A week or so ago, I took a day off and we went picking peppers. And some blackberries too, but mostly peppers. There’s a vendor at a couple of the markets we frequent, Rainbow Farms in Madison, that also does some pick-your-own stuff. I was mostly interested in tomatoes – these weren’t quite ready yet, but we were also interested in peppers, so we still took the trip. $10 for a 1/2 bushel basket of peppers, so not a bad deal. They have a variety of sweet and not-sweet (banana, Hungarian, jalapeño, a couple bells – nothing too fiery, if that’s what you’re looking for), and somehow we ended up with two baskets full, so we’re looking at 30 pounds of peppers and trying to figure out what to do with all of them… I suppose we’ll manage.
A few weeks ago, S discovered a local (as in, five miles away) pick-your-own blueberry farm (Voytko Farms, in Auburn – they also have some currants and raspberries in season, and sell honey and maple syrup), and we’ve since visited three times. Each time, we’ve ended up with a full six-pound bucket (3-4 quarts), which runs us about $10. Not a bad deal when they sell pints that were picked who-knows-how-long-ago for $3 in a store.
Each trip has gradually been an improvement from the one prior. The first time, we took C in a stroller with a book or two, and maybe a snack. We spent about an hour picking, but let him out to help. I know… we mostly ended up chasing him across rows because, surprise, he didn’t want to stand still and pick when there were eight acres of bushes to explore.
The second time, I put him in the jogging stroller, which is easier to keep him confined in, and brought books, crayons, food, and various knick-knacks in an attempt to keep him occupied. This worked for a little longer and let us pick unmolested for a time, but eventually, I discovered the trick of just pushing the stroller into a bush so he could pick and eat while sitting still (he very quickly learned which ones were appropriate to pick). Win-win. By the end of this trip, I had also perfected what I like to call “the double” – the two-handed, ultra-efficient picking method. It allows me to pick up to six times faster than a normal person – the efficiency improvement is exponential, not straight-line growth.
Finally, for the third time out, we were streamlined and really humming. I pushed the boy into a bush as soon as we got there, moving him about every five or ten minutes after he had picked one clean. I brought out “the double” from the start. S… helped too. After a half-hour of blueberries, C decided he’d had enough fruit, so I brought out the backup snacks for something crunchy and a little change of pace. This bought us at least another 15 or 20 minutes. If you’re keeping track, that’s three-quarters of an hour that he sat still, without complaining or trying to break free. Unheard of.
We’ve thus far frozen most of the berries, but if anyone has any interesting blueberry preserve or jam recipes, we’re all ears!
We have a problem with ice cream. As in, we have a hard time resisting. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t eat ice cream with/for every meal; it’s really only once or twice a week, or less, on average. And we’re kind of ice cream snobs. No vanilla soft-serve for me (unless it’s from Angelo’s) – we like the premium, flavorful, unique stuff.
When we travel, we always find a local shop (or two… in every town?) to visit. We have a well-documented fixation with Jeni’s. When we lived closer to East Coast Frozen Custard, we often randomly ended up there. So when Sweetie Fry opened last year, we just had to get there. Of course, it took us a year, but make it we did. And I’m guessing it won’t take another year for the next visit.
Sometimes, names can be misleading. In this case, it sums things up perfectly. Sweetie Fry offers ice cream and fries. Don’t go expecting to have a little lunch or dinner before your dessert, because you won’t. Unless it’s fries. But what good fries they are.
We went simple this time, and tried the classic, sweet potato, and waffle fries. Delightfully fresh, hot, and a little crispy. The family plowed through them almost embarrassingly quickly, that’s how good they are. If you want something a little beyond the basic, they also offer selections such as pizza fries, Parmesan and truffle oil fries, Gorgonzola and Tabasco fries, and even funnel cake fries. Like I said, we’ll be back.
And on to the best part – the ice cream. With flavors like French toast, caramel pear, and goat cheese with honey and walnuts, they should have something to fit anyone’s taste. Among the deliciousness we sampled were key lime (wonderfully tart and refreshing on a hot day), chocolate with raspberry marmalade, strawberry sour cream, coconut, and maple bacon (a perfect mix of sweet and salty – is there anything that’s not improved by bacon?). To top it off (literally), they throw on a free mini-scoop so you can try another flavor. Fantastic.
It’s ramp season. For those unaware of what ramps are (I didn’t know until a few years ago either), they’re a member of the allium (onion) family, and are also called wild leeks. As far as I know, they’re only found through foraging, and can’t be domesticated easily. They have a pretty short season, but it comes with a lot of publicity. Ramps have been popular in Appalachia for years (since they grow all over there, and even up here), but more recently have become kind of a chic, foodie food. As such, they can carry a high price tag, so they’re often over-harvested, and many states have now places limits on what you can pick (sustainable is said to be no more than 1/5 or even 1/10 of a given plot, since it’ll take 4-5 years for them to be ready for harvest).
We’ve never had ramps, so when they were available for a few short weeks at the market, we picked up a couple bunches. Most of them were planted in the woods (since they’re pulled up with roots intact), in the hope that some will take hold, and we’ll eventually have a few patches of our own to harvest. They are quite pungent, kind of a cross between onions and garlic (and, some people say, smelly shoes). I’d recommend cooking with them on a day when you can open the windows.
Since they’re more or less interchangeable with onions, they’re very versatile. For this application, I simply diced and sautéed a bunch with some of our New Creation bacon, then mixed that into a bowl of eight eggs, and baked the whole thing in a greased pie dish for about 30 minutes at 325 F.
Given how much they stunk up the kitchen while I was cutting them, I thought the dish may be overpoweringly ramp-y, but the cooking must mellow the flavor a little, because it really wasn’t that bad, and I used a lot. No kissing for the remainder of the evening, but at least it was a good dinner 🙂
The last place we visited on Saturday was White House Chocolates, also conveniently located right on SR 87, in Burton. I’m going to hazard a wild guess that most of their ingredients are not sourced from around here… But we still enjoy a good chocolate now and again, and it’s nice to support a local small business 🙂
White House offers a wide variety of sweet treats – many flavors of fudge, a wide assortment of truffles, several cremes, dipped nuts, caramels, even some sugar-free selections – you get the idea. They also have a few little “gifty” things, I suppose the likes of which you’d find in a Hallmark store. Girly stuff, so I didn’t really pay attention. C and I were more concerned with sampling…
There’s a barn on the property that had a sign about a chocolate factory or something like that, but I’m not certain if they’ll let you watch them make anything.
The chocolates lived up to their billing, as we tried a few truffles and were not disappointed. A good dark chocolate shell combined with a creamy, ganache-y center… Yum. This stop alone made the trip worthwhile.