Buy Leather Goods Locally in Allensville

The distinct smell of leather met me at the door of Thomas Kepler’s leather workshop this fine Central Pennsylvania morning. In search of a new leather belt and hearing rumors of a leather craftsman plying his trade in the picturesque village of Allensville, I planned my trip and was not disappointed.

Mr. Kepler, a self-taught craftsman, has been honing his craft over the past few years, and, in my assessment, I find him to be an accomplished practitioner of the leather trade with a varied inventory of quality goods.

I had in mind a solid belt for everyday use and soon found one to my liking. I was also impressed with his selection of more refined designs for dress apparel, although I could not find one in my size. This was of no problem to Mr. Kepler. He assured me that a short 15-minute wait would result in just the product I had my eye on.

I was fascinated by this craftsman’s work and the assortment of tools, both old and new, throughout the shop. As Thomas worked, we engaged in a friendly conversation. I soon found that he was born and raised right here in our community and that I was acquainted with his extended family. I discovered that not only does Thomas produce a variety of leather products, he also engages in saddle and tack work.

The belt was soon completed, and our business transacted perhaps a bit too quickly for my liking as I could have lingered a little longer in his shop to observe the finer points of leather craft. But the chore list at Cowhill Cottage is not growing any shorter, and preparation for the coming change of seasons requires my attention.

I invite you to contact the Kepler Leather Company and hope that you find this shop full of leather products as interesting as I have. I believe you will be impressed with the quality and variety of his work. Of course, our support of local artisans is foundational to the development and sustainability of our collected communities throughout this region we call home.

Here is the contact information for Kepler Leather Company:

814-346-1592

http://www.keplerleather.com

Simple Tomato Soup

Turning summer’s fresh fruit into a warm fall soup
As the first day of Autumn has come and gone, I’m knee-deep in garden cleanup, preparing it for the long winter months ahead. Before removing the tomato plants from the garden, I picked the last tomatoes—the kings of the summer garden—and was inspired to make them into a warming fall soup to chase away the chill of the autumn air.

This version of tomato soup that I’m offering retains the tomato’s fresh flavor and will remind you more of a summer gazpacho, but it’s a warm, milk-enriched version that, when paired with good bread and a green salad, will be the star of a fall evening meal.

I started by washing the tomatoes and cutting off the stems. Then, I puree them in the food processor with no scalding water or peeling involved. I took two green and one red bell pepper from the garden and two small onions and processed these into a separate puree.

I covered the bottom of a stockpot with good olive oil and allowed it to heat before adding the pepper and onion puree. I sauteed this mixture for about five to eight minutes, constantly stirring to avoid burning. I then added the tomato puree and allowed it to come to a boil and finished it by turning the heat back to a simmer for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I added whole milk until the bright red color turned to a golden orange, reminiscent of the turning autumn leaves, and reheated without allowing it to come back to the boil. Salt and black pepper to taste was all the seasoning required.

Fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions combined with minimal processing, and a short cooking time allows the fresh tomato flavor to shine through, and wholesome milk adds a richness that helps warm the body and soul.

I hope you enjoy this rustic dish as much as I did, and I look forward to hearing from you about your fall activities in both the kitchen and the garden.

Streamside Produce—From Farm to You

I stopped by an excellent produce farm this weekend and found a real gem here in the Kishacoquillas Valley. Streamside Produce is just one mile off of Route 655, east of Allensville, Pennsylvania. As I drove down the long farm lane, I could not help but notice field after field of all sorts of produce, thus assuring me that their goods are grown right here on the farm. Although the purchase of regional produce from other growers, either directly or through one of the many regional produce auctions, is an acceptable practice to fill the needs of the farm stand due to demand or perhaps crop failures, I prefer to buy product that has been grown on location whenever possible.

I found a large, well-run, and clean farm operation featuring many late-season favorites, including tomatoes, beets, and squash of all types, as well as fall mums and decorative gourds and pumpkins. I also found late-season sweet corn and the last of the watermelon and cantaloupe.

The Streamside Produce tables also offer local honey and farm-made jams and jellies, and you’ll find a quality line of farm-baked goods like dinner rolls, breads, sweet goods, and pies. I can personally attest that the egg custard pie was outstanding.

So, when you’re in the Belleville/Allensville area and want to buy grown-on-the-farm produce, plug 97 Streamside Lane, Belleville, into your GPS to visit Streamside Produce, one of many local fresh-food producers that make living in Central Pennsylvania a real joy.

A New Beginning

Pause
The past six months have been, without a doubt, a time of pause for each of us. During the early days of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, I was unsure as to the future of The Peasant Bon Vivant and my plans to grow the business. The demands of my management responsibilities for the Stonefly Café grew. Our very existence at Stonefly was challenged by the sweeping changes experienced by the food service industry. Managing these changes became my primary focus in an effort to assure continued sustainability and, of course, maintain our employees’ very livelihood. This took much of my creative energies. I also contemplated how the post-pandemic world might view in-person culinary workshops and tours and how this view would ultimately impact my plans to offer workshops and tours. During this, I paused from regular blog posts to begin the process of evolving my vision to meet the realities of a new world perspective.

As we all settled in for the long haul during this pause, the natural world continued to go forward as it always has with the seasonal rhythms of life, driving my garden and kitchen activities as if the modern world was not in turmoil all around me. I continued to shop at local and regional businesses that did not have the empty shelves and disgruntled customers of the national chains, and I chatted with neighbors and friends because time was something I had more of.

These chats allowed me to understand how this world-changing event had fundamentally changed many as they realized the importance of relationships within their families, with their friends, and with their community. It provided them with the time and energy to renew their cooking and baking passions at home. It inspired them to plant both food and flower and that both provided joy in their lives. Picnics, bicycle rides, and, oh, so many walks became the daily activities of life. Without realizing it, we all began to experience a simple life well lived.

As our pandemic journey continues, many long to keep this simple existence even as we ease back into what was once considered normal. I believe this pause experience will allow many of us to find that simple, fulfilling lifestyle amid the return of modern life as we refuse to turn our backs on the positive impact it provided.

As I look to the future of The Peasant Bon Vivant, I plan to support this movement of a simple life well lived at a local and regional level.

A local and regional perspective
First, I will begin by focusing on local and regional growers, crafters, purveyors, and visionaries of all kinds that subscribe to the fundamental values of a simple life. This local perspective will, I hope, provide a short directory of those individuals and businesses that are fundamental to a life well lived. I will also continue to share with you my garden and kitchen successes and failures, making sure to provide plenty of recipes, and sharing techniques and tips in support of home-cooked seasonal food of unbelievable quality and taste.

Second, I am actively planning culinary tours and workshops that will be available for your enjoyment by the spring of 2021, each with a local and regional perspective, providing opportunities to expand our collective knowledge in food, crafting, gardening, and sustainable skills.

Last, I have developed three Cow Hill Cottage industries that will allow The Peasant Bon Vivant to have enhanced levels of sustainability through the sale of Antiquarian Books and Curiosities, Museum-Quality Matting and Framing, and the design and production of Handwoven Rugs that continues a long history of rug weaving in the Kishacoquillas Valley, utilizing traditional craftsmanship with modern design to produce a product that is both decorative and utilitarian.

I look forward to sharing this adventure with you and encourage you to continue to visit me here at my blog and to follow me on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/thepeasantbonvivant/

My hope is a simple life well lived for each of us.

Ricotta Dumplings! Comfort Food for Slow Times

As the pace of modern life has slowed to a crawl over the past week, my thoughts have turned often to those who are troubled and fearful due to a world that is and will be fundamentally changed. I have found that everyone is concerned for both the health of our fellow man and our economic life and how best to balance these two concerns during these trying times. And I continue to keep our leaders, health care workers, business owners, friends, family, and neighbors in my thoughts and prayers.

I encourage each of you during this time of imposed slow living to spend minimum time with traditional and social media and immerse yourself in positive activities that support self-sufficiency and positive mental health. Cooking, gardening, crafting, housekeeping, reading, spending time with family, walking, and enjoying nature all contribute to a simple life well lived and can form the basis for contentment and happiness in both good and troubled times.

In fact, I believe that within this dark cloud of uncertainty could very well lay the proverbial silver lining. That silver lining would be that we all take this time of pause to reevaluate what is important in our lives and begin to develop a well-lived life that embraces all that is positive in this modern world but is grounded in the simple activities of the past. This means a life lived within a seasonal perspective that is respectful of our natural world, providing each of us a renewed sense of happiness, self-sufficiency, and hope.

I want to share a recipe that is simple to make but is the basis for a wonderful meal that can be enjoyed alone or with family at home. The kitchen staff at Stonefly Café find this to be a very popular dinner feature served with a simple tomato pan sauce. I have changed up the sauce a bit to showcase the smokiness of the bacon and one of my favorite herbs—fresh rosemary.

I hope that you will enjoy this dish as much as I did when I prepared it for my lunch today.

Please feel free to share this post with all your home-bound friends and neighbors, and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

All the best to you and yours.

Ricotta Dumplings in a Simple Pan Sauce

Dumplings:

Ingredients:

7 Ounces Ricotta

3 Egg Yolks (may have to kneed in a fourth yolk if you find the dough to be slightly dry)

1 ¼ Cup All-Purpose Flour

Additional Flour for dusting the board and hands

2 Tablespoons of freshly shredded Parmesan Cheese

1 Pinch of both Salt and Black Pepper

A generous sprinkle of freshly grated Nutmeg

Method:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix with your hands until the dough comes away from the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Move the dough to a floured board and kneed until it becomes smooth and supple. Cut the dough into approximately six pieces and roll each into a log shape on the floured board with each log of dough approximately ½ to ¾ inch in diameter. Cut each log with a knife into ½-inch sections. Dust the cut dumplings lightly with flour and layer on a platter until ready to cook. Do not forget to cover the cut dumplings with a damp dish towel or paper towel to assure that the dumplings do not dry out.

When the sauce is prepared, the dumplings should be added to a large pan of boiling salted water one at a time and stirred to assure that they do not clump together. When they float to the surface, allow to cook for a minute or two longer. Then, they can be added to the sauce.

Sauce:

Ingredients:

3 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, peeled

1 Small Fresh Chili or a Pinch or Two of Dried Chili Flakes

2 Whole Anchovy Filets in Oil

1 Rasher of Bacon

6 to 8 Fresh Rosemary Leaves

1 6-Ounce can of Tomato Paste

1 28-Ounce can of Crushed Tomato

Parmesan Cheese for Grating

Pinch of both Salt and Black Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method:

Place the garlic, chili, anchovies, salt, pepper, and rosemary with a tablespoon of olive oil in a mortar and pestle and grind into a paste. If you have no mortar and pestle, just finely chop all the ingredients on a board, excluding the olive oil.

In a sauté pan, add olive oil and the rasher of bacon finely chopped and allow to render the fat from the bacon. To this add the paste that you prepared in the mortar and pestle and allow to sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to overcook and burn the garlic.

Add to the pan the tomato paste and the crushed tomato and allow to cook for 8 to 10 minutes. At this point, you may allow the sauce to sit off the heat until the dumplings are cooked.

Final Assembly:

Have the sauce simmering in the sauté pan, and when the dumplings have cooked, transfer the dumplings to the saucepan with a slotted spoon allowing some cooking water to be transferred to the sauce as well. Toss the dumplings in the sauce to coat, and if the sauce is a bit thick, just thin with a few spoons of dumpling cooking water.

Plate the dumplings and sauce and sprinkle fresh parmesan cheese over the top to your taste.

Garnish with a fresh spring of rosemary.

Yields two servings.

When combined with a fresh salad, crusty bread and butter, good cheese, fresh fruit, and wine of your choosing, the perfect dinner or lunch is at hand.

Weave Creative Expression into Your Well-Lived Life

In a simple life well lived, the pursuit of art and craft within one’s life is an important element of peace and happiness. And the long dark evenings of late winter lend themselves to this pursuit. Working with your hands to make something beautiful and useful for your home can be extremely satisfying.

At Cow Hill Cottage, I weave rugs. I have been weaving traditional rag rugs for about five years. I find the weaving process to be both creative in design and color as well as technical in the loom’s setup, treading, and maintenance.

I began my weaving journey with a visit to a woman rug weaver who is a member of the plain community here in the Big Valley of Central Pennsylvania. She gave me some basic insight into the weaving process and direction as to where to find a suitable loom, including in the want ads in local and national plain community publications. Within a few weeks, I answered an ad, and the loom I have today was found just a few miles from my home.

The loom is a Weavers Delight, four-harness, semi-automatic fly shuttle loom that was built in January 1945 by the Newcome Loom Company of Davenport, Iowa, and was shipped to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be used by the Society for the Blind. At some point in the 1960s, the loom was sold to a member of the plain community in Belleville, Pennsylvania. Over the years, it was used by various members of the Amish and Mennonite communities and now resides in my weaving studio working as well as it did in 1945. I researched the history of the loom based on a single serial number stamped on the wood frame, and with it, I contacted a woman who maintains the records for the Newcome Loom Company. She also maintains a small manufacturing operation that her husband had run that makes replacement parts for the loom.

The semi-automatic portion of the loom allows the weaver to change the harnesses and throw the shuttle from side to side using the beater bar. This allows for slightly enhanced levels of production over traditional hand-weaving techniques. Many weavers used this slight improvement in production in their home-based rug-weaving business. They wove rugs of their own creation or allowed members of the community to provide their rag strips that the weaver then made into practical, long-wearing throw rugs for the home, charging for the weaving on an hourly basis.

Community members often prepared the rag strips at what is known here in Central Pennsylvania as a frolic or work party. Friends and neighbors would gather to help cut strips of cloth from worn household linens and clothing and sew them into long strips. The long strips of cloth would be sorted by color and texture, assuring an attractive rug, and wound into softball or larger sized balls of rags that can often, even today, be found at country auctions and antique shops. Also, these balls of rug rags are often mentioned in the historical record of bridal dowries, indicating their importance to the foundation of a household. The weaver would use these mismatched bundles of rags to weave what is known as the Hit & Miss pattern that allowed the weaver to vary the different cloth strips within the same rug resulting in a multicolored and pleasing-to-the-eye result.

For my rag rugs, I use new cotton fabric, as the old-time process of cutting, sewing, and sorting the various linens and clothing costs more in time than the cost of new material. I cut the cloth into strips of various widths as required by my designs.

What inspires me to continue with this age-old craft is the almost unlimited results that weaving allows for when it comes to colors and patterns. Also, the actual weaving process is very meditative and allows one to become almost lost within the process. I find that when I make an item that is both practical and an artistic expression, it adds joy to daily life.

Often, when I say I weave and make rugs, many are surprised by my involvement as a man. But traditions show that weaving was a meaningful way for the head of a household to make a living. Although women could spin fiber into thread, only men could use the loom, and this convention was enforced through the use of laws and the powerful influence of the guilds that flourished in the old country. Within my community, a strong history of male weavers exists, and only within the past 30 years or so has rug weaving been taken up by women. Even today, when I speak with local weavers or families that have a rug-weaving tradition, they often talk of fathers and grandfathers who did the weaving, with the women of the family producing the cloth strips that supplied the rug-making endeavors. Although I do not subscribe to limiting the craft of weaving to men, I am proud of my involvement and the revival of a male perspective within the craft.

I encourage each of you to explore and find a creative endeavor that is of interest to you. Not only will it bring joy and happiness to your life, but it will also help to preserve the traditional arts and crafts that the modern world has pushed to the very limits of extinction. These age-old skills cannot be left to die out but require our attention to bring them back to our shared experience.

I look forward to hearing stories about your artistic pursuits and encourage your comments below.

Tips for Planning Your Garden

As I embarked on my early morning walk, leaning into the frigid January winds, I could not help wondering about an early spring and the hope of the new garden year. These thoughts of spring remained as I curled up by the kitchen fire to enjoy a warming cup of tea, thus inspiring me to begin the annual garden-planning process.

I want to share with you this process, and I look to you for your comments and suggestions in hopes that together we could learn from each other and improve our garden-planning activities. Also, I’m sharing with you some garden resources that I come back to time and time again in pursuit of the best the garden has to offer. Although I do not endeavor to provide the final word on this subject, I will outline here a few thoughts on garden planning as well as my personal best-practice activities.

