Finally Cold Enough for Cold Storage – A New Chart has Me Moving Things Around

Posted: October 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Ever since our “good” laptop crashed last year, I’ve had a hard time committing to regular writing of this column.  The laptop made it easier to write in the morning before getting to my office.  Once I’m ensconced in the upper corner of the bungalow, where it’s too hot in the summer and darn cold starting about now, I feel compelled to do first things first, and a Local Family column is often not that.  Still, I’ve been working diligently in the last few weeks to institute a better “Get Things Done” scheme, and one of things I need to get done more is write the Local Family column more.  Rather, I should say write the Local Family column more regularly.  More regular on the ins and outs of trying to eat local.  Eating local for all four seasons.  In suburban Chicago.

Perhaps, the long awaited change of season got me to post.  The move to colder weather means I can address a key need of our locavore lifestyle, putting away food for the winter in our various make-shift root cellars.  Until this week, we could not make much use of our cold attic because, well, it was not a very cold attic.  It meant that the two bushels of quince my wife picked up, she could not resist the price, sat around perfuming our house and beginning to go to rot a bit.  Today, they went in the attic.  The other thing we need to take care of, 50 lbs of onions.  This many onions too, resulted from the good deals brought to my wife as a market vendor (for Tomato Mountain).  I know last winter, we could not use 25 lbs of onions before they started getting sprout-y, I am not sure how we will handle this much more onions(when I mention this to my wife she says, “they only cost…”).  My plan for keeping twice as much onions as last year is to keep the onions colder.

Last Spring I met a gentleman from the USDA at the FamilyFarmed Expo.  He gave me a chart with storage information government scientists have arrived at for various fruits and vegetables.  The chart covers four things needed for cold storage:

  1. Optimal Storage Temp.
  2. Optimal Relative Humidity
  3. Ethylene Production
  4. Ethylene Sensitivity

A few things surprised me by the chart and ran counter to what I’ve understood until then.  The optimal storage temperature for a lot of foods went as high as 50 degrees.  Even more surprising, the optimal temperature for potatoes was 40-60 degrees.  On the other hand, the temperature for those onions, 32-35.  I have had it the opposite, thinking onions did not need as cold.  So, now, I could store that big, big bag of onions in the attic and keep the potatoes in the basement canning room.  Swapping the cold attic for the less cold basement canning room.  Maybe.

We’ll get back to the humidity issues in a second, but for now remember that every item for storage besides onions, needs high humidity, up to 95% in many cases.  Something else to manage is ethylene (gas).  Some stuff produces it, other stuff suffers from it.  It means a gas that encourages ripening.  So, a high ethylene sensitive item, like apples, that is subject to ethylene, will ripen faster.  In other words, when planning storage it’s safe to mix your apples (high production) and oranges (low sensitivity), but not as good to mix other things.  I’m keeping my apples away from my potatoes because my chart says that potatoes are at least moderately sensitive to ethylene.  As all the other items I plan on storing, root vegetables, are low sensitivity, ethylene, I’m OK with keeping them in the attic with the apples and onions.

Still, if I can manage the cold, and manage the gas, I have a humidity and darkness issues.  As I noted above, everything but onions thrives best when kept in a dank, moist environment.  And darkness, keeping your food dark helps inhibit sprouting, and with potatoes, turning green.  My attic is pretty dark.  The only window has a plastic covering, so the attic stays dark.  Unless I open the window, letting light in.  I need to open the window to keep the attic cold enough, and I need to open the window to let out the ethylene gas produced by the apples.  If not for the onions sake, but for the apples–apples are produce high amounts of ethylene and also show high sensitivity to ethylene.  I want to keep the onions by the window because of the cold, but I will also have to do something to keep them in the dark.

On the other hand, I’m a bit more vexed by the humidity issue.  Everything else in the attic needs its water.  I’ve dealt with this in the past by spritzing the attic and also by keeping pans of water around.  Now, I cannot keep the whole attic moist otherwise my onions will not last.   I need to figure a way to keep parts of the attic moist and others dry.

Without the weather being cold, and also not having a summer CSA this year, we have not accumulated much food so far.  All of the apples purchased to date have been eaten.  Now, we have the quince.  We have the onions.  We have started collecting hard squash (which can be stored in the living room).  Soon, very soon, we will need to get more potatoes and more root vegetables.  I’m wondering, however, how many apples we need to put away.  We can just buy what we need here, right?  I wish we did not need to put anything away.  A local food system that requires such thinking about cold storage is not a great system.  I do want my local food though, so now that it is cold enough, I’m thinking about cold storage.

Happiness is a Full Pantry: Baked Spaghetti Squash

Posted: October 28, 2010 at 10:25 am

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Just this past Sunday, I put up my last jar. My cabinet is stocked full of jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves. I’ve canned tomatoes, dried peppers, and frozen berries. I poached my peaches, covered my black currants with vodka, and juiced and frozen my cucumbers. I’m officially ready for winter, with not a minute to spare given that the winds of the Great Lakes cyclone are howling at our door.

