Archive for April, 2013

The Baltimore Food Scene

Saturday, April 27th, 2013


Like bedtime stories told each night, I grew up hearing that Maryland food was naturally the best; there was never any reason to defend it; no one seemed to care about glossy food magazines ordaining it as special.  We just knew there was nothing better in the world than a softshell crab sandwich and a cold beer.  The Chesapeake Bay was the only body of water from which to eat shellfish.  Peaches, tomatoes, and corn from Maryland were bigger and sweeter than any others.  I actually remember Mr. Clay, who still delivered fresh fruit to my childhood home in Baltimore.  When my mother committed the crime of moving to New England, my grandmother sniffed with disdain at foods like New England lobster, which only the vulgar would choose over Maryland crab.  Here’s a photo of my grandmother; she’s probably thinking about maryland crab.



My aunt and uncle, Marilyn and Henry Conway, recently re-introduced me to the Baltimore food scene, starting with an entirely modern culture that has inspired a visit by Alice Waters.  My first night in Baltimore we dined at ArtifactCoffee, the second restaurant opened by Spike Gjerde.



Take a look at both these websites and tell me you don’t want to fly, drive, run to Baltimore as fast as you can:

Gjerde is one of the most dedicated local foodists I’ve seen.  He does whole animals.  He pickles and preserves any Maryland food he can get in his kitchen.  He would have loved Mr. Clay.

Artifact prepares breakfast, lunch and coffee with such art and terroir that no one should even ask them to make dinner.  But they do that, offering one prix fix choice that changes every day.


Our evening featured ramp and watercress flatbread, and then rockfish and shellfish stew, both set casually but beautifully in the middle of the table.  We served our stew steaming from a Staub casserole.  I was so happy I forgot what dessert was; sorry.

Two nights later we dined at Woodberry Kitchen, the centerpiece restaurant for Spike Gjerdes and his wife.


Ramps and radishes every way was what I had for dinner.  We began with this masterpiece collection of radishes, ramp butter and broccoli flowers.  Next I had the rye and wheat berry salad, with radishes and tops, ramp leaves, yogurt and coriander, and pickled asparagus.  Pure Maryland spring.

By the time my Tilghman Island crab cake arrived, served with a luscious warm potato and roasted ramps, I was too overwhelmed to take photos, but I remembered to admire the coffee.


This food scene, all Maryland, is better than even my grandmother’s.  A nice touch, the valet parking was free; even better, it was a chilly night, but the valet directed us to warm ourselves by the outside fireplace while we waited for our car.


My visit was not without a bow to tradition:  at Lexington Market, one of the great open urban markets still around, Lou shucked plates of great, meaty oysters for us.  While my aunt shook her head in despair at the fast food and neon signs that had overwhelmed the Lexington Market butchers and fishmongers, we ordered crab cakes, softball-sized rounds of lump crab, to take home for lunch, and we found shad to prepare at home for dinner that night.

We visited Atwater’s bakery, where a line 3 people deep formed at the counter for their earthy loaves:  choose from two lists – naturally leavened or yeasted breads.  Their literature gives good advice on how to eat bread when it’s fresh (“slather with butter”),  middle-aged (“toast, bruschetta…”), and on it’s last leg (“thicken soups, bread salad, feed the birds.”)

We visited Rheb’s, a Candy Company since 1917, which still inspires lines down the street on Valentine’s Day.


And we dined on Pickwick Rd., in Marilyn’s kitchen.  Marilyn broiled that shad, brushed with lemon juice and melted butter, adding a little bit of vermouth to the pan at the very end.  She made haricots verts, not in season, but delicious, all served with my great aunt Audrey’s tomato aspic.  Go ahead, cringe.



Maybe you have to be related to one of these Baltimore women to like it, but I love tomato aspic; I think it’s in my genes to like tomato aspic.  Here’s Audrey’s recipe, as given to her sister, my grandmother, and then to my aunt.  Yes, raspberry gelatin is an ingredient.


Tomato Aspic




1 large package raspberry jello

2 packages Knox gelatin

3/4 cup tomato juice

1/2 cup boiling water

3 cans stewed tomatoes, undrained

6 drops tabasco




Dissolve the two gelatins in the tomato juice.  When dissolved, add boiling water.  Add 3 cans stewed tomatoes undrained, pureed in a blender or food processor.  Add 6 drops tabasco.


