The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook
by Kim Rizk
1998. 290 pages, 250 recipes.
-Sweet Potato Salad
It all began when two urban refugees from the corporate world, Alex and Sallie Van Rensselaer, set up a farm stand on a road in Connecticut. This mom-and-pop venture eventually expanded to include a cooking school, five stores, and two cookbooks, the second of which is The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook. (The author Kim Rizk is a professional cook who has been involved in many aspects of the Hay Day business.)
Although this book is definitely an all-season cookbook, to me it embodies the relaxed, sunny-natured spirit of summer. The recipes are more about the pleasure principle than the work ethic. Not that they're meals-in-minutes, but they are meals without migraines. The dishes are fun: extroverted and vibrant in their flavors.
Hay Day's recipes make the person who is cooking look good and make the people who are eating feel happy. Here's an example. I volunteered to host a Mother's Day pot-luck breakfast for twelve this year. I decided my contribution would be Hay Day's Banana Coffee Cake, which I had wanted to try anyway. I made it the night before, (so that the next day I could bask in queen-for-a-day treatment). It took less than half an hour to prepare and about the same amount of time to bake. What a hit! It inspired compliments even from those who normally wouldn't notice if they were eating a coffee cake or a pancake. The surprise and delight was the wonderful subtle banana flavor hiding within a traditional looking coffee cake. And I should note that its moist, delicate texture was dreamy (and this was even the day after I made it!). Seeing that these Hay Day people had a knack with great baked goods, I moved on to the Whole Wheat Scones with Currants. Unbelievable! They tasted as good as the legendary scones at my favorite bakery! What amazed me about my experience with making the scones and the coffee cake is that it seemed to have transformed me from a mediocre baker into a gifted one. (This alone would have justified the price of the book.)
I plunged happily into other recipes like the delicious quickie Pasta and Snap Peas in Saffron Lemon Cream and the beautiful Sweet Potato Salad scattered with dried cranberries. Just when I thought Hay Day could do no wrong, I met with disaster. I decided to try the Lemon Snaps. A few minutes after putting them in the oven, the smell of smoke had me racing into the kitchen. I found the little mounds of dough had melted into one large viscous half-baked mass covering the cookie sheet and overflowing onto the oven floor. I re-read the recipe to see what went wrong and reluctantly concluded that the recipe and not the cook was at fault.
And so my enthusiasm for Hay Day wavered. I put the book into time-out at the back corner of my cookbook shelf. But within a week I was cruising through Hay Day once again, this time trolling for something new to do with some boneless chicken breasts. The Lemon Chevre Chicken caught my eye. The dish turned out to be so good and a such standout from the run-of-the-mill chicken recipes that I was happy to forgive Hay Day for the cookie fiasco. No one's perfect, right?
I think of The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook as a St. John's Wort kind of book: it's a natural mood elevator. It gives me a feeling of well-being and optimism. It's a bountiful source of recipes that have already become family favorites. And it's a promising source of yet untried recipes that I'm looking forward to with the same eagerness I used to feel as a kid on Christmas Eve as I eyed the presents under the tree waiting to be opened.