In years past, I’d make jar after jar of jams and fruit preserves with an occasional pickle thrown in for good measure. This year, I invested in a Wisconsin made pressure canner, allowing me to put up more tomatoes. Using our first jar on Monday, I made a real winner of a recipe. Full of vegetables, low in carbs and long on taste, Baked Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Mozzarella, was a perfect antidote to a story October night.

Next year, a root cellar . . .

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Baked Spaghetti Squash with Italian Sausage and Mozzarella
Serves 6

1 large spaghetti squash
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
28 ounce can of tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, trimmed, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon oregano
pinch of red pepper
1/4 pound mozzarella, grated
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Poke the squash all over with a fork and put it on a dinner plate in the microwave. Cook on high for nine minutes. Turn over and cook for an additional 9 minutes. Remove and cool for at least 5 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, heat a saute pan over a medium-high flame. Add the sausage, cooking and breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer pink. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in the tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Stir in the peppers, red wine, oregano, red pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Butter a casserole dish. Slice the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and then scrape out the strands into the dish. Mix in the sauce and the grated mozzarella, stir to combine. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly bro-wned on top.


The Exotic Fruits of the Upper Midwest – October Buys

Posted: October 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm

As closing time approaches for area farmer’s markets, one item remains plentiful in late October, exotic fruit.  Already tired of apples, try these other fruits.


Quince generally need warm weather to thrive, and you would not expect them to be found in the cold Upper Midwest.  Still, the same warm Lake Michigan breezes that allow peaches to happen in Michigan also allow quinces to grow there.  We know one farmer serving the Chicago area who grows quince, Walt Skibbe.  Mr. Skibbe or his fruits can be found at several Chicago area farmer’s markets including Oak Park, Park Ridge and Deerfield.  He also has a stand at the South Bend Farmer’s market. 

Quince make your home smell nearly like a perfume factory.  In fact, the intense aromas can be a bit much as you find time to get to your quince.  And for the most part, you have to find time to get to your quince.  Quince can only be eaten raw if “bletted” or let go to rot–an experience we have not tried.  In North African cuisines, quince gets cooked with beef in tangines or stews.  Many cuisines boil down the fruit into jellies, or better, really boil them down into fruit paste, a/k/a membrillo.

Crab Apples

There may only be a few quince trees in the entire region.  Chances are, there is a crab apple tree somewhere down your block.  They easily grow here.  Thing is, who does anything with those fruit.  We call them “crab” apples because a bite raw makes you crabby; theyr’e very bitter and sour.  Like quince, however, crab apples contain much pectin, the stuff that makes jellies gel.  Tap down the crabiness in a sweetened jelly.  Another use for crab apples, pickle, as we used to find at the once popular quasi-Swedish buffets.

If you do not have a crab apple tree in your neighbor’s yard, you may find a farmer at your local market selling crab apples.  We saw them at two stands last Saturday in Oak Park.

Paw Paw

We noted ages ago, that there’s nothing like a tropical fruit that’s a local tropical fruit.  We find one fruit around here with the muskiness and squishy texture of the topics, paw paws.  Everything about paw paws rings of Island honeymoons.  They have an unusual green shade with a leather skin not too different from a mango.  The flesh looks a little like a mango too but has almost no sour notes.  Even the big pits seem tropical. 

Paw paws grow easily around here and should be easier to find.  Instead, there is Spence Farm selling only to restaurants and Oriana selling at Green City.  Seek this out.

Black Walnut

Our friend Oriana, the Papple Lady from Green City Market, knows the Midwest is filled with exotica.  Her orchards include paw paws, persimmons (see below), and black walnuts.  Yes, walnuts are fruits.  Every year about this time, we start exhorting you all to use more black walnuts in your cooking.  Like pretty much all the items mentioned in this post, black walnuts are characterized by their intenser-than flavors.  In other words, there are walnuts and there are black walnuts.  Actually, the intense flavor is not so much walnut-y as fruity.  I find almost a grape like quality to black walnuts.  You can use black walnuts in any walnut recipe, but people especially like to feature them in recipes that show off the fruit like black walnut ice cream.


Do we assess your locavore cred by how much you consider grapes an exotic fruit.  It is not so much that grapes themselves are exotic, it’s that with the global dominance of bland green orbs, regional grapes, hell grapes with seeds, have become exotic for many.  Southerners have their grapes like the olive-ish muscadine.  We in the Midwest have concords and many others, even, by gosh, grapes without seeds.  Again, the singular feature of our grapes is intensity of flavor.  They are tart in the skin but sweet in the flesh.  They range from musky to floral to musky-floral.  Oddly, sadly, when processed, such as in grape jelly, most of the complexity of flavor vanishes, that simple flavor that appeals to kids of all ages.

Many area vendors sell grapes.


