Tag Archives: Summer

On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork

This is the companion post to On the Road: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork. It is best viewed at the blog site. If you are not viewing it there, click on the title above.

Nearly every year for more than a decade, I cook for my brother’s birthday. This usually occurs over Labor Day weekend as his birthday is September 3rd.

My brother Fred is four years my senior. Fred lives in Tribeca with Nancy, his wife and my sister-in-law. They have a summer home in Remsenberg. Remsenberg is near Westhampton, the closest of the Hamptons to New York. One year, as the house was undergoing renovation, guest accommodations were trailers on the lawn with little in the way of kitchen. Noah and his friend slept in the cabin of the boat docked adjacent to the house. I grilled a lot that year. We enjoyed dinner on a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood over saw horses. Usually at Fred and Nancy’s I have a great kitchen to work in and lots of slicing and dicing help provided. I always arrive to a generous bowl filled with chopped garlic. Generally, Nancy “procures” from food lists provided — often with the help of my nephew Jake.

Given this summer’s farm stand journeys, it made sense to incorporate a visit to the neighboring South Fork of Long Island for my shopping. Earlier in the summer I visited Fred and Nancy’s Long Island home with my friend Pascal and his daughter Maelle. On that occasion I visited the North Fork. There are On the Road and On the Table posts on that visit.

The North Fork had a very different character than the South Fork. Clearly, there are fewer affluent shoppers on the North Fork — it is not the chic summer paradise of the South Fork. The land is less valuable and the farms bigger — relying less on just selling at the farm stand and more on hitting the road to metropolitan farmers’ markets. With land less expensive, there are many more wineries on the North Fork than South.

While the focus of Fred’s birthday is a birthday dinner, inevitably there are other meals to be prepared for the gathered family and occasional friends. Typically the “arrival” dinner is cooked lobsters — supplemented with grilled shrimp, corn-on-the-cob and sliced tomatoes. Dessert is a low-fat yogurt “ice cream” cake — always plenty of fresh sliced fruit and berries and a selection of cookies from Olish’s. My role in this meal is modest with responsibilities pretty much limited to enjoying my lobster.

Friday’s Lunch

Ginger & mint lemonade
Mafaldine (pasta) with lobster, shrimp and fresh tomato sauce
Garlic-grilled ciabatta

I made a simple pasta sauce from a load of farm stand plum tomatoes and thin-sliced garlic — into which I folded left-over lobster — yes, there was left-over lobster! — and shrimp. This was tossed with my favorite pasta shape – Mafaldine — a wide crenellated noodle.

To make the Ginger-Mint Lemonade, I made a simple syrup flavored with lots of fresh mint. I combined this with fresh lemon juice, a fresh concentrated ginger tea sold at several South Fork farm stands, water and ice. There are recipes in At Home for Four Seasons of Lemonade including Minted Lemonade and another recipe for Ginger Syrup. You can combine these to make your own Ginger-Mint Lemonade. As my mother would always say, the key to making lemonade is to balance the sweet and sour – plenty of both without either overwhelming.

Saturday’s Lunch

Chicken tacos with sweet peppers
Heirloom tomato salsa
Roasted “peanut” potatoes
Pickled cucumbers

The chicken was left-over from our previous dinner with salsa from the larder of ingredients I purchase from farm stands. I love tacos — the soft variety. They are easy to make, fun to eat and very under-used by the home entertainer. Arugula was incorporated into the taco.

The potatoes were the hit of lunch. I found these peppers toward the end of my South Fork tour at Balsam Farm. When I say I found them, it’s not like I was looking for them. Such are the pleasures of shopping at farm stands — sans shopping list. I had never before seen such tiny potatoes — Yukon golds. They are not officially named “peanut” potatoes, but guests mistook them for peanuts. They were simply cooked with lots of chopped garlic, a light coating of olive and a finish of sea salt – lots of sea salt. Crisp of the outside and creamy on the inside.

Saturday’s Birthday Dinner
As guests gathered we served Bellinis with local peach nectar

Hors d’ouvres on the Kitchen Counter

Montauk tuna tartare – spoons make for an elegant platform for an hors d’oeuvres. Here the tuna is diced with a little red onion with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. On top is unsweetened whipped cream accented with a little wasabi and topped with chives.

Pickled okra — I used the basic “Quick Pickles” recipe that is featured in the At Home blog athomebysteveposes.wordpress.com/recipes/.

Roasted tomatoes with fresh mozzarella & basil on crostini

Radishes and cherry tomatoes with sea salt.  Fresh, cold, crisp radishes are the perfect light summer hors d’oeuvres. It helps if the radishes are slightly moist so the salt can adhere. Recently at a wonderful dinner in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia Christina and I were served a pair of elegant radish wedges with a little “line” of pink sea salt at the peak of the wedge as a little amuse bouche meal starter. I have incorporated plattered wedges into my hors d’oeuvres repertoire.

Hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen were followed by a seated dinner in the dining room served on incredible “China.”

The first course was my translation of the soup prepared the previous weekend at Blooming Hill Farm by David Gould of Roman’s Restaurant in Brooklyn. Look for a coming post about Blooming Hill Farm.

Squash Soup
Red rice, corn & zucchini
Squash blossoms & Padron peppers

Our entree
Grilled Montauk swordfish with roasted garlic aioli and tomato relish
Grilled peppers & eggplant
Corn cakes with jalapeno

I loved the plates though, in general, I like food against a simple, patternless background. In retrospect I should have gathered the food closer together.

And dessert.

Blackberry sorbet
Honey-grilled doughnut peaches & raspberries
Farm stand zucchini bread & chocolate chip cookies

Behind the Scenes

Making Corn Cakes See Corn Cake Recipe on At Home blog Recipe Library

Sweet red peppers and scallions add color to the blanched and shaved corn and diced jalapeno add a little kick.

The vegetables were combined with a basic pancake batter of all-purpose flour, eggs, milk and baking powder.

I used a 1/4 cup measure and cooked pancakes in olive oil.

You need to regulate the heat so the pancakes brown evenly. Too much heat causes the edges to darken too much before the interior surface browns. Once the batter is set on top, you can flip the pancakes.

Brown the second side.

As the pancakes will be re-heated in the oven, they may darken a bit more. The pancakes went from the pan to a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towel to absorb residue grease.  I re-heated the pancakes uncovered — after removing the paper towels — for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven just before serving. Pancakes can also be held in a 200 degree oven once they are hot for another 20-30 minutes — lightly covered — but not sealed in — with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent from drying out. If you seal the pancakes in foil they will steam and lose their outer layer of slight crispness.

Grilling Peppers
By Labor Day Weekend, farm stands and bursting with a rainbow of peppers of various shapes, sizes and degrees of sweetness and heat. As with the rest of the Labor Day menu, the choice of grilled peppers grew out of what looked most appealing at the stands.

These were some of the peppers at Green Thumb.

Grilling peppers is very simple. Start by slitting peppers lengthwise and removing stem, seeds and membrane. Lightly coat with olive oil. Here I also added some chopped garlic. Your goal is to lightly char the peppers while getting them soft and pliable. If you cook them at too high a heat they char too much on the exterior without softening on the inside. Conversely, if you cook them too slowly — at too low a heat — they will soften without charring. I start the peppers with the skin side up. This allows the peppers to begin softening without risking over-charring the showy side of the pepper.

Once peppers start softening and the edges in contact with the grill char, turn the peppers. Continue cooking as the skin blisters and chars and peppers continue to soften. Not all varieties of peppers cook at the same rate so you need to pay attention.

One of the joys of grilling peppers — and the adjacent eggplant — is simply being outdoors in the cool Labor Day breeze and lengthening shadows of late afternoon with nothing to do but nurture your grilling peppers along.

The soup was one of those “complicated-but-worth-the-effort” affairs. Here are the components ready to go. The squash soup in the large pot — made from a long “stewing” of three kinds of yellow squash, onion and a corn stock. Added to each soup bowl just before serving is a saute of corn, zucchini and a cooked red rice. The recipe for this soup will follow the upcoming post about Blooming Hill Farm and the farm dinner.

Here the bowls are laid out on the kitchen island. Turning out the soup quickly takes a second pair of hands.  The mix of corn, zucchini and red rice goes into the bowl first. The soup is next. On top goes the squash blossoms and satueed Padron pepper. The soup is “finished” with a drizzle of very good olive oil. In the background are the dinner plates with the roasted garlic aioli, lemon wedges and grilled peppers and eggplant ready.

Making Blackberry Sorbet

There were luscious and plumb blackberries at the farm stands and sorbet seemed like the right light note to finish Saturday night’s dinner. Sorbet is simple to make. A lightly cooked the blackberries in a syrup. The hardest part is getting rid of the seeds by passing the cooked berries through a fine strainer.

At my home in Philadelphia I use a Cuisinart ice cream maker that has a built-in compressor. Here, Fred and Nancy happened to have two never-used Cuisinart ice cream makers that require overnight freezing of the chamber that provides the chilling of the sorbet as it turns. I was surprised how effectively these worked — actually making sorbet much more quickly than the one that I use at home. They are quite reasonably priced — less than $50 — and would make a very good holiday gift  — along with At Home with its large section on ice creams and sorbets including a Mastering Ice Creams recipe.

So that was this Labor Day Weekend. Cooking is an act of love. Giving the gift of cooking is unlike any other gift that you can give.

The Farm Stand Series — Coming to the end of the Road
This series about farm stands and farmers’ markets is coming to the end of the road with just a few more posts in the pipeline.

Two Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets — Lunenburg and Halifax
Christina and spent a wonderful late September week in Nova Scotia that included visits to two very different farmers’ markets. The first was Lunenburg, a small town near where we stayed for the week. The second was the very large urban market of Halifax — the oldest continuous functioning farmers’ market, dating from 1750. Lunenburg, in particular, provided not just a warm and welcoming experience, but food for thought about farmers’ markets that I will share in the final post of the series.

Blooming Hill Farm
Blooming Hill Farm was the best farm stand visit of the entire summer. This post will focus on that visit the the farm stand dinner that I attended.

Reflections on a Summer’s Journey
This post will be a combination “Best of” as well as thoughts on how farm stands and farmers’ markets might be even better.

The Thanksgiving Series
Beginning in the next few days will be a series of posts sharing with you my process of planning for and hosting this year’s family Thanksgiving.

Happy Halloween!

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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On the Road: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork

This post is part of a series of On the Road Farm Stand Series It is best viewed at the blog site. If you are not viewing it there, just click on the title and you’ll go there.

The South Fork of Long Island extends along Route 27 — Montauk Highway — from Riverhead to Montauk. On the north it is bordered by a series of bays that separates the North and South Forks. Principal among these are Peconic, Noyac and Gardiners Bay. On the south, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. And to the east is Block Island Sound. For seasonal farm stands, the South Fork is a perfect storm that includes a long agricultural legacy and a large, sophisticated, affluent vacationing summer population with time and interest in at home vacation dining. As a result, Long Island’s South Fork is a veritable Madison Avenue of farm stands.

From west to east along the Atlantic shore, communities includes Quogue and Hamptom Bays, Southampton, Water Mill, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack, East Hampton and Amagansett. Sag Harbor sits on the north shore.

East of Amagansett is a long, arrow stretch of road that dead ends in Montauk. In addition to its status as summer resort more Key West than Hampton, Montauk is the center of what remains of Long Island’s once thriving commercial and sport fishing industry. The early 1990’s saw the collapse of the cod population and the sudden decimation of commercial fishing throughout the North Atlantic. Where swordfish once thrived, today it is said that “swordfish are as common as a virgin in Times Square after midnight.”

The premium residential land hugs the shore and provides ocean views. That leaves lots of interior land where modest-sized farms continue the farming tradition that stretches back to the earliest Dutch settlers in the 1600’s. In 1609, Henry Hudson, representing the Dutch East India Company, sailed up the river that would eventually bear his name. At the base of the river New Amsterdam was established. In the mid-1600’s, English Puritans began to arrive, extending the New World base they established in Plymouth Colony. By the late 1600’s the English reined supreme throughout as New Amsterdam became New York in 1674 — following a series of conflicts between the Dutch and the English. Of course, the aboriginal native residents occupied this land long before the arrival of the Dutch and English and they suffered the same fate as most Native Americans in the face of the European onslaught. Small, depressed enclaves of Native Americans continue on the South Fork.

