Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Brown Eggs are Local Eggs & Local Eggs are Fresh!

It has been a while since I've heard that little ditty which I assume was advertising from the Egg Council or something. I have realized that, as with so many culinary items, brown eggs were something I took for granted in New England. I was getting tired of the brittle-shelled white variety at Kroger and glad to find today a fresh infusion of local brown eggs at Sunny Valley (formerly Nolt's). Lovely dozens of mixed sizes, ungraded, but with the golden yellow yolks (and $1.65 a dozen). The eggs are from local Mennonite farmers and I should probably ask more about the hens' diet, etc. but for now I was just excited to find fresh, brown, local eggs.

So of course, now that everyone is feeling more like eating again (and I'm feeling better enough to blog and cook), I decided that popovers were in order. I made my Uncle John's old recipe, that my father modified over the years, but I went back to the source and the result is an egg-ier popover which is how we all like them in our house, slathered with butter and jam.

Uncle John's recipe was included in The General's Akron General Hospital Cookbook in Akron, Ohio, published in the early 1960s. I have my father's copy of the cookbook and recall my parents using it our Akron home. [The red retro Cosco stool, at left, a recent sale purchase, is reminiscent of the red stool they also had in our Ohio kitchen, last seen 30 or so years ago in my brothers' tree fort at our New Hampshire farm, now surely a relic along a crumbling stone wall, if it is even still there at all.]

I have included this popover recipe before on this blog (which works just as well for Yorkshire Pudding) but have to say that with the addition of these fresh eggs, they were even better than before. They really popped and were both airy and egg-y.

There is something decadent about having a breakfast meal at supper time. Since the evening meal has always been my forté, why not? Sausage links and homemade applesauce rounded it out. I've found that cabin fever hits down here, too, and a good supper of "comfort food" was just the thing we all needed to feel sane and on our way to feeling a bit healthier again.

Another day soon, it is on to Ethel's Vanilla Custard, a find from a box top of white eggs from Kroger. It is apparently baked in a 9x13 pan and served in squares, chilled or warm. Did your mother ever bake custard for you when you were little? My mother made it in yellow ware custard cups, a hand-me-down from my Great-Grandma Manton's house, with a scrim of nutmeg baked into the top. I liked it best served cold from the ice box.

As Michael Pollan cautions, "Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Well, I know those of that generation in my family ate popovers and custard and used lots of cream and butter. Fresh eggs from their own chickens. Local produce and fruits. Canned fruit from their farms. No steroids or growth hormones in their meat or milk. It's really quite simple, isn't it?

PS By the way, Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Big Storm Knocked It Over

We've been suffering through--and surviving--various forms of flu in our household so I haven't had time to blog at all in a while. I have managed to catch up on some reading and right now enjoying some Laurie Colwin novels with the Cupcakes. My friend Judy, who is soon to be visiting us from New Hampshire for several days with her husband Charlie, is bringing down Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (special requests from my bookshelf in New Hampshire, which also make me realize I need to pack up more books to bring down here...we can always get more bookshelves, after all).

Until recently, I only knew Laurie Colwin as a food writer, but thanks to Rosemary, one of the Cupcakes (and a fine cook and literati herself, with extraordinary pantries), we are now enjoying her fiction. Please join us in our discussion of Laurie Colwin in the month ahead on our book blog, Cupcake Chronicles. It will be the perfect marriage of books and food.

But I have lots of backlogged posts to put up here in the pantry, too, and I will, including my first foray into fried chicken and other topical items of interest to this New Englander turned Kentuckian. Oh yes, and our first tornado warning. That was a doozy, or "a humdinger," as my father used to say when I was a child in Ohio. So imagine my delight when there actually was a tornado in A Big Storm Knocked It Over, Laurie Colwin's last novel and my first read of her, apart from her food writing. As someone who grew up fearing twisters--thanks to that footage in The Wizard of Oz and Charlie Humbard, a preacher's son with whom I went to school, who told me all about them in the first grade--I like the fictitious ones the best.

