It’s strawberry time
For many local food lovers and area chefs, the month of May is circled on kitchen calendars in red with a big exclamation mark. That’s because it’s the window in which ripe, juicy local strawberries are available. Accordingly, they are the focus of this month’s Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Get Local initiative, which brings together farmers, chefs and community members to celebrate a single seasonal ingredient each month.
“Any other strawberry you have at any other time isn’t really even a strawberry — I don’t know what it is!” says Nate Allen, chef and owner of Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine.
Anomaly Romano of Take the Cake!, a pastry vendor at Asheville City Market (downtown and south) and the West Asheville Tailgate Market, agrees. “Each berry is a little bright gem filled with unbelievable flavor and freshness. There’s no comparison between the berries here in WNC and the ones shipped from California.”
Romano sources strawberries for her goodies — like cupcakes and tarts — from her own garden, as well as fellow market vendors McConnell Farms in Hendersonville and Flying Cloud Farm in Fairview. Flying Cloud estimates they’ll be bringing their berries to tailgate markets this week, with their largest quantities available mid-month.
That’s perfect timing for Allen, who begins his regular monthly cooking demonstrations at the Asheville City Market on Saturday, May 14. Last year, his grilled strawberries with asparagus were a hit, even though many market-goers were skeptical at first (he shares the recipe below). “It’s important to drop any preconceived notions about strawberries now; they can be savory, sweet, used in a cocktail or as a garnish for meats,” says Allen. “It’s just important to celebrate this fruit at this time.”
But that doesn’t mean the preparation has to be complicated. Romano enjoys pairing them with another market find, local goat cheese, as well as whipped cream with Limoncello (a lemon liqueur) and a touch of sugar or honey folded in.
Roz Taubman, co-owner and pastry chef of The Blackbird in Black Mountain, likes them with just a little sugar and wine. She recommends marinating three cups of strawberries in your favorite pinot noir or zinfandel, sweetened with three tablespoons of sugar, for at least an hour. “It’s very simple and elegant, and most importantly brings out the natural flavor of the ripe strawberries.”
Taubman promises strawberry ice cream on The Blackbird’s menu this month — she makes homemade ice cream daily — alongside strawberry cream puffs and other springtime desserts. Allen plans to use them on his menu, too. Look out for them alongside fresh spinach, ricotta, dill and lamb bacon in a scrumptious salad. To find a list of all participating Get Local restaurants, visit asapconnections.org and click on Get Local. There, you’ll find information about Get Local in area schools, where the focus is also on strawberries right now. Visit growing-minds.org for more information. At ASAP’s website, you’ll also find information about other local foods fresh at farmers markets this month, as well as the opening dates of markets beginning in May.
For more information about the chefs and restaurants mentioned here, visit theblackbirdrestaurant.com, knifeandforknc.com and takethecakeasheville.com.
2011 Local Food Guide is Here
Circle Saturday, May 7 on your calendar to join ASAP in celebrating the official release of the 2011 Local Food Guide, ASAP’s comprehensive directory of area family farms, farm stores and stands, tailgate markets, wineries, grocers, restaurants, caterers, bakers, B & Bs and other distributors that supply local food.
The celebration takes place on Saturday evening from 4 until 8 p.m. at the Highland Brewing Company tasting room. It’s an opportunity to pick up the 2011 guide hot off the press, enjoy giveaways and music by local act Uncle Mountain, and kick off the growing season with other local food enthusiasts. Of course, what would a local food guide party be without local food washed down with local brews? Tupelo Honey Café will be on hand to prepare farm-fresh bites, as well as sell their new cookbook, Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen, with sales to benefit ASAP.
Since 2002, nine editions and almost 1 million copies of the guide have been printed. “Ten years ago when we printed the first Local Food Guide, we could not have imagined how much could change in a decade,” says Charlie Jackson, ASAP’s director. “Today, the guide is the most comprehensive source for local food in the country, and the Appalachian region leads a national local food movement that is reshaping our farms and the way we eat. We’re excited to celebrate that with everyone that makes the movement possible here.”
The release party is free and open to the public at Highland Brewing Company’s new tasting room at 12 Old Charlotte Highway, Suite H, Asheville. For more information, visit asapconnections.org/lfgparty.html. Those unable to attend can browse the 2011 10th edition online at buyappalachian.org. Biltmore and Greenlife Grocery are the guide’s major sponsors.
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at email@example.com.