Founding Farmer

No, I’m not talking about the upscale-casual restaurant chain, but the founding farmer, George Washington. While he was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the United States’ first president, he thought of himself first as a farmer. Although his name is attached to the nation’s capitol, counties, schools, parks and monuments, rarely do we associate it with agriculture.

Looking at Washington’s farming practices and accomplishments, it’s easy to see how he’d fit in well among fellow vendors at Central Farm Markets. In honor of President’s Day, let’s get to know George Washington, the farmer.

Innovator

Washington was more than just a farmer – he was an agricultural innovator. If Washington were alive today and farming, he’d be a rock star of sustainable agriculture. Breaking from the norms of his time, he was the first to recognize how harsh tobacco farming was on the land. He greatly reduced the number acres in tobacco on his farms and instituted crop rotation to enrich his soils and reduce pests. He designed and built barns to meet specific agricultural needs. He experimented with over one hundred varieties of crops—some successful, others complete failures, and many that are routinely found at farmers markets today, including pumpkins, beans, cabbages, kale, carrots, beets, turnips, peas, parsnips and potatoes. He focused on quality over quantity.

Thanks to the detailed records he kept, we know today that Washington pioneered many of the crops and practices found on today’s mid-Atlantic diversified farms.

Businessman

Not only did Washington keep extensive records on what he planted, his ledgers also revealed that there was little to no financial profits from tobacco, which is why he began experimenting with different crops including flax, hops, hemp, rye, barley and wheat – all that put his farms firmly in the black.

Washington took it a step further, as many farmers have done so today, by excelling at value-added products using his crops. For example, he turned experimental cultivars of grapes into fine wines, tree fruits into vinegars and ciders. He even built a distillery to make whiskey from his grain crops. In 1799, the distillery at Mount Vernon turned out over 11,000 gallons of rye and corn whiskey making it the largest distillery in the country at that time. The leftover distillers’ grains were used to fatten up to 150 hogs. The hemp he grew was turned into high-grade ropes and spun into canvas for ships’ sails.

Slave Owner

While it is true that Washington owned slaves, what many do not know is his detailed agricultural records sowed the first seeds for the abolition of slavery as his records documented the eventual breakdown of agriculture when practiced by a slave labor force cultivating crops with only seasonal labor needs as most northern states required.

Today, agriculture continues to struggle with what amounts to modern-day slavery practices in the industrial food chain. One of the advantages of shopping at regional outdoor farmers markets is that customers are often able to meet the farm owners as well as the workers who harvest, pack, process and sell the food. If you ask your farmers if they share a similar philosophy with the founding farmer, I bet most of them would agree – including me.

I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” ~George Washington

To learn more about George Washington, you can visit Mount Vernon where much of his farm has been recreated and operated as it had been during his lifetime.

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Market Mythbusters

This past Sunday at the market I had a customer ask if my chickens were “heritage” or a “GMO Frankenbird.” I took a deep breath and spent the next few minutes in education mode as I recognized the inspiration for this week’s Dishing the Dirt post.

As a farmer, I tend to forget how far removed most people are from their foods’ production. Heck, when I bring baby goats and lambs to market most people don’t know the difference, even going as far as to believe one grows up to become the other!

While this post may be a bit lengthy, hopefully it will serve as a primer so Central Farm Markets shoppers can better understand modern agricultural practices used by vendors, the impact it has on our products and on your food choices.

GMO vs. Non-GMO

Currently, there are only ten genetically modified crops grown in the United States – corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, papayas, squash, canola, alfalfa, apples and sugar beet. While it’s true that some of these types of products appear at the markets, the chances of them being the GMO version are slim to none. Why?

First, GMO crops are predominantly used in large, industrial, mono-crop (one super big field) farms. Vendors at farm markets tend to be smaller diversified operations. Which leads to the second reason: diversification promotes a healthier ecosystem. GMOs have risen out of the need to fight blights, pests and support the use of chemicals, such as RoundUp Ready crops that can withstand being sprayed with a powerful herbicide that will kill everything but the crop plant. When a single crop is grown in one place over and over, the bugs and blight take over. Third, the producers who choose to vend at farmers markets are often here because of their beliefs in a holistic system of health, ecology, community and parity.

To be clear, there is no such thing as a GMO “Frankenchicken”, cow, pig or any other animal. Like dogs which have been bred for generations to express certain traits, such as wrinkles in a Shar Pei, livestock have been bred to express certain characteristics including size, rate of maturity, milk production, leanness, uniformity, etc. However, most GMO crops are grown for livestock feed. If you are worried about the effects of genetically modified organisms for personal or ecological reasons, the question to ask is “are GMO-feeds fed to the animals?”

Hormones

The truth is that cattle, alongside people and all other animals and plants, naturally produce hormones that are vital to growth, development and health. That’s why meat and plants can never be completely hormone-free. However, for the last thirty years cattle producers have been using synthetic estrogen implants in beef animals to promote faster growth. As with GMO crops, these products are often used by large feedlot operations and not hands-on farmers who tend daily to their own livestock which are direct-marketed. Due to the age required for implants and the length of time needed for the implants to work properly, they are not used in veal production.

Hormones will not make a chicken grow faster and larger or lay more eggs. Similarly, there are no hormones approved for use in pork production. If you see a label on poultry or pork products that claims, “No Hormones,” it is nothing more than slick marketers preying upon the fears of uninformed customers.

Antibiotics

This is another marketing scare tactic often printed on our foods’ labels. Yes, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a recognized issue. However, most consumers fail to understand that the bulk of antibiotics produced in this country are fed to livestock not to keep them healthy, but as a sub-therapeutic growth stimulant. Again, these practices are predominantly used in industrial production.

In Certified Organic products, absolutely no antibiotics can be used. In the event of illness or injury, naturopathic remedies and practices can be used if the animal is to remain on the farm. Some Certified Organic farmers choose to isolate and treat the animal, especially if it is a good producing milk cow or breeding animal, bringing it back to health prior to selling to a conventional (non-organic) farmer. The most common issues in which only therapeutic antibiotics are used are pneumonia, mastitis and abscesses, especially in the feet.

Farmers vary in their practices of antibiotic use. Some will only use topical applications, such as with foot rot, infected abrasions and for mastitis. Others will treat non-food chain livestock (breeding animals) for specific maladies when they arise. Some will choose to harvest or dispatch afflicted animals rather than treat them with antibiotics. The truth is no farmer wants to see their animals ill, injured and suffering.

In all the marketing claims, the ones stating there are no antibiotics in dairy products irk me the most. Just as the use of synthetic hormones in pork and poultry, there will never be antibiotics in milk. All milk is antibiotic-free. When milk is picked up at a farm by a tanker, a sample is taken. Another sample is taken at the processing plant from the entire tanker. If there is any trace of antibiotics, the entire tanker is dumped and there are strict regulatory consequences to the offending dairy. For small-scale dairies that bottle on-farm and/or produce farmstead products such as cheeses, yogurt and ice cream, the FDA requires testing of every batch bottled or used in value-added products for drug residue.

And yes, your kale and carrots are also antibiotic-free so there is no need to ask.

Presidents, Kings, Hearts & Dragons

Four holidays all in one week – Lincoln’s Birthday, Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. Talk about a week to party! Celebrate one, celebrate all. What matters is you have everything you need to celebrate in proper style.

Lincoln’s Birthday

In food historian, Rae Katherine Eighmey’s book, “Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times,” we learn our 16th president liked to cook. According to Eighmey, one of Lincoln’s favorite foods were apples. Given the prolific orchards throughout the mid-Atlantic region, it’s no wonder apples were a staple at the White House.

Mardi Gras

If there is one holiday that screams FOOD, it’s Fat Tuesday. Depending on your geography, traditional foods vary from sweet pastries like King Cake and doughnuts to heartier fare such as gumbo, po’ boys and seafood. The whole idea, no matter where you’re from, is to use up the eggs, milk, butter, lard, yeast, and sugar prior to the Lent fast.

