Pies & Shamrocks

Another week with multiple celebrations!

Today we start out with math geeks and bakers favorite – Pi Day. Growing in popularity, this new national holiday was recognized by Congress in 2009. Pi Day – March 14th (aka 3.14) –  was first celebrated in 1988 by Larry Shaw, a physicist at the Exploratorium, an interactive science museum in San Francisco. Shaw thought the date fortuitous as it was also Albert Einstein’s birthday. The first party included circular themes, a circular parade and pie-eating festivities.

This modern holiday offers nerds the opportunity to crack math puns as well as a great excuse to bake and eat pie.

What do you get when you take a bovine and divide it by its circumference?

A cow pi.

But what does pi have to do with pie?

In mathematics, pi is the constant ratio of a circle’s circumference to the diameter. The Greek letter denoting pi is derived from the Greek word for circumference – perimetros. Pies are the perfect way to celebrate Pi Day because they are circles.

Silly as it may sound, the discovery of pi is considered one of the greatest mathematical achievements leading to the creation of modern engineering and architecture.

So, bake up a pie today for Pi Day.

If pie isn’t your thing, there’s still another cause for celebration this week – Saint Patrick’s Day.

Not Irish? Don’t worry, neither was Saint Patrick; he was a Roman Briton who was kidnapped by pirates as a teenager and sold into slavery in Ireland to tend sheep. After escaping, he returned to Wales and then traveled to France where he became a priest before returning to Ireland where he was a missionary for forty years.

Saint Patrick’s Day didn’t even originate in Ireland – it began in 1737 with the Charitable Irish Society in Boston. It was basically a big party among a group of Irish immigrants in the Massachusetts colony to celebrate their heritage and to promote unity within the community. Given the revelry with rowdy parades and drinking, the tradition caught on and has expanded globally as a way for the Irish to celebrate their ancestry and for others to wear green, get pinched for not wearing green, to bake soda bread, eat corned beef and cabbage, and of course, tipple some Irish whiskey with a shamrock floating on top for good luck.

As with most celebrations, food plays an integral part of Saint Patrick’s Day. Chances are this holiday would not have come about if it weren’t for a blight-causing mold which led to famine in the Emerald Isle after four consecutive years of crop failure beginning in 1845. By 1850, over a million poor Irish – considered refugees – relocated in the United States, overwhelming cities on the eastern seaboard.

Corned beef and cabbage are not traditional Irish foods but were what immigrants substituted in place of their traditional bacon and lamb, which were costly in late nineteenth-century America. In Ireland, cattle were valuable as draft animals and not slaughtered for food unless injured or old. Beef was considered a luxury. However, in the United States, beef was plentiful and relatively inexpensive. To feed large groups of people, Irish immigrants turned to beef brisket – the cheapest large cut of meat that cured well in coarse salt – the “corns” – and cabbage as an alternative.

Similarly, soda bread did not become an Irish staple until after 1843 when baking soda became commercially available as an alternative leavening agent. When combined with the lactic acid in soured milk, tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide formed to raise the dough. It was a creation designed to utilize poor quality wheat during the potato famine and large quantities of bicarbonate were distributed to the underprivileged as it was much less expensive than yeast. Creameries were able to sell what was essentially a waste product – old milk – to the impoverished so they could make bread using soda. Modern recipes call for buttermilk, yogurt and even stout beer to provide lactic acid.

If you want to give Irish Soda Bread a try this Saint Patrick’s Day, here’s a recipe from The Art of Irish Cooking by Monica Sheridan (1965).

Brown Bread


  • 4 cups Stone Ground Whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups White flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 cups Buttermilk


Mix the whole wheat flour thoroughly with the white flour, salt, and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and gradually mix in the liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon. You may need less, or more liquid – it depends on the absorbent quality of the flour.

The dough should be soft but manageable. Knead the dough into a ball in the mixing bowl with your floured hands. Put on a lightly floured baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten out in a circle 1 1/2 inches thick.

With a knife dipped in flour, make a cross through the center of the bread so that it will easily break into quarters when it is baked. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake a further 15 minutes. If the crust seems too hard, wrap the baked bread in a damp tea cloth. Leave the loaf standing upright until it is cool. The bread should not be cut until it has set – about 6 hours after it comes out of the oven.


What is Fair Trade?

Over the years I’ve received about every question one could ask – are your products grass-fed, organic, humane, biodynamic, local, sustainable, vegetarian-fed, predator friendly, non-GMO? The answers always serve as a teaching moment to explain the importance, hype and impact which precipitated the question.

But last Sunday was the first time anyone asked if my stuff was “Fair Trade.” Before I could offer my explanation, the customer threw up her hands in exasperation, spun on her heels and stormed away. Ma’am, if you are reading this week’s Dishing the Dirt blog post, it’s dedicated to you.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade began as a social movement to help producers in developing countries cultivate better trading conditions and to promote sustainable agricultural practices. Fair Trade products Central Farm Markets customers most likely encounter are coffee, chocolate, tea, spices and sugar.

The basic tenets of Fair Trade designation are:

  • Farmers are paid an equitable price for their goods covering the cost of production plus a profit to ensure a decent standard of living. Similarly, living wages for workers is factored into the cost.
  • Neither slave or child labor is used in the production.
  • There are working hours and conditions standards for safety and healthy.
  • To sustainably manage resources to benefit the environment.

The Fair Trade movement has been around since the 1940’s, and was officially recognized by the United Nations in 1968. As it has matured, offshoots promoting specialized agricultural practices such as shade-grown (better for birds, less chemical use) as well as social justice causes (women-owned cooperatives).

Since Fair Trade only involves imported goods, one will not find Fair Trade produce or meat products at Central Farm Markets. The proper questions to ask should focus on domestic third-party certifications. Here are a few to consider.

  • Certified Organic
  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • GAP Certified
  • Certified Naturally Grown
  • Certified Humane

Keep in mind that many of the producers who opt for third-party certifications are often selling to retailers in addition to participating in regional farmers markets where they are interacting directly with their customers. Third-party certifications are a tool in remaining competitive in a wholesale environment and often required by retailers.

Each certification requires extensive record-keeping, which for mid-sized farms might mean hiring an extra person just to do the paperwork. Smaller farms may not have the income to pursue third-party certifications or prefer to devote their resources to tangible agricultural practices, such as infrastructure, training and quality of life.

As one of my fellow vendors explained, “My customers know me, they trust me. I can spend the money on a piece of paper and a fancy logo on my label or I can take my family on vacation.”

For our customers, if you are concerned about our agricultural practices, just ask us, and please be prepared to listen to our answers. We’ll feed your mind, as well as your body.