|Cold and Stew Season|
|Right Food for the Season - Late Fall|
|Written by Jane Ward|
Lately my mother is in a reminiscent mood when my children and I visit. One of the stories she likes to share is a childhood memory of spending a summer at her Aunt Mary’s house in Danvers, Massachusetts, which was, back then, the country. According to my mother, Aunt Mary of Danvers grew a lot of vegetables herself and also supplemented those with vegetables and fruit from neighboring farms or farm stands, enough so that night after night her dinner table groaned with fresh and freshly cooked produce. A diner at Aunt Mary’s table, my mother recounts, would be allowed only one small piece of meat. “A piece of meat about the size of our palms,” my mother will add, tracing a circle in her hand for emphasis. “But we could have as many helpings of fruits and vegetables as we liked.”
Aunt Mary’s rule probably had as much to do with the economy of the times (the country was not long out of the Great Depression) as it did with plain old good sense. Such good sense that we’re once again paying attention to those old values today. Today, even food and environmental experts advocate a return to these simple rules: eat meat for your protein, but in moderation; eat lots of produce in season and at its freshest best whenever possible; eat locally produced food so you know where – and how – your food is grown. Return to this kind of life and everyone wins: your farmers, your local economy, the environment, the animals, and you.
I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of a wonderful family-owned produce farm, open from May through November. My other favorite, Tendercrop Farms on High Road in Newbury, means a drive for me rather than a walk, but it is well worth the fifteen minutes in the car. If you have driven north on Route 95, you may have spotted their herd of cows in the distance, grazing in fields just south of Newburyport. Like my neighborhood farm, Tendercrop sells a wide variety of their own fruits and vegetables, plus they are open year-round. They have another added bonus too– raising and selling their own hormone- and antibiotic-free and free-ranging beef, chicken and turkeys.
Beef stew is a great way to eat a little meat while enjoying a lot of vegetables, and my mother’s Aunt Mary would have approved.
Beef Stew with Molasses and Dried Cranberries
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
a 1 lb. can of plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 cups sliced yellow onion
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried thyme
1/3 cup cider or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup water
6 medium carrots, sliced ½-inch thick
½ cup dried cranberries
½ tsp. ground ginger
Using a large plate, toss the beef cubes together with the flour. In a heavy kettle such as a dutch oven or dutch sauté pan, heat the oil. Brown the beef in batches, cooking only a few pieces at a time, removing one batch of browned beef and setting it aside in a large bowl as you cook the next.
Once all the meat has been browned, return the beef to the pot, adding to it the tomatoes, onions, salt, thyme, and some black pepper to taste. Stir to combine and cook for two minutes.
Stir in vinegar, molasses and water and bring to a simmer, cover, then cook on the stovetop for two hours. Maintain the simmer.
After two hours, add the carrots, cranberries, and ginger and simmer again, this time uncovered for 25 minutes or until carrots are just tender.
This stew is unusual combination of ingredients but they all come together to make a delicious dish. Try serving it as we do, on soft polenta or Moroccan couscous with a sauteed bitter green on the side.
Jane graduated from Simmons College in 1983 with a degree in English Literature, the desire to write novels, and the promise of a job with one of Boston's premier catering companies. Jane has been a caterer, corporate party planner, and baker, but now currently writes full-time. She is at work on her third novel, a weekly food blog , and a food memoir: TATTOOED WITH FOOD (a life indelibly inked by cooking and eating).