30 October 2015

The Ballet Cook Book

Tanaquil Le Clercq is a legend. Not in the modern sense of "legend" but in that old-world, truly remarkable, lager than life, sadder than death, extraordinarily gorgeous, muse to many kind of legend.

First, and foremost, she was a dancer.  An extraordinary, ethereal dancer.  At the age of 12, she was offered a scholarship to the School of American Ballet by George Balanchine.  At 17, she would help launch the Ballet Society that would later become the New York City Ballet. At 23, she would become Balachine's fourth or fifth wife, depending on who's counting. 

When Le Clercq was 15, Balanchine asked her to be his partner in a dance he created entitled "Resurgence" for a March of Dimes charity benefit. He would play the role of Polio and she would be his tragic victim, paralyzed by the dreaded affliction. The dance might hardly be remembered if not for its prophetic nature.

In 1956, at the height of career, Tanaquil Le Clercq contracted polio and was paralysed.  She was 27- years-old.
Tanaquil Le Clercq 
with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and 
George Balanchine, by Irving Penn photo ©
Jerome Robbins choreographed one his most famous ballet's for Le Clercq. Afternoon of a Faun, taken from a Debussy prelude, is still being preformed. In 2013, Nancy Buirski completed a documentary Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq. It is one of the best sources for footage of Le Clercq dancing.

After her paralysis, she became an author penning the autobiography of Mourka, a cat Balanchine taught to "dance." 
In 1966 she compiled The Ballet Cook Book featuring stories and recipes featuring a who's who of the world of ballet from Sir Frederick Ashton to Vera Zorina. It has become one of the most collectible cookbooks on the market. Always a holiday treat, here is Le Clercq's family recipe for eggnog.

Great-Great-Grandmother Blackwell’s Eggnog 

12 egg yolks
cup sugar
1 1/2
cups bourbon whisky

3/4 cup St. Croix rum
1 quart heavy cream, whipped

Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and sugar has melted completely. Add whisky and rum and continue beating 3–4 minutes. Stir in the whipped cream and mix thoroughly. Place in refrigerator and chill until ready to serve.
Even the poet, Frank O'Hara found Le Clercq to be a muse.

 Ode To Tanaquil LeClercq

smiling through my own memories of painful excitement your wide eyes
        and narrow like a lost forest of childhood stolen from gypsies
two eyes that are the sunset of
                                             two knees
                                                            two wrists
                                                                            two minds
and the extended philosophical column, when they conducted the dialogues
                in distant Athens, rests on your two ribbon-wrapped hearts, white
         credibly agile
                                        scimitars of a city-state

where in the innocence of my watching had those ribbons become entangled
        dragging me upward into lilac-colored ozone where I gasped
                 and you continued to smile as you dropped the bloody scarf of my life
                                                 from way up there, my neck hurt

            you were always changing into something else
            and always will be
            always plumage, perfection's broken heart, wings

            and wide eyes in which everything you do
            repeats yourself simultaneously and simply
                                            as a window "gives" on something

it seems sometimes as if you were only breathing
       and everything happened around you
because when you disappeared in the wings nothing was there
       but the motion of some extraordinary happening I hadn't understood
the superb arc of a question, of a decision about death

          because you are beautiful you are hunted
                 and with the courage of a vase
                         you refuse to become a deer or a tree
                 and the world holds its breath
                         to see if you are there, and safe

                                                  are you?

Cats, cookbooks, ballet, poetry -- who could go wrong. If you are fond of ballet, do check out Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq.   PBS ran it several years ago and I think it might still be out there to download. I suggest making a big bowl of eggnog and gathering for a screening.

20 October 2015

The Complete Jam Cupboard

We are a little behind on cookbooks because we have been making jam! That our excuse and we are sticking with it!

While jamming, we have been pawing through old books and this is one of our favorites.  The Complete Jam Cupboard by Mrs. C.F. Leyel, Hilda to her friends. She was quite the lady, writing a series of cookbook and becoming a preeminent herbalist of her day.  She founded the Society of Herbalists in England in 1927.  She ran a chain of herbalist shoppes named after that founding herbalist, Culpeper.

He series of slight cookbooks turned the head of one of our favorite cookbook authors and writers, Elizabeth David who turned the head of Alice Waters.  Mrs. Leyel received a mention in one of the best modern preserving book, Saving the Season by Kevin West.  West came to Leyel from the David, Waters cookbook tree. In Saving the Season, West sets out to replicate one of the recipes for an apple jam with little success.  He ponders many reasons.  One he doesn't mention is the type of apple.  Leyel suggests "cooking" apples, but in today's marketplace, the range of cooking apples is slim.

