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Beets, new and old school

10 Mar


Beets, new and old school

Sexy and here to stay…

Beets, historically an old school winter storage vegetable, are more popular than ever. Today farmers are selling dozens of varieties of all different shapes, sizes and colors to hip foodies and chefs who have elevated the vegetable to a sexy new status with trendy new recipes. The vegetable’s appeal has transcended seasons, finding a permanent place on spring and summer menus at “fresh local” bistros throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley. No one seems to remember that not long ago beets were considered “a food that only grandma liked”. Today even pickled beets have found high brow appreciation with boutique producers who have included their twist on the classic among the other pickles, chutneys and relishes in their product lines.

HONEST2With so many beet varieties available at farmers markets, there seem to be just as many ways to cook them. Or not cook them…. After all beets are delicious raw, sliced thinly and tossed in a salad, or juiced and pureed as Brazillian chef Ellie Markovitch does with her delicious raw beet gazpacho soup. At Hawthorne Valley Farm “Sauerkraut Seth” lacto-ferments raw beets into Kvaas, a Russian beet drink known for its detoxifying properties.

Most chefs have a very particular outlook on how beets should be cooked. Many are still firm believers that they should be boiled – an hour for smaller beets and up to an hour and a half for the larger ones. Others prefer to cook beets by roasting them in a hot oven. One roasting method involves lining a baking pan with coarsely ground salt, placing the beets on top and roasting them until they are tender – an hour or more depending on their size (the salt acts as a buffer between the bottom of the beets and the surface of the hot pan). Some chefs will wrap a cluster of three to four beets in aluminum foil and roast them in a hot oven. With this method the beets are actually steamed as a result of being enclosed in the foil. Alice Waters, famed “fresh local” owner of Chez Panisse in California, recommends roasting beets in a pan with an inch of water, which is another way to ensure a burn-free barrier between the beet bottoms and the hot surface of the roasting pan.

Look for local beets at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, the Berry Farm and the Chatham Real Food Co-op (both are stocking beets from Little Seed Gardens), and Schoharie Valley Farms.

For pickled beets try Beth’s Farm Kitchen, Black Dirt Brand, Black Dirt Gourmet and Rick’s Picks


Ellie Markovitch’s Raw Beet Gazpacho

  • 4 large beets, peeled
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 pinch chili pepper
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 red pepper, de-seeded
  • 2 apples, cored


  1. Blend the beets and water
  2. Strain the pulp
  3. Put the juice back into the blender and working in batches, blend together the remainder of the ingredients
  4. Chill for 4 hours
  5. Serve with sour cream, lemon zest and fresh dill.
Bunched beet photo by Jane Feldman
Beet salad and soup photos by Ellie Markovitch

Hudson Valley lactic acid fermentation

23 Feb


Hudson Valley lactic acid fermentation

Lacto-fermentation is a centuries old method for preserving excess vegetable yields at the end of the growing season. While lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut and European style dilled pickles resemble many other “pickled” foods, the process is quite different than the traditional hot canning method that involves preserving agents like vinegar and sugar. During lacto-fermentation vegetables are cut or shredded, and salt is added. The salt draws out liquid within the vegetables and the vegetables actually ferment within their juices for a short period of time, usually two to six weeks.

The probiotic health benefits of lacto-fermented foods are similar to that of other foods with live cultures, like yogurt and kefir. Eating lacto-fermented foods with high probiotic concentrations ensures the maintenance of high levels of probiotic bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract that help ward off harmful bacteria and intestinal and digestive sicknesses.

Louise Frazier, Lacto-fermentation expert of the Hudson Valley

On the forefront of lacto-fermenting educational outreach in the Hudson Valley is Louise Frazier, nutritional culinary specialist and author of Vegetables First, Home Lactic Acid Fermentation of Vegetables and Around the Calender with Local Vegetables. Louise regularly conducts lacto-fermentation workshops with fresh organic produce from local farms, and talks about how she learned the art of lacto-fermentation from Thomas Stenius while visiting Sweden. She speaks of the nuances that affect lacto-fermentation including the necessity of organic vegetables in the process.

“Vegetables that are chemically fertilized or subjected to chemical insecticides do not have the capacity to produce the bacteria essential to lactic-acid fermentation” (Vegetables First).

HVF3Incredibly high in probiotic matter, organic cabbage is ideally suited for lacto-fermentation. Because of the high probiotic concentration, Louise often adds a handful of shredded cabbage to other lacto-fermenting vegetables to kick-start the fermentation process.

As for the lacto-fermentation method, the process and ratio of salt to vegetables is very simple. For every one pound or cut of shredded vegetables, one teaspoon of salt is added. The vegetables are packed tightly into glass jars with rubber sealed clamp lids. The rubber seals allow bubbling and fermenting juices to escape. After three to four days of active fermentation in a room temperature setting, the vegetables finish fermenting in a cooler 50-60 degree location and are later stored in a cold storage area which stalls the fermentation process. It is not necessary to hot-water bath lacto-fermented vegetables and under ideal refrigeration the vegetables will maintain excellent quality for a year or more.