In recent years, farmers in California have successfully grown a couple of types of Asian persimmons, and at this time of year one can find them in all sorts of markets.  But what about God Bless America, American persimmons.  Our persimmons.  The persimmons of persimmon pie, persimmon pudding, and persimmon fudge.  Joy of Cooking recipes almost never made.  Never made because who can find American persimmons around here.  The biggest limit to selling persimmons is that they are not marketable until they have pretty much fallen off the tree, over-ripe.  It’s just not something easy to bring to the market.  Instead, persimmons are mostly found, if one does not have their own, tree, by driving the back roads of Southern Indiana, looking for hand painted, for sale signs.  Or see if Oriana still has any.


And what’s exotic about cranberries?  Nothing really.  Like you, we eat them at least once a year on Thanksgiving.  Unlike you, perhaps, we get ours from the farmer’s market.  Yes, the good bulk of cranberries are from Wisconsin.  Are they as good as the cranberries purchased from your favorite farmer.  Find out.


We’ll leave you with this this last one that may or may not seem exotic.  Chestnuts may be more popular in song than in kitchen use. Who amongst us roasts their chestnuts over an open fire.  Still, chestnuts are all the rave in France and Italy.  Recently, some growers in Michigan realized they could create the rave here.  They are a bit of a pain to handle, needing to be cooked and then peeled (with a sharp knife), but they add a nice contrast to a dish of Brussels sprouts.

Other Exotic Fruits

We’ll skip various foraged crops like elderberries because you can almost never find them in markets.  There are other items that you may find, especially if you travel.  These include tiny huckleberries, hickory nuts and butter nuts.  Let us know what other exotic fruits of the Midwest may be out there.


Don’t Be Without Your Local Food – Stock Up Now!

Posted: October 27, 2010 at 11:29 am

If your local farmer’s market has not already pulled its tents for the year, it will do so soon.  This weekend will be it for many (but not all!), Chicago area farmer’s markets.  Of course, we will be updating you soon on markets open in November, road-trip markets and winter markets, but for now we want to just remind you to stock up.  The unfortunate truth of eating local around here is that you cannot buy all the local food you need from November through May.  Sure, it’s getting better, easier, but unless you want to give in to imported foods*, you need to stock up now.

Here’s your shopping list.


You will find the following items at area markets but consume these within a week or so:

  • Rocket
  • Sweet peppers
  • Lettuces
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Collard and other hearty greens
  • Bok choi and related
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Smaller radishes
  • Spinach
  • Celery


The following items will last with good handling for about a month:

  • Pears, especially Asian style pears
  • Hot peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Larger radishes such as black radishes
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potatoes


The following items will last through winter with good handling:

  • Kohlrabi (use the greens within a week)
  • Turnips (use the greens within a week)
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Beets
  • Rutabaga
  • Celery root
  • Parsley root
  • Onions
  • Winter squash
  • Sunchokes
  • Burdock root


The following items will last you through early spring or beyond with good handling:

  • Garlic
  • Apples–Most fall apples keep well with the exception of McIntosh, which are very poor keepers)
  • Potatoes–Likewise, most fall potatoes keep well, but especially good keepers include blue potatoes and russet potatoes

*Not that we think you cannot eat any non-local foods.  Winter time is citrus time.  We also reach out in the off-season for the stuff like bananas, pineapples, prickly pears, and such.  We don’t believe one has to only eat local foods!

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Skokie Farmers Market: 10/24/10 Update

Posted: October 26, 2010 at 6:01 pm


Skokie Farmers Market
Sundays, June 27 through October 31
7:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
5127 Oakton St.
Free parking lot between Skokie Public Library and Skokie Village Hall
Skokie, IL

Produce offerings for the ongoing Midwest harvest season this week – the penultimate Skokie market for 2010 –  included:

-          KAP Farms, Fox River Grove/Troy, IL: Brussels sprouts on the stalk; tomatoes (the $2/basket overripe sale continues); cheese pumpkins, beets, turnips, fennel, potatoes, fresh herbs, including greenhouse-grown basil

-          A. Dongvillo Farm, St. Joseph, MI: apples, Bosc and Bartlett pears, prune plums

-          T&H Farms, Marengo, IL:  Fall décor/produce sale:  gigantic flowering kale for $5, plus chrysanthemums, blue/white/warted/’Cinderella’ deco pumpkins, statice, potted perennial hollyhocks, and asparagus ferns; Brussels sprouts on the stalk, onions, honey, cider

-          R&B Miller Farms, Coloma, MI:  six types of apples, honey, bulk cranberries ($4/lb

-          Heritage Orchards, Benton Harbor, MI:  a panoply of apples:  Jonagold, Conrail, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Golden Russet,  Candy Crisp, Sun Crisp, Honey Crisp, and several others, by the pound and by the half-bushel ($18)

-          M&D Farms, Homer Glen, IL:   broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (off the stalk); radishes, eggplant; red, green, and yellow bell peppers;  sugar and ‘Wee Be Little’ pumpkins; gourds;  concrete gargoyles, just in time for the season

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Gladioli, eucalyptus, tuberoses, chrysanthemum plants (2 gal size)

-          River Valley Farms, Burlington, WI: besides the usual variety of mushrooms and sauces, River Valley featured caramel apples, 5-cheese garlic spread, and portabella & Swiss bratwurst ($8/lb) – one stop WI shopping

Top 5 Local Wines Available In Chicagoland

Posted: October 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I’ll admit that when Rob asked me to compile this list for The Local Beet, I groaned a little inside, knowing that finding local wines off-the-shelf in Chicagoland can be a hit-or-miss endeavor.  With distribution of the very best local wine in Chicago still an issue, some small distributors have started to chip away at this problem, and local wine is slowly — but surely — becoming more widely available. The key, however, is to look at small wine stores that are willing to stock smaller amounts of certain wines, such as Fine Wine Brokers (in Lincoln Square), Pastoral (three Chicago locations), and Green Grocer. Whole Foods has a varying selection of local wine as well.  By the time I compiled this list, I was surprised to find that I had to omit some very deserving wines in order to keep the list manageable.  They’re out there, it just takes a little digging.

1. (tie) L.Mawby Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs (Leelanau Peninsula). Now that we’re moving into the holiday season, pour these two wonderful — and reasonably priced — local sparkling wines as your guests walk in the door. Blanc de Blancs is widely available in Chicagoland at Binny’s, Fine Wine Brokers, Pastoral, Green Grocer, and Whole Foods. (Blanc de Noirs is available in half-bottles at Fine Wine Brokers and Pastoral.)

2. (tie) 2008 Black Star Farms Arcturos Cabernet Franc (Leelanau Peninsula) and 2007 Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc (Old Mission Peninsula). Cab Franc, as it’s known, is a grape used normally to blend in Bordeaux or Bordeaux-style blends (along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) but it is featured on its own in certain French reds from the Loire. These light- to medium-bodied reds are great fall weather reds, redolent of forest fruits and spice. Black Star Farms’ Cab Franc is available at Green Grocer and some Whole Foods, and Peninsula Cellars’ version is available at House Red. Peninsula Cellars’ Cab Franc is also available by the glass at Hopleaf and Eno in the Fairmont.

3. 2009 Fenn Valley  “42” Ice Wine (Fennville, MI).   Serve with non-chocolate desserts; it’s crisp and more acidic than most sweet dessert wines. Available at House Red.

4. 2008 Chateau Chantal (Old Mission Peninsula) Chardonnay. This crisp, unoaked version of the ubiquitous grape is available at House Red.

5. (tie) 2009 Good Harbor “Fishtown White” (dry blend of Chardonnay, Vignoles and Seyval Blanc) and 2009 “Trillium” (semi-dry blend of Riesling, Vignoles and Seyval Blanc) (Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI).   Good Harbor winery effortlessly makes easy-to-drink table whites for an extremely reasonable price. These wines are available at Pastoral. The Trillium is also available by-the-glass at Boka.


Locations throughout Chicagoland

Dobby’s World Wide Wine & Liquors
15 S. Brockway
Palatine, IL 60067
(847) 359-0400

Fine Wine Brokers
4621 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625-2007
(773) 989-8166

Green Grocer
1402 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60642-6303
(312) 624-9508

House Red
7403 W. Madison
Forest Park, IL 60130
(708) 771-7RED

Locations in the Loop, Lakeview and the French Market

Whole Foods
Locations throughout Chicagoland

*   *   *

If you have any “top” local wines that you’d like to share, please post!

Ravinia Farmers Market: 10/20/2010 Update

Posted: October 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Roger Williams Dr., East of Green Bay Road
Adjacent to Jens Jensen Park
Highland Park (Ravinia), IL

Hours: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM Wednesdays, June 16th through October 20th

My last round-up of the 2010 Ravinia Farmers market is a listing of all of the vendors in attendance for the final market of 2010; several will be around at other later-ending North Shore markets.   Note that food vendors outnumbered farmers at over a 2:1 ratio; I have also noted prepared food vendors have cycled out at an accelerated rate this year.  Not necessarily a criticism, merely an observation of the state of the market, and perhaps the fortunes of its non-agricultural vendors.

October 13th Update:

-          Dennis Acres, Barrington Hills, IL: potatoes; pumpkins

-          Klug Orchards, Berrien Center, MI:  apples in several varieties

-          KAP Farms, Fox River Grove/Cary, IL: several root crops (e.g., beets, carrots, etc.), tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds

-          K&K Farms, Coloma, MI:  Bosc and Bartlett pears, apple cider, several varieties of apples, including late Winesaps

-          Gata Bee Crepes:  made-to-order sweet & savory crepes; catering available

-          White Star, Morton Grove, IL:  beverages, scones, pastries

-          Fraternite Notre Dame, St. Roger Abbey, Algonquin, IL: French pastries, tarts, breads

-          Darina’s cookies, Chicago,  IL:  extravagantly decorated  butter cookies

-          High Rise Bakery , Chicago, IL:  pretzel rolls, pretzel buns, baguettes

-          Cheese People, Quincy, IL :  high-end cheeses


-          Stivers Coffee, Chicago,  IL:  locally roasted and flavored coffees

-          La Spiceria, Palatine, IL: bulk spices and herb blends

-          LeilaLove, Chicago, IL: pomegranate and olive spreads, on the order of  tapenade, but not as salty.  Owned by Nama Namdar, a professional chef

-          Knife Sharpening by Dave: custom knife sharpening, watch repair (off-site)

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Tuberoses, eucalyptus; chrysanthemums in three sizes, starting at $5 for a 1-gal pot

Skokie Farmers Market: 10/17/2010 Update

Posted: October 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm




Skokie Farmers Market
Sundays, June 27 through October 31
7:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
5127 Oakton St.
Free parking lot between Skokie Public Library and Skokie Village Hall
Skokie, IL

This lovely, quiet fall day at the Skokie farmers market was enlivened by the brisk 12:45 departure of the vendor truck belonging to “Let’s Spice it Up!” onto busy Oakton Avenue – with its back doors wide open.   This set off a chorus of shrieking, arm-waving fellow vendors, albeit to no avail – the truck sped away, and disappeared, door flapping in the breeze.  What’s the hurry, fellas?

On a more tranquil note, new produce offerings for the ongoing Midwest harvest season included:

-          KAP Farms, Fox River Grove/Troy, IL: pie pumpkins for $1.50 ea., plus what must surely be the end of the bountiful tomato crop for the season

-          A. Dongvillo Farm, St. Joseph, MI: several varieties of apples, Bosc and Bartlett pears, prune plums

-          T&H Farms, Marengo, IL:  big decorative presentation this week:  flowering kale, chrysanthemums, and pumpkins, plus potted perennial hollyhocks and lavender.  Late season produce included Brussels sprouts on the stalk, gigantic cauliflower, equally outsized zucchini – and watermelon!

-          Heritage Orchards, Benton Harbor, MI: Myriad apple varieties:  Jonagold, Suncrisp, Mutsu, Swiss Gourmet, Jonathan, Honey Crisp, and several others, by the pound and by the bushel; cider

 -          M&D Farms, Homer Glen, IL:   last of the tomatoes, last of the sweet corn

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Gladioli, eucalyptus, tuberoses, chrysanthemum plants (2 gal size)

-          River Valley Farms, Burlington, WI: shiitake, portabella, and oyster mushrooms, as well as the standard button

In Praise of the Braise: Butternut Squash Rosemary Puree

Posted: October 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm


When the trees change colors and the air acquires that crisp snap of fall, the slow cooker returns to my kitchen counter. After months of quickly cooked (if at all) vegetables and grilled meats, braising re-enters my culinary vocabulary and not a minute too soon.

Braising, slow cooking, stewing all give us the luxury of time. Throw a handful of hard, sinewy, ingredients, add a liquid, maybe a few, and a certain alchemy occurs. I particularly love when you start the process early on in the day, depart, and return to the aromas of the hearth.

This has been a busy week for me, a good one as well. Due to my organization Purple Asparagus’ involvement in Healthy Schools Campaign’s Chefs in the Classroom Day, my face has been seen in several media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and ABC7, and my voice heard on WBBM. I’ve received word yesterday that I may even get a picture in the Washington Post (but, shhh, I’d hate to spread it around and then it not happen).

On a week like this, short on time, long on stress, I love the braise – delicious dinner with minimum of effort. I made the recipe from a post on my Little Locavores blog Beef Braised with Wine and Onions. Using an arm roast, the meat turned out sturdy, yet silky. I served these wide strands of meat enveloped with a slightly acidic sauce atop Butternut Squash-Rosemary Puree. Even the little locavore ate every bite.

Butternut Squash-Rosemary Puree
Serves 3

1 small butternut squash
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 minced garlic clove
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Halve the squash and remove the seeds. Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment and set the squash flesh side down. Roast until tender approximately 40 minutes. Let cool slightly and then puree in a food processor. Heat the cream, rosemary and garlic in a small saucepan to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Pour the cream through the feeding tube and puree with the squash. Season with salt and pepper.

Ravinia Farmers Market: 10/13/10 Update

Posted: October 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Ravinia Farmers Market
Roger Williams Dr., East of Green Bay Road
Adjacent to Jens Jensen Park
Highland Park (Ravinia), IL 

Hours: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM Wednesdays, June 16th through October 20th

The penultimate Ravinia market – good heavens! Where has the year gone?

