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On the Table: Farm Stands of New York’s Hudson River Valley

This post is the follow-on to my On the Road: Farm Stands of Hudson River Valley. Usually these On the Table posts follow more quickly, but summer’s over and the needs of Frog Commissary and getting ready to promote At Home through the coming holiday season have made it harder to find writing time. Posts are best viewed on the blog site. If you are not viewing this post there, just click on the title above. On the blog site you can also access all back posts — nearly 200, and the blog library of more than 100 recipes.

My home away from home for my Hudson River Valley trip was the home of my brother-in-law Larry. Larry, who is also our Frog Commissary Director of Operations, still has a home in Tuxedo, NY, where he lives when not at our The Franklin institute headquarters with his wife Susan and daughter Sarah. Our plan was to meet Saturday morning to continue shopping at a few of Larry’s well-cultivated Hudson River Valley haunts. We would begin cooking together Saturday afternoon and evening in preparation for Larry’s Sunday birthday lunch.

You don’t get to pick your brother-in-law, but if I did, I’d pick Larry. We share several passions that include both loving Christina — my wife and Larry’s sister…and food. Larry is a wonderful cook and actually more a “foodie” than me. I do it and eat it whereas Larry does both those things, and also studies it. If I was the Slumdog and was down to my last “phone a friend” for my million and the subject was food, I’d call Larry! Included in At Home’s recipes are several recipes from a select group of friends and family and include Larry’s Sausage Stuffing.

After passable meal dinner in Beacon at the end of my Friday excursion and an uneventful night’s sleep in a blissfully unremarkable hotel — the name of which I cannot recall, I headed south to rendezvous with Larry. Larry’s plan was to take me to Blooming Hill Farm and Fleisher’s Meats.

This unremarkable sign by the side of the road in Blooming Grove was something akin to a faded photocopy on a pole near the Louvre announcing “Mona Lisa –> this way.” Larry had mentioned Guy Jones, the social activist and pioneering farmer behind Blooming Hill Farm. But nothing had prepared me for what was by far the finest farm stand of my long summer of farm stands. I will not write much about Blooming Hill here. My visit to Blooming Hill, and the farm dinner we attended Saturday evening, will be the second to last post in my On the Road Farm Stands Series within the next few weeks.

Blooming Hill is the first farm stand that I visited that included a small commercial kitchen and wood burning oven. Larry’s wife Susan joined us for an outdoor breakfast that included sourdough pancakes with peaches, plum sauce and yogurt, a broccoli & cheddar omelette with home fries, panini with ricotta, grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes & caramelized onion and a frittata. Pretty good way to start the day.

For Larry’s birthday I had Padron peppers shipped from California as they are such a treat. I had never seen them at any of the hundreds of farm stands and farmers’ markets that I visited this summer so California it was. But there they were at Blooming Hill. These Padron peppers would be an accent in the squash soup we had that evening at Blooming Hill’s monthly farm dinner that we decided to join. Each month Guy invites a chef to prepare a multi-course vegetarian dinner. Saturday evening David Gould from Brooklyn’s Roman’s restaurant was preparing dinner. Gould’s squash soup was the culinary highlight of the summer. The next weekend I would make this squash soup for my brother Fred’s birthday after my South Fork of Long Island trip. I will feature my rendition of Gould’s soup for you in a recipe post paired with my Blooming Hill post.

Next it was off to Fleisher’s Meats in Kingston, NY. That’s not Fleisher’s Meats in Kingston pictured above. Rather that is Fleisher’s Meats in Brooklyn, NY circa 1901. The early 20th century Fleisher’s was opened by Wolf Fleisher. The 21st century Fleisher’s was opened by Josh and Jessica Applestone in 2004. Josh is Wolf’s great grandson. Those more foodie than me — like Larry — know that Fleisher’s is a 2010 Martha Stewart Tastemaker. Josh writes The Butcher Blog for Saveur Magaizine. As far as Josh knows, his modern day Fleisher’s is the only butcher shop that sells only local grass-fed and organic meats and poultry. Their business is both retail and wholesale to well-regarded locavare restaurants. On the retail side they also deliver to New York City.

Larry and I decided we wanted to grill, but something more interesting…and less expensive than the highly marbled aged sirloin steaks. Barbecue was more what we had in mind which is not really grilling. Some really fat beef short ribs caught my attention and so we had our meat for tomorrow’s lunch. This choice would present a problem as it was now well into the afternoon and we were far north of Tuxedo and we had decided to go to the Blooming Hill farm dinner that night and…I had to first braise these big suckers and make a barbecue sauce from the braising liquid…all before we headed to dinner. So much for one relaxed hour!!! We added a pound of ground beef and bacon — how could we resist something as decadent sounding as ground beef and bacon. To be clear, that’s ground beef with ground bacon mixed in. These sinful future little burgers would become our hors d’oeuvres sliders.

The need to by-pass a serious traffic accident southbound on the New York Thruway caused us to scurry through back roads back to Tuxedo. Pictured above is the combination of my Friday farm stand purchases and our purchases from our Saturday “supplemental” shopping. Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday, with time-out for our farm dinner, this was transformed into Larry’s Sunday birthday lunch. Christina, her mother Ginny and other brother Mike rushed up from Philadelphia early to join us for the Blooming Hill farm dinner and, of course, for Larry’s birthday.

Our narrow apartment kitchen at home is perfectly efficient and built for one. It does not lend itself to in-kitchen snacking, drinking and schmoozing. Larry and Susan’s kitchen, on the other hand, is the epicenter of their home entertaining. Our mostly room temperature hors d’oeuvres were laid out on the kitchen counter. They included counter-clockwise from center:  the wonderful Spanish white anchovies — Boquerones, that are an entertaining staple at Larry and Susan’s table, lightly roasted little tomatoes with fresh mozzarella on crostini, grilled flat beans, sautéed Padron peppers (the one’s flown in from California), pickles, grilled sweet peppers and the ground beef and bacon sliders — ketchup on the side.

Coach’s Note: This meal is not something I would suggest you try at home with limited time. My plan was a leisurely Saturday afternoon and evening of cooking and good wine. We would do some finishing Sunday after spending time with the Sunday New York Times. This is not how it worked out. I had not planned for the long excursion north or the Thruway traffic south and certainly not the last minute decision to attend the farm dinner. Preparing all this was hurried, harried and stressful. Everything I advise against. As Sunday noon approached, having been at it without rest for some hours, I was repeatedly asked by a family member I will not identify, “When are we having lunch?” It was as if a party of seven wanted to know when there table would be ready. Not the most relaxed cooking I have done — akin to a particularly hard night I remember at City Bites cooking on the line many years ago. This was the price I paid for going to Blooming Hill for dinner…and I’d do it again!

I made the these quick pickles Sunday morning — inspired by the pickles served Saturday night at Blooming Hill, using fennel flower and heirloom garlic from Blooming Hill. There is a blog recipe for Quick Pickles in the blog’s recipe index.

This was late August and I encountered all manner and color of small tomatoes. Even though there was to be an heirloom tomato salad with lunch, you can’t have too many late August tomatoes.

These broad beans were blanched, tossed with garlic and olive oil and lightly grilled and finished with flaky sea salt. There is a recipe for Grilled Green Beans in At Home.

Here’s a bowl of sautéed Padron peppers. I have also written a post about these peppers. I am having a dilemma about cooking these peppers. First, it always seems to take longer for them to puff up, lightly brown and shrivel than I expect and I have to remind myself to be patient. Second, I like them with some garlic, but you can’t add the garlic in the beginning because the garlic would burn, but when I add garlic at the end, it immediately browns and sticks together. While these clumps of browned garlic taste wonderful, garlic does not effectively infuse the oil and peppers. I could cook some garlic in oil and remove the garlic before I cook the pepper, but that feels like more trouble than it is worth. I just received two pounds of Padron peppers — probably the last of the California season. I will try again. My plan this time will be to take the cooked peppers off the heat, allow the oil to cool down a bit and toss garlic into the peppers while the oil is not so hot as to immediately brown the garlic but still hot enough that the garlic cooks, mellows and infuses the peppers. Cooking is an art…though I know there is a science behind this technique issue.

Late August is also pepper bonanza time and since the grill was stoked, we grilled rather than roasted these beauties.

As Larry grilled our little ground beef and ground bacon sliders outside, I grilled the our potato flour slider rolls inside on a grill pan. Grilling rolls — especially soft burger rolls makes them so much better. Making medium rare burgers requires a grill-cook’s attention so it’s handy to have a partner to handle the roll toasting.

Following our hors d’oeuvres grazing in the kitchen, we sat down in the dining room to a plattered, family-style lunch. Most everything was at room temperature. Above are beautiful red and yellow beets that were simply roasted while sealed in foil – essentially steamed in their own moisture, peeled, sliced and dressed with diced red onion, chives, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

I collected a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes on my Hudson River Valley farm stand jaunt. This platter is a bit more crowded than I recommended in my post about plattering heirloom tomatoes.

This photo does not do justice to our barbecue beef short ribs. They were big — but in my rush to get them done Saturday afternoon before our farm dinner I did not let them cook long enough and they were a bit tough. That was a shame as Fleisher’s meat had a wonderful flavor. But it’s just a meal and hardly the end of the world. I’ll make them better next time.

Our grilled corn was inspired by corn that I had at Greensgrow’s Farmers’ Market in Kensington. The corn is slathered in a mix of butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, red pepper flakes, ancho chili powder and salt. Delicious!

Dessert included great Hudson River Valley cheeses.

And Hudson River Valley fruit that included an heirloom melon, raspberries, the best red grapes I ever tasted and fennel and honey grilled apricots, plums and white doughnut peaches. I infused the fennel flowers by heating the mix of honey and fennel flowers in the microwave before basting the fruit with honey and a little olive oil. I also grilled the fruit on a grill pan rather than the outdoor grill. On the grill pan you do not have to worry about the fruit falling through the grill grates.

Behind the Scenes

This is my brother-in-law Larry at his grill working on the corn. Naturally, Larry only uses hardwood charcoal.

Corn slather precariously balanced on the deck railing. (Note to self: Get Larry a good grill side table for his next birthday!)

The beef short ribs were fully cooked as all ribs are before glazing. In the background are the small sweet yellow peppers.

Here’s the barbecue sauce precariously balanced on the deck’s railing. (See Note to self above.)

Here’s a Photo Montage Making Pickles

Key pickle ingredients — little Kirby cucumbers, fennel flower and garlic.

Part of the farm stand adventure is that I never know what I will end up making when it’s all over. It’s like buying lots of puzzle pieces and when I’m all done, figuring out how to put the puzzle together. This is sort of like when they give those Iron Chefs ingredients and tell them to start cooking…quickly. Except my way has far better scenary, more fresh air and usually less stress. Also, the food is usually pretty good.

When I started my Hudson River Valley farm stand tour, I had no plan to make pickles — though I am a big fan of pickles of all sorts. But somewhere along the line I saw these tiny Kirby cucumbers — about the size of a big thumb. They just sort of called out to me. Likewise the garlic. Adjacent to the path leading down the hill to Blooming Hill’s farm market was a wide plot of fennel flowers — also for sale in the market. I am a big fan of fennel. The Guy Jones served pickles at the farm dinner as an hors ‘doeuvres.

I started by cutting garlic into slivers and after giving the cucumbers a quick scrub, cutting them in half.

I made an infused brine with white vinegar (depending on the pickle you can use other vinegars), sugar, salt — but not too much salt, some black peppercorns and coriander seed, garlic and fennel flower. This steeps over very low heat for about 15-20 minutes. It could be longer but as we know, I was in a rush.

When the brine has picked up the flavors, I increase the heat until the brine approaches a boil. I off the heat and add the cucumbers or pour the hot brine over the cucumbers — either way. Once it cools, I transfer to the refrigerator. We ate most of them a few hours later, but they can happily sit in the refrigerator for a month. They loose a bit of crispness, but are still great. Serve chilled.

Lightly Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

Cut tomatoes in half and combine with thin slivers of garlic and thin-sliced red onion. Lightly coat with good olive oil and roast in 350 degree oven until tomatoes just begin to soften and “melt” – maybe 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Add salt and pepper.

A Short Course in Braising Short Ribs of Beef. For a complete explanation about braising, there is a two-page “Mastering Braises” on Page 228 of At Home.

Make sure the short ribs are well-dried. I use paper towel.

Here’s sliced red onion, garlic and a quart of flame-roasted plum tomatoes from McEnroe organic farms. My plan was to make the barbecue sauce with the beef’s braising liquid.

In olive oil, brown short ribs well on all sides. Don’t rush this. The ribs were left un-floured as they were ultimately going to be removed from the braising liquid and glazed with barbecue sauce.

Remove short ribs and add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to wilt.

Add back short ribs on top.

Spread around the tomatoes – breaking them in your hands as you go. Add some thyme, a few bay leaves and some red wine.

Lightly cover — but don’t seal. You do not want the braise to steam, but to gently cook in a moist aromatic environment. Place in 225 degree oven for about 3 to 4 hours or until beef is very tender and nearly falling off the bone. This is what I did not do long enough.

Here’s the cooked short ribs.

To make the barbecue sauce, remove bay leaves and add remaining juice from flame-roasted tomatoes, brown sugar and a touch of molasses, balanced with some cider vinegar, as you want this to be slightly sour rather than sweet. Simmer slowly until very thick.

Puree in blender and add back to pot to adjust thickness and seasoning including sweet-sour balance. Add salt and pepper and as much hot sauce as you like. I use Siracha – a Thai hot sauce that has plenty of heat without the sour element present in most American hot sauces.

And of course, the birthday cake.

Susan baked a wonderful layered chocolate mousse cake decorated by edible flowers crafted by daughter Sarah.

There are lots of ways we could have celebrated Larry’s birthday that were easier. Certainly skipping the Blooming Hill farm dinner would have been a big step in that direction. Certainly I could have done a simpler menu and that’s something I need to work on. I have a tendency to get carried away – to be a Home Entertaining Over-achiever. We could have gone out to a restaurant. That certainly would have been easier…and noisier and more expensive. It is hard to image a nicer, more personal and memorable birthday than the one we had with Larry in his home.

Happy Birthday Larry.


Next Saturday at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market.
I am honored to be appearing next Saturday, October 23rd at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market. I will be doing a series of short “mini-classes” each half hour. In between “classes” I am happy to answer your questions about home entertaining. At Home will be available for sale and I would be happy to inscribe your copy. At Home is a perfect holiday gift so start thinking about your list and stock up.Check here for details.


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
On Saturday, October 23rd at 6:30 PM I will be among a long list of guests with whom you can sit at Mt. Airy USA’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Benefit. I’d love to sit with you.

Get Your Knives Sharpened at Kitchen Kapers and Contribute to Ronald McDonald House
Sharp knives are essential kitchen tools. As good as modern day knives are, they do not hold an edge indefinitely. And a honing steel can not sharpen a dull knife. A honing steel can only keep a sharp knife sharp. I guarantee that if you got your knives sharpened, it would make your prep work easier and more enjoyable. Kitchen Kapers, the local kitchenware chain, is offering in-store knife sharpening on Friday, October 29th and Saturday, October 30th. See details as to day and time at your neighborhood store. Plus, your knife sharpening will benefit the Ronald McDonald House — where Frog Commissary Catering usually spends Thanksgiving and Christmas, courtesy of a generous House benefactor.

Coming Posts
On the Road and On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork. Look for these post next week.
On the Road: Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets – Lunenburg and Halifax.
On the Road: Blooming Hill Farm My visit to Blooming Hill’s farm market and the Saturday evening farm dinner.
The final installment of the Farm Stand Series will be reflections on and highlights of my summer’s farm stand journey and thoughts on how to make the farm stand and farmers’ market experience even better.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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On the Road: Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets — Kensington’s Greensgrow

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets. The first three posts visited Farmers’ Markets at Clark Park, Rittenhouse Square and Headhouse. Posts are best viewed on the blog site where you can also have easy access to past blogs and a growing library of more than 100 recipes that came from blog posts. If you are not reading it there, simply click on the title above.

As Dorothy said to Toto in the Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas any more.”

Greensgrow Farms is in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. As the sign pictured above says, Greensgrow Farms are “Growers of Food, Flowers and Neighborhoods.”

On may levels Greensgrow Farms, known simply as Greensgrow, is a stark contrast to previously visited and gentrified farmers’ markets of West Philadelphia’s Clark Park, Rittenhouse Square and the Headhouse market that sits between Society Hill and Queen Village. First urban farmers’ markets are itinerant affairs. Farmers come, pop-up their tents, sell and go home to distant pastures. While Greensgrow has a somewhat traditional farmers’ market on Thursdays and Saturdays, Greensgrow is an actual urban farm — right there in Kensington. There is no going home. Kensington is its home and pasture.

Second, and most significantly, Greensgrow has the explicit agenda to be not just be a part of the Kensington community, but to grow the Kensington community. In addition to the urban farm that grows a wide assortment of vegetables and plants, Greensgrow also organizes area farmers and operates a community-based CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for more than 400 families including low-income families. And the square block that is Greensgrow’s home provides the Kensington community a unique and special sense of place and pride.

Greensgrow is located at 2501 East Cumberland Avenue — about two miles north of Center City. Map.

A drive to Kensington from Center City Philadelphia is like an excursion through the nearly half century of Philadelphia urban development that has occurred since I arrived in West Philadelphia to study architecture at Penn. The Labor Day weekend I arrived from Yonkers, New York, I remember taking a nighttime bus ride. I asked the driver if the bus went “downtown.” “You mean Center City,” the bus driver corrected, and told me to get in. Some time later I was deposited at a dark and deserted 13th & Market. Welcome to Philadelphia in 1964.

