The Sweet Life

Keeping Bees and Making Honey

By Mary Reilly, Photos by Dominic Perri

20180514_EPV_Summer320.jpg

One of my first taste memories is a sweet one. Each summer we would visit my grandmother in a remote corner of Greece. I have no doubt that the food we ate was prepared with care and love, but the most vivid memory I have is of honey.

The honey from this region of Greece was thick and rich. It took ages to drizzle across my breakfast toast, but the flavor was worth the wait. Mouth-filling and decadent, it was Messina’s version of a pop-tart, and a sensory experience I will never forget.

With this introduction to honey, it was no surprise that when my husband, Dave, and I moved to a plot of land that was large enough, we got bees. Becoming a beekeeper is not difficult––there are so many resources: beekeepers’ club, countless websites, and farming friends. The beekeeping community is a welcoming one. Once one starts to keep bees, one can’t help but become an evangelist for the practice.

 

Beekeeping Basics

The first step when jumping into the world of beekeeping is a purely practical one: Where will your hives be located? Obviously, check with your local municipality first as there may be rules about where a hive can be sited. Then, look for an area on your property that gets sun and is located far enough from buildings and structures so the bees have room for their runway (more on that to follow).

Next you’ll need a hive. Hives are comprised of boxes and supers. The supers are where the bees build their comb. A few covers complete the setup. You can pop your hive on a stand if desired, but cinder blocks will do the job pretty well.

Protective equipment is a good idea too. You don’t need a full-on bee suit. Dave and I got along fine with heavy-weight (to deter stings) and light-colored (to keep from getting too warm in the sun) clothing, a hat with a bee veil, and thick leather gloves. A smoker is also a help; it’s a can attached to a bellows that you’ll use to puff smoke gently over the hives. The smoke slows bees down and also sends them into the bottom of the hive, giving the beekeeper a safe margin in which to work.

Then you need to acquire your bees. Most bees in our area are trucked up from Georgia. Order a box (about 10,000 bees plus a queen) per hive.

It’s a magical (and absolutely terrifying) day when the bees arrive. Your ladies (they will almost all be females) will be cranky and sluggish from their trip. With confidence and no hesitation, crack those boxes open, and firmly tap the bees out of their boxes. The bees will fly everywhere, but they are most keenly focused on their queen and finding food.

As you are the most hospitable of hosts, you will have provided them an endless buffet of rich sugar syrup. This gives them energy to start building comb and to explore their new habitat. As the hive strengthens, you’ll taper off the syrup and the bees will take care of themselves.

Leave It to the LADIES

Bees know what they’re up to. There is very little that we beekeepers need to do. When we watched our hives, it was clear that there was a plan in place. We used to joke that “the ladies know what to do.”

The bees create a “runway” in and out of the entrance of their hive. Every departure and return follows the same initial path down the runway––don’t get in the way!

A single queen is responsible for all reproduction in the hive. A queen flies about a mile from her hive on her “maiden” or “nuptial” flight to mate with up to 20 drones (male bees). She will only fly again if her hive swarms. Worker bees (all of which are female) fly as far as two miles to forage for nectar from flowers and trees. Drones fly only to mate with queens from other hives.

Worker bees produce honey as fuel for survival. They extract nectar from flowers, collecting pollen along the way, which is why they are such valuable pollinators. When they return to their hive, they regurgitate nectar into cells in the honeycomb. The nectar dehydrates and becomes what we know as honey.

The Sweet Stuff

Finally in the fall, you harvest. A healthy hive can produce up to 30 or more pounds of honey. A drier summer will result in a lower yield of richer, thicker honey. The weather doesn’t impact honey production directly, but it does impact what grows and flowers.

In general, honey can be substituted for maple syrup in recipes. I have also had great luck using honey in place of corn syrup in candy recipes. It changes up the flavor a little, but I haven’t had a recipe fail when making the change.

Substituting honey for sugar can be more challenging. Reduce the amount of sugar and the total liquid in the recipe by about 25% each. (For more everyday use, I use honey in my coffee instead of sugar.) Some trial and error may be needed to get to an ideal result but any experiments are likely to still be delicious.

Learn more about beekeeping and creating bee-friendly backyards from these local experts:

Franklin County Beekeepers Association
franklinmabeekeepers.org

Hampden County Beekeepers Association Bee School
hampden-county-beekeepers.org

Warm Colors Apiary
warmcolorsapiary.com

Pollinators Welcome
pollinatorswelcome.com

 

Making Time for Tea

CrepesTeaHouse-1-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

By Jordana Starr, Photos by Dan Little

A hot cup of tea is often the best prescription for melting the winter chills away. As spring moves into summer and we trade warm boots for flip-flops, however, tea drinkers often relegate hot tea to the occasional chilly summer night. But tea isn’t just a beverage for the winter and late fall; there are teas for every season—even the dog days of summer.

CrepesTeaHouse-6-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

I sit down on a comfy couch by the windows at Crepes Tea House in West Springfield and open the thick, leather-bound tea menu, which is divided into seven sections: chai, oolong, white, green, herbal, black, and red. Each tea can be ordered by the cup, pot, or samovar, a traditional metal urn with a spigot. The teas—there are currently 134 on the menu—have juicy-sounding names like mango sorbet, tropical ambrosia, acai berry, and blood orange. I order a cup each of the strawberry rose oolong and pomegranate white tea.

“At first, we had 100 teas,” says Arturas Ribinskas, who opened Crepes Tea House in 2010. But after a few years in business, the menu was ready for a change. He held a private tasting for his employees and regular customers, which resulted in 50 teas getting the axe, with another 80 being added to the menu. “All our teas are organic,” Ribinskas adds. “They contain real fruit and no artificial ingredients.”

The food menu is a blend of Russian specialities and Western dishes. As my teas arrive, I order the pelmeni dumplings and nalesniki, a ricotta-filled crepe.

Ribinskas came to the United States from Lithuania in 2000, after trying for nine years to run an auto parts business in the former Soviet state. But between an inconsistent legal framework, corruption, and brain drain after joining the EU, Lithuania was not a hospitable place to do business. “You know how you have that moment in your life when you need to change your surroundings?” he asks me. “It was time.”

I watch the teas change color, from clear to blush, the dried fruit and flowers imparting their color. The strawberry rose oolong is very light on the palate, and the vanilla adds a creaminess and thus balance to what could otherwise be an astringent tea. The pomegranate white tea is more fruit forward, with a rich fruit aroma, a little bit of tang, and just a hint of sweetness to the finish. The teas are both warming and refreshing.

CrepesTeaHouse-5-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

My food arrives and it is well worth the wait. “It takes a little time,” Ribinskas says, “because we prepare all food to order and use fresh ingredients.” The dumplings are delightfully savory, and the crepes are the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

I lean back on the couch, enjoying the last sips of my tea. Ribinskas invites me to stay as long as I’d like. “We’re creating a cozy and welcoming atmosphere here where friends and family can come together and enjoy spending time together.”

Next time, I’ll be sure to bring some friends.

261 Union St., West Springfield
Sunday–Thursday: 7am–11pm
Friday & Saturday: 7am–1am

Last Bite

When I think about summer vegetables, my fantasies turn to juicy tomatoes, those cute little cucamelon cucumbers (they look like a baby watermelon!), and juicy red peppers. My reality, however, is usually zucchini. One plant can yield what feels like hundreds of pounds and by the end of the summer I’m struggling to find new ways to use this seasonal, and very economical, vegetable.

A few years ago I was introduced to Sicilian Sun-Dried Zucchini by Hank Shaw of the website Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook (honest-food.net). You salt zucchini for an hour or so, blot it dry, and dehydrate it until it’s leathery and just starting to turn brown in spots.

Sicilian Sun-Dried Zucchini

20180516_EVP_Summer_1963.jpg

This is zucchini at its most zucchini-ful. With most of the water gone, all you taste is the purest essence of zucchini. You can use a dehydrator as I did, or lay the zucchini on parchment-lined sheet pans and roast at 140° until dehydrated (about 6 hours), or string it up on string or skewers and hang the rounds outside to dry. Store the dried zucchini airtight in the freezer.

4 zucchini, about 3 pounds

2 tablespoons salt

Slice zucchini into disks about ¼ inch thick. In a large bowl, toss zucchini rounds with salt. Let them rest for about an hour.

Pat the disks dry and put into a dehydrator or use one of the methods outlined above. Dehydrate until pliable and dry, but not crisp.

Store in the freezer.

Using sun-dried zucchini

Toss the zucchini rounds into vegetable soup to rehydrate.

Sauté the zucchini in hot oil with sun-dried tomatoes, sliced garlic, chopped chilies; top with lemon juice before serving.

Make a simple frittata for 4: Whisk 8 eggs together, add 2 handfuls of sun-dried zucchini, a handful of shredded cheese, and a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs. Pour into a nonstick 10-inch skillet and cook, covered, over medium heat until the eggs are cooked through.

