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Steeped In Tradition, Winter Supper At Southampton Historical Lifts The Spirit

Originally Posted: March 02, 2009

Edward Callaghan

For a recent South Fork Winter Supper, Lynn Egan of the Southampton Historical Museum wisely turned to East End native and master chef Mary Spellman to create a wonderful multi-course dinner relying only on locally raised products. Photos by John Wegorzewski

Southampton - Crafting a complete dinner from solely local produce is a longtime Hamptons' summer tradition. Fields are bursting with sweet corn, juicy melons, and greens of every hue. Farmstands are overflowing with the bounty from scores of area farmers and the choices on a warm August day are endless for locavores in search of the perfect peach or the tangiest broccoli rabe. But what does a foodie do when the fields are bare and the last traces of snow cling stubbornly to the hillsides?

Chef Mary Spellman puts the final touches on a delicious sangria.

Following on the heals of several summertime feasts in the Museum's pergola that spotlighted locally grown vegetables and fruits as well as fresh fowl and fish, Lynn Egan, Director of Programs and Special Events at the Southampton Historical Museum, decided to turn back the clock to a kinder gentler era, a pre-home freezer time when even in winter locals still ate robustly enjoying local produce. For a South Fork Winter Supper, she wisely turned to East End native and master chef Mary Spellman to create a wonderful multi-course relying only on locally raised products.

Clearly for Spellman this was a no brainer. Having been raised helping her family run their boarding house in Sagaponack and learning to cook at her mother's side, Mary is wise in the ways of how our forebears managed to dine well even in the darkest days of winter. For many years, she cooked regularly for the family owned Sagaponack General Store, a local landmark to foodies internationally. So the menu she devised for this weekend's wonderful family style dinner in the Music Room of the Rogers Mansion - in mid-February, mind you - featured nothing but East End farmed and grown food from start to finish. All washed down by the excellent wines of Wolffer Estates, our local award winning vineyard.

Chatting with Mary in the kitchen minutes before guests were set to arrive for drinks and appetizers in the handsomely redone South Parlor, we learned more than a few secrets from this star chef who has spent her life cooking for everyone from farmers to contractors and captains of industry to princes.

Lynn Egan and Puna Dagli set the table for guests at the Winter Dinner.

How does one find locally grown produce at this time of year? "We searched out who had produce still left in their root cellars - and we hit pay dirt with the Milk Pail where we got potatoes, carrots, turnips and even fresh garlic," stated Spellman. Continuing, she noted, "This is the way people did it back then. Everyone including my mother had a cellar for root vegetables and storage areas for the fruits and vegetables they would can for winter." Waxing nostalgic, she remembered the "bushels of berries we would pick during the summer - strawberries from my grandfather, Szczepankowski's farm near Townline Road, blueberries all over the woods in East Hampton and cranberries in the Amagansett bogs."
Sadly, those days are memories as "once the building started there was no longer access to these areas" she said with sadness as she sautéed fresh off the boat scallops from Schmidt's for a tasty appetizer wrapped in bacon.

Guests began streaming into the Museum and immediately hit the antique sideboard that bore an enormous crystal punch bowl filled with sangria made with Wolffer wines. Floating atop the ruby red drink were slices of fresh apples again from the cellars of the Milk Pail. Beside the punch bowl, an elegant early 19th century silver platter carried a half dozen cheese en croutes - puff pastry wrapped around a divine Mecox Bay Dairy Atlantic Mist Cheese with baguettes from Blue Duck Bakery and more Milk Pail apples on which to smear creamy cheese.

Over sangria, Advisory Committee member Hilary Woodward and Liz Kenner, the co-president of the Museum, explained to us the recent redo of the public rooms. "We're so delighted tonight as this is the first party in the Museum since we redid the rooms. We were lucky to have Cynthia Schafner, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Decorative Arts Department, to advise us not only in the correct period paint - but in the way furniture would have been placed in both the Music Room and the South Parlor," said Skinner. Warm green aqua now covers the walls trimmed with a soft cream in the parlor and with bright white in the many windowed Music Room.

Guests enjoy drinks and dessert at the end of the meal.

Just as she finished explaining the new work, Egan gave the call for dinner and some 30 guests took their seats at the banquet table that ran the length of the sparkling room aglow with the shimmer of candlelight on vintage crystal. Museum volunteers acted as servers and immediately processed into the room bearing heavily laden platters of roasted winter vegetables, the aforementioned potatoes, carrots and candied sweet turnips, mixed greens from Quail Hill Farm's greenhouse topped with warm preserved pears from Spellman's own larder, fresh baked rolls whipped up by Spellman's son Jonathan and fragrant spice rubbed Roast Long Island Duckling from Crescent Duck Farm at North Sea Farm.

Within minutes, the whispered conversation increased in volume as platters were passed up and down and across the table in lovely convivial family style. Town Councilwoman Sally Pope, there with her husband Mike, commented how the whole evening felt like a "warm family get together." Others spoke of the pleasure of dining in such an historic home and dining on fare that might have been served centuries ago when Captain Rogers entertained.

Carrot Cake French Toast style with cinnamon syrup was the yummy dessert which guests washed down with still more Wolffer wine. It was a truly magnificent dinner thanks to the extraordinary culinary skills of Chef Spellman.

Also enjoying this splendid recreation of dinners past, yet with a modern sensibility were Museum trustee Jackie Scerbinski and her husband Vince, Dorothy Reilly, Mickey Dunham, Gail and Dan Horton, Megan Wright, Deborah Bates, Jim Perrone, Linda Tenney, Laurie Collins, Eric Woodward, Michael Reilly, and John and Jane Strong.

Egan promised that there would be more such dinners focusing on local produce and wines, an announcement that was greeted by enthusiastic applause.


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