Over time, Center City exploded with light and life to become the vibrant, livable, world-class downtown it is today. And as Center City developed, development rippled outward into the surrounding neighborhoods and continues to ripple today. In those early days, you were an urban pioneer if you lived south of Lombard Street and north of Locust. When I moved off campus in 1966, it was to a small house on Naudain Street between Lombard and South. In 1967 I sold candy at the Theater of Living Arts on South Street where I watched the Jules Fieffer play Little Murders countless times. The Synderman’s were trying to make a go of it at the new Works Gallery, across the street. And up the block across 4th Street, Julia and Isiah Zagar, freshly returned from the Peace Corps, had opened the Eyes Gallery.  Gradually, development headed south across South Street into Queen Village, Bella Vista on the east and Graduate Hospital west to the Schuykill River. Today my son Noah shares a house with three guys at 9th & League in the heart of the Italian Market.

As you drive north from Center City toward Kensington and Greensgrow, you pass through Old City. In 1973, Old City was considered primarily the restaurant supply district. Hardly a soul lived there. I remember my brother and I walking into National Products on 2nd Street as I prepared for the April opening of my little storefront restaurant I planned to name Frog. National was a major player in the restaurant supply world and no one there seemed to want to wait on two scraggly young men. We left and walked around the corner to Arch Street where we were warmly greeted at Economy Restaurant Supply. Thus began my long and mutually beneficial relationship with Economy.

In 1982, the Painted Bride Art Center moved from South Street, where it had been located since 1969, to 2nd and Vine Street. The Bride’s move from South Street to Old City was an important symbolic and practical step in extending Old City toward Northern Liberties. The Continental Martini Bar opened in 1995 at 2nd and Market and represented a pioneering effort to extend the 2nd Street restaurant row on to Market Street and beyond into Old City where artists and galleries had established a beachhead of renewal. Today the Fringe and Live Arts Festival stages performances all over emerging neighborhoods. Artists, galleries and restaurants have long been the pioneers of new neighborhoods.

In 1995, when Frog Commissary moved our production facility to 5th and Fairmount in Northern Liberties, the area was just beginning to develop. Street parking was free and plentiful. Today, chic Northern Liberties’ rents and property values rival Queen Village and parking reserved for residents. The Piazza at the old Schmidt’s brewery grounds on North 2nd Street stages a substantial Saturday farmers’ market. Gentrification continues to push north along East Girard Avenue and on to lower Frankford Avenue into the so-called River Wards. Until the recent past, the only culinary reason to head up river into Port Richmond was Taconelli’s extraordinary gas-fired brick oven pizza. Today, Fishtown and Port Richmond are lined with adventuresome new restaurants, in some instances operated by the same folks who were restaurant pioneers in neighboring Northern Liberties. Restaurants include Memphis Taproom, Hot Potato Cafe, Johnny Brenda’s and Ida Mae’s Bruncherie.

Despite wide areas of decay and abandonment, Kensington is clearly in this path of development. Low rents and property values and relative proximity to Center City have made Kensington an attractive home for young people, artists and new families looking for a community and ample space to live at a price they can afford.

Since colonial times, these same factors — low rents and proximity to Philadelphia’s commercial core — and the river, have long been advantages of areas flanking our downtown including Kensington. Fishtown was named for the shad fisheries that occupied that neighborhood in early years. With its location between the river and ample trees of Penn’s Woods, Kensington became a center of shipbuilding, especially important during the twenty-five year period of the Napoleonic Wars in the late 17th and early 18th Century. Somehow wars create demand for ships. As the materials used for shipbuilding shifted away from wood, iron and steel manufacturing developed. In the 19th Century, the textile industry took hold, especially carpet mills. In 1879, McNeil Laboratories opened and with it began a long history of the pharmaceutical industry in Philadelphia. In 1955, McNeil, developers of Tylenol, was purchased by Johnson & Johnson and in 1961 it moved to Fort Washington.


Stenson Hats was founded in 1865 and by 1886, it was the world’s largest hat company. At its peak in the 1920’s Stetson Hat employed 5,000 workers at 3rd and Montgomery, just a few blocks from Greensgrow.

By the 1950’s, as manufacturers left inner cities, Kensington began a long period of de-industrialization and decline leaving a legacy of abandoned properties and debris. In addition, in the 1960’s, construction of I-95 cut a wide gash of desolation into the river neighborhoods.

It is against this backdrop that we marvel at pockets of Kensington today. In 1985, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation was formed to address housing needs in the community. In 1995, the NKCDC broadened its scope to include neighborhood quality of life issues. They created the Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor and developed the Coral Street Arts House — consistent with the successful strategy of leveraging art and artists with emerging communities.

In 1997, Mary Seton Conboy and Tom Sereduk started Greensgrow Farms — a expansive name for a reclaimed brownfield that covers the city block along East Cumberland Avenue. Shortly after starting, Sereduk headed for greener pastures while Conboy literally dug in. Conboy is the Wizard of Greensgrow. But, unlike the Wizard of Oz, who hid behind a curtain to protect against discovery of his un-wizardly ways, Conboy is the real deal. You can learn more about Conboy in this 2008 Philadelphia Magazine profile. As Conboy says, “abandoned land is only abandoned if we chose to leave it that way.”

Welcome to Greensgrow.

The farm house — and office — is a rowhouse behind the gardens and across the street.

Tomatoes and arugula grow in raised beds. The actual soil over which Greensgrow sits is not suitable for growing so plants are grown in containers and vegetables in raised beds in soil trucked in from New Jersey.

Other green houses provide safe harbor to nursery plants.

It’s lush nursery plants run the gamut from sun to shade loving and plants that grow tall outdoors to plants that prefer a comfy window sill. In the tub next to the solar panel are plants that grow in water.

Greensgrow is an herb-lovers paradise with benches filled with marjoram, Thai basil, varieties of thyme and chives. This is  a literal field of peppermint.

Greensgrow challenges our notion of what is a farm? At its most basic, a farm consists of something nourishing to nuture and grow, a place to grow it, water, nutrients, heat and sunshine. You don’t actually need soil. Soil simply provides a medium to anchor the plants roots and convey water and nourishment. Hydroponic gardening accomplishes this without soil. In its early years Greensgrow survived by producing hydroponic field greens for Philadelphia restaurants. While Cumberland Avenue lacks the bucolic rolling hills of Lancaster County, the same blue skies and summer sun that shines on Lancaster County shines on Greensgrow. Of course, you need farmers to make a farm. Greensgrow is tended by a core of dedicated employees and volunteers who can take convenient public transportation to and from the farm. Greensgrow Farms is a unique farm in a unique urban setting playing an important role in the daily life of its community.

The Greensgrow Farmers’ Market operates on Thursdays from 2 to 7 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM. In addition, the nursery is open Tuesdays through Sunday. Check out the Greensgrow website for hours.

Every farm needs a farm cat and at Greensgrow, it’s Blanche du Cat.

Shoppers avail themselves of red wagons.

This particular week at Greensgrow included special guests at the Thursday Farmers’ Market — J.D.s Hot Sauce and Bennett Composting. If you plan on bringing the kids after school to the Thursday Farmers’ Market, they can enjoy the 4 PM Story Time while you enjoy your shopping. The kids may or may not enjoy the Free 6 PM Worm Composting Workshop. Saturday’s market’s special guest was the 35 Springs Fruit Farm — the same spectacular fruit and vegetable farm that hangs out at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market on Sundays.

Area farmers and other providers supplement Greensgrow’s home grown produce to create a complete Farmers’ Market experience. It is more modest in size than many urban farmers’ markets, but it has pretty much whatever you might want in a setting unlike any urban farmers’ markets.

At Greensgrow, your farm stand helpers are likely to have the tattoos and streaked hair as befits the youthful tone of the pioneering neighborhood.

The vegetables look just like vegetables at other neighborhood farmers’ markets.

The fruit is just as fresh and juicy.

An heirloom tomato purchased in Kensington and dressed with a little olive oil and sea salt is just as yummy as its uptown Society Hill cousins.

Tossed on to the grill, these purple eggplant are as luscious as those sold along Walnut Street’s swanky Rittenhouse Row.

On the other hand, these Serrano peppers have no more kick by virtue of their tougher neighborhood than their Clark Park brethren .

Growing corn needs an extraordinary amount of space not available at Greensgrow. So fresh-picked corn is provided by one of the participating market farmer.

At Greensgrow, you can have your fresh-picked corn roasted to order at $1 an ear. But it’s not just roasted. Greensgrow’s fresh picked farm market corn is slathered in a yummy mix of mayonnaise, butter, pepper flakes, chiles, salt and lime and then slowly grill-roasted to perfection over a low-moderate heat.

It will cost you $2 for Greensgrow to roast your peppers on the spot — but you get a free roast from their hand-cranked gas-fired roaster with the purchase of $5 worth of peppers.

Greensgrow boasts the vegan North Port Fishington Cookie Factory. The name is a mashup of the lower northeast neighborhoods of Philadelphia — Northern Liberties, Port Richmond, Fishtown and Kensington.

Lovingly made dips and spreads, including fresh pesto are available at another stand.