This church’s history provides a capsule of the area’s history over more than 300 years. It was originally known as the Old Barn Church owing to the areas farm origins. By the late 1700’s, the first “oil boom” — whale oil — drove much of the early American economy. In 1766, the church became the Old Whalers Church as Sag Harbor became a center of the South Fork whaling industry. Sag Harbor, with it’s safe north shore harbor, replaced the less Southampton harbor along the Atlantic, and was home port. In 1840, Sag Harbor was home port to 63 whaling ships. The current building and its life as the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor dates from 1844. It is an example of the Egyptian revival architecture of its day. The original 185 foot steeple was destroyed in the hurricane of 1938. Since 1997, the church’s space has been shared by the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons.

Adjacent to the church is the Old Burying Ground with its first internment in 1767.

It is the resting place for “Sag Harbor’s early residents of Revolutionary War Patriots, Whaling Captains, Portuguese Seaman, African Americans, and the founding fathers of the village.”

Beginning in the mid 1800’s, efforts increased to provide better access from New York to Long Island. By 1844, the predecessor of the Long Island Railroad completed service connecting the west end to the east end of Long Island. With the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the first non-boat connection was made connecting Long Island to the “mainland.” But in no small measure, Robert Moses is the father of modern Long Island. It was New York’s modern-day Moses, the “Master Builder,” whose vision — for better and worse — was for a system of new bridges and roadways that literally paved the way for west to east migration. In 1953, when Moses proposed the “Central Motor Expressway” to then Governor Dewey, Suffolk Country — Long Island’s western county, had a population of about 270,000. It took 32 years to complete the LIE. Today, Suffolk County’s population is more than 1.5 million – not including summer vacationers.

It was Moses’s favoring of highways over mass transit that helped create the model for today’s suburban sprawl throughout the United States. Moses was the antithesis of my personal urban planning model, Jane Jacobs and Jacobs battled Moses throughout much of her activist life. Moses believed in simply knocking everything down and starting over whereas Jacobs believed in building upon the existing community fabric.

The conventional view of “the Hamptons” is that of great affluence. While I am suspect of stereotyping, as I drove west along Montauk Highway, I shared the road with an unending caravan of BMW’s, Mercedes, shiny convertibles and dark SUV’s that certainly reinforced that the stereotype.

I came to see Mini-Coopers as a sort of dinghies. In all of my farm stand visits this summer, it was only in the Hamptons that I noted an African-American chauffeur walking a small white poodle while the poodle’s master shopped at the local farm stand.

The distance from the canyons of Manhattan to the Atlantic shores of the South Fork is about 85 miles. The median value of a house or condo in Southampton is $908,000 compared to New York State as a whole of $318,000. That means that house in Southampton is nearly three times the value of an “average” New York State house. The value of homes is driven by those owned by affluent “summer residents.” The South Fork is home to Three Ponds, a sixty acre estate in Bridgehampton for sale for $68 million — reduced from $75 million. Even at its reduced price it is one of the most expensive “homes” in the world. It includes a private 18 hole golf course.

Though affluence is apparent on the main rounds, the large year ’round resident population and those whose summer residence is a result of summer employment lead a very different life than the summer vacationers. While the median household income of Southampton is a solid $71,160, that is only about a third higher than New York State as a whole. The disparity in the median house value and the median household income compared to New York State as a whole illustrates the gap between the summer residents and the year ’round residents.

Not every backyard has an ocean view.

My Labor Day weekend visit to the South Fork was in preparation for the annual birthday dinner I prepare for my brother who has a home in Remsenburg. Remsenburg sits at the western end of the South Fork near Westhampton. Fields of pumpkins foretold summer’s end and the approach of Fall.

While the North Fork has a goodly number of excellent farm stands, the farm stands of the North Fork — that I had previously visited — serve a less concentrated affluence. In fact, it is hard to imagine anywhere in the U.S. where there is a greater confluence of farm stands and affluence than on the South Fork.

Though I do not go to farm stands for bargains, my sense was that prices at South Fork farm stands, were a dollar a pound more expensive than at stands I have typically visited throughout the summer — definitely Madison Avenue prices.

Located in Water Mill,  a contemporary looking Halsey’s Green Thumb traces its lineage back 366 years back to 1644!

Given the challenges of farming and cosmic changes that have taken place in the world over those 366 years, Green Thumb would be worthy of “Hall of Fame” recognition simply by virtue of longevity.

But, clearly you don’t survive that long resting on your laurels…or resting at all. Though Frog Commissary has existed for 37 years, we are driven by the notion that “you’re only as good as your last meal!” Green Thumb is more farm market than stand and includes a permanent building with ample awnings extending the selling area. A multi-generation family affair,

In the hyper-competitive farm stand world of the South Fork, you’re only as good as your last eggplant…or tomato..

…or pepper…

…or pluot, a hybrid of plum and apricot.

Unlike most South Fork stands, Green Thumb specializes in organic produce.

With 60 acres under cultivation, Green Thumb is a substantial operation. Despite its size, it is a multi-generation family affair. As I paid for my purchases, I heard a a young worker say “good-bye grandma” who was at the register tallying my order.

Mecox Bay is a small bay on the Atlantic shore known for oysters. Mecox Bay Dairy sits adjacent to the bay. As I have traveled throughout this summer, it has become clear that there are many local artisanal cheesemakers making world-class cheeses the equal of those that come from France, Italy and Spain. Mecox cheeses come from raw cows milk from cows raised on this South Fork pasture.

Sitting adjacent to the dairy’s pasture is Fairview Farm – a small jewel.

The stand consists of a small building with several open-air tables…

…and an adjacent tent.

As I had for the prior week’s birthday celebration for my brother-in-law Larry, I had bought Padron Peppers shipped from California for my brother Fred’s birthday celebration. Fairview is only the second farm stand during my summer sojourn to sell Padron Peppers — the other being Blooming Hill in Hudson River Valley.

Labor Day weekend in the northeast is prime time for tomatoes including a rainbow of cherry tomatoes.

Inside the small building – little more than a shack, were breads and a few books and condiments. Sometimes you walk into a shopping environment and you just have a sense that everything about it is right…consistent. The shop is the work of a connoisseur — someone with excellent taste, a wonderful sense of display, variety at a consistent level and nothing that doesn’t belong. When I returned to Fairview Farm several days later to show Christina, it was gone! No tent! No shack! No produce! It turns out that the operation — shack and all — was picked up and moved down the road to get ready for the corn maize that Fairview operates — apparently beginning just after Labor Day!

With so much selling opportunity, nameless temporary stands can be found along roads that crisscross the South Fork

Here is a roadside “farm stand” that is nothing more than a series of tables and umbrellas in a front yard — no farm in site.

Here a farm trailer with a corrugated roof make up the core of Lisa and Bill’s stand — with the farm’s pumpkin field in the background.

No two farm stands look the same. Most have a rustic warmth.

Some don’t. Here a large industrial shed protects the produce from the elements as laden wagons extend the merchandise.

Often there is a small building that protects the cash register and the balance of the stand made up of farm wagons.

Iacono Farm’s sign says it all — Fresh Eggs and Chickens.

In the summer’s sun, chicken’s, like people, seek shade.

Fortunately for these ducks, there time had not yet arrived as duck availability was still some weeks away.

Cars crowded the parking lot and inside the all-weather building customer lined up for their Labor Day Weekend supply of eggs to scramble and chickens to barbecue.

According to Vicki’s Veggies Facebook page, “Vicki started her farm stand when she was 11 years old. This is her 29th year in business.” Located in Amagansett, to the best of my knowledge, Vicki’s Veggies bright and friendly stand is the South Fork’s eastern most. From Water Mill to Amagansett, the road is filled with cars as you hop-scotch from one community to the next. That ends in Amagansett. As you leave Amagansett behind, there is a largely barren twelve-mile stretch east along Montauk Highway that connects Montauk to the South Fork. Much of this finger of land is a state park.

On the way to Montauk you pass Deep Hollow Ranch, the oldest cattle ranch in the U.S.A. It was established in 1658. Today it sustains itself by offering horseback riding, a petting zoo, as well as space for weddings and special events.

A Deep Hollow donkey stood guard by the roadside.

Montauk’s “farm land” is the sea water that surrounds it. As previously noted, the once-thriving North Atlantic fishing industry collapsed in the 1990’s as a result of over-fishing. However, Montauk is still home to a substantial fleet of commercial and sport-fishing boats.

It’s not like there are no fish in the waters and Gosman’s Fish Market offers just-off-the-boat fresh fish as well as everything the vacationers need to happily dine at their home away from home.

Montauk is the end of the South Fork line. Once there, there’s no place to go — unless you’re catching the ferry to Block Island. So, turning around, I headed back west toward preparations for my brother’s birthday. Along the long road leading back into the South Fork are a number of roadside restaurants offering fresh seafood.

My choice for my late lunch lobster roll is commonly referred to simply as “Lunch.”

Sag Harbor sits on the north shore of the South Fork. It is off the Hampton’s “main street.” On the way back I headed up to Sag Harbor. I still had a few more stops to make — points on my map — on the way home. These included Balsam Farm where I discovered peanut-sized Yukon gold potatoes unlike any I had seen before.

Then there was the touted Tomato Lady in Sag Harbor — just a small tent in a front yard on a residential street with bakers’ racks laden with red ripe tomatoes and two ladies sitting at a bridge table greeting friends and strangers alike. As noted, farm stands come in many shapes and sizes and no two are alike.

One last stop, and then home.

For readers who are farm stand voyeurs, here’s some farm stand “porn.” You just won’t find anything that looks so good and tastes so good in your local supermarket. It’s too late this year to get these beauties, but keep this image in mind for next summer’s harvest.

No post about South Fork farm stands would be complete without a brief homage to Olish Farms Country Market — Olish’s as it is always referred to around my brother and sister-in-laws summer home. Olish’s is a five minute drive from their home. For years it has been the place where I depend on getting everything from avocado to zucchini when I shop and cook at their home. Unknown are the number of times I would get a call from my sister-in-law Nancy asking if I needed anything from Olish’s. It is the sort of market that blends home-grown and local corn and tomatoes with produce staples like lemons and limes. In addition, Olish’s shelves are filled with fresh-baked breads and pies. It is a summer vacationers’ food shopping paradise that includes a fish and meat shop next door.

Here are the results on my South Fork farm stand shopping spree and the makings of my brother’s Labor Day Birthday Weekend dining. Highlights included Montauk swordfish — I found a virgin in Times Square — for grilling, tuna for tartare, yellow squash and squash blossoms for my version of the wonderful Blooming Hill Farm dinner soup, those tiny peanut-sized potatoes and, of course, corn and tomatoes. In my following post — On the Table: Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork — will share with you what I shared with my brother and friends and family over Labor Day.

Coming Posts
The Farm Stand Series
I am getting to end of this farm stand series with my trips becoming distant memory, but sharing several trips remain.
On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork will follow shortly.
On the Road: Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets — Lunenberg and Halfiax
On the Road: Blooming Hill Farm
The final post in The Farm Stand Series will a sort of Best of and include my thoughts on how farm stands and farmers’ markets could do to do better.

The Thanksgiving Series
I learned yesterday that our home will be the location of my extended family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is November 25th — about four weeks away. A principle of At Home is that entertaining should be a pleasure and not a chore and that every entertainer deserves one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival. But, “if you leave everything to the last minute you will only have a minute to do everything! We need to plan ahead and spread tasks over time and resources. With The Thanksgiving Series I will share with you my process over the next four weeks in the hope that you will work along with me in planning your own Thanksgiving. If you are going to be a Thanksgiving guest, my suggestion for a “gift” for your host is to pass along word and the suggestion they subscribe to The Thanksgivng Series.

At Home for the Holidays
This is the ideal time to purchase At Home for yourself or add it to your holiday gift list. Among At Home’s strengths is its emphasis on planning for your home entertaining. Part 1 of At Home is a Step-by-Step Guide and even if you do not follow each step literally, it provides a perfect framework for making parties better and easier. Part 2 includes more than 400 home-friendly recipes. The entire contents are digitized and when you buy At Home you receive a key code that provides access to the digital contents. Included in the digital contents are nearly forty recipes from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. At Home is not available in bookstores — except for Joseph Fox Bookshop in Center City and at Coopermarket in Bala Cynwyd. At Home can be purchased on line at www.athomebysteveposes.com.

