Deviled Eggs, the perfect picnic food

Picnic season officially kicked off with the Memorial Day weekend. Nothing screams S U M M E R like Deviled Eggs. These sinfully delicious concoctions have a history dating back to ancient Rome, acquiring the name “deviled” in the late 18th century in England to denote a spicy food. A hundred years later the recipe hopped the pond to the United States showing up in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook with the first suggestion to use mayonnaise as a binder.

Although purists only stuff the whites with mayo, mustard and yolks dusting with paprika, the sky is the limit when it comes to making Deviled Eggs. A walk around Central Farm Markets offers plenty of ideas for innovative versions – crab meat, pickles, kimchi, and my personal favorite, hard-boiled eggs soaked with pickled red beets overnight prior to deviling. The whites turn pink! FYI – hard-boiled eggs can be stored in pickled red beets up to three months in the refrigerator.

Deviled Eggs also make a bite-sized base for toppings.

The first step in making Deviled Eggs is to hard boil and peel the eggs. Now this may sound simple, but hard-boiled eggs aren’t always easy to peel leaving you with a mess (and egg salad sandwiches instead of hor d’oeuvres). You can blame your super-fresh-from-the-farm market eggs for this bit of kitchen hell.

The sad truth is older eggs are easier to peel than fresh ones due to the albumen (the white) having a low pH that rises as the egg ages. To work around this problem, here’s how to hard boil fresh eggs.

  1. Place eggs in a pot covering them with 2 inches of cold water
  2. Add 1 tsp. of baking soda
  3. Bring to a slow boil for 12 minutes
  4. Drain hot water from pot, shaking it when empty to crack the shells of the eggs
  5. Cover in cold water for 15 minutes

There are numerous tricks and tips from professionals and grandmothers online, from sliding a spoon between the egg and the shell to blowing the egg out of the shell. Peeling under a steady stream of water is my choice.

When I am making Deviled Eggs I always hard-boil twice as many as I want knowing that the chances of every single egg turning out perfect is next to zero. Peeled hard-boiled eggs will last up to a week in the refrigerator leaving the not so perfectly peeled for quick snacks and salads.

I know there are those of you out there that want to power through making Deviled Eggs a few hours prior to picnicking, but these tasty tidbits need to be cold for two reasons – easy handling and food safety. Cooked eggs are soft while warm, but firm up when chilled making them easier to cut in half and fill with savory stuffings.

Stuffing the egg whites can be as simple as spooning the yolk mixture into the empty divots or as fancy as piping swirls from a pastry bag. My favorite is a tiny cookie dough scoop – it’s the perfect size!

Here are two of my favorite summer recipes using hard-boiled eggs. Enjoy!

Deviled Eggs

Ingredients:

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, chilled and cut in half
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp. prepared mustard
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika

Directions:
Slice hard-boiled eggs in half. Remove yolks. Mash yolks in bowl with mayonnaise and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Fill eggs with mashed yolk mixture. Dust filled eggs with paprika.

Pickled Beets & Eggs

Ingredients:

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • 6 red beets, peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into rings
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (honey works, too)
  • 1 Tbsp. of prepared pickling spices
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Directions:
Place beets in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Add apple cider vinegar, sugar (or honey) and salt to the beets in the beet juice. In a container large enough to hold everything (2 quart glass jar works well), add pickling spices to the bottom, then the onion rings, and eggs. Add the cooked beets and cover everything in the container with the liquid. Refrigerate.

HINT: Wondering what to do with beet tops? Don’t toss them out! Use the stems in place of celery. Beet greens make a wonderful addition to salads.

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Grow Your Own

The recipe calls for a teaspoon of minced fresh herbs. It doesn’t matter if its rosemary, tarragon, thyme or parsley. You plunk down up to three bucks for a fresh bunch, use only what you need, and the rest turns into a runny, brown goo in the bottom of your vegetable drawer. If you’re resourceful, you might hang the remainder from the overhead pot rack or key holder on the wall to dry for future use or as a place where house spiders will nest.

