The Local Food Report: Nantucket grown

I like it when good ideas spread. And I don't just mean things like Melissa Clark's Salted Maple Walnut Thumbprints. (But DO make those. They won't let you down.) I mean things like Island Grown Initiative—that Martha's Vineyard non-profit we spent so much time talking about back in January and February. I got an email a few weeks ago, and it looks like the idea has spread. A non-profit organization called Sustainable Nantucket, inspired by IGI's success, has launched a farm-to-school program, another program working to pair interns interested in agriculture with local growers, and this spring, it's starting a campaign to promote local produce on the island. It will look like this:

The idea is to give Nantucket farmers a unified marketing platform for their meat and eggs and produce. Sustainable Nantucket will hand out stickers and signs with the logo in the spring, and growers can use them at the farmers' market and anywhere else they sell retail, including grocery stores. Sustainable Nantucket's executive director, Michelle Whelan, says that she dreams of the day she walks into Grand Union and sees this logo popping up in the produce aisle.

On the restaurant side of things, Whelan's hoping to get things up and running by 2012. Restaurants will have to prove that they're sourcing a percentage of their food locally, this will be verified by Sustainable Nantucket through the growers, and the restaurants will be able to use the Nantucket Grown logo on their menus. This won't replace listing the farm names—i.e. Bartlett Farm Tomatoes on a caprese salad—but the hope is that it will help diners who care about local food choose accordingly.

So if you're on the island, keep an eye out. Nantucket Grown arrives this spring!


Speaking of great

If I could change geography, I would. No offense to Kennebunkport and Kittery and southern New Hampshire and the whole south shore, but I would squish them inland, or maybe shift them south. Then, I'd build a short bridge—I'm thinking five miles or so—from our house in Wellfleet to my sister's doorstep in Portland, Maine. My parents would only be a half hour's drive north, and we could all get together and cook and eat and sit around on Sundays. It would be just like last Sunday, when my sister and I both made pulled pork, except we could make it in the same pot, do half the dishes, and have twice the fun. It would be great.

Speaking of great, I should say a few things about the pulled pork. First off, I'd like to thank Martha—you know, the Martha—for making it all so easy. I have to admit that before I found her recipe I was sort of intimated by pulled pork, and when you routinely have half a pig in your freezer, that is not a good way to be. I was under the impression that you needed a crock pot, or possibly even a fire pit, but Martha straightened me out. She showed me that you can make excellent pulled pork with very few ingredients in your very own oven in less than three hours, and that it will be so good that even your husband will declare it "North Carolina Tasty."

It's easy. All you need is some pork shoulder (also known as pork butt)—we used two pork butt steaks with the bones still in—a bit of brown sugar, some cayenne pepper, minced garlic, and a few cups of apple cider vinegar. Seriously, that's it. Oh, and an oven. I also added homemade coleslaw and some Portuguese rolls, but that was for sandwiches. All in all, it made for an excellent experience.

Now we'll just have to wait for the next pig, and a new shoulder to experiment with. And maybe, just maybe, one day we'll build that bridge.


This is an excellent way to use pork shoulder—whether you have it as one big hunk or it's divided into steaks. Martha calls for boneless shoulder, but I don't think it really matters. We left the bones in and ours came out excellent.

When it comes time to toss the cooked meat with the pan juices, don't be afraid of adding the fat back in—if the meat is from a pastured animal, this is where you'll not only get your flavor but also a lot of top notch nutrients.

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into four pieces
1 and 1/2 cups cider vinegar, plus extra for serving
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water

for sandwiches: add 8 sandwich rolls & homemade coleslaw (I like shredded cabbage and grated carrots with roughly this dressing)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.

Place the meat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and rub it with the spice mixture.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic, and water and pour this mixture over the pork. Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and bake for about 2 and 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and separates easily when pulled with a fork.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board, saving the juice in the pan. Use two forks to shred the meat, put the meat in a large bowl, and toss it with the reserved juice. (You may not need all of it; we used about two thirds). At this point, if you like your pork a little tangier, add a few extra tablespoons cider vinegar.