Pancakes are traditional. In the Pennsylvania Dutch region, the day is referred to as Shrove Tuesday which means Fastnachts. Had I grown up in New Orleans I would have called them Beignets. The recipes and folklore for both are similar, warning that if not eaten on Fat Tuesday the crops will suffer the following year. As a farmer, you can bet on Monday night my dough will be rising.

Valentine’s Day

Although this holiday has its roots in the festival of Lupercalia, the Roman god of agriculture, I much prefer flowers and chocolate over sacrificing a goat while slapping women and crops with the bloody hide to make them more fertile in the coming year. (Hey, how about another helping of Fastnachts?) Let’s stick with chocolate.

The Aztecs have been gifting loved ones with chocolate long before Valentine’s Day. It was John Cadbury who first packaged his confections in a heart-shaped box in 1822 beginning a tradition that continues today.

Chinese New Year

If you’re not stuffed by now, you will be as food plays a significant role in celebrating the “Spring Festival.”

Different foods, all that can be found at Central Farm Markets, have symbolic meanings.

 

  • Eggs: big and healthy family
  • Lobster: endless money rolling in
  • Shrimp: fortune and wealth
  • Roasted pig: peace
  • Duck: loyalty
  • Peaches: longevity
  • Fish: surplus and wealth

And if you’re not up for cooking, Washington D.C. boasts one of the largest celebrations in the country.

So, munch on fresh apples, fry up some doughnuts, savor some chocolate while snuggling up with a loved one and 恭贺新禧 (gōng hè xīn xǐ), respectful congratulations on the New Year.

Get Ready for Kickoff

What team are you on? The one who has strategized for weeks over their game day menu, stockpiling ribs, brisket, shoulders to marinate and smoke well in advance along with containers full of pre-cut cheeses and vegetables? OR are you on the opposing team of dashing into Central Farm Markets at noon on Super Bowl Sunday frantically in search of an open pass?

Don’t worry, CFM vendors will make sure you’re not assessed a penalty for your procrastination. We’ve got plenty of ideas that will help get you into the end zone.

Plenty of Meats
There is no shortage of protein at Central Farm Markets. However, most of the meats have been vacuum-sealed and flash frozen to maintain quality and prevent bacterial growth. “Will this thaw out in time for the game?” is always the question of the day every year without fail. The answer is yes, but it’s going to take a little effort. My go-to reference has always been a New York Times article advising the use of a hot water bath to safely and quickly thaw raw meat. Or if you’re lucky enough to have one of last year’s most popular kitchen gadgets – an Instant Pot – you can toss the frozen meat directly into the cooker. But remember, you may have to cook it five or ten minutes longer, depending on the weight of the meat.

Veggies & Dips
Carrots, radishes, sun chokes, celery, cherry tomatoes – all available at the markets – will get you a few yards closer to the line of scrimmage. Go for the extra point with a delicious dipping sauce made from a tub of yogurt from Blue Ridge Dairy Co. and a package of Two Acre Farm’s Game Time Party Mix (lots of flavors) or a savory mix from District Spice. And remember, pickles are veggies, too!

Fun with Fungi
For a complete interception, go with the mushrooms…stuffed with cheese. Easy to make, quick to bake, even a rookie will look like a pro by offering these tasty tidbits to their armchair teammates. (recipe below)

No matter which team you are rooting for there’s no need to punt this year when it comes to last-minute game day goodies. Shopping at Central Farm Markets is a guaranteed touchdown.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1 box button mushrooms
  • 4 shallots, minced (or a ¼ cup onion or 2 garlic cloves)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp. fresh bread crumbs (grab a baguette)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese, such as cheddar, gouda, etc. (remember, strong cheese goes great with beer)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • Fresh pepper

Directions:

  1. Line baking sheet with foil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Remove the stems from mushroom caps and place caps on baking sheet top down, hole up.
  3. Finely chop mushroom stems.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the chopped mushrooms and shallots for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  5. In a bowl, mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, parsley and mushroom mixture. Fill each mushroom cap with a spoonful of mixture.
  6. In a bowl, toss the bread crumbs with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle over the tops of the stuffed mushrooms. Season with pepper.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Farmers Market U

Please note – I (Sandra, Painted Hand Farm) will not be at Bethesda Central Farm Market on Sunday, January 28  because I will be in New York at Cornell University’s Winter Green Up Conference teaching the benefits of multi-species grazing.

