Archive for the ‘Autumn’ Category

November in the Hills: Embracing the Darkness (Part II)

13 November 2008
Judith Maloney (Courtesy of West County Cider/CISA)

Judith Maloney (Courtesy of West County Cider/CISA)

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

          A strong proponent of November in our western Massachusetts hilltowns is Judith Maloney of West County Cider in Shelburne. Along with her husband Terry and a group of sweet- and hard-cider enthusiasts, Judith founded Cider Days in 1994. This tradition of celebrating the apple harvest and sharing cider, which takes place the first weekend in November, is now a highlight of autumn in Franklin County.

          To Judith, Cider Days don’t just honor the harvest. They also keep a way of life alive. She told me last week that early on she saw this festival as “something that would keep the apple trees in the ground—because the economics of apples have changed very much over the last 20 years. No longer do people buy apples to store over the winter. They buy them at the supermarket, and [the apples] come from Australia and New Zealand.”

          In contrast, says Judith, Cider Days preserve local apples and cider–and the trees that produce them. “We’re so lucky to have these trees,” she said with passion. “A lot of them have great age on them. [And] there’s a lot of knowledge among the orchardists along the valley and in the hills. It’s great that we can go onto the next season with that knowledge still spreading.”

          One of this year’s Cider Days speakers enthusiastically takes his celebration on to that next season, when the trees have yielded all their fruit and the snow has settled in. Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard in Groveton, New Hampshire, takes a group deep into the woods on a dark night once a year to mark “old” Epiphany (January 17, the 12th night after Christmas in the old Julian calendar). There the group sings, dances, salutes the apple trees that will blossom in spring, and shares warm refreshments, including wassail (spiced cider-y punch) and slices of wassail pie.

          Here are the lyrics to the song the wassailers sing, courtesy of Michael Phillips:

Oh apple tree, we’ll wassail thee in hope that thou will bear.

The Lord does know where we shall be to be merry another year.

To blow well and to bear well, and so merry let us be:

Let every man drink up his cup, here’s health to the old apple tree.

To blow well and to bear well, and so merry let us be:

Let every man drink up his cup, here’s health to the old apple tree.

(Repeat all twice more)

Apples now–

Hats full,

Caps full,

Barrels full,

Three bushel bags full,

Barn floors full,

                   And even a little heap under the stairs.

Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

          In his book The Apple Grower, Michael explains that he likes to greet the season with gusto. He writes, “[O]ur gathering often occurs on the coldest night of the winter. There’s certainly an almost mystical power in sharing apple custom with forty dear friends as you dance around the chosen tree at thirty degrees below zero!”
          Now, there’s someone who knows how to embrace the season’s darkness.

          If you’d like more information about Cider Days, visit their web site, http://www.ciderday.org/. Meanwhile, here are a couple of recipes that take advantage of the season’s cider bounty. Be sure to bow to an apple tree as you get ready to eat them; then go indoors and enjoy the cozy warmth and light of your house.

The Green Emporium (Courtesy of the Green Emporium)

The Green Emporium (Courtesy of the Green Emporium)

Cider Mussels Emporium

          This recipe comes from the fertile culinary mind of Michael Collins, chef at the Green Emporium in Colrain and a longtime fan of Cider Days. The restaurant has just reopened as a pizza/pasta parlor. Michael may have simplified his menu, but he hasn’t lost his creativity: he has a terrific new apple pizza!

Ingredients:

3 to 4 chopped shallots

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups hard cider

3 pounds mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (discard opened or cracked mussels)

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (of your choice; Gorgonzola is nice here, or just plain blue cheese)

chopped parsley as needed for garnish

Instructions:

          Sauté the shallots in the olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Just before the shallots become translucent, pop in the garlic pieces, but be careful not to burn the garlic.

          Add the hard cider, and simmer the mixture until the cider is reduced in half.

          Add the mussels, and cover to steam until the mussels open. (This will only take a couple of minutes so be sure to check frequently.)  Take the pan off the heat, crumble the cheese over all, and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with parsley. Serves 6 to 8.  

Michael Phillips at Cider Days (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran/West County Independent)
Michael Phillips at Cider Days (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran/West County Independent)

 Lost Nation Traditional Cider Pie

Michael Phillips serves a slice of this pie (indoors!) to his guests each winter at the end of his orchard wassailing ceremony.  He also recommends it for Thanksgiving and other special occasions.

The cider jelly required is a reduction of sweet cider. Boil 3 cups of cider until you have only 1/2 cup left; what remains is what you will need for this recipe.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 pinch salt

1/2 cup cider jelly

1/2 cup boiling water

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 cups sliced apples

pastry for a 2-crust, 9-inch pie

Instructions:

         Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the cider jelly and water, and blend. Stir in the egg and melted butter. Place the apple sices on the bottom pie crust in a pie plate, and top with the cider mixture. Put the top crust over all, cutting a few slashes in it. Bake for 40 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

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November in the Hills: Embracing the Darkness (Part I)

9 November 2008
Heather's Pumpkin Bread

Heather's Pumpkin Bread

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

         The blaze is gone.

          The burst of color in our hills has muted. The sun is making itself scarce. The grays of November have arrived.

          I’m not sure why November always takes me by surprise. It comes along every year. Nevertheless, during the glory of early autumn optimism fills my heart just as leaves fill the streams, and I nurture a tiny hope that the color and warmth will decide, just this once, not to retreat.

          When instead of an eternal October we get a very real November, my dog, my cat, and I grow a little grumpy. Truffle and Lorelei Lee gather by the woodstove earlier and earlier each day, training their glare on me until I relent and light a fire.

          I appreciate their viewpoint and enjoy the fire myself. Nevertheless, I find that the best cure for the November blahs is to leave my hearth and seek out people who look forward to this time of year—who instead of huddling inside embrace the darkness out of doors.

          One such person is my neighbor in Hawley, Massachusetts, Cyndie Stetson. Cyndie is famous (one might almost say notorious) locally for the lavish Halloween display outside her home. The high point of her year comes in late October and November. An avid watercolorist, Cyndie uses her artist’s eyes to perceive much more variety in our hills than I.

          “I love the colors in November—the browns, the purples, the grays,” she told me recently. “I love seeing and hearing the geese going overhead. I love growing pumpkins and gourds. When I was a kid, we grew gourds and sold them at my grandmother’s on a stone wall. So I grow gourds every year.”

          The darkness and the cold give Cyndie permission to act creatively, unleashing her imagination in a way that the light of summer and early autumn cannot. “I feel more energetic at this time of year,” she said with a smile.

Here’s a terrific pumpkin bread recipe to help you celebrate gourd season along with Cyndie. Thanks to Heather Welch of M&M Green Valley Produce in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, for sharing it. The boozy raisins are my own addition, and they’re terrific. This makes 2 big loaves so you may want to make 3 smaller loaves and reduce your cooking time. On the other hand, the big loaves have a lovely contrasting texture—crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside.

 

Part of Cyndie's Display (Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Part of Cyndie's Display (Courtesy of Lark Thwing)

Heather’s Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup raisins (optional)

1/4 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

1-3/4 cups pumpkin puree

1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)

2/3 cup water

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

3-1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Instructions:

If you want to use the raisins, put them in a bowl about half an hour before you start cooking, and pour the liqueur over them to let them plump.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.

          In a large bowl, beat together the pumpkin, oil, water, and sugar. Beat in the eggs.

          In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir them into the pumpkin mixture JUST until blended.  Stir in the raisins with their juice. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

        Bake the bread until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check the bread at the hour mark. If it is brown on the outside but still very soggy on the inside, reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and continue to check every 5 minutes until the toothpick test works. Remove the bread from the pans, and turn it onto racks to cool. Makes 2 loaves.

Truffle was allowed a SMALL piece of pumpkin bread.

Truffle was allowed a SMALL piece of pumpkin bread.

 

 

 

Halloween Pumpkin Fudge

31 October 2008

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

           Halloween has a special place in my heart. I love its colors, its stimulation of the imagination, its sheer fun. I’m one of those appalling people who dress their dogs in costume at this time of year. Luckily, Truffle is a good sport. It probably helps that she knows she looks adorable!

Truffle with her Favorite Boy

Halloween 2007: Truffle with her Favorite Boy

          I also adorn the house with lights, spooky ceramic houses, gourds (real and faux), a plethora of orange plates, assorted stuffed cats and vampires, and a clock that shrieks eerily on the hour. And naturally I cook.

This year my mother and I have prepared pumpkin fudge to give out on Halloween. I know that the parents of trick-or-treaters are concerned about homemade treats. Our solution is to put a return address label on each wrapped piece of fudge identifying the maker. If the parents have a question, they can call us. The children seem to enjoy receiving something a little different from the usual candy corn and chocolate bars. And we have the fun of making fudge without the caloric risk of eating it all!

