Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gifts for the Local Eater

I'm not talking about myself here, of course. I already have plenty of everything. Especially turnips.

So, anyway, Hannukah is over, but if you need to get a Christmas gift for someone, here are some ideas.

I'm not going to include all of the links. I bet you can do a google search just as well as I can. If you're in Pittsburgh, my most constant (though expensive) source has been Rollier's Hardware in Mt. Lebanon.

I've tried to include something for every budget.

Cooking Tools

  • Foley food mill
  • Vaccuum seeler and vaccuum seeler bags
  • Apple corer, peeler, slicer
  • Jars (8 oz are good for Jam, pint are good for tomatoes, tomato sauce, apple sauce, etc.)
  • Lids
  • Jelly bag
  • Chef's knife
  • Canner (a very large pot with a special rack to hold the jars)

  • Simply in Season (a cookbook)
  • Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen Hopp, etc.
  • Plenty by James McKinnon and Alisa Smith
  • Preserving Summer's Bounty by Susan McClure
  • Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
  • Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll
  • The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food by Janet Chadwick
  • Jam and Jelly by Holly and Nellie by Gloria Whelan

  • A membership in the East End Food Co-op
  • A CSA share
  • Subscription to the magazine Table
  • Membership in Slow Food Pittsburgh
  • Donation to PASA (the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture)
  • Chest freezer
  • Composter
  • Some seeds from Seed Savers
  • Gift certificate to Green Chef's Deli, Bona Terra, the Cafe at the Frick or one of the Big Burrito restaurants
  • A reusable tote bag

And I bet some of you know what gift you will be getting from a local food lover. . . And it's name starts with grape and ends with jelly. . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lots of Latkes

Well, as it turns out, those sweet potatoes from Kretschmann's Farm were actually red-skinned regular potatoes. What can I say? They were inside a dark paper bag. So far all the produce we have received from Kretschmann's has been terrific. The apples are juicy and sweet. The turnips are tasty and not bitter and everything is holding up really well after almost a week in the fridge.

So, in honor of those potatoes and the last night of Hanukkah (Hanukah? Chanukah? Chanukkah?) here is my mother-in-law's recipe for potato pancakes, a.k.a. Latkes that are just delicious served with apple sauce. Some people like them with sour cream.


2 Eggs
1 small onion
1 tsp. salt
2 cups raw potatoes, in chunks [I used a little more]
1/4 cup flour

Break eggs into blender. [I did it in a bowl and used an immersion blender]. Add onion, salt, and 1 cup of the potato. Blend a few seconds. Add flour and second cup of potato. Blend just until potatoes are blended. Fry in oil. [2 Tbs.?] [Pour out in 1/4 cupfuls and fry over medium-high heat for 5 - 7 minutes per side] Can freeze and reheat at 400 degrees -- will be crisper. Makes 12-15 latkes or 20-22 hors d'oeuvres size.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

And That's Just the Carrots!

We received our first delivery today from the Kretschmann winter CSA. I had heard about large quantities of vegetables from them. I thought, Oh. Those people are just wimps and probably don't eat any vegetables. Wrong! I have never seen so many turnips in one place in my life. Probably 25 of those. And a giant bag of sweet potatoes. And that's about 25 carrots you're looking at. Plus onions, beets, arugula (I think?), Kale, two heads of radicchio, 2 heads of cabbage (one of which is enormous), a head of red lettuce (I think?), some herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage (no parsley, alas). Also butternut squash. And apples (maybe 20 of those). And I'm probably forgetting something. I will take it as a personal challenge.

In the meantime, here is a recipe for turnip and apple casserole. My mother has been making it on Thanksgiving and Christmas for years, and I have been eating it for years. It is basically an apple crisp, but when you add turnips to it, voila, it is a side dish instead of dessert. What's not to love about that?

Scalloped Turnip and Apple Casserole. Serves 6-8

1 Large Yellow Turnip (I don't know what this is. All the ones I've seen here are white and purple) peeled and diced
1 Tbs butter or margarine
2 peeled apples
2 Tbs margarine or butter
1/4 C brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C brown sugar
Cook the turnips in water until they are soft. Drain and mash the turnips. Add one tablespoon butter and mix. Toss sliced apples with 1/4 C brown sugar and cinnamon. Arrange in alternate layers of mashed turnips and sliced apples in a greased 2 Qt. casserole, beginning and ending with the turnip. Mix the flour, 1/3 C brown sugar and 2 Tbs butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 for one hour. Garnish with fresh apple slices and parsley (if desired).

And if anyone needs any cabbage, please contact me ASAP.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Winter CSA

Kretschmann farm has a winter CSA! Hooray! Contact them quickly if you want to be a part of it. Here's what they say about it:

"We are planning a “winter” veggie delivery for next week, Dec. 5 and Dec.6. This is different than the summer boxes in that you may opt in or out of the box each month.
We’ll have dropoffs on Wednesday in Highland Park, Bloomfield/Friendship, the East End, Churchill, Squirrel Hill, and Beechwood Nature Ctr/Fox Chapel. Thursday we’ll have boxes to Wexford, Northside, Mt. Lebanon, Sewickley, and at the farm. The pickup day and place will likely be different from your normal one. We will drop off by 2:30 and ask that you pick up by 7:00.

Here’s a list of what we plan to have in the box:
A bag spinach or mesclun salad greens, 5# Fuji apples, 5# potatoes, 2#beets, 3# carrots, 2# turnips, 1 cabbage(green), mixed herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), 2 large onions, Lg bunch kale, 1 head radicchio, 2 large butternut squash. The cost is $45. If anything changes, we’ll increase other items or figure a reduced price. These are larger amounts of many items than your usual in-season box. Most everything except the greens should store well even without refrigeration for quite a time.
In addition to the mixed veggie box we can have as an addition or as the only item(s) ½ bu Fuji or York apples @$20, ½ bu. red, white, or yellow potatoes @ $20, and bu. butternut squash @$20. We’ve also got goat’s milk cheese available—mild white cheddar, farmers, or sharp yellow cheddar @ $9/lb--and coffee from Building New Hope—regular ground & whole bean @$9./lb. and decaf ground @$11./lb.
We still will plan a delivery for the week of 12/19. You can get a box both times if you would like (though the dropoff spots are sometimes a problem). We’ll contact you later. "

If you are interested, fill out the form on their website and drop an e-mail or a call. Do it soon before they're gone.
(724) 452-7189

Monday, November 19, 2007

Last East Liberty Farmers' Market Today!!!

I got this list just now from Art King at Harvest Valley Farms. If you are hosting Thanksgiving or bringing a dish, make it a better one. A local one! If not, stock up for some farm marketless days ahead. Most of this stuff will keep very well.

Here's what he has:
Spring Mix
Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash
Spaghetti Squash
Buttercup Squash
Blue Pie Pumpkins
New Red Potatoes
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Brussel Sprouts
Pennsylvania simply Swt Onions
Mustard Greens
Diakon Radish
Turnip Greens
Fuji Apples
Yellow Delicious Apples
Stamen Apples
Sweet Potatoes
Green onions
Green Peppers

In other words, combined with a local turkey, everything you need for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.

The market is 3:00 - 7:00 today. From Squirrel Hill or Shady Side, get there by taking Highland Avenue north, past Centre and Penn Avenue. Then, at the light at Penn Circle, take a left (it's one way). Park immediately on your left. You can't miss it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Turkey Day

I will be away this Thanksgiving (at my in-law's in-law's) and will have no control over our meal. If you do have some control, make sure you think twice about that broad-breasted white.

Here's a story I heard on NPR yesterday on my way to the Farmers@Firehouse market. which explains that 99% of our turkeys are ONE breed. A breed that cannot reproduce by itself. A breed that cannot fly and usually cannot even stand up because of its giant breast. If you don't care about the turkey, think about the fact that all of today's millions of turkeys come from about two hundred parents and live on three CAFOs and think of the genetic nightmare that potentially poses. If you want to read a very interesting and amusing story about trying to raise turkeys on a farm, check out Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle chapter "Hungry Month" pages 316-331.

I'm not sure if you can still get heritage, free-range turkeys here in PA (I mean this close to Thanksgiving). Here are some places to check (compiled, of course, by Marlene Parrish):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Roast Chicken

I don't know about you, but ever since "they" invented the skinless, boneless chicken breast in a convenient 1 1/2 # styrofoam package, that's how I have made chicken. And I had been very happy with cooking chicken in this fashion. I didn't really know any other way. Then Michael Pollan disillusioned me in The Omnivore's Dilemma and I just can't bring myself to buy that kind of chicken anymore. So, I can buy skinless, boneless free-range chicken at the East End Coop for $10.00 a pound, or I can cook an actual chicken. Many of the local farmers sell free-range, pastured whole chickens.

I'll admit I was very intimidated at first. Luckily my sister Andrea was in town when I bought my first whole chicken from the folks at Circle B Farms (who used to be at the Farmers@ Firehouse market before they were kicked out.) I had one of those frozen in the freezer, so I thawed it out (starting yesterday morning -- it takes a long time to thaw, FYI) and we cooked it the way Andrea taught me. Here it is. . .

First take out the stuff inside and do with it what you please (I throw it out). Wash that guy inside and out. Rub the whole thing down with olive oil -- even under the skin that is loose. Sprinkle all over with kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper, poultry seasoning, paprika and whatever else your heart desires.

Then cook in a roasting pan if you have one (I don't) at 500 for 15 minutes on each side to brown it and then 350 for 30-40minutes until done.

That's the real secret about cooking a whole chicken. It is super easy! In fact, my husband can even do it. And he did today (thanks, Todd).

After you eat all you wish, clean all the remaining meat off that guy (and I say that because you can really see how it resembles the animal it was (is?)) and save it for a myriad of uses.

Then comes the really great part. Broth. Put whatever is left of the carcass in a stock pot (that's why they're called that! who knew!), cover it with water, and add the following cut into large chunks: celery (if you can find it :) ), carrots, 1/2 an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic. I also add whatever herbs I have growing -- right now parsley, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Also some whole peppercorns. After I cook it for a really long time covered on very low heat (you know, like until you want to go to bed), I strain it through a sieve into tupperware containers holding between two and four cups -- leaving extra space for expansion -- and freeze it. Then you can use it in all those great winter soups. I take off the fat after it is frozen before I use it. It is easy to scrape off the top in that hardened state.

And Andrea, I apologize for using the registered trademark "tupperware." I didn't know the generic term.

Friday, November 16, 2007


This Saturday will be the last market at the Farmers at the Firehouse market in the strip district. It is at 2216 Penn Avenue, between 22nd and 23rd Streets, I believe. It starts at 9:30. Get there early to get the best stuff.

From the Slow Food website, here is a list of market highlights:

"Fill the winter larder with power proteins:
Patrick Weakland's 100% grass-fed beef.
Dave and Karen Heilman's pork.
Pam Bryan's Puckerbrush Farm lamb, also dyed wool and knitted items.
Zillion squashes, DO try the Red Kuri, a tasty, dense-fleshed Hubbard type, in Thanksgiving pie.
Fingerling potatoes.
Lettuce, spicy greens, braising greens.
Three colors of kale: Red Russian, Winterbor, Lacinato.
Broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, turnips.
Lebanese delights, savory and sweet. Old-world breads, pastries
Guest vendor: Pioneer Farm: Matt Carroll will be selling FRESH pastured turkeys. Sizes range from low teens to low twenties. Price $3 lb. They will need to be frozen, so plan your freezer space accordingly.
Harmony Hill Farm: Patrick Weakland's 100% grass-fed beef from short, stout and efficient Lowline Angus cows. We've heard raves from customers who bought earlier this fall.
Misera’s Organic Farm – Steve’s organically-raised chickens and eggs.
Rose Ridge Farm – Deanna will have a very limited amount of organically-raised beef. "

Back to me again. . .
You can also look here:

The Turkey vender (Matt Carroll) told me last week that he will also have ground turkey this week, though it's not mentioned officially. He said those turkeys just kept on growing. . . Most of the other meat vendors sold their products through the laptop butchershop and you had to have placed your orders already, so make sure you get there early to pick up any extra supplies they may have brought if you did not already order. There is a beef vendor who will be there, though, who was not offered through the laptop butchershop.

In addition to ground turkey, eggs, and maybe some beef, I will be picking up some squashes and pumpkins. This butternut bisque does not require any celery! From Simply in Season

2 TBS Butter
1medium onion chopped
1 Cup Carrots diced
Melt Butter in a large saucepan. Add onion and carrots and saute over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Add, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
2 cups winter squash
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used heavy cream)
1 cup evaporated milk or additional plain yogurt (here I used the yogurt)
2 TBS maple syrup
Add and blend/ puree until smooth (Skip this step if a chunky soup is preferred). Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Garnish with sour cream or plain yogurt.

I sauteed some mushrooms and threw those into a well-blended soup (I used my handy-dandy immersion blender). I garnished with a dollop of pear sauce. It came out superbly excellent. Fantastic for a night preceding a snowy day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seeking Celery

Finally. The weather is matching the food that is available and I was so excited to make and eat some soup using delicious Western Pennsylvania produce. I noticed, though, that all of the recipes that looked good to me included celery as an ingredient. I had been wondering when I would see celery at the Farmer's Market or in our CSA and now that the CSA is over and we have only one market left, I am still wondering about that celery.

I do recall in Rick Sebak's presentation about markets that there is a celery only farm that sells at the Lancaster's Central Market called Hodecker's Celery Farm. But that is a bit far to go and I don't see their celery available here. It turns out celery is a very finicky vegetable to grow requiring lots and lots of moisture.

One farmer told me that he tried it, but thought it did better in swampy places like Florida. Mildred's Daughters Urban Farm does grow it, but they only sell their produce to their CSA and their celery is done now anyway. Bluebird Organic Farm (at the East Liberty Farmer's Market) sells it, but honestly, it was too floppy for me to be interested. I mean, I don't mind if it's a different color, but celery has to be cruncy. Right? So, I bought some organic celery at the East End Co-Op and made this delicious soup with lots of other Western PA products.

Potato, Leek, and Chicken Chowder
2 TBS butter
1 Cup Leeks

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add leeks, Saute until tender.

3 Cups peeled potatoes
2.5 Cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 Cup celery with leaves, chopped
3/4 Cup carrots, diced
1/4 tsp. dried Marjoram
1/4 tsp. paprika

Add, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Puree somewhat with an immersion blender (or remove some to a blender to puree).

1.5 Cups chopped, cooked chicken

Add to soup.

1 3/4 Cup milk
1/4 C Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoons flour
Mix together until smooth. Add to soup and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Deeee-licious. This recipe comes from Simply in Season with a few variations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Farm Bill Redux

Forgive me for reproducing in its entirety an article by Michael Pollen (my hero) who is summarizing the Farm Bill right now. I thought if I just posted the link, you might skip reading it. Call your senators! Tell them to support the changes proposed by Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey. Thanks, Steve, for calling this to my attention.

Arlen Spector: 202-224-4254
Bob Casey: 202-224-6324

Published on Sunday, November 4, 2007 by The New York Times

Weed It and Reap
by Michael Pollan

For Americans who have been looking to Congress to reform the food system, these past few weeks have been, well, the best of times and the worst of times. A new politics has sprouted up around the farm bill, traditionally a parochial piece of legislation thrashed out in private between the various agricultural interests (wheat growers versus corn growers; meatpackers versus ranchers) without a whole lot of input or attention from mere eaters.

Not this year. The eaters have spoken, much to the consternation of farm-state legislators who have fought hard - and at least so far with success - to preserve the status quo.

Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring, or why the farm bill is underwriting factory farming (with subsidized grain) when feedlot wastes are polluting the countryside and, all too often, the meat supply. For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water. Also for the first time, the international development community has weighed in on the debate, arguing that subsidized American exports are hobbling cotton farmers in Nigeria and corn farmers in Mexico.
On Capitol Hill, hearings on the farm bill have been packed, and newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle are covering the legislation as closely as The Des Moines Register, bringing an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress. Sensing the winds of reform at his back, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a reporter in July: “This is not just a farm bill. It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.”
Right now, that stake is looking more like a toothpick. Americans who eat have little to celebrate in the bill that Mr. Harkin is expected to bring to the floor this week. Like the House bill passed in July, the Senate product is very much a farm bill in the tradition- al let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold.
For starters, the Old Guard on both agriculture committees has managed to preserve the entire hoary contraption of direct payments, countercyclical payments and loan deficiency payments that subsidize the five big commodity crops - corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton - to the tune of $42 billion over five years.

The Old Guard has also managed to add a $5 billion “permanent disaster” program (excuse me, but isn’t a permanent disaster a contradiction in terms?) to help farmers in the High Plains struggling to grow crops in a drought-prone region that, as the chronic need for disaster aid suggests, might not be the best place to grow crops.

When you consider that farm income is at record levels (thanks to the ethanol boom, itself fueled by another set of federal subsidies); that the World Trade Organization has ruled that several of these subsidies are illegal; that the federal government is broke and the president is threatening a veto, bringing forth a $288 billion farm bill that guarantees billions in payments to commodity farmers seems impressively defiant.

How could this have happened? For starters, farm bill critics did a far better job demonizing subsidies, and depicting commodity farmers as welfare queens, than they did proposing alternative - and politically appealing - forms of farm support. And then the farm lobby did what it has always done: bought off its critics with “programs.” For that reason “Americans who eat” can expect some nutritious crumbs from the farm bill, just enough to ensure that reform-minded legislators will hold their noses and support it.

It’s an old story: the “hunger lobby” gets its food stamps so long as the farm lobby can have its subsidies. Similar, if less lavish, terms are now being offered to the public health and environmental “interests” to get them on board. That’s why there’s more money in this farm bill for nutrition programs and, for the first time, about $2 billion to support “specialty crops” - farm-bill-speak for the kind of food people actually eat. (Since California grows most of the nation’s specialty crops, this was the price for the state delegation’s support. Cheap indeed!)

There’s also money for the environment: an additional $4 billion in the Senate bill to protect wetlands and grasslands and reward farmers for environmental stewardship, and billions in the House bill for environmental cleanup. There’s an important provision in both bills that will make it easier for schools to buy food from local farmers. And there’s money to promote farmers’ markets and otherwise support the local food movement.

But as important as these programs are, they are just programs - mere fleas on the elephant in the room. The name of that elephant is the commodity title, the all-important subsidy section of the bill. It dictates the rules of the entire food system. As long as the commodity title remains untouched, the way we eat will remain unchanged.

The explanation for this is straightforward. We would not need all these nutrition programs if the commodity title didn’t do such a good job making junk food and fast food so ubiquitous and cheap. Food stamps are crucial, surely, but they will be spent on processed rather than real food as long as the commodity title makes calories of fat and sugar the best deal in the supermarket. We would not need all these conservation programs if the commodity title, by paying farmers by the bushel, didn’t encourage them to maximize production with agrochemicals and plant their farms with just one crop fence row to fence row.

And the government would not need to pay feedlots to clean up the water or upgrade their manure pits if subsidized grain didn’t make rearing animals on feedlots more economical than keeping them on farms. Why does the farm bill pay feedlots to install waste treatment systems rather than simply pay ranchers to keep their animals on grass, where the soil would be only too happy to treat their waste at no cost?

However many worthwhile programs get tacked onto the farm bill to buy off its critics, they won’t bring meaningful reform to the American food system until the subsidies are addressed - until the underlying rules of the food game are rewritten. This is a conversation that the Old Guard on the agriculture committees simply does not want to have, at least not with us.

But its defiance on the subsidy question may actually be a sign of weakness, for one detects a note of defensiveness creeping into the rhetoric. “I know people on the outside can sit and complain about this,” Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told The San Francisco Chronicle last summer. “But frankly most of those people have no clue what they’re talking about. Most people in the city have no concept of what’s going on here.”

It seems more likely that, this time around, people in the city and all across the country know exactly what’s going on - they just don’t like it.
Mr. Peterson’s farm bill passed the House by the smallest margin in years, and might have been picked apart on the floor if Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, hadn’t leapt to its defense.
(She claimed to be helping freshmen Democrats from rural districts.)

But Senate rules are different, and Mr. Harkin’s bill will be challenged on the floor and very possibly improved. One sensible amendment that Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, are expected to introduce would put a $250,000 cap on the payments any one farmer can receive in a year. This would free roughly $1 billion for other purposes (like food stamps and conservation) and slow the consolidation of farms in the Midwest.

A more radical alternative proposed by Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, would scrap the current subsidy system and replace it with a form of free government revenue insurance for all American farmers and ranchers, including the ones who grow actual food. Commodity farmers would receive a payment only when their income dropped more than 15 percent as the result of bad weather or price collapse. The $20 billion saved under this plan, called the Fresh Act, would go to conservation and nutrition programs, as well as to deficit reduction.

What finally emerges from Congress depends on exactly who is paying closest attention next week on the Senate floor and then later in the conference committee. We know the American Farm Bureau will be on the case, defending the commodity title on behalf of those who benefit from it most: the biggest commodity farmers, the corporations who sell them chemicals and equipment and, most of all, the buyers of cheap agricultural commodities - companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

In the past that alliance could have passed a farm bill like this one without breaking a sweat. But the politics of food have changed, and probably for good. If the eaters and all the other “people on the outside” make themselves heard, we just might end up with something that looks less like a farm bill and more like the food bill a poorly fed America so badly needs.

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer at The Times Magazine and a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the forthcoming “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Parsnips, Turnips and Beets, Oh My!

When I was a kid, I was a picky eater. I mean, really picky. I did not even like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or chocolate ice cream. Or ketchup. Nothing could be touching anything else. Many children are picky. (Mine sure are -- just punishment for me, I guess). I was similarly picky even after college. And if someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be eating Wild Rice with Root Vegetables and Apples (recipe to follow) I would have laughed in his or her face.

Some people probably love the winter vegetables. But I think many people don't think of turnips, beets, parsnips and kale as high on their lists of "must haves" and "favorites." I can't really picture someone keeping a stash of turnips in her desk drawer at work. Or sneaking to the refrigerator at night for one more bite of kale.

Anyway, I am here to tell you, as a reformed picky eater (oh, who am I kidding, I'm still picky, just try to put a condiment on anything I'm eating, and you will see), that these things are not bad. In fact, I'd have to say that kale is quite enjoyable and I can definitely tolerate the turnips, parsnips and beets. My husband did too, though I can't say he wolfed his dinner down. It was his first time eating any of those things, though and he did finish his portion. Why should you eat something that is just tolerable? Because it is local. It is in season. And it is getting cold (plus, I got the root veggies through my CSA and the kale is cheap). Plus, they are really good for you.

So anyway, this recipe if from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Wild Rice Salad with Root Vegetables and Apples

4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
4 turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
4 beets, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 to 3 cups tart apples, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons thyme, minced
1 1/2 cups wild rice
7 1/2 cups chicken stock
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, washed, stripped from tough center stalk and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, squash, onions, apples, olive oil and thyme in a large roasting pan and toss thoroughly to combine. Roast approximately one hour, until vegetables are fork-tender.

In a separate pot, bring rice and chicken stock to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 55-60 minutes until desired texture is reached; any excess liquid should be drained.

Meanwhile, saute bacon in a large saucepot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat until edges begin to brown. Add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds, without letting garlic scorch. Add kale and continue sauteing until kale wilts and softens, 3 to 4 minutes.

Combine ingredients in a large pot or the roasting pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 12 as a side dish.
-- Amy McConnell Schaarsmith

We ate this as a main dish, but I think it would be better as a side (as it is supposed to be) -- perhaps with some kind of steak as a main course. Or maybe I am just iron deficient. Anyway, I would start the beets and parsnips before the other veggies. Or cut them much smaller. Also, I had to up the heat (or we would still be waiting) to 425. It worked out great that way. And last, I only used four cups of broth to cook the rice. And I had to drain some of it. We used bacon from Heilman's Hogwash Farm purchased at the Strip District Farmer's at the Firehouse Saturday market. The wild rice was not local, sadly. No rice is.

Next up, brussel sprouts!

If you have any tried and true Kale, turnip, etc. recipes, send 'em along. . . Please.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


We've been slowly acquiring Bosc pears. I kind of let the Bartlett pears go right by (I think they are done now) because I don't really like them. We got some Bosc pears from our Harvest Valley CSA (that they got from Soergel's Orchard) and these baffled me in that they just weren't ripening. Then, I realized, that's how it's supposed to be with pears. They're trickier than most fruit, I think. Preserving Summer's Bounty states pears should be picked before they are ripe or else they will be mealy. Then you ripen them (in some places I've seen it called "cure") at room temperature.

But, it was worth the wait. After more than a week in a brown paper bag, they are now delicious. I got some more at Schramm's Farm and will be looking for more soon. Mostly we just eat them sliced or out of hand, but just to put a little more pear in my day, I made these pear bran muffins which are excellent and pretty healthy too.

Pear Bran Muffins
1.5 Cups whole grain pastry flour
1 cup wheat bran
3 Tablespoons white sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsps baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups 1 % buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1 bosc pear, cored and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with liners or spray with cooking spray.

Combine flour, bran, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Combine buttermilk, eggs, butter, pear and vanilla in another mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just to combine; do not overmix. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and Serve. Makes 12.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Last of the season

At the Farmer's Market on Monday it was hard (for me) to tell that it was nearing the end of October. The vegetables looked similar to what we have been having all Summer, with the addition of more cool weather stuff (greens, spinach, kale, scallions, broccoli, winter squash, pumpkins). But there was still corn, tomatoes, lots of lettuce (I guess that is another cool weather treat), cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, and even eggplant. So, here is a recipe I got from Schramm Farms for Eggplant Meatballs.

2 large eggplants
1 egg
1 to 1 1/2 cups parmesan or romano cheese
garlic powder (to taste) (I used one clove actual garlic)
1 to 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs (I used regular, and added fresh oregano and parsley from the garden and more like 2 cups)
olive oil

Peel and cube the eggplant. Place in a pan of salted water and boil until very tender and soft. Drain and place in large bowl. With a fork, mash eggplant, then add egg, cheese, basil, garlic and bread crumbs. Mix well. Add more breadcrumbs and/ or cheese, if needed, to make handling easier. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees or fry in olive oil until golden brown. Meatballs may be frozen in freezer bags to be used in sauce later.

I baked them for 45 minutes. They tasted great with homemade tomato sauce.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is an enormous multi-billion dollar piece of legislation that comes up for renewal every five years.. As some of you may know (much more than I do) the bill that passed through the House of Representatives pretty much holds the status quo. Although there is a lot going on in that bill, one of the biggest issues that concerns me is the huge subsidies that we give to farmers who grow corn and soybeans. These subsidies began during the New Deal under Roosevelt to provide a safety net for farmer's during years of low production. They have evolved to reinforce massive overproduction which benefits agribusiness and food processors, not farmers. I am paraphrasing much of this from an article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette earlier this Fall. And a more lengthy explanation/ rant comes from Michael Pollan I recommend reading it. Now.

Basically (very, very basically) in 2002 63% of the budget for the farm bill excluding the nutrition program, is for commodity programs (which added up to 142 Billion dollars over five years).,6,2002 Farm Bill - $782 Billion (Figures in millions, 2002-2007)
That is, to subsidize the growth of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton. I cannot begin to explain to you why this is so awful, not just for the US, but for the whole world. Many, many people on the web can tell you much better. Here's another link you can check out
and another:

In the meantime, farmers here in Pennsylvania get comparatively little support. Farming is a big part of this state's history and a continued part of its revenue and identity. And wouldn't it be nice to support sustainable family farms growing fruits and vegetables? I heard someone (sorry for the vagueness, but I'm sure it was someone important) say on a CNN special that if every American suddenly decided to eat enough fruits and vegetables every day to meet the US RDA, the current production by our farmers could not meet the demand.

So, here is a plea we got in our e-mail. I'm passing it on for you to follow through with your own Senators:

" Tell Your Senators We Deserve a Healthier Farm Bill!

Next week, beginning Tuesday or Wednesday (October 23 or 24), the Senate Agriculture Committee meets to finalize its version of the 2007 Farm Bill. The Senate must invest significant new mandatory funding in new markets and improved access to healthy foods, protection of our air and water, increased opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers, and equitable program access for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. These priorities need adequate mandatory funding. Make your voice heard! Call your Senators today. ALL Senators are important to contact. To find your Senators' contact information, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or look it up
When you call, ask to speak with the aide who works on the Farm Bill.

The Message

I am a constituent and I am calling to ask Senator [ ] to ensure that the 2007 Farm Bill provides increased mandatory funding for: (list your priorities)
access to healthy foods,
conservation programs,
new markets, value-added enterprises, and local food systems,
organic farming, and
beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
For more information on the timeline of remaining Farm Bill actions,

And, I would add, cut subsidies for the big five commodities. In PA, our senators are Bob Casey (202) 224-6324 and Arlen Spector (202) 224-4254.

Sorry if I have confused you. I am confused myself. But, I think anything we can say about turning this country's approach to farming and eating around has to be better than saying nothing.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Visit to Harvest Valley Farms

I was so excited. The day I had waited for was finally here. We were going on a field trip to the pumpkin patch. I think I was as excited as my four year old, as we went to visit Harvest Valley Farms with her preschool. They do church group and preschool visits during the week and are open to the public on the weekends. Another mom and her son joined my son and me (carpooling, gotta love it) on the 40 minute trip north on Route 8 so that we could accompany the class. We drove past nursery after nursery on our way to this farm and passed signs for many others.
The kids' visit began with the "farmer's wife" Kathy King talking to the kids about what they grow on the farm. She introduced all the different kinds of vegetables and all the different kinds of pumpkins (like little gourds, white ones, pie pumpkins, cinderella pumpkins, etc.) and told them how to pick a pumpkin. Then she and her son (David, one of the owners of the farm) split the kids up. Half went to the pumpkin patch to pick a pumpkin (they picked pie pumpkins) and the other half went to see the animals. They have chicks, sheep, pigs, donkeys and ponies. Then they switched.
I was glad to see where all of our vegetables have been coming from. I also got the answer to a burning question. . . is Art King (Kathy's husband) any relation to Joseph King who also sells at the East Liberty Market? Yes. Indeed, Kathy told me. Joseph and Art (and Larry, the other owner) are first cousins. Their fathers were brothers. Yes, they are related, but Kathy told me they have very different farming practices. Kathy wasn't giving any details. A friendly family rivalry perhaps?
Here are the crates all getting ready to be packed. Incidentally, we picked ours up today. Peppers, tomatoes, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, onions and a ginormous daikon radish. Not sure what I'm going to do with that. Probably wrap it up in plastic and keep it (Art said in the newsletter that it would keep for several weeks) for my radish loving sister who's coming to visit in three weeks. I'll bring the salt shaker with me on the way to the airport. But I digress.

It is a beautiful working farm owned by very nice, smart farmers. No "boo barn" or pumpkin people. But I sure enjoyed it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pumpkin Festival

What happens when you combine a Steeler-free (thanks to the bye week)Sunday, a beautiful blue sky day, and a mid-October visit to Triple B Farms? I think my husband summed it up well when he said, "This is like Kennywood!" He meant it in the most positive way. He loves Kennywood. Triple B was packed with festivities and festival celebrators. My kids had a great time. It wasn't, however, what I imagined as the way to spend a fall day at a Pumpkin Farm. My perfect day comes from a book Picking Apples and Pumpkins.
And, like most things from books (and television and movies) reality is, well, different.

The approach to Triple B is quite nice. After a 50 minute drive through Carrick and Duquesne and then Elizabeth along the Monogahela (and there appears to be some truth to what they say about the Mon Valley being depressed economically), we drove up a hill surrounded by forest. We parked in a very crowded field and then paid our admission price -- $7.00 for adults and $9.00 for children ages 3 and over. This gave us a wristband that admitted us to all activities. What activities you ask?

Well, there was the path decorated by scenes of pumpkin people made up to resemble pop culture icons like Scooby and the gang seen above. There was the ducky derby which involved water pumps, ramps and rubber duckies, the "Liberty Tube Slide," the Boo Barn, which our 4 year old swears did not scare her at all (but that's probably because my husband was carrying her and she had her eyes closed the whole time), the petting zoo, and this baby duck slide. The ducks are lured up the ramp by the food at the top and then end up falling down the slide into the water (grabbing a snack along the way if they're good). They always seemed a little surprised to fall down the slide. My six year old thought it was hilarious. Me -- well -- not so much.While I waited in line for the hay ride to the pumpkin patch, my husband took the kids through some of the other activites: the tractor to sit on, the tractor tires to climb, the corn maze (in which they would never have gotten out save for being rescued by a 10-year-old girl who magically appeared like a spirit guide and asked, "Do you want me to show you the way out?"), the hay bales to scramble on, etc., etc. There were also pony rides which we skipped and other activities which I never saw since they were too far from the line.

Eventually we boarded our trailer filled with hay bales and made the rickety journey to the pumpkin patch. There were plenty of pumpkins out there, some still growing, which was nice to demonstrate to the kids. We then weighed and paid for our future jack o lanterns (29 cents a pound) and took the hay ride back.

We bought the kids caramel apples as a treat (they just ate the coating off the outside and never got to the apple). They also sold "food" -- hot dogs, sausage, pulled pork, nachos, fresh cut french fries (from Idaho potatoes if you believe the box they were in), popcorn and fudge. Also a treat (I forget what it's called) of sliced apples topped with caramel and whipped cream which I wanted to try but didn't.

We never made it to their farm store but they had one and it looked big. Probably similar to Soergel's or Schramm's, I would guess. My favorite thing about the farm is its setting. It seems to be huge or else surrounded by other farms or undeveloped land. It is a rolling hillside filled with meadows, fields, groves. It is just beautiful. I'm guessing the Steelers' bye week resulted in some good support for local farmers. And like I said before, the kids had a great time.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Schramm's Farm

I am constantly on a quest for the "perfect" farm around here. Really, the best qualification would be within walking distance. But, since there are no farms in Squirrel Hill (and there are other benefits to city living) the quest to locate a reliable off-market day source of produce has me on lots of long drives. I have checked out many of our local farms that have markets: Trax, Soergels, Shenot's, McConnell's, Triple B, Paskorz, Simmons and Reilly's Summer Seat (the last two were last year for fall outings with the kiddos). Some people shop for clothes. Or antiques. I shop for broccoli. Hmmm. Anyway, they all have their plusses, but none is exactly perfect. Sigh. So, the quest continues.

Today it took me to Schramm's Farm Market in Harrison City (but the address is Jeanette) I was sort of previewing for my kids' fall apple and pumpkin picking experience. The activities for the kids were pretty low key. A small hay bale maze, a small pumpkin patch accessed by a winding path decorated with scarecrows, and a structure (was it a tractor?) made of wood that all the kids present were climbing and thoroughly enjoying.

The farm market presented quite a bit of home grown produce at good prices. They also sold bulk quantities. Right now they had green peppers and every other hot pepper under the sun. They also had salad and roma tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, many varieties of squash and probably some other vegetables that I am forgetting. They also had at least six varieties of apples and bartlett and bosc pears (and maybe another kind, too). Of course they also carried lots of other things from away but labelled all as such and many had their state of origin labelled.

In addition to produce, the store also contained a bake shop ("Grandma's") which made the whole store smell heavenly. They also carried local beef in a freezer. Next to that was ice cream from Kerber's Dairy which "Rose" carries also on Braddock Avenue across from Frick Park. Some other items that caught my eye were their apple cider (liquid gold), local honey, local maple syrup and some bake mixes from Burnt Cabins Gristmill (with a PA preferred sticker firmly affixed)

No, it's not the perfect farm. I can't really tell you why. Maybe it had to do with the McMansions I saw on the way there. Not their fault, I'm sure. Also, I think my kids would prefer a bit more to keep them entertained (much as I hate to admit it) like a hayride or cornmaze. The quest continues.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

pumpkin muffins

A couple of weeks ago I bought a "cheese pumpkin" from the Bluebird Organic Farm stand at the East Liberty Market. My daughter was sure it was not a pumpkin because it is not orange on the outside. It is tan. Also, it is not cheese because it was "too dirty." But, on the inside, it is all pumpkin. Today we (above-mentioned daughter and I) turned that hefty autumn vegetable (fruit?) into pumpkin muffins. I have never before cooked with an actual pumpkin (as opposed to a can of pumpkin) so I was pretty pleased with myself. Especially when above-mentioned daughter chomped away at the toasted seeds murmuring "mmm-mmm" (you don't get those with a can of pumpkin!).

First I cut the pumpkin into 1 inch chunks after trying to scrape off/ pull out many of the seeds. I then steamed the chunks for about 20 minutes (until they seemed quite soft). After that, I scraped off the stringy pulp and put the rest (including the skin) into the food mill. I milled out about 2 1/2 cups of pureed pumpkin. If I were doing this again, I would try to remove all the pulp before steaming because doing so afterwards was tedious and finger burning with the recently-steamed pieces.

I used a recipe from the book Simply in Season which included many non-local ingredients like white and brown sugar, oil and white flour. (Not to mentioned the spices, but I'm going to continue using those anyway). Above-mentioned daughter gobbled up her muffin right away and her equally picky younger brother ate two! I didn't even have to put chocolate chips in them. What a revelation.

Now, if I can figure out how to make them with honey, whole wheat pastry flour and butter, I will give you the recipe. I haven't found any online, but there is no way to search everything out there. I have also read some guidelines about those subsititions. In general, subsituting honey for sugar, people advise to reduce amount (honey is sweeter than sugar), reduce amount of liquid in the recipe (or can you increase dry goods?), increase baking soda by 1/4 tsp. (to balance honey's acidity), and reduce cooking temperature by 25 degrees. I have found no such rules for switching out butter for oil, or whole wheat flour for white flour. I'll let you know what I find out. I'm sure you are all waiting with baited breath.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

We Be Jammin'

If you've been following along on this blog you will know that I made grape jelly with Concord Grapes purchased for our local farmer's market. I was so happy to find a use for these delicious gifts of the gods. Of course, to make jelly, you need to extrude all the juice and leave the skins and seeds and even some of the pulp behind. Then you need to add SIX CUPS of sugar. My kids, husband and Mother in Law all loved the jelly and it came out very well, however, I thought it was too sweet for some reason. Plus, I don't know about you, but I haven't even bothered to try to look for a local source of sugar.

So, after I made jelly once and was satisfied that it could be done (and not just become a grape sauce) I purchased a type of pectin made by Ball which says it does not require the use of sugar. The end result is that I made 8 8 oz. jars of grape jam with only one cup of local honey, and it is still very, very good. And tastes more like grapes. Here's what I did.

1. First I weighed out four pounds of grapes--despite the fact that the recipe on the box said to use 3 pounds (these were from Harvest Valley Farms).
2. I then pinched each one to separate the inside and the skin. The skins went into the bowl for my food processor and the insides went into a large pot.
3. After the grapes were all separated, I chopped the skins in the food processor into small pieces and set them aside.
4. I mashed the insides slightly with a potato masher and cooked them with 1 cup of apple cider (from Kistaco Orchards at the East Liberty Farmer's Market Cooperative on Saturdays). I brought them to a boil and then simmered them for 10 minutes.
5. I then put the pulp through a food mill to separate out the seeds.
6. Then I combined the pulp with the skins in a large pot with the special pectin to heat it.
7. After that came to a rolling boil, I added the one cup of honey. I got mine at the East Liberty Farmer's Market from the "Fine Family Apiary" from Monogahela (724-258-3834). We got the dark fall honey which is very mild in taste.
8. After that returned to a rolling boil, I let it boil hard for three minutes.
9. After that, I ladled into sterilized jars, put on lids and processed in a hot water bath canner for 5 minutes.

My next trial will be to do it without pectin.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Oh Yeah!

It wasn't really a typical fall turnip and apple casserole kind of a day. It was more like a salad and grilled summer vegetables kind of day. And, since it was 85 degrees, it was a great day for ice cream!

We took the family to the new ice cream parlor on Highland Avenue in Shadyside, "Oh Yeah!" They proudly proclaim their support of local sources, like the bricks on the patio from demolished buildings in Homewood, the locally roasted fair trade coffee, and the locally made ice cream from pastured Ohio Amish cows. They carry both Dave and Andy's (the best ice cream by far in Pittsburgh in my opinion) and Woo City (from the aformentioned Amish cows). They also have one hundred or so mix ins.

My husband had Woo City "5-star chocolate" with Peppermint Patties (his favorite add-in, next to Junior Mints, and the only place around that has that combination). I had the honey, apple, cinnamon granola (from Dave and Andy's). The kids had birthday cake and blueberry cheesecake from Dave and Andy's.

My only complaint is the price. One scoop (for grown ups or kids) was $2.75. That adds up with a family of five. As a New Englander and a self-proclaimed ice cream connoisseur, it's nice to have another good ice cream option (besides Dave and Andy's in Oakland, that is). Though we live 1/2 a mile from 4 chain ice cream shops, Oh Yeah, though it is a little further away, is worth the trip for me.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Eating Seasonally

One of the tenets of responsible eating -- of Slow Food, etc., is to eat seasonally. That is, eat foods that are ripe and ready at certain times of year. For example, eat asparagus in March (April?) not in December. Here is a website which explains this principle in detail and lists seasonal produce by state. So now it is fall and the produce we received from our Harvest Valley Farms CSA this week represents the typical Fall (or maybe more like winter?) selection: beets, turnips, kale, red peppers, apples, butternut squash for example.

The problem is that it is 84 degrees today! And was yesterday and is supposed to be tomorrow. I really don't feel like eating roasted winter vegetables or kale and potato soup. So, since our tomato plants are finally producing, we had a whole wheat pizza crust topped with chopped tomatoes, basil, oregano, red onions and cheddar cheese. I made the crust with whole wheat milled by the Beaver County Conservation District at last year's Maple Festival. I bought it at a farmer's market in Sewickley and have been keeping it in the freezer.
Here's the recipe for the pizza crust, which was fine, although I'm sure you could find another (better?) one:

This recipe makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas or eight small ones. Again, to double the recipe, remember that the ratio is three parts flour to one part liquid.
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 cups flour, sifted
Additional flour or cornmeal for rolling out the dough
1. Dissolve the yeast in water in your processor or mixing bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and salt. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of flour. Add the rest of the flour, processing or stirring until the dough forms a ball. Turn out the dough onto a board dusted with flour or cornmeal, and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth. Divide it into equal round portions, and roll and gently stretch out. Press onto pans, cover with a dry towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 15 minutes. The crusts are then ready for toppings, or you can freeze them for up to a month.

My daughter and young son enjoyed kneading and rolling out the dough and spreading on the toppings. I'm not sure how it will taste topped with beets.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Apples for Dinner?

I may have gone a bit overboard with the honeycrisp apples. I am hoping to "root cellar" them (is that a verb?) but until I find sawdust or some substitute they are taking up a lot of room in the refrigerator. So, we have apples for every meal here. Here are some dinner recipes we've enjoyed using apples:

This one is from the magazine Everyday Food. We usually have frittatas or something similar at least once a week. Local eggs are very good and there are several places to find them. And they cost a lot less than local meat. There are several very good local cheeses available at McGinnis Sisters (in Monroeville)and sometimes at the East Liberty Farmer's Market.

Apple and Cheddar Frittata:

8 large eggs plus two large egg whites
4 ozs. white cheddar cheese coursely grated (1 cup)
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 Gala (substitute Honeycrisp, of course), peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick pieces

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with rack set in top third. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, egg whites, and half the cheese; season with salt and pepper. In a medium cast-iron or nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat butter over medium. Add egg mixture; while it cooks, 1 to 2 minutes until edge is set, arrange apples on top in a circular pattern, starting from the outside edge, and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

2. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake until frittata is set in the center and cheese is browned, about 20 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, release frittata onto a cutting board; let rest 5 minutes. Cut into wedges, and serve.

Tonight we had a salad made with lettuce (while we still can :) ), cucumber, scallions (a.k.a. green onions), apples, toasted black walnuts (available at the East Liberty Famer's Market Cooperative), leftover chicken and blue cheese (from Ohio via the East End Food Coop). Dressing was not local. I don't yet make vinegar and don't know where to get local oil of any kind. That can be a winter project. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Last night with our roasted chicken, we had baked squash and apples. This recipe is from Simply in Season -- a great cookbook.

2 lbs. butternut or buttercup squash (peeled, seeded and fibers removed cut into 1/2 inch slices) Arrange in an ungreased oblong baking dish.

2-3 baking apples (I used honeycrisp, of course, not baking apples). Arrange on top of squash.

1/3 cup brown sugar (I used local honey)
3 tablespoons butter (melted)
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mace (optional)

Combine in a small bowl then sprinkle on top of apples and squash. Cover and bake at 350 until squash is tender, 40 to 50 minutes.

Welcome to October!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

More is Less

It's time to put by the last of summer's crops. The change is in the air. I am sure you have all felt it. Our CSA share this week looked quite different: turnip greens, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, potatoes, red peppers, apples, pears, onions, garlic. Still quite a bounty, but a different bounty. Since I personally prefer a different different bounty I called up Farmer Art King of Harvest Valley Farms to ask for a bulk order of all of the produce that will not be available for very much longer.

We made an arrangement whereby he would bring some extra stuff to our drop off site when he was picking up the CSA crates. So, no extra gas used for anyone this time. Yippee! And no waiting in lines or wrestling with children and wagons at the farmer's market. For $50 I got 4 dozen ears of corn, a 1/2 bushel of tomatoes, a peck of grapes, a peck of red peppers and several large bunches of basil.

I dried 10 red peppers and here is the result of that:

These can be used in soups, stews, sauces, etc. without rehydrating. Another suggestion from Preserving Summer's Bounty was to pulverize the dried vegetables into flakes to use as "nutritious, colorful seasonings."

The rest of the red peppers I diced and froze on trays on then transferred to freezer bags. These are 3 for a $1.00 at the farmer's markets right now. I have paid $4.00 for a single red pepper (they usually cost $3.99 a pound at supermarkets and good ones weigh about a pound). Talk about more with less.

I also froze three cookie sheets worth of basil (and then transferred to bags). The leaves turned an awful shade of black, but they still smelled good. According to the book Preserving Summer's Bounty by Susan McClure, "when you are ready to use an herb, pull out the crisp-frozen leaves and crumble them into the dish you're cooking. If you let the herbs thaw, they're likely to be soft textured." There are many other ways to preserve basil. This website has many recommendations: The basil can be had for about $2.50 a bunch (for example) at the Farmers @ Firehouse Market (Saturdays in the Strip District)-- thanks to my M-I-L for picking me up some today. A bunch is about 30 times the size of the little plastic box you can get at the supermarket for the same price. So, even if your end result with preserving is not perfect, just think, is it 30 times less good?

I also distilled about 30 pounds of tomatoes into sauce.

Following the suggestion of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving I added fresh basil leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of dried seasoning to the jars before ladling in the sauce. I am excited about tasting this summer treat in the darkness of a winter evening.

More tomatoes are in the dryer right now turning into sun dried tomatoes. Now, they won't be "sun-dried" but they will taste the same and I'm sure everyone knows how much those cost and how good they are. For about 40 pounds of tomatoes, I paid $12. That's 30 cents a pound! Have you ever seen tomatoes at that price at the supermarket?

It's also a good time to stock up on green beans and zucchini if you see them. They won't be around for much longer. Zucchini can be shredded and frozen to use in baked goods and sauces (just thaw and squeeze out the moisture before using). It can also be sliced and frozen to stir fry later. Green beans can be frozen as is also and then boiled or stir fried within six months.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

An Old Chestnut

I am so excited that "other" people are reading this blog (other than my husband and his kind relatives, that is). As is becoming apparent to them (I already knew this, of course), I have no idea what I am talking about much of the time. I was really hoping that this blog would take on more of a bulletin-board-type aspect where people could share what they know in the form of comments so that all of us who are trying to eat local food could do so more easily and with more knowledge.

So, here is an example of how I am struggling along with limited knowledge. At the Joseph King stand at the East Liberty Farmer's Market the other day, I saw some nuts. I had no idea what they were, so I asked. Chestnuts. I did not buy them for reasons having to do with a wagon, a two year old and some missing nectarines, but anyway. . .The next day, my kids and I were walking up to Blue Slide park and I saw what I thought were the same nuts on the ground!

I couldn't believe my luck. No, really. I couldn't believe it. So, I picked one up to bring home, and went to look on the internet. It looked just like the pictures, but I am too skeptical to believe that real, actual food would just be falling out of the sky. So, I brought my identifying pictures ttp:// and went back to check the tree. I'll save you the suspense. It is a horse chestnut and the nuts are either bitter or poisonous.

However, real chestnuts are available at the farmers' markets these days and as is usually the case, Marlene Parrish wrote about them and how to use them in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. (Every time I think I've discovered something I realize again that Marlene Parrish has been there first--- she knows everything about everything eating local!) And here is another site which describes ways to store the chestnuts and many different options for cooking them, none of which I have tried. I hope to. And, if you four readers out there have any suggestions, please share them!

Monday, September 24, 2007

End of Corn?

I know many in the know consider corn to be one of the newest evils of American Society. In fact, in case you didn't read Omnivore's Dilemma you can catch the movie King Corn sometime this fall (I hope we will get it here in Pittsburgh; we are not listed on their website) if you want to know more about why I say that.

But that corn they are berating is not sweet corn. Thank goodness. It's one of the only whole foods my daughter eats regularly (the other being honey crisp apples). And, of course, who doesn't love corn on the cob? or off it? (well, my daughter, actually will only eat it on the cob, but what can you do?) So, I understand that we are nearing the end of corn season here in Western PA. Those corn fields will soon be turned into corn mazes for Halloween season farm visits. Several farmers today at the East Liberty Farmer's market mentioned that this was their "last field of corn." I guess each field matures all at once and provides only two to three days of corn cobs for us consumers.

So, if you haven't done so already, now's the time to buy some extra ears to cut the kernels off to freeze for the winter. I got fifteen ears for $4.00 from Farmer King today. Of course you probably know to eat the corn ASAP and leave it in the husk for as long as possible (because the sugars start turning to chewy starch as soon as the corn is picked). When my father used to grow corn, he actually wanted the cooking water to be boiling before the corn could be picked and husked.

The method I've read that is good for freezing is the following: The day you get the corn (see above), boil a big vat of water. Husk the corn. Boil ears for four minutes. Immediately dunk them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Remove the ears quickly from that water, too. Remove the kernels using a sharp knife (I use my chef's knife). I've heard some tips to make that easier too. Like place the cob in the center of a bundt pan to hold it stable for kernel removal. Or impale it on a piece of wood with a nail sticking up. Place the kernels in a freezer safe plastic bag or container. Or you could go the extra step of freezing the kernels on a cookie sheet so that they don't stick together as much and then transferring them to a freezer bag within twenty four hours. Use within a year. I got five fairly full quart size bags from eleven ears of corn. Not bad for $4.00 (plus we ate some for dinner).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Apples, Apples Everywhere

My very best apple memories are of going to my cousins' house to help them with their apple harvest. They live in Harvard, Massachusetts and own a two-hundred+ year old apple orchard. They used to be a "pick your own" operation that also made and sold apple cider every year. My mother and I would go out to help them by gathering the drops and feeding them into the cider mill, which we hand cranked. We filled the jugs directly from the mill and sold them just like that. No pasteurization or anything. And that stuff was like the elixir of life. I have never tasted anything like it. We would put half gallon jugs in the freezer to take out through the year as a special treat. And boy, was it.

It took me a while to figure out why I would never taste anything like their apples or apple cider anywhere else. There was the lack of pasteurization, of course, which you can't avoid these days. Also, they always said that their apples were MacIntosh, but they were not like any MacIntosh apple you could get at a store. That is because they were technically heirloom apples since they were from trees that were so, so old and nothing like the twenty or so varieties today that have been bred for looks, tranportability and shelf life. Like Red Delicious. Have you ever had anything less delicious? Yuck.

The only place I have heard of around here that grows heirloom apples is Sand Hill Berries in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I will be asking about their availability tomorrow at the East Liberty Market, but in the meantime, the next best thing (which everyone and their next door neighbor raves about -- just do a Google search) is the HoneyCrisp apple.

The HoneyCrisp apple was developed by the University of Minnesota in 1960 as a hybrid between Macoun and honeygold. They have been steadily gaining popularity and I am not the only person to have "discovered" this apple. It is so crunchy, juicy and sweet, it will be your favorite too. The best place I have found to get them is at the Saturday market at the East Liberty Farmer's Cooperative. Kistaco Farm (in Apollo, PA) sells a peck for $8.00. Buy a peck. Maybe two. Keep them in the refrigerator. They will stay juicy and sweet in there for weeks.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Harvest Valley Farms CSA

Community Supported Agriculture. Before this March I had no idea what that meant. Then I spotted a flier. "Did you know that a tomato usually travels 1300 miles from where it is grown before you eat it in your salad?" Hmm. Interesting. I stored the name away in my mind and weeks later I found Harvest Valley Farm's website.

When I figured out what a CSA was, it sounded too good to be true. Sustainable? Limited fertilizer and pesticide? Variety of produce? A crate of fresh produce delivered 1/2 mile from our house each week from May through November? It all checked out, so I sent in our deposit check. We pay $410 for the entire season (in monthly installments) for this privilege. I cannot tell you how convenient and wonderful it is every week to get delivered this surprising and varying assortment of produce. It is like Christmas every week.

Yesterday we got 12 ears of corn, three onions, five Gala apples, a head of Romaine lettuce, a giant spaghetti squash, three patty pan squashes, two zucchini, and a box of concord grapes. It was different the week before as seen in the picture above. Butternut squash, red peppers, apples, cantaloupe, concord grapes, green beans, arugula, and corn.
We often get fruits and vegetables that I am accustomed to eating (as noted above). Occasionally we got something new. Like kohlrabi. That was a nice surprise. Crunchy and delicately flavored. We also received some other treats in the beginning when the produce selection was leaner, like cheese, eggs, bread and honey. The farmers King send a weekly newsletter telling of happenings on the farm, what produce is coming up, what is ending and give a recipe for one of the items in the crate that week.

There are several options for CSAs in this area. One that has been around for a long time is through Kretchmann's Farm. The bonus of this CSA is that it is organic. According to a few subscribers I've spoken to, though, the downside is that they get "a lot of leaves" and have some wormy produce (an unfortunate fact of organic produce?). This link will lead you to Slow Food Pittsburgh's list of the CSAs available in this area: I would highly recommend to anyone to participate in a CSA. Share a "share" with someone if you think it would be too much for you or your family alone.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fruit Leather

The grape jelly set. Woo-hoo. It is a great favorite of everyone else in the family. It is way too sweet for me, though, and I am disturbed by how much sugar went into the making of it.

So, I came up with another option for the concord grapes. Fruit leather. My kids have been big fans of this store-bought treat from the very beginning. At upwards of 50 cents a piece, I am not as big of a fan. However, with twenty minutes of prep (and that's because my daughter was "helping") and a food dryer, we now have several servings of delicious grape fruit leather. I used an immersion blender to puree the grapes, then fed them through the food mill to remove the seeds and the bigger pieces of skin. Then spread on the food dryer and voila. No sugar. Pulp included. And probably some seeds and skin, too, which are supposed to be the most nutricious parts. And since I got a peck of grapes (that's a lot of grapes) for $10 at the East Liberty Farmer's Market, and I've already made 9 jars of jelly, I think I will at least break even this time.

And, in case you're keeping track, I also canned 7 pint jars of diced tomatoes, made 5 containers of nectarine freezer jam (not sure if these set well, though), and dried a few dozen tomatoes that now fit into a quart size ziploc bag.

Another couple of books have proved helpful in all of this food preservation. One is The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food: Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Freezing, Drying, and Canning by Janet Chadwick
The other (thanks Angela) is Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, and Preserving, and Drying What You Grow by Rodale Food Center and Susan McClure.;pf_rd_r=1M7JJ6Y21WQFJP9JQZ15&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=278240801&pf_rd_i=507846

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Sorry for the little hiatus in blogging for those of you who are following along at home. I was canning! I can't believe it. It's like I've entered another era. A galaxy far, far away. I feel like Laura Ingalls' "Ma." I have no idea if they canned on the frontier way back then. Probably not. Anyway, you get the point.

In this day and age of fast everything, canning does seem to take a while. Not too long. But, it's much longer than going to the grocery store. On Sunday I found some canning supplies at Rollier's Hardware in Mt. Lebanon. Although it was kind of pricey, they had everything I thought I needed: a big canning pot with a rack or "canner," jars and lids, pectin, wide-mouth funnels, lid lifter, a jelly bag, a jar grabber, even a foley food mill. Canning will definitely not save you money the first year. I'm hoping to break even by year three or four.

Anyway, I began by canning a tomato sauce on Sunday. I got the recipe and the method from a very helpful book called Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today Of all the books and websites I reviewed, this book explained the method the most clearly to me and offered the recipe for the tomato sauce that I used.

