Farmington, July 13 1883

I have a copy of a letter from one “William Millar”, my great grand uncle, to his Dear mother (Ann Bell) and Dear uncle. He was born in Ballymena Ireland and I believe the letter keeps the rhythm of that language, even though the words are English and written more than a century ago. The transcription is below. Substitute “they” for “the” throughout, mostly.

Farmington July 13 1883

Dear mother I know take the pleasure once more to let you know that we are all well at present hoping that this will find you all enjoying the Same blessing of good health. Dear mother I may let you know that my uncle John would do nothing for us. Bill sent letters to him and told him in the letter John Bell and John Moore had ten pounds for us and She said that if She would sell her place that she would have plenty to pay her debts and plenty left She said not like some of her friends and she said that the all could keep my grandma when she was able to do nothing She said the could Send her too them I said that she did stand her kind of treatment long Bell rote in the letter that made L10 pound since for butter and she says the with get along well know when the have not ten pounds year and she say the have flax 4 feet long I said it would be like the girl and new shift it would not be their neighbors that would need it and she give me plenty in it to I think she knows more about me nor know myself.

Well Dear mother we will be able our self to send the tickets for you and four little ones in about week from this date so you may be getting ready and be rest that you leave behind you fixed in places for stopping over the winter I would like to know how John is doing in my Uncle matthew my father is working and has 6 shillings a day and has not heard to work I am always with the one man our health is all as good as it was Ireland and Jane is in one place and has 2 dolers weeks. You may yet your house made we well Send you some money to make ready for road Jaems Miller ready to do

Dear uncle Aunt I received your kind and welcome letter which I got all right and I was glad to hear that you are all well doing well you may let my friends know that I have joined Farmington true blues No Surrender and good free country Bell band that James Harper got my grandma feather bed I don’t believe that the took it we send our true love to James harper and family Dear uncle I have got little more to say present that remains

Yours truly unto death

William Millar rite Soon

Salad Days

The winter garden cares for itself; I don’t need to be out there tending the kale and the leeks, the horseradish will bury itself and sprout again without me – probably even better without me. Which means that I’ve been inside tonight working with the genealogy software.

My son J. is the “home person” for our family tree. You can start with a source ancestor, but frankly I had no idea who that might be when I started this project. And it’s fun to enter someone’s name and have them pop up as “fourth cousin twice removed of J___”. Tonight, I got as far as “eleventh great-grandfather of” with William J. Pitkin. Born in England in 1608, William J. received his MA from Oxford and was a headmaster. His “medical condition” is listed as beheaded, so I’m off to do some further research on that one.

This is a picture closer to our time, but still far enough away that it comes with an obituary. Charlie is the boy with his arms crossed at the far right and tonight I entered notes into the family tree from a press clipping about his son and daughter, his love of farming and the hayfields, and his burial in August, 2009. Goodbye, Charlie – I’m glad we took time out and stood together on this gravel road, on some sunny day back in ’73.

Left back to right and left again: Sarah, Melissa, Charlie, Raymond, Kimmy, Doug, Amy, Dickie, Heather and Mary Beth.

Pre-game

The menu for Thanksgiving Dinner 2010 stands as follows:

Martha Stewart’s Gruyere Thyme refrigerator crackers, made with Seal Cove mixed milk aged cheese “Olga” instead of Gruyere. Thank you for the delicious sample, Betsy! The crackers are incredibly simple to make but do need to chill overnight, so I’m making them in between blog posts. They will be our appetizer, with. . .

Fruit: Forelle pears (here on Peanut Butter Etoufee – welcome, pull up a fork!), Red Globe grapes and Courtland apple slices.

We will have turkey. R received a beautiful-but-deadly Wusthof 4″ boning knife for his birthday, so we’ll have a rolled, boneless turkey a la Julia Child – pan roasted in butter, and then finished in the oven in a remarkably short period of time. It will share oven space with sweet potatoes in maple syrup and turnips, par-boiled and then roasted with sea salt. Oh, and stuffing! This year the Morning Glory Bakery in the village provided 15 cup bags of their assorted breads cubed and baked – both savory and efficient. I added butter (duh), chopped onions, shallots and celery, vegetable stock, Black Mission figs and Northern Spy apples. R. will roll some up with the turkey and we’ll serve the rest on the side for the vegetarians in the audience.

We’ll have Savoy cabbage, carrot and apple slaw in the big wooden bowl with Susan’s favorite dressing for which I promise I will find and record the recipe (sorry, Susan!). There may be rolls.There will be cranberry sauce with local berries, sweetened with pomegranate molasses, which makes the sauce explosively tart and gives it a wonderful dark color.

Then there will be pie! Just two this year: Fannie Farmer pumpkin made with the New England pie pumpkins we grew over the incredibly balmy summer of 2010, and Martha Stewart’s (again) Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, because it is just so good.

Recipes for what makes the grade to follow over the weekend. Keep warm, everybody.

