Friday, September 21, 2007

Another Harvest-time Day Trip

I skipped the market last Saturday to participate in a regional open house/farm tour event. There was one farm in particular that I was quite keen to see. The gal who sells cheese at the market told me about Essex Farms and all of the neat things that they produce there. When she mentioned homemade sausage, I asked if they had a store or somewhere that I could buy some. Ruthie said no, that their products were only available to CSA members. Community Supported Agriculture is a newer model of farming that has grown in popularity in recent years. In this model, consumers interested in agricultural sustainability and safe, organic food partner with a farm by paying a seasonal or annual membership fee, becoming shareholders in the farm's operation and production. More often than not, CSA's are located near big cities so that urban dwellers can have access to farm-fresh produce. They usually pay for the season, and then each week, a big box of whatever's in season is delivered to their doorstep. But Essex Farms (in Essex, NY) does things a little differently. They provide a year-round membership (truly amazing in this part of the world where we have 6-7 months of winter!), and each Friday from 3-7, members come to the farm and take whatever they need/can consume in a week. At Essex Farms, this includes not only produce, but beef, pork, chicken, dairy, maple syrup, flour, honey, herbs, and no doubt, other things that I've forgotten. The membership is not cheap at $2400 annually per adult household member, but the farmers themselves say that they can and do live off of the things that they make or grow at the farm, with the exception of pasta, rice and oatmeal. Also, this dynamic young couple, Mark and Kristin, made a conscious (and conscientious) decision to have a economically diverse membership, so if someone can't afford $2400/year, all they have to do is talk to the farmers, explain their situation, and an arrangement will be made. After all, agricultural sustainability won't work on a grand scale if only rich people can afford to participate!

I could go on and on about all the amazing things that they are doing down there in Essex, but I strongly encourage my local readers to take the beautiful drive to their farm and check it out for yourselves. Meet the farmers and learn about their vision, and as a bonus, you'll probably make off with all the farm-grown goodies that you can eat! Our tour group got cabbage (regular and Napa), Swiss chard, canteloupe, and of course, as many tomatoes as Mark could convince us to haul away!

After the farm tour, we were tired and hungry, so we decided that lunch was in order just up the road in lovely Willsboro, NY. I had heard good things about Turtle Island Cafe, right across from the marina on Lake Champlain, and I was NOT disappointed! Turtle Island Cafe believes in featuring local and seasonal products whenever possible, prepared fresh and quite simply. We ordered several things from their daily specials board, including seafood gumbo (spicy and delicious) and the most amazing Shrimp Stroganoff! Unlike some Stroganoffs, this was not heavy, but light and very flavorful--it may have been a white wine-based sauce? But the best part was the pasta! It was homemade, and I would have happily eaten a plate of those noodles by themselves with just a little parsley, garlic and olive oil. Our meals were also served with an amazing garlic bread (little bits of minced garlic on top--YUM!), and for dessert, we had a scrumptious pecan bread pudding with homemade caramel sauce. As an interesting aside, and to demonstrate how closely connected the local farmers and the restaurant are, I noticed that one of the specials (which we did not try) was a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella, basil, and Juniper Hills tomatoes. I asked the waitress where Juniper Hills was, and she said it was a farm near Moriah. I had just met a couple on the farm tour from somewhere near Moriah, and I knew that they sold their produce to local markets and restaurants. In fact, I traded them a jar of my special blueberry-lime jam for the promise of some seeds for a chili pepper that the husband, a retired earth science teacher, was working on dehybridizing. And wouldn't you know, it was the same folks whose tomatoes were being served at the restaurant that we chose for lunch a couple hours after meeting them! Isn't that cool? That's how close to my food I want to be, if at all possible. If I didn't grow it myself, I want to know who did on a personal basis!

After we had refreshed ourselves at the Turtle Island Cafe, we headed to Peru for the annual Applefest at St. Augustine's Church. There was a shocking lack of apple products at the Applefest this year, save for a ton of apple pies, all with soft crusts from being frozen before the event. But I did manage to procure some homemade dill pickles. I know, I know....I have 21 quarts of them at home, but I couldn't resist. Plus, the pickle-maker was so proud, and he and I had a nice chat about our methodologies, which were quite similar. And then, on the recommendation of one of my students, I bought the last loaf of the infamous Applefest beer bread. Well, let me tell you, that stuff was dee-licious, and it made the best toast! So of course, I had to learn to make it for myself. I scoured the internet for a recipe, and the first one I tried yielded a completely inedible loaf. We dubbed it "Bitter Beer Face Bread" because of the revolting aftertaste. I actually had to throw it away it was so awful! And the texture was also not the same as the one I bought at the Appelfest. So it was back to the drawing board. I did some more research and found what seemed to be the definitive recipe on Allrecipes with lots of tester comments recommending an increase in sugar and adding some melted butter on top to make it nearly identical to a product from a company called Tastefully Simple. I guess they must be kind of like Pampered Chef, and their Bountiful Beer Bread is apparently quite popular. But at five dollars for the mix, the product is prohibitively expensive for some. And you still have to add your own beer to it! So why not make your own for a mere fraction of the price? And it couldn't be easier, requiring only three ingredients, and no kneading or rise time! Here's the recipe:

Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour (or 3 cups AP flour + 1 tablespoon baking powder, + 1 1/2 teaspoons salt)
3 tablespoons or up to 1/3 cup sugar (I like mine sweeter, but I think I would use 1/4 cup if making it for others)
12 oz. beer (can or bottle, any kind, though I prefer a lighter brew for this)
2-3 tablespoons melted butter, optional

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar. Add beer and continue to mix using a wooden spoon or spatula just until evenly moistened. Batter will be sticky. Pour into a 9 x 5 inch greased loaf pan. Top with 2-3 tablespoons melted butter, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees ) for 50 for 60 minutes. The top will be crunchy, and the insides will be soft. Serve topped with butter or cheese spread.

*This bread would only be enhanced by the addition of herbs or carmelized onions, and especially, lots of cheese!

After the Applefest, we headed over to Rulf's Orchard to take our traditional horse-drawn wagon ride through the apple orchards and buy a half dozen ears (that's 7 ears at Rulf's!) of the last of the sweet corn, some still-warm cinnamon sugar cider donuts, and a ginormous bag of utility Cortlands. So it's gonna be apple desserts for awhile around here! I started with this one, an apple spice cake with caramel drizzle to take for a trivia night treat for my team. The cake was very moist and flavorful, and it looked pretty, even though I cheated and used Smucker's Dulce de Leche Sauce for the topping. Also, I got carried away peeling and chopping apples, and I ended up with four cups of apples instead of three. Rather than wasting them, I just threw the extra in the batter, figuring, what harm? And I think I'd purposefully make the same "mistake" when making this again in the future!

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

Serves 10

1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 cups all-purpose flour (I swapped out white whole wheat for this)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 to 4 Granny Smith apples (I used Cortlands and I also peeled them), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 cups--I used 4)
1 cup chopped assorted nuts, such as pecans and walnuts (optional--I say they are mandatory!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

caramel sauce (homemade or good-quality ice cream topping)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside.
Working over a large sheet of parchment paper, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; gather sifted ingredients into center of sheet; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until lemon yellow. Fold reserved parchment in half lengthwise; with mixer on medium speed, gradually shake in dry ingredients until just incorporated. Add apples and, if desired, nuts, to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack, and serve drizzled with caramel sauce (recipe follows).

Caramel Sauce

1 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until thickened to desired consistency.

1 comment:

Randi said...

The cakes look yummy!!