Archive for October, 2007


That’s potato chip as in “ can’t eat just one, ” and cheese dollars is because my version of this killer pastry – first cousin to the ever-popular cheese straw – is a bit bigger than a silver dollar. Please note I say “my” advisedly; in versions too numerous to fully research, this recipe has been around for years. But having just served them to a bunch of highly appreciative cheese dollar virgins I know there are still plenty of people who can use to hear the good news.

Insofar as it’s good. Like potato chips, cheese dollars are a symphony of sins: white flour, high fat cheese, butter and salt. Also nuts. However, there is also a secret ingredient that – if you have a good imagination – mitigates the damage.

Actually, I doubt the inclusion of Rice Krispies does much to reduce the calorie load (sorry, Carol). What it does is make cheese dollars crunchy in a distressingly addictive way, especially if you use the real thing. As a veteran of oatmeal cookies I once assumed generic crisp rice cereal would be just as good. It isn’t.


¾ pound sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

6 ounces ( 1 ½ sticks) butter

2 ½ cups all purpose flour, mixed with1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon paprika and ½ teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup chopped walnuts. Pecans are traditional but that’s probably because the root recipe is (almost surely) southern.

2 cups Rice Krispies

optional: about ½ cup tiny cubes of super-aged Gouda

1. Let the cheddar and butter soften in a large shallow mixing bowl, then mix briefly; you just need an even combination, not a uniform paste.

2. Work in the flour mixture, then the nuts. Stop here if you want to freeze the dough or refrigerate it for longer than a few hours.

3. Add the cereal ( and Gouda); it’s okay to knead it in with your hands but try not to work the dough any more than necessary. Form into walnut sized balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Flatten the balls with floured fork tines. It would be nice if you could give these the refrigerator cookie treatment, but slice and bake doesn’t work. Too crumbly.

4. Bake at 350 until light gold, anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes, reversing the sheets halfway through the baking. Cool on wire racks and store airtight.

The pumpkin pie came to light while I was cruising around looking for early cheese dollar recipes. It’s hand-written in the front of my copy of The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, published in 1949 by Wm. H. Wise & Co. Inc. , of New York.

A nifty book, btw, over 1200 pages of definitions and recipes, most of the latter from what might be called parties with an agenda: the National Dairy Council, the California Prune Marketing Program, the American Meat Institute. But the huge acknowledgements list also includes the US Army Quartermasters Corps, the American Limoges China Corporation and – I burn to know, I truly do – the American Badminton Association.

So of course then what about the origin of Mamie’s recipe and starting to try to track THAT down when the slippery slope aspect became clear and I went out to divide the overgrown Salvia transylvanica.


All those large leaves belong to the salvia. The yellow flower with blue stems and columbinelike leaves is Thalictrum flavuum glaucum and this one has rather fallen over; the plants are about 5 feet tall and vulnerable to wind.


Exactly transcribed from the handwritten version.

Three beaten egg yolks, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ cups cooked pumpkin, ½ cup milk ½ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. nutmeg.
Combine above ingredients and cook in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly. Soak 1 envelope gelatine in cold water and stir into hot mixture. Chill until fairly set. Beat 3 egg whites and ¼ cup granulated sugar, then beat until stiff. Fold into gelatine mixture. Pour into baked pie shell and chill until set. Garnish with whipped cream. Makes 1 big or 8 individual pies.

I wish she’d written her name in the book, but she didn’t. And she may have gotten it second hand herself. Although it appears to be a first printing , one of the handwritten recipes is for a “TV mix” quite similar to the mid-’60s version favored by my mother. That said, my mother’s didn’t include bacon drippings, which can sometimes be an indicator of (comparative) earliness.

Poppy. Red. Very.

Brewer, Maine, October 11, 2007, a slide talk for the Maine Herb Society. We get to the part where the sky comes in, as an important part of garden design.


And the illustrative images include


Not surprisingly, people want to know what it is. Also not surprisingly, I have brain melt and forget until I’m driving home.

So. The bright red poppy is Papaver bracteatum, sometimes called the Persian Poppy or Great Scarlet Poppy. It’s a perennial, very similar in appearance, needs and habits to old fashioned Oriental poppy (P. orientale).

But Great Scarlet is accurate: flower stems are 4 or more feet tall, thicker and stiffer than Oriental stems; the flowers are a good 6 inches across and the scarlet is truly breathtaking, even redder than the Oriental ‘Beauty of Livermere’ ( or Livermore), with which P. bracteatum is often confused.

Plants of the Beauty, itself well worth having, are sold by Bluestone Perennials and High Country Gardens, but if you want true bracteatum you must – as far as I can tell – grow it from seeds. J.L. Hudson sells them, but I didn’t know that when I bought mine, from Thompson and Morgan, the seed company everyone loves to hate. T&M is expensive, especially in view of how few seeds you get, and germination problems are common. But they have a stupefying variety of nifty stuff not available elsewhere and in fairness it must be said that many of those nifty things are difficult to grow from seed. Caveat garden dreamer when browsing through the too-tempting catalog.

Happily, P. bracteatum is comparatively easy. Sowing where it is to grow is wise, and that should be in very well drained, sandy soil, in bright sun, somewhere in (roughly) zones 3-8. It will do better at the low end; winter cold doesn’t faze it but heat and humidity are not its friends. Remember that like P. orientale it is huge in spring and absent in summer.

Bees and Honey


The well furnished home food garden has always and still should include at least one hive of honeybees. But this is easier said than done, so learning that bees were part of Bill’s dowry may have been the thing that clinched the deal, back when we were courting. Fast forward 16 honeyed years: I’m writing a N.Y. Times bee story and in the course of research discover – who knew? – that this little insect may well be the canary in the agricultural coal mine.

Honeybees don’t get much press compared to, say, petroleum, but their pollination services are just as crucial as fuel and fertilizer to about 15 billion dollars a year in crops, from almonds and alfalfa to sunflower seeds. More bees are needed in each place than any one place could provide, so tens of thousands of hives get loaded on trucks, taken to fields or orchards in bloom, then packed up again and hauled elsewhere.

These migratory honeybees are essential to agribusiness monocropping, which could not exist if it had to depend on local pollinators. That’s why the bees have been getting their 15 minutes of fame* – a mysterious affliction called CCD ( colony collapse disorder) has destroyed so many colonies it’s threatening a major industry. Farmers are paying much higher prices for hive rental while also worrying there may be shortages that can’t be overcome, even with expensive imports.

More than you really want to know is posted, with running updates at, but the very short version is:

*CCD probably isn’t new; reports of similar, albeit far smaller, epidemics go back at least as far as 1898.

* CCD is almost surely not one disease or pest or insecticide but rather some unknown combo thereof that exploits the weakness of bees stressed by profoundly unnatural ways of being kept and used. No study has yet revealed a single insult that is/was the tipping point. Each time a likely culprit is fingered, further investigation confirms that it is at best only part of the puzzle.

* Domestic honeybees are livestock: living creatures raised and used by humans. What do we know about them compared to what we know about chickens and cows? Zilch. What are we likely to learn soon? Also zilch, in part because there is no massive bee industry to lobby for public funds or undertake its own research.

The internet allows posts like this to go on at enormous length, but that doesn’t mean they should, so here are a few visuals from our own

Home Grown Honey Harvest, October 7, 2007

Bill checks to see if there’s any honey in the frame ( a pre-built foundation for the bees to start from).

I always thought smoke made the bees think the hive was on fire, so they were too busy worrying about the house to sting anybody. Beekeepers just say it calms them, with the same result.

They don’t stay calm long; you have to extract the honey someplace they can’t get to, in this case the barn.

This is Bill’s honey extractor, a galvanized antique called the Root Novice. Modern extractors are steel or plastic and this is probably the place to say that honey is more or less self-sterilizing. It’s so sweet bacteria can’t grow in it and so low in water content yeasts won’t grow either. The reason you can’t give it to babies is that it can contain spores of anaerobic bacteria like botulism. The acid in all human digestive systems that process solid food prevents those spores from growing, but new people who still drink all their nourishment don’t have that protection.

After each cell is filled with honey, the bees cap it with a wax lid. You have to slice off the lids (with a wicked sharp, thin-bladed knife) before you can extract the honey.

Bees gather honey from one source at a time. If you want to name the honey for its source – check out the list at – you have to harvest it before the bees move on. The dark patch looks sort of like buckwheat but I’m sure it’s not. Doesn’t matter, whatever it is will just add complexity to this year’s vintage.

Frames are held upright by arms in the extractor. Turn the crank and the arms whirl around, flinging the honey out by centrifugal force, same as in a salad spinner.

Honey isn’t the only thing that gets flung; the colander catches things like stray bits of wax and the occasional unfortunate bee that didn’t respond to the smoke.

After collection, the honey is poured into sterilized jars. Over the next couple of weeks, any tiny impurities rise and form a thin layer at the top. For gift-giving, we take the layer off. For us, we just leave it as an extra seal until we want to use the honey.

Before the equipment is washed and stored, it’s put outdoors for the bees to clean. They will retrieve almost all of the honey to add to their winter stores.

* Fifteen minutes seems to be about right. Bees are as gone from the headlines as they are from all those dead hives. Tune in next February for a brief flare-up, when almond orchards will need a surge from an army so grievously depleted it may not have enough troops.