Archive for Local food

Spring supper, Appalachian style.

rampsandbeans.JPGThere’s nothing so West Virginian as ramps and beans. Especially with cornbread. And especially when all the ingredients come from your own land, or just down the road.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are the national food of West Virginia. The proper term for a serving of ramps is a “mess.” (As in this sentence, from my neighbor the other day: “I don’t dig too many ramps. I’ll have a few messes, but then I get tired of digging ’em.”)

People say ramps will make you stink, but that’s not necessarily so. Cooked ramps won’t give you any more odor than cooked garlic will. (The scent of a big mess of raw ramps, on the other hand, will come out on your skin the next day.)

Ramps have always been a backwoods thing, and fancy town people tend to be scared of them. I know someone who runs a nice restaurant not too far from here, and she tells me that when the place first opened, she naïvely put ramp quiche on the menu. She didn’t sell a single serving. (Customers recoiled in horror: “But I’ll stink!”) Now she’s wised up. She calls them “wild leeks” and they’re, ahem, wildly popular.

Now, non-Appalachian fancy people are all about ramps these days. They’re trendy in New York, where I’m told they go for $30 a pound. This is a worrying development, because ramps are not easily farmed, and they’re very vulnerable to depletion in their wild habitat. If you do harvest ramps, only pick where they’re very abundant, and only take one or two from each patch. If they aren’t super-abundant where you are, consider picking only leaves, or leaving the bottom quarter-inch of bulb in the ground to regenerate.

We’re lucky to have a big bag of ramps in the fridge right now, so we’ve been putting them in everything. (Eggs, soups, greens pizza, pesto — everything but ice cream. My sister pickled some and served them in Bloody Marys at Easter.) But ramps and beans are still my favorite. With cornbread. Southern, crispy-crumbly all-stoneground-corn cornbread. 

Make your own:

Soak and cook your beans. (I used tiger eye beans from last year’s garden, but ramps are good with any brown or white beans.) Salt them well. Set aside.

Clean ramps well. Chop, and saute in good local lard or bacon drippings. (Schmalz is good, too, if pigs aren’t your thing.) When the ramps are cooked to your liking, add the beans. Simmer a bit.

For the cornbread, heat your oven to 400F or so, and put a nice number 12 cast iron skillet in there to get hot (yeah, you can use any baking dish, but a good hot skillet makes it crispy like it should be). Make sure you have fresh, coarse stoneground cornmeal. (We’re lucky to be able to get old-time multicolored “bloody butcher” corn from a local miller.) Mix about 2 cups of cornmeal with a teaspoon of salt and a little less than a teaspoon soda. Add about a cup and a half of buttermilk or sour milk (yogurt works too), an egg, and a couple of tablespoons of melted fat (lard, bacon drippings, schmalz or butter). Mix it all up and bake it in the hot skillet for, oh, a half hour or so, or until it’s nice and brown. This is a really flexible recipe. You can mess with the ingredients a lot without much trouble. (The other night we were out of eggs, and the cornbread came out perfectly tasty without them.)


(We had some of last year’s hard cider with ours. A perfect meal!)

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Citrus season: marmalade!


My cousin Nina is a marmalade queen. All winter, it seemed, she had a pot of marmalade bubbling on the back of her stove.

She inspired me and the boy to make several big batches of the lovely stuff before we left the land of local citrus.

We did four kinds: ponderosa lemon, bitter seville orange, bergamot, and blood orange (left to right in the picture). They taste nothing alike, and they are all incredibly tasty. The lemon is bright and fresh, very thick and pectiny. The seville orange is a classic marmalade, orangey with a sharp edge. The bergamot is incredibly fragrant and strong, with thick, chewy pieces of rind. And the blood orange is sweet and spicy and soft, absolutely amazing on ice cream.

It’s very easy to make marmalade. Here’s my lazy method:

Slice your citrus. (Make the pieces about the size of the chunks of peel you’d like to have in the finished marmalade.)

Take the seeds out as you slice. Put them in a small muslin bag, or tie them up in cheesecloth. (They provide your pectin! If you don’t have many seeds, as sometimes happens with eating-type oranges, add some extra seeds from another citrus.)

Put your citrus and wrapped seeds into a big, nonreactive pot (i.e., stainless steel or enamel).

Add enough water so that the citrus barely starts to float.

Simmer for forty-five minutes or so, until the pieces of peel are done to your liking.

Set aside to cool.

After the mix is cool, remove the seed bag (squeeze out all that lovely slimy pectin first).

Put your marmalade back on medium heat, and start adding sugar. (I do this by eye, and by taste, but the traditional proportions are 1 part each of citrus, water, and sugar, by weight.)

When the marmalade is as sweet as you want, keep it simmering until it reaches the texture you’d like. (To test the gel, drop a bit onto a plate and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool it. This will give you a good idea of what the texture will be like when it’s cooled. If you have trouble getting it to gel, you might need more sugar, or just more patience. But I say there’s nothing wrong with soft marmalade — all the better to spoon over ice cream!)

You can use one kind of citrus, or a mix. You can even add ginger like the English do sometimes. Or whatever strikes your fancy.

Have fun!

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Peek-a-boo; or: the blogger reappears with radicchio.

The blogger disappears and pops up in … San Francisco!

I’m in the Bay Area visiting family and friends. I’ve been busy trying to convince my ninety-three year-old grandfather to talk to me on tape. But in between cajoling sessions, I’ve had a chance to check out some local farmers’ markets. (How could I resist?)

Look at these lovely heads of radicchio:


My favorite way to eat radicchio in the winter:

Quarter the heads.

Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a cast iron pan, and add a generous amount of olive oil.

Add radicchio.

Cook on low, partially covered on a back burner while you’re doing other things.

Turn the radicchio pieces every once in a while, until they’re nicely browning and melty all over.

(If they start to crisp, turn the heat down. You want them melting and carmelized, not fried.)


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Fall treasures: hickory nuts.


There was a lovely hickory harvest here this fall. We got almost a bushel. That’s very unusual in my experience — the squirrels usually get to them first.

I used to race the squirrels for them when I was little. Sometimes the little buggers would throw the nuts at me, and wouldn’t you know — the ones they threw were always wormy!

As you might have guessed, hickory nuts are my favorite nuts. They’re light and sweet and go well with most things.

We have a lot of nutcracking ahead of us.

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Fall color: beans.


All in all, I think we ended up with twelve bean varieties, though some didn’t do so well in the face of marauding deer.

We only grew a bit of each variety, just to see what works best in our garden’s mesoclimate (that’s the boy’s new favorite word, there).

The varieties:
bottom row, left to right
Jacob’s Cattle Beans, Hidatsa Red Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Black Turtle Beans
middle “row”
Ireland Creek Annie Beans, Yellow Indian Woman Beans, Good Mother Stallard Beans
bread pan
October Beans
top row
Marfax Beans, Tiger Eye Beans
not pictured
True Red Cranberry Beans, Fagiolo Rampicante di Spagna a Grano Bianco (fat white italian/spanish runner beans)

So far, my favorites are the Italian white beans (so fat and meaty), the Tiger Eyes (so creamy), and the True Red Cranberries (so incredibly tasty). I have yet to taste them all, though.

The most productive varieties in our Zone 6, deer- and horseweed-challenged, southwest-facing clay were: Good Mother Stallard, October, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and Black Turtle.

Because we didn’t grow too many beans, we shelled them by hand. But that can be tedious. There are many creative ways to thresh beans. The National Gardening Association has some good basic instructions.

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Pippin season: hunting wild apples.

wild apples

A pip is a seed, and a pippin is an apple tree grown from a seed.

What’s so special about an apple tree grown from a seed? Well, for one thing, every time an apple seed sprouts and grows a tree, it makes a new apple variety that’s never existed before.* Really. All those Granny Smiths (or Yellow Transparents or Wolf Rivers, etc.) are clones of one original tree, grown from cuttings grafted onto different rootstocks.

So every fall, the boy and I go traipsing around old fields, tasting all the pippins we can find. It’s quite an apple education — every sort of texture and flavor you can imagine. This year, we found an especially good one in the high pasture behind our house. It’s a little green apple with a really bright flavor. To my taste, it was perfect for eating right at the end of August — crisp and tart and just sweet enough (I like my apples on the acid side). This week it’s a lot sweeter, but a little less crisp — it would be perfect for cider. (Now if we can just hunt up a cider press to borrow…)

Good places for pippin hunting:

Old pastures
Old hedgerows
Old housesites
Old farm roads

If you find a pippin you really like, you can take home a cutting and graft it onto another tree. (Call your local apple grower to help, or go to a “fruit school” like this one, held in Asheville last spring.)

* Remember Johnny Appleseed? All those pippins he planted? Most of them wouldn’t have been any good for eating. He was planting them for cider — for hard cider. They left that bit out of the girl scout song!

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Garden impatience: green tomato salsa.


I like salsa.

I like salsa a lot.

Every year I get impatient, waiting for my tomatoes and peppers to be ripe.

We had our first few ripe hot peppers this week, though our tomatoes are still way green. And I thought, why not green tomato salsa?

Turns out it’s tasty!

Just chop a few green tomatoes and a bunch of onions (I used about a one-to-one mix), add some chopped hot pepper and garlic, maybe cilantro or epazote, a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, salt to taste, and call it salsa!

PS I have my camera talking to my new computer now, so I’ll be posting a bunch of local meals soon…

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One local summer: something tasty to drink wine with.

antipasto.JPG When the boy and I got home last night after a long day of combing the countryside for ruined farmhouses, we weren’t too hungry. We’d had a late lunch, and we were a bit tired for real cooking.

But skipping supper wasn’t an option. We needed to sit around the table and drink wine, and talk, and nibble something tasty.

The perfect solution: antipasto for supper!

This is what we ate (all things that were in the fridge or otherwise easily accessible):

Sourdough English Muffins* made with local wheat from Reed’s Mill over the hill in Second Creek, WV.

Sliced hardboiled eggs (these eggs, of course).

Homemade herbed cottage cheese** made with local raw milk and oregano and thyme from the garden.

Fresh arugula from the garden.

Roasted peppers from last year’s garden.

So very tasty.

(No, the wine wasn’t local. It was Kermit Lynch Vin de Table du Vaucluse. We’re still experimenting with local wine.)

This is my first post for One Local Summer, a local food blogging event hosted this year by Farm to Philly. The deal? I’ll post about one all-local meal every week. Shouldn’t be too hard, since we’re eating mostly local these days anyway.

* English muffins are radically easy to make. Just take any bread dough, make a thin-ish English muffin shape, and either cook it on a hot griddle on top of the stove or bake it in a very hot oven (turning once, to brown both sides). One thing: you need to cook them longer than you think you do — about 10 minutes on each side. Remember, they have to bake all the way through.

** Cottage cheese is as easy as English muffins if you have raw milk. I just let mine stand overnight to clabber, and then strain out the curds.

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This is what a good egg looks like.

goodegg.JPGThis is a good egg. A tasty egg. A nutritious egg.

See how the yolk is practically orange?

That’s because the chicken pecked all around in grass and weeds, eating bugs and plants and whatever it could scratch on 8 acres of pasture down the road at the Greenville Garden.

There’s just no comparing this kind of egg to the pale imitation you get from a confined chicken, even an organic one. You don’t need laboratory tests to tell you that these eggs are miles better. You can see it. You can taste it.

This little egg was destined for rice fritters.

I’m trying to use up last year’s garden vegetables that are still in the freezer. Frozen (thawed) grated zucchini is perfect for rice fritters. (You can also use just about any kind of vegetable leftovers — rice fritters are versatile!)

First, squeeze the water out of the zucchini (save it for soups and rice and such).

Mix the zucchini with rice and enough egg to hold it all together. (You may need to add a little flour if your rice isn’t very sticky.)

Add salt and spices — I like chopped garlic and a bit of hot paprika.

To fry the fritters, get a heavy pan (preferably cast-iron) thoroughly hot over medium heat, and add some oil or fat (I use our home-rendered lard). Spoon the batter into the pan, and wait until the fritters are set before you try to turn them. Cook them until they’re nicely browned on both sides.

I love these fritters with yogurt-garlic sauce. But then, I love just about everything with yogurt-garlic sauce. (Yogurt-garlic sauce is easy: just add chopped or pounded garlic to some yogurt and salt to taste. It’s especially wonderful with goat or sheep yogurt.)

Happy frittering!

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