Category Archives: traditions

Author Seeks Tanglewood Picnic Photos for Book

Author Gina Hyams is creating a book titled The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires. The gift book will celebrate the tradition of picnics held on the Lawn during concerts at Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer campus in Lenox, Massachusetts. The book will be both a charming historic document and inspiration for over-the-top picnic style. It is scheduled for publication summer 2015.

Hyams seeks photos of Tanglewood picnics (both lavish and modest), favorite picnic recipes, outdoor dining tips, and related picnic ephemera (such as invitations and menus) from all eras of the festival’s eight-decade history. Submissions of multiple images are welcome. She is particularly interested to hear from people who have made a beloved tradition of picnicking on the Lawn.

Due to print quality restrictions, only high-resolution images can be considered for inclusion (300dpi+ — either scanned or photographed with an iPhone or digital camera). If you have prints and don’t have access to a scanner, Gina will be happy to scan images and return the originals. Email her at the address below and she’ll send you her snail mail address.

Please note caption information, including as much of the following as is known: date, occasion, names of people in the image, types of foods pictured, the name of the photographer, and estate to credit as necessary.

Please also answer this question: What do you love about Tanglewood picnics?

Include your name, address, and phone number.

Submissions will be considered for both print publication and posting on the project’s blog:

Deadline for submissions: September 30, 2014.

Email submissions to:

Gina Hyams is a Berkshire-based writer and editor who specializes in food, travel, and the arts. She has published eleven books, among them Country Living Decorating with White (Hearst), In a Mexican Garden: Courtyards, Pools, and Open-Air Living Rooms (Chronicle Books), and Pie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest (Andrews McMeel Publishing). Hyams was a contributing editor to Berkshire Living and a correspondent for Fodor’s Travel Publications. Her essays and articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Newsweek, San Francisco, Organic Style, Ideal Destinations, Healing Lifestyles & Spas, and Salon, as well as broadcast on National Public Radio. For more information, see

Interview with Author Andrea Lawson Gray about “Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions, and Recipes”

Andrea Lawson Gray

San Francisco-based author and chef Andrea Lawson Gray collaborated with Adriana Almazán Lahl on a wonderful new book titled Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions, and Recipes (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). It delves into the foods of Mexico’s many holidays, each chapter featuring historical and cultural background information, along with recipes and photographs. This comprehensive volume explores both major and lesser-known fiestas, as well as rites of passage celebrations, such as quinceñeras, weddings, and funerals.


Andrea is the proprietor of Tres Señoritas Gourmet, a caterer specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine and Una Señorita Gourmet, a private, in-home culinary service. She writes a column on Mexican cuisine for the and a blog on food in San Francisco’s Mission district, My Mission: Tastes of San Francisco. A single mother of three children, she also volunteers at International High School of San Francisco, working on diversity and social justice issues. She is building a small hotel and cooking school in Tenango de Valle, Mexico, called Casa La Tia that she hopes to open in the summer of 2016.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gina: What are the roots of your passion for Mexican cuisine and how did you learn to cook it?


Andrea: My passion for Mexican cuisine really comes from my passion for Mexico, its people who are just so hospitable, noble, and humble at the same time and value the land and their traditions in a way that I think we have forgotten here. The cuisine is such a natural extension of all this that I actually had a yearning to become immersed in the cuisine as I became more and more immersed in Mexican culture. It really drew me in.


Gina: How did Celebracions Mexicanas come to be and how long did it take? Had you written much before?


Andrea: I had been writing a column for the for several years on Mexican food and Mexican restaurants. I had planned to write a book when I moved to Mexico; I wasn’t sure what exactly it would be about, but as I tracked the interest in my columns I found that whenever I wrote about Mexican food for a specific Mexican holiday, I attracted the most readers. So it came to me that I had the topic for my book, but I still planned to write it when I moved to Mexico (which will be in 2016).


Then I received an email from Ken Albala, who was to become my editor— he was looking for a writer for a book on Chinese cuisine. I never let an email go unanswered, so I replied, almost as a joke “I actually don’t know enough about Chinese cuisine to take on your project (even though I did own a Chinese restaurant in NYC…but I was the frontend person, not in the kitchen), but if you ever want to do a book on Mexican cuisine, I’m your gal.” He replied that I should submit a book proposal. I had never done one before. The rest, as they say, is history! I had NO idea that my book was the first of its kind until I read the description on Amazon: “the first book to bring the richness and authenticity of the foods of Mexico’s main holidays and celebrations to the American home cook.” I couldn’t believe it!


Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Gina: How did your collaboration with Adriana work?


