Category Archives: breakfast

Matzo Caffee a la Dad

ON  PASSOVER, WHEN WE’RE FORBIDDEN to eat any of the five grains–wheat, oats spelt, rye, barley — except in the form of matzo,  naturally a number of specific recipes involving matzo developed. I’ve been thinking about all the food traditions I grew up with on this holiday, realizing that I make an effort to keep some of them, fail to keep others and toss some away without regret.

For example, I do make kneidlach (matzo balls) for a chicken or vegetarian soup and matzo brei for a special breakfast, but I don’t make a roasted turkey with my mother’s wonderful matzo-mushroom stuffing. I fail to make an authentic fermented beet borscht as my Baba (my mother’s mother) did — but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mother making this either. Perhaps she made it before I was of an age to remember, and gave it up.  She let Manischewitz handle the borscht-making and served the ruby-colored soup hot or cold, pouring it into bowls in which we’d crumbled matzo pieces and topping it with a dollop of sour cream, great for a Passover lunch.

And despite my fond memories of making sponge cake with my mother for the Seder dinner — besides the matzo meal, nine eggs were required, with silky-beaten yolks and whipped egg whites in the batter, and a frosting of egg whites and honey — I prefer my own custom of making flourless chocolate walnut torte.

One of my favorite Passover matzo traditions  is one that my father introduced,  a simple European treat that he would make nearly every day of the eight-day holiday, starting on the first morning: Matzo Coffee. We knew by its German name, Matzo Kaffee. Or, in a more personal rendition, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

Matzah Kaffee 1

Passover in Chicago, April 2000. Dad was 89 then.

Dad would break most of a sheet of matzo into his coffee cup, crunching it into small pieces, then adding sugar and milk to the cup.

Matzah Kaffee 2

Finally, he poured hot coffee into the cup, right to the brim.

The result was softened, sweetened matzo floating about in some milky coffee. We made a similar children’s version, Matzo Cocoa, which was simply broken-up matzo pieces covered with hot chocolate. Both Matzo Kaffee and Matzo Cocoa are hybrids of food-and-beverage: you take sips of the coffee or cocoa and spoon out the softened bits of flavored matzo. Mmmmm.

I admit, it’s not for everyone. It has very little nutritional value, and doesn’t hold a candle to a good coffee and buttered toast or a croissant. Most people who didn’t grow up with it look upon it with disdain, as if you had torn up a piece of toast into little pieces and tossed them into a cup of cappuccino.

It’s certainly not an essential food for Passover, but rather a minor tradition, probably born of the monotony of eating dry, unsalted matzo day after day. Whatever others thought, we  loved it and had it (or the cocoa version) often, either for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. Still today, for me the taste and messy consumption of Matzo Caffee ala Dad  carries so many pleasurable associations.

My father — in a play on the word Seder, which means order — insisted there was a also a certain order to be observed when making Matzo Kaffee. On the last Passover of his life, when he was 93, he wrote the instructions for each of us four children in his inimitable handwriting.

Matzah Kaffee order

I love the “WOW!! What a TREAT!!” which captures my Dad’s vitality and almost childlike enthusiasm, while the instruction “Do NOT change order to do it o.k.”  reminds me of the authoritarian side of his character.

Twelve years after he wrote it, this little card is one of my most treasured documents from my father. And, yes, of course, I’m still enjoying that special Passover treat, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

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The best food gift

Tobysfeedbarnrolls

The aluminum pan makes it easy to give a generous amount of homemade cinnamon rolls. No returns necessary.

OF COURSE THE BEST FOOD GIFT is (usually) something homemade. A lot of cookies and candy are exchanged this time of year, and I’ve enjoyed some marvelous biscotti, truffles and shortbread, but in years past I’ve also received homemade applesauce, spaghetti sauce, flavored vinegar and herbal salt, among other edible delights.

This week I made a couple pans of cinnamon rolls for my neighbors, and another for a special breakfast at home. They have some wheat and spelt flour along with all-purpose flour, no frosting and very little fat — so while I wouldn’t say they were “healthy,” they are not too destructive. And they have plenty of cinnamon and raisins, with a few walnuts on the top. My basic recipe is here.