While a missing vendor at the markets may be due to weather or health related issues, there is a third option that may cause your favorite producer to go AWOL for a week, especially during the winter season – conferences.

Professional development isn’t something you think of when it comes to farming and the production of artisanal local goods…but for those of us involved in the industry, conferences and workshops are imperative to our ongoing success. Like many of my fellow Central Farm Markets vendors, I did not grow up on a farm and my formal education was not centered around agriculture, production or business. It took more than just grit and a leap of faith to farm full-time, selling at regional markets and supplying local restaurants. It took an investment in myself and my business through educational opportunities offered by organizations such as Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, whose annual Future Harvest conference was in mid-January and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual Farming for the Future conference happening in February.

Similarly, trade shows garner vendors’ attention as both attendees and exhibitors.

“By far the main one we, and most growers in this area including people from all over the Northeast U.S., attend the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention, which is coming right up, Jan. 30 – Feb.1, in Hershey PA. It has workshops, tours and a large trade show, at which we have been known to cut a deal or two for machinery, or fruit and seed purchases,” explained Twin Springs Fruit Farm.

Market founders Mitch Berliner and Debra Moser were in San Francisco last week at the Speciality Food Association Winter Fancy Foods Show promoting their Skinny Salami, a product that was first launched at Central Farm Markets via MeatCrafters.

Here are a few of the many benefits producers gain from taking time out of their regular market schedule to attend conferences and trade shows.

To network
Connections with other farmers, potential buyers, equipment suppliers and specialized labor are a sampling of the relationships cultivated at these events.

To learn something new
Fruit vendors interested in making cider? Livestock farmers want to add a different species to their operation? How to increase soil health, decrease pests, install solar equipment? Farmers rely on learning from others who have forged the way with their own successes and failures.

To teach others
Armed with experience, many from the Central Farm Markets family take time out to help bring the next generation of market vendors online. For instance, at the 2017 Future Harvest Conference, Debra Moser offered a detailed roadmap for producers wanting to participate in local retail markets. “We are passionate about the future of farming and young farmers. Plus, it’s a great way to recruit future vendors for our growing markets,” she explained.

To stay on top of ever-changing regulations
FSMA, GAP, USDA, FDA, ATF, Certified Organic, Kosher, federal, state and local regulations are all moving targets. It’s up to vendors to stay on top of the necessary regulations we must first meet before selling to the public.

To stay inspired
Talk to any of the vendors at Central Farm Markets and you’re likely to meet someone who is excited about what they are doing. Such strong feelings don’t materialize out of thin air—they are instilled by others who have forged the way, showing that it can be done. Respected industry leaders, authors and visionaries fill our minds with ideas and our hearts with energy to continue to go to market week after week, to do a better job at serving our customers and our communities.

Winter Realities for Market Vendors

Frozen Garden Hose and water pipe connection

At market last week several customers remarked on my absence (and that of other farmers) from the previous week when temperatures dipped into single digits the night prior and barely hit the twenties the following day during market.

“Too cold for you? We were here.”

“I bet you were home with your feet up by the fire.”

It took every ounce of restraint to respond without the use of four-letter words. Instead, I chose to make my reply a teaching opportunity.

“No, I was making sure your Passover/Easter dinners lived. The goats and sheep are having babies in this weather,” I replied, explaining that if they want their milk-fed lambs and kids come the spring holiday season, something was going to have to give.

Farmers live in a distinctly different world where severe weather has a direct impact on our agricultural endeavors. When we were told that a customer complained about the absence of vendors at the market on social media, one farmer commented it felt as if they had been kicked in the teeth after attending to their farm round the clock in sub-zero weather to ensure there would be products for customers come spring.

