Holiday Hickory Nut Macaroons

In looking toward the holidays I’ve been reading an older book by a new favorite writer, The Christmas Cook: Three Centuries of American Yuletide Sweets, by William Woys Weaver (Devon, PA). The mix of compelling history, endlessly fascinating illustration and authentic recipes puts this in a category all its own. It’s not a cookbook, but it is. It’s not a history book, but it is. It’s not a Christmas book, but it is. It’s a book that transcends genre altogether.

One recipe really caught my eye because of a bit of serendipity. I was out visiting White Oak Nursery in Strasburg, PA (no web page, they’re Amish), because some friends had touted their apple selection (over 30 varieties the day I was there; Galarina is my new all-time favorite, closely followed by Razor’s Russett and Gold Rush). Inside the store they also had, sitting quietly in a wicker basket on a middle shelf, Shagbark Hickory nuts. I’d never seen hickory nuts in person before, but I’d heard of them and had come across recipes from time to time that used them. The recipes all indicated that other nuts could be substituted, but that the dish just wouldn’t be the same. That’s the kind of thing that sticks in my brain. So I bought a sackful, not completely sure what I’d do with them. The day I bought them I found the recipe for Hickory Nut Macaroons in The Christmas Cook. That the recipe’s original source was cited as being from 1877 sealed the deal. I needed to make these and had everything needed to do it.

The reason you never see hickory nuts in grocery stores is because they are notoriously difficult to shell, so the chains won’t carry them. The best way to get your hands on hickory nuts is to connect with your local foodways. In addition to White Oak Nursery, I’ve heard that they can be gotten shelled from Dietrich’s Meats in Krummsville if you get on Verna’s good side. I also recently saw a small quantity of them, in the shell, at Lemon Street Market in Lancaster. Other sources are out there, I’m sure, but to find them will take some hunting and effort. This recipe is worth the effort.

Hickory Nut Meat

Sweet Success

The meat is sort of walnut-like, but the shell is a real nightmare and hard as all get-out (so be really sure there’s no shell bits in with the meats). At first I attempted to use a plier-type nutcracker and a pick. After a blood-blistered thumb, a stabbed palm and two completely pulverized nuts with zero usable meat, I took to the internet to find out how this should really be done. There are special devices available, but I needed a more immediate solution. I found an explanation of a hammer and brick method that looked promising, so I went that route. There’s a learning curve of about two pounds involved, but by the final, third, pound I’d pretty much gotten the knack of it and could even get out a few whole halves.

The recipe as given in The Christmas Cook is reprinted below in its entirety with permission from the author:

Hickory Nut Macaroons

This excellent recipe comes to us from Philadelphia confectioner James W. Parkinson. He sold these at his famous restaurant on Chestnut Street. Yield: Approximately 5 dozen macaroons.
3 egg whites
2 cups superfine sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups finely chopped hickory nuts (see note)

Preheat the oven to 250°F

Beat the egg whites until stiff and slightly dry. Sift together the sugar and flour twice, then sift and fold this into the egg whites. Fold in the nuts and mix thoroughly. Using your hands, break off balls about the size of a walnut and roll them on the palms of the hands to make them perfectly round. Line baking sheets with baking parchment and set the balls of nut mixture on them. Dry in the preheated oven 55 to 60 minutes. These macaroons will puff as they dry in the oven. Cool completely on racks and store in air-tight containers.

Note: It is necessary to have 1 pound of nuts for this recipe. Weigh them before chopping. You may chop them in a food processor. For each 8 ounces of nuts, allow 40 short pulses. Hazelnuts may be used instead, but the flavor of hickory nuts is unique.

Source: The Confectioners’ Journal 3 (July 1877), 17.

Hickory Nut Macaroons

Finished Macaroons

I would add to this that it may take a bit more than three pounds of in the shell nuts to get to the one pound of shelled. I had quite a few duds in my sack, and of course, I destroyed a bit of meat during my learning how to extract. I think if you start with about three and a half pounds, you’ll get there fine. I made mine a little too big, more like golf ball sized than walnut sized, and so dried them about 10 minutes longer. I think they’d be better at the correct size. Don’t substitute any other kind of sugar for the superfine, which is often sold as “caster” sugar. The finished macaroons are deliciously crunchewy and surprisingly light in the hand.

Also worth noting: I did some pre-preparation to the nut meats that is purely optional. While I was buying the hickory nuts I mentioned that I would be back for more if the nut meats didn’t make my wife’s mouth itch, which is what keeps her from eating walnuts. He told me that nuts that irritate mouths or stomachs (and in fact, all seeds) are coated with a chemical that prevents germination until it has been leached away by sufficient time exposed to water (which tells the seed it’s time to grow). He recommended that I soak the meats overnight in salt water (the salt isn’t necessary, he said, but he likes the flavor improvement), and then lightly toast them (again, not necessary for the anti-itching effect, just something he prefers for the flavor).

Soaking Hickory Nuts

Soaking Hickory Nuts

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based ( His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at

Step Up Your Meat Game

“The key to the 99 is the 1.” ~Steven Covey

Reworking 99 percent of my food habits at once is way too much for me to wrap my brain around. I mean, I’ve got a busy life to lead, right? But one percent? That I can handle. Giving my full attention, for a short amount of time, I can elevate a key habit and create lasting change. One foot in front of the other. Step by step. And in no time, your solitary effort will create ripples that will inspire others to seek out and upgrade their own one percent.

In my last blog post, I questioned a variety of food provisioning habits that most of us mindlessly repeat. Today, I’d like to briefly focus on one in particular: meat–how to buy it, cook it and store it to improve your budget, your palate and your heath.

Here, my goal is to offer ways to explore your blind spots and upgrade your meat game, one percent at a time. Not only are these improvements for the greater feel-good, but the upgrade in deliciousness rewards your efforts exponentially.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

–Stop at that local butcher shop you always wondered about. Ask the butcher what he/she eats and why. Learn the difference between boxed meat and old school butchering.
–Explore your local library. There’s a treasure trove of books on food preservation, thrift and making the best use of your freezer; a world of new recipe ideas; and information about farming and nutrition.
–Tuck a cooler in your car so you’re prepared for spontaneous purchases.

–Double your recipes and freeze or can leftovers for quick meals later.
–Visit your local farmers markets and farm stores – this is why that cooler is in your trunk!
–Find a buying club or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) meat share.
–Consider purchasing a quarter or side of beef or pork directly from a local farmer.
–Instead of buying processed single-meal cuts like chicken tenders or stew beef, learn how to use a whole chicken and a bone-in roast.
–Expand your cooking methods to incorporate less expensive proteins in extremely satisfying ways. Using homemade stock, leftover meats and poached, pastured eggs to enrich vegetable-based dishes for a thrifty and satisfying meal.
–Consider portion size. Do you consider a meal complete only when a large portion of meat is the focus? Commit to weighing recommended portion sizes. Just for a little while. You’ll be surprised at how much you’re probably overeating.
–Create a pipeline of uses for leftover meats, stocks and pan juices. Thrift is a beautiful and delicious thing. Worked into meatballs, sauces, pies, omelets and soups, a little meat or meat juice adds a lot of flavor.
–Master the meatball and meatloaf. Get creative and try a variety of meatball recipes. Who doesn’t love meatballs?
–Explore ways of wrapping, packaging and storing meat. Investigate food storage container options; learn to freezer wrap; and be sure to consider the waste stream created by your storage. You don’t need to run out and invest in an expensive vacuum packing system; many less expensive options can be just as effective.
–Fear not the fat. Think about this: we buy meat, discard the fat we have paid for, then pay again to purchase a different fat (like butter or olive oil). Why? In the day, the fat was as valuable as the lean meat. Science confirms that fat from pastured animals is more healthful than lab-produced margarine and shortening. If I buy and cook good quality bacon, I strain the fat and keep it to brown roasts and veggies later. If I smoke meat, I put a drip pan underneath to capture the fat drippings. I buy pork kidney fat and make lard at home for pies, frying and browning. It’s cheap, has not been hydrogenated and is so much more delicious than synthetic fats.
–Do you know how the animals have been raised? Have they been treated well, fed and housed in an environmentally beneficial way?
–Are the ranchers and processors local? Supporting local butchers, ranchers and farmers is the best way to build a healthy, stable food supply and invigorate your local economy, too.
–Do you know what the certification labels mean? What is organic? Grass-fed? Pastured? Free-range?
–Read the ingredients. You may think your pork or chicken is just pork or chicken, but many meats are processed in flavored broths and contain added ingredients.

So what’s it going to be? How will you maximize your meat mastery? Share your adventures in the comments so we can all learn together.


Dietrich’s Meats – Krumsville, PA

Meatopia. Meatastic. Meatalicious. When you walk in the door the smoked meat scent doesn’t waft into your nostrils, it slips over you like a cashmere sweater. It is the closest thing to a hug the olfactory system of a meat-lover can experience. It was my first time there and I immediately felt like I’d come home.

Dietrich’s Meats and Country Store is definitely not for the faint of heart, however. It isn’t a large space, but it is packed with meats (fresh, frozen, smoked, cured, pickled, usual and unusual), cheese, pickled wonderments, jams and traditional Pennsylvania Dutch delectables. And an astonishing array of organ meats, offal and other irrefutable evidence that the meat here comes from whole animals.Dietrichs meats exterior

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a space that had more items per square foot that I wanted to eat. I had planned to pop in and browse around. I ended up buying a Styrofoam cooler. It looks like a lot of people who hadn’t planned on needing a cooler end up needing a cooler before they leave Dietrich’s. From here on out I’m replacing the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” to “like a carnivore at Dietrich’s.”

