A Drive into New Hampshire, Home with Heirloom Tomatoes
Sunday’s oppressive humidity provided the best excuse for a long, air conditioned car ride, so off we set to western New Hampshire and the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Born in Dublin in 1848 and settled as a youngster with his parents in New York, Saint-Gaudens established himself in the latter half of the 19th century as a leading sculptor of public art and statuary commemorating Civil War leaders, and later, before his death in 1907, several other world-renowned figures. Imposing yet somehow deeply intimate, full of movement and spirit of the individual, Saint-Gaudens’ sculptures celebrate ordinary and extraordinary lives equally, and can be found as public and private memorials throughout the United States and abroad.
Saint-Gaudens and his wife and son spent summers in Cornish, New Hampshire, and his move attracted other artists to the area. The group, known as the Cornish Arts Colony, provided each other with a lively social scene in the summer months. Eventually Saint-Gaudens and his family settled on the estate year-round when the artist became ill near the end of his life. The National Park Service today maintains the Saint-Gaudens family home, outbuildings, and expansive grounds as a showcase for the sculptor’s life and works, and as a retreat for a contemporary sculptor-in-residence.
Saint-Gaudens may be best remembered for the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on the Boston Common across from the Massachusetts State House, and the Cornish estate holds another casting of the statue that pays tribute to the sacrifices made in battle by Colonel Shaw and his all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Arguably Boston’s best piece of public art, the Shaw Memorial is arresting and impressive there in its intended place, a daily sight for pedestrians and tourists and cars weaving around Beacon Hill, but I found it more personal and affecting in the stillness of its own private, hedge-walled garden in Cornish, with a birch-lined pathway the only entry.
Driving home, we passed again through the neighboring town of Plainfield to get back to the highway. On the way in, even with our attention focused on spotting the left turn into the Saint-Gaudens estate, we had noticed a pretty farm stand and on the return trip we stopped for a selection of heirloom tomatoes. Cornish and Plainfield between them make a picturesque summer community and the area begs for a leisurely drive. If you go, pull into the parking lot at Edgewater Farm. This farm stand has the most artistic and appealing displays of fresh fruits and vegetables I have ever seen in a farm setting, and their tomatoes were still warm from the sun, ripe, and delicious.
I will freeze some tomatoes in sauces and salsas for eating in the colder weather, but in general I don’t like to do too much to fresh heirlooms. These are best sliced, sprinkled with herbs, perhaps dotted with a little homemade vinaigrette dressing, and served as a salad with supper on a hot night. Simple.
Chopped fresh tomatoes can also be made into a simple salad, tossed as I did just the other night with a goat’s milk cheese. I was lucky enough to find one in last Tuesday’s CSA share. You could add cucumbers to this mixture and make a cool side salad.
Or, for a little fancier preparation, use the tomato-goat cheese salad to top grilled Kuta squashes. A summer squash like zucchini, the Kuta’s bulbous oval shape is perfect for stuffing whole or even halved into squash boats.
To serve 4-6 people:
- 3 Kuta or plump zucchini squash
- olive oil
- fresh thyme leaves
- salt and pepper
- a variety of fresh tomatoes, chopped to make 1 cup
- 2 ounces crumbly goat’s milk cheese or feta
- a few drops of your favorite homemade vinaigrette
Trim the stems and bottoms from the squash and cut the squash in half lengthwise.
Scoop out enough of the seeds to make a boat out of each half. I used a melon baller but a small spoon would work well.
Place squash in a shallow dish or baking try and drizzle each half with olive oil. Sprinkle the cut sides with a few thyme leaves and salt and pepper. Grill on your outdoor grill or under the broiler until tender.
While squash is grilling, chop the tomatoes and crumble the cheese together in a mixing bowl. Add a few drops of vinaigrette and toss lightly with a fork to combine.
Set aside while you prepare your squash for stuffing.
When just cool enough to handle, place squash halves on a serving plate. Divide the tomato salad equally between each half and spoon it into the squash boat.
©2012 Jane A. Ward
One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die–
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
-excerpt from For the Union Dead, Robert Lowell, 1964