What the heck is a quince?

The first frost arrived last week along with one of my favorite seasonal fruits at Central Farm Markets – quinces! Not exactly a mainstream attraction, yet this pear-like pome has its own cultish following who seeks them out to make seasonal culinary favorites including pastes, butters and tarts. Quinces also fare very well with savory dishes.

Quinces were popular in early America, cultivated throughout the mid-Atlantic region, most notably at Monticello by Jefferson. I’ve been passing the Quince Orchard Road exit on the way to market for how many years?

Native to Asia, quinces first migrated to the Mediterranean during the Roman and Greek empires, making their way around the globe in the following millennia, most often prized for medicinal purposes. Quinces are high in vitamin C, full of antioxidants, loaded with dietary fiber and rich in minerals including iron, copper and zinc.

Cydonia oblong is a one-off, a solitary member of its genus belonging to the same family as apples and pears, Rosaceae. Similar in cultivation, shape and size to apples and pears, quinces grow from deciduous trees and shrubs. You can’t miss quinces at the market with their fuzzy appearance and brilliant, almost neon color.

Unlike apples and pears, quinces don’t bode well for snacking on raw due to their astringent pucker factor and dry, chalky, hardness. However, a little heat unlocks their sweetness and softens their consistency. Widely cultivated in Spain, dulce de membrillo is a sweet paste made from quinces and traditionally served with Manchego cheese.

Naturally high in tannins, quinces are a natural tenderizer when cooked with meat. Quinces are prized for making jellies, jams and preserves due to their high pectin content. Firmer than either apples or pears, quince flesh holds its shape when baked into pies and pastries or cooked in compote.

Quinces have held a place in literature and art throughout history. From speculation that it was a quince and not an apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to the sacred emblem of Aphrodite, these golden fruits have been referenced for at least 4,000 years. Quinces were served in the court of Charles II during the 17th century and distilled into a delicate liqueur de coing in France.

With Thanksgiving only weeks away, quinces would make an excellent addition to cranberry sauce recipes that call for either apple or pears.

Even if you have no desire to eat quinces, they are aesthetically pleasing and have a fragrant aroma that lends well to sitting in a lovely bowl to naturally perfume your home. But trust me, you will want to enjoy their taste as well as their scent.

Quinces can be found at all Central Farm Markets locations.


Fall Fermentation

fermentation: an enzymatically controlled anaerobic breakdown of an energy-rich compound (such as a carbohydrate to carbon dioxide and alcohol or to an organic acid)

The heart of fall means making sauerkraut. Fermentation is an easy and nutritious way to preserve fresh vegetables for the coming winter months when the fields are frozen. With the first frost predicted this weekend, it was time to act.

My friend Tom announced he wanted to make sauerkraut, so I gladly procured over 100 pounds and headed to his house where we spent the afternoon shredding away with a wooden Austrian kraut cutter. Unlike an electric food processor, the ultra sharp blades on this wooden washboard-style cutter deliver a thinner cut with longer, feathery strands – something he deemed critical to making good sauerkraut.

We packed our crocks full of the gossamer brassicas, two teaspoons of picking salt for every pound of vegetables, and then topped each container off with several of the large outer leaves set aside earlier as we were splitting the heads. By the time each was two-thirds full, the salt had started to leach moisture from the cabbage shreds, creating a natural brine. This in turn would create the anaerobic environment for fermentation.

For the next six weeks I’ll be checking my crocks daily to make sure the cabbage remains submerged under a plate topped with a gallon jug full of water to keep the kraut submerged and to skim off any scum that has formed on the surface of the liquid. According to Tom, this step is critical otherwise the kraut will begin to rot or at the very least, have an off taste. And my house will develop a distinct odor. It’s been less than a week and I can tell all those little microbes are already hard at work.

Why do humans ferment food? Have you ever stopped to realize how much fermented foods we consume? Think about all the fermented foods you find at Central Farm Markets – pickles, kimchi, krauts, beer, wine, liquor, cider, vinegar, kombucha, charcuterie, cheeses, yogurt and bread. Yes, all those foods in one way or another have been fermented using naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria or have been inoculated with cultures to achieve a specific result.