While yet another stand offers a potpourri of pickles, honey, garlic, tomatoes and eggs.

The Kensington Community Food Co-op is an evolving member owned grocery serving the emerging Kensington community.

In addition to produce, Greensgrow has a small selection of meats, cheese, yogurt and more under the canopy of one of its green houses.

It’s nothing fancy. Just good.

Greensgrow also utilizes a local church kitchen to produce assorted prepared products. Here is early season Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.

To round out the farm line-up are chickens who seek a little shade under a plant bench with a leafy roof.

The Greensgrow farm truck is provided by Subaru, an enthusiastic sponsor of Greensgrow.

So, why should you pay a visit to Greensgrow?

As I have tried to make clear in each of my posts about farm neighborhoods and neighborhood farmers’ markets, each neighborhood contributes its unique personality to the experience. This is no less so — and perhaps more so with Greensgrow by virtue of it being a permanent fixture in a neighborhood in transition on the way to a brighter future. So, head out East Girard Avenue, on to Frankford and swing on over to Greensgrow. On the way home, pick a Fishtown or Port Richmond restaurant and have a Thursday evening dinner or Saturday lunch. While you’re at it, watch a neighborhood grow. I promise you will enjoy yourself. Then head home and share the fruits and vegetables of your adventure with friends and family…At Home.

Coming Attractions
In the pipeline are On the Road and On the Table posts from Hudson Valley and the South Fork of Long Island. Also look for a post about my visit to the legendary Blooming Hill Farm and their monthly farm dinner created by David Gould of Brooklyn’s Roman’s restaurant. It was at that dinner that I enjoyed perhaps my culinary highlight of summer, Gould’s Squash Soup. I re-created that soup for my brother’s birthday dinner and will share the recipe with you. Also, this weekend I am headed to Nova Scotia and the Halifax Farmers’ Market — the oldest farmers’ market in North America.

Coming Events
I have a tentative plan to visit Laurel Hill Gardens in Chestnut Hill on October 16th. This is a make-up for the July event that was canceled on account of rain on Saturday and then cancellation of the re-scheduled Sunday event, due to the death of a dear friend that Saturday evening. Details as I know them.

On Saturday evening October 23rd I have been invited as a guest to Mt. Airy USA’s annual Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner event.

I am also on Gershman Y’s Fall Arts & Culture schedule with an event on December 2 at the Residences at Two Liberty Place. Details.

I continue to look for opportunities to talk about the At Home Project — my efforts to increase home entertaining. If you know of appropriate venues, please pass along my interest.

Buy At Home Today
If you are a blog reader and have not yet purchased At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining, either for yourself or as a gift, I encourage you to do so. At Home is available online or at either the Joseph Fox Bookshop at 1724 Sansom Street in Philadelphia and Coopermarket at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwd.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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On the Road: Farm Stands of Lancaster County, PA

An on-going theme of my On the Road posts is to share the wonder and beauty of our countryside — with a culinary focus. I am struck by how we travel to countries far and wide to seek out back road experiences but we hardly ever experience the wonderful back roads close to home.


Lancaster County is often stunningly beautiful.  Located in south-central Pennsylvania, it borders Maryland to the south and, on the east, Chester County. To the west is the Susquehanna River and York and Dauphin Counties. To the north are Lebanon and Berks counties. The city of Lancaster is about 80 miles west of Philadelphia and 40 miles southeast of Harrisburg.

It’s farm country. According to Wikipedea, Lancaster County is home to 5,293 farms. Though at 984 square miles it occupies only about 2% of Pennsylvania’s land, it is responsible for one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s agricultural production. Agricultural output is $800 million — with $710 million of that coming, in one form or another, from livestock. That includes dairy, poultry, eggs, cattle and pigs. Most of the corn you see growing in Lancaster is feed for the livestock.

Lancaster County is known as Pennsylvania Dutch country and markets itself as such. Of course, in this case “Dutch” does not mean people in wooden shoes, rather the transposition of “deutsche” — or German-speaking. The “Dutch”  traces its origins to Lancaster being home to a large community of Anabaptists seeking religious toleration, who settled there in the early 18th Century. Anabaptists are Christians who rejected conventional Christian practices including infant baptism. Rather, Anabaptists believe that baptism should be the choice of an adult. Within the Anabaptist community, a division occurred that lead to the development of separate Mennonite and Amish branches — both of whom populate Lancaster County. The Amish believe in living very simple, or “plain,” and in tight communities largely separate from the larger society. Amish do not adopt modern technologies such as electric and cars. Though they speak English, they also maintain their distinct language. Amish worship in homes. Mennonites are more fully integrated into modern society and worship in churches. Mennonite service to God is substantially manifest in the world-wide humanitarian relief missions they undertake. You can bet there are Mennonites in Pakistan helping flood victims. Of course, there are more and more subtle differences between Amish and Mennonites, but this is a blog about farm stands. This is just some Lancaster County background.

Six percent of Lancaster’s residents speak German at home. This gives you a sense of the number of Amish in Lancaster.

Note: As a postscript following this post I reflect on my experience in Lancaster County and the recent piece by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. The piece is about the tension between constitutional rights and cultural assimilation. It’s not about farm stands and not what I generally write about and therefore removed from the body of the farm stand post. Of course, just skip it if political discourse from me is not your cup of tea. But it does have to do with building community which is my ultimate objective.

Agricultural commerce exists throughout Lancaster at vastly different scales. Some very small small and home and backyard based.

Lancaster is filled with very large farms and other large scale operations reflecting the industrialization of agriculture.

It has a long agricultural tradition…

and history dating back into the 18th Century.

Unlike other areas I have visited, tobacco has played a large though diminishing role in its agricultural economy. Here is a field of tobacco.

This is tobacco drying as it has for more than 200 years in Lancaster.

Alfalfa is another important Lancaster County crop. It is a crop that is seen throughout the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley region. Alfalfa is ideal forage for cattle — primarily dairy cattle. It has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops. Alfalfa is often rotated with corn as a means to maintain the nutritional value of Lancaster’s rich soil.

Most have us have experienced Lancaster County as we drive east-west along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. What you see as you speed by is but a tiny sliver of what is available to behold on a slow drive along Lancaster’s back roads. Though Lancaster County is home to about 500,000 people with a population density of about 500 per square mile, it feels far less dense than that on its many miles of back roads.

Shades and textures of green and white fences actually made more lovely as a result of an unusually overcast day.

Old barns frame carefully tended farms.

Soaring fields of corn and silos awaiting the harvest. Though Lancaster produces loads of sweet corn, overwhelmingly Lancaster’s corn is meant for Lancaster’s livestock and not for people. Lancaster is home to 45 million roaster chickens, 10 million laying hens, 95,000 dairy cows, 250,000 beef cattle and 350,000 hogs annually.

Some Lancaster livestock is frighteningly large.

Others not quite so large.

There are livestock couples.

And livestock small families.

Everyone has to have a home. Some live in fairly nice homes.

Here cows head home at the end of a long day out to pasture.

Homes come in different styles including split level…

…and ranch style. Here a home to free-range chickens.

Among Lancaster’s many attractions are its outlet stores. They even have one for peaches and apples.

There is nothing like tree-ripened fruit. Not just “yellow” peaches and “white” peaches, but peaches with names like Bellaire and Belle of Georgia and September Sun. Cherry Hill Orchards grows 40 Varieties of Apples, 25 Varieties of Sweet and Tart Cherries, 25 Varieties of Peaches, as well as Nectarines, Plums, Apricots, Sweet Corn And Pumpkins.

Apples begin their harvest in summer and continue late into fall.

Some local “fruit” is forbidden.

Our very first sighting was a classic roadside farm stand.

Some stands specialize. Here watermelons with a few potatoes thrown in.

Here flowers and a few tomatoes.

For some stands you need to want lots of potatoes.

Not everything for sale on the roadside is food.

Some food is fully prepared and ready to go as with Dude with the Food. Ribs, pulled pork and beer-can chicken.

Dessert included. Stickey Business stands next door to Dude with the Food.

Having never seen a sticky bun truck, who would have thought we would see two! This one sits in a Harley-Davidson dealer’s parking lot.

A problem sometimes encountered looking for farm stands is that in the land of farms, it isn’t always easy to find farm stands. Why?  Because it is not easy to sell vegetables to other farmers. But there were some stunning stands happy to sell to us non-farmers.

One thing that was very enlightening was that “heirloom” tomatoes had names. So often heirloom tomatoes are simply sold as heirloom tomatoes. But different varieties of tomatoes have distinctly different flavors and characteristics. The Mortgage Lifter to the right was developed by an inexperienced West Virginia radiator repairman named “Radiator Charlie” in the 1930’s. People drove hundreds of miles to buy Charlie’s seedlings for $1 each. By selling his seedlings, Charlies was able to pay off his $6000 mortgage in six years.

