Sounding the final note

Still, around here, it's Ode to Tomatoes. Reading top to bottom, left to right, we have this cast to sing:

Yellow Peach, Orange Banana, Amish Paste, Sun Gold Cherry, and Purple Cherokee sounding the final note.

Every day I collect them, slice them, halve them into ovals and rounds and tangled webs of seeds and stars. Then I turn on the oven, low, and roast them down—all syrupy juices, rich red flesh, crinkled skins and hollowed sides. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, they sparkle, bubble, deflate, and rise.

We eat them hot from the pan, plain, sweet. Tucked into sandwiches—basil and grilled cheese. Alex cooks them down into a slow, rich sauce—and we soak up the last of summer's heat.


I like to make these on a slightly chilly day—the kind of late-summer, early-fall afternoon when you can't excuse turning up the heat or starting a fire, but the house has a little bit of a chill. The tomatoes take a few hours on low heat to bake down, and the heat spills out into the kitchen, and then the dining room, and slowly upstairs.

Any variety of tomato works well, although I don't usually bother with the cherries. They lose so much size in the oven, they're hardly worth the trouble.

fresh-picked tomatoes
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Wash the tomatoes and pick off any stems; then slice them in half through the middle, so that the cut makes a top and a bottom rather than two sides. Arrange the halves face-up on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for roughly 2 hours, or until the tomatoes give up their juices and curl up—tender, sweet, and rich. Eat warm, straight off the baking sheet, tossed over pasta with basil, or layered into a hot grilled-cheese sandwich.


The Local Food Report: Blue Ribbon Pie

Elise Kaufman bakes a mean strawberry rhubarb pie. You know the type—rich, custardy filling; tender, flaky pastry; crystals of sugar on the crust, thick wedges that slide out intact. It's the kind of pie you want to devour with your bare hands, straight from the plate cold for breakfast, or hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream on top.

The judges at last year's first annual Truro Ag Fair agreed. Elise entered her pie in the pie-baking contest on a whim. She and her husband and daughters had been watching reruns of The Waltons all summer, and there was this one episode—the one where Olivia enters her best pickles and pie in the County Fair—that had them all going one night. A few days later Elise's daughter saw a flyer for the contest at the fair, and the whole family agreed: Elise had to enter her strawberry-rhubarb pie.

She won the blue ribbon.

She was shocked, she says, but after watching her make the pie, I'm not surprised in the least. Elise has all sorts of pie-perfection tricks up her sleeve—she stews the rhubarb in orange juice to give it some sweetness along with a bit of extra tang, and she makes sure the pulp is strained. She keep the butter and water ice cold while she works with her pastry, then refrigerates it, the lattice already woven, so that it's still cold when it goes onto the pie. She takes the rhubarb out of the orange juice with a slotted spoon, then thickens the leftover juice with cornstarch before mixing it back into the fruit. She halves her strawberries, then gently spoons the rhubarb and thick orange juice custard over them before pouring it all into the plate. She brushes the crust with an egg wash, sprinkles a bit of sugar over top , and then finally, puts it in the oven, on the bottom rack. This helps the bottom crust cook through and the filling thicken up, she says, and then after 15 minutes, she turns down the heat and moves it up to the top rack.

It takes a lot of concentration. And on top of all that, she grows the rhubarb herself.

It's quite a pie to beat. But the Fair is coming up again next week—Sunday, September 5th, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend—and I'm thinking I might have to enter, even though the competition is so stiff. Of course, the more the merrier (is there such a thing as too much pie?)—if you'd like to enter your pie, you can find out more over here.

Elise will be giving us a run for our money, but I hope to see you there.


This is Elise Kaufman's exact recipe, though I've changed a few words here and there for clarification. It won first place—a blue ribbon—at the 2009 Truro Agricultural Fair Pie Baking Contest.

dough for a 9-inch bottom pie crust and a lattice top
4 cups strawberries, halved and hulled
1 pound rhubarb
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup orange juice, strained
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon cold water
a pinch of salt

Make your crust and chill it while you start the filling.

