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Climb into our Tardis, cartwheel back through time to a kitchen table up some blasted Delaware County dale, black as ink, wintry as extinction’s alp. There’s wood in the stove, soup in the Aga, whisky in the jar-o. We’re in the grip of a Powell-Pressburger fantasy; holed up in some crofter’s cottage on the Isle of Mull, tempest without, tempest within, its tendrils making the candlelight dance fouetté en tournant. There are dark words of old curses, of love lost and something damp and murky in the sporran. Tomorrow we will navigate the Corryvreckan whirlpool in a St Ayles skiff, be rescued from the teeth of the maelstrom by Roger Livesey, who’ll wrap us in itchy Hebridean blankets and dry us off in front of the fire, with licking spaniels, hot toddies and the words ‘What the hell d’ye think ye were up to, lassie?’
We ache to kiss him, but we’re betrothed to Sir Robert Bellinger. We thought we knew; we knew nothing.
Table on Ten. Fashioned at late-night kitchen tables on twin cornerstones of communion and coffee. What if, tomorrow morning, there was somewhere warm to gather, celebrate tonight, shake off its Manhattans with coats and scarves, foggy windows and a cigarette. And coffee. What if all things that must pass didn’t? What if they started again tomorrow? What would it take? Friends. A home. And coffee.
Irving Farm have been with us from the first creak of the door. There was something instantly appealing in their melding of city and country, their dedication to craft and provenance, their diabolical commitment to coffee as an end in itself. Also, they were prepared to take in hand a brace of eager neophytes and school them in the ways of dark matter; despite the fact we weren’t entirely sure who – if anybody – was going to cross the threshold seeking baptism by macchiato. Over the eighteen months of our gestation they stood by us like armorial gryphons, a swivel-eye reminder that coffee done well requires faith, exactitude and commitment. They inducted into the creed, in turn, Cindy, Katrin and Kathleen. Each went in wide-eyed, ham-fisted and virginal: each emerged anointed, walking a bit funny and cackling with caffeine, their barista fingers deft as prestidigitators’.
Late September brought High Priestess and Summoner, Teresa von Fuchs and Ugo Aniukwu, to Bloomville. Sixteen months into our novitiate, we were ready to try out some vows. They came with beans, vessels and paraphernalia, fashioning an impromptu altar by the refrigerator, temporarily blocking access to the ice-cream sandwiches. It was sort of like that scene in Bellini’s Norma where Joan Sutherland is wandering around like an Easter Island statue, hacking away at bits of shrubbery with a tiny scythe. Except Teresa wasn’t sporting a Trojan helmet do, plunging kaftan or breaking tumblers with her high-C’s. And Ugo barely resembled Marilyn Horne at all, except for the diaphanous sleeves and Himalayan brassiere.
Over subsequent hours, they brewed and sorted, rebrewed and melded, gently coaxing responses from a congregation culled largely from Table on Ten regulars. If it felt like weird science veined with occult ritual – and if the stakes felt bladder-achingly high – it was for good reason. What we were alchemizing here – in this blousy corner of Delaware County on an innocuous Sunday morning – was no less than the inaugural Irving Farm/Table on Ten coffee blend. The actual exclusive dark material we would be offering in our own name through the months ahead. Its own unique taste profile, its own provenance, its own name: each the result of arcane voting rites, culminating in puffs of white smoke emanating from the pizza-oven chimney.
A3. North, Farm-muscled, Wet. Commando-crafted by friends on a bright autumn morning in Bloomville, with winter on the horizon. Just like the label says. 50% dark roast from Cooperativa Cafetelera Capucas, in the Copan region of Honduras; tropical, sweet, delicate. 50% lighter roast from Guadalupe in the Ahuachapan region, El Salvador; sweet, milk chocolate, smooth. Both small producers, committed to sustainability and excellent husbandry. Until climate change brings bananas to Bloomville, this is the closest we can get to a parallel expression of our principles of being local and staying small.
It’s here. It’s in the grinder (tuned to glittering perfection by Bill McAllister). It’s in the regular house coffee and the espresso. It’s in bags on the shelves to take home or give to friends. It’s at Good Cheap Food and (by increments) select locations further afield. We’re honoured (and still slightly taken aback) that Irving Farm chose us for this collaboration. It’s a huge deal for us. The kind of external affirmation it’s impossible for us to generate by ourselves, no matter how fervently the mouse endeavours to roar. We’re intensely proud and grateful.
Next up: Table on Ten gets its own illuminated blimp …
November 26, 2013. Posted in Events, Inspirers, Producers, The Menu, The Microshop. Tags: A3, Bill McAllister, Cindy McGahee, Cooperativa Cafetelera Capucas, Emeric Pressburger, Good Cheap Food, Guadalupe, Irving Farm, Joan Sutherland, Kathleen Worley, Katrin Schmid-Shelmashuck, Marilyn Horne, Michael Powell, Norma, Roger Livesey, Teresa von Fuchs, The Corryvreckan, Ugo Aniukwu, Vincenzo Bellini, Wendy Hiller.
Anybody who has followed our journey over the past eighteen months, even as a casual bystander, will be in no doubt as to how important Four & Twenty Blackbirds are to us. When we home-birthed Table on Ten onto tussocky ground at the juncture of Main and River Streets, Emily and Melissa were our midwife and our doula. They walked us round the living room while we sweated and groaned, mopped our brows and cooed like pigeons in our collective ear when it all seemed too much. When the slippery bundled emerged, they wiped her down and ministered a firm slap on the bottom to precipitate her first post-natal scream. And they’ve been at her side every step of the way since; from that inaugural blinking into the Bloomville light, through the first weeks of alternately sleeping and bawling, stepping in to change her diapers and weaning her onto solid food. They helped sherpa her on the ascent from quadruped to biped, rushing in to catch her when she stumbled; and always with the love and grace of enthusiastic sisters. Which is essentially what they are; sisters – to each other and to us. Melissa, Emily; in the adulterated words of Alvy Singer “Love is too weak a word for what we feel – we luuurve you, you know, we loave you, we luff you, two F’s, yes.”
So it is with a sister’s admiration and awe that we stand back and watch them transform before our eyes from self-taught pie-makers to doyennes of the Brooklyn food scene, to articulate authorities on all things Pie. In recent weeks this evolution has culminated in the publication by Grand Central of the seminal volume: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. 224 hand-stuffed pages of creative pie arcana with colour and texture by our dear friends Andrea Gentl and Marty Hyers. In beautiful hard wraps, it’s pretty much a pie in its own right; albeit one so replete with flavour it beggars easy description. As of last week it’s been perched like an honorary squirrel on the corner of the counter at Table on Ten next to … well, next to their pies, actually. And for christmas present hunters, with their holly-and-berry camouflage, Rudolph-themed loin-cloths and early-bird spear tips whetted to glinting lethality, we have a dozen or so first editions hand-signed by Melissa and Emily themselves. Grist for the collection as well as the kitchen. Now you can sample their salty honey, their mouthwatering buttermilk chess and their broad black bottoms right here on this wind-buffeted corner of Bloomville; then take home the blueprint to master your own.
But don’t just take our word for it (we’re unapologetic worshippers after all) – see for yourself what the people at Saveur, Food52 and The Wall Street Journal have to say. Not to mention Tasting Table, dinneralovestory and even Rob Howard. And more fanfare is emerging by the hour, as the Four & Twenty brushfire rages across the continent of Pie unchecked.
But if you really want to witness what it’s like to watch your dearest friends battle a Ritalin-inflected Minotaur before a crowd of baying hyenas under the impression they’re attending a Chicago Bulls game, check out our fearless Theseuses on Good Morning America: a textbook exhibition of grace, achieved whilst being beaten with fish in a cement-mixer.
November 20, 2013. Posted in Inspirers, Recipes, The Microshop. Tags: Andrea Gentl, Black Bottom Oat Pie, Buttermilk Chess Pie, dinneralovestory, Emily Elsen, Food52, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Good Morning America, Grand Central Life & Style, Lark Cafe, Marty Hyers, Melissa Elsen, Salty Honey Pie, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.
Woke to snow.
Time to wrestle reality: the days of hazelnut milk chocolate stracciatella are waning fast. Sticky toffee pudding is pulling on its muck boots and the Table on Ten freezer is girding itself for a season of loneliness. Where once they had been heralds of relief, the little silver packages, with their ‘not a kiss or look be lost’ fortunes, now seem Men out of Time. But what times they had.
Born in Spring as a compliment to Four & Twenty Blackbirds‘ remarkable pies, Table on Ten’s ice cream quickly assumed a life of its own. There was much we didn’t know. Ice cream doesn’t come easy. First there’s the machine; a great lumbering quadrangle of stainless steel, knobs, blades and buttons that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an early episode of Battlestar Galactica. Simply moving it in and out of the kitchen required a team of pit ponies and several sweating Nubians chanting ‘heave-ho!’. Then the poetic arcana of the process itself. Eggs or no eggs? Custard to 160 or 175 degrees? Fruit in or fruit out? The syrup and espresso reductions, the seed and nut infusions. Will the Vitamix render the concord grape pips intangible or will everybody be compelled to eat dessert laced with fine sand? Why does the addition of acorn squash turn everything into concrete? Is stone-fruit best done French or Philadelphian? Will Higgs Bosun be the key to unravelling the mystery of Dark Matter?
And time. If you’re going to make ice cream on a community basis, get a good book. Something by Tolstoy, for instance, or the unabridged Mahabarata in Sanskrit. And be prepared to lead your life to the accompaniment of ceaseless, Matthew Arnold style churning:
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
And good sneakers too. In the fridge, out of the fridge; through the door, down the stairs, in the freezer, up the stairs, through the door, engage the stand-mixer, through the door, down the stairs, out of the freezer, up the stairs, through the door. It’s like the climax of an English farce; you half expect the vicar to emerge from the basement in ladies’ underwear.
But as with most hard-won enterprises, there’s magic and beauty at the finish line. A well-fashioned nugget of fresh fennel ice cream doused with a couple of shots of espresso could probably get you into heaven, despite a lifetime of sin. What follows is a list of this summer’s efforts, along with a brief inventory of observations designed to remind ourselves which roads less traveled were worthy and which led to a patch of tussocky grass with an abandoned washing-machine and some kids sniffing glue.
• Dan Finn’s Rhubarb and Strawberry – a very good start. Out of the traps like a whippet at the track with a classic crowd-pleaser.
• Tay Tea‘s Green Tea – fastest ice cream ever, and a winner. Made for a private function. Why did we never go public with this?
• Cherry on Cherry – pretty good. More of a quick limerick than an epic poem. Could use some stracciatella action (see below).
• Mexicaanse Chocolade – gobbled up before they had time to say Ai, Caramba! in Dutch.
• Boerenjongens – what fresh hell is this? Refused to coagulate due to the addition of half a bottle of brandy. Served as crude blobs in cups.
• Mango Mint Coconut – our one foray into non-dairy. Thrilled the Vulcans.
• Double Bittersweet Chocolate Espresso – insane. Devoured instantly, leaving children glued to the ceiling.
• Crimson Beet – bit odd. Great colour though. Hung around like a monkey in a train station.
• Honey Lavender – sweetly floral with notes of Febreze.
• Roasted Apricot Maple Vanilla – another anticoagulant, due to Schnapps. Scooped, cupped, then gently retired.
• Pink Peppercorn Vanilla – so much better. Resist the (irresistible) urge to add booze. Pure vanilla with a hint of heat.
• Balsamic-roasted Tomato & Basil – to quote Dusty (7) ‘I didn’t think it was possible for me to not like ice cream until now’.
• Vodka-macerated Balsamic Strawberry Rosemary – a lot of words for something that tasted (pleasantly) like strawberry.
• Wild Raspberry Jalapeño Sherbet – took out a mortgage to make this one. Delicious, although it frightened the children.
• Pear Pecorino – deeply controversial. Salty cheese in ice cream? ‘È un oltraggio!’ Blonde sandwich too. Yum.
• Superlemon – more zest than a cat’s tongue. Mouth-puckeringly refreshing.
• Blueberry Sorbet – impossible. Texture of a cold sandcastle. Wouldn’t form a sandwich, even with Elmer’s Glue. Straight in the garbage.
• Orange Szechwan Pepper – a whiff of the Orient, though not in a Ming Moon General Tso’s Chicken way. Subtle. Sensitive.
• Cognac Macerated Prune – another dose of alcoholic goo. Will we ever learn?
• Fennel – the star of the season. Extraordinary as affogato. We’d tell you the recipe, but then we’d have to eat you.
• Moctezuma’s Spiced Chocolate – classic Mexicaanse Chocolade with a different name. We’d had a late night.
• Plum – one syllable, no accents; great.
• Moonshine Maple Ginger – anybody remember this? Extra ginger infusion needed, we seem to recall.
• Concord Grape Meyer Lemon – honestly, think Welch’s, but in a very nice way. And we promise not to grind up the seeds next year.
• Superlime – never made it out of the lab. Culled like a seal pup. Tasted like detergent.
• Cardamom Vanilla – another sashay down Vanilla Road, with an aromatic Indian twist. Delightful. Great as affogato.
• Olive Oil – we claimed this wasn’t odd. It was odd.
• Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Stracciatella – oh my word. Some kind of ecstatic praline explosion, veined with shards of chocolate. Crafting it required the patience of Job and it nearly took out the machine. The Baby Jesus would order this ice cream.
• Maple Acorn Squash – inedible. I’d rather eat ants. Luckily we had the one person who tasted it assassinated.
• Caramelized Pear with Caramel Stracciatella – this drizzling molten sweetness into nearly frozen ice cream thing is special and irresistible.
• Toffee Apple – a nod to Autumnal English fairgrounds and snogging on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Just hit the freezer. The jury is out.
That’s it. 1 Summer, 31 Flavours. Like Baskin-Robbins run through a Kinfolk cipher. The Lello Musso Commercial Ice Cream Maker is panting in the corner like a spaniel, its blades worn to nubs. Finally we can hear each other’s conversation (which might be good reason to fire it up again). Ice cream is not dead though; it’s merely resting. The fennel has become a Table on Ten staple and will walk with us through the winter, either as violin to Four & Twenty Blackbirds cello or as an astonishing base to winter affogato. And next year we’ll come out of hibernation like a hungry bear. There’s so much more room for play. After all, we’ve not yet done anything with beef tongue.
November 3, 2013. Posted in Recipes, The Menu, The Microshop. Tags: Affogato, Dan Finn, Dusty Ray Richards, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, Ice Cream Sandwiches, Lello Musso, Leo Tolstoy, Matthew Arnold, Moonshine Maple, Tay Tea.