For Nancy

First, because I can't resist, a Sally photo. I promise we'll get back to fruits and vegetables soon.

And on the business side of things, a recipe! For Nancy, from the archives, here goes:


You can find kohlrabi at most farmers' markets. When selecting kohlrabi, keep in mind that the purple stems are sweeter and a bit more mild spice-wise than the green versions. Look for small, tender pieces, as the bigger they get the woodier they tend to be inside.

1 tablespoon butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, chopped fine
1 tennis ball-size kohlrabi, peeled and diced
8-10 cups Swiss chard, chopped and packed
1/2 can coconut milk plus 1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 and 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter

Get out a big, heavy-bottomed soup pot and put it over medium heat. Melt the butter, and throw in the scallions and the garlic. Stir briskly so that the garlic doesn't burn, cooking for only a minute.

Now add the kohlrabi and sauté a bit more before adding the Swiss chard. Once the greens are in the pot, put the lid tightly on top and let them steam down for about five minutes, stirring everything from time to time.

Remove the lid and add the coconut milk and the red curry paste. Turn up the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until the paste dissolves in the milk. When the liquid starts to boil throw in the peanut butter and stir until this dissolves too.

Turn the heat down to a simmer, season the pot with salt, and let the flavors cook together for a minute or two. Serve the vegetables and broth in a wide, shallow bowl over a scoop of brown rice. Sriracha hot sauce or another hot chili sauce makes a nice topping.


Sally & I

Hi, friends.

Sorry to have been gone so long, but Sally and I have had a lot of catching up to do. It's very different for both of us with her here, on the outside, but it's also pretty great. My parents left Tuesday, which was both nice and scary, and the three of us are slowly settling into a routine. Mostly this involves nursing and reading and trying to sleep and doing laundry and walking, and while that might not sound like a lot, it keeps us very busy.

We've also managed to start cooking again—nothing very complicated—a salad for lunch, a pot of ham and beans for supper. But mostly, we've been relying on the kitchens of family and friends. Luckily we have good friends, friends who bring things like Torta di Mele, a moist, crackly apple cake that reminds me of my host mother in Spain. Lourdes made the best apple cake—it was moist and custardy and sweet, and I've tried but never been able to recreate it. Until Teresa brought one over, complete with a print out of the recipe. It's nearly gone now, so I don't have a proper picture for you, but believe me this is a cake you want to make. It is simple and elegant and in a very homey way quite pretty, and perfect this time of year.

We'll see you soon, friends, and until then, I hope we all find time to bake.


In English, this apparently is called "Apple Cake with a Crackly Meringue." Whatever you want to call it, it comes from both Italy and Spain, and this version in particular comes from Lynn Rosetto Kasper's The Italian Country Table. Teresa's baked up beautifully—crackly and wispy on top and moist in the center.

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
shredded zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large (about 1 pound) apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg white

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch spring form pan.

In a large bowl, work together the 2 cups of flour, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, the salt, and the butter with your fingers until crumbly. Take 1 cup of this mixture and press it over the bottom of the pan and about 1/2 inch up the sides to make a crust.

Make a well in the remaining crumb mixture. Add the milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, remaining flour, and baking powder. Blend these liquid ingredients in the well as best you can without mixing in the crumbs. Then stir in the crumbs until well blended but still a little lumpy. Fold in the apples and scrape the batter into the pan over the crust.

Beat the egg white until foamy in a small bowl. Beat in the remaining sugar until the mixture forms peaks. Spread this over the batter.

Bake for an hour to 75 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a straw comes out clean. Cool and serve at room temperature. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream make a nice accompaniment, but the cake is so moist that they aren't essential.


The Local Food Report: black walnuts

There are some tastes you never forget. The flavor of wild American black walnuts is one of them.

I first tried black walnuts this fall, when my forager friend, Richard Bailey, gave me a sack of them. I'd been hearing about them for years: from my grandmother, who grew up with them, and from my mother, describing the black walnut cake she used to make with them. They both got a sort of dreamy, far away look when they talked about the nuts---the kind of look people get when they talk about tastes and memories that belong to another time, another place. When I finally bit into a slice of my grandmother's black walnut cake for the first time a few weeks ago, I understood: black walnuts are all wild, all American, all history.

