Monday, July 28, 2008

Plethora Again

This is the time of year we’ve been waiting for... the first field tomatoes are coming in, there are beans, and the beginnings of peppers, eggplant soon, all sorts of zucchini and summer squash. And corn – both Grabowskys and Browns will have trucks full of corn Saturday! The old standbys, such as beets, are better than ever... This is summer as we think of it in February.” Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm.

...that first ripe tomato...

A million times I’ve written this, in various permutations, over the years: That first ripe tomato? Eat it in the garden, while it’s plumply sun-hot and the green scent of tomato vine curls to your nose. Perhaps you’ve carried along a shaker of salt. Use it. But first you must heed the advice of our artist friend – feel it first, heft it in the curve of your palm, notice its full-to-bursting skin and the way it glints its different shades of red in the light.

...the question of pasta...

But the morning after that first garden-fresh, ripe and juicy tomato, make the tomato sauce. Go out into your dew-wet but already simmering garden and pick several tomatoes – half a dozen small ones – and a good handful of basil leaves. Pull a bulb of garlic and knock the dirt off it. In the kitchen cut up the tomatoes into a pretty bowl. Tear the basil leaves over them, smash two or three cloves of garlic – or more, to taste – and add them to the mix. Then, as Elizabeth Romer suggests, for this is her recipe called Spaghetti al Salsa di Pomodoro Crudo, from her book The Tuscan Year – take “one teacup of the best green olive oil, no other sort of oil can be used” and pour it over and toss the whole mixture together. Let that bowl sit, covered, in a cool place if you can find one, but not in the refrigerator, to let the peppery flavor of the good oil and basil, the sweet/tart ones of the tomatoes and the sharp and unmistakable garlic flavors marry all day, to transcend each individual taste into an amalgam of them all. And when you’re ready to eat later on that evening, cook some spaghetti al dente and drain it well and pour the hot pasta into the sauce, which has been salted, and toss together. Top each serving with coarsely ground pepper. Parmesan? Only if you must.

This is, of course, a wonderfully leisurely kind of recipe, technique, celebration, meant for a simple hot mid-summer’s day when the tomatoes are ripe and the basil is yipping in the dooryard, and perhaps a couple of friends will stop by for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Leave it to me to make it difficult by planning it too early, then racing all over hell and gone trying to gather really fresh ingredients – for that is the beauty of it, too, the simply peak and simmering gift of food from your garden or your farmer’s. It’s paradisiacal, actually, in its essence.

I might make it once a summer, just as I might make a thought from my old compatriot, John Thorne, whose Simple Cooking is one of the best foodletters, and longest running, in existence, once a winter. That thought would be a midnight snack of pasta topped with a fried egg. I’m speaking from memory, here, and there might be more to it – like crumbled cooked side-pork or pork belly on top of it (yummmmm!), or a chopped parsley sprinkle – but there needn’t be anything more to it than a fried egg slid onto a bowl of hot pasta, mixed up, salted and peppered, and you’re good to go. Of course I would serve it for Sunday supper, never at midnight or I might’s well forget sleep for that night, at least.

Why only once a year for either of these two intriguing and delicious dishes? Well, I don’t see the point of pasta. It’s not that I don’t like it, although it’s not my favorite thing in the world, but you could spread cream and anchovies and tomatoes and garlic and olive oil on a clean kitchen sponge and it would probably have about as much taste as pasta. That’s what it is, a cheap way of spreading a few hard-won ingredients over many plates. A filler.

Well, at least that’s what I think. What does Larousse Gastronomique say about it? “A dough made from durum-wheat semolina, water, and often eggs. Pasta is shaped in various ways and sometimes flavoured... Marco Polo introduced pasta into Italy from China...” Or at least it had always been thought to be true, but it can also be traced to Sicily in the middle ages “when the island was under Arab domination.” Monsieur Gastronomique also points out that different shapes of pasta, made with different grades of flours, make a difference not only to texture but to taste, as well. How much does the tender but crisp bite of Wendy Jackson’s Tagliatelle at the Red Brick Grill contribute to our perception of its deliciosity? What about my favorite (besides Wendy’s tagliatelle), which is the tiny little hand-twisted Trofie that I find at the Co-op? No doubt the thickness of those little bits, and the fact that it’s air-dried in the sweet air of the mountainous Abruzzo region of Italy, after it’s shaped by the delicious little hands of Italian ladies all sitting together in a flowery meadow (my imagination runs away with me), has something to do with making it so sumptuous.

Okay, so it can be delicious, but the fact remains that it’s flour. It’s all flour, and it’s mostly over-refined white flour that not even mice want to get into because it’s got no nutrients; and which is blamed in large part for the diseases of the western diet. Why, again? Well because when we snuff it up it’s like a drug, that super-refined carbohydrate, and shoves our blood sugar sky high, and our insulin has to get up from the table and shoot up and drag it back down again, and pretty soon our insulin gets tired of doing that, and then all hell breaks loose. At least that’s the way I understand it. A little here and a little there ain’t gonna kill you, but some people eat this stuff every day of their lives.

But then another deeply beloved staple of our diet is all flour, too, mostly white flour, and that would be... bread! And what could be more delicious to eat than good bread, or more satisfying to make, or to buy from our beloved favorite bakers? Taking pot-shots at bread is akin to kicking a puppy.

And that reminds me that another wonderful thing to do with that third tomato is to make a sloppy tomato sandwich, with good white bread slathered with mayo and enclosing slices of a tomato that still holds the heat from the garden. Maybe a few arugula leaves before clapping the top slice of bread upon the whole.

And, as my heroine, of food the doyenne, the great Julia Child – who ate her share of pasta and especially bread, and a great deal of fat, both olive and animal, and died at the age of 91 – might say, and most assuredly did say, “Bon Appetit!”

...odds and gifts...

My young friends Cyrus and Kristin traveled home to Burlington for their wedding from Fort Collins, Colorado, where they live, and though we had gotten an invitation we did not get a list of stores and websites where we might buy their selected gifts. I was grateful for that – is there anything more distasteful about modern weddings? – and so had to wrack my brain for a suitable gift. For my last wedding gift I carefully chose a beautiful casserole hand-thrown by my friend and neighbor, Carl Buffum, wrapped it well, but not, as you might surmise, well enough, and sent it down south where it arrived in shards. So fragile was out. Also, it seemed almost a thoughtless act to give them something they’d have to pack and send home, or carry home on the plane. So I googled “Co-op Fort Collins Colorado” and gave them a membership to their co-op and a gift certificate. I might – or not – have given a more thrilling gift, but they seemed to be genuinely tickled with it. Turns out they can walk to the Co-op from their house, and do, but had not yet become members.

For my friend Kathi’s November birthday last year I wrapped up a gigantic turnip in sheets of paper that, when smoothed, were typed over with turnip recipes – because Kathi had never cooked a turnip. And she should, you know? Okay. All right. It was a joke. But she loved it! You have to know your friends.

For a gift for a foodie closer by, I noticed all kinds of suitable things at the Farmers’ Market Saturday.

Start with a Garlic Grater and Dipping Sauce Bowl from Pizzazz Pottery. This is a shallow 4 inch flat bowl with ridges on the bottom over which you rub a clove or two of garlic. It renders them juicy and squashed. Then you pour in some good olive oil, perhaps some coarse-ground pepper, maybe some grated parm, all for dipping some of that good bread you just bought, or made. I cherish mine, and use it, literally, constantly.

You can build on that – along with the garlic bowl, add a couple of plump heads of garlic, and then maybe a nice bottle of olive oil – which is not, so far, available at the Farmers’ Market, though there are rumors and expectations.

A bottle of balsamic vinegar, aged by the people at Gordon’s Pond in Shrewsbury, who also make a great sesame dressing and a marinara to die for, would go nicely in this package, as would a loaf of Bear Mountain Bread if the event was to happen in the next few days. If it were that very day, then throw in some rich and delicious hard-boiled quail eggs the package – you can get them from Nancy at the Tweed Valley Farm Mushroom stand. She hard boils the little things herself, and peels them for you!! No easy chore. This Saturday, she tells me, she will be selling quail, already dressed. We’ve been waiting for that!

A bottle of Montcalm Lacrescent wine, a nicely balanced white “with delightful citrus-lime character with hints of pineapple and peach” bottled by Champlain Valley Vineyards in Benson would be very much appreciated. You serve this icy cold and it is glorious!

Maya Zelkin occasionally shows up with her pottery at the FM, and I happen to know, having traveled up to her
studio in
Shrewsbury to get mine, that she has several Kimchi pots just thrown and kilned. They’re gorgeous, and so utilitarian, my favorite combination. A nice gift for someone very special. And if you’re very lucky you might get to say hello to Manolo.

That’s all the gifts I’ve got time for now but, as you can see, the Farmers’ Market is a good place to start gift shopping.

On August 6, Rural Vermont will host one of their famous Ice Cream Socials – Rutland finally made it!! – in the grassy space beside the Co-op on Wales Street, starting at 6:30PM. Rain space will be in the Winter Farmers’ Market in the back of the Co-op. So come and lick a cone made of Farm Fresh Cream, meet some of the fine people from Rural Vermont and the Co-op, and your friends and neighbors. It’s Leo’s birthday, so be sure to say HB2U!

...slow food...

“For dinner I had a pork chop from the pigs I raised, sautéed with a little mustard, and some crushed fresh sour cherries added when the chop was turned over. Oh man. Got to go pick more cherries for sure.”... My friend and pork supplier, Joyce Sabo.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Berry Nice Day

...making the black cap feel at home...

There’s nothing like a seed pooped out of the sky by a bird, landing and taking hold in your otherwise, of course, pristine garden, and you, sometime in the future, reaching down to pull its shoot but, at the last minute and with uncharacteristic perspicacity, deciding to let it live, to bring the subject of food down to its most intriguing and endearing and just-the-way-it-should-be level: It is in our nature to eat, and in nature’s to feed us.

And there’s no pleasanter way to get back to nature than if that seed came from a black-cap – the wild black raspberry, than which nothing could be more sublime – and will produce more of those same black-caps every year for your own delectation.

