Monday, December 17, 2012

Of Markets and Mourning

Today I have been reading a paper left over from a recent food and culture class which analyzes the virtues and roadblocks facing farmers’ markets.  According to "Culture and the Politics of Alternative Food Networks"[i], farmers' markets are social gathering places which offer a wide assortment of communal experiences.
As I read this paper, my mind and emotions are crowded out by thoughts of the recent massacre of the innocents, the teachers, administrators, and caregivers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.  I think of the families and friends left with only carnage and destruction. 

For example, shoppers at farmers’ markets often seek out organics, sustainably grown produce, or sources for other local products. On the other hand, some support farmers' markets for political or economic reasons:  they vote with their dollars in support of farmers, producers, and their local economy.  While others frequent markets for purely social or nostalgic enjoyment.  They browse or chat up local artisans; perhaps they sample a bit of local cuisine, listen to entertainment, or simply  mingle with others.   

This reconnection through our local foods gives us a sense of involvement, participation, and empowerment often missed in our daily lives. In terms of the bigger picture my paper observes, “Such openness makes it possible to imagine and apprehend connections beyond the local to a wider awareness of potential linkages and agencies that can be mobilized for progressive ends.” 

My thoughts turn to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and my heart wants answers. Why? What do we do about the violence and death in our country―which now seems to be the new normal?  Is that how we solve our problems?  Do we build more fences and gates?  Do we arm everyone old enough with their own weapon?  Is that what is meant by our 'inalienable right'?   Does that make us any safer? Really? 

This rise in farmer’s markets has not been without controversy, the authors point out.  Some argue that farmers’ markets are simply a form of elite entertainment, for those who can afford to pay more for organics and high end products.   Some say that these small markets don't really help our local economy and they certainly don't influence national food issues.  Perhaps this discussion is unnecessary and it is just a sign of our times―one already decided upon by lobbyists, special interest groups, and big industry.

Since I became involved in farmers’ markets over ten years ago, I have witnessed a groundswell of activity, interest, and support from Florida, to South Carolina, and now in Oregon. For those disconnected from their food supply, looking for a little re-assurance and a support group, farmers' markets offer that and much more. When I consider how the farmers’ market faction has moved from a mere fringe element to robust community forum, I have become a believer in the “grass roots” form of change.  It is this same sense of community experienced at farmers' markets that I see happening in Newton, Connecticut while families and friends grieve openly. 

As the media swoops down and besieges a traumatized town, I wonder, why can’t they be allowed to mourn away from public scrutiny?  We share our most intimate details on social media and we weep openly, without regard to observers.  Somehow, we find the strength to form the words muddled in the deep recesses of our hearts.  We lean on each other to help make sense of the numbing web of information and choices.   

When we can’t go any further, we know we must bend and change.  The answers will come―and we will act―when we are ready.      

[i] Parkins, W. and Craig, G. (2009). Culture and the Politics of Alternative Food Networks. University of Otago.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Found Food: Ground Apples. Really?

My friend Arthur has an enormous apple tree in his yard, a granddaddy so tall that most branches are well beyond the average picker’s grasp, even on a 6’ ladder.  In the fall it’s wise to tread warily around this behemoth, since renegade apples are known to rain from the sky with little or no warning.
This year’s crop is so abundant that the landscape beneath the tree and spreading far beyond is a colorful canvas dotted with greens, yellows, oranges, and reds―a montage of apples in varying degrees of ripeness.

In short order and with a little patience, it’s possible to sort through these ground apples and collect enough in good condition for a quick pie or cake.   Yes indeed, similar to our previous post on ground cherries, here’s another case of instant gratification. This time of year, abundance rules: look up, look down, there is food that’s ready to be found. 

Here is one way to show off the lovely ground apple, or any other fall beauty such as Macintosh, Cortland, or winesap.  This apple torte is one of my all time favorites - true comfort food that's rustic, eggy, and deeply satisfying.   

Enjoy this sweet dream any time of the day:  warm from the oven for breakfast or brunch, or as a snack or dessert with ice cream or whipped cream. 

Apple Torte
1/2       cup all-purpose flour
1/3        cup sugar
  1         Tbsp baking powder
 1/8        tsp salt
 1/2        tsp vanilla extract
  2         eggs, lightly beaten
  2         Tbsp vegetable oil
 1/3       cup milk
  4         baking apples (Macintosh, Cortland, Winesap), peel, core, thick slice (about 2 lbs.) 
  3       Tbsp butter, melted
 1/3      cup sugar
  1        egg, lightly beaten

Butter a 9" springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.

In small bowl vanilla through milk and blend well.  Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended.  Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter.  Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl.  Stir to blend, and set aside.

Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it.  Return to oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.

Remove to rack and cool for 10 minutes.  Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Serves 6.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ground Cherries and Chutney

Pages on the calender whiz by and in the blink of any eye it is suddenly mid-September, when farmer’s markets and produce stands overflow with fresh picked corn, squash, melons, green beans, peaches, apples and more.  No question, this seasonal flutter of abundance also means it is canning time in many local kitchens. 

Browsing my local farm stand, I recently spotted an unfamiliar specimen tucked among a colorful display of assorted cherry tomatoes:  pint baskets filled with peculiar tiny paper lantern shaped packages.  What is that??  Why, it’s another culinary distraction! 

Erin, one of the staff regulars, smiles, offers a sample, and explains they are an heirloom variety affectionately called ground cherries.  Wrapped inside each festive papery covering lurks the most extraordinary baby tomato―a sweet, succulent, golden bundle bursting with tropical pineapple overtones.  

The ground cherry gets its name from the fact that it falls from the vine onto the ground when it is ripe.  Some may be familiar with its larger cousin, the tomatillo, also known for its papery wrap. Like particular members of the nightshade or Solanaceae family including some tomatoes and potatoes, the ground cherry contains solanine glycoalkloids, a toxic chemical (extremely bitter tasting) when eaten immaturely green and raw.  
Most likely, the ground cherry made its way to the U.S. from Latin American as early as the 1700’s.  The plant is so adaptable it even grows wild along roadsides on the east coast from as far south as Florida and into New England, where it is often known as the Cape gooseberry

These heirloom beauties are perfect for the home gardener:  they are fairly disease and pest tolerant, plus they conveniently fall onto the ground when ready for picking. How easy is that?  Allow the ground cherries to ripen a bit more by storing at room temperature in the husk for about a week.  When their color has turned to shades ranging from yellow to apricot they are ready to eat, prepared as you would any other tomato. 
The resourceful and enterprising Pennsylvania Dutch, particularly fond of them, have long included ground cherries in cobblers and pies, and even pickle them.   

For a test run, I’m thinking the condiment idea makes sensea chutney of some sort would enhance the ground cherry’s tropical qualities. Since, I only have one small basket I decide to combine these charmers with a few peaches plus a couple of apples for texture.  

I let the chutney reduce down before adding the whole ground cherries, then realize they would have cooked quicker if halved first. Oops.  I patiently watch, waiting for them to burst; exasperated, I finally start breaking them up with a wooden spoon to release their juices. Still under 40 minutes, the mixture burbles and thickens and the tomato seeds become more apparent, which further add to the novelty. Yes, I like the ground cherries’ identifiable shape and and am very pleased that I kept them whole.  

The taste test: a mellow sweet/sour/spicy/salty blend of fruits and vegetables all arced with a hit of heat.  A good curry condiment for sure.  But, call me crazy, I’d even put this on ice cream.    

I’m thinking ground cherries are certainly worth considering for next year’s garden under the category of Easy and Versatile.  

Ground Cherry Chutney (with Peach and Apple)

 2 cups fresh peaches, remove stone, skin, chop

1 cup apple, peel, core, chop
½ cup ground cherries or more, papers removed, halved if desired
2/3 cup brown sugar (approximate)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
½ cup onion, dice
½ cup red pepper, chop
1 jalapeno pepper, seed and dice
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, mince
2 dried chile peppers, crumble
½ tsp mustard seed or ¼ tsp dried mustard
½ tsp salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine all but the ground cherries and bring to a boil.  Simmer approximately 20 minutes, until much of the liquid has cooked out. 
Add the ground cherries and boil lightly approximately 20 minutes longer; until the cherries pop to reduce liquid and the chutney has thickened. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  Makes 2 cups.


Related Posts with Thumbnails