Pumpkin Pie II, the crust

We had a discussion about pie crust on the ride home today. My grandmother’s pie crust was perfect, every time, and she used to say the ability skipped a generation to explain my mother’s total failure at pie making. Sorry mom.

Personally, I think it’s all chemistry. Here’s the rather weird recipe that always works for me. If you don’t have a food processor handy, use two sharp knives to cut in the butter.

In a food processor: 3 C flour, 1 Tbs sugar (optional), 2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp baking powder (non-aluminum). Pulse once to mix. Add 1 C (2 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter cut into 1″ chunks. Pulse until the chunks disappear. Add 1/2 C cold water mixed with 2 tsp apple cider vinegar. Pulse just until most of it holds together. Add a little more water if needed.

Dump the contents of the bowl out on to a large sheet of waxed paper. Fold the paper up around the lump of pastry and force it all together. Then cut the lump in half and layer one half over the other, press down. Do that again. Then wrap the (hopefully more cohesive) loaf of pastry in the waxed paper, then a plastic bag, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or overnight) to let the gluten relax.

Take it out, hit it flat a few times with the rolling pin, and use half to make the bottom crust of a pie. If you’re not using a top crust, you can make a pie tail with the other half. Your children will be sooooooooo happy.

Roll out a rectangle, spread with 2 Tbs of softened butter, 1/4 C sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle with a handful of raisins, currants or blueberries.

Starting from the bottom long edge, roll the pastry up. Press the edges together and bring both ends around to touch. Place in a foil lined pie plate and bake with the pie until browned.

Hattie’s Day

My mother, Harriet (one “t” no “e”) was born on October 9, 1928. Tonight in celebration we had buttermilk vanilla cake with fudge frosting from Alisa Huntsman’s book “Sky High“, Martha Stewart’s mac-and-cheese as re-imagined by Smitten Kitchen, and cabbage slaw with Westfield Seek-no-further apples and Seckel pears from the trees in the dooryard. Good friends K. and S. were there, and there are no better friends than the kind who come over for your mom’s birthday. Thanks, guys!

I’ve promised blog entries for the slaw dressing (buttermilk, honey, cider vinegar and so forth) and the cake, but after that meal and some follow-up vodka I’m just going to scan a picture of my mom and call it good.

This is Harriet on your left, the eldest, and moving to the right: Harrison, “Pinky Blue the Doll”, Cynthia and Dorothy. Grampa Barnard’s house still stands at the “vee” of Jerome and Bloomfield Ave. I estimate the date of the photo at about 1940 – a long way from Bar Harbor in 2010.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Hospitality

Five people for risotto, green bean salad, herbed bread and peach ice cream – it must be August. Somehow, this puts me in the mood for the “Song of the Open Road”. Somehow the last lines have been with me all day today. Apologies, for the excerpting, to Walt Whitman.

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!

Traveling with me you find what never tires.

The earth never tires,

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here,

However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,

However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,

However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Certificate of Promotion

On June 24, 1934, my mother was promoted to the “Primary Department” at the Bloomfield Federated Church. It’s a lovely certificate, with copperplate handwriting and the picture of the young Savior.  She was 6 years old. And she kept this for the next 75 years in a paper bag with her first mortgage and a picture of her mother.

Computer dinner

When we can, we eat dinner together as a family. The number varies with the addition of guests stopping by a supper time and the subtraction of our son away at college, but the plates and napkins, flatware and fruit bowl centerpiece are a constant – except for the exceptions. On those nights when everyone is a little distracted and the schedule is off and it’s just us – we have computer dinner.

Computer dinner requires something fast and easy to prepare and clean up. If there’s going to be an informal dinner it should also be a break for the cook.  Tonight I chose our vegetarian version of Spanish Rice. Brace yourself, this is a narrative recipe:

To serve about 3

Make about 2 C of white rice. I use a rice cooker. I find that brown rice turns an unfortunate color when you add the tomatoes, but maybe that’s just me.

Add 2 Tbs olive oil to a large frying pan and saute 1/2 a large onion, 1/2 C celery and, if your household considers bacon to be a vegetable, about 1/4 C chopped bacon slices. Um, we’re Baconarians? Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned. Stir in 1/2 tsp cumin (optional). Add 1/4 C white wine and deglace. Add the rice and mash around with the back of a wooden spoon until it incorporates the olive oil and veggies, then add a can of Ro*Tel, and a small can of kidney beans. Lower heat and cook for a few minutes until every thing is heated through. Add salt if you didn’t use bacon.  We like to grate a little cheddar cheese over the top, and serve with green salad and corn tortilla strips. I have been known to squeeze a lime wedge over the whole mess, when I had one handy.

This is a dependable, easy meal that won’t spill all over anyone’s keyboard. For maximum effect, make sure you’re all in the same room so you can share random tidbits of information (hello, Joshua Slocum’s entry on Wikipedia) or listen to your son strategize with four of his closest long-distance best friends.

These are the best of times.