A Big Influence
Area Man Tackles All Types Of Cooking Challenges
When it comes to food preparation, Nelson Harper is up for any challenge.
Not only is he ready for challenge, he jumps in to help wherever food needs to be prepared.
His father, the family omelet-maker, has had a big influence on his love of cooking, teaching his son how to flip an omelet when he was just ten-years old. He started cooking in Dutch ovens with the Boy Scouts by the time he was 12 or 14.
“A Dutch oven is a 3-legged cast iron pot with a lid that has a lip,” says Harper. “Anything you can cook in a regular oven you can make in a Dutch oven.”
He goes on to say, “Food does not tend to stick in cast iron and it holds food for a very long time at a particular temperature. They can be stacked, because they are on legs with a ledge. The charcoal goes under the oven and on the lid.”
He graduated from the culinary course at Hewes BOCES Center in Ashville and took his first restaurant job while he was still in school. He has never stopped working, often times at more than one job.
After high school he went to Hocking Technical College in Nelsonville, Ohio where he earned an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts and Management.
His classes culminated three months before graduation allowing him to work for an apple farmer who needed early spring help due to unseasonably warm weather.
He rode his bike 15 miles to the farm because he had no car, worked 8-12 hours and then his mother would drive him home. He was able to buy a car after a month on the job.
After college graduation he took a job at Andriaccio’s Restaurant as a chef, where he stayed for four years. From there he worked at St. Frances Usher’s Club near Erie, Pa.
He has a few funny stories from his time at Mazza Winery where he did several jobs from pressing grapes to cleaning tanks. After the job at the winery, he was a sous chef at Moonbrook Country Club.
A cheesemaking course he took a few years ago may have been helpful in acquiring his current job as assistant cheesemaker at Reverie Creamery, a small batch cheese maker and artisan cheese shop located on Route 394 near Chautauqua Institution.
He will be taking a sausage-making course at The Smoking Goose in Indianapolis, Ind.in November because he enjoys learning about all things food-related.
“And what goes better with cheese than sausage?”
He will be returning for the second season as an events chef at the Athenaeum Hotel on the grounds of the Institution, a job he will do after his eight-hour day is completed at the creamery. An 80-100 hour work week doesn’t faze the hardworking man. Winter months are similar where his work schedule is concerned as he enjoys cooking at the Wilderness Lodge in Wattsburg, Pa., where people go to cross-country ski. Amazingly, he still finds time to help on the apple farm.
“I love the apple farm so much I will go back and be a fruit picker.”
He is one of seven Eagle Scouts on his father’s side of the family, including his father, an uncle and several cousins. His grandfather, a pastor who served several United Methodist churches in Illinois and Ohio, earned the Silver Beaver Award, which is the highest award a Boy Scout leader can receive.
“Wherever he went, he would start a Boy Scout troop if they didn’t have one because he was in a troop that folded, so he couldn’t get his Eagle Scout,” says the grandson. “He started troops all over Ohio, because he didn’t want that to happen to other boys.”
Coming from a family deeply-rooted in Boy Scouts, it is no surprise that he is Assistant Scoutmaster for the Findley Lake Troop.
Volunteerism is important to him and a big part of his life. With his father, he cooks monthly for their church’s pancake breakfasts. Coincidentally, both men were reprimanded by their Home Economics teachers because they didn’t appear to pay attention in class having already been taught cooking skills by their parents.
In his precious spare time, he enjoys being outdoors hiking, rock-climbing and repelling. As a whitewater raft enthusiast, he has taken friends and families to the same area he rafted with the Boy Scouts.
“Each time the water levels were different so it meant a different ride in the rapids.”
He lost 40 pounds over the course of a summer after his cousin wanted him to set-up a ziplining trip with some other cousins to celebrate her fortieth birthday.
“I have always enjoyed kayaking and canoeing with my dad.”
Once when he was on a trip with his father and brother in the Kinzua area and after they had set-up camp on high ground on an island, they witnessed other campers moving to higher ground when the tide came in.
Every Labor Day the avid outdoorsman rides his bicycle in a 50K event.
“I don’t know how to sit still,” he says.
Family is a high priority. He especially enjoys his extended family’s annual Christmas gatherings. He tells about the time he cooked a meal for the entire family, a group with many food allergies.
“I called every family a month before and found out what they couldn’t or wouldn’t eat,” he says. “My aunt and cousin are allergic to everything in the mint family. Others can’t have gluten, starches, wheat, sugar, jams, mustard and caffeine.”
He decided to serve a slow-cooked steamship round roast seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic and Greens For the Health of You with no seasoning and substituted quinoa for the couscous.
The son of Earl and Connie Harper is a member of Park United Methodist Church in North East, Pa.
He offers a variety of recipes which, he not only enjoys making, but eating too. He continues to do a lot of cooking in cast iron.
Greens For the Health of You started as an appetizer recipe. He tweaked it by adding a few ingredients and taking away others. He says his father has had success getting over a head cold by eating this dish. The Dutch Apple Baby recipe is one they make for the Boy Scouts. Luna cheese in the Baked Luna recipe is a soft cheese that may be purchased from Reverie Creamery.
“You should have sweet, savory, bitter and smooth all in one bite,” he says about the Bacon Jam. “It is great on hamburgers, steak and pork, but best served warm.”
8 oz wheel Luna cheese
9-inch by 9-inch puff pastry
™ c black cherries
™ c black walnuts
™ c raisins
2 T milk
Thaw pastry and roll out on floured board until thin. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, sautÈ black cherries, walnuts and raisins until it reaches the consistency of jam. Put a couple tablespoons of the jam in the center of the puff pastry. Cut ends off of cheese and set it on top of the jam. Fold pastry around cheese until fully covered, taking care not to tear. Use water to seal the pastry onto itself. Line baking sheet with wax paper or baking sheet. Put pastry, seam side down on baking sheet. Combine egg and milk making an egg wash. Brush egg wash over top of pastry. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve on platter with crackers of your choice. Serves 2-3 people.
2 lbs thick-cut bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
8 oz hot black coffee
™ c molasses
™ c maple syrup
™ c apple cider vinegar
™ c red wine vinegar
Couple squirts of Cholula hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by sauteing bacon, adding onion once bacon just starts to cook. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking to skillet. When bacon is fully cooked, add coffee and stir constantly due to possibility of foaming over. After it has stopped foaming, add remaining ingredients. Add more vinegar if too sweet and more molasses and maple syrup if too sour for your taste. Cook until it has reduced by half. Chill overnight. When completely cooled in refrigerator, the fat will be at the top. Pour into large bowl and stir fat until it is all incorporated into the bacon. Serve over top of hamburgers, steaks or green beans.
Greens for the Health of You
3 heads escarole greens
Pearl couscous (4 c cooked)
3 red, green, or yellow bell peppers, chopped
1 large Anaheim pepper, chopped
2-3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lbs chorizo or Italian sausage, chopped
5-6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
3 large portobello or shiitake mushrooms, chopped
Grated parmesan cheese
Cut and wash escarole very, very well, otherwise you will find lady bugs or grit in them. Boil greens until soft (al dente). While greens are boiling, cook couscous to give a 4-cup yield, according to package instructions. Saute peppers, onions, garlic and sausage in large Dutch oven. Add greens, tomatoes and mushrooms. Allow to cook and flavors to blend for a few minutes before adding couscous, seasonings, and cheese.
Spicy Peanut Soup
2 medium carrots, small dice
1 medium onion, small dice
2 medium sweet potatoes, small dice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T red curry paste
1 qt vegetable stock
14 1/2 oz. fire roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 – 3/4 c. chunky peanut butter
2 bay leaves
Sprig fresh thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
In a large saucepan cook carrots, onion, sweet potatoes and garlic. Once soft, add the red curry paste. Add vegetable stock, tomatoes and peanut butter. Stir until well incorporated and then add seasonings. Let boil, stirring frequently to prevent peanut butter from sticking to bottom of pan. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.
Dutch Apple Baby
2 Mutsu apples
6 T butter
1/3 c granulated sugar
2 T cinnamon
1 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 c milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel, core and slice apples. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add butter and saute apples until soft. Add 1/3 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Cook 3-4 minutes. Distribute apples evenly over the bottom of cast iron skillet. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. In a smaller bowl mix eggs, milk, and vanilla. Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Pour the batter over the apples. Put the skillet into oven and bake 15-20 minutes until puffed and brown. Do not slam door of oven or jump in kitchen. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Run a knife around the edge of skillet to loosen. Put a plate over the skillet and flip onto plate very quickly. Cut in wedges and serve.
1 1/2-2 lbs peeled and quartered potatoes
1 oz melted butter
2 egg yolks (save whites)
Steam potatoes or simmer in salted water until tender. Drain and dry. Pass potatoes through food mill or ricer. Add butter and mix until smooth. Season to taste. If potatoes are very moist, stir over low flame to stiffen. They should be stiffer than regular mashed potatoes. Add egg yolks and beat until smooth. Put the mixture in a pastry bag and shape on sheet pan. Brush with egg whites for greater browning. Bake in 400-425 degree oven until lightly browned.