Posts Tagged ‘Robert Barnum’

Pie…. ah, who doesn’t love pie. Fruit pie, custard pie, pie with whipped cream on top, pie with ice cream, pie with a light flaky crust. Pie! As much as I love eating pie, I haven’t had much luck making it. Have been thwarted by the most important step — making a crust that is light and flaky, not tough and rubbery.

Growers Teena Borek and Robert Barnum

The Cantankerous Chef aka Robert Barnum spent his summer vacation patiently working on pie crust. He was passionately in pursuit of the perfect light, flaky crust to use in his tropical fruit pies. He told me that I could get a taste of that perfection in his homegrown longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie at the Slow Food Miami “Pie on the Porch” competition this past Saturday.

It was a great afternoon to hang out on the wide wraparound porch at the historic Merrick House while sipping lemonade. Kids ran around on the lush green lawn under the shade of huge live oak trees. A vegetable garden had been set up on a side lawn. It was round, with coral rock borders, and looked very much like a pie cut into four slices. Boy Scouts from

Little plants ready to grow.

Troop 4 tilled the soil, and starter plants provided by Teena’s Pride Farm were waiting to get planted into the beds. Slow Food Miami director Donna Reno explained this would be a historically accurate kitchen garden, growing foods much like the ones the Merrick family ate. The garden and pie competition are two of several events to  commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Merrick House.

By the time I arrived, the porch was packed with eager, hungry people. Serving tables were set up, but where were the pies? They were inside the house getting judged. The seven judges aka the Supreme Court of Pie, led by Chief Justice of Pie Hedy Goldsmith herself, were ensconced in the dining room of the Merrick House. They were seated around a large table, armed with scorecards, plastic forks and glasses of water.

The Supreme Court of Pie

In the adjoining kitchen, 23 pies were arrayed on the counter. The pies were judged one by one. Three thin slices were cut and brought out to the table. The judges sampled and passed around the slices, discussed them briefly, and made their marks on score sheets. The judges evaluated pies on overall appearance, taste, overall impression, creativity, regional ingredients, and name. It was serious, intense work.

Pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith goes eyeball to eyeball with coconut pie.

According to the competition rules, “All pies must be made with a fruit or main ingredient that grows locally.” The pies had to be homemade, using home grown or local, and non-artificial ingredients. The pies had small cards describing what they were, but contestants were not identified.

Once the pie was judged, a runner brought it out to the porch, where hungry guests were waiting for a taste. As a Slow Foodie began slicing and doling out pieces, people immediately mobbed the table. You’d think they hadn’t eaten pie in ages. “It’s a feeding frenzy out there,” the runner commented when she returned to the kitchen. I was intrigued by a green avocado pie and a salmon-colored mamey pie, but those vanished before I made it to the table.

The first pies to emerge from judging got mobbed.

Tracked down Robert’s longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie and dug in. It was a pie of complex flavors and unusual textures. Am not a fan of fresh longan, but baking mellowed and sweetened its flavor, and it tasted more like lychee. Encountered chewy bits of ‘bola raisins made from dried carambola, and crunchy bits of walnut. The texture reminded me of mincemeat pie, but count on Robert to push a recipe and turn the familiar into something different. As for the perfect crust, yes, it was light and crumbly, as promised. (If you want The Cantankerous Chef to make you a pie, and maybe dinner to go with it, give him a call at 305-235-1768.)

Most of the pies that I tasted (but I didn’t taste them all) followed the competition rule that the predominant ingredient must be local — mango, avocado, mamey, passion fruit, guava, coconut and longan to name the ones I saw. Some were nowhere near local — apple, apricot, pecan, chocolate — but they sneaked into the competition anyway.

The official winners were blueberry (could be local, blues grow in Florida), chocolate pecan (not local), and papaya (could be local). Details are posted on the Slow Food Miami web site.

Robert Barnum's longan-walnut-bola raisin pie.

Robert’s longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie won an Honorable Mention. His cantankerousness vanished for a few moments. “Yippee!” he cried out happily. “I’m in fourth place,” he kept telling me. Yes, indeed. Good to see his work receive public recognition on its merits alone. Good to see SFM inching closer to recognizing local food.

In the past, SFM was chided about using (or not using) local food at its locavore events. With this pie competition, the group came one step closer to walking the walk. If the Holy Grail of a locavore event is that the ingredients (all, most, or as much as reasonably possible) are sourced locally, this event came a bit closer. However, pies made from non-local ingredients (for example apple, chocolate, pecan, apricot) should have been kept out of competition.

Foodies Naomi Ross and Brian Lemmerman enjoying pie bliss on the porch. They bicycled over from UM in the rain to taste something good to eat.

If you missed the pies, you can still visit Merrick House. It’s a lovely place, and one of the few structures that still remain from an earlier era. I’m glad I was able to visit it briefly, and want to come back another time to tour the house and grounds.

Merrick House
907 Coral Way
Coral Gables, FL 33134
305-460-5361, 305-460-5095

Kara Kautz, Historic Preservation Officer

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Three very local ice cream makers presented their frozen creations at the Ice Cream Social at Bee Heaven Farm on the Fourth of July. All of the flavors were made from local, tropical fruit. Two fruits — lychee or mamey — were common to all three ice cream makers, and each brought at least one more flavor. Guests got a ballot when they checked in, and voted on their favorite flavors. (For official results, go see the Bee Heaven Farm blog.) Altogether, a person could indulge in more than 10 different flavors of ice cream and sorbet — a locavore ice cream eater’s heaven!

Hani Khouri and his ice cream scooper ready to go!

Hani Khouri, of Hani’s Mediterranean Organics, has been making ice cream with fresh goat milk for about two years now. He was definitely the artisan of the group. All ingredients were super local — goat milk from his herd of Nubian goats, fruit from Redland groves, and even local sugar. Hani bought guarapo, or sugar cane juice squeezed from locally grown cane, and evaporated it slowly over a low heat to molasses, then cooked it longer to get a brown sugar similar to panela. That process alone took several days.

His mamey ice cream tasted mellow and fruity. Lychee was sweet but not too sweet. Lime was most unusual, bright yellow from turmeric, more on the savory side with ginger, cinnamon and other spices added for flavoring. It wasn’t obviously lime-y, and seemed to change flavor with every spoonful. Very interesting, because I hadn’t considered savory as a possible direction for ice cream (or sorbet). Hani also brought a pale yellow, sweet-tart cas guava ice cream with a light refreshing flavor. Saw passion fruit ice cream circulating, but didn’t get a chance to taste it. Overall, Hani’s ice cream was very light and refreshing, and the fruit flavors of lychee and mamey were bright and clear. The home made sugar gave a slightly gritty texture, and the lime ice cream also had little bits of lemon zest in its texture. Goat milk has a slightly tangy after taste that seems to work best with tart flavors. This summer I like cas guava very much (my new favorite?), and last summer I liked arazá, another sour tropical fruit that is impossible to eat by itself but was terrific in ice cream.

You can order ice cream online at Hani’s Mediterranean Organics. There are two pick up locations. In Dade, pick up at Sous Chef 2 Go, and in Broward, pick up your order at BM Organics.

Enid and Albert Harum

Gabrielle Berryer of Gaby’s Farm ice cream is the queen of the local ice cream scene. She has been making her frozen goodies from local fruits for 15 years and retailing for the last 5 years. Black sapote was the first flavor that she introduced to the public at the Fruit and Spice Park, and since then her line has expanded to 30 flavors, which are locally produced. All fruit is locally grown, and most comes from her two-and-a-half acre farm.

Lev and Liz discovering Gaby's mamey ice cream.

Gaby brought mamey, guava and canistel ice creams, and lychee sorbet. Her ice cream flavors taste more creamy than fruity, and the texture is silky smooth. Overall, her ice cream tastes and feels a lot like store bought. Dark pink mamey tasted much like a milk shake. Light pink guava was incredible combined with a slice of mango pie. (Yes, there was pie — and cookies too.) Canistel was egg yolk yellow (that’s why it’s also called egg fruit) and likeable with the addition of cream and sugar, but I’m still not a big fan. It could be more exciting if pumpkin pie spices were blended in. Lychee sorbet had a clear fruit flavor and was quite refreshing, but just a tad sweet.

Find Gaby’s Farm ice cream at area Whole Foods, Fruit and Spice Park, Schnebly’s Winery and various local hotels.

Katie Edwards with ballot in hand and one of the candidates.

Robert Barnum was the jack of all trades of the bunch. He brought the above-mentioned mango pie — and pie lovers, this one was for you! It was very tasty, especially with guava ice cream. Two Pie Are Squared, as he called it, was baked in two large sheet pans. He joked that he used “rectangular mangoes” for the pie filling. “I never do anything normal,” he explained. Rectangular or not, the mangoes were his very own Yellow Bellied Possum variety. Robert also brought lychee and peach ice creams and white sapote sorbet.

Mmmmmmmm mango pie!

Most intriguing was his Florida peach ice cream. Yes, peaches do grow here, and don’t let those Georgia folks tell you otherwise. Robert has several Red Ceylon trees, a wild naturalized variety that was cultivated in his grove since the 1950’s. The fruit has white flesh, red at the seed, with a pale green skin that never turns peachy yellow. The ice cream made with those peaches was rosy pink with little flecks of darker red skin and tasted sweet-sour, peachy-ish, a bit like strawberry but not quite. Robert explained that he picked early to keep fruit flies from infesting the peaches, “to keep the protein content down,” he chuckled. The fruit hadn’t completely ripened by the time it was mixed into ice cream. Would love to taste the ice cream made with a more ripe fruit, but it was pretty good the way it was.

Robert also brought lychee ice cream, which tasted pretty good, having a nice balance between fruit and cream, and wasn’t outrageously sweet. The daring experiment of the bunch was white sapote sorbet, sweetened with local honey instead of palm sugar. To my tongue, which was already addled by sugar from the other two ice cream makers, this combination of fruit and sweetener had a slightly bitter bite. Robert describes the fruit as having an “astringent” flavor. Am not sure about this one, but then, I don’t remember if I’ve even tasted white sapote fruit. But I saw other people enjoying the sorbet’s unusual qualities, so it could just be me, spoiled by sweetness.

Head over to Possum Trot, Robert’s place,  for dinner and a tour of his 40 acre grove, one of the last bits of Old Florida left in the area. And best of all, you can ask him to make ice cream and pie for dessert! If you want to grow your own Red Ceylon peaches, seedlings will be available next spring.

Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery
14955 SW 214th St
Miami, FL 33187-4602

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photo by Sara @ Culinerapy

Featuring local Redland ice cream specialists:

Gabrielle Berrier, Gaby’s Farm
Hani Khouri, Hani’s Mediterranean Organics
Robert Barnum, Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery

When: Sunday, July 4th
11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Where: Bee Heaven Farm

Family fun! Sample ice cream and sorbet creations and tropical fruit pies from Redland farm producers. Vote for your favorite flavors during our ‘fun tasting’.

Stroll around the farm during this informal gathering. The kids (and adults, too) can check out the chickens, see how the avocados are growing, how the planting areas rest with the summer cover crops, and enjoy the birds, the bees and the butterflies.

Afterward, want to take your favorite flavors home? Bring cash and a cooler, with (preferably) dry ice, to keep your ice cream frozen solid.



Adult (10+): $10
Child (4-9): $5
Child (0-3): free

Attendance limited – Advance purchase required by July 1

Sponsored by Whole Foods.

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Still at the Fairchild Farm & Garden Festival… Ducked out of the lecture on preserving the harvest (sorry, Margie!) to catch Robert Barnum’s cooking demo under the big tent. Robert, as you might recall, is also known as the Cantankerous Chef. And Saturday he was downright crabby, showing his recipe for fried piper betel leaves with coconut crab sauce.

Robert Barnum with Fairchild volunteers Mary Hughes and Terry Shaw assisting. Mary Neustein is in the background, plating piper leaves.

When I got there, tempura batter had been prepared, and Fairchild volunteers Mary Hughes and Terry Shaw were dipping piper betel leaves (remember those from your CSA shares earlier this season?) into the batter, frying, and cutting them into pieces. Robert was finishing up making the coconut crab sauce. Saw a whole can of coconut milk going in. Mmmm, everything’s better with coconut milk!

Amaury and Tanya liked the crab dish.

The finished sauce was spooned out over plated betel leaves by volunteer Mary Neustein. Terry and Candy Sacher were handing out plates to the eager audience. As quickly as people got the food, it vanished. You’d think they don’t get fed at home, but yes, it was that good.

I grabbed a plate before it was all gone, and sat down to savor the flavor. The sauce had chunks of sweet (fake) genuine lump crabmeat provided by Whole Foods, and celery, bell pepper and onion, tasted gentle, slightly tangy and was creamy from the coconut milk. It could have used some kind of hotness. The recipe below calls for Tabasco, but there just wasn’t enough for my liking. The fried piper betel leaf was crispy in a light, egg-flavored tempura batter, and its sausage-y flavor contrasted nicely with the milder crab sauce. Actually, I liked the fried leaves just as they were, without the crab. They would be an interesting snack to munch on with a cold light beer, maybe while lounging in a hammock on the beach. Instead, there were white plastic chairs under a tent, and Robert had brought a bottle of his own wine made from the bignay or antidesma berry. Hard to describe, especially since I don’t have the vocabulary of a wine and food writer, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself!

Piper betel leaf garnishing the finished serving of crab and fried betel.

I had heard Robert talk a lot about this particular recipe, when he entered it into the Gordon Ramsay competition a few months ago, but this was my first time trying it. Robert said he had first tasted a similar dish in Sydney in a 12 course prix fixe dinner of Asian food, and liked the dish so much that he recreated it with a few tweaks over the years. The original crab sauce he ate had been “fire hot,” he explained, but his version was mild and mellow.

If you want to get a piper betel plant to grow in your garden, contact Robert Barnum at 305-235-1768 or possumplentious(at)yahoo.com.

If you want to buy a package of leaves for your own culinary experiments, contact Margie Pikarsky at 305-894-6657 or office(at)beeheavenfarm.com.

Tempura Fried Betel Leaf with Coconut Crab Sauce


8 betel leaves, fresh and washed
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup rice or wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cup corn oil
1/3 cup cold water

1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned, diced
1 8 oz. can crab meat
1 tbsp. butter
1 12 oz. can coconut milk
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4-6 juga-juga of Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp. brandy
1 1/2 tsp corn starch
optional hot pepper flakes


Heat oil in heavy pot with tall sides to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, corn starch, baking soda, egg whites salt and water in a bowl. Dip leaves one at a time in batter and place into hot oil. They cook very fast, 1-2 minutes, then flip. 1-2 minutes more then drain on paper towels and keep hot while you fry the rest.

Lightly brown the onions, celery and green pepper in the butter in a skillet. Add the seasonings and brandy and simmer for 5-8 minutes, and add coconut milk. Heat and add cornstarch in 2 tbsp. cold water or reserved coconut milk and stir till thickened. Add the drained crab meat and stir until heated through. Serve over the fried betel pepper leaves on a salad plate.

Recipe courtesy of Robert Barnum

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Piper auritum (or Piper sanctum), also known as hoja santa leaf

Have you done anything with the leaves of the Root Beer Plant yet? That’s the package of heart-shaped leaves that was in last week’s CSA share box. They are reminiscent of the Piper Betel leaves that we got a couple times, before the freeze hit. These leaves are Piper Auritum (or Piper Sanctum), commonly known as hoja santa, and they taste like anise or root beer, thus the name.

The hoja santa came from Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery, of course. It’s one of several different varieties of Piper that Robert Barnum has been growing for years. I called him up and asked what he does with it. He puts it in baked beans, or uses it to wrap fish and then bake it. He also suggested making a pesto, then spooning a bit over cream soup and using a toothpick to make swirly designs. Yup, that’s what he told me.

One of the CSA bloggers, Chef Caroline over at Occasional Omnivore, used the leaves to wrap tamales that she cooked on a grill pan. Her recipe sounds delicious and easy to do. Check it out here.

Still haven’t used much of mine, in case you were wondering. I chopped up one leaf and tossed it in with some spring onion in scrambled eggs the other day for breakfast. That was good, but P. betel would have been better. Chopped up another two leaves and used them in a saute of onion, tomato, and chicken, seasoned with a pinch of cinnamon, salt and pepper. That was good, but it tasted like it was missing something. Any suggestions?

If you want grow your own, contact Robert Barnum at 305-235-1768 to purchase hoja santa plants. Or, you can contact Farmer Margie at office(at)beeheavenfarm.com if you want to buy some leaves.

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