Open Hearth Cooking

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A few days ago, I made Indian Pudding, a traditional New England dessert, a colonial-era treat.  I found the recipe in a pamphlet, “Open Hearth Cooking” that we bought at Historic Deerfield in March, 2014.

Deerfield in north-central Massachusetts, was a frontier village, remembered in history books for a 1704 French and Indian raid. The town was almost wiped out; over 100 captives were taken back to French Canada.  The daughter of John Williams, Deerfield’s Puritan minister, decided to stay with her captors.  Eunice (age 8) became a Catholic, resisted family efforts to have her return home, married a Mohawk husband, visited Deerfield with her Indian family and lived as a Native American until her death at the age of 95.  The raid and Eunice’s story is told in John Demos’s “The Unredeemed Captive: a family story from early America”  (1995).

Deerfield residents had a strong sense of history.  In 1952 they created Historic Deerfield; in 1962 the town was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.  There are about a dozen old houses on the historic, mile long, Main Street.   There are also several museum buildings, a gift store, and the 1884 Deerfield Inn with Champy’s Restaurant and Tavern.

Deerfield Academy, one of several schools in town,  is a classic New England private prep school.  John McPhee wrote “The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield”  (1992).  Boyden took over the Deerfield country school in 1902 and built it into a classic New England academy like Andover and Exter.  I recently reread “The Headmaster.”  As an educator it’s an interesting lesson.   Boyden didn’t have any specific educational philosophy, he believed in doing right for “the boys” and strongly supported athletic competition. He was widely admired in the education community and his boys did well in life.

In 2014, our first year of retirement, we decided to take an open hearth cooking class in Deerfield.  We stayed in the Deerfield Inn, across the street from the Hall Tavern and visitor’s center — site for classes.    Eight students joined two instructors.  The hearth fire was blazing; hot coals were burning in the oven.  Ingredients for our class were laid out on rustic kitchen tables.  We were provided with historic receipts (recipes) and formed small groups to cook and bake.  Our menu was beef stew with winter vegetables, mashed root vegetables, French bread, applesauce and Indian pudding.

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As we prepared the dishes, we learn about open hearth cooking.  We pre-heated cast iron pots.  Some (the stew pot) hung on a moving crane over the fire.  Others dishes could be cooked in a spider leg pot (hot coals under the pot).  Some things are cooked in a Dutch oven with hot coals under the pot and on the lid.  The apples (acidic) can’t be cooked in cast iron pot but do fine in a tin lined cast iron pot.  Bread is cooked in the bake oven, heated with coals which are removed before the bread is baked.

Since I am familiar with bread, I joined with the only other male in the class to make rye bread.  We scalded milk, butter, honey and salt.  Mixed it with flour, yeast and eggs.  We let the sponge rise and mixed in more flour, kneading for 10 minutes.  It was baked in a redware dish.   Reproduced redware is made without lead and safe for cooking; don’t cook in original, as it probably contains lead.  While our stew and bread cooked, we were given a tour of another kitchen with a wood-coal stove.  Back in the Tavern kitchen, we served and ate our efforts. Quite good.

This March we returned to Deerfield for another open hearth class.  The Deerfield Inn was comfortable; we had great meals in Champy’s; the class was different and fun.  Our menu  was based on the 1796 “American Cookery” cookbook by Amelia Simmons.  It is considered the first American cookbook, using American ingredients.  Our menu was stuffed chicken and vegetables — potatoes, carrots, parsnips — , cranberry sauce, winter squash-Apple pudding, slapjacks, and gingerbread.

I really like how the instructors just handed students the recipes (historic and translated) and say “go to it.”   Diane and I went for the slapjacks.  Milk, cornmeal, eggs, a bit of flour and salt.  Fried in a cast iron pan over the fire in a bit of lard; served with maple syrup.  Not bad.  The bread-seasoned stuffed chicken was cooked on a tin rotessier, made in Deerfield.  Par-boiled potatoes, carrots and parsnips were placed under the chickens, absorbing the drippings.  The squash apple pudding was cooked in a Dutch oven.  Gingerbread in the bake oven.  Cook, bake, wait, tour, and then eat.  A great meal.

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In March, Deerfield is quiet.  This year we were there after a winter storm.  The ground was snow covered.  A walk through town was beautiful.  Quiet, at peace.  Champy’s was alive in the evening with a local tavern crowd.  The folowing day after after breakfast (one day home made corn beef hash, i.e. Left over from St. Patrick’s Day) we drove south through the Berkshires to the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, CT.

Another different but interesting quest; exploring the world of Joan of  Hammertown, an interior designer, and marketer, (echoes of Martha Steward), that Diane follows online.

 

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Exploring Food

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We continue cleaning, organizing.  Today Diane gave me a small booklet from a dinner experience at the Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns, in Tarrytown, NY.  It was titled, “Field and Pasture: four season journal.”  It showed what was harvested monthly and then served on the restaurant’s menu.

In February, there were javelin parsnips and ice spinach from the field; Berkshire pigs and hen eggs from the pasture; tapping maple trees in the forest; Belgium endive, cardoons, and guanciale from the cellar. In July, garlic, plum tomatoes, fennel, zucchini blossoms, Swiss chard, artichokes, summer squash, carrots, beets, broccoli, head lettuce, etc.  Free range chickens, Dorset lambs, pigs and broad breasted white turkeys, eggs.  Lots more from the greenhouse and cellar.  Each month was different.

