farmers’ market

Wild Mushroom Soup

Last week, three planets aligned closely with one another in a rare astronomical event. However, due to heavy rains, I missed the show. But on the other hand, everything lined up for the makings of a hardy soup — the cold winds, a heavy downpour, which caused one large wild mushroom to appear at a farmer’s market produce stall, and Ruth Reichl’s response to what would one find in her freezer (homemade stock) all served as an inspiration.

The wild sheepshead mushroom, also called hen-of-the-woods, looks like it could have come from the depths of the ocean. As the name suggests, the mushroom looks like the head of a sheep. Unlike a regular mushroom with one stalk and cap, sheepshead mushrooms grow in a clump with several stems and bracket-shaped layers of caps. They sprout quickly with the rains, and grow under old oak trees. Sheepshead’s moisture-rich stalks break down and thicken stock, which gives the resulting soup an unmistakable earthy taste.

I bought a pound from a four-pound monster mushroom at the farmer’s market, and thawed out the good stock. Excited to cook my first wild mushroom, I was unprepared for an ancient looking creature that crawled out from under the layers of the mushroom’s caps. I did have to remind myself that flavors are nurtured through the good, bad, and ugly facets of nature!

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Wild Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms – 1 lb, cleaned and chopped roughly

Butter or oil – 4 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped

Stock – 1½ pints

Parsley – 1 bunch

Salt and pepper – to taste

Truffle oil – 1-2 tbsp (optional)

  • Heat a pan and add the butter or oil.
  • Add the chopped onions and sauté, until they are transparent.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the stock. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the mushroom stalks are tender.
  • Strain the mushroom chunks out and put them through a food processor. Combine the pureed mushroom with the liquid stock.
  • Serve the soup with a drizzle of truffle oil and a few parsley stalks.

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Note: A mix of cultivated mushrooms works just as well for this easy to make soup.

Caramel And Candied Apples: A Slice Of Sweetness

N. went apple picking last week and brought back enough fruit to make apple quesadillas for a work potluck. Inspired by her adventurous recipe and the bounteous selections of organic apples at the farmer’s market, I bought a few different varieties and made dessert for two.

The small organic apples are a great snack, but their diminutive shape also makes them more manageable to dip in melted caramel or sugar syrup. Playing around with a classic recipe meant that the candied apples didn’t have to the neon-red color that kids adore. Instead, a hint of red highlights their natural appearance. When these caramel or syrup-covered apples are sliced, each piece is covered with just enough sweetness to satisfy sugar cravings!

Caramel Apples

Caramel squares – 5-6 oz. (available in candy aisles in packets containing individually wrapped pieces)

Whole Cream – 1-2 tbsp

Apples – 4

Wooden skewers – 4

Lightly buttered waxed paper (or a few vases) to hold the sticky apples

  • Halve the wooden skewers.
  • Wash the apples and dry them thoroughly. Remove the stalk, and pierce with the skewer. Refrigerate the apple lollipops while you are working with the caramel. (Warm caramel sticks easily to the cold apples)
  • Add the caramel squares to a small pan. On medium heat, melt the caramel. Using the back of a wooden spoon, bring together the separate caramel squares.
  • Add the cream a little at a time, until the melted caramel becomes a thick, gooey mass.
  • Remove the skewered apples from the refrigerator and dip them one at a time into the warm caramel. Tilt the pan as you swirl the apple, to coat it completely and evenly in caramel.
  • Place the coated apple on waxed paper or keep it upright in the vase to catch the drips. Repeat for all the apples.
  • Refrigerate the fruit until the caramel hardens.
  • Remove the apples from the refrigerator about 5 minutes before serving, so that they can be cut easily into slices.

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Candied Apples

Sugar – ½ cup

Light corn syrup – ¼ cup

Water – ¼ cup

Red food coloring – 2-3 drops

Cinnamon stick – 1

Apples – 4

Wooden skewers – 4

Lightly-buttered waxed paper or a vase to hold the sticky apples

  • Halve the wooden skewers.
  • Wash the apples and dry them thoroughly. Remove the stalk with a corer, and pierce with the skewer. Refrigerate the apple lollipops, while working with sugar syrup.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a small pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer for about 20 -25 minutes. The syrup should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Remove the cinnamon stick.
  • Remove the skewered apples from the refrigerator and dip them one at a time into the warm sugary mixture. Tilt the pan as you swirl the apple to coat it completely and evenly.
  • Place the syrup-coated apple on waxed paper or keep them upright in the vase to catch the drips. Repeat for all the apples.
  • Refrigerate the fruit until the syrup hardens.
  • Remove them from the refrigerator about 5 minutes before serving, so that they can be cut easily into slices.

