Who Grew Your Food?

Among the perks of going to a farmer’s market is actually getting to speak to the person who grew your food. I talk about this all of the time in different ways. In class, when I am teaching the Politics of Food unit, we discuss the concept of “eating lower on the commodity chain;” in my Lacto-Fermentation classes, I talk about using fresh ingredients, about knowing when items were harvested; with my peers and I talk about food safety and how knowing and respecting the people who are producing our food will make it safer. My neighbor asked how I became so knowledgeable about food production – I am an ENGLISH teacher, not a Biology teacher, nor Environmental Science teacher, nor a Horticulture teacher. I learned by asking questions of the farmers who produce my food. Sometimes I take this for granted – that I have this direct access, but you don’t have to belong to a CSA or buy a half a steer once a year to have this kind of contact. If you choose to buy your produce at one of the many farmer’s markets that are springing up all over our area, you can ask questions of the farmers – the men and women who are on the other side of the table.

As I have said before, the farmers I know are among the smartest people with whom I am acquainted. Before they were farmers, or in addition to farming, they earned degrees in English, Neuro-science, History, Bio-chemistry, Social Work, and Education; they were college professors, lab techs, nurses, Elementary School principals, and teachers. I know only one who knew he always wanted to be a farmer. All of the others came to farming for a myriad of reasons, none of which is any less fascinating than the rest.

This week at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market, I met my friend Laura who introduced me to her farmer friends, Barry and Carol Savoie from Savoie Organic Farm in Williamstown, NJ. On Saturday, among other produce, the Savoies had beautiful garlic, and I had the opportunity to “talk garlic” with Barry. The variety this week was White German Extra Hardy, a variety I haven’t had since my visit to Ecosophy Farm in Woodward, PA. Due to the massive individual cloves, this garlic is especially good to roast because it can stay on the heat longer without drying out which allows for the flavors to really develop. You know how Silver Queen corn gets really sweet when you roast it?  This garlic is the Silver Queen of garlic.

I learned that the Savoies both wandered a bit, but came back to New Jersey to settle down on land owned by Carol’s father. They went through the arduous process of attaining Organic certification, which is quite a task for any farm, but especially a small farm. For Barry, this isn’t just about certification and the Organic moniker – he believes in treating his land well in order to be a good steward of the environment. While they do not have on-farm sales, these busy farmers have three different CSA options, and make produce available at three markets: Collingswood, Headhouse in Philadelphia, and Ocean City.

Roasted Garlic

If we are planning a meal that is going to be on the grill for a while, we will plan to roast some garlic to have on hand.  It keeps for about two weeks in the fridge, although we generally use it up much faster that that.

  1. Brush the head of garlic to remove any dirt that might be clinging to it.  DO NOT WASH IT!
  2. Wrap the entire head in foil.
  3. Place the wrapped head of garlic on the back of the grill as soon as you can. If you use a charcoal grill, put it on when you put the grill grates on and just leave it there, even after you are done grilling, with the lid down, until your coals have burned down.  If you use a gas grill, the garlic should be on the heat for at least an hour (medium heat), but more is better.  Just be sure the foil packet is not directly over the flames.

To use it, just squeeze out a clove and spread it on bruschetta, or mash it and add it to salad dressing, or mix it with butter to spread on that roasted Silver Queen corn!

Living La Vita Locale 7/1: Kirby Cucumbers

What’s new at the market this week? Kirby cucumbers (aka “Picklers”). And when I see little those little gems, I gear up to make pickles, especially a family favorite Kosher Dill.

I’ve already done a post about making garlic pickles that are lacto-fermented and taste like the pickles you get at the deli. In this post, I will talk about pickle-making in general and then give a recipe for a classic Kosher dill, similar in style to what you would get at the grocery store, only better because you made it yourself from ingredients you can pronounce.  It was a Blue Ribbon Winner at the Burlington County Farm Fair a few years back.

