Blog Category: Food Photography

It’s strawberry season, a berry special time of year

Oh, the sweet taste of summer strawberries, is there anything better? Sinking our teeth into the first perfectly ripened farm fresh strawberry at peak season is something we look forward to year after year–and it never disappoints. Strawberries are Island Grown School’s Harvest of the Month for June and for good reason, they’re simply delicious and now is the ultimate time to indulge.

If you happen to be growing your own you’re probably as giddy with excitement as we are at the sight of seeing fresh strawberries pop up around town. On Martha’s Vineyard Morning Glory Farm (MGF) is the go to spot to satisfy our strawberry cravings, but we’re not the only ones fiending for them and they go quick. Arrive first thing in the morning to score some of their coveted bounty, they often sell out almost as fast as they can bring them in from the fields!

We asked MGF head farmer and CEO Simon Athearn to break down this year’s strawberry production for us and the numbers are staggering. “This year I estimate we have 24,000 linear feet of strawberries bearing fruit of seven different varieties, planted for sequencing ripening and all chosen for flavor! And an additional 10,000 linear feet growing on for next June harvest,” said Simon. He estimates they grow about 10,000 pints of strawberries during strawberry season, which runs from June 5th to July 10 or so, with heat speeding them up.

Not sure which ones to pick? While visiting MGF recently we scored some great advice from India, a MGF farmer who’s been busy picking this season’s strawberries. “There are three distinct flavors of strawberries… the pink ones are a bit tart, the red ones are sweet and the crimson very ripe ones are like wine.” So no matter your taste there’s a strawberry for you, and a million ways to enjoy them.

Summer strawberries are so beloved on Martha’s Vineyard that there’s two annual festivals devoted to the sweet berries each year. Both MGF and the West Tisbury Church will host their own Strawberry Festivals on Saturday June 22, meaning you can spend an entire afternoon indulging in the beloved fruit. We know we love them, but all of the excitement around these beautiful berries got us thinking, what didn’t we know about them?

Firstly, strawberries aren’t true berries, like blueberries or even grapes. Technically, a berry has its seeds on the inside. And, to be really technical, each seed on a strawberry is actually considered to be its own separate fruit. Imagine that? The average berry is embellished with approximately 200 seeds, making for a whole lot of fruit.

Secondly, strawberries are actually members of the rose family, and the fragrant aroma of a strawberry bush is an obvious indicator of such.  If you’ve ever tried to grow your own you might have found that they’re easy to grow but hard to grow well. They grow best on raised beds where they have room to spread. Strawberries are a perennial plant that will come back year after year. It may not bear fruit immediately, but once it does, it will remain productive for about five years.

Strawberries have international appeal. Belgium has a museum dedicated to strawberries where you can buy everything from strawberry jam to strawberry beer! Native Americans ate strawberries long before European settlers arrived and the ancient Romans thought strawberries had medicinal powers (they used them to treat everything from depression to fainting to fever, kidney stones, bad breath and sore throats). In France, strawberries are believed to be an aphrodisiac, strawberries are served to newlyweds at traditional wedding breakfasts in the form of a creamy sweet soup. Oh là là !

Here in America we eat an average of three-and-a-half pounds of fresh strawberries each per year. It’s closer to five pounds if you count frozen ones, and we’re a big fan of freezing them this time of year. Strawberries typically have a short growing season, so buy locally grown and freeze to help avoid fruit out of season that has been subject to heavy pesticide use and contributed to a large carbon footprint. Strawberries consistently rank at the top of the list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, making organic and locally grown ones that much sweeter!

If you buy them fresh and plan to keep them in the fridge for a few days, wait until before you eat them to clean them–rinsing them speeds up spoiling! If you’re freezing them choose berries that are dark red, firm and fully ripe. Wash and drain the fruit carefully, then remove the stems and caps. Dry berries on towels in a single layer and then freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Doing so will keep them from getting stuck together later on. Once they’re solid, place in freezer containers or bags. Try to remove as much air as possible by completely filling containers or pressing extra air out of bags before sealing to avoid freezer burn.

Freezing strawberries as soon as they are picked locks in the vitamins and minerals strawberries are known for, including vitamin C and K, folate, potassium, manganese, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols. Strawberries can be frozen for up to six months and make for tasty smoothies, milkshakes, muffins, jams, and sauces.

How will you indulge? Get inspired with these scrumptious strawberry recipes from some of our friends and favorite chefs and bask in the glory of strawberry season!

Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream by Ellie Krieger

Strawberry Chia Seed Jam by Gabrielle Chronister of Island Grown Schools

Gingery Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp with Brown Sugar-Pecan Topping  by Susie Middleton

A homage to herbs, May’s Harvest of the Month

Flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping and Martha’s Vineyard is getting busy–it must be spring! One of the ways I love to usher in the new season is by reintroducing fresh springtime herbs into my diet. The light herbs of spring add unmistakable flavor and beautiful fragrance, not to mention freshness and green to our lives!

Herbs are underrated, so I’m happy to be singing their praise and shouting them out as Island Grown Schools’ Harvest of the Month for May. Not only do they provide beautiful scents and scenery, but they lend themselves to delicious food and helpful medicine, while attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies. When it comes to cooking, herbs are often an afterthought, when I think they should be the cherry on the cake.

Fresh spring herbs boost flavor and nutrition, while providing aromatic splendor and a good-looking addition to our plates. Trying to cut down on salt? Looking for new ways to intensify the flavor of a sauce or dress up a salad? Look no further than fresh herbs.

I love greens and eating salads this time of year. I’ve started sprucing them up with fresh dill, chives and parsley–which bring natural, nonfat flavor that add a lot of taste and complexity. Mint is another springtime herb that delivers an extra dimension to dishes too. It’s clean, refreshing taste and cooling effect make it a welcomed ingredient to a number of sweet and spicy dishes, drinks, and of course salad. When I was traveling through the Middle East, it was common to see mint incorporated into salads and ingested after a meal as a palate cleanser and digestive. The flavor packed such a bright punch I’ve been incorporating it into my salads at home ever since!

(Grilled Whole Branzino, a sustainable fish, stuffed with garlic chives, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill wand wheels of lemon)

Herbs sure are tasty, but they’re also loaded with a wide range of health benefits as well. Herbs have powerful antioxidant properties–with oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary, and sage among the most potent–and they’ve been used for centuries to ward off disease. Herbs in general are rich in vitamins and minerals, and each herb offers its own healing power too. Sage can improve brain function and memory, peppermint has been linked to reducing nausea, and rosemary can help prevent allergies and nasal congestion. Embrace herbs in all their glory and your body will thank you!

Here’s some helpful tips on enjoying them to their fullest:

  • To store fresh herbs snip off the bottom of the stems and wrap a wet paper towel around them and cover with a plastic bag while refrigerating.
  • Add fresh herbs at the end of cooking for maximum flavor.
  • Grown your own to cut down on food cost and waste. Herbs like mint, oregano, chives, thyme, rosemary and sage are perennial and come back year after year.
  • Purchase starter plants from local nurseries, plant and water. Snip just enough for each recipe while you are cooking.
  • If you have an abundance of fresh herbs, chop them, fill an ice cube tray with water, wine, or stock,  and place herbs in the liquid. Store frozen ice cubes in a plastic bag and use in the winter for salad dressing.
  • Enhance your cocktails or mocktails with fresh herbs, and go beyond standard mojitos and juleps. Pair a botanical gin with fresh basil and cucumber, or add thyme to your lemonade. Sage, raspberry and lime make a great flavor combination, as well as cilantro and lime too (vodka optional)! Lavender and rosemary make gorgeous, floral additions to your glass, but handle them delicately so not to overpower your beverage.
  • Prepare your own homemade salad dressing by adding chopped fresh herbs like basil, parsley, dill, marjoram or oregano to a simple mix of oil, vinegar and lemon juice.

Bringing the farm, and the sea, to school

If you ever have the opportunity to eat at the West Tisbury school for lunch you won’t be disappointed. The impressive food program, led by rockstar chef Jenny Devivo is quite the operation. And Jenny, well she’s the cherry on top.

Since 2011, the head chef and cafeteria director for the up-Island regional school district (West Tisbury School and Chilmark School), has made it her mission to source local food for the schools’ daily lunches. Part of Jenny’s dedication is fostering real relationships with local food purveyors, farmers, and fishermen; which enables her to enrich the developing palettes of Martha’s Vineyard with her farm-to-cafeteria-table menus.

Each Friday Jenny’s approach is more fish-to-table with her local “Catch of the Day” program, the first of its kind in the country. Since 2016, the program has been providing students with locally sourced and sustainably harvested fish through Menemsha Fish House and Boston-based regional seafood purveyor Red’s BestOur friends at Island Grown Schools are highlighting seafood as their Harvest of the Month for April, so it’s only fitting we spotlight Jenny’s incredible work that brings the bounty of our local waters directly to our Island’s most selective eaters.

