Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Talking Fresh … and a Giveaway

When my mother was a young girl, her father owned a butcher shop on Ferris Avenue in White Plains, New York. My mom loves to tell stories of the work she and her siblings were expected to do around the store. I was under the impression that the reward for their hard work was specialty cuts of high-quality meats on the dinner table more nights than the average household in her neighborhood. But when I asked my mom if that statement was accurate, this was her reply:

We didn’t eat quality meats — just soup on Mondays, some kind of pasta on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, meatloaf or pork chops on Wednesday, fish on Friday, and some kind of meat and potatoes on Saturday, made in the oven as we didn’t have time to watch the cooking. It was very busy on Saturday in the store… We were happy to just have a meal where we all sat down to supper together, taking turns as anyone came into the store. Our reward was that it was unquestionable that we worked — “we” being my mother, father, older brother, me, my two younger sisters, and my mother’s father, who lived with us.

Wow, I got that wrong, didn’t I?

By the time I came along, my grandfather was already “bowling in heaven” and the butcher shop was repurposed into a grocery and deli counter. Along with the canned and paper goods, there was penny candy, cigarettes, cigars, and fresh bread delivered daily.

When I was nine months old, my parents moved us to Pennsylvania, but we still traveled to see “the family” many weekends every year. We’d hit the road after Dad came home from work on Friday night, and by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., we’d safely arrive at 120 Ferris Avenue after four hours of highway driving, no seatbelts required. Aunt Ann would throw on all the lights in the deli and pull out the institutional-size plastic container of mayo from the “ice box” (trust me, you’ve never seen a fridge this large — surely larger than the office I sit in as I write this). She’d slice up fresh deli meat and cheese, pull out a fresh roll, and make us each the tastiest “wedge” ever.

Saturday morning, and Sunday too, breakfast was a fresh round poppy seed roll and a hot cup of tea. We’d pull off a piece of the roll and slather it with butter, which was always soft in the store. Piece by piece we’d work our way through the roll, always knowing that the weekend would end too quickly and Monday morning we’d be back to plain old cereal and milk.

Did I mention the care package Aunt Ann sent home from the store for our trip home? Mom reminded me of those. No Doritos for me in the car … just fresh-cut ham and cheese, and a nice, cold bottle of Yoo-hoo.

She spoiled me, Aunt Ann, as did the store on Ferris Avenue. It was sold more years ago than I care to count; last I heard, it was a Chinese restaurant. I could go on and on about the property itself — the wainscoting in the first-floor bathroom, the steep and crooked steps to the third floor, the grapevine-draped bocce court in the backyard, the old gas stove and the one-piece porcelain sink in the kitchen, the scary part of the basement that housed the wine cellar, the train tracks at the back edge of the property, the covered back porch that could’ve been in Italy just as easily as it was in New York...

Those days are gone, as is the store as I knew it, but what I took away from all that was an appreciation of fresh, high-quality food. To this day, I have a hard time eating day-old-sliced lunchmeat, and my desire for fresh foods grows stronger each year. Just ask my neighbor Laurie, who works at my local supermarket-of-choice. I’m there almost every day, picking up fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fresh sliced bread, fresh dairy products, fresh meat. Some days I kid Laurie that I’m at the store more than she is.

Last week, my friend Lori (a different Lori, note the different spelling) and I piled three of our four kids into her van, and she drove us 63 miles to the Mason Dixon line. Our destination was Shaw Orchards, which I talked a bit about early last month in my Buckle Up! post.

When we got to the orchards, we introduced ourselves to orchard owner Mary Sue Shaw, who also just happens to be the mother-in-law of a friend here in town. Mary Sue couldn’t have been more gracious.

After eating our lunch at a shaded picnic table and enjoying samples of the orchard’s tiny, sweet apricots and Early Gold apples, we set off into the fields to attend to the business at hand: blueberry picking. And pick them we did, always conscious of the fact that the mercury had risen above the 90-degree mark.

P7160001 The kids were troopers (as were the adults), but before too long, our blueberry picking was indeed cut short by the sheer heat of the day. We headed back to the orchard store, and as you can imagine, with all those fresh fruits and veggies, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I bought a little bit of everything. P7160003


Among my purchases: A cantaloupe. Apples. Peaches and apricots. And of course, our fresh-picked blueberries.

Before we headed home, we took one last picture with Mary Sue to commemorate our day:


Aside from making a blueberry buckle, I had no plans for the other fruit, except to enjoy each one’s fresh, sweet, tastes-like-summer flavor. That is, except for the peaches. Those I bought specifically to make peach marmalade. My recipe originates with one of the volunteers at the Hershey Public Library, circa 2000, when I worked there. Mary and I always talked about our favorite Martha Stewart-type projects when we were checking in the book-drop items from the night before. And when freestone peach season came to Central PA, the topic turned to pie, jam … and marmalade.

The recipe I offer is relatively easy to follow, though the last few times I made it, I don’t remember having to puree the fruit after it was cooked, as I did this time around. But when I tasted the marmalade just before canning it on Saturday morning, I knew I’d gotten it right. The flavor was exactly as it should be.