Among may favorite “hard to find” items is lemon verbena. A sign of the farm table listed herbs including lemon verbena, but there was none to be found. I asked the farmer who returned to his barn-located farm stand from his across the road home (above) if he had any? He said herbs were his wife’s domain and she proudly cuts her lemon verbena to order. And off he went to find his wife. In short order she returned with gloriously fresh branches that perfumed the car for hours. Lemon verbena figured prominently in my On the Table Lancaster farm stand dinner to be featured tomorrow. My farm stand recipe will be for Lemon Verbena sorbet. I also used my lemon verbena to make iced tea and to infuse vodka.

The variety of signs and stands is part of the roadside visual feast.

This stand’s essence is expressed in its name.

Corn is king.

Here is the king and queen.

The Corn Wagon’s business model was pretty simple.

The corn was in the wagon.

Other markets are much more substantial offering the full variety of summer’s local harvest.

Watermelons also have names beyond red and yellow and seeded and seedless. Here are Sangria melons. Sangrias set the sweet eating bar for “Allsweet” watermelons.

The Tomato Barn in Washington Boro will end up on this summer’s all-star farm stand team. While it offered the usual variety of summer produce — all grown on their farm, this was the place for tomatoes.

Among their tomatoes are the sweet and juicy Jet Star and the hardier and more meaty Sunbright.

Sometimes a name is mostly hype.  This is a tomato barn worthy of its name.

These are the sweet Jet Stars — take-out ready.

The Myers Farm Produce stand offered four varieties of sweet corn.

The Myers Farm cat was not for sale.

Another wonderful and unique farm stand was Lime Valley Mill Produce, housed in an old stone barn.

These are hollow gourds with a patina that matched in character the mottled white-washed barn walls. Add a bird-sized hole and these gourds make excellent bird houses.

Lime Valley Mill is a self-service, honor-system farm stand with a clever security system.

As the day wanes and the sky darkens, the shades of green deepen.

It was a very good day in Lancaster County. Wish you were there. I hope this little tour whets your appetite to share Lancaster’s farm stands with friends and family.

I think this photo speaks for itself.

From left to right: Assorted heirloom tomatoes (with names), eggplant, Glick’s home-made root beer, Reading Draft Black Cherry “Premium Reserve Soda,” cherry cider, basil and mint, golden raspberries, honeydew, apples, Red Star tomatoes, beets, yellow globe cucumbers, cantaloupe, Shiloh maple syrup, yellow beans, plums, nectarines, Landis peanut butter. And hovering above, corn and lemon verbena.

Tomorrow — On the Table: Farm Stands of Lancaster County

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Postscript: Reflections from Lancaster County on Ross Douthat’s New York Times opinion piece from August 15 — Islam and the Two Americas

Recently New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote about the controversy surrounding the intention of a Muslim community to build a mosque and community center at a site a few blocks from 9/11’s “Ground Zero” – site of the World Trade Center attacks. In it he notes the tension between religious liberty, which he supports and the imperative of cultural assimilation, which he also supports. Referring to the need for cultural assimilation, Douthat writes: “But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.”

As I read Douthat’s piece, I could not help but reflect on my recent drive across Lancaster County. I wondered how the Amish might feel about Douthat’s prescription for quick assimilation. I understand the need of individual cultures and communities that, taken as a whole add up to a country, to share some set of common values. It is these common values that pull us together — that form the basis of the larger community. What made me painfully uncomfortable was that Douthat’s common values reflect specific social norms based upon the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora. Aren’t we a little beyond this? It seems to me that the very separateness of the Amish — their decision not to assimilate — actually adds immeasurably to the vibrancy of Lancaster County. The Amish came to the United States for the right not to assimilate. They left a place where being different was dangerous. They are different — not us — and that is wonderful. For a time, being black in America was dangerous. In many places in America being black still comes with risks. Today, being Muslim in America can be dangerous.

And who are the Muslim Americans who are the object of his lecture? Douthat notes: “But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” I am not clear what the context of Douthat’s quotes of Rauf. Clearly there are some Muslim Americans whose words and behavior, though legal, are distasteful — or even abhorrent. But what standard does Douthat hold “American Muslims” to and what Muslim Americans? Every American Muslim?  It is interesting that among Amish rights to difference is their refusal to fight in American wars. The Amish have bad things to say about all wars. All well and good. That’s what they came here for. On the other hand, many American Muslims have died wearing an American uniform. How’s that for assimilation?

America was founded not just on the legal right to be different, but also freedom from cultural coercion. Difference is the spice that characterizes America’s recipe for greatness and not bland assimilation. Lancaster’s Amish are an enduring reflection of that right — they are the spice. I assume Douthat would argue that he is not prescribing “total assimilation” but I do not know how to differentiate between “assimilation” and “total assimilation.” It’s a slippery slope. It seemed to me Douthat’s piece was a highbrow defense of cultural imperialism and intellectual fear-mongering. It was religious liberty is OK, as long as you otherwise conform to “our social norms.”

America will continue to thrive to the degree that we continue to welcome, embrace and sustain differences. Ideally, our opinion makers would lead by helping the fearful embrace differences. Who is it that we are afraid of? The Amish?

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Filed under My Opinion, On the Road

On the Table: Farm Stands of the North Fork, L.I.

Reminder that if you are not viewing post at the blog site, it looks best there. To get to the blog site, just click on title. The blog site also gives you easy access to explore past blogs as well as the blog recipe library.

Dinner was at the Remsenberg, Long Island, home of my brother and sister-in-law. Remsenberg is about 10 minutes from the Riverhead “entrance” to the North Fork. I went there for a few days with my friend and At Home illustrator Pascal Lemaitre and his 7-year old daughter Maelle. The evening’s breeze had blown away the heat and humidity of the day so we had our Farm Stands of the North Fork dinner outside. It was my plan to divide our meal into “appetizers” and “dinner.” But it got late and we decided to enjoy everything at once on platters, “family style.”

With the exception of the shishito peppers that I picked up in Bordentown, New Jersey on the way to Long Island, and the nacho chips, everything came from my North Fork drive. As is always the case, I don’t exactly know what I will make when I start the drive. What I find leads me to a menu. The ability to use a big, outdoor grill — rather than just my trusty indoor grill pan — played a big role in determining my menu.

Our North Fork Farm Stand Menu
Garlic Sauteed Shishito Peppers
Tomatilla Salsa with Nacho Chips
My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
Sliced Pan-Seared Long Island Duck Breast
Brick-grilled Miloski’s Poultry Farm Chicken
Heirloom Tomato and Husk Tomato Salad on Leaf Lettuce
Grilled Ciabatta Bread
Creamy Roasted Corn, Sweet Pepper and Romano Bean Salad
Grilled “Fairy Tale” Eggplant and Baby Squash

Dessert
Grilled figs with Catapano Dairy Farm honey-lavender goat cheese
Cantaloupe

These are the wonderful small figs that I found.

Garlic Sauteed Shishito Peppers
These peppers came from a Bordentown, NJ farm. They simply require a quick saute in olive oil, toss in a little garlic at the end, turn on to platter and add lots of sea salt. See an upcoming post about Shishito peppers.

Tomatilla Salsa with Nacho Chips
Not the best photo. I love the sour acidity of a green salsa. Simply remove the husk from tomatilla, cut into food processor-friendly sized pieces and process until nearly a puree but still a bit chunky. Add garlic, a little jalapeno, red onion, lime juice, olive oil and lots of cilantro.

My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
The recipe for this is on page 79 in At Home. In making this, I took advantage of the grill to cook the eggplant rather than the oven as called for in recipe. Once eggplant is cooked it is scraped away from peel, coarsely chopped and combined with green pepper, scallion, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper. I substituted red pepper and red onion for the green pepper and scallion.

Sliced pan-seared Long Island Duck Breast
The boneless duck breast was marinated in Dansom plum juice and honey. Just before pan-searing in oil, I dried the breast well. It takes about 3-4 minutes per side to cook medium rare. As with all meats and poultry, allow five to ten minutes for it to sit before slicing. This was conceived to be a little appetizer, but joined the dinner when we decided to enjoy everything at once at the table. It was served simply and unadorned and a huge hit.

Brick-grilled Miloski’s Poultry Farm Chicken
Pascal and I had eaten swordfish and soft shells the prior two nights so I passed on seafood. Miloski’s was a little off my tour path so Pascal, Maelle and I drove there the morning of our dinner. People sometime think chicken is a little pedestrian for entertaining. But a good roasted or grilled chicken can be a treat. My notion was to brick-grill the chicken which means using a weight on top. This gets explained and shown later in this post.

Heirloom Tomato and Husk Tomato Salad on Leaf Lettuce
Last evening Christina, Larry, my brother-in-law and I had a “tomato tasting.” It is easy to get caught up in the “heirloom” hype. I wanted to compare excellent, vine ripe “Jersey tomatoes” with a variety of more expensive “heirloom” tomatoes. They all were simply dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper. Of the six varieties we tasted, with the exception of one, the heirloom tomatoes had far better flavor and a nice balance of acid and sweet than the Jersey tomatoes and totally worth the price difference. Life is short and though it sometimes feels like this hot and humid summer will never end, before you know it, summer — and farm stand heirloom tomatoes — will be just a memory. Seize the day! Go get some heirloom tomatoes this weekend and share them with friends and family.