Thank You Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market
This past Saturday I had a wonderful time at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market. I made applesauce, talked to lots of nice people, sampled recipes from At Home and sold lots of books. Thank you to everyone at the market who made my day so pleasant.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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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.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, On the Table, Tips

On the Road: Farm Stands of the Hudson River Valley, NY

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 this there, simply click on the title above. Today’s post is part of a series about regional farm stands. The entire series is available on the blog site. Check the right hand margin for the On the Road and On the Table Index.

The Hudson River stretches 315 miles from the canyons of Manhattan to Lake Tear of Clouds in the Adirondacks Mountains. The area commonly referred to as the Hudson River Valley extends from Northern Westchester and Rockland Counties on the south, nearly 100 miles north to Albany.

The long valley is bordered by the Shawangunk (“The Gunks”) and Catskill Mountains on the west and the Taconic and parts of the Appalachian mountains on the east. Nestled between is a wide and lush central valley with rolling hills leading up to the surrounding mountains.

The river and valley were formed some 13,000 to 25,000 years ago by the retreat of gigantic glaciers of the last ice age. The lower half of the river, up to Troy, is a tidal estuary and not truly a river. An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it. It is a transition zone between the salty sea and fresh water of a river. Specifically, this lower portion of the Hudson River is a type of estuary referred to as a drowned river. A drowned river is a narrow band of land that was previously above sea level that becomes submerged as sea level rises. With the melting of glaciers at the end of the last ice age, sea level rose and water flowed into this now “drowned” area. I go into this in some detail because with global warming and rising sea levels we may be getting to know this term much more than we might like.

The river is named for Henry Hudson who sailed up the river in 1609 for the Dutch East Indies Company. The area was originally settled by the Dutch, British and French as those colonial powers jockeyed for supremacy. It was a major battleground in the 1750’s of the French and Indian War — of James Fennimore Cooper’s  The Last of the Mohicans fame. British victory insured brief British domination of the area until the American Revolution. The British strategy in the Revolutionary War to cut the colonies in two along the Hudson Valley failed as the colonists prevailed and the British retreated to England.

The Hudson River Valley’s early economy was built upon lush pastures and proximity to the river. The river provided access to the growing population center of Manhattan and to seas to distant lands. The river also powered mills. As our young country grew and industrialized, proximity to the river continued to fuel the area’s economy as factories moved up river and into the heartland. In 1825 the completion of the Erie Canal linked the Hudson all the way to the Great Lakes. In 1887, Edison Machine Works opened a factory in Schenectady. A merger in 1892 with a Lynn, Massachusetts company transformed Edison into General Electric.

With the golden egg of industry came industrial pollution. In 1966, Pete Seeger’s Hudson River sloop Clearwater began to cruise river towns to call attention to the impending death of the river. In 1976, all fishing was banned on the upper Hudson and in 1983, a 200 mile stretch was identified as a Superfund site. It was not until 2009 that GE began dredging the river to clean-up PCB’s. This Saturday’s New York Times had an editorial about GE’s Latest Maneuver to put off the second phase of the river clean-up.

I grew up in Yonkers, a community along the Hudson just north of New York city in Lower Westchester County. The movie theater in mid-county White Plains was about as far north as I ventured — save for an occasional teenage romantic stroll with an occasional girlfriend around the reservoir in Valhalla. White Plains was where the annual area high school basketball tournament was played. This was also when small schools from places called Putnum and Dutchess Counties competed in Class B and Class C divisions. My Roosevelt High School was strictly Class A – by virtue of its size. Anything beyond White Plains I simply thought of as “the land to the North.” The kids from these schools might as well have been from some foreign land as far as I was concerned.

Proximity to New York City continues to be a determining factor in defining the character of the counties that line the Hudson and comprise the Hudson River Valley. In total, about 1 million people live in the six counties usually thought of as comprising the Hudson River Valley. Putnam and Orange are closest to New York City. Putnam County, just above Westchester on the east side of the river has a population of 293,562, a density of 349 people per square mile and a household income of almost $90,000. West of Putnam County is Orange County — population 383,532 and a density of 418 per square mile. Orange County’s household income is about $70,000. These southern counties are substantially bed room communities for commuters to New York City. These are relatively affluent and densely populated suburban areas. Contrast with the two remote northernmost counties of Columbia and Green. These rural counties have a combined population of about 110,000, a density of about 85 per square mile and household income about half of Putnam County.

Hudson River counties are linked by a series of bridges that include the Bear Mountain Bridge, pictured above, just below West Point, the Newburgh-Beacon, Mid-Hudson (at Poughkeepsie) and the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridges. It is of note for Philadelphians that from the time of its completion in 1924 for a period of 19 months, the Bear Mountain Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge until it was eclipsed by the Ben Franklin Bridge that links Philadelphia and Camden.

I began my journey to this “land to the north” with a 200 mile Thursday afternoon drive from Philadelphia to Kinderhook, in Columbia County — about 20 miles from Albany. This was the most distant of my series of farm stand drives and connected to a Saturday rendezvous with my brother-in-law, who has a nearby home in Tuxedo, NY. Our plan was to share the bounty of my travels for his Sunday birthday lunch..

I arrived in the late afternoon to the town of Hudson where I planned an 8 PM dinner at Local 111 — a restaurant known for its use of local ingredients. I had made no overnight arrangements, assuming I would easily find an a familiar Holiday Inn-like accommodation before dinner. I didn’t want to have to go on this hunt after dinner. A brief stop at Local 111 for some overnight guidance yielded little. So I was left to the guidance of my trusty GPS and recently acquired 3G-enabled iPad. Though there were nearby bed and breakfasts, I am not the bed & breakfast type. For me, the ideal barber is the one who doesn’t talk and the ideal accommodation is clean, comfortable and anonymous. Well, it turns out that as miraculous as I find my GPS and iPad, they are not able to conjure a clean, comfortable, anonymous…and familiar hotel/motel within easy driving distance of my 8 PM reservation. I picked an innocuous sounding establishment about 15 minutes away — just enough time to check-in and return for dinner.

My short drive from Hudson to my motel took me through beautiful countryside and a preview of my next day’s journey. The setting sun lit up the field of purple flowers pictured above. I would see similar lovely purple fields frequently through my trip. It was only when I returned home to Google that I discovered that these are fields of Purple Loosestrife, an invasive plant species that is wrecking havoc and depriving habitat to friendlier species. Mother Nature is not always a benign mother.

There were ample hints that something could be amiss regarding my chosen motel. First, my GPS denied knowledge of such a place. Only my iPad would guide me. When I pulled up I saw but one car in the barren roadside parking lot. Next, as I rang the bell to the locked office, I was greeted at the door by a shoeless, t-shirted gentlemen, who for $65 provided me with a frown and key to my room. Now, I have slept in a fair number of far-away third world countries. I trained for the Peace Corps in Brazil in the Sixties. But I can tell you that never have I stayed in a place as dirty and rundown. My dinner reservation provided no time to tuck tail and run so I deposited my bag and headed back to the warmth…and cleanliness of Local 111. Such are the perils of an intrepid farm stand hunter!

The following morning…early…I began my quest for farm stands. With the help of the internet and Fresh from the Farm, a book by Susan Meisel & Nathalie Sann, I had mapped an ambitious Friday itinerary that stretched the Hudson River Valley from north to south and close proximity to my Saturday rendezvous. There is a long family farm tradition here dating back to the late 17th Century. But, as we know, the life of a family farmer in today’s food chain dominated by large industrial farms is neither an easy or necessarily successful path to business survival. Farmers make difficult choices. Many family farms have been sold off to developers and, in some instances, abandoned. Thursday’s New York Times featured an Our Towns article by Peter Applebome about the dashed hopes of government assistance to family farms – Promised a State Lifeline, Family Farms Are Still Waiting. Applebome noted New York’s failure to deliver support first promised to a farmer in 2006 as part of an ambitious assistance program. It turns out that New York has spent only “$86 million to preserve 170 farms while Pennsylvania has spent some $710 million to protect 3,928 farms on 428,000 acres.”

My late August drive coincided with the start of the Tea Party’s tea pot seriously boiling over. The area I was driving through has seen better times. As noted, area household income in the northern counties is about half of Putnam County to the south. Driving around by oneself, even doing something as entertaining as searching for farm stands, leaves time for reflection. I was struck by signs on many a pole that simply advocated: Just Vote Them OUT! It’s a non-partisan primal scream of disaffection from our political class.

My first stop was at Samascott Orchards. Samascott is a large 1000-acre family farm started in the early 1900’s with a focus on dairy cows. In the 1960’s it grew from 180 acres to its current size and shifted its focus to apples. Today, Samascott grows 50 varieties of apples beginning in the summer with Ginger Gold.

In addition to apples, Samascott grows a variety of other produce, but apples are the thing here and the produce offerings modest. Though Washington State leads the nation in apple production and outproduces #2 New York about five to one, apples are New York State’s highest grossing single fruit or vegetable.

Clearly what you see at a farm stand is just the end result of lots of hard work behind the scenes. It is actually rare you see behind the scenes. Here are Hispanic workers at Samascott shucking a mountain of corn.

Great Performances is one of New York’s great caterers. Katchkie Farm is their 60-acre organic farm in Northern Columbia county that furnishes produce for their events as well as a number of cafes operated by Great Performance in New York.

Livestock and dairy account for nearly two thirds of the economic value of New York State farm products. Chaseholm Farm is a 350 acre dairy farm.

New York ranks third in milk production after California and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania ranks fourth.

It is interesting to note that worldwide, India ranks first in dairy production followed by the United States.

Ronnybrook is a large family owned dairy farm that produces Ronnybrook branded products ranging from super premium ice cream and bottled milk, including a richly wonderful chocolate milk to a drinkable yogurt. The farm store, it turns out, was only open on weekends, but Ronnybrook’s checkered brand was familiar throughout markets in the Hudson River Valley.

The creation of childhood friends Rory Chase and Peter Dressler, The Amazing Real Live Food Co. produced its first cheese at Ronnybrook Farm prior to setting up their own facility in a renovated chicken coop at Chaseholm Farm. Amazing’s market niche is that their farmers cheeses, queso blanco and ice creams are probiotic. Probiotic products include good live bacteria like acidophilus typically found in yogurt. The live bacteria puts the live in the Amazing Real Live.

Inevitably, it seems when I begin my farm stand journeys I despair of ever finding something really unusual to share with you. As I began the day in the sparsely populated and densely farmed northern reaches of Columbia County, there was no shortage of photogenic farms along the road. Farm stands were another matter as there are just too many farmers to set-up a farm stand to sell to farmers. My despair expired upon my arrival at the vaguely eccentric and modest Double Decker Farm. The farm stand was not housed in the structure pictured above. That seemed to serve primarily as a storage shed. Rather, self-serve honor system produce was neatly priced and on display on outdoor tables.

The farmer is a former college administrator who was terminated from his position the day following a foray into unionizing his colleagues. Some years later, the result of a financial settlement enabled a career change and the establishment of Double Decker Farm.

Despite the self-service nature of the stand, the farmer, who was sorting tomatoes across the yard, was happy to tell me about the varieties of garlic and tomatoes he grows. Pictured above are both softneck and hardneck garlic. Softneck is the garlic commonly found in supermarkets. Its name derives from the soft pliable neck opposite the root end. Hardnecks are the variety that produce garlic scrapes — the virtues of which I have extolled on this blog. The principal hardnecks are rocambole, porcelain and purple stripe. Though there are hundreds of sub-varieties of garlic, they all come from about a dozen primary types. There is a debate among garlic aficionados as to which has the better flavor – hardnecks or softnecks. As a garlic novice, my preliminary verdict is hardneck with sharper, more garlicky flavor.

It’s always fun to see how many ways entrepreneurial growers vend their wares.

Here is another.

A drive by Somer Hof Farm in Ancramdale yielded only yet another barn picture. By now it was mid-day and but for Double Decker Farm, my trip was a bit barren. I was getting hungry for lunch.

I headed to “downtown” Ancramdale to seek out lunch and discovered Sommer Hof farm’s The Farmer’s Wife…literally. Greetings pilgrim. Your search is ended. Dorcas Sommerhof began her catering business in 1989 – the result of a phone call looking for someone to cater a hunt club breakfast prior to a fox hunt taking place on her Sommer Hof farm. Over time Dorcas outgrew her four-burner farmhouse stove. In 2002, she moved into her Ancramdale storefront where a ten-burner stove produces food for her small cafe, take-out shop and bustling catering business. For the road I bought a bag of Sommerhof’s Savory Cheese biscuits, promising myself I would only eat a few and save the rest to share with family at our Sunday lunch. Not possible. As my journey continued I ate my way through a generous bag of savory and peppery thumb-sized biscuits — actually more cracker than biscuit. Upon my arrival back to Philadelphia I looked online and was thrilled to discover that I could order tins of biscuits. I ordered two. The first is long gone and the second sits securely unopened in the cupboard. The Farmer’s Wife Savory Cheese Biscuits.

My drive continued over hill and dale and soon I arrived at Herondale Farm…complete with farm store. Herondale Farm produces grass-fed beef and lamb and pasture-raised chicken and pork and sells both retail and wholesale. Customers include the famous Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barn in Pocantico Hills. Herondale’s May 25th website posting featured the job description of the farm manager they were seeking. By July 16th, Hernodale welcomed Stephan Clark — their new farm manager. Their farm store includes produce from neighbor Sol Flower Farm.

The heavyweight champion of my tour was the McEnroe Farm Market on Route 22 between Millerton and Amenia. More a farm supermarket, McEnroe sells products from its 800-acre organic farm. This large family enterprise was started in the 1980’s with the joining of the neighboring McEnroe and Durst families. The scope of its products is awesome. Products include vegetables, fruits, poultry, beef, lamb, pork and plant starts. In addition, it sells organic compost and soil. The ambitious market also sells lunch and prepared food including dinner to go…as well as homemade ice cream.

The McEnroe Organic Farm includes a significant education component that includes a Victory Garden, used as a test site and staffed by the Victory Volunteers and an area artists community as well as school tours and an internship program for aspiring organic farmers. Pictured above is McEnroe’s Harvest Calendar.

By virtue of size and mission, McEnroe is clearly a leader in its industry. Marketing efforts included a Locavore Festival heralded by a friendly scarecrow.

Much of what is grown on Hudson Valley Farms is not exactly grown for you and me, but to feed the livestock that makes up nearly two thirds of the value of Hudson River Valley agriculture.

Picturesque haystacks disappeared long ago, given way to tightly wrapped and efficiently transported round hay bales — often wrapped in white plastic for protection from the elements.

Here is a hale bale buffet ready for a small herd of cows in the distance.

In farm country you share the road with locals including a little fraternity of ducks.

I would not want to mess with these guys.

Here a dog took a moment out from enjoying a corn-on-the-cob snack to pose for an On the Road cameo.

And llamas always seem to appear somewhere on my trips.

The leader of the pack.

Many months ago in the beginning of this On the Road series, Christina and I came across this guy in front of a hot dog stand on Route 130 in New Jersey. At the time, little did we suspect that he had a brother who hung out in the Hudson River Valley.

It was late afternoon when I arrived in Annadale-on-Hudson to Montgomery Place Orchards. Founded over 200 years ago, for the past twenty-three years the farm has been operated by Doug and Talea Fincke.

Unlike last year’s cold and wet summer, the weather this summer has been sunny and hot — resulting in a bumper crop of sweet plump fruit and vegetables stretching throughout the Northeast.

Montgomery Place Orchards focuses strictly on its own retail market and its exclusive focus on retail is evident. Its display and signage reflects the same tender care in selling its products that goes into growing its products. In this entire farm to table journey, it is rare that I have seen a farmer take this amount of care. Typically, farmers seem to think that its enough to grow the stuff. But pleasure can be had nearly as much in shopping as eating and Montgomery Place, with its brightly crafted wall paintings and colorful signage is an example of how value can be added to the process for the consumer.

Its small chalk-colored blackboards and little flower arrangements were a delight for the eye.

Speaking of a delight for the eye, Migliorelli Farm’s logo gets my summers-worth of farm stand tours award for Best Logo. It has a wonderful play of warmth and tradition, but with a modern feel. Migliorelli Farm is located in Tivoli, New York. In addition to the farm, it operates two farm stands including the one I visited on the road leading to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.

Migliorelli Farm traces its roots to the 1933 arrival of Angelo Migliorelli to the Bronx from Italy with his prized broccoli raab seeds. From is small east Bronx farm — in the Baychester area — Angelo sold vegetables by horse and cart. The Bronx farm continued until 1968 when the last of the Bronx farmland was taken over by what became Co-op City — today the world’s largest housing cooperative. It was then that the Migliorelli’s secured land in the Hudson Valley where today they grow more than 130 varieties of vegetables that they sell at their two farm stands and at thirty farmers’ markets.

Great stands come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. This simple stand stood in the shadows of the late afternoon sun — wall-less and dirt-floored, a simple wood structure painted deep green — mostly roof — reminiscent of barn boards and with generous wood benches loaded with premium produce.

Included in Migliorelli’s vast inventory of vegetables were squash runners — a first on my farm stand visits — just waiting for a hot pan, some chopped garlic and good olive oil.

This uncommon Lita squash is a sweet cousin of zucchini.

Migliorelli’s was as far as I would get on my Google map. I began the day with a pin-dappled 200 mile itinerary and ended up about fifty miles short — not too bad. If it was earlier in the summer, with longer days, I could have perhaps made it a bit further. But farm stands, like their farms, march to nature’s rhythm and nature was dimming the lights. I had a cooler in the trunk filled to the brim with my day’s harvest.

It was time to think about dinner and the drive further south so I could be closer to my Saturday morning rendezvous with my brother-in-law Larry. Our plan was to extend shopping with visits to a few of Larry’s haunts. When finished, Larry and I planned a cook-in for Larry’s Sunday birthday family lunch with our families. And, of course, I had to find a clean, comfortable, anonymous place to spend the night. Did I mention clean?

On the Table are the results of my Friday Hudson River Valley farm stand tour — augmented with a little extra shopping Saturday shopping. It would become Sunday’s lunch. Roughly counter clockwise from the left: A quart of flame-roasted plum tomatoes, heirloom melon, peach butter, assorted cheeses, raspberries, smoked organic turkey breast, more cheeses (can you ever have too many cheeses?), soft and hardnecked garlic, small sweet orange peppers, Romano beans, beef short ribs, ground beef and bacon (this would become hors d’oeuvres sliders), corn, baguette, varieties of small tomatoes, purple and golden beets, white radishes, fennel flowers, a bowl filled with sweet crab apples, prune plums, doughnut peaches and heirloom tomatoes and a loaf of sourdough bread. Behind the fruit bowl is a bunch of spigariello — aka known as broccoli leaves.

At the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market on October 23nd
I will be making a pre-Halloween visit to the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market on Saturday, October 23rd for a demonstration and book signing. The Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market is located on Lancaster at Morris Avenue between the Ludington Library and Bryn Mawr Train Station.

Coming Posts
These posts will come over the next few weeks as my writing catches up with my travels and I fit my writing into my Frog Commissary responsibilities. If you are not currently a subscriber, I strongly suggest subscribing so you don’t miss any of these posts. As always, if you know of someone who might enjoy touring around with me on this blog, please pass it along.

On the Table: Farm Stands of the Hudson River Valley
After some supplemental Saturday shopping, Larry and I turned my Hudson River Valley harvest into a sumptuous Sunday birthday lunch that included barbecue beef short ribs — long-braised and finished on the grill with homemade barbecue sauce.

An Homage to Blooming Hill Farm
Larry and I began our Saturday at the legendary Blooming Hill Farm where Larry introduced me to Guy Jones, surfer-looking, storefront movement lawyer turned farmer. We had a wonderful breakfast at Blooming Hill and the day ended with their five course vegetarian dinner — a monthly tradition at Blooming Hill — prepared by David Gould from Brooklyn’s Roman’s restaurant. Following this post will be my recipe interpretation of a culinary highlight of summer — Gould’s Summer Squash Soup.

On the Road and On the Table: Long Island’s South Fork
I previously did a series of posts from Long Island’s North Fork. As Labor Day weekend approached I visited Long Island’s South Fork to shop for my annual birthday dinner for my brother Fred at the Long Island home of Fred and my sister-in-law Nancy. Join me for this.

On the Road: Lunenburg and Halifax, Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets
Recently Christina and I retreated to Nova Scotia. Highly recommended. I will share visits to two wonderful north of the border farmers’ markets. These included the small town of Lunenburg – set-up in the parking lot shared by the hockey rink and curling club and the Halifax farmers — established in 1750 and the oldest farmers’ market in North America.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under On the Road

On the Road: Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets — Headhouse

This is the third in a series of posts about Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets. It is 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.

With the exception of any day at Reading Terminal Market, a summer’s Sunday at Headhouse Farmers’ Market is Philadelphia’s best food shopping experience. And for pure physical per-square-foot concentration of food shopping ecstasy, it is unrivaled. There are good reasons for this.

Headhouse is located between Pine and Lombard Streets along 2nd Street. It sits at the South side of Society Hill and nearly adjacent to Queen Village. In 1745, our forefathers decided their growing city was in need of a new market area to compliment the “downtown” food stalls that lined High Street from the Delaware River to 6th Street. High Street was a sort of generic name, used in England to this day, to identify a town or neighborhood’s principal shopping street. Our High Street eventually became our Market Street in recognition of its role as Philadelphia’s market area. The newly designated area became known as New Market to differentiate it from the older market area. Today’s Headhouse takes its name from theses Colonial origins and the headhouse building on the Pine Street Side along with the “shambles” — the connected structures that run to Lombard Street with Colonial origins.

This New Market — up on a hill — was never Philadelphia’s primary food market. After the Revolutionary War, our town fathers decided to fill in the foul-smelling Dock Creek and create a new main market area along the street created from filling in the creek — Dock Street.  Though the streets of Philadelphia were carefully laid out in a grid, the new Dock Street’s arc connecting Chestnut and Spruce Streets between 2nd and 3rd, owes its uncharacteristic shape to the shape of the former creek that ran into the river. Dock Street soon became our city’s principal food market as pictured above in 1906.

The Dock Street market evolved into Philadelphia’s wholesale food market until 1959 when a modern new Regional Wholesale Produce Market opened on Gallaway Street. I spent many early mornings in my early restaurant years along Gallaway Street — though I was hardly a market regular. In those days – when an eggplant was pretty much an eggplant — a phone call to our produce supplier seemed to work just fine. After more than fifty years in South Philadelphia, that market is about to move to “state-of-the-art” facility on Essington Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.

Today, Society Hill is a thriving affluent residential neighborhood that anchors the farmer’s market’s north side. Society Hill was named for the Free Society of Traders, an elite group of Quakers who financed William Penn’s new world land purchase. The Society Hill Historic District includes the largest collection of original 18th and 19th century architecture. It is sometimes characterized as a living Williamsburg.

It is so easy to assume that what is, always was – especially if you are young or new to Philadelphia. I arrived in Philadelphia in September of 1964. It was the year the Phillies lost 10 of their last 12 games and blew a 6 1/2 game pennant lead. The Phillies were pretty awful for many years. Despite Society Hill’s 18th Century success, by the later part of the 19th Century our city’s elite had moved west including to the area around Rittenhouse Square. By the 1950’s, the neighborhood known as Society Hill was run-down. It was not clear that the future of the Society Hill neighborhood that we know today — and our thriving residential downtown — was assured.

Between 1960 and 2000, Philadelphia “lost” almost 500,000 people — 26% of its population. (It is only since 2000 that the long decline ended with a small recent increase in population.) As manufacturing began its shift to the south in the 60’s and then globally in the 90’s, Philadelphia’s manufacturing-based economy suffered from new competition and old structural problems. Our manufacturing was heavily unionized and vertically inefficient. In addition, post-war industrialization of farming reduced the need for farm workers and drove people — especially poor and black people from the agricultural South into deteriorating northern industrial cities like Philadelphia. With them came new social tensions. These economic and social issues, along with public investment in highways and commuter rail accelerated “white flight” to suburbs as the more affluent sought to escape growing urban turmoil.

