The Local Food Report: planting time

For most edible plants, we are approaching Rip 'em Out and Clean 'em Up time. The tomatoes are shriveling up into a withered brown, the beans are turning out a last gasp crop, the squash are slowly curing their harvest on the vine.

But for garlic, it's almost planting time.

Garlic is one of the few plants—like flower bulbs—that likes to spend the winter in the ground. It likes to go in around mid-October, during a week when the ground is relatively dry. For a month or so, while the sun's still bright, it puts out roots and gets settled—then the cold arrives, and it settles in for dormancy, a nap.

The cool thing about garlic is that it's planted in cloves, not seeds, which means you can pull this year's harvest out of the ground and replant part of it to make next year's crop. Each head gets broken into cloves, each clove gets peeled (peeling the cloves protects them from any fungal spores that might have been hanging out on their skin—some people go so far as to wash them with baking soda and hot water, or even alcohol), and each clove goes top-side up into the ground.

As for where to plant, you want to look for a spot with nice, rich humus, no weeds, and a little layer of leaf litter or pine needles on top. The cloves like to be spaced about 5 inches apart in a row and 9 inches apart between rows, and once they're covered over and patted in, they need a good watering to get a head start. After that, there isn't much to be done—simply wait, and watch. Around June, if they're hardnecks (which is a good idea, since these hardy varieties tend to do better in cold climates than the softneck ones), they should start sending up flower heads. You'll want to cut those off, to ensure that the plant sends its energy into the bulb, rather than the flowers. Around mid-July, when the stalks start to dry out and wither, it's harvest time. You loosen the soil around the bulb, pull it up, dust it off, and hang it up upside-down in a dark, airy, cool place like a barn or a shed to dry.

There are all sorts of varieties that do well on the Cape, but so far as I can tell, there are two main kinds. Almost everyone I've talked to who grows garlic grows these two: Russian Red, and German White. A lot of people have been growing their own for so long they can't say for sure whether it's really the same strain or not, but most of them started with one of these two. So if you decide you're up for it, I'd look for a few heads of those varieties at the farmers' market.

A friend planted a row for us last year, while we were away on our honeymoon in November. It was a little late, but they did wonderfully, and we pulled them up in August. She can't remember what kind they were, but today, I took the stalks down from the kitchen rafters. I dug a little bed outside, and soon enough it will be planting time.


Roasted garlic is one of my favorite things. I first tasted it at the Wicked Oyster—they give it to you with olive oil alongside the bread basket—and I've been making it at home ever since. It might be simple, but in my opinion, it's one of the tastiest spreads there is.

several full heads of garlic
olive oil
bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush any dirt off the garlic and cut the tops off of the heads. They should look like this:

Place the garlic face up either on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil or in a casserole dish with a lid. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Wrap the tinfoil around the garlic heads or cover the casserole dish and put the garlic in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the garlic cloves are soft and fragrant. Enjoy with bread, or, if you're feeling adventurous, try the cloves in this garlic and herb dip or this garlic and anchovy dip or, my favorite, this garlic and white bean hummus.


On the road

We have been on the road—up to Maine, to see my sister and my parents and a friend's new apartment and all sorts of wonders at the Common Ground Fair—and we're just settling back in to home.

I wish I had more for you today, but things have been too hurried, too fun. Instead I'll see you Thursday, when the bags are unpacked and the floors are swept and I've had time to set the table and cook a meal. Until then, enjoy the warmth, and the sun.


The Local Food Report: Marmelada

Louiza Azancot is Portuguese, at least originally. She moved to D.C. in the eighties, and to Chatham a few years back, but if her kitchen is any indication, I think she's still Portuguese at heart. I met her at the Orleans Farmers' Market, where she was very carefully picking out quince for marmelada.

Marmelada, if you've never had it, is nothing like marmalade. It is made of quince, not oranges, and although it is a kind of fruit preserve, it is much more firm than the citrus stuff. It's so hard that the Portuguese eat it in slices, alongside a piece of banana maybe or plain or with a hunk of cheese. It's sweet, and pink, and almost floral in the way it smells and tastes.

