Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cherry, cherry

Got some cherries at the Central Square market on Monday. The sign in front of them clearly read "Sweet Cherries." But apparently there are varying degrees of sweet. These were sweet enough to eat straight, but only just, and had the bright cherry flavor of sours, rather than the winey depth of Bings. I decided to bake with them.

And, surprise, they were really good. Generally, I dislike cooked cherries - the sours have just the one sour note, which is normally overwhelmed by heavy sweetening. The Bings lose all complexity. But these retained their sprightly* cherry flavor, and also kept a nice firm texture while giving off a good bit of juice. I baked them in a simple crumble with a few drops of almond extract and a touch of tapioca to thicken. I was quite happy with the results, which looked nice too, and if I had remembered to bring my camera home from the office, you could have seen that. But I, um, didn't.

I will be sure to ask the farmer about the variety of cherry a week from Monday. But this Monday I will be in Montreal, taking pictures (I promise) at the Jean Talon market.

* Yeah, I said sprightly. You got a problem with that?

Monday, June 27, 2005

This little piggie went to market, part three: Dinner Posted by Hello

My pork chop, my love.

I made a couple chops when we got home from the farm, one each for J. and myself, but (and I hang my head in shame here), I overcooked them. Look, I haven’t cooked a pork chop in years – the nasty dry things that you can get at the supermarket aren’t worth cooking. I followed the method and timing given by The Best Recipe, high heat to sear one minute on each side, then reduce to medium and cover for 4 minutes on the first side, then five minutes on the second. This produced an overcooked chop. Maybe my chops were thinner than theirs? They weren’t completely dried out, but were clearly overdone. Frustrated, Sunday night I decided I had to have another go at it. Salted and peppered the chop, using both white and black peppers. One minute sear per side, then three minutes covered on medium-low, followed by another three minutes covered, then a test. A little underdone. Back on for one minute. Perfection. I took the chop out, poured off all but about a tablespoon of fat, then cooked in the fat about a ¼ cup of finely chopped onions. After a few minutes, I added a mixture of cumin, allspice, and ground chili pepper, and sauteed for another minute. I added about ¼ cup of rum, in which had been soaked about ¼ cup of raisins, and 1 T dark brown sugar, which was satisfying because the pan gave off a tremendous hiss. I let that mixture reduce for a minute or so, then added the juice of half a lemon. This sauce provided a spicy/fruity counterpoint to the chop, which actually tasted like meat instead of cardboard, and was tender and juicy. If you like something a bit more piquant, a tablespoon of vinegar could replace the lemon juice.

This little piggie went to market, part two: The booty Posted by Hello

When you tell people that you’re buying a pig, and you’ve gotten over the whole issue of it being a butchered pig, not a pet, then I’ve found they want to know about the logistics. How do you buy meat directly from the farmer, how do you order, how do you split the meat up and so forth. It can be intimidating to go through the buying process for the first time, so I figured I would write up the lowdown for the pig-buying process, in the hopes that I will encourage my imaginary readers to try out buying from farmers for themselves, to serve to their imaginary families.

I contacted the farm about two months ago to inquire about the price and availability of a whole hog and to discuss farming practices. I had talked to quite a few farms about pork. Unlike organic, pastured beef and chicken, organic, pastured pork is hard to come by. But I finally found the Mamashoe organic farm, which has exemplary farming practices (see This little piggie went to market, part one). They also had a few pigs they had overwintered. Usually, pigs are slaughtered in the late fall, so I wasn’t expecting to be able to get pork until then, but I wanted to get my order in early. These small farmers tend to have devoted followings, and many will sell out each year’s pigs, cows or chickens months in advance. Anyway, I lucked into a June pig.

I sent a small deposit, and then we had another call to discuss cuts. I love that part. Basically, you have a few options for each part of the pig – for example, the loin can be left as a single long roast or cut into chops. I told the farmer what I wanted from each part of the pig and then set a date to pick up the meat.

Here’s what we got:

4 Boston butt roasts
2 extremely large fresh hams
2 shoulder roasts
26 packages of chops (2 chops per package)
5 packages of ground pork
2 packages of spare ribs
8 packages of fresh bacon
2 packages of ham hocks
1 package, two kidneys
1 heart
3 packages of liver

We paid $5.50/pound for the above. He also threw in for free:

2 packages, 2 each “trotters” (yeah, that’s the feet)
6 packages of fatback

There were four people splitting the booty. Overall, it was easier to split up than the cow we bought in January, which had more odd pieces of wildly varying quality (a little tenderloin, a little shank, a flank steak, a chuck roast – it’s hard to work out a balanced split). Everyone got a butt roast; the people with bigger families got the hams, the others got the shoulder. The spare ribs were a little problematic, but I made a supreme sacrifice, took the extra ground and an extra chop, and insisted on an invitation to dinner on spare rib night. I kept all the fat to render the lard, which will then be distributed back to all parties who want good pie crusts. The woman with the Italian husband and Fergus Henderson’d book on offal wanted all the odd bits, so she’ll be getting the kidneys, heart, liver and feet. They’ll also be smoking the bacon, an event which will get its own blog entry.

The only really troublesome part was divvying the chops. I had asked for the loin to be gut into chops because I thought it would be easier to split up. It would have, if the loin chops had been labeled as such, but all the chops, the rib chops and loin chops and whatnot, were just labeled “chops.” We did our best to give each person chops that looked like they came from different spots on the hog, but really, we had no idea.

This works out very well if the people you are splitting your pig with are easygoing generous sorts who care more about making sure all is fair than about getting the best for themselves. I can imagine there would be some people who would be very unpleasant to include in an endeavor like this. Fortunately, I don’t know them.

This little piggie went to market, part 1: The Farm Posted by Hello

So my boyfriend J.,* friend and co-worker C., C.’s adorable 18-month-old, and I all got in the car and trundled out to Petersham, MA to get our pig.

Petersham is a lovely small New England town, heavy on the quaint, just east of the Quabbin. The center of town is picture-perfect, complete with bandstand, white churches, and a country store that sells ice cream. We got to know it pretty well, seeing as we forgot the directions and so had to drive back and forth down the main road a half-dozen times before we found someone who could point us to Mamashoe Organic Farm.

But we did find it, at last, and pulled up to find the farmer and his adorable daughter waiting for us on a tree stump.

Now, you may have in your mind an image of a small New England farmer, a taciturn Ethan Frome type of character, or maybe something a little more charming, a wrinkled Norman Rockwell gentleman in overalls with a pipe. Your image would be a bit off. Our pig farmer is a loquacious former Cambridge hipster, who used to have a band and almost surely went to Burning Man, and now raises hogs, goats and chickens. I found this deeply inspirational, possibly because I have never managed to be hip enough to be readily identified as a hipster nor have I had the courage to chuck all for the farming life.

And then of course there was the farm.

This family is raising food in the most balanced and environmentally sound way imaginable. They’ve planted paw-paws and other tree. They use goats and pigs to help clear land for planting, and use a moveable chicken coop to spread around the chicken manure while giving the chicken fresh land to range upon. They’re clearing invasive foreign plants like honeysuckle. They’re making raw milk goat cheese and kefir. They do their own smoking of meat. They are homesteading for real, just a little over an hour outside Cambridge.

And then there are the pigs.

The pigs are kept in the woods, just like the Spanish do when raising pigs for their famous ham. The farmer has used electric fencing to mark off three acres of land for the pigs to forage in and supplements their foraging with organic feed. He moves the fencing to different areas over time to give the hogs new land to explore. These were really happy pigs.

And magnificent. There was something amazing about these creatures, so strong and primal. They belonged in the woods – you could see the wild boar in their ancestry. We watched them use their powerful snouts to burrow in the ground, all the time making rough snorts and deep snuffles and grunts. As J. said late, “You know, I could have looked at those pigs all day.” Me, too.

And, um, cough, they make great pork.

So I got home and made pork chops for dinner. And, no, seeing the pigs didn’t make me feel bad about eating the pork chops.** Seeing the pigs living in the woods, with room to roam, eating acorns as well as feed, rolling in good clean mud, made me feel better about eating this pork. What I felt bad about was the bacon that came with my restaurant breakfast the next morning. There’s no excuse for raising those noble beasts in the horrifying conditions of factory farms. But at least there are some people raising pigs conscientiously, and we can support them in a thoroughly pleasant way by buying their excellent pork.