In the 1950’s, urban renewal’s principal tool was the bull-dowser. Knock down and start over. It took the visionary thinking of City Planner Edmund Bacon and Philadelphia reform mayors Joe Clark and Richardson Dillworth to imagine Society Hill as it is today. Bacon, Clark and Dillworth developed a series of pioneering development tools aimed at preserving the unique character of the neighborhood. These development tools – eventually adopted nationally — combined public investment in neighborhood infrastructure with private investment incentives in existing residential facades and improvements. Their efforts included moving the Dock Street wholesale market to South Philadelphia and the development, years later in 1977, of the I.M.Pei-designed Society Hill Towers. In total, their efforts resulted in the picturesque and pristine Society Hill that we know today.

As noted, the headhouse and shambles was originally known as New Market to distinguish it from the older High Street market. The headhouse was built in 1805 and housed a volunteer fire department. The “Shambles,” the covered arcade, is an English name for a collection of butcher shops.  The original “shambles” was knocked down in 1950 and re-built in the early 1960’s as part of the public investment in Society Hill. Newmarket, built in the mid-70’s and pictured above, was the name given to the ill-fated mixed use complex built along the eastern edge of Headhouse. Newmarket housed the Rusty Scupper, what I believe was the first “upscale, out-of-town chain restaurant” to enter the Philadelphia market — a market previously the exclusive preserve of local independent restaurants.

It is also of note that at the northern end of the shops that line the west side of the headhouse was Ed Bottone’s Lautrec, an often over-looked forerunner of the Philadelphia restaurant renaissance. Nearby, on Front Street, was Janine et Jeanine, the namesake of two female restaurant pioneers, managed by Les Smith. It was for Les Smith and Joseph Hartman’s catering company that I had my very first professional job in 1971 — just before beginning work as a busboy at La Panetiere.

The early so-called restaurant renaissance that brought Frog, Friday Saturday Sunday, Astral Plane and The Garden to the west side of Center City had its east side equivalent in this neighborhood. These included the pioneering  Black Banana, Lickety Split and Knave of Hearts.

Queen Village sits just to the south of Society Hill and is the other key neighborhood that contributes to the success of the Headhouse Farmers’ Market. Originally settled by Swedes in the 1600’s, its original named was Wiccaco, the Lenape Indian word for “pleasant place.” William Penn renamed it Southwark and it only became part of Philadelphia in 1854.  In 1970, Southwark  became Queen Village, in honor of Queen Christina, the Swedish Queen at the time of original colonial settlement. Like Society Hill, only more so, Queen Village experienced a long period of decline through the mid to later part of the 20th Century.

Roadways figured prominently in these neighborhoods development. Southwark’s decline was exacerbated by the construction of I-95 at its river’s edge. In fact, the construction of I-95 permanently severed both Society Hill’s and Southwark’s connection to their waterfront — a legacy that continues to haunt Philadelphia’s planners. For many years this community successfully fought the construction of the Crosstown Expressway — a road designed to replace South Street with a highway connector from I-95 to the Schuykill.  But for that community’s victory, this area would look very different today. We would have neither the farmers’ market or the adjacent South Street entertainment district. The “Crosstown Expressway” was eventually located along Vine Street — with severe neighborhood consequences for the Chinatown community.

The Headhouse Farmers’ Market grows out of long market tradition. But it’s success today is due in large part to the uniquely supportive demographics of Society Hill and Queen Village. Though Society Hill is the least dense of Center City’s neighborhoods at 12,867 per square mile, Queen Village has a density of 23,616 that rivals Rittenhouse Square at 26,081. Society Hill, as demographically represented by the 19106 zip code, is the most affluent neighborhood in Philadelphia with average household income of $106,817 — significantly higher than even the $73,393 of Rittenhouse Square’s 19103 zip code. Queen Village — 19147 zip code — weighs in at a respectable $52,647.

But what is more important with regard to the farmers’ market is is the family nature of the Queen Village neighborhood. Queen Village developed initially as the “low rent” home for artists and young people who enjoyed its proximity to the newly developing lower South Street bohemian corridor. Remember, South Street was where the hippies meet. While some of the development tools utilized for Society Hill had become institutionalized and served the development of Queen Village, most of Queen Village’s resurgence as a neighborhood was more organic — and I am not talking vegetables here. Price and proximity and sound housing stock all contributed to Queen Village’s success. A history of relatively low housing prices, combined with location — and an excellent public elementary school — Meredith, eventually attracted young families as long-time white ethnic residents sold and rentals became homes. Today Queen Village includes 2790 households with children compared to 351 in Society Hill and 560 around Rittenhouse Square. Families generally are more focused on at home dining than singles and empty nesters.

It is against this demographic backdrop of concentrated affluence and families that the Headhouse Farmers’ Market operates each Sunday.

Most neighborhood farmers’ markets are laid out single file, under tents along a sidewalk strip. By contrast, the Headhouse market, operated by The Food Trust, sits within the covered arcade — the “Shambles” — with tables lining both sides. The covered arcade provides a more intimate and compressed physical experience. At the same time, the absence of mismatched and low-hanging tents provides a more consistent, open and accessible market.

The market opens at 9:30 so plan to have a breakfast sausage from Renaissance Sausage, recently featured by Rick Nichols in his Inquirer column.

In addition to breakfast sandwiches of Sausage, Egg & Cheese or a Brie and Fresh Peach Melt, Renaissance Sausage offers four sausage options including a vegetarian sausage!

Occasionally a neighborhood farmers’ market has a food truck. Clark Park on Saturday has Honest Tom’s Taco Truck featuring breakfast tacos. In addition to Renaissance Sausage, Headhouse also boasts Los Taquitos de Pueblo, a 9th Street taqueriia set’s up in a tent just outside the market near Pine Street.

It’s cobblestone street-friendly menu includes Tacos al Pastor with pork, onions, cilantro and a slice of pineapple — note the pineapple sitting above the pork on the vertical spit — Chicken Taco, or Quesadilla with your choice of chicken, mushroom, mushroom and corn or zucchini blossom.

If you plan your appetite carefully, you might manage a breakfast sausage, your shopping and then a lunch taco. That’s excellent eating. Pull up a step and enjoy.

Wash it down with a fresh squeezed — and shaken — lemonade from Twisted Lemonade.

You could settle for a classic, but where else can you get a Carrot Apple Ginger or Cucumber Herb or Ginger or Black Raspberry Lemonade?

Serious produce shoppers have a world of choices. Summer basil is de rigueur at farmers’ markets. At Headhouse your basil choices include Purple Genovese and Thai.

Heirloom tomatoes — in the foreground — are so yesterday. How about a wide selection of heirloom melons in the background?

Here are two varieties of Italian heirloom cucumbers.

You may not have had Oriental Squash on your shopping list. But the wonder of farmers’ markets are not intended for the disciplined shopper. Rather, they are there for you to explore and expand your food horizons.

Here are Asian “Burpless” Cucumbers. Actually, I did not know there were cucumbers that included “burbs” so discovering “burpless” came as quite a surprise.

Where is it written that cucumbers even have to be green? Pale yellow cucumbers are more familiar at farmers’ markets in Mumbai. Note the pursulane next to the cucumbers. Does your neighborhood market carry pursulane, a sour/salty green more common in Europe, Asia and Mexico than on Lombard Street?

Long beans come in purple and green.

Late summer sweet and hot peppers abound…

…available in nearly every color in the rainbow.

Pint-sized produce served up in pints.

Stands employ different merchandising styles. This display reads like a recipe. Just imagine fresh corn, shaved from the cob and sautéed with heirloom garlic and a little diced hot peppers.

Slice these tomatoes with some red onion and drizzle with good olive oil and sea salt. If you appreciate the beauty of food, wandering the Headhouse Farmers’ Market is the equivalent of an art lover wandering the galleries of our Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Farmers’ Markets help us mark the passage of time as produce comes and goes. August’s tree-ripened peaches are now yielding to September’s apples.

Here are early season sweet and juicy Rebella apples.

These beauties are pears.

Man and women does not eat by produce alone. Here is the legendary Talula’s Table from Kennett Square. Each Sunday Tulula’s Table returns to its neighborhood roots vending housemade cured meats and spreads. Tulula’s Table grew out of Django, a small restaurant that was located nearby. While it was operating, Django was one of the hardest places to score a table in Philadelphia.

A farmers’ market life is a family affair.

Naturally, you will need bread from Ric’s Bread.

Birchrun Hills Farm offers cheese and hormone and antibiotic free pork and veal. Other stands also offer cheese — cow or goat, your choice.

Moutainview Poultry offers free range chicken and beef.

I am always on the look-out for meat and poultry providers who provide more imaginative marketing than just a hand-letters sign on a white board sitting above a cooler in need of a good scrubbing. Utilizing vinyl lamb chops and a sirloin is a modest step in more effective merchandising, but hardly a substitute for a small grill, some smoke and a little sampling to engage potential customers.

The ubiquitous Market Day Canele is here for dessert and coffee.

Perhaps a fruit pie so freshly baked it looked still warm!

Of course, flowers for your tabletop.

In extolling the pleasures of the Sunday Farmers’ Market at Headhouse, I am not seeking to convert you to some radical locavorism. In fact, I am preternaturally suspect of all things radical. What comes to mind is the scene in the Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant film Notting Hill. It’s morning and Roberts and Grant are in bed. Movie star Roberts had sought out the anonymity of Grant’s modest blue-doored house to escape the scandal that resulted from the publication of photos taken of her when she was a struggling actress. The photos exposed her breasts. Roberts asks Grant, “What is it about breasts? Half the world has them.” Well, this is just produce. It’s available all over! Yes, this is beautiful and luscious and sweet or hot or sour — but still just produce. Or chickens. Or cheese.

It has always been my hope — both with my restaurants and now with At Home and this blog, that through a love of food I can connect you to something larger — to a time of year and a place, in this case a city, its history and a neighborhood – and that you will develop and share your own love of food with friends and family at home and, in so doing, build your connection to here and now and your own community.

So this Sunday think about visiting the Farmers’ Market at Headhouse.

Coming Attractions
The next installment in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Farmers’ Market series will be very different from Headhouse. It will be Kensington’s pioneering Greensgrow. Look for it next week.

I recently visited New York’s Hudson Valley and Long Island’s South Fork. My report on each will include On the Road, On the Table and a Recipe. The recipe for the Hudson Valley post will be a squash soup served up at a farm dinner at the legendary Blooming Hill Farm. The squash soup — its more complicated than just squash — was perhaps the best thing I ate this summer. I am also heading to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax boasts the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the New World. My likely final installment in this long series will be a return to New York’s Union Square Market. It was at the Union Square market last August — and the resulting lunch for Christina, and friends Pascal, Manou and Maelle, that I began to seriously evolve this blog into what it has become today — nearly 200 posts later.

As we move into fall and the holiday entertaining season, the blog will shift its focus to helping you plan to entertain…At Home. If you enjoy these posts and have not yet purchased At Home, I encourage you to do so. Learn more about At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. As always, if you know of people who you think would enjoy this blog, please let them know about it.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under On the Road

On the Road: Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets — Rittenhouse Square

This is the second in a series about Philadelphia’s neighborhood farmers’ markets.

For the past five years — since I moved into Christina’s apartment and we married, Rittenhouse Square has been my backyard.

Given our record-breaking hot summer, it is hard to fathom that I took this photo this past February. The snowfall — the second highest in Philadelphia’s recorded history created an urban winter wonderland. It was a magical day.

Rittenhouse Square filled with friends, neighbors and nearly 25 carefully crafted snow people in various stages of dress. An amazing snow tableau featured a sitting dog watching television complete with twig antenna.

Christina’s the one on the right. By late afternoon, as we sat sipping champagne at a window table at Parc, the 28.5 inches of snow lingered only as flurries.

The Four Seasons of Rittenhouse Square
Winter’s snow gives way to Spring’s daffodils. Magnolia blossoms fill the square with pink for several days and then litter the ground as they yield to magnolia’s broad green leaves. Soon, the trees — barren since fall — are filled with green. It always seems as though this happens almost overnight. One day, no leaves and the next, leaves everywhere. Rittenhouse Square helps us city dwellers keep track of the seasons.

Spring marks the return of the Farmers’ Market and the rainbow of zinnias sold by the dozen by the Amish farmer.

