Sunday, March 30, 2014

Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar

My cousin Paul Crosby – Renaissance man, food artisan and master forager – has been at it once again.  His latest locally sourced, hand crafted product is Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar, made in Leicester, Vermont. 

I had always just assumed that acorns were not edible.  When I express some (slight) skepticism to Paul, he sets me straight.

“People have been eating acorns forever!” says Paul.  “I’m sure acorns were on the menu at the first Thanksgiving.”   

Indeed, there is a wealth of information available online about foraging and processing acorns, and quite a history of use, particularly among indigenous populations. Acorns are high in tannins, a natural substance found in most plant species.  Tannins are the source of the slightly bitter aftertaste found in coffee, tea and wine.  But, too much tannin can lead to a tummy ache. In their raw state, acorns can be quite bitter because of the high levels of tannins, and must be processed before consuming.  

Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar is bright, bold, and acerbic with a crystalline, amber color. It’s a strong flavor personality and could overpower more delicate foods, but would pair nicely with robust, confident flavor profiles. Paul has made a simple dressing using Vermont Maple Syrup and Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar. He’s also mixed maple syrup with the vinegar to make a sweet and tangy glaze for pork loin or lamb.  
Paul Crosby forages for white oak acorns each autumn
To produce his Vermont Acorn Vinegar, Paul starts by foraging and he doesn’t have to stray far from home. “Every fall I gather as many fallen white oak acorns as I can from my property leaving a few for my furry friends. This takes hours and last through October. Once collected they are dried and stored in a cool dry area away from the squirrels. Dried acorns will last over a year if stored properly.”

Then begins the process of turning acorns into vinegar. “When I get ready to start a batch I crack up to 2 cups of dried acorns,” says Paul.  “I sort out the bad ones and put the remaining acorns in a bath of hot water to release the bitter tannins. This is done three times usually to release all the bitterness. I then taste one to make sure the flavor is right.”

The acorns are now processed and ready to infuse in a gallon of white vinegar. This usually takes up to three weeks.

“At this point the flavor and color should be nutty and straw colored,” says Paul.  “After three weeks the vinegar is filtered and put into a pot to boil, and sugar is added to the batch just like the elderberry vinegar recipe. It's boiled for about 10 minutes, filtered and then bottled.”

True to the spirit of foraging, nothing gets wasted. 

“Now you would think at this point, I would throw the acorns away,” says Paul.  “Wrong!  I take them along with a little acorn vinegar and pickle them with the standard pickling spices. They are aged for up to six weeks before eating and taste very nice.”

The website “Eat The Weeds” has a fascinating story on acorn consumption through the centuries, and reports they are high in nutritional value. According to the site, a white oak acorn is 50.4 percent carbohydrates, 4.7 percent fat, 4.4 percent protein, and 4.2 percent fiber. A pound of shelled acorns contains 1,265 calories.  

Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar is available for purchase online and sells for $12.00 a bottle.   (I received one bottle of Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar from Paul to use in preparing this post)  A number of Vermont restaurants are also using the vinegar in menu items.   

If you prefer your acorns as lawn art, feast your eyes on the world’s largest acorn and just imagine the size of the squirrel that would take a bite out of this!  
Photo Source:  Eat the Weeds

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Raining Katz and Dogz

It’s been so cold that food trucking has been prohibitive. So it’s been quite some time since my college roommate Ford McKenzie and I stepped out for a noontime bite to eat. 

Then, out of the blue, he suggests we grab lunch. I suspect he is secretly jealous of my BFF Amanda and the fan base she has built as a recurring guest star on “Culinary Types.”  Personally, I’m not choosy – the more scintillating sidekicks the bigger, as long as they’re entertaining.
Ford pings me that morning for lunch details. I suggest the new deli truck “Katz and Dogz” which I spot that morning parked on 55th and Broadway.  It promises a Jewish deli on the streets of New York.  

“What hotels are in the area?” Ford asks. Please note, that it is now just assumed that when we get truck food we are going to a hotel lobby to dine.  I offer a few suggestions that Ford summarily dismisses as too small or not hip enough.  I should know better than to take on the fine dining aspect of the lunch adventure.

Ford and I rendezvous at 55th Street and Broadway shortly after noon. While I have assumed that Katz and Dogz is affiliated with the famous Katz Deli of New York, Ford informs me that this is not the case at all and the K&D team is actually Brooklyn-based. “So much for truth in advertising,” Ford remarks.