Clean the rhubarb and string it. Trim the bottom and top edges and chop the stalks into 1- to 1 and 1/2-inch pieces. Combine the sugar and orange juice in a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Add the rhubarb and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb gives up some of its juice and the syrup thins. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and leave the rhubarb to steam for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough for the crust, lining a Pyrex pie plate with a bottom crust (Elise says Pyrex distributes the heat more evenly than metal) and weaving a lattice top (Elise does this on a baking sheet). Return both the bottom and top crusts to the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Use a slotted spoon to lift the rhubarb out of the sauce pot and set it aside in a bowl. Sift the cornstarch into the orange juice, sugar, and rhubarb juice mixture and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture gets thick and becomes clear. Pour the thickened syrup into the rhubarb in the bowl and gently mix in the halved strawberries and the butter.

Get out the bottom crust and pour the fruit filling in. Slide the lattice on top. Whisk the egg, water, and salt together to make an egg wash, and brush it gently over the pastry top. Take care to make sure the egg doesn't pool—it will fry. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Place the pie plate on a cookie sheet with rimmed edges (the pie may overflow) and bake on the bottom rack of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees F and move the pie to the middle rack. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is cooked through.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Loud and clear

If today doesn't scream Kim Boyce's Chocolate Chip Cookies! to you, well, then, I don't know what to say. I heard it loud and clear when I woke up this morning, screeching in through the windows, up from my slippers, out from the pile of baking sheets and pattering in the rain.

Not that I believe anyone needs an excuse to bake chocolate chip cookies, mind you, but if we did, today would be the perfect day. I have about a million things on my to-do list—wash the whites, vacuum the car, weed the garden and plant the spinach for the winter and fall. But it's raining and whooshing and blowing outside; it's too wet for the laundry, for the vacuum cleaner to be hauled outside. It's too rainy for my seed packets, the weeds, too muddy and windy to bother mucking about in the yard.

And so instead, I am in Good to the Grain, spending the morning with Kim Boyce, page 41. I am reading about thick, chewy edges, nutty whole-wheat, high quality bittersweet chocolate and dough eaten straight from the bowl.

Soon it will be time to go to work—time for black pants and bobbypins and the rain jacket slung over the door—but for now it's just cold milk and cookie dough, and the oven to keep me warm.


This recipe, from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, has become my go-to. It's about as healthy, straight-forward, and delicious as chocolate-chip cookies can get.

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 pound cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli's 60% Cacao

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk well.

Combine the butter and sugars in another mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until they are just blended, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then mix in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate and stir until just incorporated.

Form the dough into balls—I make mine a little bit larger than golf balls. Arrange the balls evenly on the baking sheets, leaving about 2-3 inches between each one. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the cookies are evenly dark golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool, and repeat the process with any remaining dough.

Note: These cookies are best eaten within a day or two of baking. I like to make a big batch of dough, bake off about a third, and keep the rest in the refrigerator to bake over the next week or two. Of course, some of it usually gets devoured as is—without any heat at all.


The Local Food Report: hot pepper jam

If you've been around here for a while, you know by now that Clare Bergh has a way of collecting seed varieties. First came the tomatoes, then the eggplants, and the garlic. This summer, it's hot peppers—she's hooked.

Her table at the Orleans farmers' market is a mosaic of reds, yellows, purples, greens. She labels the peppers by heat range, according to a system known as the Scoville Scale. If you've never heard of it, the basic idea is this: a guy named Wilbur Scoville came up with a method for testing the amount of capsaicin—the chemical compound that makes our mouths feel spice—in hot peppers. Based on the decisions of Scoville's taste testers, the amount of capsaicin different peppers contain and how spicy they are as a result can now be found on charts. Bell peppers, for example, have zero Scoville Heat Units, while law enforcement grade pepper sprays rate at over five million.

If you squint at the photo of Clare's peppers up there, you can tell from the numbers that the Giant Thai Hots are significantly less spicy than the Golden Nuggets to their right. Here's a chart of where all Clare's hot peppers rank on the Scoville Scale, to give you a little bit more specific idea of what I mean:

Czech's Black

Jalapeno Heaven
Serrano Tampequino

Giant Thai Hot

Fluorescent Purple
Haiti Cluster

Hot Lemon

Cayenne Long Purple
Cayenne Long Red
Ho Chi Minh
Lemon Chile

Las Cruces Chile

Golden Nugget
Thai Hot

Georgia Flame



Habanero Lemon
Habanero White

Habanero Orange

Habanero Caribbean Red
Habanero Chocolate

Personally, I probably will never make it very far beyond Jalapeno Heaven. I am a terrible wimp when it comes to spice, and although I will gladly eat your pickled Jalapenos off a Greek salad, I cannot endure even the slightest hint of Scotch Bonnet or Habanero. Clare claims that she can't either, at least not raw, and that this is where friends come in handy, friends like Ben.

(Ben is Ben Chung—the guy who sells quail eggs and all sorts of garlics and herbs at the Orleans Farmers Market and, incidentally, also the same Ben Chung who has a practice downtown as a dentist—and he is not afraid of hot peppers in the least. Clare found a new cultivar growing wild in her garden this year, and he happily gave it a taste—raw!—and suggested a number for the scale.)

But while she might not go nibbling raw peppers the way Ben does, Clare is not afraid to cook even the hottest peppers into a jam. She wears gloves, to protect her fingers and (later) her eyes, and she cooks Jalapenos and Habaneros and plain old bell peppers down with vinegar and honey. Something about the combination soothes the spice of the hot peppers, she says, so that the jam is easily spreadable on toast or hot dogs or piled up on hamburgers even for "non-chile heads."

Next week, I plan to give it a try. If you get there before me, let me know how things go, okay? Oh, and if you're growing any hot pepper varieties, let us know, on the Scoville Scale, where they stand. I'm not sure if it will be for drying, or for paste, or for jam, but one of these days, I'd like to try growing some myself.


To use Clare's words, "Even with all these hot peppers, this jam's not too hot for the non-chile heads." So long as you use gloves and avoid pouring warm or hot liquid over any of the hot pepper seeds or scraps (the steam can carry the spice and burn your nose and eyes), you should be safe from even the habaneros. Enjoy!

1 dozen bell peppers (use red, yellow, and orange for a colorful jam)
10 Habanero peppers
10 Serrano or Jalapeno peppers
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 and 1/2 cups honey (or 3 cups sugar)

Wash canning jars and lids and place jars in a boiling water bath.

Wash, seed, then chop the peppers in a food processor. They will be wet—drain any excess liquid and combine the pulp with the remaining ingredients in a large, non-reactive soup pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil gently for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the volume of the jam is reduced by half and it thickens enough to sheet from a spoon.

Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterile jars (they need 10 minutes in a boiling water bath with at least an inch of water covering the tops of the jars), leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rim of the jars with a dish towel dipped in boiling water to make sure they are clean, and seal tightly with lids and bands dipped in boiling water.

Turn the sealed jars upside down and leave overnight; in the morning, check the seals. Any jars that for some reason do not seal can be put in the fridge to be used right away; the others will store in a dry, dark place for up to a year.


Ode to tomatoes

My friend Liam coined this phrase the other night.

He typed it up onto a paper menu, a print-out for an opening the restaurant was catering at our friend Susie's gallery, Farm. I saw it during service, pinned up in the kitchen alongside the flats of tomatoes from Jack Stacey's farm—oranges, crimsons, purples—long romas with skin like marbled paper, yellow and red. The words sounded so light—like instead of heat and exhaustion and crowds August meant Ode to Tomatoes Month.

I think for now, I'm going to pretend that it does. So in celebration, here you are—not a left hand turn on Route 6—but a simple, fresh Caprese with basil and slices of gorgonzola-dolce-stuffed mozzarella, piled sky-high on baguette.


The key to this recipe, obviously, is good tomatoes. They should be ripe, sweet, oozy—August tomatoes in the peak of heat. A good, grainy sea salt doesn't hurt either—for sprinkling at the last minute, on top.

1 baguette
4 big, sweet heirloom tomatoes
1 ball gorgonzola-dolce-stuffed mozzarella
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic glaze
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Slice the baguette in half the long way, like you're cutting bread for a sub. Then cut the halves into reasonable lengths—6 inches or so. Core the tomatoes and slice them into rounds. Slice the mozzarella into rounds, too. Toast the bread, and once it's hot, drizzle it with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic glaze. Layer each piece with a handful of basil leaves, several slices of tomato, and a few rounds of mozzarella on top. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.