Shredded vegetable photo by Ellie Markovitch

Tips for cooking with winter squash

20 Feb


Tips for cooking with winter squash

Spaghetti, Butternut, Ambercup, and Hubbard squashes are available from Black Horse Farms at Hudson Valley Hannaford locations, and the Chatham Co-Op continues to offer organic winter squash from Blue Star Farms in Stuyvesant.

SQUASHMany varieties of winter squash, like Hubbard and Butternut, will store for a couple of months in a cool dark place. You may decide to roast a large batch of winter squash and store the cooked pulp in Ziploc bags or plastic containers in the freezer. After defrosting, add a little butter, maple or honey, and a few spices for a hearty vegetable dish that goes well with almost any meal.

Winter squash pulp also makes a delicious addition to winter soups and stews.

Cooking whole winter squash

The squash can be deeply pierced four or five times with a sharp knife and roasted for one and half hours until tender and easily pierced with a knife. Let the squash cool. Cut in half and scoop away the seeds. Serve with butter (or olive oil), salt, pepper, and chopped herbs.

Winter squash served in quarters

Cut the squash into quarters lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Place the squash quarters cavity side up in a baking dish with a quarter inch of hot water. Bake 30-45 minutes until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife. Halfway through the cooking, if desired, fill each cavity with melted butter, brown sugar (or honey), a dash of salt and pepper, and grated nutmeg. Serve the squash in its shell, the flesh will scoop easily away with a spoon or a fork. Otherwise, scoop the flesh out of the shell and serve it simply seasoned with hot butter (or olive oil), salt, pepper and chopped herbs.

Winter squash prepared mashed

The cooked flesh can also be mashed with butter, cream, maple syrup (or brown sugar), ginger and cinnamon.

Quick winter squash in the microwave

You can split and de-seedbutternut or another winter squash, cube it, place it in a plastic wrapped bowl with a few tablespoons of water and microwave it for 4-5 minutes until a knife will easily penetrate the cooked flesh.

Simple Winter Squash Puree

Combine the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked winter squash
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter

In a food processor, blend the cooked squash until it is smooth. Transfer the squash to a saute pan. Add the cream and butter and cook over medium heat, stirring often. Continue to simmer the squash until it it is thick enough to hold its shape. Season with salt and pepper.

Hudson Valley Cabbage

20 Feb


Local roots and cabbage in the Hudson Valley

As winter approaches, the vegetable lover’s options inevitably become more limited. But even with snow on the ground you can still stock up on local beets, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, winter squash and cabbage that are available from local farmers even in December and January.

JANEcabbagesCruciferous vegetables, cabbage and its cousins

The Brassicaceae family, which includes common crucifers like cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli, is one of the largest groups of vegetables to be grown and eaten around the world. Regarded by many as a “super food”, cruciferous vegetables are high in vitamin C, soluble fiber and 3,3′-Diindolylmethane, a plant compound with anti-viral, anti-bacterial and cancer preventing properties. 3,3′-Diindolylmethane also helps regulate the innate immune response system.

Where to find cabbage and root vegetables

Look for roots and cabbage at the Honest Weight Food Co-op and the Saratoga, Rhinebeck and Troy farmers markets.

Schoharie Valley Farms grows and sells a large variety of roots and cabbage including offbeat purple and cheddar cauliflower varieties, broccoflower, and romanesco.

Schoharie Valley Farms
Route 30
Schoharie, NY 1215
Phone 518-295-7139
Fax 518-295-7139


In Schaghticoke try Denison Farm

Denison Farm
Bryan and Justine Denison
333 Buttermilk Falls
Schaghticoke, NY 12154
(518) 664-2510

Cruciferous vegetables and cancer

Photographs by Jane Feldman

The farm at the Abode of the Message

21 Aug


The Abode was created to materialize the message of Love, Harmony and Beauty brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master.

Jane2The farm at the Abode of the Message

Located in the Taconic Mountains in New Lebanon, The Abode of the Message is a Universal Sufi spiritual community housed in restored historic Shaker buildings. The Abode’s staff of more than forty adults lives in the community with their families throughout the year. The Retreat Center offers individual guided spiritual meditative retreats of three to forty days, either in a private retreat hut or cabin, or a room in the Meditation Hall.

Jane3Much of the food prepared for the common meals of the Abode community is grown on their four acre organic farm. The farm also operates a CSA and sells vegetables to the surrounding community, including the Darrow School. The farm is tilled with an old fashioned plough and horse, and farmed without the convenience of modern day machinery. This year a new farm crew is managing the farm at the Abode. Photographer Jane Feldman has been documenting the new farmers and the growing season.

Photography by Jane Feldman