Plant Just What You Need
I have found through experience that when I simplify my plan to just what I require from the annual harvest, I have better results. In the past, I have often overdone my plantings both in variety and quantity and found that maintaining such a large undertaking has been overwhelming. Within the recent past, I have begun my annual plan with a simple inventory of my pantry and root cellar to determine what crops I will need for my yearly canning and preserving activities. With this information at hand, I can calculate my needs, keeping in mind that these needs can include, at the root of a life well lived, gifting and sharing and trading with other gardeners. Next, we plan the garden layout.

Planning Your New Garden
An often overlooked but key garden-planning concept is determining what produce may be purchased from local market gardens and farms instead of growing the crop yourself. Take tomatoes, for example. Due to the limited size of my cottage garden, I do not have the space to grow the volume needed for canning and processing tomatoes. I would much rather use some of that space to grow one or two heirloom tomato varieties for the table and then purchase my processing tomatoes from a local grower. This practice not only allows additional space to produce vegetables and herbs that I find difficult to source from local growers but also supports the efforts of the local market garden and farm economy. Keep in mind that an entire self-sufficient food production lifestyle is beyond the reach of most of us, and to maintain a viable local farm and market garden economy means supporting them not only during summer’s “salad days” but throughout the growing season. One might even encourage local growers to embrace four-season production to benefit both us as consumers and them as producers, adding to their cash flow.

As I mentioned, outsourcing specific crops to local growers opens up space in your garden for selective herbs and vegetables, due to their care in cultivation, a limited market appeal, or your personal preference. An example is Florence fennel and leeks, as I have found fennel to be easy to grow but hard to find at the farmers market because many customers are unfamiliar with its use. Leeks, on the other hand, are becoming more common at the market, but specific varieties that overwinter or can be grown in the winter garden are difficult to find. These two examples are just a few of the many specialty crops I grow in the “found” space provided by purchasing instead of growing my production produce. This method enhances the variety both within my garden and, more importantly, on my table.

Uncommon Garden Areas
When planning your garden, consider uncommon areas such as in containers and within your landscaping. For example, using containers, both large and small, can help to free up space in your garden proper without sacrificing variety. Crops that lend themselves to containers are herbs of all types, tomatoes, perhaps bush or limited-vining cucumbers, and peppers. The edible landscaping concept encourages planting edible plants within the home’s landscape to provide both utility and pleasure. Also, you can plant fruit trees and shrubs in place of ornamentals, low-growing berries instead of ground covers (plant under trees, too), and traditional crops within the wasted spaces around shrubs and within borders. If you wish to explore this exciting gardening concept further, I encourage you to visit Edible Landscaping: The Basics and Plants To Get Started as a starting point for your explorations.

Seed Sources
With your initial planning completed, you will now need to source your seeds and plant materials and develop a planting timeline to support your harvest needs. I use a very simple process that lists all plantings during specific times of the year on a single notebook or legal pad page. I divide my page into early summer, late summer, fall, and, of course, as a winter gardener, I have a page for winter as well. I then consider the crop varieties that are best suited to my location, my space, and my growing requirements, and specific variety attributes that I may value such as storage, size, and flavor. Based on my resources, I will often jot notes beside specific crops concerning exact planting dates or perhaps the need for row cover to protect from both weather and pests. My next step is to draw a simple garden map that outlines what crops go where and what crops will replace outgoing plantings as the season progresses. And don’t forget about crop rotation to minimize pest and disease problems. Although this simple process works well for me, those of you who prefer a bit more complexity can explore garden planting templates that are available online or computer software that assists with the planning and garden-management process.

As for sourcing seeds and plant materials, I offer here a few of my favorite purveyors and a short list of reputable vendors. I hope my discussion has added to your early garden-planning process, and I look forward to hearing from each of you about your process and any tips or techniques that I may find useful.

Well, the fire requires some attention, and my daily list of chores awaits, so I wish each of you well as you focus on your garden endeavors and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Seed and Plant Material Vendors Used at Cow Hill Cottage:

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Territorial Seed Company

Seed Savers Exchange

Filaree Garlic Farm

Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds

R. H. Shumway’s

Reputable Seed and Plant Material Purveyors:

Fedco Seeds

Peaceful Valley Seeds

Seeds of Change

Uprising Seeds

Chiltern Seeds

Three Traditional Favorites: Potato Candy, Chocolate Fudge, and Good Wishes

The cold and damp weather hanging over Cow Hill Cottage this past week has kept me close to the warmth of the kitchen stove and the crackle of the fire in the living room hearth. As I pondered my progress with Christmas holiday preparations, a flood of memories transported me back to my childhood. And, with fondness, I contemplated the ghosts of my Christmases past, although I realize that these nostalgic memories are no doubt fogged by a youthful perspective and the dimming effects of time.

Central to my holiday memories are the rich assortment of holiday foods and treats that both grandmothers, as well as my mother, prepared each year for our family’s enjoyment. Familiar aromas, like ham and turkey roasting or endless batches of cookies being pulled from the oven, fill the house and can still transport me back when I notice their presence in the air.

Among my many favorite holiday treats I wish to share with you are two recipes that, in my mind, are central to an enjoyable Christmas season.

The first, Potato Candy, was made by both of my grandmothers, Anna Kelly VanScyoc and Ada Pheasant Ewing. The genesis of this simple but delicious confection has been attributed to both an old-country recipe brought over by Scottish and Irish Immigrants that settled throughout the Appalachian Mountains and a frugality required of those who survived the hardships of the Great Depression due to this recipe’s affordable ingredients. No matter which story (or both) you subscribe to, this candy will stir the childhood memories of many and will, no doubt, become a holiday tradition in your home as it has in mine.

The second is a beloved Fudge recipe that Anna Kelly VanScyoc was known for, and her daughter (my mother) continues the tradition during the holiday season by giving away many batches to family and friends. This recipe is most likely from the early part of the twentieth century, as it relies heavily on Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Cream as essential ingredients. Its creamy consistency and unrivaled flavor will make it a favorite in your home as well.

Potato Candy

Peel and boil one small waxy-type potato until well done.

Allow to cool, and mash well so that no lumps can be found.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk to the mashed potato, then begin to add confectioners’ sugar a little at a time, kneading until the mixture resembles a smooth pliable dough.

Portion the dough into manageable pieces, and roll out with a rolling pin until approximately 1/8th-inch in thickness, dusting your board and rolling pin with confectioners’ sugar to prevent sticking.

Spread a generous coating of high-quality creamy peanut butter over the rolled dough.

Roll the dough and peanut butter into a log as you would for a jelly roll. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least six hours.

When ready to serve, cut each log into coins.


Note: The vanilla and milk are additions I have made to enhance the recipe, but they were not included in the original form, which only called for sugar, potato, and peanut butter.

Fudge

1 Pound Confectioners’ Sugar

1/2 Cup Milk

4 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder

1 Tablespoon Vanilla

Mix the above ingredients and bring to a rolling boil for no more than one minute.

Turn off the heat and add the following, beating well:

18 Ounces Peanut Butter

8 Ounces Marshmallow Whip

Pour into an 8 1/2-inch square pan, smooth the top, and allow to cool.


Cut into pieces.

Enjoy!

Before I am called away to tend the needs of the cottage fires, I would like to raise a glass to the good health of you and yours and wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best throughout the New Year.

God Bless,

The Peasant Bon Vivant

Make a Hot, Savory Turkey Soup for a Cold, Unruly December

The kitchen fire crackled away this morning as I lingered over both a cup of coffee and my plans for this week’s kitchen activities. The cooler weather, along with the root vegetables and cold-weather greens I found at the farm stand, has inspired me to enjoy more stews and soups on my table, and this morning’s planning included how to do just that.

The Thanksgiving celebration also adds to my larder the inevitable treasure of leftovers that I plan to make into one of my favorites—a hearty turkey soup. Not only is homemade turkey soup delicious, but it is, I believe, a great example of how the soup pot is the foundation of a well-run kitchen. I’ll use the soup pot to take full advantage of the farm root crops and greens and the remains of the holiday leftovers to turn all into a nice, hot soup that will soothe my soul and my frugal nature.

The first step, after the celebratory Thanksgiving meal, requires me to make sure all the leftover turkey and any soup-worth vegetables are packed away. The next step is to pick any remaining meat from the turkey carcass and add that to our supply of leftovers. Don’t forget to reserve any pan drippings and/or broth from roasting the turkey, as these can all be used in the soup as well.

I then take the entire carcass and place it in a stockpot with a single onion cut in half, two carrots peeled and cut in half, and one stalk of celery cut in half. I do not take a lot of time preparing these vegetables as I am using them only to flavor the broth and will not be using them in the final soup. Cover the contents of the pot with water, and when this has come to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about two to three hours.

When the pot of broth has finished its three-hour simmer on the stovetop, allow it to cool, and strain through a colander to remove the vegetables and turkey carcass. The remaining broth will be a rich and nutritious base for this savory soup.

Now, with the broth completed, we can move on to the actual preparation of the soup. I begin with two onions, four stalks of celery, and four carrots that I clean and chop into bite-size pieces. These vegetables can be sautéed in a preheated soup pot with a little olive oil until just starting to soften. At this time, I add my turkey meat that has been chopped into bite-size pieces, any vegetables left from the holiday celebration, and the farm stand produce, which can include sweet potatoes, chard, spinach, turnips, carrots, and kale. Also, frozen or canned corn is always a welcome addition.

I now add the broth and any saved pan drippings from the roasting of the turkey, and bring the pot to a simmer. At this time, you can add pasta, egg noodles, rice, barley, or lentils to enhance the already flavorful and rustic soup.

I would suggest enjoying a bowl right out of the pot before saving a couple of servings in the refrigerator for later in the week or for lunches and before freezing the rest. This great soup is perfect for dinner by the fireside or for a quick, hot, savory meal that will be required to get you through December’s holiday preparations. 

Making Mosto Cotto

The cool days of autumn have inspired me to fill my pantry to the brim in anticipation of the coming holiday and winter season. My most recent endeavor is an old Italian specialty that is easy to make and is a great addition to the daily table. It’s also the basis for some special treats to share with friends and family as we gather by the fireside to while away the dark days of winter.

Mosto Cotto, or cooked must, is an age-old condiment that, in its simplest form, is the fresh-pressed juice, or must, of the grapes obtained during the wine-making process. The must has been allowed to simmer at the back of the stove as it reduces to one third its original volume. Although thick, syrupy, and sweet, much like a grape preserve, the real magic begins when you fill swing-top bottles and store them away in a dark, cool cellar or at the back of a pantry for weeks, months, or even years. During this aging period, the thickened juice builds character and complexity that can be filled with—depending on the variety of grapes you’re working with—the flavors of figs, currants, cherries, raisins, or spice. This is very similar to balsamic vinegar, as the cooked must is the basis of this well-known condiment as well.

You can use this treasure of the pantry as a traditional sweetener when combined with honey or drizzled over cheese and meats as part of a rustic charcuterie display. Also, try topping off a dessert, or use it as the basis for a flavor-enhancing sauce for both meat or fish dishes.

I would anticipate the most challenging part of making the Mosto Cotto will be sourcing the juice or must. You could press your own grapes with a home wine press or a simple potato masher. In addition to this process, a simple request of a local winemaker will most likely result in one’s ability to obtain the juice as well. Remember, this is the fresh unfermented juice of the grape and will often include the stems and seeds that can be strain from the juice either before processing or after cooking.

Next, place the juice on the stove to simmer away for a few hours until it reduces by at least one-half to two-thirds and has become syrupy and has a cooked aroma. Place the reduced must into sterilized glass jars. (I prefer the swing-top variety.) Store in a dark, cool location for at least a few weeks to a month. Remember, as in many things, patience is a virtue, and the longer you allow the Mosto Cotto to age, the more robust and complex this elixir becomes.

A well-stocked pantry is an essential element of a simple life well lived and the basis for kitchen success. Add this simple, historic, and made-it-yourself condiment to your pantry to share with friends and family or when you savor a few private minutes away from the worries of the world.