Ah, blackcaps – winy things you can find alongside the road now, in any hedgerow, along streams, hidden behind your fuel tank, reaching up from between the boards of the deck. But, look at it crosseyed, try to manipulate it in any way, and the damned thing will shrivel up and die. It may have been said before, but the ways of nature are multitudinous and mysterious, often seemingly contrary, and endlessly fascinating. Michael Pollan said something to that effect, I think, when he talked about being a writer who likes to write “about the messy places where the human world and the natural world intersect,” and there’s nothing that belongs so naturally to one of those “messy places,” as a wild black raspberry.

Mine came to root under a pine tree, in thus slightly sour ground and dappled shade, near the edge of the garden, very near the sidewalk. I was perfectly willing, nay positively eager, to share my space with it, even allow it the habits that are native to it, but it could not go completely wild, like a ne-er do well uncle you benefit with few nights on the couch while he dries out and makes peace with your aunt. Does the man never run out of socks, what with stuffing them between the cushions and tossing them behind the couch? Does he not know you can smell the cigarette smoke on the draperies, find the bottles hidden behind the trash can?

No! a few manners would have to be instilled, but it would take all the tact I could summon, because, on the other hand, it is like a two year old child who wants to dress itself – “I do it, Momma!” I managed to pretend obliviousness to my black-cap bush even as I planted two fenceposts and strung a trellis of wire between them. Don’t even THINK, was my unspoken attitude, that this has anything at all to do with you! I waited until fall, when its leaves had fallen and its stems dried up and wizened, to gingerly thread them amongst the wires. While I was at it I snipped off all the old, dead wood. It was too weak and sleepy to protest. This all made it easier to weed the goutweed from below it the next spring, but otherwise, except for picking the berries on and around the 4th of July for a couple of weeks, I just let it be.

So far, knock on wood, it seems happy, and obliges, in its contentment, to give me an increasing number of berries every year, as more canes flourish, until this year it has taken up a considerable amount of time – we have evolved from several brief daily visits to pop some berries into our mouths, to having quarts of them sitting on the counter in need of an ice cream to be made into or a galette of leftover pizza dough on which to be piled, along with gobs of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar and a little cream, and baked on a slow grill on a hot evening when nobody wants to turn on the oven.

... an odd conversation with mrs. bomblatt...

That one was rather spectacular, said my neighbor and dear friend, Mrs. Bomblatt. I spied her picking her own blackcaps at the back of her yard, wearing the old satin slip that she likes to garden in, and looking absolutely radiant. Sweat trickled out of her stunning fluff of snowy white hair down one high brown cheekbone, and she put the back of one wrist languidly up to wipe it off. The bees hummed and the sun turned the air to metal, and Mrs. Bomblatt seemed the most contented thing in the world. “My goodness,” she said, smiling, “Won’t you join me in my endeavor?” She nodded at the canes. So I did, and became increasingly damp and at peace, and when her basket was full she came willingly to taste my odd creation. When I asked her what she would make of her own berries she said, “Perhaps a flummery.”

Or a grunt, I suggested.

“Or perhaps a slump,” she added, “or a pie or a crumble or a crisp...”

Or a buckle, I said, stretching it.

“Brown Betty,” she insisted, “or pandowdie.”

How about a trifle, I urged.

“Bread pudding,” she countered, and then, “No! Summer pudding. Have you ever made summer pudding?”

I said that I hadn’t, and she told me how to make it: You completely line a one quart bowl with slices of firm-textured bread and fill that with cooked sweetened fruit, reserving most of the juice. Cover the top of the fruit with more bread, make it all neat and juicetight, cover with a plate that will fit inside the bowl, weight that with a can or two, or a brick, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve it, you unmold it onto a platter, spoon those reserved fruit juices over any bread that remains white, cut it into wedges and serve it cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

I'll bet that would be good made with some kind of honey/oatmeal or other whole grained bread, said I.

“I think it would be good with this bread,” said Mrs. Bomblatt, picking up the remaining crust of her piece of galette and crunching away on it noisily.

I like the idea of smushing bread, and told her so. I like a butter and cheese sandwich that I stand on with my palms, so that the bread and the butter and the cheese marry, and each bite is a savory cookie. She nodded delightedly and broke in, “There is that time that MFK Fisher writes of a sandwich made of hollowing out a baguette and slathering it with butter and stuffing it with ham and dolloping it with mustard, then sitting on it on a train trip,” said my friend. “Apparently the sitting on it is necessary,” she added.

I know exactly what you mean, I exclaimed, and jumped up to get the book, and read to her, ‘One of the best of our sitters... da da da... was... da da da ... built like a blade of grass during those useful and fargone years, but with a curiously potent electricity between his little beam and the loaf, almost like infrared cookery. He could make the noble sandwich flat without squirming on it, and melt the butter and marry it to the mustard and the crisp shattered crusts, better than anybody.’ (The book is With Bold Knife and Fork by MFK Fisher;Perigee)

“Disgusting,” said Mrs. Bomblatt with real pleasure.