 October 13th Update: What was new and in season this week:

-          Dennis Acres, Barrington Hills, IL:  the last of the Red Pear grape-type tomatoes, $5 per pint;  very small round pumpkins, $1.75

-          Klug Orchards, Berrien Center, MI:  The last of the blueberry crop for the year, $4 per half-pint

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Tuberoses,  ‘Stargazer’ and another, less pungently-fragrant variety of  lily, eucalyptus; chrysanthemums in three sizes, starting at $5 for a 1-gal pot; the last of the sunflowers

-          K&K Farms, Coloma, MI:  fall raspberries,  Bosc and Bartlett pears, apple cider, and at least a dozen varieties of apples, including late Winesaps

-          Red Barn Farms, Woodstock, IL: beets in two varieties, large flowering kale, “Squirrel” corn, jarred red popcorn, Indian corn bunches, several varieties of decorative pumpkins, chrysanthemums;  calico shell beans, lima beans; honey; fresh floral bouquets, featuring the last of the summer snapdragons

-          High Rise Bakery, Chicago, IL:  half-dozen varieties of large muffins, pretzel rolls, pretzel buns, baguettes

Skokie Farmers Market: 10/10/2010 Update

Posted: October 14, 2010 at 11:15 am

Skokie Farmers Market
Sundays, June 27 through October 31
7:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
5127 Oakton St.
Free parking lot between Skokie Public Library and Skokie Village Hall
Skokie, IL

 This perfect – and verywarm – fall day was enhanced by bluegrass music, courtesy of the Northshore Adventist Academy Bluegrass Band.  The music was the perfect accompaniment for strolling about and comparing the offerings of the various vendors, especially the numerous apple varieties.

New produce offerings for the Midwest harvest season included:

-          KAP Farms, Fox River Grove/Troy, IL:  two varieties of mustard greens, spaghetti squash, the last of the sweet corn;  large ‘Carnival’ decorative gourds, and a large variety of non-standard pumpkins, including warted and white ‘Ghost,’ plus pie pumpkins for $1.50 ea.

-          R&B, Farms, Coloma, MI: Granny Smith, Cort Glen, and Granny Smith apples; cider

-          Heritage Orchards, Benton Harbor, MI: Myriad apple varieties:  Jonagold, Suncrisp, Mutsu, Swiss Gourmet, Jonathan, HoneyCrisp, by the pound and by the bushel ;  the last of the season field-grown tomatoes, $1.80/lb

-          M&D Farms, Homer Glen, IL:  poblano chiles;  tiny round pumpkins

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Gladioli, eucalyptus, tuberoses, chrysanthemum plants (2 gal size)

-          Patz Maple & Honey Farm, Pound, WI: The final appearance at the 2010 Skokie market for this vendor.  Honey varietals and blends, maple sugar & syrup, and all manner of bee-related products (wax, pollen, etc.)

State of the Plate – Looking at Sustainable Meat – 11.17.10 – Harold Washington Library/Robert Morris University

Posted: October 14, 2010 at 8:31 am

Our friends at continue to entrance us with wonderful sounding events.  I mean after feeding you but good on October 24th (the deal’s especially sweet now with the announcement that the dinner swag includes $100 of gift certificates from Lettuce Entertain You), they have this day planned to teach you more about what goes on  your plate.  It’s an entire day devoted to the topic of sustainable meat.  You’ll have the chance to meet producers like Tall Grass and Dietzler as well as hearing from and eating from some of our favorite chefs like Rob Levitt, Bruce Sherman and Paul Virant.  The full agenda is below. 

Chefs Rick Bayless, John Coletta, Rob Levitt, Carrie Nahabedian, Ina Pinkney, Bruce Sherman, Sarah Stegner, Paul Virant and Randy Zweiban cordially invite you to:

Cooking Up Sustainable Choices
Sustainable Meat: What it is • What it tastes like • Why buy it • Where to get it

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
8 a.m. – 3 p.m.  Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington Library Center
3 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.  Robert Morris University

8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. • Registration and Networking

9:00 a.m. – Noon • Sustainable Meat Roundtable
Learn the methods, challenges and opportunities surrounding sustainable meat production and preparation. 
Panel: Bill Kurtis, Tallgrass Beef; Paul Willis, Niman Ranch; Chef Paul Virant, Vie; Bob Martin, PEW Environmental Group
Moderator: Dean Chris Koetke, Kendall College
Keynote: Robert Kenner, producer/director of Food, Inc.

12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. • Meet the Producers
Gain insights on sustainable production methods and how they differ from their competitors.
Panel: Ranchers from Dietzler Farms, American Grassfed Beef, Organic Prairie, Black Earth Meats
Moderator: Jim Slama,
Keynote: Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appetit Management Co.

3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. • You Taste – You Decide
Sample meat products from eight sustainable producers and
meet with distributors to discuss pricing and delivery options.