Ford is dressed urban urbane. He’s wearing a black leather jacket from Botticelli, black mid-1960s Ivy League style pants, JM Weston penny loafers, a white button down shirt from Maxwell’s of Hong Kong, Bulgari stainless steel watch, and socks and underwear from Target (Or so I’m told.  I know. TMI.).  As I aim to snap a photo he says, “Don’t make me look fat.”  
Now to the food.  Katz and Dogz promises a dining experience that will rock your world.  
We queue up to place our order.  I notice that one member of the K&D team is slicing pastrami paper-thin using one of those circular meat grinders.  If not for the automobile fumes, it would really feel like a deli. Ford orders the Pastrami Paradise on Rye with Mustard and a side of macaroni salad. I order the Rueben Orgasm with Russian dressing on Rye (which sounds way too racy for lunch) with a side of potato salad.  
Ford has come prepared for a covert dining operation.  This is the first time we’ve lunched on the west side and he’s a little uncertain of the landscape.  Will we get easy access to lobby dining, or will west side hotel security be more stringent?  So, all of the food gets concealed in a canvas bag allowing us stealth entry to the hotel of our choice.  
Ford offers two options for our street food, indoor picnic.

“The Novotel in Times Square has a view,” he adds with a glint in his eye. 

“Sold!” I reply.  I’m a sucker for a good vista.  

“I had a feeling,” Ford says and we are on our way.
The Novotel on 52nd just off of Broadway has recently been remodeled, and is promoting itself as a Four Star hotel.  It sounds like just the right spot for a pastrami lunch.  We enter on the street level undetected.  There is just a bellman’s desk and whole bunch of luggage cluttering the immediate area.  I try to look inconspicuous but I’m wondering if the bellman can detect a hint of pastrami as we breeze past.  

The lobby is actually on the 5th floor, proof that lobbies are no longer at street level and you can’t count on anything anymore. No underachiever, the lobby bar is called “Supernova.”  
It is a stunning, high tech environment dotted with computers and tables that simulate the effect of ocean waves. Very scenic and somewhat overstimulating.  Note how the computerized water pools around the lunch sack.

I notice that there’s even a soundtrack. We are on Broadway after all. The ambiance is punctuated with a peppy selection of show tunes, jazz and reggae.  

Ford removes the pastrami and corned beef contraband from the lunch sacks. The pastrami is sublime – silky, and perfectly spiced without a hint of grease.   Within moments, it has vanished.  
I’m really not sure how to assess or describe the orgasmic qualities of a Reuben Sandwich. I probably need to spend more time in Times Square.  However, I can tell you that it is quite tasty, and the Swiss cheese and sauerkraut adds a nutty, piquant touch to the Dagwood-sized sandwich.  
The side salads are less than impressive, but the massive sandwiches overshadow any disappointment there. It looks like a lot of food, but within minutes, we seem to have inhaled it all. We’re growing boys, I guess. 

With our ocean wave tabletop cleared of all food, the only thing we haven’t done is checked out the view from the wrap-around outdoor balcony. 
If the Reuben is orgasmic, the view from the Novotel is indeed thrilling, offering a sweeping view of the best of the Great White Way.  
As Ford and I part ways, I return to work defying gravity and humming the theme from “Rocky.”

Late that night, I am scanning the news headlines online and come across a classic David and Goliath smack down. That afternoon, perhaps as we were gorging ourselves on pastrami and corned beef, Katz’s Delicatessen slapped the Katz and Dogz food truck with a lawsuit, claiming the food truck is making money off the deli’s brand without permission.  

I forward the NY Post article to Ford.   He responds with his typical brand of understatement. “Legal or not, it was mighty good pastrami.”

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winter’s Final Days at Restoration Farm

The rutted dirt road that leads down to the fields is still clogged with snow.   My right foot slides through some crusty ice into a chasm of cold, muddy water.   The waterproof shoes were a smart choice.  Winter seems reluctant to depart from Restoration Farm.
I reach the clearing that opens into the fields, and the scene changes.  
Hawks dance in the sky, a shockingly red cardinal shoots across the field, and a flock of robins – the very first robins I’ve seen in months – delight in their role as harbingers of spring.
Restoration Farm is brimming with wildlife. Donna Sinetar's chickens are having a lively conversation.
Far from the chickens, I spot a large red fox in the field adjacent to Apple Trace. He is too swift and wily for my camera to capture, but I see his large, plush tail bounding away towards the Manetto Hill Church on the other side of the field.

There is human activity as well. George and Zsofi are mulching, preparing the field for the inevitable transfer of young vegetable plants from the greenhouse.
Head grower Dan Holmes has revved up the tractor.
At Apple Trace, the row of eight heritage apple trees dedicated to my late father, it is pruning time.  
Late winter is considered the perfect time for pruning, to promote a strong limb structure.  The limbs are covered with buds.  
The trees are now two years old, and given the severity of the winter, they look quite healthy.   I prune carefully to shape each tree, and encourage that latent energy to flow into the outer limbs.  I carry away a bundle of twigs that are a tangible reminder of this living memorial.
Some man-made structures have sprung up as well. Perhaps less evocative, but no less important, a new storage and distribution center has been erected over the winter.  Dubbed “The Tin House” it will be a focal point of weekly vegetable distributions and the new Restoration Farm education and arts program. 
I leave you with a old and venerable proverb that seems to sum up winter’s waning days at Restoration Farm.  

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” 
©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 09, 2014


Finally, the temperatures have risen above 12 degrees, and the onions are sprouting. Can spring be far behind?  How often I cursed that repulsive groundhog as we awaited this glorious thaw.  
As we navigated the cold, cruel winter of 2014, Restoration Farm was never far from our thoughts. In fact, planning for the new season began on January 1 with a social gathering to select and order seeds. 
There’s nothing better than sowing something positive right at the start of the New Year. You can read more about the ritual of seed selection here.

Then in frigid February, the gang at Restoration Farm gathered to start seeding for the 2014 growing season.  
Onions are always the first crop planted, and you have to have sturdy fingers to “dimple” all those seed cell trays.  Don’t schedule a manicure during seeding time.  When you’re done, the fingernails do indeed need scrubbing.  
Read more about sowing the first seeds of the 2014 growing season here.

Despite the snow residue, Donna Sinetar's hens are laying stunning, pastel eggs.  Talk about a harbinger of spring!
Yesterday we seeded beets and scallions, so it’s heartening to know there will be baskets of colorful organic vegetables before long. 

There’s even more sprouting at Restoration Farm.  A full slate of education programs will be launched this season, covering everything from backyard chickens to yoga in the fields.  Read more about the newly established education program at Restoration Farm here and check out the link to all the workshops.
“Courage!” as Dan Rather used to say.  Even the crocuses are peaking out of the ground!  

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Slinging Bacon Hash

And, now we come to the grand finale of the Bacon of the Month Club adventure – Zany’s holiday gift that keeps on giving.  This was a three-month sampler membership, but the company knows just how addicting having bacon dropped on your doorstep each month can be. This final package includes a tempting love note that says, “It doesn’t have to end here …”

We’ll see.  I’ve never been good about long-term commitment, but could be convinced to re-up if it meant never worrying where my next slice of bacon came from.
For now, I’m focused on my final delivery, a gorgeous hunk-of-ham called Arkansas Peppered Bacon. Yes, this hickory-smoked bacon from the foothills of the Ozarks is hand rubbed with cracked black pepper.  Look at that luscious, glistening fat!  

It is a truly a thing of beauty, and I take a deep, intoxicating whiff of the fumes of smoky fat and pungent pepper.  Besides being rather fond of bacon, I’m a bit of a pepper addict, so this is a match made in heaven – or the Ozarks, to be geographically correct.  

For my third and final baconfest, I turn to the recipe offered in the “manual” supplied by Zingerman’s Bacon Club – a savory Bacon Hash.   Because, if pepper bacon isn’t enough, why not just toss some potatoes, Worcestershire and heavy cream into the skillet?  Diet?  What diet?
The full recipe can be found here. 

It is a savory cacophony of carbs and fat.  I’m in hog heaven.  Zany, I can’t thank you enough!  You’ve probably ruined me forever when it comes to pedestrian bacon!  
By the way, if you happen to have leftovers of bacon hash (which seems highly unlikely) and store it in the fridge overnight, eaten cold, it tastes like the best potato salad ever.  

©2014 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved