a toddler, my sister was famous for finishing her pesto, then promptly placing her oily, green-flecked bowl on her head. She was also famous for going on strike from bathing, but luckily, the two phases didn't overlap much.

3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
3 large cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a food processor and give it a whirl. Keep going until the pesto is thick and well-blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


The Local Food Report: work up the zeal

My mother makes creamed onions once a year. Every year, on Thanksgiving, she boils a big pot of little pearls, burns her fingers slipping them from their skins, and coats them with a glorious sauce of cream, flour, pepper, and salt. It takes forever, and by the time she finishes, she needs a good 365 days of rest before she's able to work up the zeal to do it again.

It's how I feel about Concord grape pie.

I've only made it twice—there was one last fall and another is cooling on the counter as we speak—but I have a feeling the tradition is going to stick around. There's quite a bit of work that goes into the thing—just to start, you have to wash the grapes and pick the good ones from their vines. Then you have to pop the inner pulp from the skins, boil the pulps all together, and once they're soft, crank them through a food processor to get rid of the seeds. Finally, you have to mix the skins back in with the hot pulp, and leave the two to sit together for five hours, until everything takes on a lollipop purple sort of hue.

All that is beyond actually adding the other ingredients for the filling, not to mention making the pie crust and all the work that goes into rolling it out. It takes a solid hour and a half of hands on time, with a five hour wait in between. You can understand why it's hard to muster up the excitement more than once every 365 days.

But the thing is, on that one day, it's so worth it. The stained fingers and floured counter and grape seeds dotting the sink are nothing compared to the taste of this pie. If you can imagine the best of a Concord grape—all of the sweetness and flavor and intensity it holds—if you can imagine all that exceptionalism, imagine cooking it down. Imagine concentrating that flavor into an even sweeter, even more intense, even more exceptional filling, and then wrapping it with buttery, flaky pie crust. It is sheer delight.

The grapes are here—they're at their peak this week and next—and they're for sale at markets all over. Andy Pollock has them for sure, from his vines at Silverbrook Farms and also from a friend, Bob Matty, of Matty Orchards in Dartmouth. He sells in Provincetown and Falmouth and Dartmouth and even Boston, so whatever corner you come from, there's a good chance you can find enough bunches for a pie.


Adapted from a recipe by Irene Bouchard of Naples, New York published in the Naples Record, Volume 134, Number 27, on Wednesday, June 30, 2004.

Grape pie isn't one of the fruit pies most of us grow up with. It might sound like a strange idea, but I promise you, it's worth a try. What isn't worth it is substituting red or green seedless grapes from the grocery store—they offer nothing near the flavor of a Concord, and they don't have the right texture, either.

dough for one 9-inch pie crust, top and bottom
5 and 1/2 cups Concord grapes
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon tapioca

Remove the skins from the grapes by pinching them over a bowl. Collect the pulp in that bowl, and save the skins in another. Put the pulp into a saucepan (you do not need to add any water) and bring it to a rolling boil. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for five minutes. Crank the hot pulp through a food mill or rub it through a strainer to remove the seeds. Mix the hot, strained pulp with the skins, and let the two stand together for five hours. (This gives the filling a deep purple color.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out half of the pie crust and drape it across the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Add the sugar and tapioca to the grapes, stir well, and pour into the plate. Roll out the remaining pie crust so that it is big enough to center the pie plate on top of it. Use a small knife to cut a "floating" top crust, tracing a circle roughly 1/2-inch bigger than the base of the pie plate. Place this crust on top of the filling and cut a design in the top to allow steam to escape. (The floating crust gives the pie a very pretty look, making a purple ring around the outside, and also helps prevent disaster as the grape filling tends to boil over. I like to cut a small hole in the center and rays coming out for an even prettier effect.)

Bake the pie for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 20 minutes longer, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set. Let the pie cool for one hour before serving.


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