- 10-15 medium okra pods
- 1/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup milk
- generous pinch each of salt, pepper, paprika
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
The blackberry bushes that border the farm property are heavy with plump, juicy fruits this time of year. So during my lunch break, I picked two heaping hatfulls- one to snack on for the rest of the afternoon and another to take home. I considered making blackberry scones, ice cream, even salad dressing, but a classic cobbler called to me. The following recipe comes from Cooking is My Therapy (indeed it is mine, too), but I added my own variations to make it extra special. You may replace the buttermilk and butter with non-dairy alternatives to make this vegan. The family enjoyed this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream while cooling off on the back porch.
- 3 1/2 cups blackberries, rinsed and picked over
- 1/4- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 tbsp yellow cornmeal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp sugar
- handful of chopped pecans
Recent years have seen a resurgence in the local food movement, and with it farmers’ markets are becoming increasingly popular and profitable. Local growers, bakeries, and artesans are joining together once a week to sell directly to the customer, supporting local businesses and helping consumers form better relationships with their food and local economies. To make the most of the farmers’ market experience, market-goers must be both savvy and persistent because, unlike the supermarket or mall, the experience is a bit more primitive. Such hustle and bustle, so many choices can be a bit overwhelming for novice market shoppers. That’s why, as a grower and vendor at several markets, I’ve compiled a list of tips for getting the best deals and navigating the etiquette at the farmers’ market. So without further adieu, my list:
1. Make a List
The market is an exciting and busy place. Its easy go crazy and make impulse buys, and its also easy to feel overwhelmed. Before you plan on going to the market, find out what is in season and make a list of what you want.
2. Come Early, Come Back Late
The best produce always sells quickly. We usually sell out by 10 o’clock and the market closes at 12. The early birds wait for us before the market even opens at 7. If you want the freshest, most perfect baked goods, fruits and veggies, you have to come early. However, as the market begins to slow down towards closing time (about 30-45 minutes before closing), vendors will sometimes lower their prices to sell out. If you want the best items and don’t mind the crowd; come early. If you don’t mind left overs and want a good deal; come later. Better yet, if you have time for it- come early to get what’s on your list then come before close to score some last-minute bargains.
3. Do a Once-Over First
There will likely be several vendors selling the same produce, so you’ll want to walk from one end of the market to the other to compare prices and see what is available. Take a good look at what is for sale before you make any decisions. Most vendors don’t write receipts so you can’t always expect to be able to return an item if you’ve found a better deal at another booth.
3. Bring Small Bills
Most vendors will come with only a cash box. And most items at the market, especially food, fall under the $10 range with change in quarters on the dollar. This means the vendors will be equipped to make change in small bills and quarters, and will prefer to do so. Making change for a $2 item with a $20 bill can be inconvenient for the vendor, especially during a rush. For the sake of efficiency, please come to the market with at least $5 in ones.
4. Consider Haggling, Just Ask First
If the vendor does not have prices listed, it can be because they are selling high or are open to haggling. You can often walk away with a great deal by making a bargain. But first make sure the vendor is willing because the attitude toward haggling changes from market to market. Simply ask “Would you be open to bargain?” or “Can we make a deal?”. Towards the end of the market day, when vendors are trying to get rid of remaining produce, bargaining is more acceptable. A technique I like to use is “bundling” wherein I’ll negotiate with the customer over the price on a few items together, rather than haggle over a single item. This makes it easier for me to sell extras and gives the customer a good discount.
5. Ask for a Sample
Vendors offering baked goods will sometimes provide sample to entice customers. This can also be true for fruit and vegetable vendors- you just have to ask. Samples are especially common during tomato season when farmers have a several hybrid and heirloom varieties to offer.
6. Consider “Seconds”
Produce vendors will often sell slightly damaged/ imperfect produce or “seconds”at a discount. Sometimes there will be a sign offering seconds, or you can ask. The best time to hunt for seconds is towards the end of the market after vendors have sold all of the best produce.
7. Choose Organic When Possible
Certain vegetables are particularly susceptible to pest and disease damage and are therefore more intensely treated with chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. These are known as the the “dirty dozen” and include bell peppers, potatoes, peaches, pears, spinach, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, celery, apples, nectarines, and imported grapes. To avoid ingesting chemical residue, choose organic when purchasing these vegetables. Organic farming practices use a natural approach to growing and abstain from using chemicals. Instead, more labor-intensive and traditional practices are used, and this is why organic produce is typically more expensive. Supporting local organic growers also supports sustainable agriculture methods which are better for the health of the environment.