Walking in I was greeted like family by the nice ladies behind the deli case/counter at the back of the store. I couldn’t really see the range and scope of the contents of the deli case because I could only see it down the one (short) aisle at the center of the store. I decided to take my time and tour the perimeter of the store to try and get my bearings and plan which couple of items I might purchase. There is no place in the store that isn’t redolent with the scent of exquisite smoked meats. I turned to the left, browsed a very small number dry goods of a vaguely touristy type, and then arrived at upright freezers that bank the left side of the store (already with a package of toasted dried sweet corn in hand, I’d only read about it previously, so, you know, got to have that). Cleaned brains, veal sweetbreads, pork liver, goat racks, osso bucco, lamb necks, lamb tongues, goat heads, Rocky Mountain oysters, quail, squab, guinea hen, breast of veal, duck legs, duck breasts, and when I say, and more, I really mean and much more. I started taking notes because I realized I need to really plan the week of meals following my next visit.

And then, sweet-mother-of-all-that’s-smokey, I was at the deli case. Their brochure lists 76 different smoked meats. The brochure does not list them all. Samples of a dozen or so meats and cheeses were out for free trying. I did. Here’s a few of the things that really stood out to me: whole beef tongue, mettwurst (a soft, spreadable kind of sausage that is potently spiced), beef bacon, head cheese, souse, tripe, fresh cleaned brains, bloodwurst, knockwurst, crock pudding, liver pudding, veal pate, whole smoked pheasant, smoked Cornish hen, smoked beef short ribs. These last were up on top of the case with a couple bits cut for tasting. I did. Then I bought the three pieces they had left. They were lightly smoked and had a texture close to raw, in how firm it was, except they had been cooked to the point where the tough parts turned tender. Nothing raw about them but not a texture I’d ever experienced in a short rib before. My eyes may have rolled back in my head. I did not purchase any of the clearly house-made Braunschweiger and liverwurst, but they’re at the top of my list for the next trip. It was at about this point in my traversal of the store (halfway around the outside) that they just started making a pile for me over by the register. When I asked about anything, I was always told if the item was cooked and ready-to-eat or if it needed to be cooked or heated (always good to know).

As I came to the end of the deli counter I turned to look at the end caps of the aisles behind me. Two tables of more smoked meats. Lebanon bologna, sweet bologna, an entire smoked pig head, and smoked bones and cartilaginous bits of various types intended for making the happiest dogs in the world.

When I rounded the next corner, I arrived at the pickled meats. Pickled meats! Those are two words that look darned good together. I’ve eaten my share of pickled pigs’ feet, but standing there facing this wall of pickled meats I felt like my pickled meat eating experience in life was like Crocodile Dundee’s experience with television. Jars filled with pickled ring bologna, kielbasa, tripe, gizzards (chicken and turkey), sliced beef heart, beef tongue, pig snouts, lamb tongues, oh my. Also a large array of locally made fruit butters and a whole aisle of honey, jelly and jam.

I left the store with the package of toasted dried sweet corn, a whole smoked pheasant, three smoked beef short ribs, a quarter pound of Westphalen ham slices (it’s prosciutto-like), bratwurst, knockwurst, pickled beef heart, pickled chicken gizzards, pickled garlic cloves, frozen cleaned brains and a cooler.

If you live anywhere near, you need to go. If you’re willing to travel, it’s worth the trip. (It’s about an hour from me and I will go back sooner than later, after phoning ahead to be sure I can have some specific and specialty parts available, which they encourage.) They also ship. And, word to the wise, they don’t take credit cards (though there is an ATM in the store). Open 7 days a week. Bring a cooler if you have one; you will definitely find things there that I didn’t mention that you will need to buy.

Dietrich’s Meats and Country Store
660 Old Route 22
Krumsville, PA 19534

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based ( His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at


The Lo-Cal of Local

Are you hungry right now? Hunger is your body calling out for the nutrients it needs. The empty calories of industrially processed foods make you hungry for more, a very profitable contrivance. The nutrient-dense calories of foods produced with sustainability in mind sustain our bodies better. I discovered this by allowing myself to be hungry for a while.

It’s my belief, from my own experience, that local is lo-cal because whole, unprocessed foods are higher in nutrients, thus fewer total calories are needed to achieve the nutrients your body needs.

I’m not a compulsive eater. I don’t binge, I don’t stress eat, I’ve been pretty much on a lifelong, but gradual, quest to improve the quality of what I eat. The problem was that I ate about a pat of butter more than I should have eaten. Every day. For 25 years. I got fat.

If a task requires only willpower and time, I can do it. I quit smoking more than a decade ago, and I did it cold turkey. I made the craving for nicotine into my enemy, and every time it snuck into my brain I took it as a personal challenge from my greatest enemy and told it, often literally told it by actual shouting, “Get out of here, there’s no way I’m letting you win.” I knew losing the weight I needed to lose to get into the “healthy” zone for BMI was only going to take two things: willpower and time. I was Obese Class II when I started, I’m currently Overweight, 75 lbs down, 22 lbs to go.

But, momma didn’t raise no fool. I did a lot of research into how to optimize my efforts. Probably the best all-around resource for information that turned out to be actually useful to me was the /r/fitness sub-Reddit. The theory dominant there, and which most closely aligns with my own opinion, and now experience, is that there is only one way to lose weight: burn off more than you take in. Everything else is probably the result of someone trying to sell you something.

For the first three weeks I counted every single calorie that went into my mouth, just so I could get a handle on where the calories were coming from, what my portion sizes were like, what my perception of caloric intake was really shaped like. I learned a lot. Dry roasted peanuts, not worth the calories. Mayonnaise, not worth the calories, especially when there’s Dijon mustard to take its place. Pickles? Totally worth the calories. Apples are totally worth the calories. You can replace some or all of the sour cream and mayonnaise with greek yoghurt in pretty much any recipe.

I also learned that obsessing about every single calorie was not something I wanted to do every single day of this journey. Work smart, not hard. After three weeks I felt I had a much better idea of where my calories were coming from, and how I needed to adjust my preparations and portions to get my daily intake of calories under my target number. I stopped counting every calorie rigorously, but I continue to keep a running approximate total in my head. When I was counting every calorie there was a distinct tendency to eat every single one. I’d get to 7pm and see that I still had 120 calories left, and I’d find a way to get them. Now that I am more casual about it, the tendency is to round up for easy mental calculating, so on most days I think I actually come in under my target, as a result of this accumulated rounding-up of the calorie numbers throughout the day.


The Trendline

Exercise is good. I would never, ever, tell anyone not to exercise. But, in my experience, while exercise is good for you it is ultimately separate from weight loss. Contrary to most advice, I weigh myself every single day. The chart of those weights shows something pretty significant. See that long stretch in the upper third where there’s no data points? I was visiting my dad during that stretch and didn’t have daily access to a scale. I also wasn’t going to the gym during that stretch. So, for me, calorie intake is the absolute key to losing weight. Exercise is good for me, and good for my body, but at the end of the day, calorie intake is king.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I learned on day one that I needed to make the feeling of being hungry into my friend. I told myself, over and over, that if I didn’t feel hungry, I wasn’t losing weight. Or, more positively, I told myself that feeling hungry means I’m losing weight, so, yay! But I’m here to tell you, it isn’t fun being hungry all the time. I was hungry even while eating. I was hungry even when pushing the finished plate away. That’s hard as hard can be.

Then we moved to a place where access to local products was actually easier than access to non-local products. Not easier in the traditional sense of having a big store close, but easier in that there’s no big store close so we began looking off the main roads and researching on the internet and getting connected to the local foodways. Today I think it’s safe to say that something like 95% of what we eat is local and organic (or better than organic). We buy almost no processed foods, and those that are processed are either minimally processed or artisinal or both.

My total daily calorie intake goal number hasn’t changed. I don’t feel hungry anymore. Local foods fuel my body best.

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based ( His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at

Susquehanna Valley Growers’ Market – Lewisburg, PA

As my husband and I fought over lovingly shared the last ear of corn, my sadness that summer was over (and that I was still just as pale as when spring started) was quickly replaced by thoughts of stews, roasts and soups. Fall is a great season for foodies. It can be a little sad when your favorite summer farmers market closes, so I’m happy to share that the Susquehanna Valley Growers’ Market is open even through the winter in a cozy warm building on the same site.

When my husband and I most recently visited the Growers’ Market (held every Friday on route 45 just west of downtown Lewisburg) it was rainy and cold. The vendors, though, were pleasant and happy to offer us suggestions. We settled on a beautiful fresh guinea fowl from Cow-a-hen and lots of veggies from other folks.

Roasted Guinea with mustard sauceThat’s when my geeky side met my locavore side met my foodie side and an amazing thing happened. Well, before anything amazing happened, a simple internet search on happened. And, actually, that’s about as geeky as I got. Okay, so, truth be told, no miracles occurred and no lives were changed. But I DID make a really good meal from all local ingredients. And that was pretty cool. Here’s how we made our very own locally-sourced, seasonal meal.

Step 1: Make mustard. We buy our milk from Triangle Organics (also on route 45, about 4 miles east of Millheim) and we sometimes make cheese from that milk. Then we’re left with a by-product called whey. That whey is excellent stuff—we use it in breads, pasta, soups and lots of different sauces. Recently my husband made whole grain mustard using the whey. It’s naturally probiotic and extremely tasty! So we have a huge jar of homemade mustard in our fridge.

Step 2: Make chicken stock. We don’t eat a lot of meat at home. When we do, we buy from farmers who did a good job of giving their animals a nice life and a kind death. Perhaps the best way to ensure that is to visit the farm and help in the processing. I was lucky enough to visit Fork Farms to help them process some chickens (I even wrote an article about it). Since their whole chickens come with all the bits, I was able to make a wonderful batch of chicken stock. So we had several containers of homemade chicken stock in our freezer. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of visiting the farm in person. Your next best bet is to know your farmer and ask lots of questions. Generally speaking, farmers love questions.

Step 3: Buy a beautiful bird and some roasting veggies. We stopped at the Lewisburg Growers’ Market to symbolically buy the end of summer and the beginning of fall. We picked up potatoes and endives along with a couple of ideas for good fall recipes from Meesh at Tarsa Family Farm. In chatting with William Callahan from Cow-a-Hen Farms, it’s evident that he knows good food at its finest! He always tells us when the animal was processed or dressed and whether it’s fresh or frozen. He’s ready with advice and suggestions for his products. It’s fun to plan your meal on the drive to the Growers’ Market, but it’s even more fun to surprise yourself and get something new!

Step 4: Look up “Roasted Guinea Hens with Whole-Grain Mustard and Herbs” on We substituted one hen for the two (because we only bought one) and used dried herbs instead of fresh (because we weren’t on top of things enough to get that windowsill herb garden done). Also, we didn’t fuss with precooking and peeling the potatoes like it calls for in the recipe. We bought smallish new potatoes from Tarsa Family Farm and they roasted right along with the bird.

This made enough food for four plus leftovers. The guinea along with the mustard add a nice twist on the classic taste of roast chicken. If you’re looking to change things up a bit without a lot of fuss, try this recipe. Hope you enjoy this and lots of other roasts this fall!

We’d love to hear about your favorite fall recipes and the questions you ask your local farmers. Tell us in the comments section!

Improvisational Cooking

When I used to cook from the supermarket I was about 80% recipe-based in what I’d prepare for main meals. I’d improvise a few nights a week, and we’d improvise lunches, but most of what I was exploring with my cooking assumed that I’d be able to buy pretty much anything I needed. It might mean a trip to a specialty store, or planning ahead to have something really obscure shipped in, but, for the most part I could plan whatever I wanted to eat, and then go get the pieces and parts needed to bring those plans to the table.

Now that we’re getting almost all of our foodstuffs locally, that technique doesn’t really work. And I’m glad. I’ve always preferred to cook in an improvisational manner, but going to the supermarket with no plan in hand isn’t very inspirational. There are too many possibilities to choose from. When anything is possible, it can become a hindrance rather than a help. Creativity involves working within a set of constraints to express originality. If there are no constraints, creativity can suffer. So rather than wander around in the weird lights like a food zombie, shuffling to the muzak, I’d hunt up some recipes I wanted to make, and collate them into reasonably sensible lists of hopefully overlapping ingredients. I’d usually end up with a lot of waste, because when you buy food for a recipe you always end up with a lot of waste. Half a lemon here, four potatoes there, quarter pound of shrimp, half a radicchio, it adds up.

Valley Milkhouse

Valley Milkhouse

Not any more. What drives meals now is what’s on hand. When I shop locally, in season, I just pick up what looks like it’s at its best. I don’t have a million SKUs to choose from, I have more like twenty, and those twenty are constantly shifting and revolving. This turns cooking from a mentally passive act of following the recipe to a really creative act of improvisation. I made a six-course meal (I had a seventh prepped but everyone was stuffed) for Sunday dinner with Nana this week and had no idea at eight in the morning what I’d be serving at three that afternoon. But I knew I had nothing but amazing ingredients to start with, and if you start with nothing but amazing all you really need to do is not screw it up. Two days before, I made a simpler dinner for us and a guest, and I think if I walk you through how that came together, I might make clearer what I mean by improvisational cooking.

I like to start with cheese. Or end with cheese. Or have cheese in the middle. OK, I like cheese. I never met a cheese I didn’t eat. We recently made a trip out to Valley Milkhouse to check out their facility and farm stand and pick up some cheese. OK, some of every cheese they had available. One of those was a version of their Clover, a fromage blanc, that had been rolled in Herbes de Provence. I put that out when I started cooking so that it would come up to eating temperature. Often I’ll make an elaborate board of cheeses and accoutrements, but this was a very casual meal with an open-ended sit-down time, so I figured on the cheese as starter with some crackers I made earlier in the week from emmer flour, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds (all organic and from Lemon Street Market).

The two dishes served as meal were the result of rummaging around:

The easy one was a sauté of quartered crimini mushrooms (from the Valley Milkhouse farm stand), onion slices (from the farm stand I can walk to), topped with some breadcrumbs made from ciabatta I made a couple of weeks previous whose recipe made more than we could eat before it started to stale, which I dotted with grass-fed butter from Springwood Farm, then baked until nicely browned.

The other one took some musing. At first I thought of doing something with all five ingredients (the mushroom and onions from above and the three below), and I still think it could have worked, but I am dedicated to my mantra of “simpler, less, let them shine.” I pulled the three remaining ingredients out and looked at them, tested their textures, and thought for a bit. There was a smoked ham hock (from Meadow Run Farm, where we pick up our CSA from Crawford Organics) I’d pulled from the freezer a few days before with no specific plan in mind. There were a few ears of corn I’d picked up at the farmstand around the corner because it was a type I hadn’t seen yet this year (Honey Select), and a bag of green beans from our CSA. Well, you can pretty much never go wrong combining any bean and any smoked pork, so that’s a natural. And the combo of green beans and corn has been making me really happy lately, though I’ll want to mix up the way I cut the beans if there’s pork involved. Does corn go with smoked pork? I couldn’t immediately come up with any dishes that specifically called for both, but they seem like they’ve been on the same plate together more often than not, even if they weren’t always chumming around in the same pan.

the bread

the bread

So I set the hock to simmer, covered in water, along with a smashed garlic clove or three, some celery stalks, a carrot cut into large chunks, an onion cut in quarters, and a bay leaf. After an hour and a half of slow simmering, I pulled the hock out, when, while waiting for it to cool so that I could pull the meat off, I caught a good whiff of the stock. That’s too good to pitch, too weak to use. I pulled out the carrot chunks (we’ll have those on salad one day soon) pulled out and discarded the other spent solids, then set the liquid to reducing. What started as probably almost a gallon of broth ended up being maybe half a cup when it was done. Super-concentrated flavor, a light glaze in viscosity. While it reduced, I pulled the meat from the hock, then fork shredded it, trimmed the green beans irregularly into roughly thirds, but made all the cuts at an angle and rotated the bean a quarter-to-a-half turn with each cut, blanched then shocked the beans in ice water, cut the corn off the cob. Then it went together easily. Some butter in a pan, add the beans, add the corn, add the shredded ham hock, toss/stir until it’s heated through, and finish by drizzling with that reduced poaching liquid.

Then served it all with the best loaf of bread I’ve had in recent memory, made in a wood-fired oven, found in a freezer full of miscellany at the Valley Milkhouse farm stand, re-crisped in a 375 degree oven. The crust was explosive, the crumb sour, elastic, dense, and simultaneously filled with all the air you could want. It was thumb-and-three-fingertip-kissingly good slathered with the Springwood Farm butter alone or with the addition of sopped-up plate juices.

If you start with amazing ingredients, all you need to do is let them shine.

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based ( His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at

October Is Co-op Month

by Michele Marchetti, Friends & Farmers Co-op

Each October, local-food advocates and community-conscious consumers across the United States celebrate Co-op (cooperative) Month. And this year, central Pennsylvania is joining the party.

According to the Cooperative Network, cooperatives are owned and democratically controlled by the people who use their services. Because of this, decisions are motivated by the interests of co-op members—not the bank accounts of corporate stockholders. From attending an annual meeting to serving on the cooperative’s board of directors, members can actively shape the future of their cooperatives.

This isn’t a radical notion. Cooperatives are thriving throughout the world. In the United States alone, there are approximately 29,000 cooperatives with 100 million memberships.

Friends & Farmers Cooperative has taken root in the Centre County community with a commitment to growing the consumption and production of local food, preserving our agricultural paradise and creating a more resilient local food system. Friends & Farmers was born out of an idea that’s served communities for generations: that a group of people working together can make their collective community better. Does it take a lot of work? Absolutely. But cooperatives can accomplish big things (like Friends & Farmers’ recent $92,000 USDA grant award) when people with different skill sets link arms with their neighbors and  methodically tackle a common goal.Yard Sign

In this case, the goal is a grocery store that will have implications far beyond its actual brick-and-mortar location. Imagine a store that places priority on locally grown and produced food—one that pays our farmers and food producers a fair price; keeps our community stocked with fresh, nutritious, high-quality food; creates jobs in the community and encourages more farmers to continue doing what they love. Taking this vision a step further, imagine a store so embraced by its owner-members that its success funds other projects in the community. That’s the store the owner-members of Friends & Farmers Cooperative aim to build.

Interested in learning more about Friends & Farmers Cooperative? All are welcome at its 2015 Membership Meeting on Friday, Oct. 16 in State College. Click here for more info.

Looking for a co-op close to you? Search the Food Co-op Initiative directory, or check out one these PASA member co-ops:

Doylestown Cooperative Inc, Doylestown

East End Food Cooperative, Pittsburgh

Farmers Market Cooperative of East Liberty, Pittsburgh

LaFayette Food & Farm Cooperative, Easton

Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, Leola

Northwest Pennsylvania Growers Co-op, Mercer

Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, Pittsburgh

Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, Hustontown

Weavers Way Cooperative, Philadelphia

Whole Foods Cooperative, Erie

Love: A Secret Ingredient?

It’s 11:59am Thursday morning and my table of fresh-baked loaves is set, its contents ready to be distributed to the Huntingdon Farmers Market goers in exchange for bills and quarters. My friend Ellen is waiting for me, grinning, glad to see me here on time today. She makes a passing comment, as a number of regulars have, about the secret ingredient mixed, worked and baked into each loaf—love.

It may seem to be a cheesy sentiment or a kind Work of our handsway to make small talk as I bag Ellen’s loaf, but I’ve come to find that love—or care, attentiveness, stewardship, if you prefer—is as essential as flour and water when it comes to small-scale artisan bread baking. And the same can be said for local producers of all kinds.

It’s this love factor that truly differentiates local products from their industrialized competition each step of the way. Since bread is what I know, and they always say to write what you know, I’ll start with bread.

When I select the ingredients and sources for those ingredients, I am weighing multiple factors—quality, price, environmental impact and nutrition. Some decisions stem from my own personal commitment to a certain ethos, but others are informed by the relationships I have with my customers. When I choose a local, organic grain I remember the article my customer shared about Round Up’s role in the modern wheat industry. But also in my mind is my customer with six children and one income who wants to provide her family with healthy and nourishing bread. Finding ingredients that are both healthy and affordable is not just a marketing ploy—it’s a labor of love.

