Friday, September 26, 2014

Honeycrisps Still the Champs!

It has been honeycrisp season for a few weeks now. I definitely have my favorite local food finds. Strawberries. Peaches. And HONEYCRISPS! For years we have been getting them from Kistaco in the East Liberty Farmers' Mkt. Cooperative on Saturday mornings. My husband picked some up for us a few weeks ago. But those are long gone. I foolishly made applesauce with them! We should have just eaten them all out of hand. There are lots of methods for making applesauce. In the magazine Living this month there was a nice description as well. That particular recipe does not seem to be available online yet. One thing "Martha" suggests is leaving the peel on the apples (since you have to run them through a food mill anyway) to get a pinkish color to your applesauce. This worked in our applesauce, so I would recommend it.

Just today, though, I bought the best tasting Honeycrisps I have ever had. No lie. Sturges Orchards again! Six apples for $7.00, FYI. This time I found a Sturges Orchard stand in Hampton on Duncan Avenue in a parking lot across the street from St. Ursula's Church. They are there Fridays from 12-7, which is great for me, as doing anything but focusing on my kids between 3:30 and 7:00 is nearly impossible.
See? I couldn't wait to eat one of them and try it out. I was going to take just one artful bite, but I couldn't resist devouring the whole thing. Tomorrow Sturges will be in the Strip District at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Penn Avenue and 24th. They also had peppers, tomatoes, corn, and many other varieties of apples.

If you want to do pick your own apples, which I would highly recommend, there are many local places you can go. If you want Honeycrisp, I read on their website that Triple B has Honeycrisp that you can pick. I believe they are only open on the weekend for pick your own, though. If you want a "no-frills" orchard, Norman's Orchard in Tarentum (near the Pittsburgh Mills Mall) has been suggested to me. It looks awesome and I hope to go there soon. Maybe to pick pears. 

We (my daughter, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, niece and nephew) went to Simmons Farm yesterday. I picked a half bushel (for $17.50) of a mix of Golden Supreme, Ida Red, and Jonagold. Of those, the Jona Gold are my favorite. I now have an entire veggie/ fruit drawer in the fridge filled with apples! They had puh-lenty of fruit available to pick and lots and lots of low-hanging fruit. Even still, we wanted to climb and reach. It's more fun that way.
Simmons also had other "homegrown" vegetables and fruits available in their store, as well as many from away, plus a hayride which takes customers to a playground for $10.50 per person. They also have pick your own flowers, which I didn't get to try. Apparently on weekends they have fried Twinkies and the like, but not on weekdays. Just in case that's your kind of thing. 

Last night I made fruit leather with four of the picked apples. 
  • Core and chop four apples, but leave the peel on. 
  • Cook them with a little water (1/4 cup?) over medium to medium high heart for about fifteen minutes until they are soft. 
  • Even though the recipe did not specify it, I squeezed in about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (most of the juice from half of a lemon). My thinking was that the mixture would not brown if I did so. 
  • I also added a chopped up peach and some italian/ prune plums that I happened to have, just to keep things interesting. 
  • After all is soft, pass the mixture through a food mill. 
  • I used the disk I have with the smallest holes. 
  • Then stir in 1/4 cup of honey. 
  • Next, put the mixture on the fruit leather tray of a dehydrator. From 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 a.m the next day, the leather dried at 125 degrees. 
  • At that point, I peeled the leather off the fruit leather insert and flipped it over. 
  • I then dried it directly on the dehydrator rack for another seven hours. 
  • I think I spread the puree on too thickly. You're only supposed to spread it 1/8 of an inch thick.
  • You can also dry the puree in a low oven (200 degrees) on a cookie sheet lined with a non stick baking mat, foil, or parchment under the mixture. After 3-4 hours, if the leather is easily peeled off the tray and not too sticky, you should flip the leather and continue drying another hour or two until it is not sticky. You can also dry it in the sun (although I imagine that's a bit of a gamble here in Pittsburgh). 
  • At that point, I cut it up into wedges, wrapped in in plastic wrap, and put all of the wedges in a Ziploc bag. 
  • This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.

I have not heard the verdict from the fruit leather lovers of the household yet.

Obviously we will all eat the Honeycrisp out of hand, but what do I do with the rest of the apples? Pie, of course. These apple scones. My sister-in-law tried this Apple Oatmeal Crisp and said it was very popular in her household. She also mentioned she didn't use the white sugar topping that is mentioned in the recipe because it didn't need it. Please send me your suggestions and your favorite way to use, eat, and store apples!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sturges Orchards and Peaches

As I mentioned previously, I have heard from many farmers that they were not able to grow peaches this year due to the cold winter and the uneven temperatures over the summer. In the past we have gotten many of our peaches from Paul's Orchard at the East Liberty Farmers' Market. This year I was told that he does not have his own peaches or nectarines but is instead getting them from Chambersburg. I spoke to someone at Simmon's Farm who confirmed that she thought no one west of the Alleghenies has their own peaches. Chambersburg and Gettysburg peaches can be delicious, I know.

However, I am here to tell you that unless someone is lying to me (and I REALLY don't think they are), there is a local farmer who has his own peaches, and they are fantastic. Sturges Orchards. We have been getting these all summer. They are $7.00 for a quart (about 5-6 big peaches), and they are absolutely, consistently delightful. I've never had anything but a juicy, sweet peach, and not one even slightly mealy, ever. We have been buying their peaches at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District on Saturday mornings
and at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel on Wednesday afternoons (open from 3:00-6:00). They are also at several other markets.

Find their schedule on their Facebook page:

We have also bought a lot of other terrific produce from them including Zestar apples (a hybrid variety similar to Honey Crisp), apple cider, berries, and more.

Personally, I like my fruit as close to plain as possible. Over the summer I have been really enjoying peaches for breakfast with my yogurt. Or, in this case, Brownie Batter Pancakes with peaches, blueberries, and hemp seeds in addition to the yogurt.
Another delicious way to enjoy your peaches is in a parfait. I wish I had photographed it, but I didn't. We layered peaches (and blueberries) with whipped cream and this graham flour crumble. We also used the Smitten Kitchen's method of adding sour cream or creme fraiche (also mentioned in the graham recipe above) to make the whipped cream so that it held up over time. 

We also made this peach-blueberry cobbler from an old Cooking Light magazine. It was absolutely spectacularly delicious. Sorry if I'm violating copyright law here, but the recipe is not posted online. I hope you can read this recipe, but please let me know if you can't, and I will type it in.
In the recipe it mentions that the peaches should be peeled. I found this idea a little daunting at first because I have read that you need to score the peaches, boil them, put them in an ice bath, and then peel them. Instead, I just sliced the peaches and peeled them raw. I guess I was lucky and the skins let go very easily. Sort of like peeling a banana. 
I took advantage of the easy-peel peaches and froze a bunch so that I can make parfaits, yogurt breakfasts, cobblers, and who knows what else when no more peaches are available.
In the meantime, I will probably just eat them plain. See you at the Sturges Orchard booth! Do you have any suggestions or thoughts about local peaches? Please share in the comments!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Local Food Day

It's been a long time since I have written in this blog, but it occurred to me today that I have been eating local for many years now, I still enjoy it, and I still have things to say about it! I am also hoping that maybe there are others out there who might read the blog and add useful insights through the comments, as I also still have a lot to learn and figure out. I took a little break with the blog while I worked full time as a teacher, but that is no longer taking all of my time. Or any of my time, actually.

 Today was a very "eating local" type of day from morning through night. The day began with straining the chicken broth that I had made overnight in the crockpot. We had bought a whole chicken cut up from the Miller Farm at the Farmers@Firehouse market in the Strip District. With the leftover bones and parts, I made chicken stock overnight in the crockpot. Now it is sitting in plastic tupperware containers in our freezer.

After my shower and breakfast, I started work on the salsa. I use a recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, "Fresh Vegetable Salsa." I got the tomatoes from Brenckles organic farm at Farmers @ the Firehouse. It's now canned (in pint jars) and ready to go (away -- until tomatoes, etc. are no longer available).
Shortly afterward, when I remembered I had blueberries on a cookie tray in the freezer, I transferred those to a plastic freezer bag. Those were $4.00 for a very full pint, again at Farmers@Firehouse. It is apparently a great year for blueberries because it is so cool and wet. I can't remember blueberries being available so late! I am happy to take advantage and keep eating them as long as it takes.

Later that day, we went to another of my favorite famers' markets, the one in East Liberty, sponsored by CitiParks. It is such a great market filled with so many wonderful growers and food providers. 
I stopped at many of the booths and spent A LOT of money. Some things I bought were: peaches, from Paul's Orchard, but apparently they have none of their own this year and are getting theirs from Chambersburg; eggs, shallots, and peppers (jalapeno, sweet banana, Hungarian hot wax), from Bluebird Organic Farms; zucchini, pickles, plum tomatoes, and garlic from Harvest Valley Farms; baby kale from One Woman Farm; ground beef from Logan Family Farms; plus cookies, bread, and chips. 

For dinner we had a bruschetta made from tomatoes from Brenckles, red onions from the same, and garlic from there too. 
That went on top of these burgers from Logan Family Farms.

 We also had a very simple baby kale salad that was something like this recipe. This picture here, is NOT of a baby kale salad, just in case you were wondering.

While I was between tasks making dinner, I grated zucchini in order to freeze it for later. I put it in muffin tins so it would be in manageable sizes. Once it's frozen,  I can transfer it to freezer bags. I just love to make things with grated zucchini like breads, frittatas, turkey burgers, meatloaf, stir fries, sauces, zucchini-crusted pizza, and more that I haven't discovered yet. I haven't done this before, but the plan is to later, like say in January, thaw the zucchini "muffins," squeeze out the extra liquid, and cook with it.

Back when I started this blog, there were very few resources around for people trying to eat local in Pittsburgh, eat seasonally, preserve, can, and the like. Now it is something that many, many people do, care about, and share. I hope to continue to add to the information out there in some useful way and find out more as well. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Billy Goats Not so Gruff?

It's almost been a year since I've posted on this baby. Sorry about that. Full time teaching job, three kids, house to maintain. You know how it goes. I tried to keep up my local eating, but there has been no time for frivolities such as thinking or writing. Until summer vacation! Yippee.

For today's post, I'd like to tell you a little about goat's milk. Lucinda of Paradise Gardens and Farm was at the Farmers@Firehouse market in the strip district today with Goat milk, feta cheese, and chevre. She had samples out. I like chevre, so I was thinking about picking up some of that ($1 an ounce -- she has 6-12 ounce packages) up, when something on their handy dandy flyer caught my eye. And I quote, "Goat milk is easier on the lactose intolerant." The jury is still out on that, but I will let you know from first-hand experience.

As you may have guessed, I have become slightly lactose intolerant since last fall. It serves me right after I had spent years making fun of my sister, niece, and nephew for their eating handicap. My mother was lactose intolerant before I was born. I spent most of my twenties eating only dairy (since I was a vegetarian) and most of the rest of my life eating lots of it (since I love it so much). Sigh. It was bound to happen.

I've tried lact-aid, but it seems to bother my system, too. I'd never considered goat milk. I've always thought, eww, gross. But, she had samples. And it is milk. And it says right on the flyer, "our goat milk has no 'goaty' flavor." So I steeled myself and swigged some of the milk out of the tiny paper cup. Soon I was tapping the bottom of the cup to make sure I got every single drop out. The angels began to flit around my head, singing. Milk! You can drink it (maybe)! It tastes good! Honestly, it tastes just like cow's milk (from what I remember). But then she told me the price and the angels settled down a bit. $7.50 for a half gallon.

Barbara Kingsolver had a lot to say about the benefits of raising goats in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for those in developing countries. It's probably good here, too, as goats are known for being able to eat anything. This is whole milk, low-temperature pasteurized. Of course their goats are grass fed. And their website is very helpful: http://ParadiseGardensand Here is a link to an article about them in the Indiana Gazette. They were filmed for an episode on The Food Network.

Their products are available through a CSA, but also at the East End Co-op and Right by Nature.

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Did You Do With that Cabbage?