*I’m being all Victorian with the initials and all because using full, real names on the internet weirds me out. So I’m paranoid.

** None of the pigs appeared to be named Wilbur. I am sure this helped.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A tribute to this seaon's asparagus, in woodcut Posted by Hello

CSA - week two. Radishes! Posted by Hello

A little color mixed into the green always helps. As you, my imaginary internet readers, can see, this week's box included cilantro, bok choi, arugula, radishes, broccoli rabe, and romaine lettuce. You can't see the English peas, because I forgot to include them in the picture.

This blog was supposed to be about cooking the food, not just buying it, but I'm afraid my cooking lately has been on the simple side. As in: Shake salad dressing. Open bottle. Apply to lettuce. Consume. Repeat. I've also had a lot of fried eggs with greens. I love a nice egg over easy, laid over some sauteed greens or steamed asparagus. A little black pepper, a little salt, then put your fork right through the center of the yolk and let it ooze gently over the greens. Delicious, but not exactly a recipe to share with my imaginary readers. But perhaps this weekend I'll have a chance to do some real cooking.

And tomorrow is pig day.

Friday, June 17, 2005

My first farm share delivery of the season. Posted by Hello

I have a half-share at Parker Farms. The first two deliveries were cancelled due to weather - the crops just weren't ready. But this week made up for it, at least in the greens category (not much else ripe in New England in mid-June). I'm always terribly excited to get the first delivery, and then when I get it, I'm overwhelmed at the prospect of using up so many greens in a week. This week's share included arugula, red leaf lettuce, spinach, escarole, two bags of loose leaf lettuce (not shown), mustard greens, and sugar snap peas (thank god, something that's not leafy.) I guess it's salad for dinner. And lunch. And dinner.

The Coolidge Corner farmers' market opened this week. As usual, it's the among the best of the markets. Not all the booths are there yet - the turkey man and his fabulous pot pies didn't make an appearance, for exmple - but there were several vegetable vendors with all those greens (needless to say, I didn't buy any), radishes, leeks and fresh garlic,; several bakers; lots of plants and herbs, and two booths for cheese. I went with a wasabi goat cheese, which sounds like a big fusion error, but is actually really good. The cheese is very creamy and soft, not heavily goaty, and the wasabi provides just a touch of bite.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The last asparagus of the season Posted by Hello

The bipolar weather we've been having in New England this spring has wreaked havoc on the early crops. I saw a friend's garden last weekend - the spinach, though only about two inches wide, had already bolted. And the good man at the Central Square farmers' market tells me that we've reached the last asparagus of the season; the heat finished off the crop.

It was good while it lasted. The asparagus I've been getting is from Hadley, Massachusetts, which was once known as the Asparagus Capitol of the World. Asparagus is even called "Hadley grass," or at least it's supposed to be. I can't say as I've ever heard anyone say that, and it would sound very wierd if someone did. But that Hadley asparagus is damned fine, and I would be inconsolable over the shortness of the season if Monday's market had not also broght the first local strawberries of the season. They weren't quite as good as they could be - some seemed to have been picked short of ripe to push the season - but they were still very welcome.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Now that's more like it! Posted by Hello

Harvard Square Market, at last

Last week's Harvard Square market was too dismal to write about, just a few plants and some pottery and leather bags being sold under a dark and dreary sky. But this week felt like summer. The sky was shining, and the vegetables were piled high. At least one farmer was selling radishes, fresh garlic, baby leeks, rhubarb and asparagus. There were two farmers selling plants, one specializing in perennials, the other in herbs and vegetables. River Rock Farm was there with their excellent beef. And there was a pickle purveyor, Moon Shine pickles, offering samples of dill and hot pickles. The two pickles were very distinctive - the hot were quite hot with peppers and horseradish; the dill were assertive dilly. I bought a quart of the hot for five dollars and intend to get the dill on the next round.

The cold, wet weather has definitely delayed the season, though. My farm share was supposed to have started last week, but is postponed until next.