Honey

Honey is made of the stuff of summer. From warm rains and sun feeding plants to flower. Stirred with a steady song in the bellies of bees.

AdobeStock_115842134.jpg

A drizzle of honey runs slow and heavy like the summer heat. And good honey, of which there is plenty in the Valley, truly elevates a cup of tea, a bowl of salad, or a dish of ice cream with that sweet-warm taste of summer. Our publisher, Mary Reilly, takes us inside the hive on page 17 and then into the kitchen with honey on page 19.

Summer means eating al fresco. That might mean lunch from Amherst’s New York Halal Cart (page 25), a sweet treat to go from Hot Oven Cookies in Holyoke (page 35), or barbecue in the backyard or out on the town (page 32).

And what would summer be without tomatoes? In Chef’s Kitchen on page 5, Chef Sanford D’Amato has two tomato recipes for us—one quick and easy, one with a bit more flair. While waiting for those Beefsteaks and Sungolds to ripen, you can read about another summer favorite: fish. From the hatchery to the riverbank, on page 28 Laura Sayre takes a closer look at local fishing.

This issue marks the start of our fifth year as your local culinary quarterly. Thanks to you and our advertisers, we will continue combing the Valley’s fields and kitchens for stories and recipes that help readers connect with their neighbors and their meals. What could be sweeter than that?

Marykate Smith Despres

A Food Cart Creates Community

Halal Cart Offers Taste of Islamic Culture

HalalFoodTruck-3-DanLittle-20180420.jpg

By Faizan Hassan, Photos by Dan Little

In front of the Unitarian Church on North Pleasant Street in Amherst lies a hidden gem in plain sight: a gem worth six bucks and the potential to rock one’s world.

Elsayed Fathi, owner of the New York Halal Cart, came to the United States from Egypt in 1994 as a 19-year-old looking for work. “I wanted to live the American dream, so I came here I guess,” he says. “I worked in New York for somebody’s cart [and] that’s how I learned to cook.”

Nearly 20 years later, while visiting a friend at UMass, Fathi saw a new opportunity: Despite large numbers of Muslim students in the area, there was a lack of halal food (food sanctioned by Islamic law). In 2012, he left his cart in New York City to be run by his brother and set up shop in Amherst.

“Getting my town permit was hard,” he says. “Because, before me, there weren’t any food trucks in Amherst. I was the first one.”

Fathi cooks “American halal,” a complex melting pot of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and New York street food. “This is not really Egyptian street food,” says Fathi. “It’s a New York invention.”

Popularized in New York in the early ’90s, the first-ever “American halal” cart was founded when two Egyptian immigrants opened up a hot dog stand on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, and soon realized the potential for halal street food. They introduced meals with meat, pita, and rice, and hence gave birth to “the halal food culture” or “American halal.”

Halal means permissible in Arabic. Certain foods, like alcohol and pork, are not allowed under Islamic guidelines. Meats such as chicken, lamb, and beef are considered halal only when they are slaughtered under Islamic law.

For a meat to be considered halal it must be slaughtered humanely, according to Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a halal certifying agency. Further: “The name of God [Allah] is to be pronounced as a reminder that we do not have the right to take the animal’s life except by the permission of God to meet our need for food.”

HalalFoodTruck-2-DanLittle-20180420.jpg

Fathi’s menu consists of only a few items: chicken or lamb over rice or in a filled sandwich. Both are generously covered with a secret-ingredient white sauce.

“The white sauce is bomb,” says Tauqeer Hassan, a student at Holyoke Community College and a regular at the New York Halal Cart. “I’m studying business in college and honestly, there’s a lot to learn from Fathi. Most importantly, the great customer service he provides.”

Fathi operates from a three- by eight-foot cart complete with a grill, gyro machine, steam table, and a small generator to operate the lights when it gets dark. Customers gather around the cart, chat, and watch him cook. He takes orders via an earbud from those who call ahead, while cooking for and joking with those in line.

Though there are many restaurants to compete with in downtown Amherst, Fathi has the advantage of lower expenses, especially when it comes to rent. Lunch cart permits are only $125 annually.

“I don’t have to pay high rents when the university is closed,” he says. “I keep my costs down and choose not to come during winter break when weather is rough and business is low.”

Fathi’s success isn’t just smart economics and good food. His cart, though small, has created a sense of community as a popular hangout spot for the UMass Muslim Student Association (MSA).

Most Fridays after prayer, MSA members gather at Fathi’s cart and celebrate the end of the week.

“We come in groups, socialize, and enjoy the delicious food,” says Zara Mehmood, MSA president.

“The food is delicious. It’s the best value, and he’s a very fun and nice guy,” says Talha Khan, a sophomore at UMass. “My family is from Pakistan, and I grew up eating biryani, which is a very special dish, since I am not close to home. This is the closest thing to biryani that I can find.”

A version of this story was originally published in Amherst Regional High School’s student newspaper, The Graphic.

 

 

Fish Local

Catch-and-eat in the Pioneer Valley

Fishing-2-DanLittle-20180420.jpg

By Laura Sayre, Photos by Dan Little

You either see it or you don’t. On Route 116 between Amherst and Sunderland, a small brown sign: TROUT HATCHERY. If you fish, you know what this means. If you don’t, you may not see it at all. Trout?

We hear a lot these days about the overfishing of the oceans, about the sustainability of different fisheries, about the healthfulness (or otherwise) of consuming different types of fish. But virtually all of these discussions assume you are standing in a supermarket or sitting in a restaurant. That sign hints at the fact that there are other places to stand: at the water’s edge, for instance, with a fishing pole in your hands.

Commercial fishing is overwhelmingly concentrated on marine fishing, but freshwater recreational fishing dwarfs saltwater recreational fishing in terms of numbers of participants and time and money spent fishing (according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Americans collectively spent 383 million days freshwater fishing, vs. just 75 million days saltwater fishing). The State of Massachusetts, via the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (aka MassWildlife), does a great deal to support recreational freshwater fishing.

Central to their efforts is the trout stocking program, of which the trout hatchery in Sunderland is a part. Nearly half a million trout, most of them 12 inches long or longer, are stocked between April and May each year, along with another 60,000 or so in the fall. The fish are put into hundreds of publicly accessible locations—lakes, ponds, rivers, and brooks—across the state (a full list can be found at mass.gov/trout).

The primary mission of the program is recreation, explains Marion Larson, chief of information and education for MassWildlife. The agency also engages in conservation, restoration, and monitoring activities, but the trout stocking is designed as a “put and take” as opposed to a “put and grow” system—they are there to be fished, free for the taking (while respecting daily catch limits and other regulations) once you have purchased your fishing license. Kids ages 14 and under can fish without a license, and the first weekend in June is traditionally designated as “free fishing weekend,” with no licenses required.

The primary rationale for the trout-stocking program is the economic stimulus that fishing provides—the bait and tackle shops, the boating, the travel, the gear. (At the national level, the US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates the economic value of fishing at $46 billion a year.) The program is also largely self-supporting, funded by license fees and via a federal excise tax on fishing equipment. Approximately 200,000 fishing licenses are purchased in Massachusetts each year.

Fishing-3-DanLittle-20180420.jpg

Trout have been grown in hatcheries for a hundred years or more. They are both popular for fishing and respond well to hatchery production, says MassWildlife Assistant Director of Fisheries Todd Richards. The Massachusetts program currently raises four types of trout: brook trout, native to Massachusetts; rainbow trout, the most numerous in the hatcheries, native to the western United States; brown trout, a European species; and tiger trout, a cross between male brook trout and female brown trout.

Four of the five state trout facilities are in the Pioneer Valley (in Sunderland, Montague, Belchertown, and Palmer). The fifth is in Sandwich, on the Cape. The brood stock are maintained in Sandwich and Palmer and then the hatchlings are grown out in open, outdoor “raceways”—long rectangular basins with through-flowing water—at the other facilities. The trout are fed on fish pellets made from whole wheat, fish meal, soybean meal, and other ingredients for 1½ to 2 years until they reach the 12-inch release size.

The hatcheries themselves are interesting places to visit, particularly with kids. The McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown is the biggest, with 10 paired raceways about 500 feet long located just west of the Swift River, near the base of the Quabbin. The Sunderland and Montague hatcheries are older and more scenic, with old stonework and tall pines shading the raceways. You can buy a handful of fish food from a dispenser for a quarter, and watch trout of different sizes swirl and surge around in the water. Great blue herons stalk the edges of the raceways, while gulls circle overhead.

Fishing-1-DanLittle-20180420.jpg

Of course, there are many other types of fish to be caught in the Valley—including shad, bass, pickerel, and walleye—and many anglers practice catch-and-release as opposed to catch-and-eat. Some areas are designated as catch-and-release only. Advocates of catch-and-eat point out that an unknown number—possibly 50% or more—of caught-and-released fish won’t survive, so you are not necessarily conserving fish by not consuming them.

There are, it should be emphasized, fish consumption advisories, particularly for certain species and certain waters. The major contaminants of concern are mercury and PCBs. Because trout that have been stocked by MassWildlife will have had little time to accumulate contaminants in their bodies, these are considered to be among the safest fish to eat. The official guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health state that pregnant women, women intending to become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under 12 should not eat any freshwater fish caught in Massachusetts except for stocked trout. Guidelines for other people depend on the species and the body of water, but many types of fish are fine to eat in moderation. (See mass.gov/dph for more information.)

“Being able to eat something that you’ve caught is one of the motivators for people being out there,” says Larson. In terms of popularity among Massachusetts fishermen and -women, according to Richards, “Bass are number 1; trout are number 2.”

Jeremiah Kermensky, who grew up in the Valley and fished with his father and grandfather and now fishes with his young daughter, says they catch mostly bass and stocked trout, throwing the bass back. “Our family ate a dozen trout over the winter. Anything you can get that fresh is going to be delicious,” he says.

What he enjoys about fishing in the Valley, too, is the range of places you can go. “We go to Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton, to the Ware River, to Ashfield Lake, ice fishing on Cranberry Pond, between Sunderland and Montague. People have their little places they like to go, but there are always new places to discover.”

That attitude points to the other value of recreational freshwater fishing, intimately linked to its food value: It gets people out into the woods and on the water, where they can observe the state of our local environment firsthand. “Fish are the classic canary in the coal mine,” Richards says. “The fishing opportunities in the state have dramatically improved since I was a kid … Water quality in particular has gotten quite a bit better since the 1970s, thanks to the Clean Water Act.”

Challenges today are more often linked to water flow and to habitat than to pollution issues per se, he says, “although we still have the challenges associated with a high population density in a small state.” MassWildlife continues to improve wild fish populations through habitat restoration and protection, but in the meantime stocked trout function as a kind of farmed-fish-in-the-wild, getting us out of the supermarket and into the woods.

More information about freshwater fishing in Massachusetts, including regulations, public events, and waterway access details, is available online at mass.gov/trout and related pages.

 

Salad Season

20180516_EVP_Summer_095 small.jpg

story and food styling By Joy Howard, Photo by Dominic Perri

When summer arrives, there are few things I crave more than simple, effortless food. Spaghetti smothered with a fresh batch of basil pesto, pan-fried zucchini fritters, or barbecued anything. My family has a long list of favorites that we return to throughout the season, but the one repeat meal you’ll find most frequently on the table is salad.

For us, salads are quintessential summer dinner not only because the main ingredients are at their most delicious and abundant, but also because of how each heaping bowl comes together. Some of our go-to versions require little or no cooking (a real boon for a hot summer day!), readily lend themselves to improvisation, and—if you have anyone in the house like my 6-year-old—provide a great outlet for the food-chopping obsessed. With a supply of freshly plucked greens for the base, you don’t need much to make a satisfying meal—a simple homemade vinaigrette, herby roasted veggies, a grilled portion of fish, or a scattering of crumbled goat cheese. Just like the best summer days, a good salad is easygoing and filled with possibility!

I came up with this simple version during a weekend visit to a friend’s house last summer. I’d brought along a bag of my favorite salad greens and some local strawberries—two of the most delicious things I could find at the farmers’ market. I hadn’t put much thought into how I’d use them to make a meal, but the resulting salad, improvised with what I brought and what I could find in her fridge—has become one of my all-time favorites. Aside from the irresistible homemade strawberry vinaigrette, the star here is the salad greens. You can use your favorite, but I highly recommend seeking out the best, which, locally, means the salad mix at Old Friends Farm in Amherst. It’s a blend of flavorful baby greens that includes spicy leaves, and is well worth the effort of seeking out. (It’s the only salad my family eats from May to November.) If you don’t feel like cranking up the oven, try adding 1 or 2 cups of shredded raw beets in place of the roasted potatoes.

Summer berry salad with chicken, herbed potatoes, and goat cheese

For the potatoes

1 pound baby potatoes, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the dressing

⅓ cup chopped strawberries

Half a large shallot, cut into chunks

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the salad

1 (5- to 8-ounce) bag or carton mixed salad greens

4–6 large strawberries, sliced

⅓ cup chopped walnuts

1 rotisserie chicken, sliced

¼ cup crumbled goat cheese

Heat the oven to 425°. In a small bowl, toss together the ingredients for the potatoes. Spread the potatoes onto a baking sheet and bake until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned, flipping halfway through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. With an immersion blender, purée the ingredients until smooth. 

In a large bowl, toss together the strawberries, walnuts, and ⅓ of the prepared dressing. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Divide the salad among 4 to 6 bowls, top each with chicken and goat cheese, and then tuck a portion of potatoes on the side.

When Fruit Inspires Community

20180514_EPV_Summer369.jpg

By Trish Crapo, Photos by Dan Little, Trish Crapo, and Dominic Perri, Food styling by Joy Howard

Ten years ago, a favorite customer brought us what looked like four dead sticks and said, “Here, stick these in the greenhouse and see what happens.”

The customer, a Brooklyn schoolteacher who, decades ago, built a weekend retreat here in Leyden, is Italian. She and her neighbors tend fig trees in their backyards in Brooklyn, coddling varieties brought from the homeland.

My husband, Tom Ashley, was dubious. The sticks didn’t look like much. His only experience with figs had been eating Fig Newtons. Neither of us had ever seen a fresh fig.

DancingBearFigs-3-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

Flash forward 10 years and we’ve got six fig trees planted in the ground of the greenhouse here at Dancing Bear Farm, their branches straining the plastic during peak season. Hundreds more of five varieties grow in variously sized pots. One friendly gesture ended up charting a new course for our 30-year-old farm, emboldening us to grow things we wouldn’t have considered before. In the greenhouse, we’ve also got an olive tree, a clementine tree, and a giant rosemary bush.

“My little Mediterranean,” Tom calls it.

Certain foods seem to spark community, uniting people who share a passion for them, like the local Italian men’s lunch group that went crazy for the figs, or the Puerto Rican woman who reached out for fig starts for her fledgling small farm, hoping to help diversify the island’s diet. I’d thought this story would be about that sense of community.

But then, on the night of April 4, a cold front moved in, bringing 40- to 50-mph winds. We woke to find the skin of our large hoop house torn and flapping. Temps had been in the low 20s overnight. The sky was spitting snow.

All of a sudden, our fig story was about survival.

That night, Tom lost 30 trays of tomato plants, part of an order for a nursery. The rest of the order consisted of potted fig trees that had been healthy just the day before, with green leaves and even some small fruit. Now they looked discouragingly like those first four sticks.

Whatever we’d wanted to do that day went right out the window.

I headed off to buy plastic while Tom rounded up a crew of neighbors to be on call once the wind died down. But the wind blew all day. Temps remained in the mid-20s.

Finally, around 5pm, we had a lull. Using a system of boards and ropes, we tossed the plastic over. So far, so good. Then, a gust lifted the plastic like a parasail. It soared and roiled around us.

“It was a 72-foot-long kite,” Tom remembers, shaking his head. “Everybody’s just holding on to their one part, trying to keep it down until somebody comes along with a screw gun and a board.”

It took 12 people two hours to get the greenhouse properly secured. It’s hard to remember anything except the plastic lashing around us. During one gust, our neighbor Lynette and I were lifted right off the ground, clutching plastic in our fists.          

The nursery agreed to take their tomato order late and Tom was able to replant from tiny seedlings that had survived on a heating pad. But it took a solid month before we began to see any significant recovery in the fig trees.

At this writing, in early May, all of what Tom calls the “mother trees,” the ones in the ground, have grown new leaves. Many of the potted ones are showing signs of life as well. Whether they’ll bear fruit this year, and how much, remains to be seen.

The storm was a great reminder of a couple of things: that nature is unpredictable, and much more powerful than we are. All farming—in fact, all human activity—is finally subservient to it. But we were reminded, too, as leaves began to sprout, of the resilience of plants. And of the incredible generosity of our friends and neighbors, who helped when we needed them.

So, in a sense, this fig story is still a story of community. For that, we’re grateful.

 

Fig Marsala Reduction Sauce

Tom makes reduction sauces for almost any kind of meat: steak, lamb, pork, or goat, even chicken or fish. For lighter meats, use vermouth or white wine. For red meats, we like to use marsala, a fortified wine from the region surrounding the city of Marsala, in Sicily. It comes sweet or dry. We prefer dry.

You can make a wine reduction without figs, but, as Tom says, “If you have the figs, that just aces it. Whatever you do, when you throw a few figs in there, it’s going to be delicious.”