I adapted this recipe from one on Nestlé’s baking site. Feel free to adjust the spices according to your taste; you’ll want to replicate the flavor of your own favorite pumpkin pie. Next year I’m going to eschew the fluff and make my fudge more pumpkin-y, but this is pretty darn good if rather sweet. Unless you are allergic to the nuts, don’t omit them; they add both flavor and texture to the final product. (We tried it both ways. My photographer and friend Judy Christian, my mother Jan, and I are willing to suffer for our art!)

I know I may have overdone the photos in this particular post, but Judy and I had so much fun arranging them (Judy is a food stylist manqué!) that I felt I had to share several. As you can see, they embody Halloween colors and Halloween spirit.

Happy hauntings……..

MORE SPRINKLES!!!
Finishing Touches: MORE SPRINKLES!!!

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Fudge

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) sweet butter

1 5-ounce can evaporated milk

3/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1 cup white chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) or 6 ounces finely chopped white chocolate

1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

autumnal sprinkles (optional)

 

 

 

 

Instructions:

          Line a 9-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil.

          In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar, brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, pumpkin, and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and continue to boil it, still stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees on a candy thermometer, although I always like to test for the actual soft ball in a dish of cold water since candy thermometers can be temperamental). This should take about 10 to 12 minutes.

          Remove the fudge from the heat. Stir in the chips, and let them melt; then stir in the remaining ingredients. Quickly pour the fudge into the prepared pan. Toss on decorative sprinkles if you like. Let the fudge cool completely (outside if the weather is cool or in the refrigerator), covered, before slicing it into squares. Makes 16 to 36 squares, depending on how big you want to make them. Store this soft confection in the refrigerator.

 

Mrs. Baker’s Applesauce

28 October 2008

 

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

          This year has seen the most abundant apple harvest I can recall in our corner of New England. My neighbor Alice speculates that our literal windfall of apples has something to do with the hatching of swarms of bees just as the apple trees blossomed last spring. All I know is that our apple trees, most of which are older than anyone living on our road, suddenly acted like fertile teenagers.

          Naturally, my mother and I have made large quantities of applesauce. Applesauce is the perfect fall comfort food, and it’s amazingly easy to make, especially if you have a food mill. Food mills render the peeling and coring of apples completely unnecessary. The skin, core, and seeds of the apple cook along with the sauce, adding flavor to the end product, and then get pushed out and discarded. The residue left in the food mill is surprisingly small.

          If you don’t have a food mill, you will have to peel and core your apples. On the other hand, you will end up with lumpy applesauce, which some people prefer to the smoother version.

          As you can see in the photographs above and below, my food mill requires me to push the apple pulp manually through the holes in the mill. My neighbor Peter has a relatively high-tech machine with a crank that does most of the work. Either type of mill is definitely worth purchasing.

          My applesauce is named after Abigail Baker, who lived around the corner from our property in Hawley, Massachusetts, in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Mrs. Baker is famous (in our corner of the world, at any rate) for creating the winning pudding in a late 18th-century pudding contest that gave our district, Pudding Hollow, its name.

When my friend Judith Russell and I began work on our Pudding Hollow Cookbook, Judy suggested that we include a recipe for Mrs. Baker’s applesauce. Somehow it slipped through the cracks then so I’m rectifying that omission here on my blog. I portray Mrs. Baker every year in the entertainment that accompanies our revived pudding contest. Hawley’s most celebrated cook is therefore seldom out of my thoughts. Judy, too, is in my thoughts a lot, especially at this time of year. She died in the autumn of 1994, but her colorful folk art and sunny spirit live on in our hills, in our hearts, and in my cookbook.

 

 

Mrs. Baker’s Windfall Applesauce

Ingredients:

6 cups quartered apples (preferably more than 1 variety)

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 cup cider plus additional cider as needed

maple syrup to taste (I used 2 tablespoons for my most recent batch)

Instructions:

          Wash the apples and quarter them. Remove any bad spots, but don’t worry about cutting out the core and seeds if you have a food mill.

          Place the apple pieces, the cinnamon stick, and the cider in a 4-quart pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat, covered, and simmer it until the apples soften, checking frequently to see whether you need to add more cider to keep the sauce from burning. The cooking time will depend on your apples; my most recent batch, which used Cortland and Northern Spy apples I’d had sitting in my entryway for about a month, took 20 to 25 minutes.

          Let the apples cool for a few minutes; then run them through a food mill. Discard the pulp and seeds (excellent pig food or compost!), and place the sauce in a saucepan. Add maple syrup to taste, and heat until the syrup dissolves.

          The yield will depend on your apples. My test batch this week gave me just under 2 cups of sauce. Feel free to multiply this recipe if your apple harvest is copious.