Now is the time to act to avoid such predicaments in the coming months by building yourself an Herb Pot. Spring is the season when farmers have thousands of young plants growing in their greenhouses to be transplanted in the fields. It’s not a stretch for vendors to pot up plants to bring to market early in the season for customers who want to have a bit of constant greenery in their life or a few tender leaves of basil to top off a simple caprese salad.

There are many ways to grow your own herbs – all together in a single container or in separate smaller pots. Containers can be as simple as recycled glass jars or metal cans to designer self-contained gardens that hang on a wall. A container herb garden can be kept indoors in a sunny location or outside until the first frost. Perennial herbs can grow for years in the same container providing they are regularly fed and trimmed. Annual herbs, such as basil, have multiple varieties in assorted shapes and sizes making it the perfect addition to seasonal flower containers.

Whatever you choose, here are a few tips to help you succeed.

  • Start simple: think about what you use the most, but never seem to have on hand. Mint for mojitos? Cilantro for tacos? Or the fantastic four of the kitchen – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – all which like well-drained soils so they won’t croak if you forget to water them.
  • Drainage holes: regardless of the type of container you choose, be certain the pot has holes so the plants will not be drowning in water. Most herbs prefer damp to wet soils.
  • Use potting soil: commercial potting mix soils are designed to support plants grown in containers. Dirt from outdoors may harbor unwanted insects and fungi or not have enough nutrients to support plant growth.
  • Harvest correctly: herb plants should be trimmed from the top instead of the bottom. Unless you want edible herb flowers, keep trimming off all the flower buds before they open to keep the plant growing vigorously.

In addition to herbs, vendors offering live plants for sale also have vegetable plants at the markets now that do well in containers. Lettuces grow well in containers as their roots are shallow, needing no more than six inches of soil depth.

If you are more adventurous, tomatoes can also be planted in containers. Tomatoes like lots of room (for both foliage and roots), lots of water, lots of support (string, rod or trellis) and lots of sun – at least six hours a day. Like herbs and lettuces, tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes, bringing beauty along with taste into your home this summer.

First Flavors of the Season

For me, the harbinger of summer is the arrival of strawberries, asparagus and ramps at the market. The first harvests trickle in and get scooped up immediately by lucky early bird shoppers. A few pounds, several flats, a dozen or so bunches the first week lasting less than an hour. The second week lines snake around tents as people wait patiently hoping there will be some for them when their turn arrives. There may be some available by the second hour of market. By the third week the building frenzy of nature has unleashed a torrent for everyone to enjoy.

Much is written and discussed about local, heirloom and native foods which got me wondering about the seasonal trifecta of ramps, asparagus and strawberries that draws shoppers out in droves from their winter hibernation.

Ramps

Allium tricoccu, a.k.a. wild leeks or ramps, are a wild member of the onion family native to North America that have risen from Appalachian folk tonic to culinary cult status ingredient over the last generation. Once prized as the first green edibles to break through the brown litter of last season, the emerald-green leaves delivered much-needed vitamin C for those subsisting on a foraged and seasonal diet prior to the availability of imported foods. With flavors of spring onion, shallot, garlic and chives amalgamated into a slender stalks of bunching rose-shouldered bulbs, talented chefs with a heart for fresh, seasonal ingredients began integrating ramps into seasonal menus.

Three to four weeks is the extent of ramp harvest in any one location. Further limiting the supply is that it is foraged as opposed to cultivated, leaving them vulnerable to over-harvesting. Ramps are picky about where they grow, preferring damp, shaded environments and take five to seven years to regenerate from seed. Once the weather heats up, they’re done. Ramps have been at the markets for three weeks, so now is the time to get them.

Asparagus

This fleeting spring crop is also in the same taxonomic family – Liliaceae – as ramps. Although asparagus does not share the pungent flavor of ramps, it is also a herbaceous perennial that can take years to establish a crop with a brief harvest season of four to six weeks.

Native to northern Africa, western Asia and most of Europe, asparagus has been cultivated as food for over two thousand years. Settlers in the 1700’s brought asparagus with them to America where it became quickly established along fence rows and marginalized lands as it is drought tolerant.

