It’s no secret that increasing numbers of people here in the northeast are turning to farming in order to have more control of their food supply and their economy. The average age of the American farmer was quoted as being 54 years old, but that’s bound to lower significantly as young people return to the profession in droves. Not only is the Catskills being enriched by new farmers, but also by entrepreneurs, innovators, producers and artists, all contributing to the local economy in meaningful ways. New Yorkers are moving up from the city to have more space, breathe fresh air, eat better food and re-connect with nature. Laura Silverman and Juliette Hermant moved from New York City to the Catskills, in 2009 and 2012 respectively to do just that. The two met when Silverman “was poking around” in Hermant’s store in Narrowsburg. “I bought a large, 1920s brick building and breathed new life into it,” says Hermant, a painter and photographer. “I filled it with antiques and vintage pieces, 90% of which are local to the Catskills. I set about trying to engage with the community to work on revitalizing the area.”
Homemade Catskills sandwich: Breadfellows‘ delicious semolina bread, lightly toasted with boiled eggs and last year’s home grown (frozen) zucchini sauteed in butter. Tasty.
If there’s anything quite as satisfying as foraging for your lunch, apart from growing your own food, I’d like to know what that is. Wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps, are having a good season here in the Catskills and many residents have them in abundance on their property this year. Don’t pick too many to ensure that your ramps continue to return every year. If you pick your whole crop they may not grow back. They require literally no maintenance, but you can enjoy them year after year if you take no more than a third of the crop. They smell like onions, have bright green leaves, red stems and you can eat the whole plant. A large ramp about 18 inches in length like the ones pictured below is enough for a two-egg scramble. This recipe calls for the ramps to be mixed in with the eggs.
Wild Leek & Scrambled Eggs Serves 4
10 small eggs
4 large wild leeks
1 large tablespoon of finely grated parmesan
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of oil
Half a cup of milk
Salt & pepper to taste
Take the leeks, cut the leaves off and put the leaves to one side. Chop the stems finely. Heat a skillet with the oil in it and sautee the stems until soft.
Separately beat the eggs and milk in a bowl until thoroughly mixed and then, add the chopped leaves and parmesan and beat for a few more minutes until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the butter to the sauteed stems, allow it to melt and mix in with the soft stems. Add the egg mixture to the stems and cook lightly until scrambled.
Phoenicia Diner‘s fried crab cake sandwich with bacon served with salad on a soft roll. The crab cakes are soft and fishy, as opposed to thick and doughy, and melt in the mouth making the sandwich deliciously light.
Bread Alone’s Reuben with gruyere cheese, Russian dressing, coleslaw and pastrami on organic sourdough rye is much less greasy than it looks and remarkably juicy. The coleslaw is quite mild in this sandwich, complementing the flavor of the pastrami, which is not overly salty. The last spectacular sandwich I recommended from Bread Alone disappeared off the Winter 2015 menu just as my review in the Catskills Food Guide went to press and was replaced with something similar. Plus, the Boiceville location where I got the Avocado & Arugula on April 4th has had the arugula removed for the spring menu. All these additions and subtractions keeps us food reviewers on our toes. Grab the Reuben while you can, as menus change frequently.
The Phoenicia Diner revamped its roast beef sandwich this year. They toasted the bread, added melted brie to the juicy grass-fed beef making this classic sandwich much more delicious. Moreover, it’s a reasonable size for a sandwich, not a gigantic doorstop that’s a whole day’s worth of calories and enough meat to clog your colon for weeks.
Bread Alone’s cucumber, apple, celeraic, sprouts, arugula pesto comes on organic ciabatta bread, but is much better on wheat. Crunchy, chewy and refreshing all at the same time, if that’s possible: a delicious Catskills sandwich.
Local grass-fed beef is now available at the Hubbell Family Farm on 46124 Route 30 near Halcottsville, New York. Call in at their machine rental business, Catskill Rentals, where you can also pick up eggs and maple syrup. Grass-fed offerings are porterhouse, sirloin, short ribs, bones, burgers, brisket, and more, that was butchered two weeks ago and available frozen. You can also put your name down for heritage pork coming up in a few weeks. Talk to Andrew, John or Cheryl. Eat locally raised meat and support your community.
Pork shoulder, beef burger sliders, crostini with cranberry ricotta, polenta with roasted Brussels sprouts, kale salad, pheasant soup and a plate of roasted, assorted spuds, all washed down with local cider from Wayside in East Delhi. That was last night’s delicious menu at The Pines’ backyard Catskills Comes To Brooklyn blowout that was packed to the rafters with hungry New Yorkers feasting on local produce and roasting s’mores over the fire. We even got to taste Wayside’s limited edition crab apple cider, which was worth the trip in itself, but not sure if it beats our current favorite, Wayside’s Skinny Dip, which is made with local quince. Owner of the Pines, Carver Farrell hails from upstate and a big supporter of local food. When you’re next in the city, visit The Pines. There are no photographs of the food, because it sadly did not stay on the plate long enough. Plus Wayside’s cider slips down so very easily and smoothly, just like we did after three glasses. You will just have to go and find out for yourself.
November 6th to 15th is Cider Week in NYC and there is Farm to Table style gathering at The Pines in Brooklyn, the owner of which is from Delaware County and a keen supporter of farmers and producers here.
They are hosting a Catskills backyard blowout on November 9th from 6pm to 10pm. They will be bringing down Delaware County-grown eats, wild-apple ciders and all manner of special things and special guests to the banks of the Gowanus including Wayside’s special crab apple cider.
They will be firing up seasonal snacks on the grill, roasting s’mores around the fire pit, and pouring cider all night long. Entry cost is $35 all-you-can-eat and cider specials a la carte. If you’re in NYC next week, please go to The Pines and support our local producers.
284 Third Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Buy tickets here.
Word of Delaware County-based Wayside Cider is spreading like wildfire and they’ve completely sold out of two varieties, Halfwild and Catskills. They have very limited amounts remaining of the Skinny Dip that included local quince. Wayside has been in business for a year and thus far have pressed about 30,000 gallons. Before the end of the season, they’ll press another 7,000 gallons. This has been a tremendous year for the Catskills wild apple and many supportive neighbors have invited Wilson, and his business partner Irene Hussey, onto their land to pick their heritage apples and they’ve found five or six varieties of apples that are geo-specific to the Catskills. Some of those trees they have marked for grafting and Wilson is putting together a “roster of apples” from what exists here in these mountains.
Further north in Cold Spring, Glynwood is hosting its third annual Cider Dinner on November 13th from 6.30pm to 10pm. Guest Chef Shawn Hubbell of Soons Orchard & Farm Market joins guests in November during Cider Week NYC for a farm-fresh meal paired with the best craft hard cider the Hudson Valley has to offer.
362 Glynwood Road
Cold Spring, NY 10516
2015 must be The Year of the Apple in the Catskills such is their abundance this year. a neighbour guesses that we have heritage apples on our property. Yesterday, I borrowed a dehydrator in exchange for ten pounds of apples. It’s clear that I’ll be making apple products like apple sauce, fruit leather, dried apples and apple crisp, for days and days to come. The image above is my breakfast for the foreseeable future: plain yoghurt layered with homemade apple sauce.
If you’ve grown more carrots and beetroot that you can handle, you can make a crunchy slaw with crumbly goat’s milk feta. Serves four.
3 medium-sized beetroot (with leaves)
4-5 medium-sized carrots
1.5 ounces of balsamic vinegar
3 ounces of goat’s milk feta
Grate the carrots and beetroot. Chop up the beetroot greens. Cut the feta cheese into cubes. Mix the grated vegetables, and cheese together in a bowl with the balsamic vinegar for a quick, easy, utterly delicious, juicy and crunchy salad.
Wild apples are extraordinarily abundant and delicious in the Catskills this summer. They’re also slightly larger and sweeter than last year’s. Foraging for wild apples at the moment could not be any easier as they are just about everywhere you look. If you don’t have a tree or two on your property, it’s likely that you have a neighbour who does. If they aren’t going to pick their apples, ask them if you can pick some. Apple sauce freezes well for a couple of months and goes perfectly with and in a varied array of sweet and savoury dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Fill a large tureen with peeled and halved apples. (Wild apples go brown almost immediately after peeling, so you can pop them in a bowl of water with lemon juice to stop that if it bothers you.) Boil the apples in water slowly until they are soft, strain and mash them with as much sugar as desired. Let the mash sit for a half hour while the sugar dissolves, stir in some spices like cinnamon, clove or vanilla and then keep stirring until cool. Freeze in mason jars, but don’t add the spices if you’re going to freeze. Spices don’t freeze well, so add those when you use the sauce.
If you’re lucky enough to find a blackberry bush under the apple tree, you can add those to the sauce. Either mix them raw into the sugared apple mash for an easy pie filling or boil them separately with sugar to make a small amount of jam.
The best part about foraging for wild apples is that the fruit is pesticide-free, although it’s recommended that roadside foraging be avoided because of contamination from brake dust, motor oil and snow-melting sand or salt.
You’ll find one of the Catskills’ finest burgers in Bearsville’s Commune Saloon. A scrumptious masterpiece that is a luscious combination of fried onions, cheese and burger, it’s juicy succulence expertly contained within a light bun. Indeed, its name is the Juicy Lucy.
Introduced to the Saloon by Jeff of Catskill Mountain Wild a few weeks ago after the full moon hike, I’ve been back there twice already. This is the burger I dream about on hump day and the Saloon is a slice of heaven where I spent a summer hour after dusk last night around the fire pit. Nestled in the cozy, leafy enclave of Bearsville restaurants, the campfire flickered while service staff prepared for the theatre to empty. Last night, King Crimson was thumping lightly in the background as relaxed diners chatted quietly.
There’s also the sauce. It doesn’t taste like mayonnaise or ketchup, just simply indescribably delicious. I can imagine this burger is the answer to all hangovers. Most important of all though: it’s a reasonable size if you care about how much food you eat. Most of the tastiest Catskills’ burgers are large enough to share or take half home. It also comes to the table with a giant knife stuck right in the top of it and it’s an obvious metaphor. This burger will break your heart and keep you coming back for more.
Go swimming in Big Pond. Make a detour on the way home and get the most juicy, tender and delicate smoked trout this side of, actually anywhere. Mark Twain wrote extensively about America’s trout with reverence calling it “the masterpiece of the universe”.
According to Andrew Beahrs, who wrote Twain’s Feast, throughout Twain’s life the simple phrase “trout dinner” was synonymous with simple enjoyment, with the pleasure at once luxurious and comforting. Whether he was in Germany or stage coaching across the Nevada Flats, when Twain wrote something to the effect of “we had trout dinner”, you can be sure that whatever had happened before, he ended the day contented. Apparently, Twain loved his trout, straight out of the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe, fried with bacon.
Fleischmanns’ Goatie White’s pork sandwich, on a light roll, made more moist and delicious by the addition of a generous helping of fried onions stuffed between the thinly-sliced pork and a thin layer of cheese. Not too heavy or greasy, it’s excellent pre-hike sustenance. A sandwich to love.
Two pals couldn’t have picked a more idyllic evening to attend Table on Ten’s pizza night: an early evening drive through the balmy, bucolic mountains of Roxbury so astonishingly beautiful in the waning light that we had to stop a couple of times to get out of the car and drink in the atmosphere. (“What’s that? Sheep. Let’s stop. Hey Ewe!”) Hay, barns, lush undulating ridges, rail trails, stone walls and bridges over roaring creeks: a gasp of admiration at every turn. A quick jaunt past the restaurant into the hamlet of Bloomville, New York, revealed a picturesque rural scene of tractors, antiques and a white-sided two hundred year old church atop a meadow.
After we closed on our mountain homestead (“sign here, here and here, here, here and here and sign here, here and here… initial here, here and here…”) we wondered aloud where we should go to celebrate and without a moment’s hesitation, our realtor swung away from her conversation with our lawyer to respond: Peekamoose. That was eight years ago and there really wasn’t anything like it then and there really isn’t anything like it now. When we first went to Peekamoose I wanted to just hand the keys back to the bank and move in. The country farmhouse atmosphere is so cozy and relaxing and the food is phenomenal, end of story. The chef’s freshly made doughnuts feel like they could fly away if you don’t hold them down with a generous dollop of whipped cream. I could go on, and I will.
In season now, are wild strawberries. That’s a teaspoon, so they’re tiny, but delicious. Look for the serrated-edged leaves and if the grass is low, just run your hands over it and you’ll reveal the berries lying against the ground. Notice that the tiny ones have just as many seeds. Don’t worry if you tread a patch into the ground. You should leave some behind to proliferate in the same place next year.
I am told by my pal, Laura Silverman, that spruce tips are ready to go. They are the brilliant green shoots that unfold from growths at the ends of the spruce spindles in May. They are much a much brighter green than the needles on the spindle and stand out in stark contrast to the tree itself. Snip the green shoots off and eat raw; they are packed with chlorophyll and Vitamin C. The aroma of only one of these little shoots is sensational. Literally spruce up a living room, pocket, bag or underwear drawer. They freeze well, so you can get your Vitamin C in the winter too. You can make tea, use in soups and salads. You can also crush them and make a pesto like you can with the garlic mustard. Recipes will be forthcoming over the weekend.
