Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie

September 30th, 2020

Tammy Hicks of Charlemont, Massachusetts, won first prize for this pie years ago at the Cummington Fair. I’m sure Tammy’s version of the pie looked a lot more polished than mine; as you can see from the photo above, my pastry was a little spotty.

My pie tasted good, however, and I’ll trade a spotty but delicious crust for one out of a box any day!

I found the recipe in a lovely family recipe book Tammy’s mother, Pat Lowell, helped put together, Mangia. The book pays tribute to Pat’s grandparents, who came to this country a century ago from an area of Switzerland where Italian was spoken. (It is now part of Italy.)

Mangia nicely blends family history and recipes. Pat and Tammy told me that they cherish the book particularly in this pandemic year, when they can’t have their usual large family reunion. The book connects them to the people they love.

Tammy says she likes to use Paula Red apples for this recipe. I used my favorite assortment of apples, those from various trees in my neighborhood.

Tammy’s Pie

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
5 to 7 tablespoons cold water in ice cubes

for the filling:

6 to 8 cups peeled, sliced apples
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pie spice
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
2 teaspoons butter
milk or cream as needed

Instructions:

Begin by making the pastry. Sift together the flour and the salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry knife or blender, 1/3 cup at a time. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until the dough begins to stick together.

Turn onto a floured board and form into a ball. Cut the dough in half, wrap the halves in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

While the dough refrigerates, prepare the apples. Take half of the dough and roll out your bottom crust. (Leave the other half refrigerated until you are ready to use it.) Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie plate and fill it with the apples. Mix the sugar and flour with the spices, and pour them over the apples. Top with the butter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the top crust, and adjust it over the apples. Crimp the edges, using a little water to seal the crust. Cut steam vents in the top crust and brush a little milk or cream on top.

Cover the crust with foil, and bake for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crust lightly—or even a bit longer. Serves 6 to 8.

 

Roasted Peach Scones

August 31st, 2020

Peach season is in full swing around here, and I am enjoying the bounty. Peaches seem to sum up this season of the year, lush and golden. Of course, my favorite way to use peaches is just to eat them … preferably leaning over the sink so the juices don’t fly everywhere.

I do enjoy cooking with them as well, however. I never made peach scones until this year. I don’t like to use really wet fruit my scones. A recent newsletter from King Arthur Flour gave me the idea of roasting peaches for scones … so I decided to try peach scones that way.

Here is my (now) tried and true method.

The Scones

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups chopped peaches (about 2 large peaches), skins on, or even more if you want lots of peaches in your scones
1/2 cup sugar plus a bit more as needed for sprinkling
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
optional flavoring to taste: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger, or 1 teaspoon chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Instructions:

First, roast the peaches. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Spread the peach pieces out on the prepared cookie sheet.

Roast the peaches for 10 minutes; then stir them and roast them for another 10 minutes (but check them after 5 minutes just in case they are sticking or starting to blacken).

Remove the peaches from the pan (they will be wet so this is a sort of scraping process) and let them cool before adding them to the scone dough.

For the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment. Combine the sugar, the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt. Stir in an optional flavoring if you wish. Cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the fruit into this mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, the buttermilk, and the vanilla or almond extract. Add the peach mixture and blend briefly. Drop the batter in clumps onto the baking sheets. You may either make large scones (you’ll end up with 6 to 8 of them) or smallish ones (12 to 16).

Sprinkle additional sugar on top for added flavor and crunch. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, depending on size.

Zucchini Bars

July 31st, 2020

 

My farm share has included zucchini now for a couple of weeks. I’ve put it in a lot of stir fries. Yesterday, however, I felt compelled to bake … so I made these easy bars or squares or brownies or whatever you’d like to call them. They’re light and chock full of the green stuff.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted sweet butter
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup sugar
1 egg. beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup flour

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with foil and then grease and flour the foil.

Stir together the melted butter and the sugar, followed by the grated zucchini. Mix in the egg, stirring well to incorporate; then add the baking soda, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon. Stir in the flour, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the concoction comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Makes about 16 squares, depending on how big you cut them.

A Memorial Spread

June 29th, 2020

I just realized that I haven’t posted anything here this month … so here is a quick recipe from my next cookbook, Pot Luck. The book will share essays and recipes I have created over many years, as well as a few new recipes (because I keep coming up with new ideas!).

This particular recipe is new to me, but it goes with an older story. It was inspired by my late neighbor Harrison Parker. Harry was a larger-then-life figure with a heart of gold and a wealth of arcane knowledge at his fingertips. He was the official historian of my town, Hawley, Massachusetts, and he was active in local politics. He died 20 years ago, but he was so famous in our county that people still ask me whether I knew him.

My book includes an essay I wrote after his death that highlights many of his contributions to our community and to our immediate neighborhood. It also mentions one of Harry’s less endearing habits (one to which all of his neighbors were accustomed!).

Harrison was inclined to show up at our houses just as we were sitting down to cocktails in the evening. He would happily sit down, request a drink, and share the news of the day. He almost always stayed through dinner.

Harry didn’t want to take complete advantage of his hosts so he frequently brought a small appetizer as an offering … either a chunk of cheese or a tin of smoked oysters. He loved to construct little cocktail sandwiches of crackers, cheese, and oysters.

His sandwiches aren’t really a recipe … so a couple of weeks ago I created a smoked oyster spread in his honor. I’m sure Harry would have loved this spread if he had had a chance to taste it!

I made this recipe for my friends at Mass Appeal. See video below!

Smoked Oyster Spread à la Harry

Ingredients:

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese at room temperature (leave it out for at least a couple of hours so it really softens)
1 can (3 ounces) smoked oysters, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
a bit of the oil in which the oysters are packed
1 tablespoon chopped chives

Instructions:

Place the cream cheese in a bowl, and mash it well. Add the other ingredients in order. Serve with celery or buttery crackers. Makes about 1 cup.

Making a spread is serious business! Thanks to Peter Beck for taking the photos for this post.

Art Week at Home: A Divine Dip

May 10th, 2020
I’m not really cross-eyed, but this was a selfie, and I was trying to keep both eyes on the camera. Sigh….

I was scheduled to teach a hands-on cooking workshop today for Art Week, a culture-filled annual event here in Massachusetts. Obviously, no one will be coming to my home to cook and tell stories this afternoon, but I’m sharing one of the recipes we were planning to make as part of Art Week at Home.

I wish I could do the cooking online, but the internet here is weak. So please just pretend that you’re with me, singing and cooking and telling stories around my great-grandmother’s old oval table. I’m going to walk you through one of the recipes I planned to make today.

In this crazy time, I am grateful every day for the natural beauty around me. Each time my dog Cocoa and I walk down the road, it seems to me that we observe a new sign of spring … another flower in bloom, another tree starting to bud, another tuft of grass springing up greener than the one before it.

We actually had a little snow yesterday, but it has fortunately departed, leaving everything even greener than before.

The color green is my theme these days. It’s a color of hope and renewal. It’s a theme indoors as well as out. Spinach is coming into season, bringing with it vitamins and minerals and that gorgeous deep color.

I eat spinach and cook with it a lot … in quiches, in quick sautés, in salads, in scrambled eggs. Like the cartoon character Popeye, I feel “strong to da finich ‘cause I eats me spinach.”

A few years back, I devised an onion-dip recipe loosely based on my mother’s formula for French onion soup. I love commercial dips and dip mixes, but I feel a little queasy when I read some of the ingredients on their labels. I don’t like to put foods in my body that I can’t pronounce.

My dip contained only normal foods. And caramelizing the onions for it made my house smell delicious.

With spinach on my mind, I recently decided to add a little spinach to the onion dip. The addition was a success. The spinach adds vitamins, a hint of flavor, and a lovely green color.

The recipe takes a while, between caramelizing the onions and letting the dip’s flavors meld in the refrigerator. Most of this time isn’t hands on, however, so you’ll have plenty of leisure to do other things while you’re cooking. Just make sure to keep your nose active while you’re caramelizing the onions.

Make the dip early in the day, and honor your mother with it by evening. My mother isn’t with me anymore, but I love to remember her on Mother’s Day. Making a dip inspired by one of her recipes gives my family a delicious way in which to enjoy the memories.

My Mother in 1968


Spinach and Sweet Onion Dip

If you happen to have fresh parsley and/or dill in the house, you may add sprigs of them before blending the dip at the end.

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, cut into thin slices, with each slice cut in half (sweet onions are best, but any onion will do in a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 generous splash dry sherry
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 teaspoon sea salt and three grinds of the pepper mill)
1-1/2 cups sour cream (half of this could be Greek yogurt if you want to be healthier, and if your onions are really huge you may increase the amount to 2 cups)

Instructions:

Combine the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts stir in the onion slices. Cook them slowly over low to medium-low heat, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes or so, until they are reduced and turn a lovely golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour and may take as long as an hour; they will be ready when they are ready. Add a little water from time to time if burning seems likely.

When the onions are almost ready stir in the mustard, and continue to cook, stirring, for at least 5 minutes. Add the sherry and the spinach and cook, stirring, until the liquid disappears and the spinach wilts.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the vegetables and remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

Place the vegetables in a food processor and combine them briskly; then add the sour cream and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor, an electric mixer will do, but you will have bigger chunks of onion and spinach. My food processor is broken so I used my mini-chopper. I had to chop the vegetables a little at a time, they were chopped.

Place the dip in the refrigerator, covered, and let the flavors meld for several hours. At least an hour before serving taste it on a neutral cracker to see whether you want to add any additional flavors (more salt and pepper perhaps?). Bring the dip to room temperature, and serve it with raw vegetable strips or chips. Makes 2 to 3 cups.

Cut into wedges or slices. Serves 6 to 8.