Market shoppers generally encounter the green and purple varieties. White asparagus is the same plant as the green or purple only the stalks have been kept covered (with dirt or plastic) to prevent them from developing their color.

Strawberries

Strawberries have been harvested since early Roman times – mainly for medicinal purposes. Technically not a “berry,” but an aggregate accessory fruit made up of hundreds of fleshy receptacles the seeds – those little green specks which are individual ovaries with a seed inside. Strawberries only became popular as a fruit when early European settlers returned to France from America and began crossing cultivars from throughout the world to create the modern strawberry we know today.

Currently, the United States is the top producer of strawberries in the world, surpassing the combined production of the remaining top five producing countries – Turkey, Spain, Egypt and Mexico – with an annual harvest of over one million tons. This copious production is a result of breeding ever-bearing cultivars which means the plant can continue to bear fruit for an extended period, especially in more temperate areas.

There are numerous cultivars which allow farmers to choose the characteristics that best serve their needs for production, taste and resistance to disease. Farmers have also developed cultivation techniques – high tunnels, plastic mulch – that allow them to extend the length of strawberry season. Look for strawberries at the markets from now through July.

You may be thinking to yourself that the seasons seem to last longer but remember that the farmers of Central Farm Markets travel both from the north and south. Farmers in Virginia start harvesting prior to ones in Pennsylvania who will still have crops when their southern counterparts’ season is over.

This is one of the many ways to enjoy the first tastes of summer together:

Asparagus with Strawberry-Ramp Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 2 whole ramp stalks, leave & bulbs
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon each of sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

  1. Chop asparagus spears into one-inch lengths. Lightly steam 2-3 minutes.
  2. In a blender, mix the remaining ingredients until smooth.
  3. Toss with steamed asparagus until coated.
  4. Enjoy!

Happy Hour

Prohibition has been over for nearly 85 years, yet its effects have lingered. Estate wineries led the way in American terroir. Next came the resurgence of micro breweries. It’s only fitting that craft distilleries finally come to the party.

Since the founding of America, distilleries have played a leading role in agriculture, especially in the Mid-Atlantic region where orchards and mills were prolific. Unfortunately, most regional distilleries were unable to survive the thirteen years in which the production and sales of alcohol were illegal. Even after the repeal of the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution, alcohol production and sales remained highly regulated resulting in the rise of mega-distilleries.

Enter a group of tenacious entrepreneurs who wanted to bring small batch liquor production back to Maryland. Starting in 2008, Blackwater Distilling was the first to fire up a still in over forty years. Founding the Maryland Distillers Guild with five other members, their numbers have swelled to twenty-five and continue to grow.

Blackwater Distilling’s Andy Keller explained that getting the laws changed to allow sales and tasting at farmers markets only happened as recently as 2016, and the Guild continues to lobby state legislators for expanded sales opportunities. “We’re small businesses and community-focused,” said Keller stressing the fact that distilled spirits are an agricultural product.

Also, in that first group of distillers was Edgardo Zuniga, founder of Twin Valley Distillers, who made it a point to use locally grown grains in his spirits. “There is plenty of grain in Maryland,” Zuniga said. When asked what impact being able to sample and sell spirits at farmers markets, Zuniga responded that market sales account for nearly half of their business.

Distilled liquors are steeped in history and the third distillery found at Central Farm Markets, Tenth Ward Distilling Company is all about it. Taking its name from the industrial section designated in Frederick in the late 19th century, owner/operator Monica Pearce has woven the rich regional history into her products. One of Tenth Ward’s most popular products (sorry, it’s sold out) was Brinton’s Brandy which was developed in collaboration with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine to create a cherry-infused brandy popularized by Dr. John Brinton, a Civil War surgeon who used his concoction for medicinal purposes as well as bribery.

Wanting to create a truly American product, Pearce sources all her grains, fruits and honey within thirty miles of the distillery and the bottles, labels and barrels are all American-made.

