Sunday, September 27, 2009

Potatoes, Potatoes and More Potatoes

To my taste, the best potatos are the first fresh-dug spuds of spring. But the variety of potatoes that appeared at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market today challenge that belief.

At North Star I found the Belgian Bintje variety, $2.50/pound. These are the classic potatoes used in the frites you find on streets throughout Brussels, though they are equally compatible with boiling or steaming. I intend to use them sautéd in either bacon or duck fat. I'll also try them in a fish chowder using leftover halibut (see previous post).

Savoie Farm featured a number of potatoes I had never seen before, including the All Blue ($5/pound), Rose Gold ($8), Island Sunshine ($5), Red Cloud ($4) and Onaway ($4).

Noelle Margarum, doyenne of preserves and herbs at Headhouse, was selling Kennebecs and Potomac Reds at $2/quart. Her Kennebecs, however, were labelled "Kenny Backs". These potatoes undoubtedly originated in Kennbec County, Maine, though these flavorful all-purpose spuds are quite popular among Southeastern Pennsylvania farmers. Noelle also had a beautiful selection of winter squashes, as shown in this photo.

Blooming Glen also displayed Kennebecs, as well as Purple Vikings, Both were priced at $2/pound.

Beechwood Orchards still had raspberries, as well as the last of their peaches. In addition to apples and Asian pears, Beechwood displayed Seckel, Bosc and Bartlett pears ($5/quart) and concord grapes ($4 quart).

In yesterday's post I observed that local chestnuts, like those sold by Earl Livengood, tend to be smaller than the Italian imports we should start seeing a few weeks. Dave of Beechwood proves me wrong; his chestnuts were plump, big and blemish free, $3.50/quart. He expects to have them in future weeks and I intend to try them soon, even if I don't have an open fire available.

As usual, Tom Culton had an interesting array of produce, including white, orange and purple cauliflower (right). He also featured the Italian variety of pears I wrote about a few weeks ago, big yellow tomatoes, and huge baskets of concord grapes.

A few merchants didn't make it to Headhouse today, including Yoder Heirlooms and Patch of Star goat dairy. They are expected back next week.
Just For the Halibut

Sorry, couldn't resist that fisherman's pun just as I couldn't resist the halibut I reported on yesterday.

This was one of the most gorgeous pieces of fish I've had in a long time and it tasted as good as it looked. If you're heading over the Reading Terminal Market today (they close at 5 p.m.), get a hunk of it at John Yi's @ $12.99/pound.

I mostly cooked it as I reported in the previous post, the major difference is that I baked it in a foil-covered dish rather than en papillote using foil. Should anyone wish to try it, below is the recipe I used. The peppers I used were the bargains I bought from Tom Culton at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market a week ago; he was selling the eight-inch long sweet red peppers at three for a buck. I only used two of these babies in the recipe; with average-sized bell peppers you'd probably need three.

Halibut with Sweet Peppers


  • Halibut filet (1 to 1.5 pounds); try to buy as thick a filet as you can find. One-and-a-half inches is idea, if you can find one.
  • Sweet peppers (three medium sized bell peppers or equivalent, any color, or mixed colors for added eye appeal)
  • One large shallot, roughly chopped (half a medium onion works, too)
  • Olive oil
  • Parsley, roughly chopped, about one-quarter to one-third of a bunch
  • Flavorful vinegar (I used sherry vinegar), two tablespoons
  • One lemon (juice from one half, slice other half thinly for garnish)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 F. Position a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Slice peppers into one-quarter inch thick sticks, 3-4 inches long.
  3. Sauté shallots and peppers in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat until peppers are softened, about 8-10 minutes. Just before it finishes, add salt to taste and a couple tablespoons of vinegar, turning heat to high to evaporate most of the vinegar.
  4. Transfer peppers and shallots to baking dish (8 or 9 inch square works, depending on size of fish; an oval baking dish would be even better if you have one that's big enough. Sprinkle about half the lemon juice and half the parsley over the peppers.
  5. Place fish atop the peppers, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, remaining lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and place on middle rack in oven. Use the Canadian method of timing: in hot oven cook for 10 minutes for each inch of thickness; a 1.5-inch thick filet will take 15 minutes.
  7. Serve fish portions (they will probably flake a little) atop the peppers, sauce with the accumulated liquid from the baking dish. Garnish with lemon slices and remaining parsley.
Because we had pumpkin ravioli as a first course, I skipped serving potatoes or any other starch with the fish. But simple steamed/boiled potatoes tossed in butter would work well, as would buttered rice, couscous or noodles. So would a good baguette to sop up the sauce. (I'd avoid more assertive flavors so that the flavor of the fish and sweet peppers shines.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brisk Business at Farmstand

Since opening at its new location within the Reading Terminal Market Wednesday, the Fair Food Farmstand has been doing brisk business. Although long-term trends cannot be divined from just three days' business, manager Sarah Cain reports increased traffic and revenue. Weekly volume should be bumped up when the stall begins seven-day-a-week operation Oct. 5; in recent years it has been closed on Mondays.

While much of the business has been from regular customers, many are new, including a few clueless folks who said they never knew the Fair Food Farmstand existed at its previous location within the market.

Don't expect to be able to order a quiche, sandwich or salad for consumption at the RTM from Fair Food anytime soon. Although Fair Food plans to eventually use some of its prep space to create items for lunchers and munchers, RTM General Manager Paul Steinke said serious talks about adding the additional line of business haven't even started. Fair Food didn't elect to hook up to the market's extensive exhaust and ventilation system, so they definitely won't be making cheesesteaks or roast pork sandwiches. But expect items that could be prepped and cooked in a convection oven, sandwich press, induction stove top and similar small appliances.

Other Vendors Spruce Up

Convex display cases are all the rage among merchants at the Reading Terminal Market. If I recall correctly, it started when John Yi redid its cases a year or so ago. More recently the new meat seller, S&B, installed similar cases. Over the last month L. Halteman and Termini's updated their stalls with the attractive cases.

At Termini's, the refrigerated cases greatly expands capacity to store and sell pastries requiring refrigeration. Stop by and you'll see a much larger selection of cakes and other goodies that must keep their cool.

Produce Report

If you want some paw paws, you'll save plenty by buying them at Earl Livengood's in center court vs. Fair Food. Both come from the same source -- Lancaster hunter-gatherer Sam Consylman who forages for them along the banks of local creeks -- but Earl's are sold for $3.95/pound, vs. $6.50 at Fair Food. No matter where you buy them, select the blackened, soft ugly ones if you plan on eating them in the next day or two. They've got to be mushy to be good. They will, however, ripen on the counter top. Paw paws can be eaten fresh, but their highest use is in ice cream, puddings, cookies or other baked goods. For recipes, see the web collection of Kentucky State University.

In addition to the paw paws, Fair Food had French breakfast radishes, $2.50/bunch. Kabocha squash was $1.95/pound, all others $1.75. They've still got yellow peaches, $1.75, and both heirloom and cherry and grape tomatoes. The first rutabagas of the season are $1.50/pound. Also in stock are canned peaches in light syrup from Three Springs Fruit Farm (a regular vendor at Headhouse); I stocked up on these delicious canned goods last winter. Fair Food also has South Jersey canned tomatoes.

Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce still has corn, 50-cents an ear. Broccoli and cauliflower are $1.75 and $4.95 a head, respectively, red sweet potatoes $1.99/pound, whites $2.49. Large concord grapes are $2.50/pint.

Corn, peaches, raspberries, tomatoes and lima beans are finishing out their season at Livengood's, but cool-weather greens are in abundance, as are Earl's potatoes. Chestnuts made their apperance last week for the first time, $2.95 for a half pint; the local chestnuts are a tad smaller than the large Italian imports we should start seeing soon.

I picked up some halibut filet at John Yi's for dinner tonight. I couldn't resist: the firm, snowy sides from Canada were priced at a relative bargain $12.99/pound. Porgys were $3.99, mackerel $2.99 and sea bass $5.99. I'll probably bake the halibut in foil with sweet red pepper julienne and herbs tonight.

I'm no pasta maker, so I rely on packaged dry product for most of my consumption. But every year at this time I indulge in pumpkin ravioli from Pasta by George. It's not cheap ($10.99 for a dozen), but it is good. They'll serve as the first course tonight in a brown butter sage sauce.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Food Warrior' Nestle at Fair Food Grand Opening

Marion Nestle, dubbed "food warrior" by Time magazine for her intelligent, fact-based advocacy for good food and nutrition, will participate in the grand opening ceremony for the Fair Food Farmstand's new stall at the Reading Terminal Market. The event will be held Friday morning, Oct. 2.

Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health; Safe Food: Bacterial, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism, and What to Eat.

Nestle will be heading over to the Fair Food event after giving the keynote speech at the annual conference of Les Dames d’Escoffierm, a world wide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality. The 1,400-plus member group will meet Oct. 1-4 at the Sofitel. The Philadelphia chapter of the group boasts 83 members.

After the Fair Food ceremony, the non-profit's executive director, Ann Karlen, will head back to the conference to join a panel on food system partnerships with, among others, Marilyn Anthony, Southeastern Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fair Food Makes Its Move

The Fair Food Farmstand opened for business today at its new location along the 12th Street side of the Reading Terminal Market. The space was last occupied by Rick's Steaks. The stall shut down at close of business Saturday to allow the staff to work over the weekend and through yesterday to prepare and move the stock.

With one reach-in refrigerator, two reach-in freezers, and an open shelf produce refrigerator, the new location offers plenty of additional cool capacity. That's in addition to the "arks" (the shelving which holds the produce at an angle), and tables painted with a milk-based paint, wood-finishing made from 40-year-old telephone poles, and chalkboard slate countertops. Although only one checkout was in operation today, there's a second checkout available to speed shoppers along. The west-facing windows brighten the space considerably, though additional lighting will be installed, according to Fair Food's Ann Karlen.

Fair Food as a way to go to take full advantage of the new space. The inventory that overflowed from the old stall doesn't come close to capacity now. Among the goodies you could have purchased today: heirloom tomatoes at $5/pound, organic field tomatoes at $2.50; Long Island "cheese" pumpkins (purportedly tops for making pumpkin pie), $1.70/pound; green Bartlett pears, $2; red Bartletts, $2.75; Seckel pears, $2.75; acorn, buttercup or butternut squashes, $1.75/pound.

Once the old freezer and refrigerator are removed from the former stall, RTM will convert it to a seating area.

I've got some photos of the new stall below; just click on a photo to see a larger image. For a fuller documentation of the move, visit Messy and Picky blog, co-authored by Albert Yee, one of the Fair Food Farmstand's staffers (that's Albert in the bottom photo, putting some finishes touches onto one of the "arks").

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peaches Fading, Apples Gaining

Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchard was the only vendor at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market today who still had peaches, yellows or whites for $4/quart. Dave still expects to have them next week. He warns that while the flavor and texture are great, these won't be keepers; the late season peaches, he says, will dry out fairly quickly on the counter or in the fridge.

Dave still had plentious varieties of plums as well as late season raspberries. But apples are entering the peak season,which will continue into November. Beechwood's varieties today included Honey Crisp, the season's first Macouns (they'll only be here for a few weeks), Ginger Golds, Cortlands, Ida Reds, Jonathans, Jonagolds, Galas and Empires. The Honey Crisps were selling for $4.50/quart, the rest fror $4.

Northstar Orchards offered plenty of apples, too, as well as Asian pears. What attracted me most at this vendor, however, were the great yellow flat beans pictured above, a variety they called Marvel of Venice ($2.50/pound). This Italian heirloom pole bean had pods 3/4-inch wide and 7-9 inches long. Northstar's heads of endive ($2.50/bunch) also looked particularly good. A.T. Buzby's green string beans were healthy looking, $3.50/quart.

The celeriac (celery root) at Culton Organics -- that's Tom Culton in the banded hat -- cried out "Eat me, eat me". So I bought a knob. I haven't yet decided whether to just julienne it and toss it in remoulade, or simmer with potatoes and puree them together. Using them with the potatoes elevates the puree considerably, giving the potatoes a superb fresh flavor and providing a light texture you don't expect. Just severely trim the bulbs; you may want to hold the cut up celeriac in acidulated water to forestall oxidation. The leaves are a welcome addition to a stock pot or any place else you want an herbal celery flavor. Culton also had many cases of gorgeous, long sweet peppers, mostly red but some with a tinge of green, priced at a bargain 3/$1.

Many of the vendors still have a good supply of tomatoes: field, heirloom or cherry. Corn is still available, as are eggplant in its many manisfestations. Produce that does well in cooler weather has been making a comeback in recent week, including cabbages and other members of the brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and, soon, brussels sprouts), and radishes, among others. Yoder Heirlooms contiunues to offer those wonderful cowpeas (black eyed peas) I raved about a few weeks ago. And just about everyone's got winter squashes, including butternut, pumpkins and, in the case of at least one vendor, blue hubbard.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Edible Cacti

Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market featured a nice selection of edibles from the prickly pear cactus plant. Both red and green cactus pears and cactus leaves (nopales) are shown here, along with Meyers lemons. the cactus pears were two for a buck, a very good price, and the nopales 89 cents pound.

Iovine's also offered limes at a bargain eight for a buck, and beautiful, large purple South Jersey eggplants at 89 cents a pound. New Jersey plum tomatoes were $1.49/pound. String beans were 99 cents, iirc. Avocados are a buck apiece, organic avocados $1.99.

Figs are still in season at Fair Foods. They're selling green figs gathered from a South Philly tree in egg cartons (six for $4). Plenty of apples and they've still got peaches.

Hershel's East Side Deli had plenty of cold brisket on hand for those who didn't want to cook their own for tonight's Rosh HaShana dinners. He also had sweet kugel, but not potato. Although they also sell hot brisket, the cold briskets allow the staff to slice it to whatever thickness you like.

In addition to bagels from New York's H&H, they also sell very good bialys. I buy them frozen then reheat for about 9 minutes in a 350-degree toaster oven. Plenty oniony and a great alternative to bagels.
New Stalls Under Construction

At the Reading Terminal Market, visible progress has been made at Beck's Cajun Cafe (top photo), shooting for a late October debut.

Fair Food (bottom) figures they'll make their goal of moving to the new location by Tuesday.

When Fair Food vacates their present location, it will be restored to its previous incarnation as a seating area.
Paw Paws Among Fairmount Treats

Here are the paw paws offered by Livengood's yesterday at the Fairmount Farmers' Market. The more dark spotting they have, the better, since that indicates ripeness. A totally green paw paw is to be avoided. These were okay, but I like to see more coverage of dark spots.

As reported earlier, they should be available at Fair Food as well as the Livengood's Saturday at the Reading Terminal Market and Tuesday at the South & Passyunk market.

In addition to the paw paws (priced at $3.95/pound), yesterday Livengood's featured ground cherries at $3.50/pint, beets for either $2.50 a bunch with leaves or $2.50/pound without, scallions for $1.50/bunch, and concord grapes for $4.50/quart. Expect similar prices Saturday at the RTM.

The Fairmount market has been growing in popularity since it started about four or five years ago, and is now up to a regular complement of about half a dozen vendors. Dozens of customers were there shortly after its 3 p.m. opening yesterday. I'm sure the visitors getting off the tour buses there (it serves as the stop for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site) enjoyed the market's presence as much as the neighbors.

Sam Stolfus, the Amish produce vendor at Fairmount, offered good looking Bartlett pears at $3.50/quart, as well as a number of different apples. Plum tomatoes were $3.50/quart, regular field tomatoes $2/pound, and Asian pears $3.50/quart. His watermelons ranged in price from $3 to $7, depending on size. Of all the produce vendors, Sam provides the widest range of fruits and vegetables, as well as Amish baked goods (much too sweet for my taste, but many enjoy them, especially the moon pies.

Bill Weller's well-supplied produce stall had plenty of tomatoes and peaches, corn and melons. Other vendors at Fairmount yesterday included John & Kira's Chocoloates, Wild Flour Bakery, an Amish meat and egg vendor, and a flower stall.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fair Food Moves This Weekend

The Fair Food Farmstand expects to open at its new Reading Terminal Market location next Tuesday. They'll be closed this Sunday and Monday to make the move.

As we reported last Saturday, refrigerators and freezers were delivered, as well as all the shelving.

A formal grand opening celebration is planned for Friday, Oct. 2.
Paw Paws Arrive This Week

Ace gatherer Sam Consylman called to report that the paw paw season is underway, and the crop looks healthy.

The trees are laden with these custard apple-like fruits, and the rain predicted for tomorrow should put a lot on the ground. Sam forages for the paw paws by local creeks and aims to beat little critters to the fruit, who also enjoy its tropical flavor, even though it's native to North America's temperate climes. The fruits he gathered today are ripe, but he expects even more over the next few weeks.

(The photo, by the way, comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; photo by Scott Bauer.)

They'll be available tomorrow at Earl Livengood's stall at the Fairmount Farmers' Market, 22nd and Fairmount. Livengood's will also sell them Saturday at the Reading Terminal Market and the Bryn Mawr Farmers' Market, and again Tuesday afternoonn at the South & Passyunk venue. They'll also be available at the Fair Food Farmstand at the Reading Terminal Market, according to Sam.

If you need any recipes, Sam has them. He's usually at the South & Passyunk market on Tuesdays; just ask him and he'll pull out his book.

It's no coincidence that this weekend marks the annual Ohio Paw Paw Festival held outside of Athens. In addition to the usual paw paw puddings, pies, cakes and ice creams, expect to sample more savory dishes. There's also a paw paw beverage competition, including alcoholic beverages. Anyone for some Paw Paw Beer?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Farmer Jim

The crew at Iovine Brothers Produce brought out a cake this past week for Jim Iovine (cartoon at right). The cake was adorned with the words “Congratulations Farmer Jim.”

The occasion was Jim’s closing on a 57-acre spread in Franiklinville, New Jersey, about 10 minutes this side of Vineland, complete with farmhouse. This winter Jim and brother Vinnie will be planning what to plant there. So, late next season, you might expect to see a little truly home-grown produce at Iovine Brothers.

