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Month: May 2012

Audrey Conant MAC Volunteer of the Month


Audrey Conant, of Cape May, N.J., is the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) Volunteer of the Month for May 2012. MAC’s Chief Outreach Officer Mary Stewart nominated Conant for her devoted volunteer work on MAC’s Tour Advisory Team, in addition to one of her most important roles – spearheading MAC’s annual Pick Your Own Getaway Raffle fundraiser. Each year, MAC raffles off a prize consisting of thousands of dollars worth of “Cape May Gift Certificates” which can be used at a wide variety of Cape May accommodations, restaurants, retail stores and attractions, as well as for tour and event tickets. Last year, Conant’s volunteer efforts helped raise $14,020 toward ongoing renovations and beautification at the Physick Estate. Once again, Conant has stepped up to spearhead this year’s raffle, the proceeds of which will go toward new roofs for three of the estate’s outbuildings. The Volunteer of the Month award is given to a person who demonstrates a high degree of dedication, commitment and constancy to MAC’s volunteer program.
Photo courtesy of MAC


East Cape May Spanish Style

This article originally ran in the August 2011 issue of Cape May Magazine.

Mission Possible - Cape May's Mission Inn

1934 when the Huelings family occupied the house. Note the open air covered porch on the left and the pergola veranda to the right. Photo courtesy Mission Inn.

If the vision of one of East Cape May’s founders had caught on with future cottagers, homes on Beach Avenue east of Madison Avenue might have looked more Spanish Mission style today than Victorian. Nelson Zuinglius Graves, who built what is now the Mission Inn B&B on New Jersey Avenue, was a wealthy manufacturer who made his money from a paint-and-varnish business in Philadelphia. A summer resident of Cape May with a home at South Lafayette and Congress streets, he was deeply committed to the future of Cape May and devoted much of his fortune to building the town’s infrastructure and appeal.

Graves’ business interests were pragmatic and diverse. He bought the Cape May Light and Power Company and acquired the town’s trolley line. He also established a farm and dairy operation in Cold Spring that was considered a model of its day for its cleanliness, efficiency and production.

The Cape May Star and Wave, in its May 14, 1910 edition noted Graves’ and his family’s return for the season:

We are glad to welcome him again to Cape May in which he has taken so much interest and in which he has shown so much faith by his large investments. It is a boom of great price to Cape May to have men of this character become so largely interested for it is a guarantee of a great future for the resort.

The Huelings family, 1934. Photo courtesy Mission Inn.

Graves stepped up to perhaps his most challenging role in helping Cape May when, in 1911, he agreed to take over the Cape May Real Estate Company, which was facing financial ruin. A small group of investors formed the company at the turn of the century with the hope of turning Cape May into a thriving seaport and tony vacation spot. Key to their plans was a massive development project on the east side of the island, which required dredging the harbor and using the sand and silt they removed to fill in the marshlands covering eastern Cape May. Ultimately, the principals of the company envisioned a town of East Cape May populated by grand cottages and elegant hotels.

Graves became the company’s third and, arguably, its most successful president. Under his direction, the company went on to finish the dredging project and to build two entertainment venues he hoped would make the community more popular with visitors – the Fun Factory, an amusement park on what is now the Coast Guard base, and the Cape May Casino, which later became the Cape May Playhouse. He also began work on a new house, located at 1117 New Jersey Avenue, a building he hoped would create a new architectural style for East Cape May and distinguish it from its close neighbor to the west. Graves’ vision for East Cape May was distinctly “unVictorian.”

He had visited California earlier in the century to buy a lead mine to supply his paint business. While he was out west, he fell in love with Spanish Mission architecture. Its open airiness appealed to him, in contrast to the closeness of Victorian structures. When Graves was ready to build his own house in East Cape May, he shared his vision with architect Lloyd W. Titus. Titus had designed a very different and more traditional style of home for an earlier president of the East Cape May Company, Peter Shields, whose home today is the Peter Shields Inn on Beach Avenue.

Work began on Graves’ new house in the summer of 1912, an event chronicled in the August 31issue of the Cape May Star and Wave:

The New Spanish Bungalow

Work has begun on a bungalow on New Jersey Avenue above the Life Saving Station for Mr. Nelson Z. Graves that will be a departure from anything yet constructed in Cape May. It will without doubt be a refreshing relief to the eye and prove to those admirers of the artistic that seashore architecture is capable of a different version than that which we have become accustomed to.

The architecture is essentially American, being an adoption of the Spanish Missions of Southern California, with construction of hollow terra cotta blocks covered with cream white stucco. The broad projecting roof, whose shadows are so welcome in the summer sun, will be covered with red Spanish tile.

St. Francis of Assisi watching over the patio gardens. 

