where the wild things are. the blue pearl.

One afternoon, a couple years ago, around a tiny fire outside their farmhouse in Southern Vermont, Les Hook and Nova Kim cooked up some wild mushrooms we had gathered that morning nearby. In a  large cast iron pan, they seasoned them with nothing more than a little butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper. It had just begun to snow steadily when we set out to gather. Large fat flakes  floated around us amd landed on our eyelashes.Les pulled over in his red Subaru, flashers glowing in the wild flurry of white. He deftly put up a twenty-foot ladder against a slippery maple tree and quickly climbed up. He pulled of the biggest Blue Pearl Oyster Mushrooms I have ever seen off that tree. We drove back to their place and lit the fire. It was then that Nova told us about her non-turkey, perfect for vegetarians on turkey day or for any feast any time of the year for that matter. You must start with a large fan of a mushroom, as you can see from the photo it kind of sweetly resembles a turkey's tail! Though I have roasted many a mushroom from them, it took me two years to get to this post. I asked Nova to save me a large Blue Pearl that I would pick up from the New Amsterdam Market. Luckily my snail mail reached her in time and I was able to get a beauty from them the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I kept in a paper bag on my fire escape until cooking day. Now I know I have sung their praises before but people, if you have not been to the market on a day when they are there then you are SERIOUSLY missing out. If you are interested in finding out when The Vermont Wild Food Gatherer's Guild will be in town go to The New Amsterdam Market website and check the vendor and calendar listings! They always have something special and if you have never been to the market then what are you waiting for? It is every Sunday from 11-4pm.

Back to the mushrooms...

The mushroom I got from Les and Nova was held together by a stretch of bark. I left the piece of bark on the mushroom while I roasted it.

I brushed the mushroom with a generous amount of olive oil and sprinkled it with French sea salt cracked black pepper and thyme.

I put in my largest Cast iron pan...this was a BIG mushroom 14 inches across at least. I threw it in the oven at 350 degrees for a slow roast and when it started to brown at the edges I put about a 1/4 cup of water in the pan and covered it with tin foil to add a little more moisture. Mushrooms are essentially like sponges so they soak up all that moisture. I may not have needed to do this if I had roasted it right away but since I had waited a few days I thought it might help to add the additional moisture.. I took the tin foil off for the last five minutes or so of cooking. I can't give you a specific cooking time because it depends on how big or small the mushrooms are that you are roasting. So use your intuition. You want it to be moist and almost meaty when you slice it.

We loved this so much that we could almost forego the turkey next year and just eat this!

It was really good with gravy... 

Thank you Nova for this brilliant idea!

Roasted Wild Blue Pearl Mushroom Tail

Set your oven to 350 degrees 

1 large Blue Pearl Mushroom fan approx 12-14 inches in length

1/4- 1/2 cup olive oil brushed and drizzled on the mushroom

Seas salt to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Gently brush any dirt or debris off the mushroom with a small mushroom brush or a small pastry brush

Place the mushroom upright in a large roasting pan or cast iron skillet

Brush and drizzle with olive oil. Mushrooms really soak it up so be generous with your application.

Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper

Add some fresh thyme leaves and a sprig or two for looks

Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of our mushroom.

Put about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water in the pan and cover with tin foil

When the water is all evaporated the mushroom will be done. 

Uncover for the last five minutes or so.

The mushroom should be moist and easy to slice along the grain.

Cooking time really depends on the mushroom size so keep and eye on it!@ You don’t want it to be too tough!!!

As always, a word of caution where wild mushrooms are concerned. Leave the gathering to an expert!!

flying fox apples and french apple cake

10.27.12

This cold weather and early snow calls for a little something special with the afternoon PG Tips. I have been hoarding Maggie’s beautiful heirloom apples but yesterday's weather prompted me to finally use them.

I was recently in Southwestern France for work and was inspired by the small town farmers markets. It is fairly easy to find a market there on any given day. My favorite was a biodynamic market that sold organic fruit, vegetables and grains. Whenever we are traveling for work, I make it a mission to seek out these little markets. You never know what you will find. I am always on the look out for local specialties like honey and sea salt or liquor to take back home. At one of the markets in France there was a woman selling a very simple French apple cake. It was a plain and unassuming cake that tasted of butter and apples and not a trace of cinnamon which I find  to be highly overused where apples are concerned. The weekend before the storm I ventured down to New Amsterdam Market. The wind was wild and the rain was just settling in, but faithful vendors were there nonetheless. Maggie of Flying Fox had the last of the season's apples along with some beautiful medlars and quince.

Yesterday, I found a recipe worthy of her gorgeous apples, a simple French apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Liebovitz’s blogthat perfectly matches that simple cake from the French market. 

I made one substitution; instead of rum I used armagnac that I picked up in France.

This is a perfect cake for an afternoon tea or with a morning espresso. Come to think of it, it is just plain perfect anytime.

Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake

 recipe via David Liebovitzblog 

 Makes one 9-inch  cake

Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

ingredients:

3/4 cup (110g) flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

4 large apples (a mix of varieties)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup (150g) sugar

3 tablespoons dark rum (I substituted armagnac)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

2. Heavily butter an 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Peel and core the apples, then dice them into 1-inch (3cm) pieces. ( use a mix of kinds. I used a mix of hierlooms)

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy then whisk in the sugar, then rum and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the melted butter

6. Stir in the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the butter.

7. Fold in the apple cubes until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top a little with a spatula.

8. Bake the cake for 50 minute to 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan, making sure no apples are stuck to it.

Serving: Serve wedges of the cake just by itself, or with crème fraîche.

Storage: The cake will keep for up to three days covered. Since the top is very moist, it’s best to store it under a cake dome or overturned bowl.

Black Oxford, Old Maids Winter, D'arcy Spice and Hidden Rose... just a few of Maggie's beautiful hierlooms from The New Amsterdam Market.

 

The beautiful pink one is called Hidden Rose for it's surprising pink color.

The beautiful pink one is called Hidden Rose for it's surprising pink color.

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good butter makes the cake...

good butter makes the cake...

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cider and babes

This morning as I look out on the grey city skyline, I am anticipating some extreme weather. I can't help but think what a perfect sky we had last Saturday as I headed up to a small town in Western Massachusetts to visit friends and babes. The remnants of summer’s leaves had turned a brilliant yellow and were positively glowing and illuminated. We did not even wear coats as the weather was so unseasonably warm.. It was pretty much the perfect fall weekend. Plans were a little loose, as they have to be with so many little ones around. So we kept things mellow and cooked quite a bit. On Sunday, we made a big brunch and went to a fall festival at a local CSA, Natural Roots, which is a horse powered small family farm on The South River in Conway. At the festival, the kids participated in feed sack races and beet in spoon races, which was pretty cute. We all climbed up onto the wagon for a horse drawn ride through the river and into the woods beyond the farm. We bought local apples and when we got back to the house I hunkered down and made a pie with Odette, one mini one for her and one big one for us. We were a little short on the crust due to the mini pie and a little underestimating on my part, so I winged the top and just made triangle shapes, something I picked up from the blackbird girls during our book shoot.

In the afternoon, Anna arrived to make cider with her recently purchased cider press. We started with five bushels of apples of a mixed variety. In the end after an hour or so we had ten gallons of cider. We bottled it up in a hodgepodge of old bourbon bottles and mason jars. After one last meal, we headed out into the early blue evening and wound our way back to the city.

sheep's nose and old maids winter. the forgotten fruits.

Golden Russet, Fox Apple, Hughe’s Crab, Bramley’s Seedling, Knobbed Russet or Old Maid’s Winter, Black Oxford, Anas Reinette, Roxbury Russett, Sheep’s Nose, Lady Apple, Esopus Spitzenburg, Riene des Reinettes, Blue Permain, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Holstein, Ashmead’s Kernal, Orlean’s Reinette, Maiden’s Blush, Wolf River, Pitmaston Pineapple, Snow, Sops Of Wine, Dolgo Crab and Hidden Rose, these are but a few of The heirloom apple varieties that Fruiter Maggie Nesciur collected on her four day Journey to apple farms from New York to New Jersey to Vermont, New Hampshire and back. Last weekend at The New Amsterdam market under the Brooklyn Bridge she set up a tasting table with all these forgotten heirlooms dating back to the 1700 and 1800’s. There were audible gasps when people saw the Knobbed Russet or Old Maid’s Winter. It is an extremely ugly apple, unlike anything we are used to in this very homogenous world. It looks more like a deformed potato than an apple, but like most of these beauties, the surprise lies inside. The taste is phenomenal. Some were sweet and crunchy with a hint of strawberries, while others tasted of pineapple and lemon and spice. They have something in common with a great wine or an amazing cheese as they are layered with complex textures and subtle flavors.

Apples are not native to this country. The apple’s history traces back to the Middle East. The apple’s roots lie in the remote villages and forests of Kazakhstan dating back thousands of years. There were apples of many colors and varieties in Kazakhstan. Like spices, traveler’s and trader’s on The Silk Road most likely picked up apples on their journey discarding seeds along the way that then hybridized freely with native crab apples to produce millions of different apple trees in Europe and Asia. When European settlers came to America, they bought with them  the apple seeds and branches from their favorite apple trees. These seeds were planted and the branches grafted.

Planting apple seeds does not guarantee you great apples. Many apples planted from seed end up bitter or tasteless. The apple story is far more complicated than it seems. Planting a seed from an heirloom or other variety will not guarantee you that apple by any means. You might get something totally different. Settlers for sure planted from seed, but more than likely grafted the apples with the best taste to a rootstock that acts as a host for the graft. The apples that tasted great and did well here in this climate were encouraged and thus became popular American varieties and propagation of those varieties was encouraged.

As they planted the trees, the apples grew and wild animals spread the seeds farther into the wild creating new and wild varieties. As the settlers cleared farther and farther out they came to realize the wild apple had already preceded them.

There are many wild or feral varieties of apples now growing in the forests and fields and woods of this country. Wild apples are different from heirlooms, they are generally quite small in size, but they can be just as tasty. We gather our wild apples in Upstate New York and use them to make applesauce and cider. They are not pretty in the least, but they are quite good!

 Today, heirloom varieties make up only ten percent of total apple variety in the mass consumption of apples, the other ninety percent is represented by relatively few varieties, the kinds we commonly see in grocery stores, perfect and unflawed, sometimes a little mealy, and perhaps a little boring.

The many heirloom varieties available to settlers were used for distinctly different purposes. Some were good for cider and fermentation, some for winter storing while others were good for sauce or pie or just plain eating. I have read that apples were mainly used for hard cider in the early days of settlement, because it was much easier to make than corn liquor. During prohibition it was the Women's Movement that turned image of the apple around from liquor to pie. Thus creating the image, as American as apple pie. The flavors of heirlooms are so unique and interesting.  The next time you are at a farmers market, see if you can find some heirloom apples. Seek them out. Supply and demand is one sure way to keep these forgotten fruits alive.

 

Speaking of hard cider....

Come out to The New Amsterdam Market this weekend for the hard cider revival and get a taste history.