It’s not surprising that a cookbook from the Beekman Boys would be a classy, useful tome: everything they present they present with commendable style. The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook (Sterling Epicure, New York, NY 2011) collects over a hundred recipes, nicely described and beautifully photographed by Paulette Taormina arranged by season and encouraging you to make the most of what’s available nearby. (Photographer Taormina is a fine art photographer known for her series, Natura Morta, which features imagery inspired by 17th century old master still life painters.)
Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell fled (more or less) the wilds of Manhattan to live in the wilds of rural Sharon Springs, NY, on a two-centuries-old farm where they quickly began raising goats and tomatoes, an effort chronicled in a television series that helped establish their renown. Kilmer-Purcell has written best-selling memoirs; husband Ridge is a physician who spent a few years as Vice President for Healthy Living for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. It’s no surprise that their Beekman 1802 brand has become synonymous with good taste. And the food products taste good. Quite good.
Can you achieve a similar result with their recipes? The book, co-written with Sandy Gluck (former food editor for Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine), is quartered into seasons, with each season further divided into courses. Spring’s starters, for example, include a dandelion salad and asparagus torte, with a main dish of lamb burgers with cucumber-yogurt sauce. There’s a starter of a cucumber cooler for summer, whose main dishes include stuffed peppers with fresh corn and a grilled summer squash pizza. And jumble berry pie (with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) for dessert.
But with fall upon us, I turned to the section of the book that’s color-coded orange and selected a main dish of Harvest Beef Chili with Pumpkin and Beans. I’m fortunate enough not only to live on a farm that produces almost the entirety of my produce for summer and fall, but also to have farms nearby from which I can source other ingredients. Thus I visited Windrake Farm to secure a cut of beef, a four-pound round marbled with the yellow fat characteristic of a Jersey cow.
The recipe warns you away from round, preferring the more-marbled and therefore more-tender chuck, but I wasn’t too worried: I could afford a little extra oven time. The pumpkin, onion, garlic, and bell peppers came from my own gardens. Because I had more than twice the beef the recipe called for, I more than doubled the recipe. This earns me significant points from my wife, who needs lunches for workdays.
Flour-dredged beef chunks are browned in and removed from a Dutch oven, the onions, peppers, and garlic gets a sautée, then a sauce is developed. The recipe suggests adding water, but I substituted a bottle of Saranac Ale for some of it. With no ancho chili powder on hand, I substituted a little smoked paprika; otherwise, I followed the recipe’s plan of coriander, cumin, and cocoa powder, the last-named a nice touch.
With the meat returned to the pot and chunks of raw pumpkin added, it’s supposed to cook in a 350-degree oven for an hour and a half. My round needed an extra 45 minutes to get tender. Canned pinto beans are added shortly before the finish. The verdict: a keeper. We’ll try it next time with beef chuck to compare.
A dish like this begs for potatoes, and there’s a side-dish recipe for Leek and Potato Gratin just a few pages away. With a bounteous late crop of leeks and some potatoes still waiting in cellar storage, I increased the recipe enough to move it from a ten-inch to a twelve-inch cast-iron skillet. It’s the first recipe I’ve seen for this dish that doesn’t call for cheese, which seems heretical, but I tried it this way, using only cream and half-again as much milk for its sauce.
Two layers of par-boiled potatoes are laid out in the skillet with layer of well-sautéed (and well-washed) leeks and garlic between, and it’s baked until potato edges start to brown, which took nearly an hour. Again, a winner – and the leftovers vanished almost instantly.
I’ve shared two of the more complicated recipes in the book; you’ll find far fewer steps to follow in much of the rest, and the side-dish of Butter-Crumbed Cauliflower I prepared to accompany this dinner was startlingly simple. I cut my last-remaining head of cauliflower into florets, steamed them until tender, then tossed them in a sautée pan of butter with a sprinkle of nutmeg. The recipe calls for panko; I used regular bread crumbs. The point is to add a butter flavor to the crunch, and this it did. Cauliflower doesn’t need much more, but if you’re adventurous, add chopped hard-boiled egg to the mixture and you have a classic Polonaise.
There’s usually some leeway when straying from a recipe, but not in baking. It was my fault for making a poor assumption. I assumed that the yeast in my fridge was too old and the amount should be increased. Also, I took the lazy way out and used a bread machine, which may have inflicted its own vagaries upon the process. At any event, my loaf of Pumpkin Cheese Bread went nuts, bursting its middle and cascading down the sides of the pan. It still tasted fantastic, the mixture of puréed pumpkin and lots of cheddar cheese giving it an autumnal flavor and a texture that reminded me of Yorkshire pudding. We’ll try it again soon with the correct amount of yeast.
Finally, a dish borrowed from the book’s winter pages, but one that gave us a chance to use up some kale by putting it in a casserole with macaroni and cheese.
I have to confess that, out of pure snobbery, I’ve never before made any version of macaroni and cheese. It seems a silly enough dish that not even a heap of kale ought to be able to ruin it. Which it didn’t, at least not quite, but kale has such a distinctive characteristic of its own that it never seemed to mix with the rest of dish. You’d get a big spoonful of macaroni and cheese. With some intrusive fronds of that green stuff. The Beekman Boys’ Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale recipe fills it out with mushrooms, calling for the porcini and cremini varieties, but my local supermarket finds it challenging enough to carry portobellos. At any rate, I went for the cheaper white mushrooms, and sautéed them separately with butter and lemon juice before mixing them into the dish. Good thing I have smoked paprika on hand, because in this recipe it’s actually called for. Once again I used regular old bread crumbs instead of panko, but I think the result more than suited the recipe’s premise.
Clearly, there’s a long way to go before I make any kind of dent in this book, but each of the dishes I prepared came out nicely enough to encourage me to look ahead. We have a long, cold winter threatened, so a dish of Pasta with Cabbage, Bacon, and Chestnuts not only will add inner warmth but also get rid of some of our overabundance of cabbage. And I’m also anticipating meals of Pork Roast with Root Vegetables, of Bourbon Roast Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing, and, for dessert, the cream cheese-frosted Spiced Carrot Cake.
There’s a succinct, effective narrative to each of the recipes, and many sidebars that tie in with what you’re preparing. Alongside the many finished-product photos are views of the farm, giving a good sense of moving through the seasons as you page through the book. All of which makes this cookbook not only a great keepsake, but an excellent, year-round appropriate gift.
(B. A. Nilsson, 10/12/16)
[Editor’s Note: The Beekman Boys were on hand to sign The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook at the Forever Farmland supper held this past summer at Hand Melon Farm in upstate New York’s Washington County. This supper prepared by the Chefs Consortium was a fundraiser for the Agricultural Stewardship Association, which preserves farmland in upstate New York’s Rensselaer and Washington Counties). Given B.A. Nilsson’s thumbs-up review of the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, we will be sure to check out the Beekman Boys’ two subsequent cookbooks: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook (Rodale, New York, NY 2014) and The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook (Rodale, New York, NY 2013). (FWB)]