At a small restaurant in Williamsburg, chef Patti Jackson is showcasing foods from an often underrepresented area of the country: the Mid-Atlantic.
Jackson offers food “from Baltimore to Buffalo” at Delaware and Hudson, and she’s serving more than just crab cakes and pretzels – although she does offer versions of both classics.
Since the restaurant opened in May, Eater, Grub Street, The Village Voice and The New York Times have all written about Delaware and Hudson, in part because Jackson’s double-crusted green tomato pie has caught food writers’ fancy.
Jackson talked to American Food Roots about the culinary road she took to that green tomato pie.
Casey Brand: You worked at three Italian restaurants in New York before opening Delaware and Hudson. Why the switch?
Patti Jackson: I kind of started working in Italian restaurants by accident. I’m not Italian, so it was always kind of a joke, even with the Italians I worked with. I loved it, you know, I had a real feeling for it.
A lot of Americans were like, “How did you come up with this idea?” [for Mid-Atlantic cuisine.] I want to make a version of the food that I grew up with in the ways that I grew up with it. When people talk about regional American food, they never, ever say, “I’m going to make food from Pennsylvania or Maryland,” or whatever, it’s always Cajun or Texan or Californian, so I was kind of interested in pursuing that.
CB: How has your Pennsylvania upbringing influenced your cooking? Do you serve any of your own childhood favorites at the restaurant?
PJ: I make lots of food from my childhood. Especially our lunch menu, I think, is a lot of comfort food, like potpie and those kind of things. We do a lot of sandwiches, too. We have a Wimpie, which is a kind of sloppy Joe that I grew up with. There are a lot of other things. We cycle through a bunch of different ideas. I went to pastry school in Baltimore, so I learned to cook in a restaurant in Baltimore, in one of those old-fashioned kind of restaurants, so I make a crab cake from that restaurant. I feel like a lot of the food I make is really influenced by my childhood, by living somewhere between D.C. and New York, and in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
CB: When and how did you first become interested in regional cooking? Why is Mid-Atlantic cooking, in particular, interesting to you?
PJ: My grandmother had 20 volumes of “Encyclopedia of Cookery” stuff, and the first volume had American cookery and it had a state-by-state breakdown of the five dishes that should be identified with every state, and that just fascinated me. My family never went anywhere, you know. It was the ‘70s; we never went on vacation or went to visit anywhere, so I was fascinated by the idea of, like, South Dakota or North Dakota or wherever it was. I just thought that was a really interesting thing, to find out about foods that were identified with Pennsylvania or New Jersey. I bought a whole bunch of cookbooks at an auction when I first got my own apartment when I was 20 and one of them was a James Beard. It just always interested me. I don’t know why, but then I ended up going to pastry school, then I ended up as a chef at an Italian restaurant and life just happened.
Because of where I grew up, I loved the seasonality of the area and I loved the things that you get here and I loved seeing great tomatoes or knowing what a random herb or plant was. So I think it’s just always been something inside of me and I just happened upon the opportunity to do it. Why not identify with this region, you know? It’s where I’m from. I think actually working for the Italians gave me a lot of that sort of pride, too.
CB: Do you think Mid-Atlantic cuisine has been overlooked?
PJ: Yeah, absolutely. This is the 13 colonies, the breadbasket of America, whatever you want to call it. The reason people settled here was that it was so rich in resources and had so many things going on, and if you look at all of the early American cookery books, you know, Jefferson’s kitchen, all of those sorts of ideas, Martha Washington’s great cake, all of those things come from here. From Shenandoah Valley to the Great Lakes, yet nobody ever seems to think very much about them. And there are so many great, interesting ideas. Aside from Walter Staib in Philadelphia, who does that? Who says they’re going to make a tribute to early American cookery? Nobody’s really all that interested in it, and I think that’s very interesting.
CB: What do you think people would be surprised to know about Mid-Atlantic cooking?
PJ: I don’t think there are a lot of surprises, but people don’t know a lot about the area. You know, I do a lot of work with the greenmarket. I’m on the green advisory council. Originally this area was where they grew all the grain to make bread and all sorts of other things. There’s the story of apples — Johnny Appleseed going out and cutting all of those apples because they were looking for the perfect apple. And then they made cider out of it, which was a standard drink. There’s just so much to the history of this area and the history of food and how people settled here and why they settled here that just doesn’t get any play.
CB: How do you come up with the regional recipes you use at Delaware and Hudson?
PJ: Some of them are sort of vision quests, memories of things that I’ve had. Some of them come from inspiration. I have a lot of old cookbooks and I look at a lot of historical editions and then I adapt them to what I know. For example, I don’t do that Pennsylvania Dutch old school, yeast-leavened piecrust. You know, it’s just not practical for me. So if I decide to make a pie that’s inspired by some sort of historical thing, I’m generally using what I learned to do. Some things are made up out of whole cloth. If we have extra clams, I make clam hash. So it’s a mix. It’s taking into consideration the ingredients that are from the area and what I understand the rest of it to be.
CB: Pete Wells said in his New York Times review of Delaware and Hudson that you enjoy out-of-print cookbooks. Can you name a favorite?
PJ: Oh, I enjoy all kinds of cookbooks. Right now I’m fascinated by William Woys Weaver. I don’t know that his cookbooks are even out of print, but he’s an Amish historian. I have a few old Shaker cookbooks that I really kind of treasure. There’s a jam-and-preserving one that MFK Fisher annotated and there’s a reprint of it. But you know, I have a whole bunch of old cookbooks that I’ve had since I was a kid, the Beards and all those sort of classic cookbooks. And then I have some like the “Modern Priscilla Cook Book,” and old copies of, like, the Amy Vanderbilt cookbook, and those are really fun. Sometimes it’s toeing the line between this very highbrow, very pure thing and then 1960s cocktail foods.
CB: Right, cookbooks can be so interesting and telling.
PJ: I think also – especially old ones – they’re such a snapshot of where they come from and when. I’m sure in the future someone’s going to look back and look at Andrew Carmellini or Alex Guarnaschelli, and think, oh, this is interesting, because the food is so anchored to a time and place.
CB: You talked about working at the Harvey House restaurant in Baltimore, where you learned about making crab cakes, among other things. Crab cakes are such an iconic symbol of Mid-Atlantic cuisine. What made Miss Rose’s special?
PJ: I just remember, as a kid, as a cook, this lady would go through enormous pains to mix them and shake them and they had these enormous chunks of crabmeat. I don’t know that I ever even saw anything like that in my life; it was just so luxurious and beautiful. Her crab cake was really just a thing in itself. Once I wasn’t working for her, and I saw other people’s crab cakes that were these sort of weird hockey pucks, I always wanted to be able to go and recreate the thing that she made, because I thought it was just such an exemplar of what it should be. So that’s what those crab cakes meant to me. It just wraps up a whole period of my life and wraps up a whole idea of things I learned from this woman. You know, I want to make something that’s a little better every day.
CB: Your green tomato pie, in particular, has attracted attention. Is the recipe one of your own invention?
PJ: The idea of it comes out of one of the William Woys Weaver’s cookbooks. We did a chickweed pie in the spring from there. So the idea of it is from there, but the recipe is kind of my own invention. It’s kind of a reading of his recipes in a way that works for us. So his chickweed pie had bacon in it – we don’t put bacon in our chickweed pie. The green tomato pie is a much more complicated affair. And again, we make our own piecrust. So they’re kind of hybrids of old, traditional recipes. I don’t want to say that we’re modernizing them, but making them more practical.
CB: Your restaurant has certainly attracted a lot of media attention, so I want to congratulate you on that.
PJ: You have no idea. I feel so blessed.
Chef Patti Jackson makes this fall green tomato pie as an appetizer to share at Delaware and Hudson, her restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y. She was inspired by Amish cooking expert William Woys Weaver. Jackson says she prefers the pie the day after it's made.
- Pastry for double-crusted 9-inch pie*
- 3 1/2 pounds firm green tomatoes
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry overlapping the edge slightly.
Thinly slice, then chop, the green tomatoes. Place in a large bowl and cover with lightly salted boiling water. Allow to sit an hour, until cool. Drain well.
Mix together the molasses, brown sugar, flour and salt. Toss the green tomatoes with the molasses mixture.
Fill the pie shell about two-thirds full with green tomatoes. Smear a little of the molasses mixture around the edge of the pastry and cover with top crust. Lightly press all around to seal the pastry layers. Trim even with the edge of the pan. Roll and tuck the pastry to form the crust edge. Pierce the top and place in oven. Reduce heat immediately to 350 F.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until molasses mixture starts to bubble through the vents. Cool completely before slicing.
*For the pastry, Jackson uses a classic all-butter crust that she mixes until mealy.