Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nostalgia, Food and Farming at The 2012 Long Island Fair

A prize winning pumpkin or a blue ribbon apple pie might seem better suited to the Amish county than a suburb of Manhattan, but indeed, the good fun and neighborly traditions of our agricultural heritage are thriving this weekend at the 170th Long Island Fair. 
Held annually at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, The Long Island Fair is the official New York State sponsored County Fair for Queens, Nassau and Suffolk Counties.   The event was first held as the Queens County Fair back in 1842, when family farms dotted the landscape of Long Island. 
The event is co-sponsored by the Agricultural Society of Queens, Nassau & Suffolk Counties, one of the oldest agricultural societies in the United States.   Originally held on member’s farms and vacant lots in Hempstead and Mineola, the society acquired fairgrounds in 1866 on Old Country Road in Mineola, today the site of the County Court Complex.    A focal point of the fairground was the Grand Exhibition Hall.  For years, the event was known at the Mineola Fair, before it moved to its current home at Old Bethpage Village Restoration in 1970 where the Grand Exhibition Hall has been reconstructed for the annual autumn celebration. 
Strolling the fairgrounds is like a walk back in time to a simpler era.   One is surrounded by the smells of food and the sounds of farm animals and traditional fiddle music.   
Inside the Grand Exhibition Hall, the handicrafts of gardeners, bakers and quilters are displayed, many pinned with prize-winning ribbons for “First-in-Show” awarded by the society.  
Many are forging a new agricultural tradition on Long Island.   Restoration Farm is well represented at the fair with a bounty of autumn vegetables transported from the nearby fields by electric tractor.
The agricultural exhibit features the impressive yields of farmers and gardeners all over the region, including the largest pumpkin grown on Long Island this season.
There are more than a few bushels of locally-grown apples for snacking.
Who can resist an old-fashioned homemade treat, like these pumpkin glazed donuts?  Certainly not me!      
Everywhere the fruits of the soil dazzle the eye.
It all kind of makes you yearn for the simplicity of a kinder and gentler time, until you realize that moment is right now, and fortunately for Long Island residents, baking, quilting, planting, getting your hands dirty and harvesting your own food hasn’t gone out of style.  
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Pumpkin Buttermilk Bundt Cake and The Passage to Autumn at Restoration Farm

The autumnal equinox arrives with quiet luminance at Restoration Farm.  In a sense, the farm is like a lush, romantic landscape painting that evolves before our eyes.  The changes are subtle, but evident.   The growing season is reaching fruition.  
The colors of vegetables are richer and skins are firmer.  
The topography is changing.   In the fields, buff-colored Long Island cheese pumpkins dot the field.
Piles of wood chips, resembling a sand dune, have been left at Apple Trace for mulching the heirloom apple trees.   
Manure is piled high in the fields to nourish the soil for the next growing season.
The ubiquitous kale is still producing nutritious greens, but the plants now resemble tall palm trees.   
Canadian geese glide overhead.   One hears the soft sound of a nurturing melody carried on the morning breeze.  It is the gentle clucking of Donna Sinetar's growing brood of heritage laying hens.  The progression of weeds has begun to slow.  As always, there is evidence of people at work.   The berries have concluded and the bushes have been cut back to encourage new growth.     
Not all is bucolic.  Nature can deliver cruel blows.    The heritage meat bird program was cut short when a red fox quickly decimated the third batch of chicks – some thirty in all.  Two of the cows from the historic village got loose and damaged two of the saplings at Apple Trace.  
Glenn Aldridge's “Voodoo Garden,” an experimental edible garden, was attacked by ferocious pig weed in late summer that was so aggressive he simple couldn't tame it any longer.   But, even amidst the morass of weeds there is evidence of Glenn's labor and small, perfectly shaped pie pumpkins are spotted. 
Each season adds perspective at the farm.  Insights emerge from heartbreak and disappointment, and we try once again.
The passage to autumn is a moment to celebrate the journey we've shared together and the ripening of the growing season.   Dinner in the field brings you closest to the food and the community.  At the annual autumn equinox potluck, we celebrate a thriving farm and community that is cultivating life, no matter the obstacles.
I bring an iconic autumn dessert to the meal that to me symbolizes the fullness of the autumn season.   A pumpkin buttermilk spice cake is a sweet finish to the fall banquet and a harbinger of autumn and winter celebrations to come.  
At the meal, we honor the farmers, the members, the volunteers and all their contributions.  We celebrate the successes, the heartaches, and of course the food of Restoration Farm.   
It is a fine celebration - filled with good food, fiddle music, friends and family - but there is wistfulness as well, as we know that soon the farm will sleep and this growing season will be but a memory.   
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved