Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farm to Plate Initiative

being a report/review of the recent Farm to Plate Statewide Food Summit held in Rutland. Thank you to India Burnett Farmer for allowing me to publish it.
Below, Greg Cox is about to nibble on one of his luscious greens. Greg and India are a big part of RAFFL (Rutland Area Farm and Food Link), which sponsored the summit.

From Farmers' Market Farmers

The auditorium of the Rutland Middle School was packed with at least 300 people this Saturday to hear Kenneth Meter’s keynote address at the Farm to Plate Statewide Food Summit. Meter, an experienced food system analyst, presented the findings of his study of the farm and food economy of Southeast Minnesota, Finding Food in Farm Country. Meter’s study identified disturbing trends that mimic the Vermont farm situation. Most dispiriting perhaps was the loss of independence and autonomy farms are facing – decades of diminishing farm profits directly related to commodity prices and expenses that are out of the control of farm operators, the increasing rate of money flowing out of farm communities in the form of interest payments as farmers become more dependent on non-local financial institutions and the decreasing share of the retail dollar farmers realize for their product.
Meter was quick to note that even though the economic hardships plaguing the nation’s farm families are also hitting home in Vermont, he also sees a lot of promise for farms to thrive here. Meter noted the significance of the Farm to Plate planning process to strategically guide agriculture at a statewide level. This, coupled with the grassroots groundswell of support for local food and the presence of so many innovative farmers, bodes well for our agricultural future.
The short of it: the current food system takes wealth out of local communities, while community based food systems provide a path towards economic recovery.
The Farm to Plate Initiative, and the work of the numerous farm and food organizations like the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, supports the strengthening of community-based food systems here in Vermont.

Meter stressed that the key to strong community-based food systems is the presence of direct relationships between a wide variety of players. This is where I see Vermont excelling - we are a small state, and these relationships are already strong. Examples abound - diversified farms know their customers by name, Vermont Fresh Network introduces farmers to chefs, RAFFL mixers build community between beginning farmers and link farmers and institutions like the local hospital.
As our food systems strengthen and expand, new relationships will develop. As processing and distribution hubs come on-line, farmers will know the face of brokers, distributors and specialty food processors. Brokers and distributors, in turn, will better know the food service directors at our schools and institutions. It is these relationships that stimulate creative partnerships between producers, processors, consumers, and more that increase demand for and value of agricultural products. This web of economic activity, when focused on local, statewide and regional relationships, will capture the dollars running through Vermont’s agricultural economy and help rebuild the wealth of our rural communities.
I found the success stories that Meter shared from across the country most inspiring. Examples that I’m excited to see folks explore here in Vermont include:
• Farms that are pushing the envelope in season extension (12 month greens production), marketing prowess (hydroponic operation capturing majority market share in the Twin Cities) and exceptional sales numbers at intensive scales (CSA with $70,000 sales/acre)
• Restaurants that are truly committed to impacting the farm economy (Cafe that sources 59% of inventory locally from over 50 producers)
• Institutional sales successes (University leadership to buy locally has led to 25 stores & institutions in Northern Iowa buying $1.8 million of local food)
• Regional food processing center (involves community players, stimulates new markets like hospital, food co-op and schools)
• Producer and buyers co-op that includes farmers, hospital food service, distributors and truckers as owners.
• Co-operative marketing models (Poultry business cluster addresses scale issues - co-op allows independent small scale production with larger scale processing)

A slideshow of the Farm to Plate planning process updated us all on the effort thus far. Break out sessions throughout the day allowed for input and discussion on the many sections of the Farm 2 Plate Strategic Plan, including the proposed 20 Goals for 2020. The draft of the plan is set to be competed by the end of June (incorporating everything they’ve heard during this summit and many other focus group sessions around the state).
A fantastic lunch sourced from many local farms was served. Pulled pork from Brown Boar Farm, fresh salad greens from Vermont Herb & Salad Company, Beet Salad from Foggy Meadow Farm and more from Brown’s Farm Stand, Thomas Dairy, Boardman Hill Farm, Perry’s Potatoes, Green Mountain Coffee and Dellveneri Bakery.
by India Burnett Farmer

Monday, April 26, 2010

first rhubarb pie

could almost eat this just like this, with egg on its face

about as good as it gets in piedom

Rhubarb Custard Pie

(from June 2007)

...the crust...

My grandmother’s crust was pale, never golden, even white. She used lard, and sometimes a bit of butter. It was slightly salty, never sweet, so that it was a flaky foil to any filling. Flaky? When your teeth bit into it they slid off each other, then through with a click, as though biting into a scrumptious, slightly salty, richly greasy, layered shaley stone. It was the queen of pie crusts, the one everyone else aspired to. After Grandma died, Aunt made the pies, for her crusts were closest, even though she would grunt, "Humph, not as good as Ma's, but..."

It took me years to learn to make a good crust, and that was only after I realized I had taken too seriously admonishments not to handle it too much and so it all fell apart when I tried to roll it out. I knew this, but could do nothing about it. Every time I tried to squeeze that dough together the bones in my fingers locked up.

This is the way I make it now: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Into the bowl of a food processor put 2 cups of unbleached flour (8 oz); ½ teaspoon salt; 1/3 cup cold butter cut into small chunks (3 oz); 1/3 cup of lard (3 oz). Pulse until the mixture is the size of coarse meal. Into 1/3 cup of water put two ice cubes, and, holding the ice back with your fingers, add it slowly to the flour mixture as you pulse the machine just until it forms a ball. I seldom use all the water, so go slowly and carefully. It shouldn’t be wet, but neither should it be too dry.

(To do this by hand, whisk together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and lard until the texture is correct, sprinkle with the water, toss with a fork until the dough comes together in a ball.)

Flour a working surface, scrape the dough onto it, knead it a bit, pat into a smooth ball and divide it in half. Take the slightly larger half (for there will be one) and roll it out and fit it into your pie pan, making sure you have a generous overlap, say about 2 inches. Set aside and roll out the top crust and leave it while you make the filling.

...the filling...

(Adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery)

Whisk 2 large eggs until foamy. Whisk in 1 ½ cups granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, grated rind of ½ lemon or lime, and ¼ teaspoon salt (I do this all in the processor). Pour 4 (generous) cups rhubarb that has been cleaned, trimmed, and cut into 1/3 inch slices (it should be dry) into the bottom crust. Pour the egg mixture over the rhubarb, dot with about 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (don’t forget this step, as I often do: It’s VERY important) and gently position the top crust over the rhubarb. Again, there should be a generous overlap.

At this point I use shears to trim the two crusts evenly. Turn the overlap of the crusts under to seal, and then crimp the edges. They’ll be nice and thick and crispy when you’re done. Vent the top crust with the shears and sprinkle with turbinado sugar if you have it.

Don’t skimp on the sugar in a pie. I use practically no sugar on an everyday basis, but pies are the kind of special occasion on which, even when sugar was valuable and hard to get, it would be used abundantly.

Bake the pie at 450 degrees for fifteen minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for twenty or thirty minutes, or until the top crust is browned, the fruit is fork tender, and the filling is bubbling.

By baking for ten or fifteen minutes at a high heat, the bottom crust has less time to get soggy and the rhubarb gets a jump-start on becoming tender before the filling has time to boil and curdle the eggs. The long low-heat baking then thickens the custard – which will not “set” – while further tenderizing the rhubarb and crisping the crust.

... the topping...

I always serve my pies topped with a dollop of crème fraiche, which is delectably not-sweet, but tangy and unctuous with butterfat. You can buy it ready made, but I usually make mine at home. Because it’s simple.

To a pint of good heavy cream, that has not been ultra-pasteurized (Thomas’s is very good), whisk in 1 tablespoon buttermilk or sour cream just until it’s smooth – you don’t want to whip the cream. Cover loosely and set aside in a warm spot until it thickens, probably for at least six hours. You might want to think about this before you make the pie, as I did not as I wrote this recipe.

Virginia dogwood bloomed profusely this year in our little corner of Vermont

Saturday, April 24, 2010

ramps are in

Sorry for my long absence. But a picture is worth a thousand words, isn't that right?
I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

how sweet the green spring

How sweet it is, when you have not “had time to cook” in what seems like months, that you are nevertheless certain to make the time to walk into the Farmers’ Market and pick up a dozen eggs all speckled brown perfection in their carton, and some yellow-veined green chard fresh from the field and certainly some spinach; and when you exclaim, as you dig out your last change for a box of blue and yellow and orange carrots, “Oh, I need potatoes, too, but I’m cleaned out,” the farmer says “we have TONS of potatoes. I’m going to give you some” and she dumps a little peck of them in with the carrots. Because that’s just how sweet it is, you remind yourself, when you are among friends and good, earthy food!

And still sweet when you tear yourself away from the conversations and music at the Market and they follow you through the Co-op and out upon the sidewalk, and then you go home to a garden full of sorrel and Egyptian onions, and garlic sprouting greenly up, and nubbins of rhubarb looking like a jigsaw puzzle all brilliant red and black and green – all growing up out of the ground, and it is 82 degrees in Rutland on April third.

Well, that’s pretty sweet, and you must appreciate it NOW, because beautiful weather isn’t free, you know. You’re going to pay for it later...

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately – a life full of hit-the-ground-running mindset interspersed with moments of recognition of what’s really important, as well as the occasional opportunity to really enjoy it.
In that Saturday afternoon lull that I speak of, I decide to make a cup of tea. I open the dishwasher because there are no clean cups hanging under the cupboard. There in that malodorous machine the state of my life is made apparent. The upper level proliferates in dirty glasses and cups and grungy plastic containers and the lower one in forks and soup spoons, and all the tablespoons I own because I use them each day for my dog’s yogurt (he still gets HIS supper), and knives that we use for butter and peanut butter on morning toast. All that while the plate rack remains woefully empty. Not too many sit-down meals have gone on in this house for some time now. Quick short-order is about it.

So I decide to make a quiche. Because I have these lovely fresh ingredients, and because the tools involved in making and eating it will fill up the empty spaces in the dishwasher so it can be guiltlessly run.

But I chide myself for those thoughts – the making of a quiche is a pleasant enough thing in itself; and the eating of it no less so. Especially when you have not been cooking anything with any like degree of preparation time and planning in recent history.

In that recent history I have met many people who do not have time to cook for themselves, let alone their families, and very little inclination, anyway, because they don’t perhaps KNOW how to cook, at least something the thought of which whets their appetite. KFC anyone? Whenever I find myself in these circumstance I think of the young working families who have children at home, whose lives are hectic and short on time. What happens when they need a meal?

I count myself lucky that I can decide to make a quiche and then simply MAKE it, because I know how to do it without having to look up a recipe that calls for so much Swiss chard and so much this and that. I know to prepare the single crust from a cup of flour, some butter or lard, some salt, and enough ice water to bring it together. I know to shred the cheese and put half of it over the crust, prepare the chard and onions, and the formula for the custard. And to put it into a really HOT oven in order to cook the bottom crust and then to turn the heat down so that the custard doesn’t curdle. I wish I could teach the whole world to cook, to take advantage of real food.

Another blessed evening I am again lucky. I have the time and the garden that I can walk out into and pick a stem of lovage and some chives and take them in and drop them on some Trader Joe’s green beans steaming over a pot of simmering water. Whenever I find a TJs I stock up on olive oil and those great frozen green beans – they are small, like French green beans, les haricots vert, I believe, zydeco for short, and tender and flavorful.

And here is my yearly reminder that lovage is a plant that everyone should have in their garden. Its beauty is not in its appearance, which is large and raw and straggly, but in the flavors of tarragon and celery that it adds to soups and vegetables, even potato salad.

Along with the green beans, which will be dropped into a warm bowl and dressed with butter, salt and pepper before we eat them, I have chicken wings from the Farmers’ Market, that I’ve given a long, SLOW roast with garlic and jalapeno, and the first arugula from a booth at the Farmers’ Market – Singing Cedars, I think.
On the plate the arugula, green beans and chicken wings are all dressed with separate drops of a really good sherry vinegar and some shards of gorgonzola that has aged quite magnificently in the cheese drawer in my fridge for at least two months. What a plate full of different and entirely melodious tastes – a rare treat these days!

After supper I wander through the gardens, the yard, around the house on the corner lot that wants to be a farm, through all the plots, at least three times, noticing and planning, and gathering different specimens of the daffodils that grow there. I wonder what I am doing filling this spring up with so much unspringlike work, that hit-the-ground-running attitude, and then I take the daffs into the house and plop them into a little cream pitcher my grandmother gave me, and then I take a picture of them. One of them is prettier than the others, with a bright orange ruffling out of the center. Bah, I say, I’ll bet that beauty is not the best smelling one. I sniff each of them, from the plainest to the flashiest.

Hah. I was wrong. The prettiest DOES smell the sweetest.

Sometimes that’s just the way it is!

Slow-Roasted Chicken Wings
As some of you know, I buy locally grown, pastured meats, and that includes chicken. Until lately, when the McMurrys at Sunset Farm found a way to sell chicken parts, a meal of chicken wings was a thing of the past. These wings are large and meaty. Find Jeff or Cathy at the Rutland Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Preheat the oven to 425°

Smear a large shallow pan –a rimmed pizza pan works well – with butter. Take 3 pounds of chicken wings, dry them with paper towels if necessary, lock the wing tip over the drumstick, place each on the pan, sunny side up, grind salt and pepper over them, sprinkle with finely chopped jalapeno and garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until golden and crispy.