It would have been a pretty interesting menu for any important meal: Lots of oysters, venison chops, sweet potato frites, a baby brassica mix.
It was also, in spite of the absence of turkey (and many of the other fetish items associated with everyone’s very proprietary holiday), very much in tune with the occasion we observed last Thursday: On the shores of Plymouth Bay in 1621 there were no mashed potatoes (no potatoes of any kind in fact), cranberry sauce, or pie on the long tables the precarious little community of Pilgrims had set up. Their thanksgiving meal did however include shellfish and venison, and those delights were our inspiration for our own holiday meal.
But we aren’t strict constructionists when it comes to the enjoyment of food, so Barry and I did decide to add some fine drink and a few other accompaniments we would have appreciated had we been there 400 years ago, and they were available.
The image below is of the bowl of ‘Originals’, the first of two caches of oysters that Barry and I opened and spread across a broad expanse of partially crushed ice. I’d packed the ice inside a vintage 13 1/2-inch majolica bowl that my lover Tom had purchased in Majorca and brought back with him from a US Navy tour to the Mediterranean in the early 1970’s, carefully stowed inside his duffel bag.
- a full 50 Walrus and Carpenter Oysters from South County, Rhode Island, Crassostera Virginica (25 ‘Originals’, from Ninigret Pond, in Charlestown, and 25 ‘Dutchies’, from Dutch Harbor in Jamestown), that Barry and I had ordered from Jules Opton-Himmel, the founder of the 2 farms, and carried home from his Mother’s Broadway apartment house roof the night before, opened and consumed in 2 stages, the ‘Originals’ first, followed by the Dutchies’, early in the evening of Thanksgiving
- slices of a small sunflower, flax and peasant sourdough baguette from Hawthorne Valley Farm
- the ‘wine’ was a local New York (Esopus) cider, Metal House Cider from Copake Wine, but because we were with the oysters for so long, we exhausted the bottle and ended sampling them with a wonderful chilled Chicago gin, Letherbee’s flagship bottle
There was an interval before we were able to begin the main course, but it was welcome, above all to the cook.
- four fresh (never frozen), local 6-ounce, Dutchess County fallow deer venison loin chops from Quattro’s Game Farm & Store in the Union Square Greenmarket, rinsed, dried, rubbed with olive oil and a very generous coating of freshly-cracked black peppercorns, then set aside on the counter covered with waxed paper for about an hour, placed over moderately high heat in 1 to 2 tablespoons of a combination of butter and olive oil inside a heavy oval 11-inch enameled cast iron pan and cooked rare to medium rare, or until juices had begun accumulating on the top, which meant little more than 2 minutes on each side, transferred to warm plates to rest while the bottom of the pan was scraped with a wooden spatula to collect the juices, 2 tablespoons of a decent brandy (I used Courvoisier V.O.) added to the pan and briefly cooked over high heat, until it had almost become a syrup, the sauce poured over the chops, which were then garnished with micro chervil from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- twelve or more ounces of Japanese sweet potatoes from Lani’s Farm, unpeeled, but scrubbed pretty thoroughly, cut as french fries, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, 5 medium unpeeled Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic cloves and a little crushed dried habanada pepper, roasted just above 400º in a large, well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan for about 35 minutes, or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and chewy on the edges, garnished with chopped parsley from Philipps Farms
- a beautiful, fresh, and superb-tasting ‘braising mix’ (in late-November!) of many kinds of young brassicas (kale, collards, mustards, escarole, and dandelion) from Keith’s Farm, barely wilted in a little olive oil in which several small rocambole garlic cloves, also from his Farm, had first been heated until fragrant and beginning to soften, seasoned with sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper
- the wine was a great California (Sonoma) red, Triumph by 1849 Wine Co., a blend of Petit Syrah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, the generous gift from an
- artist friend, Saber
We skipped the planned dessert (it would have been 4 different kinds of tiny pies from the Greenmarket, with a very mature gift Sauternes, but we stayed around for some sips of Koval, a phenomenal Chicago Bourbon
- the contemporary American music we listened to before dinner was assembled by Barry and placed on this Spotify playlist
- the music through much of the dinner was Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Candide’, the recording of the 1989 concert performance at the Barbican in London, Bernstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus, with Adolph Green, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, and Jerry Hadley