SPRING PRODUCE // the local food report

It's coming! Spring! (Ignore the snow yesterday.) Farmers' markets around the Cape will be opening up soon, and spring produce is on the way. If you're looking to get inspired, give a listen to this week's Local Food Report—I talked with farmer Jeff Deck of Not Enough Acres in Dennis. He's got all kinds of crops ready for harvest in his greenhouse, and pretty soon it will be time to bring them to market. Here's when everyone's opening up:

Bass River Farmers' Market
Thursdays 9am to 1:30pm, June 5 through October 9, 2014
Saturdays 9am to 1:30pm, June 7 through October 11, 2014

Chatham Farmers' Market
May 20th opening day
Tuesdays 3pm to 6:30pm

Falmouth Farmers' Market
May 22 through October 9, 2014
Thursdays noon to 6pm

Green Harvest Organic Farmers' Market (Barnstable)
June 4th opening day
Tuesdays noon to 4pm

Orleans Farmers' Market
May 17 through November 22, 2014
Saturdays 8am to noon

Harwich Farmers' Market
June 12 through October 9, 2014
Thursdays 3pm to 6pm

Hyannis/Mid Cape Farmers' Market
June 4th opening day
Wednesdays 2pm to 6pm

Mashpee Commons Farmers' Market
June 2014, date TBA
Sundays 10am to 2pm

Osterville Farmers' Market
June 13 through September 19, 2014
Fridays from 9am to 1pm

Provincetown Farmers' Market
May 17th opening day
Saturdays 11am to 4pm

Sandwich Farmers' Market
May 1st opening day
Tuesdays 9am to 1pm

Sandwich Farmers' Market at Oakcrest*
Wednesdays, April 30th through October 8th, 6am to noon
and Sundays June 1 through September 28, 7am to 1pm
*this market is also a flea market; check ahead for produce availability

Truro Farmers' Market
June 16 through September 29, 2014
Mondays 8am to noon

Wellfleet Farmers' Market
May 14 through October 15, 2014
8am to noon

If a market you know of isn't on the list, let me know and I'll add it. Also, as soon as you can get your hands on some butter crunch lettuce and fresh spring carrots, I highly recommend making this:

It's the salad I made immediately after arriving home from Jeff's greenhouse, and it's about as simple, delicious, and fresh as it gets. Happy spring.


I'm not sure this really qualifies as a recipe. It's the kind of thing I make up every day around noon, once the produce starts coming in. But it is delicious, and worth sharing if only for inspiration.

1 head freshly picked butter crunch lettuce
2 freshly pulled spring carrots
1/2 avocado
1/2 lemon
olive oil
sea salt
ricotta cheese (optional)

Wash the lettuce and tear it into bite size pieces. Slice the carrots thinly and toss them in a salad bowl with the lettuce. Cut the avocado into bite size pieces, scoop them out, and add those. Squeeze the lemon juice over top to taste, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Taste and adjust as needed. If you're using the ricotta, spread a few dollops around and dig in. As you eat the cheese will mix with the oil and become part of the dressing, which is okay. It's good that way.


CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE // the local food report

Sometimes I forget which recipes I've shared here. The other day I was wondering about a beer-laced chocolate bundt cake recipe from 101cookbooks.com, so I typed the word chocolate into the search function on the side of the page. Apparently this is just about the only chocolate cake recipe I have not documented. The sheer volume of chocolate-related posts is a little alarming. It's also puzzling that this cake doesn't appear, as it's one of my favorites. It's a little less guilty, a little more nuanced, and a little more grown-up feeling than most.

At any rate, here it is. Sally is grunting her approval through massive fistfuls, and I am busy licking icing from the bowl. 

And while we're on the topic of chocolate, I'd like to give a shout out to Katie and Josiah Mayo of the new Chequessett Chocolate in Truro. They've just opened up a bean to bar operation complete with a chocolate café, and pretty much everything about it is spectacular. The chocolate is excellent, responsibly sourced and produced, and the treats they sell in the café are both incredibly good and very creative. You can hear more about it on this week's Local Food Report, and there are pictures of the process below.

The beans as they come to Katie and Josiah, un-roasted, with both shell and nib:

The stone grinder, with two hundred pounds of granite turning cacao nibs into liquid chocolate:

Chocolate that's been ground and cooled but not tempered—see how the cocoa butter rises to the top?

The tempering machine, which Katie calls a "miraculous piece of equipment." Anyone who's ever tried to temper at home knows what she's talking about!

The finished product out for sampling in their café:


HI // elspeth

From us this morning. That's all. Just 'cause. We'll see you tomorrow...with chocolate cake!


HERRING RIVER // the local food report

Almost every town in Massachusetts has a Herring River or a Herring Pond or some sort of a herring run. River herring used to be ubiquitous: they returned from the sea to coastal rivers and ponds year after year in the spring to spawn.

They still do, but in many places their numbers are down to single digits where they once arrived in the hundreds of thousands. There are all kinds of reasons for this: habitat degradation, barriers to fish passage, overfishing, poor water quality, by-catch during their time at sea.

The pictures you see here are from the Wellfleet Historical Society. They show the Herring River in Wellfleet and herring fishery that existed before the river was diked. John Portnoy, an ecologist who worked with the Cape Cod National Seashore for almost thirty years, put together a report on estuarine management during the 1800s, and there are all kinds of interesting facts in there about the effects of the dike on the river herring. Starting in the late 1700s, the Selectmen auctioned off the right to commercially fish the river for herring. In addition, every Wellfleet citizen could take 200 fish each spring, paying 1/2 cent per fish. The town used the revenue—which was usually between $400 and $700, a fair amount of money back then—to pay the elected town officials.

But in 1909, the river was diked. The idea was to control mosquitoes—following several years of heavy rainfall, the towns people were fed up with these pests. Unfortunately diking the river ended up creating more stagnant water, making the problem worse. Rather than take down the dike, the town decided to dig a series of drainage ditches in an attempt to dry out the marsh, and poured kerosene on the surface of the water to help kill mosquito larvae. Between the dike itself, which posed a significant barrier to migrating fish, and the subsequent deterioration of water quality upstream, the herring fishery collapsed. 

There are similar stories all over the Cape—the Association to Preserve Cape Cod has a long list of herring runs that towns are attempting to restore. The efforts start with herring counts, to get an idea of what kind of shape the river herring populations at each site are in, and then work from there to take down barriers and restore ecosystems as necessary.

In Wellfleet, the Park has plans to take down the dike and restore the entire 1100-acre estuary to full tidal flow. It's going to be a long process—right now the project is in the design phase, but even once work starts on the ground, maybe as soon as 2016, those involved say it could take decades. There's a neat video about the project and the ecosystem on the Friends of Herring River homepage.

If you want to learn more about efforts to restore river herring runs in your area, check out the River Herring Network. Their website keeps up with news on river herring restoration projects and counts all over Massachusetts, and is a good way to find out how to get involved.



Those are stickies. My grandmother taught my mom to make them, and my mom taught me and my sister when we were little, and now my mom is teaching Sally. There isn't much to making stickies—they're just leftover pie crust rolled out into tiny circles and filled with homemade jam. Usually we use strawberry jam, because we make so much of it every June, but I've made stickies with blueberry, rhubarb, and even lemon curd. The little pastries are homey and old-fashioned, and they're delicious.


You can see the process here pretty clearly: you take a little piece of leftover pie crust dough—it doesn't have to be more than a scrap, really—and roll it out. Then you grab a glass and cut the dough into circles. You spoon a little bit of jam onto one half of each little circle, leaving some space around the sides, then fold the other half over the jam and use a fork to press the edges. You use a knife to cut a few little steam slots on top, just like you would for pie, bake them for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and you're finished.

When we made these, I was photographing while my mom and Sally were working, and Sally told us several things she wanted to make sure were in the story. First of all, she recommends licking the jam off the spoon. Also, a little jam might squeeze out of your sticky, and she wants you to know that's ok. And my mom wants to add that if you're after something a little less sweet, you can also fill the stickies with grated cheese, although she didn't think of that until she was a grown-up. 

I think that's all there is to know about stickies. Happy almost April, friends.


MUSHROOM VARIETIES // the local food report

I am writing this on Wednesday. It is noontime; we have just finished a lunch of boiled lobster and granny smith apples. Outside the storm is raging. But we haven't lost power yet, the woodstove is keeping the cold out, and in my imagination, I'm spending the afternoon in the warm, foggy greenhouse of the mushroom farm. It's nice there.

The variety you see up there is a small shiitake, fruiting on a block made out of wood chips. Shiitake is one of the twenty-two varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year, and it's one of the best known. They also grow a jumbo shiitake, which has caps about three to four inches in diameter. Shiitakes, like many of the varieties the farm grows, are considered both edible and medicinal, and are full of all kinds of surprising health benefits. For instance, did you know that shiitakes are a great source of iron and B vitamins? 

Below are descriptions of a few of the other varieties Nantucket Mushrooms is growing this year. Different varieties are available at different times of year, but they can all be grown either inside the greenhouse following the rise and fall of temperatures over the seasons or outside during the warmer months. The company was started on Nantucket and recently moved to Chatham, so we're lucky to have a new local source of mushrooms! The farm will be participating in farmers' markets all over the Cape this season, including Wellfleet. 

ENOKI: This has been called an "indispensable ingredient" in traditional Japanese cooking. It's a bunched pale ivory mushroom with very long, thin stems and small round caps. It's often used in soups, stir-fries, and sometimes salads. The Japanese love it in a winter dish called nabemono, which is made of other veggies and proteins (meat and seafood) in a warm broth.

REISHI: Reishi is one of the oldest known medicinal mushrooms. It's been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Amongst other things it's said to fight cancer, tumors, and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. They are most commonly used in soups and to make a savory health brew called mushroom tea.

WHITE ELM: These pretty flat white mushrooms are great for all kinds of things. One recipe in particular that I found that sounds absolutely delicious is this focaccia with white elm mushrooms and rosemary (scroll down!). 

LION'S MANE: You have to click on the link below if only to see the photos. This mushroom is wild looking. It's covered in long, white filaments that hang down kind of like a shaggy dog, or cheerleading pom-poms, or...a lion's mane! This article says it tastes similar to lobster or shrimp, and that it's best caramelized in olive oil, deglazed with sake, and finished with butter to taste. Yum!

OYSTER MUSHROOMS (WHITE, KING, GOLDEN, PINK, BROWN): Oyster mushrooms are considered a delicacy in many countries. They're great in soups, stuffed, in stir-fries, and are sometimes made into a sauce. You want to eat oyster mushrooms young as they get tougher as they age. 

NAMEKO: This small, amber brown mushroom has a somewhat slimy coating. It's very popular in Japan and has all kinds of culinary uses, including as an ingredient in miso soup. Americans are often scared off by the slime-factor, but farm manager Troy Janusz says he thinks it's delicious.

They're also growing brick top, black poplar, shimeji, chicken of the woods, maitake, turkey tail (check out the photo!), cauliflower, wine caps, nebrodensis, and hypholoma capnoides. It's a mouthful, in every sense. 

One of Wesley's favorite things to make with mushrooms is something he calls mushroom tea—he uses dried mushrooms known for their medicinal properties and warms them up on low in a crockpot with water. He says you don't want to boil it because this will take away some of the beneficial properties, but just sip it warm like you would chicken broth. 

If anyone's interested in a full list of mushroom varieties with descriptions or the farm's production schedule, shoot me an email and I'll send them along. 


MUSHROOM FARMING // the local food report

Most farms operate on a familiar narrative: plant a seed, give it water and sunshine and nutrients, harvest a crop. As I recently learned, mushroom farming is a little more complicated. It has its own language—mycelium and hypha and primordia being key players. Once you speak it, it's not too tricky, but I had to haul out a dictionary at the beginning. 

The farm I visited was Nantucket Mushrooms in Chatham, a state of the art modern fungi farm recently relocated from the island. Wesley Price, the business manager and a passionate mycologist, and Troy Janusz, the farm manager, showed me around. The pictures you see up there are of one of the two 30 by 100 foot greenhouses and a big, beautiful king oyster mushroom.

Basically, the mushroom reproduction process works like this: you produce mycelium in a sterile lab. You can do this either using spores or tissue culture, and the difference between the two processes is essentially comparable to the difference between making a baby and making a clone. What you decide to do depends on what you're going for. 

Once you have mycelium—the vegetative part of a fungus made up of hyphae—you have to innoculate it into a growing medium. For two species—white and brown oyster mushrooms—the farm uses pasteurized straw—but for the majority it uses blocks made out of wood chips. The blocks are wrapped in plastic and kept in the greenhouse, where a fog machine adds plenty of humidity. Depending on the variety of mushrooms growing, the top of the bags are opened to encourage growth upward, or slits are cut in the sides of the bags to allow mushrooms to grow out horizontally. Each block can be fruited between three and five times depending on the species of mushroom growing, and then the process starts over. 

It's a pretty fascinating and technical process. 

The exciting news for eaters is that the farm grows twenty-two species of edible and medicinal mushrooms, and as farmers' markets open up in the next few months the mushrooms will be available at many different markets all over the Cape. Next week's Local Food Report will focus on all the different varieties they're growing...so stay tuned!


VIBRIO // the local food report

Oysters are big business on Cape Cod. Since 2005, oyster production in Massachusetts has grown by almost 300 percent. This year, somewhere between 15 and 20 million oysters are expected to be grown here. Mostly, we eat them raw, on the half shell. (Caviar and sour cream don't hurt.) And because of our tourism season on the Cape, we do a lot of this eating during the summer months.

In recent years, though, there's been an increase in the number of reported gastrointestinal illnesses linked to eating raw oysters. It isn't clear if this represents an actual increase in the number of people getting sick—for one thing, health officials estimate that for every reported case of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, or Vp, the culprit behind these illnesses—142 cases go unreported. For another, when almost 3 times as many oysters are being consumed, it's not surprising the number of people getting sick would increase accordingly. Furthermore, doctors are more aware of Vp, so they're testing for it more. 

But the rise has prompted state, federal, and local parties to start studying Vp a little more carefully. While we've known about the family of bacteria called vibrio for a while, we actually don't know all that much about our local species. There are other vibrios in other parts of the world—Vibrio vulnificus makes people much sicker and is common in warm saltwater climates, and Vibrio cholerae is the culprit behind cholera and is spread through contaminated drinking water. Vp is found in saltwater, and while it's possible to get infected with the bacteria from simply swimming with a cut, it's very unlikely. The vast majority of cases are associated with eating raw seafood, and roughly 70 percent occur between May and October, in the warmer months. High levels of bacteria are linked to warmer weather—studies show that the parts per million double every 15 minutes at air temperatures above roughly 70-75 degrees. People who ingest Vp are more likely to become ill if they have a compromised immune system.

Beyond this, we don't know all that much about Vp. We know that there are different strains of Vp, but we don't know if they all make you sick, or if only some of them do. The FDA recently hosted its biannual shellfish sanitation conference in Texas, and one major decision that came out of it was to put more resources toward studying the bacteria. 

In the meantime, because of the increase in the number of reported Vp cases in the past few years, last year the state changed the regulations for how long oysters can be out of the water between harvesting and icing, and this spring they are expected to come out with an updated Vp control plan for the summer season. I'll keep you posted once the new regulations come out.

And just to put the odds in perspective: it's still much less risky to eat a raw oyster from local waters than it is to get in a car



Winter is loosening its grip, folks! We still have a foot of snow in our yard, but the sun is higher and stronger, the chickadees are giving their spring phoebe call, and best of all is what you see here: the sap is running!

I wish I could say that this photo was taken on our property, but it wasn't. I took it across the bay, where our neighbor Brad Babson has a beautiful stand of sugar maples. He taps about 45 trees every spring, and his sister, who lives across town, taps another 11. Brad boils down the sap in the little sugarhouse he built, firing the evaporator with wood collected from his own property, and bottles the syrup in quart and pint jars. It's a small-scale operation—some commercial sugarmakers have as many as 60,000 taps—but it nets him enough to provide family and a few friends with maple syrup every Christmas. Last year was his best yield ever: 7 gallons.

A typical sugaring season lasts about 6 weeks. The syrup made from the first run of sap is the lightest in color and is considered the "fancy" grade. As the sap continues to run, it picks up more minerals from the roots, and the syrup gets darker. Every year Brad's wife sets aside a small bottle of syrup from each sap run; you can see the gradations in color in the photo below.

Brad tapped his trees last Thursday—March 6—and hopes to be busy in his sugarhouse for at least another month. He'll have the coffee pot on too, and for lunch he'll be making maple-steamed hotdogs on top of the evaporator. Family and friends will join him, sitting outside the sugarhouse in the sun on warm days and huddling around the evaporator on chilly days. He loves the entire operation. "Sugaring is what makes March worthwhile," he says.

Sunday, March 23, will be Maine Maple Sunday. Sugarmakers will also be celebrating the season in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We plan to celebrate right here in our kitchen and at our dining room table. Oatmeal pancakes and homemade maple ice cream have long been two of our favorite ways to use maple syrup, and Anna recently turned us on to a great maple glaze for salmon. Really, when it comes to maple syrup, the possibilities are endless.



Isn't this lettuce gorgeous? I bought it at the Brunswick Winter Farmers Market a few weeks ago. I also bought kale, spinach, and chard. Onions, garlic, and leeks. Potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, whole-wheat flour, navy beans, and some freshly pressed cider. Oh, and some knockout tomatillo salsa too! All of it grown right here in midcoast Maine. 

Not so long ago, it wasn't this easy to find fresh local food all winter long. It's amazing what our farmers bring to market now, thanks to hoop houses, improved storage facilities, and a ton of hard work. Even on the coldest and snowiest Saturdays, they've supplied us with amazing greens and so much more. Six River Farm in Bowdoinham, for example, brings as many as 25 different crops to the winter market. By mid-February, when the challenge of growing and harvesting greens reaches its peak, that number drops to about 18. These are remarkable numbers; we live in planting zone 5b, where the annual extreme cold temperature is regularly as low as minus 10 or minus 15 degrees!

The farmers are accomplishing this, in part, with a combination of unheated hoop houses and, inside them, row covers on their crops. If you're interested in doing some four-season gardening yourself, check out one of Eliot Coleman's books on the subject: The Winter Harvest Handbook or Four-Season Harvest.

The photos here (thanks, Jan!) are just a small sampling of what you can find at the Brunswick winter market. There's also seafood, poultry, beef, and lamb; eggs and dairy, including great artisanal cheeses; baked goods, spices, and locally roasted coffee; beautiful crafts; and foot-stompin' live music. You can even get your knives sharpened! 

If you think eating locally in winter is pie-in-the-sky impossible, please think again. We are fortunate beyond words to have such amazing farmers in Maine. And more winter markets are popping up every year; the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association currently lists 28, in 13 of our 16 counties. The Brunswick market is open every Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M, from mid-November through April. See you there!


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.