Louiza learned to make it from her mother, and she's been looking for quince on the Cape now for four years. Someone brought in a batch from Westport the other day—from Noquochoke Orchards—and when Louiza saw the fruit, she was thrilled. Marmelada is a lot of work, she says—boiling and slicing and straining and canning—but it's worth it in the end. It's a tradition from a poor country, and the whole point is to cook down the fruit into a state where it will survive the winter—in bowls covered with parchment paper, left to dry on a cool windowsill. That way, when all that's around is bitter oranges and cheese, people have a reminder of plenty, something to eat.

Of course, these days, Louiza could just go to the supermarket in January for fruit or store away a root cellar of apples, but she says she'd rather not do that. It's tradition, and besides, eating strawberries in the middle of the winter—it's weird. She'd rather eat marmelada, lots of it—even if that's all there is six months of the year.

Click on over here to see what farms in our region are growing quince. And know that for the next few weeks at least, vendors will be selling quince from Noquochoke Orchards in Westport at the farmers' markets in Provincetown and Orleans.


These are rough measurements. Louiza says she doesn't measure; she just tastes and adjusts. Don't be afraid to improvise—according to Louiza, that's what it's all about.

several pounds quince
a pinch of salt
lemon rind
1 cinnamon stick
granulated sugar

Peel and chop the quince. Reserve the skin and the core and put the flesh of the fruit in a pot with cold water (this will stop it from oxidizing). The water should cover the fruit. Add the salt, lemon rind, and cinnamon stick. Bring everything to a boil and simmer until the fruit is very soft.

Turn off the heat and remove the lemon rind and the cinnamon. Strain the fruit and reserve the water.

Blend the quince to a smooth puree using a blender or food processor. Weigh the puree. Put it back in a heavy-bottomed pot and add 2/3 of its weight in sugar. Cook the sugared puree, mixing it gently with a wooden spoon so that it does not coat the bottom of the pot. When you can carve a "runway" and see the bottom of the pan, the marmelada is ready. (The longer it cooks the harder it gets and then it is easier to slice. )

Pour the marmelada into bowls, and cover the surface of the preserve with rounds of parchment paper. Let them dry for a day or two on the counter of a windowsill; then store in a cool, dry place, or in the refrigerator. Stored properly, the preserve should keep through the winter.


Louiza makes quince jelly with the reserved cores and skin from the quince, after she's finished the marmelada. She says it's much softer and more like a typical jelly—the kind you spread on toast.

reserved quince cores and skin (see marmelada recipe, above)
quince cooking water (again, see above)
granulated sugar

Combine the reserved cores and skin and cooking water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and turn down to low. Simmer for at least an hour, or until the water is reduced by half.

Take the pot off the heat and strain and filter the juice to remove any impurities. Measure the water. For each pint of liquid add a pound of sugar. Combine the sugar and the strained juice in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring the mixture to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. When the juice begins to sheet off a spoon, it has reached the gelling point. Pour it into hot, sterile, jars, and seal with sterile lids. The jelly will keep for a year un-opened.


A party

It is Alex's birthday today.

We celebrated yesterday, with our friends Tracy and Swede and our two nieces and a whole lot of apples and pears. Tracy had just bought a new cider press, and a friend had an orchard full of fruit. We picked up the drops and filled a few baskets from the trees, and then brought the fruit back to crank and crush and press and strain.

I had made cider once before, at our friend Rebecca's when I was maybe about ten, and then again last year, and it's no small under-taking. It's the type of thing you almost have to make into a party, because otherwise, it would simply be too much work. Even yesterday, with Tracy picking out apples and me and Bella on the crank and Lili weighing down the pressing table and Swede handing out chocolate and wine and Alex manning the press, it took us two hours to put out about three gallons.

At least, for the apple cider it did.

Later in the afternoon, when the girls got tired and the requests for another turn at cranking turned to requests for bathroom breaks and more chocolate, we tried the pears. They were ripe, and soft, and unlike the apples, they cranked through the cutting blades in about five minutes flat. They were juicier than the apples, too, and sweeter, and the juice that came out when we pressed them was slightly thicker, but also more delicate. I liked both the ciders, but I think if in the future I get to choose—based both on pressing and on taste—from now on I'll pick pear. Alex liked a mix, and that was good too, although I think you lose the flavor of both a little bit.

Either way, for now, we have plenty of both flavors to spare. We're taking it easy today—in honor of Alex, and September, and the fact that it's a beautiful, blustery day—but pretty soon, I think we'll get energized enough at least to eat some cake. And then to wash it down with some cider—a swig of apple, then a swig of pear.


I can't very well give you a recipe for cider—all you need is fruit, and a press, and a good arm to turn the crank—but here's the recipe for Alex's birthday cake. It comes from one of my favorite books—The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri—which I like for its simplicity and creativity.

Malgieri calls this cake "both homey and festive," and I agree; it's as pretty as it is good. Just be sure to read through the whole recipe before you begin as there are a few steps—like melting the chocolate and softening the butter—that need to be taken care of first.

for the base batter:
2 and 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 and 2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 sticks butter, softened
7 eggs
3 tablespoons dark rum (I used Gosling's Bermuda Black Rum)

for the chocolate batter:
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups base batter (see above)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a Bundt pan and coat it with flour or very fine, dry bread crumbs. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and beat for a minute or two, until the batter forms a thick, heavy paste.

Whisk the eggs and rum together in a small bowl. Add this mixture to the butter and flour mixture in thirds, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Use the spatula to give the batter a final mix.

In another bowl, combine the rum, milk and baking soda and whisk well. Add the chocolate and whisk well again. Add 2 cups of the base batter to the chocolate mixture and mix with the spatula until smooth and well-combined.

Spoon half of the remaining base batter into the prepared pan. Use a small spatula to smooth out the top of the batter, taking care to make sure it is very even on top. Spoon the chocolate batter in over top; and again use the spatula to smooth the top of the batter. Finally, spoon the remaining base batter over the chocolate batter. Don't worry about smoothing this top layer out; it will even as it bakes and you risk mottling the marbling underneath.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. As the cake rises, you may be able to see some chocolate through the lighter base batter—this is fine. Serve at room temperature, plain—or with vanilla ice cream and a little pour of rum.


The Local Food Report: Fruit and Veggie R/x

Imagine this: You go to the doctor. You're a little overweight, your blood pressure's a little high, your blood sugar isn't quite where they'd like to see it. They tell you to eat better, to get more exercise, to quit smoking—the usual. But then, instead of just sending you packing, they hand you money—$125 in vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market.

This isn't just imaginary—it's real. It's called Fruit and Veggie R/x, and it's going on at health centers and farmers markets in Holyoke, Lawrence, and Boston, Massachusetts; and Portland and Skowhegan, Maine. It's a program of Wholesome Wave—a non-profit dedicated to increasing access to healthy local foods for low-income and rural populations—and it's getting help financially from CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited) and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. I found out about it through Gus Schumacher, the Executive Chairman of Wholesome Wave, who spends his summers in Orleans and is a frequent shopper at the Orleans Farmers' Market.

Schumacher has quite a resume—he worked as Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture in the 1980s and Under Secretary of Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service with USDA in the 1990s—and he's always had the same goal. He wants to make families healthier. Back then, he did that by working to help develop the Women, Infants, and Children and Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs (click on over here for more local information). Today, he's doing it by trying to show the government that fruit and veggie prescriptions can have a measurable impact on health, and with any luck, getting Congress to consider funding the program as a preventative healthcare initiative under the new health bill.

In the long run, as Schumacher likes to point out, fruits and veggies are far less expensive than doctors visits and drugs. The program is still very much in its pilot stages—it just got started this summer—but pretty soon, Schumacher is hoping to start seeing results. Then, the goal is to get a peer-reviewed article written documenting what the doctors have found.

If it seems basic—well, it is. But maybe simple and straightforward is what we need to start making changes, and putting fresh, healthy food back on the table. It isn't going on the Cape yet, but there's a clinic in Eastham Schumacher's interested in, if he can get enough funding to expand. Let's hope!

You can find out more about the Fruit and Veggie R/x program over here, and more about other Wholesome Wave projects over here. Scan and photograph are courtesy of Gus Schumacher.


Gorge yourself

Restraint Over Watermelon is one of the most demanding tenets of eating locally. I mean who can turn down airplane watermelon for eleven months of the year, and then not go a little overboard when the real deal arrives? Not me.

When the watermelon comes in, I devour it. I bought my first specimen at the Truro Ag Fair last Sunday, and I have since eaten four. Four! Granted, the nice thing about watermelons is that they are mostly water, and so the sick feeling you have after eating seven slices only lasts for about an hour or so, but still.

Last weekend, when my parents were here, we made one of the simplest, most delicious salads I've ever had. The only ingredients were yellow watermelon, fresh basil, burrata with gorgonzola dolce wrapped inside, olive oil, balsamic glaze, and a sprinkle of salt. We ate the whole bowl that night, and two nights later, with a second ball of cheese (burrata with herbed goat cheese this time), Alex and I made it again. We ate ourselves silly both times.

So quick—while the season lasts—gorge yourself as much as you can. It'll be a while until the melons roll around again.


This salad makes the best of late summer—it is best when the watermelon is cold, straight out of the fridge. It probably lasts a few days in the fridge, but we wouldn't know; it's never made it that long.

6 cups chilled watermelon
1 ball local burata or mozzarella
2/3 cup packed basil leaves
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
balsamic glaze, for drizzling
salt to taste

Cut the watermelon into cubes and use your fingers to gently remove any seeds. Put the fruit in a bowl and toss it with the cheese, basil, and olive oil. When serving, drizzle lightly with balsamic glaze and sprinkle with salt to taste.


The Local Food Report: Beach plum jelly—and jam

Some people go a bit nutty over beach plums. Like Alex's grandmother—three years ago, when we had the big year, she made over 250 jars of beach plum jelly. This year, she's already up to 192.

Len Campanelli got sucked in last year, and this year, for his stand at the Provincetown Farmers' Market, he's made hundreds of jars. He kind of wishes he had never heard of beach plums some days—making the jelly is a hellish process, he says—but he can't stop. The picking, the boiling, the straining—it's a labor of love. He picks from where he lives in South Dennis all the way out to Provincetown, tasting and refining which berries he takes along the way. A good plum is small and dark, he says, sort of like a big blueberry.

He doesn't let a single bit of the fruit go to waste—after he's strained off the juice for jelly, he pushes the pulp through a colander to make jam. The jam doesn't need quite so much sugar, he says, and it's a bit thicker, which means it takes less time on the stove. The jelly can take up to a week of on and off simmering—turning the burner on low when he's home.

When it comes down to it, it's the tradition of beach plum jelly that keeps him on. The fruit is an indigenous, native plant—Prunus maritima—and preserving it is a way of letting visitors take a little piece of this sandy land home. It's a tradition of remembering—of tucking away those last, short days of Indian summer—to hold on to until next time rolls around.

[If you're into preserves, Alex's grandmother's recipe for beach plum jelly is over here, and I'm posting another one for beach plum jam below. If you're not, there are other options: there's a list of stands and farms and markets that sell beach plum jelly over here.]


This recipe comes from a little cookbook devoted entirely to beach plums—Plum Crazy by Elizabeth Post Mirel. Beach plum jam can be a bit more work than beach plum jelly, but if you tend to like thicker, more robust spreads, you will find there's an excellent reward for your work.

2 cups pitted beach plums
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice

Cut the beach plums into small pieces. Place the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the liquid is the consistency of a thin syrup. Stir occasionally.

Pour the jam into sterile jars. Seal and leave overnight to cool; the jelly will keep up to a year.

Yield: About 2 cups.


Last Hurrah

Happy Labor Day !

