Dear Casey,

I don't know anyone who loves grape nuts the way you do.

I don't know anyone so faithful, so reverent, so unwavering in their support. There is no one so apt to drop what they're doing—a plate of scrambled eggs, steamy garlic spinach, a bowl of peppermint stick ice cream—for this humble food.

You love them, of course, in a particular way: with plain yogurt, a little bit of skim milk, chopped sweet apples, and a sprinkle of raisins on top. You like them for breakfast on the days when things are regimented—work, run, play. You like them after dinner, for dessert, milk and yogurt perfectly swirled to form a thin, silken cascade. You drop the cereal in at the last minute—splash!—so that it stays crisp. And those last few bites when you get to the bottom—when the milk and yogurt are almost gone, and all that's behind are a few grape-nuts-gone-mush—pooled, huddled in the center of the bowl—you appreciate that, too. You don't leave them behind, but rather, lift them up with the curve of your spoon.

I thought you should know that I made grape nuts today. (I know! It is hard even for me to believe.) But I found them in Kim Boyce's new book, Good to the Grain, and I thought that I should give them a whirl. I didn't have what they asked for—no graham flour, only half the buttermilk—but it turns out, they aren't a picky food. I ground down some Zorro winter wheat coarsely—graham flour is, after all, only an amalgamation of its parts—and cut the recipe in half. I sprinkled in cornmeal and brown sugar, baking soda and salt, a big wet bowl of buttermilk, vanilla, honey. I wasn't quite sure if it would all work out (grape nuts, after all, are your thing), but I fired up the oven and spread them, paddled them, across the pan anyway. The jam spreader made them smooth, and on the baking sheet in the oven they browned evenly, dark. I broke them up with a rolling pin, and what emerged was a cereal: deep mahogany, burnt sienna, cacao. I ate it for breakfast cold, with a pour of chilly milk, and sat down to write you the good news.


adapted from the recipe for Graham Nuts in Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce (she, in turn, adapted her recipe from one in Cooking from Quilt Country, by Marcia Adams)

The flour in this recipe is a bit tricky. I made mine with our KitchenAid grain grinding attachment; I ground down whole grains of winter wheat first on the coarsest setting, then on a setting mid-way between coarse and very fine. If you do not have access to whole (literally un-ground) wheat grains or a grain grinder, you can substitute graham flour. Graham flour is made by grinding the endosperm and the bran and germ of wheat grains separately. The endosperm is ground finely, essentially into white flour, and the bran and germ are ground coarsely. The two parts are then mixed back together to form a flour with a nice coarse, flaky texture. (In contrast, whole wheat flour is made by grinding all three components together into a fine flour.) I was able to approximate this texture by only grinding my whole wheat "half way."

You can also make an approximate substitute for graham flour by mixing 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, a scant 1/3 cup wheat bran, and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons wheat germ for every cup of graham flour.

1 and 1/3 cup coarsely ground whole wheat kernels, graham flour, or graham flour equivalent
1/8 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the "graham flour," cornmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Pour the buttermilk into a smaller bowl and whisk in the honey and vanilla until smooth. Pour these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix to form a batter.

Butter a cookie sheet. Spread the batter thinly across the pan, using a spreader or flat cake spatula to form a smooth, even sheet. (Any too thin or too thick patches will cook unevenly.) Bake for 20 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees halfway through. Take the pan out of the oven and break off any pieces of cracker around the edges that look dark and dry. Set these pieces aside to cool, turn the oven down to 225 degrees F, and return the cookie sheet to the oven. Bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, checking on it every 10 or 15 minutes and continuing to break off any brown spots, until the cracker is a deep mahogany brown. It should also be very dry.

Break the cracker sheet into pieces, and set it on a wire wrack to cool. Lay out the cooled cracker pieces on your counter and roll over them several times with a rolling pin; crumble any large pieces that remain by hand. Store in an airtight container, and enjoy as cereal with cold milk.


The Local Food Report: Gray's Grist

Thornton Simmons sometimes loses his r's. They roll into words like flavor and over the way the water on his mill pond skims down the turbine wheels, round and down. Simmons is a New Englander through and through: he claims ancestors working as millers in the Little Compton area as far back as 1621. He says the work comes naturally to him—that he has cornmeal in his blood.

