book review: farms and foods of ohio

I’m a big advocate for supporting our local economy, which is why I try to avoid all things chain whenever possible. In doing so, I regular seek out our local chefs that support local farmers. But I admit, my knowledge of local farmers and all the wonderful foods and flavors that can be found close to home, does not go far beyond this simple act. Which is why I was excited to receive a copy of Marilou Suszko’s new book, Farms & Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate.

The book is a series of short stories on over 40 Ohio family farms, chefs and vineyards, including: Breychaks Blue Egg Farm, Sweet Mosaic, Chez Francois, Sage’s Apples, Mulberry Creek Herb Farm, Forrest Family Farm and Hartzler Family Dairy. Suszko does a nice job giving outsiders and inside look into each farmer, what drives their passion and ultimately, she succeeds in making you want to seek out these foods and flavors and bring them home.

Some of my favorite stories include Breychaks Blue Egg Farm and how Kathy, the owner, got into farming and her background as an artist. I’ve had these eggs – what a difference they make. Just try the carbonara at Carrie Cerino’s or the blue egg pizza at Lolita to see for yourself (Both Dominic Cerino and Michael Symon are big fans of the blue egg). I was also intrigued to learn about Polly Creech of Polly’s Prawns and Flower Farm. Polly, a florist, started raising fresh water shrimp based on an article she read in her local paper. Shrimp in Ohio – not the first thing you would think of. But her jumbo-sized shrimp have become must-have for local chefs and residents.

And finally, I really enjoyed the inside look into the Ohio chefs that are preparing the food. Two favorites include Stutzman Farms and the relationship with Chef Heather Haviland of Sweet Mosaic and Lucky’s Cafe, and The Chef’s Garden and Chez Francois. Interestingly, The Chef’s Garden is seen as the source for Artisanal vegetables from chef’s all over the world, including Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter.

It’s a unique relationship between the chef and the farmer. Suszko said it best, “Every time a farmer and chef connect, they help strengthen the regional food economy and opt for better quality on the plate. One bite and the customer will immediately recognize what is at work between the two.”

While I do feel I have a better understanding of Ohio farmers thanks to Suszko educational journey through the state’s agriculture, perhaps my favorite part are the 120 plus personal recipes from the farmers and chefs. Highlights include minted melon salad, garlic and red wine pot roast, pork chops with sage sauce, milk-braised pork, blueberry muffins, Japanese eggplant spread, dessert cherries in pinot noir, lobster-stuffed Erie County zucchini blossoms and multigrain apple pecan scones.

So while I did enjoy the book, let’s be realistic – aside from supporting local chefs that support local farmers, and buying local when I grocery shop at Miles Market and Heinen’s or the occasional trip to the North Union Farmers Market in Shaker Square, what else can I do? It’s not practical to visit all of these farms. I really want to do my part to support local farmers and thus our regional economy, so I posed the question to the author and here is her response:

“In the back of the book, there are resources that can pinpoint specific farmers close to where you live selling what you want. One very good source is localharvest.org but keep in mind that this Web site, although I think very good, is only as good as the farmers who keep their information up to date.What can you do to support local farms? The quick answer is to buy from them as often as you can during the growing season and pass the word to your friends. A good season in terms of sales will keep a farmer producing to supply his customers in subsequent seasons. This, of course, is the time of year when it gets tricky and frustrating to keep the concept of buying local going in your kitchen. But what you should be looking for are locally grown grains (there are some suppliers out there, both organic and nonorganic), dairy such as milk, eggs (supplies are often lower in the winter), cheese, butter; meats including beef, pork, chicken, some farm raised fish; hydroponic grown greens; sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.

The winter months can really get you down if you haven’t prepared by canning or freezing the bounty of the summer. You’ll long for the taste of a homegrown tomato, fresh peaches, raspberries, strawberries. Make a note for next growing season to be sure to “put up” some of these summertime favorites to get you through the winter months. It’s a great way to keep local in the pantry all year round.

There are a few farmers markets in the state that run year round. Close to home, North Union Market at Shaker Square has a winter market. You’ll find poultry, apples, mushrooms, maple syrup, pork, milk, honey, root vegetables, potatoes, jam, cottage cheese, decorative greens, wreaths, beef, European baked goods, cheeses, farm eggs, organic greens, local artisans with hand knitted scarves, pottery, jewelry, internationally prepared foods, bison, and more.

And don’t forget, one of the best ways to celebrate local at the holidays is to visit a local tree farm for trees and greenery.”

Actually, friends of ours turned us on to Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Middlefield last year. We’re going Sunday to cut down our tree. It’s a great find and makes for a memorable day. Of course it was 65 and sunny last year and supposed to be 30 and snowy this Sunday, so that could change things a bit.

6 Comments

  1. Chef
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    As a Chef for a local college I buy as much local as possible all year.It’s a lot harder than people think.But it is really a step in the right direction.The quantities we need is sometimes prohibitive,but we do keep some farmers in business.It’s a great feeling.

  2. michelle v
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I would imagine you do deal with some seriously large quantities at a college! That’s great you buy and do what you can, though. Thanks for sharing.

  3. heidirobb
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I already have a list going of friends who will be receiving this book from me for the holidays…and one for myself. I am wondering who did the beautiful photograph on the cover, and if there are more shots inside. HRobb

  4. michelle v
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Your friends will appreciate it. I’m kinda doing the same thing, but with Michael Ruhlman’s new book, which I’m reading now.

    For the cover, the inside flap says Christina Matijasic, Edgewater Graphics in Vermilion. As for the rest of the book, there are black and white photos of many of the farmers and sketch drawings (think old clip art) next to the recipes.

  5. Skeezix
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, my favorite place in the world got a mention- Sage’s Apples. My mom mails me their apples on a regular basis because no other apple compares to theirs. They are spicy and tart and perfect.

    When I come home for a visit I always go visit. Walking into their store is what I remember my childhood smelling like.

  6. susan
    Posted January 28, 2008 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal Vegetable Miracle” will provide some insight for helping the “local food” thing keep going. For example, if you can’t or don’t garden, you can purchase and freeze or can large quantities of tomatoes, squash and pickles when the bountiful harvest is in. My favorite is waiting for the weeks when basil is in the markets by the plant — those huge things about the size of an azalea. Then I come home and roll up my sleeves to make pesto for the freezer. No sense in trying to get enough little plastic packages to make a batch in February. If I do this in late summer, I have pesto all winter long. Too many tomatoes? Make sauce and store them. There is nothing worse than a tasteless tomato especially when tasty ones are in abundance in the late summer.

    Is there a list of local restaurants that serve local meat and produce?

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