Trees provide shelter to bench-dwellers from summer’s sun while wide expanses of lawn welcome sun worshipers. By late October the leaves begin to fall as peaches yield to apples. Each year, as Christmas approaches, hundreds of lighted balls twinkle in now leafless trees. Though some farmers make it into the late fall and early winter, by the year’s turn nearly all farmers have gone. For everything there is a season and the Square bears witness.

A Very Brief History of Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square was one of five squares designated by William Penn in 1682 as open public spaces — part of Penn’s “green country town.” It was known as Southwest Square. The other squares, Southeast, Northeast, Northwest and Center are today respectively, Washington, Franklin, Logan and City Hall. There was little in it’s early history to suggest that today our Rittenhouse Square would rank #6 on a list of Best Squares and Plazas in the world by Projects for Public Spaces. (The #1 Plaza is the Piazza del Campo in Sienna followed by Piazza San Marco in Venice.) In its early years, livestock grazed and it was a dumping ground for “night soil.” Its clay-like soil was better suited for kilns and than crops. As a result, much of Philadelphia’s colonial brick was made at our Southwest Square.

It wasn’t until 1825 that the square’s name was changed to Rittenhouse, in honor of astronomer and Revolutionary patriot David Rittenhouse. In 1840, as Philadelphia moved westward from the Delaware River,  the first “aristocratic” home was built at 1811 Walnut Street by James Harper. The home of his daughter followed at 1821 Walnut Street. By the late 1800’s Rittenhouse Square was home to Philadelphia’s Victorian-era aristocrats.

Since the early 19th century, local residents have played an important role in the square’s maintenance and beautification. In 1913, the Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association commissioned Beaux-Arts trained French-American architect Paul Philippe Cret to design what we know today as the modern Rittenhouse Square.  The Association took care of the square until 1976 when responsibility was assumed by the Fairmount Park Commission. Today, the park is maintained by the City of Philadelphia in conjunction with Friends of Rittenhouse Square.

The Life of Rittenhouse Square
The success of Rittenhouse Square as a great public space is the result of a series of factors.

Here is Jane Jacobs’ take from The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Rittenhouse Square, the success, possesses a diverse rim and diverse neighborhood hinterland.” She goes on to describe the many uses of buildings that surrounded the square in 1961 when the book was written. She continues, “Immediately beyond the rim, in the streets leading off at right angles and in the next streets parallel to the park sides, is an abundance of shops and services of all sorts with old houses or newer apartments above, mingled with a variety of offices.”

From 1977 to 1995, The Commissary, my second restaurant, operated nearly in the shadow of the square’s towering trees. Nearly all of my restaurants were within a five-minute walk of the square. Jacob’s concludes: “This mixture of uses of buildings directly produces for the park a mixture of users who will enter and leave the park at different times. They use the park at different times from one another because their daily schedules differ. The park possesses an intricate sequence of uses and users.”

The square is laid out in a complex set of intersecting connective pathways varying in width and shape — straight and arcs, circles and diagonals. No path runs purely parallel to the bordering streets.

The square’s central artery connects 18th & Walnut to the southwest corner of the square.  But even this central artery is not a raceway. It includes a series of “dividers” that split the pathway — large central planted flower beds, sculptures, and a “gazebo” on a central open plaza. The edges of the pathways are defined by changes in material — the paths are composed of sturdy pavers — grass and soil, balustrades and flower beds define both hard and soft edges.

If you are walking through the square from the southeast corner, near The Barclay, to the northwest corner adjacent to the Trinity Church, there are a set of steps to climb from street level to the elevated central plaza.

But no such steps exist on the opposite side or on the 18th & Walnut diagonal. The paths rise to the elevated plaza level ever so gently that you are unaware that you are moving on an incline.

And though the pathways have a symmetry, the square itself does not. The east side of the central plaza has a reflecting pool while the west side has a large densely planted flower bed. The dimensions of the pool and flower bed are the same, but their effect is not. This serves to asymmetrically concentrate the people energy of the central plaza on to the area of the central plaza defined by the balustrades– balustrades that are favored seating areas for younger folks — and around the reflecting pool rather than the planted area.

There is a large informal planted bed on the southwest corner that has no equal and opposite on the northeast corner. This subtle mix of physical order and serendipity — not something you are really aware of day-to-day, gives the Rittenhouse Square an interest and energy rarely matched in urban spaces.

The central plaza and with wide entry at 18th & Walnut are the two primary “entertainment” venues.

Sculptures abound around the square, but are not imposing by their presence…except perhaps for the lions that sit in one of the least inhabited areas of the square. Of course, the friendly stone frog is one on my favorites.

The walls of the square are the surrounding high-rises, sitting in an orderly manner until The Rittenhouse Hotel and Condominiums altered that pattern. As high-rises continue to replace lower density buildings, the square has a more closed in feel than when there we fewer tall buildings.

Scores of benches line the path that circles the square and lines the central pathway. Every bench has a small plaque — a memorial to one person or another who loved the square. A neighbor in the building in which I live re-counted scattering the ashes of her late husband in and around the azaleas near 19th Street. Some day Izzy and my mother may find a similar final resting place. Many trees have been planted as memorials on the square’s perimeter — this one planted a few years ago by his family in memory of a dear friend of mine.

Walking home last night from Barnes & Noble, the square was filled with the sights and sounds of youthful energy — music, bicycles, backpacks, close-cropped and shaggy hair, tattoos.  Some evenings you can hear Curtis students practicing from Curtis’s windows that face the square at 18th & Locust.

You don’t have to go to Curtis to play the flute or violin or guitar or drum on Rittenhouse Square.

Despite it’s fancy address, it’s a very democratic place. The square belongs to all.

Early mornings, dog walkers meander the grassy areas while older walkers briskly circle the square’s perimeter. Next, waves of workers scurry through while the workless, both willing and unwilling, enjoy coffee and the morning newspaper on a bench. Later in the morning, weather permitting, mothers, mostly, and pre-schoolers, gather on and around the stone bench that faces the goat on the southwest side of the square. (Again, there is no equal and opposite on the other side of the square.) Lunch is a hop-scotch of lunching bench sitters — including the FedEx guys who park their truck on the south side in front of the Ethical Society, and seniors watching the world go by.

Bocce ball compete with frisbies. Urban fathers teach young sons and daughters how to catch and throw a baseball. Impromptu soccer and touch football games come and go. That snowy February afternoon included a veritable snowball war by perhaps fifty snow ball fighters.

At the 18th and Walnut corner, the wall is shared by the chess players and bicycle messengers. If you have a petition to get signed, this is the corner to do it.

As day moves into evening, the path of office workers is reversed as workers head home — or to neighborhood restaurants — or to meet a friend on a bench for a “picnic dinner.”

Overnight the square is home to some homeless, though the addition of a center arm rest on some benches has served to limit where you can lie down.

Warm sunny days differ from cold wet days and weekends are different from weekdays. On weekends, there is less rushing through the square and more strolling and lingering.

Sunday mornings in the spring or fall are my favorite times. The square is its quietest on Sunday mornings, and you can get nearly any bench you want while you sip your coffee and eat your scone from neighboring Metropolitan Bakery and read the Sunday New York Times. The peak the square’s activity are those clear blue sky, not too hot, not too cold sunny Sunday afternoons where nearly every inch of grass is filled with blankets and there is a wait for a good bench.

Count yourself gloriously fortunate if you live or work on or near Rittenhouse Square.

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market
And so Rittenhouse Square has a rhythm of the seasons and the days. This is the backdrop to Saturday’s Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market which both borrows from and adds to the energy of the square. There is an abbreviated market on Tuesdays with shorter hours. The Farmers’ Market both benefits from and contributes to that rhythm and the success of the square.

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market is sponsored and managed by Farm to City, one of two principle organizers of Philadelphia’s neighborhood farmers’ markets. The market runs along Walnut Street adjacent to  the square. Nineteenth Street is generally an end point. This year, as more stalls have been added — there are about 25 — the market wraps around on to 18th Street.  Saturday hours are 9:30 AM to 3 PM, though on busy days by 3 PM pickens’ are slim. Tuesday’s it runs from 10 AM to 1 PM.

At the top of the market at 19th Street is a large and comprehensive stand run by Rineer Family Farms of Lancaster. They also offer grass fed meat and poultry.

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market is the market I know best. I shop here nearly every Saturday. It is where I look forward to asparagus in the Spring, tomatoes and peaches in the summer and apples in the fall. It helps me know where I am in the world. While I worked on At Home, the Saturday farmers’ market provided a weekly jolt of seasonal inspiration.

Next door to Rineer is the Fahnestock Fruit Farm, one of two fruit specialty stands. These folks, from Lititz in Lancaster County, specialize in tomatoes, peaches and apples. That’s it.

Beechwood Orchards is the other fruit stand with a far wider selection of fruit and berries as well as some specialty produce on a side table.

Here are Beechwood’s Santa Rosa plums and Doughnut Peaches and Elephant Heart Plums. Don’t you just have a try a plum named for an elephant’s heart? Who even knew that there was an Elephant Heart plum?

In the foreground is something I first saw this year. They are variously called husk tomatoes or ground cherries. Under the husk, which you discard, are a little berry-like tomatoey fruit. I have tried them a few times and so far I’m not convinced they are anything but a novelty. But try for yourself.

Not many farmers’ markets have a dedicated mushroom grower. Kennett Square, about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia in Chester County is the “Mushroom Capital of the World.”

A recent discovery for me — and one of my favorite stands is Cherry Grove Farm. They produce world class cow’s milk cheeses in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Can the town that named Philadelphia Cream Cheese embrace a cheese as fine as their Toma Primavera?  They also offer grass fed beef and lamb and certified Berkshire pork as well as organic eggs.

If your preference is goat cheese, we have that as well.

You can buy standard baked goods.

Christina has gluten-free tendencies and, thankfully, our market boasts arguably the best gluten free baked goods in the region from Amaranth.

While I’m on the subject of baked goods, Market Day Canele divides its Saturday between Rittenhouse Square, Clark Park and Fitler Square and on Sunday, they can be found at Headhouse. Look for them around the corner on 18th Street.

For your tabletop there’s Lilies and Lavender.

My go-to tabletop stand is Triple Tree Flowers — also at Clark park — where I either stick to Zinnias by the dozen or pick my own summer flower mix. If you make your own bouquet you just keep picking, show them what you’ve got, they look and think a bit and tell you a very reasonable price. Check out At Home’s Simplified Flower Arranging, a double page spread on pages 28 and 29.

An intriguing stand that seems to get little action is Otolith sustainable seafood. From their website I’ve learned “At Otolith, providing the highest quality seafood and supporting environmental sustainability in the seafood industry are our top priorities.” These are admirable goals that maybe just need stronger marketing consumer education at the stand. It is part of the larger problem of how to shine the spotlight on “proteins” — meat, poultry and Otolith’s fish — when showy vegetables are stars of the show. Perhaps taking a cue from supermarkets where they often cook and give out small samples. It’s an easy way to attract attention and engage potential customers.

Wine is not standard fare at farmers’ markets. But wine surely is a farmed product. Blue Mountain offers a wide selection of modestly priced wines from their Lehigh Valley vineyards. Blue Mountain wines are also available at Reading Terminal Market.

Just because produce is locally grown does not mean it’s organic. But if you are after certified organic local produce, you can get it at Rittenhouse Square.

My favorite stand at Rittenhouse Square is Z Food Farm from Princeton. While you can buy great zucchini and summer squash at every farm stand, Z Food Farm grows and sells more interesting and distinctive products of top quality along with the best specimens of more familiar fare.

The chief farmer is David Zabeck and that is his awfully hard working mother and dad above. In addition to Rittenhouse Square on Saturdays, Z Food Farm is at the Princeton Farmers’ Market on Sundays. It’s at Z Food Farm that I have found shiso leaves and lemon verbena — both nearly unseen at area markets. Their tropea red onions have become my standard addition to heirloom tomatoes this summer.

So there you have my neighborhood and its farmers’ market. It is a very well constructed market offering a vast expanse of what any cook would be proud to serve to friends and family. If you live in the neighborhood and do not shop at our local farmers’ market, you are missing an addition to your Saturday routine that could enrich your life and table. If you are not from here, I hope that you visit Rittenhouse Square with a new appreciation of just how special it is. And I suggest you visit on a Saturday…when our Farmers’ Market is open.

