June 19, 2009


Everybody, meet Janice, the agreeable—and perhaps foolish—soul who has volunteered to be my guinea pig in launching Brattleboro Cooks.

Janice is a social worker, a mother of three, a grandmother of two, a gardener, a vegetarian, and a serious cook. The first food she remembers making is challah bread, and even though that was decades ago, the shiny brown braided loaf is emblematic of how Janice approaches cooking. She’s willing to invest time in a food project to make it taste good, and she cares deeply about how a dish looks when it is presented. This is a woman who made her own wedding cake—white chocolate with pistachio marzipan and burnt-orange silk-meringue buttercream. For a hundred people.

Despite her top-shelf culinary tendencies, Janice will cheerfully share her project-of-the-moment with anyone who shows up and shows interest—like me. She once greeted me at her door with a slice of homemade quince paste (who knew people actually made that?). Another time, it was a spoonful of peach chutney. Ladle some of that over goat cheese or cream cheese, and go straight to food heaven.

Janice grew up in Queens, New York, surrounded by good home cooking. Her mother fried chicken. Her grandmother made her own strudel dough. Her neighbor, Emma, whose kids she babysat, kept things like brains and chocolate mousse in the refrigerator. By the time Janice was old enough to go to summer camp, she eschewed the archery and the craft projects and instead hung around the kitchen to help the cook fry johnnycakes and bacon.

While bacon is no longer a part of Janice’s life, the concept of cooking as an enjoyable activity is, whether we’re talking about a constructing a wedding cake or chopping a leek for a regular weeknight dinner with her husband and youngest daughter. These days, such a dinner might mean risotto with swiss chard, or couscous-and-bean cakes atop a salad. But Janice, what about when you’re too beat to cook? Do you ever just throw your hands in the air and break out the cheese and crackers?

Janice laughs politely. In other words, no. “A frittata’s an acceptable dinner,” she offers nicely. But after further questioning, she breaks down—clearly I missed my calling as a police interrogator—and admits that she has Boca Burgers and Trader Joe’s tamales in the freezer.

Now that it’s almost summer in Brattleboro, Janice is itching to use produce from her small garden that’s up the street in a community plot. Specifically, she’s got her eye on a big bunch of sorrel leaves, for soup. Sorrel is a spring crop, like spinach, and it’s considered both a vegetable and an herb. It’s got a lemony flavor that grows sharper as the plant gets bigger.

Today’s soup is adapted from a Silver Palate recipe, so of course it contains a stick of butter, but Janice is all about depth of flavor, and she says that without meat in her diet, she feels fine about a chunk of butter now and then. Amen to that. The soup is bright and tart, but also smooth and rich. Best of all, it’s easy to make, even for a cheese-and-crackers-for-dinner-aficionado like me. Be forewarned: as soon as sorrel hits the heat, it darkens considerably and loses its grassy color—but none of its flavor.

Sorrel Soup
(adapted from the original Silver Palate cookbook)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 large leek, trimmed and chopped
1 cup chopped onion
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 large bunch sorrel (7-8 cups of leaves, removed from stems)
3-4 cups of vegetable broth (Janice uses 3 tablespoons of Seitenbacher powdered broth and 3-4 cups water)
2 pinches nutmeg or mace
salt and pepper to taste
possible garnishes: sour cream, plain yogurt, or crème fraiche, with chopped chives, scallions, or parsley

Melt butter in a medium-to-large pot. Over medium-low heat, sauté leek, onion, and garlic until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the sorrel and broth, lower heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes. Let cool briefly, then purée. Janice uses an immersion blender, which is basically a blender in a stick—one of the greatest kitchen inventions ever. Serve hot or cold, topped with one of the suggested garnishes. Janice spooned on a little goat yogurt and chopped chives.

(Note: the photograph of Janice was taken by Mark Piepkorn.)


  1. love it. my mouth is watering and the photos are gorgeous. watch out smitten kitchen, there's a new blogger in town!

  2. Great photos and text, and as a former Brattleboro foodie, great choice of a first quinea pig for your project.

    Now can anyone tell me, as I no longer devote hours and hours to food experiments, is it possible to make a simple sorrel sauce where the sorrel retains its beautiful color?