Having just taken a wonderful cruise on a barge in England, I started out this week prepared to write about the food the chef had made. We did six television shows together, to air in late fall or early spring. The young chef, Steve, had some brilliant food, and so I started to translate his recipes into American measurements and verbiage. (Plastic wrap vs. cling wrap; cups vs. gills; ounces to cups, etc.) His spelling is worse than George Washington’s was. (George couldn’t spell broccoli either.)
A new apprentice, Meri Spalviero, winner of Trident Tech’s Culinary Institute’s Nathalie Dupree scholarship, started working with me on Tuesday, eager to try something new. So we printed out Steve’s recipes, rarin’ to go. One thing led to another. The fennel from my major grocery shop before Memorial Day weekend had frozen. In fact, everything in my produce drawer had frozen, because I had had so much crammed into the refrigerator the air stopped circulating. The shortening had gone bad after being moved to the shelf after opening.
We realized we should go to the store, but the refrigerator was laden, as was the fruit and vegetable bowl that sits on my kitchen counter. Everything was getting over ripe. The tomatoes had been heading for ruin so the night before so I had stuck them on a pan, drizzled them with olive oil, and baked them. Some were cherry tomatoes, others were those “on-the-vine” type. I didn’t have time to do two pans full, so I cut the large ones in quarters and the cherry tomatoes in halves and roasted them together. When I was ready for bed I turned the oven off and left them in all night. There was a case of apples left from the two cases someone had given me in March. There were four oranges off of a Charleston orange tree that were older than they should have been. The pineapple – oh, I do love a fresh pineapple, and oh, do I hate to peel them – was getting soft.
We felt too guilty to go to the store, so we used butter, which I had on hand, for the Eccles cake that called for half shortening and half butter. We didn’t have the right amount of milk, so we used up the cream purchased for holiday weekend house guests, now gone. In fact, all this produce was for them, and only half of what I had purchased had been eaten. My eyes had been bigger than my guest’s stomachs. We got the pineapple and the oranges sliced, applesauce made, the Barge chef’s pastry finished and the day was over.
he next day, Meri showed up with all her vegetables and fruits that were going bad, inspired by my attempt to staunch the waste of my food, to clean out her refrigerator. The article on the fabulous barge food had become a story of saving money and using up what you have before you go grocery shopping. Chefs do this automatically. But home cooks have gotten lax, I’m afraid, over the years of cheap American food. (We have long had the lowest ratio of food cost to living cost of any nation.) As our food costs rise with the cost of gasoline, we have to relearn conserving, and using every last bit that we have. It is miraculous how slicing, making a salad, or cooking changes produce enough that it becomes useable for many days.
Stale biscuits become bread pudding that can be frozen. Tomatoes become roasted tomatoes, kept ready in the refrigerator for any number of uses, but in this case Tomato Pie, along with two kinds of goat cheese that had been opened and neglected. The oranges are softened in sugar syrup, ready to be eaten as a special treat, candied further, or to chop and use in the Eccles cake. Meri’s sale Bing cherries, perhaps already on the edge of ripe when she purchased them, become a wonderful foil for cooked pineapple sauce. Her multi-colored tomatoes and two ears of corn become a corn salad. My half frozen fennel is just enough for Steve’s Fennel Salad, with the use of a little half frozen celery and Meri’s spring onions. The applesauce is ready for an Apple Charlotte, perhaps, or just breakfast, or I might just call the friend who gave me the apples and give it to him. We had a bountiful feast. Actually, we ate some for lunch, Meri took some home to have a surprise dinner party for a friend, and I called friends for lunch the next day, something I wouldn’t have done if everything hadn’t been ready. Oh, and if you want information on the barge trip, email me at