Several times on trips to the Hudson Valley, we stopped in Tarrytown to explore The Center for Food and Agriculture at Stone Barns. It was founded in the 1990s by the Rockefeller family, conservationists and organic farmers.  Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village was hired to open a restaurant in an old barn.  In addition to the main restaurant, there is a small “take out” and a few picnic tables.  We’ve stopped a number of times.  On one stop we had an excellent butternut squash soup, a baloney sandwich (was fantastic, recalled my fried baloney sandwiches when boating with Dr. Schultz on the Delaware River) and tuna on focaccia.  Raisin cake for dessert.   We usually walked around the grounds, planted field, barns and pens with animals being raised for the table.  We also visited the “foodie” gift shop.

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In 2004, we had dinner at the original Blue Hill.  We were in the Village, Washington Square Hotel, for a Cabin Dogs (my son-in-laws band) show at the Lion’s Den, a small dive on Sullivan.  I think Diane recognized the Blue Hill as a destination restaurant.  A week before we made reservations — Rob and Jenny, sister Cissi and husband Louis, Diane and I.  I had oysters — wasn’t paying attention to terroir then.  Complimentary shots of a califlower soup were excellent.  Diane and I had Artic Char (like salmon) in a beet, pine nut,  citrus sauce.  Chocolate flan to finish.  Although we had a good  experience, we only rated the Artic Char as OK.

In 2013 we finally made lunch reservations at Blue Hill,  Stone Barns — the brochure.  Farmer’s feast was either twelve courses for $208; 8 courses for $148; or 5 courses for $108.  I’m usually wary of chef’s choice, price fixe meals but usually willing to try new food experiences.  We chose the five course which turned out to be plenty.  The room layout was stunning.  We sat next to each other facing a center table decorated with flowers and food.  Penguin dressed waiters hovered nearby — surpringly quite unobtrusive and very helpful.  It was fall or early winter, so there were root vegetables.  Our waiter customized courses based on out interests and tastes.

We started with about seven “amuse-bouche” — small tastes, chosen by the chef.  The variety was amazing — blood sausage and beet wafers, pickled asparagus with egg yokes, yogurt granola with grated beet sugar, a tree of salami and chips made from kale, potatoes and of course beets, terrine and capers, beet sushi and beet burgers.  Wow.  We had Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts, large scallops (fantastic), beef with carrots and Brussels sprouts (too sweet), soft egg in something.  Then desserts and a sampling of chocolates.  We washed everything down with a sparkling wine — vintage not recorded.  It was expensive, but a fantastic meal, and we learned how to taste and appreciate small bites.  We would return.

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Last week I finished reading, “The Third Plate: field notes on the future of food,” by Dan Barber, Blue Hill’s Chef.  A great read.  Barber embarks on a search — how do we change our food culture to reflect sustainable, good food, and food for all.  Chefs, including himself, buy the best and then take credit for serving the best.  Barber says that’s not enough.   In order to feed all — high yield, mono-culture is not the answer.  He asks “how do we apply a ‘total farm concept,’  mixed, non chemical planting, seed and plants grown for health and taste, integration of the entire ecology of a farm.”  This is the “third plate, ” going beyond the current farm to table movement.

Barber introduces us to a number of people who seem to be contributing to his concept.   In Spain, he meets Eduardo Sousa who is raising geese, allowed them to roam free on the same land as the prized Iberian pigs, grazing on acorns.  No force feeding for these geese; but delicious foie gras. He also learns of and visits a fish farm in Spain where the fish aren’t being fed but are eating naturally in the wild from  a series of canals.  The Sea Bass was fantastic but Dan was also amazed at the taste of the Grey Mullet — not a trendy fish.  He introduces us to Klaas Martens, a grain farmer in New York who explains how good soil contributes to quality and taste.  Anson Mills in South Carolina that is milling historic corn and other grains organically and commercially.

Food books frequently inspire me to grow, cook, or just eat something.  Decades ago I bought “Beautiful Swimmers,” the story of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab, by William Warner.  I had never had a soft shell crab and couldn’t wait to try one.  I remember asking one of the Giordano boys — South Street Italian market family, when I could get a soft shell?  They were out of season.   It was months later in Cape May, we were visiting with Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  Jerry and I took a walk and bought soft shell sandwiches from a food truck.  Hooked ever since.

Since reading “The Third Plate,” I bought some Iberia jamon (ham from the Spanish acorn fed pigs).  Despana Restaurant and Tapas Cafe in Princeton sells it.  Not cheap.  This week we bought Sea Bass at Hellers seafood market in Warminister — I fully realize it’s not from that sustainable Spanish fish farm but it was oh, so good.  We also got some crab meat and small imported lobsters.

My interest in food is interdisciplinary.  I like gardening, cooking, eating, reading, writing and photographing food.  Diane and I can spend a day driving from farm to farm from market to market in Bucks and New Jersey.  We like to cook but also enjoying eating out.  We have our favorite restaurants (Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville, The Pineville Tavern) but we also have been trying out new places on weekly lunch explores.

 

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I’m hoping this year my garden can reflect a greater understanding of the total ecology promoted by Barber.  Not exactly “a third plate” but at least a greater awareness.  We recently put in raised beds.  My garden neighbor-partner had the mushroom soil we purchased tested.  It was too rich in nutrients.  She trucked in some leaf compost to cut it. More awareness.    I’ve been reading “Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman, the organic gardener guru we met in Maine in the 1970s.  My food explore continues.

 

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