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.”

Wallow in the Blues

A truly fresh fish yields a happier tune

by Sanford D’Amato
photo by Kevin Miyazaki

There is a solid rap at the back kitchen screen door of the restaurant. I look over and see that the bright morning sun is completely eclipsed by the husky outline of a local fishmonger, self-named Chubby. 

“I’ve got a surprise for you today!” he calls out as he wedges himself through the doorway, each of his large paws grasping a three-foot fish. As he points one of the fish, as rigid as a board, toward my face, he proclaims, “They’re still in rigor mortis!”

Chubby was a local legend in the East Quogue area of Long Island where I worked in the late ’70s. He would arrive daily with bags of the most pristine Peconic Bay scallops that, because of their inherent sweetness, you could pop straight into your mouth like lush, briny candy.

But today, he has caught a beautiful 12-pound striped bass and a slightly smaller bluefish. They are so fresh that I expect them to start flipping. “Well, do you want them both?” he asks. The striped bass is for sure but, as blue things go—I love blueberries, I’m a huge blues music fan, and I’m a true-blue friend. But I hate bluefish.

All my experiences with bluefish up to this point were from my time at the Culinary Institute of America. Students were responsible for receiving fish (steward class), prepping fish (butchery), preparing fish (kitchen class), and serving it (service class). We also had to eat whatever we made.

Bluefish has high oil content and is very perishable. Slow and inexperienced student handling, slightly improper trimming and cooking, and delayed serving made this fish the scourge of lunch and dinner classes. The mere mention of bluefish was enough to send student diners scurrying for the exits to escape the funkiness.

I relate my misgivings to Chubby. “I’ll give you this one for free,” he says, “because I know after you have a really fresh bluefish, you’ll be buying all I can get you in the future.” 

I fillet the glistening fish and remove the skin and its red outside bloodline to yield thick filets that look like slightly darker-hued striped bass. I grill up a piece with just a bit of salt and pepper. The oil content of the fish helps it grill up with a golden, crunchy exterior and a moist, flavorful interior. This bluefish has zero relationship to my previous frightening experiences. As usual, Chubby didn’t disappoint. 

Thirty-plus years later, Angie and I are luxuriating in our first visit to the Pioneer Valley. Our friend David, the self-appointed guide for the day, takes us on his personal “Best of the Valley” tour. We start on River Road for blueberries, cross Christian Lane and go down to Golanka’s for corn and tomatoes, then into Northampton to Northshore Seafood for fish. As we enter the corner fish market, I am immediately smitten with the concise repertoire of the East Coast’s greatest piscatorial hits: sword, cod, hake, stripers, sea scallops, cherrystones, and mussels. David, with the excitement of a lottery winner, looks past them all and exclaims, “Yes! Bluefish!” 

Within an hour, we are scarfing down succulent, crusty bluefish between bites of sweet corn and a perfectly balanced tomato salad. It’s hard to seal a deal in one meal, but it is the start of the journey that brings us from Wisconsin to our current home on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hatfield. 



This preparation makes full use of the Valley’s vibrant farmers’ markets. Find a nice bunch of just-dug early turnips with really fresh green tops to use when enhancing the broth. (If you can’t find turnips, radishes with tops will do.) The key, as Cubby taught me: It’s all about the freshest blue.

Serves 4

1 cup unsalted chicken stock

4 small (about 4 ounces each) turnips with fresh green tops, greens removed and reserved. Turnips peeled and cut in 1-inch wedges.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Zest of ½ lemon and juice of 1 lemon (need 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon juice)

2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns, strained in a fine strainer to remove any pepper dust

4 (6- to 7-ounce, about 1-inch thick) skinless bluefish filets (can substitute striped bass)

2 shallots (1½ ounces), peeled and thinly sliced 

2 garlic cloves (½ ounce), peeled and finely chopped

½ cup dry white wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the turnip wedges with stock, add a pinch of salt, and bring up to a simmer for about 4–5 minutes, until just tender. Strain and reserve the turnip stock. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When oil is hot, add the turnips, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Add the sugar and lemon zest and toss together. Add ½ teaspoon of the lemon juice, glaze, remove from pan, and reserve warm. Clean the pan and put back over medium-high heat. Divide the pepper evenly over tops of the bluefish and press in. Season all lightly with salt. Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the fish until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the fish to a plate. 

