On our feet

Well, she's come and gone, hasn't she? The power came back on this morning, the water pump cranked into high gear, and all that's left to do now is go out and pick up the litter, separate the tomatoes and dahlias from the storm debris.

All in all, I'd say we escaped fairly handily. There are a few under ripe fruits down, yes, and the topsoil is swept off the garden, and the yard will take some raking. But there are no trees against the house, the tomato plants are still standing, and the breads and meats and sauces in the freezer are still chilly.

Just before she hit, we harvested over 50 pounds of tomatoes from our 62 plants. The fruit is sitting on the kitchen counter, all laid out in a mosaic of reds and oranges and a tinge of green. Tomorrow—once we're back on our feet—I'll pull out the onions and basil and garlic I bought at the market Saturday and start the sauce factory. But for today, I'll be out in the yard—picking up another 20 pounds of fruit, and piling it on the counter, saying goodbye Irene.


This isn't really a recipe so much as an outline. My mother asked me how I make my sauce this morning, and I realized I do it by feel and memory. I don't measure or time, and I always make a big batch. So in case you have fruit of your own to put away, here's how I do it—at least loosely.

olive oil
2-3 heads garlic, peeled and cloves minced
1 medium onion, diced
a third cup or so of old red wine
1 big mixing bowl full of quartered tomatoes
minced basil, oregano, rosemary, or thyme—or some combination of all four

Warm up a good glug of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, for about a minute, or until it starts to get fragrant. Add the onion and sweat, stirring frequently, for 5-8 minutes, or until it's soft and translucent.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, let the pan warm up (keep stirring so the garlic and onions don't burn!) and pour in the red wine to deglaze. Let the wine reduce two-thirds, then season with salt and add the tomatoes.

I don't have a potato masher so I use a pastry cutter to crush my tomatoes, but if you have a masher, that's a much better tool—use it! The tomatoes should almost fill the pot, and they'll let out a lot of juice as they heat. Once you have them pretty well crushed and the liquid starts boiling, stir well and turn down the heat to a simmer. A big batch will take a few hours to reduce down, and you'll get about two-thirds to half the volume you started with. When the sauce is fairly thick, add the herbs. Simmer for a few more minutes, then either puree or leave chunky, depending on your taste.

I freeze my sauce in quart Mason jars, leaving about 2 inches headspace so they don't break. A one pot batch yields about 3 jars.


The Local Food Report: organic corn

Have you noticed how tough it is to find organic corn locally? Most farmers' at the markets around here bring their corn in from off-Cape, and most of it is labeled "conventional," i.e. grown with pesticides. (That word usage has always seemed a bit funny to me, as if pesticides have been the norm for hundreds of years, but that's an aside. Anyway.)

So the other day when I noticed Anna Henning of Redberry Farm in Eastham selling organic sweet corn at the market in Orleans, I got excited. I asked her how she'd done it, and here's what she told me:

1. She chose an early corn variety. The main reason people have so much trouble growing organic corn is because it gets invaded by corn ear worms (also known as tomato fruit worms when they eat big holes in your tomatoes). The later on in the season it gets, the bigger and more mature the corn ear worms get, so it's best to plant a corn variety that can be harvested in mid to late July.

2. She used the three sisters' planting method. You've probably heard of this—it's a Native American thing. Basically, first you plant corn seeds in the middle of a raised flat mound. Once the corn sprouts to about 15 inches high, you plant beans and squash around it. The corn acts as a pole for the beans, the beans in turn help stabilize the corn, and the squash acts as a sort of live mulch, keeping the soil moist and shaded and also helping fend off predators with its prickly stems. Nutritionally, the beans add nitrogen back to the soil, which is good for the corn and squash plants.

3. She planted it in a spot with plenty of sunlight and gave it plenty of water. Anna thinks that a lot of times when people don't do well with corn, it's because they planted it in a spot that's too shady.