Do you remember, I asked, that scene in “the Jewel in the Crown”, where the girl meets her father very early in the morning to go horseback riding? And he brings bacon sandwiches – white bread, well-buttered, and thick crackly slices of bacon? I’ve always thought that was one of the nicest things a father could do for a daughter.

“Or anyone could do for anyone,” she amended. “I think that one was smushed, too, simply by the carrying of it, a man’s awkwardness in making, and tenderness in giving, that gift.”

Yes, I agreed. At least I assumed so, and I said that that one of the sweetest things about that scene, at least in my imagination, one that is never mentioned, is the idea of the father getting up much earlier in order to fry bacon first thing, just before dawn. The sandwiches were warm, I said, and the waxed paper was grease soaked.

Agreeing, Mrs. Bomblatt rose to leave, and as she did, I asked her again what she would make of her berries. “I think I’ll make some ice cream for my grandkids,” she said, and carried her berries home with her.

It was only later that I realized that Mrs. Bomblatt did not have grandchildren! What a very strange woman, I thought, and completely admirable. raspberry ice cream...

But there was yet another quart of black caps on my counter now. Perhaps I would make some ice cream for MY grandchildren, but then it struck me that I, too, have none.

But ice cream did sound good. And easy, too. If I was not mistaken, the cylinder from my old red Donvier ice cream maker was still chilling in the freezer downstairs, if I had not gotten rid of it in some misbegotten yard sale. Nope, there it was! I beat one egg with 1/3 cup of sugar and a driblet of vanilla, and stirred that with 1 cup of heavy yellow cream, and dumped the scant quart of berries into that mixture and beat it slowly for a moment in order to break up the berries.

This was good enough to eat itself, I thought. But no, once the berries have plopped into your palm from the cane, managed to bypass your mouth, got into the pail, and when you’ve satisfied your urge for a bowl of them touched with cream and perhaps a grit of sugar, you might as well freeze the whole thing. I turned that purple mix into the frozen cylinder and placed the top on the contraption and turned it a few turns several times over the course of a half an hour, and I had soft serve ice cream. I scooped that out into a small bowl and pressed it down and froze it some more.

It’s absolutely amazing what you stand to gain when you’re receptive to what nature has to offer. Ice cream from the seed from the bird in the sky. It reminds me of the coffee that’s called Kopi Luwak, said to be the most expensive of coffees, made of perfectly ripe coffee berries. Coffee snobs once drank it because it was expensive, but what apparently gives it its exquisite taste is that a small animal – perhaps named a Kopi, a type of civet cat – swallows those coffee cherries whole and its digestive tract does a gustatory number on them and when they are excreted – whole – the excretions are rummaged through for the berries, the cherries are cleaned up and sold for an immense amount of change. I do wonder, though, how delicious the coffee would have to be if drinkers of it, themselves, had to rummage through a civet’s latrine for them.

Later that mellow night of a berry nice day, I sat on the porch savoring a bit of black raspberry ice cream and suddenly knew that Mrs. Bomblatt was doing the same thing on her own porch. And I thought, as she might have thought, Oh well, who needs grandchildren, anyway!

Summer Fruit: Things Berry Berry Cherry...

(You will find parts of the following folded into some of my columns. It was written in July of 1995, and published in Cook/Speak, A Seasonal Narrative with Recipes, my subscription newsletter, now no longer being published.)

Once the berries have plopped into your palm from the cane, managed to bypass your mouth, got into the pail, and, once home, satisfied your urge for a bowl of them touched with cream and perhaps a grit of sugar, your mind might wander among these old-fashioned terms, ones you've wondered about before. Here's an attempt at explanation: A Flummery is a generic term for simple, starch-thickened fruit puddings, the concept for which has existed at least since Medieval times. Cousins to syllabubs and creams, and the au courant Fruit Soups, they were thickened with oatmeal, flour, ground almonds, or hart's horn or isinglass which later segued to cornstarch or gelatin.

A Cobbler is fruit baked with a crust, most of them with only a top crust of individual biscuits which, when baked, give the pan the uneven appearance of cobblestones. Pastry or bread dough are often used instead, and some have a bottom crust as well. Sometimes these are inverted after baking, so the crust is down and the fruit on top, and then they might be called Plate Cakes.

Slumps and Grunts resemble cobblers, but are cooked on top of the stove, preferably in a cast-iron skillet. The biscuit dough should be wetter than that used for cobblers, and the finished product resembles dumplings rather than biscuits. Slump is what it does, and grunt is what it sounds like when it's cooking.

A Crisp is fruit topped with a rubbed mixture of rolled oats or flour, butter, brown sugar, suitable spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon, and sometimes nuts, then baked. Sometimes bread, cookie, graham cracker, or stale cake crumbs are substituted for the oatmeal or flour. When the crumbs and fruit are layered it becomes a Brown Betty which, when made with bread crumbs, has been used as a stuffing for fowl. Made in an appropriate, savory manner I can see it as a bed for certain sausages such as duck or perhaps venison. A Crumble is the English Equivalent of a Crisp.