They don't grow on the Cape, not naturally. Their range extends from Western Massachusetts and Vermont out to southern Ontario, down to central Texas, and then east into Georgia and up the coast. But an Austrian couple in Wellfleet planted a tree half a century ago, and each fall, it produces.

The tree itself looks sort of like a locust---compound pinnate leaves and scratchy bark---but it's actually in the hickory family. The nuts are housed in a fleshy husk that's green straight off the tree, then slowly fades to black. They're famously hard to open: Richard Bailey uses a knife and a bench vice, but others have used hammers, rocks, the tires of their cars. Once you get through the husk, you find a hard shell, same as an English Walnut, so you still have to crack that. Finally, you get to the nutmeats, about a cup for every two pounds un-shelled.

It's a lot of work, but when you taste that flavor, you know it was worth it. The recipe my grandmother handed down to me is called Maryland Black Walnut Cake, and it comes from the Shields Chesapeake Bay Cookbook, circa 1990. She used to have an older recipe, the one my great-grandmother made, but that one's gone and this one is close, she says. It calls for all the usuals: flour, butter, sugar, eggs, a little bit of vanilla and baking powder and milk and salt. But then you add the black walnuts---1 and 1/2 cups of pure ground musk, and it changes the whole game. The flavor is something like really good banana bread soaked in port and black currant cordial with a little bit of smoke mixed in. It's good straight out of the oven but it gets better over the course of a few days---more moist, more pungent, somehow more rare.

I can't hand you a slice through the screen, but I can give you the next best thing: everything you need to bake your own cake, grow your own trees. You can buy black walnuts online, over here, and this company sells the trees online. And thanks to my grandmother, here's that cake recipe.


My grandmother talks about a recipe Gransie (her grandmother) used to make, but we can't find that anywhere. Instead, she sent me this recipe card from her files, with a note at the bottom that says "Shields Chesapeake Bay Cookbook, 1990."

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk
1 and 1/2 cup ground black walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a tube or Bundt cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar until they're light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg yolks and beat well. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the creamed butter mixture, mixing well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they're stiff but not dry and gently fold them into the batter along with the ground black walnuts until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a piece of straw comes out clean. Turn the cake onto a rack to cool, then dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.


The Local Food Report: plum nutty

Today, I'd like to let my grandmother do the storytelling. A while back, when she moved into an assisted living apartment, she stopped cooking. She's always been one hell of a cook---things like oven-fried chicken, stuffed potatoes, and tenderloin wrapped in bacon so rich it makes you melt---and recently, when she realized how interested I was, she gave me her old book of recipes. I wanted to know the stories behind the pages of measurements and ingredients, so one weekend, my mom and I flew down to her place in Richmond. I brought my recording gear, and we talked about food, and family, and recipes. One night, I asked her about something called plum nutty. Here's the story, in her words:

"Plum nutty? Oh, that's very special. That's a recipe that came from my gynecologist in Sandusky, Ohio. And he had been a flight surgeon during World War Two, stationed in the Pacific. And after he came back to the States he happened to be a member of our church, and every Christmas, he gave me plum nutty.

He would never tell me how to make it but he would give it to me. And plum nutty was made with plums---was a preserve---made with plums and nutmeats and it was very good as preserves but it was even better to put on top of vanilla ice cream.

So. I kiddingly knew he'd never give me the recipe but I just deviled him for it all the time and he also took care of me physically and I had several miscarriages after my son was born. And then came the day when I was pregnant again and it looked like this one was gonna stick with me.

And after Liz was born, he came to the house one day with two jars of plum nutty, and the recipe. So that's how I got the recipe for plum nutty."

Every time I listen to my grandmother tell the story, I tear up a little bit. When I think of her and the eight years she spent waiting for that recipe and waiting for my mom, I know that gift from her doctor must have felt like gold. My mom still has the original piece of paper, in Dean Sheldon's handwriting. She scanned it into the computer the other day, so that I could put it up here, for you. I hope you'll make it---plums, right now, are in season---and I hope that when you do, you'll know it's something special.


A girl!

Miss Sally Elizabeth Hay was born at 6:42pm on Sunday, October 2nd. She weighs 8 pounds and is 21 inches long, and she is the most beautiful thing her Momma has ever seen. She's also the spitting image of her Papa.

We'll be back soon to share more but while we get settled in at home, we just wanted to let you know that she's finally here.

xoxo Elspeth


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