I am writing this on March 4th. The sun is out, albeit faintly. Nature is still spinning in subdued monchromatic hues: burnt orange, army green, gray. Spring seems almost close enough to reach, but not quite touched down. Read more…
Eastham turnips—those savory, violet-tinged staples of the holiday dinner table—have origins deeper than the soil.
Abbott Schafer Knowles started farming turnips just about as soon as he could walk. He was born in one of the old farmhouses on Locust Road in Eastham in 1905, and he came from a long line of Knowles men—farmers, mostly, and a few nefarious characters dabbling in moonshine. The Knowles farmed turnips. So did the Nickersons and the Kings and the Bracketts. Especially the Bracketts. Until suddenly, they didn’t. Read more…
Sometime before I was born, my parents were celebrating Christmas Eve. My dad was still a carpenter back then, and my mom worked at L. L. Bean. Her shift got off at 6:15 p.m. They were having their friends over for dinner (my soon-to-be godparents), and my mom wanted to serve pot roast to celebrate. She asked my dad to cook, and he agreed.
When she walked in the door at 6:30, the house was curiously devoid of scent. My dad was standing in the kitchen, peeling and chopping, and she asked him what had happened to the plan. Slightly insulted, he informed her that he was making it! Couldn’t she see?
The thing about making pot roast is it takes three hours, maybe four. (I should say in my father’s defense that he has since come a long way.) My mother and father spent the next few minutes furiously chopping vegetables and cutting the meat into teeny tiny pieces, and by keeping the pot at a rolling boil, they managed to have dinner on the table at 7:15. While this is not recommended, it is certainly a nod to a long history of Yankee ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Pot roast is very much a New England dish, delicious despite its base of monotonous winter vegetables and inferior cuts of meat. There have been boiled meats and vegetables for centuries, but pot roast as we know it dates back to 1881, according to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.
The recipe my mother makes is from an older Joy of Cooking cookbook. It calls for a chuck, rump, or bottom round roast—tough, fatty cuts with excellent flavor that will eventually tenderize with heat. You dredge the meat in flour, brown it, and then throw some vegetables in.
What my mother uses varies depending on what she has on hand, but generally it’s the usual cast of carrots, potatoes, garlic, onion, or celery. Turnips are nice, as are parsnips, and she likes to add a bay leaf. Then it’s just red wine, water, and a pinch of salt, and dinner is on the stove.
My daughter and my husband were due a day apart: September 26th and 27th, respectively. He arrived on the 20th in September of 1978.
Sally took her time. She was due on a Monday. Tuesday I was out running errands, getting coffee, my shirt no longer able to span the ever-growing gap between my shorts and my belly. When are you due? people asked.
Yesterday, I said.
At 4 p.m. on Friday, the first contraction finally hit. I’m not quite sure how I knew it apart from the months of practice ones, but they say you will, and I did. I called Alex. It’s time, I said.
That night we drank smoothies and ate an entire tomato-ricotta pizza, and every hour or so I’d sit up with a gasp from the bed. The contractions were long and slow, stretching five or even six minutes, but by the next morning they’d quieted down.
We decided to take a walk to get things started again. We walked out on the road to the bay—down the pavement toward Bound Brook, off the road at the Atwood-Higgins house that winds toward the beach through the woods. We made it out to the water, then threaded our way behind the dunes to Duck Harbor, where the next parking lot cuts in. We followed the cars out to the road and then veered off onto another path, the one that cuts through to Pole Dike and High Toss and finally to the road and home again. It was a long walk, two hours, and by the time we got back, the contractions had started up again. They came erratically all day—first two minutes apart, then an hour’s rest, then fast and furious again.
We finally left for the hospital Sunday around 3 a.m. My parents and my sister showed up at 7 a.m. and Alex’s family not far behind, and finally, at 6:42 p.m., we welcomed an eight-pound, 21-inch Sally Elizabeth. I have never been so happy or exhausted.
This year we get to celebrate together at home for the first time. Alex will be 34, Sally will be one—twelve days apart. I’ll be out picking raspberries and tucking away the fruit, making what I always make for late September, early October occasions: homegrown, homemade raspberry pie.
Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet.
I have made a brilliant discovery. It is not the cure for cancer or a method for getting strawberry stains out of white baby shirts, but it is pretty revolutionary. It is a formula—1 part milk to 2 parts cream to 1/2 part sweetener. It is the secret to incredibly easy and delicious homemade ice cream.
Most homemade ice creams are laborious. First, you make custard, which is a tricky business. You have to heat milk and temper eggs, neither of which is easy to do correctly. One misstep and you have curdled yolks or custard that is thin and watery. The custard is also hot, which means you have to wait patiently for it to get down to 40 degrees before you can finally churn and freeze. Even if you do it right, there is a lot of anxiety.
No more! I have found an ice cream recipe that is easy.
It comes from a Patricia Wells recipe. Tucked into the pages of The Paris Cookbook, there is something called “Maison du Miel’s Heather Honey Ice Cream.” It calls for vanilla beans, heavy cream, milk, and honey. It says to steep the beans in hot milk and cream, then to strain out the seeds and whisk in honey. Chill the mixture like a custard, right down to 40 degrees, and then to pour the thin runny syrup right into your ice cream machine. There is no custard making, no thickening. And the way I make it, there is not even any chilling. This means we need only 30 minutes from ice-cream dreams to reality.
Here’s how it works:
I like my ice cream sweetened with maple syrup. Honey’s okay, especially a very light honey, but you have to heat up the milk to get it to blend, and when the honey is dark it has a very strong flavor. Maple syrup mixes easily with milk and cream, and the taste is subtler. So I stir together 1/2 cup maple syrup, 2 cups heavy cream, and 1 cup milk. That’s it. I pour this into the ice cream maker. It hums away. Twenty-five minutes later we have homemade ice cream! What could be better?
Of course, it’s fun to play with the flavors. This time of year you could do just about anything: blackberry, peach, raspberry. You could steep the milk with rosemary or ginger or even coffee. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. In a few minutes you’ll be digging out a bowl and a spoon, and tucking in to your very own sweet cream flavor.
The peach is soft. It is soft and buzz-fuzzed and perfect, and it is still warm in my hands. It reminds me of my daughter—the way her hair grew in after it all fell out, pale blond and furry.
Like Sally, this peach is not just any peach. It is a Peach—our peach, our first peach, a peach that we made from water and sweat, from scratch. It is the one peach that came from the hundreds of pink blossoms that burst out this spring, the one peach from all the compost and mulch and watering. It is hairy and yellow and blushing, and we think it’s perfect, stunning. Read more…
The beach peas are in bloom. Each day when I walk Sally up over the dune to see her grandparents, there are more—scribbles of purple and pink in a wash of green. We look carefully, taking note of the changes, waiting for the flowers to harden into pods and thicken with peas. Read more…
I met my husband in a clam shack.
Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the bustle along with the man. It isn’t a glamorous job, standing behind those take-out windows in the sticky salt air, but somehow, it gets you.
It’s a slow build-up to August. May you’re bored, June you learn the shortcuts, and July your blood starts pumping fast. By the peak of August, you’re hard-wired, unflappable. The line stretches out from the take-out window, down the pier, past the boats to the gas pumps, and you spread your feet, stand your ground. Two burritos: scallops, add guac. refried. Whole bellied clam plate—that’s the market price!—oyster po-boy.
Every day there’s a lull between 3 and 4 p.m., and you re-stock, take measure, remember to breathe, metabolize. You drink a juice and maybe a soda water, another iced coffee to get you by.
Then they come again: in swarms of two, three, five. They want dinner in sweatshirts and bikinis now—sunset and picnic tables beachside. Tuna dinner, medium rare, wasabi on the side. Sub salad? No, it’s veggies and rice. Lobster clambake, two pounder, corn. It comes with butter, and the napkins are outside.
You watch the light get low on the harbor, and slowly, you adjust your eyes. The line slows down to a trickle and moves over to the ice cream side. The girls are running out of soft serve—pour in another bag. You scrub the counters and the tables outside. Another day of waxed sprinkles and lobster salad, another tide.
You collect the trays, stop sweating for a minute, sigh. The other girls push up the pick-up window, and you hand the ketchup and mustard and mayo inside. Someone flips the open sign; then it’s dishes, mopping, reggae time.
The guys in the kitchen hum along while they close down the line. Nick’s off-key; Neily starts to harmonize. They’re drinking Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Natty Ice, and you sit down to eat your dinner on the bench outside.
It’s potato salad most of the time. There’s something about that scoop from the deli case—cool cream, feathered dill, ribbons of red onion sliding by. The heat washes away as you sit outside—and for the first time all night you smell the ocean, nothing fried.
People don’t picnic like they used to. I mean, take James Beard. There was a man who knew how to pack a hamper: “It’s an easy matter to gather up a few provisions at a roadside stand or at a shop in any little town you pass through,” he writes in his essay, The Art of Picnicking. “Several of my most fanciful picnics have come straight from a delicatessen, and I recall the folly of one occasion when I bought a half pound of caviar, lemons, black bread—lacking toast—and butter. Two friends and I ate this with a bottle of chilled vodka and finished off the meal with cheese, more bread, and wine.”
The other day, inspired by Mr. Beard, I packed a basket and did it up right. It was one of those bluebird days—clear skies, soft breeze, warm and steady blowing in from the southeast. I went to the basement and dug out our picnic basket—a gift from my mother and father for Christmas one year. It has wicker sides, and a stiff wooden top, and a red-checked cloth liner keeps the sand from blowing in.
Then I set about making lunch. There was lobster in the fridge—already cooked, in the shell, leftover from dinner with my husband’s family the night before. I got out the rolling pin, thwacked the claws and the tail, and fished the big, pink chunks of meat out. Then I rolled the claws, cracked open the tails, threw it all on the countertop, and chopped it up.
It was only 9 a.m., but already the kitchen was getting hot. I rolled up my sleeves, threw the meat in a bowl, and started mincing celery and red onion, and cut a lemon in half. In a few minutes I had the salad together: just mayo and a bit of salt and pepper to top things off.
What else did a Beard-worthy picnic need? Rustic bread, sliced thick. A jar of pickles—homemade, dilly spears, never heated, crisp from the fridge. A bottle of Pellegrino; a salad of basil, bread chunks, mozzarella, and heirloom tomato. And finally, leftover blueberry pie, gooey and thick.
I packed cutlery—real stainless—along with cloth napkins and tin plates. I put on my bathing suit and a faded yellow sundress, then grabbed a towel and my book. Finally, I strapped the picnic basket to the back of my bike, climbed aboard, and rode out of town, along the bluff, to the beach.
It was a picnic, I like to think, that would have done Beard proud.
For a top-notch picnic, there is really nothing more elegant and simple than lobster salad. This recipe makes a very traditional batch—nothing fancy, but excellent in its simplicity. If you don’t feel like cooking and picking your own lobster meat, keep in mind that you can buy it cooked and shucked at most local fish markets.
2 pounds fresh cooked lobster meat, shucked and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Put the lobster meat, red onions, and celery in a medium-size mixing bowl. Whisk together the mayonnaise and lemon juice in a measuring cup and spoon this mixture into the bowl. Stir well, until everything is evenly coated with the dressing, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature—preferably with a crusty, rustic slice of bread.
Winter blankets take many shapes. There’s the warmth of our Pendleton wool, thrown over our legs and tucked under our feet, working just as hard as the woodstove to keep the heat in while we sleep. There’s the snow outside that comes and goes—covering the strawberry patch and the raspberry cane roots from December to March. There’s the extra fur the dog grows over his rump and between his paw pads, keeping him moving over ice and snow.
And over the garden, there’s a thin, sturdy layer of plastic—nothing expensive, nothing fancy—but enough to cover the crops so that in even the coldest months, they grow.
Not everyone, of course, can stand the chill. The basil and eggplants die off long before late October, when we cover the rows. The tomatoes get pulled out not long after while the green beans say their parting words, and the kitchen herbs move inside to sunny doorways and windowsills.
But the greens—the cabbage and kale and lettuce and spinach and Swiss chard and arugula—these thrive under their thin cover all winter long. We harvest the late summer plantings from Thanksgiving through March, and a new crop goes in toward the end of February. It’s hard to believe that under such a thin plastic blanket the seedlings still sprout. But they do, skyward and reaching, sure that spring is coming soon.
By early May, the beds are full again, a sea of bushy green rows.
I always over-plant—the promise of seed packets in February is too much to resist—and by mid-May, we have a full-blown greens crisis on our hands. Salads are mandatory at dinner and lunch, and on weekend mornings I sneak sautéed spinach and Swiss chard onto our plates alongside hot toast and fried eggs.
But my favorite way to eat the greens, hands down, is cooked with onions and garlic, layered with filo dough and cheese, and served as an entrée: spanakopita.
If you’ve never had spanakopita, it’s a Greek delight. It’s a savory spinach pie, or really more of a pastry, filled with eggs and ricotta and feta and greens. In the Greek countryside, rural women bulk up their spinach with leeks and Swiss chard, and in the cities fancy restaurants add kalamata olives or pine nuts.
I never do much to dress it up—with greens straight out of the garden, there’s no need for that. I just head outside in the late afternoon, down the deck stairs with colander and garden shears in hand, and start snipping my way through the spinach beds. When the colander’s full I make my way back in, and turn on the oven while I start chopping garlic and onions, chard, and spinach. By the time the sun goes down, the house fills up with the scent of pastry and herbs, rich cheese and greens, and something like spring wafts out of the oven.
It’s the sign of warmer weather I look forward to the most.