Ex-urbanites write country cookbook for all seasons

November 11, 1990|By Hartford CourantLos Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

Living on a 200-acre farm in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills, Ruth and Skitch Henderson experience the four seasons to their fullest.

"Each season of the year offers dozens of opportunities to have friends over, to eat, be together and to enjoy the farm," the couple say in the introduction to their first book, "Ruth & Skitch Henderson's Seasons in the Country" (Viking; $24.95).

The Hendersons are cosmopolitan people who have not regretted their decision, in 1972, to give up their New York residence for a more casual way of life on Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford.

The couple turned the farm into a place where they mix business and pleasure. They converted the stables into a housewares shop and a cooking school that attracts well-known cooking authorities, and made the hayloft into an art gallery. The complex, run by Mrs. Henderson, is known as the Silo.

Mr. Henderson, when not guest-conducting around the world or directing the New York Pops, can be found riding his tractor, tinkering with a prize steam engine or indulging his passion for flying at nearby Danbury airport.

Their mode of entertaining, the focus of their new book, reflects the rustic, casual atmosphere of the farm.

"Being on the farm, I take advantage of the simplicity," Ruth Henderson said during a recent interview. "I tend to entertain very casually. The only time we had a catered event here was for my 50th birthday -- and that was because the party was a surprise."

In the book, the Hendersons describe the parties and family meals held at the farm over the course of a year. The occasions are varied: a hearty breakfast with Skitch presiding over the griddle; a summer lunch in the pasture for 60 visiting German firefighters and their host families from the New Milford Water Witch Hose Company; an Easter Sunday buffet. The Hendersons' favorite dinner guests are their children, Heidi and Hans, their spouses and their children.

The 275 color photographs show not only the food but table settings, the changing landscape, the interiors of the farm buildings and the Hendersons' home.

"I lived that year [while writing the book] and cooked as I normally would cook," Mrs. Henderson said. "There were no food stylists [to arrange the food for the photographs]. I did what came naturally to me in New England."

The Hendersons like real food, not precious food. Mrs. Henderson keeps a pantry stocked with condiments and she pickles vegetables fresh from their garden. She uses a lot of pasta, rice, lentils and beans. She is also from the "waste not" school: Bones and vegetables are turned into soup stocks.

"I always like simplifying," she said. "When you get older, you get more gutsy, more sure of yourself."

The following recipes is from "Ruth & Skitch Henderson's Seasons in the Country."

Stew in a pumpkin

Serves eight to 10.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon honey

2 cups beef broth

1 medium pumpkin, about 12 pounds (measured to fit your oven)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 1/2 cups cooked corn, at room temperature

1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram, or pinch dried

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add the meat to the saucepan and saute until browned on all sides. Add the tomatoes, green pepper, potatoes, salt, pepper, honey, broth and reserved onions. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off the top of the

pumpkin and reserve. Scrape out the seeds and strings and brush the inside with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pumpkin on a large waterproof plate and set it inside a roasting pan. Fill pan with enough water to come just under the rim of the plate. Place the pumpkin top on a separate baking sheet.

Ladle the stew into the pumpkin shell. Bake until shell and top are just tender, about 1 hour. During the last 5 minutes, stir in the corn and marjoram.

Carefully transfer pumpkin (on its plate) to a large platter. To serve, ladle the stew into soup bowls, scooping out some pumpkin meat with each serving.

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