Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Feed Me magazine.
In “Cooking With Zac,” you draw connections between designing a new collection and cooking. How are they similar?
When I’m designing clothing, I drape fabric onto a form or human body and I start building expressively. Good material is the starting point, as good ingredients are the starting point for a dish. I let the ingredient or material sing and [take] the lead.
Your recipes seem solid and tested, and they include a lot of technique. How did you come by so many good practices?
I was told, ‘Don’t worry, in most cookbooks the recipes don’t test out.’ I said, ‘I can’t have that — it would be like making a piece of clothing with an armhole that’s closed.’ Food is like storytelling. When you cook with great chefs, you learn different parts of that story. I’m self-taught, but I’ve cooked with the greatest — Marcus [Samuelsson], Giada De Laurentiis, Martha [Stewart], Eric Ripert.
What do you wear when you cook?
When I’m doing cooking demos, I wear aprons. When I’m in my kitchen, I’m in my t-shirt, Brooks Brothers pajama bottoms and bare feet. If I do wear an apron, I like to do a fold so I can put a white cloth on the tie.
Some cooks meticulously measure, dice and peel ahead of time, and some throw carrots all over the kitchen. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
I’m a messy creator! If I have to time to prep, then I can be neat and organized.
Are there foods you’d rather get on Long Island than anywhere else?
Mother Nature is our greatest designer and creator, and produce is the greatest luxury item possible. I love the hunt for good ingredients. I make all the clothing I wear, but there are two things I shop for, jewelry and ingredients [for cooking]. Long Island has incredible small farms and produce. I love the Green Thumb [Water Mill]. I get my seafood — ideally, you get it on the dock [or at] The Seafood Shop [Wainscott].
Where do you go out to eat on Long Island?
I rarely go out, even though I know there is incredible food. I grill. It’s my time off. It’s important to me to have private, quiet time, not having to interact with the world.
How would you describe your approach to cooking and eating?
It’s generous, it’s eclectic, with a real respect for the ingredients. Family style with air. Rustic to refined ... enjoying the right balance of decadence to refined simplicity ... I don’t believe in suffering, in trying to not eat—I think it’s all in moderation.
The Delta Air Lines uniforms you designed made their debut last year. What did you do and how did you do it? And how does one of the uniforms hold up if a passenger spills a Bloody Mary all over a flight attendant?
Delta was a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It took over three years. I job-shadowed from entering JFK to landing on the plane, from ticketing to baggage to service. We worked with stain-resistant fibers woven into the fabric. That’s where the technology came onboard. It was great to bring this into the process.
Clam chowder made from Melva Sherman’s recipe.
Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on September 5, 2019
On the East End of Long Island, people have been opening clams and eating them for a very long time, starting with native Americans who left piles of clamshells behind to attest to their enthusiasm. The Shelter Island Historical Society has a letter written in 1820 by Sylvester Dering describing the discovery of a large number of clam shells found while digging a well- 40 feet down, suggesting some very old archaeological evidence of clam consumption.
The first published fish chowder recipe in America appeared in the Boston Evening Post- a recipe in verse:
Because in Chouder there can be no turning:
Then lay some Pork in Slices very thin,
Thus you in Chouder always must begin.
Then season well with Pepper, Salt and Spice;
Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory and Thyme,
Then Biscuit next which must be soak’d some Time.
Thus your Foundation laid, you will be able
To raise a Chouder, high as Tower of Babel:
For by repeating o’re the Same again,
You may make Chouder for a thousand Men,
Last Bottle of Claret, with Water eno’ to smother ‘em
You’l have a Mess which some call Omnium gather ‘em.
Aside from the brilliance of a recipe in verse (easy to memorize, you’ll never forget to add the thyme) this preparation has a lot in common with another great chowder recipe, Melva’s 1st Place Chowder, which appeared in “The Shelter Island Historical Society Cookbook.” Melva Sherman came to Shelter Island in the 1920s to work as a schoolteacher, married local boy Herbert Sherman, worked as postmaster and went on to build a Shelter Island chowder dynasty.
Her dominance in the chowder realm was crowned when her soup won first prize at the Fire Department Country Fair, and inspired her grandson Matt to capture her method since she did not work from any recipe. He sat at the table with her after they got the chowder simmering and she dictated.
This act of culinary historic preservation on Matt’s part, and the subsequent publication of the recipe he recorded in the Historical Society Cookbook, is a textbook example of how most of the American recipes we still use and cherish today came to be preserved. A person who knew how to make something delicious, let somebody turn it into a recipe, which was often shared in a community cookbook. Community cookbooks are treasure troves for culinary historians trying to understand the food and culture of the past.
Melva’s technique called for grinding the ingredients, and was accomplished with a Hamilton Beach grinder and a cast iron pot, both of which are still in the Sherman family. Since I don’t have an antique grinder I decided to adapt the Sherman family’s recipe as faithfully as I could, and here is the result. Instead of a grinder, I chopped the ingredients coarsely, cooked them, and then used a blender to puree part of the soup to achieve the desired texture. I was used the same kind of cast iron pot.
And I understand why this clam chowder was so prized.
Adapted from Melva Sherman’s 1st Place Chowder in “The Shelter Island Historical Society Cookbook,” 2013
¼ cup salt pork
1-pound chopped onion
1-pound potatoes, coarsely chopped
12 oz carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large (28oz) can tomatoes or fresh tomatoes blanched, skins removed and coarsely chopped.
4 cups water
Salt to taste
8 dozen cherrystone or littleneck clams steamed in 2 cups water, removed from shells- should yield about 4 cups of clams and a pint of juice.
Use 4 cups canned clams and a pint of bottled clam juice
Cook the salt pork in a cast iron pot at low heat until the pork gives up its fat. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until they are soft. Add the carrots and potatoes, and one cup of the water, and continue cooking for 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes, and another two cups of the water, bring to a simmer and cook 30 minutes. Add another cup of water as needed to make it thick, but soupy.
In the meantime, scrub and rinse the clams, put them in a pot with 2 cups of water and steam them, removing the clams as soon as they open. Reserve them in a bowl to cool, strain the clam broth into another bowl. Chop the clam meats, and put them in the bowl of strained broth to stay moist.
Taste the vegetables to see if they are soft, and add salt to taste. Puree the soup, using an immersion blender, or by transferring two cups of warm soup at a time to the blender and then pour the blended soup back into the pot, until you have a very thick but soupy consistency.
Add the clams and the clam broth to the pureed soup and let it simmer very low for five minutes without boiling, so the clams don’t get tough. Serve immediately.
Oysterponds Historical Society presents Ms. Robey and Jane Lear hosting Bay to Table: Clams in Oysterponds on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. at the Orient Yacht Club. Guests will enjoy a taste of chowder and look back on 10 years of clam-eating traditions and the chowders and clambakes enjoyed today. Admission: $25 for one person; $40 for two people.
A sea of shining Dickerson relatives and their partners
From the August 22 issue of The Shelter Island Reporter
The sound that emerged from Jean Dickerson on Monday afternoon was like something out of a bullhorn, summoning upwards of 70 relatives to arrange themselves around her twin sister Jane, brother Ted and herself, for a family photo that extended the photographic and child-wrangling limits of nature. (Pro-tip: Create a baby-corral in the foreground and toss the wiggliest ones in there.)
With the temperature approaching 90 degrees, and the youngest members of the Dickerson clan struggling to escape the arms of their parents, the moment was immortalized with phones and cameras, and everyone got down to the business of swapping stories.
The assembled crew was just part of the enormous Dickerson family; the part related to Herbert Otis Dickerson — known to all as H. Otis — father, grandfather or great-grandfather of most of the participants. A central figure in 20th-century Island history, H. Otis was a builder who served on the Town Board, the School Board and for many years as Town Justice.
“I don’t call it a reunion,” Jean said. “I call it a gathering, because so many have not met before.”
Arthur Springer, one of H. Otis ’s three grandsons, and his wife Linda, hosted the event under a tent in their shady yard and as soon as the group pictures were taken, it was taken over by a mobile pizza oven on a truck that began producing delectable thin crust pies and arugula salad.
H. Otis was known as a hanging judge, and his children remember how some recipients of his brand of justice might have preferred hanging. According to Jane, when a young man found guilty of reckless driving was sentenced by H. Otis to write out the entire 50,000-word New York motor vehicle code in longhand, the youth complained that his punishment was “juvenile.”
H. Otis is said to have replied, “When you act like a man, you will be treated like one.”
A copy of the entire vehicle code in the unfortunate offender’s handwriting is preserved in the judge’s papers.
In the 20th century on Shelter Island, Dickersons were everywhere. H. Otis’s sister Helen Smith was the Town Clerk for decades before her daughter, Dotty Ogar, not only succeeded her mother as Town Clerk in 1978 (an elected position) but is probably the longest-serving Town Clerk in New York State. The mother/daughter team served Shelter Island for much of the last century, and Dotty is almost a quarter of the way into this one. Jane recalls that Aunt Helen was the terror of anyone submitting an expense account to the town for reimbursement. “She was known for treating the town’s money like her own,” Jane said.
Growing up in a well-known Island clan occasioned some resentment from other kids. “Sometimes other people thought we got away with things,” Jane said. “There were so many Dickersons, and there were roads named after us.”
She remembered one kid in particular who lived nearby and teased her about her family.
“Yes, he did,” concurred Jean, “but the funny thing is, he was a Dickerson too, on his mother’s side, and didn’t even know it.”
Not present at this reunion was Neil Dickerson, the oldest child, considered the best Dickerson of his generation by some, including his half-brothers and sisters from H. Otis’s second wife Louise.
Kevin Springer and his son K.D. (Jack). At 22 months, Jack was the youngest descendent of H. Otis Dickerson at the gathering.
Neil, who died in 2009, was a Coast Guard veteran, a graduate of Brown University and an electrical engineer. Carol Wolkom Dickerson, Neil’s wife, said he loved growing up on Shelter Island. “They did a lot of hunting and fishing and I remember him saying everyone would talk about roast beef, but they never ate beef, they only ate venison,” she said. “And the first time he had roast beef, he said, ‘Why do people like this?’”
In 1946, H. Otis’s son Ted remembers being in his second-grade classroom in the old wooden Shelter Island schoolhouse, when his teenage brother Neil — who had noticed smoke coming from a second-floor science lab — ran through sounding the alarm to get out. His warnings resulted in the safe evacuation of his three siblings and everyone else from the school, which was gutted.
“We followed the evacuation protocol for my classroom,” Ted remembered, “which had the entire second grade running through the lunchroom located directly below a chemistry classroom that was actively burning. As we ran through the cafeteria, we saw some dropping ash and smoke, but it wasn’t until we were outside that we realized we had run under the fire.”
It has been said that wherever you go, there you are, and Dickersons who have left Shelter Island for other places can testify to that. Clifford Springer is H. Otis’s oldest grandchild, and a longtime resident of New Hampshire. Seated with him were his wife, Carol, and their children, Christopher and Kate, all New Hampshire natives listening to Cliff tell tales of discovering Dickerson relatives who got there before them.
Ann Dickerson, Ted’s wife, said in the years she’s been a part of the family, she and Ted have found a number of Dickerson relatives near their upstate home in Penn Yan, N.Y.
Jean, who came back to Shelter Island to live in the family’s Midway Road home after years away, noticed after the festivities began, that she and her twin Jane were dressed alike, something they haven’t done on purpose since their college days. They both swore that the identical “Rosie the Riveter” socks they wore were a complete coincidence.
On a day full of tall tales and family ties, who could argue?
Basil leaves steeping in beach plum sorbet, just before it goes into the freezer.
Although I did not pull a 10-hour shift waiting tables even once, or mow and trim overgrown lawns all day, all summer, I’m still ready to raise a glass to the end of the season. It’s called a Shelter Island Sunset, so called because Terry Lucas (library director and gifted cocktail-namer) commented via Facebook that it reminded her of the gorgeous sunsets Shelter Island has enjoyed this summer.
In honor of those red displays of nature, I concocted two vivid red treats; the aforementioned cocktail, and a sorbet with local beach plums, tiny, tart plums about the size of grapes that when cooked, cooled and mixed with sugar, basil and lemon juice make an intensely fruity and sweet sorbet.
Until 2007 or so, Campari derived its red color from dyes derived from a crushed insect that was widely used to color food red before manufacturers switched to “artificial” colorings.
Beach plums, which are actually red — without crushed insects or artificial ingredients — are sold at Briermere Fruit Farm in Riverhead and are also available from the Goodale Farms stand at the Havens Farmers Market.
Beach plum sorbet
Makes about five one-scoop servings
1 pint of beach plums
1/2 cup, and 2/3 cup super-fine sugar
Juice of five lemons, strained.
1 cup water
The grated zest of a lemon
½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
Pinch of salt
1. Combine the beach plums (including pits), ½ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a heavy pot, heat to a simmer, and cook stirring until the plum flesh softens and the pits emerge.
2. Strain the plum mixture into a measuring cup and press the solids. Add additional lemon juice to make one cup. Set aside to cool.
3. Mix 1 cup water, 2/3 cup super-fine sugar and the grated lemon zest. Heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
4. Add the basil leaves and salt and let the leaves steep for 30 minutes.
5. Add the beach plum juice. Chill for at least two hours in the refrigerator.
6. Pour the mixture through a strainer (to remove the basil leaves) into the bucket of an ice cream freezer.
7. Churn the sorbet until it is smooth and firm, and transfer it to a freezer storage container. If it’s still a little too soft, temper it in the freezer for an hour before serving.
The finished product.
Shelter Island Sunset
Makes one 5-ounce drink
1-ounce lemon juice
1-ounce simple syrup
1. Combine and stir the first three ingredients.
2. Add the seltzer and lemon zest and serve.
A Shelter Island Sunset.
edible long island TELLING THE STORY OF HOW LONG ISLAND EATS • NO. 27 SUMMER 2019 INNO VATION the MAD SCIENTIST MICROGREENS THE NEW FACE OF FARMING AYAHUASCA-ASSISTED HEALING THE TRUTH ABOUT CBD COCKTAILS LET THEM EAT FOOD WASTE Member of Edible Communities issue
My story about how North Fork farmers make food out of each other‘s food waste- the best kind of recycling - is inside, ‘Will the Carbon Cycle be Unbroken?’