4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. • Screening of Food, Inc.
Including Q&A session with Robert Kenner, producer/director


Sponsored by Kendall College, Farmers Market Coalition, Green City Market,, Chefs Collaborative, and Robert Morris University 

*advance registration required

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Mobbed Up – Report from the Crop Mob

Posted: October 14, 2010 at 8:13 am

Editor’s note: On 10.10.10 a group mobbed up at the farm of Marty and Kris Travis to work for their food.  Mande Smogor, who plans on setting off soon to talk with, and write about America’s farmers and ranchers, heeded the call.  She provided this report and some pictures for you Beetniks.  You can follow Mande’s unfolding adventures at The American Heartland.  Want more, the Mafia Hairdresser also reports back, including his use of the green tomato recipe from the Sustainable Cook.

On Sunday, watched as their grassroots movement took off on a global scale, with 188 countries around the world participating in some form of group work party to encourage positive climate transformation.

I was lucky enough to travel with other like-minded folk (Rob from The Local Beet Chicago, the Mafia Hairdresser, and Tom from White Oak Gourmet) down to Livingston County, Illinois, where I met Marty and Kris Travis. They are the genius behind The Spence Farm, the oldest farm in Livingston County. Even cooler, they are the direct descendants of the original settlers. Marty and Kris are the real deal: intelligent, passionate, welcoming, innovative.

In the business of agriculture, one little thing can make or break you. “Farming is a science, an art, a gamble – a risk. You’re always at the mercy of the next thing,” Marty says as he feeds popping sorghum into an old combine. They supply directly to top restaurants in Chicago in return for firsthand inspiration and support. They grow “wild and weird” crops, and you can bet that everything is natural.

Marty and Kris are working against genetically modified organisms (GMO) – those are my words, not theirs, but let me explain. Livingston County is largely rural. You will find few corporate farms: nearly everything is small and family-owned, but the crops don’t vary much between GM corn, GM soybeans, and GM wheat. The Travis’ have to wait 2 to 4 weeks after everyone else is done planting for fear of cross-contamination with their “safe” seeds. But Marty is quick to point out that he’s not fighting against these people. “They are neighbors, they aren’t the enemy.” They’re just trying to make a living like the rest of us.

For several hours yesterday, our group harvested sorghum by hand, deconstructed a tomato field (and kept back a few post-frost tomatoes that are descendants of Galapagos Island fruits brought here by Charles Darwin’s great-granddaughter), sampled some late-harvest pawpaws (as a pastry chef, I would love to incorporate those babies into a tart of some kind), toured the maple syrup setup back in the sugar maple grove, planted 4 rows of garlic, and ate lunch in the grass amidst friendly heirloom chickens.

Ravinia Farmers Market: October 6, 2010 Update

Posted: October 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

Roger Williams Dr., East of Green Bay Road
Adjacent to Jens Jensen Park
Highland Park (Ravinia), IL 

Hours: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM Wednesdays, June 16th through October 20th


 October 6th Update

Farmers market shoppers enjoyed a perfect fall day on Wednesday – warm sun, cool breeze, cloudless blue skies, brilliant fall foliage, and abundant harvest-time produce to choose from, as well as lovely music from a mountain dulcimer/flute trio.  The last added an elegance to the market that made shopping a pure pleasure, and was provided by a local ‘vendor’/teacher/performer, Janet Swartz, of Highland Park (, and her colleague, performer/songwriter Carole Ehrman (

What was new and in season this week:

-          NEW VENDOR:  Le Spiceria: carrying a large variety of dried spices and spice blends

-          Dennis Acres, Barrington Hills, IL:  Sugar pumpkins, ‘Jersey Golden’ winter squash, four varieties of potatoes

-          Klug Orchards, Berrien Center, MI:  ‘Swiss Gourmet’ apples, nut brittle

-          Oosterhoff & Sons, Momence, IL:  Tuberoses, huge cockscomb-type celosia, ‘Stargazer’ lilies, chrysanthemums in three sizes

-          K&K Farms, Coloma, MI:  fall raspberries,  two varieties of pears, apple cider, and at least a dozen varieties of apples

-          KAP Farms, Fox River Grove/Downstate, IL:  gourds, pumpkins, $2 bargain baskets of very ripe mixed variety tomatoes, jalapeno and poblano chiles

-          Red Barn Farms, Woodstock, IL: “Squirrel” corn, AKA large bags of dried corn on the cob, for feeding wildlife (25 lbs for $5.95, 50 lbs for $9.95), jarred popcorn, decorative broom corn stalks, Indian corn bunches, several varieties of decorative pumpkins, chrysanthemums; seven varieties of winter squash, five varieties of potatoes, calico shell beans, lima beans, flowering dill

There’s Still Food Up in Them There Hills (and Close to Home Too)

Posted: October 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

Editor’s Note: Eric May covers the wild beat.  In this second installment of There’s Food Up in Them There Hills, Eric finds plenty of mushrooms all across the Midwest, although he laments what can be had very close to home.  Read Eric’s previous foraging report here.

Mushroom Foraging: Late Summer/ Fall Wrap up

Greetings, the intrepid forager joins you once again to share tales of scouring the woods in search of edible mushrooms. It has been quite a great season for mushrooming, definitely a hotter summer than last year, likewise yielding different bounties. This is an aspect of the sport that I have come to really appreciate, that the diversity of the harvest is not only seasonal, but also annual. I have traveled around the Midwest a fair amount since we last checked in, so the range of my findings is also apropo to the different lands in which I foraged.

