Written by Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely
Recipes by Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely
& Melissa Clark
I love the Roman myth of Vertumnus, god of gardening and pastoral farming, often depicted by artists and sculptors in these country pursuits. Vertumnus turned the seasons; his name means “he who turns.” As told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he fell in love with Pomona, a wood nymph and goddess of fruit orchards, but she was wary of him. As he tried to woo her in various guises—as a grape grower, cowherd, fisherman and so on—she spurned him. Only when he changed himself into an old woman did Pomona allow him to talk to her. Suddenly, sun blazing, he turned into his handsome, virile self, and she was smitten.
Now Vertumnus has turned the seasons again. Instead of brilliant sunlight to ripen his and Pomona’s fruits, vegetables and grains, we are in the dark and dormant period. Every year it takes me a while to get accustomed to the waning light of late autumn, but I like this season too, knowing that in New England it’s necessary in order to renew the cycle of nature. The harvest in, we observe the holidays clustered at the winter solstice in these cold months, as have cultural and religious groups throughout millennia. No wonder Christmas and Hanukkah rituals are filled with stars against a black sky during the long nights. The better for us to come together to celebrate in every sense!
And when the holidays with all their indulgence are over, the calendar year turns. In a change of mood, I take stock of myself for personal renewal and feel better for setting resolutions. Even though I know I may not keep them fast, January’s thin cold air helps to clear my head.We humans don’t hibernate; instead we light our candles and fireplaces to sit around, as if by campfire, finding warmth in the brightness and each other. These gatherings after the holidays are my favorite of year, when I feel less frazzled, undistracted, grateful for the chance to share an evening in good company.
This menu, for such gatherings during or after the winter holidays, makes full use of New England’s bounty. Oysters and cranberries may come from the South Shore, venison perhaps from central Massachusetts.Winter roots and vegetables have been harvested by our farmers; apples, pears and quinces come from the cold cellars of Pomona’s orchards nearby. New Englanders are making ever better artisanal cheeses, renewing and establishing dairy traditions.
I can’t imagine you would want to cook all these recipes together in one feast, but choose among them as the dishes suit your needs. Along with being local, they are healthy and wholesome, not to mention tasty. For me, the stone-ground corn bread is a revelation. I’ll be making plenty, not just to go with the venison stew, but for leftovers to give family and friends who stay over, to savor at breakfast along with quince and cranberry compote.
Most of these foods come to us from the realm of Vertumnus and Pomona. They seem a couple with much in common and each other to enjoy during these winter months, until Vertumnus turns the season once again.
Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely’s articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. Her cookbook, A Feast of Fruits, was published by Macmillan in 1993. Her dictionary, The Chef ’s Companion (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd edition), remains in print after 26 years. She was editor of The Culinary Times, published by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe from 2000-2009. Beth can be reached at email@example.com.
Melissa Clark, a New York City food writer and cookbook author, pens the A Good Appetite column for the New York Times. Melissa can be reached through Twitter at @goodappetite.