It takes a Culture, August 7, 2016
Culture is at the heart of every thing we eat. So imagine with me a simple cake whose taste-memory evokes centuries of pastoral life. It ushers you into milk houses, smoky hearths and lush meadows. Follow it to the shores of the Celtic provinces where salt is gathered from the sea and used to preserve the region’s butter which defines this cake. The butter, Beurre de Baratte Salé, gets its name from the rustic method whereby the cream is churned into butter. Once inside the butter, the sea salt dissolves into folds of briny whey, imparting deep flavor that is utterly unique to that place.
Now zoom over to Madison Wisconsin, where I got my first real job in 1972 at the Ovens of Brittany. I was 19 and I didn’t have a clue why its founder Joanna Guthrie named her restaurant after Brittany. Did she like their sea salt perhaps? “She wanted to highlight Celtic culture, “ an older employee told me, “something about planting old traditions in the new world”. Here in landlocked Wisconsin the only seas I could see were corn and alfalfa. I set that mystery aside for another day and threw myself into learning how to cook from scratch in the French style from the books of Julia Child.
The people of Wisconsin were rediscovering from-scratch cooking in that decade too. Back to the landers were repopulating farms that had been marginalized to near extinction during the Cold War’s push for industrialized food. Understanding locality’s essential role in this return to real food, Joanna started her farm in 1968, intending it to supply the future Ovens of Brittany with vegetables and lamb. She located her Farm in the heart of Wisconsin’s Driftless region. The farm struggled because no precedent existed to teach organic practices, but it was a forerunner for hundreds of small family farms in the area that would follow.
Also in the 70’s, a wobbly farmers market showed up on Madison's Capitol square. Legend had it that parking enforcement would ticket the farmers for ‘loitering’. At night the square saw some action at the Dangle Lounge, a couple gin joints and an old-timey steak house, but the square was mostly abandoned after 5pm for the suburbs. In 1974 Bruce and Andrea Craig located a French inspired café there. Simple and sublime, they could open today and it still would be perfect. They were ahead of their time in a community in turmoil, and sadly, it closed. Meanwhile a friend named Jim Casey and I were feeling restive at the Ovens of Brittany. Joanna had moved on years ago due to deteriorating health, but not before revealing the mystery of her restaurant’s name. Indeed, it was to recall the Celtic wisdom traditions of fealty to the land; the patient arts of the soil and the loving work of restoration. It called for small farms to return and rebuild their communities, for cooks and artisans to fire up their ovens and hone their tools, for the people to rediscover the pleasure of cooking and eating. Joanna's vision wasn’t exclusive to her one restaurant; it was intended for an entire region. To be sustainable it needed the visions of others and a vibrant mix of cultures to thrive.
We, I mean Madison’s cooks and eaters, and the region’s farmers, had our work cut out for us. Jim Casey (Bless him, does anyone know where he is?) talked me into taking over the Craig’s space with him. I got my father to co-sign the note and traced L’Etoile’s logo from a blossoming wild carrot radiating into ever more tiny blossoms. It also looked like a star bursting into fractals of light, and maybe it was both. Jim started a Jazz club to follow the dinner service and ran the front of the house. I did the baking and chalked up each day’s menu with truly appalling spelling. During these years I would mail my father troubling progress reports and he would send me his reassuring shortbreads. He jotted down his recipe but my versions never had the savor of his. It took years before I found the issue. By generational default I was using fresh sweet cream butter, the highest quality of course. His recipe just said ‘butter’ and when I finally thought to ask I learned Dad used the butter of his generation; salted for longer shelf life. In its defense, his butter had continued to develop flavor. It’s like so many things…
Threads that link my family to farmers to Brittany and on to L’Etoile weave unique micro cultures that enrich us beyond knowing. They weave into a great Culture with patterns that we can recognize and a future that calls. And so I believe it is only a matter of time before Wisconsin’s dairy artisans will start producing quantities of rustic butter with unique and deep flavors of salty whey and milk-house cultures trapped in its folds. My hunch is that they will be doing it at the behest of dedicated chefs like Tory Miller, and for enduring restaurants like L’Etoile, and for entire regions like Wisconsin. Perhaps they will mine a local salt or perhaps they will use the venerable grey salt of the Celts. Either way it will be special, for when the work of our many cultures binds us so intimately together across space and time, local is a distance best measured by our hearts.
On the occasion of L'toile's 40th anniversary wiith love and gratitude to all of Madison and L’Etoile’s many guests, farmers and staff, past present and future.