The Local Food Report: peaches—for 85 years

Howard Crowell likes to say he's been farming peaches 85 years. It's a bit of a stretch—he's 86—but you get the idea. His first solid memory of the orchard is 1930, he says, the year his grandmother came to live with them. He can still picture her picking—and the peach trees were mature—so he imagines that stretches them back at least another ten years.

(Crow Farm pickers, 1940s. Photo courtesy Crowell Family)

Of course, there are new trees in the orchard these days. Compared to hundred-year producers like apples, peach trees are short-lived. They give you 25, maybe 30 years, and that's it. Howard says the varieties have changed over the years—he remembers names like Red Haven and Hale Haven and Elberta—rotating in and out of popularity.

These days, the oldest trees in the orchard are Reliance, Veterans, Golden Jubilees, and Belle of Georgia. The Jubilees come early and the Reliance are hardy down to negative twenty-five—about ten degrees lower than the Veterans, which are still considered fairly hardy for a peach. The Belles swoop in at the end—the last fruit, big white-fleshed globes, in a July to September run.

The new trees—the ones Howard's son Paul has been working to put in these last few summers to replace the plantings that went in around 1985—have a bit more formal names. They're mostly part of the P.S. Series—a group of cultivars developed at the Department of Fruit Science and Crop Protection of Pisa University. There are eight different strains, all engineered to ripen in succession, so that the farm will have peaches all summer long.

Given the way most of us feel about peaches, I'd say that's a pretty noble goal. The day I ran into Howard at the market, it was the Reliance fruits that were in. They were medium-sized, mid-season, blushed pink and just firm enough to make it home without bruising the skin.

I let them sit on the windowsill for a few days until they were soft, and then it was in a peach-blackberry cobbler with cornmeal biscuits where they met their end. I tossed them with flour, cinnamon, salt, blackberries from down the street. I drizzled in a little bit of honey, then topped them with big, soft globs of cornmeal and butter and cream. They baked into a syrup—hot, purple, bubbling—little orange half moons dotted about. We ate them hot, still steaming, biscuits golden and vanilla ice cream melting faster than we could keep up with in the heat.

The peaches came early this year—three weeks—and according to Howard, that means they'll be gone three weeks early, too. So quick—fire up the oven—and make a quick cobbler before they leave.


I adapted this recipe from my mother, who adapted it from a recipe my sister found on Smitten Kitchen, that was, in turn, adapted from The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern. Whoever you want to credit, this cobbler is GOOD. Like best-I've-Had-In-A-Long-Time-And-I've-Eaten-My-Share-Of-Cobbler Good. There's something about the cornmeal that perfectly complements the fruit—something about the sweetness, and the almost grainy texture—that seems to fit just right. Feel free to play with the types and amounts of fruit—I imagine raspberries or blueberries would be equally good.

For the fruit:
3 medium peaches, pitted and sliced
3 cups blackberries
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt

For the cornmeal biscuit topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk or heavy cream or yogurt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine the peaches, blackberries, honey, and lemon juice in a bowl and stir to mix. Add flour, cinnamon, and salt and toss until the fruit is coated. Spoon this mixture into the bottom of a 1 and 1/2 quart baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the dry mixture, add the buttermilk or cream, and mix until a wet dough comes together.

Spoon dollops of the biscuit dough over the filling—it won't cover the entire surface; that's fine. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the biscuit topping is golden brown and the fruit is syrupy and bubbling. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.


Of jazz—a riff

My mother is a profound believer in the power of zucchini. A zucchini patch, she says, is a meal. It can feed a family for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner on the grill. You name the zucchini recipe, she's made it. She has four recipes for zucchini bread alone.

That one you see up there—the one with the thick, moist center and the thin green flecks—is her standby, the one she makes the most. She's had it for so long she can't remember where the recipe came from anymore—only that it's a keeper, and that it's equally good as muffins or loaves.

She makes the others every now and again—Chocolate Zucchini Bread from our friend Maddie, this Special Zucchini Bread from Heidi Swanson, Lynn's Spicy Zucchini Bread from the Victory Garden Cookbook.

But it's the loaf up there that tastes like zucchini season to me—the one that feels like sitting on the forest green stools at the kitchen counter with a knife and a stick of butter, carefully slathering one slice, then another, until the bread is gone. My mother's made a few twists over the years—swapped whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose, thrown in a handful of poppyseeds, left in or out the nuts depending on who was home—but essentially, it's the same tried and true loaf.

