A Review of
In Late Winter We Ate Pears:
A Year of Hunger and Love.
by Dierdre Heekin and Caleb Barber.
Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.
In Late Winter We Ate Pears:
A Year of Hunger and Love.
Dierdre Heekin and Caleb Barber.
Paperback: Chelsea Green, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
(Don’t miss the tasty recipe from this book that appears at the end of the review!)
Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, as wife and husband, as well as proprietors of the acclaimed restaurant Osteria Pane e Salute, have collaboratively produced a new book that is part story-telling and part cookbook, all of which centers around their restaurant and home in Vermont, and the Italian food and places they are in constant conversation with. Food and eating as a means of remembering – other places, times, people – becomes the central narrative throughout In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love, as all of the items on their menu connote specific times of year, conversations with other cooks and friends, trips to new cities, or the land on which the food was grown. Divided into narrative and recipes, this book is arranged seasonally, “each season the recipes focus on dishes that use ingredients available at that time of year. Within each of these four sections we offer enough recipes so that the reader can choose to create a four-course meal appropriate to a particular season…These recipes are for simple, comforting, and graceful food” (6).
Early on, Deirdre explains a central motivation for her and Caleb’s methods at the restaurant: “We do it out of our convictions about food and culture and preservation. We try to recapture a life we lived in Italy, to give back some of the hospitality we received from the people who fed us, housed us, and apprenticed us” (78). In many ways, the extension of hospitality and time spent together around a table is a practice of remembering, that is to say, a practice of preserving specific narratives and histories; in this scenario, food becomes the medium by which we enter into a shared story.
Many of the best narrative and recipes in Late Winter are informed by this same story-telling. There is the village elder of Asti, who “terrorizes the town with his ninety-five years” (101); Jean, the waiter/cook at Le Continentale in Quebec, preparing Pears in Pernod Caramel, the dish from which this book takes its name; the Salsicce con l’Uva (Sausages with Black Grapes), which Caleb “prefer[s] served on a crusty roll for lunch along with a glass of Chinti Colli Arentini. That’s because we once had such sandwiches in the Piazza del Municipio in Arezzo on a brisk and bright autumn day during the monthly antiques fair. Now that I think about it, that sandwich wasn’t much more than just grilled sausage and bread with a little rough local wine in a plastic cup, served in an atmosphere of shouting, joking cooks, and centuries-old sideboards, headboards, and dressers surrounded by buildings from the Renaissance – an atmosphere to elevate any meal” (179); or, perhaps my favorite image in the book, Franco, a baker in Lugano, who has a window view “better than any other. Every morning while he worked, he saw the sun rise over the lake and mountains” (41).
Reading through much of this book, I have to say that I was cautionary that stories from Italy were somehow being re-hashed in Vermont, simply replicating a place far away; however, in the epilogue, Deirdre writes about preservation carried out in her culinary practice in such a way that could add much value into a larger historic preservation dialogue. She astutely makes a connection between “an unbending devotion to replicating the past [taking] its toll in the historical preservation of buildings around us” to their restaurant: “our search for heirloom recipes and those regional wines was not to create a museum piece or a simple archive stored someplace safe for posterity, but to create an organic archive that was shaped by our local ingredients and in direct relationship to what our local land could offer” (274-5). Reaching the epilogue settled the concerns I had of disconnecting from a place, and suggested that the authors are in fact in a complex relationship with their home in Vermont.
Mark Kurlansky’s recent book The Food of a Younger Land might be a very good read alongside In Late Winter We Ate Pears, and considering some of the “Vermont Foods” from Food of a Younger Land such as “Spiced Beef,” “Boiled Dinner,” or “Apples Pan Dowdy” as well as the “Vermont Sugaring-Off” creates a strong dialogue for historic and cultural preservation through food. What was surprising in looking back through Food of a Younger Land was an essay from the 1940s titled “Italian Food in Vermont,” which amounts to little more than spaghetti and ravioli, however it suggests a precedent for Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber’s In Late Winter We Ate Pears, their restaurant Pane e Salute, and their work as culinary preservationists.
Pasta con Peperoni Gialli
(Pasta with Pepper Sauce)
Reprinted here by permission of the publisher.
3 medium yellow peppers
¼ cup plus additional extra-virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, gently crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound short pasta (such as penne, gemelli, or lumache)
1 cup plus additional freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
Split the peppers. Remove the core, seeds and loose membrane and discard. Cut the peppers lengthwise into ¼ inch strips.
Heat the ¼ cup oil in a saucepan. Add the peppers, the garlic, a few pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper and stir well. Cover the pan and govern the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. (While they simmer, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for pasta.) Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the peppers are well softened.
When the peppers are soft, remove the cover and let simmer for another 8 – 10 minutes to let the water cook off. You should be left with a thick sauce of just peppers and olive oil. Keep the sauce warm while pasta cooks.
Drain the cooked pasta and pour it into a large bowl. Add the pepper sauce with the freshly grated cheese and toss it altogether. Taste the sauced pasta and correct the salt and pepper. If the pasta seems too dry, drizzle in some more extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with more grated cheese alongside.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com