The Local Food Report: the Daikon

I love the Internet. When I first sat down to research daikon radishes—the very large, very thick satiny white carrot doppelgangers I met at the Falmouth Farmers' Market the other day—this is what I learned from Answers.com:

Q: How can you tell if a daikon radish will be hot or mild?

Relevant answers: 1) You generally know if you are "hot" if you physical appearance and behavior seems attractive. 2) Your complexion may be clear, you may not be very fat, you may get many dates. And, 3) The daikon radish greens are edible. 

Totally relevant, and good to get those sorts of things cleared up. At any rate, I have since learned that daikon radishes as a lot are actually fairly mild, and that this is because it's really the hot summer weather that gives radishes kick, and these aren't harvested until late fall. By then, things have cooled down, both in the spice sense and in the climate sense.

To back up, if you've never met a daikon radish, they are an incredibly large kind of radish that Americans generally associate with Japan. They actually found their way to Japan via China about two thousand years ago, and they're incredibly popular all over Asia. They're also called mooli in Britain, and they're used in Asia in all sorts of dishes. They're particularly popular in the winter when they provide a much needed source of Vitamin C. And yes, you really can eat the greens. 

I saw my first local daikon at the Falmouth Farmers' Market the other day, chatting with a guy at the Silverbrook Farms stand named Steve. He said he doesn't really like vegetables, but that other people seem to really like these, in particular his Asian customers in Boston. They chop them up and put them into EVERYTHING, he told me.

I did some looking around on the Internet, and it seems that he is right. There are daikon pickles and daikon slaws and cakes made with daikon and saag with daikon leaves

The time to eat them is now. I don't know of many people who grow them locally, but I did see a Facebook post announcing that a vendor at the Plymouth Winter Market would be selling them, and I found this article about a man in Harwich who grows them. And of course there's Silverbrook Farm. And speaking of winter markets, there's also one in Sandwich, East Falmouth, and you can catch the end of the season in Mashpee. For markets further afield, click on over here


To see it

We have spent the past three weekends cleaning. First we went through our closet. Then Sally's clothes. Then the pantry. Then the coat closet. Yesterday the office and the sewing drawer and every single file in all four filing cabinets. Next up is the basement. 

There is a lot to learn from the old notebooks and papers and forgotten pantry shelves. I've been feeling recently like we haven't made much progress in terms of Big Life Goals, but this cleaning was full of reminders of how far we've come. Particularly in the local food department.

I have been feeling, since Sally, like we've been slipping. And we do have new things that we buy since she came along. Sally (and her developing brain) are a big fan of tinned herring. For the same reason, I now buy wild salmon from the west coast (for more on this, check out my article in this summers' edible Vineyard). I get her organic avocados from the market in Provincetown and whole wheat pasta, and I try to have bananas and raisins on hand because, quite frankly, they're easy.

But we've still come farther than I realize. Reading back through my garden journal, I realized that six years ago, I did not have a garden. There was hardly anything intentionally local in my pantry or freezer, and I don't think I'd ever been to the Orleans Farmers' Market.

Today I bake all of our bread. It is all whole-grain, and it all comes from our CSA which is based in Amherst, Massachusetts. We get all of our beans locally, from the same place. We have a good supply of raw, un-homogenized, grass-fed milk from our coop, thanks to the fact that one local family makes the drive every week. Soon we'll also be able to get butter and cream. Our greenhouse looks better this fall than ever before—it is completely full of winter greens. We have enough arugula to maybe even see our salads through (!) and plenty of kale and turnips and carrots, too. We have homegrown garlic—maybe not quite enough, but next year's much bigger crop is already in the ground. At the last Orleans Farmers' Market I bought nearly a hundred dollars worth of winter squash and potatoes and cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and they're all tucked away in the small fridge downstairs. We have a freezer full of sliced strawberries and crushed tomatoes and pesto and local meat. Our pantry shelves are stocked with bread and butter pickles, homemade cordial and vanilla, and plenty of jams and jellies. In short, we have a lot of local food in this little house. 

It makes me very thankful, especially this time of year. There are so many new farmers and producers and farmers' markets, and every year it gets easier. 

Of course, there is still the perennial question. What do you eat in the dead of winter?

