Like any urban-leaning, Europe-traveling girl, I love my morning lattes, and the wonderful Gaggia I have at home to make them.
But for my early-morning walks down the farm road, or through wet fields in search of wild blackberries, you want something suited to your outfit of red Wellies, faded farm dress, and old sweater. Something really hot, flavorful, and abundant, comfortable in an Amazon.com thermal cup from back in the day when they sent Christmas presents to their good customers. In short, the good old-fashioned perked coffee of your father (or grandfather, as the case may be).
My percolator looks just like my father’s, except that, alas, it has a plastic rather than a glass dome. It cost $5.00 at Wilbur’s store in Little Compton, bought during Hurricane Bob in 1991 when the electricity was out for a week and all I had for cooking was a charcoal grill and, luckily, a propane-fueled commercial catering burner. Like all post-war children, I already knew how to make perked coffee, having seen my father make it some 5000 times while growing up. But I had no idea, until a hurricane, how satisfying it was.
Here are simple and imprecise directions. Go to the hardware store and buy an aluminum percolator that looks like mine in the picture. Mirro, of cheap cookware fame, makes a perfectly good one. If you can find them at your hardware store or at a good ‘ol 5&10 (if you can find a good ‘ol 5&10), also buy a package of Gourmay brand filters for percolators. These filters, made of a kind of fine rice paper, are great, but not to worry if you can’t find them. Of course, both items can be bought online; if you pay more than $15 for your pot, you’ve been had.
Remove inserts and fill pot with water to one of the marked lines—say, 5 cups. Line basket with a filter (if using), and add coffee to the comparable mark in the basket, folding the filter corners down over it. If making 5 cups of coffee, use approximately 6-7 tablespoons of ground coffee of your choice. For this purpose, I like Melitta Colombian Supreme, right from the market. No, it is not too fine. You can get the pot ready the night before if you want.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat; stick around, because as soon as it starts to perk (as soon as the water is forced up into the dome repeatedly) turn the heat down moderately low, but still perking steadily, and perk 3-4 minutes. Feel free to lean in and breathe in the steam: it’s tantalizing, and full of antioxidants. The coffee is done when it smells wonderful and is the color you like; you can lift the pot up off the stove and pour a bit into a white cup to check the color until you get your timing right. A lightly spattered stove after making perked coffee is acceptable and even a mark of distinction, but do not let the pot boil over. Burned coffee is bad coffee.
The hardest thing is the last. Remove the coffee from the stove and let it sit a full minute to “set.” This is a personal discovery, highly recommended. Remove the inserts before pouring.
This coffee is wonderfully hot and flavorful. Pull your boots on, and head outside.