I’ve never been one to do the tourist thing. As much as I love to travel, to get out, to meet new people, to try new foods; I much prefer to do all of the above as if I were a local. I find it even more difficult to swallow when the tourist thing surrounds an activity so warmly familiar it seems routine. My children on the other hand find joyous fun in even the simplest Saturday afternoon outings. It’s with that in mind that I found myself this past Saturday frequenting an overly-crowded and even more overly-priced — albeit local — orchard and cider mill. And yes, I did have fun.
Last week, in On Inheritance we talked Heirloom tomatoes; their origins, beauty, roots in the land and the way such a simple fruit can connect us with our ancestors, the generations past. This week, we’ll take a more practical look at the summer’s most coveted bounty with some of the best recipes from around the web.
After decades of conditioning to the acceptance of dull, pale, supermarket varieties one of the biggest questions people have about heirloom tomatoes is what to do with them. Sure, they’re pretty, but how do we eat them? Everyone knows they’re great for slicing, but a rare few know the true breadth of a good heirloom’s culinary possibilities.
Prior to the relatively recent industrialization of our food system however, heirlooms were all that existed and as such the possibilities for their uses extend as far as our imaginations. From salads to sauces, pizzas to pastas heirloom tomatoes are the perfect accompaniment to just about any dish and even make great waves as the dinner table headliner themselves. That said, without further ado, some of the best heirloom tomato recipes I’ve found to date:
Food Network gives a well-received template for creating an heirloom tomato salsa, my only tweak to their system would be to encourage you not to limit yourself to one variety of tomato. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different textures, colors and tastes to find the blend you enjoy most.
Martha Stewart offers her rendition of the all-American Friday night dinner with her Oven-Dried Heirloom Tomato Pizza and there’s really no sense in trying to improve a recipe from the master, especially when it doesn’t get any simpler. I love how she lets the tomatoes flavor take center stage in this one with just a dash of pepper to spice things up.
Sea Salt With Food’s Grilled Corn and Shrimp Salad doesn’t specifically call for heirloom tomatoes, but substituted for the conventional grape tomatoes the heirloom would really make it pop.
And last, but certainly not least, one I have not tried but that I couldn’t help but be fascinated with; Cheddar Cheese Pancakes with Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette — yes, I said warm bacon — from Sippity Sup. Try it and let me know what you think. It has both tomatoes and bacon so it has to be good.
Until next week, happy tomato eating!
* Heirloom Tomato Art in this column is by Big Bean Photos, f2 Images and Darrah Parker, respectively. Because Tomatoes are not just for eating, but also good for decorating. So go get yourself a print, or ten.
We interrupt this program to bring you the customary May Edition of ‘What’s In Season Now’. Many of the recommendations made in both the March and April editions are still applicable; if you missed it before, be sure to check those out now!
Last night I baked a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. It was delicious both in that it tasted like heaven and that it’s a sure sign, even here in the land of never-ending winters, the season of fresh harvested bounty is upon us.
While the rhubarb was harvested just a couple hundred feet from my front door, the strawberries were not local. Had we not already devoured all of those I’d frozen last summer they could have been, but alas we had. And as unfortunate as it is, strawberries and rhubarb have yet to get the memo that they should ripen at the same time — what with them being so very complementary to one another when coated in honey, sprinkled with cinnamon and baked into a flaky crust — and my children have yet to get the memo that frozen strawberries are supposed to last us until the following strawberry season.
The uncooperative nature of strawberries and rhubarb aside, May is probably one of the most diverse months of the early growing season in the Northern Hemisphere. As the climate in the north just begins to warm to true growing temperatures, in the southern and more temperate locales summer’s gifts are making their first appearances at Farmer’s Markets.
Those strawberries I won’t be able to source locally for another month are already gracing farm stands in some places, for instance. And don’t be fooled by their smaller stature when compared to their supermarket cousins. In every one of those small berries is ten-times the flavor — and one-hundred times the ethical ego-boost.
Beside them early blueberries are making appearances as citrus fruits close-up shop; garbanzo beans — while a lot of prep work — and fava beans also start showing up in their fresh, rather than dried form. Greens of all kinds are still in their glory in many places and can inspire myriad dishes when you get creative by serving them sautéed, steamed and even raw in all their forms; collard and chard are delicious drizzled with a favorite vinegar. Radishes, like asparagus, may be winding down in warmer areas, but in the cooler north they’re producing at peak; and make an excellent addition to salads and atop crostini with dinner. Likewise peas are a raw treat for kids and adults alike and later in the month even cherries will start to make an appearance some places.
What are you seeing at the Farmer’s Market this month? And even better, what are you doing with it? Share your favorite May finds, tips, tricks and recipes in the comments below and I’ll feature the best of the best later this month in a column!
And just one last note before I leave you to your shopping: Not sure where to find a farmer’s market near you? Check out Local Harvest for help. Not sure how to shop a farmer’s market? Never been before? Check out the farmer’s market guide that was featured right here at Try Handmade last year for tips!
It seems I’m a bit behind in writing this column. Some of you overachievers — I’m looking at you, California — have already sent your kids back to school; last week even. The first week of August! And I’m not going to lie, I want to know how you managed it because my kids, who do not return to school until the second week in September, have interrupted me six times while I wrote this first paragraph. I’m ready for back to school.
As a matter of fact, if I’d known there were states out there who sent kids back to school in early August I may have settled elsewhere to raise my own. In the meantime all I can do is hope Michigan gets with the program and plan for the days when mine do go back. And, if you happen to be one of those parents wistfully thinking of school days ahead with me, I can share those plans I’m making. Especially those that have to do with food. Which is exactly what I plan to do. For the next three weeks we’ll be talking back-to-school food of the local, artisan and handmade types.
On the menu this week: breakfast! Experts agree it’s the most important meal of the day and corporate food giants expend a great deal of marketing moolah harking products that promise to get kids off to a great start — never pausing to divulge the sugar and preservatives that’ll accompany that breakfast, of course — without taking too much time from the precious few moments most families have. What isn’t widely publicized is that locally sourced, handmade breakfasts don’t have to take copious time either and they can be a whole lot healthier.
Here a few of our favorite simple breakfast pleasures that can be taken from farm (or farm market) to table in no time:
French Toast. You’ve eyed the homemade breads at the farmer’s market long enough. This weekend make your way to the booth and buy a few loaves. Yes, a few. Take them home, cut them into thick slices, coat them in egg and make french toast, removing them from the heat just before they’re done. Freeze them with a slip of wax paper between each slice and you can literally pull french toast from the freezer for a quick and easy breakfast all fall and winter. Just pop the slices in the toaster or toaster oven and warm. And remember, this is not your Grandma’s french toast. Experiment with herbed or onion bread dipped in garlic spiked egg and topped with sour cream rather than syrup, for instance.
Overnight Oatmeal. In a large bowl mix enough steel cut oats for the whole family with just enough soy milk to cover and leave the whole thing in the fridge. In the morning pull out the oatmeal, which will now be soft and thick, mix it with your favorite local fruit — dried or fresh — nuts, spices or honey and either eat cold or microwave just long enough to heat through.
Scrambled Eggs. I like mine topped with salsa; my husband likes his with sliced mushrooms and sharp cheddar; my oldest daughter likes her with just a dash of pepper and my youngest, well, she’s a purist, she likes them plain. No matter the fixin’s however, it never takes long to make them. I use the microwave. Yes, the microwave. And the bonus, very little clean up. My girls can even make eggs themselves this way. Just break an egg or two into a glass dish, microwave on high at thirty second intervals, stirring and fluffing with a fork each time until the eggs are done to your desired dryness.
Fruit Smoothies. Remember all those berries I told you to stock up on earlier in the season? Now is the time to pull them from their freezer resting spot and put them to good use. Add one of fall’s first apples to the mix and blend up a few cups of your favorite with a little ice and milk (soy, goat, cow, almond, the sky is the limit) and enjoy. For an added protein boost you don’t need powders from the health food store, drop in a handful of steel cut oats or pair the smoothie with a handful of nuts.
What’s your favorite on-the-go breakfast that doesn’t have your family relying heavily on corporate food giants and their products?
The first column I wrote for Try Handmade, almost a year ago now, was about berries — the love of them, to be exact. And so, it seems fitting that they’re making news in this month’s column once again. Just last week I received an email from one of our favorite u-pick farms, the strawberries here are finally ripe; the blueberries will follow suit soon. We’re a good few weeks behind those in the warmer, southern climates but when it comes to the scrumptiousness that is fresh berries we’ll take them when we can get them. And this year, when we can get them is just in time to restock our jams and jellies. Many of those we’ll make ourselves, from the fresh berries we source locally, but others we’ll buy and the Strawberry Balsamic variety from Sun Chowder Jams on Foodzie is looking promising so far.
Of course, besides the berries that I’m so happy to finally see again this year many of my other summer favorites are starting to ripen too, if not here in warmer locales. The tomato season is upon many families in the southern United States with some of the best slicing tomatoes they’ll taste all year now gracing farmer’s market stands. Don’t forget to pick up a few jars of stewed, diced or whole canned from your favorite producers as well — or grab an extra bushel and do the canning work yourself — this winter when What’s In Season Now columns are just a fond memory and scarce little is growing the taste of summer like that in home-preserved tomatoes will be a welcome addition to any meal.
Other foods to keep your eyes peeled for this month include green beans, peas, beets, summer squash, peaches, cherries, herbs such as mint — of all varieties, but a favorite here is chocolate — parsley, thyme, lavender, cilantro and some of the year’s last fresh asparagus. And remember, tomatoes aren’t the only summer bounty that can be preserved. Pick up enough to keep over for winter now or ask around the market to find out which producers you can expect to have preserves available as the year wears on.
Don’t forget to check out the April and May editions of What’s In Season Now, as well. Depending on your locale many of the suggestions made in both those columns will still apply. And if you’re new to the Farmer’s Market, last year’s how-to guide, How To Shop a Farmer’s Market, is perfect for getting you started.
Until next time, happy local shopping, happy local eating!