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

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

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

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

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


SEED ORDERING 2014 // the local food report

I have never been so over a winter. For a while, I tried to embrace it. Well, now I am trying denial. Let's talk about gardens! Spring! 

These pictures were taken by Andrew Cummings, and they're of his garden in Wellfleet. As you can see, he's meticulously organized, and it pays off. His beds are both beautiful and productive. Each year he keeps a notebook tracking the varieties he grows and what does well, and he revises his seed order based on year after year of experience. Last week, I talked with him about what varieties he's planning for this season. Below the photos is a list of his top picks for 2014.


The peppermint name comes from this Swiss chard's pale pink stems. Andrew says it consistently out-performs the other chards in his garden, to the point where this year Peppermint is the only chard he's growing. He finds it less susceptible to pests and and excellent eating green.


This winter squash is a beautiful deep orange. Inside, the flesh is the same color and incredibly sweet. Andrew found out about it through friends, who say it's excellent for pie or simply baking.


This is the only beet Andrew grows. It's sweet, it's a great keeper, and you can eat the greens.


This is an heirloom Ukrainian variety. The skin makes it look just like a potato! Reviews say it's great tasting, very prolific, and mid-sized. Andrew's trying it for the first time this year.


Wow. What a name! It's related to the daikon radish and ... it's green! Andrew says it grows well all season long, and he likes to eat it ground up and mixed with mashed potatoes. The greens are edible too.


Another Asian variety...this time a sweet, short, stocky carrot that does especially well in cool weather. Andrew says it's great for eating fresh and for cooking, and if you plant it in the fall, it will overwinter.



I'm so eager to tell you about this mushroom soup. I've made it four times in the past four weeks, which even for a soup lover like me seems a bit over the top. First, however, I have to tell you about the milk in it. It's MOO—Maine's Own Organic—Milk. Isn't that a great name? It has a great story, too.

In 2009, when 10 small organic farms in Maine were dropped by the national dairy processor HP Hood, the farmers had two options: sell their farms or join forces and try to preserve their traditional dairy heritage. They chose the latter and formed MOO Milk. It had a rocky start—the award-winning documentary Betting the Farm tells the story—but the small company with a big dream has made impressive strides. It's currently working on new packaging and new products, including...yes, chocolate milk!

We've been buying MOO Milk for the past year and love it. It's available at every Hannaford and Whole Foods in the Northeast and at a few other grocery stores too. The milk reportedly travels a shorter distance from cow to cooler than any other organic milk in New England. It's also pasteurized at a lower temperature than other organic milks, which better preserves its nutrients and its taste.

Which brings us back to the soup. It's wonderful—velvety smooth and full of taste—and so easy to make. What's more, it can be made with almost all local ingredients. There's the MOO Milk, of course, which I buy at Hannaford. I get the onions and potatoes at our winter farmers market, and also celeriac, which I often use instead of celery. For a special treat, I sometimes splurge and use fresh mushrooms from Oyster Creek Mushroom Company in Damariscotta (I can get those at the farmers market, too). Regular button mushrooms also work well, though.

This soup is especially good on a bitter cold night—which may explain why I've been making it so frequently in recent weeks. As the wind whistles through the trees and the sky over Middle Bay Cove grows dark, we set the table, light the candles, and sit down to warming bowls of mushroom soup.

Or maybe I should call it MOO-shroom Soup.


This recipe, with a few small tweaks, comes from the original Moosewood Cookbook. You can make it richer by swapping cream in for the half n' half or some of the milk, or lighten it by making it entirely with 2% milk, as I usually do. Either way, it's delicious. The amount below serves 4–6 as a main course.

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups diced onion
about 2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 stalk celery (or 1/2 cup celeriac), diced
3 first-sized potatoes, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups milk, scalded
1 cup half 'n half (or milk, if you prefer a less rich soup)
3 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons tamari
freshly ground black pepper
freshly chopped chives or scallion, for garnish

Melt the butter in a large soup pot and sauté the onions with 1 teaspoon of the salt. When the onions are translucent and soft, add the celery and potatoes. Cook over low heat, stirring often so the butter coats everything, for about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, water, thyme, and remaining salt and stir well. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a bit.

Pureé the mushroom mixture in a blender or with a stick blender until it is velvety smooth. Return it to the soup pot and heat it very slowly—"with utmost care," as the Moosewood puts it—as you whisk in the scalded milk and then the half 'n half, sherry, and tamari. Heat only until hot enough to serve; if boiled, the soup will curdle and lose its texture.

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and, if you have it on hand, a garnish of chives or scallions. A few thinly sliced mushrooms add a nice touch too.


HARVEST OF THE MONTH // the local food report

Kids will be kids. Trading cards! Woo! It doesn't matter if they're about tomatoes and apples, kale and carrots. This is just one of the things the Massachusetts Farm to School Project has figured out.

They've also figured out how to make introducing local food to school cafeterias easy. This year they piloted a program called Harvest of the Month, and over six hundred Massachusetts schools participated. The basic idea is this: the Massachusetts Farm to School Project does the legwork. They work with suppliers statewide—purveyors who already have contracts with individual schools and entire districts. They connect these purveyors with farmers. Then they put together the roster—tomatoes in September, pears in October, apples in November, and so on—and all the publicity and materials the schools receive. Then all cafeteria directors have to do is sign up and come up with ways to serve the featured crop at least twice each month. It makes serving local food a no brainer.

I learned about it through Wellfleet Elementary, where my nieces attend. It turns out the whole Nauset district participates, as do schools on the Vineyard, Nantucket, Barnstable, Sandwich, Fall River, Chatham, and Bourne. This year was the program's pilot year, and it ran six months. The response from food service directors has been overwhelmingly positive, so next year the creators at Mass Farm to School will offer a full calendar year. 

When I stopped by the Wellfleet cafeteria on Monday, the kids were trying a carrot soup. Fifty-five liked it, and fifty didn't try it. But there were no dislikes. If an item is popular enough—like kale chips in December—it goes on the menu. Pretty cool, huh?



Oh, shepherds pie.  I've been missing out for too many years.

You see, it's kind of funny that I'm here posting this recipe.  We have some history, shepherds pie and I. Until a few years ago I had only eaten the dish once before (that I can remember).  I swore it off around age six when I developed a stomach bug a few hours after having it for dinner.  Despite my mom telling me it was just a coincidence, I decided I was allergic to shepherds pie and spent the next fifteen or so years ignoring it.

When my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, I was reintroduced to shepherds pie at The Front Room. And, lo and behold, it was delicious.  (I mean, how can you go wrong with lamb and mashed potatoes? What was my six-year-old self thinking?!) Now I make my own version on winter nights that are especially cold and dark, which unfortunately are all too frequent these days.


Any Brit would probably cringe at this recipe, because I don't think it's very traditional.  I used lamb sausage for my version because I can get it locally and the flavor is amazing, but any well-seasoned ground meat would work.  I also happened to have some frozen peas on hand that I wanted to use up, but they could certainly be left out. 

5 to 6 medium potatoes, cut into quarters
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large links lamb sausage, equaling about 1 and 1/2 cups ground meat total
1 large shallot, chopped coarsely
1 small sweet potato, cut into small cubes about 1/4 inch thick
5 to 6 medium carrots, sliced into rounds 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick
3/4 cups green peas
1 large bunch kale, stems removed, roughly torn into small pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons butter
Cream, milk, or half and half, to taste (for the potatoes)
1/4 to 1/2 cup cheddar or parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover by about one inch with water.  Place over medium-high heat and boil until a knife slides easily through the largest pieces.

While the potatoes are boiling, cook your sausage.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or skilled.  Remove the sausages from their casings and break into pieces as you add them to the skillet.  As the sausages cook, break them up into smaller pieces with a fork or wooden spoon.  When the meat is cooked, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon, place it in a bowl, and set it aside.  Leave the remaining sausage grease in the pan, as it will add flavor to the veggies as they cook.

Place the chopped shallots in the skillet with the lamb grease and sauté over medium heat until soft, about five minutes.  Add the sweet potato and carrots and cook, covered, until soft, about 5 or 10 minutes.  When the largest pieces of potato and carrot are soft, add the peas and the kale.  Cook another 5 or so minutes, until the kale is wilted and can easily be mixed into the rest of the vegetables.  Stir in the worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well.

When the potatoes are soft, drain and place back in the pot.  Add butter and begin to mash the potatoes with a wooden spoon or potato masher.  Add cream, milk, or half and half and continue mashing until the potatoes reach your desired consistency. (I find this varies from person to person, so I'll leave it up to you—I think I added about 1/4 cup of half and half.)  Add salt and pepper to taste, and set the potatoes aside.

Now it's time to assemble the pie.  First, place the sausage pieces in the bottom of a large casserole or cast-iron skillet.  Pour the veggie mixture over the sausage.  Finally, place large dollops (that's a technical culinary term, right?) of the potatoes throughout the casserole, spreading them together so they fully cover the veggie mixture.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over the potatoes.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and is beginning to brown.  It doesn't hurt to turn the broiler on at the end for a minute or so to crisp up the cheese.


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