We last left off in Southwest Michigan, specifically the Saugatuck area, where I spend my summers. The most surprising discovery of early August was my first ever finding of a beefsteak mushroom- a polypore, which grows on tree trunks in a shelf-like formation. It is dead easy to identify, crimson colored with a sticky, wet look. The specimen I found was about the size of my hand. The tactile and visual quality of this fungus could not stay more true to the descriptor of its name. As I cut the mushroom from the tree trunk, it immediately expressed blood-like fluid. A cross section of its flesh revealed a cellular structure defined by a network of lighter colored membrane that very closely resembled the marbling of a nice steak. I imagined that the mushroom would taste of its namesake, as do other appropriately named edibles like the chicken of the woods. I prepared it as I usually do with a new-to-me mushroom, sliced and simply sautéed in butter. As it cooked the flesh and juices mimicked that of liver as it cooks. The flavor, however, was completely unexpected- it had a vegetal crunch and a pronounced acidic note that was more citrus than the presumed mineral meat flavor. I would love to work with this mushroom again since I was somewhat taken aback by its flavor profile the first time. I imagine that it would be quite good roasted and added to a salad.

beefsteak mushroom

The entire season proved to be quite prolific for chicken of the woods. We had such an abundance of them in our cooler that I stopped collecting them and would instead admire their beauty as- is in the landscape. There was a particularly fruitful late summer flush during the first week of September that I caught just at the right time. They had reached a large enough size to collect, yet were still incredibly tender. These young specimens were less shelf-like with a knobby look and a sulfuric yellow hue. The handful of these mushrooms that I collected was rich and supple to the bite, unlike any I have ever prepared. They really had a pronounced eggy flavor, which I found humorous. I also collected a few young hen-of-the-woods (aka maitake) clusters that day, my longtime favorite of the late season edibles. I must admit that the chicken had such a wonderful thing going on that they overshadowed the hen. I prepared a “his ‘n hers” pizza that I topped with half hen and half chicken. The chicken went first.

 lion's mane

I left Western Michigan for the season and my next travels pointed northward to the Upper Peninsula. It had been unseasonably hot before I arrived and it rained while I was there, so it seems as though I may have missed a good flush. The mycological diversity up ‘dere was stunning though; I saw enormous shelf funguses of otherworldly appearance. Edible-wise, I did okay, enough for a dinner and omelets the next morning. I found plenty of oysters, but only a handful that were fresh for eating. There were loads of boletes, though many of them were of the bitter variety, which look much like king bolete and always prove to disappoint. I saw evidence of huge clusters of lion’s mane mushrooms (aka bear’s head or waterfall), but found only a few immature specimens from which I harvested lightly. I find these mushrooms in Saugatuck in early October and also grow them on my own. They are an overlooked and simply delicious mushroom that has a very delicate texture and a flavor reminiscent of crab. I’ve never seen them at farmer’s markets even though they are relatively easy to grow. Perhaps it’s their bizarre look, a kind of micro- Arctic landscape of cascading ivory colored icicles. I also found a single hedgehog tooth mushroom that is a relative of the lion’s mane, which grows on the ground rather than decaying wood. It has more of a toadstool-like structure with a stem and an irregularly shaped cap, which has a spiny stalactite- like texture. It had a similar seafoody taste to the lion’s mane though with a much firmer and meatier texture, quite divine. I really hope to come across this mushroom again some day.


I am now back in Cook County with our restrictive laws prohibiting the collection of mushrooms. It’s too bad, since October can be great mushrooming, especially for maitake. I was lucky enough to find a smallish cluster growing on an oak tree on a friend’s land south of the city. That is where they dwell, growing right at the base of the oldest of oaks, tucked in the folds of roots peaking out from the soil. I know they’re out there, getting nibbled by the critters or shriveling away, pounds upon pounds of gourmet ‘shrooms, contraband unable to be brought home and enjoyed in our kitchens. It’s back up to Michigan for me this weekend!


On the Beet – Our Reporter Checks in Again From the Madison Market Thursday, October 7th, 2010
An Ultimate Farm Supper, For a Great Cause – 10.24 Family Farmed Harvest Event at Heritage Prairie Market Thursday, October 7th, 2010
You Never Know Where Your Cheese Will Show – Finding Local Cheese at the Grocery Store Thursday, October 7th, 2010
PlanIt Green for Oak Park, River Forest – Communities Working on Their Sustainability Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
All-Michigan Wine Dinner @ Signature Room, Oct. 27 Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
Work for Your Local – Crop Mob 10.10 @ Spence Farm Monday, October 4th, 2010
A New Marion Street Cheese Market, Now Two Monday, October 4th, 2010
The Local Beet’s Fall & Winter CSA Guide Friday, October 1st, 2010