Thursday, October 8, 2009

Farmer Chic

Have your Locavore Lunch and Eat it Too

Harvest is the arc and the aggregate of food in the Valley. Suddenly the summer food spectrum is spread before you. Even with a blight on tomatoes and potatoes and a very bad season for tobacco leaves (no survivors due to wetness, lack of sun and cool temperatures) we are rich in food that goes beyond traditional fall fare. Extended growing initiatives such as moving hoop houses are getting some produce out earlier and later than the three months of summer.

The ancient tradition of making a big fire and dancing to a full moon continues in the Valley. In New York at a relatively new "Farm to Table" establishment, they are just getting the hang of the harvest. At the Tarrytown-based Stone Barns, over 2500 city types showed up to get a little taste of farm life in early October. My friend Chef Donna Fisher and I went to check it out and enter the pie bake off. We got there early as hoards of people jumped off the train and into taxi cabs to check out the harvest at this combination of a non-profit farm and Blue Hill, a for-profit restaurant.

It was the usual harvest stuff except bigger and more dramatic. There wasn't just one but many pigs roasted over a spit and there was a demonstration of butchering and evisceration. Kids squealed and parents pleaded for just one shred of crispy fat. Dress was farmer chic. One woman wore Chanel rain boots over her jeans and her girls sported black muck boots. Food vendors from the City sold scones and croissants and pulled pork sandwiches from the sacrificial pigs were going fast.

Roasted Roots

Also, besides the ever rotating pig, there were gardening workshops and lectures. In Covered Barn B, Chef/owner Dan Barber held forth on the superiority of New England root vegetables. "The cold weather makes beets something amazing in winter. To stay warm, the plant turns its own starch into sugar....such sweetness! You only get this in New England and we never say anything about it! All the plants in California do is have sex over and over again." (The menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns consists of a list of food that is in season, most of it grown on the farm, and many courses are served. Such items as house made ricotta, tomato flavored salt, lardo, tomato water cubes with okra flour with an okra floret as garnish, lardo on slate, chicken hearts on a stick and other novelties are brought to the table with extensive introductions. It is not cheap but it is not average either. When is the last time you had marrow on the thigh bone of a deer with a tiny line up of fish eggs on top?

Barber shared his roasted root vegetable technique for Jerusalem Artichokes. "Get the moisture out of the J-chokes first in a fry pan on top of the stove with olive oil and garlic," he said. "Then blast them in the oven at at least 450 or as much as your oven can take..." At the end of his roasting demonstration, he told the crowd that he believed the rutabaga is going to be "very, very big" this fall. Chef Donna didn't win the pie bake-off. She got third place although her pie was perfection with local MacIntosh Apples and a butter crust. The winner's entry was a recipe from Cordon Bleu and the crust was pate brisee--about as American as a Pugeot.

In the Valley, food fairs continue to be very big, beginning with the Tomato Festival in August, the Garlic Festival, myriad town fairs and of course the Big E, an agricultural extravaganza complete with the Craz-E burger, 1500 calories of bacon, cheese, beef and a glazed donut. The donut acts as a bun. (The Big E Craz-E made national news. Isn't it bad enough that legislators are promoting the Fluffernutter as the state sandwich?)

The Forager and His Take....

At the Garlic Festival, I ran into a forager who was holding a plastic bag with what looked like a massive brain inside of it. It was a healthy haul of "Chicken of the Woods," (Laetiporus Sulphureus), a mushroom typically found on rotted tree stumps in the forest. The forager and I were standing at the top of the hill taking in the spectacle that is Garlic Fest. The aroma of fried sausage mingled in the air with the scent of roasted coffee beans. We exchanged pleasantries and as usual his behavior was somewhat furtive. He stopped talking and looked to his right and then to his left. When the coast was clear, he reached into the bag and handed over a substantial chunk of the mushroom. I couldn't believe my luck. Chicken of the Woods is not easy to come by. Strange things happen at Garlic Fest, what with the music on solar powered acoustical systems, belly dancing, a riot of exotic foods and fairway spectacles such as Apollo, the guy who grows figs and has arms that seem as though they can squeeze sap right out of a tree.

I examined my gift through the filmy plastic he offered and the forager whispered a recipe. "My step daughter makes chicken fingers by breading and deep frying the mushroom. This part," he said pointing to the stem of the mushroom, "acts like a little handle." He recommended I eat the mushroom soon. "Today is best." he said. I went home and tried his step daughter's recipe and it was nothing short of a revelation. Essentially this mushroom, in the guise of fast food, becomes a protein with the flavor of lobster but none of the sacrifice.

The ultimate locavore lunch is one that is completely local and seasonal. Even the plate for this lunch, a paper bag from the Leeds Package Store, was foraged within a mile of my house. Kale is in the garden and the eggs are from my friend's boyfriend's house in Belchertown. Chicken of the Wood mushroom fries are a matter of provenance. Not are they only available in late summer and early autumn, unless you are a skilled forager, the best shot you have at getting the fungus is to go to the Farmer's Market in Northampton behind Thornes on a Wednesday and ask for Paul. If he is there, he might sell them to you, if he has them.

Recipe of the Week: Locavore Lunch

Dino Kale Sunny Side Up with Chicken of the Wood Fries


5-leaves dino kale
1-farm egg
1-head (size of your brain) of Chicken of the Woods fungus, sliced into 1/2" strips length-wise


julienne kale by rolling it up and slicing to ribbons
sear in olive oil or butter till crisp but not dark brown
remove and replace with egg
fry until white is cooked through
remove egg from pan and melt 2 tablespoons butter
fry up the fungus fingers until somewhat softened and very slightly browned

create little nest of kale and top with fried egg
arrange fungus next to the kale

enjoy with home made ketchup!