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sauté for 1 minute. Add the wine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and reduce by half. Add the reserved turnip stock and reduce to ⅓ to ½ cup. Place the reserved stock and reserved greens in a blender and purée until fine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the fish and turnips between 4 plates and divide the turnip green broth around and serve. 

Summer on a Stick

Farm to Freezer with Crooked Stick Pops

By Marykate Smith Despres
Photos by Dominic Perri

Julie Tuman loves heat and humidity. She grew up in the South, where summer stretched from March to November, eagerly awaiting the Memorial Day opening of the neighborhood swimming pool. The North Carolina native “got sucked into” the Pioneer Valley when she came north for graduate school 15 years ago and never left. But she brought a little bit of that long summer with her and turned it into Crooked Stick Pops.

Tuman started making and selling the frozen treats just last May, hawking handheld relief from the heat at farmers’ markets and community events around the Valley. At the end of each market, Tuman buys whatever fruits and veggies farmers can’t sell. “I just clear ’em out.”

In turn, she gets new ingredients to play with, and advice along the way. The folks from Crabapple Farm noticed her use of basil and turned her on to tulsi. Now, they grow a few rows of herbs just for her.

Those herbs and fruits are processed in the 800-square-foot commercial kitchen Tuman built in Easthampton’s Keystone building. Making 500 pops a day with 150 flavors “in solid rotation,” she spends three 12-hour days a week during peak season processing, freezing, and bagging “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of beautiful local fruit.”

The other four days, April through October, Tuman is outside, selling from her cart or her pop trike, which can hold up to 800 pops. Crooked Stick Pops are “what you see is what you get,” with flavors like Cantaloupe Mint and Kiwi Ginger—names and complete ingredient lists in one.

Tuman likes savory pops, like Maple Pear and Vanilla Lemon Basil, best. (She lovingly refers to the latter as her “bourbon pop” because, at the end of a long day, “It has the same effect on my shoulders.”) She’s not attached to, or even particularly a fan of, sweet treats. “If it grows, I will try to throw it in a blender and put it on a stick.”

After just one year, Crooked Stick Pops is expanding. Tuman hired a few “pop slingers” so the treats can be offered in three places at once, including a new brick-and-mortar location in Eastworks, opening in June. The pop shop will be open year round as the flavors “get heavier and richer, moving from herbs to spices.” Tuman says people love fresh-from-the-freezer pops in winter to soothe sore throats and perk up a flu. And who among us hasn’t wished, in the bitter days of winter, for a bit of summer on a stick?

Pen in the Hand, Hands in the Soil

Farmers Speak Out Against Immigration Policy

By Marykate Smith Despres

We’ve protected some of the most precious farmland,” said Linda Kingsley of Twin Oaks Farm in Hadley. “What are we gonna do to harvest it?” 

Kingsley, who has been farming for over 40 years, was one of about 100 people gathered at Wally Czajkowski’s Plainville Farm in Hadley on April 8. Czajkowski and Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots invited farmers and other small-business owners to discuss concerns, according to their press release, “about the impact of current immigration policies on their livelihoods.” 

“We have a population we need to protect,” said Kingsley. “It’s only fair to them.”

Eric Stocker, co-owner of local distributor Squash, Inc., opened and moderated the forum, calling out “inhumane” policies and political rhetoric that “ignore the basic facts about who does the work” and leave those workers “living in uncertainty and fear.”

Heads nodded and applause rang out in recognition, again and again, as people spoke of the the web of bureaucratic red tape created by the H2A program, the misclassification of farming as unskilled labor, and the ignored integrity of the local immigrant workforce.

“Nobody in their right mind wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to leave my home,’” said chef and food justice advocate Neftali Duran. “That desperation comes from policies.”