Grilled Ciabatta Bread
Ciabatta has a good crust and spongy texture that makes it an ideal grilling bread. Grilling bread makes for an easy embellishment to a summer’s meal. See yesterday’s post on Grilled Bread.

Creamy Roasted Corn, Sweet Pepper and Romano Bean Salad
Caught up in the “roasted corn” offered at North Fork Farm Stands, I decided to do a roasted corn salad. In addition, as raw peppers do not agree with Pascal’s constitution, I decided to roast the red peppers I would typically add to a corn salad for color. I had some Roman beans left-over from the prior night’s dinner. And that’s how this salad ended up on the menu. If I was doing it again, I would stick with simply blanched corn. I think roasting robs the corn of its essential sweetness. On it’s own and simply on the cob, roasting transforms the sweetness of corn into a sweet nuttiness. But it got lost in the complicated salad. Its dressing was a fresh, olive oil based mayonnaise, though you can certainly use a good store-brand.

Grilled Variegated “Fairy Tale” Eggplant and Baby Squash
These little beauties simply got split, brushed with olive oil and grilled. Raw eggplant is unpleasant so it is important to be sure eggplant gets fully grilled including the thicker, meatier end. You can tell when eggplant is fully cooked when you have the skin-side down and you can see the eggplant flesh on top slightly “bubbling” and pushing up.

Grilled figs with Catapano Dairy Farm honey-lavender goat cheese
Cantaloupe

There certainly were lots of fresh-baked farm stand pies that would have made a great dessert — especially slightly warmed in the oven and served with good vanilla ice cream. But after a big meal, something lighter and simpler worked better. Along with the duck breast, these perfectly ripe figs — split, lightly brushed with honey and olive oil and grilled and served with a simple fresh goat cheese, were dinner stand-outs. Here Maelle tries to control her impulse to consume all of the figs herself! Because the figs were so tiny, I grilled them indoors in a grill pan. The grates of an outdoor gill would have been too small for these little wonders.

Some behind the scenes looks

Grilling eggplant for My Mother’s Eggplant Dip and peppers for the Roasted Corn, Pepper and Romano Bean Salad.

Grill-roasting corn for the corn salad.

Grilling Fairy Tale eggplant and baby squash — everything get split in half and brushed with garlic-scented olive oil.

Making the Brick-grilled Chicken from Mikowski’s Poultry Farm

Ingredients included two chickens, two limes, dried farm stand chilies, garlic and cilantro.

I removed the backbone enabling me to butterfly chicken.

I used both the lime rind and lime juice to marinate chicken as well as lots of chopped garlic, diced dried chiles, lots of cilantro and salt and pepper.

The chicken marinated for about six hours. Overnight would have been fine.

The chickens were placed on the grill over moderate heat and weighted down with a large piece of slate found by my brother when I assigned him to locate a substitute for bricks which we did not have. The slate flattens the chicken and increases its contact with the grill. A single large weight was a challenge to handle requiring two substantial grilling tongs.

Nicely grilled on top…

..and bottom.

Finally cut up into friendly sized pieces and ready to platter.

Do Ahead Strategy
As I contend each time, this is a dinner you could do and with some planning and getting a few things done days ahead, you can get one relaxed hour…and more before guests arrive. And you can certainly pick and choose and do a less elaborate dinner.

Up to 3 days ahead
Complete all shopping except corn
Make Tomatilla Salsa
Make My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
Chop garlic

Day before
Buy corn
Split and marinate chicken
Rinse lettuce
Roast corn and peppers, blanch Romano beans and make corn salad
Marinate duck breast
Slice melon
Trim stems and halve figs
Pull and label bowls and platters
Set table
Refrigerate wine or beer

Day of up to five hours before guests arrive
Grill fairy take eggplant and squash
Split and grill figs
Slice tomatoes, onions and platter tomato salad – cover and refrigerate

As dinner approaches
Sear and slice duck breast
Grill chicken, cut into pieces and platter
Grill bread
Dress tomatoes
Platter everything not already plattered
Put everything out

Last minute
Saute shishito peppers

Enjoy and be proud!!

In the Coming Weeks — On the Road and On the Table
A Trio of Philadelphia Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets – Clark Park, Rittenhouse Square and Headhouse Square
Farm Stands of Lancaster County, PA
Farm Stands of Hudson Valley, NY
A Backyard in Moorestown, NJ
Farm Stands of The South Fork of Long Island, NY

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Filed under On the Table, Tips

On the Road: Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA

This past Sunday’s New York Times featured an Editorial Notebook piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg called Death of a Farm. Klinkenborg notes the passing of the Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm, America’s oldest farm founded in 1632. Here’s a link to the Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm website where you can read the Tuttle’s letter explaining their decision. To quote from Kilinkenborg’s piece: “Each year it has become harder for family farms to compete with industrial scale agriculture — heavily subsidized by the government — underselling them at every turn. In a system committed to the health of farms and their integration with local communities, the result would have been different.”

On the Road: Farm Stands of Northern Chested & Montgomery Counties, PA
Some things are predictable about my summer excursions in search of farm stands. This includes a cornucopia of seasonal produce currently including peaches, blackberries, zucchini, corn and tomatoes. Not predictable is the path to find this. And frankly, if were only about the produce, there are easier ways to get this stuff than hunting down farm stands. (For instance, my local Saturday Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market or any day at the Reading Terminal Market.)

As I drove over hill and dale in search of the perfect farm stand, I had to remind myself of the importance of the journey and not just the fruit and vegetables. My carefully researched and exhaustive list of farm addresses offered no assurance that I would actually find that weathered rickety table with hand-lettered signs offering tenderly cared for produce. Sometimes a farm is just a farm.

My drives have provided me with a notion of the best farm stand business model. This includes, in addition to the farm and farmer, a sufficiently dense population that values and is in need of fresh-picked produce. When most of your neighbors are farmers, well maybe that just not the place for a farm stand.

Still, if you stay off the main roads, drive slowly enough to gaze left and right, there is lots to see including beautifully picturesque classic Pennsylvania farms.

And birds of a feather flocking together for a late morning siesta.

And a young family enjoying a late breakfast.

These are primarily serious commercial farms whose business models do not necessarily include roadside stands.

With a long tradition of farming success.

Here is a large field of zucchini but nary a ready-to-stuff zucchini blossom for sale.

Undaunted, I headed north where broad open valleys and long straight roads gave way to creeks, hills and winding roads.

It’s interesting how New Jersey seems to have a tradition of showy signs announcing their presence and extolling their produce. By comparison, Pennsylvania’s signage is more demure — and less fun. In addition, Pennsylvania’s Buy Fresh. Buy Local program does not quite compete with the “Jersey Fresh” campaign. As with most “orchards,” Weaver’s is a large scale operation

But they do offer local corn.

A Farmer’s Market such as Weaver’s typically offer their customers the convenience of produce not locally grown. (I saw no pineapple plantations in my travels.)

Several weeks ago in South Jersey there were only cling peaches — peaches whose flesh sticks to the pit. Freestones, that come later in the summer, are on sumptuous, picked ripe and ready-to-eat display at Weaver’s — yellow or white. Plus sweet yellow or white doughnut peaches. Weaver’s peaches and blackberries became Saturday night’s dessert.

As I headed north I passed several gun clubs and sporting “reserves” where, I assume, hunters stalk and shoot their prey and some bring it to Big Bull’s Taxidermy for stuffing — and not the culinary variety.

Corn is America’s largest crop — more than two times that of any other crop. Most of it is used to produce things like corn syrup and feed for animals rather than what we enjoy at our dinner tables and barbecues throughout the summer.

Corn is bi-sexual with each plant having both the male and female components necessary to produce an ear of corn. The spindly stalk is seen here protruding from the plant’s top.  The stalk at the top is the “male component” and produces the pollen. The pollen is transported by air to surrounding plants. That is one reason corn is grown so close together.

The silk, seen here on an immature ear, is the female component. It catches the pollen. Each strand of silk is a long tube that transports the pollen to the ear and produces the seed. For every kernel of corn there is a strand of silk.

Of course, man does not live by produce alone. Cows seem to have a pretty good life around these parts.

…and goats…

…and why not llamas?

The 35-acre Old Earth Farm in Oley sits behind an 1828 stone farmhouse.

The Reiff Farm, also in Oley, was started in 1732 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today it’s a bed & breakfast in 1815 farmhouse. Driving through this area one cannot help but imagine what the area must have looked like 50 years ago…or 250 years ago when all there was were farms carved out of forests.

I began my drive with 15 potential “farm” locations that ultimately yielded four actual farm stands or farmers’ market. However, I did discover a number of unexpected “honor system” roadside farm stand.

Here is Pleasant Valley farm stand where my purchases included yellow pear tomatoes — you don’t that often find these — a sugar baby watermelon not much bigger than a soft ball, and a jar of homemade sweet cherry jam.

Hauseman’s modest stand provided the beets that became a cold beet soup that will be Friday’s recipe.

