Archive for the ‘Local food’ Category

First Local Farmers’ Market

 Excitement has been building all week about the opening day for Fort Bragg’s seasonal farmers’ market.  With cash in hand and high hopes, I braved the gale force wind and the limited parking at their new (old) site, looking for some delicious early spring vegetables.  We have been spoiled again this year with the winter CSA boxes from Noyo Hill Farm and Noyo Food Forest’s farm stand at Fort Bragg High School.  I was anticipating spring onions, early fava beans and perhaps some strawberries.  Instead, I was surprised to see almost no produce at all! 

 We had both goat cheese vendors, our grass-fed beef rancher, local honey, albeit last fall’s, the Garden Bakery, our egg vendor, and a whole row of the usually packed vegetable sellers who’s tables were laden with rows of garden vegetable and flower starts.  Of course, my garden is no more ready for seedlings at this early date than I am ready to prepare it.  There are redwood roots to be dug and separated, fava beans to be harvested and the green matter dug in, and irrigation to be tested, unclogged and set.  Of course, there is that pesky issue of sunlight on the beds.  This early in the year, shadows cast by the tallest redwoods begin around 2:00P, especially in the lower beds.  Tomatoes?  Peppers?  I don’t think so, as the purple sprouting broccoli is just starting to sprout!  The compost bin sports its spring growth of weed seedlings, and the clay-laden soil is just waiting to compact into its cement-like summer form if worked too soon.

 Where are the perennial greens such as kale and chard?  Where is the tender spring lettuce, showing colorful heads in the hoop houses?  Where are the bright red yet tender strawberries that are the sweet harbingers of spring?  Where are the over-wintered onions that are sending up new spring shoots, both delicate and rich, especially when roasted whole?  This is not to say that I do not love the fresh new goat cheese, the rich and savory grass-fed beef short ribs, the fabulous pies and cookies baked fresh for the day’s market.  All of these offerings augment the locally grown veggies that bring me to the stalls every week.  A vibrant and successful market is a diverse market, pleasing the customers’ every whim.

 I must table my enthusiasm for a few more days.  The Friday Mendocino market has a collection of farmers that we do not usually see in Fort Bragg.  I will make a stop tomorrow outside Ukiah to pick up freshly picked, hand-sorted strawberries at Saecho Farm.  It is unfortunate that today, my local farmers’ market disappoints.  However, I continue to be blessed to live in an area where I can procure locally produced seasonal specialties at roadside stands and market farms. 

 It is yet early, and the cold northwest wind whistles between the trees, and the fog lingers on the western horizon.  It is that in-between season that promises so much and yet delivers so little.  The sun will come, the ground will dry and warm, and the beautiful rainbow of produce will again populate the tables at the market, inspiring meals to come.

Post by Julia Conway on May 6th, 2010

The Wildest Mushrooms in Wine Country

Pile of Boletus

One of our favorite fall events is the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival. This annual event is slated to occur during the height of our wild mushroom season. That is, of course, if the weather cooperates, which it manages to do about one in every three or so years. This year, early rains guaranteed a bounty of wild mushrooms, and thus, as successful festival.

White Chanterelle

My mushroom adventures started in earnest around the end of October. I took to wandering up and down our old logging roads with my shoulders slumped and my eyes on the ground, hoping for that flash of color amongst the forest duff. My first mushroom of the year was a 6” white Chanterelle, found at the side of the road just down the ravine from the house. Sliced and sautéed with butter and a little brandy, it made a wonderful topping for our Sunday pasta.

Assorted Mushrooms

The golden Chanterelles were the next to emerge. These are generally found in patches, in and around tan oak thickets. The trees are considered a weed in our largely fir and redwood forests, but provide the perfect environment for the mushrooms. While smaller and more colorful than the whites, many say that the flavor of the golden is superior. They command a hefty $17.00 per pound at our local market, so are a real treat when found in any numbers. The great thing about Chanterelles is that they seem to remain worm and grub free, even in the dampest weather.

Zeeler's Boletus

The next mushrooms to poke their heads from the ground were the Boletus, or porcini, as they are known in Italy. In our neighborhood, we see the giant King Bolete, the darker Queen Bolete, and a smaller, more colorful variety called the Zeller’s Bolete. These are the mushrooms most sought after by the commercial hunters, and often the most ridden with small worm holes unless found within hours of emergence. This year, I was lucky enough to receive a gift of a large box of gigantic King Boletus, some with caps measuring over 8” across. I was picking up my order of mushrooms for the cooking class, and my local purveyor offered them up to use as props for presentation, since they were far too large and wormy to be sold commercially. The upside of this arrangement was that, once we were finished with the class and the tasting event that followed, these could be cleaned, sliced and dried. The almost six pounds of mushrooms were reduced, the following weekend, to about twelve ounces of prime dried mushrooms and six half-pints of concentrated porcini stock for the freezer.

Frying Porcini Crusted Chicken

The Magic Mushroom cooking class we presented, and the food and wine pairing that followed, were the highlights of the week. Seven students arrived at the kitchen, ready to prepare six different mushroom appetizers. Aprons were assigned, hands were washed, and four hours later, a beautiful array of food was enjoyed, paired with a 2007 Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc and a 2003 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro Mendocino.

Wild Mushroom Profiteroles

Wild Mushroom Gruyere Tart

After seeing the satisfied cooks on their way, we plated the balance of the appetizers and packed them off to The Beachcomber Motel for our ‘Shrooms and Sunset at the Beach, with Handley Cellars wines and some of the Mendocino coast’s best views. Mother Nature cooperated once again, and our guests were treated to a spectacular sunset, an amazing absence of wind, and a bounty of wonderful food and wine. Our guests were so amazed with the huge mushrooms scattered around the buffet that one of them even asked us to take his picture holding the giant boletus.

Sunset at the Beachcomber

Guest and Boletus

Back in the forest, the cooler weather continues to advance the cast of fungi making their appearances. Now we are seeing the Lactarius or “Milk Caps” named for their milky juices, the Russula, which are rosy pink on white, and an occasional white Matsutake, the famous full moon mushrooms of Japan. Later frosts will bring the Yellow Foot, also known as the Winter Chanterelle, and one of my personal favorites, the Candy Cap. The Candy Cap, when dried, smells and tastes just like maple syrup, and can be infused into milk or cream for the most decadent desserts. For grins, try the Candy Cap Ice Cream at Cowlick’s in Fort Bragg, available only during the mushroom season.

Post by Julia Conway on November 22nd, 2009