Given the variety of distilled spirits available at Central Farm Markets from Maryland distilleries, one can easily stock a full bar with whiskey, bourbon, rum, liqueurs, vodka, brandy, and gin. And don’t forget other vendors, like Toigo Orchards, have pre-made mixes for your favorite cocktails such as their Birth of Pain Bloody Mary mix. Garnish and stir with a stalk of asparagus!

And just in time for strawberry season…

Strawberry Daiquiri

  • 2 oz. rum
  • 3 fresh strawberries, tops removed
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz.lime juice
  • 1 cup crushed iced

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.

Conservation Dining

Did you know you can help save the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem by shopping at Central Farm Markets?

Yes, you can!

The Chesapeake Bay has been bouncing back from decades of abuse from pollution upstream, sadly much of it caused by poor agricultural practices. Farmers have been reducing sedimentation by fencing livestock out of streams, reducing the use of chemicals, and replanting riparian flood plains that were previously stripped of native vegetation to mitigation erosion, to name a few.

Oysters are making a comeback. The Blue Crab population has rallied, but unfortunately there’s a new big, bad blue bully – Ictalurus furcatus – aka Blue Catfish, threatening native species such as blue crabs, eels, shad, menhaden, perch and herring. Biologists have labeled the catfish as an “apex trophic” invasive species which means they are at the top of the food chain eating everything while nothing eats them…except humans which is how they got somewhere they’re not supposed to be in the first place.

Native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River basins, in the mid 1970’s the Blue Catfish was introduced to the James, Rappahannock, and York Rivers in Virginia for sport fishing. With the ability to adapt to a wide range of salinities, these long-lived prolific lunkers can reach weights over 100 pounds, lengths over five feet and live more than 20 years. Now found in all the estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Blue Catfish are voraciously tearing through the food chain.

Biologists fear that if their numbers are not held in check through the development of a commercial fishery, processing and distribution, that soon the only fish being commercially harvested from the Chesapeake Bay will be Blue Catfish.

Recognizing that catfish have long had a bad rap since the majority of commercially available catfish come from large farms where they grow on a steady diet of corn and soy pellets, the Wide Net Project was founded to address the environmental issues caused by non-native wild catfish in the Chesapeake Bay while promoting its public consumption as a means to develop a viable commercial fishery.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, commercial landings in Maryland and Virginia are responsible for 33% of all Blue Catfish landings in the USA. Louisiana leads with the majority – 65%.

On the plus side, the Blue Catfish is considered a sustainable local fishery as many popular fish stock species are hovering on the brink of collapse due to overfishing, habitat destruction and changes in ocean temperatures and currents. Even better is the type of commercial fishing gear – fyke nets, gillnets, pound nets, seine nets, and trap nets all have a low impact on the fishery’s habitats as well as very low by-catch rates.

Wild Blue Catfish that have been feasting on the bounty of the bay have been found in fresh fish cases at Whole Foods, MOM’s Organic Grocery and at fishmongers in the Mid-Atlantic as well as on the menu at regional restaurants dedicated to sourcing regionally such as Clyde’s and Zaytinya who fries the fish in an Ouzo batter and serves it on Skordalia (Greek potato and garlic spread) with capers, almonds, and Meyer lemon.

And now you can purchase fresh wild Blue Catfish from Lobster Maine-ia at all four Central Farm Markets locations starting this weekend. Thanks to the Blue Catfish’s omnivorous natural diet, it has a mild flavor with a flakey firm texture, perfect for a wide array of dishes. It can be steamed, grilled, sautéed, fried or baked.

Cilantro is in season along with cabbage and salsas at all the markets. Fish tacos, anyone?

Fish Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Lobster Maine-ia Wild Caught Blue Catfish fillets
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 4 whole spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, minced
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup crème fraiche, sour cream or yogurt
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Mix dry seasoning in a bowl. Generously season both sides of fish fillets and cook fish in oil over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Fish can also be grilled. Cut into strips or break into chunks.
  2. Combine cabbage, spring onions, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, lime juice and dairy together until well mixed.
  3. Warm the tortillas and fill with fish and slaw.
  4. Enjoy!