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Rainbow Kitchen

Summer Comfort: What’s a Well-Thumbed "Old Farmer’s Almanac" Doing in My Kitchen?

By Allison St. Claire
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Comfort food is feel-good food. Every bite is packed with memories of fun times, good friends, and magic moments. It’s food that makes you smile even before you taste it, that warms the heart with every spoonful, and that has everybody asking for more.

I always loved reading The Old Farmer’s Almanac; long before the Internet existed, it was America’s most popular reference book. It was like flipping from today’s digital link to link – but still page to page in those days, dipping into a little fact about how to store food to pages-long weather and astrological explanations. Food, humor, folklore and amazingly accurate weather predictions were eagerly consulted. 

The Almanac was first published in 1792. In 2014 the editors compiled a lovely recipe book The Old Farmer’s Almanac Comfort Food (Yankee Publishing, Inc.) As noted on the jacket liner: Comfort food is feel-good food. Every bite is packed with memories of fun times, good friends, and magic moments. It’s food that makes you smile even before you taste it, that warms the heart with every spoonful, and that has everybody asking for more.

None of the following recipes I’ve adapted from their collection are particularly old- fashioned, but they all originate in your garden or are available at your local farmers market or grocery produce section – and are all full of summer comfort for your palate and belly.


 

Tomato, Watermelon and Feta Salad

Makes 6 servings

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes (or chopped full-sized fruits)

salt and pepper to taste

juice of ½ lime (key limes are my favorite)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tablespoons minced red onion

4 cups cold, bite-size watermelon chunks (preferably seedless)

sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)

1 cup feta cheese in bite-size chunks (not crumbles) or Mexican cotijo or fresh chevre as you prefer.

Cut the tomatoes into small pieces and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Add the lime juice, olive oil, mint, parsley and onion and toss to coat. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.

Immediately before serving, add the watermelon and toss gently. Sprinkle with vinegar to taste, if desired. Sprinkle with cheese.  


 

Summer Garden Pasta Sauce

Makes 6 to 7 cups. Good with any pasta, but especially with shapes that best hold chunky sauce.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

2-1/2 cups diced zucchini or yellow summer squash

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach, chard, kale or other green of your choice.

1 large carrot, grated

1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes (or fresh in season) with their juice

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh or dried basil, to taste

½ teaspoon sugar or more or less, to taste   

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons red wine (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat, add onion and bell pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes more, or until the zucchini starts to soften. Add the spinach and carrot and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the spinach wilts.

Add the crushed and diced tomatoes, salt, oregano, basil, sugar, bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and black pepper, to taste. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, adjusting the herbs salt, or sugar if desired. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons red wine, to taste. Add 1 more tablespoon tomato paste to thicken, if desired. Add the parsley and remove the bay leaf before serving.


 

Cherry Tea Cake

Makes 8-10 servings

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup sour cream at room temperature (yogurt is a tasty alternative)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen pitted cherries, halved

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, for dusting.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg into a bowl.

In a separate large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each.

Add the vanilla and beat to blend. Add half the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating on low speed until blended. Add the sour cream and lemon zest and beat on low speed until blended. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat on low until the batter is smooth. Fold in the cherries and spread the batter in prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake on the center oven rack for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden and springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer to a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, remove the sides and cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

 


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Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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