The Local Food Report: walla walla

Last Saturday, David Light sold me an onion.

It weighed 1.46 pounds, and it was big and round and sweet. He grew it from Walla Walla seed, and he was planning on selling it as a Walla Walla onion until he found out something very interesting. We'll start at the beginning, okay?

Walla Walla onions have a long history. According to legend, a Frenchman named Peter Pieri brought the seed over from Italy to the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State in 1890. The valley has a specific kind of soil—very low in sulfur and very rich—and a mild climate. The onion thrived. Pieri and his neighbors kept growing, and kept selecting the seed from the biggest, roundest, sweetest plants. After a few generations, people said the Walla Walla onions were so sweet you could eat them like an apple. They got a reputation.

Other people grew Walla Walla onions, too—people outside the valley. But in 1995, a group of growers from the Walla Walla Valley decided that this wasn't fair. The Walla Walla had gotten its name from their soil and their climate, they reasoned, and people simply couldn't grow the same quality onion elsewhere. So they took their case to the federal government, and it handed down Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Order Number 956.

Basically, the marketing order makes it illegal for anyone outside the legally specified growing area—Walla Walla Valley, which is in partly in southeastern Washington and also a little bit in Oregon state—to market their onions as Walla Walla sweets. There's a ten member committee that regulates this.

But here's where things get confusing. Seed catalogs and plant vendors can sell their products under the Walla Walla name, just not the onions themselves. But when David Light bought his Walla Walla plants, there was nothing that said "Caution!" or "Be Careful!" He had no idea he couldn't sell his onions under the Walla Walla name.

He found out about the marketing order before it caused him any trouble. He sells his Walla Walla variety onions as Sweet Corsicans. But I talked with a small market farmer in Ohio, Lucy Goodman, who got a letter ordering her to cease and desist or pay a fine of $5,000 a day.

I can't really decide where I stand on this. On the one hand, yes! we want to protect local food and its heritage and traditions. But should we get the federal government involved?

What do you think? I'm curious.

P.S. There's a similar marketing order for selling Vidalia onions. Georgia growers got theirs before the Walla Walla growers, back in 1989.


A garden recipe

Sometimes, I imagine our lives through the neighbors' eyes, through the windows across the street.

I notice a routine: a man up early, the green Chevy pulling away. A woman—now noticably round—out in the briars each morning in her nightgown and bare feet. She brings an old pint container for the berries: first the black, then the red, now the golden raspberries.

She snacks while she picks—then waters the carrots, checks the kale and broccoli for the little green worms that devour holes in the leaves. She disappears inside and then is back on the front stoop. A black lab settles onto the brick beside her, and she spoons something out of a porcelain bowl—granola and yogurt maybe, with a handful of berries.

Later in the day, she might come out and weed. The tomatoes need trimming, and the butternut squash vines are growing almost clear across the street. She checks the orchard—there were five ripe peaches before the birds stole two the other day—and sprays horticultural oil on the new pear leaves. She ties a loose asparagus fern to the others around the stake, pulls a few heads of lettuce.

Then she drives off, too—off to the restaurant in black skirt and shoes—and the yard is quiet for another afternoon.


We haven't been eating anything complicated recently. There's too much good fresh food to bother fussing with recipes and heat. But here's a suggestion for a simple salad with a tried and true dressing recipe that's good on just about any chilled spread of garden-fresh veggies. This recipe serves 2.

1/3 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 ears of fresh corn, shucked and kernels cut off the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
a handful of Thai basil
4 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
a handful of cheese—I used cheddar, cut into tiny cubes, but I also think goat cheese, shaved Manchego, or Parmesan ribbons would be good

Whisk together the white vinegar, olive oil, sugar, pepper, and salt in a small measuring cup. Set aside.

In a large shallow bowl, layer the cucumbers with the corn, cherry tomato halves, Thai basil leaves, and carrot rounds. Sprinkle or shave the cheese evenly over top. Pour the dressing on, and let the salad marinate at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.


The Local Food Report: a bumper crop

This is my whole crop of blueberries this season:

It's sad really. Last year, straight out of the nursery, they were loaded. This year, nothing. I'm pretty sure I've been doing something wrong.

So when I met Anita Stanley of South Dennis at the Orleans market—when I saw her pint upon pint of beautiful, deep blue, healthy looking berries—I decided to ask for advice. Here are her tips on growing blueberries, from purchasing to planting to long-term care. Happy berry growing!

1. Choose the right varieties. Blueberries are not self-pollinating, which means you need at least two, and preferably three or more, in order to get good pollination. (Although there are some plants advertised as self-pollinating, no one I've talked to recommends planting them without at least another variety around.)

