October 2009

Posted on October 31, 2009 in Archives

It’s been two weeks since I’ve blogged, but one’s 60th birthday is cause for celebration! I’m en route home from New York, where I am looking at places to put Hoppin’ John’s the restaurant. Stay tuned!

Here I am with Andrew Fischel of RUB (Righteous Urban Barbecue of New York and Las Vegas). That’s the USS NEW YORK in the background, which was made from salvaged steel from the World Trade Center. We’re looking at locations in Chelsea to put a neighborhood restaurant featuring my favorite southern foods.

Mikel Herrington, my domestic partner of 16 years, is the Acting Director of Americorps National Civilian Community Corps, which is a service organization consisting of teams of ten to twelve 18 to 24-year olds who provide labor and skills to nonprofit groups across the country. His new newsletter highlights the work that they do. You can read it here.

October 21, 2009 The rite, and rights, of the last tomato

On Facebook, I polled my friends: What to do with the last local tomato?

I got lots of replies, some irreverent and some very serious. A cursory analysis of my nonscientific poll reveals “sandwich” and “salt and  pepper” to be the most often cited words.  (Though I must acknowledge Mikel’s friend Susan Jones, who, as an actor, has every right to suggest, “Lob it at some awful actor who needs to be brought down a peg during a show….”)

In the end, I simply sliced it, vertically, the way they do in Liguria, sprinkled it with pyramid-shaped crystals of Cyprus flake salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzled it with delicate Ligurian olive oil, and ate it alongside pasta with pesto, green beans, and potatoes (recipe here) made with the tail end of the basil as well. And lots of crusty bread. The way I figured it, that tomato had every right to be featured, and I planned my meal around it.

It’s my 60th birthday today. I think I’ll stop working for the rest of the day!

October 20, 2009 The change of seasons, a red velvet cake, and a birthday

I have been really busy the past couple of weeks. The change of seasons always seems to bring about the worst of my allergies, we had the National Equality March, out-of-town guests, a renovation of our deck, and, tomorrow, my 60th birthday to deal with! Both of my sisters are coming to celebrate this weekend, and tomorrow night we’ll go dine at Palena, where Chef Frank Ruta will, I have no doubt, work his magic for me. In his 10th Annual Dining Guide for the Washington Post, my dear friend, the restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, wrote, “If I could take cooking lessons from only one chef in Washington, Frank Ruta would be my teacher.” Kudos to both men – Frank for his excellent food and Tom for this career milestone.

Yesterday I made a red velvet cake for National Service GLOBE, an organization of  gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and others who are National Service staff, members, alumni and friends. Several folks asked for the recipe. There are several “secrets” when baking cakes, which I will try to illuminate in the following version of this tried-and-true favorite.

One of the secrets to good-looking homemade cakes is the professional baker’s “secret” of a “crumb coat.” Crumb coats seal the surfaces of iced cakes so that pesky crumbs don’t show through the icing. Most professional bakers make a crumb coat by either painting the cakes with a thin sugar syrup or by thinning the icing with some milk or water, painting the cake, and chilling it overnight. I simply make a large amount of icing, and put a thin coat on the cake and refrigerate the cake until the buttery icing has set. Being mostly butter, it doesn’t take long (yesterday, less than an hour).

Folks always ask me how I get my cakes so moist. Chiffon cakes, made with oil instead of butter, are nearly always moist, but layered butter cakes such as the red velvet are often dry because they have been overcooked. Do NOT wait until a toothpick comes out clean. Do NOT wait until the cakes pull away from the sides. Instead, follow the instructions below and you will have a perfectly done — and moist — cake.

Red Velvet Cake

I bet that I have cooked 2 dozen versions of this cake, though they all seem to contain buttermilk, vinegar, soda, and cocoa mixed with red food coloring. Many call for a cream cheese and powdered sugar frosting, but I’m not a fan of either ingredient. Powdered sugar always tastes like the raw cornstarch that it includes and most cream cheeses are gummy approximations of the real thing.

The real signature of the cake, of course, is its deep red cocoa color. It is a year-round favorite throughout the South, though I had to go to three stores yesterday before I found red food coloring!

Mama always made the old-fashioned shiny white “Noxzema” icing that follows. Don’t laugh; it’s delicious. I used to make half the amount of icing called for below, but have found that folks love it so, and, as rich as it is, you can easily get 16 servings from this buttery cake.

For the cake:

          1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

          1 1/2 cups sugar

          2 eggs

          1/4 cup (2 ounces) red food coloring

          2 tablespoons cocoa

          2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus flour for dusting pans

          1 teaspoon salt

          1 cup buttermilk at room temperature

          1 teaspoon vanilla extract

          1 tablespoon white vinegar

          1 teaspoon baking soda

 

For the icing and assembly:

           5/8 cup (10 tablespoons) cake flour

           2 cups milk

           1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

           2 cups sugar

           2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

         

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment or wax paper, grease the paper, dust with flour, and set aside.

For the cake:

Cream the butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. It may take awhile. Every bit of sugar should be dissolved. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each. Make a paste of the food coloring and cocoa and add to the mixture. Sift the flour and salt together into the mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Add the vanilla and blend well. Add the vinegar and soda, mix in well, then divide the batter among the three prepared pans. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. You can stick a toothpick in the cakes to see if they’re done, but if the toothpick comes out perfectly clean, the cake is already overdone. Instead, check the layers at 20 minutes. If the batter still looks wet, let it bake a bit longer. When the surface looks dry, pinch a tiny bit of the skin from the top of a layer. If the pinch seems gooey but the batter below has set so that it resembles a sponge, the cake is done. (A toothpick would come out clean except at the top.) Remove the cakes from the oven and place them on racks to cool in a draft-free place. The layers will finish baking in the meantime in the pans. While the cakes are cooling, make the icing.

 

For the icing:

Make a roux by mixing the flour and milk in the top of a double boiler and cooking over simmering water, whisking, until it it just thick, about 10 minutes. Make sure that there are no lumps of flour. I usually remove it from the heat and beat it with a hand mixer to be sure. Allow the roux to cool completely. Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until very light and fluffy, and every bit of sugar is dissolved. It may take 10 minutes. Add the cooled roux and beat until the mixture is smooth.

For the assembly:

Place a small bit of icing on your cake plate to hold the bottom layer steady. You can cut squares of wax paper or parchment and place them around the outside of the plate to put under the first layer if you wish. When the cake is iced, you can pull them out and your finished cake will be sitting on a clean plate. I never do that, though, because I just use my finger and/or a damp paper towel to clean the rim of the plate.

Remove a layer from its pan and gently brush or blow away any crumbs from the layer before placing it right-side up on the cake plate. Put 1/3 of the icing aside for the final, crumb-free layer. Add about 1/3 of the remaining icing to the first layer and spread it out evenly, close to the edge. Repeat with the second cake layer. Add the third cake layer and cover the entire cake with a thin layer of icing, smoothing it out evenly. See photo. Place the cake in the refrigerator to cool until the icing is set.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and coat evenly all over with the remaining icing. You can place the cake in the refrigerator for the icing to set if you wish, but always, always serve cakes at room temperature.

October 10, 2009 On Becoming a Home Cook

The National Equality March for gay rights is tomorrow here in Washington. A recent, and very personal, episode with intolerance has me more determined than ever to march, rain or shine. As I wrote back in June, only a religious opinion could justify the ban on gay civil unions. Isn’t the government in America supposed to stear clear of religion? Anyone who has been around Mikel, my wonderful partner of 16 years, and me, knows that we have a loving, committed, monogamous relationship, that is worthy of all the rights and privileges that married couples are afforded by law.

 

Last night, he told me that one of his colleagues had said that she wished she had my life. I find this very amusing because I’m sure she has no idea how little money I make or what exactly comprises my daily routine. Years ago at Mikel’s job, his coworkers forbade him from describing his nightly meals. They simply did not want to hear about the tagines, pilaus, gumbos, and fried chicken dinners. Of course, we don’t have those elaborate preparations every night, and, more often than not, our meals are simple and Italian-inspired.

A typical meals begins, as in the photo at left, with a little olive oil in a pan, some rinsed and boned salted anchovy filets added, and then a quick pasta sauce made with garlic, sage leaves, hot pepper flakes, and perhaps some capers. In this case, I blanched broccoli in the pasta water. Bread crumbs at the last minute in the pan, the pasta cooked al dente and tossed with the sauce, and a fresh grating of parmesan over all. A salad of tomato and basil afterwards and hearty, crusty bread throughout the meal.

Though I write about food, with recipes, I am not a chef, nor have I ever claimed to be. Before I publish a recipe, I will have tested it several times to be sure that it has “worked” – at least for me – several times. But as Elizabeth Schneider, one of the best food writers of our time, has lamented to me on several occasions, no recipe is foolproof; there are simply too many variables.

This is particularly true of baking. Every bag of flour is different. It might be milled from harder wheat (which has the tougher gluten molecules needed for hearty yeast breads, but which can ruin a cake) than the flour that recipe writer used. It might be old and taste stale. In humid climates, it might weigh more than it should. The humidity of the day affects not only flour, but eggs and yeast as well. Every oven is different. Thermometers vary. The age of eggs is vitally important. “Room temperature” means something much different to someone inMaine and someone inSouth Carolina. Furthermore, the language of recipes is open to interpretation.

 

A colleague of mine, another cookbook author, and I jokingly refer to her editor as “Orin Till,” because he is a stickler for precise instructions in recipes. When her manuscript reads, for example, “cook the mixture over very low heat, stirring constantly for five minutes,” her editor scribbles in the margin, “?or until….,” never mind that the timing is key and the result is not something visually evident.

 

One cannot be clear enough, but there is no substitute for experience.

 

Elizabeth and I were having a discussion recently about Julia Child and her impact on American cooks. I personally found Julia’s books confusing and unnecessarily detailed, and not necessarily authentic. My first cookbooks were more utilitarian books – The Joy of Cooking, The Good Housekeeping Cookbook – that I was sent away to college with. I tinkered with recipes to get them the way I wanted them. But, asElizabeth pointed out to me, I had already developed a keen palate by the time I started cooking, having absorbed my mother’s tastes somehow by osmosis if not by experience. From the moment I first cooked a meal, I was lucky enough to already have the right instincts in place.Elizabeth says that I’m a “natural” cook. I realize that most people don’t have that nearly instinctual response to food and cooking that I do. The first cookbooks that truly captured my imagination were the Time-Life Foods of the World series, from the late 60s and early 70s, when I was in college. I would come home for the holidays, anxious to see the next issue. My mother and I would travel toCzechoslovakia andSoutheast Asia in the kitchen, then revisit theCaribbean islands we had visited through their foods. Years later, I was lucky enough to apprentice with a Master Chef for the fall and winter season aboard a 112-foot yacht docked at the Boca Raton Club. I learned many classical French techniques from him before I moved to Europe.

I had grown up spending lots of time with my parents on their sailboat onHilton Head Island, which, at the time, was nothing like the resort is now. We even saw the bridge built in the late 50s. Talk about eating “fresh and local”! My mother would send me out in the dinghy to get lunch. If it were low tide during the “r” months, I might gather oysters and clams from the exposed banks of pluff mud. In the summer and fall, I might throw the circular cast net for shrimp. A larger, heavier one netted mullet. In the spring and summer, I might simply empty the crab trap, baited with an old chicken neck. Flounders and eels often found themselves snared there as well as crabs.

 

Mother was an ingenious cook who often prepared the entire meal in the ship’s miniscule galley on one burner, saving space and fuel. A stacked steamer would often hold rice in one section, local squash in another, and a piece of fish with a fresh salsa of some kind in another. In the small southern town where I grew up, nearly everything we ate, even from the grocery store, was local – the peas and beans, squash and cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, and okra. Even the cornmeal and grits were ground in a mill not 40 miles away. Either cornbread or grits were more common than not at our table. I can even remember one mule-drawn wagon of vegetables that appeared in town, and there was one African-American family who owned a big, bulbous, black sedan from the 40s, the trunk of which would be filled with “cawn, bu’beans, and squash” for sale on Saturday mornings.

