Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Remembering Michael Holahan

Mike and Julie with William, James and Isabella
Mike Holahan's death last week, at age 57, leaves a void for his family – his partner in life and business Julie, daughter Isabella and sons William and James – as well as shoppers and fellow merchants at the Reading Terminal Market, and the Philadelphia food community.

I won't repeat the facts of Michael's life, including how he started the Pennsylvania General Store and his leadership of the Reading Terminal Market Merchant Association. You can read them in his Philadelphia Inquirer obituary and at the funeral home's website.

Instead, I'll simply recount two parts of his life (with some video help): one I only learned about after his death, the other one I lived with him.

What I didn't know was how committed Michael was to his church and religion. But I should have, for it was an extension of his love for his family. I learned of this when, seeking directions to attend his funeral, I visited the website of Michael's church, Gloria Dei, and found among the list of sermon videos one Michael delivered on March 13, just three days before he died. It shows the side Michael I knew -- funny, friendly, thoughtful and lightly showing his knowledge of food production -- and the side of Michael that I didn't know, committed to making a better world through his faith. This 20-minute video captures the man:

Another Michael is the one I first met more than 25 years ago, a man passionate about food and the people who bring it to our tables. This was when he started the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, a gathering of foodies on that day which attracted anywhere from a half-dozen to three dozen participants.

Our topics were wide ranging, and frequently featured guest speakers, both merchants and outside experts.

One of the more memorable sessions was for Valentine's Day. Mike had arranged for the pastry chef from Deux Cheminées to discuss how to make chocolate truffles. Unfortunately the pastry chef had emergency dental surgery, so the restaurant's proprietor, Fritz Blank took his place, bringing along a friend who was attending the Philadelphia national convention of the Association of American Scientists, who Fritz knew through his former career as a microbiologist. The friend was Harold McGee, the author of On Food and Cooking. McGee brought along samples of cocoa beans both fresh and in various stages of processing and explained the science of making chocolate. So as not to disappoint the many ladies who attending in hopes of making truffles, Fritz gave them the recipe.

The Saturday Morning Breakfast Club also served as an introduction to the people of the market, including its managers (Marci Rogovin when the club started, then Paul Steinke when he came on board), and merchants. Ann Karlen stopped by to talk about the Fair Food Farmstand before it opened. Luminaries from the Philadelphia food community also visited to share their stories and expertise, including Jack Asher of Asher's Chocolates (Mike sold a food invention of his, Keystone Crunch, to Asher). Indeed, the regional history of chocolate manufacture was one of Mike's passions: you can read an earlier entry on this blog about a talk he gave on the subject here.

I don't have any video of our sessions at the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, but when Mike was president of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association they briefly put together series called "Cooking IQ". Here's one where Mike interviews Tom Nicolosi of DiNic's on how he cooks his meat, and shows the inquisitive foodie that was Michael:

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Sam Consylman, forager extraordinaire, 1941-2016

Sam Consyman after pulling onions in his Lancaster garden. Photo by Robert Libkind.
Sam Consylman, a retired auto radiator repairman whose passion was foraging, organic gardening of both common and unusual produce and teaching younger generations about growing and gathering food, died Feb. 26. Sam, who won a round against colon cancer nearly 20 years ago, was 74.

I met Sam when Earl Livengood operated his produce stall at center court in the Reading Terminal Market. Sam was a friend of Earl and helped out at various farmers' markets. But Sam also supplied Earl with choice morsels he found in forests and lowlands: wild berries, greens and, most delectable of all, morels.

At his Lancaster home Sam had a small scale gentleman's farm, with everything from root vegetables to fruit trees.

Sam Consylman at Fairmount Farmers Market.
Photo by Robert Libkind
Among the many things Sam taught me was the living definition of "dead ripe".

During a visit to his patch of green Sam led me to his small orchard and found a peach lying on the ground which, he told me, wasn't there a few hours go. Some ants had already found it, but Sam brushed them off, surgically removed the spot they had been working on, and handed it to me. It was incredibly juicy with a subtle but absolutely peachy flavor: the perfect peach. And dead ripe, having just fallen, naturally, off the tree.

Sam also loved rediscovering foods from other cultures and our past. I rarely saw him so excited as when he told me about his first crop of yacon, a South American tuber

He was gathered a native American food well-known in Appalachia: poke.

Each fall Sam would dig up pokeweed from his favorite Lancaster County foraging ground and store them buried in sand on two six-foot shelves in his basement, stacking them tightly to preserve moisure, and watering them daily to "mimic the same way they'd get moisure in the wild". By January they start to send out edible roots, which you can use like you would asparagus. The leaves, berries, taproot and older shoots are poisonous.

Although the garden took up much of his retirement time, Sam was hardly averse to meat. In addition to being an avid freshwater fisherman he regularly took to the field with his gun. He had agreements with some central Pennsylvania farmers to patrol their lands of pesky varmints, and the result was a regular supply of ground hog for his wife, Mary, to fry-up. He brought the chicken-fried rodent to Philadelphia to share with some of his farmers market customers. Quite tasty.

He shared his passions with young people. In addition to being a supporter of the Manor FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America) in Millersville, Sam was also dedicated to at-risk youth, leading a series of Smart Angling fishing workshops for the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

A memorial gathering will be held at the New Danville Fire Company, 43 Marticville Road, Lancaster, on Friday, March 11 from 2 to 8 p.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Manor FFA, c/o Penn Manor High School, 100 E. Cottage Ave., Millersville PA 17551.