Pour into a 8 x 8 inch glass pan.  Chill until set.


For the dressing


1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons horseradish

1 tablespoon Durkee dressing (optional)


Stir all together.  Serve on top of each serving of aspic.


Lastly, a trip to Baltimore is not complete without a visit to Ft. McHenry.  O say can you see.









Time gone by, Anna Rusk’s Corn Pudding

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I tried to make plane reservations dependent on when the daffodils would be blooming, but a few days of 80 degree weather last week had already burst open the drifts of narcissus in Carolyn Rusk’s Baltimore garden.  My aunt had been telling me that I had to see this garden, owned and tended by her childhood friend.

The bulbs had retired when I arrived to shields of green wands, background for this week’s show of shimmering snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum.  



Carolyn Rusk stepped out of the front door to greet us tying a plastic rainbonnet over her short, already hatted hair.  She paused to slip plastic rain booties over her shoes.  It wasn’t raining, but the air was moist.  The booties, I learned later, were to protect the spring beauties, or Clatonia virginica and Confederate violets,Viola sororia priceana, from heavy footsteps.


Interfaced planes of moss and these dainty early spring flowers were lawn in Rusk’s garden.  Trout Lillies, Erythronium americanum, emerged close to the earth, their speckled leaves looking like a school of leaping fish caught in midair.

Oaks and Beech, the giants in this botanical drama, soared straight out of tender woodland to create the dappled cover beneath which this garden thrives.  Rusk, 83, grew up in this home.  She left for a career as a high school French teacher, but came back to tend the house and garden her mother began years ago.  Her parents, Anna and Alex Rusk, had moved here in the 1930’s, drawn, Carolyn told us, to the wild azaleas growing on the property.  “I want to live here,” her mother had declared, believing the azaleas signaled garden promise.


The garden is from another time.  Carolyn, tiny and bright, lead us through the barely noted paths, pointing out a patch of Trillium and winter aconites beneath great stretches of leggy viburnum.

Mayapples, Podophyllum peltatum, with their cheery round leaves seemed to call out, “hey, look at me!” from every corner, along every passage.  We spent a long time assessing an Indian euonymus, Euonymus atropurpureus.  Carolyn fondled its budding spindle of a branch, as if she were greeting a favorite pet. She talked about how plants come and go here, “that is the fun of it.”  The bluettes and bloodroot seemed to have disappeared, but the winter aconites and confederate violets had arrived.  In fact, it was hard to know if Carolyn considered herself a gardener, and this a tamed effort, or if she were just loosely managing a forested wilderness, documenting and nursing along the natural shifts of a patch of woods.

Carolyn’s home, as one would expect, had not changed since her parents’s time.  I fell in love with the kitchen, as well- loved as the garden, almost a museum of cooking in the 1930’s.

Here is the sad news:  I arrived this past Sunday to see Carolyn’s garden just in time; the movers were to arrive on Wednesday.  Carolyn was saying goodbye to house and garden, and moving to a retirement home.

This sort of garden, a universe beyond suburban plantings, and this sort of home, its stalwart cast iron appliances as sturdy as vaults, are gone.  Thank you, Carolyn, for a last glimpse of a very special time, now slipping away.




My aunt, who has been friends with Carolyn since the 4th grade, had years ago received Anna Rusk’s recipe for Fresh Corn Pudding, which we offer here.  Remember this – and think of Carolyn – in August when the first fresh corn arrives.

Anna Rusk’s Fresh Corn Pudding, from Carolyn


Scrape down 5 or 6 ears of corn.  Add yolks of 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and 1 cup milk.  Fold in stiffly beaten 2 egg whites.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake in a greased casserole about an hour.

The Yankee Chef, Feel Good Food For Every Kitchen

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013


Jim Bailey calls himself The Yankee Chef.  His new cookbook, The Yankee Chef, Feel Good Food for Every Kitchen, is a compendium of New England foods – and more.


