Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gooseberries and Currants

Two related fruits -- gooseberries and currants -- made their seasonal debuts at the Headhouse Farmers' Market today.

They represent the two main edible fruits within the genus ribes. (The dried currants you buy in a box for adding to baked goods isn't a currant at all: it's a species of grape.) Three Springs Fruit Farm offered gooseberries in two colors (top photo) and currants in three (photo at right) at today's market.

Gooseberries, particularly early season specimens, are best in jams, preserves and baked applications, becoming sweeter later in the season when they're more suitable for fresh eating. The red, pink and black currants can be used interchangeably in jams, preserves and baking, though the pink variety would be less attractive, to my thinking. The currants, in particular, are astringent so except when used to accompany savory dishes, they usually require sugar. In coming weeks we may see some jostaberries from Beechwood Orchards. They are a cross of currants with both American and European varieties of gooseberry.

Since I'm a sucker for most things Scandinavian, thanks to the Nordic heritage of She Who Must Be Obeyed, I may pick up some of the black currants next weekend to make Rødgrød, a pudding serverd with cream. The Danish classic requires cooking in some water, straining to remove the seeds, then bringing the juice and sugar to a boil, turning down the heat to a simmer to add either cornstarch or potato starch until it becomes a nice syrup. After chilling in individual serving bowls they are to be served with heavy cream, plain or whipped.

Summer Profusion Commences

Melons, peaches, eggplan, tomatoes and corn are about the only summer produce not available in profusion at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market toda.  A.T. Buzby did have an early crop of corn available for the second week in a row. A number of farmers have started to sell tomatos, but only in limited quantity; Queens Farm's have been tasty.

Buzby's colored carrots were enticing (top) as well as the overflowing baskets of summer squashes paired with summer red new potatoes (left) at Blooming Glen's welcoming stall.

Blooming Glen also featured kirby cucumbers (below), ideal for pickling but perfectly fine used in salads or just about any cucumber application you can imagine.

Cherries Jubilee, For Now

Sour cherries from Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market

Sweet cherries from Three Springs
Ben Wenk, orchardist extraordinaire at Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, warned it may only last a week, but the sour cherry season was in full glory at today's Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Wenk was selling gorgeous quarts of the tart baking cherries for $5, which is as inexpensive as I've seen them in a couple of years, at least. A few stalls down in the Shambles Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards, also an Adams County fruit belt orchardist, had them for $7. Based on what both growers told me earlier this month, I was expecting a very short supply of sour cherries, and higher prices, perhaps as much as $10/quart.

Red sweet cherries were also available from both growers, $4.75/pint at Beechwood, $6 at Three Springs. White (yellow) cherries sold for $5/pint at Beechwood, $6 at Three Springs.

Both growers were selling red raspberries for $4.50-$5 a half pint. Across the Shambles, Tom Culton had the studier black raspberry for $7/pint.

I came home with four quarts of sour cherries, two pints of red sweet cherries, one pint of Rainiers (white/yellows), one-half pint of red raspberries and two pints of black raspberries. Plus more tomatoes from Queens Farm and shelled English peas from Culton.

I'm going to be busy the rest of the afternoon:
  • The peas will once again become a cold salad with ranch dressing, the tomatoes will go on sandwiches and in salads.
  • The red raspberries will be eaten macerated atop ice cream or perhaps mixed into yogurt.
  • The black raspberries will be macerated with sugar, then pressed through a tamis and join up with heavy cream, a couple tablespoons of vodka and a bit of Karo in my ice cream machine. Once done I'll swirl in mini chocolate chips before "ripening" the ice cream in the freezer.
  • Half the sour cherries will become sorbet, the other half a cobbler

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cherries a tad less dear

Fruit at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, Reading Terminal Market
Cherries remain dear, but at least the price is heading down. Last week Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal market asked $9.99 for a pound of sweet cherries; today it's two bucks cheaper. A pound of cherries will fill up about a one and one-third pints. Ben Kauffman also had some early sour cherries at $8.99/pound and blues at $4.95/pint.

Over at the Fair Food Farmstand there was a sign proclaiming sour cherries for $7.49/quart, but all had been swooped up by 9:30 a.m. Fair Food's sweet cherries were $5.49/pint. So its prices, when converted to pounds, were in line with Kauffman's.

As I said in a previous post, and many others, the best deals on local fruits can frequently be found at L. Halteman Country Foods. Today's prices: strawberries $4.99 quart or $3.19/pint, vs. $5.95/pint at Kauffmans.

Black raspberries are making their debut this week, $4.19 for half a pint at Halteman's, $4.95 at Kauffman's.

The downward trend in lime prices continued today. They're now 6 /$1 at Iovine Brothers Produce, which also had avocados at a buck apiece, but don't wait to use them: the avocados are on the edge ove over-ripe. Perfect for guac.

Taste of Norway appeared to be doing good business in center court with its smoked salmon sale (two eight-ounce packs for $10). Half of the proceeds will go to the market's pilot program in nutrition education for children.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Salmon Deal Supports Nutrition Education

Pssst. Wanna buy some good but inexpensive smoked salmon? From Norway? And do you want to help kids learn about good nutrition, too?

If so, stop by the Reading Terminal Market's center court Saturday, where Taste of Norway will be donating half of the proceeds of the day's sales to the market's pilot program to teach kids about good eating. The program is funded with two grants, $30,000 from the Aetna Foundation and $15,000 from the Leo and Peggy Pierce Family Foundation.

First the details on the salmon deal.

Taste of Norway will be selling half-pound packs of smoked Norwegian salmon for $8 or, better yet, two for $10. The product sells online for $20 a half-pound, though you can buy cheaper Chilean farm-raised smoked salmon for about $23/pound. Still, at $10 for a full pound it's a true bargain (besides, the Norwegian farm-raised salmon is a better product, both in terms of environmental aquaculture and flavor).

Taste of Norway is a Philadelphia-based importer organized by Erik Torp, Norway's honorary consul here. Much of the Norwegian smoked salmon you'll find in supermarkets is farmed in Norway, but smoked, processed and sliced in Poland; Taste of Norway's product is completely raised and processed in Norway. The company's first foray into the market was the operation of a day stall in late 2012.

The market's pilot program will begin next month with 80 youngsters aged 9 to 12 from the city's recreation programs participating in five classes to learn about nutrition. They'll be taught by Angela Scipio, an experienced nutrition teacher in the Philadelphia school district who will be using a state certified curricula. If the summer program is successful, the market plans to extend it year-round.

The youngsters will be divided into groups of 20 for the program, which will include sessions on each of the day's three meals, food safety, and shopping.

Cherries, Blueberries, Raspberries Arrive

Beechwood Orchards
On the first Headhouse Farmers Market after summer solstice produce stalls were full with cherries, blueberries and even a few raspberries.

The sweet cherries were a bit of a surprise, given that this year's crop will be lean. Prices hovered around $8.50 a quart (at the Reading Terminal Market, Ben Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce was asking $9.99).

Although the red cherries tasted bright, sweet and fresh, they weren't 60 percent better than the $2.99/pound commercial Washington State Bings purchased later in the week at the Cherry Hill Wegman's. While the store-bought fruit wasn't quite as intense in flavor, it was close enough and just as sweet; the individual fruits were also larger, though that's a tertiary consideration as far as I'm concerned. The sweet cherry, it appears, is one of those fruits that can be shipped cross-country, when properly packaged, successfully.

The local orchardists say the sour cherry crop is also slim and hence will be pricey, too, when it shows up in another week or so. Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards said he has a too few early variety sour cherries to make harvesting worthwhile, but expects to bring in mid-season Montmorency pie cherries when they're ripe. Beechwood also offered Rainier sweet cherries last Sunday, priced slightly higher than the sweet reds.

Queens Farm tomatos
Wanna buy some superfruit? Well, blueberries are back, $4.75/pint at Beechwood. Three Springs Fruit Farm had them, too, along with the season's first red raspberries. I've been enjoying the blues in yogurt for breakfast this week. Ben Wenk of Three Springs expects good crop of raspberries this year, especially the black variety. He cultivates both but said the wild raspberry patches he's seen are full of fruit.

The early tomato crop from Queens Farm remains tasty. Although pricey at $3.60/pound for its mixed heirloom varieties, they are a pure taste of summer.

Just in time for gin and tonic season, limes continue their downward price trend. Over at the Reading Terminal Market this week Iovine Brothers Produce has been selling nice-sized and heavy fruits at 20 cents a piece, a far cry from the buck (or more) apiece limes commanded in early spring.

