Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Local Food in the Salem News June 27, 2008

Filed under: Farmers market — blueheronlocal @ 6:25 pm
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weeding potatoes (thanks, tinyfarmblog!)I learned some great things about local cuisine in the North Shore from this article from Salem News. There’s a new farmers’ market in Newburyport and look for one is Salem next summer. The article covers the usual ground: how farmers’ markets build community and are a great way to move beyond the near-interchangable tastes of supermarket tomatoes and strawberries. It also discusses how customers in Marblehead may not mind paying a lot of money for exotic vegetables, but customers in Peabody may be more interested in the savings and quality achieved by buying directly from the farmers. I find farmers’s markets are often cheaper than the grocery store, especially if I’m looking for organic produce. Many farmers’ markets accept WIC too.


The farm facts were the most interesting to me. Did you know that 5% of farmland in Massachusetts is located in Essex County? Essex County also ranks thirty-fifth in the country for the value of agriculture sold directly to consumers. Long live the farm stand and the co-op!

Expect some new links to show up on the blogroll as I explore more places and ways to eat locally in the North Shore.


(thanks, tinyfarmblog, for the photo, and cara for the heads up!)






Ikerd for Secretary of Agriculture! June 25, 2008

Recent gossip around the food sphere has been littered with proposals for who should be Obama’s secretary of agriculture (oddly enough, no one seems to care about McCain…a question for another day: Do we think he’s losing or that he won’t listen to us?). My favorite is the head of the Analyzing Agriculture from Afar program at Urban University, followed by Jim Hightower, and then John Ikerd.


Jim Hightower is a strongly opinionated Texan who would insult lots of people and possibly get a few things done. John Ikerd, on the other hand, is a fascinating philosopher academic, with experience working at the USDA on sustainable production, who might be an effective advocate for sustainable agriculture. I’ve even heard that he is charming and likable, which makes him a more realistic candidate than Hightower.


John Ikerd is a strong writer with a background in agricultural economics, and accessible to non-policy wonks like us. A great many of his essays are available online. From the basics of what is sustainable agriculture to what values should underlie rural development, Ikerd’s writing is a readable and inspiring philosophical (and somewhat applicable) primer. Go. Pick one. Read it. Post a few thoughts. Or read my ramblings.




Searching for Alien Strawberries June 23, 2008

Filed under: In Season,Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 5:37 pm
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We went to Marini Farms’ strawberry festival in Ipswich on Saturday. We picked strawberries, challenging the kids with us to find the oddest, most “alien” or “mutant” looking ones, which they did with glee, showing off their bumpy and misshapen prizes like young treasure hunters.


Of course, they won’t find these odd delights in the supermarket, as supermarket berries tend to be large, perfect-looking, and fairly tasteless. One of our young pickers came back with an empty quart box, having eaten his finds. The kids wore satisfaction in the red smears on their faces, hands, and shirts.


If you’re too tired after picking strawberries in the hot sun to bake up a pie or shortcake, try this easier-than-pie recipe. My husband and I discovered it while staying at a hotel in Charleston, SC, in May years ago (B.K., “before kids”):


Get yourself a small cereal bowl, fill the bottom with real whipped cream or yogurt, toss in hulled, local, fresh strawberries and drizzle some local honey over the berries.


Spoon a local taste of heaven in your mouth. Enjoy!




No Egrets’ Hyphenated Cheesecake June 22, 2008

Filed under: Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 2:22 pm
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Double-Sized Gluten-Free No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake


We’re gluten eaters ourselves, but one of our favorite dinner guests can’t eat gluten and we spend a lot of time thinking up ways of delighting her with gluten-free foods. No egrets made this with strawberries [I recommend Connors Farm strawberries, but rumor has it Marini’s has lovely strawberries too.] but it will be great with other berries once blueberry and raspberry season comes around. Don’t forget that berries freeze well, and cheesecake brightens up anyone’s February.


2 bags Trader Joe’s (or other) Gluten-Free Ginger Snaps (or regular ginger snaps)
1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter, softened
3/4 lb. fresh, cleaned berries

2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, low-fat cream cheese, or a mix of 8-oz. cream cheese and 8-oz. goat cheese, softened
1/4 cup organic or turbinado sugar, or honey.  Hardcore Yankees can try maple syrup (slightly shy of 1/4 cup), with a bit more arrowroot starch.
1½ tsp. arrowroot (tapioca) starch (or more if the berries are very juicy)
3 oz. very dark chocolate
8 oz. whipping cream
¼ tsp. fresh vanilla bean, pulverized


Eat ½ bag of ginger snaps, and put the rest through the Cuisinart to make crumbs [Ed. note: In my single, pre-Cuisinart days, I put ginger snaps (or graham crackers) into a bag and beat them into crumbs with an empty beer bottle. This process seemed to take less time if I drank the beer first.].  Melt butter and blend by hand until the crumbs are slightly wet. 


Pack the crust around the inside of an 8″–9″ springform pan, or a skillet (the skillet is a nice presentation, but it’s hard to serve from)—just press it in there, and work over the bumps, and pack more crumbs in wherever it looks thin.  This makes a nice, thick, slightly spicy graham cracker crust, which will cohere nicely in under 12 hours.  Put it in the fridge and move on.


Put cream cheese and sugar in your mixing bowl and beat it until it is soft and smooth.  If it is lumpy, put your hands on the outside of the bowl to warm it as the machine beats the cheese mixture (this works with buttercreams, too).  Add 2/3 of the berries and arrowroot starch (slowly!) and beat until the mixture is an even pink or purple or blue.  Then spoon it into the crust.


Arrowroot starch, or tapioca starch, is the traditional thickener for pie glazes.  It dissolves well and makes a nice clear (not cloudy like flour) and non-pasty-tasting medium.  It’s great for turkey gravy, too.


Now, take all of the leftover berries and push them into the top of the pie.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or a microwave, you slugabed), and drizzle it over the top of everything.  [Ed. note: This last touch is what will make your dinner guests go “ooohhhh”; your significant other may propose marriage on the spot.]


Clean your mixer and whip the cream; add fresh vanilla bean, but NOT vanilla extract if you’re keeping gluten-free.


If anyone knows of other good brands of gluten-free ginger snaps, or has a recipe, send it along!


 -no egrets


Strawberry Festivals in the North Shore June 20, 2008

Filed under: In Season — blueheronlocal @ 4:31 pm
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This is the weekend of strawberry festivals, they’re all over the North Shore. Go forth and eat strawberries in Danvers and Ipswich.

There are also some yummy Christian strawberries in Amesbury and Saugus. (What is the connection between strawberries and churches? I have no idea.)


Any other strawberry festivities I should know of?




The Demise of Southern Biscuits?

Filed under: Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 1:17 pm
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There’s nothing better than biscuits straight from the oven. I’ve been known to drive 600 miles for a good biscuit (and, I suppose, some family time). Southerners love to argue about what makes a good biscuit. Bill Neal is one authority (Thanks, prospero’s kitchen!) and here is another. However, most agree that the secret to exceptional biscuits is flour, and more specifically, White Lily flour, which has been milled in Knoxville, Tennessee, since 1883.


white lily flourBad news for biscuit lovers everywhere. Last year, Smuckers bought White Lily and decided to move milling operations to Illinois. Bakers, southern and otherwise, noticed a difference between the Knoxville-milled flour and the Midwest-milled flour right away. From the New York Times:

Zoellyn Smith, who worked in both quality control and research and development at the Knoxville plant, accurately identified the new product before she began to bake. Sample A, the new product, had “a grayish color” and made a “dense and chewy” cake, while Sample B, the old, made for silky, rather than stiff, dough and a “light and airy” cake.


(photo from NYT)


There are a few things that make White Lily flour different from other flours. One is, as Fred Sauceman says below, terroir, or loosely, the importance of place.


No test was necessary for Fred W. Sauceman, author of a series of books called “The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, From Bright Hope to Frog Level,” who said White Lily should stay in Knoxville. “It’s kind of like the use of the word terroir when you’re talking about wine,” he said. “It means something to have been made in the exact same spot for 125 years, and it’s unconscionable not to respect that.” 

Traditionally southern flour was made from the soft red winter wheat that grew in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. This wheat is low in protein, which means it absorbs less liquid than higher-protein northern wheat. This makes the biscuits light and fluffy.


I love that we can use the word terroir when discussing flour. If, as the New York Times article suggests, the South became famous for its biscuits and pies rather than yeasted breads because of the soft red winter wheat, then terroir is a strong factor. White Lily flour is culturally, physically, and economically tied to Knoxville and the South.


 It may be cheaper for Smuckers to mill White Lily flour in its own northern mills, but along with cheapening production, Smuckers is cheapening the product. Fight for good biscuits. Respect the terroir of your food. Preserve your local food traditions. If you are new to an area, learn its local cuisine, but don’t forget where you come from either.


Learn about the food culture around you. Then tell your friends, or better yet, cook for them.














Greens with Hot Bacon Dressing June 18, 2008

Filed under: Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 2:53 pm
Tags: ,

Wondering what to do with all the greens you just bought from your local farmers’ market?

no egrets recommends endive (or other greens) with hot bacon dressing.



Mom-Mom’s Endive with Bacon Dressing


This is how my grandmother on the Hildebrandt side made it.


For the dressing:

1/4 lb. bacon, chopped

1/8 cup sugar (or less)

1/8 cup cider vinegar (or less)

1/2 cup Miracle Whip


Chop and fry the bacon crisp, then dissolve the sugar in the hot grease.  Deglaze with the vinegar, lower the heat, and whisk in the Miracle Whip.  Serve hot over 3–4 lb. endive—the krinkly kind that looks like thistle, not the Belgian kind that looks like the Pope’s hat.



This is how I do it:


For the dressing:

1/4 lb. bacon chopped (Using bacon is non-negotiable.  Turkey bacon is a sin against Jesus. [Ed. note: no egrets has never even heard of fakon.])

1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

5–7 Tbsp. of organic sugar

5 Tbsp of rice wine vinegar (or lemon juice)

2–3 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar.

1/2 cup organic mayonnaise from a jar (or make fresh)


The procedure is about the same (add the pepper to the bacon just before the sugar), but I have a hard time finding the bitter, prickly endive that we Germans and Pennsylvania Dutch eat anywhere around the North Shore.  Go figure.  Reduce the sugar in either recipe to taste


I use baby spinach, but serve the dressing closer to room temperature so it doesn’t cook everything.  That way, you’ll have strong bones and teeth when you have your heart attack.  Don’t do that “wilted lettuce” thing they do in the South.  Gross.  You need strong, sturdy greens that will stand up to the dressing. 


People who don’t like mayo still like this dressing; just don’t tell them. [Ed. note: I’m living proof of this.]


-no egrets