A field trip: The Berkshire Pilgrimage at The Beard House

It’s nice to have friends who do fun things.

And when one of those friends shoots you a text that says, “Hey wanna come hang out and help me sling hors d’oeuvres?” and that friend is Brian Alberg (Executive Chef at the Red Lion Inn and Eat on North in the Berkshires), and the event is at the Beard House, you don’t just say “yes.” You say “You bet! How soon should I be there?”

In the kitchen

On November 4th, I met Brian (don’t call him “chef”) and the rest of the crew in the Beard House kitchen. Known as The Berkshire Pilgrimage––the meal highlights produce and meat from western Massachusetts. It’s a collaborative effort managed by Berkshire Farm and Table and the Main Street Hospitality Group (The Red Lion Inn’s parent company).

Brian assembled a great group of Berkshires chefs: Adam Brassard, chef de cuisine at The Red Lion Inn (Stockbridge); Sean Corcoran, chef de cuisine at Eat on North (Pittsfield); Daire Rooney, chef of Mezze Catering + Events in the Berkshires; Dan Smith, chef-owner of John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant (South Egremont); and Adam Zieminski, chef-owner of Café Adam.

By the time I got there at noon, I felt like I was already behind schedule. The kitchen was buzzing with energy and good spirits. This a group that’s cooked together many times, and in a small space like the Beard House kitchen good interpersonal vibes are an essential ingredient. Brian threw me on fryer duty and I spent the rest of the afternoon channeling my deep-fryer mojo, labeling mise en place, and cutting up vegetables for family meal.

It’s a real pleasure to cook with a group like this. This dinner was the sixth Berkshires-focused Beard dinner that Brian has spearheaded, and his 12th visit to the House. As a result, everyone knew the idiosyncrasies of the space: where to find equipment, which burners run hot, where the paper towels are, etc. so we were all pretty relaxed and ready by 5:45, when we took a brief break to enjoy family meal with Beard House staff.

With the family fed and the first plates set to go out at 7:00, the kitchen started humming again immediately. Thanks to Clay Williams, we have plenty of pictures of the action, but here are some Instagram highlights of the multi-course experience:


Hors d’oeuvres (Brian Alberg, The Red Lion Inn and Eat on North)

  Sweet corn soup with mignonette peppers

 

Paddlefish caviar with apple butter and creme fraiche on a potato chip

Rabbit bratwurst with mustard

 Roasted vegetables and onion dip.


First course (Daire Rooney, Mezze Catering + Events)

Scallop crudo with Sweet Lightning squash, grapes, and a grape-habanero purée

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 12.12.57 PM

 


Second course (Adam Brassard, The Red Lion Inn)

“Pork and beans” Kielbasa, baked beans, smoked horseradish mustard, crispy onions

 


Third course (Sean Corcoran, Eat on North)

Duck confit, heirloom squash, maple gastrique, Farm Girl Farm greens


Fourth course (Adam Zieminski, Café Adam)

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 12.30.48 PM

Braised Lila’s Lamb stuffed cabbage with honeynut squash, crisped steel cut oats, pickled peppers


Dessert (Patrick Lacey, sous chef John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant who ably stood in for Chef Dan Smith, who was ill)

Kabocha squash cake, praline, ginger ice cream 


Ingredients for the dinner came from a multitude of producers across Western Massachusetts and just over the New York border. 

 Barrington Coffee Roasting Company

Berkshire Mountain Bakery

Berkshire Mountain Distillers

The Berry Patch

Big Elm Brewing

Farm Girl Farm

High Lawn Farm

 Hosta Hill

Ioka Valley Farm

Joshua’s Farm

Kitchen Garden Farm

La Belle Farm

Lakeview Orchard

Lila’s Farm 

 

Massachusetts 4-H

MX Morningstar Farm

Raven & Boar

Ronnybrook Farm

Taft Farms

Turner Farms

Windy Hill Farm


For more information about The Berkshire Pilgrimage and the Beard House visit:  http://www.jamesbeard.org/events/berkshire-pilgrimage

Berkshire Farm & Table promotes food culture in the Berkshires. The organization collaborates to cultivate tastemakers, produce events and foster dialogue in the media. By sharing the unique stories and expertise of culinary artisans, farmers and agritourism experiences, their work advances food as another reason to explore and savor the Berkshires. For more information, visit www.berkshirefarmandtable.org.

 

Going with the grain

loaves of bread

Story by Mary Reilly with Joshua Stumpf | Photographs by Elaine Papa

It’s a warm summer afternoon when I walk into Joshua Stumpf’s home kitchen in Amherst. The air is perfumed with the smell

of fermenting bread dough and a small cloud of flour floats gently in the air. Stumpf’s “day job” is that of baker at Rose32 Bread in Hardwick. His weekend hobby is, well, baking more bread.

I’m visiting him because he is one of a small, but growing, number of home bakers who have embraced getting as close as possible to his ingredients: He mills his own flours, most of them from local grain.

His enthusiasm for fresh flour’s benefits is catching. Stumpf explains that “Working with fresh, local flour is always different. You can’t assume a recipe will behave as written. You need to pay attention to your dough and learn from it.” The flavor, though, makes all the effort worthwhile. He continues, “Every flour has a different characteristic––some are nutty, some sweet, some add a toasty note to the bread.” This enhanced palette of flavors is what he, and many other professional and amateur bakers, are looking for.

The grain

Stumpf explains how lucky we Valley residents are when it comes to local grains. “When I first started baking [in Washington State] there was a lot of commercial interest in new and traditional varieties of grain, but most of them were not available to the public. Here there are so many farms growing grain and so many options to try.” He waves his arm to display his “library”––shelves laden with a huge variety of grains purchased at Four Star Farms in Northfield and through the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA last winter.

The mill

The biggest obstacle to milling flour at home can be acquiring the mill itself. This isn’t difficult in practice––home mills are available online and can be found easily. But they can be pricey for a part-time baker ($300 and up for a stone mill). If you aren’t looking to add this piece of equipment to your kitchen yet, see the sidebar on page tktk for information about blender-milling, and local options for sharing mills and finding fresh-milled flour.

Stumpf owns a German-made Hawos mill. The process of milling is simple: He weighs out the grain he needs for his baking day, dumps it into the hopper, sets the desired fineness, and switches the mill on. The thrill of seeing flour spill down the chute is immediate. When I smell the fresh flour, it’s clear, even to my untutored nose, that the resulting bread will be fragrant, nutty, and a pleasure to eat.

Tips and tricks

Fresh-milled flours are a treat to bake with but they do behave a little differently than “store-bought” flour. Stumpf shares these tips for getting the best results:

When baking bread, an autolyse is essential. Autolyse is a French term for the act of letting your freshly mixed dough rest, for 10–45 minutes, to absorb liquid. A freshly mixed sticky doughy mess can often transform into a well-behaved dough just by being left to rest, covered and undisturbed. In general it is best to add your recipe’s salt and yeast after the autolyse is complete.

You must pay close attention to your dough. Stumpf explains that fresh flours are more enzymatically active than the flours we buy in the supermarket or in bulk bins. This can result in a faster rise, softer doughs (due to increased metabolism of certain proteins), and the need to add more or less water.

Every now and then you might get what Stumpf calls “puddles” or “bricks.” Puddles happen when your dough’s enzymatic activity is too high and the structure-forming proteins in the dough are metabolized too quickly. The dough will slump across your board or in your pan. A brick is what happens when you persevere and bake a puddle––bricks make good melba toast, or bird feed.

Mill the flour you need when you need it. It’s much easier to store whole grains than flour. Weigh or measure out the portion a recipe calls for and mill it then. It’s best to mill small quantities to avoid overheating (especially if you use the Vitamix method in the sidebar).

Experiment with your own custom grain blends. One of the benefits to milling your own is that you may customize the resulting flour to match your needs. If you’re making a piecrust, perhaps a combination of spelt and soft winter wheat might be the right choice; but for a hearty country-style loaf, you may turn to Zorro, red lammas, and a touch of rye. Have fun; even a “failed” experiment usually tastes pretty good. 

Want more whole-grain goodness? Read on!

Tips for Success

The Hardwick Loaf

Finding Your Perfect Flour

Blender Milling

Recipes

Blender Pancakes

Cheddar, Black Pepper & Chive Bread

Walnut-Pear Cake

Whole-Grain Chapati

Seed Sharing and Sovereignty in Easthampton

seed_easthamp_photo_by_S_MarshStory and photo by Samantha Marsh

Read Seedy Business for more about national and international seed saving efforts. 

It takes a village to raise … a garden! Seed libraries across the country are gaining momentum as a way to address food insecurities, promote environmental sustainability, and help people who are looking to start their own gardens do so with the help of their community.

Feasthampton, a new volunteer-run organization, has started its own seed library as a way to build community, share ideas, and give people living in Easthampton and the surrounding towns a way to access seeds for free.

“We are interested in making food and gardening accessible to people,” said Feasthampton member Layla Hazen.

The seed library, located in the lower level of the Emily Williston Memorial Library, began with over 100 different seed varieties, and has grown by approximately 20 varieties since its launch over a year ago. Tamsen Conner, director of the library, was a large advocate for the creation of this project and has helped foster its growth. The organization operates with the help of five members, all of whom are committed to Feasthampton’s mission of “encouraging community-wide projects directed toward local food security and resiliency, educating through workshops and skillshares, and increasing biodiversity in Easthampton.”

The seed library began through seed donations from members of the local community and a Seed Savers Exchange program, as well as with the help of the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Approximately 90% of the seeds are vegetable varieties, as the library is largely committed to seed saving and sharing as a way to educate and empower people to grow their own food.

The seed library is a smaller project under the umbrella of Feasthampton, which also has hosted plant swaps, organized a community cider making day, and even a movie night about harvesting wild edible plants, among much else. “We wanted to create a community group or network to share ideas, share food and help each other make things happen,” said Feasthampton member Benjamin Lesko. The group is looking to be a community resource and cultivate relationships with others living in Easthampton and the Pioneer Valley.

The seed library operates in the same way that any library does: You register, borrow the seeds and return them (or rather their offspring, cleaned and dried) at the end of the harvest season. While saving seeds from harvest can seem like an intimidating process, Feasthampton offers workshops and brochures about seed-saving basics. For beginners, they suggest planting “super-easy” seeds, such as basil, beans, eggplant, peas, etc., as these seeds are open-pollinated and therefore are easy to collect at the end of harvest and produce plants just like the ones that were originally planted. For more advanced seed savers, Feasthampton suggests “easy” seeds that may be cross-pollinating or outbreeding, and require a bit more attention, such as members of the onion or amaranth family, or “advanced” seeds that are often pollinated by insects or the wind, such as cucumbers, mustard, wheat, etc.

Seed saving tools such as screens for drying and separating seeds, as well as gardening books, are available at the library as well. Feasthampton encourages borrowers to plant and save heirloom varieties (non-hybrid), and mostly organic seeds.

Seed saving and sharing goes beyond the individual garden by empowering people to take ownership over their food and decrease dependence on large-scale food businesses. Hazan explains that they hope to protect seed sovereignty through the creation of the seed library. “We fight hard to keep seeds belonging to the people.”

Welcome!

Our Winter 2015-2016 issue is out! We are delivering copies across the Valley now. Read our digital edition here. 

Edible Pioneer Valley is a magazine dedicated to the Pioneer Valley’s local food movement. Our mission is to be a community resource, rooted in social awareness, on behalf of our food community. We feature inspiring and engaging stories focused on local restaurants, hard working farmers and producers, and home cooks throughout Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.