Recently in Local Category

 

Ok, I know plenty of Boston-area markets run through November. But the last appearance of my beloved local market is still a bittersweet moment along our passage into winter. Bitter for the dwindling stocks in the stalls and the growing chill in the air, but sweet for the coming season of holidays, family, and sitting snuggled in blankets.

This surprisingly balmy October morning marked the last leisurely Saturday stroll to the Square to fill our tote bags with produce. Over the summer, we've brought home everything from fresh raspberries and juicy peaches to wild woodsy mushrooms and knobby heirloom tomatoes. This week our bags held only apples, enough to last us through November. Next Saturday, when I look at that giant stockpile of apples, I wonder if I will think wistfully of peaches, or joyfully of tarte tatin?

 


In addition to the friendly rivalries of home arts and 4H, fairs are increasingly seen as a venue for a new kind of community competition: "what else can we fry?" They don't give a ribbon for it yet, but I've seen so many photos from friends and bloggers of deep-fried oreos, bananas, Snickers, and Twinkies, it seems like they should start. Now, I am all for this kind of important culinary experimentation, and I can tell you that I have yet to meet a breaded and fried food I didn't like, but it's a little sad to see all those other awesome aspects of the fair overshadowed by giant vats of oil. Even though the Topsfield Fair didn't go in for real frying exotica, it was more food booths than anything else, and it was hard to find the buildings between them— I never did find the canning section!


I'm not really complaining, of course— I spent most of my time there deciding how best to spend the space in my stomach, and I was happy to find a few really great local and regional foods. Tiny, clean-tasting kernels of strawberry popcorn are a high-contrast treat in bright white and glowing ruby red. And what could say New England autumn better than a perfectly crisp apple under a layer of rich creamy caramel?


Unless it is fried clams? I certainly never saw these at fairs in California!


Fried dough is another regional treat— I know that different kinds of fried dough are popular all over the world, but I never saw these plain slabs of dense but puffy dough until I moved out here. They can be served with sugar and cinnamon, syrup or jam, and, for an even more regional treat, tomato sauce: a topping apparently favored primarily by residents of Connecticut. Some stands around Boston keep the tomato sauce handy to appease any Connecticutians that may be traveling abroad.


 

I wanted to share a few scenes from the "What the Fluff?" Festival today in Union Square, Somerville. A huge crowd braved the somewhat unpleasant weather to enjoy all the great activities (like fluff bowling, hula-hooping, and fluff-eating contests), entertainment from local bands, jugglers and acrobats, as well as a wealth of Fluff-based treats. All sorts of restaurants and bars joined in the fun with special drinks and dishes based on marshmallow Fluff.


A banana fluffernutter from Sherman Cafe


A chocolate cupcake fluff parfait from Kickass Cupcakes— far too sweet to finish!


I want this awesome retro poster.


A family of fluff. No disrespect to the edible goodies, but that baby? Probably the yummiest thing at the whole festival!


A Fluffy Irishman (Coffee, frangelico and fluff) and a Fluff Alexander (brandy, creme de cacao, and fluff syrup) from The Independent. They reminded us that it is nearly hot toddy season!


A treat from the Fluff Fear Factor station: Dorito, pickle, hummus, roasted garlic, fluff, and pepperoni. A friend noted as I raised this to my mouth "Wow, there's not even a hint of fear on your face!" It tasted like nachos. Nachos covered with marshmallows.

 

Tired, hot, and still sick, I was hardly in the mood for preparing food today, so Greg and I looked to the good folks at the Somerville Greek Festival for sustenance. And did they ever provide!

I was never aware of church festivals when I was growing up, so when Greg started pointing them out to me and suggesting we go for a meal, I was a little weirded out. You mean, we just go into this church we have nothing to do with and they'll sell us delicious homemade food? Really? At first I assumed they would be more like the VFW pancake breakfast or Boy Scout spaghetti night... I mean, no offense to those events, but they're usually best thought of as carbo-loads for the following 5K. But Greg finally dragged me to a Portuguese church festival, where a cheerful older man was grilling sardines while handing out hunks of skewered raw meat for guests to cook for themselves over an open campfire, and I was sold.

For lunch, we shared a gyro and some moussaka. The gyro meat was tender and lightly seasoned, the pita was soft and slightly smokey from the grill, and the tzatziki was dominated by the tang of plain yogurt. This made for a very satisfying gryo, subtler than most. The moussaka was meltingly smooth, perfectly balanced between spices sweet and savory. I kept having to have just one more bite to identify the components of each layer and determine how they melded together so perfectly!

And then, the dessert table! Years ago, visiting Greece, I was shocked (and delighted) to learn that Greek desserts did not begin and end with baklava. My fingers were sticky with honey at least half the time we spent in Athens. While baklava is great, there are so many similar (and I would say superior) Greek confections: if there's a combination of dough, oil, honey, nuts and cheese that is delicious, trust that it is being made, and devoured, in Greece. Of course there are also cookies, cakes, and all sorts of other sweets, many of which were represented at the festival.

Best of all, they had a little machine for making loukoumathes: it plopped out balls of dough into a tray of hot oil, where they bobbed until they were a glowing golden-brown. Topped with honey, nuts and cinnamon, they are mildly sweet, with a soft spongy bite.

All of the amazing honey-sweetened desserts made me think of my jars of honey back home with a new eye. I've been trying to use honey more for a number of reasons. Mainly because I love the taste and the variations in flavor between different varieties, but also because there are a lot of great local apiaries, and I am sort of hoping it might eventually help with my horrific seasonal allergies. So I might be turning to some Greek desserts, like the diple below, next time I have a sweet tooth!

 


Last week, while visiting Salem for work, my coworkers and I stopped into Ye Olde Pepper Companie, "Americas Oldest Candy Company." In addition to being a perfect example of an adorable New England candy shop, complete with all kinds of chocolates, fudge, and barley pops in the shape of lobsters, Ye Olde Pepper Company still manufactures several nineteenth-century candies. Black Jacks, pictured above, are hard candy sticks made with corn syrup and molasses, with a recipe dating from the 1830s. They have a nice hint of molasses flavor, not at all overwhelming. These candies are not exactly show-stoppers, but they are satisfying and tasty.


Gibralters are the original Salem candy, first sold in 1806. The texture of a gibralter varies across its length and lifetime. It begins like an airy candy cane, crisp and hard, and then becomes soft and crumbly as it absorbs moisture. The flavors, lemon and peppermint, are clean and direct. Eating a peppermint gibralter immediately made me nostalgic for the experience of finding one in my Christmas stocking (an experience I have, in fact, never had).


My favorite, however, is the ginger bread - also known as honeycomb toffee. Not unique to the Pepper Companie, this simple-to-make candy is found all over. While the toffee is still soft, baking soda and acid react to form carbon dioxide, puffing up the candy and creating a honeycomb-like structure that has a delightful crunch. After a few chews, the candy compacts into a chewy, sticky mass of toffee that sticks fast to teeth.

If you're in Salem, I recommend you try all three!

 

For a produce-lover in Boston, May is the cruelest month. Spring has arrived, the weather is warm and the plants are growing. But the farmers markets are still a distant dream. Unless you really stocked up on the root vegetables in the fall or canned like crazy last summer, you're stuck with imported produce. And if you did stock up last year, you're certainly sick of parsnips and canned tomatoes.

While I'm a strong believer in sustainable eating, unfortunately local food is not always a reasonable option in Massachusetts. It may be great in California, but I am not ready to give up citrus fruit or bananas! However, nothing tastes like food fresh from the farm, and it really makes me feel more in touch with where I live. So I am eager for the markets to start popping up again.

For most of the year, a large percentage of the food in our household comes from local farms, primarily through farms offering CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, programs. When you buy a share in a CSA system, you pay a flat rate for a certain period (around here it's generally June-October for produce) and get a batch of whatever the farm produces each week. You usually go to some central distribution point to pick up your share, or to the farm itself. The food varies by the season, and when the crop is good, so is your share, but you also suffer with the farm in bad weather. If you are interested in finding CSA farms near you, Local Harvest is a great resource.

Last year we did a wonderful winter CSA, October through December, which generally consisted of kale, squash and root veggies. We also recently subscribed to a meat CSA, which consistently provides the best-tasting meat I've ever had. Now we are impatiently awaiting the beginning of our summer produce share. This year I hope to can, freeze and dry more of the bounty for the winter months, and make May a little less frustrating next year.

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