The class, Preserving the Herb Garden with Cindy Tait Law, was a homecoming of sorts.
From 1969 until the mid-1990s my mother was the proprietor of The Country Sampler in Boalsburg, PA, the quaint “birthplace of Memorial Day” on the outskirts of State College. She and two friends opened the shop in a former Clover Farm Store because they were avid cooks and entertainers—and there wasn’t a shop around that sold wooden stirring spoons or any of the kitchen gadgets they yearned for. In no time, “The Sampler” was the place to find Romertopf clay pot cookers, Sabatier knives, Bodum coffee presses, and Cuisinart food processors.
In the rear of the store they installed a mini-kitchen island where my mother or a guest chef would present cooking classes in the evening to spark culinary adventures for Centre Countians.
While I was finishing up high school and then enrolled at Penn State, I spent term breaks and holidays helping out at The Country Sampler. And that is where I met Cindy Tait. She was a little bit older than I and much wiser. We spent countless hours solving the world’s problems while trying to stay warm in the shop where cold air seemed to gush through the worn floorboards. We greeted customers offering steaming mugs of Russian Tea (an instant tea-Tang concoction spiced up with cinnamon, allspice and cloves) on cold December nights before the holidays. I remember Cindy’s specialty was dusting merchandise on the display shelves and mine was wrapping gifts in the even-colder storage room. But, oh, we loved it when there was a cooking class. Imagine getting paid to be entertained with a class and then to sample the goodies!
Cindy has come a long way from those early Sampler days, and she is now in charge of product development at Tait Farm Foods, creating chutneys and sauces and preserves and vinaigrettes at Tait Farm just outside of Boalsburg.
My mother and I went to Cindy’s class and learned about rolling basil “cigars” and freezing them in snack baggies, steeping Thai basil in white wine vinegar, and freezing pesto in quart-size baggies, pressed flat and thin, so it’s easy, fast, and safe to thaw in the refrigerator before adding it to pasta. She tempted our food imaginations with herbal salts and herbal honeys and herbal butters.
But my personal favorite was what she calls Sage-Roasted Potatoes. After making them for a pre-Easter dinner, and again later for a photo shoot, I’m inclined to call them Stained-Glass Potatoes. They are delicious hot out of the oven, warmed up for leftovers, and, truth be told, even cold as a midnight snack. The stained-glass part of the title flashed in my mind because they are miniature works of art, herbs pressed in an arrangement and roasted until golden.
Russet baking potatoes
Fresh sage leaves and/or rosemary sprigs
Preheat oven to 350°. Brush a film of olive oil on baking sheet. Sprinkle the sheen of oil with coarse salt. Arrange sage leaves in an attractive pattern on top of oil, making sure the “right” side is down.
Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Place potato halves on top of sage leaf patterns, keeping each “arrangement” contained under each potato half.
Place baking sheet in oven and roast for an hour. When the timer goes off, you can lift one potato half up and take a peek…the sage should be stuck to the potato, and the potato should be a crusty, golden brown. If it isn’t, return potatoes to oven until they turn golden.
This is such a simple and delicious variation on ordinary baked potatoes that I’m sure you will want to give it a try. Or, as they say at Tait Farm, “Bon AppeTait!” Laurie Lynch
Another Tait Farm Story: Late last fall I visited Tait Farm to send a few Central PA gift boxes to Marina’s adopted Belgian families, my adopted Aunt France, and yes, I treated myself to an old favorite, Harrison’s Fig and Olive Relish (that I eat with a “relish” on sandwiches, cream cheese and crackers, even stirred into my homemade yogurt), and a new favorite, Lavender Scone Mix.
In late January or February I got a call from Aunt France. She finally tasted the strawberry-rhubarb conserve I mailed to her. “I’ve been salivating for this since Christmas,” she told me. I asked why she waited so long. “Well Laurie, that’s a long story.”
It turns out that France couldn’t open the jar. She twisted and strained and twisted some more, but the lid wouldn’t budge. Weeks went by and the jar just sat there, staring at her. Then it was time to take her strawberry-red vintage Mustang convertible to the service station. France put the jar of conserve on the bucket seat next to her. When she dropped off the car, she told the woman at the desk her plight. The woman disappeared with the jar, and came back minutes later. The mechanic had loosened the lid. “He told me he washed his hands and used a clean towel and everything,” France recalled. Then she went home and had toast topped with Tait Farm Strawberry-Rhubarb Conserve.
Check It Out: www.taitfarmfoods.com
Written On Slate: “Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread—there may be.”—David Grayson
The Last Word: “Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism are all very good words for the lips.” –Charles Dickens