Rick Karney and Melinda DeFeo of Slow Food Martha's Vineyard during the potluck feast at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury on Sept. 30.
Rick Karney and Melinda DeFeo of Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard during the potluck feast at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury on Sept. 30. Photos by Anthony Saffery

The harvest table

By JJ Gonson - October 12, 2006

The wonderful thing about cooking in the early fall is that there is no coaxing necessary. The vegetables, plentiful and everywhere, are ready to give themselves up, flavorful and fresh, to our tables. They are full of the promise they have been waiting all summer to fulfill. The tomatoes are bursting with the fragrance of a long hot August. Peppers, eggplants, and zucchinis want to put in a final word, and the pumpkins and squashes are finally arriving at the end of their slow journeys, ready to deliver themselves to a final rest.

The shortening days remind us of the cold that is to come, even as the last stone fruits and the first apples are singing of summer sun. Now is not the time for complicated dishes. Now is the time to roast carrots, beets, and potatoes with nothing but a bit of good olive oil, salt and fresh cracked black pepper to enhance the flavors that are already there. The dark greens that we are finding in the farmer's stalls, bursting with iron and vitamins, and nearly gone, need nothing more than a bit of garlic and a toss in a hot cast iron pan.

Russel Hodson, 20
This rustic apple tart is as easy to make as it is delicious to eat.

Slow Food Martha's Vineyard, the Island's chapter of the international movement (http://www.slowfoodusa.org/) was established a year ago by Rick Karney and some friends after they attended a Slow Food celebration of local food traditions in Turin, Italy. The convivium, as local Slow Food groups are called, organizes frequent potluck dinners; a mere three people were the driving force behind the potluck following the harvest festival at the Ag Hall last week. The tables full of tasty delectations represented a range from complicated to the simplest of dishes. Nestled between hot noodle dishes and fragrant fresh breads were emerald salads and bowls brimming with the sweet simplicity of ripe tomatoes.

The jolly assembly of people lined up to taste the dishes being shared included many Island farmers, both those who make their produce available to the rest of us, and those who till home garden patches. A sample of the dishes that some said they look forward to at this time of year included butternut squash soup and apple cranberry pie. Rebecca Miller of North Tabor Farm says they are busy getting their winter greenhouses ready, changing their occupants from tomato plants to kale, chard, and Asian greens. She is looking forward to their winter squash, leeks and garlic, which love the chilly nights and are still sweetening, but says tomatoes need heat and they are nearly done. Her family is enjoying them tossed with a miso vinaigrette (recipe #1) on beds of arugula, which they will continue to have until late October.

An avid gardener himself, Rick Karney says he doesn't have the time he used to have to pickle the cucumbers and cauliflower or to make sauerkraut from his cabbages. Trying to keep the fruits of his labor from going to waste, he is still giving a lot of eggplant away and savoring the last of his favorite daily treat - fresh tomato sandwiches.

Fresh salad greens are still in abundance during the cool autumn months.
Fresh salad greens are still in abundance during the cool autumn months.

Even though this was not a great year for tomatoes, according to Mr. Karney, he confirmed the abundance of them that he is pulling in from his garden right now, and he followed by saying that he will fill a freezer chest with half-gallon containers of the luscious fruit, which he chops, unpeeled and unseeded, and quickly cooks before freezing. He will use the fruit, which holds up well to freezing, to satisfy his weekly cooking needs throughout the winter. He may use the rough sauce to make chili, or his favorite tomato dish, cioppino, a simple Italian recipe he is pleased to share (recipe #2).

And then there are apples. Crisp and tart or soft and sweet. They are everywhere, and the applications are so endless that tomes could be, and have been, written that don't even begin to document their uses. But, short of simply taking a bite, enjoying an apple doesn't need to be an elaborate affair. Cubed, tossed with lemon and baked, topped with oats, sugar, cinnamon and butter is a beloved treat.

Equally good is a rustic tart (recipe #3), combining the sugary crunch of a hard apple, usually used for eating raw rather than baking, with the slightly bitter creaminess of blue cheese. No prissiness necessary, if the syrupy juice drips out of the edges it just adds to the rough look that's part of the joy of a rustic tart.

Maybe it seems like the apples and winter squashes are just beginning to show themselves, but before you know it they will be in short supply. So, quickly! While the farmer's market and farm stands are still filled to overflowing, and the frost hasn't yet set into the bottoms. Now! Before the days get any shorter; before the cold draws the curtains on the garden's summer act. Gather up those armfuls of tomatoes; chop them and freeze them. Purée the squashes, bake the pumpkins and zuchinnis, and blanch and freeze the green beans. Snow will be here before you know it, and the only sun-ripened greens will be in our dreams. Now is the time to revel in the bounty of the harvest table.

One potluck guest served up a sample from one of the many offerings.
One potluck guest served up a sample from one of the many offerings.

North Tabor Farm Miso Vinaigrette

2 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp. light miso
1 one-inch piece of minced
fresh ginger
2 tsp. maple syrup
4 Tbsp. warm water
Put in a pint jar and stir
to dissolve
Add to jar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil

Cover jar and shake well.


This is one of those dishes where you can sort of throw things in as you have them, so don't worry too much about the amounts, they are merely guidelines

Chop about one cup of onion, one cup of celery, one-half cup of green pepper (or whatever color you like) and sauté them with garlic and olive oil in a heavy stock pot, or Dutch oven, until they are fragrant.

Plates were heaped high at the Slow Food potluck dinner.
Plates were heaped high at the Slow Food potluck dinner.

Then add about five cups of chopped tomatoes, juice and all, along with some Italian seasoning (oregano, basil, or whatever you like) salt, pepper, a couple of cups of water, and some red wine. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. While the tomatoes are simmering prepare whatever seafood you have. Scrub shellfish and steam until just open, cut fish into bite-sized pieces, de-vein shrimp, shell cooked lobster, etc.

Add fish to the tomatoes and simmer for a total of 10 minutes. If you are adding shrimp, scallops, or crawfish do so after five minutes.

Finally, add the cooked shellfish, lobster or crab meat and serve hot.

Rustic Apple Tart

For the crust
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup very cold shortening
or butter
1/3 cup ice water

The whole trick to a flaky pastry is to keep the shortening or butter from melting while you are working it into the flour. Touch the dough as little as possible, and work quickly to keep everything cold. If it starts to get mushy put the whole thing into the freezer for a couple minutes.

Sift the flour and stir in the salt, then cut the shortening or butter into small bits and mix in, using a pastry cutter or two knives (or a food processor, if you wish) until the pieces of butter are little marbles.

Then add the ice water slowly, working the dough with the cutters or your fingers, until the dough sticks together.

Cut the dough in half, pat into a ball, flatten, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

Slice three crunchy apples, like Macouns or Spy, thinly and toss with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and juice from half a lemon.

Roll the pastry out into a rough circle and place on parchment or foil on a baking sheet.

Lay the slices of apple (without the juice that has dripped to the bottom of the bowl) in a layer, two deep, leaving a couple of inches of pastry around the outside.

Sprinkle crumbles of blue cheese over the apples, or dot with tiny pieces of butter if you prefer.

Pull up the edges of the pastry, gently, to overlap the outside edges of the apples. Brush the exposed pastry with egg white and sprinkle the whole thing with rough sugar crystals.

Bake at 350 for an hour, on parchment or foil, until the pastry is brown and the apples are bubbling

Serve hot or at room temperature.

JJ Gonson is a photographer who contributes occasional photos and stories to The Times. She operates Cuisine en Locale, a home chef business, in Cambridge.