The Big Apple: Behind the Scenes at The Martha Stewart Show

Exciting times this week! I was in New York yesterday making apple dumplings and apple butter with none other than Martha Stewart for her Martha Show. The episodes will air this Thursday, October 20, at 10 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Officially listed

Anyone who has paid attention to food or home design or crafts or magazines or television can imagine how exciting this was. I’ll never forget the first time I leafed through my mother’s copy of Martha’s first book, Entertaining, in 1982. Pouring over those pages like an 11-year-old Talmudic scholar, I absorbed that impossibly perfect vision of domestic life as a roadmap for what I wanted my grown-up life to look like.  Of course, my grown-up home doesn’t come close to looking like Martha’s. I could never match her precision or drive, let alone her resources. But her products still inspire me. Her team boasts some of the most talented designers, cooks, crafters, producers, and stylists in the field today, so heading to the studios was like being called to the Mother Ship of creativity. And I’m grateful for her message that the domestic sphere can be important and beautiful. Apparently, she also believes that the professional sphere should be beautiful, too, because her studios are stunning. The first view, after snaking our way through several hallways, was of a very swanky dressing room.

The dressing room, with signature Martha colors and MSL-branded furniture, naturally.

Across the hall was the Green Room, with its display of Emmys.  Martha’s office was just around the corner, but the frosted glass gave me only brief glimpses of her perfectly layered blonde tresses.

I was then called into the kitchen, to go over the dishes we were to prepare that day: apple dumplings with cider-rum sauce and overnight apple butter. The kitchen team, like everyone else, was incredibly gracious and welcoming, eager to make sure that what went on set was true to my vision for the recipes. I rehearsed my segment with producer Greta Anthony, had the makeup and hair treatment (including false eyelashes and a wing-y head of curls that were designed to give my flat hair some pizzazz and keep it out of my face), and after some torturous hurry-up-and-waiting and deep breathing, it was showtime. Walking toward set, I felt like a tiny thing, a mouse headed into the lion’s ring. But within seconds,  all fear dissipated. Martha was warm and gracious and TALL. A head and a long model’s neck above me even if she hadn’t been wearing stilettos, which she was.

I heard the staff and audience cheering me on and got swept up in the good feeling.

Discussing the dough. Martha can roll out pastry like a master.

My husband, Scott, was in the Green Room and he took these shots off the monitor.

We got through the dumplings, paused for a break, and then it was time for the apple butter.

“Martha, I just love my slow cooker!”

The final segment was  shorter. I did make the mistake of calling the apple butter a “dump and go recipe,” to which she shot back, “I don’t like the word ‘dump.'”

But where some might have read “scolding” I read, “sassy,” so I came back with “Ok, it’s an ‘artfully arrange and go recipe*,” and she smiled. I think she has a better sense of humor than some people might assume.

In fact, as I left the set, the producers said, “Wow, you could tell that Martha really liked you!” I think that’s a good thing.

Leaving the set with Kyle, the stage manager who keeps everyone calm and happy backstage

My one regret: Because Martha Stewart Omnimedia has its own magazine, they were reluctant to mention my Yankee title in my intro, so my real employer went unmentioned. It would’ve been nice to give a shout-out to my New England family.

*All quotes paraphrased until I can watch the actual tape on Thursday.

Behind the Scenes: Getting Ready for a TV Shoot

It’s a busy morning here in Apple Town.  I’m getting ready to head up to Gould Hill Farm to shoot a segment for New Hampshire Chronicle, which is a big treat. The subject is, naturally, apples.

It’s still quite early in the apple season and I’m told that the farm has about a dozen early varieties available: Akane, Elstar, Gala, Gravenstein, McIntosh, Milton, Paula Red, Porter, Primate, Redcort, Red Gravenstein, and Swiss Gourmet. Even after 5 years of studying apples, some of these are new to me (namely the Porter, the Primate, and the Swiss Gourmet). In 1905, the USDA cataloged 14,000 unique apple varieties being cultivated in this country. Can you imagine? Now we’re down to a fraction of that number, but it’s thrilling to know that there are still surprises out there.

Getting ready for these shoots is a good deal of work because we’ll be filming out in the orchard, which means that whatever tools and ingredients I need to cook on camera must be brought in. In place of a stove, I’ll improvise on a fold-up table and a hot plate.

Here’s the scene this morning as I set out about half the food and gear I’ll actually end up bringing. Incidentally, since we’re still waiting on the butcher block counter for the island in this kitchen, I improvised with some plywood and Mexican oil cloth. I like the look!

I also baked off an open-face apple-pear-cranberry tart this morning. You can find this recipe right here in Yankee‘s archive.

All this to make it appear as if the food just drifted down from the heavens and landed among the apple trees!

I’ll try and take some photos today so you can see how the rest of the shoot gets done. No air date yet, but I’m sure they’ll let us know soon.

Behind the Scenes: A Cookbook Photo Shoot

Michael Pederson arranges some sweet potato-apple latkes

Last November, I met up with a team of photographers, stylists, editors, and assistants at Eagles Nest studio in New York to shoot the pictures for this book. It was a peak experience—the best of my career. Writing a cookbook is such a solitary process—just you in the kitchen or at the computer, cooking and writing away. To walk into the studio and see a whole team of people working on my food…it took my breath away.

My presence there was probably more a favor to me than anything else. Other than helping with the props and doing a little bit of cooking, I did very little. Food stylists Michael Pederson and Tracy Keshani did most of the cooking. Squire Fox took the photos. These photos are so tough to get right, it’s best to leave it to the pros. I mostly organized the 59 different varieties of apples that I had collected for the shoot, and lined them up for their beauty shots. I also took photos of the photo-taking. Forgive the poor quality of my late, unlamented Droid’s images.

An apple and cucumber pickle, made at my house in advance of the shoot
The scene when I arrived at the studio.
Discussing prop placement
Apples, props, gear...
Roasted butterflied pork loin with cider-glazed veggies in front, Blue Ribbon Apple Pie in back
Tracy Keshani arranges the apples in the pie so each slice looks perfect
A rustic apple/pear/cranberry tart, waiting to go on set
The view from the studio
Some of the 5 dozen apple varieties we compiled for the shootThe aples came from California, Indiana, Washington, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York
Inside the prop studio where we rented many of the dishes, linens, and backgrounds that you'll see in the book.
This door was used as a background for the Blue Ribbon Apple Pie shot. Renting it for a week from a NYC prop house costs about $100. I missed my calling.
And yet the photo looks like you just stumbled across a pie on a sideboard at someone's country house.
Reviewing a shot of the pork and apple pie