By Anna Dantoni –
Culinary inspiration (and exemplary recipes) can come from a variety of sources but America’s iconic lighthouses don’t immediately come to mind. And yet, a cookbook called The American Lighthouse Cookbook (Cumberland House, $26.99) ingeniously combines food and lighthouses and it turns out to be not such a stretch.
Authors Becky Sue Epstein and Ed Jackson, divide the country into eight geographic zones and then research local coastal cuisine in those regions where lighthouse keepers and their families lived and worked and ate their meals every day. They would not have called their daily fare cuisine; more like available sustenance. In the book we learn that even though most lighthouses were built on cliffs, islands or rocky spits of unforgiving land, the keeper families often kept chickens since they take up such little real estate and the families frequently planted a garden and kept goats and occasionally a cow. They ate what was in season and, of course, harvested the bounty of the sea.
This delightful and illuminating book features pencil drawings of 47 lighthouses and a compilation of some 300 recipes. Stories about the lighthouses and the families who lived in them are also included. There’s genuine American history in this cookbook.
This book would be an entirely appropriate gift for someone whose hobby is researching and visiting lighthouses and well as being a good eater. Many, but not all, of the recipes are seafood and side dishes to accompany them, and lots have an ethnic flair reflecting the cultures of the people who settled the coastlines of America. And even if you have no particular interest in the romance and lore of lighthouses, the recipes are terrific and none is complicated. Here are a few.
Beavertail Lighthouse, Conanicut Island, Rhode Island
(This Portuguese-inspired soup is a meal in itself. 8 servings.)
1 pound kale
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound chorizo sausage, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
12 littleneck clams
Wash the kale, trim away thick stems and ribs and cut into 1-inch pieces. Heat a pot over medium head and add vegetable oil. Sauté the sausage, onions and garlic. Season with half the salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until onions are tender. Stir in the kale and cook for another 4 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer for 40 minutes. Add clams and cook for another 5 minutes or until the clams open. Taste and season with remaining salt and pepper. After 10 minutes, discard any unopened clams.
Maryland Crab Cakes
(Solomon’s Lump Lighthouse, Solomon’s Lump, Maryland. Serves 4.)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup brown mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ pound fresh crabmeat
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix together the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, chives, dry mustard and lemon juice and zest. Fold together the crabmeat, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Combine with the mayonnaise mixture. Do not over mix. Form into 12 patties. Heat a pan on medium-high heat. Put the oil into the pan. Fry cakes for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Carolina Red Rice
(Morris Island Lighthouse, Folly Beach, South Carolina. Serves 6.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 slices bacon, diced
½ onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried, marjoram
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Heat oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat and sauté bacon for 3- to 4 minutes. Stir in onions, celery and garlic. Cook 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Rinse the rice 3 times until water runs clear. Stir in rice, tomatoes, marjoram, parsley, stock, salt and pepper. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduced to a simmer. Cook, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in the butter using a fork and allow rest, covered, for 5 minutes.
Point Isabel Lighthouse, Port Isabel, Texas
(Great as an appetizer, a side or a vegetarian main dish. Serves 6.)
1 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
1 red onion, diced
2 closes garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon seeded and diced jalapeño pepper.
Zest of 1 lime
½ cup lime juice (about 2 times)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Combine the black-eyed peas, onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño. Toss with the zest, lime juice and olive oil. Add the cilantro, salt and pepper.
(Fenwick Island Lighthouse, Fenwick Island, Delaware. This dessert can be made any time of the year because you use canned peaches.)
1 (28-ounce) cans peaches and juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon almond extract
Cinnamon Crisp Topping (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the peaches, putting the juice into a pot along with the sugar and molasses. In a separate bowl, combine the sherry and cornstarch, and stir into the reserved peach-juice mixture. Cook on medium heat until thickened. Stir in almond extract and reserved peaches. Pour into a baking dish and top with Cinnamon Crisp Topping. Bake for 30 minutes.
Cinnamon Crisp Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups rolled oats
Combine all ingredients and put on top of peach mixture before baking.