Sunday, May 20, 2012

Headhouse Produce Roundup

 Profusion of Strawberries, Early Zucchini and Peas

With its position at the head of the Headhouse Shambles, Blooming Glen Farm does boffo business
Strawberries-by-the-pint were plentiful and reasonably priced at today's Headhouse Square farmers market, ranging about $3.50-$3.75. A.T. Buzby and Beechwood Orchards offered the best deal, however, with quarts selling for $6.50.

Zucchinis made their first appearance of the season at both Culton Organics and Buzby. Tom Culton sold out early, but at 1 p.m. Buzby still had some at $1.50/pound.

Culton had tons of long, beautiful asparagus ($7.50/pound, iirc), lots of radishes (as did just about every other vegetable farmer), some broccoli, tiny beets with pristine greens ($3/bunch: buy them for the greens, not the beets), and snow peas at $5/quart. The star of Culton's offerings, as far as I was concerned, were the tiny shelled peas, $5 for a half pint. I tasted a few raw and they were as sweet as could be.

Lettuces and other salad greens filled farmers' tables, too. I picked up some head lettuce at Blooming Glen and perfect looking endive at Weaver's Way.

Traffic at the market seemed quite variable. More than one vendor told me that they'd go from being slammed with long lines at one moment, to no one five minutes later, only to be slammed in another five minutes.

The two orchardists at the market, Dave Garretson of Beechwood, and Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm, said sweet cheeries are only about two weeks away, with sour pie cherries a week or so behind that.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Produce Roundup: Reading Terminal Market

Early Peas at Kauffman's

Kauffman's peas and pods, berries and other spring produce
Along with the rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal Market unveiled the season's first English peas, sugar snap peas, and cucumbers.

Prices were dear on the peas: $7.99 on both the English peas in the pod and the sugar snaps. Ben Kauffman also had shelled English peas, which if I recall correctly were priced at $7.99 for what looked like a half-pint container. Ben says he does the shelling by hand, not machine. Also showing up this week at Kauffman's: beets, scallions, and radishes.

I would expect farmers' markets this week to also start displaying local peas.

Over at Iovine's the local strawberries were there, but hard to find. More prominently displayed were clamshell packs of California "stemberries" -- huge berries still showing stem -- at quite reasonable prices. If you want a strawberry as a centerpiece, this is for you, but even though the flavor is decent, they still can't compare with the locals.

The best bargain in local berries I've seen so far is at L. Halteman, which had pints for $3.29 and quarts for $5.79.

Monday, May 14, 2012

More on Delilah Winder's Move

My earlier post on Delilah Winder's new position at the Center for Culinary Enterprise (CCE) understated her role.

As director of the CCE she'll be responsible for the entire facility, including the four commercial kitchens and all the other spaces at the former supermarket nearing completion of its rehab on South 48th Street between Spruce and Pine. Among other aspects of the job Winder will provide client management, marketing expertise, and assist entrepreneurs in getting contract opportunities, according to Greg Heller, Managing Director of the Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation.

"Delilah's a great people person and we're thrilled to have her join us," said Heller.

Heller said the program for Philadelphia Food Innovation program has been up and running for 18 months without a building, helping budding food entrepreneurs navigate the intricacies of starting up a business, including the nuances of working with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspection, obtaining insurance, product development, marketing, bar coding and nutritional analysis.

He said the CCE has had expressions of interest from about 200 individuals who would like to use the commercial kitchens. Not all, he said, will be immediately ready to go, since they'll need to obtain appropriate food safety certifications, insurance and other requirements before then can handle a spatula in the space. Heller hopes many of the newbies will take advantage of the CCE's expertise and assistance to help them gain the necessary paperwork.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Delilah Moves On . . .To Education

Cover from Delilah Winder's cookbook
Delilah Winder may be without restaurants as a result of bankrtupcy proceedings, but she's not without a job. Starting May 1 she signed up with the Philly Food Ventures business incubator program of the new Center for Culinary Enterprises (CCE).