A Buckle is made of berries folded into or scattered over a yellow cake batter, topped with crumbs and baked. Pandowdies consist of sliced fruit topped with a pastry crust that is cut up and pressed back into the fruit for the final few minutes of baking. Early versions used bread dough as the crust. The term "dowdying" may refer to the process of breaking up the dough.

Fruit Roll: Make a sheet cake very thin, as for a jelly roll (see Genoise recipe), then spread with appropriate jam, whip a lot of heavy cream, fold in sweetened berries and spread over the cake. Roll up. Make a matching berry sauce and serve each slice with the sauce and another dollop of whipping cream. Another Fruit Roll is made by rolling out biscuit dough, lining a pan with it with enough overlap to fold over the top, fill with berries, then pull up the sides into an almost closed pouch.

To make a trifling Trifle, fold together cubes of sponge or angel food cake, whipped cream and fruit and mound in a footed bowl. Or line the bowl with thin slices of cake and fill with the whipped cream and fruit. A cooled custard or pastry cream could be poured over.


  • 4 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (2.62 ounces) unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup (2.62 ounces) cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter, add vanilla and set aside. Butter a half-sheet pan, line with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper, set aside. In a large bowl (the metal bowl from a stand mixer works well) whisk eggs with sugar, set over (not in) simmering water and whisk desultorily until the eggs and sugar are very warm to a probing finger, then beat on high speed for 5 minutes or until volume has tripled. Meanwhile, sift or whisk together the flour and cornstarch. Take a large balloon whisk and whisk approximately a cup of the beaten eggs into the butter, then scrape back into the larger portion of eggs and fold in with the whisk. Fold in half the flour mixture, then the other half. Spread delicately into the prepared pan and bake until sides pull away from the pan, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack or, for a roll, invert onto a towel sprinkled with confectioners sugar and roll up tightly and allow to cool in the towel on a wire rack.

The Trifle is similar to a Summer Pudding, which is made by completely lining a 1 quart bowl with slices of firm-textured bread, filling with cooked sweetened fruit, reserving most of the juice. Cover the top of the fruit with more bread, make it all neat and juicetight, cover with a plate that will fit inside the bowl, weight that with a can or two and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, unmold onto a platter, spoon fruit juices over any bread that remains white, cut into wedges and serve cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I'll bet this would be good made with some kind of honey/oatmeal or other whole grained bread.

In turn, this is related to Berry Bread Pudding, of substantial French bread sliced and soaked in a custard mixture of 2 eggs, two yolks, two cups whole milk, half a cup of sugar, a bit of vanilla and of salt, all whisked (not whipped) together, the bread layered in a baking pan, sprinkled with berries and sugar, another layer of soaked bread, then the custard mixture over all and baked in a slow oven (so as not to curdle the eggs).

Fruit Sauces are often made by simmering half the berries with an appropriate amount of sugar (to taste) and perhaps a bit of complimentary liqueur, thickening or not with a bit of cornstarch, and then letting it cool before folding in the reserved whole berries. These can be served with meats as well as with ice cream or over cakes.

Fruit Compotes are a mixture of fruits, sweetened or not, liquored or not, in a fanciful container (hollowed out melon) or not. Make a wine syrup, if you like, simmering together a sweet dessert wine or white wine and sugar, with a vanilla bean added, perhaps some ginger, and sprinkle over the fruit. Clafouti is a cross between an omelet, a crepe, a custardy pancake and a popover, traditionally a preparation of unpitted sour cherries, in which the cherries are placed in a buttered baking pan, and the crepe-like batter poured over and baked. The finished product is sprinkled with sugar, and it is similar to a large popover. Or, for that luscious thing, just make a Popover batter and put it all in a well-buttered glass pan, sprinkle with berries and bake in a hot oven, 475 degrees for fifty minutes or so, until puffed, and sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Waffles can be served with a jam or jelly, or a fruit sauce. Pancakes can, of course, be sprinkled with small fruits while cooking or on the plate, and Crepes may be served with a fruit filling and berry sauce.. Muffins can be filled with fruit and almost always are, particularly the little, low-bush blueberry.

Conserves incorporate fruits, nuts and perhaps a liqueur, as well as spices, cooked down into a preserve. The following is positively exciting.

Hoppin' John's Fresh Peach and Coconut Chutney

  • 5 pounds peaches, peeled and pitted
  • 5 pounds onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 coconuts (1 to 1 1/2 pounds meat) removed from the shell, pared and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 1/4 pounds sugar (7 1/2 cups)
  • 5 jalapeno peppers, fresh, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 pound (4 inches) ginger, peeled and grated or chopped
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 1 cup dark, mellow rum (optional)

Sterilize 5 pint canning jars and lids. Crush the peaches with your hands. Put all the ingredients except the rum into a preserving kettle, bring to a boil and keep at a low boil or a fast simmer until the onions are transparent and the desired consistency is reached. It will thicken as it cools, and John likes it watery so to be used as a poaching liquid, but it can be thinned down. Stir in the rum and pack into sterilized jars, then seal.

and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. You can simmer shrimp in it, roast pork or chicken in it, put it over cream cheese or eat it plain. I served it once with slices of sweet bread and vanilla ice cream and it was memorable. John does not use rum.

Serve crushed berries over: Polenta or corn meal mush, semolina, hot rice, angel food or sponge cake, French toast, pancakes or waffles. Top berries with pastry cream, custard, whole milk, heavy cream, crème fraiche, etcetera. To make a fresh berry Gratin, spread 2 quarts berries in a shallow pan. Mix 2 cups sour cream, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind and 1 teaspoon lemon juice, spread evenly over the berries, sprinkle with another 1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar and run under the broiler until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 4 minutes, and then serve at once. This is from Jasper White's Cooking from New England.

Pies can be baked or made into crescents and fried, the juices slightly thickened with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or tapioca flour to 5 or 6 cups of berries or peaches. Or the berries can be cooked, as in Sauces and spooned over cream cheese filling or custard. Pies can be one-crusted, appliqued with pastry cut-outs, woven, or simply rolled out into a big round, the berry mixture mounded on, the sides drawn up like an old-fashioned pouch. Leave a vent in the middle of the pie and five minutes before finished baking pour in heavy cream.

Cordials and Brandys: I make a cherry brandy every year, putting two cups of sugar, a quart of pitted sour or pie cherries into a bottle with a liter of vodka and let it sit, swirling every day until the sugar is dissolved. I bring it out at Christmas. The drink tastes like wild cherries, and the cherries themselves are intoxicating. Truly. I've tried covering whole peaches with sugar and letting them ferment in their own juices, but the result is musty. I like to peel the peaches, leaving them otherwise whole, add a good amount of sugar and cover with vodka. By the holidays, again, you have a wonderful cordial, and the peaches make a great side dish to roasted meats.

Hoppin' John Martin Taylor makes a Cherry Bounce by shaking together in a quart jar 1 quart of wild cherries and 1 cup sugar, letting this macerate for several days for the juice to draw, then add 3 cups of bourbon or rye to the jar, to cover the cherries, lightly cover and allow to steep for 10 days. Strain.

He also makes a Peach Fuzzy by putting into a blender 1 jigger (1/4 cup) light rum, juice of half a lime, 1 tablespoon superfine sugar, 1 ripe fresh peach pitted, and 2 cups crushed ice, and processing. John, author of Lowcountry Cooking, also makes a Blackberry Vinegar: Cover ripe berries with white vinegar in a nonreactive pot and let stand for 24 hours. Next day, scald the mixture by bringing it just to the point of boiling. Strain, and add a pound of sugar to each pint of juice. Return the juice to the pot and boil for 20 minutes. "Pour a dollop or two over iced soda or seltzer water for a refreshing summertime drink, or into a glass of low-acid wine for wine, as for a kir. It is also delicious when splashed onto fruit salads, and it marries well with the pan juices from duck breasts or venison steaks when used to deglaze the pan." For a red raspberry Vinegar the last, soft, ripe berries are collected every day and put into a jar of white wine vinegar with a few of the leaves. This is let sit, someplace with a speck of light so that you can enjoy the crimson spectacle, for a couple of weeks, when the berries are strained out and the vinegar is stoppered and used all winter. This fragrant, colorful nectar is delicious in salad dressings, over vegetables, in certain soups. Or sweeten it with a simple syrup and pour into a glass packed with crushed ice for a refreshing, old-fashioned drink.

Ruby's Blueberry Tarragon Dressing:
1/4 cup sweetened cooked blueberries; ne1 curl of orange zest, 1 fresh tarragon branch, 2 tablespoons red wine whisked into 1 1/2 cups yogurt. Use blackberries with a bitey greens mixture such as watercress arugula, and chicory. Dress with 1 tablespoon smooth mustard, 1/3 cup white wine vinegar, a few teaspoons of crushed berries, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper whisked into 1 cup olive oil. Then, of course there are the Ice Creams (or sorbet and/or ices), for which use your favorite recipes.

In General: Use your imagination as to spices. I like a little nutmeg in lots of things, even savory dishes, but chopped fresh ginger can be nice, basil with peaches, rosemary with apples, thyme with blackberries, and lemon balm with blueberries. Or mint. Top berries with not too sweet, not too whipped heavy cream, crème fraiche or plain yogurt. Pandowdy is traditionally a breakfast dish, as is pie. Serve many of these 'desserts' as a side to savory dishes as well as a dessert. Sprinkle fresh blueberries or black caps into a turkey or ham salad, or over rich chocolate ice cream. Pour a little whole milk over most of these servings. Nothing goes with berries, and pastries as well as a little cream, which to our one-percent tastebuds is what whole milk tastes like these days. Or, go ahead, pour a bit of heavy cream over. Or ice cream.

Thanks to Richard Sax and his wonderful tome on Classic Home Desserts for the elucidation of many of the more esoteric terms.

And thank you Summer.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

manna falls verily

...i cannot tell a lie, it was i – me, me, me – who coined those words...