In severe weather, we need to make a choice. Sometimes that choice means staying at the farm to ensure the health of our livestock; to keep a close watch on watering and heating systems that if for any reason should falter or fail an entire crop could be lost; or worse yet, critical infrastructure, such as irrigation pipes, could be damaged requiring costly repairs ten times more than the income that may be lost by attending market. Sometimes the pipes have already froze and broke, leaving no choice other than to stay home and attend to the emergency.

I asked some of the Central Farm Markets vendors what challenges they face during winter, so our customers get an idea of the issues that factor our decisions.

“At Twin Springs Fruit Farm the extreme cold has made it difficult to get any pruning, and other outside winter work done. We are working on an irrigation project also and it makes it difficult to get any real work done. There is, however, a fair amount of greenhouse work to do. Also, the cold has, of course, hurt market attendance, and we have greenhouse crops which need to move to make way for the next plantings, which can’t be slowed down. We don’t like to get too backed up with fresh, but mature, crops of lettuce, arugula, watercress, cucumbers, basil and such, so it is a challenge.”

Shane at Liberty Delight Farm said, “For us, it’s keeping the bedding clean and shelter available for all the animals. Obviously, we try not to have winter calving, but it happens!”

Rob at Young Harvests lamented losing a significant amount of his amazing greens to the bitter cold despite round-the-clock efforts.

Similarly, questions arise about the change in hours with winter markets starting at 10am. This additional hour is much appreciated by vendors, such as Bending Bridge Farm, who must load their truck on the morning of market in extremely low temperatures. “To us, it’s about the quality of our produce. We want our customers to get quality products from us. Some items, such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so they may not last as long or appear as fresh after only a few days.”

In addition to weather related issues, keep in mind this is also flu season – even farmers are not immune. According to Dr. Brown at Doctors To You, “We’re in the midst of an epidemic. We need to reduce the spread and the easiest way we can do this is to get people to stay home.”

There are a few things customers can do to mitigate the challenges winter market vendors face:

  1. Stay in touch. In a previous blog, I wrote about all the ways you can stay informed as to who is going to market and what they will have available. By subscribing to individual vendors’ social media feeds, you can stay on top of last-minute cancellations.
  2. Stock up. Eggs have a shelf-life of six months. Frozen meat can last even longer. Winter veggies can handle weeks in the vegetable crisper drawer and those baby greens (when they haven’t frozen to death) will make it two weeks. When inclement weather is in the forecast, consider purchasing extra. Your farmer will love you for it.
  3. Remember winter markets start at 10am. Please let us get set up before helping you. And if you absolutely must have what you need, offer the exact amount in cash as the credit card machines are often the last item to be set up as their batteries wear down faster in cold weather.
  4. Don’t make us feel bad. Seriously, we don’t want to miss a market. This is our livelihood. Not going to market means no income and the decision is not made lightly. We’ll be back…promise.

Eat Your Winter Vegetables

Photo by Bending Bridge Farm

With a week of weather dipping into sub-zero temperatures, it’s hard to think of fresh vegetables that aren’t rock solid. But thanks to Mother Nature, innovation, modern technology and lots of hard work, farmers can provide customers with fresh seasonal vegetables year-round – the key word here being seasonal.

Let’s look at some of the fresh vegetables you’ll be encountering in the coming weeks and explore easy and delicious ways to prepare them.

Winter Squash

Just as their name implies, these thick-skinned, hard fleshed cucurbits come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colors. Varieties of butternut and acorn squash are the most common, and are small enough to carry. Some, such as Hubbard, can grow to be as much as fifty pounds!

These long keeping vegetables are high in vitamins A and C. They can be prepared as both savory and sweet – think pie (yes, pumpkins are winter squash), cubed and roasted, pureed for a hearty soup, mashed and buttered, and my favorite, simply cut in half, stuffed with sausage and baked.