Thirty years ago, Jim Bailey, at 20 years old, leapt, wrists and feet bound, 55 feet from a Skowhegan, Maine bridge into the Kennebec River.  The article in the Lewiston Journal from September 1982 described the young man as a short-order cook and an amateur boxer.

“He took the leap on Wednesday to publicize what, he hopes, is his next profession as a magician and escape artist.”

My metaphor may be a reach, but I’d say Bailey is still working as an escape artist, at least allowing his cuisine to escape from the New England liturgy of cornmeal, cranberries and maple syrup.  His cookbook covers Northeast recipes from corned goose to plum duff, including excerpts from historical cookbooks in the marginalia, but there are also recipes for Kung Pao Shrimp and Orange Cappucino Cheesecake.  Watch those New recipes un-tie themselves from “New England,” and get away!

In his signature pink chef’s jacket, Bailey earns his Yankee Chef title if only for his long Maine pedigree and the slow, elegant way his DownEast “r’s” turn into “ah’s.”

“Heatha, it’s a pleashah to meet a nice lady like you,”  he told me over the phone.  Does he really talk like that, I wondered.  He does.  Watch his videos.

Tall, solid, brawny, Bailey’s build reminds us of that amateur boxer he once was.

His biography is studded with tough Maine men in kitchens, struggling with their curious, sensitive souls, and with drinking.  Bailey’s grandfather, Sam Bailey, played a fiddle well enough to be accepted into the New England Conservatory of Music; he supported himself by learning to cook.  His son, Bailey’s father, followed the same path, playing the same violin, and ultimately owning three restaurants, because a restaurant provides a steadier income than a violin.  Bailey describes them all as three generations of violin-playing history buffs from Maine who learned to cook to make a living.  Bailey still plays his great grandfather’s violin, but cooking has emerged as the Bailey strength.  Drinking defeated two of them.

Bailey cannot separate himself from the tragic figures who preceded him.  The introduction to his book is their story.  When you ask Bailey about himself, he starts with his grandfather.  But the recipes in the cookbook paint a different picture of this generation of Yankee Chef.  From the breakfast oatmeal with pumpkin and maple syrup, to a lengthy section on Whoopie Pies, this book makes me think of Bailey as an enthusiastic gentleman who loves cooking for family and friends, and loves Maine and New England, the old and new.

Bacalau a Braz

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013


This is a fascinating Portuguese dish that demonstrates that culture’s affection for a pile of crispy potatoes.  Cooked cod is mixed with a warm pile of delicate homemade french fries, and then scrambled with a batch of eggs, a fabulous culinary study in texture.  Probably born from a hungry fisherman with too many eggs on his kitchen counter, Bacalau a Braz has become a classic in Portuguese cuisine.




I added a garden taste to the whole rich dish, topping it with a “salsa” of roasted cherry tomatoes, lemon, olives and parsley.  The soft texture of fish and egg mixed with the crisp potatoes is a surprise, not something our often segregated plates of meat, vegetable, and starch usually offer, but home-y delicious.  Or Porto-delicious.

Originally made with salt cod – the “bacalau” part – I use fresh cod in mine, but feel free to purchase that wooden box of the salted stuff.  Soak it over night, and rinse a couple of times the next day, and simmer in the recipe as I do the fresh cod.  Salt cod is delicious for its own reasons – I bow here to Ken Rivard, who reminded me that the results of this dish using salt cod is really a very different taste.  Still, fresh cod – even better, hake or pollock – is readily available, and in this case simpler.



Bacalhau a Braz

serves 4


1 pound fresh cod

1 lemon sliced

1/2 a teaspoon peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoon salt, divided

8 tablespoons olive oil, divided  (perhaps more to fry the potatoes.)

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into thin strips like very skinny french fries

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon oregano

8 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided

2 cup cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 tablespoon lemon juice



Make the roasted cherry tomato sauce:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss tomatoes in olive oil, and spread in a baking dish.  Roast for fifteen minutes, or until just beginning to crack and brown.  Remove from oven, and allow to cool a bit.  Toss into a medium sized bowl, and mix in about 6 lemon slices (reserving at least 3 for the fish), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3 tablespoons parsley, olives, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Stir gently together and set aside.