This evening, as I was catching up on some emails (what would I do without the internet or e-mail, especially in this new land?), I got a "Google Alert" about an article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News today, "Make the Most of Your Pantry Space." The author gave a wonderful plug to The Pantry and also to my blog. If you are here visiting my blog for the first time, welcome! [You can also find out more information about The Pantry at my website:] I do still write about pantries, on occasion, but also about food, domestic chatter, and the odd bit of life in general. I hope you will feel free to comment and contribute here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Extra Credit: Don't Bother Mommy!

This weekend our family holed up and largely recovered from--or endured--various forms of flu. The boys were home for two days from school at the end of last week and we had "make up" work to do. Because of the way their curriculum is set up, it was not hard to "homeschool" with them today. With minimal cooking, visiting out of the question, and Dad's turn for quiet and rest, I enjoyed a day with the boys. [As I had been given a 36-hour "coma pass" myself, while he held things together--from which I emerged refreshed and lucid again--all is really fair in love and flu.]

Every week the boys have a spelling list of words to memorize. For some reason, as I was calling them out to Henry to spell before his make-up quiz, they just seemed like they would work well together in a story. Here is the result, including his own mischievous embellishments which make it as much his story. I told him to bring it to his teacher tomorrow for extra credit. We'll see if she gets our sense of humor--or not! [The 12 spelling list words are in bold face.]

NOTE: While most of these events are true, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

My mother is happiest in the kitchen. She wears her work clothes and sometimes her apron is untied.

We knocked the apricot jam on the floor and it was everywhere.

Please, children, enough! Get into the ‘time out’ corner, now!” said Mother.

“Alright, we will, Mother!” we answered with a grin.

[Above image from Kitchen Kitsch--Vintage Food Graphics by Jim Heimann, Taschen: 2002]

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Mysterious, Monstrous Cushaw

I had never heard of or seen a cushaw until late August when we were here in Kentucky, closing on our land and house. I first saw these monstrous squash—seemingly part zucchini/part something else—at a Mennonite produce stand and wholesaler along Route 501 in Casey county.

Mark F. Sohn, who researches and writes about Appalachian food ways and recipes from his home in Pikeville, Kentucky says:

“In early July, cushaw vines come into sight throughout Appalachia. In gardens and on small farms, the long green vines with high-growing leaves seem to cover everything. As the summer progresses and the temperature and humidity rise, so do the cushaws. They grow long and tall. At first the fruits are soft and small, but in July they gain size and become firm….these monsters decorate businesses and front yards, and sometimes they make it to the kitchen…

Some mountaineers identify two kinds of cushaw—green cushaw and white cushaw—but the two may not be botanically related. Both cushaws are related to pumpkin, and southern highlanders occasionally call the squash Indian pumpkin…"

The Native Americans call it “tewa” and it is one of the oldest Indian squashes. Sohn also notes that early Appalachian settlers used the flesh of the cushaw for food and the skin for containers because after several years the skin becomes as hard as plastic. Because of its size, good keeping and prolific growth in humid climates, Sohn calls it “the dominant mountain squash.” [pp. 45-47, Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture and Recipes by Mark F. Sohn, University Press of Kentucky: 2005].

Sohn also details a full cushaw-based dinner (“Imagine the yield of 30-inch-long, 20 pound cushaw,” he says, as one squash is enough for 5-10 different recipes) in his Mountain Country Cooking—A Gathering of the Best Recipes from the Smokies to the Blue Ridge (his third book, Hearty Country Cooking-Savory Southern Favorites was a James Beard Award Nominee). For additional information, please see Mark Sohn's website.

So, imagine my surprise when my husband came in with a cushaw pie today. One of our neighbors on a ridge to the south, Larry, used to teach agriculture courses at the county high school and has a large farm. During their visit (my husband likes “to visit” and has made “visiting” a verb), Larry baked four cushaw pies. I was apprehensive at first, thinking it might taste like sweet potato pie, which is too sweet and “yammy” for me. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by a light, mildly sweet and somewhat nutty flavor—like a mellow pumpkin pie tempered with summer squash. The pie was almost custard-like in texture, complete with nutmeg and cinnamon seasoning. He even dotted the top with miniature marshmallows before baking which only enhanced, but did not overwhelm, the sweet nature of the squash.