Stanley grows Bluetta, Coville, and Berkeley. Bluetta's early and sweet, Coville is big and mid-season, and the Berkeley's come in late—which also means she gets a harvest all summer long.

2. Choose a good spot. Blueberries like acid soil with plenty of sun, and they like wet feet. Don't plant them in a dry spot. (I've seen them thriving in swampy areas around here, and on the banks of ponds.)

3. Use netting! Otherwise, the birds will make off with your crop. Cheesecloth works well for individual bushes, but if you have a large patch, like Stanley does, she recommends building a fence with high posts, and netting the whole enclosure overhead.

4. Cut the plants back. For the first three years, you shouldn't prune. After that, Stanley says, prune every year so that a bird could fly in between the branches. This will stop berries and branches from overlapping, which not only makes picking difficult but also leads to smaller berries. Prune, and you'll get big berries with more space. Pruning is best done in the winter, when the plants are dormant.

5. Keep an eye out for disease. Stanley says her plants were decimated last year by winter moths—a relatively new pest for the Cape. They were only introduced to North America in the 1950s, to Nova Scotia via Europe, and they made their way south about 10 years ago. They lay eggs on the bark of the plants, which overwinter and hatch come spring. Stanley fights them by spraying the plants in December, when they're dormant and have no flowers or leaves, with horticultural oil. Horticultural oil is a kind of mineral oil, so it's fine for organic growers, and it kills the moths by smothering their eggs.

Happy blueberry growing!


Thank you

It is hard to thank you enough—

you who is up at 5 for work, every day. You who on your day off prunes the tomatoes, builds a compost bin, puts a door on the nursery. And then—when I think you must be tired, done—who mows the orchard, takes us for a swim. You who lets me do the napping while you make dinner—butter-poached lobster with pasta and sherry, roasted veggies—and washes the dishes. I don't have the words, not in this language.

But I do have this: whole wheat chocolate chip cookie dough in the fridge—made with flour from our CSA, pastured butter, Ghiradhelli's 60% Cacao big, dark chips. So let me pack them into a ramekin, fire on the oven, and give you thanks that are warm, oozy, and deep dish.


The Local Food Report: no bake cheesecake

The other night at work we did a big rehearsal dinner. It was unlike anything we'd ever done at the restaurant—a whole room blocked off for hours, passed apps and a cocktail hour—not to mention that all of the food was kosher, and some of it was even vegan. Considering the amount of pork and shellfish and butter and heavy cream we go through most nights, it was pretty amazing.

Sometime toward the end of the night, after we'd run the entrees and made sure everyone had enough wine and silverware and water and fresh cracked pepper, the line cooks called me into the kitchen. Go out back! they told me. There's something you need to try.

I walked down the line, through the heat, into the back room where the dessert chefs were plating. We'd brought in a special raw food, vegan chef for the occasion—a Wellfleet woman named Katie Reed—and she handed me a spoonful of something creamy and blue. Blueberry cheesecake, she told me. Made with local berries. I was ready to be skeptical—in high school, a vegan chocolate cake turned me off of vegan baked goods pretty much entirely—but one bite, and I was sold. There was no cream cheese, and the cake wasn't cooked, but somehow it was rich, decadent, and even creamy.

Later, I went back to talk with Katie. She said nuts made up the base—pureed cashews and almond cream—mixed with local blueberries, agave, coconut oil, vanilla, and Irish Moss—to act as a stabilizer. Then for the crust, she used sprouted, dehydrated walnuts, mixed with Medjool dates and organic raisins for sweetness. The end result was pretty amazing.

It was also raw, vegan, and gluten and dairy free—which is the way Katie cooks and eats, always. She got into vegan food as a kid because she had so many food allergies, and eventually, she went to culinary school to keep learning. She used to live out in Portland, Oregon, where she says raw food is more of a known quantity—but here on the Cape, she's still working to spread the idea through good recipes. She and her sister have started a raw food catering company, and they also offer raw food cooking classes and sell some of their dishes at the Orleans and Wellfleet farmers markets.

The cool thing is that they have farm land to back all these efforts up. The two of them are working a 2 acre parcel in Truro, growing produce for their catering events and to sell at the farmers' markets. Katie picked the blueberries for the cheesecake from a wild patch in Truro, and she says usually, if she hasn't grown it, she's either picked it in the wild or from a friend's farm somewhere local.

If you're interested in learning more, look for Farm Maid Foods at one of the farmers' markets, and say hi. There's a lot to learn, and all kinds of good food to try.


