Mary Nelen Photo
I picked up two 50-pound bags of spring wheat from Allen at Lazy Acres farm in Hadley. I was sent by Jonathan at Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton. My job was to fetch wheat berries from last year's wheat-growing experiment and bring them back to the bakers. For my trouble I would get some local wheat to make my own bread.
The timing couldn't have been better. The day before, I lost my source for local cornmeal. The guy over at Food Bank who used to grind local corn for me on his bicycle was moving on to greener pastures. Hello! This stuff is not available anywhere else. The key to eating locally is to make your own bread, whether it be corn bread or wheat bread. Without that, being a locavore is no more than a matter of being a discerning shopper.
I stood by my car in the mud-filled driveway of Allen's house and waited for him to come out. A tall guy with a felt hat, he walked very slowly to my car and held up his hand in greeting. We gave each other the onceover. "I'm here for the grain," I said. "Stay here," he said and strode over to the barn and pulled a large board off the door. It fell open. (So that's what those boards are for...) A boy stood beyond the barn in front of a field of oats. Cover crop. The boy and I gave each other the onceover.
The day was pretty gray but when Allen came out of the barn carrying the sack, my mood improved. "That's really it?" I said. This has been a long time coming, this local wheat. "Yep," he said and tossed the sack into the back seat of my car, seeds flying all over. I heard this crop was pretty good. Allen came out with a second bag. I tried to take it from him to put into the car myself but he shouldered past and tossed it in there, right next to the other one. Another stream of grain.
I asked him about the gluten content. "Oh, it's springy, all right," said Allen. "It passed the chew test really well." With the rain, the cool summer, the lack of sun and the heretofore near impossible task of growing wheat in Western Mass., Allen's accomplishment is nothing short of a miracle.
Back at Hungry Ghost, one of the bakers was chewing away on a piece of bread made from this very grain. This bakery is famous for its opinionated help, wood-fired stove, superior bread and flour all over the place. The combination of the mud on my shoes from Allen's farm and the flour on the floor at the bakery created a tsunami effect. Coming through the screen door, I fell to the right and then to the left. It was the smell of bread and this little wonderloaf on the cutting board that kept me aloft. After an experimental taste I had to steady myself once again. Plenty of flavor, nice gluten content making it airy and soft, and the lovely bite of sourdough. Now, at least as of this writing, this perfect bread can be eaten by all.
Recipe of the Week: Exotic Japanese Squash Soup (or Exotic Butternut Squash Soup)
This recipe is made from a pumpkin given to me by seed saver and grower Dan Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm. Known for its flavor, the Shishigatani pumpkin has no rival but can be approximated. For more tips on getting seeds for the Shishi and to learn about seeds in general, Laughing Dog, a farm in Gill, is a good repository of information. A former commune, Laughing Dog is now a place where date trees, goats, Shishigatani pumpkins and other exotic forms of flora and fauna exist in harmony all year round.
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
1 stick butter
1 small/medium potato, peeled and quartered
1 half a hand of sage leaves, fresh and shredded
1 half a hand of thyme, dried
1 exotic Japanese (or butternut) squash
1 dried red pepper skin, fingernail-sized, cut up
Salt and pepper
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream (fat is where the flavor is) or whole milk yogurt
Cook onions in butter with sage and thyme until caramelized (cooked slowly until the sugars are released), around 20 minutes. Peel squash, cut in half, remove seeds and place in baking dish, skillet, what have you. Cover with olive oil or butter and bake at 350 until soft (around 40 minutes).
Boil potato in saucepan until soft but not too soft. Reserve the water. Add squash pieces and potatoes to onions and allow flavors to meld. Add some of the potato water to thin the soup. Season with dried red pepper and salt as well as ground black pepper. Mix together in a food processor, blender or one of those immersion wands. Put back on heat and add cream or yogurt. Heat until blended and serve with a spot of cream on top and a sage leaf, if you have one.
Fall To Do List
All over the world, gleaners are busy during the harvest, collecting the remaining carrots, tomatoes and kale that have been overlooked at the end of the season. This is free to the taker and appreciated by the recipients. Gleaning takes many forms. The next couple of weeks are ideal for gleaning without getting all dirty. Take a drive along Routes 5 and 10 to scout out 50-pound bags of the region's finest onions and potatoes. Stock up on roots for the winter when prices for local sacks of spuds are as low as 20 cents a pound. Local onions and potatoes are on sale at various farms, share farms (CSAs), stores like Atkins, and Serio's and other small stores.
Store onions and potatoes out of the light to prevent sprouting. The cooler the environment the better. Temperatures should range from 34 to 60 degrees. Keep dry. If you don't have a root cellar, any dark cool place is good. Use paper or cloth sacks to prevent light from getting to the vegetables. In addition, try to keep somewhat ventilated. There is nothing like rooting around for a local spud in January and finding exactly that, with many more to spare, to keep going throughout the winter. Saves quite a bit on gas, going to the store and money, of course.
Solidarity Saturday in Orange
Saturday, October 24, 2009
"Cultivate Hope: Seeds of Solidarity Tour and Workshops"
This farm is truly unique and sustainable. A working education farm and produce business, Seeds of Solidarity has been operating off the grid for many years. The adobe-style house and outbuildings are an inspiration for those who wish to live in New England without the benefit of fossil fuel to stay warm. Visit Seeds of Solidarity Farm and its neighbors for a free day of inspiration and education.
Tour of Farm: 10 to 10:30 a.m.
Energy-efficient farm with solar greenhouses, energy-saving buildings, market gardens, solar electric and hot water systems and tools to use renewable energy and grow food for the community.
Self-sufficiency Workshop: 1 to 1:30 p.m.
Visit Stefan Meier's waste oil-heated woodworking shop that produces biofuel. The group will then caravan to learn about the beautiful wood-fired masonry bread oven built by neighbor Doug Feeney and located at the Forster Farm, site of the popular Garlic and Arts Festival, just down the road.
Come to the morning tour or afternoon workshop only or stay for the full day. No pre-registration is required and events are free, though donations to support the nonprofit educational programs of Seeds of Solidarity will be welcomed. For directions to Seeds of Solidarity, 165 Chestnut Hill Road, Orange, Mass., see www. seedsofsolidarity.org or call 978-544-9023 prior to Oct 24th.