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© 2004 by Roberta Bailey; for information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
On his show "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keillor once did a monologue about four people who went for a car ride in order to see the odometer turn to 200,000 miles. He took listeners through the town and out to the country, where our attention was turned to the crows in a cornfield, then the monologue traveled off with our minds meandering to other rich topics, only to have Garrison bring our attention abruptly back to the odometer, which then read 200,003 miles!
So often this seems to be the way with my life. I will start my celery, onion and leek seedlings in good time, thinking that I really need to wait until the greenhouse is warmer before starting the peppers. Iím well ahead of time reminding myself that I need to wait. Then suddenly three weeks have passed and Iím behind.
So it goes with planting in spring, mulching the garden, maintaining the orchard or any number of lifeís small or grander moments. And so it has gone with the 20th anniversary of my writing the Harvest Kitchen column.
Five or six years ago I started thinking I must be approaching the 20-year mark, only to be surprised by how far off it was. A few years passed and I checked again, getting it set in my head that the date was still years off. With the approach of the deadline for this column, a sneaking suspicion came over me that another chunk of time had passed. Sure enough, upon looking at lifeís odometer, I was in midsummer of 2004, and the anniversary had been in spring. The first column, one in anticipation of asparagus, ran in April 1984.
If Iíve learned one thing in life, it is how to walk into an event late and know that itís never too late to celebrate. Happy 20th anniversary, Harvest Kitchen! I raise a glass of Maineís best cider to all who bring the harvest to their kitchens. May you read these recipes and go on to create your own inspirations, as I often do.
I am not a great cook trained in the culinary tradition, but a good gardener who knows the sweet perfection of a freshly picked green bean, asparagus spear, shell pea, or an ear of corn. I have dared to experiment and to play. If you start in the garden, you canít lose. Fresh, organic food tastes incredible--and the closer the food is raised to our homes, the better. There is no comparison.
The recipes below are some of my favorites, the ones that I keep coming back to year after year.
This recipe is an approximate reduction of a larger volume recipe from Deb Soifer of South China, who wrote the Harvest Kitchen column before I did. In the early Ď90s, I helped her cook noodles for her Common Ground booth, called "Oodles of Noodles." This is one of the sauces she put on her noodles, which are delicious warm or cold and make a good potluck dish.
Cook one pound of noodles. Rinse and add sauce.
Sauce: Mix together the first six ingredients.
6 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
Toss with pasta, mixing well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
1/4 to 1/2 c. toasted sesame seeds (Heat in a skillet, stirring constantly until they are just browning and tasting toasty.)
Finely chopped scallion rings
Szechuan Green Beans
4 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
Place a large wok or heavy deep skillet over high heat. Heat for one to three minutes, then add oil. Once the oil is very hot, add the green beans. Stir fry for four to five minutes, until the beans are well seared. Add the garlic and hot red pepper. Stir fry for a few more minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the beans with tamari. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Serves six side dishes.
Corn and Sweet Pepper Custard
2 Tbsp. diced green pepper
In a medium skillet, saute peppers and onion in oil until the onion is translucent. Add the corn and saute two minutes longer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8-inch casserole dish. Spoon half of the corn mixture into the casserole. Spread in half the cheese, then the remainder of the corn, then the rest of the cheese. Top with the tomato slices. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, add the milk, corn milk, flour, pepper and salt and beat well. Pour into the casserole. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the custard cool for 10 minutes, then serve it, cut into wedges. Yields four to five servings.
Fresh Tomato Sauce for Pasta
(A food processor can be used.)
10 to 12 paste tomatoes, diced
Grated parmesan or cubed, fresh mozzarella
Mix all ingredients, adjusting seasoning as desired. Serve over warm pasta. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes four to six servings.
Almond and Jam Torte Cookies
Grind/process into flour:
1 c. raw almonds
1 cup whole wheat or white pastry flour
1/2 c. maple syrup
Stir into the dry ingredients. Let sit for five minutes.
Form round cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Make a deep depression in each cookie and add a teaspoon of jam to each center. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes.
About the author: Roberta lives in Vassalboro and works for Fedco Seeds. We are grateful for reaping the benefit of her decades of experience in gardens and kitchens and with pen and computer--and we hope for many, many more. Thanks Roberta!
© 2004 by Julia Davis; for information on reproducing this article, please contact the author.
one red leaf
First, pick a sunny fall day when the smell of falling leaves is in the air. It must be a day when summer almost feels like a distant memory, a day when the air is crisp in its coldness, like an apple fresh from the tree. Pick a day when the trees scatter all colors of red and orange and yellow, when branches become increasingly naked, and when you can kick the dried leaves into a pile in front of you while walking. Pick a day when chipmunks are almost fat enough to hibernate, beaver have stored almost enough branches for the winter, and frogs and turtles are about to bury themselves down into the mud. Pick the perfect fall day.
Second, find an old apple orchard. Find an orchard with trees that have spent years without human hands to guide their growth, with branches crooked and stunted from indecision. Pick an orchard overgrown with tall swaying grasses and overrun with grasshoppers and the sound of crickets. The orchard must have a long history behind it -- a history of people and robins and fire -- a history that you do not know completely.
Third, place one foot on the lowest knot and pull yourself up to the first branch. Place your weight on the roughness of this branch and ascend still farther. When you can reach the perfect red and green spheres of crisp, sweet fruit, pick each tenderly. Appreciate each scar, imperfection and worm hole as a mark of individuality. Place each apple carefully into the cloth bag that you dragged up the tree behind you. If you are lucky and the bees were busy this year, your bag will fill quickly. Climb down to retrieve another empty bag, and another, and another. Fill these bags to the brim with the hard fruit. If you see apples too beautiful to pass up at the ends of the branches, shake the sturdy trunk until you weaken their stems enough so that they drop to the ground. While you fill your bags with one hand, use your other hand to pick one small, shiny fruit and take your first bite into the crisp, white flesh. As your teeth sink past the skin, savor the burst of sweet and tart. This is the taste of fall -- remember.
Next, drag your bags of apples from the orchard to your car or house. You should feel delightfully tired, sunburned and ready for lunch. When you get home, quickly eat a fresh apple and cheese sandwich before starting to chop apples. At this step in the process, you need to obtain good friends and bluegrass music. Tap your toe in tune to the fiddles and banjos and focus on the chop, chop, chop of knives on cutting boards. Slice, dice and otherwise divide the apples into small segments. Explore wormholes, although you will seldom discover the worm that made them. Throw all these apple segments into the biggest pot you have, cover them with water or cider, and simmer. Keep chopping. Keep simmering. Stir often. Fill the kitchen with the smell of apples. Step outside and back inside to truly appreciate the scent. Save the least blemished apples to eat and dry. If you have the energy, slice some of these thinly, sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and arrange them on the racks of a dehydrator.
When your applesauce looks soft and mushy, ladle out a steaming bowlful to have with homemade toast. Eat slowly, testing the flavor in your mouth before swallowing.
Boil water in a large pot and submerge clean glass mason jars. Immerse the round flat lids in a small bowl of boiling hot water. When you are too impatient to cook the applesauce any longer, ladle it into sparkling hot jars, place the lids on, tighten the screw tops, and place the jars back in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Now you are ready for the pure satisfaction of hoisting the jars out of the boiling water bath, placing them on a cloth on the counter, and sitting expectantly with a cup of tea to listen for the ping that tells you that they are sealed.
It is the dead of winter. Enormous snowflakes fall slowly toward the ground, clumping together in balls before they reach your outstretched tongue. You crave sunlight and warmth and dark green leafy vegetables. All you want to do is cuddle under a blanket with a purring cat and a wood stove nearby. This is the time to take out the applesauce. Reach into the back of the cupboard and pull out the now dusty jar. Unscrew the band and pop off the sealed lid. Try to restrain yourself from digging your spoon into the moist pink applesauce. Take a moment to smell the contents of the jar and remember the sun on that fall day. Close your eyes to imagine the crunch of the leaves, the sound of laughter and the clean fall air in your lungs. Only then are you ready to sink a spoon into the jar and place this heaping spoonful in your mouth. Hold it there for a minute. Appreciate the subtleties of this batch. Smile and swallow.
About the author: Julia Davis has spent her "whole life" (23 years) gardening, going to the Common Ground Country Fair, and eating fresh, organic food. She is currently based in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Copyright 2004 by Jean Ann Pollard; for information about reproducing this article, please contact the author.
"This [basil] is the herb which all authors are together by the ears about and rail at one another (like lawyers)."
Although summer may end in Maine with September, basil plants remain thick and flourishing until frost turns them black. Before that, gardeners prize its special flavor in everything from soups to pesto--and no wonder. Basil has a long history of culinary use from the ancient Greeks to the Romans, as mentioned by Dioscorides, Theophrastus and other transcribers, but it took a long time traveling to New England.
According to Tom Stobart in Herbs, Spices, and Flavourings Ocimum "probably came from India to Europe overland via the Middle East. It arrived in Britain in the sixteenth century and reached America in the seventeenth, so its use in the West is comparatively recent."
In India, reports Lesley Bremness, editor of Herbs "basil is held in reverence as a plant imbued with divine essence, and therefore the Indians chose this herb upon which to swear their oaths in court. Basil was found growing around Christ's tomb after the resurrection, so some Greek Orthodox churches use it to prepare the holy water, and pots of basil are set below church altars."
Many varieties of this favorite herb exist, including bush basil, a South American native; but before 1848, says Helen Noyes Webster, "when DeCandolle made his long list of Ocimum species and varieties from all over the world," early herbalists seemed to content themselves with three "Sortes"-- the Great Basil, the Medium Basil, and the Lesser Basil. "This naive classification," she adds, "is common in herbals up to the eighteenth century. Exactly to what modern species some of these might be compared we can only conjecture."
In Herbs for Use and for Delight she noted that the herbals of Tusser, Culpepper and Coles ("which contained all that was necessary for the housewife to know about...herbs") were almost as precious to early American settlers as the Bible. Sweet basil was one of those mentioned before 1806 in Colonial garden records.
Whatever species we choose to identify or grow today, Ocimum either fresh or dried, is a kitchen delight par excellence. Maine herbalist Madeleine Siegler of Monks Hill Herbs suggested in her 1980 pamphlet, "Growing Herbs in New England," that "Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) dries well, "if your seed is "lettuce leaf variety." Or, she said, you may prefer "to chop and freeze the leaves, as they tend to turn black during drying. Basil tea is reputed to be a tranquilizer."
Webster offered a recipe using dried curly basil. "Its large wrinkled leaves and short spikes of crowded flowers make, when dried, the best herb pepper when in combination with costmary, savory, and marjoram."
Perhaps world traveler Tom Stobart had the best idea. "Where I lived on the Italian Riviera the common snack consisted of a crusty roll split and filled with sliced tomato, salt, olive oil, and a few leaves of fresh basil-- no butter of course-- just squashed to make the oil and juice impregnate the bread."
But the most delicious use of all, he added, "is in pesto Genovese, which in various forms is found all along the Riviera coast from Genoa to Provence. The basis is always basil, with garlic, salt, olive oil, Parmesan and sardo (hard Sardinian sheep's milk) cheese, pine nuts and often skinned walnuts-- all pounded together to a thick sauce."
Pistou in Provence is used to season soups. In Italy, pesto with plenty of olive oil makes a sauce for spaghetti or trenette. Here is an easy recipe for making pesto.
(for 1 pound of cooked pasta)
In a blender or food processor, place:
1 to 2 cups of freshly picked, rinsed, dried basil leaves
Process to a paste. Then add:
1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
Continue processing until thick and creamy. Serve at room temperature with pasta, vegetables or even on toast! You can adjust the amount of oil, basil leaves and cheese to suit your fancy. Basil-flavored vinegar is fine for dressing salads.
Basil in Vinegar
Fill a large, wide-mouthed glass jar with:
about 2 ounces fresh basil leaves
1 pint rice vinegar
Allow to steep for two to three weeks; then strain off the vinegar into bottles. Put a fresh sprig of herb into each bottle and cap. Use when mixing up any vinaigrette.
Bremness, Lesley, ed. Herbs The Reader's Digest Assoc., Inc., N.Y., 1990.
Siegler, Madeleine, "Growing Herbs in New England," 1980 pamphlet.
Stobart, Tom, Herbs, Spices, and Flavourings Penguin Books, 1970.
Webster, Helen Noyes, Herbs for Use and for Delight, an anthology from The Herbalist a publication of the Herb Society of America, Dover Publications, Inc., N.Y. 1974, ed. Daniel J. Foley.
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