Sunday, April 29, 2012

“Apple Trace” at Restoration Farm

Along the northern edge of Chapel Field at Restoration Farm, a collection of new apple trees has recently been planted.  The trees are young – mere twigs – but they have enormous potential.
The line of eight trees is named “Apple Trace.”   The word “trace” is not used too often in this context.   It is a rustic descriptor, but seems appropriate for Restoration Farm and the purpose of these trees.   A “trace” is defined as a visible mark, such as a footprint made or left by the passage of a person, animal or thing.    It is evidence or an indication of the former presence or existence of something.  
There are some intriguing heirloom varieties found at Apple Trace. Ashmeade's Kernel was first grown from a seed planted by a physician named Dr. Ashmead in Gloucester, England at the turn of the 18th century.  The fruit is eaten fresh or pressed for juice.  Black Oxford can be traced to a seedling planted in Paris, Maine in 1790.   The fruit is used for applesauce and baked desserts.   Cortland was bred in 1898 in Geneva, New York and has a pure white flesh that is good for salads.   Golden Russet is believed to have come from a mid-nineteenth century New York state seedling and is considered an excellent cider apple. 
Honeycrisp has a delicious crunch, and was developed in Minnesota in the 1960s.  Newtown Pippin is a Long Island native, first grown as a seedling in Queens, New York and harvested in 1730.  It was a favorite of George Washington and grown at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and works well in tarts and pies.   Prairie Spy was developed in Minnesota and raised from seeds planted in 1914.  It is a crisp, juicy, full-flavored eating apple. Winesap is an excellent storage apple and probably dates back to the 18th century. 
Apple Trace is planted in memory of my Dad, James M. Barritt, Jr. who passed away on January 10, 2012.  My Dad loved apples and ate one every day for lunch.   But, he also played an important part in my involvement at Restoration Farm.  My Dad and Mom first brought my brothers and me to Old Bethpage Village Restoration when we were young and we would visit often as a family – long before Restoration Farm was cultivated on the same land. 
Once I became a member at the farm, we would visit together.  One of my favorite photos of my parents is a picture taken at the Restoration Farm Summer Solstice potluck dinner in the field in 2010.   It was a gorgeous summer afternoon and they look so happy.  So my memories of my parents and my association with Restoration Farm are always entwined.  It seems fitting that we plant Apple Trace to honor my Dad at a place where I still visit so frequently and where he once planted seeds of appreciation for history, the land and farming within me. 
I am grateful to head growers Caroline Fanning and Dan Holmes who were so supportive of this planting in memory of my father, and to Glenn Aldridge who planted many of the apple trees with such care.  I look forward to the years to come when Apple Trace will bear fruit and my Dad’s spirit will be celebrated with beautiful apples shared with the community of members at Restoration Farm.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Katie’s Krops: A Giant Cabbage Feeds a Dream to End Hunger

I’ve been fortunate to meet some interesting and prominent people in the food world, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as impressive as Katie Stagliano.  Katie is a 13-year-old vegetable gardener who lives near Charleston, South Carolina.  She first shared her story with me during a workshop I held for members of the Three-Dot-Dash "Just Peace" Global Teen Leaders Summit in New York.  Katie was one of 30 teen leaders chosen to attend the summit who are actively working on projects that promote a more peaceful society by addressing issues related to basic human needs:  food, water, health, shelter, safety, education and the environment.

When it comes to food, Katie has remarkable intuition and insight.  With nothing more than seeds, water, sunshine and love Katie is nurturing a movement to abolish hunger one garden at a time.

It all began with a giant cabbage.   In 2008 at the age of 9, Katie brought home a cabbage seedling and planted it in her garden.  With constant care, Katie’s cabbage grew until it weighed in at a whopping 40 pounds.

“I didn’t think a tiny seedling would grow into a 40-pound cabbage in a million years,” Katie tells me.  But, when the colossal cabbage needed to be harvested, Katie had a decision to make.

“Obviously, it would feed a lot more people than us,” Katie recalls.  “My Dad always told us there were people who went to bed hungry, and I thought what better thing to do with my cabbage than donate it to those people who don’t have enough food to eat?”  Katie donated the cabbage to a local soup kitchen and it helped to feed 275 people.  

“I thought, that’s incredible that one cabbage could feed that many people,” Katie remembers. “Now, imagine how many people a garden could feed?”

She set out to create Katie’s Krops, neighborhood gardens like her own, tended by young people across the country.   She is Founder and Chief Executive Gardener of the movement. The mission of Katie’s Krops is simple.  The garden fresh produce is donated to feed people in need throughout the community.  “My goal is to have at least one garden in each of the 50 states,” she says. “I am very proud to say that this spring there will be 49 Katie's Krops gardens growing in 22 states.”

Katie’s Krops are seeded in individual communities through a grant program.  By reaching out to her peers, Katie has established a network of young gardeners seeking to end hunger.  

“It was very important that the grants go to kids,” says Katie. “So many people believed in me and my efforts despite that fact that I was so young. I wanted to pay it forward by empowering other kids. All of our grantees keep in touch with us, share photos and write blogs for Katie's Krops.”

She is proud of the work her colleagues are doing around the country.  “Phoebe in Massachusetts helps to feed the senior citizens in her community by growing gardens in public senior housing and Ted in Wisconsin is an amazing gardener and grows the largest pumpkins I have ever seen,” says Katie.  “They all have amazing stories and reasons for wanting to grow. They are empowered to grow their garden to fit their environment and donate their harvest to those individuals they choose in their community.”

Katie says what makes her program different is that it is designed as a sustainable solution to hunger.  If a grantee is successful and wants to continue on with their efforts she will continue to fund their garden. 

“I wanted to create something different, I wanted to create a support system, a network, a Katie's Krops family,” she explains. “We support each other, share successes and continue to work together long after one growing season. I love what we have created!”

A favorite part of her program is the community dinners hosted monthly by Katie’s Krops. “I base the dinner on what is growing in the gardens,” she explains.  “All of the dinners are fresh, hot and healthy. We always have a protein – usually chicken or pork – a tossed green salad loaded with garden fresh veggies, a vegetable dish, rice, and pasta or potatoes.  After my friends and I cook the dinners we sit down and eat with the guests. It is so wonderful to get to know them, hear their stories and it is always nice to hear how grateful they are.” 

Katie believes it’s important to share freshly grown food with others.  “The vast majority of emergency food programs only offer packaged and processed food,” she says.  “Fresh fruits and vegetables are the staple of a healthy diet but for families in need they are also largely out of reach. We always donate our produce within 24 hours of harvesting when it is highest in nutritional value.  My gardens are a sustainable solution to hunger, and a healthy, fresh solution to hunger.”

It may be impossible to calculate how many people have been helped by Katie's Krops.   Katie says that when the program reached over 2,000 people in her local area a few years back, she stopped counting, but that number has been multiplied dramatically by the work of the grantee gardens in other states.  Still, she is gratified to know that the efforts of her network are generating daily results that are satisfying and delicious.

“It’s amazing to see what was once a tiny seed turn into something, with lots of love and care, that can provide a healthy meal for so many,” says Katie.  

I asked Katie to share a recipe, and this Pear & Cabbage Salad from her website is a lovely symbol of how Katie’s Krops first began.  Katie explains, “I am often called the cabbage girl in honor of my 40-pound cabbage. Last summer when my friends and I harvested over 400 pounds of pears, it only seemed right to come up with a recipe that paired the pears with the vegetable that started it all.  It is fun, it is really different and it is delicious!” 

Katie Stagliano’s Pear & Cabbage Salad

1 small red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
5 pears, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, shredded
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt

Place the cabbage, carrot, pear and golden raisins in a bowl and toss together.  Wisk vinegar, honey, salt and olive oil together and drizzle on top of the salad.  Toss together and enjoy. 

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Old Apple Orchard at Restoration Farm

The Hewlett Apple Orchard sits on a hill overlooking the Garlic Field at Restoration Farm. Notes from Old Bethpage Village Restoration show that the orchard was planted March 31 through April 2, 1992. According to the records, the apple trees planted in the orchard include evocative names like Roxbury Russett, Yellow Newtown Pippin, Summer Rambo and Gravenstein.

It has been some time since the trees were nurtured, and the historic village has transitioned the care of the southern portion of the orchard to the volunteers at Restoration Farm. As has been the case with a number of new projects at the farm, Glenn Aldridge is leading the efforts. Glenn has an insatiable curiosity for understanding how things grow. I meet Glenn and several other volunteers on a Saturday at the end of winter, which feels more like a warm and balmy May afternoon.

It’s my first glimpse of the fields at Restoration Farm since last October. The farm looks stunning in the afternoon sunlight. There are volunteers kneeling in the fields weeding. It reminds me of the Van Gogh painting “The Sower.”  The old apple orchard is on the North end of the historic village. Head Grower Dan Holmes gives me and a new volunteer named John a ride to the orchard in the truck. We sit on the back hatch with our legs dangling off the end and bounce along the back road. It’s kind of thrilling to see the sights of the farm flashing before me like a kaleidoscope. We arrive at the top of a long sloping hill, which is home to the apple orchard.

Glenn is perched in the core of a gnarly old tree, trimming the branches.

The chore is really quite simple. The trees are wiry and overgrown. We need to prune the excess branches, giving the strongest limbs room to grow, plenty of sunlight and good air circulation.

John and I each pick up a pair of clippers, and start trimming. You shape as you go, and occasionally step back and inspect your work. It’s like giving the tree a haircut.

