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Posts Tagged ‘local produce’

It’s overcast today, at the tail end of a few alternately windy, thundery/lightningy, rainy days, and the greyness covers every inch of my little place here. But inside my fridge is a plateful of fruit that’s the opposite of grey: pink-and-yellow orbs made entirely of sugar, rainwater and sun, held together by dappled translucent skin. Edible summer.

Every August I put on my old boots, head to an orchard twenty minutes away, and collect as many peaches as I can carry. The day I went last week was sunny and still, and the heat made the air feel drowsy. Even the bees buzzing by seemed half-asleep.

A few varieties were ready for picking. I chose Raritan Rose, a succulent white peach, so ripe they were beginning to drop from their branches. It’s also freestone, meaning the pit comes loose from the flesh easily. (Clingstone, on the other hand, does what its name implies.)

Back at home, I brought out a recipe that must be at least eighty years old, and I hope it never gets lost to humankind. It belonged to my ex’s grandmother, who was raised on a Pennsylvania farm in the 1920s and ’30s. A dessert simply called peach cake, it’s actually more of a custard pie with fruit added.

So many of our oldest and most treasured recipes must come from farms. In the days before anyone had ever heard of triglycerides, when exercise equipment was a plow and a team of horses, thrift and flavor were all that mattered. Extra eggs, cream, butter—they were all there for the taking, and take those farm folks did.

I think you’re going to dig this.

Nana’s peach cake calls for melted butter. That’s hard to work into the dough, which is like pie dough, so I use bits of cold butter and work it in with my fingers to disperse it. I see Nana also eventually embraced prepared foods, as so many housewives and mothers in the 1950s did; a farmer’s daughter’s work never ends, and she would have welcomed the chance to cut a corner or two when she could have. The recipe calls for canned peach halves. Of course you can use those, but this time of year, it’s kind of bats to do that. Use fresh local peaches instead. And if you can get them, use fresh local eggs, or cream, or butter, and you’ll get as close to farm fresh as Nana did. Lucky girl.

1/3 c cold unsalted butter

2 c all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 c granulated sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 c heavy cream

2 egg yolks

3 peaches, sliced (if organic, leave the skins on)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Work butter into sifted mixture of flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tbsp sugar until mixture looks like coarse meal. (A lot of recipes, old and new, say this. It’s kind of archaic. It means you want to see lumpy itty-bitty bits of butter throughout.) Pat dough into the bottom of an 8×8 inch pan and press up the sides about 1 “. Arrange the peaches on top and sprinkle with remaining sugar mixed with cinnamon. Bake 15 minutes. Pour over all beaten egg yolks and cream (I love that phrase 🙂 Nana spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, and that’s evidence of that German dialect’s nutty syntax.)  Bake 30 minutes longer. Serve room temperature or cold.

 

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kids bounce up and down in their chairs waiting for christmas or chanukah. parents do the same thing around labor day for an entirely different reason. me, I’m a produce junkie, specifically a local produce junkie, and even more specifically, a local, organic, you-never-saw-or-tasted-produce-like-this junkie. so when the violets start popping up in may, and my favorite farm is due to open again, I get a little dizzy.

I wasn’t always this way. I was normal once. went to the supermarket to buy my broccoli and berries and potatoes until about 2007. then I took an innocent trip to a small organic farm in toms river and became a goner. now supermarket produce just doesn’t cut it. and as far as customer service goes, with very few exceptions, the chilly cashiers don’t care about anything but me getting in and out in short order. ‘thank you’ died out with disco, I think.

back to good vibes. it’s at silverton farms, where I shop pretty much every week from may to november. it takes half an hour to get there from where I live. south on the NJ parkway, a few miles up 70, a few more up new hampshire, then a few more blocks to the farm itself.

but maris, you’re saying helpfully, that’s a schlep. even if it is great, is it worth it for a few bunches of red leaf lettuce?

well, I haven’t been blogging for very long, but I like to think I’ve already established that I’m nuts. having said that, this farm delivers uncommonly delicious fruit, vegetables, eggs, honey, and herbs, and it’s well-priced to boot. so yeah, mental acuity aside, it’s really and truly worth it.

this post marks the first of a handful I’ll be writing during the 2011 growing season, chronicling the changes on the farm and the produce it bears. I’ll also be shamelessly teasing you with photos. let’s start.

the setting: a time machine of sorts, a quiet, peaceful de lorean permanently set to sane. the farm is off a fairly busy road, but you’ll only hear the wind and the occasional disgruntled chicken when you’re there. it’s a place where your blood pressure becomes barely detectable until you see the fresh eggs on the shelf…and they’re warm.

the lead: owner and farmer tom nivision, young, self-professed technophobe, organics-phile, and lively talker. when I was there last saturday, he was busy putting up deer fencing, but still couldn’t wait to show me what was going on in the greenhouse. inside, beautiful specimens of leek, broccoli rabe, and other edibles were in mid-seed production. once dry, the seeds can be extracted and planted or saved.  fervently anti-GMO (genetically-modified organisms), tom’s passionate about producing as authentic, as healthy, and as tasty a humble green plant can be.

the supporting cast: angel, tom’s niece, a veteran who knows the ins and outs of everything that grows in that soil; christine, who loves digging for potatoes; elena, who works part time for tom and is home-schooled the rest of the time. capable, friendly, warm, helpful young women. the chilly cashiers fade to black.

I love this place. I love seeing fragile, spring-green shoots tentatively pushing out one leaf, reaching higher and becoming more profuse as the season stretches on, and finally being handed a bouquet of warm, rain-soaked, late-season lushness. and I really love the old-fashioned idea that’s coming back into fashion: that of neighbors supporting neighbors. better late than never.

nice. but what about flavor?

for years I bought tiny, expensive, senile produce from california. last saturday night I ate eggs and asparagus which never saw the inside of the refrigerator.

the yolks were firm and a deep orange, and they tasted richer, eggier, than your average egg. (that last may be a useless descriptor, but maybe some of you will know what I mean.) the asparagus was butter-tender and assertively flavored. much like the good-quality chocolate I mentioned in a recent post, this tasted wholly of itself, and not of latent chemicals or even a lot of water, which fattens it up but dilutes the flavor. (up until very recently, I thought I didn’t like asparagus because the only way I’d ever eaten it was steamed. that waterlogs it, which may be why steamed asparagus always seems to be served with a heavy sauce.)

now, roasting it—that’s the way to get the most out of a stalk. just trim the bottoms of your asparagus about an inch or so, rinse them, and spread evenly on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. put them in a 375 degree oven until you can smell them. poke one with the tip of a sharp knife. if it sinks in easily, they’re done. bring them out, drizzle with some good olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, gobble.

next on the hit parade will be strawberries. bouncing in my chair already.

Broccoli rabe pod and seeds.

Asparagus and blackberry field.

New within old.

Leek flower.

Egg trifecta; the one at top is an Aracauna, sometimes called 'Easter egg'.

Asparagus ready for the oven.

Silverton Farms

1520 Silverton Road

Toms River, NJ 08755-2142

(732) 244-2621

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