Odessa Piper August 7, 2016
Brittany Butter Cake - by way of Wisconsin
(Recipe for Gâteau Breton adapted by Odessa Piper)
8 oz. Salted Cultured Butter: Highly recommended- Beurre Baratte Salé from France
½ C castor (finely ground granulated) sugar
½ C light brown sugar
⅓ C egg yolks (about 5- save what coats the cup for glazing)
1 & ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract and optional 2 drops maple extract
1 teasp baking powder
12 oz. All Purpose flour equivalent to 2 ⅔ C
8 ½ “ to 9 ½ ” flan ring or pie pan set on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips
1 teaspoon milk or cream
12 Hickorynuts or pecans
2 Tablespoon Maple Sugar granules
¼ teaspoon Fleur de Sel (French grey sea salt) ground to size of a flax seed, or Malden Salt flakes
Whipped cream and berries for garnish (optional)
Cut butter into pieces, soften with a cookie paddle, and incorporate sugar(s) thoroughly. Scrape bowl.
Separate yolks from whites into a measuring cup (Use whites for another purpose). Add yolks to butter/sugar and beat 5 minutes till fluffy. (Reserve a coating of yolk in the measuring cup to use for glazing the cake surface)
Add extracts to butter/sugar/yolks and mix till incorporated.
Scrape bowl again, then add flour sifted with baking powder and mix till all flour is just incorporated. The batter will be cookie-dough texture and sticky.
Grease baking dish lightly with butter. Press dough in evenly and bank up slightly ¼" around edges. Combine a teaspoon of milk or cream in the small bowl with the egg yolk residue and brush over cake surface. Use the back of a fork to press alternating stripes to create a star pattern onto the surface. Sprinkle surface with maple sugar flakes followed by the grains of sea salt. (To distribute the sea salt evenly rub pinches of the salt with your hand held high over the baking dish.) Press in the hickory nuts. Place raw cake in cooler for 15 minutes and Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Set cake on a sheet pan to catch any butter leakage and Bake on middle rack of oven at 375 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. Cake is done when center lightly rebounds to a light tap and/or a toothpick comes out clean.
This dense cake will keep, wrapped in tin foil in the cooler, and even get better over several days. Serve thin wedges with whipped cream and berries, or just savor each buttery crumb!
L'Etoile's 40th Anniversary Dinner Menu, Madison, Wisconsin - August 7, 2016
A Favorite Restaurant: Spoke, Somerville, MA -April 2015
I hold a personal philosophy that food doesn’t begin in the soil or end in the eater’s gullet. It is a circle, passing through the sun and conspiring in a hand-off of chloroplasts and pollinators on a journey of gratitude to power our hearts and season our thoughts to put more love in the world. I mean this actually, and while I’m not fully conscious of this all the time, I have come to recognize a particular feeling of well being, generosity and creativity given to me by a meal grounded in skill and thoughtfulness.
I had such a meal recently with friends at Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville Mass. This vibrant space, its smart staff and their stunning food fired up my muse and inspired me to share this.
We started with sweet briny fresh oysters that came with an ethereal jade green granita churned from a base of dill pickle brine. I usually prefer my oysters naked, why mess with the perfection, but in this genius combination the oysters found a soul mate. I jumped the fence and loaded it on.
The chips that came with the smoked salmon were so crisp the seasoning dusted on them lifted the whole bite like a zephyr into my mouth.
I’ve been chary of chilies since being traumatized by too-bold encounters in the past. Every once in a while though, a skillfully placed chili will activate a longing. Unfortunately my capsicum-adverse wine-importing household has limited experimentation. At Spoke we had two dishes where chilies were visible. Out of habit I began to sort them out. But then, they were so perfect and balanced with the flavors! How deeply GOOD they made the core of my body feel. So I ate more, then all, and entered the club feeling like when I did my first headstand in yoga class.
I can see why Spoke’s charred Kimbe carrots would be a house regular. The sunflower crunch they came with is something to covet, making me toss and turn about it for nights to come. Lover of Heliantheae that I am, I hope Spoke’s cooks will experiment with a sunroot version of this dish some day.
I’m wild about chestnuts, so their generous use in the farrow risotto was a joy. Then there were the duck meatballs. So silky! Their surrounding chop of jicama, smoked almonds and grapes supported a perfect level of crunch-sweet-acid. It was fun watching Terry wolf down the almonds; a food he swears he doesn’t like. I bet he even slurped a slice of chilé or too.
My only unmet craving was for more leafy greens to offset all this splendor. That, and a desire to live north of the Charles River so I can go to Spoke all the time.
Finally… those bitty chocolates layered with sesame ganache that came at the end, the last of which I now deeply regret having left on the table in my sated state.