To make the gratin:  Fill a shallow skillet with one inch of water.  Bring to a simmer and add lemon peel, pepper corns, 1 teaspoon of salt, bay leaf and fish.   Cover, and simmer for seven to ten minutes, or until fillets begin to flake.  Remove fish from broth and cool.  Flake the fish, checking for bones.

Heat four tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet and fry potatoes in batches until brown and crispy.  Drain on paper towels, sprinkle liberally with salt, and start the next batch, adding more oil if necessary.

Drain that oil, but then return one additional tablespoon of fresh olive oil to the same pan.  Add the onion and saute until golden brown, about ten minutes.  Stir in the oregano, a sprinkle of salt, and reduce the heat to low

Gently stir in the fish and fried potatoes, reserving a good cup of potatoes for garnish.

Whisk together the eggs with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and one tablespoon parsley.  Pour the eggs over the fish, onion and potato mixture, and stir very gently until the eggs are cooked, about 3 minutes.  Do not let them stick to the bottom of the pan and brown.

Serve hot with a healthy spoonful of tomato mixture piled on top, and then the reserved fried potatoes.

Cape Ann Fresh Catch Dinner – Baked Hake with Mushrooms and Cream

Friday, April 12th, 2013


Whole fish don’t scare me anymore.  Last week’s Fresh Catch, a whole hake, lay in my sink, and I actually thought how great it was to live in a place where, for years and years, a whole fish lying in someone’s sink was just another Thursday dinner.  How many people can say that anymore?  Who on earth has the luxury of messing around with a large, meaty fish heavy with firm white meat, fresh from the sea, just on any old weekday night?

Unschooled in filleting, I went at my hake with common sense and a slim, thin knife.  My fillets came out pretty well.  I lay them in a buttered baking dish, and then received a phone call from my friend, Nola.  She told me to bake them covered with wild mushrooms, onion, and white wine.  After they are cooked, remove the fillets from the pan, put the mushrooms, onions and broth in a saucepan with some cream, cook that for a bit, and then re-cover the whole fish in sauce.

Yeah, just another Thursday night dinner in Gloucester.


Baked Hake with Wild Mushrooms and Cream


Serves 6




2 pound hake fillets

butter for the baking dish

3 cups mushrooms (I used small shitakes and button mushrooms.  If the mushrooms are small, leave them that way, but slice larger mushrooms.)

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

2 cups white wine

1 cup cream

salt and pepper

chopped parsley



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9” x 12” glass baking pan, or a suitable baking dish.

Lay the fillets in the buttered dish, folding the thinner end back onto the fish if it doesn’t fit in the pan.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  In a medium bowl toss together the mushrooms and onions, and season with salt and pepper.  Spread mixture over the fish.  Pour the white wine over all, and cover the dish with foil.  Bake for 15 minutes with the foil, and then remove the foil and bake for 5-10 more minutes or until the fish begins to flake.

Without the mushrooms, onions, and juices, remove the fillets to a warm serving dish.  (You can return this to the turn-off but still warm oven at this point.)

Pour the mushroom remains into a saucepan, and heat.  Pour in the cream, and simmer for five minutes, or until the flavors are melded and the sauce has slightly reduced.   Pour the sauce all over the fish.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve immediately.



Trawl to Table, in which fishermen and restaurant owners get to know each other

Thursday, April 11th, 2013




Perhaps tossing a life-preserver to the drowning fishing industry, April 10th The Gloucester Maritime Center hosted “Trawl to Table,” a full day of conversations between Gloucester fishermen and Gloucester restaurants.  The mission was to create communication between the two, to let the restaurant owners know in real time what the fishermen are catching, what it looks like to do that, and what they’re up against.  And it was to let the fishermen know what kind of pressures the restaurants feel.  Working together, perhaps the two groups can teach the rest of us that haddock and cod aren’t the only fish in the sea.  If we learn to eat what the fishermen are catching, we may – just MAY – be able to preserve a seascape in which fishing boats still chug out of Gloucester harbor for the day’s catch.

What IS the situation with fishermen right down on the docks, and what are the restaurant people going to do when all their customers want is haddock and it’s either $18.00 a pound or just plain unavailable?  


Well, we learned about dogfish.  Dogfish has an unfortunate name, but Europeans have been eating it as their sacred fish and chips for years, Nina Jarvis of the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange told us.  With the European economy suffering, not as many Brits and Parisians are dining out; European demand for dogfish is down but there are plenty of this fish in the sea, and hundreds of pounds being landed in Gloucester.  If we could put dogfish – call it Gloucester’s Whitefish? – on restaurant menus, if we could make tourists drive to Gloucester for our fish and chips the way people go to London for them, we could perhaps keep those fishing boats busy and make restaurants happy, too.

That was one of many Trawl to Table conversations.




Because most of us only read about gillnets and trawlers, Steve Eayrs from the Gulf of Maine Institute took us to the Gloucester Maritime boathouse and said, this is a trawling net.  This is a gillnet.  Square holes in nets catch flat fish; diamond-shaped holes allow flounders to slip through.  The shape of the hole determines the catch.  Dropping nets with 6.5 inch holes, northeast fishermen fish with the widest-holed nets in the world, and thus the most environmentally kind.



As an experiment the Gulf of Maine Institute basically put a second “bag” around trawlers’ nets to find out what was being allowed to slip through.  The topless trawl, holes in the top of the nets near the codend, were “very selective,” meaning the non-allocated fish could swim away.  This is just one example of “clean fishing.”

Earys showed technological advancements the industry has made to more gently impact the seabed and better target allocated fish, leaving cod, for example, to swim through the large-holed nets at the bottom of a gillnet, or adapted semi-pellagic doors on trawl nets that only lightly graze the sea bed.




Nina Jarvis gave us a tour of the Cape Ann Seafood exchange, wherefore the landings are officially accounted, reported to the Federal government, and then auctioned off.  When the auction was done by hand, with an auctioneer standing in the front of the room calling out hake bids, it took three hours, Jarvis told us, to sell 100,000 pounds of fish.  Now a computer system at each bidder’s desk allows 100,000 pounds of hake to be sold in one hour.  A truck load of fillets can be headed to Boston or New York by 9:00, in restaurants by 3:00.  The fish is fresher and safer.


I won’t list everyone who attended, but this cross-section says much about the seriousness and passion for Gloucester fishing assembled yesterday:  Fishermen Thomas Testaverde from the Lisa T. was there. Vito Giacalone and his sons Vito, Jr., Nino and Nick were there, and Ed Smith of the Special K.

Mark McDonough and staff from Latitude 43 were in the front row.  Lindsey Wishart from Chive Events and Sheree Zizik from Cruiseport were there.  Kathy and Jim Turner from Turner Fisheries were there.   Jeremy Goldberg from Cape Ann Brewery was there, and he bought everyone a beer at the end of the day.


Cape Ann Fresh Catch, NOOA, and The Gulf of Maine Research Institute were represented.

Patrick Love from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, had driven to Gloucester in between presentations at Wellesley and Harvard.  Love collects data on international fishing, and has written several books on economies for the OECD, including “Fisheries, While Stocks Last?”  Love lives in Paris, and told us with his thick Scottish brogue, “Gloucester is the most famous fishing port in the world!  – you should find a way to capitalize on that.”

The Mayor appeared at the end of the day to give us her blessing.

Sadly, the day ended with everyone acknowledging that the ground fishing industry may likely be defeated forever on May 1st. when the Federal government further cuts fishery allocations by 77%.  NOOA representative Allison McHale said that, although the issues are complex, the law – meaning the Magnuson Stevenson Act – mandates these cuts.  The President can re-enact an interim policy keeping allocations the same as this year, (and you should call or write Governor Patrick demanding he put pressure on Obama to do so if you believe in this,) but that is a temporary fix; ultimately the laws need to be amended to support small fisheries in order to keep them alive.

There are many theories as to why the fisheries are in such sad shape; warming sea temperatures and agricultural run-off are serious issues that fisherman can do nothing about.  But, one statistic stayed with me yesterday.  It tolled throughout the room,  and people heard it feeling even more helpless than when we arrived.  All this local good will and work is energizing; technological improvements are being made to make local fishermen “clean,” to make their product as safe and environmentally friendly as possible, but 90% of the fish eaten in this country is imported from foreign fisheries.