This is Katie's recipe. She says cashews and almond cream are pretty typical in raw cheesecake bases—they're what give it the creamy taste.

for the crust:
2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup Medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup Thompson seedless raisins
a pinch of salt

for the filling:
3 cups cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
1 cup almond cream*
1 cup agave nectar
1 cup coconut oil, warmed to a liquid state
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons lecithin
2 tablespoons Irish moss paste**
1 vanilla bean pod, soaked and scraped
a pinch of salt
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided

Make the crust. Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until you get a coarse meal. Be careful not to over process the nuts. Coarsely chop the dates and raisins and add them to the walnuts along with the salt. Process until the dates and raisins are incorporated and there are no more pieces. Empty this mixture onto the bottom of a spring form pan. Use your fingers to flatten the crust along the bottom of the pan and for a final smoothing use an offset spatula.

For the filling, combine the cashews, almond cream, agave nectar, coconut oil, lemon juice, lecithin, Irish moss paste, vanilla, and salt in a high powered blender. Blend until smooth. Reserve one cup of this mixture and place it in the fridge (this will be the glaze that goes on top of the finished cake). Add 1 and 1/2 cups of the blueberries to the remaining mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour this mixture into the spring form pan on top of the crust and place the pan in the fridge. Chill for several hours, or until the cake sets up completely.

Set the cup of frosting out an hour before serving to allow it to reliquify. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and cut it into slices. Drizzle the icing over top of each slice, and garnish each slice with a handful of fresh blueberries. Serve at once.

*Note: To make almond cream at home, soak 3/4 cup almonds overnight. Drain them in the morning and place them in a high powered blender with 1 cup of water. Blend thoroughly and strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Reserve the cream. (You can use the almond pulp to make raw breads, cookies, or crackers.)

**Note: To make Irish Moss paste at home, soak the Irish Moss seaweed for 24 hours in water, draining and replenishing several times throughout the day. Blend in a high powered blender with 1 part seaweed to 3 parts water. Pour the paste into ice cube trays and reserve for later dessert making. This recipe calls for 2 ice cubes worth of Irish Moss paste.


Easy to dream

It's hard to say before it happens what kind of mother you'd like to be. Or maybe it's the other way around—easy to dream, hard to be. Either way, I hope one day that our baby will have this: memories of a kitchen where homemade baked goods are everyday, routine.

I know there will be a thousand things to do come one baby, maybe two eventually. There will be diapers to wash and tears to dry and books to read. But I hope there will also be mama and helpers in the kitchen: aprons tied, flour flying, oven warming up to 350. I hope there will be silly substitutions and big messes and amidst it all, discovery. That's the kind of kitchen I grew up in, and I was lucky.

In the meantime, we're already baking together—me and this baby. We have to keep ourselves well-fed while we wait and grow and giddily count the weeks til meeting. We need snacks for work and Alex does, too. Mostly, we bake portable things—scones and muffins with ingredients we trust: whole grain flours, pastured yogurt and butter, eggs from the girls in Wellfleet.

This week, we baked with buckwheat. We got the whole grains this year as part of our CSA, and I ground them down right away. After a few rounds of pancakes the flour sat in the freezer, untouched, until I saw a Figgy Buckwheat Scones recipe. I had fig butter in the fridge—made last fall with fruit from a friend's tree—and plenty of buckwheat. And so we mixed: buckwheat, all-purpose, whole wheat. We whisked in sugar, baking powder, salt, then cut in the butter—cold, salty. Finally we stirred in yogurt and cream, then rolled out the dough into a thick, sticky plank. We scooped the fig butter on top in big, seedy dollops—then spread it thin and rolled the dough into logs. When we cut them, the fig butter spiraled into the dough, wrapping.

Almost half of them disappeared straight out of the oven, instantly. The taste was just like the recipe said—a sophisticated Fig Newton: rich, ripe, winey. But a few days later, we're still snacking.

Soon enough it will be time for a new mess, another hot oven, and one more homebaked recipe.


I've adapted this recipe from one I found in Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I liked her base, but I added whole wheat flour and substituted yogurt for half of the heavy cream. These scones are delicious straight out of the oven, or cooled and spread with a dollop of butter the next day.

1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 cup fig butter

Whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter and work it into the dry mixture by rubbing it between your fingers until it is in pea-size pieces. Pour in the cream and yogurt and mix until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a very well-floured surface. It will be sticky, so sprinkle some flour on top too. Use a rolling pin to shape it into a rectangle about 8 inches wide by 16 inches long by 3/4 of an inch thick.

Spread the fig butter over the dough. Roll the long edge of the dough up so that it makes a log 16 inches long. Cut the log into two pieces, transfer it to an airtight container, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut each log into about 10 equal pieces and arrange each piece on the baking sheets so that the swirled side is up. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the top of the scones are golden brown.


The Local Food Report: sorrel

Have you ever tried sorrel? I hadn't until recently. It's different than most greens—for starters, it's a perennial herb. Unlike spinach or Swiss chard, it comes back every year, and it produces tangy, thick leaves all season long.

