Showing posts with label kitchens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kitchens. Show all posts

18 November 2007

Winter-Fruit-and-Walnut Crisp

Each kitchen has its own unique aroma. When I was young, my mother's tiny yellow kitchen in the apartment she and my father rented near the harbor was redolent with the spicy scents of ginger and cinnamon.

It was that kitchen that came to my mind as I sampled the first bite of my walnut crisp filled with winter fruit drenched in Calvados.

The taste was rich and sweet and layered, which is what I intended. It reminded me of the inside of my mother's spice drawer, or a photograph in a shelter magazine showing a kitchen filled with pine boughs and pewter.

It is entirely my invention, in that I did not seek inspiration anywhere but my own cupboard, intent on using up what I had on hand. There is nothing extraordinary about it - except the taste!

Winter-Fruit-and-Walnut Crisp

  • 1/2 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 4-5 apples, chopped
  • 1-2 small red pears chopped
  • two tablespoons Calvados
  • one teaspoon vanilla
  • three tablespoons sugar
  • dash or two cinnamon

For the topping:

  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat or graham flour
  • 1/2 stick or more cold butter
  • three tablespoons brown sugar


Place chopped fruit in bowl and toss. Drizzle with Calvados. Add vanilla, fructose and cinnamon and toss again. Place in greased 8-by-8-inch baking pan.

In a second bowl, mix chopped walnuts, flour and brown sugar mix. Cut in butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour topping over fruit.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, until topping turns deep golden brown. Cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Even my husband liked it.

19 August 2007

More Memories of Annie's Kitchen and Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp

I wish I could take you back to the comfort of Grandma Annie's kitchen.

It was quite ordinary as kitchens go. A square room with no built-in cabinetry, it had a deep farmhouse sink and white appliances. There were three or four mismatched cabinets around the perimeter and a table in the middle, not a scarred wooden table, but a newer white enamel-and-chrome model with slats that pulled out to make it larger.

On cool, dreary days, the kitchen was redolent of vanilla and almond and buttery aromas and perhaps chopped fruit in an old stoneware bowl. Annie had no newfangled gadgets, only time-tested utensils of wood and stainless steel. She used an old meat grinder, the kind you clamp on a table or cupboard, and an old-fashioned potato masher.

Her conversation was not deep, for she was not on the outside a deep woman. But she posessed an inner core of steel and a firm convictions when it came to her Catholic faith and her unwavering sense of right and wrong. She was generous, always buying this or that for her grandchildren. I did not truly appreciate her until she was long gone.

Her kitchen remains, though four years ago the family home on Dunlap and Bellevue in the heart of old Frenchtown was sold to a couple who gutted much of it and made it stronger, bringing it into its third century. The kitchen was the first room finished and when I visited it while the remodeling was in progress, I could feel Annie's presence. It was a mid-fall evening and as I stood in the kitchen with Denise, its new mistress, I could sense Annie's approval.

"Yes," I could hear Annie say to me in the deepening dusk. "This feels right. It is still my kitchen."

How lucky that Denise and her family have the sense of goodness my Annie had! How lucky for us that Annie's house - the home Pépere bought about 1883 - is in such good hands. Its new occupants were already friends, now they are part of our extended family.

As I baked this dessert in my own kitchen tonight, I though again of Annie and the passage of time and the timeless chopping and peeling and mixing that is part of what we do in kitchens, what we have done for centuries. I wonder if Denise feels part of that. I must ask her next time we talk.

Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup brown-sugar/Splenda mix
  • 1 cup cold Smart Balance (in place of butter)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 5-6 fresh nectarines. cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup fructose
  • 3/4 cup cognac-white wine blend
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstar]ch
  • dash cinnamon


Blend flour and sugar. Cut in butter or Smart Balance and pecans for a coarse mixture. Set aside.

Dice nectarines and combine with blueberries in large bowl. Blend Cognac-wine mix with cornstrach, vanilla and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over fruit and gently toss. Pour fruit into greased 9x9-inch baking pan. Top with crust mixture. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven on middle rack for about 40 minutes. Serve warm with French vanilla ice cream.

Note: My husband and I loved this recipe, which is adapted from one on Epicurious. My husband raved, saying it was a good balance of sweet and tart. Annie would have loved it.

01 January 2007

Grandma Annie's Back Kitchen

Setting my cranberry upside-down cake on the cupboard in the “back room” to cool the other day, I was reminded of Grandma Annie’s back room.

It had been a kitchen once, in one of the mid-19th century structure’s many incarnations. But when I was a child, it was used mostly for storage.

When I was a child, it contained a massive red cupboard, filled with kitchen items Annie used only once or twice a year. Old bean crocks sat cheek by jowl with glass jars of beans or rice. An old tin colander, ancient wooden spoons, a bowl of cookie cutters and other kitchen miscellany filled the shelves.

The back room also held an enamel-topped table piled with boxes of canning jars and bins of apples or baskets of potatoes.

Annie used this room as a second pantry, a sort of keeping room. She dried herbs in that room, something that intrigued me when I was a child, and because it was unheated in winter and cool in summer, she also set baked goods there when they needed to cool.

The room was connected to the kitchen by a hallway, and the hallway ran along the side of the house. It was part of the house, and yet not part of the house.

The keeping room led directly to Annie’s vast backyard. In summer, she’d open the back door and the hall door and the cross-ventilation kept her old house cool on the hottest July days.

Usually by August, the old treadle sewing machine Annie kept in the room would be pressed into service, as she altered our clothing for the school year or sewed aprons and tablecloths from brightly-colored cotton.

My own back room serves a similar purpose. Here is a collection of mismatched cupboards and bins and shelves that hold gardening supplies, bird feed, canned goods and cookbooks.

It was once part of the kitchen, but the people who “remodeled” our 1896-home in the 1970s, split the room into two.

I spend more time in my back room than Annie did in hers. It’s a cozy place, with a patterned rug and a comfortable chair. In summer, when the crickets sing, it is my favorite room in the house.

11 June 2006

My Kitchen — and my Grandmother's

What makes my kitchen French?

I did not set out to create a French country kitchen, not the kind featured in home-decorating magazines. Too contrived for my tastes.

Still, my kitchen has a few of the accouterments of what is thought to be a typical French kitchen, including a ceramic rooster and a wire wine rack, the latter tucked away in a cool corner.

But I have no blue-and-white tiles, no copper pots — only one piece of pottery I purchased in France, a colorful serving tray.

A French kitchen is all about food anyway, and the spirit in which it is prepared and consumed. Forget carved cabinet doors and racks of gleaming pots.

If you like to cook, and you like French food, your kitchen can be as French as the most over-decorated room in Architectural Digest (which regrettably really isn’t all that much about architecture).

In my kitchen, bottles of olive oil and spices are within easy reach. A jar of herbes de Provençe is always nearby. A bowl of tomatoes sits on the counter. Every scrap of food is used, and if it cannot be used, it is carried out to the compost pile.

I think of my grandmother often when I cook. Her kitchen was always tidy, and it was important for her to keep everything in its place. (Not so in my kitchen.)

Grandma Annie lived in Frenchtown in the small Michigan town where her parents settled in the 1880s. The neighborhood included a meat packing plant, an ironworks and a small retail area. Small grocery stores abounded and farmers often came to town peddling eggs and vegetables. Annie’s home, purchased by her father in 1883, once included a small grocery store on its ground floor.

Annie bought her eggs from a German farmer. Neighbors traded produce from their gardens: Green beans, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini and potatoes. Mid-morning or in the early evenings, she would set out, basket on her arm, for the home of a neighbor who had fresh produce to share.

Annie’s kitchen had only one west-facing window, but it was never dark. It was a cheerful red-and-white, very much in the style called “retro” in today’s shelter magazines.

What made Annie’s kitchen French? Her love of food and cooking. It was a love that extended throughout the home, a home the family owned for 125 years.

My memories of Annie include sunny summer mornings when she would sit on her back step and shell peas, or cooler days in late summer when she would bake a cake or a blueberry pudding and her kitchen would be redolent of vanilla and almond.

These are simple activities I have tried to make a part of my own culinary life. Come high summer, I clean corn and shell peas on my deck, within yards of my compost pile. In cool weather or when storm clouds gather, I, too, gravitate to my kitchen to bake an apple crisp with cinnamon. The aroma and the activity provide comfort.

What makes your kitchen French? How does it comfort you?