I subscribe to the blog SeafoodSource, and happened to glance at this post today.  There is a long line of posts just like this, huge companies and numbers, all in foreign seas.  To whom – to what ocean, to what planet – are they accountable?  Shareholders.


China Fishery increases stakes in Copeinca fight

By SeafoodSource staff
11 April, 2013 – China Fishery Group on Thursday upped the stakes in its battle to acquire Copeinca with a new takeover offer that matches one from Cermaq.

China Fishery increased its offer price for the Peruvian fishmeal company from NOK 53.85 (USD 9.45, EUR 7.19) to NOK 59.70 (USD 10.47, EUR 7.97), to match Cermaq’a own NOK 59.70 bid. China Fishery has also extended its offer to include the 11.7 million new Copeinca shares issued to Cermaq on 5 April, meaning its offer is now for the entire company.

The increase in the offer price may cause the acquisition to exceed the USD 600 million (EUR 457 million) originally approved by China Fishery’s shareholders. The new offer has yet to be approved, the company said shareholders of 70.51 percent of China Fishery have given irrevocable undertakings to vote in favor of the move, as have shareholders of 54.9 percent of parent company Pacific Andes.

China Fishery currently controls 32.3 percent of Copeinca’s shares and the offer was extended to 10 May from 12 April.

Olive oil and Marmalade Cake

Thursday, April 11th, 2013



This post begins with quince, detours into methods for researching historic recipes, and ends in a marmalade cake.   The history of marmalade, as I learned from a three day class on reading historic recipes with Sandy Oliver, begins with quince.

According to Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, a quince first fell from a branch somewhere in the Caucacus, the chunk of land where Europe ends and Asia begins, thousands of years ago.  Davidson says that the Troy-defeating golden apple Paris handed to Aphrodite was a quince.

“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love;”  those solace-making fruits from Song of Solomon, Davidson repeats, were mostly likely not apples but quince.

Quince hopped to Ancient Crete, where sage cooks preserved raw fruits in honey.  At some point – again Davidson here – people realized that cooking quince first not only resulted in a softer product when the clay pot was opened a year later, but in a firm, nicely congealed paste.  Cretans had opened their urns to the powers of pectin.  From this preserve, quince began a long, happy career as the star of the breakfast and dessert table.

D. Eleanor Scully in Early French Cookery believes quince preserves probably arrived in France via the Romans, who called it melimelum.  That root that leads directly to  “marmalade,” or the Portuguese marmelada and the Spanish membrillo, usually unstrained versions of preserved quince with visible fruit.

Karen Hess, in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, follows quince preserve’s travels from the Middle East to Spain, where in 1492 the sweet departed with confectioners escaping the Inquisition to Genoa.

According to S. Anne Wilson in The Book of Marmalade, quince marmalade’s exact arrival in England was recorded on a shipping inventory from Portugal in 1495.   The first English citation of marmalade, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is 1524.  Marmalade, its popularity riding on this knobby, yellow fruit’s ability to congeal, and probably also its medicinal promises, began with quince, and for about a thousand years remained only a quince product.

There are no native American quince, but by the time Europeans were settling in the Americas the fruit was beloved, and not to be left behind.   The quince marmalade in the Martha Washington Booke of Cookery dates to 1608, but Hess believes it is probably an English recipe from the 1550’s.  Hess says she does not know exactly when marmalade stopped being only a quince product, but sites Gervais Markham’s 1615 orange version as the first written example of rogue marmalade.

I assembled this intense marmalade history in a workshop entitled, “Every Dish Has A Past: A Workshop in Historic Recipe Research” with Sandy Oliver, one of the country’s leading experts on culinary history.  Oliver began a career in culinary history cooking on an open hearth in Mystic Seaport years ago, before she moved to Islesboro, Maine.  For years she edited a newsletter called Food History News.  Her books on foodways include: Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century (1995) which won a Julia Child Award for distinguished scholarship. The Food of Colonial and Federal America (2005), Maine Home Cooking (2012), and with Kathleen Curtin, co-author, Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie.

Oliver’s class was held in Historic Deerfield, in a week when the museum and Deerfield Academy were both closed.  We twelve culinary history students and our teacher were the only visible souls walking the street lined in 18th and 19th century homes.  And then there was a blizzard.  As one participant said, “This would be a great setting for a murder mystery.”

For three days we existed in a bleak, snowy New England familiar to the people who had written the centuries-old cookbooks through which we combed.

Oliver assembled us in a room in the Flynt Museum.  We each had our computers, and at the back of the room was a long table piled high with old cookbooks, reprints of old cookbooks, and Oliver’s favorite resource, The Oxford English Dictionary.

We were each to have arrived at the course with a recipe or subject to research;  after a morning lecture, we spent the rest of the time heads down.  Occasionally someone in the class would look up and say, “Erica, aren’t you doing research on ‘collops?”  There’s something here you might want to see -”  A lot of that happened; books were passed around as one person researching “wilted salads” came upon a recipe that another person researching “hot water pies” needed.  After our research was semi-complete, we were to make a chart of approximately 8 – 10 recipes, starting with the oldest, and listing the ingredients and methods in each, thus seeing easily, for example, when rosewater was dropped from a quince marmalade recipe, or in an example Oliver handed us, when squirrel was dropped from Brunswick Stew, and chicken added.

From our charted recipes, we were to assemble a final recipe that we thought would be best.  The last afternoon, we assembled in a kitchen in Historic Deerfield to prepare our recipes in an open hearth.  Historic Deerfield attendants had already lit a blazing fire in the beehive oven where students would bake their apple and hot water pies.  A fire roared in the fireplace where a student’s apple pudding would boil in a pot of water that hung from the crane, and beef collops would fry in a pan over a mounded pile of hot coals.

When all was prepared, there was supper.

Once I was home I serendipitously received three jars of marmalade from the great produce grower – a favorite of Julia Child’s – Frog Hollow Farm.  With all I now knew about marmalade, I followed Oliver’s research, and charted some excellent recipes for marmalade cake.  I never would have thought to use olive oil, which makes a sublimely moist, dense, and soft crumb, but Essex antique dealer Andrew Spindler said this was how he made his marmalade cake.  With that clue, I tracked an olive oil and marmalade cake to Portugal.  Michael Ciarello’s Olive Oil Cake ended up being the right inspiration – a little anise, a marmalade glaze with star anise and vanilla bean.

This is a sweet, dense cake accented with the slightly bitter taste of marmalade from the topping, which may catch some people by surprise.  I recommend using a high quality marmalade; the bitterness is bright but less edgy.

Michael Ciarello’s Olive Oil and Marmalade Cake

 makes two 10” round cakes.



3 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup orange liqueur or orange juice

1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling pans

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoons ground anise seed or 2 teaspoons whole anise seed

2 cups cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons lemon or orange marmalade – for topping

star anise

vanilla bean scraped

2 tablespoons orange liquor or orange juice


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wipe 2 (10-inch) round cake pans with olive oil.

Lightly beat eggs with paddle attachment in standing mixer on high for 1 minute until frothy. Add milk, sugar, liqueur, olive oil, orange marmalade, lemon zest, and anise. Mix for 1 minute until well blended. Mix in the flour, baking soda and baking powder until well blended and smooth.

Pour half of the mixture into each oiled cake pan. Bake for 1 hour. Place on a rack to cool. Run a knife around the edges and place it on a plate.

To make the topping, put 6 tablespoons of marmalade into a small saucepan with the anise, vanilla, and orange liquor.  Heat to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes.

While the cakes are still warm, poke holes with a toothpick or skewer into them, and pour the divided topping over each.  Cut each cake into wedges and serve.


Mayflour cake + confections

Sunday, April 7th, 2013


“This cake tastes pretty!” my eighteen year old daughter declared, after a silence that followed her first fork of lavender cake with honey buttercream frosting.

This is Mayflour cake + confections.  Baker of beautiful, mistress of the pretty, Mayflour owner Jocelyn Pierce believes that cakes and confections should be made with the best organic ingredients, and they should taste as lovely as they look.