According to my friend Lucas, who sells greens at the farmers market in Orleans, sorrel is popular in places like Europe and New Zealand and France. He thinks it's just starting to catch on in the states. It's not for everyone—it tastes pretty sour—but I think it's sort of refreshing in small quantities. Darina Allen, who wrote Forgotten Skills of Cooking, describes it as a sudden little electric shock in a salad. That pretty much captures it perfectly.

When it's cooked down, sorrel is good with cream. Pretty much every recipe I've found for either sorrel soup or a wilted sorrel fish sauce uses some sort of dairy, whether it's butter or whole milk yogurt or heavy cream. The best soup recipe, I think, comes from Julia Child—sorrel, after all, is a French thing. She calls it Potage Germiny.

Raw, I like it in salads. You can throw it into any old salad for a little kick and zing, but it's especially good paired with roasted beets. They're so sweet and the sorrel's so sour that they mesh perfectly.

Lucas says 2011 is going to be the year of sorrel, so sometime, if you have a chance, join in. The greens will be around all season long—from now through late fall—so there's plenty of time to experiment.


This is Julia's recipe, just adapted a bit for simplicity. It makes six servings.

1/3 cup minced green or yellow onions
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 to 4 cups packed fresh sorrel leaves, washed, dried, and cut into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons flour
5 and 1/2 cups boiling chicken stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Warm up 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 5-10 minutes, or until tender and translucent. Stir in all but a handful of the sorrel and the salt, cover the pot, and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the leaves are tender and wilted, about 5 minutes.

Now turn the heat back up to medium and sprinkle in the flour. Cook for three minutes, then pour in the boiling stock, stirring well. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the yolks and cream in a large mixing bowl. Slowly, drop by drop, beat in a cupful of hot soup. Gradually beat in the rest, pouring it in a thin stream as you beat. Return the soup to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Do not bring the soup to a simmer—you just want to cook the eggs. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter.

For hot soup, serve immediately, garnished with the remaining sorrel leaves. For cold soup, leave out the final tablespoon of butter and chill before serving.


Sorrel pairs well with beets because the green offers plenty of sour to the beets' sweet. I love the zing of sorrel in a salad—all citrusy and tang. This salad makes enough to serve 4.

2 slices thick, rustic bread
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for toasting the bread
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly cracked pepper
3 cups young sorrel leaves, washed and dried
2 pounds beets, roasted, peeled, and sliced (for a roasting tutorial, click here)
8 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup toasted pistachios or pecans

Warm up a cast iron griddle over medium-high heat. Place the bread in the middle, and drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top. Toast for 2-3 minutes per side, or until the bread is sizzling and golden. Remove the bread from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it into 1/2-inch cubes.

Whisk together the remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a fork, and add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the sorrel in a large salad bowl and layer the roasted beets, bread cubes, goat cheese, and toasted nuts on top. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar mixture and serve at once.


Happy 4th

Have you had breakfast yet? I hope not. It's a holiday, and holidays are prime time for lazy breakfasts and sleeping in. If you have already eaten, that's okay. We can do this another day. But if you haven't, do me a favor:

Grab a colander and the kitchen scissors, and run outside barefoot to the garden. Cut a whole bunch of arugula. It doesn't matter if it's gone to seed, or even started to flower—the leaves will still be good. Fill your colander, then come back in to the kitchen. Light the flame under a cast iron skillet, medium high, and drizzle some olive oil in. Cut a slice of toast—some good, rustic bread—and grab an egg from the fridge. While the pan heats up rustle through your cheese drawer and look for a hunk that's hard, Mediterranean—something like Parmesan or Pecorino or Manchego, even.

At the stove, crack the egg in the pan and start back a little when it sizzles. Then watch as the white spreads and thins and finally gets golden around the edges and forms tiny bubbles on top. When you think it will hold, flip it—but only for a minute! You want that yolk still runny, just barely hot.

Move the egg to a plate, add some more oil to the pan, and throw the toast in. Let it cook til it's golden, then flip it and do the same thing again. When the toast is done move it over to the plate with the egg, and add the arugula to the pan. You'll need a little oil so that it can wilt, and a sprinkle of salt on top. The arugula doesn't need much—a minute at most. When it's done it should still be fairly firm, fairly solid, just warm and just starting to wilt. Turn the heat off. Now arrange the greens on the plate with the toast and the egg and grate the cheese over top. If you use a carrot peeler, you'll get big, thick ribbons of white, which I think is nice. Finally, cut a few wedges of lemon, and squeeze the juice over the greens, with another little drizzle of oil oil on top.

Now sit down, breathe deep, and take a bite.


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