(Editor’s note: It seems strange to read back over the fall’s notes as we hope we’re one mere storm-hurdle away from spring. But that’s what farmers have to do this time of year every year. It’s the greatest gamble, if you think about it. Putting all your resources into the ground, or on the hoof, and hoping that months and months away you’ll have enough to carry you through another year. It boggles the mind.
I know it doesn’t seem fair to remind us of fall in March, but this winter has raced away from me, snowfall steeplechase and all. But it’s not just summer that farmers dream about. If Sufi mystics sought to be ‘dead men walking’ with their feet on the ground, and their minds in heaven, then farmers are an earthly parallel, with their hands in the soil, and their eyes filled with the future.
This dispatch was sent out October 31, 2014. Enjoy.
Brussels Sprouts, Rainbow Carrots (back!), Winter Luxury, Red Cabbage, German Butterball, Carola, Kennebec, Katahdin, Cauliflower, Onions in 3# bags, Celeriac, Brussels Tops – don’t know what some of these are? Read on…
A short primer on the joys of colder weather:
Winter Luxury – the ultimate competitor for kittens and angora wool, this pumpkin has ‘touch me’ written all over it. And that’s not all. Incomparably good pie maker, classy kitchen companion till bake-off, and chock full of of culinary wit that only a 120 (Happy Birthday, WL!) year old curcurbit can provide – this lady is a must invite to the season’s tables. Keep in mind, she’s a bit of a Cinderella; that is, she has her own ‘pumpkin time’ around December 15th – so don’t keep her waiting!
German Butterball, Carola, Katahdin, Kennebec – my Fab Four of locally grown potatoes, each with their own purpose.
German Butterball – medium moisture, golden, scrumptious flesh, russetted skin (put some on the table like with Winter Luxuries, above, and just see what percentage of your guests and family can resist touching them). A favorite of famed Boston chefs and my own home, eat this potato roasted, in my humble opinion.
Carola – What most potatoes lack is what Casco Bay, Crooked Face Creamery, and MOO Milk offer. We crave moisture in our spuds as we dollop up with butter, sour cream, and milk. Carola, the golden girl of moist potatoes, takes a more novel approach – why not start with rich potatoes and bring in great dairy to play second fiddle? Limited in supply, so if you like creamy, don’t dally with dry potatoes. Order Carola.
Katahdin – Yes, a Maine heirloom. Why do some potatoes make the grade of ages among hundreds of varieties developed? Some deserve long-term commitments. You want a potato that supports you in many a menu upheaval? Katahdin. You want a potato that will hold itself together in any soup pot? Katahdin. You want to taste the terroir of Maine’s best known glacial moraine? Katahdin potatoes, from Gardiner Farm, grown ‘In the Shadow of Katahdin’.
Kennebec – If the imagery of the rugged outdoors has you thinking about wet feet and mosquitoes, or ‘Moose Meat Stew with Katahdin Potatoes’ does not strike you as your thing, have no fear. For those of gentler terrain, Kennebec is the classic Maine white potato with one stand-out feature that rises its place among heirloom spuds: it can fry. Not just for fry for chefs, or for those who never didn’t know how to fry a potato, but for you, me, and the rest of the world who are stuck between the disappointment of the standard modern fry and lack of kitchen thermometer or inclination to use it accordingly. Kennebec. A potato that accepts that a craving for comfort food usually implies an evening of moderate ambition only.
Brussels Tops: This offering requires a bit of explanation. I’ll try to make it concise. When you think Southern Cooking, I would hope collard greens float through your mental ingredient list. When I say, “Poland”, I’m guessing cabbages show up. When I say, “Maine” some may (and I’m granting you one, here) think ‘Kale’ or ‘Dandelion Greens’, or ‘Kelp’ – okay, you can see me stretching things already. Maine does not have a signature brassica green. Broccoli does not count, since it isn’t really greens. Penny Jordan (a seventh generation Cape Elizabeth farmer who knows a thing or two about tradition) is secure enough in her position as lifetime honoree of Ms. Local Maine Ag to do what any modern royal is entitled to – bestow a few knighthoods upon pop stars, wear her hair in a manner that magazines adore, and, of course, establish a few new culinary traditions.
Enter Brussels Tops. When a farmer grows brussels sprouts in Maine’s short season, the tops of the plants must be cut off the last week of Oct/first week of November. This helps the brussels sprouts to size up, which we all appreciate. Why Brussels Tops are the perfect ‘Collards du Nord’, if you will, is because, as Penny says, “It’s simply a shame to let them go to waste.” They look like a domestic tatsoi crown, taste like the sweetest collards on earth, and cook like kale. Like so many of our existing food traditions, their season is fleeting…a few brief weeks.
I might even go so far as to recommend Brussels Tops braised in Casco Bay Butter with Northern Girl Garlic Scape Presto and Ocean Approved Kelp Slaw, served with potatoes of any stripe, finished with Winter Luxury Pumpkin Pie with Maple’s Gelato (I like Cardamom-Ginger). They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too – but eating local in Maine, you can come awful close.