Organizers and many attendees hoped to help change those policies by signing letters to the State House, urging Governor Baker to support the Safe Communities Act, and to the Senate, asking for implementation of immigration reform that ensures: 

  • Current experienced workers can obtain legal work authorization.
  • Their businesses can access new authorized workers when needed in the future.
  • The workers on whom the local economy depends have a pathway to citizenship.
  • State resources are not used to enforce federal immigration policies that harm local businesses and workers.

Postcards were penned and marks were made, but there was still an overwhelming unrest at the meeting’s end. Some left with both more clarity and concern than they had come with. Julie Pottier-Brown, operations manager of the Farm Direct Co-op in Salem, Massachusetts, who has bought food from growers in the Valley for 24 years, was “struck by the level of fear being reported by the immigrant community.” 

“We are an interdependent community,” said Pottier-Brown. “Take away one part, and there will be collapse.”

There are some programs that have consistently offered services and support to the migrant and immigrant farm worker community. Gloria Penagos, a migrant enrollment specialist at Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield (HCS) Head Start, encouraged farmers to spread the word about a migrant/seasonal program specifically designed to meet the needs of farmworkers with young children. The program offers free extended day care, beginning as early as 5am, for children as young as four weeks. She also urged business owners to consider offering transportation to workers in the Springfield area who would normally be commuting to farms around the Valley, but are afraid to leave home in the current political climate.

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers can also find support through the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program (CRVFHP), which, in conjunction with health centers in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, offers free and reduced-cost health care services for both workers and their families. Moreover, CRVFHP makes its services accessible by providing transportation to and from appointments as well as on-farm and in-field intake and primary care services. 

Whether farmworkers from within immigrant and migrant communities will feel safe enough to access these services as often as they did in previous seasons is yet to be seen.

Local Traditions are Made in the Kitchen: Hadley’s Asparagus Supper

Story by Mary Reilly, Photography by Elaine Papa

Hadley grass is responsible for one of my springtime traditions: nearly getting rear-ended as I see a farm stand and brake for the first bunch of the season. A more longstanding local asparagus-based tradition is the First Congregational Church of Hadley’s annual Asparagus Supper. Since 1931, the volunteers from the congregation have been dishing up an all-you-can-eat asparagus feast one Saturday a year in May.

The meal’s choreography and menu remain the same from year to year: Hungry diners line up for a family-style dinner (the church offers two seatings), are escorted to their reserved seats, and dig into an endless procession of platters. The menu is simple and satisfying: rolls and butter, baked ham, potato salad, and thick spears of asparagus. Counter to our modern passion for al dente spears, the asparagus at this supper is steamed to tenderness. The mossy-green spears are juicy and addictive and disappear in a flash. Servers buzz through the room, trays heaped with seconds and thirds, so when a platter is scraped clean another materializes to take its place.

The menu highlights local food, from across Hadley and beyond, which streams into the kitchen all day long leading up to service: produce from Szawlowski Potato Farms, biscuits from Barstow’s Longview Farm Bakery, milk from Mapleline Farm, butter from Maple Valley Creamery, ice cream from Flayvors of Cook, and coffee from Esselon.  

Last May, I spent the day watching the event come together. One of the first chores the crew tackles is preparing the strawberries for dessert. A group of men, ranging in ages and experiences, mans the sinks. They wash, hull, and cut flat after flat of berries. The room rings with conversation––folks use the time to catch up, tell jokes, and share stories. They are neighbors and church fellows and family, and some have been slicing berries in this kitchen together for generations.

Before long, I’m recruited onto the asparagus-collection crew. We drive a few miles away to Joe Czajkowski’s farm, one of two providing asparagus for the supper (Boisvert Sugar Shack supplies the rest of the asparagus quota). When we arrive, the farm is in full harvest and pack mode. The process goes swiftly: Large totes of asparagus get sorted by size and placed onto a conveyor that leads to a scary-looking device that lops off the bottom-ends of each spear. They’re then banded into bunches and packed gently into wooden crates. Finally, they’re  loaded into the van and we head back to the church.  