4. She kept an eye out for corn ear worms. This is the hardest thing for most people. Anna kept watch over her corn, particularly when the leaf whorls were starting to come up, because the worms tend to get in through the top of the ears and then eat their way down. Unchecked, they'll eat the entire plant. So when the leaf whorls were forming Anna put a few drops of mineral oil into the top of each ear, which she says helped deter the worms. Then she kept checking for worms, and on any ears that had worms, she cut the tops off. This doesn't really hurt the plant, she says, although it doesn't look great.

And that's it! She had a lot of trouble with germination, she said, but otherwise success was mostly about paying attention. Of the 20 rows she planted, only about 5 came up, so next year she's going to plant a lot more.

I was lucky enough to buy ten ears from her the one day she had her crop for sale, and they were good. We ate most of them as snacks, just husked and raw and straight off the cob, but in case you're looking for sweet corn inspiration, here are some of my favorite recipes:



Still green

The tomatoes all blew over in the storm the other day. All 62 plants, laid out flat, like grass brushed back by a stream. It took me a few days, 62 stakes, and four changes of sweaty, tomato-stained laundry, but they're back on their feet. There were a few casualties. In the process—between the wind and the hammering and the detangling—I had to bring in almost four pounds of fruit still green.

Luckily, I don't mind green tomatoes. I kind of like them, even, though I realize that sounds a little crazy. There are all sorts of excellent things you can make with green tomatoes: rhubarb and green tomato chutney, green tomato jam, my great-grandmother's green tomato pickles.

But my favorite thing is green tomatoes dipped in milk, battered in cornmeal, and fried up for breakfast. It's a southern dish, I think—in Richmond, where my cousins live, it's on the menu at most brunch spots, and it's often served with a few eggs and some bacon. The green tomato slices get soft and meaty on the inside while the cornmeal crisps up on the bottom and top. The fried green tomato's closest cousin, I think, might be fried eggplant.

At any rate, we made fried green tomatoes for breakfast yesterday, and if you've never tried them, I highly recommend it. I used the recipe in the Joy of Cooking: thinly sliced green tomatoes, a saucer of milk, and a dipping mixture of flour, cornmeal, paprika, thyme, and parsley. It's simple but very good. I like to serve mine with a fried egg, sunny side up, still a little bit runny so you can sop up the yolk with the tomato slices. Oh! and hot sauce. Some people like theirs with a spicy mayo, and I'm definitely partial to that, but recently, Alex has turned me on to an orange-red Mexican hot sauce called Valentina, and I think I like that even better. It's more flavorful than spicy, but still a little hot, and it adds something of a tang to the whole dish.

We still don't have a single red tomato, unless you count the cherries. So in the meantime, we'll keep making this—until the weather improves and the green gives way to red.


I've adapted this recipe slightly from the one in the Joy of Cooking. It's nice to serve the tomatoes with fried eggs and, if you like, bacon. If you do decide to cook up some bacon, fry the tomatoes in the grease—they'll be that much tastier. This recipe serves 4.

4 large green tomatoes, sliced thin
1 and 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon paprika or Old Bay
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2/3 cup milk
olive oil, for frying

Combine the cornmeal, flour, parsley, thyme, and paprika in a small, shallow bowl or pie plate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the milk into a small, shallow bowl. Put a few glugs of oil into a large cast iron frying pan, and warm it up over medium-high heat.

Batter each tomato slice by dipping it first in the milk, then rolling it in the cornmeal mixture on both sides. Fry each slice until golden and crisp on both sides. Serve at once.


The Local Food Report: Westport Rivers

Did you know that you can make white wine out of red grapes? I had no idea until the other day. I was at the farmers' market in Falmouth, talking with Will Becker of Westport Rivers Winery. Thanks to the new rule change, Massachusetts vineyards can now sell their wines at farmers markets, and Becker was on the green at Peg Noonan Park all afternoon, doing tastings. I listened in for a while, and I learned a lot.

(Photo courtesy Falmouth Farmers' Market)

For instance, did you know that Westport—and actually the whole area from roughly Newport, Rhode Island to New Bedford, Massachusetts—has a micro-climate ideal for growing French varietals traditional to the French regions of Champagne and Alsace? Both regions are ideal for grapes like Pinot noir, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Pinot meunier, Chardonnay, and Reisling—grapes that like a cool climate, dry, sunny days, and a relatively short growing season. The cooler climate tends to make them more acidic here than when they're grown elsewhere, and wine lovers appreciate this for the crisp, dry, fruity flavor it gives whites and sparkling wines and rosés.