There is a gentle breeze, brilliant sun, and the afternoon is glorious. Other volunteers arrive and get to work on other trees. We work around the base of each tree, and sometimes find ourselves suspended in the air along a wobbly tree limb. Did I ever climb a tree as a youngster? I don’t really remember. I’m a bit creakier now, but what fun I’ve missed!

Who knows when we might see apples on these branches again? But the promise of an orchard restored keeps us going, and we quickly see progress as the trees take on a more open, shapely look. Glenn wonders if the trees are whispering “Thank you!” Donna Sinetar notes that we have all hugged a tree today.

Just on the other side of the dirt road lining the orchard, there sits an old cider press. Already our imaginations are in overdrive as we consider the possibilities of what might be done when the apples reawaken on the trees.

Meanwhile, there are also plans to plant a line of eight new apple trees along the border of a new field that will be cultivated this season at Restoration Farm. An orchard is renewed and young roots are planted. The story of those new apple trees will be told soon.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Daffodil Cake for Easter Sunday

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all who celebrate!  The daffodils came early this year bringing a splash of sunny yellow to our sleepy, barren landscape.  What better way to celebrate the season of new life at our Easter dinner than with a bright, golden Daffodil Cake?

Louise Volper – my favorite curator of food history over at Months of Edible Celebrations – first introduced me to the Daffodil Cake when she recently featured this classic recipe:

The recipe is a variation on Angel Food Cake and uses 12 egg whites and six egg yolks.   White and yellow batter is layered in a tube pan created the effect of daffodil petals.  It will be a sweet finish to our meal, and delicious way to welcome to the new season!

by A.A. Milne 
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”

Happy Spring!

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Mad Me-Shell and the Great Chicago Food Truck Smackdown

I always knew Mad Me-Shell had…well...moxie would be the word to use in polite company. But picking a fight with a guy on Twitter? What was she thinking? It all resulted in some shocking, high calorie street theater. Now, in her very first guest post, the insatiable Mad dishes on what can happen when you talk to strangers. Warning! Amateurs should not attempt the stunt described below, but if you do, keep the Alka-Seltzer handy.
Well, T.W., just when you thought my food truck adventures were coming to an end, it happened. I accidentally started a food truck eating challenge via Twitter. There I was, minding my own business one day, when I came across this glorious picture tweeted by a fellow Chicagoan of a sandwich from the SamichBox food truck.

Yes, that is a chicken fried steak sandwich. Isn’t it beautiful? Though I didn’t know the gentleman who posted the picture, the carnivore in me was compelled to tweet my delight over such a creation. I was shocked and dismayed when the owner of said sandwich (we shall call him Butch McGee) said he could only finish half. Now, I might be a lot of things, but a quitter is NOT one. I simply tweeted my disappointment over his lack of appetite. Some Twitter trash talk followed, and the next thing you know, Butch McGee was challenging little ol’ me to an eating competition. And you know I can’t resist a challenge…

Obviously, I asked Zany to accompany me to this historic event. But she’s terribly busy and important and had another ‘lunch engagement.’ GASP. I felt like Bonnie without Clyde. How would I go on? I was forced to bring SG, a colleague who was both appalled and fascinated by this challenge. She thought I was crazy, but was more than willing to take pictures and watch me make a fool of myself. So we hit the streets and quickly spotted the truck, my stomach grumbling in hungry anticipation.

Butch McGee was easy to spot – he was surrounded by an entire entourage of people ready to cheer him on! Color me officially intimidated. But it’s totally normal to eat a huge sandwich from a food truck on the street with a stranger, right? In spite of my nerves, I was quickly distracted by the ginormous sandwich set in front of me.

That’s right T.W.; this wasn’t just any ordinary sandwich. It was two slices of Texas Toast, TWO pieces of chicken fried steak, a huge scoop of mashed potatoes and yes, a healthy portion of sausage gravy to top it off.

Before I had time to second guess this decision, the competition started! Butch McGee started eating with gusto, but I tried to stay focused. I did have several pounds of sandwich to consume before him, after all. Ignoring SG’s cheers, Butch McGee’s jeers and shocked looks from passersby, I tucked into the challenge. It wasn’t hard to stay motivated – the sandwich was delicious and tasted surprisingly fresh and light.
It wasn’t long before I heard SG exclaim over my progress. I finally snuck a peak over at Butch McGee. I was astounded to realize I was far ahead of him. And he was clearly slowing down.

What a wuss.

Stopping only to take a quick sip of water and wipe my mouth (I am a lady, after all), I polished off the last of my sandwich with ease. Butch McGee hung his head in shame while his entourage looked on with expressions shock and awe. I strolled away, feeling full – of tasty food and the sweet taste of victory.

While I don’t plan on building a career winning eating competitions, looking at this snapshot of my success certainly puts a smile on my face. And of course, has me out scouring the streets for my next food truck adventure.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved