Sunday, July 26, 2009

Raspberry Riches


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many, and such beautiful, raspberries as over these past few days. Both the stand itself and the counter of the sorting trailer at the fruit lady’s were a veritable showroom of raspberry perfection. Off to the side were the equally wonderful currants, including the last of the white ones; a few pints of big blueberries; and one pint of jostaberries, a flavorful black currant and gooseberry cross. But the raspberries dominated the scene.

Their abundance fits into the pipeline theory of supply and demand. The raspberries continued to ripen up over several non-picking days of rain, and by the time it cleared (temporarily; we are getting inches of rain as I write this) there were two or three times the usual daily amount to pick—I’d estimate a good 6 quarts in overflowing 1-cup containers were out when I stopped by late in the afternoon, and that is after the heavy morning buying. All too often in past summers you would arrive too late, or stand politely over the last cup with someone else, taking turns saying, “no, you take it,” or “no, you” (or, just as often, someone would come up behind you while you were getting your money out for the can and snatch that last cup with a determined, needy entitlement). So many raspberries in the pipeline means that farmstand graciousness prevails, everyone gets their share, and we can pop an entire container in our mouths on the way home and still have plenty for baking. We are truly long in raspberries in today’s market.

I will confess, though, that raspberries are not my favorite for baking. Of course they are very good. But their flavor is sweetest and raspberry-truest when fresh, so for the most part I eat them out of hand, and I think most people do too. Subjected to heat, they become a bit sour, although nicely juicy, and a bit overpowering. Compensate with a little more than usual sugar, and use them for plain things that you don’t want too sweet anyway, such as sour-milk pancakes, muffins, or buckles—or go the other extreme and use in them in a sorbet, which has a high proportion of sugar. Also on the high-sugar side, raspberry jam is always nice, and there are enough now that you could easily do that; be very careful not to overcook it to preserve the flavor. And of course, there are also plenty available for freezing for the dead of winter, which I recommend. Spread them out on a cookie sheet, place in your freezer for a few hours, then seal in quart plastic bags.


Raspberry Cardamom Muffins

This is a standard muffin recipe. Makes 12.

2 cups pastry or a-p flour
½ cup sugar
½ tea cardamom
½ tea salt
4 tea baking powder
1 cup whole milk
2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T lard, melted
1 large egg
1 cup, generous, raspberries


2 T sugar
½ tea cardamom

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a muffin tin and set aside.

Sift dry ingredients and stir together. Lightly combine milk, egg, and fats, and stir in, folding the mixture over, until just combined. Fold in the berries. Distribute the batter in the muffin tin and, if desired, sprinkle with a little cardamom-sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes; let cool in pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a rack.                                  

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Currently Featuring: Currants


Nature is full of surprises. Just when you think that all is lost, and there are signs and stories everywhere of devastation and doom, you spot something red as you’re driving up Main Road. Your heart skips a beat. It’s sour cherry time . . . could it be? Trying to be pragmatic and not set yourself up for disappointment, you hypothesize, as you make a U-turn, that it’s raspberries. No; not cherries but not raspberries either. Something better and wholly unexpected: currants. Red ones, white ones—and black ones too. And only $1.50 a pint (that paradox of the generous and stingy, the fruit lady).

Sitting outside thinking about the vagaries of survival, how tough old things like potatoes can be so vulnerable, snuffed out even while in hiding underground, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         and delicate little transparent jewels like currants can power forth into glory, I saw another little miracle of survival. Out in the field, four wild turkeys, foraging for food. I am not a hunting sort of girl, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they would be to eat. You know, with a little currant sauce. And then I saw some other movement in the grass alongside them, poking out from time to time: little turkeys-to-be. There were two litters (broods? hatchlings?). One, associated with the three turkey hens (don’t ask me why three, but they traveled together), of six little turkettes, the size of baby ducks. I saw them ( I think they are really called poults) first. Then much later, I saw with the turkey that stood apart—and that was lighter in color, probably a turkey version of an ugly duckling—several tiny, tiny chicks, like the ones that they used to sell, rather irresponsibly I now realize, in the 5&10 at Easter when I was a little girl. They could not have been more than a few days old. Born in a downpour, no doubt, yet waddling around quite nicely.

