No matter how many times I brought it up, Epiphania always gave the same sad response in her cadence, Italian accent: “No, you can’t buy it! The house isn’t for sale!”
As soon as we walked into the Connecticut farm, I knew this was the place for us. Initially, we were looking for a place to rent there because my husband, Bob, had been given the directorship of a museum in the area. Our plan was to get to know the area and eventually buy a place. This would mean a long journey for me back to the Hudson Valley, but this was a great new opportunity for him. Although we were only there to consider renting the house, during those early moments in the granny kitchen, with its little apple wallpaper and vintage wood stove, I had an eerie feeling that this was where we belonged.
A few weeks later, at the signing of the lease around the dinner table, after all the real estate agents had left, Epi, as she is called, offered us a slice of pear cake, made with fruit from a tree woven into a pergola. across the aft deck. Taking a bite and recognizing the taste, I asked her if it was Marcella Hazan’s famous recipe, to which she replied, “No.” Then, quickly, “YES! Yes, that’s it…I’ll have to tell her!” After spending weekends and summers here for over 30 years, Epi had been renting out the house for a few years and living in New York City, where she had met and got to know her. I had made Hazan’s cake many times myself. It seemed like another sign that we were in the right place.
It quickly became apparent that Bob’s new job was a great fit, so we marketed our Hudson Valley home. Every time I spoke to Epi I felt things evolve and I told them how much we loved the house and asked if she would consider selling but her answer was never fluctuating.
“No, it’s not on the market. It’s not for sale!”
Even as she repeated this, deep down, I knew something she still didn’t understand: we belonged in this house. The past year that I lived there has only strengthened my feeling that this was the house for us.
After tasting the sweet ether of equity with our first home, we were eager to stop paying rent and start owning something again. When we got an offer on our Hudson Valley home, we got serious about looking for a place in Connecticut. We saw many houses, a few in order, but none compared to Epi’s farm. If you stand by the sink in the farmhouse and look out the window you can see that pergola in the pergola, a deep yard with a variety of trees and shrubs, an old stone barn foundation, a meadow and finally hills in the distance. None of the views from any of the other houses could offer even half of this cheerful distraction.
As our house hunt continued, I kept Epi updated on our constant search in the hopes that this might somehow convince her to change her mind, but it never worked.
The closing date was set for our old house and we had to renew our lease. Epi said she was able to meet with us to discuss the details over a weekend in November when she was visiting her daughter, who lives nearby. We settled in on a Sunday afternoon, and hoping to soften her resolve, I offered to prepare a simple lunch.
When organizing a meal I always try to think in advance of what can be made, and for a light lunch I decided frittata would be perfect. Growing up, frittata was one of the dishes my mom relied on to stretch the budget to feed our family of six. Once I had my own kitchen, it was one of the dishes I could count on to feed a crowd cheaply. Now his frequent appearance at the table is more a matter of how much I like it.
My favorite combination is the one I chose to make for Epi: a mix of bitter vegetables, baked potato, and sharp cheese. This time, however, it felt like the stakes were very high. This woman knows Marcella Hazan! She would know for sure if my lunch wasn’t right.
I have never cared more about completing a frittata. I squeezed every drop of moisture out of that spinach. I babysat those potatoes so they don’t brown. I diced the fontina so it was the perfect size to melt for tart and salty surprises. I cooked it all over the lowest heat, turning it halfway through so it would cook evenly. I carefully slid it on a cooling rack so that no moisture would get to the bottom. I pulled out my best frittata-sized plate and set the table.
Epi arrived in time for our afternoon showdown. Unfortunately Bob had to work that morning and was delayed, forcing us to chat at the kitchen table. Although we disagreed on the house, it was clear that we loved each other. I suggested we go for dinner, but she insisted she didn’t want anything. It seemed like her only wish was to wrap up the negotiations and get going. But we waited so long for Bob—the aromas of the frittata rising from the platter on the table—that once he arrived, she finally agreed to a slice. It was the perfect temperature by then. While you can enjoy a frittata warm, warm, or cold, I think it tastes best when it’s barely warm. All the flavors come through and are most harmonious.
I saw her take her first bite. She seemed surprised and then pleased. Then she ate the piece I gave her. And she allowed me to give her some more.
After we agreed on the lease terms, I made one last pitch for the purchase of the house. Again, she wouldn’t budge. I was sorry that our house hunt had to continue.
However, the next day I received an email from her summarizing our discussion, and to my surprise she wrote at the end that we could revisit the discussion about a possible sale in March. It was the first time she seemed remotely open to the idea.
My opening salvo to sweeten the deal was to offer her to store her belongings in the adjoining shed for a year to give her more time to plan. Finally, after much complicated back and forth, we came to an agreement. We could hardly believe it when we signed the contract that made the farm ours. Bob always joked that it was my frittata that sealed the deal, but I always laughed it off — until she came to pick up her furniture.
Epi returned a year later, with a rented truck and a few mercenaries to help her. I usually left them alone while they emptied the shed. I couldn’t wait to turn it into a summer kitchen.
At the end of the day, as the truck pulled away, she knocked on the kitchen door to say goodbye. I walked her to her car, where we were alone for a while.
She looked at the new wooden fence we’d put up along the road among the big maples. “Are those roses?” she asked.
“Yes, I said. “We hope they will eventually climb the fence.”
She nodded approvingly.
Adjacent to the driveway there is a door to the basement and two narrow eight-pane windows from the original 1785 construction. They were painted a very dull gray. As they are the first details you see when you arrive at the house, we have painted them a light teal, which contrasts nicely with the stone lintels that surround them.
“I like this color here,” she said.
Then she turned to me, “You know I had no intention of selling you this house. But I knew you loved it… and you made me that frittata…” she said, wagging a finger in my direction.
She took one last spin, taking it all in, and just before going to her car, she looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve found the right people for this house.”
Recipe: Spinach, Potato and Cheese Frittata