By the time we return, the dinner tables have been set with china, coffee cups, and fresh flowers. I pop into the office and say hello to the team of ladies who manage the reservations. Yes, this is a casual family-style event, but reservations are essential. The table layout is a collection of names and seating assignments. Regular attendees know where they will be sitting, near friends and family, and the thoughtfully engineered floor plan ensures that will happen.

As the clocks ticks closer to the 5:00 seating, the energy in the kitchen starts to rev up. There is ham to slice, potato salad to platter, rolls to warm. The asparagus is loaded into a steamer to begin its transformation into tender morsels.

Diners start to line up by 4:30, waiting eagerly for the doors to open. Each guest is led to their table and the feast begins. People have been coming to this event for decades. I met Betty Pout: She and her family haven’t missed a supper in over 60 years. Melanie and Richard Sitnik, attendees for nearly 50 years, met for the first time over a platter of the church’s asparagus. Today they were dining as three generations, though their grandson Tyler hedged his bets and brought a bag of Cheerios “just in case.”

By 6:00, the first seating is over, and as satisfied diners file out of the church the volunteer crew starts to reset the tables for the 6:30 seating. The pattern repeats: Food comes flying out of the kitchen, diners reminisce and share stories, and the room fills with chatter and laughter.  

At the end of the night, I peek into the kitchen and see that group of men, neighbors and church fellows and family, clustered around the sinks again. This time, the basins are filled with dishes instead of strawberries. But stories are still being shared and jokes are still getting told as they wash and put away the platters, until next year.

The Secret Ingredient Is the Chef

The Unteachable Technique Behind a Great Bite

Story by Jacqueline Sheehan, Photography by Marykate Smith Despres

One of the satisfying bits of writing fiction is doing research. And sometimes the research happens to be delicious. For my new novel, The Tiger in the House, I needed to get to the heart and soul of bakers and chefs. Four stellar local culinary entrepreneurs that I interviewed all confirmed the same thing: Great cooking is all about the transference of energy.

First, I spoke with Anna Fessenden, maker of Anna’s Breads in Ashfield, Massachusetts. As we sipped cups of strong coffee in Elmer’s Store in the heart of Ashfield, Fessenden explained that her career in baking was not a straight line. She didn’t learn to cook until her husband died; he was the cook in the family. 

Three years after his death, Fessenden lost her job in website management. As her mood plummeted, two memories offered her a lifeline. The first was her grandmother’s fine cooking, and the second was the sensory memory of her childhood years in Paris. She began to bake bread. “It’s the ultimate safe medication,” she said.

In 2010, she tried out seven loaves at Elmer’s Store, just to see if they would sell. She now bakes 150–300 per week. Fessenden said that she is a conduit for yeast, that it grabs her and she has to treat it with care. She insists it won’t behave for everyone. 

If this is beginning to sound spiritual, it will only become more so. When she makes the starter, she treats it like a living thing. Even her way of describing bread (which I promise you is like no other) is sentient. “It’s a culture,” she told me, “and if you prepare it right, the skin holds in the methane gas. Then there is a lightning bolt of connection, something god-like.” Fessenden feels that she is looking down at a whole world of micro-organisms.

“Bread is deep in humanity’s soul.” She says she sometimes places one ear near the starter and listens to the pulse of life—it can sound like a sigh, a puff into her ear, it can even be erotic. And the good people of Ashfield wait at Elmer’s Store to receive her bread, delivered by Fessenden on her bike, as if they were receiving a sacrament. (Or the makings of an orgasm, either one.)

Twenty miles away in Easthampton, I interviewed Julie Copoulos and Amanda Milazzo, owners of Small Oven Bakery. They explained that their relationship with food is intimate, and without any prompting from me, they quickly mentioned the transfer of energy from baker to bread to customer. Other senses play prominently for them; each had to train her sense of smell, which works hand in hand with the sense of taste, to discern even tiny amounts of seasoning, to tell if a spice has lingered too long on the shelf, or if there is a happy marriage in the ratio of whole wheat to white flour in the bread. They have each honed their keen sense of smell to block out non-food scents. “The world of food scents is like a language,” said Milazzo. 

