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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Honeycrisp Apples and the Lost Cultivar September 24, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,In Season — blueheronlocal @ 8:24 am
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(thanks, minnesotaharvest.net!)

(thanks, minnesotaharvest.net!)

If it weren’t for David Bedford, there would be no honeycrisp apples. The honeycrisp trees (then known as MN 1711) were tagged for removal at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center, when Bedford, head of the apple breeding program, noticed that these trees were in a terrible growing spot. He thought they would have promise in a better site, so he let them live. It was a good thing he did. The honeycrisp has become an exceedingly popular apple. It has the perfect apple texture and its flavor is subtle and sweet. The apple grows to large proportions and stores well. And the trees love the cold weather.

 

Creating new apple cultivars is a long process and many cultivars never make it to the stage where they get nice names like honeycrisp. It took the honeycrisp thirty years to be released as a cultivar after it was grown from a seedling at the U of M in 1961. There are many reasons for this: The trees need to grow big enough to produce significant fruit, they need to produce fruit consistently from year to year, they have to survive the harsh Minnesota winter [Ed. note: Take it from me, North Shore natives, the Minnesota winter is intense. The snow never melts and when the wind blows you can feel aching sinus cavities you weren’t even aware of.], and for this particular cultivar, the U of M was treading lightly. In the late 1970s they had three cultivars metaphorically crash and burn. The regent and honey gold didn’t survive the winter (see above) and the red baron mysteriously turned yellow and orange and stayed yellow and orange. Oops! However, the honeycrisp was a clear success.

 

Originally it was thought that the honeycrisp was a cross between the Macoun and honey gold; however, when the U of M folks tested its DNA, they realized that it was a cross between keepsake and another cultivar that did not survive the testing process. Apple fanatics everywhere must be wondering “What other apple varieties were grown and destroyed that I will never taste???” (That wouldn’t be me, of course.)

 

You can buy and pick honeycrisps at Russell Orchards in Ipswich.

-goldlentil

 

(Thanks to Minnesota Harvest for the fascinating, detailed account of the growing and creating process.)

 

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…)

 

Becoming Local July 3, 2008

Filed under: North Shore — blueheronlocal @ 3:55 pm
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When the weather and workload allow it, Cara and I walk around the pond on our lunch break. We began this habit early this March, after what felt like a long cold imprisonment inside. We kept a close eye on the bare branches and iced-over pond, looking for the first stirrings of thaw and then spring.

 

One day in April we saw a narrow white question mark across the water—the distinctive silhouette of a heron. Last year I had seen both white herons and a great blue heron, but this year, it seemed the pond played host only to white ones. There were three of these solitary hunters standing out against the far dark shore. The turtles came out to sun themselves on the log. We could see up to ten turtles of all sizes, and ages, lined on the log in the far corner of the pond. Red-wing blackbirds flew overhead. We once saw an oriole.

 

Cara reported our daily heron and turtle count to one of our coworkers, who is native to Essex. “There are no herons around here, they must be egrets!” she told us. Cara grew up in southern New Hampshire and I grew up in Virginia. We hurriedly corrected ourselves, sure that we just weren’t local enough to know. A few weeks later I got into a conversation with a man on my street who is a birder. He said that he sees herons all over the place. Although he is originally from Maine, he has lived in Beverly for forty years. Who are we to believe? (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