11.11.2010

"The Frost is on the Pumpkin!"

That is what my father would say on chilly autumn mornings when I was young.  From the bedroom upstairs, these words were always preceded by the smell of the heat coming through the vents and perhaps a whiff of bacon being cooked.  We came down the stairs Dad, with a twinkle in his eye, greeted us at the bottom saying, "The frost is on the pumpkin."  Sometimes he said it with a tinge of his lost Boston accent.  But we knew it had bigger implications.  It was time for the final harvest.  The end of fresh vegetables as we knew them, at least until spring.

Each year in our garden, we grew asparagus, corn, peas, strawberries, green beans, wax beans, cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes.  The beans, cucumbers and tomatoes were most prolific.  Not bad for "gentle-family farmers."  We never tried to "live off the land" but we did enjoy having our success at gardening.  Tomatoes - a major family favorite - were the first thing considered each year.  And, as Guy Clark's song goes, there is nothing like homegrown tomatoes;
Homegrown tomatoes!  Homegrown tomatoes!
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes?
There's only two things that money can't buy,
and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes!

After the first frost, Mom went out to our small 10-foot by 20-foot garden patch and cut down the one row of corn we grew (corn, to Americans, means maize).  If we were lucky, that row had produced enough ears of corn for one meal.  She tied the cornstalks together with twine and we leaned them against the house near the front door for a seasonal decoration.  Our own corn shock.  That, with some Indian corn hanging on the door and a pumpkin at the base of the corn shock, signaled it was really autumn and that Halloween was nigh!

Here in the desert we won't see frost until sometime around Thanksgiving.  Our farmer's market still offers wonderful produce - heirloom tomatoes, pink-fleshed melons, green beans and all variety of squash.  But, even here in the desert, we know the season for luscious summer produce is winding down.  Corn season has already slipped away, and we mourn the end of a crop that was so sweet and juicy this year.

But fret not.  We have cornmeal!  Prior to refrigeration, jet-propelled world trade and hydroponic gardening under glass, people ensured food in their larders for the winter by other means.  To have corn all year long, it was dried and ground for use in a variety of ways from baking it in breads, biscuits and muffins, to thickening soups and stews, or as homey, stand-alone corn mush dishes like grits, Indian pudding, and polenta.

Today's recipe is for Rosemary Corn Cakes - delightfully short biscuits that complement meals which are savory or sweet.  With tea and coffee, try a little jam or marmalade on top.  They bring out the natural sweetness of shellfish, especially steamed lobsters, and work well alongside any pork dish, soup, stew or chili.  Of course, in our house, they are the perfect snack just by themselves!

Rosemary Corn Cakes

14 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar - dark or light
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary from two 5-inch sprigs
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer, beat butter with sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Beat in honey, egg and egg yolk, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go along.  Beat in flour, cornmeal, baking powder and rosemary.  Pour in cream and blend well.  The dough will be quite sticky.

On a generously floured board (and with floured hands) pat the dough into an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle about one-half inch thick.  Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out individual cakes and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet.  Pat scraps together to form more cakes until no dough remains.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until bottoms are a golden brown.  Let cakes rest a few minutes on baking sheet before transferring to rack (they are very fragile).  They can be made in advance of serving, and freeze well.

1 comment:

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