It is reassuring to see life among the ruins, and to see very old-fashioned, near-disappeared fruits like currants outperforming their more modern counterparts. Is it something about these untouched things? My fruit lady’s currant bushes are old—most likely minimally bred for commercially appealing features and mass production. Could that be their secret? Could it be that what is closest to nature is what is best suited to respond to nature’s vicissitudes? I wonder, and the currants make me hopeful. I’ll be watching for the cherries.

This is what you might serve if you shot a wild turkey. Of course, you can always serve this with pork or poultry, or use your currants for a pie or a buckle, or for some nice jelly.


You can use this as is or stir it into another sauce base. It’s also good with cheese. Makes about 3 ½ 8-oz jars.

4 cups currants (I used red and white mixed)
½ cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tea mixed spices to taste: cinnamon, clove, cardamom (of course)
2” piece stick cinnamon (optional)

Stem and rinse the currants. Combine the sugar, vinegar, and spice in a stainless steel or enameled pan; cook at a good boil for a few minutes (3-5) until it reaches a very light gel stage. Take off the heat, add the currants, and toss. Put back on a medium fire. The mixture will thin with the currant juices, and foam up a little like a jam; do not skim. Cook another 3-5 minutes, until it is clear and syrupy. Put into jars and seal.



Saturday, July 11, 2009

Salad Days: New Beets and Onions


While we are waiting for the real summer produce to arrive, we are blessed, at least, with the earliest of earthly delights: the lettuce, of course, and beautiful tiny beets and onions. Not to belabor the weather—it is, after all, sunny today, although it still feels like fall, and I am still sleeping with a blanket—but the damage to the crops has been officially confirmed by the local newspaper.

It appears that just about every crop has been seriously affected, in many cases destroyed, by the flood of rain, and in some cases hail: from tomatoes to peppers and corn, even the apples. At our local major potato grower, Ferolbink Farm, they’ve plowed under 8 acres, and anticipate the loss of more. A fungus called “late blight,” which is related to the one that caused the Irish potato famine in 1849, has hit our local farms; a combination of the rain and resistance is making it impossible to keep it at bay. It is exacerbated by cross-over from residential gardens, and invades everything. The farmers are going out of their minds.

We share their pain. We need to buy what we can from them. Most things are more expensive than usual, but that seems reasonable given that yields are much lower than the growers ever could have anticipated, given that we have never, ever, in recorded history, have had a spring and early summer like this one. Choices are limited, but slowly expanding. Lettuce is doing all right. Cabbage, too. Beets appear to be squeaking by. There are quite nice tiny leeks and small onions. Everything is young and new—salad days.

Rainy Summer Salad

This will perk up a gray day. Season this well with salt and pepper to taste to balance the sweetness. You could serve this alongside a piece of grilled chicken, without the lettuce base, if you like. Serves 2. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3 small new onions
5 or 6 very small beets, roasted and peeled
2 ears corn
1 T butter
1 tea olive oil
¼ cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
2 T maple syrup
¼ tea salt
½ tea grated orange rind (optional)

6 or 7 Boston lettuce leaves
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tea maple syrup
2 tea freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper

Thinly slice the onions and the roasted beets (see here for instructions), and cut the corn off the cob.

Melt the butter with the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When sizzling, add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften, about 1 minute, then reduce the heat somewhat and add the corn; sauté an additional minute or so, until the onion just starts to brown. Add the orange juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the juice has been reduced and there is only a little liquid left; add the 2 T syrup, salt, and pepper, zest if using, and cook for another minute. Add the beets and toss for a few seconds. Taste for seasoning. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Make a dressing by whisking the oil, syrup, lemon juice and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the lettuce leaves and turn around in the dressing until they are thoroughly but lightly coated. Arrange the leaves on a plate and place the beet salad in the center.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Living on Borrowed Corn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s the Fourth of July, and we are beside ourselves here in Little Compton. Yes,there is finally some sun among the clouds today, at least this morning; storms are predicted for later. But it feels and looks like a blustery fall day; the wind is literally whistling around the house. Still, that is only the source, not the manifest consequences, of our distress. It’s the Fourth of July, and there is no corn.

Perhaps we’re spoiled—OK, we are—but one of the things in life you always look forward to seeing is that corn sign, up at the local stands, almost like clockwork on the 4th. Not that we can’t still, and won’t, look forward to it. But it will not be the same, like being told on December 25th that you have to wait to celebrate Christmas until sometime in February. It's not that there’s no corn at all, of course; there is. It’s just that it’s not from here, and no self-respecting farmer would ever put his corn sign up for that.

So far this year I’ve only seen my own farmer-purveyor from a distance, and from the back, passing his tractor on the road with a wave, catching a glimpse of him carrying things into the barns or moving equipment. Even from afar, I think I can see the anxiety in his shoulders. But I don’t need to ask what’s wrong, and why there’s no corn. And I don’t need to ask why the fields out back, which normally would have knee-high corn by now, sit still untilled. We all know. Rain. A stunning 6" in one day this week alone.

So this Fourth of July we are celebrating our independence with dependence, and it sticks in our craw. We are eating corn from —the hushed response to my question about where the corn was from, as only local produce carries the farm’s own sign—Delaware. Not even New Jersey, which would have still brought shame but that we all secretly know is almost as good as ours. (Having been raised in New Jersey, I do not say that lightly). But Delaware? It’s not like it’s Florida—we would never eat that--but this is a new low. On this day of all days, we know that not all corns are created equal.

Still, it’s the Fourth: as Americans, we must soldier on. We will make do. Even though the corn looks quite presentable—I’m guessing it had been picked within two days—there is no question about eating it on the cob. We measure corn freshness in hours, even minutes, not days. Although of course I tried the smallest of the already small ears. No go.

So while we are living on borrowed corn, do something to cosmetic it up, and conceal its age. Appropriately dressed, it will be good, even very good—and pass for much younger. And have a Happy Fourth of July, knowing that we will, yet again, soon be free of foreign invaders.

Oysters On A Bed of Seaweed

Not really oysters, not really seaweed. A simulacrum, like the corn. This is one of many kinds of corn fritters, of different styles, that I make. I love them all. Serves 4 as an appetizer or first course.

2 medium ears corn, shucked OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1 small ear corn, shucked
1 large egg
1 T butter
½ tea Dijon mustard
½ tea salt
freshly ground pepper
4 large scallions

½ tea baking powderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
½- ¾ cup flour, preferably bread flour

corn oil

Using a small, very sharp knife (I use my beak parer), slit the kernels of the two medium ears lengthwise down the rows, and scrape the milk into a medium bowl; cut the kernels from the smaller ear into the bowl. Melt the butter with the mustard in the microwave; stir into corn with the egg, the salt, and a few twists of the pepper mill.

Trim the outer membrane from the scallions and cut the white parts neatly into 1/8” rounds; add to the corn. Reserve the green tops. Sift the flour and baking powder into the corn mixture, starting with the ½ cup and gradually adding additional flour until it has enough body that it won’t OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         spread in the pan, but is still very moist.

With your sharp knife, cut/slit the scallion greens finely, so that they curl. Blanch for about 30 seconds in boiling water and drain/dry completely. Dress with enough oil to look glossy; if you want to eat it (it’s really just for show), dress it with a light vinaigrette. (You could skip the blanching if you want.) Set aside.

Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a skillet until moderately hot. With a tablespoon from the silverware drawer, drop ovals of batter into the pan. Cook until they are nicely browned, turning once and tipping up on their sides if needed. They will only take a minute or two. Drain briefly, salt, and serve on the bed of scallion greens. These need no adornment, other than a glass of wine. If you serve them as a first course with knife and fork, a little simple tomato coulis would be good.