Before the ferry

Hello from Maine.

We are back on the mainland now, but for the past week, we've been out there. We spent five days on Monhegan, ten miles off Port Clyde. There was electricity and running water and wifi and heat and a fridge full of food we brought over in a cooler. There was no pavement. There were hikes and knitting and board games and my sister and my parents and my husband and Sally.

It was lovely.

Unfortunately, Sandy chased us off a few days early. Riding out a storm is one thing; leaving on a small boat in 10 foot seas is quite another. But! We are still in Maine, at my parents' house; we still have power; and later on, we are planning to make a batch of homebrew. We will vacation on, hurricane!

An important part of keeping the feeling, we've discovered, is pancakes. We made a batch yesterday—a batch of oatmeal whole-wheat—with the last of our flour and milk before the ferry. I found the recipe online and we were short a few ingredients, but we improvised, and they came out perfectly. They were thick and soft and crispy, with plenty of heft but not the kind that sit in your belly. We doused them in maple syrup and smeared them with butter. The adults all ate two, and Sally ate three. 

It seemed fitting.


I am a big fan of pancakes, but I don't care much for the white-flour variety. I like my pancakes thick and hearty but still soft on the inside and crisp around the edges. These, adapted from a Gourmet recipe, fit the bill perfectly.

3/4 cup rolled oats
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I imagine spelt would also work)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar (I imagine maple syrup or honey would also work)

Soak the oats in 3/4 cup of the milk. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sea salt in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, melted butter, sugar, and remaining milk. Stir the oat and egg mixture into the flour mixture until a thick batter just comes together. 

Warm up a cast iron skillet or griddle and grease it. (We used homemade lard to grease our skillet, which I think made the pancakes particularly tasty.) Pour the batter on—I made quarter-cup cakes—and fry on the first side for 2-3 minutes. Flip and fry on the second side until golden and crispy. Serve hot, with butter and maple syrup.


The Local Food Report: espalier apples

First off, Stephen, thank you for the apple cake. I knew it would be good—I could tell that much from the warmth and the smell and the soft, crackly apple bits that peeked out around the edges. But I had no idea how good—that it would melt and give way and taste downright heavenly. So thank you. It made our Sunday.

I'd also like to thank you for showing me your trees. I'd never seen an espalier apple tree up close. I'd read about them, plenty, and looked at photos, but it was a lot more exciting to see the real thing. It made me want to do a lot more reading, and some bending of our own fruit trees. 

When I came home, I started looking into the science of espalier. You mentioned that people train their fruit trees this way—trunks cut to waist height, branches bent and trimmed to come out horizontally, in tiers, on a single plane—to increase fruit productivity. I found an article online about this, about the nuances of it, and apparently it's more than just the fact that separating the branches means the leaves get plenty of light. (Light, in turn, helps the plants make sugar, which of course is important for plentiful, healthy fruit.) There are also tree hormones involved—ethylene is produced when branches are bent or wounded, and it helps promote fruit bud formation. 

Of course the other reason you mentioned is that training trees espalier makes picking the fruit easier, and that's easy enough to understand. 

Finally, there's beauty. This is why you said you did it—for the look of a natural fruit and blossom fence. There's symmetry in the dead of winter, flowers in the spring, and fruit maturing and deepening in color all season. 

Well, it came out beautifully. I've been looking into varieties—you said you're growing Fuji and Free Mac and Red Delicious—and I found a neat resource for historical Maine varieties over here. The University of Massachusetts also has information on what varieties do well in our region, as does the New England Apple Association. If anyone else is interested, these are all good resources. 

Finally, I'd like to share your apple cake recipe. Everyone, this comes from Stephen Polowczyk, my neighbor in Wellfleet, who in turn says it comes from his friends' mothers' church cookbook. It's a keeper.


This cake is moist, moist, moist. For the sugar, Stephen says he likes to use half white and half brown—you can use all one or the other—but that's his ideal mix.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus 2 teaspoons, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 and 1/2 cups sugar plus 3 tablespoons, divided
1 cup vegetable oil
4 unbeaten eggs
2 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup orange juice
6 thinly sliced apples
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Grease and flour a tube pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and 2 and 1/2 cups sugar. Stir in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, and orange juice. In a separate bowl, mix together the apples, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and cloves. 

Alternate a layer of batter into the pan with a layer of apples, batter first. (The batter will be sticky and gloppy, Stephen says, and that's okay.) End with a layer of apples. Typically, there will be three layers of apples. 

Bake for up to 2 hours. Check at 1 hour and 15 minutes using the straw test. Let the cake cool in the pan, then invert it onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature—it is just as good the next day.


On island

As Sally would say, Hi. Bye.

That's her up there, waving good bye to Martha's Vineyard yesterday. We went for an overnight—took the ferry from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs, walked from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, and then rented bikes. We biked all over the island—they have an amazing network of paved trails—and hit up the winter farmers' market at the Agricultural Society in West Tisbury. It was all pretty inspiring. 

We also ate some great food—a lobster reuben here, a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone at the Edgartown bus station, a mango lassi with Mermaid Dairy yogurt, a sausage with sweet peppers and meat from the pigs at the Farm Institute, and one of the best cups of chowder I've ever had here

On Tuesday, we leave for a week on another island—a remote spot in Maine called Monhegan. It should be an adventure—there are no stores open on the island this time of year, so we have to bring and plan all our food for the week. I can't wait to cook and relax and read and hike. We could use a little recharging around here. 

So Hi, Bye, so to speak. Happy Halloween, and I'll see you soon.


The Local Food Report: chestnuts

I missed the earthquake. I could blame it on lack of sleep, but I think it was the chestnuts.

I bought two pints last Thursday from Carrie Richter at the Falmouth Farmers' Market. They were smooth and glossy and reminded me of walking around Rome on our honeymoon. There are vendors on practically every corner there, roasting and selling and snacking as they go.

I imagine if things had gone differently for the American chestnut, you might see this same sort of thing going on during the fall in Boston or New York. But most of the roughly four billion American chestnut trees that covered the country prior to the arrival of the blight in the early 1900s are gone. 

Luckily, there are four main species of chestnut in the world, and some of them have a little more immunity. One of these is the Chinese Chestnut, which Irmine and Hollis Lovell planted on Carrie's land, Peach Tree Circle Farm, some thirty-odd years ago. Carrie had no idea the trees were in the spot she now calls Chestnut Bottom, but one day about seven years ago she noticed some round brown pods lying in the weeds on the ground. She hauled them out, brought them back to the kitchen, and realized she had a chestnut grove. She's been selling them at the farmers' market every fall since.

Which brings me to the earthquake. I roasted mine. I carefully followed the instructions in a very old Joy of Cooking, which said to prick the shells with a fork, throw them on a baking sheet, and turn the oven up to 425 degrees F. From here I should wait 15-20 minutes, shaking the sheet every once in a while. 

Well. I got to the sixteen minute mark, and one by one they started to explode. Big, bomb-like noises came out of the oven. I was terrified to open the door, but I was also terrified they might break the broiler, so I reached out an arm and pulled the sheet out. Most the nuts were still in tact, perfectly roasted. A few were shattered all over the oven. I never heard an earthquake; I had my own.

At any rate, if you are able to get your hands on some chestnuts (Carrie says they're all over at Bourne Farm in West Falmouth, and she'll have them again at the Thanksgiving market in Falmouth), by all means cut them open before you roast. Carrie recommends scoring them, and that seems like a good way to go. Next you have to shell them, and then it's time to eat. We had ours plain, and cooked up in a skillet with onions, duck fat, and kale. If we'd had more, I would have liked to have made this chestnut soup, and I think this chestnut stuffing looks excellent. Last but not least, who doesn't like the sounds of Butter Cookie Sandwiches with Chestnut Cream?


P.S. The American Chestnut Society is trying to restore blight-resistant species to the former American chestnut range. Check out their website for more info.


Little helper

I have a new little helper in the kitchen. She is not very tall, but she has a highchair. And a sponge. And a little apron with an elastic neck loop and two pockets and little loafs of freshly baked bread all over that was a gift (thank you!) from a reader.  

We haven't made much recently—there was Oysterfest and house guests and now a mountain of work before we leave on a little overnight to the Vineyard—but we'll be back soon. In the meantime, if you're looking for a recipe, I've got my eye on this. Who doesn't want to make something called Fattoush?

We'll see you soon, everyone. Enjoy the bluster.


The Local Food Report: groundfish down

Greg Walinski has been longlining for thirty years. Groundfish, mostly—haddock, cod, Pollock, hake, flounder. The bottom dwellers. He fishes out of Chatham, on a boat called the Alicia Ann, and he is incredibly worried about the future.

