- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: January 2009

Rebuilding a Beach

Manmade beaches in Cape May have been a fact of life for 20 years this year. This article first ran as Beach Replenishment – A Blessing or a Curse in Cape May Magazine, June 2007. Replenishment photos appear courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

You are lying on the beach on Cape Island. The breezes plant salty kisses. The sun caresses your skin.  The ocean water tickles your toes. The sound of the sea lulls you into oblivion.

The Island’s beautiful tide-washed strand creates a place for the very best of natural experiences, but can you believe most of this seascape is man-made?

Cape May's evolving shoreline. The borough of South Cape May once stood in the gap marked by the 1879 line.

The reality is that engineers have been altering the tip of New Jersey for 100 years.

They dug the current 500-acre Cape May Harbor with mammoth dredges starting in 1903, spreading the dredge spoils over 3,600 acres of wetlands and oyster beds to create the new East Cape May development.

The Cape May Inlet jetties (formerly called Cold Spring jetties), were completed in 1911, their long arms reaching 4,500 feet into the Atlantic, at the mouth of the harbor. These inlet jetties are devils in the struggle against beach erosion.

During World War II, with German submarines torpedoing ships off Cape May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a wartime emergency act, sliced across the peninsula from the Coast Guard base to Delaware Bay, digging a three-mile canal to protect U.S. military maneuvers.

Now fast-forward to the 1980s. It is sad to see that Cape Island beaches are mere slivers of what they were when the Lenni Lenape Indians, the Unalachtigo, (meaning people who live by the ocean) fished and hunted the high dunes and broad beaches.

Cape May Point after a storm in 1991. Note the bunker standing in the water

The fast-eroding seashore had become a major political-economic issue. Energetic young visionaries all around Cape May were restoring Victorian structures, converting them into comfy B&Bs. The city was enjoying its new-found halo as a National Historic Landmark. Positive publicity went nation-wide. Yet the buzz in the tourist industry produced a big negative: Cape May is a pretty town. Great architecture, nice gardens, good restaurants. But the beaches are lousy. “You had to plan your vacation around the tide table and move your blanket inland every five minutes,” says Vicki Clark, executive director of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

Pressure was put on the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps finally admitted a big mistake had been made in anticipating the negative aspects of cutting through the canal 45 years earlier. The Corps agreed that the design of the canal, with the extended older jetties, had a devastating effect on Cape Island beaches.

“It’s obvious from aerial photographs that the north jetty creates a severe offset that interferes with the river of sand that flows offshore,” says Army Corps Project Engineer Dwight Pakan. “The sand gets trapped at the north jetty and impedes the natural drift southward toward beaches in Cape May City, the Cove, the Meadows, the Lighthouse beach and Cape May Point.”

It took an act of Congress to decide that what the government had mistakenly taken away, it must return to Cape Island. The Army Corps of Engineers got the assignment in the late 1970s to design a beach replenishment project that would dramatically change the landscape and life of locals and vacationers.


Poverty Beach before (top) and after replenishment in the late 90s. Note the Christian Admiral still standing in both pictures.

First evidence of new sand from Poverty Beach to Pittsburgh Avenue appeared during the winter of 1991. Giant mountains of sand were pumped in from a dredge offshore, then sculpted and graded. The monster sand-moving equipment appeared in the mist and fog like dinosaurs hulking against the sea.

“There was no beach at all,” says Pakan. There were the massive concrete and boulder seawall and groins reaching into the ocean that had been constructed in the 1940s to protect beach front properties. “We buried them with sand to shape the new beach.” It stretched from the Coast Guard base south past the deteriorating 1908 Christian Admiral Hotel, a mere shell of its former self, the once-grand centerpiece of the East Cape May Real Estate Company development.

Since 1989, the cost of rebuilding and replenishing Cape Island beaches has topped $50 million with estimates of more than $100 million to continue replenishing in the future. More than 33 million cubic yards of sand have been redeposited from offshore to create 5.7 miles of expanded beach from the Coast Guard base to Cape May Point. This new seascape today remains very political, experimental, controversial and one of the most expensive manufactured beaches in the world.

Depending on which side of the blanket you are sitting, beach replenishment is considered a blessing – or a curse.

Taxpayers from all over America foot the multi-million dollar bill to build the beaches. And taxpayers, through Congress, have promised to continue paying for replenishment for 50 years after the initial projects are completed.

Despite the commitment, every year is a struggle to secure the money.   “It’s a forever challenge to convince midwest and mountain representatives that beach replenishment is not about a sun tan, but bread and butter issues,” says Congressman Frank LoBiondo “If there’s no beach, there are no tourists, no businesses, no jobs, the ripple effects are devastating. Likewise, the beaches and dunes protect lives and property. Without this system in place we would suffer the consequences of a storm direct hit. Remember Katrina?”

There is no debating that beaches are the lifeblood of the economy. The lust for the sea experience generates billions in vacation dollars and real estate fortunes. Many blessings, indeed.

But there is danger lurking along man-made beaches where high surf breaks closer to the beach and there are sudden drop-offs and step-offs in the ocean where the imported sand has not stabilized to form a gentle slope found on natural beaches. There are invisible cavities near stone groins, aging steel and wooden piers that have been blanketed with sand.


Cape May Point before (above) and after beach replenishment in 2004-5. The lighthouse and St. Mary's by the Sea are visible.

Veteran beach lovers in Cape May Point were angry the first summer after the 2004 winter beach replenishment. They were vocal about dangerous holes and drop-offs, new rip currents and rough imported sand. They were accustomed to narrow tide-cooled sloping beaches of the finest sand in the world.

Former Mayor Malcolm Fraser, an engineer, told the upset beachgoers, “Patience. We need to wait for nature to take its course stabilizing the new beach. The tides will wash over it, hardening the beach in place. Natural sands will drift in, and begin to collect as is to happen with successful beach replenishment.”

Patience and stubbornness are Fraser traits that have been fundamental to building the 2.7 miles of new beach from the 3rd Avenue Cove in Cape May to Cape May Point.

The nuns at St. Mary By-the-Sea prayed for a miracle when they realized their massive picturesque summer retreat house at the Point was threatening to fall into the sea. (Cape May Magazine, Fall 2006) You could say it’s a miracle that Mayor Fraser was able to use an obscure executive order signed by President George Bush in 1991 allowing the Army Corps a loophole to protect threatened, but critical wildlife habitats. In this case, it is Cape May’s Migratory Refuge.


The view looking north after the army fill in 2003.

Mayor Fraser’s motivation? Without success his little town of 240 cottage dwellers might wash away in major storms as neighboring South Cape May did a century ago. The World War II bunker where he proposed marriage to his wife in 1953 now stood on pilings in the surf. The wetlands, known as the Lower Cape Meadows, home to the Migratory Bird Refuge at Cape May Point State Park, near the Lighthouse, were inundated with salt water when Hurricane Gloria hit in 1985 and broke dunes. Storms in 1991 breached rebuilt dunes a half dozen times and contaminated the fresh water.

Sometimes it seemed a losing proposition, but Mayor Fraser never gave up. “I promised my bride 53 years ago she would always live in Cape May Point,” he says. “It was a pre-nuptial agreement.”

A decade of studying, politicking with Congress and planning with the Army Corps of Engineers resulted in the 2004 project that pumped in 1.7 million cubic yards of sand at the cost of 15 million dollars. High dunes were constructed over massive cores of gravel and clay. Where there once was sea and the ghosts of South Cape May, a wide expanse of beach stretched toward the Atlantic. The Lighthouse beaches quadrupled in size. Dunes now protect the nuns’ 150-year-old St. Mary’s and Point cottages. And the Army bunker where Mayor Fraser proposed marriage has sand around its feet.

After the army fill, looking toward Cape May Point

The most dramatic change in the landscape is in East Cape May where developers went bankrupt at the turn of the century. Once the new beaches were built in 1991, the neighborhood flooding that happened with every fierce nor’easter and hurricane became a bad memory. When the Christian Admiral was torn down in 1996, the monopoly game began in earnest.

Called the Admiral Beach Estates, the site of the old hotel was subdivided into 26 lots. Beachfront lots sold for more than $400,000.  Now, 10 years later, there are a couple dozen new multi-million dollar mansions, and one beachfront lot remaining. It was listed recently at more than $3.5 million! Some of the lots have been flipped several times, fortunes being made. Residents were living on highly escalated land, but they lost their private tiny beaches hidden by the seawall.

As this story is written, a mean nor’easter is battering Cape Island. It’s dusk at Cape May Point. Malcolm Fraser pulls on his slicker and boots, a slight figure, bracing against 55 mph winds at a beach look-out. Into the darkness he sees his beaches are holding. He returns to his cottage on Lake Lily. “We survived another one,” he says to his wife.

Beach Replenishment Update

That rolling thunder heard in Cape May this winter brings promise of more sand on the beaches next summer. As many as 360 triple-axel trucks, loaded with sand, are tooling down Delaware Avenue each day to the Coast Guard base until 126,000 cubic yards, or 151,640 tons of sand is dumped there. The truck cavalcade is expected to be in action 30 to 40 days, depending on weather.

The sand is being deposited on an old air strip, then moved and spread on “feeder” beaches at the Coast Guard base. The idea is to let nature take its course, and allow the tides to move the sand down the public beaches from Poverty Beach west to the Cove and on down to the bird sanctuary in Lower Township.

Originally the Army Corps of Engineers plan called for 360,000 cubic yards of sand for this phase of Cape May beach replenishment. It was to have been accomplished, as it has in the past, but piping sand from the ocean onto the beaches. However, the cost became cost prohibitive, much more so than the government had estimated. That’s why it was decided to truck in the sand at a cost of $2.3 million.

The Army Corps has been replenishing Cape May beaches since 1989, when the original reconstruction began, plus eight refilling projects about every two years.

The fact that there is less sand available this year is viewed by some as positive since less sand produces a more gradual slope, creating safer beaches for swimmers and surfers. In the past, large sand deposits have resulted in tides digging out sudden steep step-offs which have been blamed for recreational accidents.

There has been some concern voiced about the quality of sand trucked in from sandpits. According to Project Manager Dwight Pakan, the contractor Albrecht and Heun will supply clean sand from its pits at Cape May Court House that meet specifications and will mix with existing sand on the beaches. “The sand should be no different than what is now on the beach,” says Pakan. “In 2000, we placed trucked-in quarry sand on Cape May Point beaches with no problems.”

Some of Cape May Point’s beaches that are protected by offshore breakwaters have become so stabilized, they are now uneven with the beaches washed by ocean tides. These stabilized beaches stretch 20-30 feet further into the water, and cause uneven footing for swimmers.

Cape May Point officials have asked the Army Corps to remove some of that sand and place it on the Meadows (bird sanctuary) beaches. That contract was awarded December 10th. Bulldozers and haulers are expected to complete the project by March 2009.

Time for Soup

Although we wish it were snowing here, it should be noted that Lorraine is in Franklinville, NJ. Soup instructions are in bold.

Many gardeners love to get outside no matter what the weather. I am always eager to look at the garden when I go out to feed the chickens or fill the bird feeders. It is important to take some deep breaths and enjoy the frosty weather. There is a certain beauty in the landscape when the stark reality of winter bares so much. Trees are outlined against the sunset or early morning light in a different way than in summer. They are most beautiful after a snow. Thinking back to the heat and drought of late last summer and fall I am quite thankful for winter rain (we did get a lot so far this winter), snow and cold.

If you have chores to do outside, think first of making soup at the same time.
Step one is to put the soup pot on before going outdoors. Simmer some beef chuck or chicken with bones, a couple of chopped up onions and some finely sliced celery tops and stalks, and a parsley root (optional). My soup pot has an insert that I can place all this in.

Then bundle up and off to the garden. Collect any herbs that are still green and any root crops that are still around. Beets survive most weather. Luckily the parsley is still there with some plants in the row hanging on.

We watch the few renegade fowl not in the pen yet, as they scratch around eating weeds, seeds and insects. I noticed that when I allow them to forage all winter the zucchini, gourds, and pumpkin are much healthier, with few or no borers in the vines the following summer. So it is‚ “Here chick, chick, chick,” on frosty mornings. It is surprising that even the roosters and hens roosting in far away holly and cedar trees come running when we cluck, call them and rattle the corn can. It is okay, however, that they ignore my call when the big ole red-tailed hawk sits in nearby trees. Those safely in the pen and hen house await any greens from the kitchen or garden that we throw to them. It all ends up in the compost eventually. We still get a few eggs each day, despite the shorter hours of daylight, but this will increase, as the days get longer. Our eggs are in various shades of tan and brown with a few pale green or blue from time to time.

Bulbs forgotten in fall? You can plant them now rather than let them shrivel and dry. A good 8-10 weeks of cold will allow roots to form and then they will still have time to send up green shoots and bloom this spring. Plant any time you can dig and the soil is not frozen.

Cold, hardy seeds that would normally drop from seedpods in fall can be scattered now. Scratch some soil in sunny spot and scatter Larkspur, Cornflower, Poppy, Calendula and Nigella seeds, as well as dill and parsley. Tamp in or cover very lightly with some grains of soil. Water if it is dry and come March they will sprout just as the ones nature planted will. I love the early Poppy and Cornflowers that bloom in time for Memorial Day when the seeds drop naturally into the soil. It is still winter, so don’t go over board since only a few cold hardy seeds need the freeze and thaw to best germinate. I did six packs of poppy and larkspur. Hopefully they will take and not be eaten by chickens or birds. Sometimes I cover them with a piece of burlap to protect them.

Pick a few branches to force. Forsythia, winter sweet, pussy willow and others will all bloom in a vase indoors.

Once back in the house I tend the soup. Pull out the bones that were boiling to make the stock. Add a couple of cans of crushed or chefs cut tomatoes to the soup as well as a handful of barley, lentils, split peas, dried corn and dried beans to the soup. Be sure there is plenty of liquid to cover these. Peel and chop carrots, more celery, some cabbage and a beet or two. After the dried materials have gently simmered for 35 minutes or so, add the hard vegetables to the simmering soup pot.

While this slowly simmers and cooks continue the gardening indoors and shower houseplants checking for insects. Wipe any that the shower missed. If insects are a problem use a sticky stripe or spray with safe insecticide soap or neem oil. These are safe organic solutions that will rid houseplants of pests. (But always follow directions.) You might want to give a dose of Osmocote time-release fertilizer now so as the days lengthen there is food for new growth.

Stir the soup, add liquid if needed. Go back outside to fill feeders or walk a bit. We like to go up near Franklinville Lake or back to our creek to take a look at waterfowl or small songbirds in thickets near the edge of the lake.

Upon returning to the house, add a few frozen vegetables such as peas or string beans to the soup. Stir a bit and turn off. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. When serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy a glass of wine and some crusty Italian bread and butter with the soup. Add a healthy ending the winter supper by slicing up oranges and a few grapes. You might even have a few Christmas cookies left to enjoy with coffee or tea in front of the bird feeder window. Enjoy.

2008: The Year in Review

Cape May looked as anxious for change in 2008 as the rest of the country. Changes in the city’s political landscape came early in May when incumbent Mayor Jerome Inderwies lost a bid to extend his six years as mayor to Dr. Ed Mahaney, who previously served both as a council member and as mayor from July 1995 to July 1996. Terri Swain, of Swain’s Hardware, handily won David Craig’svacated council seat and City Manager Lou Coreafound himself out of job  June 17 when city council unanimously passed a resolution to oust him over a mishandling of patio permits on the Washington Street Mall. The new council endorsed the decision in August and inherited a lawsuit filed by Mr. Corea, (bringing suit against both the outgoing and incoming council members) maintaining wrongful dismissal and demanding his full salary – about $200,000 in salary and sick time – to the end of his contract which would have been January 31, 2010. Chief Financial Officer Bruce MacLeod was immediately appointed interim city manager. The appointment became permanent in late October.

In other political news, longtime Cape May Point Mayor Malcolm Fraser did not seek a fifth term this year and was replaced in May by former commission member Carl Schupp. Interestingly enough Cape May Point also elected its first woman commissioner Anita vanHeeswyk. Now there’s a borough ahead of its time – it was founded in 1878. Cape May city council member David Kurkowksiwill be around next year. His bid to upset the seven-term, “I believe in term limits” U.S. Rep. Frank L. LoBiondo (R-2nd) was unsuccessful.

The biggest change in the physical landscape of Cape May was the completion of theWashington Street Mall renovation which began in November of 2007 despite a referendum the previous year demanding the project be downscaled and a failed lawsuit by “concerned” taxpayers which strived to stall the project once more. The June 21 rededication of the mall also celebrated the first dedication in 1972 when a tired and worn Washington Street turned into a pedestrian mall. Mayors both past and present gave speeches and the controversial $4.5 million project could finally be put to rest. In its place, a new controversial project down on the beachfront stood ready to capture the headlines.

April 4 saw the unceremonious closing of Convention Hall. An independent engineering firm out of Philadelphia, Pennoni Associates Inc., recommended the 40-something Convention Hall – built as a “temporary” measure when a destructive ’62 nor’easter came through and felled its old and more elegant predecessor – close the facility. The report said, “The present condition of the Convention Hall is structurally unsound. Due to the amount of deterioration observed, the structural integrity of the floor framing is severely compromised. It is our professional opinion that this building be closed to public use until repairs can be performed in accordance with the recommendations outlined in the RVWE reports.” This left organizations like the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Chamber of Commerce and the Jazz Festival, not to mention all the programs sponsored by the city’s Recreation Department, scrambling to find alternative locations like the Cape May City Elementary School. Other activities like the NJ Audubon Society’s Bird Show held in the fall, cancelled until a proper venue could be found.

Meanwhile, in June a petition was circulated calling for a referendum to rescind a $10.5 million bond ordinance passed by the Inderwies council the previous month to fund construction of a new Convention Hall and to ask voters if they even wanted a new Convention Hall. The ordinance passed despite mayor-elect Mahaney’s objections to it. Sure enough, one of the first acts of the Mahaney administration was to rescind the bond and to set up a series of five town meetings to get public in-put on a design for a new facility. The grass roots work paid off in the end and voters, in a record turn out, approved construction of a new Convention Hall by a 2-1 margin. Demolition of the old facility is being held up pending state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approval – which could take up to as much as four months to acquire. The new facility is slated to open in 2010.

So it could be a dismal sight down on the beachfront next summer because the city’s Planning Commission at a Dec. 23 meeting approved development of the Beach Theatre, (right across the street from Convention Hall) which includes demolition of the 1950 movie theatre built by William C. Hunt and designed by movie theatre architect William H. Lee. In its place would be a retail stores complex with six condo/apartments above. The Beach Theatre Foundation (BTF) has been trying to save the building since the owners, Frank Enterprises, closed the movie theatre in the fall of 2007. BTF leases from the Frank family and has an option to buy the property. The organization has until March of this year to get the deed done, but have been hampered by adverse economic times and restricted in their protests of the demolition and development of the building by a gag rule imposed by the Franks.

Another dismal sight is that of a closed WaWa on Bank Street next to Swain’s Hardware. It would seem that if the WaWa chain can’t have a Super WaWa, it’ll take its marbles and go home, along with a list as thick as Webster’s Dictionary regarding deed restrictions for anyone even remotely interested in buying the property.

On a more positive note – although the word around town was it would never happen renovation of The Sea Mist came to fruition this summer. You know the house – it looks like a red and white wedding cake and often had a Phillies flag flying at the top of the cupola. Well, new owner Barry Sharer bought her, tore her down and rebuilt her again – good as new. She is a condo now not a guest house, but she is also intact and still providing breathtaking views of the ocean and the island, and will continue to provide inspiration for photographers for many years to come. If you don’t already know it, The Sea Mist is one of the most photographed houses in Cape May.

In other not so noticeable landscape changes – the Chalfonte Hotel on Howard Streetchanged hands this yearWould be congressman, golf course owner and Cape May Point resident Bob Mullock purchased the 132-year-old hotel built by Civil War hero HenrySawyer, from Anne LeDuc and Judy Bartella, who bought the hotel from the Satterfields. Between 1888 and 1911 the hotel changed hands six times and was sold at Sheriff’s sale twice. Fortunately for the Chalfonte, the Satterfield family of Richmond, Virginia stepped in and put a stop to all that nonsense. Mullock plans to keep the grande dame just as she is, but with some improvements to the structure with particular attention to those pesky fire codes. It is the oldest continually operating hotel on the island.

Down at the other end of Beach Avenue, the old Rusty Nail/Coachman’s Motor Inn was purchased in the spring of 2006 by Congress Hall entrepreneur Curtis Bashaw and associates with the idea in mind of A: demolition and B: building in its place an upscale condo-tel called Ocean House. Naturally, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) granted the group permission to demolish the complex in March, but wait – what’s that sound? Why it’s the sound of real estate heading on a downward spiral, particularly where it relates to condominium complexes. Suddenly, Ocean House was being remarketed as The Beach Shack and demolition morphed into renovation.

One project the beleaguered city manager Lou Corea did accomplish without controversy was the opening of the Cape May Dog Park on Lafayette Street in April. Doggie owners can obtain a license or permit to use the park by walking down to City Hall.

And speaking of beleaguered – the former Ponderlodge Golf Complex, taken over by the state for preservation as a wildlife refuge was threatening to demolish the lodge unless a more viable plan was offered by county and local officials – no problem. The lodge caught on fire in September and burnt to the ground. Local, county and states officials have been bickering back and forth since 2006. The state acquired Ponderlodge Golf Course under its Green Acres program for a purchase price of $8.4 million thus trumping Lower Township and Cape May County’s efforts to purchase the property and lease it to a private concern to maintain it as a golf course and keep the leasing revenue. DEP got into the mix and that, as they say, was that. The fire put the finishing touches on any efforts to use the lodge for community activities.

The on-going Beach Replenishment Plan made the headlines throughout the year beginning with a clash between DEP and the city officials regarding the town’s successful TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) program designed to protect and neutralize the island’s feral cat population. DEP wanted the feral cats kept at a further distance from the beach front to protect the Piping Plover nests and wanted the TNR program eliminated or they threatened to pull the plug on beach replenishment financing. A compromise was finally reached between the state and city officials to keep the cats at a “safe” distance. Not word whatsoever on how to keep people at a “safe” distance, however. Additionally, residents and experts were reporting the beach replenishment has caused unnatural breaks in the sand making some spots in Cape May and Cape May Point’s beaches unsafe for surfers and swimmers. The Cape May Beach Patrol (CMBP) reported an unprecedented number of “spinal” injuries this summer. And sand for this year’s project will be trucked into the city and stored at the U.S. Coast Guard Base. The cost of dredging the sand barges off Cape May and Cape May Point’s coast was cost prohibitive this year. It was estimated that between 300-350 trucks would be needed.

So what’s in store for 2009?

The fate of the Beach Theatre is number one on the list. With the BTF’s lease coming to an end in March and the theatre already closed because of heating and electric issues, the prospects do not look good. But who knows what deals could be forged in these tumultuous economic times.

The borough of West Cape May passed a referendum in November allowing them to sell two liquor licenses one for restaurant consumption the other for package goods sales. The restaurant liquor license minimum bid will be set at $650,000 while the retail store minimum bid will be $750,000. That should prove to be an interesting bidding process.

The City of Cape May passed an ordinance in November setting up a Business Improvement District (BID) for the Washington Street Mall. An annual assessment on the participating merchants of either $500 or $800, depending on the square footage, per mercantile license, could net as much $65,000 for the management, operation and promotion of The Mall. All eyes will be on the BID board, to be established via internal election sometime in January, to see how well this new venture fares. Look for this to be a citywide effort in the coming years. Once Convention Hall opens in 2010, the merchants in that district will most certainly set up a BID for beachfront operations. And the politicians? Well, they’re absolutely gleeful – it puts more of the burden of maintenance and promotion on the shoulders of the merchants and takes the heat off city council members.

Look for some fun events to come out of the establishment of a 400th AnniversaryCommittee dedicated to celebrating Henry Hudson’s “sail-by” the island in 1609.

The Return of Comfort Food

Ah, 2009, the last year of the first decade of the new millennium. This New Year will, in my opinion, bring some major shifts in the culinary universe. Due to the economy, high-end restaurants that are little more than exercises in culinary narcissism are going to disappear like donuts in Rosie O’Donnell’s dressing room. The country is getting back to basics, and so will the food service industry. Portion sizes are going to get back to normal as chefs and restaurant owners struggle to stay profitable. I also believe the food itself will become more simplified. Simple does not mean mediocre. What it does mean is that weird ingredients for shock value will be gone as consumers focus onperceived value. Is the five-dollar-a-cup gourmet coffee necessary when the buck-and-a-half cup is also very good? Consumers are going to be less likely to take risks on dining out and look for a comfort level with their meal choices. That means comfort foods will once again rule.

This is good for chefs also because it will force them to focus on flavor and technique.

I also foresee a trend where people will realize that it can be more affordable to cook at home. The crock-pot, yes, that relic of the 70s, has already started to reemerge. The crock-pot is braising for dummies. Braising and stewing are cooking techniquesthat take tough but flavorful cuts of meat and, through slow cooking with added moisture, break down the connective tissue. The end result yields a tender flavorful product. The extra bonus is these cuts are usually less expensive. These dishes are often considered peasant or poor people’s food. I will let you in on a little chef’s secret – the peasants eat more flavorful food. I would rather have a good beef or chicken stew than a filet mignon or poached chicken.

Two of the most flavorful American regional cuisines are Cajun and Amish. Both cuisines borrowed heavily from their French and Germanic roots, but adapted the recipes to local ingredients and indigenous culture. The poor are usually more willing to adapt than the wealthy and the world of cuisine is richer because of this fact. Frugal is the word I use to describe this style of cooking. Frugal is a very misunderstood word. Most people think it means cheap. Frugal: Practicing or marked by economy; as in the expenditure of money or the use of material resources. Growing up with a Scottish grandfather, it was a term I heard early and often. In terms of cooking I prefer to focus on the second part of the definition.

Economical use of material resources. Being an Agrarian based society, the Amish excel in this and there is no better example than scrapple. The name says it all. Made from what’s left after making sausage the scraps are mixed with cornmeal and cooked. The great American novelist James Michener gives an excellent description of scrapple and other Amish delights in his book The Novel.

As a nation we are facing times where we may need to become more economical with our resources. Rather than eat fast food or cheap frozen meals, if you cook from scratch, you can stretch your resources. If you serve a roast chicken, don’t throw out the carcass, but put it in the soup pot and with a few vegetables and maybe some pasta you now have a second and even more flavorful meal. Buy a bone-in ham and turn the leftovers into bean or split pea soup. Save your empty soup cans and you can make delicious and inexpensive Boston Brown Bread. Try these dishes and you will find that the peasants really ate like kings. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Lancaster County Wet Bottom Shoo-fly Pie

  • 1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
  • Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees

Crumb topping

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Liquid bottom

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg beaten

Mix crumb topping ingredients together until fine. Set aside. Mix water, molasses and baking soda together. Whisk until foamy. Beat in egg. Pour into pie shell using large spoon. Mix the crumb mixture into filling. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Boston Brown Bread

  • 1 cup rye meal
  • ¾ tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 6 empty soup cans

Sift dry ingredients in bowl. Add milk and molasses. Grease soup cans. Fill two-thirds of the can with batter. Grease foil wrap and tie foil around cans. Place in sauce pan. Fill with water. Cover. Steam for 3½ hours.

New England Clam Chowder

  • 1 dozen quahogs, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 8 ounces salt pork, diced
  • 1½ cups onions, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup flour, as necessary
  • Fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 cups clam broth
  • Cream, as desired

Place clams in large pot. Cover with cold water. Simmer until clams open. Remove. Strain liquid reserve. Cool and chop clams.

Render salt pork. Remove. Add onions and celery. Sauté until softened. Dust with flour to form roux. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add clam broth and warm milk. Whisk to avoid lumping. Add thyme, potatoes, clam meat and salt pork. Simmer until potatoes are cooked. Finish with cream, salt and pepper.

Chicken and Dumplings

  • 1 chicken cut in eighths
  • Seasoned flour
  • 2 onions ½ julienned
  • 6 ribs celery, bias cut
  • 4 carrots, bias cut
  • Butter
  • Chopped parsley
  • Chopped thyme, rosemary
  • 3 quarts of chicken stock

In Dutch oven, flour and brown chicken in butter. Remove. Sweat veggies. Add more butter if necessary. Add chicken. Add rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Add stock. Simmer until chicken is tender. Drop in dumpling mix. Cook ten minutes uncovered. Serve.


  • 4 cups flour
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Chopped parsley
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup milk

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Add milk and parsley. Cook as above.