In the spirit of the holiday, today, Fisher and I are going to take a break. He has a new tennis ball, and I'm hoping for one last hurrah at the beach. Enjoy the holiday, and we'll see you Thursday, everyone.


The Local Food Report: two pickle recipes

Cucumbers, I used to think, were long and round and green. Then I met the Lemon Cucumber, and the Boothby Blonde, and the Miniature White, and all that changed.

That up there is a Lemon Cucumber, picked from our garden the other day. It looks nothing like a traditional cucumber—what with its roly-poly shape and citrus color and mottled, spiny back. But inside, it is all crunch and gush and seeds. It doesn't have quite so much of the chemical compounds—cucurbitacins—that make some cucumbers bitter and some people prone to burps, which is part of what makes it so unusual, and why people like it so much. It's best for eating fresh and slicing into salads, and if you're into cold soups, it hollows out as a serving vessel quite nicely.

I've been talking with farmers all over the Cape about what varieties of cucumbers they're growing this summer, and the Lemon is just one. There are all sorts of other unusual varieties—the Miniature White I mentioned above, which is good for slicing and excellent for bread and butter pickles, and the Boothby Blonde, an heirloom from Livermore, Maine. Gretel Norgeot is growing Sour Mexican Gherkins for the second year in a row, Ron Backer has a wild, curvy Asian variety called Suyo Long, and of course, a lot of people are growing regular old English cucumbers and Marketmores.

My favorite varieties, though, are the ones that lend themselves to pickling. I lean toward bread and butter pickles, at least I have since I met my husband. I used to be more of a Claussen Kosher Dill girl, but then I tasted a jar of pickles made from the recipe Alex's grandfather got from a friend, copied down decades ago from an inn in Maine. The pickles are thin, and sweet, and tangy, and absolutely perfect piled into a grilled cheese or alongside meat.

But, for those of you who do lean dill—even garlicy dill—I recruited another tried and true recipe today. It's from my producer, Jay, who is a bit of a pickle fanatic. He makes these pickles almost entirely out of his garden, and while they're very different from the bread and butters I make, they are good.

So here you are—two pickle recipes—for whatever kind of cucumbers you might find.


This recipe was passed down to us by Alex's grandfather, Martin Luther Bradford. He got it from a friend, who in turn copied it down from an innkeeper in Maine. The key is to slice the cucumbers and the onions very thinly—Alex's grandfather used the Cusinart slicing attachment; I like to use a mandolin. It makes 6-8 pints.

16 medium cucumbers, very thinly sliced
6 onions, very thinly sliced
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
1/3 cup pickling salt
2 trays ice cubes
5 cups granulated sugar
3 cups white vinegar
1 and 1/2 tablespoons celery seed
1 and 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
2 tablespoons mustard seed

Combine the cucumbers, onions, peppers (if using), and salt in a large bowl. Mix well, then crack the ice cubes over top. Let sit for 3 hours, then drain.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, celery seed, turmeric, and mustard seed in a large, non-reactive pot. Add the cucumbers and bring to a rolling boil. Spoon into sterile jars and seal.


This recipe, which comes from Jay Allison, is based on a Mark Bittman recipe. On a good year, Jay is able to get almost all the ingredients from his garden, and he says this year has been especially good for dill. In my opinion the spears are best cold, straight from the fridge, alongside a sandwich.

1/3 cup kosher salt
1 cup hot water
2 pounds pickling cucumbers
6-12 cloves fresh crushed garlic, to taste
1/2 bunch dill
1 jalapeño, without seeds (optional)
cold water

Dissolve the salt in the hot water, then put the mixture in the freezer to cool. Pour this cold salt water into a large bowl or storage container. Quarter the cucumbers into spears (you may even want to cut them into eighths if they're especially large) and layer them into the bowl with the garlic, dill, and jalapeño, if using. Add cold water as needed to just cover the layers.

Cover the bowl and leave it out at room temperature for about 4 hours, longer if you like your pickles stronger (read: more garlicy). Then refrigerate; they last for about a week in the brine.


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