Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stringbeans on Sale

After a winter of $2/pound string beans, Iovine Brother's Produce featured good looking ones for 99-cents this weekend.

Other items that drew my attention today were small Georgia peaches, 89-cents, and Kiwis, 5/$1. Green peppers were 99 cents, reds and yellows $1.99, orange peppers $2.99, frying peppers $1.99. Also, beautiful thin bulb  scallions (a.k.a. green onions), 2 bunches for $1.49.
DiNic's Goes Whole Hog

Well, acually a piglet, a 30-pounder to be precise.

Undoubtedly influenced by the popularity of the roast pig from Canulli's he helped carve for the Reading Terminal Market's Italian Festival, Tom Nicolosi, the roast pork mecca's proprietor, will be roasting a whole pig later this week. If all goes well, you can taste it Friday or Saturday.

But it won't be a special item on the menu. As son Joe Nicolosi explains, they'll be using the pig for their regular pulled pork sandwiches.

Cooking time, however, will be considerably longer than the normal seven or eight hours for the butts that make up the standard pulled pork. That's because in addition to the whole pig, it will be stuffed with butts. Cooking time will likely be upwards of 15 hours for the pig and and butts. The pig is being supplied by RTM butcher Charles Giunta who will be giving the Nicolosi's boning instructions as well.

This won't be the first experiment for Tommy Nicolosi. Last year he tried roasting butts with the skin on to provide some extra crunch, but he wasn't pleased with the results. Other experiments have fared considerably better, such as shen he added brisket and the Italian-style pulled pork to the menu a few years ago. If the whole roast pig works out in terms of taste, customer acceptance and economics, expect it to be a regular part of the menu.

Tommy doesn't limit his experimenting to his center court store. Earlier this spring for his South Jersey backyard he purchased a Big Green Egg cooker. He's quite happy the results, even going so far as to cook Sunday gravy (that's Italian red meat sauce) in it. The ability to control temperature is outstanding for a charcoal-fueled grill, he said.
Holiday Weekend Curtails RTM Farm Vendors

Maybe it was the Memorial Day weekend holiday, maybe it was better opportunities elsewhere, maybe it's just the price of gasoline, but only three produce vendor served customers at the 12th Street farmers' market opposite and sponsored by the Reading Terminal Market.

In addition to the three produce sellers, Shellbark Hollow Farm was there peddling their goat cheeses, Johh + Kira held forth with artisinal chocolates, and Twisted Lemonade was selling, well, lemonade.

Rittenhouse Square

A broader range of vendors showed up at Saturday's Rittenhouse Square farmers' market, where I purchased strawberries, sugar snap pea, and summer squash from Rineer Family Farm. The line of vendors was full for the block along the park from 18th to 19th street.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rineer at Rittenhouse

Daryl Rineer has cut back a bit on the farmers' markets he serves, but he was at Rittenhouse Square today with strawberries, asparagus, snow peas, lettuces and other produce. I walked away with a pint of snow peas ($3.75), spring mix lettuces ($3.25) and berries ($3.75/pint, two for $7, three for $10).

Rineer's used to be a regular at the Tuesday South Street market, but he's going to the Tuesday Rittenhouse market instead this season. They also have a stall in Chestnut Hill on Saturdays and Suburban Station on Thursdays.

Fahnestock Fruit Farm was also at Rittenhouse today (they also go to Clark Park on Saturdays) with hothouse tomatoes and basil plants. Hilltop Farms was at Rittenhouse today, too, with strawberries for $3.50/pint ($6/quart) and other produce. Another Rittenhouse produce vendor today was Down To Earth Organics with a variety of spring vegetables, mostly greens and green onions.
Grilling Season!

Martin's Quality Meats at the Reading Terminal Market has got you covered for grilling season, now that recent temperatures have hit the high 80s (though today it's a tad nippier and wetter).

Featured on a low key sign were lamb ribs, $3.29, and beef back ribs, $2.99, in addition to Martin's usual highly varied assortment of sausages.

I took to the grill a couple of days ago with some loin lamb chops I purchased back in early January from Harry Ochs. These two beauties held up well in the freezer. After defrosting I lightly salted them and placed them in a bag for another hour in the fridge, then immediately before grilling applied a dry rub of pepper, rosemary, thyme and garlic powder. Cooked to just half a step beyond rare to an even rose they were incredibly deep in flavor.

A better seafood buy at John Yi's than the New Zealand salmon I disparaged in the previous post is the Boston mackerel. The very fresh looking dressed fish sold for $2.99/pound. Had I not consumed a smoked, peppered filet from Duck Trap for dinner last night I might have indulged.

One of the pricier fruits at Iovine Brothers today were the black figs at $3.99 apiece! They were next to similarly priced rambutan, a "hairy" relative of the lychee.

Over at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, Benuel Kauffman was selling strawberries at $6.95/quart, about the same as the A.T. Buzby IPM quarts over at the Fair Food Farmstand. (You can buy the same Buzby berries Sunday at Headhouse for $5.50/quart). Ben's asparagus was $2.95/bunch.
Is That Wild Salmon Truly Wild?

At John Yi's in the Reading Terminal Market in recent weeks "New Zealand Wild King Salmon" has been displayed at $17.99/pound.

Despite the sign, I have little doubt it's anything but farmed salmon.

Although in the late 19th century California kings were successfully raised from eggs in a New Zealand hatchery, released into the headwaters of four South Island rivers and took to the wild, virtually all salmon exported from New Zealand today are farm-raised, including the kings.

Does it make a difference?

I won't address the environmental issues here, but if you're only concerned about availability and price, farm-raised salmon are generally a better buy. When it comes to nutritional value, however, farm-raised salmon are a distant second. Whether king or Atlantic, farmed salmon are heavy on Omega-6 fatty acids, and low on Omega-3's; the former are deleterious to health, the latter beneficial. From a nutritional standpoint, you'd be better off with the cheapest canned wild salmon (most, but not all, canned salmon is wild) than farm raised fish.

Yi's does have Alaskan king salmon. Though the 2010 commercial in-shore  king salmon season has barely started, the Alaskan king you're likely to see is frozen from last year's catch. Yi's looked good. Most of the frozen Alaskan salmon I've had, both king and sockeye, have been of excellent quality and texture and closely resemble the fresh. In some respects, since it's usually frozen shortly after landing, what's available to us in Philadelphia can be considered superior to fresh wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest which has made a trans-continental trip.

Although much of the Alaskan salmon you see during the winter is frozen, there is a significant ocean-caught fishery. Southeastern Alaska fisherman brought in 32,000 kings this past season at an average of more than 13 pounces apiece.

In case you're wondering, the 2010 Copper River season began last Friday, May 13 with catches of both king and sockeye (a.k.a. "red"). Another low-catch season for Copper River kings is expected, fewer than 17,000 fish. Sockeyes, on the other hand, are expected to be plentiful, with better than 30 percent more fish this year than last, with an expected 2010 Copper River catch of 1.27 million fish, vs. 900,000 last year, according to Laine Welch, writing in Stories in the News, Ketchikan, Alaska.

For the first time in three years there will be kings from other West Coast states, primarily Oregon and Washington. The catch from the lower 48 has been set at just under 195,000 fish after a hiatus to let the stock rebuild.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fresh Air at RTM
Outdoor Farmers Market Opens

Butch Dougherty and Vinnie Iovine of iovine Brother's Produce flank Tom Nicolosi
of DiNic's shortly after the outdoor venue's opening ceremony

The Reading Terminal Market unveiled its Sunday outdoor farmers' market with nine stalls along the side of the 12th Street parking lot.

Although traffic was light on the market's first day, RTM General Manager Paul Steinke found customers who came from as far as the Northeast to sample the farmers' output. As word gets around and more farmers participate as the growing season progresses, he expects traffic grow.

You'd think that year-round market merchants would be against the market. But you'd be wrong. Vinnie Iovine of Iovine Brothers Produce was there, looking to buy some New Guinea impatens from one vendor -- and finding out if she sold any of her produce items wholesale, perhaps for adding to his growing list of local farmers whose fruit and veggies he and brother Jimmy sell.

About a month ago, Jim reasoned that if shoppers come for the farmers' market, they're likely to cross the street into the RTM to fulfill the rest of their shopping needs. That was the case with many of the shoppers Sunday, including me. After buying some excellent kale at Jack's Farm (photo at right), I headed into the RTM to buy a slab of Country Time ham steak at the Fair Food Farmstand. Together with some corn (frozen kernels I purchased last summer at the height of the season) it made a wonderful Sunday dinner.

The vendors I saw the market included:
  • Cherry Grove Farm, cheeses and meats
  • Two Ganders Farm, honey, lettuce, other vegetables
  • Bowes Family Farm, berries, greens, radishes, other veggies
  • Shelbark Hollow, goat dairy products
  • O&F Farm, asparagus, summer squashes (Yes! Already!), greens, flowers, plants
  • Sweet Rose's Twisted Lemonade
  • John & Kira Chocolates
  • Jack's Farm, plants for garden, veggies
  • 4mula, succulent and other plants for urban settings
Old and New Vendors
at Headhouse Market

Blooming Glen Farm made its seasonal bow at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market Sunday.

Chard (a beet variety grown for its leaves) added colors beyond green with its many-hued rib, as you can see from the photo. Blooming Glen always has one of the most overflowing stalls at Headhouse. Lack of early produce is why they usually skip the first few weeks of the season, instead waiting until they can begin to display a cornucopia of produce.

Blackbird Heritage Farm made its first-ever visit to  Headhouse. The Townsend, Delaware, farm grows produce and raises sheep, pigs and turkeys for meat sale. Since they're located a tidewater farm, it would be great if they could let their sheep feed on the salt marsh, which lends a distinct tang to the meat. As it is, their sheep are raised on ewe's milk and pasture and, according to the website, have a mild taste due to low levels of lanolin in the breed.

Tom Culton, after a week's absence, was back, this time with plenty of strawberries, including the $8/half-pint tiny French fraise de bois (forest or wild strawberries). His considerably larger and more conventional berries were priced at $7/quart, essentially the same as at Blooming Glen and Three Springs ($3.50/pint). The best berry bargain could be found at A.T. Buzby, whose IPM berries, large and sweet, were $5.50/quart (two for $10).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Markets

The Food Trust's Saturday market at Headhouse Square has always played second fiddle to the Sunday version and today, with only four vendors, was no exception.

As the season progresses, however, expect plenty of additional vendors, says Nicky Uy, who manages the farmers' market program for the Food Trust. Today, however, only one produce vendor (Two Ganders Farm), two flower/plant vendors (one who's still thinking what to name the stand, the other Sunday regulars Pam and Russell Young), and Amaranth gluten-free bakery showed up.

What Headhouse has going for it which the other Saturday market I visited today, Rittenhouse, do not is easy parking for those of us who live a tad too far away to walk or don't want to cope with multiple SEPTA buses.

Headhouse, however, was chock full of vendors this morning, filling up the portion of Rittenhouse Square between 18th and 19th streets. Joanna Pernick, who runs this and other farmers' markets operated by Farm to City, said that as the season brings more produce to market, and hence more farmers, the market will likely "turn the corner" onto 18th street.

I limited myself to a pint of strawberries and bunch of asparagus from Rineers, a regular at this and other city markets, but there were more than a dozen vendors to visit.

Among the vendors I chatted with were two sellers of pig meat: Cherry Grove Farm of Lawrenceville near Princeton and Rabbit's Run of Quakertown in Bucks County. Both farms specialize in cheeses (Cherry Grove from cows, Rabbit's Run from goats), which means they've got a lot of whey left over from their cheese-making. It makes a great, cheap pig feed, so they both raise pigs. Rabbit's Run (which also sells goat meat) uses a commercial mix of pigs (Duroc and Yorkshire among them) while Cherry Grove sells meat cut from Berkshire hogs, a heritage breed admired for its fat and flavor and priced accordingly, i.e., very expensive).

Among the other vendors was Fahnestock Fruit Farm, which brought hothouse tomatoes to market. Fahnestock sells at another Saturday market as well, Clark Park (year round) in West Philly, which is probably the busiest of the Saturday venues.

Other Saturday markets include the Piazza at Schmidt's, Chestnut Hill, and Fitler Square (year round), with more to open later in the season. Suburban markets currently open include Bryn Mawr, Phoenixville and Wrightstown.
Peonies in Bloom

Peonies in bloom join strawberries at Earl Livengood's stall at Thursday's
Fairmount market. That's Lauren Swartz, who occasionally helps staff the stall,
and Jon Glyn of the Food Trust.

Flower vendors at local farmers' markets are flush with peonies. Earl Livengood had them Thursday at Fairmount, and Pam and Russell Young at the Saturday Headhouse Square market today.

SWMBO has always told me that ants are essential for the tight peony blooms to blossom. I asked Russell, and he told me that, in this one instance only, I should disregard my spouse. Just cut the at the bottom before placing the stem in a little water in a vase, and they'll open up, though it may take a few days.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

RTM Farmers' Market Opens Sunday

When the Reading Terminal Market inaugurates its farmers' market this Sunday, some producers new to the city will field stalls.

Although Cherry Grove Farm's cheeses have been available at the RTM's Fair Food Farmstand for a couple of years, the Lawrenceville NJ producer has never sold directly to consumers in the city, to the best of my knowledge. Their cheeses are excellent, but they'll also be selling organic beef, pork, lamb and eggs.

Other vendors in the early lineup (more may be added) include:
  • Steve Bowes Family Farm. Eggs along with vegetables, berries, tree fruit, eggs, cut flowers, seedlings and other plants.
  • Jack’s Farm. Organic vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, seedlings and chicken.
  • Derick's Orchard. Preserves, baked goods, vegetables, berries and, as the season progresses, tree fruit and melons.
  • ShellBark Hollow Farm. A familiar name to city farmers' market shoppers. Goat cheeses, yogurt, and milk.
  • Two Gander Farms. Produce, eggs and honey.
  • John & Kira. Chocolates.
  • Sweet Roses Twisted Lemonade. Herbed lemonade.
The RTM's farmers' market will run Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. directly across 12th Street from the edifice. Working with RTM management in organizing the market has been Farm to City.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fairmount, South Street Markets Open

Visits to both the Fairmount and South Street farmers' markets confirm that, indeed, spring has arrived.

Earl Livengood (right) made it to Fairmount last Thursday, along with Sam Stolfus (photo below left) and Wild Flour Bakery. Bill Weller, an orchardist who sells plants for the garden in spring, was scheduled but didn't make it; he's expected either this week or next.

Among the although the strawberries weren't Earl's, which are a couple weeks away from harvest, the veggies were. Most unusual were the baby collard greens, which Earl classified as a mistake. Seems Earl didn't get around to pulling out last year's collard stalks and, what with the warm and early sprint, they started putting out new growth. So Earl harvested the young greens and has been selling them both here and, via a farm-to-chef service, to New York City restaurants where they are a big hit. (Those collards are  pictured below right.)

Sam Stolfus (that's Sam with the Food Trust's Melissa Immerman in the photo) started out selling baked goods at the Fairmount market, but in the last few years he's added more and more produce. He had plenty of early vegetables, but even though I arrived just an hour after the market opened, he had already sold out of beets.

Instead, I picked up some storage beets at today's South & Passyunk market at Livengood's stand there, manned by son Dwain Livengood, friend Sam Consylman (who supplied the beets from his cellar), and farmhand John, recently back from his honeymoon. (It's the first time Ive seen Dwain since late 2008. He and wife Audrey spent all of last year on a Mennonite mission in Honduras, where Audrey taught and Dwain established a vegetable garden for a school.)

Normally this time of year Sam calls me to say he's got some morels. He went looking, but few were to be had. He kept all he gathered (hardly half a pound's worth) for himself.

The only other vendors at South Street today were Big Sky Bakery and Taproots Farm, a new produce vendor, who had great looking tat soi greens; I bought baby asian turnips, with greens. They'll accompany carbonnade flammande for dinner.
Ye Olde Butcher

Pierce and Schurr once occupied Stall 820 at the Reading Terminal Market where Martin's Quality Meats continues the butchers' tradition. But they live on through this American Angus Association beef chart poster, which adorns the exterior wall of Martin's walk-in refrigerator. If I recall correctly, Pierce & Schurr lasted until circa 1980 at the market.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ramps, Fiddleheads Still Here

The Fair Food Farmstand at the Reading Terminal Market had plenty of fiddleheads $16/pound) and ramps ($4/bunch) this afternoon. They are considering adding a ramp supplier from a more northern area of the region, which means at least a few added weeks of availability. Both ramps and fiddleheads were quite fresh and in good shape. I'll be combining the ramps I bought today with mushrooms (both roasted) to accompany leftover flank steak.

Bunches of different greens were prominently displayed at Fair Food today, too, all supplied by Paradise Organics. In addition to a variety of tender greens for salad, you could obtain Lacinato and Curly kales, rainbow chard, collard greens and mustard greens.

A.T. Buzby's Jersey strawberries, available at $5.50/quart Sunday at Headhouse, could be had today at Fair Food, with a markup to $7.

Simply for comparison's sake, I picked up a pint of strawberries at Iovine Brothers' Produce, $2.49, from their contract Bucks County grower, Shadybrook Farm. These berries are smaller than Buzby's giants, but still nice sized. They get the taste test for dessert tonight.

Beyond berries, Iovine offered plenty of other local produce, especially various green things from Flaim Farm in South Jersey. Bunches of spinach were featured out front for 99-cents, but there was also green and red leaf, Boston and romaine lettuces, arugula, dandelion,  green chard, leeks, basil, cilantro, radishes and sweet potatoes from Flaim and other South Jersey growers.

They weren't local, but the 'C' sized red and yukon potatoes (photo above) sure looked tempting, especially at 99-cents/pound. Might be time for some potato salad.

Busman's holiday?  Tom Nicolosi, proprietor of Dinic's, can't get enough of the heat from his ovens. So he went out and bought himself one of the Green Egg outdoor ceramic barbecues. He started experimenting last weekend and loves it; he even is going to try to make red gravy (Italian tomato meat sauce) in it!

In my garden, the chives are starting to flower. They should be fully open tomorrow when I'll add the edible blooms to salad.
Rotisserie Update

The chickens were going round and round on Charles Giunta's rotisserie today, but they weren't for sale. Charles is still testing and tweaking the device, but hopes to offer birds for public sale this weekend.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Farmers Return to Fairmount

When the Fairmount Farmers' Market opens for the 2010 season Thursday afternoon, regulars from past seasons will return.

Leading the way will be Earl Livengood. If we're lucky he'll have his gorgeous lilacs to provide color and aroma, and morels gathered by neighbor Sam Consylman.

Sam Stoltzfus who sells both produce and Amish style baked goods will also be back, as will Bill Well from Orchard Hill Farms in Pennsylvania's Northern Tier, though at this time of year Bill only brings plants for home gardens.

Wild Flour bakery is also expected go be back at the market, which begins its run at 3 p.m. at the corner of Fairmount Avenue and 22nd Street.

Rueben Lapp of Country Meadow Farms will be back with his meats in another two weeks, according to Katy Wich, who manages the market for the Food Trust.
Giunta Ready to Roast

Giunta's Prime Shop should begin roasting chickens soon at the Reading Terminal Market, now that proprietor Charles Giunta's legal battle with market management over whether he could add that item to his inventory has been won.

As of yesterday, the rotisserie had been installed, but needs a bit of tweaking before the birds start turning. Expect to see them cooking sometime later this week.

Given the diminutive size of the countertop appliance, it hardly provides significant competition to Dienner's, which has rotisseries lining its back wall.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Strawberries Galore, and Local
Headhouse begins new season

At today's opening of the Sunday Headhouse Square market the biggest surprise came from A.T. Buzby. Despite my prediction as recently as yesterday that local strawberries had a few more weeks before they made a solid appearance. Buzby had loads of them, grown out-of-doors. The quart I purchased ($5.50) is destined for dessert tonight, but the single berry I tasted -- admittedly, the reddest in the bunch -- was real. Good flavor, and it will require only the smallest boost from some added sugar.

Tom Culton of Culton Organics had a line of fawning purchasers for his pricey produce today. He also flashed a small quantity of morels at me, which he said he should have available next Sunday (figure north of $100/pound, which would make them expensive, even for fresh morels which usually sell for about $65). The ones Tom displayed looked big and clean. Whether I'd pay that much for them is an entirely different matter.