Some general hints:

  • Unless you pick the cucumbers yourself, you won’t know how long they have been off the vine. Therefore you should soak the cukes in an ice water bath for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge. This will revive them and lead to a crisper end result.
  • The use of a grape leaf or horseradish leaf is optional. If you are using them, they should be as fresh as possible. The leaves are high in tannins and also work to help improve the crispness of your end result.
  • Smaller cucumbers will result in crisper pickles.
  • Keeping the cucumbers whole will result in a crisper pickle. You can cut them into spears or rounds just before serving. Cutting the cucumbers and then pickling them usually results in a mushy pickle.
  • Do not substitute the long slicing cucumbers for the small picklers. They have less dense flesh and will not hold up to pickling.

 

Kosher Dills

About 10 small pickling cucumbers

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pierced

Dill fronds, Dill heads (the flowers), or dill seed

Black peppercorns

5 C water

1 C white vinegar

1/3 C salt

 

  1. Boil the water, vinegar and salt for 5 minutes.
  2. Pack clean quarts jars by putting in a grape or horseradish leaf in the bottom along with the garlic clove and dill (you can use a combination if you want. If you are using seeds, about ¼ t per jar). Add the cucumbers, fitting in as many as you can without bruising the cukes on their way in. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers being sure to leave adequate head space. Add a little more dill on top if you are using fronds or heads. Put the lids on and process by hot water bath for 15 minutes.

BE SURE TO FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S INSTRUCTIONS FOR JARS AND LIDS!

Living La Vita Locale 6/4: Strawberry Jam

Strawberries?  Again?  Well, that’s the seasonal life — eating foods when they come into season, and trying to preserve some of it to eat when it is not.  I have already written about freezing strawberries, but I have never posted about making strawberry jam, a staple item in  our pantry.  We use it for flavoring yogurt, flavoring ice cream and sometimes just spreading it on toasted really easy homemade bread.

I always had very bad luck making jam.  It wasn’t until my friend Andrea took me under her wing that I got the most important part of making jam: follow the directions exactly!  Here they are:

Before you start with the berries, prepare the canning jars according to manufacturer’s specifications.  There is no use going to the trouble of making jam if you mess up on the jars.  They must be sterile.  I boil the jars in the canner and leave them simmering until I am ready to can the jam.

Strawberry Jam

  • 3-4 quarts of strawberries, with the green caps and any stems removed, lightly crushed to make 6 Cups
  • 8 Cups of sugar
  • 3 1/2 T powdered pectin (or one box)

Measure 6 cups of crushed berries into a big stainless (or other non-reactive metal) kettle.  Add the pectin and stir it in.  Turn on a high heat and bring the fruit to a full rolling boil.  Not a simmer (my early jam mistake — I never let it come up to a full boil).  Once it is boiling, add the sugar and stir it in and bring the mixture back up to a full rolling boil and boil for one full minute (actually time it — don’t guesstimate) and remove from the heat. Let rest for 3 minutes.

Take the jars out of the canner and put them on a towel.

Skim the jam to remove any foam and then gently stir the jam to evenly disperse the fruit.

Fill the jars leaving a 1/2 inch of head space and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (that’s for Sea Level NJ.  If you live someplace that has an altitude over 1,000 feet, consult an expert!).

 

Living La Vita Locale 5/30: Salad greens

What’s fresh at the market this week? Salad greens, kale, collards, and spinach. If you are new to eating seasonally, treasure these greens now, because once high summer hits, the baby greens and cool weather lettuce are done. Granted their place is taken with other greens and lettuces, but these sweet greens of spring and early summer are truly delightful.

Salads are great, and dressing is really easy to make, like Basil Vinegrette, but how about something that elevates these greens to main dish status?

Asian Burgers with Greens

1 lb. ground beef (100% pastured is best), preferably 85% lean

¼ C Mirin

¼ C soy sauce

2 T rice wine vinegar

1 t brown sugar

½ t black pepper

1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely minced

½” piece of ginger, grated

Mix all of these ingredients thoroughly and let rest in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or overnight.

In a small food processor, or single-serve smoothie blender combine the following:

½ C olive oil

¼ rice wine vinegar

2 T soy sauce

1 t sugar

½” piece of ginger, finely grated

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

Blend until smooth. Open the container and taste the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. This can be made up to a week in advance. Refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

Heat the grill to medium hot. Make four patties from the ground meat mixture.