What a hoot it is to hear our incumbent governor claim responsibility for the Buy Local phenomenon. Maybe that should be “Buy Local Genetically Modified Food.” I remember how disappointed – and yes, disgusted and disgruntled, distracted and disturbed – I was when he vetoed the GM seed bill, otherwise known as The Farmer Protection Act, thereby positing himself directly into the chummy embrace of Monsanto, the huge chemical company that owns, with others of its ilk, the genetically modified seeds in question. Conjunctly, he positioned himself directly in opposition to all Vermont farmers, for the bill would have diverted the responsibility for GM crops polluting neighboring farmers’ organic fields from the GM farmer to the GM seed company.

Maybe it should be “Buy Local Immaculately Conceived Food,” because our incumbent governor has done little to nothing to help farmers and gardeners and eaters in his many years under the Golden Dome, and if we don’t help and protect our farmers then we must have faith that manna will drift down from the wild blue yonder and fall verily onto our plates.

I called my daughter to clue her into the joke. “Wow,” she said, “that’s like Al Gore inventing the internet.”

“That was Anthony’s thought, exactly,” I said. “Great minds must think alike!”
She knew I meant candidate-for-governor Anthony Pollina, who had said, “This is ridiculous!” Exasperation clearly sounding in his voice. “The idea that (our current governor) founded the buy-local movement ranks right up there with the idea that Al Gore invented the Internet.”

And he who founded Rural Vermont, co-founded The Vermont Milk Company, and has worked unstintingly for human rights and justice and our farmers since back in the ‘80s – Anthony Pollina – had every right to be exasperated with the governor’s omnivorous claims to undeserved fame – and not only in the field of food. One might recall a photo in a glossy magazine of Da Gov sitting on a dining room chair in the midst of a of green grassy field modestly making claim to a wonderful new health care system. The benefits of Catamount health care – a bastardization of the optimal single-payer system the legislature originally came up with, and which he vetoed – are proving almost as elusive as its namesake! (Peter Freyne wrote about it here: )

Actually, though, with all due modesty, it was I – me, me, me, me – who came up with the whole, more grammatically correct, idea of Buying and Eating Locally! For instance, back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, my “Of Greens and Wrath”, about the first dandelion salad of the new growing season, started out this way (and I beg your pardon for quoting myself – Strunk and White are rolling in their graves):

"I live a short distance from one of those so-called convenience stores that sells out-of-state milk, lots of gunk in packages, and stays open all night. It has absolutely no produce from and nothing to do with its own locale, just sells here — makes a buck. I don't know who it is convenient to except to the big double-haulers who screech their big air brakes to a stop at 4 a.m. and leave their big motors grumbling below my bedroom window.
"My gripe isn't with the convenience store itself — it, like a weed, will take root wherever people let it: No, my gripe is with those people who actually support it, who trudge past my house with a few dollars clutched in their hands, then back again carting a gallon of milk for which they probably paid a dime less than for local milk. This, in a village with two very adequate Moms & Pops trying to make a living, that lies smack in the middle of an agrarian, a dairy, state in which farmers are going on food stamps and/or selling out. That's sloppy consumerism, and that makes me grouchy."

And ended:

"It is beginning to be found, by people who study these kinds of things, that there is a synergy between what people always ate, their evolution affected by that food, and their present-day health. When their diets are changed to mainstream, often packaged, ones, they tend to develop illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

"If this is true then we are in trouble, for we don't seem to have the wherewithal to resist the new, the fake, the fast. Because, as I started to say, when it comes to food and economics we don't seem to know which side of the bread we put that butter on. The least we could do is make sure it was local bread and local butter, and local bucks we spend, but we don't seem to exhibit even that much grounding in food reality.

"Minus the cheap thrills of overpackaged, synthetically flavored food, people used to eat — hungrily, and with true enjoyment — the first non-poisonous greens to appear in the spring. Cows do it. And that is why that first mess of dandelions is important — because it is indigenous, and because it is first. Bitter? Hell no! Food! Good. Green. Ours!"

Can you hear the exasperation in my ‘voice’ there? But my exasperation stemmed from the fact that nobody seemed to be listening. Anthony’s stems from the fact that someone who has no right to do so is claiming to be the progenitor of the tidal wave of Buy Local consciousness.

From that, we might deduce that things have gotten a little better, but not before they’d gotten a whole lot worse. Back when I wrote “Of Greens...”, we had a whole lot farther down to go before we could even begin looking up. Now, even the Johnnie-come-lately Gov wants to get on the bandwagon!

...downtown farmers...

Perhaps each year we are newly surprised by the bounty and brightness of the Rutland Summer Farmers’ Market, but this year the produce seems earlier and more varied than ever. Cabbage and carrots and kohlrabi, as well as the first zucchini are all in just now. The first peas, too. Plump heads of garlic to supplement the green stuff that grows in my garden. And we scored genuine Vermont buffalo mozzarella to go with a buffalo dry sausage that is to die for.
Remember that the Tuesday Farmers’ Market’s hours are now 3 to 6 PM, for the convenience of downtown workers AND the quality, because farmers can pick the produce that day.
Summer Saturdays are 9 to 2.

...& others...

We all wish the best of luck to Clem’s and Three Tomatoes to get back up and running soon, after the devastating floods? er, um, infrastructure back-ups? that happened on June 14th. We need to help them in that process as much as we can. And make good use of them when they do reopen – which won’t be difficult. There’s always a good breakfast or lunch at Clems, in comfortable and enjoyable surroundings,. And 3Ts has got us in on a busy night and fed us and sent us off to the Paramount on time! Good service, ambiance, really good Vermont food. Wow, would we miss them! Good thing we won’t have to, or at least not for long.

I do hear people voicing misgivings about the time change for Friday Night Live – it’s been scooted down to 6 to 10, instead of 4 or 5 to 9. “I’m simply not coming home from work and then going back in,” is a common refrain I hear, and since downtown workers often knock off early on Fridays, it would seem a good idea to start it going at least by 4 PM and let people go home when they will.
That said, What a wonderful success FNL is!

Strawberries Lysander

Last year at this time I was waiting for Lysander, 1 ½ years old, to come and pick peas with me. I waxed eloquent about that baby and those peas in a column called Peas: Paean and Pleasures and when he got here he did what babies always do – he did what came naturally, but certainly not what I had envisioned. Oh, he loved the peas – as little balls. He marveled over them in his tiny pudgy palm, but he couldn’t imagine putting them in his mouth! Instead, he dropped them into the grass, bent over after them and tried to roll them on the ground, and then rolled over on top of them, unsteady on feet and bottom.

Well, Lysander’s been back, and what a difference a year makes! For one thing, the thrice-planted peas are about knee-high to him this year, with no little pea-balls yet and maybe never. Lysander is several inches taller, still loves balls and water – good thing since it rained the entire time he was here – and is beginning to get the concept of a garden.

He sat on the edge of the strawberry bed for ten minutes at a time straining water out of a plastic plant-flat with two left-over tomatoes in soaked peat pots in it. Don’t you just love the messy intensity of early childhood? What can the child be thinking, so patiently? His mother sat beside him, chatting with me, as patient as he. And then, having experienced the mystery of straining rainwater out of a cracked, clumsily oblong, plastic thing, he turned around and a whole new world met his eyes. Strawberries! And what were they doing scattered over the straw, under those green leaves? Let me tell you, we all scrambled then – he into the strawberry bed, his mother after him, me after her.

That night we had strawberry shortcake, which he liked, I think, but perhaps not quite as much as he liked the strawberries from the strawberry bed. This is behavior of which I approve – we’ll make a little forager out of him yet!

Next night it was late when we finished dinner out on the deck, and I realized that we had no dessert. There was a kind of expectant hush in the air – dinner without an exclamation point... But we did have berries left over from the night before, so I divvied them up between several tiny bowls and poured heavy cream over them – a kind of token dessert.

Well, Lysander finished up his mother’s bowl, and then his daddy’s, and then he cried, screamed – it was late; he was tired – “STRAWBERRY! I want STRAWBERRY!”

Lysander, I said, calmly, I think I have one more strawberry. Hold your horses.

I took the flashlight to the strawberry bed and picked two berries left over from his picking ravages earlier in the day.

I have two strawberries, I told him. He knows his numbers. He ate one and held out his hand. I gave him the second and he ate it, holding it by its little green cap. No tears when that was done. And for the boy who can count, who can curb his expectations to the possible, a lagniappe – the cream from my bowl. I held it up, he tipped back his head and drank that little bit of cream mixed with strawberry juice and savored each sip, like a little bird.

“All done,” he said, whisking his hands together.

Until next year, Lysander.

...the sophisticated strawberry...

Stanti Schonbachler of The Victorian Inn at Wallingford was seen sitting on the curb at the Market and seeming to wait a couple of weeks ago. When told this I knew he’d been waiting for the berry man, because he was making this STRAWBERRY & RHUBARB POT PIE WITH GINGER for the What’s Cookin’ Rutland television show on Monday night. He needed those local berries! You can catch Stanti intermittently on Channel 15, or you can download the show at Click on video on demand and scroll down to What’s Cookin’. Seating in the audience is available for each third Monday of the month by calling Chaffee Art Center at 775-0356. Brad Burns of the Lakehouse Pub and Grille will be the guest chef for the July 21 show.

This delectable dessert is a little more sophisticated than Lysander’s two strawberries from the patch, but simple enough for him to help make.


1 qt. strawberries cleaned of stems, cut in chunks

4 cups rhubarb peeled and cut in chunks

Simple sugar mix – 1-cup sugar to 1-cup water

2 inches ginger cut in pieces

½ cup cornstarch

Puff Pastry (in the freezer section)

Egg wash- egg with dash of water (or cream) whisked together


In a large pan simmer the simple syrup with the ginger for 15 minutes or until reduced by half. Remove the ginger. Add the rhubarb and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the strawberries and mix. Mix ½ cup of the cornstarch with ¼ cup of cold water. When completely dissolved add some slowly to the strawberry/rhubarb mixture over low heat until it has slightly thickened.

Spoon the fruit into individual ramekins. Let cool slightly.

Lay the puff pastry on a board and cut a circle at least an inch larger all around than the top of the ramekin. Brush the outside edge of the ramekin with the egg wash. Place a circle of pastry on top with the inch overlay and press the sides. Brush all with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.

Place on a baking sheet and bake 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned.