Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.
Someone told us, a couple of years ago, that summer ends on the last day of the Delaware County Fair. That elegantly shaved Holsteins are ushered into trucks even as the beeches begin to drip with browns and duns. Well, not in 2013. This year the Gods of Summer looked kindly on us, easing apart the parentheses of the season to accommodate the remainder of August and much of September, allowing schoolchildren to return to their lessons still sporting chestnut knees. But there’s no stemming the march of time. The chill is in the wings, like an attendant servant waiting to come on and announce ‘the Queen, my lord, is dead’.
Now friends come through the front door briskly, shutting it behind them. Ice-cream sandwiches linger longer in the refrigerator. And the first glimpses of a conversation that will punctuate the coming months like a thousand commas – how to stay warm – are sighted at the register.
But the turning of the seasons affords new opportunities: to break out that Harris tweed hacking jacket and deerstalker, mothballed from an unlucky May; to twist the menu between finger and thumb, ushering in items that warm the belly and bolster a sense of community. It’s time for Soup. To roll in at lunchtime, pull up a chair, a hunk of baguette and mop up something that distills the goodness of its ingredients into a restorative and sticks sweetly to the ribs.
First up: New Brushland Clam Chowder (with Cowbella Croutons)
2 lbs or so fresh chowder clams (these don’t need to be fancy)
1 cup Star Route Farm creamy potatoes, peeled or not, cubed
2 teaspoons Cowbella butter
3 good slices Catskill Food Company bacon, cut crosswise into small pieces
1 Lucky Dog onion or 2 shallots, diced fine
2 or 3 garden thyme sprigs, stripped
1 Burnett Farms celery stalk, diced fine (we wonder if a palmful of grated celeriac would do the same thing; we haven’t tried)
A little salt (careful, clams are salty)
Fresh cracked black pepper
1 cup Crystal Valley milk
Half a cup of cream
Ripped Table on Ten bread and Cowbella butter for croutons
Put the clams in a heavy pot with 3/4 cup of water. Cook on medium-high until they open. Let them cool (scalded fingers) before removing them from their shells and chopping (or not chopping if they are small). Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a clean tea-towel (more on that in late November) and store the clams in the broth to avoid them drying out. Cook the cubed potatoes in salted boiling water until nearly done, set aside. Melt the butter, fry the bacon pieces till just short of crisp, set aside. In the same buttery/bacony skillet, gently cook the onions and thyme for a few minutes before adding the celery. Continue to cook till the mixture is soft and golden. Season with pepper and (easy, there) salt. Transfer to a saucepan, add the potatoes and bacon, cook briefly. Add the clams and their broth, boil then simmer for a couple of minutes until the potatoes are soft. Add the milk and cream, bring up to heat but don’t boil. That’s it.
The buttery croutons are easy. Melt butter, add rough, big hunks of crustless bread, spin ’em round a few times, bake in the oven till done.
Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain’s lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.