Straight out of the ground and into the belly: a powerful organic, raw, vegan lunch and you don’t even need a plate much less a table. The tomatoes may have been endangered by last night’s frost, but the sheep sorrel which grows in the asparagus bed is a hardy little plant. Sheep sorrel is an edible weed that has the texture of spinach with the tasty tang of lemon, which makes it perfect for soups. It wilts quickly once picked, so it’s best just to eat it raw with some juicy asparagus. Sheep sorrel has an arrowhead leaf and grows in a rosette formation.
Why go down to La Duree and stock up on Macarons when you can get them here in the Catskills and not tell the difference? Coming soon… the divine French almond meringue biscuit.
As I mentioned last week, there was Jazz at Spillian last night, during an event that I dub Soup at the Spills, which was actually a combination of their regular Soup Sundays and their Voices of the Catskills series. In honour of St Patrick’s Day, the Spill’s Culinary Curator Melissa Zeligman made Colcannon, which was delicious. The weather had taken a squally detour down a cold, muddy road by the afternoon yesterday – it had already started snowing again in the morning – so the Irish stew was the perfect wintery feast. By this morning, the sun had come out again in force as if yesterday’s aberrant hail/snow/rain/mud mix had never happened.
The maples have been tapped and the sap is boiling, old-school style, at the Hubbell Sugar Shack and will be boiling for the next month. This sugar shack runs on a wood-burning furnace and the product, Liquid Gold is sold at Catskill Rentals and Sandford Auto Parts.
A good hearty plate of Fish and Chips is to the Catskills what the Bald Eagle is. When you spot one, you freeze in wide-eyed disbelief and fumble clumsily for your camera trying not to divert your gaze from the (menu) for a second. As an English ex-patriot from London, I find that fish and chips is as rare in these mountains as a McVitie’s digestive biscuit and actual Cheddar from Cheddar.*
You’ll find the holy grail of British food at Arkville Bread & Breakfast on Route 28 in Arkville, New York on every other Friday. (Daily menus are posted on the Facebook page.) I remember, as a teenager, fetching the family’s Friday night fish and chips, the smell of lard, salt and vinegar and paying about five British pounds for the feast. Here you’ll pay $8.95 for a portion that comes with coleslaw, chips and tarter sauce, a snip if you realise that you’ll pay $20 in NYC.
Today’s fish was cod; perfectly cooked, thinly battered, flaky and flavourful. Although the thin, crispy batter is the ideal coating, I almost prefer a thicker batter so that I have an excuse to pick out the steaming fish and save some calories, but no, not this time. All of it was eaten with the tangy tarter sauce and, now, off for a long walk I go. Today’s chips were not chips but crisps, made from Maris Pipers, sliced into flat wedges and fried with the skins on: like a drier, less floppy, two-dimensional version of my childhood chips. Also present (pictured at bottom): Sarsons Malt Vinegar, HP Sauce, Heinz Baked Beans, Branston Pickle, Tango and Spotted Dick. Tango & Spotted Dick sounds like a British detective drama brought to you by the BBC, but no, it’s a neon-coloured fizzy drink and a pudding respectively.
Proprietor Jack Zamor says that a lot of British people attend the restaurant, made from an actual train car and situated right next to a railway line, on the days when he has an All-British menu, the next one of which is slated for February 7th, 2015. Next week, Upstate Dispatch will forget all about the homesickness and return for the corned beef brisket on rye.
*If you have some actual Cheddar, please feel free to comment in the reply section.
Last year, Mike Cioffi, owner of The Phoenicia Diner, and I ruminated on the costs of running a restaurant on my radio show The Economy of the Kitchen. Next week, Monday 12th January at 9am, in our second and final show, The Economy of the Diner, we’ll discuss the diner as American icon. The diner also has a rich cinematic history: Pulp Fiction, Twin Peaks, Superman, Back To The Future, Heat, Thelma & Louise, Diner: the list goes on and on. Who can forget Jack Nicholson trying to get an order of wheat toast in Five Easy Pieces or the tipping scene in Reservoir Dogs? Not to mention Meg Ryan’s glorious turn in Katz’s Deli in When Harry Met Sally and the actual movie called Diner, starring Steven Guttenberg directed by Barry Levinson.
As a foreigner, the diner is the ultimate American experience and my first diner visit was Relish in Williamsburg, sadly now slated for demolition. I’ll never forget my first order of biscuits, sausage and gravy and with whom I shared it.