Last year Pierce, at 32, left a happy career at Crate and Barrel to enroll in the French Pastry School in Chicago where she graduated with high honors.  Pierce mastered not just French pastry but the precision of petit-fours, chocolate work, spun sugar, and genoise.  She triumphed over the weight-bearing powers of fondant and “cakes that looked like stiletto heels.”



At Mayflour Pierce takes her apron full of classical French Pastry lessons and applies her own philosophy and aesthetic.  She uses buttercreams, ganaches, and rich flavorful frostings that taste even better than they look.

“Buttercream adds an element of imperfection,” Pierce says.  “It celebrates the organic,.”  – as opposed to the structurally sound but not very delicious fondant.



The Mayflour chocolate cake is layers of a moist, true sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream frosting.  Her coconut cake uses fresh coconut in the cake and coconut milk.



And her confections? Pierce’s cannele – those little French cakes baked in individual fluted copper molds which make the ratio of  yummy caramelized crust to soft, buttery interior about 6:1 – would be at home on a white porcelain plate beside a cafe au lait on the Rue St. Honore.  Pierce makes these very traditional French cakes in the traditional copper molds the traditional Bourdeaux way:  each mold is brushed lightly with a combination of melted butter and beeswax before baking (Pierce uses organic, food-grade beeswax), giving that outer buttery crust a faint whiff of honey.  Mayflour cannele are the exquisitely articulated lesson of something so artful tasting so purely, simply divine.




From the time she was young Pierce loved baking.  She realized how much she loved the celebratory element of desserts when years ago she baked for a friend her first wedding cake – carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – 4 layers, white chocolate curls on top – which is still one of her most popular wedding choices.

“The dudes love the carrot cake,” Pierce says, smiling.

At Mayflour cake + confections classic, old fashioned and French meets fresh, modern, organic, delicious, pure, and pretty.

But this is all too dry a discussion for desserts that are as luscious and dreamy looking in a lovely, simple elegant way as Mayflour.  Go to the website and imagine away an occasion for which to call Pierce.  Order a small coconut cake for an intimate anniversary, a lavendar cake with honey buttercream for a spring wedding shower; order a dozen cannele for a special summer breakfast on your porch.  Those cannele should require proof that the purchaser will only serve freshly brewed French Roast coffee with them.



Pierce will deliver almost anywhere.



Mayflour Cake + Confections

Jocelyn Pierce


This week’s Cape Ann Fresh Catch: Dabs with Lemon, Capers and Parsley

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013


I carried two pounds of Dab fillets home from this week’s (last Thursday’s) Cape Ann Fresh Catch share.  Such a user-friendly organization, the Cape Ann Fresh Catch people send an email earlier in the day declaring what the catch will be, and provide a recipe, so you can make sure to stop at the grocery store for capers and lemons on the way to picking up your fish.

Dabs, a apparently small flounder.  From what I understand,  Sand Dabs are the Pacific version.  People on the west coast love seeing these small, white slivers of fillet on restaurant menus, but we are less familiar with them.  Dabs apparently eat mollusks, accounting for their sweetness.  In fillet form, they are one of the quickest, most delicious dinners you can have.  – a quick dusting of flour, and 2-3 minutes per side in pan of hot butter, and dinner for two is ready.   This week’s Dab recipe included the sauce that Niki Segnit in Food Thesaurus says, “can wake the dead:”  lemon, capers, and parsley.  Just as delicious as it is ubiquitous.

Dabs with Lemon, Capers and Parsley

serves 4-6



2 pounds dab fillets

3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour

Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil, or more as needed if cooking in 2 batches

1⁄3 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 lemons)

(1/3 cup white wine – optional)

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the fillets and pat dry.

Place the flour on a dinner plate and season with salt and pepper. Dredge each fillet in the flour and shake off the extra.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with 3 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter is bubbly, lay 3 fillets in the pan.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until they begin to brown around the edges. Turn once and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove from the pan with a spatula and place on a platter; keep warm.  Cook the last 2 fillets, adding a little more butter to the pan if needed, and remove to the platter.

Add the lemon juice, wine if you’re using it,  and capers to the hot pan. Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and immediately add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, whisking until it forms a smooth sauce. Pour over the sole, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.