Tips on Foraging, Cracking and Cooking with Hickory Nuts
Film by Bill Lubing and Odessa Piper -September 10, 2014
Part 1 Foraging and Cracking
Part 2 Cooking with Hickory Nuts
It is a mystery to me why Anise Hyssop is not planted in every culinary herb garden in the Americas. I invite you to join me in changing this. - September 1, 2014
For culinary applications
Anise Hyssop is a surprisingly delicious alternative to many recipes that call for mint or basil, (the exception being tomato dishes, where basil rules). The leaves and flowers are mildly sweet and delicately anise flavored. Anise hyssop is a soul-match to fruit of every season, finding nuances where mint is often too dominant. As for savory uses, I have yet to find an Asian-themed dish, lamb chop, roast duck or vege stir-fry that it doesn't compliment.
Easy to grow
Anise hyssop is a hardy perennial that is indigenous to North America and has long been appreciated by Native Americans. It produces some of spring’s earliest greens and thrives with indigenous vitality. By early summer one plant, if pinched back will produce a prodigious quantity of leaves and spikes of buds that flower till frost. The nectar-rich flowers attract beneficial pollinators and butterflies.
Cultivars range in shade from pink to lavender to indigo blue. The plant is so beautiful and sturdy it is regularly used by landscapers. For this reason some are better than others for culinary applications. My un scientific theory is that the more deep the blue the better the taste. Nibble a bit of leaf before buying.
Anise Hyssop through the year
- Chop leaves into tabouli and other grain salads
- Combine leaves & buds with butter to season carrots, beets, pea pods or parsnips
- Wrap a leaf around a slice of fig
- Combine whole young leaves with fresh basil, dill umbels, and chives to make a resinous herb salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese crisps.
- Stir chopped leaves into streusel batter and bake atop rhubarb
- Scatter chopped fresh leaves and flowers over watermelon, then with feta.
- Layer leaves over a slice of prosciutto, roll it up and slice into pinwheels
- Repeat, this time with a slice of ripe pear in the center of the prosciutto.
- Macerate a julienne of the leaves with stone fruits: apricots, cherries, and peaches.
- Wrap leaf around a baton of Parmesan, or good aged cow or sheep's cheese
- Stir flowers and buds into shortbread cookie dough.
- Stir leaves, buds, glacéed apricots and pistachios into biscotti batter and serve with aged sheep's milk cheese
- Dry leaves and store in airtight tin to make tea
- Chop leaves into citrus salsas of Meyer lemon, tangerine or grapefruit
- Macerate leaves in a simple syrup then churn into an emerald sorbet, serve in combination with another fruit sorbet or ice cream
- Drag leaves, flowers and buds in egg white diluted with 50% water, then coat with extra fine sugar, shake off excess, and then freeze dry. Serve sugared leaves with whole strands of red currants.
- Leaves will keep fresh for weeks in the refrigerator when stored between moist paper towels sealed in plastic bag.
- Add flowering spikes of anise hyssop to bouquets of wild flowers.
- Chew on a leaf after drinking coffee to freshen breath.
Notes for the Gardener
The Anise hyssop is neither a fennel nor a Hyssop plant. Its botanical name is Agastache foeniculum. It likes a sunny spot, though does just fine in partial shade. It thrives in all kinds of soil and it is drought resistant. It does not spread rapaciously like mint but its seeds will self sow around the original crown, and this way the plant can be invited to gradually fill out its area. Otherwise, the new plantlets can be eaten or dug up and given to others.
The plant grows to 2 to 3 feet high and bushes out over time. Pinching back will enhance this. It starts blooming in early summer and continues through till frost. The blooms attract native honeybees and butterflies. The plant dies back to the crown at frost, and all but disappears. In the spring its first purple leaves are one of my garden’s earliest arrivals.
To harvest leaves: The leaves grow on brachiated stems that will send out two more leaf bearing stems each time a leading stem is pinched. In spring you can start pinching back after the main stem starts its third set of leaves. The leaves are tender and most flavorful just after growing to about 1" to 1.5" long. Use young leaves with fresh fruit and uncooked applications. The mature leaves are also flavorful but texturally work better if they are cooked or dried for tea. The flowers and buds are especially delicious and the whole flowering spike can be freeze dried
A field trip to Eva’s Garden in Dartmouth Massachusetts- June 2014 Photos by Catherine Owens
This early summer day was organized around all things rose. Specifically, the edible petals of the wildly fragrant rugosa rose that has naturalized in the hedgerows around Eva’s Farm and sandy soils of near-by Buzzard’s bay.