 

But it was inItaly where I became a real cook. Though inFlorida andFrance I had shopped for every meal every day, inItaly I came to become one with the local fare again, as I had as a child. I began to cook regularly with fresh basil, marjoram, and sage. Meats became less and less important and the quality of the vegetables determined what each meal would be.

I had to re-think many of the French ideas I had incorporated into my cooking. Olive oil largely replaced butter. I rarely saw milk or cream. Even fish, the mainstay of my diet for most of my life, took a back seat inGenoa, that ancient port city, where it is conspicuous in its absence, it is said, because centuries of sailors returning to the harbor craved nothing but vegetables. They could smell the herbal scent of the shore days before the reached land.

 

I also began to use my senses much more often while cooking, listening to the dwindling sizzle of the frying foods, the smell of the cake baking, the color of the blanching green beans, the touch of the steak in the pan that says that it’s done to my liking. I learned to salt by smell, not taste. And to judge doneness by touch. I went back to trusting the instincts my mother had instilled in me.

 

I enjoy cooking. I spend 4 to 5 hours shopping for and cooking the evening meal every day. But I can’t imagine any of Mikel’s colleagues envying my life in the kitchen. For ten years, while researching and writing cookbooks, I spent hours daily testing recipes. Over and over to get them right. When Hurricane Hugo hitCharleston, where I was living at the time, I was out of my home for the better part of a year; my bookstore, housed in the same building, was closed for the entire year. The manuscript for my first book was due, and I found myself checking recipes and writing all day every day. It was the first time in my life when I was spending much time sitting down. Three versions of the same cake would go in the oven and I would sit and write. Those cakes would be my meal. I have always been a small guy, and had weighed 125 pounds since puberty. In the 6 weeks following the storm, I gained 36 pounds, which I have had a hell of a time keeping off. (My weight fluctuates between 153 and 162 pounds, depending on whether I have wine with weeknight dinners or not).

 

Needless to say, not every cake was perfect. But I ate them anyway.

 

Mikel eats every single thing I put before him. He never complains and he usually compliments me on each meal. But everything I cook is not delicious. It’s usually when I’m working on a “new” recipe that I “fail.”

 

Take these beautiful Italian prune plums that I bought on the Eastern Shore of Maryland last weekend. They were simply delicious and I should have enjoyed them out of hand and be done with them. But Anna Saint John, who sells my corn products here at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, wanted a recipe using my finely ground corn flour, most often used for dusting fish and vegetables for frying (in Louisiana, where I was born, they call it “fish fry”).

There are polenta cakes all over Italy – nothing more than sweetened cornbread that is often drenched in orange syrup or tossed with fresh fruits and/or purees. I looked at some recipes, as well as some recipes for Tatin-like tartes and other upside-down desserts, and decided to follow my own formula for pineapple upside-down cake, making a few substitutions here and there, most notably, the corn flour for the wheat flour. I melted the butter and brown sugar, added the pitted and sliced plums, and filled it with the batter. This is a recipe that I can all but make blindfolded.

 

I popped it in the oven and set the timer for ten minutes shy of the normal cooking time, to be sure. When the timer went off, I looked in and saw the perfectly browned top and jumped to the conclusion that the cake was done, without even pushing on the top or inserting a toothpick to be sure that the batter was set. I turned the cake out, and it settled in a gooey mass, lacking those ten minutes I had shaved off the baking time. Duh! Of course it was already brown! I was using whole-grain corn flour, not the usual, white, milled-within-an-inch-of-its-life White Lily!

 

I tossed it in the waste bin because I knew that both Mikel and I would eat it, saying, “It’s not bad; it’s like sweet corn pudding.” I tasted the plums. The recipe had not improved or enhanced their flavor. Oh well. Back to the drawing board. (For the record, I do make a simple plum tart that is delicious and does concentrate the often bland flavor of grocery-store plums. The recipe follows.)

Or take these classic ripieni (stuffed vegetables), a favored dish inGenoa. I used only fresh, delicious vegetables from the garden and followed a tried-and-true recipe from a Genoese cookbook, but I found them lackluster. We were inGenoa in the spring and had the real thing. Some things, it’s true, simply don’t translate overseas. And if I don’t add to the literature, what’s the point? So I never posted the recipe.

 

Sometimes I work on recipes for months until I get it right, taking so long because, with just the two of us, I don’t want to repeat, say, a scallop dish more than once every couple of months. I do try NOT to repeat myself too often. The other night I made a scrumptious dish of duck legs roasted with tiny onions (see photo at beginning of this blog entry). I poured off the onions and fat and added them to blanched green beans. I baked sweet potatoes alongside, and when they were done, simply wrapped them in foil to stay warm and steam the flesh away from the skin. I usually eat the skins, but that night I wanted a simple puree. I turned the duck once, allowing the skin on the bottom side to crisp as well, then addeded orange juice and cranberries and cooked it for another 20 minutes until the flesh was beginning to fall from the bones and the cranberries were popping. I grabbed the foil-wrapped potatoes, opened them up, sliced them in half, and, using the foil to grasp the skin, simply squeezed the potato flesh out onto the plates. I poured off the cranberries into a pot with a little sugar and heated it until the sugar melted, mashing the berries into a pulpy sauce. The dinner was divine, but I had to tweak as I was going along, and I do not yet have a perfectly planned recipe ready for publication. But I will one day, after cooking several more ducks. A year from now?

 

Right now I’m mostly wondering what I will serve for dinner tonight. It’s already

Oh, and for the record, I’ve been at this blog this morning for 5 hours. That plus the 4 hours of shopping and cooking for dinner, plus walking the dog, and housekeeping makes mine a full time job. And it’s 7 days/week, even when we go on vacation, when we invariably rent an apartment or house with a kitchen.

Here’s a simple plum tart recipe from my book, Hoppin’ John’s Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah

Plum Tart

           

This is a very simple recipe that makes a light finish to a classic southern midday dinner. Make it early in the day and allow it to sit at room temperature.

                       

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 pound (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons milk

1 pound fresh plums

1/3 cup plum preserves

 2 tablespoons brandy or bourbon

Place 1 1/4 cups of the flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the butter, the egg yolk,  and the milk in the work bowl of a food processor and process until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is too wet and sticks to the bowl, add more flour.

 

Wrap the ball of dough well in plastic wrap and refrigeratre for 2 hours. Unwrap the dough, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, then gently place the dough into a 10-inch tart pan with a low edge, gently pushing the dough up and slightly over the edges of the pan. Use a rolling pin or the heel of your hand to push the dough out and down onto the edge of the pan to trim any excess dough, then gently squeeze the dough into the edges again between fingertips and thumbs to raise it slightly over the rim. Refrigerate again while you prepare the plums.

           

Preheat the oven to 350°. Pit the plums and cut them into quarters. Place the plum quarters on the tart shell, beginning on the outer rim and placing them skin side out around the outer edge. Continue filling the shell, working in concentric circles. When the tart is filled, sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of sugar and bake until golden brown, about 50 or 60 minutes.

           

Melt the preserves with the brandy or bourbon, then brush the baked tart with the mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Serves 8.

 

October 8, 2009: The Times are Changin’…

 

I moved back home from Europe in 1984 as the food editor of the magazine, Ici New York, a French-language monthly about the Big Apple. I had been gone for several years and had grown accustomed to French and Italian cooking, to shopping every day for every meal, and to the elegant refinements that French cuisine had undergone. I was doubtful that I would be happy with the food in New York. I had worked there five years earlier as the personal chef of a young millionairess, and while I knew that money could buy just about anything you wanted in New York, I had not then found a restaurant that I truly loved, other than the small, ethnic places that will always win me over with their unpretentious and honest fare.

 

Chanterelle was one of the first fancy restaurants I dined in as a critic, and I was impressed with the urbane cooking and the gracious service. But I hated a lot of what was going on elsewhere in the New York restaurant scene then — noisy see-and-be-seen brasserie-like theater-sets that were being duplicated all over the country, with tons of money spent on design before a chef was hired or a menu planned. I never expected Odeon or Capsouto Frères or Gotham to last. Boy, was I wrong.

 

I thumbed through my old copies of the magazine (we had no computers and I wrote on an old Royal standard typewriter than had been my father’s secretary’s) looking to see what I had written about Chanterelle, but I see that I never wrote about it. I’m surprised. The four or five times I ate there it was sublime. And now, like Gourmet magazine, it has fallen on the sword of the recession.

 

I have so many mixed feelings about what is going on in publishing. Obviously, I now publish myself for the most part. And Gourmet for years and years has promoted a type of consumption that I myself cannot afford; some of the things advertised in Gourmet I find in stark contrast to the editorial content — like the $30,000 watches advertised in the New York Times on the same page that reports poverty issues.

 

Curious, I picked up the latest (last) issue of Gourmet and jotted down the advertisers in the order in which they appear in the magazine. For some, these financial supporters of the magazine were the near-saviors of the almost-70-year-old magazine. Others might find some, such as Detroit — both city and car-makers — bewildering.

 

I make no value judgment herein. I’m simply listing them as I found them:

 

Cadillac (front end papers, fold-out, 4-page spread)

Chase Sapphire (credit card)

Rolex (2-page spread)

Stella Artois (foid-out, 4-page)

Cuisinart

Visa Signature (credit card; 2-page spread)

Cartier

Frei Brothers (winery)

Olay

American Airlines (4page spread)

Claussen pickles

Buick (2-page spread)

Ruffino (wines)

AT&T

Häagen-Dazs

Macy’s

MGM Grand Detroit (2-page)

Patrón Tequila

Travelocity

California Pizza Kitchen

MGM Grand Las Vegas (2-page)

Los Cabos, Mexico (2-page)

Key West

Rally for the Cure

Tassos

Crystal Cruises (2-page, heavy stock)

Nabisco (Wheat Thins Flatbread)

Arizona (4-page)

Jones New York (women’s clothing)

LU Crème Roulée (cookies)

Buittoni (pasta)

Fancy Feast (cat food)

Wüsthof (knives)

The Gentleman’s Fund (GQ Magazine poll)

Kentucky (2-page)

Fort Lauderdale

QVC

Anne Klein

Ireland

Wall Street Journal Wine

San Antonio ((2-page)

Liebherr (appliances)

Bellagio Las Vegas (fold-out. 4-page)

Bertolli Oven Bake Meals

Gel Pro (floor mats)

Epicurious.com

American Wine & Food Festival

Graycliff (Bahamas resort)

National Geographic Lindblad Expeditions

ShopAd.net (home furnishings and décor)

Rosetta Stone

Halekulani (Hawaiian resort)

Tempur-Pedic (bedding)

PureVia sweetener (end paper)

Mercedes-Benz with Sirius radio (back cover)

 

In the end, it was the lack of advertising that killed the magazine, according to Condé Nast, the publisher. Of course, it’s not just in New York that the recession is affecting the food world. Here in my own neighborhood in Washington, two NEW restaurants closed this month.

 

I’ve been developing some new recipes and don’t have them quite right just yet. I’ll post them soon.

 

Harvest Moon on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

 

I love October — the cool weather, the crisp skies, the clear air, the bird and butterfly migrations, the autumn colors, and many of the fall fruits and vegetables, such as the myriad apples, winter squashes, and the native American persimmons. This weekend I gathered a couple of quarts of perfectly ripe persimmons from the ground surrounding several trees that line the cove pictured here with the rising harvest moon.

 

I have fiddled with persimmon recipes for years, trying to find the perfect one to capture the essence of the mushy, ripe fruit, but persimmons don’t take well to cooking, as I noted in the posting below this one. I contacted Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner and he admitted to me that he is still using Bill Neal’s original pudding recipe. I must admit that it’s the best I’ve ever had.

 

But I wanted something else, something in which the persimmons weren’t cooked. I made ice cream, working with a recipe I developed for pumpkins many years ago.

 

Below the persimmons are pictured. I take only windfalls. I will shake the tree, but use only the softest fruits.

Persimmon Ice Cream

         

  

This is a very easy ice cream recipe. You can substitute fresh or canned pumpkin puree or mashed cooked sweet potatoes for the persimmon pulp. Thanksgiving in the South is often so warm that these seasonal ice creams are a welcome addition to the holiday table.

 

Gather only the persimmons that are mushy ripe and push them through a colander or through a mesh bag such as those that are designed to hold delicate clothes in the washing machine. Food mills scrape the seeds, which can make the already astringent fruit bitter. Gather as many persimmons as you can and freeze the pulp you don’t use immediately.

 

1-1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 cup persimmon pulp or fresh or canned pumpkin puree or cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

 

Scald the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Beat the sugar and eggs well together, then add a little of the hot milk at a time to them, then add that mix to the saucepan, mix well, and heat milk, sugar, and eggs well together, then heat them in the pan over over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they are slightly thick, about 10 minutes. Place the custard in the refrigerator until you are ready to churn the ice cream.

           

Add the cream or crème fraiche to the custard. Beat the spices and bourbon into the fruit puree, then mix well with the custard. If there are clumps of egg white or curdled yolk or clumps of spices, you can strain the mixture for a more delicate texture. Chill according to the manufacturer’s directions on your ice cream churn.

Makes 1 quart, about 6 servings.

 

 

Bacon Mayonnaise

 

I also made some bacon mayonnaise. Yes, I make it just like mayonnaise, but I use a blender and a whole egg. The egg white helps stabilize and lighten the mayonnaise. You simply follow any recipe for blender mayonnaise (see June 5, 2008) that uses a whole egg and drizzle in strained bacon grease that has cooled but not congealed. It’s best used immediately, while it’s still soft and fluffy. It transforms a BLT into an orgasmic experience. I suppose you could just skip the bacon in the sandwich, which one friend wondered aloud about this weekend, but Mikel’s quick rejoinder was, “No! You need the crunch!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October, at last, with cool weather and persimmons

 

The air is crisp, the sky is cerulean, the maple trees are starting to turn, and, in spite of the torrential rains and flooding in the mountains, my millers ground more than three times the amount of corn for me in September than they did last year. What does this tell me? That folks are not only yearning for but also preparing comfort foods such as grits, cornbread, and polenta.

 

We’ll be headed to the Eastern Shore of Maryland this weekend, where I have no doubt that I’ll be cooking the native American persimmons that line the cove where my friends live. This year I’m determined to develop a good mousse recipe, or at least perfect persimmon ice cream. Cooking does nothing to improve persimmons’ delicate, flowery charms, as my friend, the culinary writer Elizabeth Schneider has pointed out. A hint from her: “If you do wish to work with traditional batter recipes, blend the puréed pulp with baking soda before adding to other ingredients to prevent gumminess.” She also recommends adding extra-fine sugar and lime juice to the pulp to make a sauce for other fruits, cake, or sweet bread. The pulp is best eaten raw, and it freezes well. This year I’m going to freeze as much as I can. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you might enjoy persimmonpudding.com, which I’ve recommended before in these pages. I’ve also asked my friend Bill Smith, chef at Crook’s Corner in Carrboro, North Carolina, for some recipes.

 

Maryland wildlife officials had culled some of the invasive mute swans on the Chesapeake, including the pair that had nested on this cove for several years. My friends tell me that another pair has returned. I don’t see why they don’t just have an open hunting season for swans. The only reason they’re not seen on tables today is that they were reserved for royalty in the past, and, when it comes to hunting, the traditions are still tied to the old European aristocracies. In the UK, the Queen still retains all rights to swans, except in a small corner of the British Isles. If you search for swan meat online, you’ll find purveyors. One of them simply states ”Swan Meat. 9 to 12 month bird raised in USA. Regular Price $1499.99 Sale Price $999.99.” Hmmm…. I bagged an 18-pound wild turkey once and it lost nearly half its weight when dressed (cleaned). Mute swans weigh about the same thing as wild turkeys, around 20 pounds. Let’s be generous and figure that that $1000 bird weighs 12 pounds. At $84/lb, you get to eat like the Queen!