Thursday, October 6, 2016

TBT November 15, 2007 Lessons from Val's Kitchen

 This is the first story I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin (now The Bulletin) back in November 2007. The monthly column was titled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen"  Thank you to Craig Salters, my first editor at the paper, for allowing me my first byline.  

At the holidays, just call it 'delicious'
by Andrea Norris 

Declan Norris drools over his mom's fruit crisp

Cobbler, crisp, brown Betty, I’ve even heard it called a grunt, buckle, slump and how about this one: sonker! Fall harvest time promises a dish full of an array of apples, all sorts of pears, cranberries, a myriad of nuts, raisins…oh my! I’m going to call mine a fruit crisp because I think the crusty, chewy topping is the best part. (I know you are already licking your chops thinking about the super crispy bits along the edge of the pan.) I’ve done my best to reduce the amount of butter without sacrificing. O.K., I know this dessert isn’t all that impressive on its own. It’s what you put with it that counts. How about some homemade, creamy vanilla ice cream to knock their socks off? I’m up for the challenge. Even freshly made whipped cream is a treat for most. We’ll add that too.
What are my credentials? I grew up in a house of food snobbery, although I didn’t know it at the time and it wasn’t at all intentional on my mother’s part. What is considered today, a “foodie” diet and part of the slow food movement, was a way of life and in fact survival for us back in the 1970’s and 1980’s on Old Meeting House Road in East Falmouth. My mother, Val still has her organic garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables and although she doesn’t grow as many varieties as in earlier years, she still has an abundant crop. Creativity and a knack for learning the “old way” of doing things was the inspiration behind her cooking. Baking was an imperative to save money. I was jealous of the kids who ate bologna on wonder bread while I was “stuck” with homemade jam and peanut butter on thick slices of freshly made that morning bread. She was always trying new dishes to serve at dinner often because the ingredients at hand warranted, in fact needed some jazzing up to mask the fact that we may have had bluefish, quahogs or scallops a few times already that same week. “Oh the horror!” you may scoff. The horror indeed when your father, on top of working full time for the electric company, fished part time and frequently traded with others. Sadly, the days of scallops, bluefish and even eels (well maybe not the eels) filling the freezer are no longer with us as my parents enjoy a well deserved, more relaxed lifestyle. 
Pretty much everything I have learned about cooking and continue to learn, is from my mother (aside from spending many a summer employed in a few fine dining establishments around Falmouth and Woods Hole.). Some recipes are mine or they may be the victim of my “doctoring”, but most come from Val and are examples of the best food I have ever eaten.

Bring on the crisp. Make this recipe with any type of fruit you like that is in season. 
(Makes about 12 servings)
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
6 tablespoons COLD butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
5-6 apples, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
5-6 pears, peeled and sliced (5 cups)
1 cup dried cranberries
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 glass baking dish.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour through the salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Lightly stir in the walnuts.  Put aside.
In another large bowl, combine fruit through lemon zest and mix thoroughly. Transfer into baking dish. Cover fruit with topping. 
Bake for 30 minutes until browned and fruit juices bubble around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack until ready to serve hot or cold topped with ice cream, whipped cream and a few chopped walnuts and dried cranberries for garnish.
If you really want to impress, add the homemade ice cream. Make this up to a week ahead and at least a day ahead to insure a firm texture. This recipe works great in my Rival Ice Cream maker Val got for me at Wal-Mart for under $20.00.  
Freeze canister ahead of time, according to manufacturer’s instructions. (I find 24 hours to be best.)
5 egg yolks                             
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar                          
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Step one:
Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water. Cover and place over medium high heat. In the top of the double boiler, combine egg yolks, milk, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly. Once water is boiling, place top portion of pot over boiling water and heat egg mixture while stirring constantly. Cook for 15-20 minutes until mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a metal spoon. Transfer to medium sized bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Step two:
Set up ice cream maker. Combine cream, vanilla and cold egg yolk mixture. Turn on ice cream maker and immediately pour all into frozen canister. Process mixture according to manufacturer’s directions, churning for 25-30 minutes until the ice cream begins to solidify. Immediately transfer soft ice cream into a large container (44 oz or more) for freezing. Freeze for at least 5 hours before serving.

Quick and easy finisher:
(12 servings)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsps vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
Combine ingredients in a stand mixer. Place dish towel over top of entire machine (to avoid spray). Mix on highest setting for 45 seconds to 1 minute until thickened. If you are feeling strong, you can whip this by hand with a wire whisk until soft peaks form.

Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth and is currently writing a cook book documenting her mother, Val’s famously delicious recipes.
Contact her at:

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