by Gabrielle L. Wheeler
Take a drive on a late-spring day down any rural lane in the Finger Lakes Region and you are bound to pass one or two – or sometimes more – roadside stands selling freshly picked, sun-ripened produce. Visit a farmer’s market and choices expand to include honey, meats, baked goods, and soaps. Seek out area restaurants that feature dishes made from local ingredients and experience the craft and creativity of master chefs in their glory. More and more, people are looking to enhance their health with foods grown for taste and nutrients, entice their palate with the flavors of the region, and support the region by buying local.
Cooking Whole Foods
Without a doubt, there is a difference between a tomato that has been picked ripe off the vine and one that was picked green and artificially ripened with ethylene gas during transport. Most often, ripe, freshly picked tomatoes are super juicy and bursting with flavor, tending toward the sweet side. Tomatoes picked immaturely are often hard though they look ripe, can be mealy, and are lacking in flavor. Even “vine ripe” tomatoes sold in bulk in the grocery stores fall into this category.
One would, of course, favor a flavorful, freshly picked tomato, and some research supports that produce ripened on the vine is indeed more nutritious for us. “Good flavor does tend to go together with more nutrition. The flavor compounds tend to be good for you,” says Rivka Davis, owner and operator of Road’s End Farm, which grows certified organic vegetables, herbs, and some fruits in Dundee. Davis also explains that choosing whole foods picked at their peak freshness and eating them unprocessed imparts the healthful benefits of the complex interactions of compounds in them as opposed to isolated nutrients promoted by the supplement industry.
So, where and how can a person get highly nutritious produce picked at its peak? Most probably, right down the road at a farm stand, or at the local farmer’s market or coop. “If you want produce that tastes really good, and produce that’s also really good for you, then you probably want to try to get it locally,” recommends Davis.
Another alternative for locating fresh produce is through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member share. In CSAs, members pre-purchase a share, then get a weekly supply of what is grown on the farm, oftentimes with members having the opportunity to help out in the fields. Some programs, such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and Healthy Food for All, help low-income families access fresh produce at farmer’s markets.
“The artistic part of it is that you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know there’s something really great about it, so you keep coming back and you keep spreading that energy.”
– Scott Signori on cooking and eating and serving local foods
Locating locally produced meat is sometimes a challenge for buyers but asking around at farmer’s markets can be a good first step in seeking out a vendor in your area. As individual buyers are starting to produce a demand, the ability to obtain other products directly, such as grains, milk, and cheeses, is becoming more common.
Many regional restaurants are already serving local produce and meats. The Stonecat Café in Hector and its owner and executive chef Scott Signori have been leaders in this movement for 20 years. The Stonecat partners directly with numerous regional farms to supply peak-harvested produce and humanely raised meats for the ever-changing menu at the restaurant. “I take the food, the raw product that I can find locally, as fresh and high-end as possible, and create fun dishes – creative dishes – with lots of love, and I put it out there and hopefully wake people up,” says Signori passionately.
Purchasing whole, fresh produce from local vendors isn’t just good for physical health, it is good for the health of the region as well. Economically, money spent locally will, with any luck, remain local. “It really is very helpful even if it’s not every grocery trip that you make,” reminds Davis. It also adds an element of accountability to suppliers. Signori comments that he likes that he can drive by his beef supplier’s farm and view the cows in the field, knowing what they are eating and that they are well-treated.
Signori believes there is a shift happening, regionally and nationally, in which people are wanting more than the homogeneity of corporate chain restaurants. He finds this is leading people to a more healthful lifestyle based on whole foods eaten in appropriately proportioned meals. But he also feels it is more than this. In a term he has pioneered, he feels this sustainitarian lifestyle involves choosing “food based on the healthful way it is grown or raised with an appreciation for the sacrifice of life and the transfer of energy.” While there is no guiding rulebook for Signori’s new theory, he feels it helps release the guilt of those who wish to eat what their region best supports, even if it does not mean a specific diet, such as vegan or keto, etc. It does however allow “each person to tune into their own body and energy and eat what makes them feel alive.”
As I sat in her kitchen enjoying a cup of tea, Davis said something along the same lines. “What’s the diet you feel healthiest on? That’s probably going to wind up containing a lot of things that taste good to you. And your food ought to taste good to you.”
Roasted Asparagus with Garlic Greens
Recipe courtesy Road’s End Farm
• 1 bunch asparagus
• 1 to 3 shoots garlic greens or cloves of garlic
• 1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
• Optional: salt and/or pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°
2. Wash asparagus and garlic greens, or peel and wash garlic cloves
3. Trim asparagus by removing any tough bottoms
4. Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces
5. Chop garlic greens or cloves, coarsely or minced as preferred
6. Place asparagus and garlic in roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and mix until well coated.
7. Add salt and pepper as desired.
8. Roast approximately 10 minutes until just tender.
*Garlic can be exchanged with bunching onions for alternative flavor
Wild Onion Faranatta
Recipe courtesy Stonecat Café
• 1 cup chickpea flour
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 tbsp. olive oil, separated
• 1/4 tsp. course salt
• 4 grinds fresh cracked pepper
• 1 tbsp. toasted fennel seeds
• 2 tbsp. fresh chopped yard onions (wild chives)
1. Whisk dry chickpea flour in bowl to break up lumps
2. Whisk in water
3. Whisk in 1 tbsp. olive oil and all other ingredients
4. Let batter sit for 10 minutes
5. Heat 9-inch cast iron griddle, oil with remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil
6. Pour batter evenly onto griddle to fill surface
7. Let cook until top has tiny holes and surface is cleanly dry
8. Flip and cook for 3-5 minutes on other side until lightly browned
Scott Signori says, “Faranatta is a fun, gluten-free, high-protein flat bread that is very versatile. I love to serve it as a pizzette with arugula, blue cheese olive oil and lemon juice. Add pear in the fall. I also love it as a wrap. Here I wrapped it around baby spinach, avocado, almond slices and feta with lemon juice and olive oil.”
The Stonecat Café
5315 State Route 414
Hector, NY 14841
Online at: stonecatcafe.com
Road’s End Farm
362 Smith Rd.
Dundee, NY 14837