And suddenly along a quite and residential road, set-up in his driveway, was this backyard farmer’s stand where $1 baskets of sweet and hot peppers yielded my roast marinated pepper hors d’oeuvres.

Cemetaries are always reminders of lives past of those who toiled in these parts. Here the grave of a soldier that dates to 1868. One can only wonder if this soldier fought for the union in the Civil War — in what other war would he have been a soldier? — and then returned home to his farm?

Churches spires dot the landscape.

Along with more ominous spires. I have often seen the Limerick nuclear power plant off in the distance as it looms over this area. I am of the Three Mile Island and China Syndrome generation. I remember the day the accident occurred — not at this plant but the one near Harrisburg. I took the opportunity to drive as close as you can get to the Limerick plant without being arrested for trespassing. It was remarkable how close this plant is to a small airport and how close you can actually get to it. I find myself wrestling with the role of nuclear power in our nation’s strategy to move away from the dangers of fossil fuels. These two towers appeared quite benign though I am aware of the potential danger that lies within.

On the other hand, it is hard to ignore other dangers that lurk along the road.

Some farm stands are very modest in scale but inventive in execution. It was at the Stimigo Farm stand that “the farmer’s wife” — sensing I was a cook — handed me a recipe for Zucchini Pancakes. Over the next few weeks I plan to modify this recipe some and offer you more to do with the avalanche of zucchini likely to appear soon at your neighborhood farm stand.

Clearly the day’s “winning” farm stand was Barry Davis Produce. I had been tipped off by a blog ready about how this was a farm stand worth the trip. There was who I imagined was Barry himself, looking much like the guy who I just left the fields, taking the cash while who I assumed was Mrs. Davis stocking the produce with he son’s assistance. Certainly a family affair.

The quest for Barry Davis Produce was a key determinant in establishing my day’s driving route. However, it’s address at the intersection of Germantown Pike and Smith Road in Collegeville — it had no numbered street address — proved to be completely perplexing to my GPS as it apparently requires a number and a street. However, through the wonders of an alternate technology, I followed the Google Map displayed on my G3 enabled miracle of an iPad to finely hit pay dirt and Barry Davis Produce!

Which brings me back to Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm’s last harvest. In no small measure, Tuttle’s Farm’s demise after nearly 400 years of continuous operation is the result of “progress” aided and abetted by advances in technology. These changes in technology have had major pay-offs hardly limited to mapping routes. Advances in technology led to increases in overall economic productivity and a net reduction in the cost of food as a percentage of our income. In 1929, on average food as a percentage of income in the United States was 24%. By 1970, that had dropped to about 14% and today it is less than 10% — the lowest in the world. That means that more people can afford to eat better and more money is available for non-food purchases. But “progress” has also resulted in changes in our lives that are not so good. This includes more time spent working and less time to prepare meals at home. And because in supermarkets nearly all farm products are available from some farm somewhere in the world all the time, we have become disconnected from our time and place in the world.

Now here’s my point: We are not prisoners of “progress.” We are not mere bystanders in some inexorable march into a future. We make choices. These choices include where and how we shop — the value we place on ingredients — and whether we prepare meals at home for family and friends. Through our actions we are writing our prescription for the world’s future. We decide whether our future world includes small family farms and farm stands and farmers markets offering wonderfully fresh seasonal produce. The fate of Vermont’s Tuttle’s Red Barn Farm and Collegeville’s Barry Davis Produce and Princeton’s Z Farm and Salem County’s Mr. Tkach is not inevitable.

Front row, left to right: Tiny ears of “un-sprayed” corn, beets, sweet cherry jam, zucchini, sweet onion, patty pan squash, tomatoes, variegated eggplant, leeks, yellow beans, cherry peppers and bi-color corn. Second row: Sugar plums, sugar baby watermelon, blackberries, honeydew, basil, spaghetti squash and sweet and hot peppers. Third row: Little orange and yellow pear tomatoes, yellow watermelon, cantaloupe, white and yellow peaches and yellow doughnut peaches.

Tomorrow — On the Table: The Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA
Beginning this week I will divide my weekly excursions and the resulting meal into two blogs rather than a single longer blog. The first post — On the Road — will share with you the day’s journey. A separate post on the following day — On the Table — will include the resulting meal. This will enable me to provide more focus on what you can do with all this stuff as well as provide more coaching on how to put your meal together. So, for instance, tomorrow there will be a post called On the Table: The Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA. Then, the following day I will post a recipe representing something I prepared. Somewhere in here, maybe earlier in the week I will try to keep the Tips post going.

My goal is to increase your home entertaining and to encourage you to shop locally — at farm stands or farmers’ markets — and invite friends and family to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of your efforts…At Home.

Friday — Cold Beet Soup with Cucumbers & Sour Cream
If you’re not a fan of beets, it’s time to give beets another chance. And if you love beets, you’ll love this soup. For access to all of the At Home blog’s 80-plus recipes, go to the Recipe Index.

Next week: On the Road: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s North Fork
About halfway out on Long Island, at Riverside, the island splits. The South Fork borders the Atlantic Ocean and the North Fork faces the Long Island Sound. The Peconic Bay sits in between and divides the two forks. While the South Fork is home to the Hamptons, the more rural North Fork is home to great wineries and more than 40 farm stands — not just farms. I don’t plan on visiting all, but it should be an interesting and productive trip and I look forward to sharing it with you.

Next may include Lancaster County. I have already received some good advice from a blog reader, but if anyone can suggest Lancaster County farm stands, I would certainly appreciate it. The internet clearly has its limitations.

Addendum regarding the “blind-folded” horse
My post about Chester County included a photograph of a “blind-folded” white horse. A blog reader and equestrian provided the explanation that an important purpose of the “blind-fold” — which is actually a mesh through which the horse can see — is to keep flies off the horse’s eyes and, in so doing, make the horse’s life more pleasant. I appreciate the explanation as I strayed from my area of knowledge.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Tips: Shaving Corn off the Cob

If your use of corn only goes as far as corn-on-the-cob, you’re missing out on one of the great crowd-pleasing ingredients. Removing corn from the cob opens up a world of corn-based dishes ranging from wonderful fresh soups and salads to corn cakes and savory puddings.

A fond and distant childhood memory is when I had new teeth coming in and we were having corn-on-the-cob with dinner. I could not get my new teeth to do the job. So my mother shaved the corn off the cob for me and served my corn in a bowl. Pure and effortless bliss.

To this day corn is on my short list of favorite tastes.  One of my most effective summer diets consisted nearly every night, for weeks on end, of sliced tomatoes and red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, followed by…corn-on-the-cob. At Home includes ten recipes using corn and none are for corn-on-the-cob. One of the great side dishes I ever had in a restaurant was at The Slanted Door in San Francisco — Sautéed Fresh Corn and Chanterelle.

Here’s how to shave corn off the cob:

First blanch corn in lightly salted boiling water for about two to three minutes. How long depends on how fresh and tender the corn.

Stand corn on a steady cutting board with the flat, stem side down so that your corn is stable. Your fingers should be at the top above where you begin shaving. Use a sharp chef’s knife. Cut from top to bottom shaving one lengthwise section at a time. Run the knife parallel to corn as pictured, apply gentle pressure as you shave corn away from cob. Try to get as close to cob as you can while still cutting the kernels and not cutting into the tough cob. Rotate corn and shave away another section. Don’t worry if your sections do not exactly overlap.

Next, with the knife perpendicular to cob, scrape the cob to remove residue corn and flavorful milky liquid. Gather corn into a bowl and you’re ready to enter the world of fresh corn dishes for friends and family…At Home.

At Home blog’s Recipe Index

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On the Road: Farm Stands of Chester County, PA

Please be clear that my weekly drives through nearby “foreign lands” are meant only to be impressionistic. I start each drive having done some desktop internet exploring. This provides a general plan and a series of destinations. I plug these into Google Maps. I have figured out that once I have my destinations pin-pointed on Google Maps, it is simple to re-arrange and rationalize their order. I have some ambivalence regarding this function as it has the potential to provide a little too much intentional and not enough meandering.  But given the vast expanse of Chester County, it would have been crazy to spend the day back-tracking from place to place. Once on the road, I plug my destinations into my trusty GPS so I can fearlessly get lost. My point here is that I am sure there are wonderful places I am missing. These are not definitive guides. Rather, they’re just one curious guy’s drive. I welcome reader’s comments and suggestions regarding places I’ve missed.

Chester County, PA
This past fall Christina and I spent a wonderful birthday weekend in southern Chester County that included a number of excellent meals including two lunches at Tulula’s Table in Kennett Square. It had been my first visit to Chester County in years.

Chester County is a sprawling expanse that stretches from Delaware and Maryland on the south, Lancaster County on the west, Berks and Montgomery Counties to the north, and the western Main Line’s Delaware County on the east. It is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania and 24th wealthiest in the United States. Nearly 500,000 people live in Chester County — about 60% more folks than lived there just 20 years ago. By virtue of this influx of new residents, it’s political leanings have altered with Barack Obama the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the county since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. With a population density of 217 per square mile, it is on average, vastly closer in feel to Salem County’s 190 than Mercer County’s 1,552. But you don’t drive through “averages.” Southern Chester County feels far more congested than the delightfully spare northern stretches.

