Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

All’s Fair: Cloned Cow Wins Iowa 4-H Competition

One of my favorite events at our rural county’s annual agricultural fair is when the youthful 4-H club members show their prized cattle. Well-scrubbed teenagers clad in white shoes, white pants, and white shirts proudly lead their well-groomed bovines into the arena where they are judged and ribbons awarded. You almost expect to see a pipe-puffing Normal Rockwell peering from behind his easel on the sidelines.

I don’t think I would have gotten the same warm, nostalgic feeling at Iowa State Fair  a few weeks ago. Tyler Faber, age 17, took home the blue ribbon in the “Big Steer” category for a 1,320-pound behemoth named Doc. The beefy steer, it turned out, was a clone.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Blue Potatoes and Organic Certification

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By Clotilde Hryshko

The following is the CSA newsletter I gave out during pickups the week of 8/30/10. 

Last year I finally found a blue flesh/blue skin potato that tasted great and was versatile in the kitchen.  I celebrated Labor Day with the CSA by giving them to you that week.  I continue the tradition again this year.  These Purple Majesty potatoes are excellent for potato salad, mashed, roasted, fried or any other use on a (expected) cool Labor Day weekend.  It’s also my not so subtle way of reminding you to honor the physical labor of others.

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Eggheads

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By Edward Schneider

Look at the pictures above, of the chicken house at Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York. 

Now read this.

Do you see why those who have recently been deriding “locavores” as cranks are missing the point? It isn’t always about carbon footprint or ideology: it is often just about plain good food.

Posted in Farming

Garden Candy

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By Edward Schneider 

I’ve said before that it gives me a thrill to pick and immediately cook produce from my father-in-law’s garden in the UK. I’m a city boy and the son of city folk: my father was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and, although my mother’s parents kept a few chickens in their yard outside Czestochowa, Poland, their emigration to Brooklyn when my mother was twelve marked the end of animal husbandry for them. So, I am innately ignorant of tilling the soil. My limbs, like those of Mrs. Sullen in George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem, were not made for leaping of ditches and clambering over stiles. Much less for hoeing and weeding. 

But I’ve long harbored the illusion that, apart from die-hard Londoners (who are just as bad as us New Yorkers), Britons are universally garden-mad and raised to be familiar with small-scale agriculture centered on a quarter-acre behind the house or in a public plot (an allotment). Some of you who have read more than a few of my posts will know that Jackie’s father has always been an enthusiastic horticulturalist whose big garden yields everything from fennel to rhubarb to elderflowers. Granted, when he bought the house, back in the 1950s in a then-new suburban development, he picked the one with the largest garden, but all the houses in his neighborhood sit on pretty substantial parcels of arable land.  

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Posted in Farming

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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By Clotilde Hryshko

Thanks and recognition goes to some of the friends of my daughter Marya – Ellie, Gabe, Kim, Marya and Nick – for their efforts on the wood stacking and garlic harvest. These jobs are perfect for the young teens – a chance for some money, camaraderie, and that critical opportunity to do a job and see its completion. I’m sure they won’t remember them as the best days of their vacation but the other parents and I will continue to be smug about its importance.

My summer vacation is really more of a flip-flop. Jim took the girls away for 10 days. They traveled to Alaska where he has a brother and a sister. They camped and went salmon fishing, meeting up with more family. Marya caught 2 fish this year and the youngest, Yelena, caught one (fly-fishing).

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Posted in Farming

The Last Blackberry

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By Kerri Conan 

The garden has been behaving so strangely this year that we actually ate the last blackberry before the first tomato. Let me tell you: plucking that final berry was a big bummer. 

I usually roll with the ebb and flow of the seasons and never get too attached to any one crop. But without tomatoes to pick up the slack a juiciness vacuum suddenly loomed large. I looked down at the handful of motley berries in my colander and made one last pass through the patch, lifting branches, looking for one more that might have eluded my glance. Funny how wacky weather makes you pay more attention to every bite. 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Shiso Fine

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by Kerri Conan 

There are a lot of things we could do with the purple shiso in our herb garden. My husband Sean and I have tried several: like marinate the leaves whole in a sesame-soy concoction, shred a few into salads and stir-fries, and scrunch several into a jar of carrot pickles. Other ideas we have yet to explore: shiso pesto, tempura, or tea. 

