Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giving Thanks for the Harvest


Little Compton Mornings 2007Thanksgiving is extra-special to Rhode Islanders, especially those who live East of Narragansett Bay. Rhode Island, along with southeastern Massachusetts, was home to the Wampanoag, the native people without whom the Pilgrims would not have survived their first winter or, indeed, had a harvest the following year to celebrate at all. The leader of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, was born near Bristol, RI, the seat and summer residence of Massasoit and likely the place from which he and other Wampanoag walked for two days to join the Pilgrims for a harvest dinner in the fall of 1621. That first harvest was the metaphorical seed of all other harvests since enjoyed by every one of us migrants to this country.

Little is known about what was eaten at that dinner, but we do have one first-person account, that of Edward Winslow:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others.”

In addition to fowl and venison, they probably enjoyed fish and shellfish, and perhaps some thick jonnycakes, again thanks to the Wampanoag and the famous Rhode Island whitecap flint corn. We can deduce this from the writing of the Pilgrim settlement’s governor, William Bradford:

“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want.  And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion.”

As for vegetables, historians believe the first Thanksgiving included squash, pumpkins, onions, carrots, and cabbage, but not yet another great Rhode Island crop, potatoes. Still, not much has changed at the Thanksgiving table these 387 years later, and we are eating many of the same things. But a look back at the growing season shows a harvest that the Pilgrims, and even the wise Massasoit, could scarcely have imagined. Happy Thanksgiving.


I'll be away for the holiday, and will return to LC Mornings in two weeks.

Rhubarb 004   Strawberries 006  20070720_Mixed Eggs_000453 copy 

   Chiles and Strawberries 023     Carrots, garlic, etc 011Asparagus and Mint 001

      Carrots, garlic, etc 012   Carrots, garlic, etc 003     Carrots, garlic, etc 008

Currants 005   Carrots, garlic, etc 013   sour cherries baskets 

Sour cherries and other 2008 018   Sour cherries and other 2008 015   Sour cherries and other 2008 020 

                                              Potatoes and clafouti 011


 Potatoes and clafouti 007   Peaches and Nashville 007   Pole beans and Winesaps 010

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dried Apricots: Fraternal Twins


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s not quite time to begin the holiday baking, but it probably is time to order the high-quality dried and glacé fruits and fresh nuts you will need for it. Faced with a need to bring some accompaniments for an early (this week) Thanksgiving pot luck at my university, I was caught short of time for an online order to get to me without paying a small fortune for overnight delivery that far exceeded the somewhat smaller fortune for the fruit itself, and forced into the supermarket to see what I could find. The lesson for the day is: if you do not live near a reliable purveyor of beautiful fruit and nuts, order early from a prime supplier. And, if you must use commercially packaged fruit—which, by the way, you will pay nearly as much and sometimes more for while receiving smaller, lower quality fruit—use it in preparations where the quality differential in the fruit will not make a huge difference in the quality of the product.

Dried apricots offer our case in point. There are two kinds, the same but different: those generally called Turkish and those generally called California; I say “generally” because commercial producers like Sun-Maid® make Turkish-style apricots, but they are really from California, and they label them “Mediterranean.” The Turkish apricot is a sunny, plump, moist and sweet fruit with a true soft apricot color. The best are, yes, from Turkey. Turkish apricots are whole apricots, with the pit carefully slipped out. The California apricot is an apricot half. It is a deep orange color, drier, chewier, with a very tart edge to its subtle sweetness; DelMonte® used to pack very good ones, but alas, no more. Both Turkish and California apricots are excellent, but different, eaten out of hand—the California is intense, while the Turkish is mild—and aficionados tend to divide into camps. Both are high in fiber and concentrated nutrients, especially vitamin A, iron, and beta-carotene. Both have been treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their color, some minimally, some more so (unsulfured fruit, largely brown in color, is available). Both are the perfect holiday-time fruit. They are a pretty color, luxurious, delicious, and decorative—they look great on a platter, and the glacéd varieties, sort of giant Turkish-style apricots that have been soaked in syrup and of which those from Australia set the standard, are downright beautiful.

But the two types of dried apricot have pros and cons when it comes to cooking and baking. This is, admittedly, a matter of preference or opinion. Here are mine: For preparations where you want a soft or plump texture, or sweet contrast, I like Turkish apricots. I would use Turkish, for example, to stuff with cheese or nuts; for sauces or chutneys to serve with meat and poultry; and in dishes like pilafs, risottos, and salads. When you want a true, concentrated apricot flavor—where taste is more important than texture—I like California apricots, usually pureed and sometimes slightly sweetened. California apricots make a great pie, and a wonderful cake filling or layer of bar cookies. At first glance it might seem that California apricots are the hands-down choice for baking, while Turkish tip the balance for cooking—and perhaps that’s a general rule of thumb. But I would use Turkish in a fruit bread or cake, for example. So you decide. And another rule of thumb: for more lightly cooked or uncooked preparations, it’s worth seeking out premium quality fruit; for preparations that undergo long cooking or baking, supermarket varieties are acceptable.

