Christine B. Rudalevige's Image

Christine B. Rudalevige

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Brunswick, Maine

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Christine Burns Rudalevige is an experienced journalist and classically trained home cook working to spread reliable information about the state of food consumption in her home in Brunswick, Maine, her community, the region in which she lives and across the United States and abroad. She writes copy and develops and tests recipes for many media outlets, including Cooking Light, NPR.org's The Salt, Food52, WholeFoodsMarketCooking.com, Portland Press-Herald, Taste of the Seacoast, Portland Phoenix, Central Penn Parent, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Patriot News and NPR-sponsored Central PA Magazine. She has tested recipes for other magazines and for three yet-to-be published cookbooks.

In 2013, Christine co-founded with Mollie Sanders, the Family Fish Project, a blog (www.familyfish.net), recipe site and cookbook project designed to help busy families cook and eat more seafood at home.

As a chef instructor at Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, Christine develops and teaches recreational cooking classes on a weekly basis and assists other food writers and chefs who teach classes at Stonewall Kitchen as well.

Articles by Author

Maple Syrup Maker’s Sweet Tree-To-Table Experience Image

Crown Maple at Madava Farms is physically located in Duchess County, New York, about 90 minutes north of Manhattan. But philosophically, it sits squarely at the intersection of the food world’s obsession with artisanal products, an engineer’s love of precision technology, and high-end marketing prowess.

The romance of foraging sap from trees rooted in an organic (certified organic, in fact) snow-packed setting just as winter thinks about turning into spring still holds at Crown Maple. Yet, this outfit has upped the ante for its locally sourced sweetener with a multimillion-dollar operation that maintains quality control and traceability from tap to table and an extensive chefy clientele ready and willing to use it across their New York City menus.

“Maple syrup is basically a forage crop,” said Crown Maple CEO Compton Chase-Lansdale.

It’s a popular product, certainly, but there is no brand in the maple industry that is akin to Coke in the soda realm or Kleenex in the facial tissue market. Chase-Lansdale talks of myriad partnerships (almond milk and maple syrup, spice mixes and maple sugar, chocolate and maple syrup, for example) that he hopes will propel the Crown Maple brand up from the breakfast table into the wider world of savory and sweet foods.

Back to the farm

Knowing little more about maple syrup than its affiliation with pancakes back in 2007, Robb Turner purchased more than 800 acres of pretty, pristine land in Dover Plains with a small log cabin as a family retreat. Turner, who runs a private equity firm in New York within the energy sector, grew up on a farm northern Illinois and wanted his daughters to get more exposure to the great outdoors than their suburban New Jersey lifestyle was offering.

What Turner and his wife, Lydia, hadn’t realized at the time was they had purchased part of the Taconic Hardwood Forest, a unique terroir that extends from the eastern edge of New York’s mid-Hudson Valley up into central western Vermont. It was chock full of mature sugar and red maple trees. Turner was schooled about the sugar bush while walking the property, which hadn’t been farmed or even cleared since the Civil War era, with neighbors whose families had used the land for recreational purposes, like trout fishing, for generations.

In 2010, after Turner spent three years methodically researching time-honored traditional practices of the maple syrup industry in northeastern United States and in Canada and newfangled technology that could be applied to the process of converting 43 gallons of raw sap into 1 gallon of syrup, Crown Maple at Madava Farms was born. The name of the farm is a mashup of Robb and Lydia’s two daughters’ names – Madeline and Ava.

20,000 trees

The Crown Maple syrup operation itself, developed with the help of foresters, scientists and engineers, includes 20,000 trees, 50,000 taps and 200 miles of plastic tubing that carries sap to three pump houses with the help of a vacuum system. A field team of eight men maintain that vacuum at 27 inches mercury with the help of sensors that establish a Bluetooth connection to monitoring applications on their handheld Android devices. At a rate comparable to the flow of five bathtub spigots going full bore, the sap flows down the hill from the pump houses into four, 9,300-gallon tanks. Once inside the 27,000-square-foot sugar house that resembles a Napa Valley winery facility in terms of function and style, the sap gets purified with the help of a Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) machine, the only one of its kind in operation in the U.S. maple industry. This apparatus shoots microbubbles into the sap to which impurities attach themselves, get floated to the top and are scraped off via a mechanical arm.

The purified sap then courses into a reverse osmosis machine, which pulls out about half of the sap’s water content, a necessary step when working with this scale, explains Tyge Rugenstein, Crown Maple’s chief operating officer who also holds a Ph.D. in decision sciences and engineering systems/operations research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The evaporator then boils the sap at 217 F until the sugar content of the syrup rests at 68 Brix. Then it’s pumped into 55 -gallon barrels — some of those lent to Crown Maple from bourbon and rum makers in order to impart those flavors into the syrup for specialty products. The barrels get tapped one at a time in the bottling room where they are divided into custom-made Italian glass bottles that resemble small batch whiskey flagons as opposed to run of the mill plastic jugs.

Crown Maple sugar house

The sugar house at Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Credit: Copyright 2014, courtesy of Crown Maple

The 12-ounce bottles — marked under the newly adopted national maple grades of Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber and Extra Dark — are sold for between $16.95 and $30.95 online and in specialty grocers mostly east of the Mississippi River; used in the kitchens and cocktail shakers at Eleven Madison Park, Left Bank, Le Bernardin and Per Se, to name a few; sold in the cafe on the front of the sugar house; and doled out in the tasting room, the walls of which are lined with glossy maple wood, some of it showing the holes of taps of the past.

Mother Nature’s in charge

Watching the syrup being transformed — a process that is open to the public on weekends when the sap flows through early April — at this level is a study in nature meeting technology. Rugenstein argues that meeting only affects the taste of the end product in a beneficial way.

“We control the quality of the product at every step in the process,” said Rugenstein, explaining their process is much like small artisans who take the sap, make the syrup themselves, and sell it directly to the customer. But much of the pure maple syrup sold on a wider scale is packed and distributed by consolidators who blend syrups of varying quality from many producers into a single product.

What even this well-funded operation can’t control, though, is Mother Nature: The sap needs warm days and freezing nights to keep flowing. It is the trees that decide how much of each grade of syrup in which quantities each year. And once the trees start to bud, the season is over.

“In that regard, we are in the same boat as everyone else,” Rugenstein said.

The jury is still out on whether or not the 2015 sugaring season will be a boom or bust, but Crown Maple is technologically ready to make the most of whatever comes.

Maple potato leek soup

Maple Potato Leek Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine B. Rudalevige

Maple Potato Leek Soup

Crown Maple at Madava Farms in upstate New York employs two chefs to develop recipes that use maple syrup in a variety of savory ways. This soup is one of them.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks, white parts and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 1/2 pounds peeled and chopped russet potatoes (about 3 large)
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Salt and white pepper to taste
Chopped chives and crispy bacon for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Melt butter in an 8-quart pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook gently until they are tender but not browned (about 5 to 7 minutes).

2. Add chicken stock and potatoes to pot. Bring to a simmer and cook potatoes until they are tender (about 20 minutes).

3. Add syrup and milk. Warm the mixture, but do not let it boil. Use a stick blender to puree the soup. Stir in cream.

4. Season with salt and white pepper. Serve hot with garnishes, if using.

Main photo: Bottles of maple syrup from Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine B. Rudalevige

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Must-Have Cookbooks: IACP Awards Best Of The Best Image

The International Association of Culinary Professionals announced the best cookbooks published in 2014 at its annual convention, held March 27 to 30 in Washington, D.C.

Winners were chosen in 19 categories, including American and international sweet and savory cooking; restaurant- and chef-centered books and those homing in on culinary travel; e-cookbooks and culinary history; and literary food writing and photography. The IACP program is widely lauded as the most selective in the industry due to its two-tier judging process that requires recipe testing in all relevant categories.

“A New Napa Cuisine,” by Christopher Kostow, was chosen the IACP 2015 Cookbook of the Year, and won in the Global Design category as well. Among the other winners was Zester Daily contributor Ramin Ganeshram, whose book “FutureChefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World” won in the Children, Youth and Family category.

Celebrity chef Curtis Stone was the emcee at the IACP awards event.

This slideshow provides the winner in each category and a brief summary or review of each cookbook.

More from Zester Daily:

» Cookbooks to covet: IACP names 2015 award finalists
» No baking required to savor writer’s bread odyssey
» From wicked to inspired, ‘Grilled Cheese’ inspires
» Dan Pashman’s ‘Eat More Better’ makes dining delicious
» ‘Prune': A glimpse into a chef’s untamed cooking mind

Photo collage: Some of the 2015 cookbook winners announced at the IACP awards show March 29 in Washington, D.C.
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Cookbooks To Covet: IACP Names 2015 Award Finalists Image

There are more than 25,000 cookbook titles listed on Amazon. It’s certainly a buyer’s market. But which ones to buy, either for use in the kitchen or viewing on the coffee table?

The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) — a worldwide forum for the exchange of information, knowledge and inspiration within the professional food and beverage community — last week narrowed the field for cookbook lovers with its selections of what it considers the best cookbooks published in 2014.

The awards program received more than 500 submissions in 20 categories, including American and international sweet and savory cooking; restaurant- and chef-centered books and those homing in on culinary travel; e-cookbooks and culinary history; and literary food writing and photography. The program is widely lauded as the most selective in the industry due to its two-tier judging process that requires recipe testing in all relevant categories.

One cookbook is selected as the Cookbook of the Year. All winners will be announced at the IACP annual conference March 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

This slideshow provides a snapshot of the finalists in each category.


More from Zester Daily:

» No baking required to savor writer’s bread odyssey
» From wicked to inspired, ‘Grilled Cheese’ inspires
» Dan Pashman’s ‘Eat More Better’ makes dining delicious
» ‘Prune': A glimpse into a chef’s untamed cooking mind
Photo collage: All winners will be announced at the IACP annual conference March 27-30 in Washington, D.C.

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5 Easy Steps To Make Orecchiette In 30 Minutes Image

My children have favored orecchiette since they realized they could suction these little ear-shaped pasta to the roofs of their mouths. Demonstrating this titillating feat to other eaters violates both the no-playing-with-your-food and the no-talking-with-your-mouth-full dinnertime rules, certainly. But nonetheless, the ticklish sensation and noisy release of said suction always reduces the table to giggles.

From the cook’s point of view, the cupped-shaped pasta nestle bits and pieces of chunky, quickly thrown-together sauces inside their curves for flavor surprises throughout the meal. And the somewhat chewy texture gives eaters more satisfaction than short weeknight dinner prep times typically provides.

Until a month ago I always bought dried orecchiette, literally translated from the Italian as ear (orecchio) plus small (etto). That was true until chef Ilma Jeil Lopez showed me how easy these little suckers are to make. Lopez and her husband, chef Damian Sansonetti, own Piccolo, a tiny but trendy Italian restaurant in Portland, Maine, where they make all of the pasta they serve.

Orecchiette go from raw ingredients to swimming in the sauce in about 30 minutes flat. Truly, I kid you not.

Orecchiette is the easiest pasta in the world to make, chef Lopez told a group of adult students who had traipsed through knee-high snow banks into her restaurant early on a cold Saturday in January to glean from her information about cooking and baking with different types of flours.

Step 1: Measuring the ingredients

Lopez’s recipe for orecchiette requires only four ingredients: equal parts “00” flour (very finely ground soft wheat flour), semolina flour (a courser ground durum wheat flour typically used to make dried pasta) and water (Lopez suggest 225 grams of each flour and 225 milliliters water), and a generous glug (about 10 milliliters) of flavorful olive oil. The recipe includes no eggs to complicate the matter like most other fresh pasta formulas.

Step 2: Making the dough

The ingredients are combined in a bowl, kneaded into a ball on a clean surface until the dough is smooth inside and out, and rested for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Forming the little ears

Chunks are sliced from the dough, rolled into snakes, sliced into thumbnail-sized pieces, and deeply indented with a fingertip. That last bit is meditative if you do it alone, or works as a good distraction while trying to extract information out of your teens. Either works for me.

Should you want to make a double batch, fresh orecchiette freeze well. To do that, spread them out on a sheet pan and freeze them on the pan first. Once they are frozen, you can put them in plastic bags.

Step 4: Making the sauce

Orecchiette’s roots are in the southern Italian region of Puglia, where they are dressed in a simple sauce of blanched broccoli rabe that is cooked in the same water as the pasta, sautéed garlic and red chilies, and grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Chef Lopez served her students orecchiette with a mélange of pre-roasted vegetables, browned butter, orange zest and shaved Parmesan. I like mine best with a pancetta-driven carbonara sauce as it comes together very quickly.

Step 5: Cooking the pasta

Handmade orecchiette cook in a boiling pot of heavily salted water. They do you the courtesy of floating to the surface when they are ready to eat, which typically takes only 2 to 3 minutes.

Easy cleanup

One of the bonuses of this type of pasta comes on the flip side when cleaning up. Other than sprinkling a baking tray with a skim coat of semolina flour to house the orecchiette while they await their turn in the pot, there is no extra flour to coax out from between the rollers of a pasta machine, wipe off the counter, sweep up from the floor, or shake off your clothing.

From the quick start to the easy finish, what’s not to love about these cute little ears, even on a weeknight?

Orecchiette With Roasted Vegetables and Brown Butter

This recipe is one adapted from what chef Ilma Jeil Lopez, who owns Piccolo in Portland, Maine, taught cooking class students how to use the orecchiette they made so easily with their own hands.

Prep time: 25 minutes (plus 30 minutes if not using pre-roasted vegetables)

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes (60 if not using pre-roasted vegetables)

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes

1 cup roasted cauliflower, roughly chopped

1/2 cup greens, sautéed in olive oil, roughly chopped

1/2 cup roasted tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 cup roasted eggplant, roughly chopped

1/4 cup sautéed onions, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

1 pound orecchiette

Orange zest

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat.

2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. The butter will foam and then start to brown.

3. When it starts to brown, stir in red chili flakes. Cook for 15 seconds and then stir in cauliflower, greens, tomatoes, eggplant and onions.

4. Stir gently until sauce is heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Cook orecchiette (2 to 3 minutes if fresh, according to packaged instruction if dried) in the large pot of salted water.

6. Drain pasta and add it to sauté pan. Gently stir. Check to see if it needs additional salt and pepper.

7. Grate orange zest over pasta and top with cheese shavings. Serve immediately.

Main image: Orecchiette are easy to make. Credit: Copyright 2015 Christine Burns Rudalevige

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10 Ways To Bring Parsnips To The Table Image

Parsnips used to get a lot more love in the United States.

When this pale taproot — native to Eurasia — made its way to the New World in the early 1600s, the inherently sweet but peppery parsnip was a commonplace carbohydrate. It sustained English settlers both as a daily, wintertime starch and as a special occasion sweetener. In “Roots,” cookbook author Diane Morgan, explains that Native Americans picked up this new crop and ran with it as a staple root vegetable for quite a while. But then parsnips got pushed aside by the prolific potato and the burgeoning sugar trade. They were further slandered by wandering seeds that made parsnips more of an invasive weed (the leaves of which oozed a sap that causes a nasty rash) than a useful crop, and botanists discovered the scary similarities between wild parsnips and their deadly cousin, poison hemlock.

Centuries later, things are looking up for the lowly parsnip. Cultivated parsnips — the three main varietals, the All American, Hollow Crown Improved and Harris Model, are all pretty similar in taste — are now being celebrated by chefs in the more northern climes of the United States. Parsnips are particularly highlighted this time of year because chefs know these roots get sweet like candy after they sit in the ground after a few hard frosts. The cold forces the parsnips to metabolize some of their starch reserves into sugar.

Once Greg Sessler has had to scrape the frost off his car’s windshield several mornings in a row, the chef of Cava Tapas and Wine Bar in Portsmouth, N.H., knows it’s time to call one of his farmers, Chuck Cox of Tuckaway Farm in Lee, for sweet parsnips.

Bred for flavor

“The difference between a parsnip picked before a cold snap and one picked after is pretty amazing,” said Sessler, who makes a parsnip and vanilla soup with which he pairs crispy, fried lobster.

Chef Brendan Vessey of The Joinery, a farm-to-table place that offers a Southern flare to its fare but is located in Newmarket, N.H., makes a distinction between the straight and crooked parsnips that come into his kitchen. He knows the gnarly ones have been bred for flavor and not uniformity.

“You’ve got to work back from what comes in the door,” Vessey said. With the more uniformly sized parsnips, Vessey makes a confit in which he very slowly cooks the roots in oil or tallow, garlic and fresh herbs. The more gnarly ones get scrubbed, gently scrapped clean of the peel with a knife and roasted in all their twisted glory.

Parsnips.

Parsnips. Credit: Christine Burns Rudalevige

Parsnips can also easily be celebrated at home. Although the USDA does not track parsnip production or consumption on the national level as it does with its orange cousin, the carrot, anecdotal evidence shows that home cooks have increasingly better access to parsnips. They are popping up in farmers market stalls at a steadier clip and becoming more prolific in community-supported agriculture winter shares.

If you happen to find yourself in possession of more parsnips than you know what to do with, here are 10 ways to get them out of the market bag or CSA box and onto the table for dinner.

  • Surprise guests expecting potato chips with spicy parsnip crisps.
  • Grate parsnips for latkes, fritters or pakoras.
  • Use parsnips in any puréed soup that could benefit from their sweet, earthy flavor that has hints of both parsley and nutmeg. Straight roasted parsnip and leek soup is a classic, but you can easily mix that up with additions of curry or ginger.
  • Add parsnips to a pot of potatoes destined to be mashed.
  • Purée parsnips as you would celery root or cauliflower to have a surprisingly sweet, snowy white pillow for braised winter meats.
  • Add parsnips to long-simmering beef or vegetarian stews.
  • Replace half of the carrots in your favorite maple glazed carrot recipe with similarly sized parsnips for a fun, visual side dish.
  • Sauté parsnips in tangy goat’s milk butter, as author Morgan suggests, which plays off the sweetness of the root for an easy but out-of-the-ordinary application.
  • Swap the carrots in your favorite muffin or cake for parsnips.
  • Roast parsnips in a hot oven to bring out the sweetness even further and spice them up with trendy ingredients such as harissa and preserved lemons (recipe below).

 

Roasted Parsnips With Harissa, Preserved Lemons and Tangy Yogurt Drizzle

I became acquainted with parsnips while living in England and eating many a Sunday pub lunch after wet, rainy walks in the countryside. I’ve adapted this recipe, which I originally found in a grocery store advertisement, to fall more in line with the ingredients I can find easily now in my home state of Maine.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 40 to 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Kosher salt

2 pounds small parsnips, scrubbed well and halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons harissa

1 tablespoon honey

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces plain yogurt

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Skin of 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped celery leaves

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add parsnips, bring back to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain parsnips, lay them out flat on a clean towel and pat dry. Toss parsnips in a bowl with harissa, honey and 1/2 teaspoon salt until they are well coated.

3. Slather olive oil all over a baking sheet and place it into the oven for 5 minutes. When the oil is hot, add parsnips to the sheet and spread them out in a single layer. Roast until the parsnips are crispy and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.

4. As the parsnips roast, mix yogurt and garlic. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes and then season with salt to taste.

5. When parsnips are roasted, scatter chopped preserved lemon and parsley or celery leaves over the top. Serve warm or room temperature with a drizzle of yogurt sauce.

Main photo: Roasted parsnips with harissa, preserved lemons and tangy yogurt drizzle. Credit: Christine Burns Rudalevige

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Ask The Priest: Understanding Acadian Flatbread Image

The Rev. Paul Dumais has spent much of his free time in the past year sorting truth from rumor concerning the science behind a traditional comfort food in his home state of Maine.

Dumais, a Catholic priest who lives in Lewiston, has been studying the chemical composition of ployes (rhymes with toys). He’s attempting to discern the scientific facts about the batter for these traditional French Acadian buckwheat pancakes or flatbreads from the theatrical stories passed down by generations of Acadian people living in northern Maine.

For example, his grandmother would use only Rumford baking powder in her ployes. “The rumor was that if you didn’t use Rumford’s, your ployes would turn green,” said Dumais, adding that he can’t scientifically support that claim.

He can, though, methodically corroborate his grandmother’s “feel” for when there is enough water in the mix because he’s calculated that a hydration rate of 170% (170 grams of water to 100 grams of flour) makes the best ployes. If the batter is too thick, they don’t cook evenly. If it’s too thin, the finished product is not hearty enough to do its job of providing a simple carbohydrate filler food for the local population. One serving of ployes has 100 calories, 21 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein.

Dumais says “flatbread” is a more accurate term than “pancake” for ployes because they are not traditionally eaten for breakfast and traditionally not served with maple syrup. They are buttered, rolled and served at lunch or dinner with savory dishes like creton, a pork spread containing onions and spices; baked beans; and an Acadian chicken stew called fricot.

Never flip a ploye

Ployes are never, ever flipped like a flapjack. The batter, which must not be over mixed, is portioned on a dry, hot griddle; swished once into a 4- or 5-inch circle; and cooked face up so you can see the heat “fait les yeux” or “make the eyes.” Those “eyes” are the air bubbles that dot the surface of perfectly cooked ployes.

Dumais is a Mainer in the true sense of the word. He serves as Catholic chaplain to Central Maine Medical Center and Bates College and is a founding member of the Fraternity of St. Philip Neri. He was born and raised in the small town of Madawaska, which sits in the middle of a place called “the Valley” in Aroostook County. “The Valley” forms part of the international border with Canada along the St. John River. Madawaska, which now has a population of 4,000, was founded by French-speaking agrarian settlers in 1785 after they were forcefully dispersed by the English from the region of Acadie, a part of New France that included sections of what we now recognize as Eastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.

Ployes mixes from Bouchard Family Farms. Credit: Christine B. Rudalevige

Ployes mixes from Bouchard Family Farms. Credit: Christine B. Rudalevige

Dumais is armed with both taste memory and newfangled kitchen gadgets (like his  infrared thermometer, a highly accurate kitchen scale and his preferred Danish dough whisk) and is enthusiastically fond of mixing experimentation with deep-set culinary tradition. His end game — spurred on by his Great Aunt Prescille’s faint memory — is to produce a ploye batter much like his great-great-grandmother made from local grains and natural, ambient yeast.

Dumais recently evangelized the scientific wonders of ployes at the annual Kneading Conference in Skowhegan. The starting point in his public demonstration involves ready-made ployes mixes from two sources: his cousins’ garage in Frenchville, and the more commercially available mix sold by Bouchard Family Farms. The measurements — 1 cup of ployes mix to 1⅓ cups of cold water — are spelled out on the side of the stand-up paper sacks. So are instructions for letting the batter rest for 5 minutes, the proper amount for each ploye (3 ounces), recommended thickness (⅛ inch) and expected cooking time (60 to 90 seconds). Dumais does advise users of these mixes to play with the amount of water added as he believes the viscosity should be a bit thinner than the labels’ recipe prescribes.

The ingredients for these mixes comprise a simple list and look much like his mother’s “from scratch” recipe (below), which serves as his second data point. Here he likes to demonstrate his hydration discoveries, making dramatic pouring gestures of too-slow ploye dough that has only 100 percent hydration and requires the cook to work too hard to spread it on the hot griddle. He also shows how too-fast batter quickly seeps across the boundaries of its allotted griddle real estate.

Sharing tips for success

But Dumais gets most animated when he presents his progress on developing a recipe for the naturally leavened ployes he suspects his ancestors made, even though he has been unable to find historical documentation of this process in the University of Maine Acadian Archives. He relays the story of when he tasted a savory pancake made by a Somali immigrant named Angela at a potluck dinner celebrating an urban farming program run by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston last winter. They did not have a spoken language in common, but it didn’t matter. With bread as a cultural currency they both understood, Angela could convey that the secret to her bread was a yogurt-based starter that she kept in a jar and from that jar she began each new batch of pancakes.

A vertical stack. Credit: Christine B. Rudalevige

A vertical stack. Credit: Christine B. Rudalevige

It clicked for Dumais at that moment and he ran with the fermented flour starter idea, playing with flour amounts and types, feeding times, temperatures and hydration ratios. “Then one day, I made a batch. Watched and tasted. And finally thought, ‘Why, I think I’ve got it!’ ” Dumais said.

As he poured, swished once to form the right-sized circumference for the flatbread and watched for the heat to fait les yeux, Dumais said, “Now that is a ploye my mémé could be proud of.” These ployes looked much like the others, but had a bit of a sourdough finish.

In honor of the 2014 Acadian World Congress held in multiple locations along the U.S.-Canadian border over two weeks in August, Dumais hosted a continual feast near an ancestral homestead.

“My personal little quest was to reintroduce the naturally leavened ployes in honor of the event,” Dumais said. One evening he cooked alongside his mother to create some chicken stew and his new recipe for old-fashioned ployes for family.

Just as his mother had done every other time she’d eaten Acadian chicken stew, Dumais said for this meal “she buttered a ploye, rolled it up and dunked the end in her stew and remarked to another family member: ‘These are made without baking powder. They are very good.’

“Part of what might be difficult to appreciate is that people eat ployes all the time. … My mother was able to appreciate the moment largely because I had been in conversation with her all along,” he said.

People enjoyed Dumais’ ployes, but it “was an understated return of the traditional Acadian flatbread,” he said. The fact that they were made with family, for family, in an open-air kitchen on the banks of the St. John River near a cedar cabin built by his grandfather was satisfaction enough for him.

Ployes from scratch

This is Father Paul Dumais’  formula to replicate his mother’s ployes, traditional French Acadian buckwheat savory flatbreads. A scientifically enthusiastic baker, he highly recommends weighing the dry ingredients to yield the most authentic ployes.

Prep time: 1 minute

Cook time: 9 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes (including rest time of about 5 minutes for the batter)

Yield: 10 ployes

Ingredients

100 grams (½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) buckwheat flour

100 grams (a scant ¾ cup) all-purpose flour (Dumais uses King Arthur)

4 grams (½ teaspoon) salt

6 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder (Dumais uses Rumford)

340 grams (1¾ cup) cold water (possibly more)

Directions

1. Preheat a griddle to 400 F.

2. Stir together buckwheat and all-purpose flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Using a wire whisk, beat in the cold water until all the lumps are dissolved.

3. Let the batter sit for approximately 5 to 10 minutes.

4. In a circular motion, use back of spoon to spread 3 ounces of batter to ⅛ inch thick circles that are 5 inches in diameter. Cook ployes for 1½ minutes until the tops are bubbly and dry. Remove from griddle and serve warm, slathered with butter, with savory soups and stews.

Main photo: Father Paul Dumais. Credit: Christine B. Rudalevige

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