Like many people who once had big jobs in the big city and traded them in for country life, Carole Murko has been on the reinvention tour. Since arriving in the Berkshires from Boston where she had a successful career in finance, she has worked in real estate and as an interior designer for clients such as James Taylor, but she always suspected that she should really be working with food. When she took a workshop called "Getting to Next” with Carol Hyatt (a fellow board member at Shakespeare & Company), she had to answer the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and she was surprised when she responded "Martha Stewart.” She figured that meant she should write a cookbook. She was even more surprised when one of the other women in the workshop took her aside and said, "Honey, you should do a cooking show.”
Murko had never thought of doing television before, but it did not seem so farfetched. After all, she already had a big, telegenic kitchen that could be used as a studio and provide verisimilitude. Her grand, rustic stone house, which is known as Boulderwood, would provide an authentic yet dreamy backdrop for the opening and closing credits (and her chickens would provide the eggs and photo ops.) She already had a concept for a cookbook called Heirloom Meals, which would celebrate old-fashioned American home cooking and the recipes that grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to write down on recipe cards in their best penmanship and hand down to the next generation. "I don't have any children and I feel that the recipes I grew up with are in danger of becoming extinct,” she says.
Cooking from scratch is in her DNA. "My grandfather was a butcher, but before that he was a farmer in Claverack, New York, until he lost the farm in the Great Depression,” she says. "I grew up in the Bronx with my parents and grandparents in the same house. I remember my grandmother getting up at 6 AM to make pasta and briciole. I believe in meals as memories.” She also believes in supporting local farmers so she belongs to two Berkshire CSAs: Farm Girl Farm and Indian Line, which may be used for field trips on her show.
Murko also has moxie. Through a friend of a friend, she pitched her idea to a television producer, Adrienne Hammel, who had worked on Sara Moulton's Weeknight Meals, and whose parents happen to live in neighboring Lenox. "I was smitten by her,” says Hammel. "Carole had a game plan. I thought she was special and her idea was special. I offered to tape a test. I had to see if she could talk and cook at the same time. Would a viewer want to spend 26 minutes with this woman?” (You can watch the five-minute clip here and judge for yourself.)
They spent a full day shooting in the fall and then Hammel and her husband edited it down to five-minutes-fit-for-PBS and delivered it to Murko right after Christmas. Hammel and Murko then used another friend of a friend to get an appointment at American Public Television, which syndicates many cooking shows, including America's Test Kitchen. "We had a three and a half hour meeting, and they're behind the idea,” says Murko, who must now find corporate sponsors for the show and she's approaching appliance manufacturers and anyone connected with a big brand. "This part is like climbing Mt. Everest,” says the unflappable Murko. Meanwhile, she's planning her annual daffodil party where guests sip cocktails amidst fields of narcissuses. It could be part of the show if she gets the financing in place, but the party will happen at the end of April whether or not the cameras are ready to roll.
Carole Murko's Potato and Turnip GratinThis is a wonderfully simple dish and an excellent accompaniment to a roasted chicken, a braise, meatloaf and even an Easter ham. My memories are of my grandmother slicing the potatoes and turnips with skill and dexterity. This was really peasant food—meant to be hardy and filling. It is really yummy and tastes great reheated.
Serves 4 - 6
5 - 6 large russett potatoes
5 - 6 turnips
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
4 - 5 shallots (diced)
4 - 5 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 T thyme (minced)
3 - 4 sprigs of thyme for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Peel both the potatoes and turnips. Slice them 1/4" thick with a knife (but a mandoline works wonders!) Heat the cream, half and half, minced garlic, shallots and thyme in a saucepan on low until it comes to a gentle boil. Meanwhile, in a 9 X 13 baking dish, layer the turnips and potatoes, alternating them as you go. Pour the cream mixture over the top and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.
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