Saturday, April 26, 2008

Signs of Spring

First it was crocuses. Then daffodils. Then magnolias. Then tulips, crabapples, and dogwoods. Now the lilacs are blooming. And the phlox. And apparently, that means it is also asparagus time! Hooray! "Home grown" asparagus were two bunches for $4.00 at Janoski's in Clinton (out by the airport) today. You can combine a visit to Janoski's with a trip out to the Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Preserve (further along on Rte. 30) and see trillium and Virginia bluebells along with bluets, phlox, and Dutchman's breeches. Just check the weather forecast before you go.

In case that area of Western Pennsylvania is not in your plans, local asparagus is also currently available at Soergel's in Wexford. There it is $3.29 a pound. Rick Zang of Zang's Greenhouse in Butler, a vendor at the East Liberty Farmer's Market Cooperative, said his would be ready next week. Harvest Valley Farms promises theirs will be in their Farm Market when it opens on May 5th.

My favorite way to eat asparagus is when it is roasted. Wash asparagus and break or cut off the woody bottom part of the stem. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the asparagus with olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or so -- until it just begins to get tender and is still bright green.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Peach Ice Cream

I'm pretty much down to the bottom of my freezer now with just about no fresh produce left (until tomorrow when I see what's out at the East Liberty Farmer's Market Cooperative). I've been struggling with a way to use the peaches I froze last September. I saved a lot of them. They turned out to be not so great in most of the ways I tried to use them. Too mushy. And there are just too many for smoothies only. However, I finally hit on a nice idea now that the weather has turned. Ice cream!

I already have an ice cream tub in our freezer. Once that has been freezing for 24 hours, it is ready to be used.

First, I skimmed the cream off the top of some jersey cow-produced, raw, unhomogenized milk purchased from Joe Rush . Next, I trawled my cookbooks and the internet for a good recipe. Not as easy as it sounds. I tried a Betty Crocker recipe and ended up making scrambled eggs and curdling some milk. I left the ice cream base mixture on the stove just a little too long at a critical moment. Turns out seven and two year old boys can't be trusted not to color in their mouths with markers. It's hard to stay focused when you are confronted with a multi-colored tongue.
Since that batch was ruined, I turned to Alton Brown, who is always good for general cooking advice, and went on from there. Tempering the egg mixture. Ah-ha. Then you basically make pudding and throw in some pureed peaches (I used a food mill) and put them in the ice cream maker and wouldn't you know it? Peach ice cream. I used a custard based recipe, and it turns out I don't really like peach ice cream made from a custard base. Other people who ate it claimed to have liked it, so I will share the recipe. In the future, I will look for a non-custard style (one with no eggs). I think that would be easier too since it wouldn't require cooking.

2.5 cups ripe peaches pureed
3 eggs lightly beaten at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
dash of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt until well blended. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan over low heat, heat the milk and cream, just until it begins to steam. Pour a little of the heated mixture into the egg and sugar mixture, and stir. [there's the tempering]. Then pour the bowl of egg/sugar/milk mixture back into the heavy saucepan. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and smooth. [this can take quite a while. I read elsewhere, stir until mixture coats the back of a spoon]

Remove from heat, and refrigerate the mixture for several hours or until well chilled. Add the puréed peaches to the chilled mixture, stir well, and pour into an ice cream freezer. Continue freezing according to the manufacturer's directions. Allow ice cream to ripen for at least an hour. Makes about 3-1/2 quarts.

Now I have to figure out what to do with all that frozen corn. And corn ice cream is not an option.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weatherbury Farm

Weatherbury Farm was another exhibitor at the Farm to Table conference. They raise grass-fed beef and lamb 40 minutes southwest of Pittsburgh. You can order now for October delivery of lamb and December delivery of beef. You can order by the quarter or half animal. Their website fully describes what cuts that comes with, how many pounds it is, and how much it costs. The 1/4 cow is about $440. If that seems like too much meat for you (as it does to me!), consider splitting with friends. They are having a field day on May 18 from 1-4 where you can visit the farm and learn more about their operation. If you are interested in going, you need to let them know soon to reserve a spot as parking is limited.

Another way to visit their farm is through the bed and breakfast. You can stay in a room or a suite (which sleeps up to seven). Fees get cheaper per person with more staying and cheaper for longer stays (you can stay six nights or more). There is a swimming pool open Memorial Day to Labor Day. The main attraction for many is the farm. Guests (even the young ones) help with farm chores like feeding animals, pumping water, searching for eggs, or checking out the farm equipment. Hopefully, our family will get to visit this summer. Anyone who has visited, please write in and let us know how it was.

By the way, they sent an e-mail to me with this information and also let us know that the documentary King Corn will be airing April 15th at 10:00 PM on PBS.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Time to Sow

Actually, it's a little past the time.

I am new to gardening you see. Sort of. I grew up having a big, big garden in our back yard. We even had a greenhouse and fruit trees/ vines/ bushes. But mostly, as a kid and then a teenager, my main job was to weed. And I hated that job. So now that I want to grow some food here at our house, I am a little lost. It helped that the previous owners of our house had built a tiny raised bed. It had all sorts of things growing in it when we moved in. Maybe we can grow some things in it again.

According to a few different authorities, it is time to start your seeds in the garden. . Or maybe just past the time, but I think it is not too late. I am using the book Month by Month Gardening in Pennsylvania by Liz Ball. Her Pennsylvania Gardener's Guide was also recommended to me. Some seeds you can plant directly into the soil are: lettuce, spinach, peas, potatoes (not exactly seeds), onions (more like bulbs), radishes, parsnips, kohlrabi, endive, escarole, cauliflower, swiss chard, carrots, cabbage (not chinese), brussel sprouts, broccoli, beets, and just about all the herbs (except basil and marjoram). Corn can be planted soon. Of course lots of seeds can be started indoors (or should have been, but that kind of preparation is beyond me at this point). Many of these things can be grown in containers, also, including potatoes in five gallon buckets. I've got lettuce and spinach growing in containers right now. The lettuce has already yielded a delicious salad. These came from Goose Creek Gardens ( ) at the Farm to Table meeting. They have a CSA and sell at Farmers@Firehouse. Some seeds sources recommended from the Yahoo group are Johnny's, High Mowing, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seeds, and the local Heiloom Seeds I bought some seeds at the East End Co-op and inherited an onion set from a generous friend. I'm trying lettuce and onions right now and hope to add herbs (particularly cilantro), spinach and broccoli soon.

Those seeds that need to be started inside? Well, I usually buy those from other people. Everyone is talking about Garden Dreams in Wilkinsburg for all that good stuff. One reason is 95 tomato varieties. Plants are $2.75 each. You must order soon to pick up May 2nd through May 10th. There also will be a plant sale at Garden Dreams on Saturday May 24 and Sunday May 25. They also sell gardening supplies, compost and mulches, as well as seedlings. Many products are organic and the nursery is Certified Naturally Grown. Another option if you are a gardener, is to attend the Pittsburgh Garden Swap at Frick Park. You can bring your ten best seedlings to swap with others.

If you want to try growing fruit, group members recommend Miller's Nursery,, particularly for their customer service. I'm trying raspberries from a friend's raspberry canes that she thinned out. I hope also to put in some strawberries if it's not too late.

I'm sure there are lots of other great places around to buy plants, seedlings, seeds and garden products. If you know of any to recommend, please post a comment.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


So, last week I got some raw milk from Joe Rush. There is a good bit of controversy over the safety of raw milk (see, for example, this article about a new California law, what the FDA says vs. what the Weston A Price foundation says in response Many believe that raw milk from cows that are grass fed can be beneficial because of certain enzymes, vitamins and helpful bacteria that are present-- which are destroyed by pasteurization.

The thing about raw milk, though, in addition to being unpasteurized, is that it is unhomogenized. The fats haven't been distributed throughout the milk. Instead, they just rise to the top as cream. Joe Rush's milk is from grass-fed Jersey cows and has a very high percentage of butter fat.
If you squint really hard and use your imagination, you can see the line where the thick, pure white cream starts about 2/3 of the way up the jug. It is there, it just didn't photograph well.

After hearing that someone had used this cream to make butter, I decided that was too crazy not to try. I mean, make your own butter? Wow. And apparently, it wouldn't be that hard. Hmm. So, a friend loned me her butter churn, which is a crock with an egg beater attached, and told me what to do. I enlisted my other friend to help who had made butter before.

First, I needed some way to get the cream out from the milk jug, so I figured I would pour all the milk into something with a wide mouth. First, I tried to sterilize a glass sun tea pot/ pitcher that I had bought at Target. I boiled some water, let it cool a few minutes and then poured it into the pitcher. The pitcher promptly cracked beyond repair. So, instead I used the large pot that I had boiled the water in and poured the milk into there. I have since realized that using two see through 1/2 gallon orange juice/ kool aid/ lemonade pitchers would be wiser. But anyway, I let that sit in the fridge for about 18 hours or so.

The next day, I sterilized the equipment (the crock and egg beaters) by putting them into a canner filled with boiling water. Shortly after I took them out, I put them into the freezer. Not a good idea. The crock cracked. Very slightly, but still. And it isn't mine. Sorry! So, the moral there is, sterilize the night before. Let the crock come back down to room temperature. THEN put it into the fridge overnight (which is actually what my friend had told me, but I didn't read her instructions until it was too late).

While the crock was cooling, I ladled the cream off the top of the pot into a pitcher (that I had previously poured very hot water into, but not as hot as almost boiling). I let that sit out for a while to come up to room temperature. But perhaps I did not let it sit long enough, because, despite the fact that my friend and I and our daughters churned for almost an hour,
all we got was frothy cream. We had to go to do other things, believe it or not, so, I put the crock with cream into the fridge to try later. When later came and my daughter and I churned for 30 more minutes and nothing happened, I decided to forgo tradition and enter the modern age. I had read that one could make butter in a blender or a mixer. So, that's what I tried next.

I tried that for a good, long time. Maybe 20 minutes? Still, no butter. More frothy cream. After reviewing another website ( and still no answers and no butter, I had to help put the kids to bed. I left the butter out, and by the time I finally got back downstairs, I may have inadvertently cultured the cream a bit. It kind of smelled like baby spit up. But, I remembered what my 7 year old always tells me, "Mommy, if you believe in yourself and really try, you can do it." I don't believe in myself, really, but I do believe in my Kitchen Aid. I let it whirl away for a while longer, alternating between very high and very low speeds, and before I knew what was happening, buttermilk was splashing over the sides of the bowl and I had butter! I poured off the buttermilk (and saved it for making pancakes), washed the butter, and kneaded it with a fork until it seemed like all the liquid was gone. I added a bit of salt (I have no idea how much), put it in this nice ramekin, and covered it with plastic wrap (I know, I know, but I haven't yet removed plastic from our lives). Butter! I have no idea how my Kitchen Aid did it, but it did. Think it would make a good children's story? "The Kitchen Aid that Could"?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Maple Festival

It's about this time of year when I always get really antsy. Spring fever as it were. The proverbial sap starts flowing. I bet you can guess where this is going if you read the title. I have always wanted to take part in maple sugaring. Well, we missed the real deal this year (it was mid March when we were travelling), but I thought we would check out the Beaver County Maple Festival instead. It was today and also runs tomorrow, April 6 at Brady's Run Park.

As someone said who had been to 26 of the festivals, all of Beaver County was there today. And since we are from Allegheny County, it was all of Beaver County plus. We had hoped to get some pancakes with syrup and see the making of syrup from sap. Neither of these things happened. The line (to get pancakes) was the longest I've seen since visiting Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey in 1989. We didn't even attempt it. And they were not making syrup, though you could peek into the sugar shack and someone was talking about the process there (which doesn't do a thing for the under 7 set I was accompanying).

We did buy some syrup, which they make by tapping the maples in Brady's Run Park. We visited some craft booths. We enjoyed talking with and looking at the Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enacters. The kids got their faces painted (it wouldn't be a festival without that), but the part that I liked the best was watching them grind local grain!
They used this here coal fired engine to turn the mill which they used to grind locally grown buckwheat, wheat and corn. I bought five 2 pound bags of the wheat flour and am keeping them in the freezer. Those were $2.00 each. Corn is also $2.00 and buckwheat is $2.50.

If you can't make it to the festival, contact them at

Beaver County Conservation District 156 Cowpath Road
Aliquippa, PA 15001
Phone: 724-378-1701

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Great Joe Rush

If you are a faithful reader of this blog you are probably related to me, but also, you may have noticed that I started a yahoo group (send an e-mail to if you want to join) and already I am so happy I did. I knew there had to be more to this eating local scene that what I had discovered on my own. I knew there were others out there meeting in back alleys and parking lots. And at the corner of Darlington and Denniston, as it turns out.
Twice a month Joe Rush, of Rush Acres Farm brings the good stuff from the country to the big city. He sends a Monday reminder with what is available. You tell him what you want. He brings it to a few places in Oakland and then to Squirrel Hill and you pay for what you get. Here's what he had available this last week:

Cows' milk (pure pastured Jersey raw milk) - $6.50 gal
pure Amish butter - $6.50 lb
natural brown eggs - $3.50 doz
pastured frozen broilers - $3.50 lb
Sam Beachy's Apple Butter - pints = $4.00 /quarts = $5.00
our maple syrup - half gallons = $20.00/quarts = $11.00/pints = $7.50
pure raw honey - clover, wildflower, & goldenrod - bears = $4.00/jars = $5.00/quarts = $10.00/combs = $6.50(when available)
Grandma's jam - pints - Strawberry, Southern Sunshine, Elderberry - $4.00/Blueberry - $4.25 Black Raspberry = $4.50 Annie Marie's jam -half pints - Strawberry, Elderberry, Peach = $3.00/Black Raspberry = $3.25

We purchased eggs, maple syrup, honey, broilers and milk. He will have pastured pork and lamb available in the future among other things. If you are interested, e-mail

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Greenhouse Lettuce

Milestone Lettuce Retailers was another exhibitor at the Farm to Table conference. They grow red leaf, green leaf, Bibb and a few other varieties of lettuce in greenhouses in the Pittsburgh Metro area year round. They offer this lettuce in the form of a CSA-type of arrangement of two heads a week April 2 through June 25. The cost is $50 (for 26 heads of lettuce over the 13 weeks). Or you can choose 4 heads a week for $100. There are four pick up spots: Elizabeth Township (at the greenhouse?), 640 McGowan Street, Lawrenceville, Gallery on 43rd -- 187 43rd Street, Wilkinsburg, 600 Ross Avenue, and Monroeville, Enterprise -- 510 Seco Road. I tasted the lettuce at the conference and it was wonderful. Here is a link to a Post-Gazette article about the grower. There are no pesticides and some of the seeds and fertilizers are organic. They are grown hydroponically and when you get the product, it is in a plastic shell with a cube of soil (?) attached, so it is still living. They also sell at some Giant Eagles. And here is a video about it Call 412-371-7391, ext. 116 to sign up.

A neat thing about this grower, is that it is actually a nonprofit community mental health and mental retardation agency

I think they are doing a really neat thing, but I have some questions about the environmental sustainability of the product. Ms. Bayer, at the conference, told me that during the winter they spend $1700 on each gas and electric bills. Also, I don't have happy feelings about the plastic clamshell box though it keeps the lettuce lookin' great. While I was talking to Ms. Bayer, a man from a biodiesel group (whose name I can't remember for the life of me, but his name tag said something about Space Farms, perhaps) came to speak to the director. He has hooked up a greenhouse in Wexford with a biodiesel processing system. Biodiesel, as he explained to me, uses the grease left over from cooking (like from fast food establishments) and turns it into useable energy. Now, that sounds a lot better to me. For more about biodiesel, check out this city paper article. Milestone is not using biodiesel now, but hey, who knows?