When I was 7 years old, my first job was picking wild blueberries in mid-August. I would sell them to the owners (two sisters) of By Way Lunch, the local luncheonette. It was a real challenge for me at that young age because they would buy as many as I could pick. They used the berries to make wonderful homemade pies, muffins and cakes. I always seemed to arrive just as the muffins were coming out of the oven. The small amount of money I made was hidden in a special place until it was time to treat myself to the annual traveling carnival, the highlight of my summer. I knew that after the blueberry season and carnival were over, it would be fall and time to go back to school.
To this day, I still gather blueberries, though they are mostly high-bush. The wooded areas and secret patches I frequented as a child, have, sadly, all been claimed by construction; even the By Way Lunch no longer exists.
My need for harvesting the fruits from my homeland, however, has expanded beyond just blueberry picking. I now forage for wild mushrooms and have my own gardens with fresh tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Wild grapes, blackberries and raspberries grow in a small wooded area on my land where I can easily find them.
In the back yard is my grape arbor, laden with lots of purple Concord grapes. Every fall I make a conserve so I can prepare recipes like Grape Sorbet and Grape Soufflé (see recipe) in the winter months. My grandmother’s cement bench, a reminder of harvests from my past, sits under the grape arbor. When she was alive, the bench had a regal place under her crabapple tree next to the house. She would sit quietly and peel apples or clean vegetables from my grandfather’s garden before taking them into the house.
Looking to the locals
If I don’t have enough tomatoes from my own garden for preserving, I rely on local produce stands. When September rolls around, farm stands have an abundance of overripe tomatoes they sell by the bushel; perfect for preserving whole or making tomato sauces. I believe it is important to support our local farm stands and to take advantage of the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables during this very short season. First of all, it is the only time of year one can buy a tomato or vegetable without a sticker on it. Here are several other reasons why: 1. The produce is fresher, tastier and healthier. The better the ingredients used in a recipe the more satisfying the resulting food. 2. Most supermarkets import unripened produce from other regions or other hemispheres; by the time it gets to us the produce may look good but lacks most of its original, vibrant flavor. Not to mention the gross amount of fuel required in transporting it. 3. It connects us to the region and land where we live. 4. If we don’t support our local farmers, they will go out of business.
One farm stand I frequent is Crow Farm in East Sandwich. Owned by the Crowell family since 1916, it is one of the last big operational farms on Cape Cod. It is open from Mother’s Day until the day before Christmas. In the spring, I buy my tomato, cucumber, pepper and herb plants from them. As the seasons change from summer into fall, I benefit from their beautiful tree-ripened peaches, delicious corn and variety of apples, squashes and Brussels sprouts.
I look forward to stopping at Sheila Rich’s Farmstead on Route 6A in South Wellfleet when I am down Cape. Sheila grows herbs and cut flowers. Al, her husband, grows cranberries as he has all his life. He worked with his late father for decades. They have a cranberry museum showing how cranberries were separated in the past and how it is done today. Tours are free to the public.
John Carter of Green Hill Farm in Yarmouthport follows organic methods of farming. His farm has been in the family since 1639 and has gone through several transitions. Carter, a one-man operation, has been tilling the soil for the past twelve years. He sells produce, flowers and herbs to a few of the restaurants here on the Cape. The farm is open for business Wednesday and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. through September 30th.
Gaspare “Gussie” Lunedei is another solo operation that I rely upon. His small stand in Sagamore sits on the side of his house. He remembers the old-world Italian community of years past and me as a child. Inevitably our discussions turn to food and recipes when I visit. The last time I was buying from Gussie he asked if I stuffed tomatoes like his mother did. I replied, “How was that?” He said, “With breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan cheese and then she baked them. Oh, they were delicious!”
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Donna Foley of East Sandwich works at Crow Farm and makes this recipe for the holidays. “This is a very chunky chutney. I make it and serve it with most of my poultry dishes. I also like to use it on my turkey sandwiches. Sometimes I eat it right out of the bowl just because it is so good.”
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
3/4 cups chopped peeled apples
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes then drained
2 (12-ounce) packages of cranberries
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, vinegar, ginger, orange juice, orange zest, apples and raisins. Bring to a boil, stir and cook until sugar has dissolved. Add the cranberries and almonds and cook until berries pop. About 10 to 15 minutes. Makes four cups
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Norma Medeiros of Forestdale, MA, who also works at Crow Farm, gave me this recipe. “I like mincemeat because it is something I had as a child. My mother made it for the holidays. She always made it with deer meat. I happened to come across this lighter version in an old cookbook that is not so sweet. Like fruitcakes, mincemeat is not something everyone likes or would make. But it is a wonderful way to use end of the season green tomatoes.”
Green Tomato Mincemeat
1 quart green tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped (about 10 tomatoes)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 quarts apples, (about 6 medium apples) cored, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 pound seedless raisins
1 1/4 cup finely chopped suet (about 3 ounces)*
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Sprinkle salt over the tomatoes, and let stand 1 hour. Drain then cover tomatoes with boiling water. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain again. Grate zest of the orange and chop remaining orange. In a medium saucepan, mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Place in jars and process to preserve following instructions in any good cookbook. It may also be refrigerated up to six weeks or frozen for future use. Makes about 4 pints.
* Butter may be substituted for the suet.
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I serve this stuffed eggplant with a salad and a fruity white wine. It makes a delicious and attractive main course or it can be served as a vegetable side dish. If you use fresh eggplant there is no need to presoak in salted water. Plain yogurt on the side goes well with the aromatic spices in this dish.
1 large eggplant
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons currants
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup diced red pepper
1 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup chicken broth, homemade or low sodium
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lay the eggplant on its side and slice off about 1/4 inch across (lengthwise), leaving a cavity. Dice the portions you just removed and set aside. Scoop out the pulp with a spoon, leaving a wall of eggplant about 1/2 inch thick all around. Roughly chop the pulp and set aside. Pour a little of the lemon juice in the eggplant shell and the remainder over the diced and chopped eggplant pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, curry powder and cinnamon; cook 3 to 5 minutes until shallots are translucent, making sure garlic does not burn. Next, add the currants, oregano, thyme, red pepper, chickpeas and 1 cup of the diced eggplant; mix well and remove from heat. Place the eggplant shell on a lightly greased, shallow 8 by 2 by 8-inch baking dish and fill the shell with the vegetable mixture. Pour chicken broth over eggplant and add 1/2 cup water to baking dish. Cover loosely with a piece of foil. Bake 1 hour. Serves 4.
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Wild grapes abound all over New England, including Cape Cod, and have a delicious rich flavor. They are much smaller than grapes sold in stores and make marvelous jam, jelly or juice. And they are free! I developed this recipe using wild grapes, but Concord grapes may also be used.
Chilled Wild Grape Soufflé
1 1/2 quarts wild or Concord grapes (if the grapes are large you will only need 1 quart.)
3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
6 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Wash and peel the grapes, separating the skins from the insides; the skins should slip off easily. (This may seem like a lot of work, but it is worth it.) In a saucepan cook the insides of the grapes until they turn into juice, about 10 minutes. You should have roughly 2 cups of juice. Then put them through a sieve or strainer to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Add the grape skins and 3/4 cup of sugar to the juice. Return the pan to the stove and cook the mixture until the liquid has reduced to 1 cup, about 1/2 hour. Add the gelatin to the cold water in a small pan, heat until the gelatin is dissolved, and add to the grape mixture. Remove the grape mixture from the heat and let it cool thoroughly. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar. Towards the end of the beating, add the confectioners’ sugar. Whip the heavy cream. Put the grape mixture into a large bowl and fold in one third of the egg whites. Then fold in the remaining egg whites. Fold the whipped cream into the grape-egg mixture. Make a collar of paper, lightly coated with vegetable oil, so it stands 2 inches above the rim. Or use individual dishes. Pour the mixture into the dish. Chill for at least 4 to 5 hours. Serve with a dab of sour cream.
Blueberry Apple Crisp
5 cups blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 cup diced peeled apples
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 pound butter
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
For the filling: In a small bowl, combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon rind and apples. Mix well and place in a well-buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch pan.
For the topping: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, pecans, oats, and rub in the butter with your fingers until it resembles course crumbs. Spread evenly over the blueberry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is brown. Serves 6.
John Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the Upper Cape, will answer readers’ food questions in his monthly column that appears the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to “Cooking With Carafoli,” care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601, or e-mail to email@example.com. Tips and information are also available at his Web site, www.carafoli.com.
(Published: September 3, 2003)