But we usually enjoy these sturdy leaves plain, to transport food from plate to mouth, as if you were eating with castanets. (Is this how shiso is often used in Japan? I’ve never been, but whenever the leaves are used to garnish my sushi, it never goes to waste.) 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Cilantro Growers Unite!

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by Kerri Conan 

Maybe all summer long, gentle costal breezes caress the lush foliage on your cilantro plant. Perhaps you’ve never seen the stalk suddenly shoot up a tuft of flowers and spindly leaves, signaling it’s decided to go to seed. If so, congratulations. For the rest of us—who cuss this natural phenomena and the so-called “slow-bolt” varieties it rode in on—the shock of having a carefully cultivated plant rendered useless literally overnight is enough to make you put parsley in your salsa. 

But I say: Embrace the bolt. Grow as much cilantro as the garden will accommodate, savor the leaves for the five minutes they appear in June, and when the flowers bud out, start eating those. When they turn to green seeds, eat those, too. (Their flavor is a perfect blend of the soapy notes from the leaves and the sharp citrus flavors in the seeds; I crush them a bit with the side of a knife then use them the same way I’d use both.) Then at the end of summer, after the plant has been ravaged by heat, insects, disease, and your renaissance appetite, pick through and pluck (or thresh) off the dried, brown coriander seeds to sustain you through winter. 

There. Problem solved. Now who’s with me?

Posted in Farming

Mobile Farm or Vending Machine?

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By Suzanne Lenzer

It seems like a good thing: Lay’s–the potato chip people–have a mobile farm set up in Times Square to help educate people about where their food comes from. It’s cute. There’s the “mobile farm” itself, with live plants and nice baskets of vegetables next to each one to help identify what’s actually growing; there’s a section where you can have your picture taken with a farmer (or at least someone wearing a straw hat); and there are a couple of very nice people handing out plastic cups with basil seeds inside so you can grow your own fresh herbs at  
home.

Sadly I was alone at the basil handout table, and the mobile farm wasn’t exactly packed either. The crowd was swarming a guy under a sign that read “Proudly supporting America’s potato farmers” who was handing out bags of Lays chips. The best of intentions I suppose, but if they really wanted to get people into planting basil they probably should have left the free chips back at the farm.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

On Finding and Shucking Oysters

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by Cathy Erway

It was something I would have normally found awe-inspiring: a platter of freshly shucked oysters, placed ceremoniously on a chrome stand. The opened half shells dotted the perimeter of the dish, sunken into a bed of crushed ice. In the center lay lemon wedges and small cups of cocktail sauce, horseradish and vinaigrette, with spoons dug provocatively down in. In their pools of clear brine, the silver flesh of the oysters seemed to quiver gently even seconds after being set down, and their juices threatened to drip into the ice. These were served up at a well-heeled restaurant with much recent hype, no less, at a table that was the envy of every person waiting patiently outside. It was, by all standards, a real foodie’s dream. But it just wasn’t the same for me.  

You see, the day before, I had foraged for oysters on a calm and sandy beach. I wasn’t expecting to find them, nor the quahogs, hermit crabs and miniature shellfish that lay half-hidden at my feet. But I recognized the teardrop shape and craggy surface of the first oyster from afar, and spent the next hour or so peeling the beach for more. Once home, I shucked them open one by one, to enjoy with friends. I’d collected ten oysters in total, and they ranged wildly in stature: the smallest being the size of a baby’s ear and the largest one, a round and deep-bowled object that held a mouthful-sized mollusk. Some had translucent green strands of seaweed clinging to its shells, which I could never get off. One had another oyster shell impossibly stuck against it like a Siamese twin. Slipped into the mouth, some oysters gave with a subtle crunch, like a softened piece of cartilage, while others went down as a smooth, cold lobe of blubber. All of them were very easy to shuck. Perhaps it was this particular species, but the way the tiny crevice between the pointed ends of both shells – the sweet spot – gave so easily with the shove of a shucker made it seem as if they had been waiting to be opened, too.  

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Posted in Farming, Seafood