Another crop making its seasonal debut at Headhouse Sunday: sweet corn. South Jersey farmer A.T. Buzby was selling its at 75 cents an ear.

Last Sunday may have been the last we'll see of English peas and strawberries, but there's a chance some farmers in cooler climes may have them. I took the $5 pint of sweet and fresh shelled peas purchased from Tom Culton and turned them (after the briefest boiling and then shocking in ice water) into a salad with some diced and well-fried Irish bacon, thinly sliced shallot rings, shredded gruyere cheese and homemade ranch dressing.

Here's a quick tour of some of the more photogenic produce seen at Headhouse last Sunday:

Summer yellow cukes from Savoie Organic Farm
Radishes in two colors from, iirc, Weaver's Way
Chard from Blooming Glen Farm

Red onions from Tom Culton

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cream vs. Cream

Now that it's strawberry season, you need whipped cream, right? Sure, that can of Reddi-Wip is easy, and get a whiff of its propellant (nitrous oxide) and you might even giggle.

But real homemade whipped cream is easy, especially if you've got a whisk attachment for a stick blender.

The key is the cream you use. And that's the hard part.

The cream available in most supermarkets is ultra-pasteurized. That means it has a long shelf life. But it also means the high temperatures needed for ultra-pasteurization kill much of the flavor. It will whip, and if you add enough sugar it's palatable. But it only resembles real cream.

I know of only three places where I can buy pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, cream: Lancaster County Dairy at the Reading Terminal Market, Whole Foods, and Wegmans. Fair Food sometimes has it. Lancaster County Dairy, in the market's Pennsylvania Dutch section, sells Kreider's from its namesake geographical subdivision. Whole Foods and Wegmans sell their own branded products, while Fair Food, when it has it, sells Seven Stars Farm cream.

Seek out real cream. It' worth it.

I Love June

Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse
In April we see small, nearly-hidden harbingers of what's to come: fiddleheads, ramps, perhaps morels if we're lucky. Then in May the bounty starts with cool-weather crops like lettuces, greens, and, late in the month, our first fruit: strawberries.

Now that it's June the welcome crush of produce has commenced.

The strawberries are peaking and will remain in their full glory for at least another three or four weeks, getting us through the Independence Day weekend with cakes, ice cream, tarts and just mixed with yogurt or eaten plain. The quality has been excellent once we got beyond the early crop. The berries I picked up the last two weeks from Beechwood Orchards, both at the Headhouse and Fairmount farmers markets, have been excellent: red to the core, sweet, flavorful, juicy. Prices, however, have held steady at $7/quart from most vendors, with an occasional offer of $5.50. I have no doubt pints and quarts from vendors other than Beechwood are just as good. The Wenk family's Three Springs Fruit Farm, like Beechwood located in Pennsylvania's Fruit Belt in Adams County, north and west of Gettysburg, also was selling good-looking berries today at Headhouse. So was A.T. Buzby from South Jersey's Salem County, as well as smaller farmers. But as is almost always the case, the best deal on local berries is at the Reading Terminal Market, where L. Halteman Family Country Foods sells them for more than two bucks less a quart.

Chinese lettuce
Cool-weather lettuces are also plentiful. One of the most unusual is the Chinese lettuce sold by Queens Farm at Fairmount and Headhouse. The dense firm stalk can be stir-fried or added to soups, though I'm not a fan. What has been delicious from Queens Farm is its tomatoes. We're still a month away, at least, from the real tomato crop, but Ed Yin has brought in a taste of late summer before the solstice arrives. He starts out his heirloom varieties under plastic but in the ground, rather than a hothouse. Queens Farms is also the place to buy oyster mushrooms and Asian greens.

The prior Sunday I went mad buying sugar snaps and snow peas. I passed by one stall and grabbed a pint of sugar snaps and brought them back to the car. Then I headed back under the Headhouse shambles and found snow peas, forgetting all about the sugar snaps I just purchased, and bought a pint of those, too. I never bothered to cook any of them. Some were consumed out-of-hand, others dressed with either a vinaigrette or mayo-based dressing. I'm thankful our houseguests during the week helped me go through them. That allowed me to pick up a pint of yellow string beans from Tom Culton at today's Headhouse market, along with Chiogga beets.

Another late spring treat from a number of vendors: red new potatoes. I turned a pint from Culton to a simple potato salad, but they'd be great boiled or steamed to accompany a slab of salmon.

Culton's cornichons
Cucumbers have been showing up with some regularity, both the traditional "garden" variety and kirby cukes, ideal for pickling. Last week I bought a pound and a half of Culton's "cornichons", though they looked like kirbies to me. After three days in a simple salt brine (with fresh dill, lots of garlic and some coriander seeds) they were ready.

She Who Must Be Obeyed loves red radishes, and there were plenty to choose from today at Headhouse. I picked up a bright red, white and green bunch of French breakfast radishes from Savoie Farm today.

Hull peas, a.k.a. English peas, have also been available since last week, both in the hull and shelled. Culton was selling the latter like hotcakes today at Headhouse, and other vendors offered them, too. They'd be a great veg (and a New England classic) to go along with that salmon and potatoes, especially if you use lots of butter. For those who really enjoy shelling legumes, Culton and Queens farm are selling Fava beans.

Speaking of legumes, Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market has had fresh chick peas (garbanzos) for a few weeks, $3.99/pound. Shell them and briefly boil them as you would English peas. I passed them by only because I had just defrosted a container of cooked dried chick peas I made a couple months ago. Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce also offers shelled peas.

Salumeria Adds Lanci's bread

Salumeria, the Italian grocer, hoagie-maker and cheese-monger (not just Italian) at the Reading Terminal Market, had added bread from South Philly's Lanci Bakery to its offerings. Lanci's continues to use the coal-firerd brick oven installed by its founder in 1920.

Lamb, Low and Slow

Seasoned, but not cooked yet
My favorite red meat is lamb, so for our Memorial Day block party I bought a gorgeous six-pound bone-in shoulder from Border Springs at the Reading Terminl Market and treated it has I would pulled pork, only with Greek seasonings rather than as barbecue.

Just like pork, low-and-slow is the way to go. I set my oven on 200F (using a seperate oven thermometer to insure the right level of heat, since different ovens may or may nor be able to keep a steady temp when set so low). The meat went into the oven in a covered earthenware pot at 11 p.m., and I next checked it at 8 a.m. It was perfectly done. (As I recall, my instant meat thermometer read 190F; lamb shoulder, like some cuts of pork, is actually better medium-to-medium-well than medium-rare, and is quite forgiving even when well-done, so long as it's not incinerated.) After a rest to cool and set the juices I hand-shredded the meat. Served with pita bread and homemade tzaziki, since cucumbers and mint are in season.

The long, slow-cooking allows much of the fat to drain away, but enough fat and collagen remain to keep it moist and tender.

The leftovers went into meal-sized containers for freezing. Once thawed, it's easy enough to reheat by tossing around in a skillet (non-stick works) for a few minutes. Last night I cooked some sweet frying peppers in the pan before adding the meat. And even after a quick three or four-minute sauté the lamb remained juicy.

For the slow roast, I used one of my go-to braising pots, the Black Chamba lidded roaster from Colombia shown at left. The lid is not tight fitting -- intentionally, so the steam can escape and not drown whatever you're cooking. I purchased mine a few years ago from the Santa Fe Cooking School store website where the 10" x 17" version is available for $115, but there are plenty of other on-line shops for this great roaster/braising pot, which I've also used on my gas stovetop. It's also easy to clean with just hot water, no soap. If you've got to scrub a bit, hot water and paper towels work just fine with a minimum of elbow grease.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ice Cream Bowl Sunday

Bassetts from the Reading Terminal Market and occasional farmers' market vendor 'Lil Pop Shop will be among the cool treat purveyors participating in Sunday's Ice Cream Bowl benefit for the University City Arts League. You can get your licks in at the league, 4226 Spruce St., from 1 to 4 p.m.

Other frozen dessert makers whose wares you can sample Sunday are Little Baby's, Shake Shack, Ben & Jerry's and West Philly's own Weckerly's.

The ice cream will be served in pottery bowls made by the league's ceramics instructors. For $10 you can walk away with the ice cream and its handcrafted bowl ($30 for a family of four). And, says Noreen Shanfelter, the league's executive director and a regular RTM shopper, there will be plenty of toppings to adorn the ice cream.