But more and more often these days, there's an answer. Last night we had winter squash lasagna again, with butternut and sage from Cape Cod Organic Farm. The ricotta was Organic Valley, and the Parmesan came from Italy. I can live with that. We also had a salad with arugula and carrots and radishes from our garden and fresh, homemade bread. This morning Sally and I ate homemade granola with oats and maple syrup from Maine and organic nuts and coconut flakes. We sprinkled it with sliced strawberries from the freezer—berries I picked and put up with my mother in Maine—and milk from Paskamansett.

Not everything is local, but there is progress. Slowly. The kind that takes cleaning out a closet or a desk, and taking the time to see it. 


This is our go-to granola these days. My friend Crissy brought a batch over when Sally was a few months old, and we've been hooked on it ever since. It's made with maple syrup and it's a little sweeter than I normally like, so you don't need much for a whole bowl of fruit and yogurt. We haven't been eating many traditional desserts recently, and we've found it also makes a nice after dinner treat. I usually make a double batch.

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chopped cashews
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup large, unsweetened coconut flakes
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil, or melted lard or butter

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Mix together the oats, nuts, coconut, and salt in a large bowl. Combine the maple syrup and the fat in a measuring cup, then pour this mixture over the oat mixture. Stir until everything is well coated. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for about an hour and a half, or until the granola is crisp and golden. It will keep for several weeks in a tin. 


The Local Food Report: stewed pompion

Ever wonder what it was like in the kitchen on the first Thanksgiving?

The other day, I visited Kathleen Wall at Plymouth Plantation. She's the foodways historian there, which means that she gets to read a lot of old texts and pick up hints about what the Pilgrims were and were not eating. She also plays Elizabeth Warren in the 1627 village, so she spends a lot of days in costume and in character interacting with schoolchildren. She's a very interesting person.

When we were together, we talked a lot about pumpkin. Pompions, the English settlers called them. Pompions were not common in old England, because they're vining plants which means they need hot summers, but they were incredibly abundant when the Pilgrims arrived here. They mention three types: something called a vining apple, which by all accounts is an acorn squash, something called a buckler which sounds like a Patty Pan, and the Great Pompion, known today as a jack-o-lantern. 

Unfortunately, for all the pumpkins they found in New England, what the Pilgrims really wanted was apples. There were no apples in their part of the New World until the 1630s—nine years after the celebration we call the first Thanksgiving. I asked Kathleen why, and she pointed out that for a while other things took precedence—things like building houses and forts and fences and generally trying to stay alive. Fair enough. So in the meantime the Pilgrims ate pumpkins and wrote poems like this one:


       Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies
       Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
       We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
       If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone!

When they cooked pumpkins, they generally stewed them into something reminiscent of apple butter. They scooped out the seeds and peeled them and cut the flesh into very small pieces, and then let it stew down all day in an iron pot over the fire. They added cinnamon or ginger and a little bit of vinegar to give it kick. And it almost—almost—tasted like apple butter, like home. 

Kathleen says they probably served stewed pompion at the celebration we call the first Thanksgiving—the harvest meal the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims shared in the fall of 1621. 

I asked about pumpkin pie, and she says that would have come a bit later. They didn't have much spare flour or sugar. But she did say that when they started making pumpkin pie, they sliced the pumpkin into little crescent shapes, like you would with apples. The custard pie we think of as a classic didn't appear until much later. Apples showed up again in the 1630s, which meant if anyone was going to the trouble and expense of making a pie, they were using apples instead.

But don't let that stop you from eating pumpkin pie today. The pilgrims had pumpkin on Thanksgiving. It wasn't pie, but it was there, in the iron stew pot. And if you need a last minute recipe, here's my grandma's. It is, as labeled, The Best.


This is my grandmother's recipe. I've titled it exactly as she wrote it out on the card—and true to her word, this pie never fails. I usually use homemade pureed pumpkin or winter squash in place of the canned pumpkin, but that's the only tweak. Oh! and a note about the amounts—this recipe makes two pies. 

4 eggs, beaten slightly
24 ounces pureed pumpkin or winter squash
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
13 fluid ounces evaporated milk
two 9-inch pie crusts, preferably homemade

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk together the ingredients in the order given and pour the filling into the two bottom crusts. Bake for 15 minutes; turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another 45. Serve warm or cool, with a thick dollop of whipped cream.


The Hellman's Bird

We cooked a turkey yesterday. 

It's a little early, I realize. But we go to Alex's family's for Thanksgiving every year, and his great-aunts cook, which is great. But we wanted to cook our own bird for a change. And so on the recommendation of my friend Kevin, who is the sort of person I trust when it comes to these things, we ordered a bird and slathered the entire 19.36 pound carcass in Hellman's mayonnaise.

