Last year my wife and I went to Ithaca, New York to explore the Finger Lakes region figuring on seeing pretty landscapes and tasting local wines. We did see pretty landscapes, and tasted local wines, but the big surprise was the amazing food scene in the area. We had no idea that Ithaca is home to one of the best farmer’s markets either of us had ever been to. We had no idea there was such a love for heirloom vegetables and fruits there. We also had no idea there were several great eating establishments in the area. With all that, we knew we would return and explore some more this year.
This year it seemed like a good idea to skip Labor Day weekend and go to Ithaca the following weekend for a less crowded vacation. The weather was still quite nice with a couple of clear blue sky days with temperatures around 70 degrees. The farms were still putting out lots of amazing produce. We planned the trip so we could be there for the weekend farmer’s market by Cayuga Lake to get the most out of our trip. This market features several fruit and vegetable growers that show off their heirloom tomatoes that are both huge and beautiful as well as tasty. Most of the produce at the Ithaca farmer’s market is organic or “no-spray” which is a big selling point to me.
A short primer on heirlooms is in order here. Many people are new to the term “heirloom” as it applies to food. If I understand it correctly it is a type of vegetable, fruit or animal that was not mass produced and once planted changed, or adapted to a certain region were it grew year after year. Many years ago there were many varieties of foods than we see in our grocery stores today. If you were buying tomatoes you might have ten to twenty types to choose from.If you were buying apples you might have over one hundred to choose from. Pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys came in many varieties that were suited to the area and climate that they were raised, and all had their own unique flavor. Many of us foodies are just now realizing how limiting grocery store food is and are seeking out local farmers that are bringing back heirloom varieties on a small scale. The Ithaca farmer’s market opened a door to the heirloom treasure trove of food like I have never witnessed.
There is a fruit grower that had a cute little basket of plums containing four varieties with the smallest being the size of your average grape. They were handing out samples of this small plum that was bursting with sweet juicy plum flavor all its own.
There is the honey guy, the maple syrup guy, the apple cider stand, and more sweet stuff too.
There are a couple of bakery stands, crepes, breakfast foods, Cuban food, and Cambodian food to buy a great hot meal and eat on the nearby lakefront. The Cuban stand had some of the best black beans and rice I have ever tasted! They also serve a delicious baked chicken that goes great with the beans and rice. I ordered the chicken with beans and rice and let my wife and in-laws taste it. They all liked it so much they bought it for lunch also.
One of the smaller farm stands had two types of fresh corn on the cob that we bought and tasted last night. I just tossed it in boiling water for three minutes and wow was it good and sweet!
A short trip up either side of Cayuga Lake brought us to small farm stands selling pears, squash, green beans, Asian pears, onions garlic, and pumpkins. I bought Asian pears, Bartlett pears, and four kinds of apples from “One of a kind orchards” in Lansing, New York. This amazing farm advertises that they have over 200 varieties of heirloom apples, but the owner explained to me that she thought there were probably over 300!
It was there I bought four types of apples I have never had. I bought Freedom, Mother, Paula Red, and Padukah apples to make applesauce with. I’ve tried two of the varieties so far and it will be hard to put them in applesauce they taste so good. I now wish I had bought thirty pounds instead of fifteen.
We also stopped at Bellwether Hard Cider to taste several types of alcoholic cider made from local apples. Once upon a time cider was way more popular than it is now, but Bellwether and others are changing that by bringing cider back to compete with beer as the summer cool beverage of choice. You can find more info about Bellwether Cider at www.cidery.com as they can ship it to you in most states.
The restaurant scene is worthy of a whole post of its own, but I will mention Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca since they are celebrating their 40th year in business. They have won several James Beard awards for their cookbooks over the years, and are quite well known. This creative restaurant has taken vegetarian and vegan food to a whole new level and they have been doing it for years. They have a cookbook celebrating this important anniversary with 250 of their favorite recipes. I bought a copy of it and will start trying out some of the recipes and post the results for you all soon.
We had dinner there and even though it didn’t earn a score of 10 out of 10, I’d still give it an 8. The most amazing dish was the vegan chocolate cake. All of us agreed we couldn’t tell the difference between it and a cake made with butter and eggs from this vegan masterpiece. If you get a chance to go to Ithaca give Moosewood a try even if you are not vegan or vegetarian. They also serve fish on the menu daily for the meat eaters.
There might be a better place for a farm to table food scene, and if there is I want to go there. Next month I’m flying to Portland, Oregon to write a post on the food scene there, and also Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California. I expect both will be full of great food and fun to report to you dear readers that like to travel as much as I do. Until then here is a recipe using ingredients purchased on the Ithaca area for you to try at home.
Oven Roasted Delicata Squash with Carrots and Golden Beets
This is a versatile dish that can be served as an appetizer, side dish or vegan main dish.
1 medium sized delicata squash
2 to 3 carrots
4-6 golden beets
1/4 cup sliced shallots
4 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Cut delicata squash length wise to expose seeds. Remove seeds and set aside. Cut squash length wise again so you have four wedges, then cut into about one inch pieces, and place on baking sheet pan.
Wash and cut carrots into one inch pieces, and place in pan with squash. If using organic carrots don’t peel them.
Wash and scrub beets. Trim top and bottom and cut off any other root like bits. Cut beets into almost one inch pieces by first cutting them in half length wise with the first cut and then into quarters with a second cut. Now cut beets into pieces a bit smaller than the carrots and squash(due to cooking time), and add to pan.
Peel and slice shallots and add to the pan. Mix all vegies then drizzle oil over them. Add salt and pepper then bake for 25-35 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.
Serves six to eight as an appetizer, four as a side dish or two as a main dish.
Note: The trick to this dish is to get the vegies cut to the size that allows them to cook in the same amount of time at the same temperature. Don’t be too worried though as these vegies taste good a bit under or overcooked.
Cook squash seeds in same oven for about 15 minutes with a bit of salt and pepper. Remove sponge like substance from around seed first, and then bake. These are great on soups or salads, or by themselves.
I used purple heirloom carrots, but regular carrots will work well too.