My first attempt at a very generic family recipe for Pear Jam is a similar case in point. My great aunts used pears from an old, gnarled tree of questionable origin.  The pears, when fully ripened, were the shape and consistency of racked pool balls.  Standing under the tree could be quite dangerous. I set out to duplicate the recipe with Bartlett pears. Big, fat, soft, mushy, Bartlett pears. Needless to say, my pear jam bore no resemblance to my great aunts.

Therein lies one of the problems in cooking from old cookbooks. There is very little detail, and they assume that the reader understands how to cook, how to operate a wood stove, what the produce in a particular area might be, and a dozen other things you will not think of! In the end, after failing at Mrs. Leyel's recipe, Kevin West found his own recipe with a spark of inspiration from Mrs. Leyel.

In the end, that is what a great cookbook does, it provides a spark. Rhubarb is not a fan favorite here, but this recipe gives you a sense of what might be expected of your cooking skills in the 1920's.

Rhubarb and Fig Jam

Cut up a pound of figs for each seven pounds of rhubarb, and shred them finely, and cut the rhubarb into small pieces.

Put it all into an earthenware jar with five pounds of sugar for every seven pounds of rhubarb. Let it stand all night.

The next day boil it all together for over an hour, and add to it, before it is taken off the fire a quarter pound of chopped candied peel for each seven pounds of rhubarb.
As someone who makes jam on a regular basis, this recipe is scary.  Imagine what it looks like to someone who has never made jam. Who has an earthenware container that would hold eight pounds of fruit and five pounds of sugar, not to mention, what would one cook it in?  And what temperature does one cook it at and when, exactly in that over an hour cooking time does one add the candied peel?

Ah the joys of old cookbooks...

05 October 2015

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook

Everyone is sooooo sick of all that farm-to-table crap.  It is too easy in this day and age to make fun of the simple concept, especially when some people have eaten food from their gardens for years...decades...generations!

When Chris Fischer set out to write a cookbook about his farm, he showed serious chops. You see, Beetlebung Farm has been in his family for years...decades...generations -- 12 generations to be exact. So if you are really committed to farm-to-table and not just trying to hang with your pretentious food friends, then The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook for you. Not only did Chris Fischer come to the farm with family history, he also came with quite a bit of kitchen history having worked at Babbo, St. John Bread &Wine, and The River Cafe.  (If you read this blog you know that many of our favorite chefs have spent time in the kitchen of The River Cafe.) 

So we have generational family farm, excellent chef history...did we mention the farm was on Martha's Vineyard?  Because we feel that if one is going to be a farmer, one might as well do it on Martha's Vineyard. And so The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook was born.

Fischer learned a lot from the gals at  River Cafe. They have always had a way of taking the raw ingredients and letting them shine. There was never too much mucking about with truly great product and Fischer shares this aesthetic. What transpires is great ingredients turned into great food.

Recently there has been much written both good and snarky about toast. In fact there have even been cookbooks written about toast.  Yes, it is pretty funny that you need someone to tell you how to make toast.  Still, it is one of those very elemental and very rewarding foods that can move us from childhood and beyond. 

 Here is Fischer's fabulous toast.

Asparagus on Toast

For the Gribiche:

2  eggs
1  bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked and chopped
6 Tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
3  scallions, finely chopped
pickled carrot, chopped, to taste
1 Tablespoon  pickling liquid

For the asparagus and toast:

16  thin asparagus spears, trimmed
2 Tablespoons  butter
1/2  lemon
kosher salt, to taste
4  slices sandwich bread, toasted

Make the gribiche.

Bring a pot of water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes. Drain, run under cold water, and peel. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the yolks to set. 

Mix together the parsley and olive oil in a medium bowl. Generously season with salt. Add the scallions, pickled carrot, and pickling liquid. Chop the eggs, stir into the gribiche, and season to taste with salt. (Makes about 1 cup.) Keep the gribiche in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Use any leftover on crostini, sandwiches, or salads or as a sauce for poached fish.

For the asparagus and toast:

Prepare the asparagus and toast. Cut the asparagus spears into 3-inch lengths. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter. When it’smelted, add the asparagus and cook, turning the spears in the butter until they are bright green and just tender but not yet soft, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with lemon and salt. 

Place the asparagus on the pieces of toast, top with the gribiche, and serve.

Yes, it's toast, but just think how happy you would be if you had this on a plate right this second!

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