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The tale begins on the fifth floor of a pre-war building overlooking the Arno with a view of San Miniato al Monte and the steps of Giardino Bardini; the family home of Elisabetta, an actress in her unplaceable 60’s. The rambling apartment inherits the easy grace of a woman who cut her style-chops in the twilight years of Pasolini and Visconti: family photographs in mismatched frames (naked children the colour of hazelnuts and shirtless men who look like Marcello Mastroianni on boats off Stromboli), the 70’s record player, Bill Evans albums, dubious abstract nudes (hung crookedly). And the classic cookbook Il Talismano della Felicità, its pages tanned to parchment, open on the counter to some indecipherable flurry of pictureless Italiano: like the best textbook you ever saw.
In the republic of taste, property is theft; and this was one of those crystalline amalgams of poise, weight and beauty that can drive a person to burglary. But you can’t just run off with somebody’s book: that’d be rude, right? Also, it’s fucking huge. Plan B involved a quick sortie around the internet, a late-50’s edition languishing a few hundred feet away in a Santa Croce antiquarian bookshop. Bit of deft mousework and the deed was done: we’d plucked a magic bean from Elisabetta’s stalk to take home and bury in Bloomville’s flinty soil. With love and water it will germinate into La Dolce Vita on the Delaware.
Once home, Il Talismano succumbed to the fate of stuff that seems an absolute imperative when the amber light is refracting off the Duomo, but slightly less so when somebody locked the cat in the bedroom for four days and your tempurpedic smells like the triage at the Humane Society. It took a few days for our resident half-Italian/half-Scottish Ingrid Bergman – Paola Ambrosi de Magistris (try that on a half-litre of lambrusco) – to stumble upon an old letter whilst thumbing through the pages. On Air Mail vellum, yellowed with age, hand-typed on official Foreign Service letterhead, it’s a recipe from the book – Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana - translated into English with personal annotations from the correspondent: substituting bacon for smoked ham, celery seed for celery.
Sweet and sour wild boar, Roman style. The writer – Mary Jernegan – signs off with a footnote: ‘this is a classic Italian recipe, from people who love to hunt and eat well … wish I were there to help cook and eat it!’. Seems the book was a gift from somebody connected to the US Embassy in Rome, probably around the time of publication (1957). The letter suggests a diplomatic blend of official and personal: wife to wife, maybe? Well … we don’t personally hunt (maybe spear the occasional mushroom) but plenty of good people here do. And we eat well. And while we don’t have wild boars snouting our forests (at least not of that spelling), we have plenty of local, barely domesticated pork. So why not celebrate the appearance of this wormhole to a different dimension; fulfill Mary Jernegan’s wish to help cook and eat the meal by making it, right here, right now, 4300 miles and how ever many years from where the impulse originated? Ride the space-time continuum, squeeze the universe into a ball.
But the question remains; who was Mary Jernegan, our guide to all things agrodolce?
In 1955, John Durnford Jernegan – a career US diplomat – was assigned the post of Minister-Counselor at the American Embassy in Rome, under Clare Boothe Luce (first ever US woman ambassador and author of The Women). Jernegan’s previous service included spells in Mexico, Tunisia and Spain (during the Spanish Civil War); but, most notably, he served in Iran during WWII, where he would have been present at the 1943 Tehran Conference attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. This meeting – the first ever between Stalin and Roosevelt – initiated tripartite commitment to simultaneous 1944 offensives against Nazi Germany (the Normandy landings) and forged the template for Soviet domination of post-war Eastern Europe; the satellite states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany. The Cold War and Berlin Wall. Thus Jernegan was quietly – repeatedly – present at meridian of world history. It was whilst serving in Iran that he met Mary Margaret Brownrigg, 11 years his junior, the future Mrs Mary Jernegan and author of our letter.
A brief glimpse into the lives of John and Mary Jernegan constitutes a peek behind the curtain of mid-century Graham Greene-style diplomacy. The balance of world power was undergoing seismic changes and these people were at the eye of the hurricane, struggling to retain discreet good manners and politesse against a background of chaos and blood-letting. Kingdoms were vanishing, dynasties crumbling, empires collapsing. The Middle East in particular was a shitstorm of lurid immolation: republican coups d’état in Egypt and Syria, civil war in Jordan and Lebanon, a CIA-backed coup in Iran. And then in 1958, a particularly grisly revolution in Iraq, involving the execution of the Royal Family and the Crown Prince’s mutilated body being dragged through the streets of Baghdad and strung up outside the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister escaped dressed as a woman. This was the Theatre of Blood into which John and Mary Jernegan were inserted, first US Ambassadorial family to Abd al-Karim Qasim’s fledgling Republic of Iraq. The descriptions of crafts bazaars and people falling into the ponds at parties in the embassy gardens are in stark contrast to the harsh realities of history being enacted beyond the compound walls. The Jernegans remained in Baghdad until their expulsion in 1962, when the Kennedy Administration objected to Qasim claiming the Sheikhdom of Kuwait as de facto territory of Iraq – a gesture eerily similar to the one three decades later that precipitated the first Bush-era Iraq War. A US-backed coup (involving poisoned handkerchiefs and other Kennedy-era goofiness) endorsed Qasim’s assassination, installing the Ba’athist regime which ultimately sanctioned the twenty-seven year reign of Saddam Hussein. Two wars, eight years of US occupation and the rise of the Islamic State brings us to the present. But Mary Jernegan was right there in the crucible of the past.
And though her husband died in 1980, Mary Jernegan may still be alive, in her 90’s, living in California. More than half a century of febrile history has elapsed since she sat at a typewriter in Rome and translated the recipe which now sits on our kitchen table in upstate New York. The same table that will soon be set for Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana, along with friends, gelato alla nocciola and (at the letter’s suggestion) several bottles of good red wine.
September 18, 2014. Posted in Events, Inspirers, Journeys, Recipes. Tags: 1943 Tehran Conference, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Ba'ath Party, Baghdad, Berlin Wall, Bill Evans, Bulgaria, Clare Boothe Luce, Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah, Czechosolvakia, East Germany, Egypt, Elisabetta Giovannini, Florence, Gelato alla Nocciola, George H.W. Bush, Giardino Bardini, Graham Greene, Hungary, Il Talismano della Felicità, Ingrid Bergman, Iran, Iraq, ISIL, John F. Kennedy, John Jernegan, Jordan, Josef Stalin, King Faisal II, Kuwait, La Dolce Vita, Lebanon, Luchino Visconti, Marcello Mastroianni, Mary Jernegan, Mary Margaret Brownrigg, Mexico, Normandy Landings, Nuri al-Said, Operation Overlord, Paola Ambrosi di Magistris, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Poland, Pope Pius XII, River Arno, Romania, Rome, Saddam Hussein, San Miniato al Monte, Santa Croce, Soviet Union, Spain, Spanish Civil War, Stromboli, Syria, T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Women, Theodore Roosevelt, Tunisia, United States Foreign Service, Wild Boar, Winston Churchill.
The PINES – featuring John ‘Boar Belly’ Poiarkoff – is coming back to Bloomville. They’ll pick up Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ own Black Bottom Emily Elsen along the way. Get ready for maitake mushroom piledrivers.
Supporting cast to follow. But for now, wrap your fist round a thick black Sharpie and vigorously scribble on your calendar, obliterating the date and the sheetrock behind it. Might as well wipe out the morning after while your at it. It’s Labor Day Weekend so no need to go anywhere. Stay where you are. Have a bath. Do your nails.
THE PINES and FOUR & TWENTY BLACKBIRDS at TABLE ON TEN(featuring liquid support from ZEV ‘THE BEAST OF LANGUEDOC’ ROVINE) SUNDAY 31st AUGUST
8 ROUNDS OF MOUTHWATERING MUNCHING ACTION
4 OPTIONAL ROUNDS OF EYE-POPPING SLURPING ACTION (+ SPECIAL GUEST APERITIVO)
EVERYTHING EDIBLE SOURCED FROM WITHIN 25 MILES
Doors open at 7: Facebusters begin at 7.30
Grab a FOLDING METAL CHAIR and swing it at something.
STRICTLY LIMITED SEATING – ONLINE TICKETS ONLY – INFO@TABLEONTEN.COM
(from a series of correspondence, June and July 2014)
Dear Inez. I saw your name in the New York Times this week and was quite surprised. I grew up in Bloomville from 1940-1950 and am now retired and living in Reno, Nevada. I hope the church bells are still ringing there because I gave them to the Methodist church as a memorial for my parents. My grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in the Riverside Cemetery. Have you read ‘Watering the Elephants’? The circus used to set up right there in the middle of town, near the old railroad tracks. I vaguely remember it, as that was close to seventy years ago. My husband and I hope to visit next summer and we hope you will be there at that time. We would love to stay with you.
The economy in upstate New York has been challenging as long as I can remember. Our old farmhouse on the edge of Main Street there was dilapidated last I knew. My parents milked 48 head of cattle there back in the 1940’s. Say ‘Hi’ to the older locals for me. Good luck with your business. I truly hope you bring renewal to Bloomville. It will always be “home” to me.
I have lots of photos and will try to find some for you this weekend. My dad Bill Askew was the local milkman back in the day. He also played Santa at the firehall, across the street from you. The older people there will remember him.
I’ll write later. Busy now. I’m a marriage and family therapist here in Reno and some clients are waiting.
With care and fond memories,
JoAnn (Askew) Baird
If it’s still standing, this is the farm on the edge of town (towards Delhi). The second photo is the way the farmhouse looked back around 1920 when my great-grandparents owned it (the Jurjens family). They were Dutch immigrants. When I was a little girl I used to ride on the train by myself to visit my grandma in Oneonta. This was the same train that brought the circus to Bloomville (‘Watering the Elephants’) back in the early 1940’s. I was there. I’m not sure, but I think they set up downtown across from the fire house. There was a lot there.
Here are a few more for you. The second picture, I believe, was located across the street from where you are (I might be wrong), but that was the B & B back in the day. The third one is the barn where the historical society building is now.
I just read that you are from Holland. My family (mother’s side who owned the farm on the Delhi side of town) were from Finsterwolde, Groningen. They migrated to the US around 1910 and were farm workers in Minnesota. They bought the farm in Bloomville about 1920. They couldn’t speak or write much English, but the people there accepted and respected them wholeheartedly. There were a lot of Dutch people in Delaware county. We used to have Dutch picnics. My father’s mother was from Schagen, North Holland. I still have family in Drenthe. Emmer-Compascuum. I was there visiting them in 1997.
One more. The locals will like this one.
It’s that special week of the year when we gather together to celebrate casting off the yoke of British colonialism by getting drunk and setting fire to things.
No more bowler hats, funny looking policeman, shocking dentistry and inedible puddings with pornographic names: we stride into the future with our banner held high and a burger in each fist. If Paul Revere’s horse turned up, we’d knock it on the head, bundle it onto the BBQ.
This week’s open/not open hours are slightly changed:
Wednesday July 2nd – 9 to 3
Thursday July 3rd – 9 to 3
Friday July 4th – 9 to 3 and then 6 to 9 for Pizza Night
Saturday July 5th – 9 to 3 but then no Pizza Night (fireworks in Bovina)
Sunday July 6th – 9 to 3
To assist our loyal infantrymen inflicting casualties upon the phrase ‘dish to pass’, we’ve inaugurated FLYING BOB’S PIES TO GO week. Our own fresh, hand-made pies, each emblazoned with the number 4, piping hot from the oven (or cool and ready to be warmed up), poised to be transported to garden parties, fireworks displays, family reunions, holiday AA meetings, World Cup vigils or solitary late-nights on the hill with the munchies, half a bottle of Rémy Martin and the dirty bits from Downton Abbey. Will not sluice across the back seat of the car or conflict with somebody else’s pallid macaroni salad. And no need to choose which pyrex bowl you’re prepared to lose.
Two choices, each finger-lickin’ in their own right:
• Chicken, Leek, Bacon and Prune. A Table classic and proven crowd-pleaser.
• Thornton Steward pork loin, slow-braised with carrots in Montepulciano.
Come and get ‘em. We’re still pleating their crusts right now, but they’ll be eager and golden as retrievers from 1 o’clock on Thursday. And once again, no Pizza Night on Saturday July 5th but yes Pizza Night on Friday July 4th. Saturday pies at Peter and Brooke’s instead?
Oh and roasted banana ice cream. And fresh local snap peas on ricotta. And new beef-and-prosciutto brodo with handmade tortellini. And special pizza. And. And.
Happy Independence for all.
Just when we think we’ve got it all sorted out … out comes the sun (‘guys, guys; outside, big yellow glowing ball in sky’), the picnic tables are inundated and we go and open up the whole downstairs. Suddenly we’re nose to the grindstone of life’s great existential questions: are the fennel and prosciutto pizzas for Table 16? And is Table 16 upstairs, downstairs or in the garden? (Hi)biscus or (HI)biscus? Mizuna? Mibuna? Help! Just like John, Paul, George and Ringo in ’65. We’re in our Fat Elvis period. Yesterday. It’s Only Love. We’re All Shook Up.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. Table on Ten is a café in rural Bloomville NY. We work with local producers, offering a seasonal and improvised menu with strong week-to-week emphasis on what’s being harvested right here, right now. On weekend evenings we serve brick oven pizzas, with a full wine and beer list. The microshop carries local and speciality items, some of which are made in-house. We also host pop-up dinners, events, and collaborations.
It’s a small, close-knit, vibrant, creative environment, akin to being a Navy Seal (but armed with stalks of lacinato kale). We work hard as a team, share responsibilities and have high standards.
We’re looking for two new Seals.
1 – PART-TIME FRONT OF HOUSE PERSON
Roughly, a ‘waitress’ or ‘waiter’. But the unique life of café and its community calls for a more catholic set of skills than simply delivering food to tables.
These include (all melded together into a glittering whole) …
• the ability to attend to detail whilst constantly being aware of the whole picture. Table 5 is waiting for an anchovy pizza, a group of six with kids needs a table downstairs, somebody wants to chat about who grew the arugula, the candles on the picnic tables have blown out, we’re getting low on the asparagus special and soap in the bathroom.
• to attend to this whilst remaining calm, personable, charming and communicative.
• liaise minute-to-minute with the kitchen and register, being aware of work-flow, backups, what’s coming, what’s going. Calmly, efficiently.
• take the high food standards produced in the kitchen and bring them to the tables, being precisely aware of menu items, noticing and helping to correct discrepancies.
• be interested and understand the food, drinks and the overall experience we offer and be able to communicate that understanding to customers.
• have stamina, the physical capacity to keep going without appearing to flag. Upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside.
• work as part of a team. No lone wolves.
• enjoy dealing with the public.
• be self-motivated.
• be detailed and organized.
• in a broad sense, to feel ownership of the environment when you’re working it. There’s a lot to do, and whilst everything’s governed by efficiency and high-standards, there are also elements of poise and performance.
• work evenings, weekends and some holidays.
• balance a plastic ball on nose whilst slapping fins together and barking.
• have your own home and transport.
• start now please.
+- 20 hours per week
2 – PART-TIME SHORT ORDER COOK
who will …
• participate fully in the minute-to-minute operation of the kitchen, follow food production schedules and ensure highest level of food quality, taste and presentation.
• adhere and contribute to practices and goals for the kitchen, anticipate and resolve issues.
• understand and adhere strictly to Health Department and food handling guidelines.
• contribute to the development and implementation of new menu items, ensure adherence to recipes and product specifications.
• bear food cost in mind, through intelligent practice of food preparation and handling.
• conduct regular inspections of the kitchen/dishwashing area, workspaces, storage areas and coolers, and act promptly to correct any deficiencies.
Need to be able to:
• work in a close-knit team environment.
• work calmly and effectively under pressure.
• efficiently solve problems on the spot.
• be self-motivated and organized.
• show commitment to quality service of good food.
• take direction.
• show an interest in food prepared with sustainably farmed, locally sourced ingredients.
• understand the importance of safety, sanitation and food handling procedures.
• show previous kitchen experience.
• exhibit professional, personable communication skills.
• sit on a stool and catch poorly-thrown fish in your mouth.
• have flexibility in assuming different roles within the life of the café when needed; front-of-house skills, helping to prepare and maintain the dining areas and microshop, being aware of stock levels, serving food in the café and at the counter.
• work evenings, weekends and some holidays.
• have a house and transport.
• start now.
+- 20 hours a week
June 4, 2014. Posted in Working at Table. .