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Food for Thought from Fiddler's Green

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The first frost has finally, finally arrived in the North. In the newly shorn fields the ryegrass and crimson clover grow lusher and their green deepens in the cooling temperatures, and they will grow another month before it's a killing cold. We start cleaning up the gardens and the yards getting ready for eventual snows, and we begin making cold weather foods--bean pots, wines, and homemade breads.

Today we have a round up of five cold weather breads and tips for successfully starting breads in the season before we crank up the heat in the house. There's a clarity to the chill of fall, and the warm breath of fresh breads serves as a harmony to the season. Recipes and links follow below!

1. New England Brown Bread

A real New England classic, many of us have grown up having this molasses, rye flour, and cornmeal bread served with baked beans and hot dogs. B&M Beans actually sells this baked in the can, but my mother used to use the bean can to bake her own homemade brown bread. A slice of steaming brown bread with a melting pat of butter is the epitome of comfort and satisfaction to me. 

Try Granny's Homemade Brown Bread here:  https://newengland.com/today/food/breads/quick-bre...

My mother swore by her trusty Marjorie Standish Cooking Downeast cookbook, but here's an updated recipe from Keep Cooking the Maine Way:

(From Keep Cooking the Maine Way, by Marjorie Standish.)

2. Nobby Apple Cake

There's a regular school-style notebook in my cupboard I never noticed before that turns out to have a collection of recipes gathered by my twin sisters as 20-yr-olds in the first years they left home. There are photocopied cutouts taped in, a recipe card for "Mrs. Malcom's Bread & Butter Pickles" in my grandmother's handwriting, and the occasional bit of poetry and notes.

This recipe was written in my sister Rivera's spider-hand, and comes from Charlie Grosjean, an incredible potter who is one half of an amazing artist couple with Suzanne Grosjean, whom Rivera had gone to apprentice with to learn weave and textile arts. They are artists of a fine order, and are uniquely equal in their relationship, both in terms of their artistry, their division of household labor, and their love and affection for one another.

This is Charlie's recipe for Nobby Apple Cake, via Rivera's notation:

1 cup sugar

3 Tb butter

1 egg, beaten

Cream butter and sugar, and egg, mix well.

1/2 tsp Nutmeg

1 tsp soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup flour

Sift dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture.

3 cups diced apples (or more)

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup chopped nuts

Stir in apples, nuts, and vanilla.

Pour into a greased 8" x 8" pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F 45-50 minutes 'til done.

Charlie Grosjean: http://www.hogbay.com

3. Cold Weather Sourdough

As the weather cools and we hold off turning up the heat in the house, we have to get creative about finding places for our sourdough to rise. I won't shift to actual cold-weather treatment in my house (fully closing all the windows, turning up the heat, keeping the front door closed) for another month, so my old farmhouse will stay on the cool side most nights. It turns out, though, that people have all kinds of brilliant strategies to find warm spots in this changeable month to come.

A few of their suggestions for finding a warm place:

  • Set your dough to rise in your car.
  • Turn on the oven light in an electric oven, or use the heat from the pilot light in a gas oven.
  • Make a proofing box by putting your cold dough in the oven above a pot of boiling water.
  • Use a sunlit window sill during the day (it may be too cool overnight).
  • Follow your cats--wherever they nap is often the warmest.
  • Place your dough on top of your refrigerator, or in the cabinet above it if you have one. (The heat from the coil will keep it warm).
  • Take your microwaveable neck wrap or rice sock and put it (warmed) around your bowl.

Kind of amazing... I particularly like the suggestion of following your cats around, though you'll want to make sure your cloth covering is firmly attached so you don't get a hairy loaf! Experienced bakers also suggest just letting it take longer--it will rise eventually, even if it takes several days, and the flavor will be richer and more complex.

Here's a 24-Hour Sourdough Bread recipe to try out:  https://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/1939-24-h...

For a deep dive into the subtle and technical differences between cold/stiff and warm/liquid starters with recipes at the bottom, check out this:  https://www.theperfectloaf.com/baking-sourdough-br...

4. Pumpkin Bread

It's officially Pumpkin Time, and I don't mean Cinderella's curfew!  I'm not a pumpkin-spice-everything nut, but I do love a good pumpkin loaf. Pumpkin pie is too much for me, but somehow pumpkin bread is just the right amount to savor the flavors.

I happen to know from distributing produce for years that there are some amazing pumpkins to bake and use as your pumpkin filling--the Long Pie Pumpkin is a New England heirloom that looks almost like a squash, but it's incredibly smooth and delicious. The Winter Luxury Pumpkin, besides being one of the most beautiful  pumpkins you'll ever see with its delicate raised webbing, is the one that chefs down in Boston come back to for their pastries. They're small pumpkins, too, about 6 lbs a piece which makes them perfect for baking without unwieldy leftovers.

Here's background and baking ideas for the Long Pie Pumpkin from Snakeroot Farm: http://www.snakeroot.net/farm/NE_LONG_PiePumpkin.p...

And for use and visuals of the Winter Luxury Pumpkin, look here: http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/winter-luxury-squa...

For those of us who want the pumpkin bread without the work of the pumpkin prep, here's a collection of 8 Fabulous Fall Pumpkin Recipes from Once Upon a Chefhttps://www.onceuponachef.com/articles/fall-pumpki...

And finally, from Barabara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, here is a recipe for Pumpkin Soup in Its Own Shell:  http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/recipes-fall...


5. Cornbread

Last, but never least, I had to include that fragrant favorite, the humble cornbread. We used the good ol' Moosewood Cookbook growing up, which my dad gave to my mom as a 28th birthday present in 1980 and is now well-worn and held together with a duct tape spine. 

There's something about cornbread, whether its served steaming or cold, baked in skillet or formed in corn ears or tin soldiers that just satisfies. Maybe because October is the season of slaughtering hogs traditionally, maybe because it's dense and chewy, maybe because corn is the oldest indigenous grain we have in America. But it's a classic, and it's perfect for a fall day when you begin thinking of happy hibernating just like the squirrels.

Here is a recipe by the NYT:  https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9375-cornbread

And here is the Moosewood Cookbook classic, along with two variants:

Soon enough the leaves will fall and we'll heat our houses for real. But for now we can celebrate the shoulder month and the change of seasons with these delicious and nourishing autumn breads.  My mouth is watering already!


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