 

The Flavor of Fall at the Blue Heron

15 October 2008

 

          A note to readers: This blog has moved! Please visit the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS for new posts as well as copies of older ones (yes, even this post!).  See you around the stove……..

          Tinky

         The kitchen at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland, Massachusetts, is a very busy place and a very happy one. Music plays as several cooks work in different sections of the room, creating tantalizing smells as they toast spices, glaze cakes, or efficiently peel and combine potatoes and parsnips. I spent a couple of hours there recently with Chef Deborah Snow—and I couldn’t help smiling almost continuously.

         Deborah spent our time showing me how to make a dish that reflected her signature focus on local food. She took advantage of the fall harvest to make butternut-squash ravioli, a deceptively simple Tuscan dish that is a favorite with Blue Heron customers. “I’ve gotten a lot of marriage proposals with this,” she said of the ravioli. She served it with a devastatingly rich brown-butter sauce.

          By using premade dumpling wrappers for the ravioli Deborah rendered them simple for home cooks. I helped her assemble the ravioli (when put together they look a bit like fried eggs) and was impressed at how easy they were to create.

The biggest trick in the recipe is the butter sauce, which can be a little temperamental; the butter should look brown and taste toasted but not burned. The other trick for the home cook will be timing. Deborah made the brown-butter sauce and the ravioli more or less simultaneously because she knows instinctively when to check on each pot.

Less experienced cooks should probably shape the ravioli and then begin browning the butter in order to keep a careful eye on the sauce. The ravioli can easily be boiled after the sauce is complete; these little pieces of pasta don’t take very long to cook.

I followed this method at home. My dish was almost as delicious as Deborah’s—if a bit less beautiful.

To learn more about the Blue Heron, visit its web site, http://www.blueherondining.com.  Meanwhile, here is the recipe for the ravioli, kindness of Deborah Snow.

 

Blue Heron Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ingredients:

for the ravioli:

1 medium butternut squash

extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper to taste for roasting

1 cup shredded or grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 whole nutmeg, freshly grated

kosher salt to taste (start with 1 teaspoon)

freshly ground pepper to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)

72 round 3-inch wheat dumpling wrappers (available from Asian markets)

1 egg

additional cheese and several small sage leaves for garnish

for the sauce:

1 pound unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves, plus 5 more leaves later, chopped

1-1/4 cups white wine

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Instructions:

for the ravioli:

          Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and gunk, and rub a little oil, salt, and pepper on the flesh. Roast the squash until it is soft enough to scoop out easily. Begin roasting with the flesh side down in your pan, and turn the squash over after about 20 minutes. Snow explains that the length of time it will take to roast the squash to the desired consistency depends on the strength of your oven. I would start checking the squash to see whether it is tender after about 30 minutes.

          Scoop the squash out of its skin, and use a potato masher to blend in the cheese, olive oil, nutmeg, salt and pepper. (Do NOT use a food processor.)

          Place half of the dumpling wrappers (36) on a work surface. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the squash mixture into the middle of each wrapper. You will probably have leftover squash, which is delicious by itself as a side dish.

          Beat the egg with a splash of water; then use a pastry brush to brush the edges of the dumpling wrappers with the egg mixture. Place another wrapper on top, and use your fingertips to seal the edges of your ravioli, trying to push out any air bubbles that have formed.

          Put a large pot of water (at least 2 quarts) on the stove, and add 2 teaspoons of salt. When the water comes to a boil, place the ravioli gently in the boiling water. Return the water to the boil, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer, stirring gently (particularly in the beginning) to keep the ravioli separated. Remove the ravioli gently from the water with a slotted spoon, place them in 6 individual pasta dishes, and ladle brown-butter sauce over all. Top with additional cheese and sage leaves. Serves 6 with 6 ravioli apiece.

for the sauce:
          Place the entire pound of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil. Cook it slowly, monitoring its progress to keep it from burning. When it begins to turn brown around the edges, it is almost finished cooking. Skim off (and discard) any fuzz on top. The cooking process for the butter takes about 10 minutes on Deborah Snow’s very hot stove; it will probably take longer on a home range.

          The butter will soon develop a rich caramel color. Turn off the heat, and add the first 10 chopped sage leaves. The butter will bubble up in response. Let it rest for a couple of minutes.

          When the butter has cooled a bit, spoon out the milk solids and discard them; you will only need the liquid.

In a medium skillet, heat the wine until it is reduced by half. Whisk in the cream, and again let the liquid reduce by half. Throw in the additional chopped sage leaves while the sauce is reducing. When the sauce is nice and thick, whisk in the brown butter to taste. You may not need all of it, but you will need most of it.