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The Tiki Hut at Three Sisters Farm.

The Tiki Hut at Three Sisters Farm.

Farm Meal
Saturdays 5:00 to 8:00 pm, October through March
Reservations required / cancel 24 hours in advance
Adults $85 per person. No children.
Accepts credit cards

This is the second season for Farm Meals, as they are called, elegantly rustic five course dinners prepared with ingredients grown at Three Sisters Farm, which is located across the street from the Fruit and Spice Park. The Meals are owner Chef Jon Gambino’s love song to many different things growing on his farm, expressed with menus that change with the season. (If you attended GrowFest! back in October, you might have sampled Chef Jon’s wood oven pizza, or tasted his sorrel drink or lemongrass tea.)

The Meals are held in the upper level of a large two story Tiki Hut, which stands at the end of a grassy drive. Rachael Middleton, one of the farmers, greeted guests as they arrived. (If they come early, she will give them a tour of the farm.) She served each person a bright red drink called sorrel. It was both tart and sweet, made from the fleshy thick calyxes of the red sorrel or roselle plant.

She directed us to narrow wooden steps leading to the upper floor of the hut. We entered a large open area with a vaulted thatched roof, and railings made of gnarly tree branches. Being in that space felt like riding in an ark over the shadowy seas of treetops. The room held a grouping of different sized tables that can seat 20. A fresh cool breeze made candles flicker. Jazz softly played from a modern record player designed to look like an old fashioned gramophone. A stack of records were nearby, and guests were encouraged to pick something to listen to (or bring their own from home).

Dining upstairs in the Tiki Hut.

Dining upstairs in the Tiki Hut.

On the night I came to visit, two families were dining. A large, lively group sat at a big table, celebrating a family event. This was the second visit for most of them, who drove down from Broward. At a previous meal, they had dined on fresh pizza topped with arugula and papaya, baked in the wood burning oven, accompanied by yuca fries.

I was invited to join the small group, three visitors from New York. They spent their day exploring the area and it was their first dinner at Three Sisters. They brought a bottle of white wine, which was quickly set to chill on ice.

Tostones with chunky guacamole and black bean spread.

Crispy tostones with chunky guacamole and black bean spread.

As we settled in at table, Eddie the server brought thin crispy tostones the size of small tortillas, which were arranged on wooden planks, accompanied by small pots filled with cilantro-laden chunky guacamole and a garlicky, spicy black bean spread. The tostone was as thin as a cracker, and I dabbed it with the different spreads.

Next came tropical sushi rolls that were very vegetarian, without a hint of seafood. I identified jackfruit, cucumber, mamey, and rice but was baffled by something crispy which turned out to be fried yuca. It was accompanied by two dipping sauces — deep sea kelp infused black sapote, and pickled umobeoshi mamey sapote — plus another plate with thin strips of pickled half-ripe papaya, and thin slices of vinegary cucumber pickles. A dab and a slice on a roll made for sweet bumping against sour with two kinds of crunch.

Tropical vegetarian sushi.

Tropical vegetarian sushi.

Service slowed down a bit, but no matter, this is not a meal to rush through but to savor and discuss. Part of the pacing could be due to the small staff. Chef Jon and sous chef Michael Bayramian prepare food in a small kitchen shed nearby, and the different courses are carried up the narrow Tiki Hut steps by Rachael and Eddie.

The third course was strawberry hibiscus coconut soup with chunks of green banana. The pale mauve broth was both sweet and sour, and starchy chunks of banana lurked at the bottom of the bowl. Their taste and texture were more like a root vegetable than the familiar sweet fruit.

The main course was plantain pappardelle with Jamaican style kale, and for those who requested fish, broiled local grouper. The fish was fresh and lightly seasoned. Wide pasta ribbons were made fresh and had a mild sweetness of plantain that was a nice bed for stronger flavored greens seasoned with tomato and lots of garlic. Rachael explained they grow lots of greens on the farm, kale being available now, and callaloo later in the season. The pasta was filling and satisfied even the pickiest eaters at the table.

Pappardelle with Jamaican style kale.

Pappardelle with Jamaican style kale.