What’s Next?
There is much in store as we move to late summer into fall and the approach of the holiday entertaining season. Rosh Hashana is next Thursday.

Look for a post this week to introduce you to Shishito Peppers.

Next week: Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market. If you have never visited the Headhouse’s Sunday Farmers’ Market you are missing a world-class food shopping experience. Come along with me on a blog post visit.

Coming Up: Look for an upcoming On the Road post about New York’s Hudson Valley and the resulting On the Table, my brother-in-laws birthday dinner.

My Hudson Valley sojourn included a long visit to Guy Jones’ legendary Blooming Hills Farm (above). Look for a post about that visit and my  five course vegetarian dinner at the farm. For years Blooming Hill has sponsored these dinners by visiting chefs. The visiting chef was David Gould from Brooklyn’s Romans restaurant. Also, a recipe post of my interpretation of the squash soup served at that dinner — a culinary highlight of a summer’s eating.

Also on the docket as part of the neighborhood farmers’ market series is the Greensgrow Farmers’ Market in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.

I leave today from Long Island’s South Fork and my annual birthday dinner for my brother and family. Posts will follow. Look for more recipes too.

If you do not already subscribe and don’t want to miss any of these posts, I suggest you subscribe today. You can also “give” a gift subscription to the blog to a friend by simply suggesting they subscribe. It’s free! Subscribe at the blog site. If you are not reading this post on the blog site, click on the post’s title and it should take you there. Subscribe in the upper right hand corner. You can also subscribe at athomebysteveposes.com where you can also learn about my book and companion website, At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under On the Road

On the Road: Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets — Clark Park

Over the next four weeks my At Home blog will shift its focus from back road farm stands to Philadelphia’s neighborhood farmers’ markets.

Heirloom tomatoes and heirloom melons at Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.

Thanks to the efforts of The Food Trust and Farm to City — and the support of neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, the city is blessed with easy access to just-picked, farm-fresh local foods. The series begins this week with the Clark Park Farmers’ Market and continues through Summer’s end with Rittenhouse Square, Headhouse and Greensgrow in Kensington. Rather than On the Road, these could well be called On the Bus! (I will also be heading out to New York’s Hudson River Valley and Long Island’s South Fork during this time.) My goal in sharing my journeys is that I will encourage and inspire you to follow your own path to more enjoyable home entertaining.

From Country Farm Stands to Urban Farmers’ Markets
We travel far and wide in rental cars and tour buses to discover distant back roads, while by-passing back roads close to home. We also microscopically examine insider city guides and the internet to discover the hidden neighborhoods of Prague, Paris and Shanghai, while rarely leaving the confines of our local neighborhood to explore all that is fascinating in adjacent zip codes.

Driving all over countryside hill and dale in search of a farm stands at times feels looking for a needle in a literal haystack. It is not the most ecologically progressive way to obtain just-picked produce and other local agricultural fare. In fact, cities developed because they provide a more efficient economic structure by centralizing people and products. Philadelphia’s population density is about is 11,500 per square mile compared to rural Salem County’s 190. Unlike roadside farm stands that are appendages of far-flung farms, farmers’ markets are essentially farm stand “malls.”  With farmers’ markets, we and the farmers efficiently come together in a designated central location.

With my long country drives in search of farm stands, what distinguishes each trip is not so much the farm stands. Yes, some farm stands provide lasting memories — the Tomatoes at the Washington Boro Tomato Barn or Mr. Tkrach’s Cucumbers. But, in the end, a ripe peach in Salem County is just not that different from a ripe peach in Lancaster County. (Actually, Salem County’s early season peaches were cling and Lancaster’s August peaches were freestones.) What most distinguishes each excursion is “the neighborhood” — the distinctive sense of place you get when you travel the back roads of Salem or Chester or Montgomery Counties or Long Island’s North Fork. And so it is with Philadelphia’s neighborhood farmers’ markets. What distinguishes each farmers’ market is not the difference in the flavor of the tomatoes from neighborhood to neighborhood, but rather the flavor of the neighborhoods from farmers’ market to farmers’ market.

Clark Park Farmer’s Market
Clark Park is located in the Spruce Hill Neighborhood of West Philadelphia’s University City District.

The area was originally colonial farmland.  Perhaps our Founding Fathers enjoyed just-picked corn from here? As Philadelphia grew and modernized, this area evolved into an early street-car suburb. The Park itself was established in 1895. It sits on land once occupied by Satterlee Hospital which during the Civil War was our country’s second largest. Sixty thousand Union soldiers were treated at the hospital.

Today, the nine acre park, located between Baltimore and Woodland Avenues and 43rd and 45th Street, provides both green space and a community focal point. Clark Park sits at the southwestern edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus and the medical complex that runs along Civic Center Boulevard back toward University Avenue.

Adding to the academic underpinning of the area is the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia which sits adjacent to Clark Park.

The tree-lined neighborhood is home to a culturally, economically and ethnically diverse community — more concentrated but  akin to the West Mt.Airy-Germantown community in Northwest Philadelphia. Much of the housing stock to the immediate north and west of the park is made up of what were once large single family homes and twins that have long-since been broken up into apartments for students and couples with young children.

Across the 43rd & Baltimore corner of — just north of Clark Park is the welcoming Green Line Cafe.

Much of the ethnic diversity that adds so much interest to the neighborhood is found in the area to the west of Clark Park and includes a large African and African-American community. Baltimore Avenue is lined with ethnic markets and restaurants. Here a Nigerian Food Market.

Queen of Sheba is an Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar.

An Indian restaurant.

Atiya’s Ola’s features Vegan and Vegetarian Spirit First Food.

They sit alongside more gentrified neighborhood hang-outs like Milk & Honey.

In addition to sandwiches, Milk & Honey offers the Spruce Hill home entertainer everything from hardwood charcoal and smart baked-goods to organic produce and cheeses.

This may be Philadelphia’s only “Chaat House,” located two blocks east of Clark Park on Baltimore Avenue at 41st and Baltimore. Chaat is a unique Indian Street food based upon a variety of spiced and fried doughs — snack food, incorporated with more familiar Indian fare like biryani and somosas. You can get your chaat Mild to Wild.

A summer flea market, sponsored by Uhuru.

It’s the sort of neighborhood park where you can get your bike repaired.

There are more than 300 trees to sit under and catch-up on your text messaging.

Or learn about the upcoming Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.

Or just take in the scene at the foot of Charles Dickens.

But, by all means, become a Friend of Clark Park.

It is the unique neighborhood surrounding Clark Park that adds spice to the Clark Park Farmers’ Market.

The Clark Park Farmers’ Market

The Clark Park Farmers’ Market is located along 43rd Street between Baltimore and Woodland.

It is easily accessible by bus or subway surface trolley. There is also plenty of convenient and free street parking.

I often site Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities as providing the intellectual underpinning of my restaurant career. In her iconoclastic 1960’s book, Jacobs described the important role of the neighborhood candy store in providing a common ground for otherwise disconnected urban dwellers. (A child of the 60’s, what I have done in my 40-plus career with food has always been connected to building community…before in my restaurants. The At Home Project — book, website and blog — is about using food and home entertaining to build community.) I thought restaurants could do what Jacobs candy store accomplished, but with better food! In many ways, neighborhood farmers’ markets play a similar role in the lives of busy neighbors as Jacobs’ candy store. It is at their neighborhood farmers’ markets on Saturday morning’s where neighbors find moments of bonhomie. The Clark Park Farmers’ Market is an essential component of the neighborhood. Plus it was amazing local food.

Farmers’ Markets are generally not the random collection of farmers and food artisans that they may appear to be. They are put together by a “sponsor/organizer” to include a thoughtful cross-section of stands.  Clark Park is organized by The Food Trust and includes a wonderful mix of about 25 stands. Smaller markets will, of necessity, have a more abbreviated mix.

The mix of farm stands will include an “organic farm stand.”

Typically, an Amish farmer or two is included.

This Amish farm stand offered a hot summer’s day refreshment of iced cold Blackberry Juice, Peppermint Tea and Root Beer by the cup, pint or quart.

A bakery stand is de rigueur — gluten free offerings a plus. Some farmers’ markets including Rittenhouse Square have gluten-free only stands.

A fruit specialist is a little like the Macy’s — the anchor store in the mall.

Ideally a stand will provide grass-fed beef and other meat and poultry. Landisdale Farm provided all of the grass-fed beef used in today’s Homegrown Philly Cheesesteak give-away at the LOVE Park Farmers’ Market.

Someone needs to provide the dairy products.

Fruit and vegetables are so easy to merchandise. They are things of beauty. Someone needs to figure out how to more effectively merchandise meat and poultry. A slab of beef and a raw chicken just don’t have the appeal of heirloom tomatoes.

Farm-grown flowers add color to the market and neighborhood households. Some farm stands have “outlets” at several neighborhood markets including this Amish flower stand’s Rittenhouse Square outpost where I have frequently buy zinnias and other summer flowers for home. On Saturdays you can buy Market Day Canele at Clark Park and Rittenhouse Square and at Headhouse on Sundays. It’s a unique product and they are the only farm stand “canele” game in town.

The Clark Park Farmers’ Market is sponsored by the University City District, a non-profit “Special Services District” modeled after the very successful Center City District, Phildadelphia’s first SSD. The market includes a produce stand from University City High School.

I am always on the look-out for the unusual — here late July garlic scapes and spicy dandelion greens along with early hard squash.

A pet peeve is that few farm stands have signs announcing who they are and where they are from. The overall look of farmers’ markets would be improved if each stand were “required” to have a sign that reflects the specialness of what they offer. This sign from Fahnestock Fruit Farm is the exception.

These tomatillas are grown on two acres at The Schuykill Center for Environmental Education in Northwest Philadelphia by Urban Girls Produce. Farm stands such as these — with unique stories — add a layer of interest to farmers’ markets.  However, absent seeing Urban Girls Produce on the pricing tag, the story requires some investigation. In fact, every farm stand has a story, but, in general, there is little or nothing at the stand seemed to tell their story — except, of course, the farmers and artisan. You could say that the fresh food speaks for itself. But I don’t agree. And, hopefully, the farnmers and artisans are too busy to chat.  It would be far better if these stories were more clearly “displayed” the customers through signage.

A bonus attraction at farmers’ markets are food trucks. Some have them and some do not. Saturdays, Clark Park boasts the roving  Honest Tom’s Taco Shop where breakfast tacos available through lunch or until they run out.

An underlying principle of the At Home Project is that home entertaining can be a joy and not a chore if you plan ahead and spread your tasks over time. Shopping is a key part of home entertaining and what could be more joyful that spending a summer Saturday shopping at this farmer’s market stand.

Or bringing a basket of these beauties home along with the story of Urban Girls Produce.

What about the joy of biting into a sweet tree-ripened white nectarine or a Ginger Gold apple, the first apple of apple’s long season.

Or just pausing a moment to look at a basket of vibrant sweet and hot peppers. There they are, just looking for a good home.

I hope you get out this week to your neighborhood farmers market — or someone elses neighborhood farmers’ market. Buy lots of stuff, bring it home, make a meal and share with friends and family.

Clark Park Farmers’ Market operates May through November on Thursdays from 3 to 7 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM. Some intrepid stands operate November through April on Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM.

Next week: The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market. If you are not a subscriber and want to continue to receive posts about neighborhood farmers’ markets and more about sharing food at home with friends and family, subscribe to the At Home blog. You can do that at the upper right hand side of the blog site. If you are not at the blog site, click on the title of this post to get there.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under On the Road

Assembling & Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Eating is first a visual experience. Not foremost, but first. And food styling — a fancy name for nicely presenting food — is a combination of painting and sculpture. Really. It is. (The same is true of flower arranging.) You are working with color, shape and texture. Nature provides a paint box loaded with colors. Food also has natural variations in shape and texture though it often needs an assist from you by virtue of the shape and size you cut things. It’s your job to plan and present a menu item that shows off nature — tastefully.

Assembling & Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad: A Step-by-step Guide

There are lots of ways to approach this. This is just my way. You are welcome to make it yours. It may seem long and involved, but it is actually quite simple. And by following this step-by-step guide, you will see how to organize that will be of benefit far beyond this post.