It's no secret that the fishery is in trouble. The Secretary of Commerce declared a commercial fishery failure in the Northeast groundfish fishery for the 2013 season. Starting in May, there will likely be big cuts to the quotas.

But the thing is, these cuts aren't even really what worry Greg. It's not like he and the other groundfish fishermen in Chatham are lobbying to open closed areas or raise the quota. They can't find enough fish to reach the quota as it is. According to preliminary catch data from the New England Fishery Management Council, fishermen have only caught 17% of the quota for cod in the Georges Bank area this year, and 2% of the haddock. The season is almost half over, and that's it. Last year, the numbers were a little better—28% and 7% respectively—but not exactly fantastic.

What's more, it isn't even small longliners like Greg who are catching that small percentage of fish. It's bigger boats, not dayboats but boats that can take twelve-hour in, twelve-hour-out, overnight trips. Dayboat fishermen who used to bring in Chatham cod are now fishing for skate and dogfish. These days, the cod for sale at your local fish market isn't usually from here. Some of it is Pacific, some of it is Icelandic. And as Greg says, no one's talking about this.

He thinks there are a lot of different reasons for the recent decline in groundfish. There are a lot of seals around, and a lot of dogfish. Scientists are unclear on how seal populations affect groundfish—they might help or they might hurt—but both seals and dogfish can and do eat groundfish. Those two seals below hung out the whole time I talked with Greg, hoping for a handout from the boat.

There also isn't a lot of bait around, particularly herring. Fishermen need bait to set their hooks, and groundfish need bait because it's a big part of their diet. 

Finally, Greg thinks a lot of the drop off in groundfish has to do with climate change. Water temperatures have been getting warmer—they used to hover in the high 30s on the surface, he says, and last year in the Gulf of Maine they were consistently around 43 or 44. That's a big change, and many species spawning time is tied to environmental cues like water temperature. The New England Fishery Management Council reports that cod are already shifting their range to the northeast.

There's definitely something going on. Greg hasn't been out groundfishing all year, and he says last year groundfishing made up two thirds of his income. He's hoping for a cold winter, but in the meantime, he's been harpooning bluefin tuna and fishing for dogfish and skates instead. 

And there, at least, is some good news. There are plenty of dogfish around—the quota went up this year—and plenty of skates. The thing is, we're shipping most of it to England. If we want local, dayboat fish, we might just have to learn to eat it instead.

P.S. The group Finest Kind sings a haunting song on the collapse of the Canadian fishery in the 1990s. You can't listen to the full version anywhere online without purchasing it, but you can hear a snippet over here. It's worth a listen.


Alex has made skate for me several times this way, and it's delicious. The meat is sweet and tender. Look for skate wings, sweet smelling (no ammonia) and without the skin.

2 skate wings
salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons butter

Dredge the skate wings in flour, salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a pan over high heat. Add the skate wings and sear for 3 minutes on the first side, then flip and sear another two minutes on the second. Turn the heat off and let the meat rest for 10 minutes or so before serving.


The end

Tomorrow. Eight to noon. Rain or shine. Come hell or highwater. Even thunder.

It's the last Wellfleet Farmers' Market of the season. Grand finale. Your last stop shop for onion braids, storage garlic, keeper carrots. Fresh produce, baked goods, coffee (o-ye-ah). Eggs. Maybe even figs.

See you there? See you there.


Fresh limas

I have discovered why people don't like lima beans. It has nothing to do with their flavor. They are delicious. It has nothing to do with their texture, which is rich and smooth and buttery. It is not their coloring—they are lookers, mottled green and purple. The beans themselves are lovely.

But their pods. Their pods are frustrating. Trying to open them to get the beans is like trying to open an envelope along the top seam with nothing but fingers with no nails. You need a knife, a letter opener, something. Shucking lima beans is terribly, terribly time-consuming.

It's a good thing the beans inside are so tasty. It's also a good thing I stumbled on this recipe for lima bean soup with chipotle and onions, because I had never before cooked a lima bean, and after spending Sally's entire afternoon nap shelling our harvest, I was not about to make some bowl of overcooked mushy inedible beans.