Cinnamon rolls are more flexible than you might think. You could add other spices (cardamom), leave out the raisins or the nuts or add in some different things (dried cranberries and pistachios?) You can make the dough and shape the rolls the night before you want to bake them, and they will rise in the refrigerator. Once baked, they can be frozen or reheated.

CinnRolls

Toby’s Feed Barn (what a great name) is a terrific general store in Point Reyes Station, California

CINNAMON ROLLS will make your house smell wonderful.  And, best of all — if your neighbors are anything like mine — are the big smiles you’ll get when you appear at your neighbor’s door with a pan of the rolls, still warm from the oven.

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Good morning, granola

bowl o granola

In case you haven’t heard yet, homemade granola is sooooo much better than most of what you’ll find in stores (that is, unless you want to pay a small fortune).

I’ve been making granola for years now, but until recently I just kept fiddling with the recipe and it never seemed quite right. The really delicious granola was too full of fat and sugar and calories to qualify as a breakfast food. When I tried to keep it somewhat healthful and modest in calories, it was little more than toasted oats and not too enticing.

Eventually, I adopted some guidelines for tasty and pretty-good-for-you granola:

  • Use applesauce and a little water for moisture and sweetness
  • Stay in control of the nuts — they’re delicious and healthy but highly caloric!
  • Don’t turn the granola for the first half hour if you want some clumps in the mixture
  • Skip the dried fruit (if you do use it, put it in after the granola is done baking); fresh fruit is lower in calories and delicious

Probably most important, if you don’t want  your breakfast granola to make you fat, use it as a topping rather than serving yourself a big bowl of it! I love having it atop yogurt and fresh fruit — just a few tablespoons adds crunch and interest.

goodmorn granola

Plus, using it only as a topping means your precious jar of granola will last longer.

granolaandfruit Usually I have fruit and yogurt and granola all summer long, and switch to steel cut oats when the weather turns cooler. But this fall, I just haven’t been able to give up my granola! The fruit is not as varied as above, but I defrost some of the berries I froze during the summer, and sometimes add some apple or pear.

So, here’s the recipe below — and I know some of you will want to add dried coconut so go ahead — if you must!! (I don’t like it).  Variations are limited only by one’s taste and imagination!

granola jar

Good Morning Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats, regular or thick (not instant)
  • 1/3 cups nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans — whatever you like), coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds (and sometimes I add another tablespoon of sesame seeds)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon oil (olive, canola, sunflower, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 -2 teaspoons spices or to taste (your choice: cinnamon and/or ginger are good; I sometimes like garam masala)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Warm up the applesauce, water, oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, spices and salt and stir the mixture together in a big bowl.
  3. Add the oats, nuts and seeds to the liquid mixture and stir until the oats are well coated.
  4. Spread the oat mixture out on a cookie sheet and bake on an upper rack for 30 minutes.
  5. Open the oven and gently (so as not to break up the clumps) turn the granola, moving the darker pieces along the edges to the middle.
  6. Bake another 8 to 10 minutes, then check to see if it is dark enough. It should be a dark golden color. If it needs to bake more, check it every few minutes so it doesn’t burn. The granola will get crisper as it cools.
  7. Take out the cookie sheet and put it on a baking rack to cool completely before you put it in a jar.

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Good things in March

Oatmeal scones with currants

Oatmeal scones with currants — and lemon marmalade

If not for St. Patrick’s Day coming up (a celebration in my family, which I wrote about here), mid-March would be kind of bleak, noted for the Ides of March (the occasion of Julius Caesar’s assassination). It’s an in-between season, neither winter or spring.

It is still rainy and blustery here, still a time to enjoy pots of soup accompanied by crusty bread.  But there are those times when you run out of bread and wish for some nice heart-warming baked goods you could whip up and take out of the oven in just about half an hour from the time you thought of it.  I’m here to tell you it can be done!

A recipe I came up with recently, oatmeal scones, is quick, easy and satisfying. You can make it plain or add currants, lemon zest or caraway seeds for a very respectable substitute for Irish soda bread (which Americans seem to remember only once a year — and then it turns out the authentic version is not what we had in mind anyway.)

oatscones3

This afternoon the idea of oatmeal scones materialized into a plateful of them so quickly that Steve could hardly believe it. Set the oven to 425 degrees now, and you can be eating them soon.

If you’re in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit, serve them with something green –perhaps Anna Thomas’ green soup,  a skillet full of sauteed chard or kale with some garlic and lemon, or maybe a chopped kale-lemon-walnut salad like the one I made today.

kalelemonsalad

Kale-lemon-walnut salad, inspired by a Portland friend

For the salad, finely chop a bunch of lacinato kale and one medium organic (or unwaxed) lemon, skin and all. Add a quarter cup of chopped toasted walnuts. (Some chopped apple would be good in this too. Or some dried cranberries.) Sprinkle with salt and drizzle in as much olive oil as you like, perhaps adding more lemon juice (stir in half a teaspoon of honey if it’s too sour for you). Very healthy!

Now would you like that scone recipe? I’ve kept the recipe small-ish (6 scones) because these really are best fresh. But if you’d like to make a dozen, it’s no problem at all to double the recipe.
oatscdoughcurrants

Oatmeal scones (makes 6)

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup nonfat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons currants (optional)
  • zest of one lemon; 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (both optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

  2. In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients (flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar)

  3. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the butter is the size of small peas

  4. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, mix the egg and yogurt together, then add to the dry ingredients, mixing only until it comes together into a soft dough.

  5. Sprinkle a generous portion of oats on a counter or wooden board. Form the dough into a thick circle about 6 inches in diameter and lightly press the dough into the oats on each side, so the disc is coated with oats on both sides. Then cut the dough into six wedges, like this:oatcurrant2

  6. Put the wedges on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, till golden. Serve them warm.

On any day of the year, these scones will go well with both savories and sweets, from breakfast to coffee or tea time to dinner.

oatsconesandtea

I must say these scones were delicious with lemon marmalade, accompanied by a  strong cup of Irish Breakfast tea. They lifted my spirits,  chased away the March blues, and almost made me forget the tea was decaf!

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Filed under baked goods, breakfast, dessert, Praise for other cooks, salad, soup, spring, supper time, vegetables, winter

November pumpkins, apples and pears

It turned into November here around mid-October, before I even had time to celebrate that wonderful month in this blog (but I have been celebrating the birth of my grandson, Levi, in mid-October!).

Still, even in November, there are the sights and smells and tastes of autumn.

Bread box with squash, Anjou Bakery, Cashmere, Washington

Cool rainy weather inspired me to go back to the old staples. The minestrone soup, the leek-potato soup, the roasted vegetables and baked squash, the mushroom risotto, the slow-rise bread and any-night pizza.

Slow-rise bread with rye, wheat and various seeds

I often keep pizza dough in the fridge so I can make this in a jiffy. Roasted red pepper spread often stands in for pizza sauce.

It’s also still a wonderful time for apples and pears.  At the farmers’ market in Port Townsend, I was thrilled to find Cox’s Orange Pippin apples, a wonderfully flavorful apple that is rarely grown in the U.S.

Cox’s Orange Pippin, apple of choice in the UK

We visited friends in Cashmere, and Maggie and Scott gave us Bosc pears and King David apples (a variety I’d never tasted before — and it is a fantastic apple: crisp and juicy with a delicious tart-sweet flavor).

Bosc pears and King David apples

Four of the pears ripened at once. We ate two of them for dessert last night; then this morning, I peeled and sliced the other two and sauteed them with a touch of sugar and cinnamon, then laid them in a skillet and poured over an egg-y batter to make a Dutch Baby.