A trip out to Eva Sommaripa’s farm involves both discovery and delectation. Jim Mercer, who has cooked here many times, calls Eva’s Garden an “imaginarium”. Looking into one of Eva’s hoop houses, or the day’s prep ingredients laid out on the table, confirms this idea.
Jim Mercer happens to also be Executive Chef of the Bay Club and he can seriously kick butt around a brick oven. Joining him, Didi Emmons (author of Wild Flavors) and me were several staff from Sofra, a SNHU culinary instructor, cookbook authors and Chefs. While Eva led the foragers to her favorite patches, Didi and I began prepping.
Our other cookbook author was Tama Matsuoka. I learned that the rushes of the common day lily plant could be chopped and added raw to salads or stir-fries. The flavor is elegant green and subtly anise-cucumber, and the texture is crisp like celery. The chopped day lily rushes were one of many elements in a uniquely Eva’s Garden communal salad.
In her book Wild Flavors Didi Emmons got me started on all the crunchy possibilities of rice wraps. We made these with rose petals showing through rice wrappers, filled with crunchy bok choy, bronze fennel, and chive. For more recipes inspired by Eva’s Garden, I highly recommend Wild Flavors, which is out in paperback now.
The meal would be anchored by Eva’s greens and pizzas and anything else we could finish in the farm’s outside wood fired brick oven.
To dab on the smoky crusts Didi made a pesto of greens that can only be replicated if you pull back the clock to a sultry day when the arugula had bolted and calamint abounds. These pizzas also had fresh clams and a generous slab of cloumage, a super fresh cows milk cheese made nearby at Shy Brothers Farm.
In the spirit of the day I made a pesto of rose hips, anise hyssop and feta. It was delicious with lamb sausage.
Rose petals and anise hyssop are the perfect compliment for fresh goat cheese. Here I chopped the leaves and petals together and rolled a log of the chévre over it. The chevre log can be sliced onto crackers.
This is a version of a dish I loved to make at my restaurant L’Etoile; Chicken with Rose petals . I used wings for this version and made a glaze from apricot jam. The story of how I got to this combination is too long to tell here, but I can tell you that apricots and roses overlap their seasons and are very complimentary.
We finished with a spectacularly delicious saffron cake made by Sofra Alum Claire Cheney with Didi’s rose petal ice-cream.
Late Winter Vegetables
To my delight, winter markets in the U.S. are renting larger halls, bringing more diverse offerings, and appearing in more cities. Meanwhile, farmers are diversifying from traditional winter crops like carrots, alliums, and apples to leafy frost-sweetened greens like spinach, chard, and lettuces. In the north, we just came through a particularly cold and snowy winter, and even major growers of frost-sweetened spinach and low-tunnel kales and chards had less this year. But every winter gives farmers an opportunity to perfect the art of winter growing, most of it produced using only the sun and vibrant organic soil. When leafy winter greens are scarce I do my best to augment them with winter stalwarts like root vegetables.
To avoid losing precious volume when sautéing winter spinach, I slightly wilt it a salad with seared apples and hot bacon cider vinaigrette. The hot apples are enough to take the raw edge off.
In her excellent book, The Four Season Farm Gardeners Cookbook, co-written with Eliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch writes how to sprout carrot greens and other roots in your kitchen window for tender and spicy garnishing leaves. Emboldened by her suggestions, I snipped fresh scallion shoots that had bolted from a storage onion onto hot mashed celeriac-potato. With butter and coarse sea salt this is heaven!
A julienne of precious rainbow chard is nicely rendered in a salad of roast beets. I’ve always cooked my beet in their jackets, figuring there is less nutrient loss. The beet method made me realize I don’t need to peel carrots or parsnips either. When boiling, I start them like potatoes, scrubbed but un-cut, in salted cold water so they cook evenly. When al dente, the peels slip off effortlessly.
For other winter cooking tips and extending the season, see my booklet, The Market Kitchen. —March 2014
“What does it mean to eat well?”
Odessa Piper joined a panel of farmers and University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty on February 12, 2014, for a discussion of what it means to eat well. Sponsored by the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the seminar incorporated perspectives on farming, gastronomy, health, equity, and social justice. Other panelists included farmers Jim Munsch of Coon Valley, WI, and Tony Schultz of Athens, WI, and faculty members Jonathan Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute, and Monica White, Department of Community and Environmental Sociology.
