Archive for the ‘Farms, Farm Stands, and Farmers Markets’ Category

Romance and Cute Goats

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

 

Jim Thomas and Laurie Cuevas love cheese. That’s a good thing. The two are surrounded by it in their day to day life running Thomas Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts. I wrote this article about them for our local paper and felt I HAD to share it with you. (I love cheese, too!)

Jim started dairy farming there in 2015. He had worked in dairy farms for his entire life. He met Laurie in 2016 and fell in love with her, perhaps in part because of their shared affection for milk and cheese; she had grown up on a dairy farm. They quickly became life and work partners.

“We both have dairy in our bones,” Jim told me when photographer Paul Franz and I stopped by the farm last week.

The pair raise both goats and cows, although there are many more goats (about 90) than cows (10) on the farm. The cows provide raw milk to sell as well as cheese and cheese curds, young bits of cheddar popular for cooking because they hold their shape when heated.

The goats provide goat cheese, a.k.a. chèvre. Jim and Laurie sell the soft goat cheese in a number of flavors, including plain, dill, fresh chive, garlic dill, and cranberry.

When they have extra goat milk, they make hard cheese with it—goat cheddar and gouda—although lately there hasn’t been a lot of extra goat milk. The chèvre is very popular, they noted.

Their cheeses are available at their own farm stand as well as at a variety of local markets. They are also featured on the menus of a number of restaurants.

“We have a really good relationship with our restaurants and stores,” said Laurie. “We deliver the cheese so they know us. They also come to the farm. They like that. They can see that it’s clean, that the animals are happy.”

The animals were indeed happy. Paul and I met a number of the goats, including a pen full of six-month-old girls who were overjoyed to meet us. One in particular kept moving in toward Paul’s camera for a close up.

Of course, part of their interest stemmed from a hope that we had something to eat with us. They tried to nibble on my shirt, my handbag, and my hair.

“They make us laugh,” Laurie said of the goats. “It’s hard not to love them.”

The dairy business is only part of Thomas Farm. Jim and Laurie also raise chickens for eggs and sell vegetables at their farm stand. “For us, diversity is the key here,” explained Laurie.

“If [produce] doesn’t sell at the stand, the animals get it. We believe in sustainability. We do it the right way if we can.”

“We’re both everything,” stated Jim. “To be a farmer you have to have a lot of skills. We don’t sleep.”

Happily, he added, “We both love what we do, and we love each other.”

That love is paying off. Jim and Laurie showed us a number of prizes their cheese has won, including a recent gold medal from the Big E and a second-place award from a national competition sponsored by the American Dairy Goat Association.

They would like to be able to concentrate on the dairy business alone. “Our dream is that we would possibly just make cheese and survive that way,” Laurie confessed.

For the moment, they are happy with their farm as it is rather than as it might be, however. Their passion for their work and for each other has spilled over into the community and created a lot of good will, they told me.

Laurie cited an example of this good will, explaining that in March and April they welcomed 112 baby goats into the world. “We were drowning in the spring,” she sighed. “One night I put out a call on Facebook to ask for old towels.

“We had all sorts of people come and respond. They brought towels. And they brought food. They brought cookies!”

 

Thomas Farm Goat Cheese Salad

Whenever Laurie Laurie and Jim Thomas are invited to a family gathering, Laurie is asked to bring this simple, tangy salad. She served it to Paul and me with fresh peaches, but as the recipe suggests she uses whatever is in season. I’m thinking of trying it with fresh, crisp apples.

Ingredients:

for the creamy poppyseed dressing:

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons poppyseeds
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pinch salt

for assembly:

fresh salad greens
creamy poppyseed dressing (see above)
the fruit of your choice—strawberries, blueberries, peaches, mandarin oranges, or a combination
4 ounces Thomas Farm plain goat cheese
slivered almonds (optional)

Instructions:

Combine the dressing ingredients thoroughly. Arrange the fruit on top of the salad, and toss with the dressing. Sprinkle cheese over all, along with the almonds (if desired). Serves a crowd. Leftover dressing should be stored in the refrigerator.

Hot Sauce!

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Unless otherwise noted, photos come courtesy of Kitchen Garden Farm

“We’ve always loved growing hot peppers,” Caroline Pam of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, told me recently. “Hot peppers are essential to many cuisines around the world. They come in so many colors and flavors and heat levels that they are really fun to grow.”

In 2013, she and her husband/business partner Tim Wilcox decided to try making something different with the peppers from their organic farm. Each September they organize a spice lovers’ weekend called Chilifest. That year they added a new feature to Chilifest: their own Sriracha.

Caroline and Tim, courtesy of Jim Gipe/Pivot Media

Originating in Thailand, Sriracha is a chili sauce that has taken the country by storm in the last couple of decades. Kitchen Garden’s version is special, Caroline Pam informed me. “It has a completely different flavor when it’s made from peppers that are fresh and are fermented the way we do them,” she explained.

She is far from alone in seeing the merits of the farm’s Sriracha. In late January Kitchen Garden’s sauce won a coveted Good Food Award in the “pantry” category.

According to spokesperson Jessica Zischke, the Good Food Award program is “a national initiative to honor American craft food and drink producers for excellence in both taste and sustainability.”

“We seek to highlight businesses in all parts of the U.S. who are making products that are tasty, authentic, and responsible,” Jessica told me. This past year 2059 entries were submitted from 38 states. Only 291 products received awards.

“I hadn’t thought to enter it,” Caroline Pam said of the program. “I got an email from one of the pantry judges who wrote to me out of the blue and said, ‘I think you should enter your product.’

“We had to submit our unmarked samples in September, which for us was a little crazy! It was our first bottling day [of the year for the Sriracha], and I think it was the day before Chilifest.”

I asked about the process of making the sauce. During the harvest season, Caroline told me, the farm picks 3000 pounds of peppers each week. “We fill up our box truck with hand-picked peppers,” she explained.

The peppers are taken to the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. The next day, they are washed, stemmed, and ground. The peppers then go through two stages of fermentation, a process that takes weeks.

Eventually, the pepper mixture is cooked and milled; then the pepper pulp is heated with vinegar, bottled, and sealed. The Sriracha—like the salsa Kitchen Garden Farm also produces—is shelf stable but must be refrigerated after opening.

In their first year of Sriracha production, Caroline and Tim put up 400 bottles. The following year (2014) they ended up with 4000 bottles. Their haul for this past year was 32,000 bottles from 18,000 pounds of peppers.

The sauce is sold in stores and is also available from the Kitchen Garden website, www.kitchengardenfarm.com. It is popular in restaurants throughout the northeast. “It’s fun to see how people are using it,” said Caroline.

She and her husband stagger the production of the sauce through the fall and early winter months. Picking can take place only in the warmer months, but bottling ended in the winter.

At this time of year the two farmers are still harvesting; they produce hardy greens and root vegetables in their high-tunnel greenhouses. They are also busy planning for the coming season.

Kitchen Garden was founded in 2006 “with just one acre and a rototiller,” Caroline told me. The 2017 season will be the first in which their now 50-acre farm will operate exclusively on a wholesale basis. Caroline noted that she will miss seeing customers at farmer’s markets.

“It was a really hard choice, but we’re responding to what the farming opportunities are,” she said.

Consumers will still be able to find Kitchen Garden’s range of organic produce at local markets. And the farmers will be on hand for this year’s Chilifest, scheduled for September 16 and 17.

Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox are both passionate cooks. In fact, Caroline attended culinary school in New York City. The two use their Sriracha in a variety of dishes.
“It complements everything else that we’re growing. It’s really just so good with everything you can cook,” Caroline enthused.

I asked her for a recipe that involves the Sriracha—and she shared the noodle formula below.

“In my first apartment, when I was 18 years old, a vegetarian, and new to cooking, I made this at least twice a week,” she said. “The recipe has evolved somewhat since then, but the basic concept is the same: noodles, peanut sauce, fried tofu, and raw vegetables.

“Always fills you up. Never lets you down. And it just so happens to be the perfect vehicle for our Sriracha.”

Caroline was kind enough to send me all three types of Sriracha so I could test the recipe with my family. The classic Sriracha was our favorite—just enough heat to lend kick to the noodles. The habañero flavor was quite a bit hotter—and the VERY hot ghost pepper version offered initial sweetness followed by a little burn. I have no doubt we’ll manage to finish all three eventually!

We changed the recipe a bit to suit what we had in the house, blanching asparagus instead of broccoli and substituting leftover chicken for the tofu. (Some form of egg might also be nice.) I will definitely make this recipe again; I love peanut sauce.

Here’s what our spread looked like.

Caroline Pam’s Peanut Noodle Bowls

Ingredients:

for the main event:

1 pound pasta: whole wheat spaghetti, buckwheat soba, or udon noodles
sesame oil as needed

for the peanut sauce:

2/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup tahini sesame paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh Thai chilies, minced, or 1 teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or 2 tablespoons soy and a heaping spoonful of miso paste
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 to 1 cup hot water, to thin the sauce

for the fried tofu:

1 block firm or extra-firm tofu (1 14-ounce package, drained)
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
4 tablespoons canola or other neutral vegetable oil

for garnish (use any combination of these):

blanched broccoli florets
shredded cabbage
shredded carrots
sliced radishes
sliced cucumber
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro

for the final touch:

Kitchen Garden Farm Sriracha, drizzled to taste, based on heat tolerance (start with 1 to 2 tablespoons per person)

Instructions:

Boil the pasta until it is al dente; then drain and rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking. Toss it with a little sesame oil and set it aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients, adding hot water as necessary to achieve the texture of thick and creamy salad dressing.

For the fried tofu, cut the tofu into thin (1/4-inch) slices. Put the soy sauce in a small shallow bowl or saucer. Dip the slices on each side briefly and fry them in hot oil until crispy, turning once, as you would fry bacon. Drain on paper towels and chop coarsely into bite-sized pieces. Put the tofu in a serving dish on the table.

Toss the sauce with the noodles and serve each portion in a large bowl. (Sometimes a little extra hot water will help the sauce spread over the noodles.)

Prepare the rest of the vegetables and herbs and arrange them artfully on the table so that diners can serve themselves. Lubricate with Sriracha as needed. Serves 4 to 6.

Here is Caroline’s version of the dish. Note that she julienned her veggies to make everything even and gorgeous.

Figging Around at Dancing Bear Farm

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

A black fig ripens on the tree at Dancing Bear Farm in Leyden, Massachusetts. Courtesy of the Recorder/Paul Franz.

The harvest season is over in Western Massachusetts—although local produce still abounds: apples, cabbages, squash. At this time of year farmers have the mental and physical energy to plan for next year. Best of all, they find time to dream.

At Dancing Bear Farm in Leyden Tom Ashley and his wife, my fellow journalist Trish Crapo, are dreaming of something they will call the figtorium.

The figtorium will be a greenhouse designed to accommodate Tom’s growing fig harvest. Dancing Bear Farm has been in business for 25 years, but Tom grew his first figs only eight years ago.

When I spoke recently with the couple, Tom explained that his love of figs began in the fall of 2008. He was inspired by a longtime customer named Marie. (He didn’t think she would want her last name reported.)

A teacher who lives in Brooklyn, Marie has a second home in Leyden. She has been a loyal customer of Dancing Bear since the farm started in 1981.

“She is Italian American and lives in an Italian neighborhood,” Tom told me. “Everybody there has their fig trees and their grapes and a small garden [of plants] that they brought from the old country.

“We’ve had a very nice relationship over the years of sending stuff home with her in the fall, garlic for her neighborhood. Eight years ago she brought me four dead sticks and said, ‘Here, put these in the greenhouse, and see what happens.’

“At that point I knew nothing of figs. They sat around the greenhouse for a couple of weeks.”

He received a phone call from Marie, urging him to plant the sticks.

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure. Figs. All right, Marie,’” Tom remembered.

Tom Ashley with some of his figs.

The sticks went into the ground. Two of the four took root, combined themselves into one large tree, and began producing fruit the following spring. The tree is still going strong today.

Tom said he was impressed when he tasted the fruit. “I had never experienced anything like that before,” he said. “I’d had dried figs or Fig Newtons…. It was very different from any other fruit. Very sweet.”

“Sweet but light,” chimed in Trish Crapo.

Tom discovered that his fig tree grew quickly. Soon it hugged the ceiling of his plastic greenhouse. “I had to prune the tree. It just took off like a sumac,” he recalled. “Whatever [cuttings] I took off the tree, I thought, ‘Those will grow, too.’”

He placed the cuttings in pots. “The next year, I had more figs and all these trees growing in pots.”

Soon Tom began doing research about fig trees. Native to many areas of the world and cherished particularly in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, figs are an ancient plant.

They are also a healthy fruit—full of antioxidants. They contain ingredients that can help fight cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, and many other diseases.

“A fig may have been the fruit in the Garden of Eden, not an apple,” Trish Crapo informed me. In the warmer climates of figs’ native habitat they grow profusely outdoors.

I had never seen figs growing so I enjoyed visiting Dancing Bear Farm in late October to see what all the fuss was about. Tom Ashley’s fig trees were then lush and tall. The winding wood was pleasing to the eye, and the large leaves were highly decorative.

“No wonder they used to wear them back in the old days,” Tom told me with a smile.

He picked a fig off a tree for me to taste on the spot. Figs are unusual in that they don’t flower. Their flowers are actually the inside of the fig. My fig tasted sweet and rich. The skin, fruit, and seeds provided a nice combination of textures.

Tom and Trish first met at Hampshire College, where Tom managed the coop and was among the first people to think of starting an organic garden on a college campus.

“We already valued sustainability and local agriculture in 1980,” Trish said proudly.

Trish arranges figs on a plate.

After college the two looked for a plot of land of their own. They fell in love with the land that would become Dancing Bear Farm, which has a spectacular view of the Pioneer Valley. Soon they set down literal and figurative roots.

Looking forward, Tom sees his fig cultivation and the planned figtorium as key. He admitted that he could repair his current plastic greenhouse instead of constructing a new one. He sees defects in this plan, however.

“The greenhouse isn’t quite big enough for the trees, and it’s a little tight on the sides,” he observed. “Why would you put new soles on a pair of shoes that didn’t really fit you?”

With the figtorium—a larger, non-plastic greenhouse—he will be able to accommodate his fig trees and expand his fig crop. He hopes that figs will become one of three or four strong crops on which he can concentrate in future.

This concentration will strengthen his crops and give him more time to do the educational outreach he has already begun through newsletters to customers.

At the moment he sells both figs and fig trees. Eventually, he would like to work with etymologists to do research on the fig wasp—a miniscule insect that helps figs spread in the wild. He would also like to experiment with farming methods that might help fig trees survive in colder weather.

Tom hopes that the figtorium will make his life richer, more interesting, and less physically stressful.

“I want his life to be a lot easier,” Trish said of her husband. “He works really hard.”

Meanwhile, Tom takes pride in his figs and fig trees. Several years ago, he told me, his friend Marie brought him a new fig-tree cutting from friends who were visiting from Sicily. When the friends returned to the United States a couple of years later she brought them to Dancing Bear Farm.

The friends don’t speak English so not a lot was said. Nevertheless, Tom informed me, they managed to give him two thumbs up when they saw the tree their cutting had produced.

“We communicated back and forth our mutual respect. Marie told me later that my tree was doing better [than the one her friends had] back in Sicily,” he recalled.

“Somewhere along the line I seem to have developed a fig thumb.”

Tom Ashley and Trish Crapo frequently experiment with fig cookery. “In a way we’re in a unique position that most people are not in,” Trish told me. “We have too many figs. It’s a wonderful challenge.” They report that even the leaves can be used in cooking, to wrap around foods.

The pair gave me some figs to play with—and I remembered that years ago my graduate-school roommate Alice Gagnard and I used to receive care packages of fig jam from her mother in Alexandria, Louisiana.

I don’t have Louise Gagnard’s recipe—she unfortunately died while I was doing research for this article—but when Tom Ashley gave me some frozen figs I concocted my own version of the jam as a memorial tribute to Louise. She always had a pot of coffee on the stove and a smile on her face.

Louise raising a glass of sparkling cider. (Courtesy of Alice Gagnard Kendrick)

Fig Jam inspired by Louise Gagnard

Ingredients:

6 cups chopped figs, packed
4-1/2 cups sugar
the juice of 1 large lemon (if you really love lemon flavor, use the zest as well)
a dab of butter

Instructions:

In a 4-quart Dutch oven combine the figs, the sugar, the lemon juice, and the zest if you are using it. Mash the figs a bit with a potato masher. (They don’t have to be completely mashed.) Allow the mixture to sit for at least 1/2 hour to enable the figs to juice up a bit.