They must be able to smell and taste not only the ingredients, but they must be able to detect the process of baking, factor in the interplay with humidity on a hot summer day, or the delicate impact of fresh lemon zest on their muffins. 

I asked them if the issue of transferring their personal energy into the food might have a downside. What happens if they are angry or depressed? Wouldn’t that go into the food? 

“We take care of each other and don’t let the other one go down,” Copoulos said. “If Amanda is having a terrible day, I can step in and take over and she can do something less sensitive. But sometimes the act of making bread can be meditative and medicinal.” 

Copoulos and Milazzo knew that they hit the bread recipes right when older women from Eastern Europe starting to buy their bread. They told the bakers, “This is the kind of bread that our mothers and our grandmothers made.” They are bringing the energy of Old World bread to the streets of Easthampton.

Next, I interviewed a chef, Unmi Abkin, owner of Coco’s in Easthampton. She is a master at developing new recipes and understanding how to hire other cooks to work with her. “I watch to see how they treat food, to see if they have respect for food,” she said. After dining at Coco’s, it tasted like all of her staff treated the food very respectfully. 

Abkin mentioned how energy was transferred into cooking, filtering through her emotions and her artistry, to the customers who consumed her food. Even the drinks at Coco’s are infused with herbs and spices that draw upon her sense of seasonal energy. She often peers into the dining room from the kitchen to see how food is received in her restaurant. “It is deeply satisfying when a customer enjoys what I have prepared.” 

Despite her new, creative weekly additions to the menu, there is one staple that never leaves: buttermilk fried chicken served with garlic mashed potatoes and jalapeño slaw. Patrons simply cannot do without this dish, the epitome of comfort food. I understand. It takes every bit of my willpower to order something different, and while I am always richly rewarded, I still order the buttermilk chicken the next time. More than once, seated in Coco, I have stopped mid-meal, wishing the plate of tender chicken could last longer, that the peak of desire could keep going, and now I know that if Abkin was watching my reaction, she would understand that the cycle of artistic energy was complete.

What I learned from the bakers and chefs took me down a path more complicated than simply using the finest ingredients, following career dreams, and taking risks associated with starting a bakery or restaurant. Instead, something less tangible emerged. The energy that they transferred was critical; in fact, it was the essence of their art. As it turned out, the intense degree of passion found in these talented chefs was the perfect seasoning for my novel.

Farm Family Meal

Spring Training at Kitchen Garden Farm

Story By Caroline Pam, Photograph by Tim Wilcox

Spring training on our farm is now under way as this year’s rookies learn how to seed trays of leeks, cut and wash salad greens, and artfully bunch kale with neatly trimmed stems. As the days get longer, excitement and idealism inevitably give way to exhaustion. Our winning strategy for keeping our farm crew coming back for a second, third, and fourth season is farm lunch.

When we started our farm 11 years ago, the concept of farm lunch came from a romantic desire to re-create our experiences working on farms in Italy picking grapes (in my case, in Tuscany) or olives (for Tim, in Abruzzo). We loved being fed everyday by an Italian grandmother but, lacking one of our own, we devised a more egalitarian system. 

Every day, one of us stops work at 11am to cook up a meal in the farmhouse kitchen for everyone on staff (up to 15 in peak summer). Without this daily commitment to cooking (read: caring) for each other, sharing the fruits of our labor, and taking a full hour break to swap news, I think even I would have quit years ago! 

After a long day in the field, takeout pizza is too often the default for dinner. If we’re going to eat our greens, we’ve learned, cooking them has to be a part of the workday. At our farm, we train our employees how to care for the crops, but we also provide a crash course in catering. 

We make a point to hire people who are passionate about good food, but even the experienced cooks on our crew find it challenging to feed such a ravenous crowd in just an hour. 

