Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fruitcake Weather and Christmas Memories

Christmas is always about past and present. Today’s celebrations are inextricably linked to the sights, sounds, smells and people of bygone holidays.

Every yuletide, my brothers and I recall the Goodyear Christmas Album – received as a “premium” at the local tire store – which was the musical accompaniment to our holidays when we were young.  I can still hear Robert Goulet crooning “Do You Hear What I Hear?”      

I can look at this year’s Christmas tree and touch the very first Christmas ornaments my Mom and Dad gave me for the tree in my first apartment. 
And, then there’s the visions of sugar plums - the baking starts early, always grounded in delicious memories – Mom’s Angel Food Cake, Aunt Greta’s Stollen, Zany’s Cinnamon Buns or Nana’s Sand Cookies.  

And, one can never forget the visits from holiday spirits. 
I was not familiar with Truman Capote’s short memoir, “A Christmas Memory,” but saw it performed as a musical in early December at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York City. It is a story from Truman’s childhood in the South, when he was known as “Buddy.” He grew up living with an elderly distant cousin named Sook, whom he describes as his best friend and “still a child.”  
Every year, Cousin Sook would look out the window on a cold, clear day in November and say, “It’s fruitcake weather.”  Thus began the annual ritual of baking dozens of fruitcakes to give as gifts to friends, family and even celebrities.  The story is filled with the wonder of a youngster embracing the rituals and magic of the Christmas holidays. I’m intrigued by the notion of a fruitcake tradition, and I decide to give it a try.

It’s not quite fruitcake weather, but the blustery rain is good weather for ducks. Early Saturday, I shop for ingredients. While Buddy and Sook nearly exhaust their funds buying ingredients, they would have been shocked at today’s prices for dried fruit. 
They frugally gather pecans off the ground, a wise strategy as in our era, pecan halves are running $16.99 a pound. 
In the story, Sook and Buddy approach the local bootlegger for their whisky, an essential ingredient in the fruitcake. With no local bootlegger in sight, I consider using one of our fine Long Island local whiskeys, but Truman was a Southerner, so Jack Daniels seems like the obvious choice.  Fortunately, Jack has a recipe for Classic Christmas Fruitcake, too. 
Besides, Jack and I have had a long association.  
The aromas of fruit, orange and whisky fill the house, and I am reminded of the people and pleasures that have graced my many Christmases.   
When their cakes are complete – thirty-one in total – Buddy and Sook have a mad moment and drink the remaining whisky (Buddy is seven years old).  My three cakes are just fine for my purposes and it’s a little early in the day for me for a nip, so I’m perfectly happy with the spirited aroma.
Now wrapped in whisky soaked cheesecloth, these little beauties are tucked away in the refrigerator ready to make some new holiday memories come December 25th.  
Happy Christmas to all, and happy memories past and present.  

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Raising Dough for Duck Island Bread Company

Julia Child is said to have once remarked, “How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

It’s a question Long Island resident Robert Biancavilla took to heart when he established Duck Island Bread Company several years ago. Bob’s gorgeous European-style breads and pastries have been a fixture – and a hot commodity – at the Northport Farmers’ Market for many seasons. He hand-shapes his breads and pastries and allows each small batch of dough to develop its deep, satisfying flavors through natural fermentation and carefully nurtured starter-cultures. Duck Island's delicious offerings include brioche, baguettes, croissants, cinnamon buns and pretzel rolls, among many other options.   

I profiled Duck Island Bread Company a year ago for Edible Long Island. Bob is passionate about baking. By day, he’s an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, but on Friday nights he shifts focus and works all night at a rented commercial bakery to shape and bake the breads and pastries sold at the market on Saturday. 
Robert Biancavilla and his wife Sherri of Duck Island Bread Company
Now, Bob is working to establish a bakeshop and retail home for Duck Island Bread Company in Huntington and has initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund store renovations and purchase of refrigeration, mixers and a proofer. 

Check out the Duck Island Bread Company Kickstarter campaign here.  It’s a worthy cause to consider this holiday season, not only because Bob is an accomplished baker, a true gentleman and community-minded individual, but I also love the idea of the community getting behind “the raising” of a local shop that sells nourishing bread made from scratch.

Because, James Beard got it right when he said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” 

 ©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving at the Farm: All is Safely Gathered In

Once again, we pause to give thanks. We give thanks for the good times and the blessings, and if we are really brave and honest, we give thanks for the tough times, and consider what it taught us, and how it helped us grow.  
It’s the same at Restoration Farm.  Some things thrive and some things struggle, but we give thanks for it all. As Thanksgiving 2014 approaches, we gather again at the farm to share the final bounty of the season – root vegetables, Long Island Cheese pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, stunning heads of broccoli and whimsical Brussels sprouts that look like sleigh bells.

Head grower Caroline Fanning talks about the unpredictability of the weather, and the cold snap that has gripped Long Island.  
“I thought we’d have beautiful lettuce for the members, but it didn’t make it,” she says. “The water was turning to ice on the ground as I washed the carrots.” 
Nothing is guaranteed.  We can only soldier on, hope for the best, and celebrate and be grateful for what we have.  
Members stream in for their Thanksgiving produce. The Tin House pulses with a sense of excitement at the bounty spread before us. 

The fields of Restoration Farm will take a brief respite, but even as they anticipate slumber, they are drenched in rich, emotional colors. It is a fiery, final celebration of the season that was. 

And, even still, things grow. As I walk in the fields, Glenn Aldridge pulls the truck to a stop in front of me and opens the passenger door.

“I have sage,” he says with excitement.  He passes me a handful of fragrant, slender leaves from a basket on the car seat, which I stuff in my coat pocket.  It smells like Thanksgiving dinner. 
At Apple Trace, the heirloom apple trees planted in memory of my dad Jim are shedding their leaves, but they grew extensively this season.  Some tower over me by three or four feet.  He would be amazed at how these trees have grown. 
I revel in the crisp beauty of it all for just a little longer, think about what germinated, blossomed and was harvested since that frigid New Year’s Day when we sat around the table selecting seeds, and wonder about the season that is yet to come. 

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Farm-to-Table Feast of Pastured Berkshire Pork

It is a grand finale to summer as the extended family at Restoration Farm dines on deliciously sweet, farm-raised Berkshire pork and exquisite sides made with vegetables grown on the farm.
Head grower Dan Holmes talks about the circle of trust needed to take on a pastured pork project for the first time, and the magic conjured among volunteers each day in the spirit of raising wholesome, healthy food.   

“Beyond eating pork, you are going to eat a piece of magic,” promises Dan. 

A magical, abundant feast it is indeed, dining under an expansive sky as the sun sets and the stars emerge.   

Our stomachs full and our spirits satisfied, we look ahead to autumn in anticipation of the next chapter…  

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved