Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites illustrated by Sarah Klein (sarahklein.com). You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.
Many backyard gardeners and small-scale farmers who plant summer squash like to harvest the squash blossoms before the fruit starts to form. They know that it won’t impact the harvest much if they pluck only male flowers and leave some behind for pollination. Highly perishable, the blossoms, which rarely show up in supermarkets, are a favorite with cooks in southern Europe, who might stuff and batter-fry them; use them to decorate quiches and frittatas; slice them into chiffonade for salads; or turn them into soup. If you have not yet invited squash blossoms into your kitchen, now is the time!
A great pleasure of our garden is the summer harvest of white strawberries, which I have yet to see at any farmers’ market. I picked up the starts at Flowerland in Albany, hoping that this Alpine variety would produce berries like those Heidi (of storybook fame) would have picked. Alpine strawberries are known for being easier to contain than the commercial red varieties, and they’re more flavorful to boot. When the plants finally produced a few fruits that the snails didn’t get, my six-year-old son went out to pick them. Finding red raspberries and fresh mint and basil as well, he minced the herbs and joined them with the berries in a bowl, along with a drizzle of local honey, then graciously served this glorious dessert to his parents. It was a family moment to remember!
Black beans are a summer favorite in my kitchen: They go so well with the harvests of sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and alliums like fresh onions and garlic. A bowl of black beans over rice with grated cheddar and a big dollop of sour cream is one of my favorite meals. Most of the organic black beans on the market are grown in China, but there are lots of local growers you might support instead. For instance, Tierra Vegetables, an organic farm in Santa Rosa, grows several black varieties—Black Coco, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and Mitla Black Tepary. With an annual visit to their farmstand after the fall harvest, you could bring home a stock of black beans to last through the following summer. At Three Stone Hearth, we source our black turtle beans from Pleasant Grove Farms north of Sacramento.
If you buy laying hens when they are very young chicks (like we have done), you may well end up with a rooster by accident (like we did). He was about five months old when he started crowing. The best alternative to losing sleep and enraging the neighbors, in our opinion, was to eat him. We slaughtered him in a gentle and respectful way, but wondered if his would be like the notoriously stringy and coarse meat of a mature rooster, which French cooks render palatable in slow braises like coq au vin (rooster in wine). Through research, I learned that a young rooster like ours is called a cockerel, and it has much more tender meat. I also learned that in days gone by, it was common to castrate roosters to preserve the peace and quiet on the farm. Called capons, these castrated roosters provided meat that was regarded as richer and more flavorful than that of chicken. Not that I know: I’ve never eaten capon meat that I’m aware of. We decided to brine and roast our cockerel. The meat was tender, delicious, and flavorful. Those who care about re-localizing and reconnecting our food system can consider the value in slaughtering one’s own livestock in a humane way as an act of recognition and connection to the animal world and the food chain.
The newest rediscovery of an old tradition in cultured dairy is Greek yogurt. This lusciously thick treat can be made easily at home from your homemade yogurt. Line a bowl with cheesecloth, pour in the yogurt, then tie up the cheesecloth and hang it to drip into the bowl overnight. In the morning, the bowl will contain yogurt whey—which makes a great sports drink when mixed with a pinch of Celtic sea salt, a squeeze of citrus, and a little maple syrup—and you’ll find some deliciously thick “Greek” yogurt inside the cheesecloth. Now, please, forswear forever those never-decomposing, single-use plastic containers of sweetened yogurt and take a leap in the direction of sustainability by packing a small steel tiffin with a big scoop of your Greek yogurt plus a spoonful of local jam or honey. Stir and eat when you are ready. You’ll enjoy the best treat of all time with everything you want: lots of live enzymes, rich creaminess, tang, and sweetness.
Make your Greek yogurt and honey treat transcendent with a spritz of rosewater. I like the Antique Rose Hydrosol made by local farmers Janet Brown and Marty Jacobson at Allstar Organics, which can be found in the floral department at the El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company’s Prepared Food Annex. Its flavor marries beautifully with the season’s strawberries and raspberries, as well as with anything creamy.
purslane. The latter contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable and is rich in a range of minerals (magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron), vitamins (A, B, C, and E), and antioxidants. It has long been used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat a range of internal and external disorders (but is contraindicated in pregnancy because it can cause uterine contractions), and is prized in many cuisines of the world. Culturing this vegetable is a fun and easy way to start your purslane adventure.
Andy’s Pickled Verdolagas (Purslane)
Andy Renard, Three Stone Hearth’s self-dubbed French Pickler, recently began culturing purslane to sell at our shop.
Andy’s father’s family is from Guadalupe in the French West Indies where purslane is called poupier. As a child growing up in Missouri, Andy liked finding this mucilaginous vegetable (think nopales and okra) while weeding the garden with his mother. They would prepare it for the evening’s supper by lightly blanching it, then cooling and tossing in vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. When Andy moved to California, he discovered this childhood favorite at the farmers’ markets, although here it was called purslane. His pickled purslane was a love-at-first-bite experience for me. The meaty leaves hold up to brine with their pleasant saltiness and acidity.
Andy and the others in Three Stone Hearth’s “fermentation and preservation circle” have come up with cultured versions of purslane to reflect many parts of the world where this plant is enjoyed. This pickeled verdolagas (purslane’s Spanish name) features Southwestern spices.
two 2-quart Mason jars
6 tablespoons Celtic sea salt
2 quarts non-chlorinated water
½ pound purslane
1 bunch scallions, sliced into ¼-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons coriander seed, toasted
2 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted
5 or 6 sprigs fresh oregano
¼–½ teaspoon red chile flakes (to taste), or, when in season, slices of fresh red peppers such as New Mexico chile
Wash the jars in hot soapy water, rinse, and air dry.
In one jar, mix the salt and non-chlorinated water to make the brine. Cover and shake until salt is dissolved.
Pack the purslane, scallions, garlic, spices, and herbs into the other jar, breaking up the purslane as necessary to make it fit into jar.
Pour prepared brine over the purslane, covering vegetables and spices, and filling up the jar to the neck. (You can weigh the vegetables down with a well-washed stone.) Screw on the lid, and if you have an airlock lid, use it. If not, every day or two you’ll need to loosen the lid slightly to “burp” the jar, releasing the gases that accumulate during the process of fermentation.
Allow to culture 7 to 10 days at room temperature. Fermentation time will vary depending on ambient temperature. Taste the purslane occasionally to see if you are happy with the flavor.
After the pickle is done, you can eat the purslane right away or store the jar in the refrigerator. Use a clean fork or tongs to lift the purslane out of the brine.