Holy cow.

It was amazing. It helps that we got a good bird—it came from Misty Knolls in Vermont, where Alex orders in his turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving. It also helps that we basted it and that we did not stuff it—don't worry, we made stuffing, but we cooked it at the end in all the pan juices. Stuffing the bird actually slows down the cooking time by quite a bit, and more time in the oven means more time drying out. This bird took only 3 hours to cook, and it was hands down some of the juiciest, most delicious meat I've had in years.

If you're not afraid of a little mayo, come Thursday, give it a go. Whisk in some garlic and herbs, rub it all over the bird, and baste periodically. Kevin says the protein in the egg yolks help the fat stick to the skin, which makes it particularly crisp and flavorful. I'm not sure about the mechanics of it, but I'd say he's right. Thank you Kevin!

Oh! and if you need recipes for pumpkin pie or Cranberry Goodin' Pudding or a stalk of Brussels sprouts, don't forget the archives are always here.

Happy turkey day, everyone.

P.S. Thanks to my niece Lili for taking the picture up there. She can already cook, and she's learning the ropes of documentation now, too.


The Local Food Report: Tromboncino

You can see where the Tromboncino squash gets its name.

Darnell's last name is Italian—Caffoni (CAH FONE EE)—and that's how she got mixed up with this squash in the first place. She and her late husband Rod were looking for vegetable varieties that would celebrate their Italian heritage, and they landed on C. moschata,  or Tromboncino Rampicante. 

The rampicante part comes from it's rampant vine growth. The plants are huge and very productive, and Darnell said hers took over the backyard this year. They grow curvy if you let them sprawl and straight(er) if you trellis them, just like cucumbers. I asked Darnell about this, and she says its because if you trellis them, the weight of the bell hanging down, gravity, pulls the neck straight. Straight squash are nice, I suppose, but I like them curvy. You never know what kind of a shape you might find.

The most interesting thing about the Tromboncincos, though, is that they can be used as both a summer or a winter squash. Right now, Darnell's selling them as winter squash—they look and taste like butternut, and they'll keep through the winter. Earlier in the season, though, in July and August, she was harvesting them green and selling and eating them as zucchini. The Tromboncino is a two for one in this regard. 

Darnell recommends planting a radish next to each Tromboncino seed to ward off squash vine borer beetles, and she says once they start vining it's a good idea to keep planting radishes along the vines every few feet or so. She can't quite explain it, but if you leave the radishes in the ground, the smell and texture of the leaves is supposed to keep the beetles away. It works, she says, every time.

Usually I grow zucchini and butternuts, but next year I'm thinking of planting only Tromboncinos instead. No more zucchini crises! We could eat what we wanted as summer squash, and leave the rest to mature. Fedco sells seeds, as does Territorial. I bought a four-pounder from Darnell and saved the seeds.

The flesh I roasted and pureed and cooked up for a winter squash lasagna. Darnell mentioned this was one of her favorite ways to eat it—along with baked and stuffed and roasted as a side—and I found a recipe online from Everyday Living, October 2005. It reminds me of this, except a little more sophisticated. In other words, it's delicious.


Any number of squash varieties would work well here. Butternut, Tromboncino, Acorn, Hubbard—whatever you have on hand, really. Just make sure when you cook the squash down that you have a nice, thick puree—you don't want much water in it.

olive oil
4 cups winter squash puree
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
fine-grain sea salt and ground black pepper
1 pint ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan, divided
half an 8-ounce package of lasagna noodles, cooked

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grase an 8-inch squash casserole dish with olive oil and set it aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the squash puree, sage, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In another bowl, mix the ricotta with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. 

Cover the bottom of the dish with lasagna noodles. Spread with half the squash mixture. Add another layer of noodles, then spread with half the ricotta mixture. Repeat layering and sprinkle the top—which should be the ricotta mixture—with the remaining Parmesan. Cover the baking dish and bake until the lasagna is heated through, about 45 minutes. Then take the cover off and continue baking until the lasagna is golden brown on top, roughly another 20 minutes. Serve hot.


Channa & Aloo

Hello from here.

We went for a walk around 7:30 this morning, and there was fog rising off the road. By the time the sun came out we were hot, peeling jackets and snowpants. Sally even took off her socks! It boded well for the kale we just transplanted, and for the arugula still in the garden. 