½ cup dry marsala

8 fresh figs, cut into quarters

2 or 3 shallots, minced

2 or 3 garlic cloves

1 to 2 tablespoons of butter or ghee

Fresh or dried herbs such as rosemary or thyme to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

2 to 4 small steaks or chops

Rub steak or chops with salt and pepper or your favorite dry rub and let sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Sear steak or chops 2 to 3 minutes per side in a very hot skillet or grill pan. Reduce heat and cook, flipping as needed, until just before desired doneness.

Remove meat and cover with foil to rest.

Pour in the marsala.

With the pan still hot, add butter and sauté the shallots and garlic.

Turn down the head and simmer on medium high.

Turn the heat down further and let the shallots caramelize, stirring often.

Throw in the figs, turn the heat back up, and get the pan sizzling hot in order to heat the figs through. Stir or shake the pan to distribute the sauce, while allowing it to thicken.

Add more marsala as needed.

Turn the heat off and let the sauce rest while you plate the meat. Then drizzle over the meat and spoon the figs on top. Serve and eat!

Sharing the Cookie Love

HotOvenCookies-3-DanLittle-20180406.jpg

Sheila Coon of Hot Oven Cookies

By Allison Litera, Photos by Dan Little

Sheila Coon, a mother of seven and grandmother of 10, is equal parts sweetness and strength. She is all about “sharing the cookie love” and appreciates the journey she’s taken to get to where she is today.

The self-proclaimed “cookie nerd” started Hot Oven Cookies in 2016. Originally a cookie delivery business, it has morphed into a mobile cookie cart and a flagship store opening on Main Street in Downtown Springfield this summer.

“Our mission is about more than just insanely delicious cookies,” she says. “It’s also about restored faith and hope, renewed significance and worth, and freedom through the flexibility of business ownership!”

Coon was married for 21 years before she got divorced. After the divorce, she needed a flexible job that would pay the bills and feed the kids.

“I was an average Joe,” she says. “I didn’t have the assets like other professional bakers. With over a decade of experience in the culinary industry and a college degree, I surprisingly couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.”

Coon had worked primarily as a cook and caterer, but she also loved baking. She decided to create her own job opportunity and start a bakery franchise. She drew inspiration from her family.

“When my mom divorced my dad, she started her own warm cookie business,” Coon says. “She influenced me by the way she was able to sustain our family with only fresh baked goods.”

Food was at the center of many of Coon’s large Puerto Rican family gatherings. “Baking cookies made sense,” she says, “especially with so many kids around.”

But Coon wanted her business mission to go beyond baking cookies.

HotOvenCookies-1-DanLittle-20180406.jpg

“[Hot Oven Cookies] is a mobile bakery franchise that seeks to empower women and veterans toward attainable and sustainable self-employment through sales of fresh gourmet cookies through our cookie carts and kiosks,” says Coon, who has several veterans in her family, including her husband. She hopes to add several more cookie carts into rotation within the coming months, and already has a few people interested in becoming franchisees.

Those bakers will have their hands full: Hot Oven Cookies has nearly 100 flavors in rotation throughout the year. Coon uses five bases to create varieties like Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, Pecan Chip, Oreo Butterfinger Chip, Guava Cheesecake, and French Toast Bacon Snickerdoodles. The inspiration came from her home kitchen.

“With seven children, not one wanted the same cookie flavor,” she laughs. “I kept a book and wrote down all their flavor requests. It blossomed from there. Some of my favorites are Nutella Truffle Chip, Ice Cream Sundae, and Oatmeal Blueberry Supreme.”

Coon does her best to utilize local ingredients where she can and is always on the lookout for new community partnerships. “We use local milk from Mapleline Farm in Hadley. We also make our own jams and jellies to use in certain cookie flavors.”

But there’s more to a delicious cookie than the flavor.

“For me, it’s not just about buying a cookie. It’s about the experience my customers have,” Coon says. “Seeing the mint green food truck from afar, walking up and reading the menu, catching a whiff of the cookies baking inside the truck.”

If the cookies don’t win you over, she certainly will. Coon’s charisma, huge smile, and motherly charm elevate comfort food to an even more comforting experience. Her cookies are warm, but her personality is warmer.

“When someone bites into a delicious cookie, their whole expression changes,” she says. “They become visually more relaxed and a smile is brought to their face. That is one of the biggest rewards of my business.”

 

Find Hot Oven Cookies at the Holyoke and South Hadley farmers markets and local events this summer.
hotovencookies.com

A SUMMER CHRISTMAS

20180514_EPV_Summer316.jpg

by Sanford D’Amato, Photos by Dominic Perri, Food Styling by Joy Howard

You know that feeling that you would get as a child on Christmas Eve—kind of jumpy, excitable, and restless as the anticipation builds? That’s how I feel at this time of year as I go through the farmers’ market. Those feelings accelerate after Memorial Day while viewing the astonishing array of flowering plants and vegetable sets. Beautiful? Yes. But there is nothing to eat!

In our garden I’ve tilled, I’ve planted, I’ve fertilized and watered, and just when I think I can’t wait any longer, they appear. It starts with tiny red Sweet 100s and Yellow Teardrops, on to the dark orange Sungolds and those formidable giant Beefsteaks, all pulling down the vines as they gain heft. Yes, I’m talking about tomatoes.

I revel in every type of vegetable and fruit, but tomatoes define summer for me. There is never a day when there is not a plump beauty calling me from our kitchen counter. One of my favorite preparations is a throwback classic from my first days in cooking: a salad-stuffed tomato.

The stuffed tomato should be the perfect lunch, a self-contained package of summer. Over the years when I’ve ordered a stuffed tomato—always during the summer season—I should be cutting into an intensely red, fragile bowl that yields and weeps with rich, sun-ripened tomato juiciness. But it usually just scowls with a hard-edged, dry, mealy-ness. After I pick out all the filling, usually chicken salad, the tomato goes back to the kitchen with its sturdy, useless walls intact.

I made my first stuffed tomato when I was a 19-year-old lunch apprentice at a small steakhouse in Milwaukee. The main bulk of my job entailed tending to the extensive salad bar that accompanied the lunch and dinner entrées. My days were filled with cleaning and cutting lettuce and vegetables, preparing eight salad dressings, and helping the chef with plate setups for lunch. The day of the week I lived for was Monday, the one day of the week I could suggest a special to the chef. My very first suggestion was meant to impress the chef: a stuffed tomato. Years before, I had viewed one at a local department store lunch counter and was spellbound with the magnificent knife work that had to be mastered to make the zigzag “crown look” around the rim. The first one I made was delicately placed on a large leaf of iceberg lettuce and mounded high with homemade tuna salad and a dusting of chopped parsley. I naively felt like I had turned an artistic corner in my fledgling career.

Today, my tomato is filled with grilled and chilled shrimp and cucumber salad that is bolstered with large-grain Israeli or pearl couscous. It is dressed with tomato center dressing made from the cut-out center of the ripe market tomato cradle. The acidity from the seeds adds a tart counterpoint to the sweet shrimp and the full-flavored grain.

Get yourself to the farmers’ market when tomatoes are ripe and plentiful and fill your basket. This is not only the perfect time, it is the only time during the year to try this or other fresh tomato recipes. If you’re like me, as you sit down to dig in with the sun shining and the Valley in full bloom, you’ll just know that Christmas actually arrives twice a year.

SEARED SHRIMP, GRAPE AND ISRAELI COUSCOUS–STUFFED SUMMER TOMATO WITH TOMATO CENTER DRESSING

For 4

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined, each shrimp cut in half along the vein line

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅜ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup green grapes, washed, drained, and cut in half

1 cucumber (8 ounces), peeled, cut in half horizontally, seeds removed, and each half cut in ½-inch slices

Israeli Couscous (recipe follows)

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

4 large ripe market tomatoes, top cut off; scoop out tomato without cutting into sides or bottom flesh and reserve centers

Tomato Center Dressing (recipe follows)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place a large sauté pan over high heat. Mix the shrimp in a bowl with the ginger, pepper, salt, and oil. When pan is hot, add the shrimp and sear for about 30 seconds per side, turning over with tongs, until shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate to cool.

When cold, mix the shrimp with grapes, cucumber, mint, and couscous. Add half of the Tomato Center Dressing and mix well. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Lightly season the insides of each tomato with salt and pepper and stuff each with a portion of the shrimp/couscous salad. Divide the remaining salad onto 4 plates. Place 1 tomato in the center of each salad. Garnish plate with the remaining dressing or serve on the side.

the Israeli Couscous

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion (4 ounces), diced

1 bay leaf

½ cup dry white wine

Zest of 1 lemon

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1¼ cups unsalted chicken stock

1 cup Israeli or pearl couscous

Place a small saucepot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, onion, and bay leaf. Sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and lemon zest and reduce to almost dry. Add the pepper, salt, and stock and bring up to a boil. Add the couscous and bring up to a simmer. Cover and cook until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid, place couscous in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

the Tomato Center Dressing

¾ cup reserved tomato centers

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped shallot

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Place all ingredients together in a blender. Blend until smooth and emulsified. Reserve cold in refrigerator until needed.

A Taste of Honey

Whether you keep your own bees or get your sweet stuff from the farmers’ market, you’ll need to get your hands on some honey for these fresh, summer recipes.

AdobeStock_61411791.jpg

Honey is a natural choice for glazes, dressings, and marinades. Its richness adds another note of summer to in-season vegetables, on the grill or in a salad. Its sweet kiss completes a cool cocktail. And nothing tastes more deeply of summer in the Valley than homemade ice cream made with fresh, local milk and honey.

Southern Delights

BBQ in Hampden County

By Gina Beavers, Photos by Dan Little

It may seem like ancient history now, but a few weeks back we were celebrating spring’s hard-won victory over a rather cruel winter. As the bitter chills of winter subsided and spring stretched wide her arms to shake off her deep slumber, verdant spears of asparagus reminded us that lighter and brighter culinary fare was on the horizon. And that, eventually, those light flavors of spring would succumb to the full-throated tastes of summer.

While few would argue that the fertile soil of Western Mass yields some of the finest summer crops in the country, even fewer would deny their love for one of summer’s more delicious rites of passage: barbecue.

American barbecue is more a religion than a culinary genre, a time-honored summer tradition from coast to coast. But what makes barbecue a thing? From the diner’s perspective, it’s usually about the tender and flavorful meats dished up without the worry of beautiful plating or clean fingers. From the chef’s perspective, it’s the science.

“It’s the knowledge that it takes to make good barbecue,” says Chef Rich Daviau, owner of Damn Yankees BBQ in Holyoke. “You have to know your cuts of meat and you have to know what types of wood go with those meats. You have to know what flavor profile you’re going for.”

Of course, barbecue hasn’t always been the high art it is now; meat has been smoked and roasted since before history was recorded. Through trial, error, and inarguably gourmet touches of genius, barbecue is a global mainstay.

When we think about barbecue, however, we tend to think about the South rather than New England. And unlike Chef Daviau, most of us are far from being pit masters. The art of making fine barbecue, therefore, might be best left to those in the know. So if you haven’t mastered your grill or if it’s just too darned hot to fire up your backyard pit, check out the Southern side of the lower Pioneer Valley.

Theodore’s BBQ: Blues, Booze & BBQ

Theodore’s BBQ is a bonafide fan favorite situated in the 200 block of Worthington Street in downtown Springfield. It’s been in the same location for almost 40 years and is, at once, quaint and gritty—sweet and sour, if you will—the perfect balance. Family-friendly, the tables are covered with brown butcher paper, perfect for doodling with the crayons provided, or catching stray morsels from your relaxed Southern comfort-style meal.

“We smoke our own pork, brisket, chicken, and ribs with apple or hickory wood. The pork and brisket can take up to 12 or 13 hours to smoke. The chicken and ribs take about six hours,” says Keith Weppler, who co-owns Theodore’s BBQ with Keith Makarowski. The process, however, is never the same, he says. “From the amount of the wood to the weight of the meat … it’s different every single day.”

As for the rest of the menu: “We make most of it from scratch including our barbecue sauce.” The extensive menu includes three types of ribs, hamburgers, and house specials like jambalaya and smoked meatloaf dinner. Theodore’s also offers vegetarian options and a vegan and gluten-free black bean burger. Upon finishing your meal, Weppler recommends one particular treat: “You … have to try our bourbon bread pudding.”

Besides good food, this downtown institution can boast great live music throughout the week. If you want to hang out for a while, they’re open until 2am on the weekend.

Theodore’s BBQ
201 Worthington St., Springfield
Monday–Friday 11am–11pm, Saturday 5pm–2am
Sunday 4pm–2am

Sun Kim Bop

Barbecue is a worldwide tradition. From the Caribbean to Korea, you can travel the globe and discover delicious meats prepared for smoking or grilling.

For Korean barbecue, or gogi-gui, there’s Sun Kim Bop in downtown Springfield. Sun Kim Bop began as a hardworking food truck in 2013. Owner Sun Kim shuttled between Amherst, Springfield, and many other towns for lunch rushes, festivals, and events.

A native of Seoul, South Korea, Kim launched the food truck to introduce the Valley to the tastes of her home. “I learned cooking from my mom,” she says. “So I make my food … from scratch.” The truck’s popularity led her to open the brick-and-mortar location in 2017.

The open and airy restaurant is part of a slowly reviving strip of businesses on Main Street across the street from the MassMutual Center and a block from Springfield’s Court Square. Kim says that in spite of the early breakfast hours, the bulk of traffic happens during lunch.

Sun Kim Bop provides tastes of Korean street food including Korean BBQ short ribs or galbi. Scored and marinated, the bone-in beef ribs are smoked and served with a side of spicy Korean BBQ sauce. The meat is smokey and tastes very different from its American cousin.

The marinade is very light. “It’s all natural,” Chief Cook Gerald Gerardo says of the marinade. “It’s soy sauce, ground garlic, ginger, onion, lemon juice, white cooking wine, and sugar.” Served with white rice (bop) and a green salad, the dish is perfect for summer.

Gerardo’s quick tip about the kicky BBQ sauce: “It’s a little on the salty side, so a little goes a long way.”

Sun Kim Bop
1244 Main St., Springfield
Monday–Wednesday 8:30am–3pm
Thursday and Friday 8:30am–8pm
Saturday 11am–2pm and 4pm–8pm

 

Damn Yankees BBQ & Catering

Damn Yankees sits above a stretch of the Connecticut River and just feet away from a busy section of Holyoke’s Main Street. At first sight, you might not realize there’s a restaurant inside the unassuming brick building (better known as the Waterfront Tavern), which perhaps makes Chef Rich Daviau’s joint the best-kept secret in town.

Chef Daviau says that “to get good barbecue is really hard,” but he’s been serving it for years. Daviau is an undisputed barbecue expert and learned the art of smoking meat from some of the best pit masters in the South. With over 30 years of experience in the kitchen, Daviau opened Damn Yankees in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. Inspired by Sun Kim Bop, he expanded last year, taking his BBQ on the road with a food truck.

Damn Yankees churns out a variety of 12- to 18-hour slow-cooked meats six days a week. But when asked about the perfect Damn Yankees dining experience, Chef Daviau says, “Get the brisket.”

Of course, it can’t be all meat, all the time. Daviau says he has an appreciation for sustainable agriculture and purchases his summer produce from local farms including McKinstry’s Market Garden in Chicopee, his hometown.

Damn Yankees also provides backyard barbecues with custom menus. And because it’s New England, they’ll serve up a classic clambake and raw bar, crawfish and crab boil to satisfy traditional Yankee tastes.

Damn Yankees BBQ & Catering
920 Main St., Holyoke
Tuesday–Sunday 11am–11pm

Raising the Bar

Bar Snacks That Go Beyond the Basics

By Mary Reilly, Food Styling by Joy Howard, Photos by Dominic Perri

Who said bar food needs to be basic? Not us! With just a little effort, you can easily add flair (and vegetables!) to make old favorites new. Transform classic bar-top and couch-side snacks into even tastier treats and pair them with a local beer, a homemade soda, or a good game.

Mini Potato Skins

Cracker Jill

Inside-Out Shishito Poppers

Sriracha Cauliflower

Chickpea "Fries"

The Wildcrafting Brewer

By Mary Reilly, Photo by Pascal Baudar

From Pascal Baudar, author of The New Wildcrafted Cuisine (highlighted in Edible Pioneer Valley Issue 10 | Fall 2016), the newly released The Wildcrafting Brewer (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018) will inspire a new level of creativity in true culinary DIYers.

Baudar talks us all through Lazy Wines, Herb Beers, and naturally fermented sodas. He also includes a section covering medicinal brews. 

Those who are new to home brewing and fermenting will appreciate that Baudar covers the basics: vessel selection, wild versus natural yeast, which type of sugar to use, etc. Experts will appreciate his take on ingredients: Where can we find natural sources of sweet, bitter, and savory? Baudar shares his experience and expertise through tips and methodology for successful fermentation and brewing. 

Whether you’re a brewer, forager, fermenter, or drinker of beverages, there is a perfect recipe to play with. Go wild!

FLOWER WINE (ELDERFLOWER CHAMPAGNE) 

This is an old traditional European recipe for making wine with elderflower. In Southern California we have Mexican elders (Sambucus mexicana) at low altitudes and the regular elder (S. nigra) in the mountains. One of the peculiarities of the Mexican elder is the fact that the flowers can be smaller, usually half to a quarter the size of the regular elder, which changes the recipe a bit. 

I don’t know why the wine is called a champagne—perhaps it’s due to the color and the fact that it’s bubbly. The old recipes make no mention of adding yeast, because it’s present on the flowers. I’ve had moderate success (probably around 70 percent) with spontaneous fermentation from the flowers, so these days I usually add some champagne or wine yeast if I don’t see any signs of fermentation after a couple of days. 

30 large Mexican elderflower heads or 20 regular elderflower heads 

1 gallon (3.78 L)
 water

3 cups (500–600 g) white sugar

3–4 lemons, zested and sliced

2 tablespoons (30 ml) vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)

Champagne or wine yeast (optional—flowers should have wild yeast) 

Pick the elderflowers when they’re fresh and full of pollen. Fresh Mexican elderflowers look a bit greenish, while the older flowers are whiter. You’ll discover very quickly that elderflowers are loaded with little bugs. My solution to get rid of (most of) them is to place the flowers in a bowl outdoors for about an hour; the little bugs will vacate. You can’t really remove them all at this point, but as you strain your solution later on, it will take care of the remaining ones. 

Place the water in a container, add the sugar, and stir with a clean spoon to make sure it’s dissolved. 

Add the lemon zest and lemon slices, the elderflowers (remove as much of the stems as you can without going crazy about it), and the vinegar to the container and stir briefly with a clean spoon. Some people add commercial yeast at this stage. 

Close the container, but not so tight that fermentation gases can’t escape. You can also place a clean towel on top. Let the mixture stand for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. If you didn’t use yeast, you should see some bubbles after 48 hours, indicating that the fermentation from wild yeast is active. If this doesn’t occur, then add some yeast at this stage. Using a clean spoon, make sure that you stir the liquid for a few seconds three or four times a day during this process. 

Strain the liquid (after 48 hours if additional yeast was necessary) into your fermenting vessel (bottle or bucket). Let the fermentation go for another 4 days. Using a layered cheesecloth when straining the liquid removes any remaining little bugs.

Your final step is to bottle your champagne in recycled soda bottles or swing-top glass bottles. Let it ferment for a week before enjoying. I like to check the pressure from time to time by unscrewing the bottle slightly to make sure it’s not excessive. 

Recipe and photo by Pascal Bauder, courtesy of Storey Press.

Amuse Me!

by Sanford D’Amato, Food styling by Joy Howard, Photo by Dominic Perri

An amuse bouche is a small taste from the kitchen usually sent out as the guests are looking over the menu. Its translation is “to amuse or gratify the mouth.” It gives you a welcoming feel for the food that is about to be served and helps you settle in for a great dining experience. Many guests think that the amuse is only found in fine-dining restaurants, but it actually is very common in other restaurants as well, only in a different form.

As I was growing up, my favorite amuse was the relish tray that graced every supper club throughout Wisconsin. I’m talking about the rectangular tray embellished with celery and crinkle-cut carrot sticks, pickles, pitted black olives, pickled cherry peppers, green onions, and radishes. The difference between a common and upscale presentation was the addition of crushed ice—to keep the vegetables crackling crisp—and the carving of the radishes into roses and the green onions into frilly pom-poms. This might explain my unnatural later-life lusting over salad bars, which I consider the perfect meal.

In my childlike terms: I broke it down into the good, bad, and ugly. Celery, carrots, and pickles followed by the black olives that I would first use for finger cots before popping them into my mouth—yummy! The bad was the radish. I would nibble off a spicy petal or two for attention but reject the rest. The pickled cherry peppers and green onions were the ugly, and no way were they getting anywhere near me! 

When my wife, Angie, and I made our first trip to Europe in the spring of 1985, we were amazed at the generosity of the restaurants. Before we had even ordered a beverage, food would appear: chilled mussels in Brussels, tiny sharp cheesy gougères in Switzerland, tasty slivers of marinated eggplant in Italy. All were wonderful, but the one gift that I couldn’t forget was served in a small bistro just over the border in Nice. 

A small plate appeared filled with tiny radishes—the size of shelled almonds—with their bright green plumage intact, a wedge of unsalted butter, and a small ramekin of coarse sea salt. We dipped them in the soft butter and salt grains and savored them with the glee of foraging bunnies as the wiggling green leaves disappeared into our mouths. The radishes were crisp, sweet, zesty, and a touch earthy with the rich butter and salt becoming the closing note of a perfect ensemble. This was the start of my radish obsession, from its simplest form on up to its many guises, both raw and cooked. 

Spring in the Valley is about optimism and rebirth. It’s shoots instead of roots, young and vibrant vs. mature and muted. After wild fiddleheads and ramps, the first vegetables you’re likely to see are radishes. 

The key to a great radish is freshness so look for bright, firm, crisp specimens. Available at any early-season farmers market, those first pickings are sublime for raw preparations. My favorites are the small red and white breakfast radishes with their fresh, vibrant green plumage in full display. 

I am a prodigious fan of cooked radishes where you can intensify their inherent flavor while balancing it with sweetness and acidity. The slightly larger specimens are just made for sautéing and braising. Chilled soup is the perfect vehicle for a sophisticated cooked radish flavor shot through with lemony acid, haunting cardamom, and a touch of spicy ginger. The grilled radish and scallion garnish (and the green radish tops if you have them) helps to bring the texture and a different layer of radish flavor back to the dish. Whether you serve this soup as a refreshing welcome or a centerpiece of a spring repast, I urge you to take the leap from raw to cooked. 

I always marvel at how tastes change as the “bad and ugly” of my youth have become stalwart components of my cooking arsenal! Now, every spring in Hatfield, we look forward to our own early tiny radishes and green onions plucked from the backyard and I don’t think I could truly relish spring without them.

Miso, Savory and Sweet

The Best Miso in North America is Made in Conway

By Laura Sayre, Photos by Dan Little

EPV_Winter_2017_1.jpg

The first thing I notice as I approach the production facility at South River Miso is the wonderful smell—earthy, sweet, complex, inviting. The kind of smell that makes you breathe deep and open your eyes a little more widely. Christian Elwell smiles as he steps out the door to greet me. “The smell is often what people comment on first,” he says. 

Tucked into a green slope north of Conway, South River Miso has been the life project of Christian and Gaella Elwell. In operation since 1981, the company currently employs 14 people and produces 120,000 pounds of miso a year, selling directly to customers via their website as well as in natural foods stores nationwide. 


The labels on their jars describe what is made here as “the only unpasteurized, certified organic miso that is entirely handcrafted in the centuries-old Japanese tradition,” and as Elwell shows me around, I come to appreciate what this means. Miso-making in Japan was traditionally a rural enterprise, and the tools and techniques in use here are similar to those found in a traditional Japanese miso shop (few of which remain today even in Japan). 

EPV_Winter_2017_2.jpg

The production room is compact and neatly organized, with windows looking out over gardens and fields to the river below. In the center of the room is a wood-fired masonry oven, which warms the building while also being used to steam the rice and slow-cook the beans that go into the miso. Many of the utensils and trays used to prepare the miso are made of wood, as are the enormous vats in which the miso is aged (from three weeks to three years, depending on the recipe). All of the work is done by hand, with precise, careful gestures that have an almost agricultural feel to them. 

Miso is the result of a two-step fermentation process bringing together a grain and a bean. First comes the fermentation of the grain—traditionally rice or barley. The grain is steamed in a large stainless steel cauldron, allowed to cool slightly, and then “seeded” with Aspergillus oryzae, a strain of mold selected for miso-making over hundreds of years. The mold is allowed to develop on the rice for two days in a small, warm, wood-lined space called a koji room. The fermented rice, covered in fine white fungal filaments, is called koji. 

The koji is then mixed with salt (more salt for the longer-aged misos; less salt for the shorter-aged misos) and allowed to sit again overnight. Meanwhile, the beans (traditionally soybeans, but here sometimes aduki beans or chickpeas) are slow-cooked in the cauldron, again using wood-fired heat. The salted koji is then combined with the cooked beans in a mixing box, a large flat trough that can be set on the floor. The mixing, too, is done in the traditional fashion, carefully treaded underfoot by the miso master. (A video of this, from the Cooking Channel show “Food Crafters,” can be seen on the South River Miso website.) A small amount of “seed miso”—mature miso from a previous batch—is mixed in at the same time. 

When the mixing is complete, the miso is transferred to the vat room. It takes multiple batches to fill a vat; when the vat is full, it is covered in cloth, sealed with a wooden lid and then weighted to press out any remaining air. The aging period allows for a second, anaerobic fermentation, with different microorganisms at work, including the bacteria Lactobacillus delbrueckii and Pediococcus halophilus

EPV_Winter_2017_3.jpg

On the morning I visit, three batches of chickpea miso are under way . One batch of rice is steaming in the cauldron. Another batch is in the koji room, where a miso-maker, Yukio Doyama, is transferring it from the koji “crib” (a large wooden box) into dozens of shallow wooden trays. Two other miso-makers, Peter Alexanian and Jamie Paul, are working with the third batch, gently scraping the koji out of the small wooden trays through a sieve into 20-gallon white tubs. Later, we watch as Alexanian and Paul spread the freshly steamed rice from the cauldron on muslin-lined, table-sized wooden trays and then inoculate it with the koji starter. 

From the beginning, all of South River Miso’s ingredients have been organic: the rice, the barley, the soybeans, the adukis, the chickpeas. Most, for the moment, are not local: At one point they were getting organic soybeans from a farmer in Belchertown, but he left the area, and although Elwell feels it would be possible to source more of their “commodities” locally, “it would require overcoming a variety of logistical and human challenges.” One testament to that potential: In the garden is a small paddy of heirloom rice the Elwells have been growing for home use for the past 30 years. The wood for the oven comes from David Lashway in Williamsburg. 

And while the quality of the ingredients is clearly essential, Elwell emphasizes that “the human element, the connection” that is created through their non-mechanized production process is just as important. South River Miso’s approach to miso-making is rooted in the macrobiotic tradition, but also in biodynamics.

“Miso is in some ways a biodynamic preparation,” Elwell says. “Food is more than just substances to be digested; it is a carrier for cosmic forces.” He smiles again. “I’m 70 years old, I can say these things now.”

Tips for cooking with miso

Unpasteurized miso is a live food. Use a clean spoon each time you reach into the jar. 

When making soups or other hot dishes, add miso at the end of the cooking process, not at the beginning. Boiling may destroy some of its beneficial properties. 

An opened (or unopened) jar of miso will keep in the fridge for a year or more. 

For further reading Christian and Gaella recommend the book Preserving the Japanese Way: Traditions of Salting, Fermenting, and Pickling for the Modern Kitchen, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2015)

Tipping a Cap to Mushrooms

Foraging From Field to Kitchen

By Jacqueline Sheehan, Photos by Dan Little

1-Mushrooms-Foraging-05-DL10062017.jpg

Western Massachusetts offers a fertile environment for wild mushrooms, but foraging for them requires guidance from experts. I had studied with a mycologist in Oregon decades ago, but my delight in foraging for mushrooms, as well as my desire to cultivate them, was rekindled by mushroom farmer and mycologist Paul Lagreze. 

Lagreze began formally studying mushrooms 25 years ago after taking a class at UMass. He then joined a mycology club to learn from life-long enthusiasts. His initial motivation, like mine, was culinary. “I liked the taste of wild mushrooms,” he says.

I attended Lagreze’s Shiitake Log workshop at his Colrain home last spring. We learned to inoculate freshly cut logs by drilling holes in them, filling the holes with shiitake spores, and sealing them with hot wax. Later, Lagreze took us the wooded acreage he uses to let his vast supply of inoculated logs snooze for a year before they are ready to burst forth with mushrooms. I took my log home to wait for the explosion of mushrooms next spring and immediately signed on for his class on foraging and cultivating mushrooms this fall at Greenfield Community College.

But what was equally intriguing was meeting Lennie Kaplan, a lifelong mushroom forager from Belarus who showed up at Lagreze’s spring workshop to share. Kaplan brought a sampling of culinary mushroom creations to the workshop, the likes of which I had never tasted before. My entire repertoire of mushroom recipes consisted of variations on sautéing in butter with a splash of white wine—which is nothing to sniff at—but after tasting Kaplan’s preserved mushrooms, I had to learn more. He agreed to let me observe while he processed mushrooms, lots and lots of mushrooms, at his home on the outskirts of Westfield.

2-Mushrooms-Foraging-01-DL10062017.jpg

Two vats of mushrooms were already cut and boiling on the stove by the time I arrived, and more chopped mushrooms filled a colander in the sink. Kaplan was processing three different varieties of boletes. As he talked about foraging, he continued to wash the mushrooms, stirring them in the colander. Boletes are distinguished by their thick sponge-like tube layer rather than gills (the soft flute-like structures that circle the stem beneath the cap of white or portobello mushrooms you might buy at the store).

Kaplan’s mushroom foraging takes him from Massachusetts, through Vermont, into Canada and down through the state of New York. He began foraging at the age of 5 or 6. “Everyone in Russia, Belarus, and generally all of Europe hunts for mushrooms,” he says. 

According to Kaplan, when the conditions are right for mushrooms to push their way from the earth, entire busloads of people in Belarus descend on the hillsides and forests. The popular art and sport of foraging is far less common in North America, except for pockets of local experts. 

“Here, men hunt for game and fish for sport,” says Kaplan, shrugging. “In Russia and Belarus, men hunt for mushrooms.”

After processing his boletes, Kaplan served up some mushroom soup. The ingredients included mushrooms, barley, and finely chopped potatoes. He sprinkled on dried chives that he had frozen from his garden. And the final touch? A hearty dab of sour cream. “It always tastes better with sour cream,” he says. 

4-Mushrooms-Foraging-10-DL10062017.jpg

Lennie Kaplan’s Recipes for Preserving Mushrooms

My favorite go-to recipe for most mushrooms still veers toward the sauté method. The butter helps so much. But when you are a true forager, you must deal with larger quantities of mushrooms and develop a variety of ways to preserve them.

Marination

This is what Kaplan was doing the day that I visited. He had a mix of three different varieties of bolete mushrooms that had been rinsed multiple times, and cooked in a large pot on the stove top. He later added vinegar, salt, and spices—a palm-sized mound of salt or a free pour of vinegar as his taste buds dictated. Kaplan always uses bay leaves, generally adds black peppercorns and allspice, “And sometimes coriander and cloves.” (Believe me, the man does not write down his recipes.)

The mushrooms are done cooking when the bay leaves have softened. Then, he processes them in quart and pint jars.

Dehydration

Kaplan uses electric dehydrators to do the job. He suggests using mature mushrooms for drying because their peak flavor survives drying the best. Once the mushrooms are dry, he stores them in plastic bags.

Fermentation

Rinse and cook as you would when marinating, but then, says Kaplan, skip the vinegar and only use only salt and spices. And, just in case you were wondering, “Never add sugar. No sugar!”

Freezing

This is generally an easier method and includes simply sautéing (that’s where I come in) or boiling, then freezing in plastic bags. But it is too labor intensive for large amounts of mushrooms. If you are an expert forager like Kaplan, this is not practical because you have sacks of mushrooms that need processing immediately. (Though he does sauté and freeze one of his favorite mushrooms, matsutake, in smaller quantities.) Once frozen mushrooms have been defrosted, the taste should be identical to fresh fungi.

Looking for Local Mushrooms?

Mycoterra Farm
MycoterraFarm.com

Fungi Ally
FungiAlly.com

New England Wild Edibles
NewEdibles.com

Corsello Butcheria

Bringing Roman Flavors to the Valley

By Liz LaBrocca, Photos by Dan Little

CorselloButcheria-7-DL10252017.jpg

On a warm fall day in October, Corsello Butcheria in Easthampton is cozy and inviting. A small chalkboard behind the glass display cases lists the farms from which the day’s selection of meats were sourced. A small collection of work from a local artist hangs on the exposed brick wall near a shelf filled with Italian grocery items. It’s a friendly place and you feel it the moment you walk in and are greeted by owners Vincent and Kasey Corsello.

When I arrive, Vincent is behind the counter talking to a customer about chicken cacciatore, the day’s sandwich special. The excitement is clear in his voice: He’s not selling a product, he’s sharing his passion.

“Cacciatore means ‘hunter’ in Italian,” he says, showing her the saucy chicken and then the crusty bread he would press the meat between. She orders one and he offers to warm the bread while Kasey chats with another customer at the register.

While the idea for the local butcher shop was dreamed up about two years ago when the couple were participating in a leadership development course, Vincent had fallen in love with butchering during the seven years they lived in Rome. While out shopping for ingredients for a small dinner party they were hosting, they walked into Roberto and Maura Sartor’s butcher shop in Testaccio Market, one of Rome’s oldest open-air markets. There, for the first time, they watched the butcher filet their chicken.

“We were in awe of her,” Kasey says. “Standing behind the glass, watching her work… She was definitely an artist.” Kasey says it was in that moment that Vincent was hooked. The Sartor Butcher Shop became part of their weekly shopping routine in Rome and they developed a close relationship with the family.

CorselloButcheria-5-DL10252017.jpg

When Vincent shared his idea of opening his own butcher shop in Easthampton, the Sartors invited him back to Rome to learn the trade. He spent the summer before opening Corsello studying butchering techniques and learning the base recipes he would use for the sausages he would eventually begin selling in Easthampton.

A Roman Italian sausage is typically made with pork, garlic, salt, pepper, and fennel. The combinations of flavors may change based on the butcher shop and the region of Italy, but the pork is an important constant. Vincent recalls asking the Sartors about what kind of fat they used in their turkey sausage and they were taken aback: “You can’t have sausage without pork!” (Typically an American chicken or turkey sausage recipe will call for using the bird’s skin instead of pork fat.)

Fennel, the other key flavor in Italian sausage, grows like a weed in Italy. It was a plant that everyone had access to and made its way into a lot of Italian food. Traditionally, a wild variety of fennel, finnochietto, would be used. Its flavor is very similar to the fennel bulbs we can buy locally at the farmers market, but it’s much milder.

The use of an ingredient like fennel, readily available and part of the local food web, is what Vincent loves most about Italian food. Chefs and home cooks alike can eat with the seasons and allow the fresh ingredients to take center stage on the plate. To Vincent, this makes Italian food more than just a type of restaurant you pick on a Friday night—it’s a way of life. His shop speaks to this sentiment. He describes his inspiration as “Italian with local flavor … Simple ingredients, high-quality ingredients, not too much of any one thing, not too many ingredients.”

When the Corsellos started developing their sausage recipe at home a few years ago, there was a lot of trial and error involved. They experimented with different flavors and combinations. They tested how the sausages tasted if ingredients were added before or after grinding. They learned that they needed to keep everything cold so the fat wouldn’t melt into the mixture and leave the sausage dry and mealy. And, just like in classic Italian sausage, the quality of their pork was key. They source their pork from Porter Family Farms in Ashfield not only because of its delicious flavor profile, but because they both believe strongly in the importance of being a strong link in the local food chain.

At the shop, sausage maker Mark Kretchmar, a butcher with 25 years of experience cutting meat in the Valley, twists links in the window. He can turn out about 60 pounds of sausage in an hour as people walking towards Easthampton’s cultural district pause to take photos and videos of him working. He loves it.

The whole team at Corsello loves what they do and their passion is clear. Vincent, Kasey, and Mark all enjoy sharing cooking tips with customers browsing their beautifully arranged meat counter. They’re excited to be part of a community that believes in a strong local food economy and the opportunities that can present for them in the future. There’s an old saying about not wanting to watch the sausage get made, but at Corsello Butcheria, it’s part of the charm.

By the Light of the Moon

Making Ghee in the Valley

Story and Photos by Nikki Gardner

fullmoon.jpg

By the light of August’s Sturgeon Moon, Daniel Rainwater heaves 125 pounds of butter onto a cutting board. A candle made of ghee is lit and placed on the shiny metal counter in a commercial kitchen in Greenfield where Full Moon Ghee, a small-batch artisanal ghee company, is based. 

As the company’s alchemist, Rainwater works alone at this stage, slicing unsalted butter from High Lawn Farm (Lee, MA) into thick wedges before transferring it into pots for an overnight cook. From 8pm to 8am, the butter melts, separates from the milk solids, and turns into ghee, also known as clarified butter. A lactose-free, shelf-stable, and high-heat cooking oil, ghee dates back to ancient India where it has been celebrated for its taste, nutritional benefits, and healing properties.

In the morning, founder Hannah Jacobson-Hardy and accounts manager and recipe developer Colette Garrigues join Rainwater to assist with filling and labeling the jars. Each sets to work: Garrigues makes her specialty ghee flavors which include Coco’s Cacao, Maple, and the latest, Rosemary Garlic. Jacobson-Hardy sets up the jars for labeling. 

Once cooled, the butter naturally separates into three distinct layers: Foam rises to the surface, the clarified butter floats in the middle, and the milk solids sink to the bottom. Rainwater skims and discards the top foamy layer from the pots and then strains the remaining clarified butter through fine butter muslin to collect the milk solids before pouring golden ghee into an assortment of jars. Jacobson-Hardy seals, labels, and boxes them for distribution to stores and farmers markets.

The shimmering ghee has a high smoke point, tolerating heat up to 485°F (higher than butter and coconut oil, which both burn at 350°), and boasts a rich, sweet, slightly nutty flavor enhanced (according to Ayurvedic science) by the qualities of the full moon, considered a time of heightened essence, vitality, and expansion.

“Half of this whole business is educating people on the health benefits of ghee,” says Rainwater.

In the Ayurvedic tradition, ghee is used as a condiment, cooking oil, and superfood (believed to stimulate digestion, aid in nutrient absorption, and reduce inflammation, especially in the gut). Within this tradition, ghee is also thought to lubricate joints, optimize skin and eye health, and alkalize the entire body.

In 2014, the trio met as volunteers at Kripalu Yoga Center where ghee was a regular staple in the dining hall. After Kripalu, Jacobson-Hardy moved back to her hometown, Northampton, where she started an herbal practice, Sweet Birch Herbals, creating a line of herbal salves, creams, elixirs and infused oils. She and Garrigues rented a place together, where Rainwater came to stay. He made small batches of ghee which they used in scrambled eggs, stir-fried kale, and coffee. Friends tried the ghee, loved it, and asked for more.

“There always seemed like there was this one gap in New England with oil,” says Jacobson-Hardy. “I thought, ‘We have cows that make butter and cream. If we turn it into ghee, it burns like another oil, and we can close the gap.’”

In May 2015, Jacobson-Hardy brought a dozen 4-ounce Mason jars of ghee to Northampton’s Tuesday Market to test the market. All 12 jars sold, not just the first time, but week after week. People kept asking for more. They increased their supply, hired a designer, and moved production to Greenfield.

The following year, Garrigues went to India and Cambodia to travel while Rainwater and Jacobson-Hardy continued to make ghee. Jacobson-Hardy flew to Delhi in February and stayed with Garrigues for a month to research the history and culinary uses of ghee in both home and industrial kitchens as well as its place in ceremonies. They toured farms; enrolled in Ayurvedic cooking classes where they made kitchari, curries, dahl, and naan; and knocked on village doors to study when and how locals make ghee. 

In Dharamsala, a young man invited them into his family’s home. His grandmother makes ghee from the milk of their two cows, by first making cultured cream, churning it into butter, and then making ghee. Others villagers make their ghee during a waxing moon, when the cycle of nature offers vitality and expansion—since the grass contains more water content thereby nourishing the cows who feed on it. 

“I like that part. It’s more abstract and you don’t have to know everything,” says Jacobson-Hardy. “There’s a kind of mystery that supersedes the scientific part of my brain.”

The act of making ghee is a sattvic practice, a time for working with intention and quality, which is how the three view the ritual of preparing ghee.

Bear & Bramble: Brewing Beer, By the Batch

By Jordana Starr
Photos by Matt Burkhartt

Tym McDowell has been homebrewing since he was 20, about a year before he could legally sit down at a bar and order a beer. Though he knew he wanted to brew for a living, his parents encouraged him to pursue a more academic career path. He chose to study medicine, but brewing remained a passion. Today, he splits his time as a physician assistant in neurosurgery at Mercy Medical Center and co-owner of Bear & Bramble Brewery in Florence.

McDowell met his business partner, John Wanner, at work in 2010. Wanner, a nurse anesthetist, had been homebrewing for a year, and the two soon developed a friendship that grew out of their love for beer. By 2011, they were brewing together regularly at McDowell’s home in Easthampton. A year later, they moved the brewing system to Wanner’s garage in Florence, and soon expanded the system to accommodate up to 22 gallons of beer per batch. “It was a natural transition from hanging out, talking about beer, to hanging out and starting a business,” McDowell says. Their new venture, Bear & Bramble Brewery, received its federal and state licensing late last year, which meant they could finally sell their beer to the public.

A 22-gallon batch is tiny for a commercial brewery. But there are advantages to brewing on such a small system. McDowell and Wanner can take more risks and produce experimental beers. They are also able to remain self-funded and avoid taking on debt. “At some point, we’ll be happy to take money,” Wanner says, “but not yet!” Their brew system is still in a constant state of development and redesign as Bear & Bramble grows and evolves.

Family support has been crucial to their brewery. Cousins have fabricated sheet metal and installed ductwork, while wives meticulously hand-label each bottle. The brewery’s electric control system is housed in an old ammo box that once belonged to McDowell’s uncle, the first homebrewer in his family. As their young children grow, they hope to see them become a part of the business as well.

McDowell and Wanner source most of their base grains from Valley Malt in Hadley and look forward to building relationships with local farmers. After brewing, they feed the spent grains to Wanner’s chickens. They are also aging some beer in whiskey barrels, increasing the beer’s complexity and, for many fans, its appeal. When the beer is ready, they bottle it and self-distribute to a handful of retailers, including Provisions, Cooper’s Corner, State Street, and River Valley Co-Op.

As for the future, the duo hopes to move into an industrial space or buy some land. McDowell envisions having a little farm, offering a welcoming tasting experience with fresh bread and fine cheese and a place for kids to play. But for right now, their focus is on the beer.

“Brewing is a great blend of art and science,” McDowell says. And, compared to neurosurgery, “you’re less likely to maim people.”

www.facebook.com/pages/Bear-and-Bramble-Brewing-Co