The area around Kennett Square is dubbed “the mushroom capital of the world.” But my quest was not mushrooms grown in dark rooms, but produce grown on sun-drenched fields.

Long ago, Route 1, aka Baltimore Pike, was the main road connecting Philadelphia to Baltimore.

If I did this tour again, I would not try to do both southern and northern Chester County in one day. Actually, but for the excuse to visit Tulula’s Table, I would confine my visit to the north. The north seemed far less congested and more physically beautiful. Once I got past the congestion of the south, roads narrowed and shaded and wound through hills, along ridges overlooking lush valleys and passing many large and classic Pennsylvania farms.

Wide fields, dense woods and distant hills.

In addition to farm country, Chester County is also horse country.

Here is a seemingly blind-folded white horse with a braided tail. The “blindfold” is actually a light mesh that only restricts the horse’s vision and is sometimes used to calm horses.

A principle farm product is hay — here stored in a barn along the side of the road.

Serendipity plays a large role in what provides the lasting images of a drive…or walk for that matter. A spontaneous decision to see “what was up that road to the left?” brought me to a long expanse of a stunning bamboo grove. Bamboo is one of my favorite things. I have many books on bamboo. Of course, pictures — these included — are no substitute for being there. It was a breezy day that caused the bamboo to gently sway and make a rustling sound.

It’s not Madison County, but here’s an old covered bridge crossing one of the many creeks that through the county. In northern Chester County is French Creek State Park.

Here is a link to the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. It includes information about the trust’s activities and a helpful guide to local foods in and around norther Chester County. Look for the PDF link to this guide at the bottom of the Trust’s homepage. There is also information about what looks like a wonderful culinary event this Saturday, July 31st — the annual Homegrown Harvest Supper and Hoedown.

Highland Orchards

A large commercial orchard was home to a fairly conventional “produce shop” that featured just-picked orchard fruits, local produce and produce from far away. There was also a bakery.

Pete’s Produce Farm at the Westtown School

Pete’s 170 acre farm is on the grounds of the Westtown School, a Quaker secondary school.

Pete’s carries a wide variety of produce — most of which is raised on the farm, but also includes produce from places far away from Chester

Here are gourds hanging from an arbor adjacent to the parking lot. They have a long wait to their fall harvest.

I have been looking for garlic scapes all summer and finally found them at Pete’s. They are the mild shoots that grow out of the tops of the in-ground heads of garlic. They have a delicate garlic taste. I added blanched, chopped garlic scrapes to the new potato from tiny Wynnorr Farm potatoes (following) dressed with a fresh lemon-tarragon mayonnaise made with olive oil. Scapes are also excellent simply sauteed or grilled.

Stratton’s Wynnorr Farm

You can tell a lot about a farm from its sign.

You just had a sense that this farm was lovingly tendered by hand.

While the tables were not overflowing, they had crates of potatoes that put the “new” in New Potatoes. It occurred to me at the start of this drive that I had been over-looking the humble potato in favor of their more glamorous relatives and I made a mental note to try local potatoes. Wynnmorr Farm also offered three varieties of corn — yellow, bi-color and white. I asked which they reccommeded and was told they were known for their yellow. I added to my basket a small block of local Conebella Farm Horseradish Cheddar.

Sugartown Strawberries

Strawberry season is a June memory at Sugartown Strawberries but an honor system farm table offered eggplant, peppers and squash and some of the biggest, fattest sunflowers around.

J. Maki Winery

Some of J. Maki’s 16 acres of vineyards occupy a gentle slope that leads down to the winery.

Tending the shop was Janet Maki, vineyard keeper and wine maker. Maki began J. Maki Winery in the early 90’s after a twenty-plus year career with IBM. In selecting the location, she was struck by similarities in climate, soil and topography to many of France’s great wine growing regions. Unlike the more modestly aspiring and priced wines of Unionville Vineyards from New Jersey’s Hunterdon County that I purchased at the Trenton Farmers’ Market, Maki produces premium wines including a champagne that received a prestigious French award.

Nearly forty years ago, as I started visiting wineries from Napa to Bordeaux, I was always struck by how wine-making starts with farming and that wine is produce, in another form.

My sampling of j. Maki wine under the shade of Sugartown Strawberries’ sunflowers from left to right, Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Blanc de Blanc Champagne, Viognier, Petite Verdot.

Amazing Acres
A call from winemaker Janet Maki to her neighbor Fred brought me to the basement door of Amazing Acres, makers of artisan goat cheeses.

Set high on a hill overlooking northern Chester County, here is the home of Amazing Acres twenty goats. What began as a 20-year love of their pet goats evolved into this mom and pop business a year ago. Fred is helper to his wife, Debbie. Fred and Debbie “retired” into the grueling but satisfying life of Chester County cheese makers. Amazing Acres cheeses are available in Philadelphia at DiBruno’s 18th Street and 9th Street stores.

The Farmer’s Daughter

Names conjure images and mine was a quaint little farm stand overseen by, who else?, the farmer’s daughter. Instead, I pulled up to a mega-stand offering a library of produce that included a nice selection of locally grown.

Best was the right-off-the-back-of-the-truck white corn that Christina and I enjoyed several hours later — as sweet and good as any corn either of us ever had that we enjoyed with some left-over grilled turkey flank steak with a little Green Tomato Ketchup from Tulula’s Table and some heirloom tomatoes from Pete’s Market dressed with my very best olive oil. The joys of summer…At Home.

Heading home from northern Chester County and looming in the distance is the vaguely menacing presence of the Limerick nuclear power plant. When you set-out on the road you don’t know what memories you will bring back. In Salem County it was Mr. Tkach and his cucumbers. Mercer County a toss-up between the “bouquet” of turkeys in the air at Lee’s Turkey Farm and the humble honesty of Kerr’s Korn. I set-out in Chester County expecting to find lush farm stands around every turn in the road, but instead found two women farmers — one a tender of grapes and winemaker — and the other a tender of goats and a cheesemaker.

At Home. From left to right starting in first row: Wynnorr Farm’s yellow corn, apricots, jalapeno, patty pan squash, garlic, heirloom tomatoes, Amazing Acres Crotin, baby eggplant, Tulula’s Table lamb sausage, tiny golden tomatoes, lima beans, Jack’s Farm honey, blackberries, more heirloom tomatoes, Tulula’s Table Green Tomato Ketchup, Conebella Farms Horseradish Cheddar, Amazing Acres herb-covered goat cheese, sunflowers, cantaloupe, Amazing Acres fresh goat cheese, red watermelon, yellow watermelon, sugar plums, Maki wines — Blanc de Blanc, Viognier, Petite Verdot, Ice Wine.

On the Table: Saturday Night Dinner at Home with Friends
A little supplemental shopping at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market added to my Chester County haul — and assorted fresh sausages from DiBruno’s made for a delicious summer’s eve dinner with friends.

Our evening began with fresh Black Berry Spritzers — made from pureed Chester County blackberries, simple syrup and seltzer. You can make your own fruit spritzers — a fresh fruit “soda.”

Our friends are beer lovers so the menu was beer-friendly. They “harvested” a wonderful selection of beers for our dinner.

Serious dining began with the last of my three pounds of Pimientos de Padron with grilled bread. I trued to place another order from La Tienda, but they are currently out of stock with more expected soon.


Pasta followed dressed with olive oil, sea salt, fresh black and a quick sauce made from assorted small tomatoes.

Dinner Buffet


Clockwise from six o’clock: Corn and lima bean salad with garlic scapes, tomato salad, new potato salad and grilled vegetables.

Corn and lima bean salad with garlic scapes included local purple scallions, sweet onion, cilantro, garlic, red wine and rice wine vinegars and olive oil.

Tomato salad with torpedo red onions, purple basil and miniature tomatillas served over butter lettuce and dressed with balsamic and olive oil.

Grilled garlic scapes, patty pan squash, baby zucchini and eggplant.

Our cheese course was three goat cheeses from Amazing Acres. A sweet ending came from Metropolitan Bakery’s biscotti and flourless chocolate cake.

Everything was prepared in advance and almost everything served at room temperature. I just had to quickly saute the peppers, cook the pasta and warm the tomato sauce and grill the sausages. My “time in the kitchen away from guests” was minimal.

Tomorrow’s Recipe — Cold Lightly Curried Zucchini Soup

Next week — On the Road: Farm Stands of Northern Chester County with a touch of Berks and Montgomery Counties
I found this week’s trip a bit farm stand frustrating — actual farm stands were few and very far between — with the feeling that that there was more there than met my curious eyes. So I have a new plan to explore more of Northern Chester county and include bits of Berks and northwestern Montgomery Counties. I look forward to sharing the fruits and vegetables of my travels next week.

The following week I am heading out to the farm stands of Long Island’s North Fork.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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