Growing, Marketing, and Cooking from the Winter Pantry
Odessa presented a workshop at the NOFA Winter Conference, January 11, 2014. Topics: turn farm products from every season into value-added sales; delicious economical applications for winter crops and foods put-by; storage techniques; purchasing strategies; and culinary uses for berries, field-greens, pastured meats, root cellar crops, apples, and everything in between.
When I moved to Roslindale, I immediately began to map out my new neighborhood food-wise. My neighbors Eric Lewandowski and Holly St. Clair aided with a fundraising project called Fresh in the Village. Our collaboration resulted in prints of Eric’s artwork (right) and recipes inspired by ingredients found in Roslindale. Instead of focusing exclusively on the Roslindale Farmer’s Market, we explored their synergies with great ingredients to be found in Roslindale’s brick-and-mortar shops. And did we find them!
El Chavo features Mexican specialties. I fell in love with a lime-based mayonnaise they sell there. It is amazing slathered on grill-roasted corn-on-the cob.
At the Roslindale fish market, you can find fresh dandelion greens, salt cod, and squid. And if you get there early enough, fresh scallops! At the Greek Grocer, they sell several kinds of phyllo. Make sure to tell the staff what you will be making and they will recommend the right thickness. They move a lot of phyllo through the store so it is always in excellent condition.
Droobie Bros. has fresh watercress year round, as well as unusual Middle Eastern seasonal specialties like hard green plums, which go amazingly well with the labne they sell.
After shopping at these stores, I came up with a winter squash casserole seasoned with a zatar of sumac, sesame, and marjoram, layered with Greek cheese, and topped with a savory ‘crisp’ of bulgur made chewy with pomegranate molasses.
You can get organic chicken at Tony’s Meat Market (Tony is celebrating his 50th year with the store). They regularly have duck and occasionally rabbit. Tony grinds hamburger fresh several times a day. I found great ‘snowflake buns’ at Diane’s, a long-standing bakery facing Adam’s Park, to go with hamburgers.
Select Meat Market sells halal butchered meats. I’ve gotten unusual cuts of lamb there and red wines for braising at Atlas Liquors.
I love Fornax Bakery and their world-class bread!. The first night we took ownership of our house in Roslindale, I threw open the windows and was greeted by the scent of their bread wafting up the hill. This was followed by the bell of the commuter rail train as it pulled into the village. I was hooked.
At Jimmy’s I can get a honest sandwich (I have a soft spot for tuna salad on wheat), sweet or savory crepes, and all kinds of ice cream. Select Café by the train stop also sells ice cream and gelato, as well as fresh-pulled espresso drinks. On a sultry summer evening, I love to grab a cone from either of these shops and stroll around Adams Park.
I am still working through my list of all the interesting restaurants in Roslindale. Because my husband, Terry, and I are in the biz, we have to go to a lot of different restaurants, so the nights we get to cook at home are precious. Our realtor took us to Sophia’s Grotto early on for a really competent, delicious Italian meal and (gorgeous outside patio). Once we settled in, Redd’s ’n’ Rozzie (aka “home of the whole hog”) became our go-to restaurant when Terry discovered their fresh oysters. My neighbors rave about 7 Star Bistro for take-out.
Roslindale has some pretty mighty specialty shops. I can’t leave the Boston Cheese Cellar without a new find. In addition to a top-shelf cheese selection they carry a line of Nutting Farm Maple syrups (possibly the best Vermont syrup I’ve tasted, and yes I know those are fighting words in New England). It inspired me to slow roast and glace whole garlic cloves in Maple syrup. My friends fought over it.
Joanne Rossman is a citywide destination for gifts of all kinds. She loves to cook and curates a revolving selection of gorgeous cookbooks for sale at her store, along with unique kitchen tools, salt cellars and handcrafted aprons. Solera Wine Shop stocks an Austrian grape variety called Gruner Veltliner. This is THE vegetable friendly wine. It is also great with mushrooms, legumes, and white meats. I love it because it is so versatile.
I am instinctively drawn to exciting produce at our Roslindale village farmers market. Neighborhood Farm brings in all kinds of tomatoes and all kinds of garlic. Brookwood Farm brings in the sweetest ripest ground cherries (husk cherries). They are exquisite sautéed with trout or in a fresh herb salad with chevre. John Crow Farm brings in grass-ranged beef, lamb, chicken, and pork. Though it is technically in Brookline, I claim Allandale Farm as spiritually belonging to Roslindale, given that they are a seven-minute bike ride from the village, and their commitment to our market.
Odessa’s recipes and Eric Lewandowski’s vegetable linocut prints can be purchased at Birch Street House and Garden in Roslindale. The Fresh in the Village poster can be purchased at the Roslindale Village Farmers Market info booth.—March 2013