There are two main types of fermentation – lactic acid and alcoholic. Sauerkraut and kimchi undergo a lactic acid fermentation using only the naturally occurring bacteria from the vegetables. Dairy products and meats require the additional exposure to specific cultures for their fermentations.

All those wonderful cheeses you see have varieties of cultures that create their individual flavors, colors and consistencies. For instance, blue cheeses are inoculated with Penicillium Roqueforti. Those lovely bloomy rind camembert are a veritable ecosystem containing Penicillium camemberti, Geotrichum candidum, Debaryomyces hansenii, and Kluyveromyces lactis all working together, keeping each in check to create color, consistency and flavor.

The white stuff on the outside of salami – you guessed it, good mold. There are many types and strains of cultures added which are good bacteria to outcompete bad bacteria that turn meats rancid.

Forget science fiction, real life has SCOBY molds. Drinks such as kombucha and kefir are fermented from a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast by means anaerobic fermentation of the yeast’s ethanol, the bacteria’s lactic acids and ethanol oxidation to acetate all happening at the same time. This complex process produces a gelatinous, cellulose-based biofilm called a pellicle on the surface of the liquid. Sometimes referred to as a mushroom, a SCOBY is not related to fungi. Other products utilizing SCOBY molds include vinegar and sourdough starters. Although the yeasts are eating sugars and burping out alcohol, the trace amounts of booze in these naturally fizzy beverages are far lower than those of beer, wine and cider.

And we all know about beer, wine and cider….right?

In addition to preservation, fermentation offers other advantages including increased digestibility, better flavor, safer to eat, more nutritious and lots of probiotics.

According to fermentation guru and author, Sandor Katz, humans have been fermenting food for approximately 12,000 years. “We still do it the same way today,” he said. “Why? Because it works. It’s hard to mess it up.”

A Day Off

“What are you going to do with your day off next week?” was the Question of the Day at market last week.

Since Bethesda Central will be closed on Sunday, October 14 due to the arts festival, customers were curious as to how their vendors would spend their day.

When there is no market due to inclement weather, there is not much of a chance for asking. But when a day with no market occurs on a sunny fall day with temperatures in the 70’s images of mountain hikes, long bike rides, sleeping in and a brunch buffet with bottomless mimosas tend to be the fantasy of choice. Unfortunately, it’s far from reality.

Many of the Central Farm Markets vendors participate in both the Bethesda, Mosaic and other markets on Sunday, so when I casually asked, their response was, “I’ll go to another market.” For those of us who only attend Bethesda we allowed thoughts of leisure to linger before admitting that we will use our time wisely to address projects that require our undivided attention for several hours.

“I’ve got so much that needs to get done before winter,” said Rob from Young Harvests.

Brian, over at Zeke’s, had grand plans for a mini vacation until his phone broke. “When did phones start costing $800 to replace? And that’s not even the newest model!” He’ll still get away, just not as grand as originally planned.

Audrey at Bending Bridge Farm is taking the time to head out-of-town to visit family. Nicole at Two Acre Farm is also devoting the day to family. “We have fall fest family days! We spend the day doing October festivals – hayrides, corn mazes, bonfires, eating lots of fall foods.”

“It’s nice to have a Sunday off,” said Josh at Cipolla Rossa Pizzeria

Yes, Josh, I hear you on that one. Now if I can remember to shut off my alarm clock.

Vendors aren’t the only ones questioning each other about what to do without the Bethesda market on Sunday. Just as we are set in our schedules, so are many of our customers.

“What am I going to do?” was our shoppers’ collective groan when reminded there would be no Bethesda market on October 14.

Savvy shoppers stocked up last week, but that’s not possible for some perishables or due to storage space.

Here’s what you are going to do for one week – shop at one of Central Farm Markets’ other three locations.

Pike and Westfield are right in Bethesda’s backyard, but you’ll have to shop on Saturday. Both are only five miles from the Sunday market location and both have ample parking. Many of the same vendors attend the Saturday markets – check the CFM website to see which vendors attend each market. If your favorite Sunday vendors aren’t at the Saturday markets, try someone new.

If you are unable to shop on Saturday, but want to patronize your specific farmers, you’re going to have to take a drive, about fifteen miles to Mosaic Central Farm Market in Fairfax, VA. Again, there is plenty of free parking and familiar faces.

What am I going to do? I haven’t decided. The fun side wants to spend the weekend in the city hitting up a show, going out to eat or visiting a museum before lambing season kicks off the following week. However, I think the practical side will win out preparing for a new batch of babies. Either way, I, along with all my fellow vendors, will be back in Bethesda on Sunday, October 21. See you then!

Year-Round Markets

Customer: When does this market close?

Vendor: 1:30 PM

Customer: No, I mean when does it close for the season.

I have that exchange at least twice a week now that fall has arrived. As a Central Farm Markets vendor at Bethesda, I get to see the faces of inquiring customers bloom with delight when I tell them the Bethesda and Mosaic markets operate year-round, with reduced hours (10 am-1:30 pm) January through March.

Why have a winter market?

“It’s what our customers demanded,” said Mitch Berliner, co-founder of Central Farm Markets, emphasizing by adding, “They really demanded it.” That was six years ago at Bethesda, with Mosaic being added three years later. Both winter markets offer approximately half the number of vendors.

About the same time that Central Farm Markets instituted a winter market, Toigo Orchards, Twin Springs Fruit Farm and Bending Bridge Farm undertook infrastructure expansions allowing for extensions of their growing season and storage capacities to better facilitate year-round markets. “It’s important to us that our customers have year-round access to healthy food,” said Audrey Fisher-Pedersen, co-founder of Bending Bridge Farm which has attended all the winter seasons thus far with Certified Organic produce.

Farm practices and philosophies are as varied as our customers, meaning that not all producers are able or choose to sustain year-round production or invest in technical mass storage systems. January, February and March are the three coldest months in the mid-Atlantic region. Season-extending greenhouse technologies get put to good use by vendors such as Toigo, Bending Bridge and Young Harvests, but the reality is not everything can be grown indoors. Even with the use of greenhouses and insulating row covers, the growth rates are dependent on temperature and sunlight.

Rob Young, owner of Young Harvests laments having limited greens due to the weather fluctuations, “Our greens don’t grow much without sunshine or with extremely cold temperatures.” Even the recent ongoing cloudy and rainy days have had an impact Young Harvests’ production as anyone who has shopped the latter part of the day and found themselves staring at his empty bins.

Lucas Brownback of Spiral Path Farm explained why he chooses to not attend winter market. “Most of our crops are seasonally grown in open fields. We believe in giving our soil time to regenerate, and the farmers need a break, too,” but Lucas pointed out that come January the crew is right back at it seeding for a new season in the greenhouses.

Let’s all repeat the word together again – S E A S O N A L – and talk about the timeline for the transition from the regular market season to the winter markets.

November 17th will be the last Saturday market for the Pike and Westfield markets this year. However, on Tuesday, November 20th there will be a Thanksgiving Market taking place at the Pike Central Farm Market location that will host vendors from all the markets who have products such as fresh turkeys, prepared goods, fruits and vegetables, etc. Keep in mind that not all vendors attend this market. A full list of vendors will be posted online and sent out in the market’s weekly email prior to the event.

The Sunday following Thanksgiving (November 25) there will be no markets. No one will have any room in their refrigerator to store more food. Eat your leftovers and let the farmers enjoy the holiday weekend with our families. We will all return to Mosaic and Bethesda on Sunday, December 2 with the regular Sunday schedule until January 6, 2019 when the winter market schedule (10 am – 1:30 pm) kicks in along with the Customer Loyalty Program.

But my favorite part about winter market is when the regulars gripe about the cold weather. I remind them that during the summer when everyone was sweating off their turnips, I told them this day would come.