Roots

Roots are the underground rock stars of winter. Carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and celeriac will all be staples at winter markets. Farmers can keep them safe from the elements as they remain in the ground waiting to be picked for optimum freshness by cultivating plants in high tunnels with lots of mulch for insulation, and floating row covers for added warmth on the coldest nights.

Root vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. They are also excellent for fermenting. A bonus – the ones that sell with their tops offer additional greens that can be cooked and eaten.

Winter Greens

Chard, collard and kale abound this time of year. Leafy cousins in the cabbage family, some varieties can withstand freezing temperature, even becoming sweeter in taste after exposure to frost. Winter greens are the super food of the season. High in vitamin K which is necessary for proper blood coagulation and binding calcium into bones, nutritionists recommend eating one cup a day for health benefits.

Winter greens can be steamed, sautéed, used in soups, baked and my favorite, braised in cider.

This list goes on…cabbages, radishes, kohlrabi, spinach, mustard greens, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks. There’s no excuse for not eating fresh and local during the winter months.

Try out this simple recipe with ingredients from the market.

Portuguese Sausage Kale Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sausage (preferably spicy)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 quarts stock
  • 1 bunch fresh kale, chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups red or pink beans (soak first)

Directions:
Brown sausage, onions and garlic in olive oil. Add stock and bring to a simmer. Add vinegar, potatoes, kale and beans. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Baby its cold outside

Image from Capital Weather Gang

Welcome to January in the Mid-Atlantic, where temperatures drop along with occasional precipitation in the forms of snow, sleet and ice. From January 7 – March 25, Bethesda and Mosaic Central Farm Markets will be open during their Winter hours: Bethesda is open from 10am-1:30pm, and Mosaic is open from 10am-2pm.

Due to the unpredictability of inclement weather, please sign up for the market eblast or follow Central Farm Markets on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to learn of market closures. The Bethesda market location is governed by Montgomery County which means that in the event of public school delays or closures, the market will not be allowed to open. Public announcements are made on WTOP.

Keep in mind that vendors must prepare, pack and travel during the previous day and in the early morning hours which means not everyone may make it to market on days of extreme cold, ice or snow in the hours leading up to market even though the weather may be clear and less severe on Sunday morning. Read about our Inclement Weather policy online here.

Similarly, some vendors have chosen to attend winter markets every other week. Central Farm Markets will post online and in the weekly eblast what vendors will be attending that week’s market – another great reason to stay in touch!

Here are several tips for being a savvy winter market shopper:

  1. Dress warmly. Cover as much exposed skin as possible with breathable layers including hats, scarves, gloves/mittens, boots and coats designed to keep you warm. Hint: put a disposable hand-warmer in each pocket to keep fingers toasty.
  2. Limit your exposure. This is one of the reasons winter markets have reduced hours. Make a list. Order ahead from vendors who take pre-orders.
  3. Stay hydrated. There are plenty of opportunities to warm up with coffee, hot chocolate and tea. Plus, a steaming cup helps revive chilly fingers.
  4. Use an insulated bag. While this may make sense in the warmer months to keep your perishable items cool, in frigid temperatures that same bag can keep your tender greens from cold damage.
  5. Don’t expect pretty. Farmers need to protect their products from the winter elements. This may mean goods are kept in heavy, waxed packing boxes, sold from van interiors and covered with blankets. If you do not see what you are looking for, ask the vendor before assuming it is not available.
  6. Bring cash. The batteries of smart phone and portable credit card processing machines don’t last as long in colder weather. Touch screens require bare fingers and sometimes take more time to operate as frozen fingers don’t trigger the display. Hint: ones and fives make for the quickest transaction and are always appreciated.

It’s Pie Season

It’s almost the New Year, and nothing tops off a celebratory meal like a piece of pie. Need a hostess gift? How about a lovely dish filled with a home-made treat. An office get-together? Try a pie. Make-ahead meals for when the kids are all at home? Savory pies popped in the oven leave plenty of family time.

