Archive for July, 2010

Loving Local

Monday, July 26th, 2010
To my fellow bloggers (and would-be bloggers):
You are cordially invited to a pot-luck feast! Please participate in an upcoming farm-fresh blogathon.
Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts will take place from Sunday, August 22, through Saturday, August 28—in other words, during Massachusetts Farmers Market Week.
The blogathon will be hosted by In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens, with a little help from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Mass Farmers Markets.
We hope non-bloggers will participate as well, of course! If you are interested in food (well, who isn’t?), please consider liking our Facebook page. We’ll keep you abreast of upcoming posts in the blogathon so you can read and comment.
And when it begins you’ll have lots of yummy posts to savor!
Funds raised during the blogathon (bloggers who participate will be encouraged to place a donation link in their posts) will go to Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit charitable organization that helps farmers markets throughout the Commonwealth.
Please think about writing a post that week if you live or work in Massachusetts. Or if you used to live or work in Massachusetts. Or if you once spent a weekend on Cape Cod. Or if you have a particular fondness for New England clam chowder, Hadley asparagus, or Boston baked beans.
Posts should focus to some extent on locally grown food in Massachusetts. You don’t have to be a food writer to participate, however.
Gardeners can write about herb or vegetable growing. Architects can write about the design of barns or farm stands. Watchers of the statehouse or even the federal Capitol can discuss the politics of agriculture and/or local food. And so forth.
Posts can be recipes, critiques, short stories, reminiscences … whatever you feel like writing. Let the flavors of the Bay State inspire you.
Here’s how you can get involved: Sometime during the week of August 22-28, put your post on the internet.
Please make sure your post mentions the blogathon, includes a link to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens, and encourages readers to donate to Mass Farmers Markets. The organization’s donation link is
(If you have another local-food cause you’d like to encourage folks to support, that’s fine by us!) 

Of course, we’d love to have bloggers show off our gorgeous logo, designed by the talented Leon Peters. You may also display a PDF poster in 8-1/2-by-11-inch format.

Here's a more compact version in case you'd like that:
If you’d like to participate, please leave a comment here or on our Facebook page to tell us what you’d like to write about. When the big week arrives and you’ve put up your post, you may either leave another comment or email to announce it.
All posts will be identified with a link on this blog as well as on a special site set up just for that purpose, the Loving Local Blog.
And please help spread the word about this event! We hope our table during Farmers Market Week will be bursting with flavorful, colorful surprises.
Yours in good food,

P.S. In keeping with the Farmers Market Week theme, here are a couple of photos from this past Saturday's doings at the state’s newest and probably smallest farmers market, that in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

Below you can see Sheila Velazquez of Pen and Plow Farm in Hawley show off her veggies—and Barbara Goodchild of Barberic Farm in Shelburne display some fleece from her sheep.

There was only one other booth last weekend–a bake sale for the local school–but food was fresh and spirits were high.

Curtis Country Store Sugar & Spice Ginger Cookies

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Mary Jane's Cookies as seen at the Curtis Country Store

At first glance, July is NOT the time of year for a molasses cookie. The spices and the rich brown color might seem more appropriate for fall–or even winter.
I couldn’t resist using this recipe for this month’s Twelve Cookies of Christmas entry, however. These cookies taste perfect after a summer swim. (A glass of milk is the ideal accompaniment.)
I came across the recipe almost by chance. I was expecting guests last weekend, and I was determined not to turn on the oven. As Cole Porter wrote with such panache, it was too darn hot.
So I stopped at the Curtis Country Store in Charlemont, Massachusetts, and picked up some cookies baked by the talented Mary Jane Miller.
That evening I apologized to my guests for not serving them homemade cookies. As soon as I tasted one of Mary Jane’s ginger cookies, I realized that no apology had been necessary. I don’t think I’ve ever made a cookie better than these!
Mary Jane was kind enough to give me the recipe to share with you. Of course, if you happen to live near the Curtis Country Store, I encourage you to buy Mary Jane’s cookies. They are huge (I cut the size down a bit for home baking) and absolutely delicious—sort of a cross between a soft ginger cookie and a snickerdoodle. 

You may be tempted to substitute butter for the shortening in this recipe. If you do, the cookies will probably still taste great, but they’ll lose a little of their chewy yet firm consistency.

