I have to apologize for my lack of photos of the amazing food that we ate. I was too entranced to think to take pictures of everything. However, if there were more, you’d probably drool on your computer, and then I’d owe you a new computer.
Last week my husband, son, and I were invited for a community/chef dinner over at Fifty South in Ballston Spa. The restaurant, owned by Kim Klopstock, has recently changed its schedule to focus more on farm-to-table dinners, so it’s now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Kim is using this time to do some community food projects she’s been yearning for.
Honestly, I almost didn’t go to this event. I knew there were would be chefs there who had prepared amazing things, and I didn’t want to bring something boring to share for the potluck. Plus the items were supposed to be seasonal and local (Kim is a huge proponent of the locavore lifestyle) and I hadn’t got my act together at the previous market to gather appropriate items. Then I remembered I had some great jams from the summer I’d been hoarding. I also get flour from Champlain Valley Milling so I knew I could whip up some bread, get some goat cheese at the store, and I’d be all set for a great, but simple, appetizer.
We showed up and everyone was busy in the kitchen. Several people had gone out early to forage for all of the amazing things you can only get this time of year. They had collected ramps, fiddleheads, burdock, cattail root, and wild broccoli rabe. Some folks had also brought squirrel, beaver, and muskrat.
When all the food was set out, we went around the room and each explained our dish and where it had come from. Each person also said a little something about how it felt to eat with the seasons and with a food community. It felt nice saying, “That jam was made with peaches from this summer, and hot peppers from my garden.” Saying it out loud brought back in an instant the memory of that peach-picking trip, and of my cayenne pepper bush that produced more peppers than I knew what to do with.
The other dishes were so good I could hardly stand it. It was like going to one of the tastiest dinners of your life, and not paying a penny. I still pinch myself that I got to eat things like coconut shrimp with ramps, curried Easter lamb with rice, mini salmon tostadas, a salad made of citrus and cattail root, breaded and fried burdock (this was probably my favorite), beaver stewed in red wine, and a tiny squirrel leg.
My son (my super picky son) actually ate squirrel (because my husband told him it was chicken), and liked it! When we told him what it was, he didn’t even freak out. I honestly couldn’t believe it. (But really, squirrel tastes just like chicken.)
As the night went on, and many drinks were consumed, I got to know these strangers better. The couple next to us will be getting a CSA share from the farm I work for, Kilpatrick Family Farm, another guest is a part-time blacksmith, and one couple forages laundry baskets full of mushrooms for Kim each year, and on and on.
We talked about food politics, healthcare politics, natural healing, children, college shenanigans, travel, business, life, death, and all the in-betweens. We stayed up very late, just enjoying the company and conversation, long after the plates were cleared.
In moments like these I like to imagine that not that long ago, a seasonal feast like this would not have been unique. That whole neighborhoods, or even villages, would celebrate a brief moment during a season when things begin to come alive again, and spend a whole afternoon preparing impeccable dishes for people they barely know.
I like to believe that slowly, slowly we can (and will) get back to this. I see it every weekend when I work at the market and new faces emerge at our stand to shop, or when I attend our FSC food swaps and see the care and time people have put into their goods, or when people ask me for a recommendation on a good place to get meat.
I am constantly amazed and humbled to be a part of this movement.
Also, I don’t know what I was worried about, my bread was a hit! Truthfully though, it’s the main recipe from Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes a Day. I think everyone (who isn’t gluten free) should own this book. Below I’ve given basic outlines for the two jams I brought. Just get a small amount of goat cheese, pour the jam on top, and serve with small bread slices or crackers.
Try It: Blueberry Jam with Cherry Balsamic & Black Pepper
-spend an afternoon with a friend picking blueberries in the summer
-get delicious cherry balsamic vinegar at Saratoga Olive Oil Co. and add it to your blueberry jam recipe
-grind black pepper into jam at the end, before canning it
Try It: Spicy 2-Pepper Peach Jam
I adapted this recipe from Life in Recipe’s Peach Habanero Basil Jam.
The changes I made were omitting the basil, and cutting back on the sugar a bit. I also used jalapenos and cayenne peppers from my garden, in place of the habanero pepppers.
I hope right now you are experiencing some of the tastes of the spring, and perhaps also some things you “put up” from seasons past.