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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Barnum’

The choice is not local or organic but how, through your organic food purchases, you can incorporate supporting local agriculture, local communities and and local economies into an organic lifestyle. The more you were into local culture, the more important it is to support organics in your region.
– George Siemon, Organic Valley

Carolann and Ted Baldyga, Hani Khouri

As the locavore dinner unfolded I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this was the way previous generations ate in this area. Crab, wild pig, cobia, coconut for sure, and other foods were later introduced. Many tropical things, whether native or  introduced, don’t grow in more northern latitudes. Jaboticaba, bignay, betel leaf, callaloo, Red Ceylon peach, rangpur lime, Mysore raspberries  — you’re not going to find most of those at a supermarket in Miami — or New Jersey! (But you can find some things at farmers markets, or grow others in your back yard.)

James and Donna Patrick, Laura Veitia

Earth Dinner calls for us to honor the earth, the very dirt we stand on, by honoring our food. And by so doing, we honor our farmers — a stubborn, determined, independent tribe — who work very hard to feed us. In fact most of the growers who provided the ingredients for our dinner were present — Robert Barnum, Margie Pikarsky, Hani Khouri, George Figueroa, Teena Borek, and guests Thi and Bill Squire representing our local Slow Food Miami chapter.

Bill and Thi Squire

Robert and Margie’s Earth Dinner was only one of two in the entire state of Florida. I’m a bit surprised there weren’t more. A wide range of food grows in the spaces outside urban development, and agriculture is the state’s second largest source of revenue. City dwellers are quick to forget that they live among farmers, even as farmers are pushed back by relentless waves of development.

Robin and Carol Faber

Margie stood up and spoke at the close of dinner. “This dinner is about the importance of the local farmer. It’s important that we support the local foodshed and the richness of the local food here. This is the way to keep our country strong and our food safe. By keeping food regional, it’s easier to control food safety.”

Anthony Rodriguez, George Figueroa, Tina Trescone

Know where your food comes from, or how it was grown and processed. Connect the food with the place where you live, and you will be healthier and stronger for it. At last month’s Earth Dinner, the taste of this place was in the food and drink. It was unlike any dinner I’d eaten anywhere else. And it sure made for good experience and good memories! If I were to savor a perfectly ripe Mysore raspberry or take a sip of bignay wine, blindfolded, years from now, I would remember in a heartbeat this dinner and this particular abundant land — thanks to our local farmers!

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Add family, friends, and sharing stories about this connection with one another, and you have the recipe for change. Each element is of equal importance to an Earth Dinner and to the food culture — spinning yarns, savoring food, learning to truly listen. We have much to connect here, and we need each other’s wisdom to do it.
– Theresa Marquez

Guests settled in at table.

With the sun setting and appetites provoked by wood smoke, guests made their way back to the house and took their seats at table in the high ceilinged, open beamed dining room. Even Robert’s unassuming house has a story. It’s positioned on the property to make the best use of the prevailing breezes and stays cool with cross ventilation (something that contemporary house builders have forgotten to do). High ceilings, large windows and wide overhangs are part of the design to stay cool in tropical heat. Only two fans supplemented the evening breeze to keep guests comfortable.

Each dish that was served came with its own story about where the food came from. Margie and Robert took turns telling those stories, and fisherman George “Trigger” Figueroa also chimed in with his own tales of adventure. The foods were accompanied with wines from Schnebly and some of Robert’s best vintages.

Heirloom tomatoes topped with goat cheese and purple basil.

And so the dinner began, and grew to a torrent of local abundance and deliciousness. Salad featured Teena’s heirloom tomatoes, and right away I fell in love with the orange one called appropriately enough, Tangerine. It has a bright, citrusy flavor, thus the name, and is said to be loaded with lycopene. Other varieties in the salad were Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Tangy and rich tomato flavors were balanced by crumbles of mild goat cheese. The salad was paired with Schnebly’s avocado wine, which tastes surprisingly crisp and clean, similar to a pinot grigio, and not one whiff of avocado. Teena said she has been growing tomatoes and vegetables in a sustainable way for over 35 years in Redland.