Andrea: As soon as I got Ken’s email, I knew I needed a collaborator to provide recipes. I am well-versed in Mexican cooking, but I wanted someone’s family recipes. All my Mexican friends, well, at least the women, have notebooks of their mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. I met Adriana and (several other amazing Latina ladies who cook) when I interviewed her for a piece I wrote for my column on La Cocina, the business incubator that gave her her start. Of all the women I had met for my article, Adriana was the first to come to mind. When I approached her, she said, “I have been waiting my whole life to write a cookbook!”


Almazán Family Cookbook

Gina: What did your research for the book entail?


Andrea: I began by locating original texts. Fortunately, there are several really wonderful sources, starting with Bernardino de Sahagun’s Florentine Codex, recorded between 1545 and 1590, when he first met the Aztecs right after the Spanish landed. There has been lots of scholarship on the subject, so many of the more important texts, like the Florentine Codex, have even been translated into English. My Spanish is good, but reading Spanish as it appeared in the colonial era is a bit of a stretch for me. There are wonderful texts from the height of the Spanish occupation, written by women with a great eye for detail, and these are widely quoted in the book. Fascinating material! And in December of last year, Adriana went to Mexico and was able to go to several libraries…that was invaluable.


Chile en Nogada

Gina: How did you source the photos?


Andrea: Everything about this project was blessed! First, Adriana not only had the culinary education and recipes to make the book really shine, she also minored in photography at the University in Mexico City, and is an excellent food photographer and stylist. I also have a food styling background from a previous career as a creative director (something I never imagined I would be tapping into again).

As for the amazing in-country photos of Mexico’s indigenous people, Jorge Ontiveros, our photographer, has a passion for this and was excited about the opportunity to share his work in this country, where it had never been seen before. Many of the photographs in the book were from a collection he already had, and he was able to take other photos we needed for the book, for specific holidays.


Gina: How did you find a publisher? Did an editor there help shape the development of the book?


Andrea: Our editor, Ken Albala, already had a series with Alta Mira Press, the Food Studies and Gastronomy arm of Rowman & Littlefield. He presented the proposal to the publisher for us. He was also invaluable in guiding me in terms of voice for the book, recommending sources, and across the board. We were just so lucky…we couldn’t have wished for an editor more versed in our topic!


Gina: What’s your favorite Mexican celebration and why? Please share a related recipe.


Andrea: My favorite time of year to be in Mexico is for Dia de Los Muertos, as the altars start to appear in the pueblos and the puestos (market stalls) sell special chocolates and alfreniques (sugar skulls). I love Adriana’s recipe for pumpkin mole, made with chiles, chocolate, and pumpkin purée, but my favorite from our chapter on Day of the Dead is for Marigold Patties in Tomato Stew, because this is not something we really cook with here, marigold petals (cempazuchil), the traditional Day of the Dead flowers. Their bright orange-yellow color represents the brightness of the sun, and their aroma is believed to attract the souls of the dead to the altars prepared in their honor.


Marigold Patties in Tomato Stew

Tortitas de Cempazuchil en Caldillo

(SERVES 6–8)


1 lb chicken breast, cooked and shredded (see recipe below)

1 egg white

10 cempazuchitl flowers, petals only (edible marigolds, should be organic)

1/2 cup Mexican sour cream

1 sprig epazote

1/2 tbsp Mexican oregano

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

2 cups of Tomato Caldillo (See recipe below)

2–6 tbsp oil

MIX shredded chicken with egg whites and the petals of 4 flowers, finely chopped. Add cream, epazote, oregano, salt, and pepper; mix well. Form 2-inch patties. Chop the remaining flower petals and cover patties with the petals. Prepare Tomato Caldillo.

Add oil to a sauté pan and fry patties (you will need to continue adding oil, 2 tbsp at a time, as you remove cooked patties and add new ones to the sauté pan). Cook 2 minutes on each side. Drain well on a paper towel and add to Tomato Caldillo. Serve with rice, beans, and warm tortillas.


Chicken Stock, plus Shredded Chicken



1 ½ gallons water

6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs, with skin and bones (about 4–6 pounds)

1 head garlic, roasted

½ onion

½ tsp whole black peppercorns (or 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper)

2 carrots, peeled

1 celery stalk

1 sprig fresh cilantro

1 bay leaf

1–2 tbsp salt

If time allows, first roast chicken in a pan in the oven at 350° for 30–45 minutes to get a stronger flavor. Bring the water to a boil and add the chicken. As it returns to a boil, skim the foam and particles that rise to the top with a slotted spoon and discard. Add the garlic, onion, peppercorns, carrots, celery, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 30–45 minutes or until the chicken is tender. (If chicken has been previously roasted, remove after 30 minutes.) Remove the chicken and cool. Strain the stock and reserve. It will keep for 2–3 days in the refrigerator, up to 3 months in the freezer. For convenience, you may want to reduce stock and freeze.

When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand—not with a knife. The meat should not be too finely shredded.


Tomato Stock / Caldillo de Tomate 



¼ cup minced onion

1 garlic clove, puréed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup tomato purée (see below)

3 cups chicken stock (see above)

1 large sprig of cilantro

1 large bay leaf

Salt to taste

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, add tomato purée, and cook for 12–15 minutes on medium high until it changes color and volume is reduced by half. Add chicken stock, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Allow to boil for at least 10 more minutes to season well. Your stock is ready to be used in any recipe. Use it within 48 hours or freeze for up to 3 months


Fresh Tomato Purée



3 small tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

½ onion

Blend all ingredients until smooth; strain and reserve. Use immediately or within a day. Or keep refrigerated for 2 days. You can also freeze for up to 1 month

Gina: I understand you’re building a home in Mexico. Please tell me about it. How far along are you? What are your hopes for the property?


Andrea: Yes, about seven or eight years ago, I went to visit friends in Tenango de Valle, in the state of Mexico, about half an hour from Toluca. I arrived at the Mexico City airport and we drove through an area known as La Marquesa on our way to Tenango and I instantly had this feeling of familiarity—that I was taking a trip that I had been preparing for all my life. When I arrived, I knew this was where I wanted to live.


Casa La Tia Kitchen

The idea of opening a casa de huesperas or guest house, and cooking school came later, as I thought about how I would earn a living in Mexico. This also seemed like a great way to share my love of Mexico and Mexican cuisine with many of my friends here in the U.S. The area where my house is doesn’t have a significant American population, at all. I like to say that if you ask where “la gabacha” (the foreigner) lives, people just point to my neighborhood. I began construction of Casa La Tia in what was just a cornfield five years ago, and now we have plumbing, electricity, and the house is almost complete. All five bedrooms and four bathrooms are done, as is the kitchen, which is colonial style and has a parilla instead of a traditional stove. The entire kitchen is covered with hand-cut hand-painted Talavera tile produced in Metepec, about a half an hour away.


Gina: Do you plan to write another book?


Andrea: Yes, I am working on the proposal as I write this. It’s a book more specific to sustainability and using all the parts of the plant, animal, or even seeds in some cases, but through the lens of Mexican cuisine. The topic was actually recommended to me by one of my readers! I think the timing is perfect, and there should be a lot of interest!

Our 2012 Day of the Dead Altar

Beef, Bourbon, and Roasted Tomato Chili by Hester Velmans, Plus Her Daughter’s Fabulous Pie Wedding

Hester Velmans


Berkshire Grown board member Hester Velmans contributed a delectable Beef, Bourbon, and Roasted Tomato Chili to the Share the Bounty Chili Contest. At the event, she told me about her daughter’s pie-themed wedding held at the family’s barn in Sheffield, Mass. last summer. A friend had given my Pie Contest in a Box as a wedding shower present, which of course I was delighted to hear. Here Hester shares both her chili recipe and photos of the wedding pies – guests brought some 70 pies to the celebration!


Beef, Bourbon, and Roasted Tomato Chili

by Hester Velmans

Here is the unscientific chili recipe (a pinch of this and a pinch of


(8 servings)


First, braise the beef:

1 1/2-2 lbs cuts of beef, eg. strip steaks (whole)

1 tbs olive oil

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 large roasted red pepper, peeled, diced

1 onion, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

1 large can crushed tomatoes

4 tbs molassses

2 tbs Bourbon

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp ground pepper

3 tbs ground cumin

1 tbs smoked paprika

1 tbs cayenne or chili powder

Sauté the vegetables in olive oil until soft, add other ingredients, place

beef in roasting pan and pour the sauce over. Cover with foil and roast in a

325 F oven for 2 1/2 hrs or until you can pull the beef apart with a fork.


Cool beef and then shred it with a fork into small pieces.


Second, make roasted tomatoes (can be done ahead of time):

10 ripe tomatoes, sliced horizontally into thick slices.

Olive oil

Coarse salt, pepper

A few cloves of garlic, not peeled


Place tomato slices and garlic on rimmed baking sheet, dribble with oil,

season and bake in 350 F oven 30 minutes to an hour (check!) until tomatoes are

getting caramelized. Cool, then press soft garlic out of garlic skins;

process everything (scraping up caramelized bits) either in food processor

or through a food mill.


Third, make chili:

1 or 2 tbs olive oil

2 large onions, diced,

3 bell peppers, any color, diced

1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced

1 large can diced tomatoes

1 tbs chili powder (check seasoning)

1 tsp each of dried oregano and sage

Salt, pepper to taste

1/2 cup Bourbon

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (to taste)

1 can black beans, drained & rinsed

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

1 ear sweet corn, (cut corn off cob)


In a big pot sauté vegetables (except for corn), add Bourbon, cook for

about 5 minutes to reduce liquid by half, add beans, beef mixture and

roasted tomatoes, cook for about 10 minutes, then add the corn and adjust

seasoning. If too thick, add water or some orange juice.


Best if reheated the next day! Enjoy!


* * * Photos of Hester’s Daughter’s Wedding Pies * * *

Wreath on the Barn

Wreath. Moon.


Christmas Piñatas of San Miguel de Allende

I’ve spent this week in San Miguel visiting my mom and brother. I love the Navidad decorations.

Interview: Pie Champ Adam Janowski on Literary Baking Adventures, the Wonder of Polish Wedding Pie, and Tips for Pie Contest Contestants

Adam Janowski’s Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie won Grand Prize at the 2010 Zonta Club Best Blue Ribbon Pie Contest of Bonita Springs, Florida. His prize-winning pie recipe is featured in Pie Contest in a Box. He is a school library media specialist who learned to cook from his Polish American family in Detroit, Michigan.

Adam Janowski

Gina: I understand that you enjoy recreating dishes that you discover in books. What are some of your recent literary baking adventures?

Adam: My last creation was a “Waves of the Danube” cake which was mentioned in People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It was absolutely decadent and delicious, but very time consuming. The cake consists of yellow and chocolate layers of cake dotted with tart cherries. As the cake bakes the cherries sink down creating the effect of waves within the cake. The cake is then topped with a rich custard and a chocolate glaze!

A recipe I’ve been wanting to try is Esther`s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake from The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. I think the tartness of the marmalade will go well with the richness of the whipping cream frosting. I am currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Early on there is mention of a Caramel Cake and I’ve been exploring recipes for the cake on the Internet.

Maybe I am in my “Southern” phase because I recently made a Texas Sheet Cake (chocolate and pecans), a Hummingbird Cake (bananas, pineapple and more pecans) and a Double Lemon Chess Pie (lemon, buttermilk and cornmeal).

My brother told me about a Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Cake) that he recently ate at an Italian restaurant. It has a rich, buttery pastry filled with a lemon pastry cream, topped with pine nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. That one sounds like a winner!

Gina: Is there a Polish pie tradition? Who taught you to bake?

Adam: My grandmothers and many of my aunts were really great cooks. I grew up in the Detroit area in the 1950s and 60s and our extended families were very close. We often visited relatives especially during holidays and for celebrations. Each household seemed to be known for a different specialty—Aunt Kay made the best sugar cookies at Christmas, Aunt Hattie made Angel’s Wings (Chrusciki in Polish), that were feathery pieces of fried dough dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and Aunt Sophie made the best jelly-filled doughnuts (Paczki in Polish) that are nothing like the ones you buy today. Paczki were stick-to-your-ribs doughnuts.

I can’t say that there was a real “pie” tradition in our family. My mom made a good apple pie from the neighbor’s apple trees, and my Aunt Kay made the best blackberry tarts. The wild blackberries were picked in a local woods in the morning and turned into tarts by the afternoon. I can’t recreate the fabulous taste that I remember using store-bought blackberries.

There was always fresh fruit available—rhubarb and strawberries in the spring, peaches and pears in late summer, and apples in autumn—so fruit pies were common. There would be an occasional banana cream, chocolate or lemon meringue, but no one made a fuss over them. I guess we just took pie for granted!

Gina: What’s your fondest pie memory?

Adam: Polish Wedding Pie—a plain pastry shell, plain custard, topped with a layer of strawberry pie filling and smothered in whipped cream. It wasn’t Polish but it seemed to be served at many of the weddings I attended in the late 1950s and 60s.  To me it was ambrosia—food of the gods! Polish weddings were such joyous times. One of my fondest memories was watching my father and mother dance together. They were such beautiful dancers that people would stop dancing and watch them glide across the floor.

About 10 years ago I started putting a book together that combined my memories and the recipes from my childhood—especially the Polish dishes. It took a couple of years, but I finally put it together and titled it Christmas on Florida Street: Recipes and Stories. My aunt, uncle and grandmother lived on Florida Street in Detroit and it was the scene of so many holiday feasts. Even a casual visit always included a bountiful and delicious dinner. Although I made copies for family and friends I never did publish the book. Lately I have started posting some of the stories and recipes on a blog, From My Family’s Polish Kitchen that I created.

Gina: Can you describe what it is about the process of baking that you find relaxing?

Adam: Someone suggested that I consider baking for money, but I just don’t think that I would enjoy it. I often make a complex pie that takes a long time to complete. If I had to take shortcuts to make the pie financially feasible to sell it just would not be the same. It sort of reminds me of some of the chain restaurants that feature “homemade” pie. Although the pies look good, they don’t taste “homemade” to me.

I don’t know if it is so much relaxation as satisfaction. I get such a good feeling watching a pie come together. The compliments that come my way when people ooh and ah as they sample my pies make me feel great. I rarely get to have a piece of my pie—usually I just lick off the knife! I can’t remember when I last had a disaster, maybe a pie that didn’t set as well as it should, or a bottom crust that wasn’t cooked to my standard—I hate a soggy crust, but nothing major.

This Thanksgiving I made three pies. Two were for a lady who was the winning bidder on a pie baked to order by me at a church charity auction. I was a little bit anxious as the pie price went a bit high—I don’t know how you gold-plate a pie! I ended up making a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with a layer of caramel ganache in a gingersnap pecan crust. The pie was topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce and maple-glazed pecans.

Adam's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I also made an Apple Crumb Pie just because she might have had guests who wanted something plainer.

Adam's Apple Crumb Pie

For my own Thanksgiving Dinner I made a Pecan Pumpkin Pie.

Adam's Pecan Pumpkin Pie

I didn’t like the recipes for a Pecan Pumpkin Pie that I found on the Internet because most didn’t have much of a pumpkin custard on the bottom. I finally made do by adapting a recipe and adding a half cup of whipping cream to the pumpkin base and carefully spooning the pecan filling on top. It was absolutely fabulous and I will make it my Thanksgiving standard!

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Adam: That is impossible to answer. I really like banana cream pie, but when I can find fresh rhubarb in the spring I like a Rhubarb Cream Pie. An Apple Pie with a crumb crust and a dollop of good vanilla ice cream is a must in autumn, and that Pecan Pumpkin pie was mighty tasty at Thanksgiving. I had never tasted a Lemon Chess Pie until I made it for the Pie Baking Contest this summer and now I can’t wait until I make it again! I do have say that my Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie is also mighty tempting!

Gina: How many pie baking contests have you entered and how many ribbons have you won?

Adam: I have only been entering pie baking contests the last three years.  My hometown of Bonita Springs, Florida puts on a family-style 4th of July celebration and the local Zonta Club sponsors the Pie Baking Contest as a fundraiser for their charities. The pies are judged and then sold either whole or by the slice. The first year I won a couple of ribbons, but the last two years I have won the grand prize. I think I know what the judges like—chocolate!

Gina: What’s your advice to pie contest contestants?

Adam: Find some critical judges that will sample your pie prior entering it in a competition. Ask for their suggestions. Sometimes I just observe and watch how people eat pie. Licking the plate is a good sign!

I also focus on the initial beauty of the pie. Judges are going to be rushed and will make a snap judgment in that initial moment that they see the pie for the first time. If the pie doesn’t make them go “wow” it doesn’t matter how good it tastes.

Happy Day of the Dead

“There is more time than life.”
— Mexican proverb

“Day of the Dead celebrates the intimate, continuing relationship between the living and the dead. Like the celebration of a birthday, it reconfirms annually the love, goodwill, and generosity that the beloved can count on, no matter that they are dead.”

“Day of the Dead altars give tangible form to our feelings of loyalty, affection, and longing for those who have passed away. The holiday isn’t about ghosts and goblins; it’s about the strength of family ties and enduring love. The Mexican mix of stoicism, wit, and reverence teaches us that death is a natural extension of life. By honoring our loved ones’ spirits in living color, and sharing their legacies with our children and community, we nourish a sense of continuity. We are all much less alone.”


Candles to light the way for the spirits of our loved ones to find their way home, water to quench their thirst after the long journey, salt to represent the spice of life, and flowers to symbolize its ephemeral loveliness. Our Day of the Dead altar now stretches six feet across a window sill.

Chester, the guinea pig. A coconut mask kitty stands in for Etta-pus. We substituted mini pumpkins for marigolds.

My brother, Jan, and the blue bird of happiness he gave Annalena, along with polished stones that he tumbled himself.

My dad, Dave’s dad.

Dave’s brother, Pete. (The photo is his passport.)

My brother, Charlie, and grandmother, Mae.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram
Copyright © Gina Hyams