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Month: April 2010

Cape May’s First Annual Green Film Series

"No Impact Man" comes to you direct from the Sundance Film Festival at Cape May Stage, April 25, 2010 at 2:00 p.m.

Why in the world would the Cape May Film Society host a Green Film Series just now? Why not years ago? Hasn’t environmental awareness been a long-standing cause? Isn’t Earth Day… like… 40 years old already?

Yes, in fact Earth Day is 40 years old this April. And to celebrate, the Cape May Film Society is hosting a special Green Film Series and kicking it off with one of the best environmental film to come along in years. Best because it is actually as entertaining as it is effective in raising environmental awareness. It’s that “entertaining” factor that is relatively new in the world of environmental films.

"Unstrung," the story of Pat Martino, screens April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gallery Aferro in Newar, NJ.

On Sunday, April 25, at an exclusive 2:00 p.m. matinee at Cape May Stage, Cape May Film Society will partner with Slow Food Cape May to present No Impact Man, a funny environmental film straight from Sundance Film Festival. No Impact Man follows self-proclaimed Guilty Liberal, filmmaker Colin Beavan, who takes his family on a year-long adventure of having no impact on the environment and thus discovers a lot about himself and the way we all live. Question is, “Can he save his family while he saves the planet?”

The Cape May Film Festival is taking its show on the road – again! In a special event held in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute’s Jazz Appreciation Month, the Festival will screen Unstrung, the story of Pat Martino, at the Gallery Aferro in Newar, NJ. Mr. Martino will be on hand to answer questions, as will filmmaker Ian Knox from the UK. The program will be held on Saturday night, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. Details at www.capemayfilm.org or by calling 609-884-6700.

Also being shown with the feature film No Impact Man is the environmental music video What About Tomorrow? produced by Charles Alexander. This year marks the 20th anniversary of What About Tomorrow?, The following is an excerpt written by Alexander looking back on the production of the video.

The music for the video is taken from a little-known song by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who are now more famous than ever because of the current global success of Jersey Boys, the Tony-winning play based on their lives..

At the time I produced this video, I was science and environment editor at TIME magazine. Instead of having our customary “Person of the Year” in 1989, we named “Endangered Earth” as “Planet of the Year” and compiled a 33-page special report on such dangers as global warming, deforestation and species extinction. The issue generated enormous interest, and I got invitations to address audiences from Maui to Moscow.

Working on one of those speeches in late 1989, I came up with a line something like, “We have enough resources today, but what about tomorrow?” That made me think of a song called What About Tomorrow? which was an obscure track on Streetfighter, one of the Four Seasons’ least known albums. But it was written by those same two Jersey Boys, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, who wrote Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Rag Doll, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. What About Tomorrow? is a typically melodic Four Seasons’ love song. Yet, I thought it could be much more. Within a day, I had rewritten the lyrics to make What About Tomorrow? into a call for environmental action.

After obtaining the permission of the Four Seasons Partnership (Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio) in early 1990, I immediately set out to make my rewrite into an environmental music video. Time was short. I wanted the video to have its premiere on April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

To perform the soundtrack, I recruited my friends Bill Oliver and Glen Waldeck, a folk-singing duo who made a career of playing songs about the environment. Oliver happened to hail from the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas. To arrange the music and gather musicians for the soundtrack, he lined up Reese Wynans, at the time the keyboard player for the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Wynans, in turn, put together an all-star Austin band. Percussionist Paul Pearcy, for example, had just been named one of the city’s top musicians at an annual awards dinner and also played on Willie Nelson’s and the Dixie Chicks’ albums.

With soundtrack in hand, I found a willing video producer, whose company did environmental documentary work for the Smithsonian Institution, in Sam Green, owner of the Edit Room in Washington, D.C. After listening to the song, Green and Jeff Consiglio, who became the director and editor, suggested that we could put together a video by using stock footage of nature scenes and filming original scenes featuring children, for whose sake we need to preserve the environment. Consiglio recently edited the documentary feature film War/Dance, which was nominated last year for an Academy Award, and also edited Weezer’s music video Pork and Beans, which won Best Short Form Video at the 2009 Grammy Awards.

To shoot the original scenes, Green and Consiglio hired skilled cinematographer Erich Roland. In recent years, Roland has shot footage for such prestigious TV shows as Frontline, Nature and American Masters. But perhaps his most celebrated year came just before he shot What About Tomorrow?. In 1989, Roland was camera operator on the Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy and cinematographer for The Johnstown Flood, which took home the Oscar for best documentary short subject.

What About Tomorrow? premiered on Earth Day 1990 on the VH-1 national cable-TV network as well as airing on several local TV stations, including major network affiliates in Cleveland and Indianapolis. A couple of weeks later I was interviewed about my video on Nine Broadcast Plaza, a show produced by Channel 9, based in Secaucus, NJ, and serving New York City. The substitute host that day was an up-and-coming TV personality named Matt Lauer.

Why is this 1990 video still relevant? Well, the environment is even more in the news than usual, as Congress struggles to pass the first U.S. legislation to fight climate change. Unfortunately, little has changed in two decades. In fact, such ominous trends as global warming and habitat destruction have accelerated. The environment is more imperiled than ever. The future in which our children and grandchildren will live is more in danger than ever.

For decades, the music of the Four Seasons has brought joy to millions. But few people realize that Seasons’ music has also been used to deliver a powerful and vital environmental message in What About Tomorrow?

– Charles Alexander


The Search for Fragrant Spring Violets

There are many kinds of violets, the wild ones that grow along the side of the road, the yellow and pinks that are a bit unusual and then the fragrant ones that are more difficult to find. The Victorians loved fragrant violets. They were one of the blooms used to send a message. I am sure they grew in Cape May in the early days.

My quest for fragrant violets began long ago when I was a high school student. I was fascinated by the references to sweet violets in some of my favorite readings. I realized that from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Mohammed and the early Christian writers there were references to sweet or fragrant violets. The early Christian writers referred to the Virgin Mary as the Violet of Humility.  Shakespeare as well as the Romantic and Victorian poets boasted of an intimacy with this plant. Byron tells of its color and fragrance:

The sweetness of the violets’
Deep blue eyes,
Kissed by the breath of heaven,
Seems colored by its skies.


My disappointment was keen when I crawled about the gardens sniffing the lush purple carpets of spring blooms only to find that the violets in our Franklinville gardens were not fragrant. Numerous violets grew throughout the many acres of our grounds, so imagine my frustration when not one of the violets had even the slightest hint of fragrance. Like Don Quixote, I sought the impossible dream!

I began to scour garden books, but found only scant information about fragrant violet plants. My obsession for fragrant violets was such that I found white organza material with deep purple violets embroidered on it to make my 4-H project prom gown. Needless to say, I carried a nosegay of fragrant violets.  In the ‘60s, florists were still able to readily obtain large, fragrant Parma violets from Rhinebeck N Y.

This made the search to obtain the plants for these fragrant favorites to plant in my garden even more intense. My first clue for locating the pieces of the violet puzzle was found long ago in an old book discovered in the library, The Fragrant Garden by Louise Beebe Wilder. When this book was written in 1932, fragrant violets were readily available in garden catalogs, and the author wrote of planting more than 50 on her hillside. But by the time I read the book in the late ‘60, I couldn’t find a source for them.  This has changed now.

More than 10 years later, many of my violet questions were answered in another old book that was given to me – Nelson Coon’s informative work, The Complete Book of Violets. Coon gives an excellent history of this plant, tracing its origins from ancient Greek medical journals of Hippocrates in 446 BC. He lists uses for the blooms and leaves for everything from headaches, stomach complaints, heart and nervous disorders, to a laxative. People also used violets in the Middle Ages for a host of ailments. Today we know that violets are considered a good source of Vitamin A and C. Coon’s book tells how to cultivate as well as use these plants. I have used many of his recipes for the violet event I host each year called “Fragrant Violets.”

About 25 years ago, I finally bought my first Viola odorata. Since then I have planted and propagated many of the easytogrow plants in both purple and rosy pink. I collect some of the others, but have not had as much luck as I have with the V Odorata.

All but gone from the landscape for many years, the sweet or fragrant violets flourished around the turn of the century and early in the 1900s. Coon gives a detailed story, with photos of those grown commercially in the area around Rhinebeck, N Y.

A rather detailed history of this era of the violet story is repeated in Tovah Martin’s book, The Essence of Paradise. She also tells how the Logee’s Greenhouse family ‘pulled’ through the depression peddling bunches of fragrant violets door to door. I spoke to and visited with the late Joy Logee Martin, who was considered one of the foremost specialists on fragrant violets. Joy told me that these violets, so favored by the Victorians, were again becoming popular with the renewed interest in antique fragrant flowers. Besides the hardy viola odorata and its hardy offspring, there are Parma violets from which most violet perfume is made. These are from places in Italy and France, but are not winterhardy in our area and need some protection. I have tried these from time to time in protected areas but have not had good luck.

Joy also added some tips about keeping the picked violet blooms fresh. She said, “Violets drink from the blooms as well as from the stems. We always dipped them in water before making the bunches.” Joy also told me how they grew the tender Prince of Wales, Parma, and other fragrant special nonhardy varieties that had to be dug in the fall and grown in a cold greenhouse. These were lifted and planted right in the greenhouse benches. Usually they bloomed by Valentine’s Day, but were in demand whenever they were available.
Now I happily grow both the fragrant and hardy Viola odorata and V. Odorata rose. They have beautiful colors. The first a deep purple. The second a rosy pink. Both are hardy to Zone 4, which is quite a bit north of here. Remember not to plant them too close to the ordinary wild violets, lest they mix with them and lose their fragrance. A plant or two will soon make a carpet of violet if given a woodsy spot and kept moist.

Culture

Although violets will do well in almost any soil, most prefer a somewhat moist, but welldrained soil in a semi-shaded location. They grow nicely under deciduous trees because they receive sun in early spring when they need it and shade in summer also when they need it. Compost from decayed leaves works well.  Too much fertilizer will create beautiful foliage, but few flowers. We use a scant dose of Osmocote 14-14-14 timerelease fertilizer on plants grown in one-gallon pots. The ones in the garden get a spring dose of 10-10-10 most years. Notice both of these fertilizers do not have high first numbers (nitrogen). A good deep drink of water about every other week in summer is good for them if it is hot and dry. A thorough soaking with the water going down below roots is needed. Light mulch will insure good moisture retention.

Although the best way to grow hardy sweet violets is in the garden, a pot or two can be grown to bring inside during late winter. They must be kept in an unheated porch or cold frame until February. This insures some dormancy. When it is too warm, the leaves become pale and the blooms are small. Unfortunately, when it is above 50 degrees at night these violets do not set buds. It is a challenge to bring in a pot or two and get them to bloom. Success is insured if a very cool, sunny area is available. Our cool greenhouse works fine to gain several weeks over the pots in the unheated hoop houses. Although the night temperature is often quite cool, the sunny days are pleasantly warm, making for excellent conditions for blooms brought into the house for a day or so. They brighten and delight any company that comes to visit.  Once the weather settles, a violet in a planter near a door is perfect.
While searching for some fragrant plants for my lecture at the flower show a few years ago, I found all of the one-gallon pots of V. Odorata in bloom in our unheated wildflower greenhouse. Since it was almost time to uncover the houses, I ran to the outside and cut a large hole in the opaque plastic just where the violets were. A burst of fragrance enveloped me in an intense spring scent. What a marvelous treat! The intense fragrance of sweet violet can be perceived by the human nose for short periods of time only. When we become satiated, it takes a few minutes until we once again can smell the violet. This fascinated Shakespeare and his characters comment on it in Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Henry VIII, and a few other plays.

If blooms are picked to wear or put in a vase, be sure they have enough water. They drink deeply, and also like to be misted.  If the stems are placed in tepid water and allowed to drink for several hours, they will last longer when worn.  I find that after a few hours at room temperature, the whole glass of violets can be put in a refrigerator for a few hours to finish the conditioning process.

Many years ago, small bouquets were readily available from florists and vendors. Today it is almost impossible to get them unless a florist grows them and is willing to spend the time needed to pick and condition these delicate blooms. Like lilies of the valley, they are a seasonal treat to be enjoyed only when in bloom.

It wouldn’t seem like spring without these fragrant favorites. It is sometimes difficult to take the time from our busy lives to smell the flowers, but it is really worth the effort to get down on hands and knees as a rite of spring to smell the violets.

Violet class and light spring lunch, Saturday April 24 at 11a.m. Includes a craft and a fragrant violet.www.tripleoaks.com calendar has details or call for a flyer or to sign up now 856-694-4272 pre-registration only.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com


Cowboys of the East

Text by Bill Godfrey. Photographs by Stephen Spagnuola. Originally published in the Spring 2007 issue of Cape May Magazine.

Boats at Lund’s

It was a crisp January morning in Cape May. A bitter wind howled out of the north, burst pipes were flooding local businesses and the ice was thick on the bay and the ocean. I stepped out of my car in the parking lot of Lund’s Fisheries on Ocean Drive in Lower Township and grimaced as the wind slapped my face.

I was here to peek into the world of commercial fishermen, “harvesters” they sometimes call themselves (– “Enjoy seafood?” asks a common bumper sticker, “thank a harvester.”) The perpetual winter gale stood me upright and the piercing fish smell on the docks assaulted my uninitiated nose and pried my eyes open like, well, like another slap in the face. I’d made arrangements to meet Stephen Spagnuola, a local guy who spends a lot of time on the water and has crewed on commercial boats. But Stephen hadn’t arrived, so, not being one to wait for an escort, I walked toward the docks.

Seagulls over the water

The seagulls were thick like a Hitchcock movie. One landed a few yards in front of me and fought off several pilferers before gulping down a fish twice the size of his mouth. He managed a mean stare in my direction before taking off. I passed a tough-looking gent in a black rimless leather hat (he didn’t look like a fisherman to me), stepped over ropes, hoses, pallets and assorted fish gear and found myself on a slippery wooden dock staring at a dozen or so commercial fishing rigs including the 120-foot Laura McCausley out of Portsmouth, NH, her hull and rails thick with ice. Crewmen onboard passed words and cigarettes to a man in work overalls on the dock. They looked at me funny.

I caught up with Frank Carroll, a crewman from the Cape May boat Starbrite. He was checking on the boat to ensure the pipes weren’t bursting from the cold – Starbrite wasn’t going out anytime soon, the weather was too rough. As Carroll stood in front of Starbrite with the sun at his back he looked right out of central casting: Carhartt jacket, weathered face, big smile, broad shoulders. I shook Carroll’s sandpaper hand and admitted I knew next to nothing about commercial fishing.

“How could you unless you do it,” he asked.

Captain Charlie Esher aboard “The Kidd”

Two centuries before Cape May became popular as a seaside resort, fishing was the lifeblood of the community. Whalers were among the first to arrive, and today Cape May is fifth in the nation for commercial fishery landings as ranked by dollars ($68 million in 2004, the most recent year available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and 13th for total pounds of fish landed (98 million). Tourism may be the golden goose but commercial fishing is still the backbone of the local economy in Cape May.

And the dollars that flow from commercial fishing feed many mouths.

“Commercial fishing is a huge industry,” said Kim Walker, wife of commercial fisherman Ron Walker (“Little Ronnie” to his mom even though he’s a grown man). “There’s the boat owners, the captains, the crew, their families, dock workers, truckers, ice sellers, boat sellers, fuel suppliers, equipment retailers – it’s bigger than you think.”

Still, unlike their more famous brethren who fish for crab in Alaska’s Bering Strait, Cape May’s commercial fishermen toil in relative obscurity.

A crew member aboard the “Golden Nugget”

“It’s sad they don’t get the respect they’re entitled to,” said Kim. “When people think of commercial fishermen they think of a big, fat, ugly guy with no teeth. But these guys provide food for the world. They work through the night in the dark and often don’t sleep for days. It’s a rough profession and there are a lot of rules and regulations. It’s very dangerous, one little thing can kill you.”

One group that doesn’t overlook commercial fishermen is the federal government, which keeps a close eye on every move these guys make. Commercial boats are required to purchase, at their own expense, tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear that makes it easier for the feds to keep an eye on them. Some welcome the federal regulations, arguing that it preserves fish stocks. Others decry them as destroying their livelihoods. Many are caught somewhere in between.

Ronnie Walker aboard “Constantino L.”

“One thing’s for sure,” said Kim, “it’s either in your blood or it’s not.”

I met Stephen Spagnuola at the Cape May Film Festival in 2003. He had a thick portfolio of photographs featuring commercial fishermen. Since then he’s committed much time and energy to ensuring that the story of Cape May’s commercial fishermen gets told. He interviewed dozens of local fishermen to get their stories and took photos that he hopes captures the spirit of these men, their families and their way of life.

What I discovered during the journey was a way of life that harkens back to a different time. Fishermen are sometimes out for weeks at a time. Their lives revolve around factors they can’t control, mostly the weather. “If you haven’t worked in awhile,” said Kim, “and the weather breaks, you’ve got to go out – family weddings, babies, birthdays, reunions, whatever – you’ve got to go out.”

The day’s catch

“My dad’s not a 9 to 5 guy,” adds Christina Walker, Ron’s twenty-something daughter. “I used to stand by the door and wave to him. Then I wouldn’t see him for two weeks. He was gone a lot but it didn’t bother me, I didn’t cry about it. But if he was in he was always there.”

The reasons that men go out onto the dark ocean are varied and personal and apparently too strong to resist. This is the reason Stephen Spagnuola is relentless about documenting their stories. He sees these guys as the cowboys of the East. Icons that represent all that’s best about Cape May and their romantic, misunderstood way of life – industrious, fiercely independent, upright and hard working.

Crew of the “Golden Nuggett” working in the cold air on deck.

Christina told me her dad had recently returned from a “bunker” trip. Bunker, or menhaden, is used mostly for cosmetics and other fish oil products; it’s not really edible. “There’s no eating bunker, it’s the smelliest fish in the world,” she said. Squid, better known as calamari in local restaurants, was the next trip. Commercial fishermen go out for bunker, porgies, mackerel, scallops, fluke, clams and more. Much of Cape May’s fish landings are sold overseas where the market for fish is stronger than in the states.

Some worry about the future of Cape May’s commercial fishermen. Some don’t. Rich Hill thinks it may be a fading industry.

“I worked all my life to get my own boat. I got a grandson coming up and all he wants to do is go fishing. I try to discourage him because the next few years I don’t think it’s gonna be there for us.”

Andrew Walker packs the net back on board the “Constantino L.”

As for the feds, well, Rich has an opinion on that too. Commercial rigs are often boarded by the Coast Guard looking for safety violations, proper paperwork, permits, illegal harvests and who knows what else. “Every time I turn around we got more rules and regulations and ground closures,” said Rich. “I can’t see why we need all these rules and regulations. Mesh size – that will regulate itself. Stuff is out there and it’s gotta be caught.”

Observers sometimes accompany commercial boats when they go out. Kim Walker told me if her husband is out on a mackerel trip and lands a flounder, he better not bring it home for supper or he could end up in a lot of trouble. “Rules and regulations are another stress factor. It’s a mountain of paperwork every month.”

Commercial fishermen also suffer from the public’s ill-informed perception that they are dragging the sea dry. Kim told me nothing could be further from the truth. “Commercial fishermen have a vital interest in keeping everything in balance.”

Crew member aboard “Golden Nugget” with a full bag of porgies and sea bass after a tow.

Dan Cohen, principal owner of Atlantic Cape Fisheries is from fisherman stock. Like a lot of fishermen’s sons, he thought he could steer a course away from commercial fishing. He was wrong. He sees a change in today’s commercial fishermen.

“The last 30 years have been significant. Psychological change has occurred among commercial fishermen who previous to regulation were hunters. Since management we have become more interested in the long-term sustainability of the resource. We’re now viewing this much more as husbandry, or stewardship, or farming.”

For the Walkers, fishing is a family thing passed down through generations. Darren Walker, 17, is the fifth generation of Walker men to go fishing, and both his parents and grandparents wish he would choose another career path.

“I swore I’d never marry a fisherman,” said Marie, whose home near the Cape May canal is adorned with oil paintings of her family’s fishing boats. Marie is married to Big Ronnie, 67, patriarch of the Walker clan, principle of Walker Fisheries Inc. He is Little Ronnie’s father, and part owner along with Albert Cortez of Cape Port Marine Supply. Marie’s father was a fisherman, as are her sons and grandson; Big Ronnie’s father was a fisherman, his father was a fisherman – like Kim Walker says, it’s in the blood. Still Marie would like to see a change in course.

On board the “Mary Anne.”

“I never wanted my sons to be fishermen and I don’t want my grandson to do it. We’ve lost two boats so far and we might not be so lucky the third time,” said Marie.

Undoubtedly, commercial fishing is a dangerous profession.

“Ronnie got stuck by a stingray one time,” added Kim. “It was in the net and got him on deck. They had to operate on him right there. They used a razor blade. Then there’s the occasional steamer that appears out of nowhere in the night and doesn’t see you on its radar. It could run right over you. There are so many factors. Ask Ronnie about the time the boat sank from under him. That story still sends chills up my spine. I went out many years ago. I remember that feeling when I couldn’t see land. It was very strange. I couldn’t do it.”

Crew member aboard “Mary Anne”

Ronnie Walker was aboard Stardust when it went down off Cape May in 1992. He took up roofing for a bit but has since returned to the sea. Many just can’t resist the siren’s song. “[After the boat sank] I bought a small conch boat and I was conchin’ inshore on a small pot boat for a year and a half, but I decided to go back. It was scary but that’s what I did all my life. I ended up going back,” he said.

In spite of the danger, the odd and unpredictable working hours, the maddening and sometimes contradictory federal regulations, the time away from family and the other innumerable reasons to avoid the commercial fishing industry, it seems some are drawn to it for reasons too strong to ignore.

“I tried to get away from it a couple times,” said Rich Hill, owner of the Tina Lynn, who’s been commercial fishing out of Cape May since the 1960s, “but once you get the water in your veins you always end up back in the water again. It’s all I know. It’s a good life if people leave us alone.”

Crew of the “Mary Anne”

Marco “Cobra” Genovese fishes from his boat White Dove.

“Real fishermen go fishin’ to make money but that’s not the main goal. It’s the thrill of the hunt. If you don’t have the thrill of the hunt you’re not going to be very successful. If it’s just a business deal then you’re in trouble,” said Marco.

“I started in 1954, that’s over 50 years in Cape May,” said Harry Axelsson who, like his father and grandfather, earned a living from the sea. Harry came from Sweden in 1954 and found a home in Cape May. “America has been good to me. I don’t regret any of it. I’ve got nothing but good to say about people and this country and everything.

A gull perches on the “Mary Anne”

“[When I started out] there was Italians, Norwegians, Swedes, Finns – It was a mix. They were all nice people and gave you straight answers. We always helped each other when something happened out there, you know? Most of them guys, they would have given their arms to help you out. If you tore a net they came around and helped you to fix it. They never charged nothin’ they just came and helped you out. But there was competition when you was out there. That was fine. Nobody had any problems with that. I enjoyed that.”

Harry’s ships are probably the most visible in Cape May Harbor, the Flicka and Dyrsten. Both are red (Harry’s favorite color is blue but red “shows up good on the water”) and are docked near the Middle Thorofare bridge.

“I thank God everyday for the ability to make a living from the sea.”

steve-spagnuolaAbout the Photographer
Stephen Spagnuola, a graduate of Visual Arts, New York City, worked as art director for many ad agencies in New York before leaving advertising to pursue fashion photography, and worked on such magazines as Stuff, Flatiron, and Zink. Stephen is a freelance photographer and marketing director for Sea Tow Cape May. Visit Steve online


Eggstranoeus Information

There is only one food item we eat before it is born and after it dies. The chicken. This column will focus on the former. The egg has often been called the perfect package. Delicate, yet sturdy. Encased in the porcelain white shell is a bundle of flavor and texture.  No single food is as versatile as the egg. A staple for breakfast, it is also a key component in sweet and savory dishes. The egg can be the star of the show or the item that binds and holds the dish’s texture. It can be used whole or separated with the white and the yolk each having different roles.

The egg has three main components: the shell, the white and the yolk.

The egg shell used to be used in cooking as a purifying ingredient in consommés and stocks. But since the shell can be a haven for salmonella, it is no longer used for that purpose.

The white is the clear liquid that surrounds and protects the yolk. Its purpose is to provide nutrition for growth. The white is high in protein, has zero fat and cholesterol. The white also contains sulfur which, when exposed to high heat for extended periods, will react with the iron rich egg yolk and turn green.  See, Dr. Seuss was right. The egg yolk is high in cholesterol and fat. But the poor yolk takes a beating in the public relations area because it also contains many essential vitamins, which the white lacks. And it provides the flavor and thickening power.

The egg has three main components: the shell, the white and the yolk.

The egg is the first ingredient most chefs learn to cook. Legend has it that the original Toque [A type of hat with a narrow brim or no brim  popular from the 13th to the 16th century in Europe, especially France. Now, it is primarily known as the traditional headgear for professional cooks.] had 100 pleats and chef could only earn the right to wear it after he had mastered 100 different egg dishes. Sadly, most modern chefs eschew egg cookery as the province of short order cooks and those not skilled enough to handle real cooking.  Let’s scramble that myth.

Eggs take a delicate touch to cook. Heat control is most important. Brown omelets or over easy eggs tend to have a burnt or off taste. When cooking custard or soufflé, too much heat will ruin the dish. There are few things that look or taste worse than a scrambled custard or Crème Brulée.

Cooking perfect over-easy eggs requires the right tools. First, you need a non-stick pan. I prefer Teflon. When using Teflon-coated pans, you want plastic utensils. A small rubber spatula is essential to loosen the eggs or to shape an omelet. Never use metal in a Teflon pan. It will scratch the surface and transform your non-stick pan into an always stick pan and, when you flip your eggs, the whites and yolk will go in different directions.

You first need to preheat your pan and add a little fat. Oil works best since butter burns at low temperatures. The function of the fat is as a lubricant not a flavoring. Less than a tablespoon is fine. You don’t want the egg pan to look like the Exxon-Valdez ran aground in there. For eggs, I prefer a 6-inch pan. For omelets an 8-inch pan. Crack your eggs in a soup cup first. This way you can avoid shell fragments or the occasional bloody egg.

Chef’s Secret: For over-easy eggs, make sure the eggs are fresh. When fresh eggs are cracked, the yolk will sit high and the white will have little spread. Save old eggs for omelets, scrambles or baking.

Heat pan on medium. Add oil. Swirl oil then add eggs. Let egg white cook until it is opaque. Evenly, gently position yolks towards the back of the pan. Tilt slightly and give a quick flick of the wrist. Cook gently on other side until desired doneness is reached and flip back over.

To practice the flipping motion, start with a piece of bread and practice until you can flip gently in one motion. Then try putting a cup of dry beans in the pan and practice the motion until you can keep all the beans in the pan.

In addition to breakfast, eggs are indispensable in baking. Egg yolks act as tenderizers, shortening gluten strands in breads and cakes. The proteins in egg whites act as tougheners giving strength to such items as macaroons (both the coconut and almond varieties), soufflés, Angel food cake and meringues. Whole eggs are used for aeration, moisture and color in baking.

This month, explore the multi-purpose universe of the egg with the following recipes: Avegelemono (Greek Lemon Egg Drop Soup), Coconut Custard Pie and Angel Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting.

Remember, baking is an eggsact science. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Avgolemeno

(Serves 8)

  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1½ cups rice*
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 16 egg yolks
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In soup pot, heat broth. Add raw rice. Simmer 10 minutes until tender. In bowl, whisk yolks and lemon juice. When rice is done, ladle broth into yolk mixture to temper. Add mix into soup. Stir until thickened. DO NOT BOIL. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with bread and Greek salad. For heartier soup, add 2 cups diced cooked chicken.

* Note: This is raw rice to be cooked in soup. If you want to serve the soup the next day, precook rice and double the amount.

Coconut Custard Pie

  • 1 9-inch pie shell, pre-baked
  • 5 eggs
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • 1¼ cups half-n-half
  • 1 cup flaked coconut, toasted

Mix all ingredients, except coconut, in bowl. Whisk well. Place coconut in pie shell. Pour custard over. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Let cool. Serve.

Angel Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting

  • ½ cup cake flour
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 7 egg whites, room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Sift together flour and ⅓ cup sugar and reserve.

In electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy on medium setting. Add remaining ⅓ cup sugar and cream of tartar. Beat on high until it is thick, tripled in volume until

medium peaks form. Add flour mix in three stages. Pour into ungreased Angel Food Cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until golden. To unmold, invert pan. Cool completely. Loosen with knife to remove.

Seven Minute Frosting

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoons cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp cool water

Set up a double boiler on the stove, making sure water does not touch the bowl, otherwise frosting will become grainy.

Combine all ingredients, except vanilla, in a stainless steel bowl.

Beat with electric mixer 3 minutes on low speed. Beat on high 7 minutes until stiff peaks form. Fold in vanilla. Ice angel food cake.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.