Cottage: A Place, A Dish, A LifestyleSep 01, 2021 11:30AM ● By Cornelius O'Donnell
I find the term “cottage” to be super romantic. Do you? And it certainly has a Twin Tiers resonance when you realize just how many cottages surround our Finger Lakes and the rest of our area. And then there are the hunters’ cabins and small post-WWII abodes that dot our landscape. I was reminded of this local cottage connection when I read a press release for a new book called Cottages for Every Season, Inspiring Homes with Classic Charm, by Cindy Cooper, published just last June by the 83Press, a boutique publisher affiliated with Hoffman Publishing out of Birmingham, Alabama. I searched further and found the same author published Country Cottage, Relaxed Elegance to Rustic Charm in 2018. Seems Ms. Cooper is the editor of the Cottage Journal magazine. I learned from their site that each issue “contains the most delicious recipes and menus,” as well as easy entertaining ideas. Right up my alley.
During the months of quarantine, have you looked around your place and thought it might be a good move to upgrade the premises or even move to something a little more suitable for your current situation? I think a browse in the Hoffman output might be a “good thing.”
My Brush with Cottages
I think I realize why that word makes me feel good. Way way back, my grandmother lived in an apartment close to the Poe Cottage (as in Edgar Allen) that was situated on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It was real country when Poe was around. Invariably we’d mosey over there to play. (It is still there, I bet.) Then we moved from the Bronx to Queens and into one of those cottage-like (small) Tudors—brick, stone, slate roof, oak doors, and a large leaded-glass picture window with tiny insets of stained glass. (But small.)
Then it was on to Syracuse when I was in the third grade. A classmate of mine had a dad who ran The Cottage Bakery in that city. I remember those large black and white cookies his mother kept on hand for her son’s friends.
We lived in a house (not a cottage) across from the gardens at Burnett Park (on a good day we could hear the animals up the hill and over at the zoo). But I remember cottage-sized places amidst the two-story houses on Tipperary Hill, where the green stoplight was above the red! A few years later we moved to the Albany area and would visit lakeside cottages in East Berne on Warner’s Lake, stopping for fried clams on the way at a place called Neil’s. No relation, but good memories. I still remember family friends had a rental with the main room lit by a chandelier formed from an old wagon wheel fitted with light bulbs illuminating the knotty pine. A decorating cliché then, and now, perhaps.
When I started my career at Corning, I’d work closely with the company’s Canadian division based in Toronto. I learned that hordes of people would decamp to “the cottage” on weekends. It’s a way of life for so many. And I now find myself, after a major downsize, in my own cozy cottage. No knotty pine or wagon wheels so far.
I also became hooked on such as All Creatures Great and Small, the Bertie Worcester series, and writers such as Barbara Pym (there is even a cookery book compiled by her), as well as the Mapp and Lucia books and TV series. I reveled in the cottage settings of the author Thomas Hardy, imagining life in those places most associated with “rising damp.” I’d be lost without Masterpiece Theatre! And I never missed an installment of The Vicar of Dibley and its hysterical view of country life. When you have a moment, you might seek out a fat picture book titled 500 Cottages.
And then, one day, I picked up a wonderfully evocative book by a naturalist food writer named Gladys Tabor, a Connecticut Yankee in the truest sense, and the author of so many charming books. Read on, friends.
Rediscovering Gladys Tabor, Food and Nature Writer
You’ve probably figured out that I am big on nostalgia, especially when it comes to culinary and country matters, and so it was fun to find a book on my shelves that I hadn’t looked at in a while. This was Gladys Tabor’s Still Cove Journal, and it’s all about her final years (she died in 1980 at eighty) in her cottage in Chatham on Cape Cod. I used to visit that charming town at least every year to see old friends. I noticed some yellow Post-Its bristling from a few of the book’s pages. Sure enough, in talking about her life there she had included several recipes. And they sounded good. I vaguely remembered that I made one or two over the years. Best of all, the book features a drawing of her cottage on the cover. I had picked it up for a song at the library’s book sale.
Gladys, raised in Wisconsin and a Radcliffe grad, moved to Sudbury, Connecticut, to a rather large Cape Cod style house/cottage with a friend. Here she raised her daughter and commuted to the big city when she taught writing at Columbia. That place was dubbed Still Meadow. And she wrote many books describing the forces of nature around her, as well as a couple of cookery books. A reviewer characterized the author thusly: “She emphasized the satisfaction that could come from pursuing the mundane tasks required to care for a house.”
(Have you ever watched the Barbara Stanwyck film Christmas in Connecticut? A friend assures me this seasonal favorite on TCM was Tabor-inspired. It depicts a columnist for a national housekeeping magazine—Tabor was then with Family Circle—who, as a promotional stunt, is told by her magazine boss to open her home to a returning WWII hero for the holiday. Problem is, she has to borrow a baby, and she is a real klutz at cooking.)