I wanted to find out more, so when I got home, I started researching the grapes. Here's a list of some of the grapes grown by local vineyards—there are seven within the 30 miles from Newport to New Bedford, not to mention one in Truro and one in northeastern Connecticut!—and a little bit about where they come from:

1. Pinot noir: Pinot noir is a black wine grape (hence the name). It's grown all over the world, but most people associate it with the Burgundy region of France, which is where it comes from originally. The grape clusters are small and sensitive to frost and wind, and also picky about soil types, and for all of these reasons, the fruit is considered relatively hard to grow. But it's also very sensitive to terroir, meaning it tastes really different depending on where it's grown, and apparently, when it's grown in southeastern Massachusetts, it tastes pretty good. It can be used to make white wine by pressing the juice with minimal contact with the skins, which is the process I was talking about up above.

2. Pinot blanc: This one's crazy. Apparently, it's a genetic mutation of Pinot noir. In plain English, that means that sometimes Pinot noir vines mutate and produce white fruit. I had a hard time finding specifics, but it is my understanding that these vines can then be cloned and reproduced. The same goes for Pinot gris and Pinot meunier. These three varietals are considered the three most "successful" mutations of Pinot noir. Who knew!

3. Chardonnay: This varietal also comes from Burgundy. These days, people grow it everywhere. Some wine makers age its juice in oak barrels, some don't, but the grape itself is relatively neutral tasting. It also varies considerably by region. Scientists today believe it's a cross between Pinot blanc and Gouais blanc, although originally it was thought to be another mutant of Pinot noir. Wine makers say it's easy to grow, and it adapts to all sorts of different climates relatively easily.

4. Reisling: Reisling is a white grape variety from the Rhine region of Germany. It's generally used to produce dry, semi-sweet, and sweet sparkling wines. Like Pinot noir, it's said to be very sensitive to terroir, and the taste of wines made with this grape varies widely depending on where it's grown. It's generally grown in colder regions, including the Alsace region of France. Interestingly, this region was alternately under French and German rule for about 75 years in the 18 and 19 hundreds, which explains why it's a German grape in French territory.

Interesting stuff, huh? From these grapes, Westport Rivers makes all sorts of different wines. Their flagship is a Brut Cuvee (made from Pinot noir, chardonnay, and Pinot meunier), but they also make a chardonnay, a Pinot gris, a blanc de noir (white wine made with black Pinot noir grapes), a blanc de blancs (chardonnay), a rosé from Pinot noir, a reisling, and a Pineau de Pinot, which is a sweet dessert wine made from Pinot noir grapes. As you can see, with even just a few grape varieties, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Westport Rivers wine is available at all sorts of places locally. They sell at the farmers' markets in Falmouth and Provincetown, and they're on the wine list at Blackfish, where I work, in Truro. Ten Tables in Provincetown also pours their chardonnay. The vineyard owner, Bill Russell, sent me a full list of liquor stores and restaurants where you can find their wine, so if you're looking for it, don't be afraid to ask.

And in the meantime, keep your eye out for other local vineyards at farmers' markets. Apparently, they rotate, so that shoppers don't get the same vineyard every week. This means that before the markets close, you could get in a lot of local tasting.


The jungle

What would you like to talk about today? Tomatoes? Zucchini? Potatoes? Our garden is chock-a-block full of all three.

This was our first year with a dedicated summer garden—until this season, we planted our summer veggies in with the winter crops, under the cold frame. But the timing started to get tricky—for optimal winter production, we really needed to be planting the beds in July and August. With tomatoes and zucchini and green beans that would produce until late September, that didn't happen, and for those beds, I'd end up having to buy seedlings.

So this year, with our friend Corey's help, we took down a few trees on the south side of the shed and turned over a ridiculously dense layer of tree roots—we broke a backhoe in the process—and dug down two feet beneath the old oaks and pines and blueberries. Then we got a truckload of pure compost and filled it in.

