World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Regional – New England

Lobster Chowder.


Farmers markets at this time of year can be overwhelming, in the best kind of way. Corn is in super abundance and at a very good value. I easily over bought. So what does one do with corn for many and you dine as one? Time to turn out a summer favorite of mine–corn chowder.

After steaming and removing the kernels I decided to simmer the corn ears by just covering with water and adding a few sprigs of fresh basil, garlic, and dried chili peppers for about 50-60 minutes. I portioned off enough to replace the water called for in the recipe.

Recipe is a variation from a lobster fisherman as published in Yankee Magazine. In advance, I steamed the lobster versus a par-boil and could not see using all that butter as I have plans next week! Find the master version over here. And no, I do not know why his is red and mine is not. Hmmm.

Overall a win in taste as the lobster was sweet; the broth possessed a slight heat. I froze the remaining corn.

Note: The corn stock method is from the August issue of Bon Appetit. Photo is mine and taken with the one that is never far, the i-device.

Cranberry Sauce Making

Cranberry sauce making with friends: 1 pound fresh cranberries, 1 1\2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup cider. Combine in pot on low-med heat. Stir. Cranberries will burst takes about 12-15 minutes. Makes about a pint.

Cranberry Sauce Making

Making Chocolate Whoopie


Growing up homemade whoopie pies were a treat.  From the vantage point of a 10-year old they seemed rather simple. Why didn’t we have them more often? Well turns out that Mom just made them look that way.  What I didn’t see was the amount of time it took to make the little cakes from scratch, wait for them to cool, whip up the filling and then assemble.  Efforts such as this are what make mothers "moms."

Traditionally made with a  fluffy vanilla-whipped filling surrounded by two round chocolate cakes these cookie-sandwiches are often said to be of northern New England or Amish-County Pennsylvania origin.  According to Nancy Baggett in her All American Cookie Book,  the treat has been traced back to the Depression era. Her source, Peter Schlichting of New Hampshire says that "the Berwick Cake Company, located it the Roxbury section of Boston…seems to have been the first t make them…a retired employee has recalled that the firm began whoopie-pie production in 1926." In fact if you grew up in New England or New York these may remind you of  a high-class Drake’s Devil Dogs

I’ve made my mother’s recipe several times but I’ll be devil dogged if  I can find it in my IBC. So recalling the recipe from memory and flipping through a few cookbooks I determined that I was not going to use hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Well I did end up using it–a trans-fat free Crisco.  I also needed to mix it up with two different fillings, traditional vanilla and peanut butter (quelle surprise!).

The choice of cocoa powder is important here as the contrast between the filling and the cake creates a heightened, smoky, chocolaty taste.  Typically I have Dutch processed cocoa powder on hand.  Although I’ve tried many including Droste and Valrhona but my go-to is Pernigotti.  Keep in mind that Dutch-processed is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. Due to this it does not react with baking soda, so it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder. It has a reddish-brown color, mild flavor, and is easy to dissolve in liquids.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup warm water

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt.  Mix well and set aside.  In another bowl combine the sugar shortening and eggs. Beat 2 minutes.  Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture. Now add the milk and warm water and beat for 2-3 minutes at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and beat again.  These "cakes" cook like cookies.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto an non-stick cookie sheet.  Keeping uniformity is important. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees until the center of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed.  Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Assembly: Spread a generous amount of filling on the bottom of a completely cooled cookie. Top with another.

Notes on storage: I learned the hard way that these little cakes don’t keep too long particularly if  you stack the unfilled cakes together. If you can’t bake early in the day and fill them later on  you could assemble and in turn wrap them in plastic wrap.  They keep quite well in the fridge for several days in this method.

Vanilla Cream Filling

2 egg whites

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 tblspns flour

4 tblspns milk

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening

Instructions: Beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside.  Working quickly combine the other ingredients and beat several minutes at high speed.  Fold in the stiff egg whites

Peanut Butter Filling

2 tblspn unsalted butter

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup milk

Instructions: At medium speed mix the butter and peanut butter together. Add confectioner’s sugar and milk. At high speed mix until well blended, light and fluffy.


When is a Plum a Rose?


Summers on Cape Cod are to be held close. The soft sands, the beach food, the salt-kissed breezes. Time spent there makes my heart pine for early morning beach walks and lazy days spent reading in a low slung sand chair with my feet in the water.  It’s also a time to seek out wild beach plums.

Beachplums The wild beach plum grows on a gnarly shrub in sand dunes between Maine and Maryland. Each fruit is about the size of a grape. These small orbs when cooked down have a velvety, sweet taste that produces an elegant jelly that New Englanders seek out. I’m certainly no different.  However, before you set out to harvest your crop its best to know a bit more. You see I set out one morning large bowl in hand to harvest for jelly.  After 90 minutes I arrived back at the cottage only to have my brother say, "You know, Aunt Lana says those aren’t beach plums. They are rose hips."  "Really, I just got all prickly for rose hips?" said the very disappointed city girl. I knew this was too easy.

Off we went to the West Dennis library to determine exactly what I had picked. After inquiries with the librarian and a look at pictures of both fruits and the final conclusive fact–the growing season (late August through mid-October)–it was final, rose hips.

Rose hips develop after the bloom of a rose fades as it is the seed pod of the plant. There are wild roses in every state but Hawaii. Before we all go clamoring be forewarned that preparing and cleaning rose hips is very time consuming as you need to remove the stem and calyx, and their are hairy seeds and small hairs around the pits. As they are a hard fruit it should be cooked prior to eating which is why their use is typically in the form of tea or jelly which is a bit tangy. During World War II, when fresh fruit was hard to come by, British mothers boiled the fruit with sugar and water and served it to their children.

I will need to wait until another vacation for my homemade beach plum jelly. Instead I paid a visit to the Chatham Jam & Jelly Shop for a jar of Cape Cod Wild Beach Plum jelly, one lives and learn!

Read on for a Swedish recipe for Rose Hip Soup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Essential Ingredients – Cape Cod


As I begin to transition to vacation my thoughts turn to those regional delights that taste best eaten in open-air, sitting by the shore.  Fish and chips, lobster, fried clams, steamers and the rest. Condiments shouldn’t be overlooked.  Pure, rich drawn butter for the lobster, fresh, tart lemon for the raw oysters and the sour tarter sauce for that just caught ocean fish.

Tarter sauce’s major component is mayonnaise which came about in the mid-1700s. It is named after the Tatars who ravaged Eastern Europe in the 1800’s. These Turkic-speaking people settled in Mongolia during the 5th century A.D. Beef Tartare was usually served as it is now, with a bevy of garnishes, including a piquant sauce with a mayonnaise base that came to be called sauce Tartare or Tarter Sauce.  So why aside for the naming after their clan why ‘tartar’. We’re getting there…this group of people would place cuts of steak under their saddles to tenderized. After a day’s journey the steak was not eaten raw (contrary to popular understanding) but minced and fried or boiled.

This version of tarter is a bit like me–one part East Coast one part West Coast. I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks wandering from Westport to Cape Cod with many audiobooks, paperbacks looking for a lobster shack or two.

Chipolte Tarter Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cornichons, pickles or relish (drained)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chilies

Mix all ingredients together. Let chill in fridge for 30 minutes for flavors to come together.

Sticky Gold #3 – Organic Maple Syrup


Maple syrup at first glance seems to be a pretty “natural” product as many of us see it as an unprocessed food.  Contributing to this perception is that many labels often carry the word ‘pure’ inferrng no preservatives, additives or colorings. So in researching this series I began to wonder about organic maple syrup. 

We all have many reasons for seeking out organic food whether it’s for health, environmental, nutritional or to support small family farms. Understanding the value and the how behind organic maple syrup requires you to think about inputs, the steps taken in the preproduction stage of harvesting and producing this liquid sugar. Organic maple syrup falls under the "wild-crop harvesting" section of the National Organic Standards, which partly states that "a wild crop must be harvested in a manner that ensures that such harvesting or gathering will not be destructive to the environment. In an organic sugar bush, as in any organic system, additives are strictly regulated and synthetic chemicals are generally not allowed.

Organic certifiers ask producers how they control rodents, whether they spray pesticides on trees, and whether chemicals are used to keep tap holes open. The most concerning one is the use of formaldehyde.  Large producers use this chemical to keep bacteria at bay while allowing the tap hole to say open and the sap running leading to a higher grade and lighter quality syrup. Yes, it’s illegal but recent reports have found an alarming presence of it.  This may be the only reason you need to seek out the organic version.

Maple syrup is gathered by ‘tapping” or drilling small holes into maple trees adhering to best practices call for organic producers to refrain from over-tapping or overburdening trees. The hole is usually as big as a man’s thumb. One effort made by producers is to tap trees 50 years or older and only of a specific diameter or greater.  Before I get a flood of emails, as I was concerned too, these holes only last about a month and should only be tap once per season otherwise it harms the trees. According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, “Proper tapping does not harm the tree, and the amount of sap taken from the tree is a mere fraction of the volume of sap in the tree on any given day. Trees must be about a foot in diameter before they can be tapped, and most trees can have one or two taps {holes} per season. Larger trees may have more. Many of the big maple trees in New England have been tapped yearly for well over 100 years.”

Another input as sap transforms into syrup over many, many hours in a boiling, foaming evaporator, organic producers, are prohibited from using certain chemicals to reduce the foaming that occurs during this stage. Vegans, take note here, many use allowable, traditional de-foaming agents instead such as butter or oil.

We all need to make our choices.  What we can’t see in the way of production and inputs is an important consideration.  Buying from a producer who is taking the time to produce a quality product while serving as a steward of the land and the environment is another evaluation point; if it says organic that’s the pure gold for me. (Vermont Organic)

Canadian Organic Maple Co.