The soup was delicious. It was smoky and buttery and thin, but in a good way. The fresh limas warmed into smooth, rich nuggets, and the onion ribbons infused the broth with butter and chipotle. We devoured it with this cornbread and this cabbage

Afterward, I looked at my tiny jar of saved lima seeds. I am still not sure I will plant them in the spring. But after tasting this soup, I will at least let them overwinter. We'll see.


I got the idea for this soup over here. I had to make some serious changes, though, because 1) my lima beans were fresh and 2) I had no access to chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. I also used chicken stock, because a soup like this based on water frankly didn't sound that good. I'm not sure how different my version is from the original, but I can tell you that it's easy to make (at least once you've shelled the limas) and delicious. 

1 head garlic, un-peeled, but with the top lopped off
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1 and teaspoon fine grain sea salt plus more to taste
1 large onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 and 1/2 tablespoons chipotle seasoning (I used a rub)
1 and 1/2 pounds shelled fresh lima beans

Combine the garlic, chicken stock, and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes. Remove the garlic and squeeze the cloves (they will be mushy!) into the broth. Throw the skin in the compost.

In a large pot, warm up the butter over medium heat. Add the salt, onion, and chipotle and sauté, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes. Add the garlic stock and the lima beans, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until the beans are tender and the broth is infused with flavor. Serve hot.


The Local Food Report: Uncle Phil's P'Town Beans

Two years ago, Peter Burgess was at the Truro Ag Fair. He was chatting with another farmer—networking, for him, is what the fair's all about—who told him he had a bean he just had to grow. Yeah, yeah, thought Peter. I hear that all the time.

Well. A few days later he was out in the garden. A truck pulled up. A man got out. And he reached his hand over the garden fence and opened up his palm. In it were dried beans—cherry red with white spots. These are a Provincetown heirloom, he explained.

Turns out, the beans came from Phil Alexander, a local gardener who took care of novelist John Dos Passos garden in Provincetown in the 1930s and 40s. Dos Passos had taken a trip to northern Spain, to Alava in the Basque region, and he'd brought these beans back. Over there they are a local specialty, celebrated, and Alexander planted them in Dos Passos' garden. They thrived. He shared them with a few other local families, and since the 40s, these families have been passing the dried seed down. Sal Del Deo grew them for Ciro & Sal's and Sal's Place, and Tony Pasquale uses them today at Terra Luna restaurant. 

Peter gave me some of the dried seed last year. I usually grow Masai Bush Haricot Vert—a small, thin Fedco variety. They're tasty. But these beans were something else altogether. First of all, they're a broad bean—flat, wide, and snappy. You think they're going to be tough, but raw they're sweet, and cooked they get almost buttery. They're delicious. There's no going back for me. 

I saved my seed this year, and next year I'll be planting them again. Peter calls them Uncle Phil's P'Town Beans, after Phil Alexander. If you'd like to get your hands on some, email Peter at tashmuit@gmail.com or send a self-addressed stamped envelope with $2 to P.O. Box 212, North Truro, MA 02652.

Oh! and if you happen to get your hands on some of the beans themselves—or any tender, buttery flat bean for that matter—I highly recommend cooking them like this.


Dear Sally,

It is hard to believe, but a year ago today, you were still on the inside. 

I'd had my first contraction by now—they would have started last night—and Daddy and I would be walking the loop from home to Bound Brook, down the beach to Duck Harbor, and back through the woods by the dike. We'd be excited, restless. I wouldn't realize it yet, but I'd be halfway through the fifty most exhausting and rewarding hours of my life. 

This year, the day is very much the same. It is sunny and crisp and warm, an Indian summer day. We took a walk this morning, just like we did last year. But today instead of laboring we are playing hide and seek and buying birthday presents and baking a cake. 

And while I wouldn't trade anything for last October 1, I'd much rather be here, today. Today you are a little person, a girl who babbles and crawls and whispers and waves. You are still the spitting image of your Daddy, and pretty soon I imagine you'll be walking. I can't wait.

In the meantime, here's a cake for tomorrow. Happy, happy birthday sweet girl.


I actually made another pumpkin spice cake before I settled on this one. The basics for this come from Heidi's Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread, but as you can see a lot has changed. Sometimes I glaze it, sometimes I don't, but for the tomorrow I'm using her glaze

2 cups spelt, whole wheat, or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grained sea salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups squash or pumpkin puree
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, sea salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and all spice. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, squash, heavy cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour into a greased Bundt cake pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the batter is just cooked through. It's better underdone than overdone.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.