Lucky for us, we were regaled with two desserts that night — and there’s always room for dessert! The first was banana sorbet with jaboticaba sauce. Jon has a good hand with sorbets, and the banana came through with a rich, almost earthy, flavor. It was a solid base for tart, grape-like jaboticaba sauce, and the combination sang from the first bite. Jon has a passion for this fruit, and has become familiar with its nuances, such as how many days it needs to ripen before its skin sweetens and mellows.

The second dessert was pumpkin pie made from calabaza with a chocolate cookie crumb crust. Its flavor was rich and its color was darker than regular pumpkin. It was served with a pot of whipped cream. Coffee arrived, strong and rich, and each guest got their own french press of brew. (Lemongrass tea was available too.)

Chef Jon Gambino

Chef Jon Gambino

The Farm Meal dining experience is unique because the menu changes with the seasons, based on what is available on the farm. Guests have to be adventurous and willing to try anything. From this Meal I could see that Jon likes to take a familiar dish and play with the ingredients, making substitutions or changes, until something new breaks forth. He has a light touch with seasonings, allowing the fresh flavors of the ingredients to shine.

Almost every ingredient (except for coffee, cream, chocolate, beans and rice) was either grown there or procured locally. Jon considers his farm as a large, living pantry, where he can step out and gather what he wants to eat that day. His eyes light up when he talks about what he will plant and cook next. He admits he still has a lot more to learn about farming, but doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and working hard. He is living his dream.

Location:
Three Sisters Farm
18401 SW 248th St

Homestead, FL 33031
305-209-8335

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(part 2 of 2)

There was plenty at GrowFest! to feed your body, mind and soul. Maybe the best part was all the delicious locavore treats. You could seriously nibble your way from one end of the festival to the other and leave with a full belly.

Front and center, right when you entered the park, was the Urban Oasis Project’s tent where Melissa Contreras, Art Friedrich and Carl Templar set up a mini farmer’s market. Tables were piled with all kinds of fresh local produce in season — starfruit, dragon fruit, longans, jackfruit, okra, eggplant, avocados, tomatoes, baby arugula, seminole pumpkin, plus oyster mushrooms, raw honey, organic rice and heirloom tomato seedlings. If you were hungry, you could dig into an addictive bag of Shawnee’s Greenthumb spirulina popcorn. And, if you’re hungry for knowledge, Melissa’s book “Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in South Florida” is a useful resource geared for South Florida gardener. (You can find it at the Upper Eastside and Southwest farmers markets, or get it on Amazon.)

Art Friedrich answers questions about tropical fruit.

Art Friedrich answers questions about tropical fruit.

This year, GrowFest! donated over $1000 to Urban Oasis, and Melissa was thrilled by the gift. “We will use those funds for food and nutrition education at the Verde market,” she said. Her non-profit was recently given a contract to manage the market and farm at Verde Gardens, a low-income housing community in Homestead. Urban Oasis operates several farmers markets in underserved neighborhoods. Event organizer Margie Pikarsky said, “This year I chose Urban Oasis Project for their efforts to bring affordable food to underserved communities. I decided that each year the event will benefit a nonprofit organization which supports/promotes/educates about local food and local agriculture.”

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him.

Chef Jon Gambino makes pizza the way the old Italian guys taught him.

Delicious aromas of wood fired pizza — yes, pizza! — wafted through the festival. Chef Jon Gabino of Three Sisters Farm brought his pizza oven, pizza dough, and carefully stacked wood next to his work table. Jon’s hands danced with circles of dough, and finished pizzas flew out of the oven as fast as he could make them. Rachael Middleton offered roselle and lemongrass teas and jaboticaba sorbet to complete the meal. Pizza is one of many vegetarian dishes that Three Sisters Farm offers on their Saturday night Farm Meal. Nearly everything on the menu is super local, sourced from the farm or growers nearby. Make your reservations online here.

Jon Gambino and Rachael Middleton serve up pizza while it's hot.

Jon Gambino and Rachael Middleton serve up pizza while it’s hot.

Beekeeper Rigo Delaportilla tells it like it is.

Beekeeper Rigo Delaportilla tells it like it is.

At the demo tent,  there was lots of information to feed your mind. Workshops were scheduled through both days on many gardening topics. Urban beekeeper Rigo De La Portilla spoke on backyard beekeeping. He is one of several local beekeepers who captures swarms and home infestations without killing bees.  Other popular talks were on plant propagation, growing mangoes, vermicomposting (using red wiggler worms to make compost), raising chickens, and setting up a rain barrel.

Robert Morgan Jazz Combo

Robert Morgan Jazz Combo

No festival is complete with without music. This year, music students from Robert Morgan Educational Center’s string quartet performed on Saturday. They had so much fun last year they came back again, and brought the jazz combo with them. On Sunday, members of the South Florida Bluegrass Society livened things up with their old timey tunes.

Cliff and Friends from the South Florida Bluegrass Association

Cliff and Friends from the South Florida Bluegrass Association

Eliza Delaportilla

Eliza Delaportilla with local raw honey, beeswax candles, and some tools of the trade.

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office.

Teresa Olczyk and Jeff Wasielewsky from the UF/IFAS Extension office.

Congressman Joe Garcia makes friends with 4-H members.

Congressman Joe Garcia takes a picture with 4-H members.

The celebrity sighting, as it were, came on Sunday afternoon. As I was hanging out by the Extension tent, Congressman Joe Garcia, accompanied by Kevin Chambliss, sauntered into the park and started greeted people. Everybody ran to take a picture with the congressman. You know that your event is on the map when local politicians come to visit!

GrowFest! will be back at the Fruit and Spice Park next year, bigger and better. See you there!

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams

Cuckita “Cookie” Bellande and her daughter of Rochelois Jams

Tom of Florida Keys Sea Salt offers a sampling of salt on an apple slice.

Tom from Florida Keys Sea Salt offers a sampling of salt on an apple slice.

Master Gardeners were on hand to solve problems.

Master Gardeners were on hand to solve problems.

Hani Khouri builds a hot, fresh falafel for hungry customers. His special hot sauce made from ghost and Thai peppers was amazing!

Hani Khouri builds a hot, fresh falafel for hungry customers. His special hot sauce made from ghost and Thai peppers was amazing!

Miguel Bode brought his wide assortment of honey.

Miguel Bode brought his wide assortment of honey.

King Moringa: The world's most nutritious tree

King Moringa: The world’s most nutritious tree

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This weekend, come meet farmer Rachael Middleton and chef Jon Gambino of Three Sisters Farm, which is located, quite conveniently, across the street from the Fruit and Spice Park. Rachael and Jon are bringing plants and tastes of their farm to GrowFest!

The farmer and chef couple will have an assortment of edible plants for sale, whatever they are able to haul across the street for the weekend. “We have some interesting different fruit trees, and cool tropical roots, like malanga. We have a good variety of heirloom tomato seedlings and some different peppers,” Rachael told me. Besides vegetable seedlings, they’re also offering larger plants as well.

“We have a lot of big stuff that we can’t bring across the street, but we will have a plant list and give a sampling of what our nursery has right now. Since we are an active farm year round, we are always producing root stocks and pups, and have suckers in abundance at the farm. People are welcome to contact us if they are interested in getting plants anytime throughout the growing season,” Rachael said.

Tastes will come mostly from whatever is in season at their organic and biodynamic farm. “We will offer a variety of drinks, including a sorrel drink (it really tastes like Hawaiian Punch). We’ll also have jaboticaba sorbet (and a limited quantity of fresh jaboticaba fruit!).”

Chef Jon recently acquired a wood fire oven, which he has been using to bake fresh bread for his Farm Meals. “The oven is one of our favorite new things this season,” Rachael said. “It’s amazing, and we have been doing a lot of baking at the farm lately because of it. We are going to bring the oven over to the park and bake fresh bread and make pizzas.” Come find out what kind of tropical toppings will grace goodies hot out of the oven at GrowFest!

Three Sisters Farm

If you would love to visit and dine at Three Sisters Farm, chef Jon Gambino offers a Farm Meal every Saturday by reservation only. “The meal begins with a private tour where you get to see everything we are growing on our active, working, natural farm,” Rachael said.  “At the end of the tour, you are seated on our beautiful tropical tiki deck, where if you time your reservation right, you will be able to catch a beautiful view of the sunset.

“The farm meal uses all of our own ingredients (sometimes supplementing with some of the best of what our neighbors have to offer) to create a multi-course gourmet tasting feast. Our ingredients are a wide variety including tropical fruits, veggies you know and love and some you may not know you love yet, tropical roots, and spices.  What Jon does with all those amazing ingredients is equally varied and exciting. He also makes delicious handmade pastas, fantastic breads and pizzas (baked in our wood fire oven, which you can see from the tiki deck).

“The Farm Meal is $85 a person and we sometimes offer a fish option for an additional $15. Don’t worry about not being full, it’s a multi-course (at least 5) feast. Do dress comfortably for walking around on the farm and outdoor dining.  It’s BYOB, no cork fee.”

The next Farm Meal is scheduled for Oct. 26th. This Saturday, Oct. 19th, there is no Farm Meal because of the festival. “We are pretty much a two man (sometimes three) show,” Rachael explained.

For reservations and more information:
Three Sisters Farm
18401 SW 248th St.
Homestead, FL 33031
305-209-8335

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A two foot long jakfruit split open.

Last Saturday I shopped at two markets, one small and friendly, and one big and corporate. First, I stopped by to see what was new at the Upper Eastside Market, and it was loaded with good things to eat. Who says it’s too hot to grow anything here in the summer? Over at the Nature Boyz juice stand, Clive had a couple of good sized jakfruit available. They are starting to mature this time of year. Further down the row of tents, I found locally grown okra, collards, calabaza, lemongrass, fresh akee and annona fruit. You could get callaloo and plantains from Three Sisters Farm in Redland, sweet potatoes grown on a small farm in Kendall, and loads of starfruit from a garden just down the street in Miami Shores. The eggs were from hens kept somewhere in North Miami, shhhhh! They even had bags of white and brown organic rice grown and milled in Belle Glade. Almost everything at this market is local — sourced either from Miami-Dade County or somewhere in Florida.

Local avocados grown for Uncle Matt’s.

My next stop was Whole Foods in Aventura. I’d heard there was local fruit in the stores, and wanted to see for myself. I easily spotted a nice heap of shiny and fresh green avocados carrying the Uncle Matt’s brand, and grown locally by Murray Bass. Nearby were medium sized mamey from Health and Happiness Farm, but their pints of longans had sold out.

The fruits looked pretty good, but specialty items were another story. Packets of allspice leaves and berries from Bee Heaven Farm were starting to look a little brown. Bunches of wilting garlic chives, also from Bee Heaven, were piled in a shallow basket in an open cooler. They were starting to wilt, and looked in desperate need of a mister. One shelf up were boxes of extremely perishable edible flowers from Paradise Farms that looked flat, dried up and inedible.

Overall, I have to give Whole Foods credit for making a good effort to support local growers. They are doing an OK job of sourcing local fruits this summer. But, by the looks of things, their produce people could use training on how to handle delicate specialty items. And of course, there’s just no comparison to shopping at the neighborhood farmer’s market, which has plenty of extremely fresh, locally sourced items!

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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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Roselle

A bin full of roselle at farmers market.

One of the more unusual things in the last CSA box was roselle, grown by Cliff Middleton of Three Sisters Farm. Roselle, also known as Jamaican sorrel, is a species of hibiscus used to make cranberry-tasting beverages. You might also know the drink as “jamaica” (pronounced ha-MAI-ka), popular in Latin countries.

This is what to do:

1. Remove the buds from the stems using a sharp paring knife.
2. Carefully trim the fleshy red calyx away from each inner seed pod.
3. Boil the calyxes with some ginger root  in a pot of water and let them steep for a good long time, 12 hours to overnight. The longer they steep, the stronger the flavor.
4. Sweeten with honey, or not, and enjoy the tart drink. Typically, you drink it chilled, but I suppose you could try it warm on a cold day.

Pictures of boiling calyxes and the final drink are over on Farmer Muriel’s Little River Market Garden blog.

Throw away the seed pods. They are immature and will not grow. You can’t eat them, either. The buds or calyxes will keep for a while in the refrigerator, but make sure the plastic bag they’re in is unzipped so they can breathe (or use those new zipper plastic bags with little holes in them for keeping produce). Fresh roselle was available at the Liberty City, South Miami farmers markets last week, and Overtown Roots in the City farmers market this week. Dried sorrel is available at Jamaican markets.

Download last year’s CSA newsletter with a similar recipe and a bit more info on roselle.

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