My intention, I have to admit, was not to make a pear-apple crisp. This was meant to be a tart. It was meant to be neatly sliced wedges of fruit lined up in a pretty pattern, forming concentric spiraling circles, embedded in an ever-so-slightly sweetened mascarpone base, inside the most delicate of shortcrust pastry shells.
I had imagined it — obviously — maybe a little bit too vividly. It would have been glorious.
It’s time for Wassail, the celebration of cider and orchards on the 12th Night of Christmas, which according to different calendars can be either the 5th or the 17th of January. This custom, which almost died out in England, happens in the dark period of winter when the nights seem to become interminably long. People bearing torches process into an orchard lit with twelve bonfires representing the twelve months of the year or the twelve apostles. They sing to the trees, scare away evil spirits with gunshots or banging old pans, and share a drink of good health from a communal wassail bowl.
Wassail is an old word from Anglo Saxon meaning “Good Health,” and throughout the celebration, participants frequently shout it with lusty exuberance to toast each other and the health of the orchard. Contemporary wassails often include members of the local Morris group, who lend performances of traditional music and dance, as well as outlandish costume and rowdy humor, to the event.
The urge to collect attractive natural things has always been part of my psyche. Pine cones, interesting seeds and leaves, and unusual rocks often make their way into my pockets. Even though I live in Manhattan, I am constantly finding things to collect — especially edible things.
I have had great luck in the city with mushrooms and berries. Greens (mustard, mint, herbs, etc.) tend to grow in places where dogs pee, and there is always a question of what pesticides may have been sprayed. Roots (burdock, carrot) are often not large enough to be worth digging and can be contaminated with pesticides or other soil pollution, too. Digging also can draw attention to an activity that is technically illegal in New York City.
Pedagogical duties have left me less than my usual loquacious self, so I will let the images do most of the talking. This week’s experiment is baked cheese — Brie or Camembert — with fresh fruit and nuts. A classic, it has been on my radar — obviously — forever. I’ve only just begun making […]