It looked like a plot of black gold.

These days, it looks more like a jungle—a 20' by 25' forest of cucumbers and squash and potato and tomato plants. A good two thirds of the garden is taken up by the tomatoes—62 in all, staked and caged and grown from seed. Most of them are full size varieties—things like Spring Shine and Amish Paste and Rose de Berne—but there are also a few Sun Gold cherries thrown in. Next come the potatoes: two full rows of Red Bliss, ready for harvest. Then there's a half row of broccoli, a wild tangle of cucumbers, and a row of zucchini and Waltham butternuts that spreads about ten feet in every direction. It's not at all neat or orderly, but it's the best kind of mess.

Right now, it's the potatoes that are pouring in. They are the one crop that is entirely Alex's department, and whatever he's doing, it's working. He says he learned from his grandfather how to grow them. First, he says, you have to dig a trough, to put the seed potatoes in. Then, once they start to sprout, you have to mound the dirt up over them, and as they grow, do this again, and again. Eventually, they'll get tall and start to flower, and right after the flowers fade is when you should start checking beneath them. We got our first potatoes about a month ago, and every week, he brings another basket in.

This week, I made potato salad with our haul. It wasn't anything fancy: just fresh potatoes and green beans from the garden with hard-boiled eggs and red onion. Still, it was good—simple and creamy and crisp—and every bite grown from our soil.


I like to think of this as a potato salad that can be a meal. The green beans add crunch while the eggs add a much-needed hit of protein.

2 pounds fresh red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 and 1/2 inch lengths
1/4 cup red vinegar
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Throw in the potatoes and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. About a minute before the potatoes are done, add the green beans. They only need to cook for about 30 seconds—just until they turn bright green. Turn off the stove and drain the vegetables.

Transfer the potatoes and green beans to a large mixing bowl. Pour the red wine vinegar over top and stir well. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Stir in the hard-boiled eggs, red onions, dill, mayonnaise, and mustard until everything is evenly distributed and well coated. Season with salt and pepper and chill before serving.


Slowing down & speeding up

We are waiting.

Something changed in the past week—somehow, the arrival of the baby seems at once much closer, and much farther away. I am slowing down while the baby is speeding up—kicking and rolling and jabbing and fighting a never-ending case of the hiccups.

In the meantime, of course, it's August. Alex is at the shop long days and I'm still at the restaurant—four nights, bustling between the kitchen and dining room from five to ten o'clock. It's a funny kind of waiting you do in the busiest month.

Mostly, we've been eating simple food: boxes of blueberries, hunks of good pastured cheddar, blackberries by the fistful from the briar patch at High Toss. But the other night, we mustered the energy to fire up the grill. Alex filleted flounder while I shucked corn—the first sweet, milky ears from the farmers' market. I quartered an onion and stuck it on skewers, and we layered everything on the hot coals until the skins charred up.

When the corn was done, I pulled out a recipe I'd ripped from Bon Appetit this month: Roasted Corn with Manchego & Lime. It's a riff on Mexican corn—elote—which has long been one of Alex's favorites. You cut the corn from the cob, then stir in butter and lime juice and zest and red pepper flakes and grate Manchego over top. It is zingy and summery and fresh, and simple enough to come together fast.

It's the kind of dish that's good for a wait. It won't make the end of September come any faster, but it's an important reminder to savor: the heat, the sweet corn, the season—the last eight weeks of impatient evenings, with just us two before the little one.


The first time I made this, I roasted the corn in the oven like the original Bon Appetit recipe called to. It was good, but I had a feeling grilling it would add a lot more flavor. It did!

6 ears sweet corn, husked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup finely grated Manchego cheese (BA recommends using a microplane zester, which we did with excellent results)
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Place the corn in a large dish and drizzle it with the olive oil. Transfer the ears to a grill over medium heat and cook until the kernels are cooked through and just slightly charred in spots. Let the corn cool enough to touch it, then cut the kernels from the cobs.

Put the warm kernels in a serving bowl and toss them with the butter until it melts. Add the red pepper flakes, lime juice and zest, Manchego, and chives, and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy at once.


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