There’s no reason to be intimidated by making crust from scratch. Central Farm Markets customer Cathy Barrow, author of upcoming cookbook Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies, shares her fool-proof recipe for:

Perfect Pie Dough

Makes a top and bottom crust for a 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and frozen for 20 minutes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • ½ cup ice water

Directions:

In the food processor, pulse flour, butter, and salt until the butter is in small pieces coated with flour, about 15 times. Add water all at once and turn the processor on until the mixture almost forms a ball. Form the dough into two six-inch disks using plastic wrap and a scraper to firmly press the dough into a cohesive form. Wrap tightly and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours. (May be frozen for one month. Defrost overnight in refrigerator). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm slightly. Roll out each piece to an 11-inch disk, draping one of the pie pan and placing the other on a piece of parchment. Refrigerate while making the filling.

Speaking of filling…here’s where you can bake with confidence with Central Farm Markets fruit vendors offering jarred fruits and even pre-made pie fillings. There are also plenty of fresh ingredients for pie – apples, pears, pumpkin, sweet potato, ricotta…and ingredients for savory dishes, such as Shepherd’s Pie abounds!

Speaking of…here’s my basic recipe for Farmer’s Pie. Flavors and ingredients are of your choosing of whatever is available at the markets. The combinations are endless. They are easy to make ahead and freeze well.

Farmer’s Savory Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 9-inch pie crusts
  • 1 pound ground meat or loose sausage
  • 4 cups diced assorted winter vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, kale, fennel bulb, mushrooms)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium potato (white or sweet), cubed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated/crumbled cheese
  • 1 teaspoon fresh herbs
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Brown meat with onion and garlic in skillet. Add butter, vegetables and herbs, sauté until tender and most of liquid has cooked off.

Place one crust in pie dish.

Pour meat mixture in pie crust, add cheese and top with second crust and pinch closed.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

If all this seems like too much for you and you’re still craving pie, there are plenty of bakers at the markets offering several different varieties of pies that can meet your holiday needs.

The Season for Giving

In addition to feasting, the year-end holiday season is traditionally the time for gifts. Family get-togethers, office parties, neighborly gatherings, whatever the occasion, Central Farm Markets has you covered. Check out the online Holiday Brochure, with over twenty pages of great ideas including detailed information about where and when vendors will be at the markets throughout the end of the year.

But there is far more at the markets than the ideas that make it into our Holiday Brochure. Consider putting together a basket (or reusable market bag) full of goodies such as sauces, salsas, and condiments made from fruits and vegetables from the vendors’ farms and orchards. Or how about a hand-crafted plate or cutting board from a market artisan to be filled with farmstead cheeses and hand-crafted cured meats? My favorite go-to gifts from the markets include knitting kits from Kiparoo Farm Studio, hand-made soaps and unique teas. For festive libations, consider regionally produced wine, cider, beer and distilled spirits. If you are unsure of what to get, market gift certificates that can be used at any of the Central Farm Markets locations and never expire cover your bases, or tuck one into the basket along with the goodies.

Shopping at the markets also comes in handy when having to cook larger amounts of food. Meat purveyors offer custom orders, larger cuts, and items such as fresh turkey not commonly found throughout the year. Seasonal desserts, pies and cakes abound with our bakers.

Cooking for a crowd doesn’t have to be a cause for panic. Here’s a simple, yet delicious idea for a seafood stew that can be made with all ingredients purchased at the markets and cooked within minutes, leaving you plenty of time to spend with family and friends instead of in the kitchen.

Market Cioppino

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds of assorted seafood (clams, shrimp, mussels, fish, lobster, scallops)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (a box of cherry tomatoes will also do)
  • 1 bottle Bloody Mary mix (I use Toigo Orchards’ Birth of Pain)
  • 2 cups white wine (a craft IPA also works well)
  • 2 cups broth
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Baguette or crusty bread

Directions:

  1. Clean and prepare all seafood items—scrubbing, de-veining, and cutting fish into 1” squares.
  2. In a stock pot, sauté olive oil, onion, fennel and tomato until onion becomes translucent.
  3. Add seafood and liquids. Bring to a simmer until clams and mussels open, fish, shrimp and scallops turn opaque. Serve with crusty bread.