Serving a hearty lunch for 15 every day can actually be pretty economical with a little bit of advance planning. We stock the pantry monthly with staples like pasta and rice, canned beans and dried legumes, and an extensive collection of condiments like miso, curry paste, and gochujang, several kinds of soy sauce, vinegars, oils, and spices. Every week or two we replenish the more perishable items like tofu, cheese, and milk. Of course, we also have the luxury of unlimited access to vegetables from the farm. 

Rule number one: Utilize all cooking surfaces at all times. Start heating the oven as soon as you come in. Next, get some pasta water boiling or load up the rice cooker. (DO NOT forget to turn it on!) Usually three pounds of pasta or five cups of rice is enough to prevent mutiny. Meanwhile, start frantically peeling onions and garlic while washing and chopping five other vegetables. By the time the oven is hot, you should have something ready to throw in there. 

Now that you know there will be at least something to eat when the hordes descend, you can start getting fancy. Sauté some greens or assemble a salad or slaw and whip up a dressing. Bulk it up with some toasted nuts or seeds. Pull some bread from the freezer and warm it up. It’s truly remarkable what bread and butter can do for morale. Speaking of morale, whatever you do, make at least two pots of coffee. And for god’s sake, please provide some protein.

This simple formula has endless variations but everyone loves my husband Tim’s lunch days best, since his repertoire is vast and his speed is unrivalled. His signature dishes include mapo tofu, saag paneer, pasta e fagioli, spaghetti and meatballs, cold sesame noodles, Thai curry, and homemade falafel with fresh-baked pita. 

Even epic fails by recent hires can be elevated to new heights with a judicious squirt of sriracha that we make from our own chili peppers. ’Rach me! is the constant refrain around the farm table when someone needs the bottle passed. 

But our hunger, fatigue, and camaraderie are the real secret sauce. Sharing our daily meal pulls us together and keeps everyone motivated to get back out into the weeds.

Get Caroline's recipe for Farm Lunch Minestrone.

Fiddling About

Young ferns make for the freshest of springtime meals

By Edible Pioneer Valley, Photographs by Sandy D’Amato

Fiddleheads, with their deep-green color and springy form, may remind you of a violin straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. These bright coils are the immature fronds of ostrich ferns. They sinuously emerge from the soil as the ground warms in spring, and along with ramps, are an easily-foraged addition to your dinner table. They taste like something wild crossed with asparagus and green beans.

Unlike ramps, the supply of fiddleheads is in good shape, so over-forging shouldn’t be a problem. That said, practice good etiquette by always leaving at least 50% of the fronds unplucked. 

Ostrich fern fiddleheads are what most people forage for. Some cultures forage for bracken ferns as well, but this identification guide is only for ostrich fern fiddles. (Some ferns contain toxic compounds, unless you’re an experienced forager, or traveling with one, stick to ostrich fern fiddleheads for safety.) 

Look for a deep, U-shaped groove on the inside of the smooth stem. The fiddlehead coil will be covered in brown papery scales. You want to pick tighty coiled fiddleheads––if they have started to unfurl, leave them alone. 

When you get your bounty home it’s essential to blanch the fiddleheads before final cooking. Wash them well, rubbing off as much of the papery layer as possible. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the fiddleheads for about 5 minutes: The water will become murky brown. Drain them off and either chill them for use later or throw them directly into a sauté pan to finish cooking them. 

The fiddleheads gracing our cover were foraged by Joe Czajkowski from the fields around his Hadeley farm. He had the majority of last spring’s yield flash-frozen and stored at the Franklin County CDC’s Food Processing Center. What a treat to find to find local fiddleheads in January!

Try fiddleheads in Sandy D’Amato’s recipe for Spring Vegetable Ragout.

Take It, It's Free!

A Chef’s Foraging Journey, Urban and Ancient

Photo by Sanford D'Amato

Photo by Sanford D'Amato

Story by Sanford D’Amato
Photograph by Dominic Perri

I was weaned by a professional shopper, my mother. I must have spent half of my early years in her tow shopping the meccas of my hometown, Milwaukee, through the 1950s. You could find me sitting for hours in the dreaded chair posted outside of every dressing room, waiting and waiting while the controlling person with the money tried on every stitch of available clothing. This was always followed by a placating reward: a visit to the deli for a tasty treat.

To balance out that early experience was my father, a grocer and a fruit and vegetable savant. I would accompany him on his daily trips to the early-morning produce markets, where we would scour various purveyors’ wares to find the most luscious examples of the season’s bounty. After we loaded the station wagon, we were off to a satisfying workingman’s breakfast. 

That Pavlovian training laid the groundwork for the “pro shopper” that I am today. I understand discounts and sales and have the patience to spend hours sliding hangers on a sale rack until that real deal appears. That patience and eye for detail has carried over to my cooking profession. I always “work” a farmers’ market by getting there right before opening and checking out every booth for quality and price before making any purchases. 

As much as I revel in a good deal, there is one word that transcends it: free. Those magical four letters send my adrenaline into hyper-flow, whether it’s a trade show where I leave with two shopping bags full of promotional key chains, wristbands, and sun visors, or braking to a screeching halt at a street-side “free” sign to load whatever it is into the back of the car for closer inspection. 

I realized I was hooked during my first week living in New York City in the early ’70s. I muscled an oversized wing chair with rotted fabric—but a still-sturdy frame—from the spot where it was left out on the street up to my miniscule fourth floor walk-up apartment, where the only place it would fit was in front of the stove. 

Ironically, I have spent my life in a profession built on the concept of free product. In the earliest days of cooking, all cooks were first hunters and gatherers. This brings me to one of my most admired avocations: foraging. Foragers are the sultans of free, possessing skill and knowledge that most of us have lost through centuries of pre-packaged commodity food.

Throughout the years of my cooking career, I have worked with many foragers, but beyond digging up clams on the Connecticut coast or stumbling over puffball mushrooms larger than a beach ball, I’ve always just waited for the delivery rather than make that sometimes life-or-death decision (as with some mushrooms) on my own. Beyond the wealth of young dandelions growing in the cracks of the city sidewalks, the urban setting in which I spent most of my life was a barren foraging location.

With our move to Hatfield, which is plopped right in the middle of prime rural farmland on the banks of the Connecticut River, our former scenario has taken a fast 180° turn. After 30-some years of buying foraged fiddleheads and ramps for our former restaurants, now I just have to hop on my bike and, within minutes, I’m filling my lined backpack with a mother lode of each—fresher than I’ve ever had. And I know that this is just the appetizer to my years of gathering ahead. This balance between hunt and reward is my dream shopping experience. Only one thing makes it better—they’re free! 

Read more about foraging for fiddleheads in our Cover Story

Satisfaction by the Bowl

By Joy Howard | Photography by Dominic Perri

When I’m really longing for a bowl of something satisfying, I often make lentil soup. It might seem like an odd choice for a favorite, but for me, this simple recipe does far more than sate my appetite. It reminds me of when I first fell in love with food and cooking, when I discovered the pleasures that happen when you become more adventurous in what you eat. 

I first tasted this version of lentil soup years ago as teenager waitressing at a Lebanese restaurant. Before working there, I knew little about food from that region of the world, but I was instantly drawn to the ingredients and combinations: salads tossed with fresh herbs and citrus; vegetables lightly simmered in warm spices; grilled meat studded with pine nuts and feta, then tucked into warm pita. Much of the food that I ate at that restaurant has informed and inspired the way that I cook and what I crave most. 

What makes this soup so special? The ingredients are basic—green lentils, lemons, potatoes—but like many of the best dishes, it’s not the individual components that make it, but the singular way in which they meld together. As an experienced cook, I’m still in awe of how this particular combination yields such deep and complex flavor without the boost of broth or hours of simmering on the stovetop. The soup is homey, hearty, flavorful, and each time I sit down to a bowl, it always satisfies. Caramelized onions and fresh cilantro (yes, cilantro) provide richness and depth, while a generous amount of lemon juice gives it an irresistible note of brightness. It took me years to perfect my own version, but after a long series of failed attempts (and some help from a wonderful cookbook called Classic Lebanese Cuisine by Kamal Al-Faqih), I finally got it right.