Yes, you read that right. It’s a type of pancake that’s cooked in a skillet inside the oven, where it puffs up into a golden wonder, like a giant popover. (The name derived from the German-American immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch, “Dutch” being a corruption of the word “Deutsch.” The “baby” part is said to have been coined by a Seattle restaurant in the 40s.)

Dutch Baby with pears

My dad used to make this for a Sunday breakfast or light supper (we always just called it “oven pancake” or “German pancake”).  Not only is it easy to make, but it’s so impressive when it comes out of the oven. Any way you make it –with fruit on the bottom (apples are more traditional) or atop or not at all– it’s a keeper.

Here’s Marion Cunningham’s recipe for Dutch Babies, from The Breakfast Book

  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Butter one 12-inch skillet or four 6-inch small skillets (with ovenproof handles) or pans (you can use small pie pans or cake pans).
  2. Break the eggs into a small mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the milk and blend well.
  3. Sift the flour and salt onto a square of waxed paper. Lift the waxed paper up by two corners and let the flour slowly drift into the egg and milk, whisking steadily. Or slowly sift the flour and salt directly into the egg mixture, while whisking to blend and smooth. Add the melted butter and mix briskly so the batter is smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. If you are baking small pancakes, they will be done after 15 minutes. If you are baking just one big pancake, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 10 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle lemon juice over the pancake (or pancakes) and dust the top(s) with confectioners’ sugar. Serve at once.

    It was a little messy and so delicious

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Breakfast Blue Plate special

Loads of blueberries are the basis for a fruity clafouti

It’s almost end-of-summer blues, but there’s still time to celebrate the blues — blueberries, that is.

Of course, I’ve already made blueberry jam and blueberry pancakes, but there were some terrific blueberry desserts I wanted to try.

Then again, I didn’t want to eat too many desserts. Well, I solved that problem by simply calling these treats breakfast. Sunday breakfast, that is.

A sprinkling of powdered sugar and the clafoutis is ready to eat

Clafoutis –the end of the word rhymes with “fruity” — is a French recipe which is basically a baked pancake, with a lot of fruit. Julia Child gives a perfectly fine recipe for it, which I changed only very slightly:

Blueberry Clafoutis adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • finely grated zest of a medium lemon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

  1. Whisk or blend everything except for the blueberries.
  2. Pour ¼ inch of the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate.
  3. Place in the oven for 5 or so minutes, or until the bottom has set slightly.
  4. Remove from the oven, spread the blueberries across the dish, and pour over the rest of the batter. Smooth over the top.
  5. Place in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes or until set. It will puff and brown, and a knife inserted into the middle will come out clean.
  6. Let cool slightly and sprinkle the top with powdered sugar before serving. May be served warm or room temperature.

I thought I would stop with the clafoutis (last Sunday’s breakfast) but this Sunday I realized I couldn’t let the whole blueberry season go by without making at least one Blueberry Boy Bait. The name alone makes me want to bake this!

Blueberry Boy Bait, fresh out of the oven

I wrote about this wonderful cake (and how it got its name) last year in this blog, so you can find the story and recipe here.

With some fruit and eggs, you could justify having cake for breakfast

Somehow, if you call it coffee cake –and if it’s a Sunday — it seems fine to serve it for breakfast, along with The New York Times!

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A fresh summer jam session

I’m in love with fruit, and summer is a great celebration of it.

The other day I went to a you-pick farm “out in the county” and picked eight pounds of strawberries in hardly any time at all, while Steve took a nap in the car.  We ate a lot of fresh strawberries over the next few days, and gave some to friends and put them in our yogurt and granola and in our salads too.

But I still had plenty left over to make a small batch of fresh summer jam.

Anybody who’s made jam knows that it takes an appalling amount of sugar. Even the low-sugar jams require a significant amount, needed to preserve them.

But if you plan to eat it right up, you can make a nice loose summer jam — between a sauce and a jam — with just a little bit of sugar. I was inspired by Nigel Slater’s marvelous book, Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard.

So, I crushed about a pound-and-a-half of strawberries in a good size pot, added a quarter-cup of sugar (you can add more to your taste — Slater uses 1/2 cup) and a couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice.  I cooked it over medium heat for 15 or 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off the pink foamy stuff. When it thickened up (it doesn’t really set like regular jam) it was ready.  It kept well in the fridge for a few days, but I liked bringing it to room temperature or even warming it up to serve.

I swirled this crimson strawberry jam into vanilla yogurt for dessert (it would be lovely with whipped cream or ice cream as well) and served it on buttered toasted baguette to our friends.  I put a little jar of it in the freezer to see if I could thaw out a taste of summer sometime in November.

Now there was just enough jam left for breakfast this morning.

That jam seemed to call on me to make a batch of biscuits.

A Sunday morning in summer, with biscuits and fresh strawberry jam. Yum.

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Picnics (and more) on the road

Picnic in Wilbur, Washington

We recently returned from yet another great road trip to Montana. We’re not big meat eaters, so dining out is always a challenge in the interior West. As an alternative (and an economical one too), we ate a lot of picnics on the road.

A windy picnic along Highway 12, between Miles City and Baker, Montana

Here’s what we were eating (along with some dust):

The multi-grain bread, from a bakery in Miles City, Montana, was terrific

Our picnics were pretty basic: bread and cheese, sometimes some green onions, cucumber or carrots, and fresh fruit. But they were good and relatively healthy. The challenge was to find good bread and fruit. In light of that, I came up with a couple of rules for the road:

1. Never pass up a good bakery (you may need to search for one)

Le Petit Outre bakery, Missoula, Montana

Focaccia from Missoula made a great accompaniment to salad in our motel room in Davenport, Wash. on the return trip.

2. Never pass up a fruit stand or farmers’ market.

A great fruit stand in orchard country, Orondo, Washington

Missoula has a wonderful farmers' market on Saturdays. My friend Kathy also recommends the Livingston farmers' market on Wednesday afternoons.

I did a lot less cooking than last year’s motel cooking extravaganza, but I still brought along the important supplies: electric tea kettle, cutting board, knife, can opener, lemon reamer, bulgur, olive oil and salt, which resulted in some nice salad dressings (my basic lemon, olive oil and salt dressing is good on nearly everything) and a couple of bulgur-vegetable salads.

Bulgur salad with plenty of vegetables (along with bread from Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, Wash.) was a good change from the bread & cheese combo.

Our picnics often took place outside a motel room.

Beer before dinner at the Stardust Motel in Wallace, Idaho

I put together this meal of bulgur salad and tuna in the "rustic" Highlander Motel in White Sulfur Springs (W.S.S.), Montana.

We tried eating outside the motel room, until the mosquitoes emerged.

As for eating out, a couple times we indulged in a milk shake as a meal replacement.

Chocolate-espresso shake at Butterfly Herb, Missoula

Steve particularly likes going out to breakfast, but after some disappointing breakfasts at promising-looking cafes, I came up with a guideline for telling when a place might be most likely to fulfill that promise: If a cafe offers hash browns or home fries made from scratch, rather than slabs of processed frozen spuds, there’s a better chance of a good breakfast.

(Apparently the phrase “home cooking” these days includes a lot of processed foods, so it’s not a good indicator.)

The Dizzy Diner in Terry, Montana, used frozen hash browns, but Steve liked his breakfast anyway. I only had a cup of coffee here.

The Corner Cafe in Creston, Washington, makes their hash browns from scratch. I complimented the cook.

In regard to breakfast, another aspect that helped me out was bringing along a good stash of homemade granola.

On the way home, we stopped again at that fruit stand in Orondo, Wash.

We bought cherries and apricots. And honey.

Breakfast at home the next day was mighty good too!

 

p.s. Some places it’s easier to find good picnic food — I really like this post about picnics in Europe.

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In praise of pears

A few weeks ago, a box of pears arrived on my doorstep. My friends, Scott and Maggie McManus, own a pear and apple orchard near Cashmere, Washington, and they’d sent the box as a birthday present.

And what a delight it was to have all those delicious little Seckel pears.

Seckels are the smallest commercially grown pears and you don’t often see them in the store. It’s said that a Pennsylvania trapper discovered this type of pear on a seedling tree on a  piece of woodland he bought in 1765. He later sold the land to a farmer named Seckel who introduced the pears to the public.

Those pears were inspiring. I tried drawing them, even though my drawing didn’t quite capture the lovely shades of color and light.

Since I had so many pears, at first I thought I would use some of them in cooking. But aside from a few that billowed into over-ripeness, I never did.  I just ate them (and shared some of them too) as they ripened, sweet, spicy and firm.  I ate sliced pears on my morning’s steel-cut oats, added them to a salad with toasted walnuts, served them with cheese and crackers.

But mostly, I just plucked them out of the bowl and ate them, one or two at a time for a snack or dessert.

Seckel pears are one of more than 5,000 varieties of pears grown in the world.

The secret is in the ripening.  You really have pay attention to pears to know just when they’re ripe. I once wrote an essay about this called Life lessons plucked from pears, which was published in The Christian Science Monitor.  Here’s an excerpt from that:

A perfectly ripened pear is a delight to the palate, with a delicate, aromatic flavor and a tender, smooth texture. The pear suggests a European sensibility, a luxuriant, refined appreciation for the finer things in life.

But the pear resists ease of enjoyment. As with so many luxuries, the perfectly ripened pear seems always just out of reach, maddeningly elusive.

Its ripening habits are confounding: Not only must pears be picked before they are ripe, but the picked fruit ripens from the inside to the outside. When a pear is soft to the touch, it is usually rotten at its core. And, except for Bartletts, pears don’t change color to indicate ripeness. A grass-green pear can be ripe – or not.

All these ripening quirks have caused many people I know to abandon pears, or nearly so. They’ve cut into hard pears with undeveloped flavor or grainy texture, and they’ve thrown away pears that had gone rotten, their flesh brown and mushy beneath a deceptively unchanging skin.

A friend told me that, in 30 years of eating Anjou pears, he’d eaten only three ripe ones. And a pear grower confided that “a ripe Anjou is a freak of nature.”

Press a pear gently near the base of the stem; if it yields slightly, it's ripe.

British food writer Jane Grigson contends that “most people have never eaten a decent pear in their lives.”  That elusive moment of ripeness is fleeting –hence, an old saying that one must stay awake all night to eat a pear at that perfect moment.

But–ah! — when you do catch that ripe moment, it’s a real delight. You can see why Homer called pears “the gift of the gods” and Louix XIV (who loved all sorts of fruits) named the pear as one of his favorites. And that was  before pears really became the wonderful fruit we know today.

The French learned how to grow pears and peaches on espaliered trees, and in the 18th century, starting with Nicolas Hardenpont in 1730, Belgians bred buttery soft juicy varieties that made pears even more delectable. Belgians developed such an obsession about pears and pear-breeding that it’s been compared to Holland’s tulip craze.

In the 19th century, this great enthusiasm for pears also took hold of New England, a phenomenon so extraordinary it has been called “pear mania.”

Just imagine what a treat it was to eat a sweet juicy pear in mid-winter, in the days before one could buy transported or imported fruit in the grocery store.

The holiday season, with all its rich sweets, is a great time to pause and appreciate the fruit’s combined gift of nature and science (fruit breeding)–and to practice the patience and attention needed to produce a perfectly ripe pear.

If by chance your pears do over-ripen, cut out any brown portions and put them in your compost; then cook the rest, with a bit of water, down to a tasty puree, with or without spices. Recently, I waited too long to eat some Comice pears, but the pear mash I made from them was delicious. I’ve used such a mash or puree just like applesauce, or added it for a subtly sweet flavor to a  butternut-squash soup. You could even keep cooking it until you have pear butter to spread on your toast.

If, on the other hand, you have been paying attention to your pears and have a number of them that ripen at once, you could use them to make a nice dessert. I really like Boscs for baking, but I recently had a fabulous Bartlett pear tart with a rich almond crust (Steve, unfortunately, is allergic to almonds, so I won’t be making this.)

Marcella Hazan has an uncharacteristically simple recipe for a “Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart.” (She says the cake has been described as being “so simple that only an active campaign of sabotage could ruin it.”). It’s a tender fruity cake studded with cloves and it’s quite tasty. Russ Parsons suggests making a pear clafouti with Bartletts, and that sounds good too.

My favorite pear dessert is a pear version of Tarte Tatin: you caramelize the pears in a skillet, lay a puff pastry atop, and pop the skillet in the oven.  After baking you turn the skillet upside down so the pastry is on the bottom and the pears are on top. It’s quite delicious and lovely.

Firm Bosc pears are best for this as they retain their shape.

Caramelized Pear Tart

  • 4 medium-large Bosc pears (about 2 pounds), firm-ripe
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  1. Peel, halve, and core pears.
  2. Heat the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet over moderate heat, until foam subsides.   Stir in sugar (the mixture will be thick) and arrange pears, cut sides up, in the skillet (if you prefer, you can cut pears into quarters or eighths, and arrange in concentric circles).  Sprinkle the pears with cinnamon and ginger. (You could add a little lemon zest too.)
  3. Cook without stirring until the sugar mixture is a deep golden caramel.  This will take from 15-25 minutes. Watch carefully, as the mixture can burn if left on the heat too long.   Cool pears completely in skillet.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet and trim to form an 11-inch circle.  Arrange over the pears, tucking the edges under the pears.  Bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

This time I used phyllo dough instead of puff pastry on top

6.  While the tart is baking, take out a serving plate slightly larger than the skillet.  As soon as the tart has finished baking, and wearing oven mitts, press the plate over the skillet, and immediately invert the plate and skillet, keeping them firmly pressed together.  When you lift the skillet, you’ll see a beautiful, glossy tart, with the crust now on the bottom.

Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature.

Granted, it’s a little scary the first time or two that you have to flip the pan over onto the plate or platter (and a cast iron skillet is heavy, though it works great). Don’t worry that the pears will stick to the skillet–they will release from the pan unless you’ve let it cool too long. If any little bit sticks, you can just scrape it out.

If the whole idea makes you  nervous, you might want to start with making a half version of the recipe, using a small skillet.

Gingerbread with caramelized pears

Using the same method (pouring the cake batter over the pears), I’ve also made gingerbread with caramelized pears.

This pear season, though, I haven’t made any of these pear desserts.

Instead, I’ve just been contemplating pears, waiting for them to ripen to perfection, and enjoying the look and the taste of them.

Aren’t they beautiful?


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Filed under breakfast, dessert, fall, fruit, musings, Praise for other cooks, salad, Uncategorized, winter

Lazy supper, with vegetables

Sometimes (actually, quite often) when I can’t think of what to have for supper and feel too lazy to cook anything the least bit complicated, I just cut some vegetables, mix them up with a little oil and salt and put them on a baking sheet with the oven heated to 400 degrees. It helps if I’ve got some potatoes roasting along with other veggies. By the time they’re done, about half an hour later, I’ve either  thought of something to do with them or I’ll just pile them onto the plates and we’ll eat as is, maybe with some bread on the side.

This batch had some garlic scapes, cauliflower and leeks –and some beet greens that I added at the last minute just till wilted.  Plenty of veggies that could be bound together with eggs for a frittata.

For the two of us, I used the equivalent of two eggs (one whole egg and a couple of egg whites actually), a little bit of pecorino, s & p; I melted just a tiny bit of butter in the pan, put in the egg mixture and cooked it slowly on the stovetop till it just started to firm on the bottom; then finished it up in a 350 degree oven. The eggs should just barely be set — don’t overcook or they’ll turn rubbery. (This small size took about 8 minutes). A cast iron pan is great for this.

Fortunately, I had roasted some potatoes to go along with that frittata. So there was supper, and it was good. A satisfying way to eat your vegetables, and be sort of lazy too.

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Filed under breakfast, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables