The Berkshire Farmer has gone, with husband and dog, on vacation, to the Berkshires, no less. In general, the Berkshires have the virtue of being far cooler than Washington, D.C. in the summertime.As a young person, I remember vividly getting off the plane in Albany to blue skies with white, fluffy clouds and wondering why the hell I lived in DC. However, not this year. The temperature hovers around 90, and promises to stay that way for three more days at least. Even at 5:30 in the morning, when the dog gets up to pee, it's about 75 degrees. The dirt roads exude clouds of dust. And there's nothing to do except sit under a tree, sweat and read A Season in China, a biography of Edgar Snow, the first Westerner to interview Mao, who wrote Red Star over China. At the urging of my kids, I took Jean Hewitt with me. "You can blog from Massachusetts, Mom." I thought it might be an opportunity to hit the farmers' markets and make some of the more improbable recipes, such as rhubarb marmalade.
Opportunity arose almost immediately upon our arrival when we invited Mommio to dinner. Now, Mommio is not my mother, although I am far closer to her than I ever was with my own mother. She is the mother of my best friends from childhood, and presides over what the British would call an estate, a collection of rental houses, barns and assorted outbuildings. We are staying in one of the assorted outbuildings, in an apartment tucked into a corner of a vast 19th century carriage house/garage/barn. Much as it is in Britain, the house that this structure belonged to was torn down during World War II to save taxes. But the barn, which used to be known as the Green Barn, remains now the property of my friend, her daughter. We're staying here because the farmhouse, my family's house, is, A. uninhabitable, and B. in the process of being sold to someone else.
The apartment has one large room with a kitchen and sleeping area. The kitchen dates mainly from the 1970s, although I suspect the stove is older. It has very little counter space and was equipped by my friend, who, I suppose, figured people on vacation wouldn't really cook. For example, there is a blender, but not an egg beater.
So, on Monday afternoon, with the temperature in the 90s and the fan blowing on the dog, I began to cook for Mommio. What I would have liked to serve her, the contents of a large box of vegetables thoughtfully left by the actual farmer, was out, because she doesn't like cabbage or broccoli. So Jean Hewitt's many cabbage recipes had to be left for another time. I settled on green beans, because she grows those in her garden. I left Green Beans Southern Style for another time, figuring Mommio's reaction to that would be similar to my mother's. My mother liked to tell a story about a wartime bride in Tennessee where my father was stationed, who tearfully took my mother aside and explained about the frozen green beans. "I biled 'em and I biled 'em and they're still green."
So we had Green Beans with Brown Butter Sauce and Bibb Lettuce Salad to go with our little tiny steaks, pan fried on the top of the stove. I moved pots, bowls and plates here and there, parking some on the top of the microwave and periodically went into the bathroom to wipe the sweat off my face with a washcloth. I had to break off about 45 minutes from the appointed time when I realized we had no flour. I did what any neighbor would do, and went up the hill with a tea cup and borrowed some from Mommio.
When Mommio arrived, she announced that she hadn't been invited to dinner in a coon's age. Since she is 86 and most of her friends are the same age, it's not surprising that they've given up dinner parties. She also said she wasn't very hungry, also not surprising considering her age and the heat, but she did all right when dinner came. We sat at the table and talked until after 8:30. I offered to walk her up the hill to her house, but she declined, saying she was perfectly capable of walking by herself.
Green Beans with Brown Butter Sauce
1/4 cup butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup grated shap cheddar cheese
1 pound green beans cooked and drained
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Brown the butter lightly in a heavy saucepan, but do not allow to burn. Add the flour and gradually stir in the broth.
2. Add the bay leaf and bring to a boil, stirring. Cook one minute. Stir in the cheese until melted. Remove bay leaf.
3. Arrange the beans in a serving dish and pour sauce over. Sprinkle with the pecans. Makes six servings.