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While this column explores the food producing process of the seasons grown by gardeners and farmers, I also like to write about where we live, how we obtain what we eat, and whatwe enjoy. Recipes and guidance about what’s healthy and what’s not often entails an historical perspective to better appreciate and understand how to find and prepare food that is fresh and available.
The harvest season that culminates in Thanksgiving focuses on our country’s history. Reminding ourselves of the past refreshes our appreciation of the present and the historical backdrop of how we came to claim a new home for ourselves A successful corn harvest in the 1600’s along with the fruits of the sea became life-sustaining for those fortunate enough to survive. It’s a story worth retelling here.
One hundred and two brave souls traveled in a small ship called the Mayflower from Plymouth, England in 1620. This group of adventurous people included an assortment of religious separatists who called themselves Pilgrims and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. They all experienced a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days. They were finally able to drop anchor near the tip of Cape Cod Massachusetts. Unfortunately, because their departure had been delayed, the settlers arrived at the worst time of year, the winter.
Throughout that first brutal season, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Half the group perished from these hardships but enough lived to tell the story of their survival. They were helped by an Abenaki Indian and a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, named Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. Squanto also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the occasion. He also invited a group of the young colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit, to join them. This meal became known as America’s first Thanksgiving, which lasted for three days. The Wampanoag guests brought deer to eat, and Native American spices and cooking methods. The Puritans brought lobsters, seal and swan. The coastal region was beginning to share its bounty with the new visitors.
Thanksgiving is again around the corner and most of us are preoccupied with planning and preparing the annual meal so many of our loved ones look forward to enjoying. For growing numbers of us this becomes a question of how to minimize the calories and maximize the flavors of those special dishes. For others it becomes a question of how to achieve a more interesting meal than the mundane dishes many still expect.
Three of my favorite recipes that are particularly appealing this time of year include Tomato Salsa, Cranberry Salsa, and Mashed Cauliflower and Parsnips, which has half the calories of mashed potatoes but is still utterly delicious. This dish, in particular, can be made any time of year.
Recipe #1 Tomato Salsa
2 15-ounce cans of plum tomatoes, pulse 2-3 times leaving somewhat chunky. 1/2 cup diced Vidalia onion 1 diced Jalapeño chile removing seeds and pith first Juice and zest of 1 lime 1 tablespoon of Rice Wine Vinegar sea salt to taste ground black pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon cayenne to taste
Combine all ingredients and correct the flavors. Pulse once more. Try to refrigerate for a couple of hours if possible. Homemade salsa is hard to resist. Have plenty of taco chips on hand.
Recipe #2 Cranberry Salsa
2 bags raw cranberries 2 cups of water ½ medium red onion, diced ½ - ¾ cup granulated sugar Juice and zest of 2 limes One Jalapeno chile, removing seeds and pulp, dice
Directions Boil 2 bags of cranberries with 1/2 -3/4 cups of sugar and 2 cups water,following directions on the bag and cool. After cooling cranberries,add red onions, Jjalapeno dice and lime juice and zest. Cover and refrigerate until cold. If time is limited place in freezer for 30 minutes and then place in refrigerator.
Recipe #3 Mashed Cauliflower and Parsnips
3 large parsnips, peeled and rough chopped 2 large cauliflowers; cut ½ inch off the bottom of each and remove the leaves. Rough chop 1 cup heavy cream 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 tsp Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/4 cup olive oil, optional
Warm the cream with the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts; set aside.
Put the cauliflower and parsnips in a medium saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil then add 1 teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer for15 to 20 minutes until vegetables are soft when inserting a small knife. Drain.
Pour all cauliflower and parsnips into a mixing bowl. Using a mix master paddle, or a hand mixer, rapidly mix until smooth. Begin to pour in the warm cream and butter mixture until the cream is absorbed and the mixture is smooth. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
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