There is a recipe from a cookbook I do have for “Grandma’s Cushaw Pie” but it uses sweetened condensed milk that I’d prefer not to use (and I don’t think Larry does). That cookbook is Pride of Kentucky—Great Recipes With Food, Farm, and Family Traditions [Kentucky Extension Association & Kentucky Department of Agriculture: Franklin, KY, 2003] and is available here. [Mark Sohn’s books are now on my “wish list”] On a quick internet search I found a cushaw pie recipe made with cream, instead. And another, for Aurelia's Cushaw Pie made with evaporated milk.

You can also find a variety of information about cushaws, and buy seeds, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, an interesting farm and seed operation in the Ozark region of Mansfield, Missouri which I've only recently discovered (and have only just begun to dip into the wonders of their expansive website on heirloom seeds and history). This seed company was founded by 28-year old Jeremiath "Jere" Gettle, who has been collecting seeds since he was a young boy. Since 1998 he has been publishing an heirloom seed catalogue and has a following that has expanded into a store, extensive mail order, on-line gardening community, a new magazine, and a historic farm heritage museum. Their 8th annual Spring Planting Festival is May 4-5 of this year (a Sunday and Monday, as they are closed on Saturdays) and billed as "America's largest heritage gardening event". Road trip anyone?

So next summer when I see piles of these squash on roadside stands in Kentucky, I will not be intimidated. No, I will take the cushaw challenge and probably make just about every dish imaginable. I've done the same with zucchini, as many New Englanders will do, to the point of my family wanting to club each other with the surplus. But unlike the more tender and thin-skinned zuke, the cushaw can be stored. I knew there must be a good winter use for our storm cellar, built into a northeast hillside adjacent to our house, a spot that is naturally damp and cooland hopefully tornado proof. Instant winter root cellar!

I wonder if the old-timers around here had dual-purpose storm and root cellars? In any case, this idea will make my friend, Edie, and fellow Cupcake, very happy as she's been giving a lot of thought to root cellars of late on her blog about her garlic farm in New Hampshire, Bee's Wing Farm. I'll have to bring her some cushaws in the fall and maybe she'll trade me some garlic.

[Photo of cushaws, above, from—for more photographs and information, see this page of their website.]

Monday, February 4, 2008

Literary Butlers

In our book group this month--now virtual because of my move to Kentucky--we are reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. You might have thought that an author of a book on pantries would have read this novel before now, or at least her more literary "Cupcakes," but no, we had only seen the movie. [Painting of Butler in Love, left, by Mark Stock from]

While I can only hear Anthony Hopkins' voice narrating the book as I read it (one of the hazards of seeing an excellent movie first), it is a masterful novel.

The emotionally repressed character of Mr. Stevens, butler to Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall and chief head of household, has this to say about his pantry:

The butler’s pantry, as far as I am concerned, is a crucial office, the heart of the house’s operations, not unlike a general’s headquarters during a battle, and it is imperative that all things in it are ordered – and left ordered – in precisely the way I wish them to be.”

Like most butlers in the households of the great estates, Mr. Stevens lived in his pantry and had lock and key of the silver and liquor stores. He becomes quite befuddled when Miss Kenton (played by Emma Thompson in the movie) comes into his private space, his pantry. Her "marching into (his) pantry" was the ultimate violation as:

"any butler who regards his vocation with pride, any butler who aspires at all to a 'dignity in keeping with his position', as the Hayes Society once put it, should never allow himself to be 'off duty' in the presence of others...A butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role, utterly and fully; he cannot be seen casting it aside one moment simply to don it again the next as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume."

For more literary analysis of this novel, please see my entry, "'Marching into the pantry' with Miss Kenton" and others posted by fellow Cupcakes, at Cupcake Chronicles. And for a more convivial, but equally proper, butler, read the chronicles of Jeeves and his man Bertie Wooster written about in countless novels by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is far more fun--and less disarming--than poor Mr. Stevens.