8. Get to Know the Grower
Don’t be afraid to chat with the vendors! Most of us enjoy the market experience of selling directly to the customer and getting to know our clients, and you should too. Feel free to ask about the operation, what’s in season, and what to expect in the coming markets. Some vendors even come equipped with recipe ideas for featured produce. Getting to know your grower can provide you with a more intimate experience of your food. I always enjoy sharing recipes and growing tips with my customers, especially when they keep coming back!
9. Come Often
Market offerings change from week to week, especially baked goods, fruits and vegetables. Visit the market often so you can find the best produce as soon as it comes in season. Also, if you buy frequently from a particular vendor, they will take notice and may offer you special deals or may even set aside items upon request.
10. Know What’s Next
Ask the vendors what they will have at market in the coming weeks. This way, you can compile your list for the following market and prepare meals accordingly. Typically, if a vendor is the only seller offering a particular vegetable at market, he can charge extra to meet the demand. If you want to get a better deal, find out what each vendor is planning to sell so you know when to buy. If you’re after a particular produce as soon as it goes into season, asking ahead can give you the heads-up.
“We Russians have so many good recipes for cabbage” claimed my boss, “You Americans only have one recipe; coleslaw” she said “And I don’t like it very much”
You know, she’s right. Think about it- every time find yourself at a burger joint or a cookout, you always end up with a washed-out scoop of bland and unimpressive slaw, likely headed for the trash or eaten up hurriedly to make room on your plate for something else. So when a bumper crop of cabbage and an impending potluck had me taking home four extra heads, I needed a way to make that singular recipe really spectacular. In a sea of bland, mayo drenched slaw recipes, I decided to throw traditional preparations to the wind. I emptied out my vegetable drawer and rummaged through the pantry. Everything but the kitchen sink found its way onto the cutting board. I wanted something crunchy so I threw in some almonds. Then I thought, what goes great with toasty almonds? Arugula! How to compliment spicy arugula? Sugar beets! Beets? Ginger! Sesame seeds! By the end of my whirlwind experiment in the kitchen, I’d created the following recipe. It got great reviews from my mother and appeared to be pretty popular at the potluck. I hope you enjoy it.
Toasty Asian-Style Cole Slaw
- 1 small white or Savoy cabbage (about .5 lb in weight)
- 1 bunch baby carrots
- 1 small Spanish or sweet onion, or 1 bunch spring/green onion
- 1 1/5 stalks celery
- 1 medium sugar beet
- 1/2 cup arugula
- 1/4-1/2 cup light mayo
- 2 TBSP Asian flavored oil (peanut oil w/ garlic, hot pepper and ginger seasoning. Or seasoned wok oil)
- 1 tsp rice or white vinegar
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
- 1/4 TBSP black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup toasted almond slices
- 1/4 -1/2 tsp hot chili flakes
Begin by toasting the almonds. In a skillet over medium-high heat, gently swish the almonds around continuously, flipping gently, until they become lightly browned and fragrant. Next, chop the cabbage and onion. Use a mandolin slicer or a vegetable peeler to julienne the carrots, celery and beets. Finely chop the arugula. Toss the vegetables with the oil and mayo until evenly coated. Sprinkle on the sesame, toasted almonds, and chili flakes. Gently toss again. Refrigerate to chill and serve with your favorite burgers or cookout dishes. Serves 6-10.
Farm to Feast: Cabbage
Cabbage is a biennial leafy green. It is a member of the Brassica genus which also includes turnips, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and collards. Cabbage season on Central Maryland runs mid-spring and early summer, and also late autumn and into winter. Varieties of cabbage include red, white, Savoy and Chinese with several variations of each variety. Transplant cabbage in early spring, planting them in rows one square foot or so apart. When a hard and dense head has formed in the center of the plant, it is mature and ready to pick. Cabbages reach maturity usually no less than four weeks after transplanting.
Like most Brassicas, cabbages are susceptible to pest damage by cabbage worms, weevils, and aphids, and fungi diseases. To ward off pests, I like to use a agricultural grade fabric, called Agribon. Use wire half-hoops to create a tunnel over the young cabbage rows, then spread the fabric over the hoops and bury at the ends to prevent pests from entering. To treat fungal damage, copper preparations can be sprayed.
Yes, you read that correctly. Nutty Swiss cheese makes best friends with toasty, peppery arugula and a hearty pumpernickel bread. The perfect antidote to a lousy Monday.
Take a handful of the peppery salad green, a few slices of fresh cheese, and your bread. Assemble at whim (three slices of Swiss for me, a heap of arugula, a thin slather of mayo, two slices of bread). Then grill as you please (I grilled two slices of bread with cheese, face up, until melty then threw on the arugula, smooshed them together and grilled a bit longer until the greens wilted). Enjoy.
Farm to Feast: Arugula
Arugula, also known as rocket, is an annual leafy green with a peppery, slightly bitter, and toasty flavor. It can be grown easily in warm to hot weather, but also tolerates cold during maturity. It is an easy choice for novice or window gardeners. It does well raised in pots or above-ground beds. Arugula can be seeded directly but should be kept in a warm and moist environment upon germination, preferably in a greenhouse. It reaches maturity at 21-40 days when the leaves are 4-10 inches long. It should be harvested at least twice monthly to prevent bolting and can be harvested for a few months. The more mature arugula is picked, the stronger the flavor.
Arugula is susceptible to pests also attracted to Brassicas, including flea beetles. To avoid pest damage, arugula should be kept separated from broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, cabbage, and kholrabi. Diseases including fungal and mildew infections are common. To avoid this, remove any loose leaves after harvesting. Anti-fungal and anti-mildew preparations can be sprayed.
My favorite thing about being a farm hand is all the leftover produce I get to take home. I’ve become intimate with the ways of vegetables, and getting up close and personal has given me the edge to cook with all that extra produce. Often times I find myself scratching my head over what to do with a new veggie, only to discover my latest leafy green love affair. Take, for example, Swiss chard. I seeded, transplanted, weeded and harvested this colorful green for three seasons before I actually prepared some to eat. I tried it for the first time this weekend, and I loved it. Now I’m flipping through every cookbook I own, searching for my next Swiss chard recipe.
The following recipe for chard-stuffed raviolis comes from a variety of sources, including my favorite cookbook Too Many Tomatoes. The idea for using wontons as raviolis comes from a previous post on the versatility of the raw pasta squares. I wanted a pasta filled with chard and cheese, something light for spring dinners, not too over-the-top but challenging enough to involve a day in the kitchen. I just trusted my gut on this recipe and threw everything together with a general idea in mind. The measurements aren’t exact; you can experiment according to your taste. You may substitute the chard for any mild and delicate green, such as spinach, and substitute the sauce with your favorite recipe. You can find wonton wrappers in the refrigerated produce section at your local grocery store. They are usually located next to the tofu.
Wonton Raviolis Stuffed with Swiss Chard
- 1 package raw wonton wrappers
- 1 – 2 cups Swiss chard, rinsed and chopped
- 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup parmesan arregiano
- 1 bunch fresh herbs (chives, basil, parsley)
- salt, pepper
- 1 egg plus 1 TBSP water, beaten
Begin by finely chopping the Swiss chard, including the stems.
Steam your chard 3-5 minutes until the stems are tender, but not too mushy. The bulk of your greens will have reduced greatly. Drain and and gently squeeze out as much of the water as possible. Set aside to cool for a few moments.
Meanwhile chop your fresh herbs, estimating about 1 part herbs to 5 parts uncooked chard. Grate the cheese.
When the chard is cool enough to touch, transfer it to a medium bowl and fluff with a fork. Fold in your cheese, ricotta, and herbs until evenly incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Beat the egg with the water in a small bowl. Lightly flour a dry surface, have a small bowl of flour at hand to dust between raviolis. Dust a large plate with flour and set aside. To make your raviolis, take one wonton square and place a 1 TBSP dollop of the chard mixture in the center. Use a pastry brush or your finger to wipe a thin layer of eggwash onto the wonton, around the border. Carefully take another wonton square and place it over the other, as you would lay out a blanket. Seal the edges with your finger, pressing firmly and taking care not to squeeze out any of the filling. Trim any mismatched edges with a knife and carefully transfer to the floured plate. Dust your surface with flour between each ravioli, so that they do not stick to each other. Fill the plate with one layer of raviolis, making sure they do not touch. Cover with parchment and begin the next layer. (My kitchen was very humid when I was working with the wontons so I transfered them to the freezer as soon as I filled a plate).
You should fill about 20 raviolis. Too cook the raviolis, lower them individually into boiling water and simmer 2 minutes until the pasta becomes translucent and the edges begin to curl. Carefully remove using a slotted spoon. Or, steam them a few minutes until translucent and soft. Serve with Tomato Basil Sauce.
Tomato and Basil Sauce
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 3 small cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 cans diced tomatoes
- small handful of fresh basil, chopped
- salt and pepper
I noticed it just as the first strawberries were beginning to mature- small gashes bored in the soft and sweet ripe spots, rendering the berries unsuitable for harvest. Dozens of berries ruined like this and as the weeks passed and the strawberries ripened further, the problem progressed. Somebody was helping themselves to the strawberry patch it seemed. Rather, somebunny.
And then, as I was weeding a corner of the field, I spotted a rustling among the berry bushes. I watched as a pint-sized cottontail rabbit emerged from the leaves, chewing contentedly.
“You!” I hollered, pointing my hoe in it’s direction,
“Get out of my strawberries, you bad, bad bunny!”
I took three steps forward and bunny took off into the greenhouse. I spent the next two days chasing it from corner to corner. Then yesterday, after we were both tuckered out from playing chase, I finally nabbed the strawberry-munching culprit. I kept it sequestered in the old tin watering can with a handful of clover. Then I took it home where I planned to release it far away from the berries, after snapping a few mug shots of course. But I left the watering can unattended for just the bat of an eye and when I came back to check on it, bunny had escaped. Now somewhere in my neighborhood, there’s a little bunny full of strawberries on the loose. If you spot it, let it know it’s not welcome to a slice of my Strawberry Bunny Pie.
Strawberry Bunny Pie
This springtime pie is simple yet dazzling. Fresh ripe strawberries are front-and-center in this dessert, perfect for a berry themed get-together. You can purchase a pie crust or take the extra challenge and make your own. You can prepare the crust a day ahead. This pie sets in the fridge and keeps well 3-5 days. Serve chilled or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup cold butter, diced
- 1/4 cup ice water
- 9″ pie crust, baked and cooled
- 2 lbs fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled and cut into quarters
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tsp water
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (about half of a lemon)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 envelope natural unflavored gelatin
- 2 tbsp cold water
Reserve a handful of the cut strawberries and set aside. In a small bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the cold water, stir. In a medium saucepan, crush the remaining berries with the sugar, lemon juice and salt to make a chunky jam. Bring to simmer, stir in the cornstarch and cook 5-7 minutes stirring occasionally until thickened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in the gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Cool further, but not completely. Fold in the remaining berries, reserving a few, pour the mixture into the pie crust. Arrange the reserved berries on top for presentation. Chill int he fridge until set, 1-2 hours. Serves 8.
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 TBSP confectioners sugar
At the farm, we have a 600 head Black Angus beef operation. These are premium bred cows, all free-range and grazing on certified organic alfalfa and grass. They’re lucky cows too, they’re free to roam 800 plus acres as they please- to enjoy the warm sun on their backs, the cool mud under hoof. Free to express all the glory of their cow-ness . In March, we welcomed the arrival of 6 calves born to the Black Angus heffers. Unfortunately one of the mama cows passed away a few weeks after delivery due to labor complications. The 4-H club that boards their livestock at the farm have been raising the calf, and they named her Suzy-Q. Fed by hand and doted upon by nearly a dozen young 4-H recruits, Suzy is playful, sweet and loves a good head scratch. Today on my lunch break, I payed her a visit. Luckily I had my camera at hand and caught this charming video of her and me snuggling in the grass. I hope you enjoy it!
Dazzling ruby rhubarb delights in this spring-time dessert!
A last-minute potluck had me scrambling for a quick but impressive dessert recipe. Luckily, my cooking friend Laura at The Soup Bowl suggested the following rhubarb tart. Thanks Laura, you saved me!
The original recipe called for an orange glaze but I love tart foods and it seemed fitting to enhance the bite of rhubarb with fresh ruby grapefruit juice. Of course, you may substitute any citrus juice.
Rhubarb Tart with Grapefruit Glaze
- 3/4 lb (3 large stalks) rhubarb, sliced 1/8” thick diagonally
- 2 sheet frozen puffed pastry, thawed
- 1 cup fresh grapefruit juice plus 1 TBSP lemon juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
* The picture above is of my tart UNGLAZED.