Type of Post: 
What's on my Plate?

The Puzzle of Terminology

Flint Corn, of the variety Floriani Red

Our colonial forebears did the best they could to confuse their descendants about the role of corn in their foodways. In the first place, to the English settlers, corn was the word for any grain, including barley, wheat, oats, and rye. They did not know about maize, commonly known to us as corn. When reading old texts about food and farming, it's easier to think of "corn" as grain.

When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, they soon learned that their "corn" did not fare well under New England growing conditions. They were lucky to be introduced to maize, which had long been cultivated by the Native Americans.

A Rhode Island Jonnycake with Honey

The colonists referred to the Native Americans as Indians, so they naturally referred to this strange Native American grain as Indian corn, or simply Indian. The colonial dessert called Indian pudding is called that not because it was made by Native Americans, but because it is made with Indian, their word for corn. A popular bread of the time made with both rye and corn was known as ryaninjun.

Types of Corn


Fiddleheads, SteamedFiddleheads are the still-curled young shoots of certain ferns. They are harvested for a brief time in early spring, so, like Shad Roe they are known in New England as a sign that spring has arrived. Fiddleheads are especially associated with the cuisine of Maine.

We celebrated a bounty of excellent new fiddleheads in April 2013 with our Fiddleheads Feast.

To prepare fiddleheads, just snip off the tips of the stems, rinse in cold water, and steam them for a few minutes. Stop the cooking by plunging them into ice-water. They should be al dente, still with some snap to them. 

Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or in a salad. 

Tango Cocktail

Tango CocktailI was reading an old occult-action thriller of the Weird Tales variety, The Brood of the Witch-Queen (1918) by Sax Rohmer. During a scene at a masked ball in Cairo, our protagonist says to his ailing companion:

"I prescribe a 'tango'" said Sime. "A 'tango' is --?" "A 'tango'," explained Sime, "is a new kind of cocktail sacred to this buffet. Try it. It will either kill you or cure you."

Naturally I had to mix up a Tango cocktail before continuing! 

This is a less sweet, equally complex version of Satan's Whiskers. The ingredients are almost the same, with more gin and less of the sweet stuff, and no bitters. 

I made this one with Silo gin from Vermont, reasoning that the apple taste of that fruit-forward gin would play well with the OJ and the triple sec. It was very good, but now I want to try it with one of those spicier gins from Maine, or the Nashoba Perfect 10 to see how they play with the sweet and dry vermouth combination. 

Mint Julep

Mint Julep and Photo by Richmond TalbotThe Mint Julep is a southern delight and a tradition for the Kentucky Derby.  At the race they use Old Times, but that's not really good bourbon and since the race is so commercialized now I figured my friends deserve better.

I boiled up the simple syrup the night before with mint from my garden.

Except for the ice, this drink is a little syrup in a tall glass of bourbon. The crushed ice melts on contact, reducing the liquor to something you can sip for an hour without getting hammered. Ice cubes leave too much room for liquor and don't melt enough to adequately water the drink while cooling it; the result is a drink that is too strong for its volume.

You might think "I like it strong" and you may indeed like it strong, but empirical evidence counts, too: I made a large pitcher of bourbon and syrup mixture and poured it over ice-filled glasses, emptying the pitcher and still facing demand for more. Try it with the crushed ice- it's worth it!

Calvados Cocktail

Calvados Cocktail
Richmond and Annette gave me a bottle of Calvados (French apple brandy) for my birthday. I love Calvados, but I seldom have enough to spare for cocktailian experiments. This surprise windfall enabled me to try a few forgotten cocktails from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
The Calvados Cocktail was an obvious starting point. It's delicious, in a very oddball kind of way. It finishes with an unbelievable blast of orange bitters that makes it spectacular... or just weird. Try it, and then decide for yourself.

Greek Easter Bread

TsourekiTsoureki, or Greek Easter Bread, is difficult, expensive, and delicious in an exotic way that takes it far beyond the realm of everyday cuisine.  It is worth learning, if you have the skill, the time and patience, and access to three peculiar ingredients.

Debbie's Mango Pie

Debbie's Mango Pie

This splash of tropical sunshine was a huge hit at one of our Actifio Pot-lucks, and it was photographed for this article in Inc. Magazine's December-January 2014-15 issue!

Now Debbie's a star and her Mango Pie is a command performance every time we have another pot-luck lunch at work.

This is easy no-bake recipe is great whenever you can get fresh mango pulp.

Capon Maggro

Capon Maggro for a Birthday

This is a fabulous seafood antipasto: seafood on a pile of steamed vegetables with a piquant Genoese green sauce to hold it together. 

A Small Cappon Magro

The lower image is a small one made with only shrimp with steamed potatoes and pearl onions. See the first comment for two tips on how to make this delicious invention into a less intimidating affair.

St Patrick's Day Feast

St Patrick's Day Irish DinnerMy father's mother was born Peggy McBreen on Saint Patrick's Day in Bailieboro, County Cavan, Ireland. She's no longer with us, but I remember her every St Patrick's Day with an Irish feast and a proper Irish Coffee.

Most of these dishes came from Salmon Books' Favourite Irish Recipes.

Here's what we had:

  • We opened the meal with an assortment of Four Cheeses from Upstate New York that we scored on Saturday's trip to the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. These were served with strong tea and Irish Whole Wheat Soda Bread.
  • This was followed by Clam Soup, featuring fresh clams dug by our friend Rob out of nearby Duxbury Harbor. It was thickened with Jersey Cow Cream and seasoned with a lot of celery. It was really a sort of chowder by New England standards. It was a surprise hit.
  • Next came an Irish Baked Salmon and Colcannon.
  • With the meal we enjoyed a Slumbrew Porter Square Porter from Somerville Brewing and the last of the homebrewed cider from the cellar.
  • We finished with Irish Coffee and a lovely Honey Pudding.

The feast was held on Sunday, 18 March 2012.

Attendees were John and Lorna, Richmond and Annette


Type of Post: 
What's on my Plate?

Boston Baked Beans in the traditional beanpot

Beans are one of the Three Sisters, the trio of local foods that supported the Pilgrims and other early settlers. Thanks to their hardiness, easy cultivation, and excellent storability, beans soon became a core component of colonial New England cuisine. In fact, beans became so identified with New England that Boston became popularly referred to as Beantown.

Beans are a climbing plant. Today if you grow beans in your garden, you probably let them climb a beanpole. The Native Americans had a clever way to save space in (and dig less of) that stony New England soil: they also grew corn, and used the cornstalks as beanpoles.

You can find a lot of interesting information about beans in this article from the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine. The beans part starts in the fourth paragraph and continues to the end of the page.

Soak Beans Overnight

Fresh green beans can be steamed right from the garden, of course, but the great value of beans is their ability to be dried, stored and transported over primitive roads with low risk of spoilage.

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