My new challenge is eating my way through the menu at The Phoenicia Diner and I continued today through the skillet section. I tried the Duck & Grits skillet ($11), House Cured Corned Beef Hash skillet ($11) and the Arnold Bennett Skillet ($10). My first taste of American grits (not a British staple) was back in Brooklyn and had been quite vile experience, like eating cold porridge. PD’s grits are creamy with a hint of cheese; their scrambled eggs are the perfect combination of moist and firm. If Chef Mel uses salt in the dishes, you can’t really taste it and this is how it should be. Salt should be the choice of the customer. The Arnold Bennett Skillet ($10) came out on top in this round: locally smoked trout (delicately tasty), parmesan cheese, crème fraîche and scrambled eggs. PD makes its own bread too, which is thick, slightly chewy and tasty. Portions are generous and the eggs are noteworthy – some of the best I’ve eaten in the Catskills – for their vivid orange color. Most ingredients are sourced locally and when they run out, so does the item on the menu for the day. Eat here before you ski, on your way to Belleayre for the hearty nourishment that lasts all day. You can take sides and leftovers to go in compostable containers.
Tune in to The Economy of the Diner on WIOX at 9am on Monday January 12th, 2015.
Honey: a form of address, miracle food, medicinal unguent and mysterious immortal time traveler, having been found in Egyptian tombs intact, it has survived thousands of years. If only those crusty, aged urns of the amber nectar could speak, they could convey untold stories. What honey’s secret to eternal freshness? Lack of moisture, according to the Smithsonian Magazine and a combination of the following factors that produce a rare quality.
First, the aforementioned low moisture content can be survived by only very few bacteria who technically suffocate in the honey. “They just die,” writes Natasha Gelling, quoting Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at University of California. Honey is a sugar and it’s hygroscopic, meaning that it contains very little water in its natural state, but “can readily suck in moisture” if left in an open container.
Second, honey is very acidic with a pH value between 3 and 4.5. “The acid kills whatever wants to grow there,” states Harris. Next:
“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bee’s stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”
So, with honey being thick enough to put on wounds and containing just enough hydrogen peroxide, it’s the perfect healing unguent. Store your honey in a sealed, airless jar and it will never spoil.
Manuka honey, which is made in New Zealand from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium, is the basis of Medihoney, which the FDA approved in 2007 for use in treating wounds and skin ulcers.
You may not be surprised about colony collapse disorder if you’re familiar with the large-scale, commercial beekeeping industry. Rather like industrial agriculture in its approach, facilities keep millions of bees in expansive fields that look, ironically, like military graveyards. Commercial “migrant” beekeeping outfits also rent bees out to large-scale agriculture, transporting hundreds of hives on enormous trucks with the bees in them and that’s before you add in pesticides and GM crops. It must be confusing and highly stressful to be a commercial bee.
There’s more urgency than ever to support locally-produced, small-batch honey. The Phoenica Honey Company, based in Phoenicia, New York, buys raw honey wholesale from apiaries in Ulster County and infuses it with natural additives like cinnamon, lavender, star anise, ETC. Proprietor Elissa Jane Mastel buys organic additives where she can and never heats the honey to above 112F and has plans for a thyme and pecan infused honey. The resultant infusions are light, delicate and perfect with tea. Phoenicia Diner and Mama’s Boy Coffee in Phoenicia and Bumble & Hive in Rhinebeck serve Elissa Jane’s honey.
At Griffins Corners in Fleischmanns, Chase Kruppo is developing Chasing Honey Farm, a new honey haven, on a family plot of five acres. It’s a new long-term sustainable agricultural venture wherein members can “buy-in” on a beehive and either, receive the honey from their bees, the proceeds from the sale of their honey at market, or a combination of both. Chase’s mission is “to create jobs, craft superior honey, and aid a declining bee population”. Watch a video presentation of Chasing Honey Farm here.
“Honeybees pollinate one third of grocery produce and it is vital to the Upstate region to secure the food it produces by supporting its pollinators,” says Chase. “46% of bee hives reporting in New York State were lost last winter due mainly to starvation and excess moisture. Part of the 2015 expansion project of Chasing Honey Farm is the creation of an apple orchard, vineyard, and plantings of white currants, lavender, and mints. Creating summer-blooming food sources for honeybees help the hives build up honey reserves for winter.”
No honey can be certified organic because bees can roam up to five miles away from the hive in every direction, but if we all planted bee-friendly, pesticide-free vegetation, it would help keep local bees healthy.