Monday, September 22, 2008

Leeks and Sweets

Tom Culton never fails to put together a photogenic display of his produce, like these leeks and white sweet potatoes at his Culton Organics stand at the Headhouse Farmers' Market Sunday. No less impressive are the varieties of colorful French carrots from Culton.

This was the weekend for me to pick up some Roma (plum) tomatoes. I purchased mine from Margerum's at Headhouse, but there were beautiful speciments from other vendors there, as well as at the Reading Terminal Market Saturday (Rineer's Family Farm, selling via Fair Food Farmstand, and at Benuel Kaufman's Lancaster County Produce). The price at most vendors hovered around $2/pound, though you could get a deal if you were planning to make a lot of sauce and could buy by the case. I skinned, cored and seeded the quart from Margerum's and made a sauce with onions, garlic (lots) and basil, which then went into some penne baked with parmesan, fresh mozzarella and ricotta. I topped it with some slices of sauteed mild Italian sausage from Martin's of the RTM.

Radishes seem to be back en force with the autumnal equinox. I purchased a bunch of French radishes, along with some Toscano kale. Among other fall vegetables, Culton, Earl Livengood and others are offering sweet, young knobs of celeriac; julienne and serve tossed with a remoulade sauce, or puree and mix with mashed potatoes.

Over at the RTM, those $6.49/pound packs of duck legs at Giunta's I wrote about in a previous post are now $5.95.

White and red cranberries are in season at the Fair Food Farmstand. Lemons and limes were both eight for a buck at Iovine Brothers Produce Saturday, and rather ripe but eminently useable Hass avocados were a buck apiece. Iovine's local red bell peppers were selling for 99 cents, as were suntans; the orange and yellows (not local) were $1.99. Regular and Sicilian eggplants from South Jersey were two pounds for a dollar. Across the way at L. Halteman, quince was $1.99 and both butternut and acorn squashes 69-cents.

Andy of Hershel's East Side Deli said he's eliminated the middleman and is now buying his briskets (for corned beef and brisket) and navels (for pastrami) directly from one of the major Midwest suppliers. He's also brining his own corned beef and pastrami. Much to my surprise, Andy said he doesn't smoke his pastrami; it's all done through the magic of the cure and the seasonings. After some web research I learned, indeed, that pastrami does not necessarily have to be smoked to be authentic and tasty. Whodathunk?

Chocolate By Mueller at the RTM has long been a licorice-lover's delight. This week I discovered a favorite hard candy among them: Hopjes, a Dutch coffee-flavored confection. I was reacquainted with this treat earlier this year when a couple of pieces arrived with the check at the Belgium Cafe in Fairmount.

Work has started at Jonathan's Best, the grocery-soup-sandwich emporium which will occupy the former Natural Connection/Margerum's space. The new shop is looking for a late October opening.

Last week I complained about the condition of the stools at Fisher's. RTM GM Paul Steinke advises the vendor will be re-doing his stand, but not until after Christmas.

The RTM's annual Harvest Festival is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 18. There will be hayrides around the block, stacks of hay along Harry Ochs Way (Filbert Street), a pumpkin patch, and special autumn treats from a number of vendors.

Mitch "Wild Thang" Williams was selling his salsa and signing autographs Saturday. A portion of the proceeds went to the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association.

The hurricane remants that but a damper on outdoor activities the Saturday before last caused the postponement of 10th anniversary festivities of the Clark Park Market operated by The Food Trust. Re-mark it on your calendar for Oct. 4.

Last Thursday was a beautiful day for a field trip, so I visited some fields. In this case, they were in the Black Dirt belt of Pine Island, N.Y., just over the border from northewestern New Jersey, a three-hour ride from Philadelphia.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was not to view the Black Dirt farms (ideal for growing yellow onions, but also good for potatoes and all sorts of other veggies), but to collect my annual supply of Cox Orange Pippins, an apple variety that I am quick to tell all and anyone is one of the finest dessert (fresh-eating) apples in the world. They're hard to find, but Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery's pick-your-own operation has a row of them along with many other varities of apples. The winery is located just a half-mile down the road form the fields pictured here.

The Cox Orange Pippin is a finicky fruit; like many other "antique" apples, it's not a commercially appealing variety, since you only get a decent yield every other year. The variety dates back to the early 1800s and remains a much-loved apple in England, which is imported from South Africa in the off-season much as we do fruit from Chile. Today's Gala applie is a descendant of the Cox Orange Pippin.

Other than Warwick Valley Winery, the closest grower of this apple to Philadelphia of which I'm aware is Holy Root Farm in New Tripoli in Lehigh County. Farmer Rick Stuby advised me that his crop doesn't look so hot this year, hence, the trip to New York State. Warwick Valley Winery, btw, makes killer hard cider from apples and/or pears.

For those wishing to learn more about the Black Dirt Belt of Pine Island, there was an interesting article last year in The New York Times.

I concluded my jaunt with a visit to nearby Bobolink Dairy, Jonathan White's artisanal cheesery and bakery just over the border in New Jersey where I picked up his Drumm and Amtram varieties to accompany those lovely apples. Thence back home, via East Hanover, N.J., for a late lunch stop at Jimmy Buff's for that classic North Jersey treat, an Italian hot dog. It's an all-beef hot dog deep fried with onions, peppers and round-cut potatoes, served on a quarter wedge of round Italian bread. I prefer Tommy's version in my native Elizabeth, but Jimmy Buff's original in Newark is the acknowledged creator of this sandwich.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fisher's Stools Stink

Walking around the Reading Terminal Market this morning I noticed the stools at Fisher's, the Pennsylvania Dutch section merchant who sells fresh pretzels, ice cream and candies. Seems like a little minor investment is in order. Certainly doesn't reflect well on the merchant or the entire Amish section. Proprietor Paul Fisher should either recover the stools, replace them or remove them.

Keeping up appearances by individual merchants is in tune with some minor sprucing up market management is undertaking: a repainting of the seating areas, additional bins for recyclables, and the ordering of a new striped awnings to adorn the Arch and 12th street sides.

Another merchant volunteered to me with no prompting that he thought it weird that the row between aisles 8 and 10 is where most of the market's vacancies occur. The market would still like to locate a produce vendor when Rick Olivieri vacates his space Oct. 31. GM Paul Steinke would love to see the Fair Food Farmstand move there, but placing produce where they get afternoon sunlight makes it a less than idea location for that use without significant engineering and electricity consumption.

Fair Food will be spending more on electricity soon, even if they stay in place. Co-manager Sarah Cain said a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay for refrigerated vegetable gondolas, which should improve the shelf-life and quality of produce that needs cooler temperatures. That means some significant rearranging of the stand's layout is in the offing, including a possible expansion into a small part of the adjacent seating area. Another grant has been awarded for improved signage, which will be designed once the details on the new refrigeration equipment and stall design is locked up.

The Fair Food Farmstand also began accepting USDA food stamp electronic cards this week. It's something many of The Food Trust's farmers markets have been doing for a while.

The fall cabbage crop has started to show up at produce vendors. Earl Livengood had small heads of red and green cabbage. Benuel Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce had half heads of large green cabbages for $2. Ben also has the cauliflower I mentioned in a previous post (photo below).

Another sign of fall could be found at Iovine Brothers Produce: pumpkins. They featured a bin of small "spooky" pumpkins selling for $1.99 apiece. Welch's, mostly known for their grape juice and jellies, is extending the brand by licensing their name to a distributor of table grapes; Iovine's had three-pound clam shells of green seedless grapes selling for $1.99 today. (Welch's is dear to my heart: I went to college at a historically Methodist liberal arts college with affiliated seminary where one of the women's dorms was named after the Welch family, which started their business in 1869 in Vineland to provide grape juice for communion for the alcohol-free congregations.)

Yet another sign of autumn: chestnuts at Livengood's, right next to the paw paws.

I've written before of the Joe Jurgielewicz & Son ducks available at Giunta's Prime Shop. In addition to whole ducks at $3.95/pound, Giunta's recently added packs of legs ($6.49) along with their boneless breasts ($12.95). Just in time for confit-making season.

Another correction: I misspelled the name of the cooking school at the market in a recent post. It's "La Cucina", without an "h".

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fairmount Adds Vendors

Two new vendors joined the Fairmount & 22nd market today: a cheese-maker and a flower-herb vendor.

The latter, whose name I forget (other than David) is an Amishman who also sells at South Street on Tuesday afternoon. The cheese-maker is North Jersey's Valley Shepherd Creamery, which makes superlative sheep cheeses which I've previously purchased at the Fair Food Farmstand.

The paw paws were in, and they are ripe and ready, as you can see in the accompanying photo. As noted in my earlier post, you want to buy them heavily mottled. These were gathered by Sam Consylman and available at Livengood's, whose own paw paw trees have produced larger (but not quite ready yet) fruit this year, according to Dwain Livengood.

The addition of David and Valley Sheperd Creamy brings to six the number of merchants at Fairmount. Other vendors there include Bill Weller (orchard fruit and other produce), Sam Stolfus (produce, Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods), and Versailles Bakery.

At left is a sample of some of Livengood's produce available today, including celeriac and okra. Dwain says they don't plant late corn, so the ears they are selling come from other Lancaster area farmers.

They've still got ground cherries. Audrey Livengood said she baked them in a pie that turned out very well. She pre-baked the shell, then sprinkled the bottom with sugar (brown, I think) and flour, then mixed the fruits with some additional flour (not much), sugar and a couple tablespoons of water before baking. The ground cherries don't release all that much liquid, she said. Dwain vouched for its deliciousness.

Bacon taste test

A few weeks ago I raved about Green Meadow's bacon, and said I'd also report on the nitrite-free product from Country Time. Alas, the Country Time bacon is one I won't be purchasing again. Much too salty, light in the smoke department. The saltiness is a problem I've tasted before in nitrite-free bacons. Gimme chemicals, especially natural ones like saltpeter.
At the Terminal, Summer and Autumn Produce Compete

Missed Headhouse and the Fairmount and South Street markets the last couple of weeks (I'm planning to hit Fairmount this afternoon), so this report focuses on the Reading Terminal Market, where plenty of goodies reflected both summer and autumn.

L. Halteman, though primarily a butcher shop and deli, offers in-season produce at the Reading Terminal Market. Love the primitive Lancaster County scene that serves as a backdrop (see photo at left) to their fruits and vegetables, which are usually of high quality and competitively priced.

Expect to see paw paws this weekend at Livengood's and the Fair Food Farmstand. I'll be checking out the former this afternoon at their Fairmount & 22nd venue. For those who've got a yen to travel, or just want to learn more about this native North American fruit, visit the Ohio Paw Paw Festival this weekend, just about 8 or 10 miles down the road from Ohio University, Athens. Livengood had a few of the paw paws gathered by Sam Consylman last week, but there weren't many and they weren't ripe. If a paw paw is all green and lacks significant mottling, it's not ready. The browner and softer the better. They were priced at $2.95/pound.

Local grapes are plentiful right now, including Concords, which Livengood's was selling for $3.95/quart. They've also got ground cherries, a curious, tomatillo-like fruit (a.k.a. Cape Gooseberries) in a papery wrapper, $2.95/pint. Good for snacking, but I also think they'd make great preserves. Iovine Brothers featured scuppernong grapes recently, $3.99 for a 1.5 pound clamshell.

It's the peak of local pear season, especially Bartletts. Benuel Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the RTM was selling them for $1.49/pound. Apples, of course, are now starting in a big way. All the early commercial varieties could be found this past week at the RTM and city farm markets. Iovine's also had navel oranges from South Africa (it's the end of their season) at three for a buck.

I'm still concentrating on peaches, however. Iovine's featured Jersey whites and yellows at $1.19 recently and nectarines at $1.49. O.K. Lee had Jersey yellows recently for 99-cents. Ben Kauffman's yellow peaches and nectarines were $1.99, white peaches $2.69. Plums are still plentiful, though the season is shifting to the late varities like the Italian prune plums, $2/pint at Kauffman's.

Still plenty of local corn available, though the quality sometimes flags a bit late in the season. Livengood's was selling theirs for 70-cents an ear, Kauffman's for 50-cents, Iovine Brothers three for a buck. And ya gotta have tomatoes. Kauffman's was selling Brandywines for $2.99. Iovine featured Jersey plum (Roma) tomatoes at 99-cents; over at Fair Food Farmstand they were going for $2.

It's fig season, and Fair Food was selling some from a South Philly tree at six for $3. (I can pick them for free up the next block in my Fairmount neighborhood). Iovine's got California black figs at less than half that price: $2.99 for a pint box of about 10-12.

Cauliflower reared it's snow white head at Ben Kauffman's stand last week, $4 for an exceedingly large specimen. Other fall veggies won't be far behind.

The price of lemons fell at Iovine's to a dime apiece, but limes are still a quarter. They are selling local green peppers for 99-cents, $1.99 for sweet red bells. Both come from Shadybrook, the Iovine's contract supplier in Bucks County.

On the protein front, chicken feet must be getting more popular, since the price seems high at $2.19/pound at Godshall's, where hearts go for $2.09 and livers and gizzards $1.89. What happened to lamb shanks, which used to be a cheap meat, looks like it's happening to chicken feet. For comparison, Eberly's whole organic chicks were selling for $3.89 at Giunta's Prime Shop. Over at Martin's Quality Meats & Sausages, one of my favorite "trash" cuts, lamb breast (riblets) could be obtained for $3.29. I forget the price, but Martin's brother Charles Giunta had veal breast at a bargain price, too.

I don't know if they'll have them this week, since fish supplies are so variable, but John Yi's recently had the largest porgies I've ever seen, $2.99 for Florida behemoths. Headed mackeral was for for sale at $1.99, whole black bass for $5.99.

La Cuchina, the cooking class at the RTM, is working with Temple University to offer some star-chef classes this fall. Here's the lineup: David Ansill, Oct. 14; Marcie Turney, Oct. 20; Lance Silverman, Oct. 27; Ralph Fernandez, Oct. 30; Brinn Sinnot, Nov. 10; Marc Vetri, Nov. 15; and Aliza Green, Dec. 1. My guess is these classes will fill quickly.

One wag called it the Bermuda Triangle of the market: the meridian between Tootsie's Salad Express and Olympic Gyro: vendors locate there but mysteriously disappear. The latest victim was the Everyday Gourmet, in the space formerly occupied by Andros. Their concept for prepared food never caught on. Further along the meridian, Dutch Country Meats gave up the ghost earlier this year, and Natural Connection left the space formerly occupied by Margerum's. The last spot will be filled by Jonathan's Best, brought to you by the same folks who operate a similar gourmet market in Chestnut Hill. In addition to groceries they'll feature homemade soups and pre-made sandwiches.

The availability of a full "block" where Dutch Country Meats and Everyday Gourmet were located presents a challenge, but also an opportunity, as far as RTM GM Paul Steinke is concerned. Among the features of the space is a fully-installed range exhaust, a rare commodity in the market, and a walk-in refrigerator. Right now Benuel Kauffman is using part of the Dutch Country Meats space on a temporary basis.


I erred in ascribing the donuts at the Pennsylvania Dutch Festival to Fisher's in a previous post. They were being made and sold by Beiler's, the Pennsylvania Dutch bakery at the market.