Simmons is the miller at Gray's Grist Mill—a small, stone-grinding operation with a property boundary so old it was cut in half when Massachusetts ceded the area to Rhode Island in 1747. The mill pond lies mainly in Adamsville, Rhode Island, while across the street, the mill house stands firmly on Westport ground. It's been turning out cornmeal for over three hundred years.

As for the corn, it's Narragansett white flint corn Simmons grinds. The handful of farmers who still grow it say it's a testy strain—two ears to a stalk, eight rows on a cob, hard and dense and slow to dry. But something about the climate, the soil, and the ancient granite stone Simmons uses to grind it down makes it worth it. You used to be able to mortgage your house on this cornmeal, Simmons likes to say.

Over the years, the mill has been powered by all sorts of things: water, a dodge truck motor, a tractor with a power belt, electricity. Maybe, if Simmons gets his way, the mill will be able to go back to water again. The trouble with property straddling two states is that it can make digging out an old mill pond awfully hard: there are two Conservation Commissions, two sets of regulations, two bodies of law to contend with. Simmons has to get it done, though—even with a deep pond, the water build-up will only ever be enough to run the mill for four hours before it needs to rest, fill up again.

The mill is one of the oldest continuous grist mills in the country. The water runs under the mill house, from a man made pond dammed from the west branch of the Westport River, running down from Tiverton. Simmons says there used to be a lot of dam wars—someone upriver hoarding water, the miller downstream with a dry, slack pond. When the water did come, it ran the turbines that turned the stone. Dried, shucked corn went down through the hopper into a feed shoot called the shoe. A stick straddling the stone called a damsel hit the shoe and knocked the corn into the eye of the stone—you need speed in the feed, as Simmons says. Once a year or so the 56-inch diameter granite stone needs to be dressed—roughed up to keep it sharp. Granite is best for cornmeal, french burr for wheat and rye.

However it's ground, Simmons has no doubt about how to eat cornmeal: jonnycakes. These thin, lacy cornmeal pancakes are the ones Rhode Islanders and people from southeastern Massachusetts have been padding with butter and a little drizzle of maple syrup for years. They're simple food, but hearty—honest in a way that makes you taste the corn, the water, the land.

They're easy—just cornmeal, water, and milk—and you fry them in a hot, black iron skillet. The batter sort of dances when it hits the pan, quivering out, flattening into a thin disk with tiny eyelets all around the edge. To get any satisfaction you need a stack—five, six, seven thin cakes with crispy edges and a swath of butter and hot maple syrup running down. Simmons says he likes to serve his with cranberries, so the other morning, I made up a batch with a side of thinly sliced pears and cranberries, sauteed until soft with butter and a little bit of cinnamon. The combination was just right—sweet maple cutting tart berries, soft pears atop crisp corn. I guess that's no surprise; it's simply what you get with four hundred years of cornmeal passed on down the line.


This recipe is for thin jonnycakes—if you like the thick kind, head on over here. An important note about stone-ground cornmeal: keep it in the freezer or refrigerator. Because the stone-grinding process doesn't grind out the corn kernel's germ, or nutrient packed embryo, left out the cornmeal will spoil quickly.

2 cups stone ground cornmeal
a generous pinch of salt
3/4 cup cold water
1 and 1/2 cups milk
oil for frying

Whisk together the cornmeal and salt in a medium size mixing bowl. Pour in the water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the milk, adding a bit more if needed to make a thin, pourable batter.

Warm up a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon a tablespoon or so of oil into the pan, and let it get hot. Then, taking care to stir the batter (the cornmeal quickly settles), spoon out about two tablespoons of batter onto the pan for each cake. They should thin out and dance as they hit the pan, forming a thin disk.

Cook for several minutes, or until golden brown and lacy on the bottom side, then flip. They won't need so long on the second side—only a minute or so. Serve hot, with butter, maple syrup, and if you like, sauteed apples or pears with cranberries.


Only to find

Life can be surprising sometimes—

On a weekday morning, the man you love—that same man who wakes up every day and runs 4.3 miles in 36 minutes at 6:37 and is gone by 8:15—that man can decide to stay in bed til noon with a headache.

And you can go to make him pancakes, only to find you're short all-purpose flour and throw in a bag of rye—rye you ground down from the whole berries grown in Belchertown, MA at White Oak Farm for your grain CSA—extra flour from another project, another morning, another sort of day.

And on this day, this morning, you can find that rye transforms: whole grain into airy pancakes, heavy with sweet syrup, delicate and lacy around the golden-brown edges, plump with berries that spill out, down, into an oily swill—butter, hot, thin maple. You can find that rye and buttermilk and blueberries are synonymous with delight.

Oh, and that headache. What? You can find it's pancakes and coffee and cider, and off to work another afternoon.

[with blueberries from Silverbrook Farms]

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole grain rye flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons honey, stirred into the melted butter to warm
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Separate the eggs, cracking the whites into a medium mixing bowl and the yolks into a small one. Whisk the buttermilk into the whites, and the melted butter and honey into the yolks. Then whisk these two egg mixtures together. Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl with the dry ingredients, and use the whisk to gently mix the two until just combined.

Have the blueberries at the ready, along with a spoon. Warm up a large, black iron skillet over medium heat. Coat the skillet with several tablespoons of oil or melted butter and ladle several third-cup scoops of pancake batter in. Use the spoon to plop a few blueberries into the top of each pancake. Cook for several minutes, or until the bottom side feels crispy and cohesive under a spatula and the top batter starts to form tiny bubbles. Flip the pancakes with the spatula. Cook for another few minutes (this side will want slightly less time than the first side, as the blueberries can burn).

Serve the pancakes hot, with plenty of butter and real, warm maple syrup.


The Local Food Report: cranberry apple cider donuts

Scott Morse grew up in Vermont. I don't know him very well, but I do know that he recently moved to Marstons Mills, and that the transition must have been hard. Having spent four years in Vermont myself, I know that when you leave, it isn't just real fall foliage and Mobil station stops for Ben & Jerry's seconds and warm, early springs you give up. You also leave apple cider donut territory behind.

Maine, where I grew up, is also an apple cider donut place. Every respectable pick-your-own orchard has a recipe, and you eat the donuts hot, after you pick. You get a paper cup of steaming cider for dunking, and you sit with your family on a bench or hay bales or in the back of your pick-up truck. While the cashier weighs and tallies up your haul, you watch your cider fill with cinnamon flecks and floating crumbs, and you wash one, one-and-a-half, then two donuts down.

It isn't the sort of tradition you want to give up, but until a few weeks ago, I had never seen an apple cider donut on the Cape.

That's where Scott Morse comes in. A few years back he left home and went out into the world and came to the same conclusion I did: that a life without apple cider donuts wasn't the sort he wanted to live. But instead of driving home to the Common Ground Fair each September for a visit, he set out to learn how to make apple cider donuts on the Cape. He and his friend, Patience Thomas, already ran a bakery operation, Great Cape Baking, in Marstons Mills. They moved into a new space with a fry-o-lator and a master donut maker came in to teach Scott how to do things just right. He learned how to make the dough: flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, with tiny minced dried apple flecks mixed in. He learned to use the cider hot, not cold, and to keep every step of the dough at room temperature along the way. He made batch after batch of dough in the bakery's big, Hobart mixer, and he developed a system for frying and drying and sugaring the donuts that he thought made them less greasy, lighter on clothes and hips. He learned to work the dough from start to finished product in under 30 minutes, just fast enough that the baking soda would set, but not so long that it would cease to act.

Finally, he started experimenting on his own. He had a bag of local dried cranberries lying around, and folded a handful into the dough. He made sure that none stuck out the sides (they'd burn), and tossed a few into hot oil. What emerged was the very first batch of Cape Cod Cranberry Apple Cider Donuts—an immediate smash hit.

These days, Scott sells both his classic apple cider donuts and the cranberry twist at the bakery's little front at Cash Market in Marstons Mills, and also at the new winter farmers' market at Liberty Hall. He gets in every morning at 3am to roll out the dough, and you can tell, from watching him, that he loves the process. But he says the best part is watching his customers' faces change as they dig in—women with kids, contractors holding hot coffee, men brushing cinnamon sugar off their business suits. They savor it at first, he says, a little bit in awe, and then finally, they break into a grin.

Clearly, he and I aren't the only ones missing home.

Note—updated 10.30.10: Great Cape Baking is no longer at the Cash Market in Marstons Mills. I have tried to no avail to get some hard facts, but in lieu of those can offer this: I heard that they moved to a location in Hyannis, but that it fell through, and they were still selling at the farmers' market in Sandwich until that closed for the season. I haven't heard whether or not the Marstons' Mills Winter Farmers' Market is going to happen again, but if it does, I'm hoping to find the donuts there.


Adapted from this recipe over at Smitten Kitchen

My sister was the first one to try this recipe. She made it this fall when she was home for a visit, and my parents promptly helped her devour almost every single one. (She did, to her credit, bring me a few leftovers in a plastic bag.) We all agreed that they tasted just as good as the ones we've had at pick-your-own stands in Maine and Vermont. I changed things a bit on Scott's advice—he recommended doubling the amount of apple cider, whisking in a tad more nutmeg, and adding in chewy cranberries to give things a Cape twist. This man is serious about his apple cider donuts, and when it came to the tweaks, he was dead right. Just be sure to fold the cranberries in so that they aren't sticking out anywhere from the dough—otherwise, when they hit the oil, they'll burn. Oh! and if you're looking for a source of local dried cranberries, try here or here.

2 cups apple cider
3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sea-salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dried cranberries
canola oil, for frying
cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon)

Bring the cider to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low and leave the cider to simmer, uncovered, until it reduces down to 1/4 cup. This will take about 35-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is light, pale, and creamy—about a minute. Beat in the reduced cider and the buttermilk, and then fold the dry ingredients in gently until everything is just combined.

Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thick on a well-floured surface. Fold it in half and roll it out again. Repeat this process several times until the dough feels smooth and moist but not sticky—it shouldn't cling to your hands. Let the dough rest for 5-1o minutes, then use your hands to shape it into a rectangle, keeping the top smooth and the sides 1/2-inch thick. Press the cranberries evenly into the top of the dough, fold it over once more (so that the cranberries are sandwiched in the middle) and roll it out and shape it into a rectangle again.

Use a 3-inch donut cutter (or a round cookie-cutter and a bottle top, if you need to improvise) to cut the dough into roughly 15 donuts. As when you make shaped cookies, you will need to ball up the scraps (but not the holes) and re-roll the dough several times. Arrange the cut donuts and holes on a cookie sheet and set aside.

Fill a medium-size pot with canola oil so that the oil reaches 3 inches up the side. (After you use this oil for frying the donuts, you can set it aside for general cooking use, so it doesn't need to go to waste.) Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot, and over medium-high heat bring the oil to 350 degrees. Drop the donuts in batches into the hot oil using a slotted spoon. They should fry for roughly one minute and ten seconds per side, or until they are a deep golden brown. Use the wrong end of a wooden spoon to flip them through their holes, and pull them out with the slotted spoon. Transfer them to another cookie sheet lined with a clean dish towel or a layer of paper towels. Flip them once so that both sides are patted dry, and let them cool for one minute before rolling them in the cinnamon sugar.

Repeat this process until all of the donuts are fried and sugared, and then enjoy them hot, with a glass of steaming cider or coffee.


Next, best, most

All I have to say to Food & Wine's Butternut Squash and Chocolate Brownies from October of 2005 is that I am sorry it took me so long.

I'm so sorry for getting distracted, for taking up with that very handsome blond man on Cape Cod and missing all my Friday classes in Vermont and spending my Sundays driving back and forth and back and forth from the Green Mountains to this windblown stretch of sand. I'm sorry for choosing him over you, and for all of those afternoons spent talking and walking Newcomb's Hollow when what I really should have been doing was studying your recipe again and again and again.

It was worth it, I hope you'll see (he did, after all, just marry me), but in putting you off, I have made a big mistake. Because after that man, you are without a doubt the next best most soul-shattering, wonderfully comforting thing. You are dark and moist and rich, and you fill the house with the deepest sort of earthy scent. You are good hot, and equally delightful cold. You practically bring me to tears alongside a glass of creamy milk. You have pockets of melted chocolate and a damp, cakey base, and you leave just a hint of butternut lurking about on the edges of my breath. You are, in other words, perfect.

I promise not to forget that again.


Adapted from the recipe for Butternut Squash and Chocolate Brownies in Food & Wine, October 2005

Does it count as a vegetable serving if you eat two squash brownies for lunch? I certainly hope so. If it takes more like three or four, well then, so be it. I think you'll find these are well worth splurging for. The best part is that they're even easier to make than they are to eat.