Hearty Lentil Soup


Joy Howard

Joy Howard is a freelance food writer, editor, and stylist, and the former food editor of Family Fun magazine. When not working on her own recipes, she helps her two youngest daughters practice their chopping skills and her college-aged daughter brainstorm ideas for transforming ramen noodles into a balanced meal. Find out what her family is eating for dinner and snapshots of her latest projects on Instagram @littlefoodwonders.

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Janet Egelston-Cichy, owner of the Northampton Brewery, lights up when she says, “I love that we’re able to be a part of people’s lives through different stages—we help them celebrate births, engagements, weddings—and even when people pass away, we are here to give them a place to gather, too.” 

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Onions are the kitchen workhorse. So many delicious recipes are built on their savory foundation. Without onions, we’d have no mirepoix, Cajun trinity, or soffrito. But these pantry staples can star on their own as well. In these recipes, we celebrate the onion’s, well, onion-ness. Whether they’re red, white, yellow, or sweet, give onions a starring role in your next meal. 

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When most people picture a glass of wine, they usually think of a red or white variety made from grapes. But for husband-wife team Paul and Leslie Cameron, making wine is a whole lot more than fermenting crushed vine fruit. The wines they produce at Cameron’s Winery in Northfield are made from a diverse range of fruits and other ingredients, many of which are sourced from local farms. The wines themselves are sweet, often balanced with a mild tartness.

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Waste Not: Turning Wine into Vinegar

By Edible Pioneer Valley Staff | Photography by Dominic Perri

Your dinner party is over. The guests have departed and the candles have burned low. As you wrap up the leftovers, it’s easy to figure out what food is going into a frittata, tacos, or a soup tomorrow. But what about that leftover wine? Sure, you could take the instant gratification route and chug it right down, but why not take the long view and make an elixir that you can use in future weeks and months? Something that will elevate your dishes and spark your taste buds? 

Try making your own vinegar. The flavor will be richer than anything you can find in the supermarket, and total hands-on time will be under 10 minutes. 

The method is simple: First you need to procure “mother.” Similar in appearance (but not the same as) to a kombucha-birthing SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), “mother of vinegar” is a combination of cellulose and acetic acid-making bacteria. Unpasteurized vinegar is a source of mother, or you can buy it at beer- and wine-making stores, which sell mothers made specifically for red wine, white wine, or malt vinegars. Pour leftover white or red wine (or even leftover beer) into a jar (I like a quart-sized Mason jar, but if you have a small barrel, use it, by all means), add the mother, cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth, and wait.

Over the course of a few months, the mother will “eat” the alcohol in the wine, turning it into acetic acid. Occasionally, you can dip a drinking straw under the mother and pull out a small quantity of vinegar to taste. When it tastes acidic, with no whiff of alcohol, your vinegar is ready. Strain out the mother and use it to start a new batch of vinegar. (If your vinegar tastes too sharp, dilute it with water until it tastes right to you.)

Vinegar should be stored airtight (to keep it from growing a new mother) and keeps indefinitely. 

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A collection of holiday recipes to sweeten every table

By Edible pioneer Valley, with help from our readers | Photography by Dominic Perri

No matter what you’re celebrating, nothing says “welcome!” like a tray of cookies. This holiday season, our gift to you is this collection of cookie recipes: Recipes from fellow readers, recipes from family, recipes from friends. We hope they make your winter memories that much sweeter. 

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Upon learning that one baby uses about 6,000 diapers during their diapering years, Angie Gregory knew she would use cloth with her own babies. After her second child was born, the entrepreneur had the idea to start an eco-friendly cloth diapering service that would align her everyday values of being home with her family, using natural materials on her babies, and reducing her carbon footprint. In 2009, Simple Diaper & Linen was born.

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