On our walk we stopped to return some library books, and then we went for breakfast at the Flying Fish. We had two quiches and a coffee, played with Eli on the slide on the deck, and then picked up our milk and walked home. It was a good way to start the day.

It was especially good in light of the fact that later on, we're going to have a cook-a-thon. Alex has been wanting Channa and Aloo, a kind of curried chickpeas, carrots, and potatoes he ate when he lived in Trinidad. He wants them with roti and curried goat, and so that is what we will be making. When Sally wakes up we're going to make the green seasoning, and the chickpeas are already on to boil. 

We'll report back shortly.


The Local Food Report: hot dog

I had a friend growing up who said she was a vegetarian, except she ate hot dogs. Secretly, I think we all feel that way—a little more into hot dogs that we'd like to admit. Most hot dogs are full of less-than-appetizing ingredients, things like mechanically separated turkey,  potassium lactate, corn syrup, and maltodextrin. 

And yet. They taste. SO GOOD! 

Enter the Farm Institute hot dog, an all-local, all-pastured beef dog. The Farm Institute is a non-profit on Martha's Vineyard working to teach people about sustainable agriculture, and part of their strategy is to produce top notch hot dogs. I met the executive director, Jon Previant, at the winter farmers' market in West Tisbury, and he said they got the idea from Allen Healy at Mermaid Farm & Dairy. Allen has been making all-local dogs for a while—it's a good way to use ground beef, and they're popular with families. The Farm got on board two years ago, and Jon says they sell out constantly. They sell them to a local sandwich shop, they use them at their events, they sell them at the farmers' markets and online, and they also "go ahead and eat a lot of them."

Jon says without irony that they are the best hot dogs you've ever had, and that they taste like hamburger with a little maple syrup and some spices. They are all ground beef, no fillers, and the meat gets mixed with maple syrup and a few spices and some celery salt. (The celery salt works as a preservative, because it naturally contains nitrates, but it doesn't give the dogs that same pink color that sodium nitrites do.)

Jon says the texture is a little different from a commercial hot dog—not so mushy, and a little less like chewing dough. In other words, delicious.

I am saddened to say that I have not personally been able to try one of the Farm dogs, as we were traveling overnight and on bicycles when we visited the market, but I noticed today that you can order them online and pick them up if you live on-Island. Also, Jon says they got the idea from Allen Healy, who runs Mermaid Farm & Diary in Chilmark, and that they also sell an all-local dog. If you try either one, I'd like a full report.


Chili now

Can we talk about chili now? I think so. It gets dark at four thirty, there's a fire in the woodstove, and Sally's worn her snowpants two days in a row. We have a fridge full of carrots and a counter covered in winter squash and garlic and sweet potatoes. It's time, people. I hope you are on board.

The first order of business is to char a couple of hot peppers. Those ones up there came from a friend's plant. I have no idea what variety they are, but I'd call them medium-hot, sort of like a spicy jalapeño. We also need to take a pound of ground beef out of the freezer, and a quart of crushed tomatoes. Oh! and some chicken stock. We need garlic—a full head—and a big red onion, peeled and chopped. Then chili powder, cumin, paprika, chipotle. And beans! Kidney and black, a pinch of salt. 

We're going to keep this simple. We'll get out a soup pot and sauté the onions in lard, sweat them with the garlic and peppers and spices. Then we'll add the ground beef, brown that, and finally pour in the crushed tomatoes, beans, and chicken stock. We'll taste for salt. Then we'll simmer, letting the flavors come together, and we'll walk away until dinner time. 

When it gets dark—in midafternoon!—we will make a salad and put some cornbread in the oven. And later, once we've set the table and washed the dishes and packed lunches and bags for tomorrow, we will light the candles and sit down.


There are a lot of creative chili recipes out there, but sometimes you just want a simple one. This is plain Jane, and very good.

1 tablespoon lard, olive oil, or butter
1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
3 jalapeños or other mild hot peppers, charred, seeded, and chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle
1 pound ground beef
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 quart crushed tomatoes, preferably homemade
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked kidney beans
sea salt to taste

Warm up the cooking fat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring often, for about five minutes, or until they start to get soft. Add the peppers, garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika, and chipotle and cook another few minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is just cooked through. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and beans, and taste. Season with salt as needed. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about half an hour to let the tomatoes and broth cook down and the flavors come together. Serve hot, with the usual accompaniments. 


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