I LOVE my CSA, but there are two vegetables that I always have trouble using. Beets and cabbage. Last week we got a cabbage in our CSA box (or maybe it was two weeks ago -- at least they keep well) and I still have about 1/3 of it left. We don't like regular cole slaw or sauerkraut in our family, so I sent out a request for suggestions to our yahoo group (send an e-mail to to subscribe). I suspect if I lived in Massachusetts, where I grew up, the bulk of responses would be different. And most people would say, "Boiled Dinner." They didn't say that here (which is great, because I don't like it), but a lot of people recommended a sort of polish/ hungarian/ slovakian/ Pittsburgh twist on cabbage -- that is cabbage fried in butter or oil and onions and blended with egg noodles. Here is what Barbara recommended in that vein:

Fry one or two heads of cabbage in a generous amount of butter (onestick? maybe more?). We use our wok. Stir frequently and cook downuntil the cabbage is very soft, brown and sweet. Add noodles, salt,and enjoy! Egg noodles are good, or sometimes my husband'sgrandmother makes her own dumplings, as in this recipe:

Of course, there are cabbage rolls. Here is Kathryn's dad's recipe for these -- called pigs in blankets:

2lb hamburger (cooked)
2 eggs (you can also use applesauce which makes it sweeter)
1 cup rice (cooked)
1 cup saurkraut (not for me, thanks)
8 oz tomato sauce
8 oz diced tomatoes (sometimes I use spiced ones)
1/2 onion ( i use flakes sometimes)

Mix these all together

1 head cabbage

Cut the center out of the cabbage and put into a pot of boiling water so the core hole is in the water -
Boil for 5- 7 minutes depending on how large the cabbage is.
Layer or wrap the meat mixure in the leaves and place in a crock pot or pressure cooker.
If you wrap it, slice the big leaves down a little so they are not so thick.

after you layer the mixture or wrap all the pigs. cook for at 300 for 2 1/2 hours. I usually like to cook it alittle more by at least a 1/2 hour, it helps soften the cabbage even more.

Then there are the variations on cole slaw, i.e. cabbage salad.

Here is Jesse Sharrad (aka Corduroy Orange)'s advice for that:

As far as regular cole slaw goes, i've got some hints for making it a bit more interesting. I tend to use a mix of 1/3 cabbage, 1/3 carrots, and 1/3 turnips. the other veggies add a bit of variety to the flavors. The last batch i made, i crumbled blue cheese into, and definitely enjoyed that. I never use "cole slaw dressing" out of a jar--it just winds up tasting like it came out of a jar. While I often use mayo, I don't always--sometimes, I'll just use a vinaigrette (balsamic is nice). Even when using mayo, I add plenty of citrus--lime or lemon juice adds a pleasant touch. And what really makes the cole slaw worth eating is a big old heap of pulled pork underneath it, inside of a toasted hamburger bun.

I have to say, though, that my favorite cabbage bent is the American version of Asian way. I grew up eating cabbage in stir fry -- with celery, carrots, peas, broccoli, onions (and I'd add garlic though my mother can't) with soy sauce and ginger over rice (sorry, the last 3 ingredients are not local). There's also Asian Slaw, which is basically the same thing, but raw. Here's a recipe for that.

Combine 3 cups shredded cabbage, 1 cup snow peas, 1/2 cup shredded carrots, 3 tablespoons onions

Combine (with wisk, or shake): 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/8 tsp. pepper

Pour over cabbage mixture and toss to coat.

Hope this has helped you find a way to use and enjoy your cabbage too!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Free Range Chicken

A chicken in every pot, right? Americans love their chicken these days. I admit, I used to be one of them. Then I learned a little more about how chickens are raised these days. CAFOs -- concentrated animal feeding operations -- are how most Americans get their meat -- be it pork, beef, chicken or turkey. You can read a little more about the myriad of ways these are bad for the surrounding generally poor, rural populations from the ammonia emmissions that are a threat to public health to the noxious smell, fecal coloform levels in streams, run-off, dust, etc., etc. Then think about eating these birds who never see the light of day, who are packed 25,000 under one roof, and whose feed is contaminated with arsenic, ammonia and other chemicals. And don't get me started on antibiotics and bio nutrients.

If you still want to eat chicken, you may want to support one of our local growers of PASTURED chickens instead. These are chickens that are raised eating grass and bugs and other things real, natural chickens eat. And they taste a little different, too. During the summer months you can purchase fresh or frozen chickens for about $2.90 a pound from Steve Misera at the Strip District Farmers at the Firehouse Market market the 4th Saturday of each month. Spend a bit more a pound to have them cut into parts. West Liberty Farms is another fine producer of grass-raised chickens. They were at the Strip Districts' Farmer's Market last week for a slightly higher charge. Joe Rush, mentioned in an earlier blog, sells pastured chickens also. He delivers these (among other things) all over Pittsburgh every other week.

I recently bought 4 fresh chickens from Steve Misera. The neat thing about buying them fresh, is you can part them in a way that is convenient for you and then freeze them so that they are ready when you need them instead of having to roast a whole chicken every time. My good friend Angela was kind enought to show me how to dissect the chickens.

I will do my best to describe our method. Here's what we used: a very sharp "chef's" knife -- I think it is 7" long, a sharp pairing knife, and something I didn't have, but which is crucial to the process -- kitchen scissors, or, in Angela's case, carpet shears. We also had several plastic cutting boards and glass casseroles to put in the parts as they were parted. Ziploc bags were at the ready, too.

Create a trash pile and a stock pile (oh, that phrase really makes sense in this case!) that you will use to make stock/ broth. First, cut off the neck and the excess skin. Neck to stock, skin to trash. Then, cut out the back bone by using scissors or a chef's knife to cut both sides of it. Then, turn the chicken over and hold it up by it's leg (the thigh part). Let the weight of it separate the thigh from the body and find the joint and cut that. Do the same for the other leg. The wings hold on a little stronger, but the same can be done for them. Then you can split the breast right down the middle. After that, you can skin and de-bone the breasts and store them away. Or leave them with skin and bone. Whatever you prefer. I would not recommend deboning the thighs and wings. Way too much of a pain.

So, I saved the wings separately and used a recipe from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's food section. I tried the Asian Mahogany Wings. The recipe was quite easy to make and the sauce was very, very tasty. I wish the skin had gotten more crispy - perhaps I basted too much. I would definitely make them again, though, and you should, too. But not with CAFO chickens.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Make Hay While the Broccoli Shines

One of the things about living in Pennsylvania as opposed to some place like Florida or California is that for several months of the year, nothing much edible grows. So, if you want to eat local in January, February, March or April (and even May), you need to preserve the Summer and Fall harvest.

There are different ways to store different fruits and vegetables. One good way for a number of things is to freeze them. And a good way to get these things is to buy in bulk from a helpful, local farmer.

So, I asked Farmer Art King of Harvest Valley Farms about some things my family likes which I am hoping to preserve for the winter that seem to be in season right now: peas, broccoli and green beans. He told me that he can sell at retail all the peas he can harvest because they are so time consuming to pick. Hmm. Bummer. But he did offer to sell me a great big crate of broccoli.

After making an arrangement in advance, I picked up this crate at the East Liberty Farmer's Market for $15.00. It actually was more full -- by the time I took the picture, I had already sliced up several broccoli heads. I used the book The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food by Janet Chadwick which I find very helpful.

1. That same day after I bought the broccoli (i.e. ASAP), I chopped up the broccoli into smaller pieces and let them

2. soak in a sink full of salted water for thirty minutes.

3. While the broccoli was soaking, I filled a big canner with water and heated it up to a boil.

4. After thirty minutes and the water was boiling, I placed one pound of the broccoli in the boiling water, returned it to a boil and cooked it for 5 minutes.

5. I then removed the broccoli to a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking process and let it hang out there for 5 minutes.

6. Next, I put the broccoli onto some towels to dry.

7. After the broccoli was dry, I placed it on wax paper-covered trays or cookie sheets and put those into the freezer.

8. After about 24 hours, I removed the broccoli from the cookie sheets and placed it into labeled and dated plastic ziploc bags.

Now we have broccoli for the rest of the year!