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A Musical Feast: The Tanglewood Picnic and a Recipe for Whisky Sours that serves 106!

Tanglewood.Cover

As summer turns to fall, it is time to celebrate with at least one last giant picnic. If you are looking for inspiration, you will find it in The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires, a book that honors this grand tradition since its beginnings in 1937.

If anything brings people together as much as food, it is music. In Tanglewood these two traditions are intertwined. Each summer, 120,000 music lovers flock to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, to picnic during concerts.   Over the years, attendees have been serenaded by some of the world’s greatest musicians including  Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland, Yo-Yo Ma and many popular artists including James Taylor.

In the old days, simple picnics of sandwiches, soda, and cookies from Blue Heaven Turkey Farm, Samel’s Deli, and Angelina’s Subs were the norm. Al fresco dining at Tanglewood took a gourmet turn in the 1970s and ’80s with the establishment of Nejaime’s Wine Cellars, Crosby Catering, and Guido’s Fresh Marketplace. Nowadays everything goes–from casual grab-and go-sandwiches, paper napkins, and finger foods to fancy fixings complete with lace tablecloths, candelabras, and crystal goblets. Many picnickers have their own picnic food and drink traditions—from lobster sliders to signature cocktails.

Author Gina Hyams moved to the Berkshires ten years ago and became enchanted with the grand Tanglewood picnic ritual—how it’s both fancy and populist. She loves the magic of “lying on the picnic blanket and watching the moon rise and the stars come out as music fills the air.”

Like a beloved family heirloom, the tradition of picnicking at Tanglewood is passed down through generations. While researching this book, Gina met countless people who were first introduced to Tanglewood as children and who now share the experience with their own children and grandchildren.

Gina has written 12 books, but this is the first she has published under her imprint, Muddy Puppy Media. She  wrote and published the book as a kind of “collective love-letter” to the tradition of Tanglewood picnics. The book contains 150 photographs of picnickers from the 1940s through the present from the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives and from audience members’ family scrapbooks, plus a dozen classic recipes and the ultimate picnic checklist of tips compiled from expert Tanglewood picnickers. Gina says about the book, “I hope it serves as both a tribute to past picnics and as an inspiration for future ones.”

Happy picnicking!

The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires by Gina Hyams. Published by Muddy Puppy Media 2015.

Country Curtains Tanglewood Picnic Whiskey Sour Punch

Yields approximately 106 servings

Country Curtains has held its annual employee Christmas party at Tanglewood since 1968. Company founders Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick established the “Christmas at the Pops” tradition because they thought the December holiday season was so packed with parties, Christmas in the summertime would be a treat. They decorated their Tanglewood company picnics with red and green balloons, holiday napkins, and candles—a custom that continues today. Sometimes, even Santa and Mrs. Claus join the festivities.

2 1/2 gallons water

2 (24-ounce) packages Timmy’s sweet and sour cocktail mix

3 (12-ounce) cans of Minute Maid frozen lemonade concentrate

3 (1.7-liter) bottles of Seagram’s whiskey

Garnish

About 12 oranges, cut into half-moon shaped slices

3 (16-ounce) jars of Haddon House maraschino cherries

Ice

Pour all of the ingredients into a large insulated beverage jug and stir with a long spoon. Fill a punch bowl with ice, punch, oranges, and cherries. Add additional orange slices and cherry garnishes to each serving as needed.

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Sausages, Sauerkraut and How Good Food Leads to Great People: A Community Dinner at 18 Reasons

IMG_6001It was a Wednesday night and I had no plans. “A night all to myself with no where to be!” I thought gleefully. But when I came home to an empty house and a few meager plastic containers of cold pasta, my delight turned to despair.  I texted a few friends but everyone was busy. All dressed up with no place to go! But then I remembered reading about a Community Dinner at 18 Reasons.

Based in the San Francisco Mission across the street from the Bi-Rite Market, 18 Reasons is a community cooking school and so much more. Each month they offer a $10 community dinner featuring local producers. On the menu that night were Fatted Calf  sausages and homemade sauerkraut made by 18 Reason’s Executive Director, Sarah Nelson. I arrived to find about forty happy eaters seated together at long wood tables– from Mission hipsters to families with kids. 
IMG_6012Whether you are passionate about cooking, sharing a meal with friends, or learning about the food system, 18 Reasons has something for everyone. Their motto is “empowering your discovery of good food” which is exactly what they do through gamut of events and classes that engage  eaters, drinkers, cookers and crafters across the good food spectrum. Some of the most popular classes include a Basic Knife Skills (sells out every month!) and classes on the exotic (Flavors of Azerbaijan) to the fundamental (Whole Grain Primer) all taught by Chef Michelle McKenzie. Their film and lecture series includes both fun and serious food topics, from a screening of Babette’s Feast to a discussion of what it takes to be a farmer.  They also reach over 2,000 low-income families each year through their Cooking Matters program, a cooking and nutrition course that teaches adults, kids, and teens how to plan, shop for, and prepare delicious, healthy meals on a limited budget. Volunteer chefs and nutritionists contribute thousands of hours each year to the program, which is offered at partner sites throughout the Bay Area. Check out their full calendar and their schedule of Cooking Matters classes.
Through eating good food together, we discover our community. Our sausage and sauerkraut dinner felt like a big family feast with a bunch of long lost relatives. Of course the food was delicious, but even more so was the little girl who sat next to me. Now when I have a free night, I’ll know where I’m welcome: The next community dinner is on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The menu: Buttermilk Waffles, Benton’s Bacon, with Bourbon Barrel Matured Maple Syrup. Hope to see you there!

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Hope and Hoppin’ John for a Crowd

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I much prefer New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. Reflection on things past turns to hope for things to come, especially with a pot of Hoppin John, a Southern dish said to bring prosperity.The black eyed peas are said to symbolize coins, while the greens and cornbread represent money and gold

No one seems completely sure where the name Hoppin’ John comes from. According to Jessica Harris, noted authority on African cooking in the Americas, the only thing that all seem to agree on about Hoppin’ John is that the dish is “emblematic of South Carolina and is composed of rice and some kind of pea.” Field peas are thought to be native to Africa and were brought to the United States in early Colonial times, during the slave trade. After the peas were harvested, the plants were left for grazing cows hence the names “field peas” and “cowpeas.” .

At her annual celebration Jessica, has made batches to feed up to 60 along with roast pork, collard greens, okra, corn, and tomatoes. As for why black-eyed peas are associated with luck Jessica writes:

 Just as nobody is sure of the origin of the name Hoppin’ John, no one seems quite certain why the dish has become associated with luck, or New Year’s. Some white Southerners claim that black-eyed peas saved families from starvation during the Union Army’s siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” suggests that it may come from Sephardic Jews, who included the peas in their Rosh Hashanah menu as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

For African-Americans, the connection between beans and fortune is surely complex. Perhaps, because dried black-eyed peas can be germinated, having some extra on hand at the New Year guaranteed sustenance provided by a new crop of the fast-growing vines. The black-eyed pea and rice combination also forms a complete protein, offering all of the essential amino acids. During slavery, one ensured of such nourishment was lucky indeed.”

One final tradition: On New Year’s Day, in some families, a dime is placed in the Hoppin’  John with the promise of more luck for the finder.  On that, writes Jessica, “ The thought of cracking a tooth makes me think that this may not be the best idea. Try it if you wish.”

Depending on the region, availability of ingredients and family traditions, there are as many versions of Hoppin’ John as there are cooks. In this big batch version by award-winning cookbook author and teacher Rick Rodgers from his book The Big Book of Sides (Ballantine 2014), Rick creates a delicious ham broth that can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days ahead of time. Rick recommends serving this dish with boldly flavored main dishes including smoked or roasted meats, spicy sausages, sautéed greens and vegetables.

Big Batch Notes: For 8 to 10, Rick used a stock pot (12-qt) for the stock, and a 6-qt large saucepan/Dutch oven for the John. For the double, he recommends using the same stockpot (12-qt) for both.  Make the stock, strain, and then use the same washed pot for the beans. Also if making the broth ahead of time, make sure you have room to store it in your refrigerator.

HOPPIN’ JOHN

By Rick Rodgers

This hearty, full-flavored dish will warm you on the coldest January day. Please note that the beans need to be soaked 8 to 12 hours before cooking. Have your butcher halve the ham bones for you. Make ahead notes: The ham broth and its meat can be be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for 3 days. The Hoppin’ John is best made right before serving.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: about 2 ½ hours

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.05.45 AM1.  To make the ham broth:  Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the ham hocks, broth, and 1½ quarts (3 quarts for the larger batch) cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat on the hocks is tender enough to be cut from the bones, about 1½ hours.

2. Strain the broth into a large bowl, reserving the ham hocks but discarding the other solids.  Cut the meat from the hocks, discarding the bones, and chop it into ¼-inch pieces. Measure the broth; you should have about 1¾ quarts (3 ½ quarts for the big batch).  (The broth and meat can be separately cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3.  To make the hoppin’ John: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 8 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the fat in the pot.

4.  Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the drained beans and 6 cups of the broth and bring to a boil over high heat.  (Set the remaining broth aside at room temperature.) Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are barely tender, 30 to 45 minutes.  (The exact time for cooking the peas will depend on their age and softness after soaking.)

5.  Stir in the drained tomatoes, diced ham meat, salt, and hot sauce and return to a boil over high heat. (See Note) Stir in the rice.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a steady simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and has absorbed almost all of the cooking liquid, about 20 minutes. If the rice has absorbed the liquid before it is done, add some of the reserved broth.  (Leftover broth can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months; use it for soups, especially split pea soup.)

6.  Remove from the heat and cover the pot.  Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking and soaking up the liquid.   Transfer to a huge bowl, fluffing the rice as you do so.  Sprinkle with the scallions and reserved bacon and serve hot, with hot sauce passed on the side.

Note: If you wish, you can cook the rice separately and serve the pea stew on top.  In this case, cook the the rice according to the package directions. For 2 cups of raw rice, use 2 cups water, 2 cups Ham Broth, and 1 teaspoon salt.  For 4 cups of rice, use 4 cups water, 4 cups Ham Broth, and 2 teaspoons salt.)

** If you want to learn more about African cooking in the Americas, check out one of Jessica’s twelve books. In addition to being an accomplished author, she has been a National Board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food and a board member of the Caribbean Culinary Federation, the New York Chapter of Les Dames D’Escoffier, and the Southern Foodways Alliance where she was a founding member and also served as chair of the planning and then programming committees. Currently, she is a Board member of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The New Orleans Afrikan American Film Festival, an advisory board member of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the New Orleans Edible School Yard.

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