It’s not just what goes into the bread that is shaped by love, but the baking process itself. When I bake, each loaf passes through my hands at least four times as it’s pre-shaped into rounds, shaped into batards (oval loaves), scored and placed on the oven’s hearth, and finally removed from the oven, inspected and bagged. A baker’s hands are the primary tool of artisan baking.

Using one’s hands instead of machines isn’t just a nostalgic sentiment—a hipster-esque preference for the old and outdated. Dough in its purest form—nothing but flour, water and salt—is meant to be worked with the hands. It is dynamic and fickle, altered by the slightest of changes in temperature, humidity and even the direction the wind blows. Working with wild yeast rather than commercial yeast means I depend on the bacteria on the grain and in the air to facilitate fermentation which literally can change with the wind! Hands can sense these subtleties and adapt accordingly by adding more water or flour, creating slightly more or less tension in the loaf, letting the dough rise 30 minutes more or less, etc.

By comparison, most modern bread is made with machines, not hands. Machines lack the signature flexibility and intuition of a baker’s hands. So with the standardization of the machine comes the standardization of the dough and the addition of ingredients that ought to be foreign both to a loaf of bread and to our bodies.

The bread industry is not alone in this. My organic farmer friends sometimes wonder at the absurdity of their practices when compared with their large-scale neighbors. Hours of hand weeding can look foolish when a simple and quick spray would do the trick. This is just one of many examples, for they too hold relationships with their customers and an intimacy with their work that require love to be a factor in their decisions.

As we invest in these connections—the trust between producer and consumer and the intimate knowledge of our crafts—we grow in our understanding of our work and its purpose. And with that understanding comes love. And with love comes stewardship. Stewardship of the knowledge, places and communities that make our work possible and ultimately, something worth doing.

So, yes, my friends. The secret ingredient is love.

Lisa Hershey owns and operates LeFevre Bakery, a bakery in Huntingdon County that specializes in naturally fermented, locally sourced and wood-fired breads. She chose to start the bakery after witnessing how food builds community, from the field to the farmers market to the table.

Fall Gardening: Still Plenty To Do

So my friends have said to me, “For a person who loves garlic, I can’t believe you don’t GROW it!!” Don’t ask me why; I can’t understand it either. I grow enough kale to feed an army and multitudes of other vegetables, but not always garlic. But I will this year!

Garlic growers, unite!! Now is the time to plant your garlic. Some people say to plant it on Columbus Day; so somewhere around October 12, plug in that garlic! Garlic is planted in the fall for harvest seven to nine months later, in mid-summer. It is frost hardy, but many recommend planting four to six weeks before the first hard freeze, to give the bulbs time to establish roots. The hardneck variety of garlic is known for stronger flavor and is better for our cold climate, and in the spring will produce a “scape,” a tall, edible stalk, which makes amazing pesto. The prospect of garlic scape pesto in the spring shall get us through the cold winter days.

I purchased my garlic from a company that specializes in non-genetically modified plants and seeds. And the garlic has been tested to be free of nematodes. (If these little buggers get into your soil, they can colonize and cause future rotting issues.) In addition to being delicious, garlic is antiviral, cancer-preventative and all-around great for keeping illness at bay, as we swing into flu season. I’ll take garlic over a flu shot any day! So be sure to plant garlic very soon, and enjoy it in remedies and recipes all year round.

Extending the season I mean, I don’t wish ill feelings upon ‘Ol Man Winter, but is it time already?? Really?! Just when I get into the gardening groove, here comes the chill in the air, and my beans stop growing, and my okra come to a halt. Thank goodness for mesclun greens and kale. Kale is a superfood–one of the first things to pop out of the ground and one of the last things to perish with the winter frosts. And it gets sweeter with the first frost!

My goal in the next couple of years is to build my own greenhouse. I’m not buying a kit. No way. I’m going to incorporate good old ingenuity. Besides having a greenhouse or a warm southern-exposed, enclosed porch, there are other ways to squeeze more produce from your garden. Cold frames will help to keep frost out and warm your plants when the temperatures take a dive in the evenings. Then remove them in the morning, so the plants can enjoy the warm sunshine during the day. With a few two-by-fours, hoops and wire, one can build a portable row cover, which can be moved around the garden as needed. In the past, I’ve used row covers, which are a lightweight blanket placed on a row of plants to save them from a light frost. This will also assist with getting more vegetables from the season!

Preparing for next year For those parts of your garden that are done for the season, consider planting cover crops. They keep weeds from getting a foothold next season and replace nutrients used by big feeders like tomatoes. Cover crops are known as “green manure” and add organic matter to your garden soil, along with any compost that’s added, and will feed microbes that assist with suppressing diseases. I started planting cover crops such as rye & oats a couple years ago and have noticed a difference. This year I got a combination of oats and peas (pea flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects). The baby pea shoots can also be used as a salad or soup topper! Cover crops can be sown spring through fall, depending on your garden needs.

From utilizing row covers and cold frames to planting garlic and sowing cover crops, one doesn’t have to give up on gardening activities just yet! We may live in a northern climate, but there are still many things to do outside. Old Man Winter won’t chase me inside anytime soon! Until next time–keep growing!

Heather is an Instructor of Culinary Arts at Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center.  She loves to tend her own gardens and truly appreciates the hard work of local farmers, who provide us with beautiful produce through organic and sustainable farming practices. (Thank you!)

Pickled Mouse Melons

A couple of days ago I was visiting the Lancaster Central Market, mostly because I wanted to pick up some pine nuts from The Herb Shop (great prices, great spices) to make pesto from Nana’s basil farm, a one-pot wonder that is starting to make her neighbor’s Catalpa tree look downright puny, and ended up browsing around with no particular purpose. This is my modus operandi. This is also why my wife and I don’t shop for food together. I’m a dawdler. You might even say I’m a Power Dawdler. My wife is on a mission, she stays focused, she is efficient. I’m more like a drunken bumblebee.

Image of Mouse Melons

Mouse Melons

I ended up finding these little lovelies (at the Green Circle Organics stand), which were labeled “local gherkins”, but looked like no gherkins I was familiar with. I bought two half-pints, with no idea what I would do with them. Once home, a quick web search turned up a better identification: Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber, aka Mexican Watermelon Gherkin, or my personal favorite, mouse melons. (see Wikipedia for: Melothria Scabra)

First thing, I ate one raw. Good crunch, definitely a solid cucumber flavor, but also a bit of lemony-ness there, too. Oh yeah, this is going to pickle like a dream. Second thing, I gleefully brought one to my wife to try. Her hands were busy and unfit for touching food at the time. I offered to feed it to her. She scrunched the nose at me. “What is it?” “It’s a Mexican Sour Gherkin! But it’s not really sour. It tastes cucumbery.” My wife and cucumbers are not besties. But she bit, chewed, and declared it “not terrible.” High praise, for a cucumber.

After rinsing them I noticed that there was a dried bit of blossom at the end of almost all of them so I took the time to thumb-rub each of those nubbins off. They came free easily, just a press and a smear motion. It was a little tedious with so many of them, but, that’s why you want to always have a kitchen sink with a window that looks out into a yard with birds.

Once they were all cleaned, I needed to figure out how much pickling liquid I would need. I poured the gherkins into a quart-sized jar, then filled the jar with water, then poured the water back out (through a strainer to catch the gherkins) into a quart measuring cup. I needed 2 ½ cups of pickling liquid plus the gherkins to fill a quart jar. A couple of web searches to get an idea of what other pickling liquids have been tried on these and then I gathered the threads of thought together to do it like this:

Combine 1 ½ cups white wine vinegar*, 1 cup filtered water**, 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt, and 1 Tablespoon sugar in a pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add 1 Serrano*** chile pepper (halved), 1 whole head of garlic, halved crosswise, 1 Bay leaf, 2 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds**** and 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns*****. Remove from the heat and let soak until the liquid cools to the point that you can leave a testing finger in it for several seconds.

Put the gherkins in a clean quart jar. Pour the pickling liquid over the gherkins. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight, and always between uses. Consume within a couple of weeks. I also like to turn the jar over once or twice, as I think of it, to be sure everybody inside is pickling evenly. These are great on salads, in place of a cocktail onion in your favorite onion-garnished libation, and, for bonus points with your wryest of friends you may delight in serving pickled mouse melons as an accoutrement on your next cheese board.

* When I first started making quick pickled vegetables I followed recipes exactly. Over time I’ve learned what can and can’t be adjusted or tweaked. Quick pickles, refrigerator pickles, overnight pickles, they go by many names. These pickles are not preserved and processed and recipe-tested for long-term stability. These, and pickles like these, are meant to be eaten within a week or two or three. They are also fun to taste every day as their flavor and texture will change gradually but thoroughly over time. The most significant bit of advice I can share is don’t use commercial white vinegar. That stuff is a cleaning product not a food. My default vinegar is white wine vinegar, but feel free to experiment with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, champagne vinegar, etc.

** I use filtered water because my water has a lot of minerals and such in it. Plus, I figure the role of the water in this recipe is decidedly not to add flavor of any kind, so filtered is the way to go.

*** I used Serrano because a) I like them, and b) I have them growing in a pot on my deck. Feel free to substitute the pepper of your own choosing, even a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes would do.

**** I used Brown mustard seeds because that’s what I had on hand. Yellow would work, too. As would Black, each a little different in character but each tasty in this role.

***** I used Tellicherry, but, I’m actually a big fan of Malabar, Sarawak Black, and Lampong, too.

If you haven’t played around with quick pickles, I urge you to do so. They’re fast, easy, always interesting, and one of the best ways to make use of highly perishable items and odds and ends. Some of my favorite ones from recent memory are pickled squash blossoms, pickled tip-less asparagus spears after making a recipe that called for only the tips, and one of my favorites for topping salads is pickled shallots. I also can’t make cucumber and onion quick pickles in the summer without missing my grandfather.

image of Pickled Mouse Melons

Pickled Mouse Melons

Dan Waber is a poet, playwright, publisher, and digital artist whose work is almost (but not always) text-based ( His professional life has been in food and sales and marketing. His life was well and truly changed by reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and he has committed the next stage of his life to supporting sustainable food by all means possible. He can be reached at