local foods wheel

 By Jessica Prentice

Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.

 

peppersWhen I was growing up, beefy and monochromatic green or red bell peppers were the only sweet peppers I knew about. As I started shopping for myself at our California farmers’ markets, I discovered the more delicate gypsy peppers in colors from yellow to orange to red to purple. Gypsy peppers can be sliced and sautéed, minced into salsa, slow simmered into ratatouille, marinated and grilled, or even stuffed. I’ll never forget a dish a housemate once made by stuffing gypsy peppers with feta cheese, drenching them in olive oil, nestling them into a bed of cherry tomatoes and basil leaves, and baking it all just until melted and melded.

quinceOne of our favorite places to take our five-year-old son is the John Muir house in Martinez, a national historic site that preserves the home of California’s preeminent naturalist and the remnants of his vast orchards. Visitors are allowed to pick and eat the produce. At the end of one season, our son found a few quinces lingering on one of Muir’s trees. We brought them home and spent an afternoon making membrillo, a Spanish quince paste that’s usually paired with manchego, an aged sheep cheese. We cooked down our quince pulp into a deep burgundy paste and then baked it at a low temperature to remove more moisture. Naturally high in pectin, quinces need only some sugar, a bit of vanilla, and a few hours of cooking to become membrillo.

almondsAlthough almonds are available all year round, the freshest ones can be found during and soon after the mid-August through October harvest. California almond trees go dormant in late autumn and remain so until they revive in breathtaking pink-white bloom in late February or March, at which time bees, housed in portable bee boxes, are brought into the orchards for the crucial work of pollinating all those tiny flowers. As the nuts begin to form and are still green and soft, some people like to pick and eat them as a delicacy. However, most of the nuts are left on the trees until July or early August, when the hulls begin to crack open, allowing the shells to dry out and harden in the summer heat. At harvest time, giant machines driven through the orchard shake the trees until the almonds fall to the ground. The nuts are then hulled, and usually shelled, before being brought to market. Most almonds come from large industrial producers, but at East Bay farmers’ markets you’ll find wonderful local almonds grown by small organic farms, such as Full Belly, Inzana, Kashiwase, Massa Organics, and Riverdog.

bronx_grapesSupermarkets rarely offer much beyond those ubiquitous Red Flame or Thompson Seedless grapes, but if you haunt the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market, you might be lucky enough to discover the rare Bronx grape during its short season. This tender-skinned, round little ball, which is bursting with juice and a lively floral flavor, is included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste as one of the most endangered heirloom fruits in the country. The delicacy of the grapes makes them impossible to ship or to store. They must be eaten forthwith and need nothing to dress them up. The only farmer I know of who grows them is John Lagier of Lagier Ranches, who has one of only two cuttings started from the mother vine, a Concord/Thompson cross.corn

Summers of my childhood are marked with memories of sweet corn, boiled quickly on the cob and eaten dripping with butter. My mom would set me up on the back stoop with a big bag of corn to shuck and two paper bags: one for the husked ears, one for the husks. Another family favorite was something we called “corn dodgers,” a mixture of fresh sweet corn kernels mixed with flour, salt, pepper, and possibly a bit of egg, dropped from a spoon into hot fat and fried. As an adult, I’ve tried to find other references to corn dodgers—Rooster Cogburn memorably eats them (and uses them for target practice) in True Grit—but most recipes produce something like a hush puppy, made with cornmeal instead of fresh corn kernels. I am offering my version of this childhood delight here. They are great with pork chops.

porkOn many rural homesteads in times past, autumn was the time to slaughter the hog you had fattened on excess harvest-season produce. Most of the meat would be salted and smoked for winter, and the fat rendered down into lard for cooking. I used to assume that curing fresh pork was simply a way of making it last through the cold season, but modern research suggests another reason. Beverly Rubik, PhD, president and founder of Oakland’s Institute for Frontier Science, has taken blood samples from people before and after they have eaten pork and found that if the pork was marinated, salted, or cured there was little difference in the blood before and after consumption. However, if no salting or curing occurred, the red blood cells tended to clump together in a way that prevents microcirculation. At Three Stone Hearth, we salt or marinate all fresh pork before cooking, and I do the same at home. Purchase your pork chops a day in advance and marinate or brine them overnight with acid and salt before grilling. This will improve their flavor and possibly their healthfulness as well.

sweet_potatoSweet potatoes are another wonderful harvest-season accompaniment to pork. At Three Stone, we make a deliciously rich pulled pork and sweet potato pie, topping a layer of smoky pork with sweet potato purée made by roasting the potatoes, scooping the flesh from the skins, and whipping it up with coconut oil, coconut milk, and mild spices. •

Line drawings by Sarah Klein (sarahklein.com) with coloring by Maggie Gosselin.

 

Corn Dodgers

My mom used to make these little fritters regularly when we were kids, and when my stepfather (who took the picture) joined the family, he called them “corn dodgers,” inspired by the song in True Grit. The name stuck and I always think of them as corn dodgers.

Jessica Prentice off ers up some hot corn dodgers.  (Photo by Foster Wiley)

Jessica Prentice off ers up some hot corn dodgers.
(Photo by Foster Wiley)

1 egg
½ cup ripe sourdough starter*
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon (or more) fresh ground pepper
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears)
½ cup or more high-heat fat for frying: lard, ghee, coconut oil, goose fat, tallow, or peanut oil

In a bowl, beat the egg together with the sourdough starter, salt, pepper, baking soda, and arrowroot powder. Stir in the corn kernels.

In a small cast iron pan, heat the fat over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot but before it starts to smoke, drop a small spoonful of the dough into the fat and allow to cook. Observe this first dodger carefully. If the mixture breaks up and doesn’t hold together, you may need to add some more arrowroot powder or white flour to the dough to stiffen it up. Once the dodger is golden brown on the underside, gently flip it using a slotted spoon. When it is cooked on both sides, lift it out and allow to drain on paper towels or paper bags.

After adjusting your batter (if necessary), work in batches of three or so at a time, frying the dodgers until golden brown on both sides, then removing from the pan with the slotted spoon and allowing to drain on the paper.

You will need to replenish the fat as you go along and monitor the temperature of the fat to make sure it’s not too hot (smoking) or too cool (the dodgers aren’t frying).
Eat immediately. I like them straight (which is how we ate them growing up), but they could also be served with a dipping sauce such as a plain or dressed-up mayonnaise.

*I like to use a fairly stiff sourdough starter fed with 100{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} whole spelt flour. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you could mix together ½ cup of whole spelt or wheat flour with ¼ cup yogurt, buttermilk, or raw milk and allow to culture at room temperature for at least 6 hours before completing the recipe.