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons sea-salted butter
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 and 1/4 cups butternut squash puree (sugar pumpkin and other similar squashes will also work)
1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour*
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup high-quality, dark chocolate chips, like Ghiradelli's 60% Cacao

[*I haven't experimented yet with whole-wheat flour, but I plan to do half-and-half next time. Because the squash makes these brownies so moist and the chocolate makes them so rich, I have a hunch it's going to work. If you give it a try first, let us know.]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and flour a 10- x 10-inch casserole dish or baking pan. In the top pot of a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Turn the heat off and set the mixture aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is pale, light, and creamy. Add in the squash and the butter-chocolate mixture, and stir until well-mixed. Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a mixing cup and gently fold them into the chocolate mixture until everything is just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

(Do not, DO NOT, forget to lick the bowl. And the beaters. And the spatula.)

Bake the brownies for about 20-25 minutes, depending on whether or not you like them fully cooked or slightly underdone. I tend to be in the underdone camp, but these brownies are so moist that over-cooking them isn't quite the catastrophe that it can be with drier baked goods.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a tall glass of milk.


The Local Food Report: from the island of Flores

When Mary-Jo Avellar's grandparents arrived in Provincetown in the late 1800s, Commercial Street was a dirt road with a wooden sidewalk shaded by elm trees. They came from Portugal, from the island of Flores on the westernmost side of the Azores archipelago, a thousand miles out into the sea. To tell the truth, coming from the islands, they had already made a third of the trip.

When they arrived, things were different here than they'd been in the old country. They acclimated to new soil, a new language, new customs. Her grandfather got work as a trap boat captain, and supplemented the fish he brought home by raising pigs and planting vegetables on their plot in the east end. Slowly, over the years, they became not just Portuguese, but Portuguese-American. Generations passed and the old language gave way to a new one; traditions changed.

Except in the kitchen. Food has been the one thing Avellar's family and other Provincetown Portuguese have held onto amidst all the change.

Worried that they might be losing even this, Avellar put out a call thirteen years ago to friends, family members, and neighbors. People submitted all sorts of recipes and stories, and she collected them all in a book. Molly O'Neill wrote a foreword, Emeril Lagasse sent a few recipes in, and pretty soon, copies were flying off the shelves. There were recipes for things like Portuguese sweet bread, catfish vinho d'alhos, not to mention nine different ways of making Portuguese Kale soup. Oh! and Lisbon codfish balls—salt cod and potatoes seasoned, mashed together, and fried. Salt cod was a staple when Avellar's grandparents sailed in.

If you're interested in the ways place affects food, it's a wonderful history to explore. And of course, there are all sorts of good recipes to peruse. I think my next project will be trutas—something to do with that sweet potato whiling away downstairs—or maybe, when the season arrives, stuffed squid.

Top photo courtesy of the Provincetown Portuguese Cookbook/Mary-Jo Avellar; bottom photos uploaded, with permission, from the collection of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. Beyond Avellar's cookbook, very little is written on the history of the Provincetown Portuguese and their traditional foods, but I did find a very nice article over here.


The picnic

This might not be what everyone thinks of when they hear the word picnic, but based on my experience last night, it should be.

The picnic up there is a pork picnic—the cut of meat just below the Boston Butt, on the low, strong part of the animal's front leg and chest. It is sometimes also called a shoulder, but so is the top chest cut, so I like to stick with picnic for clarity's sake. The picnic is a big cut of meat—about seven or eight pounds usually, with the bone still in. It tends to be fatty (and sometimes still with skin) on the underside, but up top, it's all meat. Most of the time, it ends up getting smoked and sold as a ham. But if you are lucky enough to get a fresh picnic, well, then it's slow-roasted jerk time.

Yesterday was the perfect day for a picnic. It was that first warm, sunny day, the first time you dare to throw open the windows and the doors and let the fire go out. Also, it was the first time it was warm enough to make mint juleps in my grandmother's hand-me-down silver julep cups. (Thank you Biee! We love them!) Since we were headed south with our drink recipe, it was only a small leap from Kentucky bourbon to pulled pork cooked in a Jamaican jerk paste.

We had real jerk in Jamaica in January when we went to a friend's wedding, and I have to say, this recipe isn't that. But it is delicious in its own right—in a spicy meets simple sort of way. It dances on your tongue the way we rocked and swayed to the reggae crooner on the lawn after their ceremony, and it is every bit as memorable. We ate it last night straight off the bone, and today pulled apart and stuffed into sandwiches made on a biscuity Irish soda bread spread with a gravy Alex cooked down from the extra fat and black beans cooked in the leftover jerk juice.

It wasn't the kind of spring picnic I usually take, but then again, yesterday wasn't your usual March day.


I had a very hard time deciding what to call this dish. It isn't really jerk, and it isn't really pulled pork—you can eat it first sliced, then pulled. But I realized the name doesn't really matter. What matters is simply that you buy the best meat you can—and that you don't skimp on the quality of the hot sauce. Otherwise, the only thing you'll have to do is set aside a warm spring afternoon, and enjoy.

juice of 3 limes
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange
1/4-cup habanero-based hot sauce
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium pork picnic, roughly 7-8 pounds with the bone in
2 cups ham stock
2 cups water

Whisk together all the ingredients but the pork, the stock, and the water in a small bowl. Get out the picnic and trim any excess fat, and if there is any, skin. (Some cooks like to leave the fat and skin on to seal the juices in, so if you prefer to do things this way, go ahead. It will simply mean you have to do a little more trim work on the serving end. Either way, don't waste the fat—melted down and whisked together with a bit of flour and stock, it makes a superb gravy.) Place the picnic in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and pour the jerk paste in. Rub the paste all over the meat, and put the pot in the refrigerator for several hours, or up to overnight, to allow the picnic to marinate.

About four hours before you'd like to eat, take the pot out of the fridge. Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside. Add the ham stock and water to the jerk paste and bring them to a boil. Add the meat, turning it several times to make sure it is moist and still coated in seasonings, and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Cover the pot and leave the meat to simmer. Turn the meat every hour or so until the internal temperature reaches at least 160 degrees. If you prefer your meat a little bit more well done, go up to 170 or so. Turn the heat off and leave the meat to rest for a half hour.

Carving the meat is easy—it should be falling gently off the bone. Serve it warm, with plenty of the meat's cooking juices and something cooling like coleslaw or potato salad and maybe a mint julep or two. And if you have leftovers, be sure to make a pulled pork sandwich. Or a few.


The Local Food Report: top tomatoes

A promise is a promise. Last week, I said we'd talk about tomato seed varieties today. And so without further ado, I bring you Celeste Makely—sole proprietor of Wellfleet's very own Celestial Tomatoes—and her top tomato variety picks for 2010.

1. Anything, any variety at all, that survived the blight

Last summer was a terrible season for tomatoes. But while I was forlornly yanking up plants and quarantining them in plastic garbage bags, Celeste was taking notes. She wrote down which varieties survived, and which didn't. Because while we all have our fingers crossed for a better year, for something as precious as homegrown tomatoes, it's very much a better safe than sorry sort of thing. On Celeste's safe list are German Red Strawberry, Juliet, Cherokee Purple, Box Car Willie, Amish Paste, Legend, and Red Husky Hybrid.

FOR SALADS AND SLICING (in-determinants, which ripen throughout the growing season)

2. Sun Gold (cherry)

According to Celeste, this is the variety most in demand at the places she sells seedlings to. With Sun Golds, which are very prolific, you only need one plant, which is nice for people with small yards. The fruits are sweet and firm and yellow, and in my experience, are best simply eaten as a snack. We planted not one but three Sun Golds last year, and not only did every one survive the blight, but they all fruited heavily from July through early November.

3. Sweet Million (cherry)

These little red cherries are sweet, and, as the name implies, prolific. Celeste thinks they're an excellent pick for snacking and slicing into salads, and again, if you have a small yard, you only need a few.

4. Costoluto Genovese

Celeste likes this Italian heirloom because it tastes good, but also because it's stunningly beautiful. With big, deep ridges and a bright red color, it is the quintessential slicing tomato. Some people think it has too strong of a tomato taste, but Celeste says that's the whole idea.

5. Brandywine

I couldn't decide at first whether or not to include this one. Brandywines have a lot of fans—Celeste and myself included. They're one of the tastiest tomatoes you'll ever eat. But they're also slow growing, and kind of finicky, and generally not altogether friendly to the amateur home gardener. Celeste says to think of them as a challenge tomato—maybe plant a few more seeds than you usually would, and be sure to start them early—and they're worth it. Of course, that's if you have space. If you have a very small garden, skip them, but be sure to pick a few up at the farmers' market. Your wallet will be much lighter when you leave, but if you slice one up for lunch and drizzle it with a little bit of balsamic and layer it with basil and mozzarella, you won't mind a bit.

FOR COOKING AND CANNING (generally determinants are better for cooking and canning as they come in all at once, but there are some exceptions, as you'll see below)

6. San Marzano (in-determinant)

Celeste says that if you're going to get just one variety of cooking tomato, it should be this one. It does not come in all at once as it is an in-determinant, but it has a very thick pulp and very few seeds, which makes it an excellent variety for sauces and canning. Thin, juicy tomatoes are excellent for salads and slicing, but for a good, thick, rich sauce, you want the paste tomatoes. San Marzano is at the top of Celeste's list.

7. Roma (determinant)

This is another good sauce tomato, and even better for people who want to put up a lot of crushed tomatoes or tomato juice, because it is a very heavy fruiter and the harvest comes all at once. Romas are the light red-orange variety shaped sort of like an egg that you often see at the grocery store, and there's a reason they got so popular. Celeste sees them as sort of a win-win-win; they're easy to grow, prolific, and they make a delicious sauce.

I think that's enough varieties to keep us in tomatoes from July through November, hopefully blight free with pockets filled with sweet snacking cherries and dining tables covered in big, juicy slicers and kitchens steaming up with thick, rich sauce. If you have any varieties to share, let us know—we can always make room for another good tomato. Happy seed ordering, everyone.


Cooking by place

I write about food, local food, because I care about place. Mostly, I care about the connections that spring up between people and their places, the way that a caramelized onion and goat cheese and apple tart can make you remember the shape of a kitchen, the silhouette of a tree.

This tart reminds me of all my places at once. It reminds me of eating fried apples at my parents' kitchen counter, my mother leaning over their big black skillet on a winter morning sprinkling a pinch of cinnamon, tasting, sprinkling again. It reminds me of the Massachusetts goat cheese at our wedding, of the pickle and cheese buffet I never saw in the swirl of hugs and smiles and the feeling I just might burst. It reminds me of Vermont, of my time at Middlebury, of the crisp Octobers and the ruddy green apples in the dining hall and the first homecoming weekend my best friend and I spent picking McIntoshes in the rain.

The recipe for the tart is from one of my favorite books—Dishing up Vermont. It sits on my cookbook shelf right next to Dishing up Maine and Charleston Receipts, the cooking by place section, I suppose. The original recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but because I'm not just Vermont, because I've always been Maine and Cape Cod, now, too, I used Massachusetts goat cheese instead. It also calls for thyme, but I went with rosemary—the only herb alive and spirited still in our yard. It calls for green pepper jelly, but after digging through our cupboards, I used local cranberry, bright cherry red.

In the end, it felt like me—like a Maine girl gone to Vermont and now settled in to a little red salt box by the sea.


In the tart you see above, I used a mix of McIntosh and Northern Spy apples, and I didn't peel them. The original recipe called for a more tart, crisp variety—Granny Smiths—with their skins off, and I regretted my choice of varieties. The apples don't have to be Granny Smiths necessarily, but they should be tart, firm, and peeled. Otherwise, you'll end up with apples that are a little too mushy and all tough around the edges. So long as you have the apples right, feel free to substitute cheeses and herbs and jellies as you see fit. I don't think you can go wrong.

dough for 1 bottom 9-inch pie crust
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lemon slice, seeds removed
1 and 1/2 tart, firm apples, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup cranberry jelly, warmed up, and divided
4 ounces goat cheese

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough for the pie crust. Press it into a 9-inch tart pan, and pinch off any extra dough. Set the pan aside and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about eight minutes. Transfer the onions to a bowl and set aside.

In the same skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium-high heat and add the lemon, apples, and rosemary. Sauté until the apples feel tender when pierced with a fork, then turn off the heat and set aside.

Brush half of the warm jelly over the bottom of the pie crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese evenly over the jelly, and layer the onions on top. Carefully arrange the apples in two concentric circles over the onions. Gently brush the tops of the apples with the remaining cranberry jelly; if it has cooled, be sure to warm it back up. Bake the tart for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are lightly browned. Serve warm.


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