On Monday my friend Emily had me over to make raspberry jam. We both used frozen raspberries. Five mashed cups. She made her jars first so I could watch her. She showed me some short cuts, like sterilizing jars in a microwave by inverting them in a tray of water, and pouring boiling water from a tea kettle on utensils and lids. She explained that there is a critical time in the jam/ jelly making process that does not exist with canning other things. The critical time is when your fruit/ pectin mixture comes to a full and rolling boil (and it was good for me to be able to see what a rolling boil looks like -- basically, when the boiling can't be stopped by stirring). You need to dump the sugar in all at once and then when the mixture comes back to a full and rolling boil, boil for exactly one minute and then ladle it in! Another time saver (and energy saver) tip was instead of using a water bath, Emily simply inverted all the filled jam jars for five minutes. Sure enough, we could hear the pop when shortly thereafter, they sealed! And the jam tasted heavenly. Hopefully it won't spoil.

Today, all on my own, I made grape jelly. I hope. I have no idea if it's set. It is all jarred and looks nice, but Emily cautioned that when she tried making grape jam it would not set for her. I found a very helpful grape-jelly-making web page. It took a while for the jelly to drip through the jelly bag, but I was hoping it would appeal to the picky four year old who has rejected the raspberry jam already because of the seeds. Sigh.
On the one hand, I did all the work for the jelly in a three hour period. On the other, I could have bought grape jelly at the supermarket in about 3 minutes. Is it worth it? I think if I can figure out how to do it without sugar, it will be. But that's a project for another day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Laptop Butchershop

Today I went to the Strip District to pick up some meat. Not just any meat, mind you. This is the good stuff. Free Range. Pasture Fed. Organic. The real deal. You know, chicken that tastes like chicken. Not that I know what that is, being raised on corn fed chickens from feedlots.

Laptop butchershop is a program started by Susan Barclay of Slow Food Pittsburgh.
By ordering ahead, one can arrange to pick up meat (this week it was chickens, lamb and beef) at the Saturday Farmer's at the Firehouse Market.

First I visited Steve Misera of Misera's Poultry. From him I purchased three whole chickens, 2 chickens cut into parts and a dozen eggs. No pack of boneless, skinless breasts available here. He let me know that he would be back in November with more chickens, but then that would be it. Since his chickens are grass-fed, they are not available in the winter time and won't be ready next until June. But, one can call in the off season to see if anything is left in the freezer.

My next stop was with Deanna McMaken of Rose Ridge Farm.She is often at the East Liberty market, but it was good for me to be able to pay with a check and buy some meat without the kiddos. From her I bought 4 small beef tenderloin steaks, some hamburger patties and some ground beef. Her beef is also grass fed on a farm in Ohio. She often comments that she could easily sell every steak that she gets, but there is a lot more to the cow than steaks.

After two long trips to the car (parked far away of course, since it is the Strip District on a Saturday morning) I headed home.

What to do with those chicken parts, though. My experience, and most of my recipes involve cooking with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I had to turn to an old companion, the Betty Crocker Cookbook, to find recipes using "3-3.5 broiler/fryer cut into parts." Well, my parts weighed about 7#, so I was hoping to divide and conquer. The recipe I did use called for melting butter and olive oil in a 9 x 13 pan, then adding herbs (marjoram, basil, oregano), lemon juice, worcestorshire sauce, garlic and onions. Coat the pieces in the mixture and cook at 375 for 30 minutes, then flip over and cook 30 minutes more. It worked out fine -- not great -- and the chicken tasted like chicken.

Friday, September 14, 2007

McConnell's Farm Raspberries

Today I went to check out a book at the library and it was due in October! Oh My God! What am I going to do in the winter? Mild panic has set in. One thing to do, of course, is to prepare. Freezing, canning and root cellaring (which in my case will have to be in an improvised wine cellar that is where an old bulkhead entry way used to be) seem to be the recommended methods. But, you have to have something to preserve! The fruit is almost gone. Panic made me drive far away, again, to Beaver County (just past the airport) to McConnell's Farm.
I had heard they had raspberries and a phone call confirmed it. She said the berries wouldn't be around long, so come soon.
I did and found the old, family-run operation to be very quiet this morning when I showed up to pick raspberries. They had both golden and red varieties. The McConnells were obviously not using pesticides or herbicides in great amounts because the fields were overgrown with weeds and buzzing with bees and many insects (including japanese beetles).
I was very glad I didn't have the two year old with me because he would have been lost among the tall weeds and caught by the thorns of the raspberries. Just something to keep in mind if you are planning to go. The proprietress of the farm store gave me some pint baskets and a cardboard box to hold them. Pints are $2.50 each. I filled 6 pints in about an hour. The bushes were filled with ripe berries. I was wishing others were around to pick them because they are mostly going to waste. I also picked up a peck of peaches for $12-- a fruit they specialize in, and a peck of tomatoes. Ms. Farmer (I should have asked her name!) even gave me for free 12 quart-sized jars to help with the process.

I washed the berries at home and was dismayed to find that many had tiny mold spots that I swear weren't there when I picked them. The mold spores seemed to be multiplying by the second, so I washed, picked through and discarded many berries, then spread them out on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper to freeze. My next step is to transfer these to freezer bags. My intention is to thaw them shortly to make jam, but if I don't, they will be good as an ice cream topping, stirred into oatmeal, made into muffins, etc. through the long winter. Ain't they pretty, though?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What's for Breakfast? Frankferd Farms

It's all well and good to eat local produce and meat for lunch and dinner. But, what can you eat for breakfast? Well, this one I know the answer to! A local organic farm, Frankferd Farms, grows and mills their own grains. From these, they make an organic buckwheat pancake mix to die for, sold at the East End Food Co-op. Two pounds worth is $2.89. The ingredients are Buckwheat Flour, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, Corn Meal, Soy Flour, Monocalcium Phospate, Baking Soda and sea salt. To this blend, you add 1-1.5 cups of liquid (I usually do half yogurt and half milk), 1 Egg (which they say is optional, but I do it) and 1 teaspoon oil. The pancakes that result are tasty, filling, and perfectly textured. I make a double batch and freeze the left overs. The double batch made 18 pancakes this morning, but I make very big pancakes. A good cook could probably figure out how to use this base to make other things (waffles, muffins, etc.), but I haven't managed to do that yet.
A white peach from Paul's Orchard (purchased at the East Liberty Farmer's Market) and some local maple syrup (mine is Brenneman's puchased from Triple B Farms) round out the meal. The miracle is, everyone in my family will eat these! O.k., I confess, I do have to add chocolate chips to the batter to get the very picky 2 year old and 4 year old to eat them. But they used to eat Eggos before I became enlightened. When I think about all the ills of Eggos (the non-natural ingredients, the sugars and fats they are made from, the energy it takes to keep them frozen while being shipped and at the store, the shipping in general of all the ingredients) a few chocolate chips don't seem so bad.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Slow Food

Tonight I attended the "All about Slow Food" lecture given by Marlene Parrish at the Carnegie Library. Slow Food (founded in Italy in the 1980s in response to a McDonald's opening in Rome) has many many-syllabled tenets. Their website is kind of short on content, but it has some useful information.

A quote from their website:
"Slow Food is an international educational organization dedicated to the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community; to the invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions; to the stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; and to leading a slower and more harmonious life. Slow Food Pittsburgh has close to 200 members and is growing. "

I will be joining shortly. Membership will cost $60 annually. They host many events and try to be a center and clearinghouse for eating locally in Pittsburgh. They also run programs in schools and send farmers and local chefs to Italy for the bienniel meeting. The Pittsburgh chapter looks to be a major player within this very important organization. It is one of the top ten in the country alongside such cities as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Here is an article about Pittsburgh's involvement within the larger chapter.

And just in case you're making plans for May, Slow Food USA will hold its first ever national promotion of American Food. It will be in San Francisco May 1-4th and will be anchored by Michael Pollen (author of Omnivore's Dilemma) and Alice Waters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fredonia Grapes

I am new to Pittsburgh, so I was quite surprised to see grapes for offer at the East Liberty Farmer's Market this week. The variety pictured here is Fredonia. These were all that were left at the Schramm's Market Stand for $2.50 a pint. I tried one and immediately ponied up the big bucks. It tasted like grape candy. So sweet. Now I understand why grape flavored popsicles taste the way they do. These grapes do have seeds, so the mechanics of eating them are a little tricky.
I also purchased some Concord Grapes from the King Farm which are slightly less sweet (one of the three fruits indigenous to the U.S. from my home state of Massachusetts). Here's a history of that one (I can't find one for Fredonia).
They seem to be a good option for making jam or jelly -- something I have never done but am eager to try. "Pick your own" options seem to all be in Erie county. In the meantime we will eat them as is.