Read previous posts in this serious:

The Culture Around  Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Production Process

Sticky Gold #2


Although there are about 150 species in the maple tree family throughout the world it is only in North America, specifically in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, that all the right elements of climate and geography come together to provide enough sap to support a syrup industry. Maple syrup is produced from sap from black and sugar maple trees. These trees are the most preferred due to their high sugar content and can be found in sugar bushes or maple-syrup producing farms. A sugar bush is a forested area that contains mostly maple trees.

Trees can be tapped after 50 years of age by boring holes in the trunks. This “opening” of the tree to gather the colorless, almost tasteless “sugar water” occurs in the late winter/early spring. Each mature tree may have as many as four taps. Each opening yields about 10 gallons of sap a year.

Buckets fill slowly, drop by drop, with a sweetish, watery liquid that is boiled down to make the flavored syrup. The tree sap is boiled in a sugar shack or cabane a sucre. During this heating process the clear sap begins in a watery form that contains about two per cent of sugar, it eventually transforms into a high concentration of sugar suspended in water.  This explains why it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. It will take anywhere from 6-8 hours until the sugar content is more than 67 per cent it is officially maple syrup. 

If the sugarmaker continues the evaporation process, the result is maple honey (a thicker consistency), followed by maple butter (which is thick and spreadable), and, once almost all the water has been evaporated, maple sugar. Maple sugar is about twice as sweet as granulated white sugar. It also browns more quickly, and imparts much more flavor than white sugar.

Making maple syrup requires freezing nights and warm (but preferably not over 50 degree) days. Typically, three or four weeks in early spring, when the nights fall below freezing and the days are beginning to warm up the sap or “sweet water” flows up from the tree roots. Extended periods of either below freezing temperatures or days without freezing nights will stop the sap flow. As a result, sugarhouses often start and stop boiling at different times due to local weather factors. A sugarmaker’s life during tapping season can be unpredictable with 24 hour work days interspersed with two or three days of inactivity until the next sap run. One thing’s for sure, when the trees begin to “bud out” the harvesting of sap is over. On average the sap flows takes place for only ten to 20 days, often with up to a third of the season’s yield in a single day.

Today only weekender or boutique tappers still use tin spigots and white pine buckets. Larger operators use a gravity flow system that brings the sap from the trees to a holding tank where it goes through an osmosis unit to remove impurities and about two-thirds of the water. It’s easier and more efficient for the farmer, and has less of an impact on the trees. It allows for a shorter boiling down time, saves time and fuel costs. The next step in the flow is the evaporator, where it is reduced to a syrup, and takes on its typical rich coffee hue. Large sugarhouses can process as much as 1,700 gallons of sap an hour. The final step is a boiling in a sterile stainless steel tank.

Peter Singhofen/ PennsylvaniaMaple Syrup (photo essay)

A Sugarbush Tale 11minute documentary on of sugaring (awesome!)

Sticky Gold


Today begins a series on maple syrup. Over the next few weeks all thoughts and writings will be turned toward this very American product.

One of the life’s simplest extravagances is maple syrup. People go crazy for this liquid and very edible form of gold. I have a Canadian friend who when invited to attend a brunch will ask, will there be pancakes? If so, she’ll arrive at the event open her bag and a jug of pure Canadian syrup is placed on the table—later it is tucked back into the bag. I also remember my Dad bringing home a very coveted gallon of maple syrup from a friend newly transplanted to Vermont. Don’t even think of passing the inferior stuff around the breakfast table. New Englanders can’t be fooled.

The production of maple syrup traces back beyond the Colonial period and into Native American culture. The North American Maple Syrup Producers bulletin suggests one legend involving a Native American chief who “supposedly hurled his tomahawk (probably in disgust) at a tree. The tree happened to be a maple, and sap began to flow. The clear liquid that dropped from the wound was collected in a container that happened to be on the ground below. His wife, believing the liquid was water, used it to cook venison. Following cooking, both the meat and the sweet liquid that remained were found to be delicious. Retracing how this occurred revealed that sweet sap from the maple trees was the only difference.” Another bit of New England lore suggests that perhaps the Native Americans discovered the sweetness of the maple tree by eating "sapsicles," icicles of frozen maple sap that form from the end of a broken twig. As the ice forms, some of the water evaporates, leaving a sweet treat hanging from the tree.

Contrary to public perception, production does not take place in winter. It takes place in late March and early April at the sugar shack, where feasts are held with traditional "cabane à sucre" (sugar shack) foods: pea soup; baked beans; maple-cured ham; oreilles de crisse (fried strips of salt pork), omeletes, and maple-sweetened desserts such as, crepes and grands-pères (dumplings poached in maple syrup). To round it all out at the end of the meal everyone goes outside for the traditional hot maple taffy pull, served on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks where it hardens and can be twisted, sucked and chewed.