In her new role, Winder will work closely with entrepreneurs in a one-on-one coaching setting to provide guidance and capacity building resources. As part of that, she'll assist entrepreneurs in navigating the processes for obtaining necessary licenses, certifications, and insurance, connect entrepreneurs with other resources at the CCE's parent organization, The Enterprise Center, and with outside resources such as small business development centers, micro-lenders, and consultants. She'll bring her years of experience in the food business to help budding food business owners with sourcing, sales venues, and contract opportunities, coordinate group workshops on topics relevant to culinary entrepreneurs and generate ideas for additional services that could be provided to benefit culinary entrepreneurs and help them build capacity for their businesses.

Winder's got the experience which makes her a natural fit to help wannabe food entrepreneurs. Before embarking on her long and mostly successful track record operating restaurants and food retail outposts, she was a business analyst. She started out in the food business by opening her stall in the mid-1980s at the Reading Terminal Market.

The CCE, whose building is nearing completion within a former supermarket on S. 48th Street between Spruce and Pine, includes three shared-use, commercial kitchens for rent to culinary entrepreneurs, an eKitchen Multimedia Learning Center featuring a demonstration kitchen, "smart" classroom and television studio, and retail spaces. The facility and its programs are expected to open in late summer.

The CCE's programs encompass a wide range of possible businesses within the food industry: eateries, catering services, baking, canning, and candy-making ventures, and retailers such as groceries.

The CCE is part of The Enterprise Center and its Community Development Corporation. The Enterprise Center was founded in 1989 and provides a range of services for small businesses in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth, with a focus on challenged and minority-owned business enterprises. In addition The Enterprise Center operates youth entrepreneurship and leadership programs. TEC-CDC was founded in 2001 as an affiliate organization of The Enterprise Center, responsible for extending The Enterprise Center’s mission through economic development projects and community-based programming in West Philadelphia.

Paul Steinke, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market and a member of the CCE's advisory board along with a few dozen other local food luminaries (among them, White Dog Cafe founder Judy Wicks, Ann Karlen of Fair Food, Daniel Stern, Michael Solomonov, Michael Chow executive chef of Sang Kee Noodle House) said he'll be seeking a new tenant of Delilah's now vacant stall at the market when legalities with the bankruptcy trustee are settled.

Reading Terminal Market Roundup

These cheese cases aren't Halteman's
The Halteman Split

L. Halteman Family settled into its new footprint occasioned by the Reading Terminal Market's Avenue D renovation, but split itself into two distinct businesses: Riehl Deli & Cheeze Shop for (surprise) cheeses and cold cuts, and L. Halteman, continuing to sell beef, pork, poultry, bacon and other smoked meats, as well as local produce.

Although both parts are owned by the Riehl family (which took over from Lester Halteman a decade or so ago), they're attempting to separate the businesses which may formally part sometime down the road. In the meantime, if you buy some fresh meat but also want to purchase slice ham, you'll have to make two stops.

The deli part of the operation also changed its procedures. Previously, cold cuts were sliced to order. Now, they're pre-sliced and placed in trays. It looks pretty, and I understand the efficiencies the system brings to the business, but as a customer I liked seeing the cold cuts sliced to order to my desired thickness or thinness.

Nichols Room Dedication

Mayor Nutter will join in the official ribbon cutting of the Rick Nichols Room June 18 at 10 a.m. and the exhibition of the market's history and its role in the region's food system on the new multi-purpose area's back wall. New signate will be installed next week.

The ceremony kicks off a week of special events celebrating the market's $3.4 million Avenue D renovation program. For the remainder of the week special programs will be held in the Nichols Room and the adjacent La Cuchina at the Market kitchen, which can be turned into a single space by opening the sliding doors. Market merchants, local chefs, authors and leaders of the Philadelphia regional food system will be featured in the programs.

The market and La Cuchina at the Market apparently resolved their differences over the kitchen school's flooring. As designed, the floor was the original slighty sloping surface, installed when the market opened in 1892 to allow water drainage from ice. La Cuchina proprietor Anna Florio was concerned that the sloping floor could lead to falls and injuries. A new floor with new tiles was installed to provide a level surface, which requires a slight step up from center court. The Nichols Room retains its sloping floor.

More on Avenue D Project

The dedication of the Nichols room won't mark the end of the Avenue D renovations, since work will continue well into the summer on spaces the project created for new vendors: Valley Shepherd Creamery, the Head Nut, the Tubby Olive and Wursthaus Schmitz. A vendor has yet to be selected for a small (less than 250-square feet) space adjacent to Wursthaus Schmitz along Avenue D.

