Wild watercress grows on the edges of our smaller Appalachian streams.
As a boy growing up in Utah, Ron was an amateur explorer, the de Soto of Salt Lake City. He imagined his route home from school as a kind of adventure game, sniffing out the best paths based on impulse and curiosity, rambling through woods and fields, swatting sap beetles and grabbing ears of corn to nibble for sustenance. When spying on the stout farmer’s wife one April, he found a knotty bunch of vines packed with tender English peas in the bush where he hid. They gave way to his gnashing teeth with a sweet, delightful burst, and proved even more appealing when gathered in a bunch and stomped on. In September, he laid claim to a tree on a nearby property full of tiny dangling crab apples that tasted terribly bitter, but proved ideal for chucking at oncoming traffic, and another tree loaded with larger, sweeter fruit, equally fine for lobbing at his sister’s head. And so a fledgling forager was born, armed with the tools he’d need to navigate his surroundings and reap the fruit of the seasons.
Ron’s keen nose, tastebuds, and sense of mischief led him to begin charting an instinctive map of the bounty of the landscape. Today, he brings that mental map along on trips to the farmer’s market and when planning out the week’s menu at Bubby’s.
As part of the Bubby’s quest to defend the tradition of American dining and protect our fellow gastronomes from falling back on factory-raised beef or big box produce, Ron will share his expectations, disappointments and reflections from the market to keep you informed of what’s going on with our local farms, how we plan to use the gems we come across, and what to anticipate in the coming season. We’ll be checking in every month or so to let you know what’s new with Bubby’s and the producers and distributors we work with, and any other cool stuff that comes up along the way.
By starting a conversation about where our food is coming from and who grows it, we hope you’ll learn a little about the way Bubby’s works and a lot about how to cook and eat with good intention, proactively utilizing the abundance available to all who plot out their own path on this great green globe.
We’re using the term “foraging” here a little loosely, actually, to refer to our efforts to find seasonal “farm to table” ingredients from the farms, fields, woods and waters of our local foodshed. For us, the foraging year begins in late April with wild leeks (or ramps) from nearby Appalachian hills and wild watercress from clean, upland streams. It ends with the root vegetables of late Fall and the herring from Blue Moon Fish in December. The Journal gets a late start in this venue, starting with our Final Entry and going back through only the penultimate report of September-October 15. In 2013, we’ll gather the whole year here. – Allegra Ben-Amptz
Mid-October Foraging Journal Entry – 10/15/2012
Late September through mid-October is an interesting month in the local/seasonal game, sort of the playoffs, if you will. Some of the high summer crops are still around, tomatoes, lettuce, even corn, and the fall fruits and vegetables start to seriously settle in: apples, grapes, pumpkins, parsnips, garlic, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and all their relations.
We have relied heavily on our three mainstay farms this past month, Migliorelli Farm in the Hudson Valley, Phillips Farms in Milford, NJ and Russo Fruit & Vegetable Farm of Tabernacle, NJ. Migliorelli and Phillips work through the Union Square Greenmarket; Russo sells through the Trenton Farmers Market, also a very serious greenmarket with many active participants. Russo Farm now often acts as a conduit for Bubby’s for fruit and produce from other central New Jersey farms. All three of these farms are very diversified and energetic operations.
Migliorelli Farm has supplied Bubby’s with mustard greens, broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, carrots, beets and salad greens, as well as apples and pears.
We have gotten fennel, Russian and red kale, Brussels sprouts, baby eggplants and carrots, and collard greens from Phillips Farms. We just got the last of Phillip’s field tomatoes for this year. From here on, the hothouses take over.
Nicky Russo arranged for Bubby’s to get late sweet corn, turnips, zucchini, spaghetti squash, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and the last batches their field tomatoes from her own farm and neighboring farms. Russo also provided several varieties of apples, Macouns, Macintosh, Golden Delicious and Cripps Pinks.
This has been an odd apple season. The quality of the crop is outstanding, with larger and firmer fruit than in most years, but the regional crop itself is much smaller than usual, not because of a late frost in April but because of freakishly warm weather in March. The “year without a winter”, as the last one is now known, tricked many trees into flowering well before normal, making them vulnerable to absolutely ordinary deep frosts in April. Orchards in upstate New York and in other major apple-growing states, from Maine to Michigan to Washington, experienced some of their worst frost losses since 1945. This is the third year of the last four that some areas of the Catskills have gone without apples. A mid-summer drought also affected virtually every apple-growing state, resulting, interestingly, in fruit with more concentrated sweetness and flavor than is usual. Bubby’s apple-based specials this month have included apple soda, Jewish-style apple-walnut coffee cake, Macoun apple pop tarts and buckwheat pancakes with sautéed Macouns , in addition to pie
We made really large buys of Concord grapes for the past month from Stone Arch Farms of Schuyler County, about one hundred pounds per week, though the season is closing out now, the middle of October. (Concords are the only important variety of grapes native to the United States.) Bubby’s has made really large batches of Concord grape jelly, eight to ten gallons a week, for the past month or so. Concord grape soda has been a special over the same period.
Another occasional supplier this month has been the unusual Frog Pond Farms in Bainbridge, NY, just west of the fringe of the Catskill Mountains. Frog Pond grows some crops, but its main activity is selling products from other farms and orchards within a day’s drive of Bainbridge. Frog Pond specializes in marketing all kinds of produce and fruit, peppers, beets, potatoes, apples, peaches, tomatoes, in bushels, pecks and boxes to retail customers. Often the prices are incredibly low. Early fall buys from Frog Pond have been green tomatoes, Brussels sprouts on the stalk (like 50 tiny cabbages festooned on a trunk of broccoli), cheese pumpkins (for pies), Hubbard squash (potentially the largest and most gnarly vegetable of all), Crispin and Fortune apples.
Fried green tomatoes are not just a way to use a failed tomato but really great on their own terms. We also made green tomatoes pie with a lot of the same spices one might put in an apple pie with really good results.
Seasonal foraging has resulted in some interesting early fall dishes on the specials menu.
Fresh pumpkin pie is actually a rarity, even in the best bakeries and even at the height of pumpkin season. Almost all pumpkin pies are made from canned pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin pie filling. This year, we have made fresh pumpkin pie for several weeks, benefiting from the excellent pumpkin crop this year and a much better idea for preparing the pumpkin pie filling. For years, previously, we would make our filling from boiled pumpkin; now, we bake the pumpkin before pureeing it with greatly improved results.
This is a high point of the year for our market vegetable plate, which is served throughout the year with seasonal roasted and braised vegetables, along with several grains and a couple of sauces. October versions have included these unusual heads of baby cabbage, baby eggplant and spaghetti squash.
Other fall crop specials have been James Beard’s parsnip soup and sweet potato/Brussels sprouts hash.
We have taken advantage of the fall return of really excellent local oysters supplied by Blue Moon Fish to make an extraordinarily rich dark gumbo, the base of which is an intense seafood broth that also includes head-on shrimp Blue Moon’s clams.
Final Foraging Journal Entry – 12/1/12
Just as pomegranates from California begin appearing in markets, the major fruits of the harvest in our area begin to dwindle down to root vegetables and what the greenhouses can provide. There is some poetry in this, considering that Persephone condemned our world to a season of darkness and infertility when she ate a few pomegranate seeds as Hades’ captive in the underworld.
Nevertheless, we do our best to extend the harvest of our local farms as far as possible into the gathering gloom. Once again, we relied on Phillips Farm and Migliorelli Farm for most of our “farm to table” ingredients. Bubby’s late purchases, from the middle of October until the end of November, were:
-Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, both of which were, along with bacon, major ingredients in a sweet potato hash.
-Purple carrots, carrot-colored carrots, baby cabbage, fennel and parsnips, all of which appeared on our constantly mutating roasted vegetable plate.
-Broccoli rabe and mustard greens; the former went inside a lamb meatball sandwich while the latter was served as part of a fried chicken and biscuit sandwich.
-We pickled banana peppers as part of cheesesteak sandwich.
-We made butternut squash into a soup, as well as serving it as a steak side.
-Mutsu and Braeburn apples in combination were the basis of pies, turnovers and apple cider.
-Everyone’s favorite, kale, was the main ingredient in a special salad that we featured for weeks.
-We used the celery root that came attached to bunches of celery stalks in a gratin with mashed potatoes.
“Foraging”, the term we use to describe our search for ingredients that are directly obtained from the farms, fields, streams and woods of the New York foodshed, can be extended to include the seafood we buy from Blue Moon Fish. In October and November, these included red hake, for scrod fish tacos, squid, and finally herring, 100 pounds of which we filleted and pickled for use in December.
In fact, local apples, root vegetables, cabbages and other well-storing produce will soldier on through the winter and early spring. The first event of the new foraging year, besides maple syrup, will be wild leeks (or ramps) that emerge from the forest floor of our Appalachian ranges in late April.