Blue Heron Local Cuisine

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

Living on the Water July 22, 2009

Filed under: Regional food,Terroir — blueheronlocal @ 4:31 pm
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(photo from Trustees of the Reservation)

(photo from Trustees of the Reservation)

Community supported fisheries have been getting a lot of attention in the national news. It’s a revolution, first Boston, then the world (now where have I heard that before?).

But the thing is, you don’t live in New England because you like eating farm-raised shrimp from China stuffed with antibiotics.

 

In Boston, it can be easy to forget that you live on the water. Sure, you can see seagulls harassing each other for leftovers in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot, but how often do you see water other than the Frog Pond and dodgy puddles—the Jamaica Pond, if you are lucky?  

 

Here on the North Shore, the water is harder to ignore. We have to stop in our cars and wait for boats to go through the drawbridge, our roads go by the water, there are beaches we can go to whenever we want, we pass the tourists waiting outside Woodman’s. They came here to see something. But even on the North Shore, you cannot find local strawberries at the grocery store. In season.

 

One of the very basic things we can do to live less-ridiculous lives is to remember where we live.  This is very basic terroir. Up here, there is no reason to eat strawberries from Chile in February (or California strawberries in June), when you can freeze your overabundance of berries in June. Why would you eat Washington State apples in October, when, in Massachusetts at least, you are never more than an hour’s drive from an orchard? And the seafood.

 

 Eat like you live on the water. Support the local fishing boats that you see coming in when you are at the beach. The folks on board are your neighbors, not part of some foreign-owned corporation that has no interest in what makes New England different than Timbuktu, except for how they can make money from it.

 

Anyway, I hear Timbuktu is pretty hot this time of year.

-goldlentil

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Down-home Warming Dishes: Chicken and Biscuits January 14, 2009

Filed under: Recipe,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 2:13 pm
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No Egrets and I just came back from Nashville, among other places. Culinary highlights include Dee’s Barbque (where we met Dee in the bargain), the Loveless Cafe, and Swett’s famous meat and three. We ate biscuits, biscuits, and the best fried chicken ever. I find myself back in the North Shore in a southern frame of mind: So here is my version of Foster’s Market’s chicken and biscuits.

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. It’s cold outside, your roommates won’t mind if you turn on the oven a couple hours early.

Boil your local chicken in a pot with onions, garlic, bay leaf, and olive oil.

While the chicken is boiling, start making the biscuits. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, 2 ts. of baking powder (make sure the baking powder is recent, or your biscuits will be like hockey pucks, not that I’ve learned that from experience or anything), 1 ts. baking soda, 1 ts. salt. Cut in 2 sticks of cold unsalted butter. (This is best done with a pastry cutter or even a food processor. However it can be done with two knives, it just takes a while. The goal of this step is to make sure each particle of flour is bonded to a particle of butter. Cut the butter in until a) you’re exhausted or b) until it has the consistency of coarse cornmeal.) Add 1 1/4 cup of milk (buttermilk is better) and mix until the dough just barely sticks together. DO NOT OVERHANDLE BISCUIT DOUGH. If the dough seems dry, add more milk, 1 Tb. at a time. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it extremely gently about four times, or until the dough resembles a ball. Again, err on the side of underhandling. Pat out the dough until it is 3/4-inch thick. Cut out with biscuit cutters or a glass. Put it aside and get back to the chicken.

Remove the cooked chicken from the bone and keep some of the broth from its cooking.

Melt butter and/or olive oil in a skillet and fry up some pot-pie vegetables. I like onions, pepper, and corn. No egrets prefers peas. You can also add mushrooms, carrots, celery, turnips, etc.

When the vegetables have reached the appropriate level of mushiness, add 1/4 cup of flour or arrowroot starch. Whisk in the broth and bring to a low boil. Don’t stop whisking until it starts to thicken or  you get homicidal, whichever comes first.

Add sage and/or parsley and pepper, along with any of the veggies you’d like to be crisper. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken and put mixture into a casserole dish.

Top with the uncooked biscuits. Brush the biscuits with an egg wash (1 egg + 2 Tb. milk). This will make the biscuits turn a pretty brown color. Cook for 25 to 30 min. and then dig in and enjoy.

 

-goldlentil

 

Time flies when you aren’t posting December 17, 2008

Filed under: Drinking Locally,Ethical Eating,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 2:16 pm

No egrets and I are about to embark on another crazy tour of the eastern seaboard in service of preserving family relations (one hopes). As we all know it is hard to eat locally (in New England) in the winter. It is also hard to eat locally on the road and while staying with relatives.

 

A few words of advice: Try to find local food in the places where you are visiting. Eat the local specialties .No egrets is from east/central Pennsylvania, land of strange meats, and when we visit we head over to the local orchards and butchers. In Virginia, we eat as many biscuits as humanely possible. We drink Starr Hill Dark Star Stout and stock up on local apples as well. (Some of us, ahem, are really obsessed by local apples.)

 

And, above all, support your local businesses. Even if they get their apples from New Zealand or their toys from China, local businesses often are the first ones to respond to local trends. Put your money back into the communities, rather than in the pockets of executives who fly their private jets wherever they go.

-soapbox brought to you today by goldlentil

 

Macoun Apples October 6, 2008

Filed under: In Season,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 5:50 pm
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(from nyapplecountry.com)

(from nyapplecountry.com)

I bought a big bag of Macoun apples at Connors Farm in Danvers. No egrets and I did not go into the corn maze. We did, however, sample the hot cider donuts, which were way more flavorful than, but not as light as, the ones at Russell Orchard.

 

Macouns are delicious—firm flesh with a tart/sweet flavor—a northern-climate-friendly cross between the McIntosh and the Jersey Black. It is named after W. T. Macoun, who was a Canadian apple breeder and botanist who named 105 apple varieties in the beginning of the twentieth century. He is credited with helping the popularity of McIntosh apples in Canada, and was a strong proponent of home gardening and gardening in vacant city lots. The Macoun was developed in Geneva, New York, a year before W. T. Macoun’s death in 1933.

 

-goldlentil

 

Apples and Hurricanes September 3, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,In Season,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 9:12 pm
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ginger gold and paula red, two early apples (thanks, farmtophilly.com)

ginger gold and paula red (thanks, farmtophilly.com)

One of the few redeeming things about the waning days of summer is the onset of apple season. My favorite apple, the ginger gold (available at the Marblehead farmers’ market), was discovered because of a hurricane. Hurricane Camille was one of big Gulf Coast hurricanes. It hit the Mississippi coast in 1969 as a Category 5 storm. By the time it wandered up to Virginia, it was only a tropical depression. No one thought much about it, but when it crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stalled over Nelson County, Virginia, it dropped 27 inches of rain in 12 hours. Birds drowned in the trees and whole mountainsides washed away. Pretty meandering creeks in people’s backyards became thundering, murderous floods, tearing houses from their foundations. (more…)

 

The Demise of Southern Biscuits? June 20, 2008

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.

 

-goldlentil