Last month, my friend Agnes asked me if I would like some squash blossoms. The answer was, obviously, “yes, please.” At the time, I didn’t know what I would do with them, but I rarely turn down an offer of food.
My husband and I arrived at her farm and walked along the rows of hubbard squash, admiring their size. She told us that removing the blossoms helps the plant put its energy into the emerging squash. As we picked the large blossoms, inspiration struck to stuff them with cheese and fry them, as the Italians do. We made them part of our supper with friends that night. They were a hit.
As we passed the potato plants, she asked if we might like some potatoes too; it would give her a chance to see if they were ready. Agnes grabbed a shovel and dug up 10 globes of thin-skinned beauties. I smiled as I flashed on a childhood memory of picking potatoes at our friends’ farm in upstate New York. I remembered how buttery they tasted. We fried Agnes’ potatoes the next morning and they were incredibly good; nothing beats a fresh potato.
We are lucky to live surrounded by agriculture and more importantly, the generosity of people who produce food. We have made friends with farmers at the markets, and with home gardeners like ourselves. We visit people who raise animals for meat and those whose eggs we buy weekly. We spend time with fishermen. The cheese makers we know are wonderfully eccentric and extremely hard-working. We have a friend who shares her foraged mushrooms and takes us on tromps in the woods to find more.
In the past two months, we picked Balaton cherries on a warm evening at Kate and Bill’s orchard after the shakers had been through. As we worked, we listened to their plans for the barn, and offered our help to harvest their abundant tomato crop. We picked blueberries from bushes surrounded by amazing gardens at the Leo Creek Preserve, following the rule to pick twice as much as we needed so that half could go to the local food pantry, our “payment” for harvesting.
We visited the “Garlic Baron” (Dave Bedford) in Lake Leelanau and pored over the many varieties he grows, discussing their attributes and his love of garlic. A favorite memory I will hold is climbing up to the second floor of his barn to see row upon row of garlic bulbs curing. It was a beautiful sight, with sun filtering in through the slats of the aged wood walls.
A trip to the tribal fisheries marina in Peshawbestown one afternoon netted a treat of just-caught whitefish from Bear, and our gratitude. We cooked it up that night, as fresh as fresh can be. Thank goodness for our clean waters, and for people who make a living fishing.
At the farmers market, Alan and Fran Jones of Greenrock Farm always have a picture-worthy display of their flawless produce, but I love that they offer their “seconds” as well. This time of year, we buy a bushel of slightly blemished sweet peppers — a visual feast of red, orange, yellow and green, the colors you’d find in a pack of crayons. At home, the peppers are roasted over an open fire until they are soft and charred. Then they are peeled and seeded, split in half, and frozen. I love pulling them out and enjoying their sweet and smokey taste in the dead of winter.
If you opened my freezer now, you would think we had nothing but corn in there. My stepdaughter Annie wanted to take frozen corn to school with her again this year. Her father said yes if she would help with the preparations. On a beautiful Sunday, they purchased 11 dozen ears of corn from Curts farm stand, came home and set up a virtual assembly line out on the patio. We have some hilarious photos documenting the beginning with a wheelbarrow full of corn, and the aftermath — a pile of corn husks and cobs, and many, many vacuum-sealed bags of kernels. It was a good lesson in the hard work it takes to get it from farm stand to freezer.
Last month, I visited my father in upstate New York. He is 87 years old and he lives on his own, with my sister and her husband nearby. While we were there, a steady stream of visitors came, at least one a day, bearing produce from their gardens, leaving them on a little table on the porch. There were eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and one day, giant zucchini, one more than 2 feet long. I asked my father what he wanted to do with the zucchini.
“For something of that size, I like to stuff it,” he said. We worked in the kitchen together — cubing day-old bread, seasoning some sausage, sauteing chopped onion, pulling out a marinara he had recently made with his tomatoes. We stuffed and baked the zucchini and served it to the grandchildren and great grandchildren that arrived that evening for supper. It was delicious.
I had worried about my father living alone, who really missed his social life because of the pandemic. Then I thought about that steady stream of visitors who came, bearing gifts, a smile behind their masks and a bit of conversation. I watched my father make food, never just for himself, but always enough to share with others. He spoke about gifts of venison and fish, and what he made and for whom. I could see cooking gave his days some purpose and filled his freezer as well.
Recently, my friend Emily told me she was having a hard time finding peaches. As I rode along Center Highway in Leelanau County the next day, I saw a “peaches for sale” sign by the Whittaker farm. We stopped, but the cooler was empty. As we turned to leave, a woman came to the screen door. Val told us that her husband was out picking, and we could stop by tomorrow for some. Then she recognized me from the newspaper and shared that she had tried the zucchini salad recipe from the last article. She asked if I wanted some zucchini. Of course, I said yes.
We came back the next day and bought their perfect peaches, one bag for us, another for Emily. We dropped off the peaches at Emily’s, and visited through her screen door, sharing ideas for preserving peaches. When I got home, I saw the zucchini and thought about my father. I made a stuffed zucchini, two halves. We ate one for supper. The other I dropped off at the Whittaker house for Val to taste. I felt remiss for not giving her the recipe, but I had not yet put it to paper. I hope she is reading this and will find it here.
Please take the opportunity to get to know some of the many people who grow food near you. Enjoy as much food as you can when it is fresh and if you are able, share the bounty and feel the warmth. Many thanks to a new friend, Val, and to all the growers who I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the years.
Adjust this recipe for the size of zucchini you are stuffing. Other herbs can be substituted to suit your taste. Use whatever tomato sauce you have on hand, but a sauce made with roasted fresh tomatoes is particularly good.
One 15” zucchini, split in half lengthwise and seedy area removed with a spoon
2-3 C. cubed day-old bread
8 oz. sausage or ground pork
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 t. oregano or sage (dried) or 1 T. fresh, chopped
1/3 C. grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
½ C. shredded mozzarella or fontina
1 ½ C. tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak bread in water or milk while you prepare the stuffing.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the sausage or pork and break it up with a spoon as it cooks until just browned. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and place in a mixing bowl. Remove all but about a tablespoon of the fat in the pan, then add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened. Add these to the meat. Squeeze the bread to remove some moisture, and add the bread to the meat mixture, along with the herbs and Parmesan, combining the ingredients with a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste (if you are using sausage, it may need less seasoning.)
Place zucchini on a baking sheet, and stuff the centers with your filling. Drizzle top with olive oil. Bake about 25 minutes, and either top with some sauce and mozzarella or just top with the cheese. Continue baking until zucchini is soft and cheese is melted, about 10 – 20 minutes more depending on its size. Heat remaining sauce and serve with extra sauce on the side, and a helping of garlic bread.
— Ted Schueler, as observed by Rose Hollander
ROASTED RED PEPPER DIP (MUHAMMARA)
Makes 1 ½ cups
Something delicious to make with roasted peppers! You can roast them over an open fire, grill or on a gas burner.
2 medium sweet peppers, any color
½ C. toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. sweet paprika
½ t. ground cumin
½ t. ground coriander
½ t. salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 T. walnut oil (if you don’t have, just use more olive oil)
- 1 T. pomegranate molasses
Roast peppers and cover them while they cool to help release the skins. When cooled, scrape off the peel, and remove seeds and stem. Cut or tear into strips and place them in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients, up to the cayenne pepper, and process until blended but still a little chunky. Add the oils, then the molasses and blend. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve with toasted pita wedges or good crackers and any sturdy raw vegetables for dipping.
- Pomegranate molasses has a unique taste so if you don’t have any, just enjoy the dip without … still very nice!