You know it’s true what they say: “If you build it they will come.” Remember that scene in the movie “Field of Dreams” when Jake is walking through the cornfield and hears a voice whispering “if you build it…?” In that instance, the voice is suggesting to him that he build a baseball field. In this case, I’m talking about making sandwiches – really good ones with homemade chutney mustard and Vermont Cheddar – and about who might come to the table if you do.
But first a bit about my community. Today my “virtual table” moves from my own home to a spot five miles down the road, along the river and through the woods to our town library – a spot where we’ve been eating quite a few sandwiches lately. I think that going there will give you more of a sense of this special place where I live and the community table where I’m privileged to dine.
In my past few posts, I’ve described a bit about what it’s like here in the Upper Valley, an area where after a particularly heavy rain pumpkins have been known to float down the Connecticut River. But did I tell you about all the people who sent money to the pumpkin farmers to pay for the ones they’d fished out of the water?
And a few weeks back I shared a story about the about a hot air balloon that landed in my backyard, inspiring the creation of an autumnal salad for our dinner. However I didn’t talk about the grassy strip of land at the little Post Mills Airport where balloons in the Upper Valley are launched. Post Mills is also home to shimmering, camp-dotted Lake Fairlee as well as to Crossroads Farm, a 60-acre family vegetable farm run by Tim and Janet Taylor who have been employing sustainable agricultural practices for over thirty years. They grew some of the greens that were in that salad I wrote about.
The Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire is truly special in ways animal, vegetable and mineral. We’re surrounded by the natural beauty of full rivers and crystal lakes, fields of fresh produce and farmers who work miracles with their soil helping to feed a growing year-round community, summer camps, seasonal visitors, and thousands of college students. The people who live here are truly and increasingly grateful for their food and it’s producers, filling farmer’s markets during the warmer months, buying shares in CSA’s, even paying for lost pumpkins they hadn’t planned to buy. They also are respectful of the food artists in our midst, the ones who fashion the loaves of bread that make our sandwiches and who turn humble local pumpkins into velvety rivers of homemade ravioli – “Tortelli di Zucca” – to feed the hungry customers who flock their restaurants.
And that’s where the library - and the table it’s set for the community – comes in to this particular story. Over the past several weeks many members of this community have gathered there Tuesdays at noon for a series of brown bag lunches to hear he stories of the master bakers in our midst and of the local restaurateurs feeding our community, all of whom luckily even have enough energy left over to write about their experiences. It’s all a part of the library’s mouth-watering, month-long “BookFeast: Read It and Eat” an event celebrating books, community and ideas.
These discussions have been fascinating – and filling. A few weeks back it was Jeffrey Hamelman, the director of Norwich’s King Arthur Flour’s Bakery and Baker’s Education Center, who entertained a rapt audience with tales of how he became a baker back in the 70′s (hard to imagine that he, now a certified master baker, initially actually had to beg his way into working at a bakery – this gives all of us hope and inspiration to follow our passions).
At the next is was local restaurateurs Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber who talked about planting their own micro vineyards in Vermont, tending to the the greenhouses that supply produce to their kitchen, and about the dream now fulfilled of creating Pane e Salute, a place where the could share the sense of community around food that they were introduced to during a year-long sojourn to Italy.
Now it’s my turn. Today I will be speaking with fellow-blogger Carol Egbert at the third and final of our brown bag lunches on the topic of “Brave New World: Thoughts on Starting and Writing a Food Blog.” I plan to talk about how a blog is a lot like designing a discussion series, setting a table, or making a sandwich. If you build it – and if it tastes and sounds good, they will come. If your mission is to create a sense of place, to gather people around ideas and flavors and to build a stronger community, they will come. Even on the internet.
But first I have to make the sandwiches. You were probably wondering what all this talk of sandwiches was about. For the past three Tuesday mornings I’ve stopped at King Arthur Flour to buy their freshly baked French rolls – the ones so beautifully sprinkled with flax, sesame and poppy seeds – that I fill with hummus, veggies and curried ginger vinaigrette. Then it’s on to the Coop where I hunt for a hearty loaf of multi grain to decorate with greens, cheese and chutney mustard. These creations have helped to feed those gathered at the library’s table to hear about how the food of the Upper Valley makes it’s way from hands, to ovens to plates — and even into cyber space.
So there you have it, start by creating delectable sandwiches, build them full of stalks of watercress, slices of aged Vermont Cheddar, chutney mustard, and cucumbers and the community will come. Yes, if you build it they will feast – on food, ideas, and a stronger sense of community – and it all begins with a whisper of an idea, then a slice of bread, a farmer, a baker and a cook.
Vermont-Cheddar-and-Cucumber Sandwich with Apple Pear Chutney Mustard on Sliced Seven Grain
I’ve adapted this sandwich slightly from the fabulous inspiration provided by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau in their treasure of a cookbook “Once Upon A Tart… Soups, Salads, Muffins and More from New York City’s Favorite Bakeshop and Cafe.” This is not the only sandwich I made for the “BookFeast” lunches (the other was the Hummus with Gingery Curry Vinaigrette and it is equally delicious) but it was the most “Vermonty,” the one that I thought conveyed the taste of this place. The original sandwich calls for mango chutney but since it’s autumn and because I have a bushel of apples in the cellar, I made my own favorite version from “Cooking with Apples & Pears” by Laura Washburn to mix with the mustard. So go ahead, build this sandwich, create a lecture series, I promise that they will come – and that it will all be delicious.
For the sandwiches (makes 4):
8 slices seven grain bread (or other sliced grainy, seedy bread)
3/4 – 1 pound sharp Vermont Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices (grated cheddar is fine, too)
2 cucumbers sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 bunch watercress (1 cup), rinsed, dried well, and trimmed of tough ends
1/2 cup or more Chutney Mustard – see recipe below (for the chutney in the mixture you can use Major Grey’s from a jar)
Put the bread slices on your work surface with four slices in one row and four behind in a second row. Arrange the cheddar in an even layer on the first row of bread slices. Add a layer of cucumber slices on top of the cheese, then the watercress.
Using a spatula or the back of a spoon, spread at least two tablespoons of chutney mustard on the remaining slices of bread (these will be the tops). Close the sandwiches and, using a serrated knife, slice on the diagonal. Now you may feast!
Apple, Pear and Ginger Chutney (makes 4 to 5 cups)
I’ve reduced the amount of ginger from Laura Washburn’s original recipe because I think it makes the resulting chutney a bit more friendly to young palates. If you adore this juicy rhizome though, feel free to double or even triple the amount. This is fabulous served with bread and cheese, used as a spread on turkey sandwiches or as an accompaniment to your favorite curry.
3 eating apples, such as golden delicious, peeled, cored and diced
2 large ripe pears, peeled cored and diced
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup golden raisins or raisins
1 ounce piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 – 1 1/2 inch)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes (optional – I don’t always use)
In a large, non-reactive saucepan, combine the apples, pears, onion, vinegar, sugar, golden raisins, ginger, salt, and pepper flakes (if using). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the chutney to a spotless, clean and dry sealable container. It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
As I mentioned up above, feel free to purchase jarred chutney to make your chutney mustard. It will also be delicious. I’ve adapted this recipe from “Once Upon a Tart” to use more chutney in the spread.
In the bowl of a food processor (a blender is also fine) fitted with a metal blade, puree one cup of mustard and one cup of chutney. That’s it. You’re done. It’s that easy.