Mary Jane’s Cookies
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar plus additional sugar for coating
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour
Cream together the shortening and the cup of sugar. Beat in the egg and the molasses. Stir in the seasonings and soda, followed by the flour.
Chill at least 1 hour or overnight.
When you are almost ready to bake preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll the dough into 2-tablespoon-sized balls and then roll them in granulated sugar.
Bake on parchment or silicone for 8 to 10 minutes. “They won’t look done, but you don’t want to over bake them,” says Mary Jane.
Cool the cookies on their sheet; they will flatten themselves out. 

Makes 30 cookies.

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Chic Once More Tarragon Vinegar

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Twenty years ago tarragon was THE chic flavor for gourmet vinegar.
And yet a couple of months ago when I was getting ready to make Green Goddess Dressing I could find neither fresh tarragon nor tarragon vinegar in stores!
(I’m sure they can still be found in some grocery stores, but they were not available near my brother’s house in Virginia.)
Tarragon is a lovely herb, with a special almost licorice-like flavor. I have no idea why or how it fell from grace. I firmly believe that it deserves to come back into fashion, however. And I’m doing my part to promote its renaissance.
First, I have planted tarragon outside my kitchen in Massachusetts as well as in my sister-in-law’s garden in Virginia.
Thinking ahead to the winter when my tarragon will be dormant, I have just made tarragon vinegar. My own tarragon plant is still dwarflike, but I was fortunately enough to find a huge bunch of lush tarragon at my CSA, Wilder Brook Farm.
If I want to make Green Goddess dressing in January I can substitute my vinegar for some of the lemon juice in that recipe. I can also make an herbal vinaigrette with the vinegar. Or a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette by mixing it with some of my strawberry vinegar.
Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll never go hungry again—at least not where tarragon is concerned.
Did I mention that the recipe couldn’t be simpler?
Tarragon Vinegar
1 quart apple cider vinegar (I use the lovely vinegar made by Apex Orchards)
1/2 cup tarragon leaves
Heat the vinegar in a non-aluminum pan until it is just about to boil but not boiling. While it is heating, wash and dry the tarragon leaves, being careful not to crush them. Gently push the leaves into a warm, clean glass jar with a capacity greater than a quart. (I use an old liquor bottle—washed, of course.)
When the vinegar is warm pour it into the jar and close the jar loosely. Tighten the jar lid after the vinegar cools. Place the jar in a cool, dry place for 3 days, gently shaking it twice a day. Do NOT try to shake the bottle just after you pour in the hot vinegar as it may leak or explode.
Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth and funnel it into smaller bottles. If you like, you may place a sprig of tarragon in your bottles to help you remember what type of vinegar they contain. (Labels help, too.) 

Makes about 1 quart of vinegar.

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Pat’s Shrimp Delight Mold

Friday, July 16th, 2010

It’s still a little warm for extended cooking. So here’s another cold appetizer. Like the cowboy caviar I discussed recently, it can be made into a meal in a pinch.
The recipe came from an old friend of my family. Pat’s mother Dusty was my grandfather’s secretary for decades and a fixture at gatherings of our clan. We loved her for her good nature, her competence, and her sense of humor.
Pat is also a darling–and a good cook, too!
The mold comes from the era in which molded food was one of the queens of American kitchens. I think of it as a 1950s recipe, although it could date from earlier. I’ve seen versions of it with chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and even lemon flavored gelatin.
Next time I make it I think I’ll throw in a little lemon juice and maybe some dill. It’s pretty tasty as it is, however. The canned soup and the gelatin may startle you, but honestly I’ve never served it to a guest who didn’t ask for seconds.
The Mold
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed tomato soup
8 ounces cream cheese
1 package (1/4 ounce) gelatin
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery or cucumber (or a mixture)
1 pound cooked shrimp (canned if necessary, as it was for me recently since I couldn’t get to the big city to shop!), cut up
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Melt the soup and cream cheese together in a large saucepan. While they are heating, dissolve the gelatin in the water. 

Turn off the heat under the soup/cheese mixture and stir in the gelatin and the remaining ingredients. Pour into a greased mold and chill at least a day. Unmold carefully! (You may always just put it in a pretty bowl if molding daunts you.) Serve with buttery crackers such as Ritz. Serves 12.

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My Trip to Bountiful

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Alice's Cabin as seen from the Dam

I have always been moved by Horton Foote’s play/teleplay/screenplay The Trip to Bountiful. Its elderly heroine, Carrie Watts, longs to return to her rural childhood home. To her it represents youth, peace, joy, and love.
We all have our individual Bountifuls. Their sights, sounds, and textures speak to us of home, of happy childhood, of a close kinship with nature.
I’m lucky enough to be able to make visits from time to time to my own Bountiful. It’s located less than a mile from my home in Hawley, Massachusetts, in the summer community of Singing Brook Farm. 

My family rented Alice’s Cabin every summer from the time I was four until I was 21. The cabin is set in the woods, way down a curvy dirt road.


Alice’s Cabin perches right above Singing Brook Farm’s dammed up mountain stream and tennis courts—an ideal location for children. We could always see who was available for play.

Nowadays my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael rent the cabin each summer with a little contribution from me. They don’t stay for the entire summer so I always get to enjoy some time there.
I used to stay at the cabin in order to be alone. My mother can no longer be left by herself. So this summer she and I have spent a couple of nights together at Alice’s Cabin.
There are a few things I DON’T like about Alice’s Cabin. Since people don’t live in it for most of the year (with no insulation, a small wood stove for heat, and an above-ground water supply, the place can’t be used except in the summer) it tends to attract other residents—bugs, mice, and often a bat. It’s also a little nippy, even in the summer. 

Everything else I love. So does my mother. So do the dog and cat. The latter has unfortunately retired from mousing at the advanced age of 19; her celestial blue eyes are beautiful but blind.

Lorelei Lee adores this sofa, perhaps because the cover matches her eyes.

When my family first moved to a year-round house on the main road, in fact, I had trouble sleeping. I missed the brook’s lullaby.
Since we are regular tenants Singing Brook Farm lets us strew our stuff about. The cover art for my cookbook hangs on a wall in the kitchen, and the cow painting given to me in graduate school by an artist, Ernie from Mars, looms majestically above the mantle. 

(Ernie and the cow deserve their own post one of these days. For the moment, let me just say that the cow is hard to miss.)

My own room (used by nephew Michael when he is in residence) is decorated with posters. Two of my favorites are a World War I-era announcement and a blown-up advertisement for one of my singing engagements.


Naturally, when we are at Alice’s Cabin my mother and I spend time down at the Dam. The water is cool—actually, COLD—but refreshing. Jan can’t go swimming unless she has more than one person to help her so sometimes we have to compromise.  

I am able to move her chair into the water so that she can cool her feet off. And she often enjoys just sitting near the Dam with Truffle. The air there is always cooler than it is way up on the main road. 

I don’t know how often we’ll be able to stay at Alice’s Cabin this summer since moving around tends to disorient my mother.
Even if I don’t go back at all, I’ll feel that my portion of the rent has been well spent. Sunday night after my mother went to bed, I sat happily reading in the living room with the animals by my side. As always, the sounds of the singing brook soothed me.
Like Carrie Watts, I felt a sense of peace and renewal. I was home.
As a bonus, I experienced a spectacular sunset—something I don’t get to see at my regular house since the Casa Weisblat faces east. (Sunrises are completely wasted on me.) 

What—and where—is YOUR Bountiful, readers?

Mint Syrup
I’ll bet you almost thought I was going to forget to include a recipe in this post!
This syrup smells just like the doorway to Alice’s Cabin. Mint grows wild outside the door, and it’s almost impossible not to step on it and release its aroma. (I don’t actually try very hard to avoid it.)
The recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. I like it in tea or lemonade. It also makes a lovely punch combined with iced tea, fruit juice, and ginger ale.
If you store your syrup for more than a couple of months, you may have to thin it out by heating it with additional water. Make sure it is either well sealed or refrigerated, or it will mold after a couple of weeks.
8 sprigs fresh spearmint
8 sprigs fresh peppermint
(If you don’t have both, use twice as much of either.)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 or 2 drops of green food coloring (optional)
Wash and carefully blot the mints dry. Place them in a saucepan, and pound or crush them slightly to release their flavors. Add the sugar and water, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the food coloring, if desired, and remove from heat. 

Let the syrup cool for a few minutes; then strain it through cheesecloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. Makes about 2 cups.   

The newest feature of Alice's Cabin. One can sit on the swing and watch tennis, listen to the rain, or just take a nap.

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