|Stonehenge solstice image lifted from Pixie Campbell. |
Not sure whether or where she lifted it!
I begin this post at the end of the meal. Because this dish required heating and then considerable cooling, I started it first. In fact, because we selected the menu after doing most of the day's chores, we procured cherries rather later in the day than would have been ideal. This should ideally be prepared very early in the day.
Before getting into the preparation, I should address the question on everyone's mind: what the flaming heck is a pottage? Is it just a misspelling of porridge? Well, yes, basically. I thought of it as an archaic form of the word porridge -- which I associate with oatmeal -- probably owing to its use in archaic biblical translations as in "Esau traded his birthright for a mess of pottage."
Our Friend the OED tells us that the word is indeed an archaic (as early as 1225) form of "porridge," further defining it as
A thick soup or stew, typically made from vegetables, pulses, meat, etc., boiled in water until soft, and usually seasonedWhich raises a further question: What does this have to do with cherries? The cookbook includes a narrative ahead of each recipe, so I turned to this, hoping for clues. Not a word! The authors do, however, ruminate on the value of "special" meals and other things that we use only on certain occasions. In this case, the white sugar used in this recipe meant that it would only have been served as part of a celebration. As with fine silver or china, such a use presents an interesting paradox. We bring out our "special" items in part to show off -- and show thanks for -- our prosperity, yet we have to use these things sparingly, for we are never quite that prosperous. And once we are, the specialness is gone. White sugar is a perfect example; I think of the cherries as a special splurge, but white sugar is about as ordinary an ingredient as we can have.
I hand-pitted an entire quart of fresh cherries with a paring knife (a better tool is on its way for next time) and placed them directly into the blender, with 2/3 cup of red wine and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. The wine was from a partial bottle of our home-made Barolo that we had set aside for cooking. I pureed this mixture until smooth. Then I melted about two tablespoons of butter in our indispensable cast-iron saucepan and poured in the fruit along with an additional 2/3 cup wine and 1/3 cup sugar.
Meanwhile, Pam cut up a few slices of wheat bread to provide what the recipe calls "soft bread crumbs" because we had no idea how else to do that! We added these and continued heating until bubbly. The recipe calls for "low heat" but also bringing this huge mixture to sufficient activity to reduce and thicken it. So I turned up the heat a bit and stirred this continuously for approximately ever. It was not reducing, so we added one teaspoon of cornstarch (dissolved in a little hot water) to thicken the mixture.
We cooled this on the counter and then in the fridge for a couple of hours, until well after dinner. This definitely falls in the category of a "better on the second day" food. We have not (yet) tested the theory that it also falls in the category of a "better topped with vanilla ice cream and/or cherry liqueur" but odds are high.
Midsummer Ale Bread
This brings to mind another question: "Where have you been all my life?" For several years we used beer as an ingredient in our bread-machine pizza dough, until we realized that it made it too doughy, and that the entire family prefers crustier crust. I had not thought of ale as a main leavening agent, though perhaps I should have. This was amazingly simple: I whisked together 3 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar (which I took for granted, until reading the discourse on pottage, see above). To this I mixed in 12 ounces of our special Scotch ale, making a thick dough.
I then turned this into a 6x9-inch pan and drizzled 1/2 cup (one stick) of butter over it. Actually, I could tell that was WAY too much butter, so I used some of it to brush the bottom of the pan, and still had plenty to drizzle and plenty more to reserve for the main course (see below).
The directions called for three smaller pans, which would have had the advantage of even more buttery-crusty goodness, but the single pan worked great -- 350F for 50 minutes, plus just a few minutes once I tested it. This was a very easy, delicious bread. A bit crumbly, but designed to break apart for sharing. The authors recommend it for housewarming parties, since a blessing can be said with each piece that is shared, and love will fill every room of a house. We ate it outside -- the longest day of the year and all -- but still blessed our house!
Noodles Della Italia
For the main course, I cooked fettuccini in one pot (this did not make it pottage!) while re-using our indispensable cast-iron saucepan to saute onion, garlic, red bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, and fresh oregano and basil from our front yard. When I read this recipe, I thought it would be rather like pasta primavera, but it had no tomatoes, and I had caramelized the vegetables just enough to give this a much earthier feel and sweeter taste.
What does this have to do with solstice? I'm not sure, except that we do have oregano and basil this time of year. The authors cite Stregheria, the Italian earth-based religion, but the opportunity to share a family recipe that is light and suitable for summer cooking seems to be the main motivation.
As mentioned above, Pam put together a delicious salad with local Romaine and other leafies, along with a couple kinds of berries. This went very well with a Maine blueberry vinaigrette, and the whole meal went very well with Westport Rivers Pinot Noir, one of the very few good red wines from our region.