Ringing the opening bell for the 2010 Headhouse Square Farmers Market were Lindsay and Brad Lidge. The Phillies' reliever and his wife have long been active in local charities both here in Philadelphia and, before that, in Houston when pitcher was an Astro. Lindsay, who has a background in nutrition, will be writing healthy eating tips weekly for the Food Trust's web site.

There were plenty of vendors at Headhouse today, though Blooming Glen, which usually anchors the southwest entrance to the Shambles, was missing. Katy Wich, manager of the market, said the farm has skipped opening day in recent years because they just don't have enough to sell so early in the season. Among all the produce vendors at Headhouse, Tom Murtha and Tricia Borneman's Blooming Glen usually has the cornucopiest stall, overflowing with great looking produce, so it's worth the wait.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Strawberries Push the Envelope

Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce offered local strawberries at the Reading Terminal Market today. But only technically. These berries, priced at $5.95/pint (two for $10) were raised indoors, according to Benuel Kauffman. Don't expect to see outdoor grown local strawberries for at least another two weeks, more likely three.

Ben also had some gorgeous looking indoor-grown seedless cukes, at least a foot long each.

Both Iovine Brothers Produce and the Fair Food Farmstand are selling veggies from New Jersey's Flaim Farm. Both, for example, had Flaim's leeks ($1.75/pound at FF, $1.95/pound for smaller examples at Iovine's).

As I wrote last year when Iovine's began carrying Flaim's produce (sometimes marketed under the name Panther), the Vineland farm produces romaine, kohlrabi, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, swiss chard (green, red), rainbow kale, turnips, napa cabbage, squash, eggplant (four varieties), peppers, escarole, endive. tomatillos and scallions on 450 acres. The farm was established in 1934 and is now operated by brothers Kevin and Bob Flaim. They also sell at the Collingswood Farmers’ Market.

Iovine's is also handling another producer's output in common with Fair Food: eggs from Natural Meadow Farms, Lancaster County.

Fair Foods still had fiddleheads today, $16/pound. No sign of ramps anywhere at the market, but FF had some rather pungent fresh spring garlic. IPM asparagus was $3.30/bunch, chemical-free stalks $3.50.

Most of the halibut I see at the Reading Terminal hails from Alaska, usually frozen. Today, at a savings of $7/pound vs. the $18.99 for the Alaskan version, John Yi had firm white filets from Canada. I bought some to try tomorrow. One of the fishmongers said it's slightly "fishier" than the Alaskan version, which is no sin in my book so long as it's fresh. Boston mackerel also made a reappearance at Yi's, $2.99/pound for whole fish.

Jim Iovine was touting tomatoes and corn this week. I tried the former, and they weren't bad: $1.49 pints of cherry tomatoes that, if they didn't quite taste like summer, came close. 
Seasonal Markets Start Opening
Headhouse, Fairmount among the first for 2010

The Headhouse Square Farmers' Market begins the new season with its opening tomorrow at 10 a.m. The Fairmount market, also sponsored by The Food Trust, starts its season Tuesday afternoon (3 p.m.) at 22nd and Fairmount. From then, other markets will start their seasons through May and into June.

For full schedules, visit these websites:

All Markets, Farm To City
Philadelphia Markets, The Food Trust
Suburban Markets, The Food Trust

When Headhouse opens tomorrow, one of the new vendors will be Renaissance Sausage. Basically, a lunch truck. They'll be offering Country Herb, Mediterranean, Chicken and Vegetarian sausages.

Here's the expected roster of other vendors:
  • Produce: AT Buzby, Queen's Farm, Three Springs Fruit Farm, Savoie Organics, Weavers Way Farm, Culton Organics, Happy Cat Organics
  • Meats: Griggstown Quail Farm, Mt. View Poultry
  • Dairy: Hillacres Pride, Patches of Star Dairy, Birchrun Hills (Birchrun also offers some meats)
  • Baked goods: Wild Flour, Ric's Breads
  • Flowers, plants: Longview Farm, Young's Garden, Hurley's Nursery
  • Other: John & Kira's Chocolates, Joe Coffee, Busy Bee Farm, Stargazers Vineyard, Talula's Table