It’s been no more than a couple of weeks since the persistent blanket of snow finally gave way to the browns and duns of a Delaware County spring. Perhaps it’s the soul’s innate capacity for self-preservation that stretches time, making it feel longer since winter’s bony grip was at our elbow. But now it’s official; spring has arrived and the redwing blackbirds will not shut up about it. Ramps are muscling up between the rocks and cyclists are blurring the backroads with spandex.
Odd that it was just February – six weeks ago – we were approached by our friend and unfailing pizza-night supporter, the astonishing Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, with the bones of a conceptual photo story based around Table on Ten, for the inaugural issue of her new Magazine OSMOS. Even as we excitedly listened to Cay Sophie’s proposal (probably with our arms in the wood-fired oven or one of the sinks) it became clear that she was thinking of something quite different from the kind of pieces we’d been involved with till then – Wilder, Martha Stewart Living, Remodelista. No sunlight dappling the surface of potato pizzas or meticulously-casually abandoned forks for Cay Sophie. She’d seen a grid of pictures we’d posted, illustrating a journey around various farms picking up ingredients for a pie. We must have been in esoteric mood that day; the grid was more dreamscape than literal rendering of the journey, and it was that aspect – the landscape of the mind, perhaps – that Cay Sophie was interested in exploring.
With deadlines already pressing, London-based Danish photographer Henrik Knudsen flew from the warmth of California into the teeth of Delaware County’s lingering winter. For the best part of a week, he ploughed a furrow through our snow-bound corner of the county, up hill and down dale, calling in at producers Burnett Farms and Harpersfield Cheese, frequently scuttling into Table on Ten to borrow Inez so she could walk shin deep through snow, sit behind foggy windows, drive along deserted roads.
An amazing few days: we cooked dinners, lit bonfires, gathered each evening to look at pictures and watch the storyline unfold. In some ways the process was quite natural – reflecting upon the familiar choreography of living and working in this landscape – and in other ways a complete departure. Walking slowly across a frozen field of corn stubble is something we all know. Walking back-and-forth across it a dozen times in the bone-chilling cold is somewhat less familiar. The narrative that emerged felt something like the lingering edge of a waking dream.
It was a privilege to be able to collaborate on a project of this stature with Cay Sophie (a force of nature in her own right), Henrik and Christian. And what a thrill to see it out so quickly, just a few weeks after it was shot, beautifully printed and currently available on the shelves of the microshop. Here are a few pictures from the story; you can also see the whole piece as it ran in OSMOS in the Press section of the website.
Wind from the North, the sap cometh Forth.
Wind from the East, the sap runneth Least.
Wind from the South, there is a Drouth.
Wind from the West, the sap runneth Best .
We have it on good authority that they’ve been making maple syrup in the northwestern Catskills since the Wabanaki spirit Glooscap plucked hairs from the belly of Grandmother Woodchuck and wove them into a magical bag. Dan Finn makes no claim of similar intimacy with the local ground-squirrels. Still, March-in, April-out, you’ll find him at that remote point where the circumference of Bovina bleeds gently into Delhi, sturdily manning the massive old wood-fired boiler in his sap-shed; alchemizing sugar from sap. Like Casey Jones. Steamin’ and a-rollin’.
Whilst the nuances of maple syrup production are delightfully arcane and embroidered with folklore, the basics are pretty straightforward. When the weather starts warming up in Spring (which could be as late as mid-August in Delaware County), sap in maple trees starts running from the roots through the trunk to the branches. During the cusp period when temperatures are above freezing by day but below by night, the sap runs up-and-down like a bellhop in a Paris hotel. Bore a hole into that vertical stream, fashion a little spout, hope something drips from it. Build a fire, reduce what you’ve gathered by boiling. Pour it on your pancakes.
In ages past, maple trunks would be punctured with sharp rocks, the sap channeled to hollowed out logs along conduits forged from birch bark. And though Dan offers us no such aboriginal prowess, he pretty much does things the old way. The boiler’s out back in the old shed, it’s the size of a 1970’s Sedan DeVille and is fired by wood. The sap is trundled down from 200 trees above the farmhouse behind an ancient tractor in giant metal drums. There’s PBR and 90’s music from a battered plastic boombox. Nobody’s reversing any osmosis on Huff Road. But it’s plenty hot in the shed, and Dan’s right there at the helm stoking the beast like Beelzebub pokering sinners in the fiery furnaces of Hell.
Our ramble with Dan has not been exclusively along the path of Moonshine Maple. We used his milk-fed Yorkshire Pork – in many cuts and consistencies – for the 10-Mile Pie, and his Highland Beef for the hand-numbered Steak and Ale Pies. In the days before Horizon Organic spirited all his Jersey milk from the hills and hollows of Glen Burnie, we’d go over to the farm, drink a beer, sample his artisanal cheeses (‘Danchego’) and listen to vintage Pavement cuts.
Now, along with Moonshine Maple, we carry Dan’s bacon in the microshop and use it in the bacony version of the Egg In A Nest. We’re also employing Moonshine’s more delicate sibling – maple sap itself – as the basis of one of our house-made sodas. Filtered and pasteurized, we carbonate it and pour it over ice. Sap, ice and a little Wind from the West. As elemental as can be.
Anybody remember last Autumn?
October 2012. Before the weekends had specials and soup. Before the building had heat and the pies meat. Before meyer lemon marmalade, marmite guacamole toast and the egg in a glass. Before the snow. Rushing, rushing to be ready for our inaugural pizza weekend, knowing that the crowds were assembling and a coterie of friends advancing on us from around Delaware County, not to mention up I87 from New York City. Among them Gemma and Andrew Ingalls from Brooklyn, armed with camera gear, and Anna Moschovakis from Hobart armed with her pen and a mission from Wilder Quarterly to tell something of Table on Ten’s early story and our hopes for the future.
The idea of being featured in Wilder was … still is … a big deal for us. We’d only been open a few months, the menu and microshop were growing but it was early days. The first chill of winter was in the air and the furnace and heating system were still theoretical entities. The magazine had featured Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Morocco, the Moss Temple in Kyoto, wild foraging in Finland and off-limits geode vaults in the American Museum of Natural History; and now they were on their way to Bloomville in the Western Catskills. And the pizza oven was still curing.
As we now recall with joy and relief (and memories of warm sunshine), everything went off beautifully. Gemma and Andy shot voraciously for two days and roamed the neighborhood, visiting Steve at Burnett Farms and Richard and Holley at Lucky Dog amongst others. The unveiling of the oven saw us jammed to the rafters with friends and supporters, and down to our last scraps of sourdough. Our extended family of local heroes helped with everything from entertaining all-comers, running pizza and wine through the crowd, washing dishes, crafting donation boxes and juggling the phalanx of iPods.
And now, many months later – as the first rays of warm sunlight are once again dappling the picnic table – the Winter 2013 issue of Wilder Quarterly is on the news-stands. And we’re right there amongst the Maine oyster farmers, Vietnamese farm-to-table exponents and Alaskan salmon-fileters.
We’ll have an issue or two for browsing through in the café very soon, as well the full article on the press section of the site.
‘Noise proves nothing. A hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid’ – Mark Twain
The lowly egg. Humans have been shoveling ’em down since we first got our knuckles off the ground. Fragments of fossilized egg-shells have been found in the Lascaux Caves in Southwest France, presumably the remnants of a box lunch packed by Paleolithic Woman for Paleolithic Man, busily noodling his life away on yet another sketch of charging bison. There were eggs in the tomb of Haremhab the Hairless, right there by his sarcophagus in case he got a bit peckish on his eternal ramble through the afterlife. And when Vesuvius blew in AD 79, what were the hapless Romans munching on as they looked up from their breakfasts at an onrushing cataract of molten lava? Eggs.
But if eggs were brought to Mesopotamia by the Nubians in 1500 BC, they were only brought to Table on Ten by Katrin and Jamie Stelmashuck of Last Harvest Farm in the summer of last year: and they proved so fresh and tasty that we have been eagerly devouring them ever since. They are a staple of our baking, the mainstay of the Egg in a Nest and Egg in a Glass. For the Marmite Guacamole Toast, we sometimes poach one and lower it into a bed of spiced, mashed avocado, sprinkle it with black pepper and a little feta.
Last Harvest Farm fits our ideal model for local suppliers. Katrin and Jamie are so local that a fit, athletic man in search of eggs could run up Bloomville Hill Road to the farm and back in a few minutes. But we don’t have any fit, athletic men, so Katrin brings the eggs down in her car. The chickens are madly free-range and all have lovely chicken-smiles on their faces. They are a whole mess of breeds; Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Golden Comets, Tetras … and a single Araucana who pops out a bluish-green egg about once every two days. Who knows, you might have unwittingly consumed one of her treasures last time you popped in for breakfast.
We also sell Last Harvest Farm eggs. $3.75 a dozen. Look in the refrigerator, next to the milk.
And by way of an example of Last Harvest Farm eggs in action. Here’s our version of Egg in a Glass.
2 soft boiled eggs
fresh herbs (including chives)
dried red pepper
big tablespoon of Frankie’s olive oil