Graves’ house took nearly two years to build. Many of the materials needed to construct it were shipped down the Delaware River by barge, and western cypress, used for woodwork inside the house, arrived from Oregon by rail. Cypress is better suited for damp, humid climates.

The house had even closer ties with the railroads, however. To accelerate work on the East Cape May project, Graves negotiated with the town to extend the railroad tracks up New Jersey Avenue. The rail work coincided with the construction of Graves’ house. A practical man, he substituted beams of rail for those of steel – the more common material – to support the house’s veranda, porch and solarium. A report written to the Cape May Historic Preservation Commission in 1993 also notes the house’s builders were “Italian railroad workers.”

Graves apparently never lived in the house after it was completed, nor is it known whether he ever intended to. By 1914 Graves’ heavy investment in Cape May, coupled with an economic depression forced him to declare bankruptcy. His home went into receivership.

A husband and wife from Philadelphia, William H. and Grace Vane Huelings, bought the house in 1916, and lived there for nearly 30 years. East Cape May had grown by the time they left, but their house was still one of only a handful of homes in the community, largely as a result of war and the Depression.

On the outside, at least, the Graves’ house retained much its Spanish Mission character under its subsequent owners, but each occupant stamped very different and distinct personalities on life inside the house.

Nina Woloshukova Scull, circa 1970s. Photo courtesy Mission Inn.

Another husband and wife from Philadelphia, Dr. Robert and Johanna Ridpath, bought the house in 1945. Mrs. Ridpath was an accomplished singer and harpist who performed under the stage name Joanna Ogredowski. She was also a painter. Not surprisingly, the Ridpaths were generous supporters of the arts, and one beneficiary was the playhouse Graves had built as a casino, only steps away from his new house. By the mid-1940s, the Cape May Playhouse had developed a loyal and appreciative following, not only among its patrons, but also among many of the leading actors and actresses of the day, who often starred in performances. As supporters and practically next-door neighbors of the theater, the Ridpaths are said to have entertained theater legends such as Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson and Diana Barrymore when they were in town to perform. Surely, the Ridpaths’ grand home rivaled many of the stages on which they had acted.

An acclaimed artist, Nina Woloshukova Scull, bought the house in 1950, and used it for her studio, gallery and art school. Scull’s work hung in more than 50 galleries across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum and National Academy, and had won numerous awards.

Scull, a prolific artist, painted quickly and passionately. Her work hung floor-to-ceiling in her vaulted living room lining the walls, furniture, and any other hard surface available in the house. Scull often chose one canvas to showcase her art that she displayed in her dining room’s large bay window. Usually, the painting was a majestic scene of the ocean – nearly identical to the view she saw from her porch.

Scull held weekly and, for advanced students, daily art classes in her sun-filled, western-exposure porch. She changed Graves’ original design for the porch and had the space enclosed so it could be used as a studio year-round. A devoted teacher, Scull strongly encouraged her students to develop their craft, even helping them show their work by hosting an annual exhibit at the Beach Theatre, followed by a celebratory pancake breakfast. She also promoted art more widely in the community by establishing Cape May’s first Boardwalk Art Show in 1961, a tradition that continues today.

The veranda, 1979. Photo courtesy Mission Inn.

Like the house’s earlier residents, Scull enjoyed entertaining at home and often threw lavish parties. At one particular gathering, guests were treated to a spotlighted solo ballerina performing on her front lawn – surely, no small feat on grass.

Scull died in 1979. The Cape May Star and Wave paid tribute to her in an obituary: “Her art studios and gallery at her landmark 1117 New Jersey Avenue home have became an institution in Cape May.” Long before her death, however, the house had become known as the Nina Scull House rather than the Nelson Graves House.

Longtime friends Diane Fischer and Judy DeOrio, who owned property on Hughes Street, bought Scull’s house shortly after she died.

The main house, 1979. Photo courtesy Mission Inn.

“The house had been neglected,” Fischer recalled, “but it had great bones and historic significance. It got emotional for me.”

The new owners spent the next few years repairing the house, repainting, replacing the roof, rebuilding the pergola, and reinforcing the house’s structural supports. Fischer admits the work was more extensive, and more expensive, than they had thought initially.

“We’d paint one side of the house one year and the other side of the house the next year,” she said.

Fischer and DeOrio lived in the house for 13 years as private homeowners. With eight bedrooms, however, it was a large house for two people and Fischer admitted she sometimes played tennis in the living room. By 1992, the friends reached a momentous decision and decided to turn their home into a B&B. Fueled by the town’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and the public’s renewed interest in Victorian architecture, Cape May was awash in B&Bs in the early 1990s. Only a few were a “key historic structure” in the town’s listing, however, which cemented their plan’s call to open their home to the public. After “beachifying” the house with bright whites and vivid colors, the new innkeepers opened their new East Cape May B&B as The Mission Inn in 1992.

The “San Diego de Alcala” room in the Mission Inn today.

“It was like lightning struck,” Fischer remembered. “The paint was still drying in Room Three when guests were at the front door waiting to check in.”

Lightening, perhaps, struck twice when, 10 years later, the Mission Inn was up for sale and a couple from Connecticut, Raymond and Susan Babineau-Roberts, who were looking to open their own inn, toured the B&B.

“I saw this large home that needed nurturing,” Babineau-Roberts explained. “I saw all this potential – the large rooms and the large common areas – and I knew there were things we could to.”

The Roberts closed on the property June 14, 2002.

“We went instantly from the closing to being innkeepers,” new owner, Babineau-Roberts, recalled. “We returned to the inn at 7 p.m.– the closing was from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.– and met our first guests.”

The formal dining room with original stained glass coupled with a 4-foot by 8-foot pocket window, designed not to obstruct the stained glass when opened.

Research guided the Roberts’ next steps and, ultimately, shaped the inn experience they would offer guests. Raymond Roberts, a former owner of an architectural and engineering firm, spent weekends at the county library pouring over archives until staff “booted him out at night,” Babineau-Roberts said. She embarked on her own version of Graves’ California trip to study Spanish Mission architecture, visiting 21 missions from San Diego to San Francisco in a whirlwind five days. She returned home inspired to make Graves’ house even more reflective of the Spanish Mission style.

The Great Room with a 16-foot barreled ceiling features a Nina Scull original, “The Russian Peasant Woman,” signed and dated 1945.

Nine years later, the Roberts in many ways have succeeded in bringing Graves’ house full circle. They have restored the house’s ceilings and floors, repaired its stucco walls, repainted inside and out, and landscaped the yard in such a way that it complements key architectural elements of the structure. They also extended the Spanish Mission design of the house to the inn’s interior spaces. The eight bedrooms are each themed to a specific California Mission, with each room’s colors, murals and furnishings telling that mission’s story.

Pergola in the patio garden

“There were times we never knew what we’d find when we pulled up a rug,” Babineau-Roberts said of the ongoing renovations. Finding parquet floors in the dining room was a surprise to them, as was discovering horsehair in the plaster.

Nelson Graves’ vision of a new Spanish Mission style for East Cape May may not have materialized. His larger vision, however, of the new community and the role it would play in strengthening Cape May’s future was achieved, and we have Graves to thank for laying the foundation – quite literally, from sand and silt – for that success. 

For more information, visit www.missioninn.net


Fried Chicken & Soul at the Chalfonte Hotel

This article originally ran in the July 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine.

Fried chicken and soul at the Chalfonte Hotel

There are few historic hostelries in this world where the eras of architecture and food embrace each other. At the Chalfonte, Cape May’s oldest continuous operating hotel, the Magnolia Room’s southern menu has been a tradition for 101 years. That is remarkable in itself. But more remarkable, the dishes: the fried chicken, split pea soup, herbed roast leg of lamb, baked ham, black-eyed peas, crab croquettes, fried eggplant, collards and ham hocks, fried green tomatoes, spoon bread, corn pudding, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato pie, blueberry cobbler, have been lovingly produced by four generations of women from one Virginia family. In all, they have given 300 years of themselves at the Chalfonte.

Lucille cooking

In summer, the long, lacey scalloped verandas provide the same cool shade for rocking as they did the year Civil War hero Colonel Henry Sawyer built the Chalfonte, in 1876.

The dining room is elegant in its unspoiled plainness. Ocean breezes float from tall windows, refreshing as they were the evening Mr. Sawyer sat down for his first dinner. The heart of the hotel is, and always has been, the kitchen. The big black coal-burning stoves are gone and the giant iceboxes are no more. But the family of cooks that has made this kitchen nationally famous still reigns. They describe their distinctive style as “soul food with its Sunday clothes on.”

Their fried chicken is the Chalfonte special that has attracted the most attention from food writers and national TV shows over the years. And it is beyond a doubt, the most popular among guests. The chicken is deep golden crispy crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, with a pungent scent and flavor all its own.

The Chalfonte food is essentially southern home cooking, using locally grown ingredients with recipes capable of serving 150 to 200. It is the home cookin’ that helps make the old hotel feel like home for the guests who return year after year, from one generation to the next, to rooms that have had no air conditioning, televisions, internet, and only shared baths. It is one of the only hotel kitchens anywhere where guests burst in for hellos, hugs, kisses and gifts of flowers and scotch for the cooks who are considered family.

Left to right: Lucille, Dot, mother Helen, grandmother Clementine, and Dot’s daughter Tina

Imagine a splendid day in early October of 2009, late in the afternoon. Shafts of strong sunlight beam across the cavernous kitchen, throwing prisms off shiny pots. “The Ladies,” Dot Burton and Lucille Thompson, sisters, then 81 and 79, move about in a slow sashay, preparing for the last meal of the season. They claim this will be their very “last supper.” They have worked the Chalfonte their entire lives. They are weary, looking forward to winter, retirement, their own rocking chairs and watching soap operas without interruption.

The nostalgia in the kitchen this “last supper” is palpable, but there are no tears. There is joy in the routine of what the sisters do so well, putting their hearts and souls into their food preparations. Lucille is rolling crab croquettes to the size of little loaves of bread and dipping them in egg and spiced bread crumbs. There is the rhythm of experience in her hands.

Dot reaches up to the rack holding utensils, pots and pans and grabs one of the heavy black cast iron skillets. It is two feet wide with a three-foot handle that easily holds a dozen or so chicken quarters. “This big old thing is about 100 years old and that is older than me,” says Dot with a chuckle. “How many pieces of chicken has this pan fried? Only the Lord knows.”

Dot was nine years old when she started here. Lucille was seven. Their first job was to rinse sand from guests’ bathing suits. Once finished, they hung the suits on the door knobs of the rooms. There was the time when the sisters got in a fight and engaged in a tug-of-war with a suit. It spit in half, and they had to forfeit their wages to buy a new one. “That’s the way life lessons were taught back then,” says Dot.

Dot’s husband Fraizel Burton, Dot, and Helen Dickerson

Lucille bends beneath a long stainless steel table and hoists to the top yeast rolls that have been rising under snow white towels. “This is our mother Helen Dickerson’s famous hot rolls recipe,” says Lucille. “I make 12 dozen most days, and have added my own touches. In a hurry one day to cool the yeast mix, I added some ice cream. The vanilla flavor was special, and ever since I add ice cream to every batch.”

Ice cream. The very mention of ice cream reminds Lucille—Ceilly—of a favorite memory. “Come with me,” she says, leading the way out the kitchen, across the alley, to a white box of a small building. “The Coal Bin,” she announces. “When we were girls, our grandmother Clementine, my sister Dot and I slept on iron beds in the same room as the coal. Later on, they added this bedroom with windows. At night, we’d wait until Clementine was snoring loud as thunder. We’d sneak out the bed, crawl out the window, and run down town to see what was goin’ on. Clementine loved ice cream. It was our ticket back to bed! We bribed her with ice cream, and Grandma, don’t you dare tell Mama we were AWOL. Mama was a disciplinarian.”

Helen Dickerson ruled the Chalfonte kitchen for 45 years with a tough hand, lusty humor and a warm heart. “Mother was in her starched kitchen whites, ready to go to work, at 6:30 every morning. She’d be waiting at the back door to welcome the help,” says Dot. “She expected a ‘good mornin’’ from every one. If anyone had the head down, a hang-over, an attitude, Mama said real loud, ‘Well, good mornin’. Did I sleep with you last night?’ That broke it up, whatever it was.”

Once when a cook chain-smoked, against Chalfonte rules, Helen waited for the propitious moment, threw a piece of wadded up dough and hit him smack in the forehead. “He never ever smoked in the kitchen again,” says Dot.

There was the calamity when a disgruntled cook threw a big pot at a dishwasher. The pot sideswiped the dishwasher and hit the wall hard suffering a big dent. Miss Helen strode over, picked up the pot, handed it to the cook to wash, and put it back in service. She eyed all the help eyeing her, and never saying a word, went back to work. So did everyone else. “There’s the pot,” says Lucille, “It’s still in use and it always reminds us of Mama.”

Helen Dickerson was a fixture at the Chalfonte for 77 years. She came to the hotel as a child with her great-aunt, Kate Smith, who worked winters for the owners, the Satterfield family, in Richmond, Virginia, and summers, at the Chalfonte. Helen was five when she first set foot in the kitchen, sitting in a little chair at the back door waiting to join Miss Susie Satterfield picking flowers for the dining room tables. Helen’s mother, Clementine, was hard at work on the second floor making beds and cleaning rooms. Clementine began chambermaid duties at age 12, and worked those same rooms pleasing guests for 60 years. “She was a portrait in service and loyalty,” says granddaughter Lucille. “Our mother Helen showed the same devotion to duty in the kitchen.”

The Tin House

When times get hot in the kitchen on sultry summer days, with competing egos, dinner deadlines and yet more chicken to fry, a cooling off spot is the Tin House, especially in June and July when the pink roses entwine the fence and the lattice, perfuming the air. The Tin House is an overgrown dollhouse about 12 by 22 feet, hidden from the street by a tall hedge. If you don’t know the white and green structure is there, you could pass it by for years.

The Tin House was born of desperation. “There was a Philadelphia man who could not pay Calvin Satterfield his hotel bill,” says Anne LeDuc, who with Judy Bartella, owned, restored and operated the Chalfonte for 25 years until late summer, 2008. The delinquent guest shipped tin cutouts to Mr. Satterfield for payment, and the result is the charming little building. “It was where they hid the bourbon and whiskey in Prohibition,” says Anne, who has summered at the Chalfonte since age two. She remembers the pomp of the place when the wait staff shined their tables’ silver to gleaming perfection. They carried little cotton towels to polish goblets before meals. The white-gloved maitre’d, William, seated the guests in their dinner attire. The wait staff stood against the wall, hands behind their backs until ready to spring into polite action serving the plates.

Like the Satterfields, Anne is a Virginia native. “The Virginians and West Virginians loved their bourbon,” says Anne, “and that included the women. I was astonished at their capacity. I looked in the window of the Tin House one day, and there was Mother at a party, hanging from her knees from the bar. The Tin House parties are legendary. Guests gave their own cocktail parties at the Tin House before we had the King Edward Bar. They ordered their favorite hors d’oeuvres. Helen and the kitchen provided them. Most popular were the miniature warm biscuits sandwiching Virginia ham spread.

“To this day, the Tin House and the Wedding Tree, the big lovely willow, are favorite spots for parties and nuptials,” says Anne. “And the shenanigans continue. One morning I went out to smell the roses, and a couple was having a Magnolia Room breakfast on the roof. They had hoisted the little patio table and two chairs to the roof – to get a view of the ocean, perhaps.

Dot, left, and Lucille on the Chalfonte porch

“Various of our staff have preferred living in the Tin House with its bed, bureau and chair,” says Anne. “We have had some characters.” Anne recalls handyman extraordinaire, Theodore, whose car was the love of his life. “Theodore could not drive,” says Anne. “But he required the benefit of a garage for his beloved sedan. Once or twice a summer, his friend would come up from Richmond, and with great ceremony, drive the two of them around town. Theodore could do anything. Fix leaky pipes with gauze. Stoke the coal fires. Carve the meat. I still miss Theodore.” Anne mists over remembering. “They say I should write a book.”

In the early days of the LeDuc-Bartella regime at the Chalfonte, one of the staff did write a book, a precious tome chronicling the recipes the Virginia ladies cooked by instinct: their touch, taste and feel. The cookbook is called I Just Quit Stirrin’ When the Tastin’s Good, quoting Helen Dickerson as she struggled to explain her recipes and methods. She was prodded on by Cissy Finley Grant, who dutifully wrote down the measurements, not for the usual 150 to 200 meals Helen was accustomed to turning out, but for servings from six to 12. Cissy’s brother-in-law, Bill Grant, told her it was a project, “like putting folklore in your stomach.” The project consumed the cooks, Helen, Dot and Lucille, through the summer of 1985, testing, retesting and testing again the recipes.

The result is a 94- page cookbook, still available in the lobby, that has gone home with thousands of Cape May visitors. The recipes represent combined cultures. There are the flavors of the European cuisine that graced the tables of the Virginia aristocracy on plantations robust with game, garden vegetables and orchard fruits. Through the years, African-American cooks added the tastes and textures from their slave cabin kitchens to the main house menus. From one generation to the next, the foods melded into the good ol’ southern cooking still served today at the Chalfonte’s Magnolia Room.

Back in the kitchen, Dot is standing over the two big old cast-iron skillets, bubbling with oil, and mounds of sliced onions. She swirls around the onions, allowing them to crisp before adding the chicken quarters that have been soaking in a salt brine. “The onions are our secret” says Dot. “The onions and the paprika in the flour that helps turn the chicken golden brown.” The smell of the onions frying sends the olfactory and saliva glands into mouth-watering anticipation.

Dot dredges the chicken pieces in the flour, salt, pepper and paprika mixture, coating each piece, and drops them in the bubbling oil. She never leaves her station during the 20 minutes to half hour it takes for each pan full to cook and crisp. Then she lays the pieces on a rack over a baking pan to drip off any oil, and place it in a warming oven until time to plate and serve Chalfonte’s Southern Fried Chicken in the Magnolia Room.

Late in the summer of 2008, Anne LeDuc and Judy Bartella sold their National Historic Landmark to Bob and Linda Mullock. Anne winces at the emotional pain, but the Mullocks are determined to maintain the historical ambiance of the place. “And, they’ll keep the Tin House,” says Anne. “That was always a barometer to me– of trust to keep it the way it is, with some updated amenities, like bathrooms and air conditioning.”

And “The Ladies?” They are back! No rocking chairs on cool verandas for them this season. New owner Bob Mullock says, “The Ladies cannot not come back. They are the heart and soul of the place. I cannot imagine life here without them. How would I survive without their fried chicken?”

Bob Mullock has been in love with the Chalfonte {cool fountain in French} for a long time. He was married at the hotel in 1980 when he and his wife, Linda, were in the first year of running a B and B they restored called the Victorian Rose, on Columbia Avenue just a few steps from the Chalfonte. One of Mullock’s favorite photos is a picture of him and his bride in their wedding regalia in the kitchen with “The Ladies.” And that evening, Bob remembers fetching Helen from the kitchen and dancing with her and thanking her for a lovely day.

The Chalfonte is that way. She gets into your soul and then you are beholden to her. 

The Chalfonte Hotel’s Southern Fried Chicken Recipe

  • 1 3-pound frying chicken, quartered
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 cups shortening or coin oil (or a 2-inch depth for frying)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  1. Soak the chicken in salted water for 1 hour. Add 1 tablespoon salt to each quart of water. Drain chicken and pat dry.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bag or bowl, mix flour, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and shake to coat thoroughly.
  3. In a large skillet or deep fryer, heat the shortening or oil to 365 to 375 degrees. Place the onion in the hot oil. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil sizzling moderately, but don’t let it burn.
  4. Add the chicken to hot oil, again adjusting the heat. Fry for 10 minutes. Turn chicken and fry until tender, crisp and browned, about 10 minutes more. Test for doneness with a fork, or watch for the breast meat to split along the muscle.

Note: As long as the oil is sizzling, moisture is being forced out of the chicken as steam, preventing the meat from absorbing excess oil. Dot places the fried chicken on a rack over a baking pan and keeps the chicken warm in the oven until served.


Following Your Dog

I chose this title because it says more than we may realize, and it really goes along with this month’s Good Read. This month’s Good Read:

Following Atticus by Tom Ryan. A true story, this book is not only a great story about a man, his dog, and their travels, but also a great learning adventure in opening our eyes to what our dogs can teach us – lessons subtle and lessons not so subtle.

When traveling with your dog(s), coming to Cape May, or anywhere; you know that you need to prepare. Check with your vet, letting your vet know where you will be traveling, to insure that you have your dog(s) medically prepared, such as any inoculations, flea/tick medication, necessary first aid supplies, and more. Your dog(s) will be happier and healthier traveling if you take appropriate safeguards in advance of your trip.

When in Cape May there’s a great chance you’ll be taking your dog(s) to the beach. Several are “dog friendly” as long as you keep your dog leashed and pick up after your dog(s). But when at the dog friendly beaches, follow the lead of your dog(s). Some dogs love the water; others don’t mind, but would rather stay in the shallows than swim. Let your dog(s) explore and make the choice! Cheyenne, one of my previous dogs, was a true swimmer (as long as the waves did not get her face wet!). She would jump right in and would have loved to swim to Delaware if she was not on a long lead so I could reel her in. Gretchen, on the other hand, chose not to swim, but loved jumping and biting the waves. Because she swallowed some sea water in the biting, we had to be sure to walk her a little on the way home so she could “rid herself of the sea water.” Guinness and Jameson, the two dogs I have now, are both swimmers, but are both “in and out, in and out” swimmers – their choice.

Cape May dog park

Photo courtesy Debbie J Hudson

Also in Cape May, there are areas for hiking with your dog(s). Again, let your dog(s) lead – not in direction since you don’t want to get lost, but in deciding to go, and in duration. Be aware of the heat and be sure to have plenty of fresh water for you and your dog(s). If you start out on a hike, and your dog(s) show(s) reluctance to go further, return and save more hiking for some other day because there is a reason for that reluctance. Remember, your dog(s) has/have a stronger, more sensitive sense of smell than you and may be aware of some danger ahead that you cannot see. Also, your dog(s) will be more aware of their ability to go on. Listen to the information your dog(s) is/are trying to share with you and you will all have a more enjoyable, rewarding adventure. And, you’ll want to come back for more.

Especially remember “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR” in any heat. Even in the shade with the windows open, the car can reach fatal temperatures quickly. When your dog(s) tell(s) you “that’s enough” or “this isn’t really my thing”, listen and go home to enjoy nap or some relax time or a “yappy hour” before dinner.

When beaching, hiking, or just walking around Cape May with your dog(s), listen and everyone will have a happier, healthier, fun, adventure! Enjoy!


Grow Your Own Jersey Fresh Tomatoes

Everyone loves a big, thick juicy slice of a Jersey tomato on a sandwich!  They are easy to grow and most gardeners like to have some tomatoes to pick daily. The popular tomato plant is a tender, warm-season plant that is usually best planted well after the danger of frost is past.

Some folks insist on heirloom plants with fruits in various combinations of orange, green, purple, red and stripes. Some like grape or cherry tomatoes and some just want a big round, red, juicy tomato that tastes like a Jersey tomato. I have planted purple ones and pink ones and striped ones over the years, but I also plant the good old Early Girl that I have grown for years, as well as Rutgers and Beefsteak and I am usually happy with all the results.

One of the most popular plants is often the Early Girl (60 or fewer days to harvest). This one has a more compact growth than the main-season varieties, however it is shorter lived. But they work for the early fruit and are really good for areas where the growing seasons are shorter and the summer is cooler. They have small to medium-sized red fruit that usually come in around July 4, if they are planted now in full sun. Of course warm weather helps.)  I also love the big, round slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and the meaty plum tomatoes for cooking. We plant some of each.

I continue to plant tomatoes up until mid-July to have fresh ones to harvest late in the season. For fall harvest and early winter storage of tomatoes, late plantings may be made until mid-summer; these plantings have the advantage of increased vigor and freedom from early cold weather diseases and produce a tasty fruit.  Time late plantings for maximum yield before freezing temperatures kill the plants.

Planting

Space small varieties 15 inches apart in the row, staked plants 15 to 24 inches apart, and trellised or ground bed plants 24 to 36 inches apart. Some particularly vigorous indeterminate old-fashioned varieties may need 4 feet between plants and 5 to 6 feet between rows to allow comfortable harvest room. Staking or caging tomatoes keeps them off the ground and easier to tend.

Care

Prepare the soil with good compost in the spots where the tomatoes will be planted. Avoid fresh manure or high nitrogen products, as this will produce a jungle of leaves but little or no fruit. Some old timers who grow tomatoes naturally suggest lots of compost. Plant small plants deep enough to hold them securely. Long lanky stems can be buried. Roots will come out of them. Sometimes I almost bury half of a lanky seedling,  Hoe or cultivate shallowly to keep down weeds without damaging roots in and around plants. Mulching is recommended once the soil warms. I used cardboard last year and although I didn’t like the way it looked, it worked well. Some people use black plastic. Organic materials are also suitable for mulching. Your objective is to always keep the soil moist!  You may also use grass clippings to keep the soil moist. A tad bit of extra fertilizer works best when the mulch is new.

Water the plants thoroughly and regularly during hot dry periods.  Plants confined in containers may need daily or even more frequent watering.  Remember that good compost and good soil produce the best plants naturally. Tomatoes need food. Some folks have sandy or poor soil and also need to feed with granular 10-10-10 fertilizers or 14-14-14 time-release fertilizers. Water in new plants with a mild liquid feeding. Sprinkle the fertilizer mix approximately one foot from the base of the tomato plant. Make sure you circle the entire plant. Cover the mix with 2″ of topsoil and then place a light covering of grass cuttings or root mulch over the fertilizer mix and soil.  Be sure to soak the area! Make two more applications of 10-10 –10, 3 and 6 weeks later if you don’t use the time release, which is good for 4 months. If the weather is dry following these applications, water the plants thoroughly.  Do not get fertilizer on the leaves. Many gardeners train their tomato plants to stakes, trellises or cages with great success.

Tomato cages may be made from concrete-reinforcing wire, woven-wire stock fencing or various wooden designs. Choose wire or wooden designs that have holes large enough to allow fruit to be picked and removed without bruising. The short, small, narrow type often sold at garden centers are all but useless for anything but the smallest of the dwarf types. Most modern tomatoes easily grow 3 to 4 feet tall and old fashioned continue to get taller until fall, easily reaching at least 6 feet in height if not pruned.  Use cages that match in height the variety to be caged and firmly anchor them to the ground with stakes or steel posts to keep the fruit-laden plants from uprooting themselves in late summer windstorms. We usually end up with toppled over tomato cages everywhere!  Maybe this year we will do it right.

In mid-summer I often spray my plant with a natural fungicide such as natural neem oil to avoid disease on the foliage. If your tomatoes  have brown dry sunken decay has developed on the blossom end this is an indication of low level of calcium in the fruit itself. Some folks add calcium or even Epsom salts . Adequate preparation of the garden bed prior to planting is the key to preventing this . Insure adequately draining soil, maintain the soil pH around 6.5 – a pH out of this range limits the uptake of calcium. Lime (unless the soil is already alkaline), composted manures or bone meal will supply calcium but take time to work so must be applied prior to planting. Excess nitrogen in the soil can reduce calcium uptake as can a depleted level of phosphorus. After planting, avoid deep cultivation that can damage the plant roots, use mulch to help stabilize soil moisture levels and help avoid drought stress, avoid overwatering as plants generally need about one inch of moisture per week from rain or irrigation for proper growth and development.

A checklist for success with tomatoes

  1. Plant tomatoes in full sun.
  2. Add compost or humus with your soil.
  3. Make sure the soil drains well and is not muddy clay.
  4. Add any of the following below the hole dug for the plant: fish heads, the tops from a pack of matches, coffee grounds, eggshells, Epsom salts (these are all old wives tale given to me by some of our readers, let us know your secret ingredient).
  5. Plant or Bury the plant at least 50% of the plant’s height. (This will insure a deep, strong root system)
  6. Each plant should be spaced 18” to 24” apart.
  7. Stake plants with a sturdy 6’ high stake or cage anchored well.  If plants get too tall, you can prune tomato plants.

So whether you plant one or one hundred tomatoes this year, enjoy the adventure of growing summer’s most popular product, a Jersey tomato!

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


Three easy scallop recipes

Cape May scallop recipe, how to cook scallops

Transforming a simple protein into an entrée is often a chef’s greatest challenge and joy. Some foods are limited with what they can be paired. Strong robust red meats need strong flavors, otherwise the sauce or side is lost in the meaty onslaught on the palate. Delicate foods require a similar treatment lest they be drowned out by their accompanying flavors. Foods that are neither strong nor weak in flavor provide a great canvas on which a chef can add flavor and texture armed with a palette of herbs, spices and supporting groceries. Local chefs and food lovers are blessed with an abundance of one of these types of proteins. Scallops, whether they are called Cape May or Jersey Shoal scallops, are a boon to local plates and palates.

When buying scallops, look for the dry-pack variety since they contain no additives. Wet-pack scallops are processed with sodium tripolyphospate prior to freezing which allows the scallop to absorb extra water. These scallops are less desirable for two reasons. First, the consumer is essentially paying extra for water weight. Secondly, when cooked, the scallops expel this water preventing caramelization and creating excessive shrinkage in the meat. Scallops are also sold by count per pound such as 10-12, 12-16 etc. The smaller the number in the size means the larger the scallop is on the plate.

Once you have purchased your dry-pack scallops, choosing the cooking method is your next decision. Scallops lend themselves to most any cooking method from grilling, pan-searing, deep frying, poaching or even baked. Pan-searing and grilling produce a wonderful caramelization of the outside of the scallop, which accentuates the natural sweetness of its tender flesh. Butter poaching keeps the scallop lily-white, but infuses the scallop with a rich buttery intensity and melt-in-you-mouth tenderness.

The neutrality of this bi-valve is the gift to the adventuresome chef allowing it to be paired with rich fatty accompaniments or tart acidic components with equal success. In the springtime, Jersey fresh leeks sautéed with slab bacon and a reduction of local red wine creates a flavor bursting palate pleaser. During the summer, local tomatoes can be transformed into salsas or bruschetta-inspired toppings that match up with a smokiness scallops take on when grilled. However you choose to prepare them, tread lightly with doneness. Cook the scallop medium. Overcooked scallops have the look and texture of pencil erasers.

This month follow my mantra of cooking with local products with global flavors. Enjoy these recipes for Butter-Poached scallops with tomato basil relish and pan seared scallops with mango green curry sauce. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Butter-Poached Scallops

Equipment needed:

  • 1 medium, thick-bottomed saucepan
  • Slotted spoon
  • Prescription for Lipitor (optional)

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs 8-10 ct scallops
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 3 large sprigs thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Melt butter over low heat in saucepan
  2. Add garlic and thyme. Bring to simmer.
  3. Reduce heat slightly. Place scallops loosely in pan allowing liquid to cover, but move freely.
  4. Cook for 6-8 minutes.
  5. Remove with slotted spoon to warm plates. Repeat until all scallops are cooked.
  6. Arrange on plate top with Tomato-Basil Relish and drizzle with reduced balsamic syrup.

Tomato-Basil Relish

  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • 8 basil leaves, chiffonaded
  • 4 tablespoons
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Mix all ingredients and chill. Serve with Butter-Poached Scallops.

Sauteed Scallops with Mango Curry Sauce

  • 1 mango, diced
  • 2 10-oz. cans coconut milk
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • Juice and zest 2 limes
  • 2 teaspoon garlic
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 8 mint leaves, chiffonaded
  • 2 lbs 8-10 ct scallops
  • 2 teaspoons Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoons green curry paste, more per taste, if desired
  1. In large sauté pan heat oil & sear scallops, 4 minutes per side over high heat. Remove scallops. Keep warm.
  2. To same pan, add ginger, shallots & garlic. Sauté until softened.
  3. Add curry paste. Lightly brown.
  4. Add coconut milk and fish sauce. Reduce by half until sauce is thickened and coats back of spoon.
  5. Add half of mango, mint, lime juice and zest.
  6. Spoon sauce on plate. Place scallops on top. Garnish with remaining mango and a few mint leaves. Serve with jasmine rice.