If you're making sandwiches, pile the rolls with equal portions pork and coleslaw, and serve at once.


The Local Food Report: backyard chickens

Hi everyone. Happy snowy morning! What happened to in like a lion, out like a lamb? Oh well. Let's talk about Sage instead.

Sage up there is five, and those are her two Plymouth Bard Rocks: Ciely and Kiely. Her family started keeping chickens last fall—six altogether—and she is now quite an expert in laying hens. She and her brother Skyler, age seven, help with the feeding, and water changing, and coop cleaning, and every morning, they go in to collect the eggs. Sage says there are usually six, sometimes five, and that when the hens are laying, they get kind of excited and noisy about the whole thing. She and Skyler have all sorts of games they play with the chickens: dust bath and soccer and swinging and even tag, and according to Sage's mother Rebecca, the hens are very affectionate.

A lot of other families we know with kids around this age have been getting chickens, too, and Sage's dad Michael says he can see why. Chickens are easy—low maintenance, not much daily trouble, a steady supply of fresh eggs, and excellent education and entertainment for the kids.

My nieces got chickens last year, and I can attest at least to the education and entertainment bit. They know all kinds of chicken facts—what they can eat, what they can't, what predators to watch out for, you name it—and they spend as much of their free time as possible either watching the chickens or letting them out of the coop and carrying them around and letting them go and then attempting to catch them. Between this and the backyard egg supply, I have to say, it seems to work out pretty well for everyone.

If you're interested, here are a few resources to get you started. There's a family in Osterville that writes a blog about keeping chickens—Tilly's Nest. NOFA also offered its first annual Backyard Poultry Workshop Day last July in Acushnet, and they haven't announced anything for this year yet, but to me, first annual implies that they'll be doing it again. There's quite a bit of information on backyardchickens.com, and Urban Chickens is another good site.

One note: before you build anything or make any solid plans, be sure to check with your town about zoning laws. In Brewster, you can keep up to ten hens without any sort of permit, but you need to go before the Board of Health to keep even one rooster.

Oh, and if you need a little more inspiration, here's a recipe for egg salad—as Rebecca says, the absolute best way to get rid of a dozen eggs.


The trickiest part about egg salad is getting the timing right on the eggs. To hard boil the eggs, put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, and wait exactly 9 minutes. No less, no more. Then pull them out and drop them into an ice bath. Leave them to cool for about five minutes or so. This process should yield an egg that is easy to peel and has a soft, just cooked bright yellow yolk. It's all downhill from there.

1/2 cup chives, chopped fine
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice
4 teaspoons cumin
salt and pepper
a dozen eggs, hardboiled

In a small mixing bowl, beat together the chives, mayo, mustard, lemon juice, and cumin with a whisk. Add the egg yolks and continue mixing until everything gets smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings—you may want a little more lemon juice, or a bit of salt and pepper—and then set this aside.

Get out a cutting board and chop the egg whites into fairly small bits. (How small you go is a matter of taste; I tend not to go too fine.) Mix the whites in with the yolk mixture and boom!—you're done. This egg salad is excellent with leaves of butter lettuce on toasted whole wheat bread, and maybe a pickle on the side.

Organic grain CSA

Hi friends,

I just wanted to pass along this link to a new organic grain CSA in Belchertown, MA started up by a Falmouth native. This will be their first year and and grains include wheat, rye, spelt, flour-corn, and dry beans. Yum!

It isn't the CSA we're part of, but it's in the same area and the first year we were members some of the grain in our CSA (Pioneer Heritage Valley) actually came from White Oak Farm.

Let's hope another one pops up next year! The way I see it, the more local staples, the better.


Dig through & dig in

Our annual food-shopping moratorium is officially on. Does this happen at your house? You preserve and preserve and preserve, then worry so much about making it last that you face a freezer/pantry overflow crisis come March? Oy. It happens every year here, although I have a hunch it arrives at just the right time.

That is, in the sense that there isn't much local food shopping to be done these days. The carrots are all gone from the greenhouse, and the spinach is dwindling, fast. I am embarrassed to admit that because of a very late Fedco order, our spring seeds haven't even arrived yet! So perhaps the crisis is really a blessing in disguise.

At any rate, it yielded a blackberry-apple crisp, so it can't be all bad.

It was probably one of the easiest crisps I've ever made: a frozen homemade pie shell leftover from the day this winter that Alex and I tested clam pie recipes (21, to be exact!); wrinkled, shriveling apples that my mom brought down back in late January, soft but still good once we cut in; and blackberries from the freezer, picked in August at my brother and sister-in-law's, down the road.

I tossed the fruit with sugar, flour, lemon juice, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg—then loaded it into the shell. The topping is one from my mother's recipe box—from a Pepperidge Farm piecrust sticker way back when. It has oats and brown sugar and walnuts, and of course plenty of butter to melt and ooze and hold it all in.

Blackberry-apple has always been a favorite of mine—ever since my mother started making this jam—but what do you have in your freezer? I have a feeling all sorts of combos would be good—apple-rhubarb? blueberry-cranberry? strawberry-pear? Dig through, and dig in!


Whenever I make blackberry jam, I always add bits of apple for pectin—a trick I learned as a kid from my mom (the extra pectin in the apples helps the jam set). I've always loved the flavor combination of tart apples and sweet berries, so when I found a bag of August-picked berries in the freezer the other day and a sad, too-soft-for-eating pound of apples in the fridge, I knew I had a crisp on my hands. This recipe is adapted from one my mom makes with apples and raisins. With vanilla ice cream, it's perfect.

for the filling:
4 cups sliced baking apples
1 cup blackberries, frozen or fresh
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
a pinch of salt

one 9-inch pie crust, bottom only

for the topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into cranberry-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, toss the apples and blackberries with the remaining filling ingredients. Spoon the filling into the pie crust.

In the same bowl, toss together all of the ingredients for the topping. Use your hands to sprinkle the topping over the filling, taking care to distribute the butter evenly (otherwise, certain areas of the topping will be dry while others are super wet).

Bake for roughly 35-45 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and juicy and the topping is golden brown. Pay special attention to the nuts, as if you overcook the crisp they will be the first thing to burn.


The season in my stomach

Hi everyone!
There is no new Local Food Report this week—it's a repeat, the one from last year on Gray's Grist Mill in on the Massachussetts/Rhode Island border. Alex and I have been out of town, but we're finally back and settling into laundry and work catch-up and a fresh batch of granola and warming up the fire to fend off the rain. I'll be back Monday with a recipe.

In the meantime, I had to share this essay from 4th grader Zoe Popovic from Westbrook, Maine. My godmother saw it and emailed it along, and it totally made my day.

Excerpted from this article: "Soup to Nuts: Eat, write, say" by Meredith Goad, published in the Portland Press Herald on March 16th, 2011.

by Zoe Popovic, Grade 4, Congin School, Westbrook

I usually bring my own lunch to school. Sometimes the kids that buy lunch tease me. It used to bother me, but it doesn't anymore. I know where my food comes from. I have seen it in the fields; I've dug my own potatoes. My food is always changing. I can tell the season by what is in my lunch box. Starting the year with the summer harvest and the green taste of basil on my juicy tomato and mozzarella sandwich. Before I know it I have a thermos filled with butternut squash ravioli and sweet apples just picked over the weekend. In winter the staples from our farm share—rice and beans. I know summer vacation is on its way when my lunch turns green again with veggie wraps filled with baby greens. I also see yogurt mixed with the preserves from last summer's days spent picking blueberries and I know that soon I will be back in those fields. I have been a member of a CSA for as long as I can remember, whether getting a box from the farm or visiting. I know my farmers Amy and Tom, and I know the farm. When I eat my lunch I can picture where it came from. I see the path through the fields of flowers down to vegetables. I know where to turn off to cool myself in the river. I imagine the games that I played with the other kids between courses at the potlucks. I think of the chickens running around and being ridiculous. I picture the sunflowers by the barn and remember waiting for them to have plump seeds for picking. If someone has something to say about my lunch that's okay. It doesn't bother me. I know where my food comes from and don't think they can say the same. When the bell for recess rings, I offer to share a carrot and they take it with a smile and we run outside.


The Local Food Report: seed ordering 2011

With Spring just around the corner (!), it's finally time to start thinking about gardens. Our seed ordering guide was a hit last year, and we've decided to do a second installment for the upcoming season. This year, I talked with Anna Henning over at The Full Circle Food Project. When choosing seeds for the upcoming season, she lays out a few criteria to keep her on track. Here are her guidelines for this year:
  1. Keep a balance between more practical vegetables that are easy to grow and prepare and exciting ones that boast bold flavors and colors.
  2. Choose the "good sports," the vegetables that can thrive in varied weather and don't need to be picked or watered too often.
  3. Go for heirlooms. Save and share the seeds they produce. As Anna says, that is the epitome of knowing where your food comes from.

With these criteria in mind, here are Anna's seed picks for the upcoming summer:

Cylindra Beet: A cylindrical variety that can be planted close together. The result? Less space and more crop. These are also better for slicing.
Golden Beet: A big hit last year. They are sweeter and milder then purple varieties, and don't stain your hands and other food!

Cherry Tomatoes
Beam's Yellow Pear: Incredibly prolific.
Cherry Roma: Exactly as it sounds. These paste-type cherry tomatoes are handy for cooking.
Tommy Toe: A prolific, heavy bearing variety. Delicious.

Beefsteak-type or Slicing Tomatoes
Crnkovic Yugoslavian: A beefsteak variety. Juicy, huge, and resistant to cracking.
Dr. Wyche's Yellow: Golden, meaty, and gorgeous.
Italian Heirloom: Excellent full tomato flavor. These are ideal for slicing and canning—very little waste and easy to peel.

Hakucho: An early yielding variety—just 65 days between planting and harvesting. This is a dwarf (1ft) and doesn’t take up tons of space like the others. The pods grow in a very concentrated fashion, and because they all mature at the same time, you can harvest whole plant at once.

St. Valery: A long, tapered variety (not stumpy!). Gourmet quality.

Witloof: A compact variety that is sweet and crunchy and can be grown in a tight space. Eat it raw leafed into a salad or grill it and serve it with heirloom tomatoes. If you have a basement, the roots can be saved for next year.

Empress: These have an amazing bean flavor and heavy yields.
Tendergreen: Very productive over a long season. These produce even in hot weather.
Royalty Purple Pod: When raw, a gorgeous purple. Green when cooked. These add a nice contrast and are stringless, which means less work to eat! They also germinate in cool wet soil and can be planted in the beginning or at the end of the season.

Winter Squash
Burgess Buttercup Winter Squash or Waltham Butternut: Two varieties that are more resistant to squash vine borers than others.

Looking for seeds? Anna's recommendations for heirloom seed sources are: Sage Thymes, Seed Savers Exchange, High Mowing Seeds, Fedco, Annie’s Seeds, Victory Seeds

P.S. If you want to learn more about the Full Circle Food Project or get involved with Anna's work, visit the project website here. For a quick pick-me-up, make sure you take note of the countdown to Spring at the top of the page. We're almost there!


A batch, maybe two

I'm not quite sure where to start today, so why don't we just dive right in?

Here's the news from my end: it's March, and my mother's birthday is in a few days, and hey, I made a batch of scones and they were good! Delicious, even. Here's their before shot:

I found the recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, when I was looking through the archives the other day. The scones came originally from a cookbook called My Nepenthe by Romney Steele, and this morning, they seemed like just the thing to ward off yet another day of gray. The original version called for currants, but I had a bag of dried cranberries I'd picked up from Crow Farm in Sandwich lying around, and so I swapped those in instead. The oat/orange zest/cranberry combination proved just right—a little bit hearty, a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, and a big hit. I ate one right out of the oven, took a half hour break, and dug in again. They have a nice crumb—moist and big, and a little bit chewy—and the oat flavor is there, subtle, just underneath the citrus. The cranberries add tang and chew—for everyone's good, Alex had better come home and claim some soon.

I can't stay much longer—there are, after all, still bowls and whisks and spatulas to be scrubbed and a dog that's very anxious for a walk—but I wanted to pop in and tell you to make a batch, maybe two.


This recipe is adapted from this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks. One thing to note is that the scones are very large—like those you might find at a commercial bakery. If you like smaller ones for home consumption, divide the dough into two balls before you pat it into discs. Then cut each disc into sixths instead of eighths.

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups rolled oats
zest of 1 orange
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup buttermilk (or almost 1 cup milk with a dollop of plain yogurt in it)
1/4 cup coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter and mix using a pastry cutter, until the butter is in small, pea-sized bits. Add the oats, orange zest, and cranberries. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until the dough is just moist.

Use your hands to bring the dough together. If it is still too crumbly, add more buttermilk a splash at a time until it comes together.

Working on a cutting board or piece of parchment paper, turn out the dough and pat it into an 8-inch round. Cut the round in half and then into quarters and finally into eighths, so that it forms 8 wedged triangle shapes. Use a spatula to transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet, and sprinkle the top of each one with the coarse sugar. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden and the scones are cooked through.


The Local Food Report: Meet monkfish

Have you ever seen a monkfish? They are, to quote my husband "pretty ugly looking things" that look more like Gelatinous Starship Enterprises than any fish you've ever seen. Here—take a look:

Just to be clear, that man up there is not my husband. He's someone who went fishing with Kayman Charters in Gloucester, and they were nice enough to share his photo with me because I did not have one of my own. You see what Alex means, though, about the Gelatinous Starship Enterprise, right? That monkfish must be at least two thirds head.

Which is a shame, really, because the only meat is in the tail. There's the tail meat and the liver, which is sort of attached to the tail, but we never see the liver around here because it's such a delicacy in Asia. They cure it and serve it as nigiri or sashimi in places like Japan, and it's in such high demand over there that the boats here cut it away from the tail meat and ship it off to market right away.

At any rate, for each twenty pounder, you only get about five to seven pounds of meat, and even that is a lot of work. First you have to deal with all the slime and gook that comes with the head, and then, once you get past that, you have to separate the skin from the meat, and then the meat from a sausage-casing like layer that surrounds it. It's hard work.

But if you like monkfish—and I do—it's worth it. The meat has a texture similar to shrimp or lobster meat that, when cooked properly, snaps rather nicely when you eat it. (It's also known as Poor Man's Lobster for this reason.) Not only that, but it has a subtle, not-too-fishy flavor, sort of like a cross between cod and striped bass. This lends it well to chefs and high end restaurants, but most people don't really cook it that often at home.

Alex says that's mainly because for a long time, monkfish has had a reputation around here as trash fish. Locally, the boats that get it are mostly bringing it in as bycatch—scallop dredgers and groundfish draggers pick it up as they move along the ocean floor—although some boats are also starting to target it. Which leads to the other reason it's not that popular—sustainability issues. While most scientists agree that monkfish population levels are fine, dragging is not considered a sustainable harvesting method because of the bycatch and the damage it does to the ocean floor. That said, according to NOAA, monkfish habitat is only minimally vulnerable to these fishing gears.

It's kind of hard to know what to think. But my guess would be that monkfish, like most things, is fine in moderation. And a fish this ugly, well, it needs some love.

If you're into it, here are some recipes to try. If you took me up on my suggestion to make ratatouille this summer, I'd go for this Cooking Light recipe for Monkfish with Ratatoille. I've also been eying this Monkfish and Clam Bourride, from a 2002 issue of Gourmet, and The Minimalist's take on Monkfish with Mashed Potatoes and Thyme looks simple and elegant.

Happy cooking!


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