Vichysoisse with multicolor potato chips.

If you attended the Potato Pandemonium dinner last year, you’ll remember the vichyssoise. The soup was light and delicate in flavor and texture, but this time was more orange than lavender in color. (The color is determined by the mix of potatoes in a particular batch.) A handful of crispy potato chips topped the soup and gave it a salty crunch. The creamy half and half used to thicken the soup came from Dakin Dairy in Myakka City. Robert explained the potatoes came from a nearby field where the State of Maine tests their seed crop of spuds every year. Many different kinds in all different colors — red, blue, golden, white — are grown. Robert has permission to forage after they plow the crop under. Potatoes were a popular crop in Redland, grown in clay-like marl soil. But in the last decade, potato fields have given way to fields of houses and paved roads.

Tempura battered betel leaf and blue crab rangoon.

Tempura battered betel leaf with crab rangoon had also gone through its evolution into a lighter dish. Robert got several pounds of local blue crabs from Card Sound Crabs Company located not too far away on rustic Card Sound Road. The crabs had been swimming just the day before. It took three people about three hours to pick out all the crab meat. (Talk about slow food!) The crab sauce was less creamy than I remembered, and that was a good thing, allowing the delicate crab flavor to come through. The crunchy fried leaf served as a deconstructed fried wonton wrapper and added smoky flavor. This dish was served with Schnebly’s coconut wine, which had a slight coconut flavor that became more pronounced as it warmed.

Wild caught cobia with broiled red grapefruit and Ponderosa lemon.

Crab rangoon was followed by another seafood dish, wild caught cobia. It’s a gamefish that migrates from the Gulf, around the coast of Florida and into the Carolinas. When this particular fish was swimming, it was about 38 inches long. Local fisherman George Figueroa speared it while free diving in about 25 feet of water off the coast of Jacksonville, and was present at the dinner to tell the tale.

Robert Barnum opens up a Ponderosa lemon.

The carambola glazed, wood grilled fillet was thick and meaty, much like cod, and its flavor reminded me of mackerel. It was served with broiled red grapefruit from David’s Organics and a huge slice of Ponderosa lemon which Robert grows. He passed one around to examine. It was bigger than a softball and had thick bumpy skin. Its taste was mildly acid (similar to Bahamas lemon which Margie grows at Bee Heaven). The dish was accompanied by one of Robert’s wines made from araça, a tart yellow fruit that also makes great ice cream, but is too sour to eat on its own. The araça wine was light in color and a bit fruity, but not quite as complex as chardonnay.

Wood smoked wild boar with tamarind-peach chutney and callaloo.

Smoked wild boar came with its own story too. The meat had been donated by chef Michael Schwartz, who shot it on a hunt in the woods near Lake Okeechobee. (Read about the hunt on Michael’s blog.) George explained to dinner guests that feral pigs roam all over Florida, and can cause a considerable amount of damage as they root for food. But this particular pig was a menace no more. Robert smoked the pork for eight hours in his outside wood fired smoker, using Florida mahogany wood. It was glazed with a tamarind-peach chutney sauce, and served with more of the same on the side. The lightly smoked roast pork was lean and had a slightly chewy texture, to be expected from an animal that got lots of exercise. Fruit for the chutney came from Robert’s grove. Red Ceylon peach has a light colored flesh with red around the pit, and its light peachy flavor makes for a good ice cream (which made an appearance at the ice cream social last summer). Robert explained that this peach is one of very few varieties that had been grown commercially in South Florida over 50 years ago but no longer, because it is susceptible to fruit fly infestation. The wild boar was served with two large dollops of callaloo (also known as Jamaican spinach) grown at Three Sisters Farm. The greens were cooked with scallions and garlic chives from Bee Heaven Farm. The dish was served with Robert’s jaboticaba wine, which was purplish, tasted a bit sweet and grape-like, and went quite well with the chutney. It seemed to be one one of the more popular wines of the night.

