we are New England cooks...
When you have the chance to feed people, take it.
I think about the various and endless work that we each and all do. What, for you is you unwinding, your selfish time to let down? You’ll find me in the kitchen.
My earliest memories of cooking are the summer hours I spent in my grandmother’s kitchen in Worcester, Massachusetts. Standing there on the funny-shaped red tile floor, Gaga and I talked, each morning, about what would be for dinner. Her collection of handwritten recipes, notes, cookbooks, and clippings from Gourmet Magazine seemed dizzying, but, like many of us ‘in our office,’ she knew exactly where everything was.
New England is a funny place. And, seasons can be hard... We wake up on January first and realize that just as the holiday season quiets down, we need to prepare for snow storms, long days of cold grey skies, only-occasional bright sun, and often endless wind. We take Winter head on and tough it out. We embrace the chance to light a fresh fire, drink rich red wine and dark beer, and ‘put up a pot of’ something delicious that will cook all day while filling the house with smells and memories of Winters before when someone, no longer around, used to make the very same recipe.
With the breaking of the frost and the fickle Spring temperatures creeping in, we throw our windows open too early in the season risking a chill at night. Worth the occasional overnight low temperatures, we talk about the budding flower gardens, crisp fresh white wine, and firing up the charcoal grill. Everything feels confident and routine while dancing on a razor’s edge; sometimes the snow wasn’t quite over for the year; sometimes there’s a late frost; sometimes, like this year, we aren’t sure it will ever stop raining. We welcome Spring and make fresher food, quicker sauces…we even imagine that there are locally-available vegetables that might be in-season very soon. Of course, farmstands won’t really open for, at least, another 8-10 weeks, but, it is this New England push to delight in the Season that’s just-around-the-corner that keeps us excited and sustains our passion for the kitchen and feeding people.
…and then, suddenly, it’s Summer. There may be places that offer sunnier days, longer warmer seasons, and more days spent outside…but, ask any New Englander I know about that first Summer night spent on the porch after dinner, watching fireflies light up as the sun sets…well, you won’t find anyone on Earth more present in a moment so simple, and more appreciative of such a luxurious end to what was likely a delicious evening.
We feel, in New England, as though we earned Summer. And, I can agree with this. Of course, we did not cause the days to grow longer and more delicious, but, shovel some driveways, misjudge the last frost of the year, and put your sweaters into storage too early for just one Spring, and you’ll know how we feel. We soak up Summer and feel safe doing so because when it comes to an end, Autumn is just around the corner.
We New Englanders agree: Autumn might be what keeps each of us here. Once you’ve lived in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Connecticut as the days grow shorter and nights cooler…as the leaves turn the brightest oranges and reds and yellows…well, there’s nothing like it. And, because of this, I’ll never live anywhere else. How could I leave?
When you have the chance to feed people, take it.
If you are new to New England, as I was years ago when I first moved to Vermont for college, ask a longer-time resident for a favorite family recipe on the first day of each new season. You, too, need to start earning it…
In the Spring, join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) for the upcoming Summer; there, you’ll learn to ‘work through’ what your local farm grows (sometimes there can be what might seem like an endless supply of yellow squash…and, that’s not only ‘okay’ but part of the charm of making delicious food that comes from your new home). If you’ve missed the chance to join a CSA this year, find your local farmers’ markets and farmstands. Do not miss this. For, it’s perfectly acceptable to mutter about how long Winter feels, how cold and wet Spring can be, how short the Summer, and how fleeting the Autumn, but, this constant struggle with our Seasons can only define us if we feel like we’ve earned it and remember to savor this annual journey. How better to do the work than by purchasing something grown down the street in the very same weather and seasons you’ve had to live through?
You, too, can you wake up in the morning and start thinking about what you might serve for dinner, hours later. My Gaga’s daily routine continues to shape just about every last day of the year for me here in West Hartford. The sadness that I occasionally feel living just 61 miles from her old doorstep, and not having ever lived so closeby until long after she was gone, is instead nourishing for me as I live by her practices; the idea that my Dinner Table is a most sacred place where I can feed people means that this is the place where I can best love them. It’s also the place where I am most in touch with where I am, now, from…New Englanders are a special breed of self-defining, self-righteous, tradition-bound folk, but, goodness, do we, uniquely, know how precious each of these days can be…
…and, what could be more delicious than that?
Jacob for 'Henry Provisions'
7th July, West Hartford.