Archive for the ‘Farm to Spoon™’ Category

9 June 2011 by megan@spoon

Rhubarb-Hibiscus Conserve

Rhubarb grows like crazy throughout the upper Midwest—in long, tidy rows on rural farms, in ruffled red and green clusters by barns and backyard fences, and in scrappy patches at the edges of alleys. Wherever it grows, it grows in abundance. Midwestern homesteaders dubbed it “pie plant” and revered rhubarb for its thrillingly acid flavor. The allure of rhubarb is timeless. We modern-day Midwesterners still revel each spring in the arrival of this vegetable whose vibrant crimson stalks we treat as fruit.

There is always pie, but this Spring there’s also an incredibly beautiful Rhubarb-Hibiscus Conserve. Last week, our friends at Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs harvested 1400 pounds of their field-grown rhubarb for us. Less than twenty four hours later it was simmering away in our copper kettles. We macerated chopped chunks of this lovely rhubarb in Michigan beet sugar and combined the resulting juice with a tea made from dried hibiscus flowers to create the ruby red syrup in which the delicious chunks are preserved. Hibiscus and rhubarb share a similar tartness, but while rhubarb has a bold, flashy astringency, hibiscus is much more subtle, with lovely floral undercurrents that soften and mellow the sharp acid of our puckery pie plant.

Our Rhubarb-Hibiscus Conserve captures the first harvest of the season in all its zippy, zingy wonder and enhances it with the lingering floral notes of tropical hibiscus. It’s wonderful with freshly whipped cream or triple crème brie, and best of all, it marks the beginning of another summer filled with the exceptional fruits of this special place.

Available online now and in stores on Monday.

18 February 2011 by megan@spoon

Celebrate National Cherry Month with Michigan Cherries

It may seem odd to talk about cherries in the middle of February, but February is National Cherry Month, and as residents of the world’s cherry capital, we Michiganders tend to think about cherries year-round. Cherry orchards line the eastern shore of Lake Michigan from Benton Harbor to Charlevoix, producing 75% of the tart cherries grown in the US.  Long before the first of these orchards was ever planted by man, this geographically unique area was a thick tangle of wild pin cherry, chokecherry and black cherry trees, evidence of how ideally suited our lakeshore is to the cultivation of this beloved fruit.

Here, rolling hills of sandy loam slope upward along the shore into the prevailing west wind.  As the first warm winds of spring move over the lake, they’re cooled by this great cold mass of water — a disappointment to winter-weary humans but a boon to vulnerable cherry trees that could be deceived by the tantalizing warmth of early spring into budding and blossoming before the danger of killing frost had passed. 

In summer, the lake effect brings cool nights at the end of each hot, summer day, which slows the maturation of fruit and allows Michigan cherries to develop a depth and complexity not found in others that ripen more quickly.

As the seasons progress and the air grows colder, the lake remains a reservoir of warmth. Throughout the winter, the abundant lake effect snow produced by this mingling of warm and cold builds up in deep, wet drifts in the dormant orchards along Lake Michigan’s leeward shores, enveloping the delicate roots and lower trunks of fragile cherry trees in a thick, insulating blanket that protects them from winter kill.

Without this great lake, Michigan could not produce cherries in such quantity and of such quality as to have earned the reputation of Cherry Capital. The Montmorency cherry is Michigan’s most famous fruit.  Because of their tender flesh and fermentable sweet-tart composition, these cherries are rarely found fresh except at local orchard stands.  They’re perfect for pie-making and preserving, and you can taste the full character of their flavor in each one of our perfectly preserved tart cherry specialties.

Celebrate National Cherry Month with something delicious from American Spoon: a pie or a tart, a pork chop or a roasted chicken, or just a bit of jam on toast. Happy February!

21 December 2010 by megan@spoon

Winter Milk Caramel

Twenty years ago, there were eighteen family dairy farms in Northern Michigan’s Kalkaska County.  Today there is one.  Shetler Family Dairy is a tiny operation by modern standards, but the Shetlers produce milk the old fashioned way.  They tend to a small herd of about 35 dairy cows — Guernseys and Jerseys and big Brown Swiss — happy, healthy cows who spend the warm months lolling in grassy pastures and the colder months nibbling hay in the shelter of a large barn.  No herbicides, no pesticides, no antibiotics, no growth hormones;  just grass and hay and a bit of grain.

These cows produce the pure, creamy, full-flavored milk that inspired our decadently delicious Winter Milk Caramel.  We start with eight gallons of Shetler’s whole milk, then sweeten it with Michigan beet sugar.  As the milk reduces in the kettle, it’s steeped in mahlab, an exotic spice with a surprisingly familiar scent.  Mahlab is made from the seed kernels of wild black cherries, and their cherry-sweet aroma and almond-like flavor meld beautifully with the creamy richness of dairy.

The sweetened milk simmers in our kettles for hours until it’s shiny and silky and deeply caramelized and amazing, a thick, richly sweet sauce infused with the soft almond notes of cherry kernels.  Drizzle it in ribbons over ice cream or cookies or cakes, spread it on bread or toast, spoon it over pancakes and waffles, or really — who are we kidding here? — eat it straight from the jar, savoring it in small sensuous spoonfuls until it becomes necessary to lick the inside of the jar clean.  Because seriously, it’s that good.

14 July 2010 by megan@spoon

Early Glow Strawberries

A few weeks ago, I stood in a field in the early morning light and breathed in the fresh, sweet scent of strawberries.  I’d gone to visit the Bardenhagens’ centennial farm, a series of rolling green hills perched above Sutton’s Bay.  Justin discovered the farm in 1982 during his search for the ideal domesticated strawberry, a strawberry as brightly aromatic and intensely flavorful as the wild strawberries he remembered from childhood. He sampled at least a dozen varieties before falling in love with the Early Glow, a small, low-yielding berry so difficult to grow that  few local farmers even planted it.  

19 March 2010 by megan@spoon

Michigan Maple

With snow in the forecast for this weekend our hopes for an early Spring have been dampened a bit, but for weeks now Northern Michigan has been graced with lengthening light-filled days, days of warmth and sunshine and bright blue skies — the kind of days that wake up dormant trees and send sap coursing through Art Currey’s 70 acres of sugar maples.