The ingredients are simple and (mostly) natural — peaches, oranges, maraschino cherries, and sugar. Process the fruit, place all ingredients in a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, turn off the stove, and allow the marmalade to sit on the stovetop overnight. The next day, this sweet-and-sour topping is ready to eat with breakfast (I adore marmalade on a fresh croissant), or you can do as I did and can the marmalade for enjoyment down the road.

P7170020Oh, and speaking of Christmas in July — which we did last week — if you end up having my daughter in class this year, you’ll most likely find a jar or two of this fresh-peach creation among your classroom gifts this holiday. As far as I’m concerned, nothing shows appreciation more than a homemade treat fresh from the kitchen. Grazie, maestro, e Buon Natale … nel mese di Luglio.

Peach Marmalade
(Click here to view and print recipe)

Want a jar of your own?

Mangia, Figlie is holding its first-ever giveaway. Two lucky winners will each receive one jar of peach marmalade from this post’s batch. The marmalade was made and properly canned in my home kitchen. By entering, you realize my home kitchen is not regulated by those kitchen–regulating folks. But my friends will tell you, I do keep a relatively clean house.

The rules are simple: If you live in the United States, you may play. (My apologies to those outside of the United States. I can only imagine the federal regs that pertain to food shipped outside the country.) To enter, simply:

  1. Leave a comment to receive an entry.
  2. Become a follower (at right) to receive an entry. If you are already a follower, you will receive an extra entry just for commenting.
  3. Mention and post a link to the giveaway on your blog to receive an entry. (Please let me know in a separate comment that you did so.)
  4. Refer a friend; if they mention you in their comment, you’ll receive an extra entry.

That’s it … four chances to win. Two random winners will be chosen and announced on August 1, 2010. Buona fortuna!

Fresh Peach Marmalade on Foodista

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guest Post #4: Christmas in July!

by my dear friend, Craig Shifflett

Then someone says ‘Santa Claus was here’
One by one by the tree we all appear
Grandmother saves paper to use next year
How wonderful life is on Christmas.

— “Merry Christmas Eve,” Better Than Ezra

Most of the memories I have of my family in some way relate to food. Directly or indirectly, it seems. And it really isn’t that surprising, considering both sides of my family hailed from Virginia and believed in the virtue of southern hospitality. Some of my friends would ask me how it was possible that my father always seemed to have food at the ready to serve to guests. One even remarked he was sure that if he stopped by at midnight, my dad would just be pulling a turkey out of the oven.

Yet, cooking in my family, for the most part, is most fondly remembered for the baking. My mother, a fair cook on her own, was a very good baker. I think the first box cake I ever had was after I was married.

My grandmother loved baking as well and excelled at it. One of the most joyous times in our family would be getting a call around 4:00 in the afternoon telling us that Nanny, my grandmother, was making bread and we should stop by for some rolls for dinner. I swear I could smell the yeast before we ever got close to her house.

Walking in the door you’d see the table with a big block of butter, strawberry jelly, and apple butter. You had to sit down and eat a few rolls while chatting to the baker while she shuffled her trays in and out of the oven. My cousins or my Uncle Don would inevitably arrive for their allotment as well. It was like happy hour at the pub, but instead of beer, we all held hot buttered rolls.

Nanny died in 1991, and my sister and I have tried to replicate her recipe, which of course was not written down, but instead was created by taste and feel.  We have still not succeeded, but I vividly remember the taste and texture of those rolls, and how they melted on my tongue. And it makes me sad that I will never be able to enjoy them again.

The biggest event of the year was Christmas cookie day — continuous cookie baking from early morning to evening. While one batch of cookies was being formed and baked, another was being mixed. Sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, sand tarts, and on and on.

One variety I remember as being very dry — like a shortbread with no flavor. The dough was split, half colored green, the other … red. Surprise! We’d use cookie cutters to shape and decorate the cookies, and I remember using little silver balls for eyes on the reindeer-shaped, snowmen-shaped, and angel-shaped ones. I guess they were a sugar cookie, but they were as hard as could be. It’s a wonder no one broke a tooth. Since these cookies were nobody’s favorite, they were usually the last ones in the tin come January.

Christmas season also brought the Christmas Day dinner. Remember the bit about southern hospitality?  My grandmother didn’t want anyone to be disappointed with their Christmas dinner so we had plenty of options, including a turkey and a ham. And If that wasn’t enough, we had three cakes:  coconut for my Uncle Don, cherry for my dad, and chocolate for everyone else.

The best part about the dinner was not the leftovers we’d have for the next week or so, but my grandmother’s homemade TV dinners (that’s what they were called back in the day, you little whippersnappers). She would save trays from store-bought TV dinners and would portion out Christmas dinners into them, wrap them up, and freeze them.

My brother and I would forget about them, but inevitably, one summer day after we’d mow her lawn, Nanny would emerge with a hot shiny tray of Christmas dinner. As my brother would say, “Christmas in July!” It was always freezer burnt, but it was wonderful!


A Shifflett Family favorite:
Graham Cracker Pie
(Click here to view and print recipe)




Old-Fashioned Graham Cracker Custard Pie on Foodista