Hi there. I hope things aren't too hectic at your house, getting ready to cook for five or ten or thirty. Ironically, Thanksgiving week is probably the week we do the least cooking here; we don't host, and the cousins that do host are so organized that they pack everyone home with a mountain of leftovers in tupperware. We spend the days afterward enjoying the glory that is The Mashed Potato-Cranberry Sauce-Gravy-Turkey sandwich. I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, though, in the lead up, we've been cooking more the past few days than we have in months. We took a trip to transition from the busy season to the off season, a trip that involved an absolutely worth it but bankrupting amount of eating out, and when we got back I found myself with an overwhelming desire to cook and eat in my own kitchen. I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon making sandwich bread and yogurt and Alice Water's excellent spinach lasagna, and finally a loaf of lemon poppyseed bread. Saturday we tried my friend Sarah's seared halibut with coriander and carrots, only with local haddock instead. Friday I made a bean soup from Nina Planck's excellent Real Food Cookbook, a very plain bean soup I didn't entirely expect to like, but that everyone in our house deemed excellent. Tonight if all goes according to plan we'll be having a seafood stew from Jerusalem. It feels good.

In other highlights, this weekend marks the official start of eggnog season. We'll be kicking it off with a nine-dozen-egg batch of Colonel Miles Cary's eggnog.

The Pilgrims starts tonight on PBS, and National Geographic's take, Saints & Strangers, encores Thanksgiving night.

From the New York Times: choose to be thankful; it will make you happy.

With Black Friday on the horizon, food for thought.

The Orleans Winter Farmers Market starts up December 5th and will run every first and third Saturday of the month through April at the middle school from nine to noon.


A big part of eating locally is being flexible when it comes to ingredients; the market didn't have spinach, but it did have Swiss chard. Here's a riff on Alice Water's original spinach lasagna from The Art of Simple Food. I've found so long as you keep the basic proportions the same, you can use just about any veggie.

1 box lasagna noodles, or an equivalent amount of fresh pasta
2 cups tomato sauce
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms
1 large bunch Swiss chard
1 cup ricotta cheese
salt to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1-2 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Meanwhile, start the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until thick, then cook another minute or two, whisking often, until just slightly golden. Add a small splash of milk; whisk until the sauce thickens and is free of lumps. Continue adding the milk, splash by splash, until the whole two cups have been absorbed into a smooth sauce. Turn the heat down to low, season with salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring often, until you're ready to put the lasagna together. Do not let the sauce cool or it will harden and thicken.

Add the lasagna noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Warm up a splash of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and cook for about thirty seconds, or until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give up their juices. Stir in the Swiss chard, season with salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until wilted. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

Mix the ricotta with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt to taste. Stir half of the Parmesan into the béchamel. Drain the pasta and immediately run under cold water to help prevent sticking.

Now assemble the lasagna. Grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of noodles. Next use about 1/3 of the ricotta and tomato sauce to make the next layer, followed by a layer of noodles and a layer of the mushroom and spinach mixture and the béchamel. Continue layering, finishing with a layer of noodles topped with tomato sauce, sliced mozzarella, and a sprinkle of the remaining Parmesan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbly throughout. Let the lasagna rest for at least 5 and preferable 20-30 minutes. Serve warm.


PERSIMMONS // the local food report

Last January, I gave a talk to the Village Garden Club of Dennis. In the midst of a snowstorm, we talked about landscaping with edible plants. I asked if anyone knew of any unusual food plants growing on the Cape, and at the end of the talk a woman named Susan sought me out. “There is a persimmon tree near my house,” she said.

Persimmons, if you’ve never run into them, are weird fruits. There are different varieties, and one is native to the southeastern United States, but I’ve never seen a tree this far north. I first saw a persimmon trees on my honeymoon in Italy. It was November, the leaves had fallen from the trees, and the fruits poked out from the ends of the bare branches like tiny orange jack-o-lanterns. We'd walked up from our little cottage in the olive grove to the town you see up there, and there were persimmon trees in almost every tidy yard. 

I learned that persimmons are a deep ruddy orange, and about the size of a large apple. The skin has the feel of a tomato, and the flesh inside an unripe one is terrible—astringent and bitter. But a ripe one is a different story altogether: soft and sweet and incredibly juicy.

I told Susan I’d like to find the tree. A week later, I got an email.

Dear Elspeth, she wrote. I needed to check the address of the house in Brewster. It is 1215 Route 6a, a white antique Cape.

I found a phone number for the art gallery next door. The owners said the people who had planted the tree had moved away, and that the current owners didn’t know much about it. They said there had originally been two persimmon trees, but one was killed in a winter storm. They wondered if the other one would make it. I promised to come visit in the spring.

Spring came and went, and summer got busy. Fall arrived, with another note from Susan: I’ve been checking out the persimmon tree as I drive by, she told me. It looks a little stressed, but I’m seeing flashes of orange.

The next Saturday, I drove up Cape. Susan met me at the tree.

She told me she recognized the persimmon from memory when I asked about unusual fruits. She said it reminded her of something in her childhood in New Jersey.

"So I went back to my mom and my aunt, and they said yes indeed my great aunt, great great aunt Neily, Cornelia Lambertson had persimmon trees. They would talk about them being very bitter if you picked them before the first frost, and that’s when they needed to be picked. And they would just stop on their way home from school, and go into the orchard there and pick the persimmons and eat them. They liked 'em."

Not everybody does. When I mentioned to my editor Viki that I was tracking down a persimmon tree, she screwed up her face. But the people who love persimmons are devoted to them. One cookbook author goes so far as to say that if you’ve never sunk a spoon into a soft, oozing persimmon, you are truly missing one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I tried to track down the original homeowners who had planted the Brewster persimmon tree. Susan told me they were from India, and that they'd put in the garden when they started an acupuncture practice and moved into town. Like the gallery owners, Susan said the woman and her husband sold the house a few years ago and moved to Florida, and I found a listing for them in Gainsville. But when I called the number, another woman answered, and said the couple had moved away. She didn’t have a forwarding address, and I haven’t been able to locate them.

I keep wondering wondering why this couple would have planted a persimmon tree so far north. Maybe it reminded her of home, or maybe it was planted for its medicinal uses. The leaves are good for everything from teas to poultices, and the fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals. Or maybe it was simply planted for a love of the flavor, for the experience of sinking into a sumptuous, delicate fruit on a chilly fall day.

I may never know. But for now I’m content with the knowledge that there’s a chance for persimmons here, so far out into the chilly sea.

I don't know anything about cooking with persimmons. But this bresaola-wrapped persimmon with arugula looks wonderful, and persimmon cranberry sauce would be a nice twist on tradition for Thanksgiving!

Also, if you like the idea of trying to plant your own persimmon tree, you can learn more about the different varieties and what they need over here.


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