After she more or less retired, Gladys installed her daughter and family in the Connecticut house and moved to a smaller place on the Cape, a real cottage “cottage” she called Still Cove. Her last book, Still Cove Journal, was published the year she died.
Here are several of her favorite recipes that I think you’ll like. They are unfussy and meant to be (mostly) prepared ahead. She liked to be able to enjoy her company and not dash to the kitchen more than was necessary.
I don’t see many recipes for what we used to call Cornish game hens these days. Pianist Victor Borge had a farm and raised these birds over the hill from where my brother lived years ago in Westchester County.
- 3 Tbsp. each butter and olive oil
- 2 small game hens, fresh or frozen, cleaned
- 2 c. dry white wine or vermouth
- Seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 6 Tbsp. chopped shallots or green onions (scallions)
- 2 c. button mushrooms (larger ones cut in half)
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy pan. Brown the hens in this, turning to brown evenly. Add the wine and salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. If they are frozen, cook until they are tender when pierced in the joint between leg and breast with a fork. Then add the shallots and mushrooms. Cook 20 minutes longer. Lay the birds on a hot platter and pour the sauce over. Serves 4.
Country Baked Spare Ribs
Gladys called this her “happy cooking.” I call it happy eating. She credits friend Jean Lovdal for these.
- 4-6 pounds spareribs cracked through the center and cut into pieces
- 2 bouillon cubes dissolved in 2 c. boiling water (I use low sodium beef broth)
- ¼ c. catsup
- 3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of cayenne or hot sauce
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Dash of celery salt
- 3 whole cloves
- 3 whole allspice berries
- ½ bay leaf
- 1 medium onion, sliced
Broil ribs on both sides until browned. Drain off fat. Mix all other ingredients together and pour over spareribs. Cover with foil and bake at about 300 degrees until fork tender, about 2 hours. Serve with lots of paper napkins. (A covered 10-inch Corningware casserole is perfect for these.) Serves 4 to 6.
No exact measurements here, so just wing it with my suggestions. Here is how it appears in the book:
Bread crumbs made up of half saltines, half white bread (I just use Panko, period), and a good bunch of (preferably Italian) parsley. Zap in blender. Lightly brown crumbs. Layer crumbs and scallops, starting with a layer of crumbs, in a buttered casserole. Finish with a layer of crumbs. Pour in enough cream to come almost to the top. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. I have a feeling she used bay scallops, but I’ve made it with sea scallops (cut in half through the middle) and it was just dandy. Another scallop recipe follows.
Scallop Soup á la Still Cove
Again, this is how Gladys wrote it in in the old Gourmet magazine paragraph style:
You’ll need two slices diced bacon, 1 cup thinly sliced potatoes, 2 tablespoons butter, 1-pint scallops (bay if possible), 2½ cups water, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, ½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme—more if you like it, or 2 teaspoons dried, 1 cup sliced tomatoes (I use the equivalent from a can of Muir Glen fire-roasted), 1/3 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs, dash (1/8 teaspoon) of mace. The latter is the outer husk of nutmeg, and it is optional. A few grains of grated nutmeg will do.
Cook bacon 2 minutes, set aside. Add butter, scallops, potatoes, parsley, and thyme. Sauté 2 minutes, then add water (preferably spring water) and cover. Cook very slowly for 2 minutes, do not boil. Add tomatoes and cook 5 more minutes, stir in cream, bacon, and crumbs. Sprinkle with mace. Stir again and serve in heated bowls. Serves about 4—maybe 2 to 3 depending on appetites. Gladys served this with garlic-toasted rolls.
Eaten with a view of a lake, who could ask for anything more?
How could I leave out an old fashioned staple found across the pond and over here? I couldn’t.
Jamie Oliver’s Cottage Pie
For a unique cottage pie, you can find a vegetarian version presented by Jamie Oliver, that renowned British chef, by going to YouTube. You can have fun watching Jamie do his stuff and then gathering the ingredients and making it yourself. He refers to what we Yankees know as yellow turnip as “Swede.” Otherwise, you might be using a couple of other ingredients you may not have used before. If you have a bowler hat around you can wear it in place of your white chef’s toque.
I might have been Manhattan-born, but am drawn to “life in the country” literature. A friend subscribed to the weekly English magazine called Country Life, and I devoured it, especially the adverts featuring some pretty snappy places for sale. English and Irish humor just make me laugh. If you read this space regularly, you’ll have read about the cartoon series that runs in the back of Country Life. It features the doings of the landed, but not overly monied, gentry. It’s called? “Tottering-by-Gently.” And I’m doing that now!