Stir again, turn on the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil, adding just a little butter to minimize foam. Reduce the heat and simmer the jam, stirring from time to time, until the jam becomes thick and starts to gel.

Test for gelling by using a candy thermometer (the mixture should come to 220 degrees Fahrenheit or a little under) or by inserting a cool metal spoon in the jam. When the jam comes off the spoon in sheets it is done.

Turn off the heat and stir the jam for five minutes to make sure that the figs are evenly dispersed throughout. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. (If you don’t want to process the jars, you may keep the jam in the refrigerator for a couple of months.)

I’m enjoying my fig jam!

Alice’s Corn Fritters

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

frittersweb

During this golden season it can be REALLY hard to visit a farm stand and purchase just one ear of corn. I always end up buying at least two ears of this tempting vegetable—and sometimes four, six, or even 12! Consequently, the Tinky fridge usually features leftover corn in late August.

I have made much more complicated fritters in the past; in fact, I posted a fancier recipe here on this blog a few years back. When I was getting ready to cook on TV last week, however, I wanted something simple.

Luckily, my neighbor (and occasional musical collaborator) Alice Parker offered me the perfect recipe. It concentrates on two main flavors—the corn and BUTTER. You do have to be careful to keep the butter from melting, but your vigilance pays off.

The fritters disappeared fast on Mass Appeal, where I wore a yellow hat to pay tribute to the main ingredient and also to my late mother. (The hat belonged to her.) I wish I had a photo of her wearing it—but at least I have a photo of Alice! Here she is (on the left) getting ready to play the piano at our most recent concert, “Love Walked In.”

Alice and Estherweb

The Fritters

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more if you like!)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 cups kernels from barely cooked corn
butter as needed for frying (up to 1/2 stick—perhaps even a little more)

Instructions:

Separate the eggs. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks until they turn a paler yellow. Whisk in the baking powder, the salt, and the pepper. Using a wooden spoon stir in the flour, followed by the corn. Gently fold in the egg whites.

Warm a frying pan or griddle, and melt the butter. When it is nice and hot use a cookie scoop or spoon to form the corn mixture into little clumps, and fry them on both sides until brown, turning once. The mixture will be free form but delicious. Serve the fritters immediately by themselves, with sour cream and dill (my friend Betsy’s idea!), or with maple syrup. Serves 4.

And now the video. Note how fluffy the fritters become!

Kritters!

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

okraweb

Most of us up here in Yankeeland have very few opportunities to eat fresh okra since this vegetable prefers temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It has begun creeping into farm stands just south of me in the Connecticut Valley in the last couple of years. The Valley is sunny and warm (well, warm for New England!).

I purchase okra at the Bars Farmstand in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Although it’s a bit of a drive for me, I love the Bars Farm. It has the most extensive variety of sweet and hot peppers anywhere around. And like many other local farms it practices integrated pest management; its owners are responsible stewards of their land.

Many people object to the “slime” component of okra. I have found that when it is fried it doesn’t emit much slime. My friend Michael Collins grills it, and I hope to try that method soon. Meanwhile, here I share the recipe for the okra fritters (a.k.a. kritters) I have made twice now.

The size of the kritter depends on your taste. The kritters are crunchier (and of course more fattening) if you cut the okra into tiny pieces—say, 1/3 inch long. When I made them earlier this week, I just cut each piece of okra in half after snipping off the ends. This method results in a little more okra flavor.

Either way you make them, you will doubtless convert non-okra lovers with these treats.

Okra Fritters

Ingredients:

10 pieces of okra, with the ends trimmed off, sliced either in half or into several smaller pieces
enough buttermilk to cover the okra
1/2 cup cornmeal (this is approximate; just dump some cornmeal into a bowl)
2 tablespoons flour (ditto)
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
canola oil as needed for frying
salt (if needed)

Instructions:

Wash and dry the okra. Place it in a bowl, and cover it with buttermilk.

In a flat bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, and Creole seasoning. Dip each damp piece of okra in this mixture.

Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with oil. Heat the skillet until the oil is quite hot. Quickly fry the okra pieces in the oil, turning once.

Remove the okra pieces to a paper-towel-covered plate. Taste one. (Try to stick to ONLY one!) If the kritters need salt, sprinkle a little on top.

Serves 2 copiously as an appetizer or side dish.

kirttersweb