Almost everything seemed to go quiet as those early days of the pandemic unfolded. But messages kept coming from Wellfleet Preservation Hall. Word from there was a comfort, reminding me that life on the Outer Cape would go on.
Christopher was reading those notes, too, and one day he pointed out a call for recipes for a cookbook the hall was working on.
“You should send in a recipe,” he said.
“I will,” I replied, and then forgot all about it. Until, in March, A Taste of Wellfleet appeared, sleek and artfully designed, wrapped in a blue cover. Life did go on, and this book is a chronicle of it, told through more than 100 recipes and their back stories. There are photos of dances, weddings, film festivals, talks, dinners, and other gatherings the hall hosted during its first 10 years. Scattered throughout are Liam Rowland’s playful line drawings of ingredients, kitchen tools, farm animals, and the occasional blueberry muffin.
Pushing aside some of the whimsical birdhouses being gathered for an upcoming event, Preservation Hall Director Janet Lesniak clears a spot to page through the book and talk about the gumption — and love of good food — that went into its making.
When it became clear that the hall’s annual shindig, Taste of the Town, would certainly not be happening in that first pandemic year, chef Michael Ceraldi agreed to try something different. One hundred and fifty people found themselves in his kitchen via Zoom. Chef Liam Luttrell Rowland followed with Wednesday night classes. Cooking proved to help hold people together.
Lesniak didn’t have to look far to find creative friends and neighbors with the skills to take on a cookbook project. Susie Nielsen, who owns the Farm Projects gallery down the street, had experience designing books. Amy Marr, a cookbook editor, found herself moored in Truro. In the end, more than 90 chefs, food truck owners, farmers, and home cooks contributed to the collection.
A Taste of Wellfleet has nearly sold out the 1,000 volumes of its first printing, and a second run is in production. Lee Wotherspoon’s red lentil soup and Jane Barron’s crispy baked scallops are two of Lesniak’s go-tos. Joey Rugo’s Mexican street corn and Michael Holt’s wild rose hip mousse cake have me looking forward to late summer.
But in the meantime, I found two recipes we all need for midsummer parties and visits from friends.
Alison Stone’s buttermilk pound cake is one. Stone, a midwife, makes it rich with eggs and butter as a gift to new mothers. I enlisted my friend Stephen Powell to test the recipe and the result was old-fashioned in the best possible way — plain and not too sweet. It’s lighter-textured than most pound cakes because the eggs are separated and the beaten whites folded in. Thick slices worked perfectly with the bright flavors of a quick berry compote we splashed across it. A dollop of whipped cream or a little ice cream would not be out of place for a Fourth of July finish.
Then there’s Moira Meehan’s cold carrot soup flavored with cumin and cilantro. I love carrot soup because it can be prepared with pantry ingredients and taken in so many directions, depending on what herbs and spices you have on hand. The cumin is especially good when you grind it fresh from whole seeds toasted until fragrant in a skillet. I found myself amping up this one with extra cumin (an additional 1½ teaspoons) and lime (an additional tablespoon), adding salt during cooking (2 teaspoons), plus a drizzle of chili oil (about a half teaspoon) with the garnishes. But the amounts given here are as they appear in the cookbook.
Allison Stone’s Buttermilk Pound Cake
Makes 2 (8½-by-4½ -inch) loaves
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk, divided
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and butter 2 loaf pans.
In a mixing bowl, sift together flour and salt. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, to the butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Mix a half cup of the buttermilk with the baking soda (it will froth up) and add to the butter mixture. Add the flour in three additions, alternating it with the remaining half cup of buttermilk. Add the vanilla.
Set batter aside. Using a clean bowl and beaters, whip the egg whites until stiff and then gently fold into the batter with a spatula.
Immediately divide the batter between the buttered loaf pans and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted comes out clean, about 55 to 65 minutes. The loaves will still look shiny on top.
Allow the loaves to rest for 5 minutes and then remove from pans and allow to cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. corn starch
½ cup granulated sugar
4 cups of blueberries (or substitute strawberries or raspberries)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. elderberry liquor (or experiment with other flavored liquors or skip altogether)
Pinch of salt
In a medium nonreactive saucepan, stir together lemon juice, corn starch, and sugar. Add berries, vanilla extract, flavored liquor (if using), and salt. Simmer gently over medium-low heat until the liquid thickens and the berries darken. Allow to come to room temperature and spoon over sliced cake.
To make flavored whipped cream, beat 1 cup of cold whipping or heavy cream with 1/8 to ¼ cup granulated sugar to nearly stiff peaks, 3 to 4 minutes. Flavor options include a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg, a half teaspoon citrus zest, a tablespoon maple syrup, or a tablespoon minced fresh mint.
Moira Meehan’s Chilled Carrot Soup
Makes 4 large or 6 smaller servings
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. carrots
2 large leeks
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. dried crushed red pepper
6½ cups good quality unsalted chicken broth
8 Tbsp. sour cream
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. lime zest
Salt and pepper
Peel and chop the carrots (about 5 cups). Chop the white and light green parts of the leeks (about 2 cups). Mince the garlic.
Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and leeks and sauté until the leeks begin to soften but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the cumin and red pepper and sauté for an additional 30 seconds. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are very tender, about 35 minutes.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth and then allow to cool. Whisk 6 tablespoons of sour cream into the soup and then cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, stir in the lime juice and thin with additional broth if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with remaining sour cream and a generous sprinkle of lime zest and cilantro.