The market also has to find new vendors to fill the slots vacated by Delilah's and Coast Cave. Legalities still have to be resolved with the bankruptcy trustee for Delilah's before a new tenant can be signed there. Coastal Cave closed earlier this spring when its owner retired. RTM General Manager Paul Steinke said he's close to signing with a hybrid retail/take-away operator (product line unspecified) for the Coastal Cafe spot.

The market was unhappy with its floor tile selection of the new restrooms -- the white tiles simply showed too much soil no matter how frequently they were cleaned. Gray tiles were installed in the women's rest room this past week; the men's room gets the makeover Monday night.

Just outside the restrooms you may spy new icons installed this week into the wall: split silhouettes, one female, one male, on the appropriate side of the common entryway.

But There's Still Lobsters

Coastal Cave may be gone, but late last month the market's board approved changes in the leases of two fishmongers, Golden and John Yi, to include the sale of live lobsters. They'll be installing their own tanks rather than taking over Coastal Cave's old ones, which the market probably will scrap.

For Mother's Day sales, John Yi was selling live lobsters today, which can be maintained outside of water for four to five days when properly packed and refrigerated.

More Parking, New Discount Program

The parking garage on 11th street between Arch and Filbert will soon join the market's parking program, with a maximum of two hours for $4. (You'll pay considerably more if you overstay your welcome.) With the Parkway Garage on 12th Street still part of the program, the market expands considerably its discount parking capacity. Merchants, however, will have to have two separate validation machines, one for each garage. The second garage should begin to offer the discounts on or about July 1.

The market's gift certificate program is going to plastic from paper. Nearly 60 of the market's 72 current merchants signed up for the program, which eases the record-keeping for market's back office. As soon as the plastic cards are delivered the program will start.

Artichokes Galore

According to Wikipedia, artichokes are so named because you can choke on the heart of them. I can't vouch for that etymology, but these huge examples of the globe artichoke (about 4-5 inches in diameter) on sale Iovine Brother's Produce in the Reading Terminal Market today certainly require more than one bite. They were priced at two for a buck.

Another frequently dear item that could be found at a bargain price: limes. Five for a buck.

Strawberries and Rhubarb

Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards
Mystery produce
They're the ultimate spring pairing: sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb. Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards had them Thursday at the Fairmount Farmers Market across 22nd street from Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

Expect to see more of his produce (including tomato plants for your patio garden) at Rittenhouse Square Saturday and Headhouse Square Sunday. Beechwood Orchards will be skipping the Tuesday market at Passyunk and South this season.

Also at Fairmount this past Thursday was Earl Livengood, who offered the unusual item of produce pictured at right. The first person who correctly identifies what it is will earn a mention in the blog. (That's all I can afford.) Although I skipped the mystery produce, I did buy some of Earl's curly endive, which I love as a salad.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Nichols Room Opens

The new multi-purpose room at the Reading Terminal Market, named after semi-retired Inquirer food columnist Rick Nichols, opened while I was away in Wisconsin. Today it was nearly full for the noontime lunch crowd.

Most of the time the room will simply be another seating section at center court, but the market plans to make it available for groups via reservation, and for special events. It can also be combined with the kitchen area at La Cuchina at the Market, Anna Florio's adjacent cooking school classroom.

Later this spring the market will add to the back wall of the room an exhibit on the history of the market, created in cooperation with the Philadelphia History Museum (formerly known as the Atwater Kent).

The seating in center court environs -- recently upgraded with new chairs and tables -- temporarily expanded this winter into the area that formerly housed The Spice Terminal. When Wursthaus Schmitz begins construction of its new stall, that extra space will disappear.

This is all part of the Avenue D Project at the market, which is nearing completion. As part of that program, L. Halteman Family recently rejiggered and expanded its space, renaming part of it Riehl Deli & Cheese. Work is also progressing on the space along Avenue D for Valley Shepherd Creamery and the Tubby Olive. Another new vendor, The Head Nut, will begin work on its stall under the mezzanine soon.

The market has yet to announce a new tenant for the space created by the retirement of Coasal Cave's owner. Also up in the air is what will become of Delilah's: officially she could still return, but that appears more and more unlikely as time rolls by since the business was put into bankruptcy.

Esoteric Extracts

For my last order of Fee Brothers' orange extract (an essential for the original martini recipe: four parts gin, one part vermouth, a dash or two of the bitters; I add a twist), I had to phone in my order to the manufacturer in Rochester, New York. Although that was pretty easy, I've found another source locally: Bodhi Coffee on Headhouse Square. I've got to try the celery someone soon.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Seasonal Farmers' Markets Open

Though a few farmers' markets remain open all year -- Rittenhouse Square, Clark Park and Fitler Square -- most are spring-to-fall affairs. The first of the dozens of Philadelphia's seasonal markets made their 2012 debuts in the last few days.

The market at Fairmount and 22nd Street opened Thursday with four vendors: Livengood Family Produce, Wild Flour Bakery, Sunnyside Goat Dairy, and Countryside Bakery and Farm.

A total of 33 producers and growers attended today's opening of the city's largest farmers' market at Headhouse Square. (You can find the full list of vendors at the Food Trust Headhouse Farmers Market web site.)

Farm to City, the region's other major sponsor of farmers markets, opened some of its seasonal venues last week, too: the Tuesday version of Rittenhhouse, the Wednesday University Square market at 36th and Walnut, and the Saturday Bryn Mawr market. More of its markets will open next week, including the Tuesday afternoon South & Passyunk market on May 15.

You can also find a full list of The Food Trust's 2012 Philadelphia markets here and its suburban markets here. Farm to City's schedule can be found here.

The new vendors this season at Headhouse include Cranberry Creek Farm from the Poconos for goat cheese and vegetables; Green Aisle Grocery, the East Passyunk Avenue retailer which is selling preserves and nut butters at the market; Lucky Old Souls, a burger truck; and Spring Hill Farm, which sells maple syrup from its trees north of Scranton.

Another new vendor is Tandi's Naturals, operated by Tandi and John Peter, selling local soaps and related products. That's not a new product line for farmers' markets, but Tandi's main selling point is the local angle. Many of the artisan soaps sold at farmers markets, while made by local artisans, are manufactured from components brought cross-country or even from the other side of the world: coconut oil, palm oil and olive oil). Instead, Tandi uses beef tallow from Dwayne Livengood's organically-raised cattle and rendered in the same manner by John. Tandi will be glad to explain why beef tallow is a superior base for soaps than the vegetable oils. If you stop by you might recognize John: he used to help out Dwayne and his father Earl at their family farm, as well as at local farmers' markets, but now works for a Lancaster County flower grower when he isn't doing the heavy lifting for Tandi. They also sell the products at the Saturday Rittenhouse Square market.

A few regulars from past seasons were among the missing. Beechwood Orchards skipped this week, but should start attending within a couple of weeks. North Star Orchards usually doesn't take space until the apple and pear harvest begins, usually in late July or early August. Young's Garden, which sold both cut flowers and plants for backyard gardens and provided one of the anchors at the Lombard Street entry, won't be coming back.

A.T. Buzby, as usual, was the first vendor with strawberries at Headhouse. I didn't catch the price, but they were gone by shortly after 12 noon. Countryside had them at $2.50 a half-pint at Fairmount Thursday, and Benuel Kauffman was selling local berries at the Reading Terminal Market Saturday for $4.95 a pint, iirc.

The warm weather this spring advanced the appearance of both asparagus and strawberries, but local produce is largely limited to what you'd expect: early greens and onions, radishes, etc. Tom Culton had over-wintered leeks as well as cardoons, an Italian relative of the artichoke (even though it looks like celery) that needs to be cooked to be enjoyed. Blooming Glen had a nice selection of early lettuces, spring onions, radishes and greens. Over at Queen Farm, in addition to the usualy selection of mushrooms and selected Asian greens, I scored some lilacs, the flowers providing SWMBO's favorite spring fragrance.

I enjoyed my usual lox on a bially breakfast at home, so I had no room for the burgers from Lucky Old Souls food truck, but the smell of those oniony patties was quite alluring. Next time!

My purchases this week were fairly limited, owing to some invitations to dine out with others this weekend. But Thursday I picked up asparagus and baby endive from Livengood's and a goat cheese Swiss from Sunnyside (as well as strawberries from Countryside). The asparagus joined the morels I obtained in Wisconsin to accompany a crustless quiche made with Sunnyside's cheese: with a simply-dressed salad from the endive it all made a perfect early spring supper.