Those are stickies. My grandmother taught my mom to make them, and my mom taught me and my sister when we were little, and now my mom is teaching Sally. There isn't much to making stickies—they're just leftover pie crust rolled out into tiny circles and filled with homemade jam. Usually we use strawberry jam, because we make so much of it every June, but I've made stickies with blueberry, rhubarb, and even lemon curd. The little pastries are homey and old-fashioned, and they're delicious.


You can see the process here pretty clearly: you take a little piece of leftover pie crust dough—it doesn't have to be more than a scrap, really—and roll it out. Then you grab a glass and cut the dough into circles. You spoon a little bit of jam onto one half of each little circle, leaving some space around the sides, then fold the other half over the jam and use a fork to press the edges. You use a knife to cut a few little steam slots on top, just like you would for pie, bake them for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and you're finished.

When we made these, I was photographing while my mom and Sally were working, and Sally told us several things she wanted to make sure were in the story. First of all, she recommends licking the jam off the spoon. Also, a little jam might squeeze out of your sticky, and she wants you to know that's ok. And my mom wants to add that if you're after something a little less sweet, you can also fill the stickies with grated cheese, although she didn't think of that until she was a grown-up. 

I think that's all there is to know about stickies. Happy almost April, friends.


MUSHROOM VARIETIES // the local food report

I am writing this on Wednesday. It is noontime; we have just finished a lunch of boiled lobster and granny smith apples. Outside the storm is raging. But we haven't lost power yet, the woodstove is keeping the cold out, and in my imagination, I'm spending the afternoon in the warm, foggy greenhouse of the mushroom farm. It's nice there.

The variety you see up there is a small shiitake, fruiting on a block made out of wood chips. Shiitake is one of the twenty-two varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year, and it's one of the best known. They also grow a jumbo shiitake, which has caps about three to four inches in diameter. Shiitakes, like many of the varieties the farm grows, are considered both edible and medicinal, and are full of all kinds of surprising health benefits. For instance, did you know that shiitakes are a great source of iron and B vitamins? 

Below are descriptions of a few of the other varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year. Different varieties are available at different times of year, but they can all be grown either inside the greenhouse following the rise and fall of temperatures over the seasons or outside during the warmer months. The company was started on Nantucket and recently moved to Chatham, so we're lucky to have a new local source of mushrooms! The farm will be participating in farmers' markets all over the Cape this season, including Wellfleet. 

ENOKI: This has been called an "indispensable ingredient" in traditional Japanese cooking. It's a bunched pale ivory mushroom with very long, thin stems and small round caps. It's often used in soups, stir-fries, and sometimes salads. The Japanese love it in a winter dish called nabemono, which is made of other veggies and proteins (meat and seafood) in a warm broth.

REISHI: Reishi is one of the oldest known medicinal mushrooms. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Amongst other things it's said to fight cancer, tumors, and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. They are most commonly used in soups and to make a savory health brew called mushroom tea.

WHITE ELM: These pretty flat white mushrooms are great for all kinds of things. One recipe in particular that I found that sounds absolutely delicious is this focaccia with white elm mushrooms and rosemary (scroll down!). 

LION'S MANE: You have to click on the link below if only to see the photos. This mushroom is wild looking. It's covered in long, white filaments that hang down kind of like a shaggy dog, or cheerleading pom-poms, or...a lion's mane! This article says it tastes similar to lobster or shrimp, and that it's best caramelized in olive oil, deglazed with sake, and finished with butter to taste. Yum!

OYSTER MUSHROOMS (WHITE, KING, GOLDEN, PINK, BROWN): Oyster mushrooms are considered a delicacy in many countries. They're great in soups, stuffed, in stir-fries, and are sometimes made into a sauce. You want to eat oyster mushrooms young as they get tougher as they age. 

NAMEKO: This small, amber brown mushroom has a somewhat slimy coating. It's very popular in Japan and has all kinds of culinary uses, including as an ingredient in miso soup. Americans are often scared off by the slime-factor, but farm manager Troy Janusz says he thinks it's delicious.

They're also growing brick top, black poplar, shimeji, chicken of the woods, maitake, turkey tail (check out the photo!), cauliflower, wine caps, nebrodensis, and hypholoma capnoides. It's a mouthful, in every sense. 

One of Wesley's favorite things to make with mushrooms is something he calls mushroom tea—he uses dried mushrooms known for their medicinal properties and warms them up on low in a crockpot with water. He says you don't want to boil it because this will take away some of the beneficial properties, but just sip it warm like you would chicken broth. 

If anyone's interested in a full list of mushroom varieties with descriptions or the farm's production schedule, shoot me an email and I'll send them along. 


MUSHROOM FARMING // the local food report

Most farms operate on a familiar narrative: plant a seed, give it water and sunshine and nutrients, harvest a crop. As I recently learned, mushroom farming is a little more complicated. It has its own language—mycelium and hypha and primordia being key players. Once you speak it, it's not too tricky, but I had to haul out a dictionary at the beginning. 

The farm I visited was Nantucket Mushrooms in Chatham, a state of the art modern fungi farm recently relocated from the island. Wesley Price, the business manager and a passionate mycologist, and Troy Janusz, the farm manager, showed me around. The pictures you see up there are of one of the two 30 by 100 foot greenhouses and a big, beautiful king oyster mushroom.

Basically, the mushroom reproduction process works like this: you produce mycelium in a sterile lab. You can do this either using spores or tissue culture, and the difference between the two processes is essentially comparable to the difference between making a baby and making a clone. What you decide to do depends on what you're going for. 

Once you have mycelium—the vegetative part of a fungus made up of hyphae—you have to innoculate it into a growing medium. For two species—white and brown oyster mushrooms—the farm uses pasteurized straw—but for the majority it uses blocks made out of wood chips. The blocks are wrapped in plastic and kept in the greenhouse, where a fog machine adds plenty of humidity. Depending on the variety of mushrooms growing, the top of the bags are opened to encourage growth upward, or slits are cut in the sides of the bags to allow mushrooms to grow out horizontally. Each block can be fruited between three and five times depending on the species of mushroom growing, and then the process starts over. 

It's a pretty fascinating and technical process. 

The exciting news for eaters is that the farm grows twenty-two species of edible and medicinal mushrooms, and as farmers' markets open up in the next few months the mushrooms will be available at many different markets all over the Cape. Next week's Local Food Report will focus on all the different varieties they're growing...so stay tuned!


VIBRIO // the local food report

Oysters are big business on Cape Cod. Since 2005, oyster production in Massachusetts has grown by almost 300 percent. This year, somewhere between 15 and 20 million oysters are expected to be grown here. Mostly, we eat them raw, on the half shell. (Caviar and sour cream don't hurt.) And because of our tourism season on the Cape, we do a lot of this eating during the summer months.

In recent years, though, there's been an increase in the number of reported gastrointestinal illnesses linked to eating raw oysters. It isn't clear if this represents an actual increase in the number of people getting sick—for one thing, health officials estimate that for every reported case of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, or Vp, the culprit behind these illnesses—142 cases go unreported. For another, when almost 3 times as many oysters are being consumed, it's not surprising the number of people getting sick would increase accordingly. Furthermore, doctors are more aware of Vp, so they're testing for it more. 

But the rise has prompted state, federal, and local parties to start studying Vp a little more carefully. While we've known about the family of bacteria called vibrio for a while, we actually don't know all that much about our local species. There are other vibrios in other parts of the world—Vibrio vulnificus makes people much sicker and is common in warm saltwater climates, and Vibrio cholerae is the culprit behind cholera and is spread through contaminated drinking water. Vp is found in saltwater, and while it's possible to get infected with the bacteria from simply swimming with a cut, it's very unlikely. The vast majority of cases are associated with eating raw seafood, and roughly 70 percent occur between May and October, in the warmer months. High levels of bacteria are linked to warmer weather—studies show that the parts per million double every 15 minutes at air temperatures above roughly 70-75 degrees. People who ingest Vp are more likely to become ill if they have a compromised immune system.

Beyond this, we don't know all that much about Vp. We know that there are different strains of Vp, but we don't know if they all make you sick, or if only some of them do. The FDA recently hosted its biannual shellfish sanitation conference in Texas, and one major decision that came out of it was to put more resources toward studying the bacteria. 

In the meantime, because of the increase in the number of reported Vp cases in the past few years, last year the state changed the regulations for how long oysters can be out of the water between harvesting and icing, and this spring they are expected to come out with an updated Vp control plan for the summer season. I'll keep you posted once the new regulations come out.

And just to put the odds in perspective: it's still much less risky to eat a raw oyster from local waters than it is to get in a car



Winter is loosening its grip, folks! We still have a foot of snow in our yard, but the sun is higher and stronger, the chickadees are giving their spring phoebe call, and best of all is what you see here: the sap is running!

I wish I could say that this photo was taken on our property, but it wasn't. I took it across the bay, where our neighbor Brad Babson has a beautiful stand of sugar maples. He taps about 45 trees every spring, and his sister, who lives across town, taps another 11. Brad boils down the sap in the little sugarhouse he built, firing the evaporator with wood collected from his own property, and bottles the syrup in quart and pint jars. It's a small-scale operation—some commercial sugarmakers have as many as 60,000 taps—but it nets him enough to provide family and a few friends with maple syrup every Christmas. Last year was his best yield ever: 7 gallons.

A typical sugaring season lasts about 6 weeks. The syrup made from the first run of sap is the lightest in color and is considered the "fancy" grade. As the sap continues to run, it picks up more minerals from the roots, and the syrup gets darker. Every year Brad's wife sets aside a small bottle of syrup from each sap run; you can see the gradations in color in the photo below.

Brad tapped his trees last Thursday—March 6—and hopes to be busy in his sugarhouse for at least another month. He'll have the coffee pot on too, and for lunch he'll be making maple-steamed hotdogs on top of the evaporator. Family and friends will join him, sitting outside the sugarhouse in the sun on warm days and huddling around the evaporator on chilly days. He loves the entire operation. "Sugaring is what makes March worthwhile," he says.

Sunday, March 23, will be Maine Maple Sunday. Sugarmakers will also be celebrating the season in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We plan to celebrate right here in our kitchen and at our dining room table. Oatmeal pancakes and homemade maple ice cream have long been two of our favorite ways to use maple syrup, and Anna recently turned us on to a great maple glaze for salmon. Really, when it comes to maple syrup, the possibilities are endless.


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