Dinic's: You Want It Hot?

For the past few weeks, Dinic’s has added roasted long hot peppers to their offerings, in addition to the sweet roasted bell peppers. Joe Nicolosi says as long as the hot peppers are inexpensive, they’ll have them. But, given the pepper’s seasonal nature, don’t expect them when the wholesale case price escalates this winter.

When Dinic’s roasts their peppers every morning, they add oil, garlic, salt and some hot pepper flakes. They omit the flakes for the mildly-firery long hots.

This Week at the Reading Terminal Market

Limes and grapes were among the bargains this morning at Iovine Brothers Produce. The limes were eight fror a buck. Two-pound bags of loose grapes were selling for $1.99, vs. a pound price of $1.99 for slightly larger grapes still (mostly) attached sold in tray packs.

Vinnie Iovine touted the quality and price of the mangoes this season. I didn’t check today’s price, but a week ago the large Kent mangoes were selling for two for a buck.

The number of different varieties of apples is widening as we approach the autumnal equinox, at Iovine’s, Fair Food, L. Halteman, O.K. Lee and Kauffman’s Lancaster County produce. Winter squashes of all sorts are plentiful. In addition to buttercup, butternuts and acorns, I spied gooseneck pumpkins (they’ve got coloration like a watermelon) at Iovine’s. Another good deal at Iovine’s were 10-pound bags of New Jersey all-purpose white potatoes for $3.99; that will make a lot of kugel.

Summer hangs on, though. Expect to see local corn, peaches, tomatoes and summer squashes through the end of the month.

Kauffman had some late summer strawberries this week. While not quite as flavorful as those we get in late May and early June, the $3.95 a half-pint local hothouse fruits were a lot more flavorful than winter berries. Ben’s also been selling blackberries for $4.95/pint (vs. $7.50 at Fair Food), but the season for these is just about done. Apple prices ranged from $1.99 (Galas) to $2.49 (Honey Crisps). Bartlett pears were $1.49. His pound price for peaches are $1.99 (yellow) and $2.99 (white).

Over at Fair Food, peaches were $1.75. They’ve also got a profusion of beets, with Red, Golden and Chioggas at $2/pound. Pluots and plums ranged from $2.50-$2.75, depending upon variety.

S&B meats is long on sausages and wursts, but short on fresh pork. Only the jost common cuts are available, including baby back ribs, tenderloins, sirloin roasts, filets, chops and stuffed chops.

A new variety of tomatoes has cropped up over the past couple weeks at both Fair Food and Headhouse: Golden Peach. They do look like small peaches. Livengood’s was selling them for $3.50/pint. Livengood’s also has Cape Gooseberries, also known as ground cherries. This relative of the tomatillo has the delightful taste of a combination of tomatoe and pineaple. (Useless fact: Cape Goosberries’ scientific name is physalis peruvianna; tomatillos are physalais philadelphica. Both, like tomatoes, are members of the nightshade family.)

Flying Monkey Spreads Its Wings

Rebecca Michaels, proprietor of Flying Monkey Patisserie at the Reading Terminal Market, is expanding. She hopes to open a cafe at 11th and Locust in the near future.
Beck's, Fair Food Progress

The walls have started to rise at Beck’s Cajun Cafe in the Reading Terminal Market. The stall, which will feature Louisiana specialties from beignets to jambalaya, is located across from Tootsie’s Salad Express.

Refrigerators and freezers were delivered to the new Fair Food Farmstand along the market’s 12th Street windows. They’re at least a couple weeks away from moving into the new space. In the meantime, the Fair Food stall is working out of one chest freezer and one reach-in refrigerator.

Headhouse Report

Asian pears were back last week at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market. Hosui’s were selling for $2.50 at North Star Orchards. Culton Organics also offered Asian pears at $1 piece, and Beechwood Orhcards for $5/quart. Also at North Star last week were pears and apples at $2/pound and sweet peppers for $2.59

Now that summer’s heat has relented, radishes are back in season. Weaver’s Way and Yoder’s Heirlooms had them for $2.50/bunch. Weaver’s also featured leeks, $2/pound.

Beechwood’s Macintosh and Honey Crisp appoes sold for $4.50/quart, pears were $5/quart, peaches $4 and nectarines $4.50. Plums and pluots were $6.50/quart, $3.50/pint.

Three Springs Fruit Farm was selling Gala and Ginger Gold apples and Bartlett pears for $1.99/pound. Honey Crisps were $2.49.

Ever wonder about Tom Culton’s small pieces of slate he uses for identifying and pricing his produce? They’re the remnants from his barn roof, which now sports a shiny aluminum top.