Heirloom tomatoes are nature’s paintbox at its most glorious. Heirloom tomatoes are typically something less than twice the price of “standard” tomatoes. But we’re not talking big bucks here. You want to figure one to two tomatoes per person, depending on the size of the tomatoes. If you are preparing for six people. Based upon 3/4 pound per person that works out to a little over 4 1/2 pounds. Let’s round it to 5 pounds to make the math easier. At $2 a pound for peak summer “standard” tomatoes, your tomatoes will cost you $10. “Upgrading” to heirloom tomatoes, will cost you about $8.00 more — or about an additional $1.33 per guest. But you get so much more both in flavor and visual appeal.

After rinsing tomatoes under cold water, using a sharp paring knife, remove the core.

Typically, the skin of an heirloom tomato is more delicate than standard tomatoes as standard tomatoes are bred for transport and durability and heirlooms are bred for flavor and color. As a result, you need a very sharp knife to work with heirloom tomatoes. A serrated knife is often a good solution. If you are having trouble slicing tomatoes, use the tip of your knife to poke a small slit through the skin where you want the slice to get started. Then slice.

Your next step is to cut away “the first thin slice” from the top and bottom of each tomato. These is always the least appealing slices. The top has a hole in it and both have a higher proportion of skin to tomato than the interior slices. They are also more difficult to arrange by virtue of their less regular shape. Save these tops and bottoms for a little tomato salad that you will make to top the sliced heirloom tomatoes.

Next, cut each tomato in half. Cut the tomato halves into slices 3/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Your goal here is to provide your guests an easy-eating tomato salad.

If some of your tomatoes are smaller as with these torpedo-shaped tomatoes, skip the cutting them in half as the slices cut from this size tomato will be fine.

Now take your “end cuts” — the tops and bottoms you trimmed earlier and cut them into smaller pieces — about four pieces each. You are going to use these to make a “tomato salad” to top your sliced heirloom tomatoes. Transfer these tomatoes to a bowl.

Time for the onion. I know some people shy away from onions and home entertaining. But I love onions and garlic and I  think flavor trumps everything. (Feel free to add finely chopped garlic to this salad.) My preference is a farm stand sweet red onion and if you are buying heirloom tomatoes you are probably at a farm stand so pick-up one large or two medium onions.  (There are also new crops of interesting garlics currently available.) I have a video on How to Chop and Onion that you would find very useful.

The key when doing anything with an onion is to leave the root end untrimmed as you can see in the photo above. This enables you to hold the onion together as you slice and/or dice the onion. When you are all done you will discard the little bit of root that’s left.

Here you want thin half slices of a half onion. That works out to quarter slices. Cut onion in half through the root and peel onion skin back to root. Then you can either cut a vertical slice into the onion, not quite back to the root, so when you cut your thin semi-circular slices, they naturally result in quarter slices. Or you can cut full semi-circles and then cut these in half. As you get to the end of the onion it gets harder to make nice slices. Just dice the end of the onion and reserve diced onion and add it to your bowl of diced tomato ends.

The next component is a chiffonade of basil. That simply means long thin strips. Start by making stacks of basil leaves.

With a sharp knife, cut across the short dimension of your stacks to create thin strips.

Here are all your assembled components on a handy tray: the trimmed and sliced tomatoes, sliced onion, basil chiffonade and diced tomato ends.

To the bowl of diced tomato ends and diced onion, add balsamic or good red wine vinegar. As balsamic is not as sharp, you can be more generous with that than the red wine vinegar. Next add some good olive oil — not the very best — to balance the sharpness of the vinegar. Add salt and pepper and mix well. All of this can be done up to six hours before plattering. Refrigerate. But you do not want to serve this ice cold. The tomatoes’ flavor is best at nearly room temperature.

Pick an ample sized rectangular or generous oval platter. White is ideal. Your platter should have a bit of a “belly” to hold the dressing. Certainly you want a monochromatic platter. Set you platter next to your tray of “paints.” In professional kitchen parlance, this is called your “mis en place.”

Begin plattering by arranging rows of sliced tomatoes — creating a rythum of colors as you go. This is called “shingling.” In general, you want to avoid having similar colors next to one another as you shingle a row. Don’t obsess!!! As you can see above, the smaller whole tomato slices work in pairs.

Here are my completed rows.

Now add a thin “layer” of sliced onions and basil chiffonade. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes. Lightly salt and pepper.

You can certainly use standard salt, pepper and olive oil. The tomatoes will still taste great. But this is the sort of dish that really benefits from some premium ingredients. If you have very good olive oil — above is a bottle of premium extra virgin olive oil from Spain, this is the time to use it. By far my favorite salt for this is the Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. It’s just the perfect texture. At a minimum I would use Kosher salt. Avoid large crystal sea salt as it provides too much crunch and concentrated saltiness. The little box to the right is fresh ground pepper. I grind my pepper in batches in a spice grinder. You could also use a pepper mill. If all you had was store-bought pre-ground pepper, I would skip the pepper. These tomatoes deserve better and better to use no pepper than bad pepper.

The final step is to spoon the diced tomato and onion salad down the middle between the two rows of tomatoes. Use a generous amount of the dressing and rendered tomato liquid from the diced tomato salad. Add a bit of salt and pepper to this. Top with more basil and serve. Make sure you have some good bread to go with this to sop up the residual liquid. See my recent post on Grilled Bread.

So, visit your neighborhood farmers’ market or take a drive to a farm stand, buy some glorious heirloom tomatoes and serve them this weekend to friends and family.

To access all of At Home’s blog recipes, click here. You can also explore past posts by visiting the archives or clicking on the tags on the blog site.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Filed under Styling, Tips

On the Table: Farm Stands of Lancaster County

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On the Road: Farm Stands of Lancaster County became On the Table for an early Sunday evening family dinner for five. Sunday home entertaining has the distinct advantage over Saturday in that it gives you an extra weekend day to spread your tasks. By doing several things on Saturday, there is less to do on Sunday.

Sunday Dinner Menu
Tomato Barn Hot Salsa with Nacho Chips
Lemon Verbena Iced Tea

First Course
Heirloom Tomato Salad

Grilled Paillard of Chicken with Garlic, Cilantro & Lime
Grilled Eggplant & Banana Peppers

Corn & Pepper Salad
Beet & Red Onion Salad
Wax Bean Salad

Lemon Verbena Sorbet
Nectarines and Golden Raspberries
Market Day Canele – from Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market

Dinner began as a buffet.

But with only five of us, we opted to serve dinner family style at the table. The heirloom tomato salad became a first course. We served an inexpensive Pink Truck California Rose with dinner.

I learned flower arranging from Peter von Starck when I was a busboy at La Panetiere in the early 70’s. Here is seventeen dollars worth of farm stand flowers from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market turned into a lovely flower arrangement for dinner and days after. There is a wonderful two-page spread in At Home on “Simplified Flower Arranging” that I highly recommend.  Flower arranging involves technique that is quite straightforward. It all starts by building a “web” or armature of stems. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily make your own “florist-worthy” arrangements.

A simple hors d’oeuvres of prepared Tomato Barn hot salsa with store-bought nacho corn chips.

Dinner began with an heirloom tomato salad — from nature’s paintbox comes one of summer’s glorious tastes. Tomorrow’s post will be Assembling and Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad.

Our dinner’s centerpiece were Grilled Paillards of Chicken marinated in garlic, cilantro and lime topped with a little arugula and served with grilled baby eggplant and mildly hot banana peppers. (I just love that mix of sweet and hot!)

A simple corn salad with sweet red peppers, jalapenos, corn, red onion and dressed with a bit of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

A simple beet salad of boiled beets, peeled and sliced with just red onion and a but of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Blanched yellow beans, lots of thin-sliced torpedo red onions plus scallions for more color.

Dessert was a Lemon Verbena sorbet with tree-ripened nectarines cut into small pieces, combined with golden raspberries and a little sugar — all allowed to sit a few hours to macerate and adorned with a Market Day Canele. The lemon verbena sorbet is very simple to make though requires an ice cream maker. The recipe for this sorbet will be posted on Saturday.

Market Day Canale — available in the small size pictured here and a larger size — are a sort of baked caramel-custard. Ingredients are whole milk, eggs, sugar, flour, rum, butter, Tahitian vanilla and orange zest. Market Day’s Canale are available at area Farmers’ Markets including Calark Park, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square and Headhouse Square. Metropolitan Bakery also sells wonderful canele.

Behind the scenes.

To facilitate the absorbing of the brushed olive oil and grilling, I made a cross-hatching of slits in the eggplant.

Using my ever-trusty grill pan, the eggplant start with flesh side down. When well marked, they are turned.

There is a recipe for in At Home for Charred Chicken Paillards with Citrus-Cilantro Salad on Page 192 that is a variation of this farm stand dinner. I use a knife I bought in Kyoto many years ago, but any sharp slicing knife will work. The key is sharp.

By cutting chicken breasts into thin “paillards” you expose much more of the chicken’s surface to the wonders of the grill compared to simply grilling whole breasts and slicing. In addition, the thin-sliced breast absorbs more of the marinade’s flavor — an altogether superior way to grill chicken breasts. You begin by making lateral slices of the breast. Then, place these slices on parchment paper — plastic wrap also works — leaving space between slices. Cover with an additional sheet of parchment paper and lightly pound with a meat pounder or bottom of a small pot to further flatten slices. Take care not to pound so hard that the paillards fall apart.

Here are the pounded paillards. These are transferred to a bowl with a marinade of garlic, cilantro, fresh lime juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.

They grill quickly. Turn as you see the edges turn opaque. My objective was to serve them just warm so I was content to grill them in small batches in my little grill pan.

Do Ahead Strategy

I have said again and again, home entertaining is more a matter of aspiration, planning, spreading tasks over time and organization than any culinary skills. Here everything is ready to go. The chicken is marinated and ready to grill by the stove, the grilled eggplant and sweet and hot pepper grilled earlier in the day, heirloom tomatoes sliced and ready to platter (see tomorrow’s post on Assembling and Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad), the corn salad, yellow beans and beets ready to bowl, iced tea made and arugula at the ready. It’s not rocket science.

The only item served warm were the grilled chicken paillards. The platter was ready with the room temperature elements with the arugula for topping adjacent. Everything else was plattered and bowled and in the dining room.

Do Ahead Prep If you leave everything to the last minute you only have a minute to do everything.
The key to relaxed and enjoyable home entertaining is to spread your tasks over time.  Here was the schedule for this dinner.

Thursday evening

Prepared corn salad except for dressing. It sat happily in the refrigerator through Sunday and by blanching corn that I had bought only several hours earlier, I captured the corn’s full sweetness.
Boiled, peeled and sliced beets
Blanched yellow string beans
Prepared base for lemon verbena sorbet

Froze lemon verbena sorbet

Bought and chilled wine
Bought canele
Prepared chicken paillards
Finished beet salad
Bought and arranged flowers

Sunday — early
Marinated chicken
Cut and grilled eggplant and peppers
Dressed corn salad
Added onions and scallions to yellow bean salad and dressed
Cut nectarines and macerated with golden raspberries
Cut tomatoes for heirloom tomato salad
Cut lime wedges
Made lemon verbena iced tea
Pulled all platters and bowls
Set table


Shortly before guests arrived
Salsa and chips out on coffee table
Platter and bowled everything and put out on buffet — except for chicken
Plattered heirloom tomato salad — See tomorrow’s post for how to do this
Open wine

Just before sitting down to dinner
Grilled chicken paillards and plattered
Transferred sorbet from freezer to refrigerator to temper (soften) before serving

It was a relaxed Sunday and easy dinner. Not because the dinner was so simple, but because I spread my tasks — tasks that I enjoy if I don’t feel under pressure — over time. Reminder that At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking and Entertaining is loaded with tips and strategies to make home entertaining easier. For more information.

Friday: Assembling and Plattering a Heirloom Tomato Salad
Saturday: Lemon Verbena Sorbet Recipe
Next week’s On the Road begins a series of posts focused on Philadelphia’s major neighborhood farmers’ markets. Also ahead are trips to New York’s Hudson River Valley and Long Island’s South Fork.

To access all At Home’s Blog Recipes, click here.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Menus, On the Table

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.

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?


Filed under My Opinion, On the Road