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Notes:

  • Apples should be small since this makes them easier to coat. Pick apples that do not have the shiny waxy surface or else they will not coat easily.
  • Look for firm and slightly tart apples as they pair well with caramel.
  • Dip sugar-coated apples into a mix of granola and nuts or crushed pecans for more texture. Flavor with a dash of chili for a combination of spicy and sweet tastes.

Farmer’s Markets – Relationships you can count on

I look forward to Wednesdays in June, as this is when my neighborhood farmer’s market erects its stands. It is a time to renew acquaintances with the familiar faces and discover unfamiliar local produce. My goal for the next three months is to expand my repertoire with untried produce.

Last year, I discovered an unexpected mouthful of Eastern fruit flavors (floral, sweet, and tangy like mangosteen or lychee) in the winter cherry. This small berry, protected in a pod that makes the fruit look like a green lantern, first grew in Europe and China. It appeared in my local farm stand at the end of August, and that brief tryst had me scouring my local grocery store for the rest of the season – unsuccessfully!

The season for the unfamiliar is short-lived, and farmers are eager to showcase their produce to consumers. When you are a regular, they will usually let you sample the unusual – in my case, the farmer handed me a winter cherry and showed me how to pop open the lantern-like cover and slip the fruit directly into my mouth. The flavors were unexpectedly refreshing; I ended up buying the container. Another time, I came across these long curly green stalks, which I would have passed on at a grocery story, not knowing what to do with them. The farmer’s daughter, a young college student who was helping her parents, snipped a small piece so I could smell their garlicky aroma. Since then, I have experimented with garlic scapes whenever they are available ( usually in late spring before the stalk is cut so that the nutrients go to the garlic bulb). I substitute the scapes for garlic, mince and add them to a salad, or simply grill them.

On Wednesday, I picked up spring onions, garlic scapes, and snow peas (mangetout or snap peas) – there were stands with red chard, spinach, radish, and herbs in containers, before my final stop at the meat stand. I asked for goat, but Terry, who owns her farm and runs the stand with a homemade sign that says her chickens, goats, and sheep run free enjoying the sunshine, said that the animal was only 50 lbs and she had to wait for it to become 70lbs!

Over the years, I have been persuaded to try different varieties of tomatoes and eggplants, but the window of experimentation is small for some, such as zucchini blossoms, potent shiso (perilla) greens used in Japanese cuisine or dandelion greens. I hope that you add a few new favorites this season and  make some new friends along the way!

 

Eat Local

There are opportunities to eat locally no matter where you are. My recent trip to Kerala reminded me of this fact, inspiring me to immediately visit the local farmers’ market upon my return to the U.S. There were plenty of vegetables, meats, cheese, honey and jams at my local market. Support your local farmers, butchers, fishmongers, as the food is sourced locally and you get to eat what is in season and at its optimal best.

Traveling down Highway NH47 in Kerala, India, every curve in the road unfolds with yet another mobile feast. Bananas and plantains, in all its abundance of color and variety, are displayed on roadside carts; a large, freshly caught fish was strung up on a tree (this was a new sight for me), or tiny sardines just picked out of fishing nets; long achinga beans, tied in bundles, hang like washing on coir ropes, while pumpkins and melons are strewn on coir mats. En route, we stopped for some watermelons, pineapples, and coconut. I also bought fresh fish and shrimp to take home.

Upon my return to North America and its frigid temperatures, I was inspired to scour the markets for seasonal produce. Apples were plentiful as were root vegetables like potatoes and parsnips, also leeks, pumpkins, and squashes. There is a sense of community at such places, and there are interesting people who inspire you to try new vegetables and share a story or a recipe.

Leek and Potato Soup
Leeks – 4, thinly sliced
Potatoes – 3, peeled and diced
Chicken stock – 2 pints
Olive oil – 3 tablespoons
Butter –1 tablespoon
Salt and pepper – to taste
Cooked bacon, chopped parsley, cream (optional)

Heat the oil and butter together in a medium to large pan.
Once butter is melted, add the leeks and cook, stirring it gently, for about five minutes.
Add the potatoes, stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan.  Cook for about 35-40 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
You can serve the soup as it is, but I prefer to blend until smooth in a food processor.
For a richer, creamier soup, add the cream. Top with cooked bacon and or parsley.
Serves 4-6