Favorite Apricot Chutney

I have made this sweet-savory-spicy chutney for the holidays every year for more than 25 years, and try to make it often enough to have it available year-round: it is that good, and that versatile. This can be made with fruit from the supermarket, with minimal difference in the final product; just make sure it is freshly purchased, and that your spices are fresh. Quantities are flexible, so don’t feel like you have to measure too precisely. Makes 4-5 cups.Apricot chutney recipe card

1 lb dried Turkish apricots, cut into quarters with scissor
¾ cup dried currants
1 ½ cup chopped sweet onion (about 1 medium-large)
3 T peeled, minced fresh ginger root
3 large cloves peeled fresh garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tea salt
1 ½ tea ground cinnamon
1 ½ tea ground coriander
¾ tea crushed red pepper

1 ½-2 cups red wine vinegar

Combine the fruit and all other dry ingredients in a 3-4-qt saucepan or chef’s pan. Ideally, let them dry-marinate for a few hours if you have time; if not, just proceed. Pour the vinegar over the mixture and stir until everything is moistened; if you have only a 12-oz bottle of vinegar handy, that will do. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce the heat to an active simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 45 minutes, or until your wooden spoon pulled through the chutney makes a path, and the chutney is golden brown and somewhat thick. Be careful not to overcook, especially if you have used the smaller amount of vinegar. Put into clean sterilized jars or, if serving soon, into a pretty glass bowl. Refrigerate when cool.

This is excellent with turkey, poultry, or ham at dinner, or on just about any kind of sandwich, including grilled cheese. It makes a great quick appetizer served over goat or cream cheese, or with sliced cheddar. It is a perfect accompaniment to Indian meals and peps up leftover rice.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Elegy—and Ode—to the Lost Muffin


Not one
in this or any other
makes a muffin
like your grandmother:
ready for butter
and small

Not one
in this or any other
fine town
has yet tasted
a gem that's not cake:
sugared for toothache
and huge

But two
in this or any other
let us forsee
cake muffins undone:
and scarcity.
Forsake the bakery
for home


LCM Jonnycake Muffins

Plain, crumbly, ready for butter. . .and small. One of my favorite gems, with a crisp exterior and softer, crumbly interior. Makes 8.

½ cup RI white cap flint cornmeal
1 cup a-p flour
3 tea baking powder
¼ tea salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup pure maple syrup, grade B or lower
1/3 cup milk
6 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease 8 cups of a standard muffin tin, starting at the center. Place paper muffin papers in the remaining cups.

Put the cornmeal in a bowl, and sift in the flour, salt, and baking powder. Into a 2- or 3-cup measuring cup, measure the maple syrup and milk; add the eggs and the melted butter, and beat well. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide the batter evenly into the 8 greased cups of the muffin tin, and bake for about 22 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool about 5 minutes in the pan before turning out and serving with butter or butter with a little maple syrup beaten in. In the unlikely event there are any left over, these freeze and reheat beautifully with 25 seconds in the microwave.



Sunday, November 2, 2008

Relishing Fall: Late Cukes and Peppers


There is no one, and I mean no one, who is more sorry than I to see summer, and the growing season, fade away. I am a warm weather, beachy kind of girl. While the worst childhood memories of most people I know involve some sort of adolescent embarrassment, mine is of being bundled into a snowsuit and turned out into a yard three-feet deep in snow. I remember standing stock still, chest-high and crying in the cold white torture chamber, while my siblings, all of whom had the measles, pressed their faces jealously up against the window pane. My mother considered me ungrateful: after all, I seemed to be immune to childhood diseases, and could go outside while my sisters and brother were trapped indoors. Ah, but we are not all alike, are we? Winter, for me, was and still is something to survive, a time of counting days (and months) until the snow cover is gone and crocuses appear again.

But even though fall is to me a warning to steel myself for cold toes, ears screaming with pain from the wind, and that ultimate dread, stingy daylight and long, dark nights, I have to admit it contains some remarkable reminders, and harbingers, of exactly what winter is to me: survival. Fall is, counter-intuitively, full of surprising life. Despite quite cold nights and shorter days, the ground keeps pouring forth its amazing gifts: bigger, rounder, more bumptious, as if code for “put me by because this can’t last forever, you know.” So of course, we do. Because alas, we know.

Cool weather crops like cucumbers have grown, in many cases, to the size of salamis, but something about the weather has allowed the plants to continue to bloom with fetching new offspring while their ancestors continue to grow fat and undesirable. I found some baby cukes, many literally gherkin-size, at the farmers market. Perhaps also because of the warm, sunny days, the red peppers are beautiful too. Feeling lazy, I put them together in a quick relish, a little different from the red pepper relish I posted here late last summer.

Lazy Fall Day Relish

Although I usually chop by hand for relish, I simply threw everything into the food processor and went for a finer texture than usual. This makes it suitable not only for hot dogs, sausages, and burgers, but also as a spread for ham and grilled chicken sandwiches, or for a crostini-based appetizer. Makes about 3 cups.

5 small cucumbers, about 4” long and 1” thick (about 10 oz)        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
2 large very red peppers (about 18 oz)
1 medium large sweet onion (about 10 oz)
½ cup white balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¾ tea kosher salt
1 small Serrano pepper, seeded
¼ tea celery seed
½ tea dried orange peel 

Trim the unpeeled cukes and cut them into thirds. Core the peppers and cut each into about eight pieces. Cut the onion into quarters. Put all the vegetables and the vinegar into a food processor with the metal blade and pulse repeatedly, about 30 times, until finely chopped but not mushy.

Transfer the chopped vegetables and vinegar to a 3-qt saucepan, preferably a chef’s pan with sloped sides. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat somewhat so it is still boiling but not wildly, and cook for about 30-40 minutes, until it is lightly gelled and excess liquid has evaporated.