Before you put the meat on the grill, mix some greens together in a bowl. You can use any combination. At the Collingswood Farmer’s Market this week, there were a variety of lettuces and spring mixes, and at the Fernbrook Farm CSA, shareholders received lettuce and kale. From my garden, I thinned my beet patch, so I have baby beet greens. You could slice bok choy. Include a variety for texture and taste. Mix the greens with the ginger dressing and let it sit until you finish grilling the meat. The dressing will wilt the greens.

Grill the burgers to the desired doneness. Plate the burger on a bed of greens.

Living “La Vita Locale”

This summer I will be engaging in a new endeavor on my blog, “La Vita Locale” that will feature recipes for produce that is currently available in local farmer’s markets and my Community Supported Agriculture farm, Fernbrook Farm CSA. Some posts will include links to prior posts (why reinvent the wheel, right?) in order to give you the most options for your produce.

One of the projects I sometimes give my students when I teach the Politics of Food unit is to go grocery shopping with a parent and look for a list of items at a grocery store and a farmer’s market. The discussion we have after they do this activity is always compelling because they realize that phrases like “Fresh baked on Premises” does not mean made from scratch with whole foods ingredients. Baked on premises only means that they defrosted a pie and stuck it in the oven, baked it, let it cool, and put it in a box. They learn that the produce at some Farmer’s “markets” comes from Florida and California. There is nothing wrong with a store selling fruits and veggies from other states, but when there are “Jersey Fresh” banners festooning the market from one end to the other, there is an implication that the food is local. News flash: Oranges don’t grow in New Jersey. Neither do avocados.

The students soon come to realize that there are farmer’s markets and then there are Farmer’s Markets. The ones we have relegated to lower case “fm” are the ones where maybe 10% of what they have for sale is actually produced by the company or farm that is selling it. We understand that a farm may not bottle its own honey, or make its own salsa, and maybe they get those value-added products from another local source, but those things usually aren’t the bulk of what is available in the farm shop. How do you know what the farm actually grows? If it isn’t labeled “Smith Farm’s Own” or something like that, just ask. With the amount of publicity food is getting lately, with this big emphasis on “Fresh & Local,” it has become ever more important to ask questions, read labels, and not just take for granted that if the produce for sale is presented in a little basket that it came from a local farm source.

Then there are real Farmer’s Markets, like The Collingswood Farmer’s Market that I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday with my friend Cathy. On Saturday mornings, farmer’s come in and set up tables and sell produce.  This is one way to eat lower on the commodity chain: fewer steps between the producer/farmer and the consumer — you! Yesterday at the market I saw a lot of asparagus. It happens to be a great year for asparagus – we have been eating asparagus from our patch 2 or 3 times a week for the past few weeks. I didn’t buy any. But I did get wonderful organic strawberries from DanLynn Farms. My strawberries are just blushing, so I was pretty excited to have strawberries (and so were my children!). I also picked up amazing fresh mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms. Most mushrooms from the grocery store are dried out, but until you have had a freshly harvested mushroom, you wouldn’t even know the difference.

photo 3But the fun story of the morning was running into a former Triton student, April, at the Treehouse Coffee Shop’s booth. They featured fresh-made lemonade (like right in front of my face) and a wide variety of baked goods, including a really excellent gluten-free brownie. They also carry salsa and jams produced by people in the community. The Treehouse is located in Audubon, NJ and hosts the Our Yards Farm CSA, which is run by Julie, a “graduate” of the apprentice program at my CSA! I love how small the world can be!

Back to those mushrooms! We were having grilled lamb, so we sautéed the mushrooms to serve along side:

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 pint of mushrooms
  • 1 T chopped shallot
  • 2-3 T white wine
  • 1 t chopped fresh sage
  • salt to taste

Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat a cast iron skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Add chopped shallot and cook until it is translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are golden. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. When the pan is dry, turn off the heat. Toss with chopped fresh sage. Salt to taste.