If you stretch your mind to recall late-night television of years gone by, you may remember Skitch Henderson. The bearded bandman, who preceded Doc Severinsen on the "Tonight Show," struck up a lively tune to accompany Johnny Carson's monologues.
Though Henderson no longer tucks Americans in at night, his career grew in other directions.Cooking, for example.
The current New York Pops conductor paired with his wife, Ruth, in the operation of four different restaurants in the New York City area.
But the bustle of the Big Apple pushed the couple into a country farm retreat near Litchfield Hills, Conn. The country influenced the Hendersons to adopt a relaxing, unpressured lifestyle.
Ruth remodeled, turning the old grain silo into a noted cooking school, the hayloft into an art gallery and the heifer barn into Skitch's studio.
According to the neighbors, Henderson's Silo School, store and gallery soon became busy places with year-round cooking classes and a brisk trade in gourmet cookware and specialty foods.
Guests at the Henderson country farm grew to expect the bounty of the season, directly from the garden or preserved from the fall harvest.
"Each season of the year offers dozens of opportunities to have friends over, to eat, be together and enjoy the farm," they say in their recent book, "Ruth and Skitch Henderson's Seasons in the Country," (Viking, $24.95).
"Being on the farm, I take advantage of the simplicity," Ruth said. "I tend to entertain very casually."
The book describes parties and family meals held at the farm over the course of a year. The occasions are varied: a hearty breakfast with Skitch presiding over the griddle, a summer lunch in the pasture, an Easter Sunday buffet or suppers with children and grandchildren.
Nearly 300 color photos lavishly illustrate the changing seasons and menus of the farm. Many of the recipes reflect Ruth's German heritage as well as her prudent regard for ingredients.
The cook prides herself in preparing ahead of time. "I love things that taste better reheated and served the next day. The smells in the house are just as important as the taste to me - and people love those aromas," Ruth said.
For an eventful journey through the countrified New England cuisine, try a favorite recipe from Ruth and Skitch Henderson.
Apricot Bread Pudding
3 3/4-inch thick slices white bread
1/4 cup apricot jam
4 slices white bread, finely crumbled
1/2 cup dried apricots, julienned
6 medium eggs
3 cups light cream or half and half
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread each of the 3 thick slices of bread evenly with apricot jam. Cut each slice into 3/4-inch cubes. Combine the bread cubes with the bread crumbs and half the apricots in a 1 1/2-quart souffle or baking dish. Beat remaining ingredients together in a medium-size bowl. Pour over the bread mixture. Sprinkle remaining apricots on top and bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. (If bread cubes or apricots brown too quickly, cover the dish with parchment paper. Remove paper the last 5 minutes of baking.) Serve warm or cold. Makes 4-6 servings.
Yellow Chicken Eintopf
4 pounds dried yellow split peas
2 4 1/2-pound chickens
6 quarts water
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
8 white peppercorns
4 stalks celery with leaves, quartered
2 medium parsnips
2 medium carrots
2 medium onions, peeled
2 teaspoons salt
4 bay leaves
2 large heads cauliflower, separated
2 cups croutons
1 lemon, sliced
Chopped fresh dill Soak the peas in a large pot of water at least overnight. Drain and set aside. Place chickens, including innards except the liver in a large pot. Cover with water and add the next 8 ingredients. Heat to boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Transfer chicken to a platter. Allow broth to cool, then skim fat and strain. Return broth to the same large pot. Add the peas and heat to boiling; reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Fifteen minutes before peas are done, add the cauliflower and return to simmer.
Meanwhile debone and skin chickens; chop meat and add to soup. Continue to simmer until chicken is warmed through, about 5 minutes more. Serve with croutons, sliced lemons and dill. Serves 12-14.
Skitch's Apple-Berry Pancakes
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
Juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 jar (10-oz.) lingonberries or sweetened cooked cranberries
For pancakes, sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and fill with beaten eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. Stir until just blended; a few lumps don't matter. Bake on lightly greased griddle or skillet until golden brown on both sides.
For compote, place prepared apples in a large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Melt butter in medium skillet; add the apples and turn carefully until well-coated with butter. Cook, without stirring until apples are barely soft, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and turn once. Allow to cool slightly, then gently fold in the berries. Serve warm over pancakes. Serve with country sausage and bacon. Serves 4.
Dark Chocolate Brownies
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 sticks minus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3/4 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
Pinch of salt Preheat oven to 275 degrees; butter a 10-by-16-inch baking sheet. Combine the sugar and eggs in the top of a double boiler; stir over simmering water until dissolved. Combine sugar mixture, melted butter and vanilla in a large bowl; mix well.
Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together; stir into sugar mixture. Pour batter into a prepared pan. Bake until a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cut in 2-inch squares. Makes about 40 brownies.