Forward Living: What warms you up on a cold winter day?

12/03/2011 11:49 AM |

“Pull up a chair. Can you stay for supper?”

Delightful words at any time, but especially on a chilly winter night. In December, at the start of the freezin’ season, North Forkers begin some serious cooking. No more salads and sandwiches, ice cream and iced tea on the back porch. This is meat and potato time in a warm, cozy kitchen.

Just what makes up a good North Fork winter supper? Well, I’ll dig in first. An old favorite of mine is a pork and sauerkraut casserole my mother used to make and I remember enjoying it ever since I gave up those little jars of Gerber baby food.

Anyway, the browned pork chops are baked with the sauerkraut. I add lots of caraway seed and a chopped-up apple. Truly a meal to warm body and soul. Especially with mashed potatoes.

Now here’s Greenport’s Florida Jones Mealy. Even her name, Florida, is warm and sunny on a cold, cold day. Florida’s special winter supper is ham hocks with lima beans. Good stick-to-the-ribs stuff. Add baked sweet potatoes and you’ve got some sweet eating. Florida says you must have homemade cornbread with this meal. So you can soak up the gravy. I really like the cornbread part. Only I’d save my cornbread for breakfast the next morning. Toast it, then butter-and-jam it. That’s winter heaven in the a.m.

During the summer it’s easy to spot our next chef. She’s found running the farm and the farm stand, Farmer Mike’s, on Main Road in Cutchogue. But in winter look for Dorothy Konarski in the kitchen of her home right next to the farm stand.

And what does Dorothy cook on a night when the flakes are falling thick and fast? Roast pork is what the family anticipates. With luck, a green bean and carrot combination accompanies the pork. Oh, and I forgot. Dorothy suggests a steamy hot carrot soup to begin the meal. I’ll let you in on one of Dorothy’s secrets: She uses some apple cider in that soup.

Room for dessert? A creamy tapioca pudding is Dorothy’s offering. Always a hit and even more so when made with a bit of coconut milk.

If you’re out early in the a.m., most likely you’ll spot winter cook Laura DeMaria, who lives in Mattituck and works at Carquest, also in Mattituck. Laura drives all over the North Fork, delivering parts to auto repair shops where hapless car owners hope for miracles.

Still, Laura has time to cook. Especially when teenage sons Marc and Zack will be at the table, hungry for supper. The boys have a few favorites. One is lentil soup. Laura uses a recipe given her by her mother. Mom recipes are always the best. If not lentil soup, then it’s split pea soup with ham. Laura says both soups freeze well, though there’s usually little left when the boys eat.

On a really cold day, Laura warms the kitchen with a roasting chicken in the oven. No time for making stuffing? Here’s what Laura does and I’m gonna try it. Cut an onion in half and put it in the chicken cavity. Makes the chicken soft and sweet, says Laura. Well, that’s better than hard and sour. By the way, I met one of Laura’s sons. He’s a senior at Southold High School, a tall and healthy-looking guy. Must be Mom’s cooking.

Bet you thought every winter-weather cook on the North Fork was a woman of a certain age. No way. Shake hands with Pete Kreppein, a Cutchogue guy in his early 20s. Pete admits to cooking since he was in junior high school. Now a college sophomore up in really cold country Albany, Pete says when he gets the chance to cook he makes a great chicken and rice casserole that he serves with green beans. His lasagna, he claims, is delicious, too. No wonder the young man has such good grades. He’s eating the right stuff.

I wonder about his desserts, though. Any time of year it has to be ice cream. Speaking of cold, on winter weekends, if Pete comes home to the North Fork, he grills outdoors, first clearing away a patch in the snow. You know, I think my sons need to hear about Pete.

Guess we’re at the end of the menu. But come again for supper in just about any North Fork kitchen. In winter dark and deep, you’ll find a taste of happiness.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.