From the desk of Christopher Kimball
Dear Home Cook,
We just celebrated Antler Eve (the day before the opening of hunting season here in Vermont). The next morning, my daughter Caroline and I headed over to Tom and Nancy’s at 4:30 a.m. for a hunter’s breakfast: pancakes with our own syrup, scrambled eggs, our own bacon, and plenty of coffee. We headed out just before 5:30 a.m. with full thermoses and charged flashlights to climb up into our respective tree stands. It was warm for this time of year—about 40 degrees—and it started to turn light just after 6 a.m. One of my great pleasures is watching the woods slowly come alive in the early morning: Birds do warm-ups, squirrels rustle, and indistinct shapes resolve into focus. You think you see antlers but it’s just forked branches; a hint of rhythmic walking is just wind (or two raccoons headed home); and then a red squirrel runs up a tree to get a better view of you, the intruder, and squawks indignantly. (Click here to see my photos of hunting season in Vermont, including a video of a fox walking in front of my game camera at night.)
Midmorning, Caroline took a break and sat on a stone wall near our hunting cabin. Just then, a four-pointer came out of the brush on the edge of the meadow. It looked at Caroline, snorted, and stomped. She went for her .32 special but realized that she had left it inside. A half-hour later, as she was walking down the road headed home, she saw two six-pointers, but once again, the gun was back in the cabin. That’s Rule No. 1: You always see a buck when you least expect it. I saw lots of doe, bear scat, and large deer signs and am headed out to hunt again now that Thanksgiving is over.
We’ve extended our annual CYBER MONDAY CLEARANCE SALE on cookbooks: 16 different titles are being offered at up to 75% off! Titles include one of my favorites, Baking Illustrated, as well as other best sellers, like American Classics, The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue, and Cover & Bake. This is our biggest sale all year and these books make great Christmas gifts. Order your favorite test kitchen books at up to 75% off today.
Caroline voted this month at town hall and they asked her to state her name aloud (even though they have known her for more than 20 years). Charlie Bentley was there and Caroline asked him how he was since he had just fallen off a hay wagon. He replied, “It wasn’t the falling: It was the stopping.”
I would like you to give our new public radio show a call, leaving us a message with your cooking questions. (You can listen to the show and get access to our recipes, tastings, and testings by going to AmericasTestKitchen.com/Radio.) The number to call, anytime, is 855-34-COOKS. Bridget and I are looking forward to your call.
Here’s a news flash: A medical study just reported that fat makes you smarter! Three groups of people were tested. One was given a low-fat diet, one high-fat, and the third group was served a high-fat diet along with a moderate amount of exercise (30 minutes per day). The latter group performed better on mental acuity tests than the other two groups, including the low-fat subjects! Your body needs fat, and with moderate exercise, you can be smarter, too. (Somehow home cooks knew this all along!)
I just made a complete Thanksgiving dinner for NPR’s Morning Edition using Julia Child’s recipes. Two items were standouts. Julia removed the bone from the thigh before roasting (she roasted dark and white meat separately), which made carving a snap. I will never roast a turkey thigh bone-in again. Second, her Tarte au Pommes (from Mastering the Art) was wonderful. Make a quick applesauce with Calvados and apricot preserves, fill a prebaked tart shell, and then cover it with sliced apples and bake for about 45 minutes. It’s a nice change from the typical pie and a nice way to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday. (The all-new American food exhibit opens at the Smithsonian this month, complete with Julia Child’s kitchen. I highly recommend going.)
The holidays always remind me that our town baker from long ago, Marie Briggs, used to eat out once per year. The bachelor farmers took her out to dinner on Christmas—she cooked for them the other 364 days. Well, she did seem to live a long, happy life in front of the stove. Here’s to you, Marie.
I leave you with a thought. Fifty years ago in our town, Saturday nights were spent in a sauna (lots of Finns lived in town) or at the corner house where movies were shown to the bachelor farmers. (These were courtesy of the Department of Agriculture; the title I remember best was on how to grow rutabagas.) The cookstove was fueled with wood. There was no indoor plumbing except for a green metal pump in the pantry sink. Nobody purchased store-bought bread, doughnuts, milk, or maple syrup. Corn was harvested with a mule team; hay was cut with a sickle-bar mower pulled by Floyd’s horses. If you dug a well, you called the local dowser first. Everyone took off the full two weeks of hunting season and spent them in small, tar-paper hunting camps. Almost everyone kept pigs and most folks had venison and bear meat in the freezer plus bushels of potatoes in the basement. And Christmas was a potluck at town hall. (It still is.) And it was rare to meet someone who had traveled more than two towns away and certainly not for pleasure.
These days, I run into people who have moved up from the city to make goat cheese or raise pigs. It’s encouraging that the land is going back under the plow, that farms and barns are being brought back to life. But I do wonder what the old-timers would have thought about it all. For them, it was a life without labels: neither organic nor biodynamic. It wasn’t even slow food—it was just a slow, and happy, life.
Enjoy the holidays, the family, Christmas cookies, banana bread, eggnog (the fat is good for you!), and the crackling fireplace!