The other day, I tried a version of my own. I found a baseball bat growing out from a vine wrapped around the raspberries in the garden and grated it down. I dug out a bag of rye flour from what we got in our grain CSA and added cinnamon, salt, nutmeg. I dug around in the cupboard until I found the apple cider molasses I bought this spring in a tiny store in New York, and a few minutes later, packed the oven with two loaves.

It wasn't too different from my mother's—but I was thrilled with the way the squash played off the rye. The shift reminded me of jazz—the way the same chord, played over and over, changes each time. It was a zucchini bread riff—an improv of whole wheat, molasses, spice—the same chord that somehow sounded different, new, just right.


Though I usually make it into loaves, this recipe also makes wonderful muffins. Simply scoop the batter into prepared tins, and shorten the cooking time to about 20 minutes. Also, my mother says it's a good idea to wring out your zucchini after you grate it—otherwise the bread can get too wet.

3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon molasses or apple cider molasses
3 and 1/2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup poppyseeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two bread tins. Whisk together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and molasses in a large bowl. Add the zucchini and stir well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and poppyseeds. Pour these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture and stir until just combined. Add the nuts if using, then divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bread is still moist in the center but just cooked through.



The next cool evening—tonight, or maybe tomorrow, before it hikes up into the eighties again on Wednesday—do this:

Get out a heavy bottomed pot, and some tired eggplant, and a few cracked tomatoes from the garden. Find a green pepper in the fridge, and some summer squash or zucchini, and pull a cutting board out from the shelf. Sharpen the chef's knife, pull down a colander, and cut the eggplant and squash into rounded cubes. Toss the vegetables with salt and leave them to sit—for fifteen minutes, maybe, a half hour—until the moisture pools out of them in little drips.

In the meantime, chop an onion, flick on a burner, crank the radio. Listen to the news and the breeze and the motorcycle that revs up at sunset down the street. Mince a few cloves of garlic from the plant you just pulled up outside, wait for the oil to get hot. Brown the eggplant and then the squash, sipping on a cold beer while your work. Give the onions their turn next—their turn to sizzle, to brown, to sweat. Add the garlic and the tomatoes and let them sputter, simmer, watching the juices steam up and out through the screen. Turn the heat down, finish your beer, and add the eggplant and squash back in. Then taste—add a pinch of salt, let the ratatouille cool down, and get out a stack of containers for the freezer.

This is not—not today, at least—dinner. Make something else easy—a salad maybe, or a stack of sliced tomatoes and basil with fresh cheese—this ratatouille is for January, or February, or maybe March. It's for ratatouille pie, ratatouille plain on pasta, ratatouille baked with two eggs and cheese—in a season where nothing growing is so bright, so warm, so red.


My mother has been making this ratatouille from The Victory Garden Cookbook for as long as I can remember. She puts it up in pints, as each ratatouille pie—essentially a quiche with bacon and mozzarella and ratatouille in it—uses two cups of the preserve.

1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
olive oil
1 pound onions, roughly chopped
3-4 medium size garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 pound green or red peppers, seeded and roughly chopped (0ptional)
freshly cracked pepper

In a large colander, toss the eggplant and zucchini with salt (roughly a tablespoon). Set the colander aside in the sink for 15-30, so that the salt can draw the moisture out of the vegetables and the juices can drain.

Place the eggplant and zucchini on a clean dishtowel, and pat them dry. Turn the heat up to medium-high under a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add a bit of olive oil, and drop the eggplant and zucchini in. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until the zucchini is soft and the eggplant browned. Spoon the vegetables out of the pot and set them aside.

Leave the heat on medium high and add another glug of olive oil to the pan. Sauté the onions for 5-8 minutes, turning the heat down to medium after a few minutes and sweating them until they get soft and translucent. Add the garlic, sauté for thirty seconds or so, and add the tomatoes and the green peppers if you're using them. Cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, then take the top off and turn the heat up to medium high again. Cook "briskly" until the juices have evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant and zucchini, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the extra juice from these vegetables evaporates, then turn off the heat and cool to room temperature.

Pack into pint containers for freezing; this recipe should yield 3-4 pints.


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