Thursday, December 26, 2013

Recipe: New England Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup

I adapted this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, In a Vermont Kitchen by Amy Lyon and Lynne Andreen.  In their recipe, the Eagle's Lodge deep-fries sweet potato (also known as yam) wedges and serves them with pure Vermont maple syrup as a dipping sauce.  It made me want to take a trip to Vermont just to try it!
A few years ago, I was in charge of bringing the sweet potato dish to Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom's house.  I was tired of the same-old mashed sweet potatoes with butter and I like to try new recipes, so I searched my cookbooks for something different to do with a 5-pound box of the orange spuds.  This came out great and it has been requested at each holiday since.  The maple syrup really complements the sweet potato taste, it caramelizes and browns the vegetables, and the syrup becomes a thick glaze!
I've also thought about adding one or two diced apples towards the end of the cooking time, which is a combination I saw in my Colonial-cooking book.  Has anyone tried this, and how did it turn out?
If using a cast-iron pot, you can also experiment with cooking on top of a wood stove, in the fireplace hearth, or on a camp-fire.  I used to work at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut, as a museum teacher.  Noah Webster lived during colonial times and was the brains behind Webster's Dictionary, as well as a noted author and early abolitionist.  The colonial house where he grew up is now a museum and I was one of the teachers who would dress up in colonial attire (complete with mob cap!), give tours, and demonstrate hearth cooking.  This dish would be perfect for hearth cooking, and I bet many clever early New England women must have thought of pairing sweet potatoes with maple syrup, the main sweetener in early America when sugar cane was expensive and scarce.

5 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 5 large or 10 small)
1/2 cup vegetable oil or unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1. Choose a cast-iron pot with lid that will fit all of your sweet potatoes with a few inches to spare.  (If you don't have cast-iron, a regular pot can be used, although the cast-iron browns food beautifully and is very "old New England".)
2. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Cut into bite-size chunks.
3. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium heat on the stove.  Add the sweet potatoes and stir well to coat.  Fry the potatoes, using a spatula to occasionally scrape the bottom and stir, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.  It's OK if they start to look a bit mashed.  Add a little more oil and reduce heat if they start to stick to the pot too much.
4.  Add the maple syrup to the pot and stir to coat.  Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the syrup is thickened.

Join the Link Party!  This post linked up on... Motivation Monday and Recipe Round-Up and Foodie Friday 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from Ransom Farm!

Ransom Farm, Riverton, CT
I think it's rather fitting to have my first post on Christmas Eve... it's a special time for my family, especially since our family includes two little girls (who are completely enchanted by Santa, the North Pole, flying reindeer, etc.) as well as it being our first Christmas at our farm.
There is something really special about farms.  Yes, they provide various products that we all need to survive, but there's something more.  They hold personalities, knowledge, and histories.  I look out the window into my meadow and I see hundreds of years and many generations of farmers out there.  I see long-gone herds of dairy cattle grazing (in the days before "pasture-fed" was a buzz-word), straight rows of perfect Butter-and-Sugar sweet corn, and mazes of blueberry bushes with clusters of bright, purplish-blue fruit.  I also see the memories of those who used to work this land: my grandpa on his 1950's, red Massey-Harris tractor cutting hay on a hot summer day, my grandma kneading dough in the kitchen for her locally-famous bread bakery, and my Dad collecting sap from maple trees to make maple syrup.  I can even imagine the generations of people who came before them.
These 80 acres have been in my family for 233 years, spanning four centuries.  The original deed, dated 1780, granted the parcel of land to my ancestor, Pelatiah Ransom, by the King of England.  Pelatiah had been a Minute Man soldier in the Revolutionary War and, upon concluding his military service, bought this plot.  At that time, the northwest corner of Connecticut was the edge of the colonial wilderness.  A few houses and roads existed in the area, as well as a Native American settlement, but Pelatiah was really one of the first proprietors of the village.  He built a small log cabin (from which the foundation, luckily, still exists today) before he started working on building a permanent farmhouse and clearing the land for a farm.  Pelatiah and his wife, Sarah, went on to open one of the first taverns in the area, owned a stagecoach that ran on the old Hartford-Albany turnpike, built a bridge that spanned the Farmington River, and, of course, ran a successful farm in the wake of a new republic.
Two hundred years later, my girls play on the same floors that were hand-hewn, by their ancestor, from now-extinct American Chestnut that grew on this very same land.  My sheep spend the days blissfully grazing on the same native orchard grass that horses, cows, donkeys, and countless other animals have foraged on for decades.  My husband collects fresh eggs, fills feed containers, and checks for frozen water troughs in our large English Bank-style barn and sturdy 1940's chicken coop.  And this December, I lugged my first batch of canned preserves made in this house (an orange jam with real vanilla beans... it tastes like a Creamsicle!) into the field-stone cellar for storage, just like so many farm women before me.
When my Dad passed away in 2011, he left me with the family farm and a legacy of homesteading that goes back many, many years.  My grandparents ran this farm and eventually my Dad took over.  Although I visited on weekends and have always been passionate about gardening, animals, nature, and rural living, taking over a farm has been a new experience for us!  Six months ago, we traded our suburban, Victorian-era house with neat, one-third acre backyard for wide open spaces.  A friend encouraged me to document our daily farm life, learning experiences, and connections to the land... so here it is, the beginning of our journey.  Please follow along with us as we become the stewards of a very special plot of land!