At the Farm

The lovely Tania and I bought this historic home in 2011 and had it completely renovated.  The historic "Harvey House" and "Mr. Meril's Barn" date back to roughly 1870 when Meril purchased the property after returning from the Civil War.  However, the home is historic for its connection to the Princeton Nurseries, once the largest Nursery in the USA, and at that point inhabited by Eugene Harvey and his family.

We love our little "farm", the small Princeton Glen community we are a part of in Kingston, NJ, and the surrounding protected land.



On the Table, Food and the Scientific Method

Cooking and Science can be very related, yet we seem to treat our approach to these things differently.  While we would never “wing it” with an experiment, we do this all the time with cooking.  And this is not necessarily a bad approach, lets face it, the consequence of a risky combination of flavors is pretty trivial and it can make the whole process fun.  Still, cooking affords a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how scientists approach problems.  We control for variables to make sure the measured outcome can be directly related to the influence we wish to test.  I will often take this approach with food…yes for fun...sometimes delicious fun, sometimes not so much.  Below I will occasionally post some of my food experiments and the results.  What is our measured output?  The preference of the Lovely Tania.  Of course if I tried to apply this to a greater sample of the population a controlled survey to accurately capture the results would be required.  So…take it with a grain of salt…or pepper…or both. 

Pesto is a spectacular sauce (is it really a sauce?) that combines basil, garlic, oil, nuts and cheese.  But what cheese and what nuts?  Many have also substituted greens for basil to make parsley pesto, etc.  The traditional pesto recipe calls for parmigiano reggiano and pine nuts.  I decided to test whether there were better cheese and/or nut options.


The variables:
1. Parmigiano
2. Asiago
3. Cheese Mix (Toscano, Parmigiano, aged Chedder and Asiago)                      

A. Pumpkin seeds
B. Pine nuts
C. Pistachio



First, to control for variability separate from those we wish to test, we mixed all of the remaining ingredients in a “Master Mix” in a food processor until full blended:

Master Mix

Master Mix



4 cups packed, cleaned basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic
8 tbls butter
1 tsp salt

Mixin Nuts

Mixin Nuts






Next, we split the master mix into 3 equal portions labeled A, B, and C. Portions were weighed to confirm an equal split.  In each of these we added 1/3 cup of the nuts specified above (A=Pumpkin seeds, B=Pine nuts, C=Pistachio).  For ~15 seconds these nut/master mix samples are processed again in the food processor to chop up the nuts a bit. 

Lastly, the Nut/mix portions were each split in thirds.  A specific, grated cheese was added to each of these portions so that Parmigiano, Asiago, and the cheese mix were all paired with each nut/mixes.  In the end we produced 9 samples that controlled for all variables other than nuts and cheese.  The samples were:

Mix in the cheeses

Mix in the cheeses

1A – Parmigiano/Pumpkin seeds.  
1B - Parmigiano/Pine nuts
1C - Parmigiano/Pistachio  
2A - Asiago/Pumpkin seeds
2B - Asiago/Pine nuts
2C - Asiago/Pistachio
3A - Cheese Mix/Pumpkin seeds   
3B - Cheese Mix /Pine nuts
3C - Cheese Mix /Pistachio

The Lovely Tania blindly sampled each of these with a cracker.  The results?  Tania is nothing if not classic.  She chose #1 Parmigiano and Pine nuts.  Interestingly her 2nd and 3rd choices both included the Cheese Mix but with Pumpkin seeds and Pistachio.  These results imply that perhaps Tania’s preference is actually for the cheese mix but when paired with pine nuts she described the flavor as “bitter” and “slightly off”.   Seems like another experiment in the makings?

Me?  Of course my taste test was not blind, so keep that in mind.  I preferred the Cheese Mix/Pistachio.  Since this was also in Tania’s top 3, I have a feeling this will become the family preference.