Grassfed beef with oyster muchrooms and roasted multicolor potatoes.

The third entree was grassfed beef raised at Deep Creek Ranch located in DeLand. (According to their web site, the cattle are raised on pasture according to organic practices but are not actually certified organic.) On my plate was a large chunk of meat with a marrow bone that appeared even larger because it was draped with sauteed oyster mushrooms from Happy Shrooms, and was accompanied by a side of smoked multicolor potatoes from the Maine testing fields, carrots and onions from Worden Farm, and parsnips and rosemary grown at Bee Heaven. Robert said the shank meat had been browned and oven braised in a blend of his homemade tropical fruit wines for about eight hours until it was tender. I was starting to get full when the beef arrived, but after one bite, couldn’t set it aside untouched. It had a rich taste and the wine reduction added to the depth of the flavor. The meat was falling off the bone, and a dollop of marrow was worth pursuing with the tip of a knife. The beef was served along with Robert’s bignay wine, which has a dark red color and tastes similar to cabernet. Some people think it’s too astringent, but it held up well to the richness of the beef.

Carambola pie with rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato and fresh Mysore raspberries.

Dessert — as if anyone could eat another bite — was Robert’s familiar square slab of carambola pie made with a whole wheat crust, accompanied by two scoops of rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato made with goat’s milk. The carambola, rangpur lime and sapodilla came from Robert’s grove,  and milk from Hani’s goat herd just down the street. The pie tasted like a tangy peach pie, and the gelato was a light dance of sweet and sour. Both were topped with a sprinkling of freshly picked Mysore raspberries from Bee Heaven. The dessert was paired with a sweet bignay wine that was as thick and strong as an elixir, almost too strong and sweet for me. Robert said he made it with twice the fruit and twice the sugar.

Weber, Mike and Sadie from Bee Heaven Farm helped with prep.

I’ve been to several dinner events at Robert’s and with this one he had outdone himself. His cooking and presentation gets better and better with each event, and it doesn’t hurt that he had excellent fresh local ingredients to work with and lots of willing helpers. Yes, there were a few minor glitches — the appetizer and soup courses didn’t come out of the kitchen in order, others weren’t paced evenly, and a few stray cobwebs lingered in a chandelier. But for the most part, the event went smoothly. Food presentation was professional and the service (by volunteers!) was very, very good. Kudos to Kathy, Karen, Sadie, Mike and Weber!

<< to be continued >>

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The dinner table is perhaps the most powerful and delicious place to plant the seeds of change; the return to simple truths, change, and wisdom all go hand in hand. Our first step toward change can be to pause when we take our first bite and think about our connections with food. Aha! Understanding this connection is the essence of the Earth Dinner.
– Theresa Marquez, founder of Earth Dinner

Earth Dinner is a new holiday tradition meant to celebrate Earth Day. It was started four seven years ago by Organic Valley and Chefs Collaborative as a way to gather friends and loved ones around the table for a fresh, seasonal meal made of local ingredients. The focus of the Dinner is to have a meaningful conversation about the food — where it came from, how it was grown or harvested, and who grew it. So it was only natural that farmer Margie Pikarsky and grower/chef Robert Barnum would organize their own Earth Dinner,  held the weekend after Earth Day.

Earth Dinner at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery.

Call it extreme locavore. The challenge was to source all ingredients — except for flour and olive oil — from what was available locally. And so the hunting and foraging began. Chef Michael Schwartz  donated wild boar he had hunted himself together with local fisherman George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood, who donated cobia. Hani Khouri provided cheese and milk from his goats. Large beautiful heirloom tomatoes came from grower Teena Borek. Callaloo came from Three Sisters Farm, and a variety of herbs and vegetables from Bee Heaven Farm. Winemaker Peter Schnebly donated two kinds of local fruit wine. And a plethora of fruit came from Robert’s own grove.

At the wood smoker, Weber bastes wild boar and Sadie checks multi-color potatoes.

Margie and her crew volunteered to help clean and cook, and Robert’s friends pitched in. Preparations took days and went up to the last minute. When I arrived an hour before dinner, a plume of blue smoke chugged from the wood smoker outside the house, as wild boar and multi-color potatoes cooked inside. Both kitchens were humming with activity as helpers chopped, stirred, snipped and tossed. In the dining room, two long tables were covered with white linen and glittered with fine china, glassware and silver. Centerpieces of mixed flowers — food for local bees — from Bee Heaven Farm graced the tables. Glass goblets were stocked with braided breadsticks that had been baked in the wood oven and looked like branches plucked from the grove. Even the sea salt was local, produced by a small company in the Florida Keys.

Donna and James Patrick smell crushed bay rum leaves.

While there was still daylight before dinner, Robert offered guests a short tour of his 40 acre property. Everything he grows is useful in some way. He pointed out bay rum, lemon bay and citronella outside the house, and invited guests to crush leaves and smell different scents. Jaboticaba was nearby, with small, unripe berries growing on its trunk. It bears fruit three or four times a year. Robert harvests the berries for wine, of which we got a taste later in the dinner. Guests strolled through the grove and saw macadamia, mango, and lychee trees (to name just a few of the edibles that I recognized).

<< to be continued >>

Robert Barnum holds up a jaboticaba fruit.


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Miami Herald food writer Nancy Ancrum has fallen in love with Robert Barnum’s lavender vichyssoise. (Those of you who attended the Potato Pandemonium last year may remember its pale purple color and delicate taste.) She has written about it — and gives an advance preview of the Earth Dinner on Saturday night.

Spuds star

By Nancy Ancrum

Potatoes aren’t the first crop that comes to mind when you think of the Redland. They probably don’t even come in second or third — or ninth or tenth.But Robert Barnum, a South Miami-Dade farmer and entrepreneur, gathers a bumper crop of spuds each season from a plot of ground up the road from his 40-acre property. And they will play a delicious role on Saturday when he opens his home to 45 diners who have made reservations for his multi-course — and belated — Earth Day dinner.“The state of Maine, every year, grows about 200 different varieties of potatoes that they have available for seed,” Barnum says.“They have to grow them to determine there’s no virus in the seed – they call it ‘virus indexing.’ And when they finish growing the crop out back of me in the glade, about a quarter mile away, they plow them under.”

Barnum has permission to pick them back out. “I get a terrific variety of colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, textures, chemistry.”

Saturday’s locally focused menu will include boar from the Lake Okeechobee area, grass-fed beef from Destin and sea salt from the Keys.

Barnum will use purple and blue potatoes, among others, to make lavender vichyssoise, which he will serve with multicolored potato chips.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Earth Dinner Celebration
A Possum Trot Experience

Featuring local seasonal organic produce from Redland farms

Saturday, April 30th, 6 p.m.
at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery

Guests will be treated to a brief farm tour followed by a 7-course farm dinner prepared by Possum Trot owner, the “Cantankerous Chef” Robert Barnum, using ingredients exclusively* grown or produced within the South Florida Greater Everglades Foodshed (Lake Okeechobee south to Key West).
*except flour & olive oil

MENU

Okeechobee wild boar, Florida grass-fed beef, wild-caught local fish
Redland grown seasonal vegetables and fruit
Local tropical fruit wines
Goat cheese

Producers: Bee Heaven Farm, Hani’s Mediterranean Organics, Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery, Three Sisters Farm, Miguel Bode Honey, Florida Keys Sea Salt, Schnebly Redland’s Winery

Wild-caught fish and boar donated by Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Trigger Seafood

Part of a series of Earth Dinners sponsored by The Chefs Collaborative and Organic Valley

Get Tickets Now! $130 per person.
Attendance limited. Advance reservations required by April 25th.

Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery is located in the Redland farming area south of Miami, next door to the Monkey Jungle.

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Happy Thankgiving to all my readers out there! When you sit down to your holiday feast, don’t forget to give thanks for all the farmers who worked hard to bring you those fresh, local organic green beans, maybe the heritage turkey, and the other delicious things on your table.

Thanks to Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm, and her family and helpers for providing me with some of the freshest and healthiest food I’ve eaten, and for extending their friendship, kindness and generosity. Thanks also (in no particular order) to Chris and Eva Worden, Robert Barnum, Dan Howard, Hani and Mary Lee Khouri, Cliff Middleton, Gabrielle Marewski, Steven Green, Muriel Olivares, Miguel Bode and Mario Yanez.

This blog wouldn’t exist without their cooperation. Their farms wouldn’t exist without your support. Eat local!

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Robert just loves some jakfruit.

Last week was the start of a new CSA season, and to kick things off, The Cantankerous Chef AKA Robert Barnum invited Farmer Margie and her crew of interns, apprentices and volunteers to come over for dinner at his Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery. Every CSA season, Margie has a different group of people picking and packing all the goodies you get in your share box. This year’s helpers are Jane, Liberty, Helene, Tomas, Eric and Lauren. They have come from as near as Florida and as far as Michigan and Europe to work at Bee Heaven for the season.

The group arrived at Possum Trot just as the sun was starting to set. Robert offered an abbreviated tour of his 40-acre grove before dinner. We strolled down a grassy path and paused from time to time as he pointed out various trees. (This is by no means a complete list of what grows at Possum Trot.) He has: osceola tangerine, macadamia (squirrels pillage the nuts), grumichama (which has a cherry-like fruit), jaboticaba, pithacyillobium (its sawdust will stain your skin blue, really!), a giant brassus palm killed by last winter’s freeze and still standing, mamoncillo, Central American walnut, several jakfruit loaded with fruit, sugar palm, oil palm, and Orinoco banana. Over in the lychee section, golden orb weaver spiders had spun their webs overhead, and appeared to float against the darkening sky. As we walked and listened to Robert’s spiel about his trees, the twilight grew deeper and an almost-full moon rose over the tree tops. It was getting too dark to see, so we headed back to the farm house where we were greeted by the mouthwatering aroma of bread baking.

The Crunchy Bunch: Liberty, Helene, Robert, David, Eric, Lauren, Jane, Tomas. Not seen: Margie, Marian.

The menu was curried pork with local organic green beans (which were still crisp and crunchy), white rice, avocado salad, a mixed organic greens salad made by Margie’s crew, and bread still warm from the oven. We had a lively discussion on how we liked our beans cooked. It was determined that that there are two kinds of people when it comes to beans — those who like them crunchy, and those who prefer them soft. Everyone at the table agreed that they preferred crunchy green beans, then somebody suggested that we were the Crunchy Bunch…

Mamey-pineapple-banana ice cream, with a dab of cas guava ice cream at the bottom.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I started eating, and forgot to photograph my plate before it was devoured. I guess that means it was good! Robert scooped up homemade mamey-pineapple-banana ice cream, which was outrageously smooth and creamy. Banana mellowed mamey, but pineapple was a bit shy.

After dinner, we broke out the wine. Robert’s friend David Weingast, who had joined us for dinner, brought a California organic petite sirah. (David’s Organic Company ships Robert’s fruit.) Robert produced two bottles of his home brewed bignay wine. One tasted much like a merlot, and the other was a sweet dessert wine made with champagne yeast. The Crunchy Bunch sipped and sampled and picked their favorites. The dessert bignay got a lot of votes. It was a pleasant end to a delicious meal, and the Bunch enjoyed their last easy night before the frenzy of the CSA season began.

For lunch or dinner reservations, trees, fruit and/or a tour of Possum Trot, contact Robert Barnum at 305-235-1768 or possumplentious@yahoo.com.

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