Getting kids to eat fish sounds like a challenge but Jenny’s got it down. “Fish Friday is as popular as pizza day,” she states proudly. Not only do the students take the bait, literally, but they’re educated on the sourcing too. Red’s Best uses traceability software with quick-response (QR) codes on the packaging that Jenny can scan and track. With that information she can tell the school community who caught their fish, off what boat it came, and how and where it was caught. That’s just about as local, sustainable and transparent as you can get.

The first time we visited the West Tisbury kitchen Jenny was serving Roasted Pollack with Lemon, Capers and Butter. Other Friday favorites include her popular fish chowder made with locally sourced sustainable white fish like hake, cod, and haddock. The day we visited she was serving Fish Cakes and a special tasting treat of Blue Moon Oysters, harvested by fisherman Scott Castro from Katama Bay. These fresh bivalve mollusks were baked in the oven and then served on the half shell with turmeric butter…yummm! She’s also been known to serve up Paella, Mediterranean Fish Stew, Fish Tacos, Teriyaki Salmon, Baked Fish with Butter Cracker Crumb, and a Fish Sandwich.

Any day of the week you can find Jenny and her assistant chefs Maura Martin and Nisa Webster buzzing around the West Tisbury School kitchen preparing fresh, local lunch for up to 550 children and staff each day. That reflects an almost 100% participation rate in the program, up from close to 40% when she first took over the kitchen several years ago.

It all started in 2011, when the up-Island regional school district voted to opt out of using the corporate school lunch provider they had contracted, and hired Jenny instead. She, along with many supporters including Noli Taylor of Island Grown Initiative (IGI), helped salvage materials from the old Edgartown school, including the prep table, the roll-down window, the steam tables, even the sinks. The greater Island community helped her renovate the kitchen in two months, and she got to work. The mission was to cook healthier food and sourcing from as many local resources as possible. It’s safe to say it was the right choice, and there’s no looking back. “It’s been hard but rewarding,” says Jenny.

Children are offered a hot lunch option daily (think herb roasted chicken or local pollock and haddock chowder) as well as a daily offering of salad bar and egg, chicken or tuna salad sandwich and fresh vegetables. The ever-changing salad bar is a lavish offering all its own, with fresh local produce, and scratched cooked, freshly prepared salads that as Jenny says “push the boundaries of flavor.” You might find an apple fennel salad or beet hummus, along with several local grain options, and teachers and students alike load up their plates.

So how does she do it? By 9am each morning she has the orders in for the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools, which allows her to eliminate food waste as much as possible, and know what she’s up against for the day. Any food not consumed is either reused the following day or composted by IGI along with the help of the students, and it’s something they take seriously. “I’ll see kids fish things out of the garbage that should have been composted or call each other out for not doing it properly.” Clearly her methods are working.

Jenny prides herself on making approachable food that inspires the students to try new things, while setting limits on selections to encourage them to venture outside of their comfort zone. “If we eliminate 17 choices for lunch, the cost goes down, and it allows us to introduce the kids to new flavors.” Of course living on an island with access to fresh local food helps, and she readily takes advantage of it. In addition to locally caught seafood, Jenny is able to source meat and produce from Beetlebung Farm, The Good Farm, The Grey Barn, Morning Glory Farm, Thimble Farm, Cleveland Farm and Whippoorwill, and she genuinely appreciates everyone’s contributions to her kitchen.

According to Jenny it’s a community program that encourages participation, and sharing. She’s come to see how it has helped kids to take pride in the presentation of their food, and to know where it comes from. “When we’re in here cooking all day and they can smell it in the halls, it’s a sensory experience. They already feel connected to it, and it boosts enrollment.” And the kids aren’t only eating it, they’re cooking it too. “We have kids that ask to help us prepare food and we bring them back there and put them to work.”

Jenny’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. It’s obvious that the students and faculty love her and the rest of the country is taking note too. These days when she’s not in the kitchen she travels throughout New England consulting other schools on how to implement similar programs. “It’s all about getting the kids to eat real food… The options are endless when it comes to feeding kids.”

The Most Eggscellent Month of the Year

When’s the last time you’ve stopped to hail the almighty egg? These nutritious and delicious capsules of goodness are Island Grown School’s (IGS) Harvest of the Month for March and they’re personally one of my favorites. I start each day with a farm fresh egg that has been laid by my very own chickens. Here on Martha’s Vineyard keeping chickens is almost as common as keeping a dog or cat as a pet. It’s a way of life and one I’m grateful for–the difference in quality between a store bought egg and a local egg is exceptional.

First off a store bought egg might be months old! It’s pretty alarming but true. Eggs can have a long shelf life and may still be safe to eat but it’s not too appetizing to think about how long ago they were laid. Farm fresh eggs on the other hand are usually only days old when sold to you, meaning their more nutritious, as they lose some of their value as time passes by.

When it comes to food shopping some items are created equal, but eggs are one of those foods that’s worth paying extra for. Locally grown farm eggs can cost about $6 a dozen, but at about 50 cents per egg they are one of the most affordable sources of Island grown food, not to mention one of the most protein rich.

In fact eggs have 6 grams of high-quality protein, making them a protein packed breakfast that can help sustain your mental and physical energy throughout the day.  Unlike other breakfast foods like cereal or yogurt, eggs only contain one ingredient – “eggs.” They don’t contain sugar or carbs either. That means you can eat a well-rounded breakfast during the week without feeling too round yourself..

On top of the benefits that protein and choline provide, eggs are also packed with omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin a, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium. Eggs are considered a ‘complete’ source of protein as they contain all nine essential amino acids; the ones we can’t synthesize in our bodies and must get from our diet.

Remember not to skip the yolk! Over the years many people have shied away from eating egg yolks for fear of their high cholesterol. We now know that the cholesterol found in food has much less of an effect on our blood cholesterol than the amount of saturated fat we eat–so embrace the yolk!

Egg yolks also contain choline, which promotes normal cell activity, liver function and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body. It’s also key in the development of infant’s memory functions, so moms shouldn’t miss out on its vital nourishments when pregnant or breastfeeding. You’ll find that the yolk of a farm fresh egg is typically richer in color and taste while store bought egg yolks are usually a medium yellow. Not only do farm egg yolks have a deeper color, their yolk is creamier and doesn’t break as easily when cooked. 

Hungry for eggs yet? If you’re on Martha’s Vineyard you can buy fresh pasture-raised eggs from your local farm stand or at Cronig’s Market and the Scottish Bakery. In season you can also find eggs at one of our local farms including the Farm Institute, Morning Glory Farm, Black Water Farm, Ghost Island Farm, The Grey Barn, Mermaid Farm, North Tabor Farm and more. Check out this interactive map of local farms on Martha’s Vineyard and their offerings.

If you’re in need of some recipe inspiration read below for some tasty recipes from some of couple of our talented local chefs and friends. Remember, you don’t need to  limit your eggs to just breakfast, eggs make a great lunch or dinner option as well. 

Try this Shakshuka recipe from local chef Jamie Hamlin of V. Jaime Hamlin Catering and Party Design. She recommends it as a great for brunch option.  

 

*Makes 4 generous portions

Ingredients:

1/2 tsp cumin seeds( NOT powdered cumin)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 sliced onions

2 red peppers, sliced into strips

2 yellow peppers, sliced into strips

4 tsp sugar

2  fresh bay leaves

1 can crushed tomatoes

1/2 tsp saffron threads (reconstitute in a little hot water first)

pinch of cayenne

2 tbsp chopped parsley & 2 tbsp chopped cilantro (save some for garnish)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 or so cups of water ( to keep the consistency saucy)

8 eggs (organic are best)

 

Method:

In a large frying pan dry toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, 1–2 minutes.

Add olive oil and onions, saute 5 minutes or so.

Add both red & yellow pepper strips, sugar and chopped herbs, saute another 5 minutes.

Add  tomatoes, cayenne, saffron, salt and pepper.

Cook all together for 5–8 minutes adding water to keep the consistency “saucy” and remove bay leaves before adding eggs. Taste for seasoning.

 

Make 8 indentations in the sauce – break the eggs into them, cover and cook on simmer for 10 minutes or so or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.

 

Have fun with this Spinach, Mushroom and Onion Frittata from private chef Gavin Smith of Food Minded Fellow. He recommends eating it for any meal of the day (or even a late night snack). He loves frittatas for their versatility, plus they can be prepared for immediate consumption the days before for an easy meal on the go.

 

Ingredients:

8-10 Large farm fresh eggs

1/2 cup red bell pepper (julienned)

1/2 cup onion (julienned)

1/2 cup mushrooms (sliced)

2-3 cups raw spinach

3 Tablespoons whole milk

1/2 Cup cheddar sliced thin or grated

1 tbsp olive oil

Pinch salt

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F).

Beat eggs and milk together.

Add dd oil to a large deep skillet.

Soften onions and red pepper over medium heat, 2 minutes.

Add mushrooms and stir until softened.

Add spinach and salt and stir until spinach is wilted.

Pour egg and milk mixture over all ingredients evenly (do not mix or stir).

Evenly distribute cheese over the top of the egg mixture.

Place in the oven and cook until edges of the frittata start to brown, 10–12 minutes.

 

Let cool slightly then cut and serve.

 

Hungry for more? Check out this simple Avocado Egg Salad recipe from IGS’s chef Gabrielle Chronister.

The science behind fermented foods, and why we love them

It’s a brand New Year and our friends at Island Grown Schools (IGS) are back with another round of picks for their Harvest of the Month program. Each month, they highlight another locally available crop to feature in Martha’s Vineyard’s local schools, restaurants and grocery stores. This month they’ve set their eyes on fermented foods–and so have we. There’s been a lot of chatter about their health benefits lately, but what exactly are fermented foods and how do they help us? Allow us to divulge.

Fermented foods are just that–fermented. They’re made through the process of natural fermentation which converts carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microbes—like yeasts or bacteria. Fermentation might sound like a jazzy new buzzword, but it’s a process that’s been around forever. Ideally, the helpful bacteria from local food and our natural surroundings would make its way to our digestive tract and help us live our best lives. Sadly, a lot of the good stuff is killed off through other cultural habits like antibiotics, pasteurization and sanitization–meaning we can benefit from fermented foods foods now more than ever.

Fermented foods contain the beneficial byproducts of fermentation and create live microbes that boost your gut diversity and support better mental and physical performance. The health benefits of fermented foods are pretty impressive, they can basically improve the function of almost every system in the body.

Have you ever noticed the label on the side of your yogurt that reads “live and active cultures?” It might sound weird but that refers to the living organisms that convert milk to yogurt during fermentation. And that probiotic bacteria that is created is what makes yogurt so good for you. Not only does it improve the health of your digestive system, but it also allows critical nutrients to be more easily utilized by your body. And yogurt isn’t the only winner. Other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and even sourdough bread can share the same love.

Generally speaking the additional health benefits of fermented foods include strengthening your overall immune system, detoxifying your body from dangerous chemicals and reducing inflammation throughout the body (a common issue often created by many of the sodium rich foods our culture’s diet is so reliant on).

So long story short, eat more fermented foods! On Martha’s Vineyard we’re lucky, yet again, to have access to some truly incredible ones. Make a quick stop at The Larder in Vineyard Haven and you’ll have access to a whole host of locally prepared fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and other seasonal specialties prepared by Zephir Plume of Bakehouse Farm. Zephir’s favorite ferment is non-dairy drinking yogurt, which she started bottling herself this year. Look for it under the label Ediblewellness.

Another probiotic rich local favorite is Kulture Club Kombucha, the brainchild of Nina Gordon. Nina uses ethically sourced, locally farmed and foraged organic ingredients whenever possible to create a delicious and nutritious line of kombuchas. Asked how she first started selling it she said “I don’t try to sell the kombucha…I like to share it because kombucha brings me joy, and I’d love it if it brought you joy too. They say there is a gut-brain connection, so maybe all those probiotics are firing off all these good neurotransmitters in me so that I’ll replicate them!” We’ll drink to that.

Maybe you’ve tried kombucha and loved it, or maybe you couldn’t get a taste for it. To that we say, try another flavor. Nina adds “people who are sensitive to acid in general will have trouble with vinegary kombucha, also if you are sensitive to caffeine or have an alcohol allergy you may have trouble. Despite the fact that caffeine levels in kombucha are about one quarter as much as tea, and that there is more alcohol in an overripe banana than in a bottle of kombucha.” If you’re new to drinking kombucha you may want to ease yourself into it, as it effects can be be felt. Nina recommends starting with 2-4oz/day, and increase when you’re more tolerant. She adds “basically listen to your body.”

Need another way to enjoy the benefits of fermented foods? Sink your teeth into a loaf of bread, that’s right–bread. Of course not all breads are created equal, but the fermented sourdough loaves of local baker extraordinaire Olivia Patterson of Cinnamon Starship will do you a lot of favors (while packing a ton of flavor). For starters, Olivia uses local Island grains, from her friend Dan Sternbach of Lost and Found Grain. We asked her, and she explains “there are many benefits to fresh milled wheat, especially the flavor, but because it is so much closer to the source (and minimally processed) it also has more wild yeast present in the grain, providing much more nutrition than commercial flour.” Makes sense, right?

Olivia also uses sourdough starter only and no commercial yeast. Again her method is enlightening. “This means the dough is fermenting with a combination of wild yeast and bacteria, such as lactobacillus (which most people are familiar with as the key ingredient in yogurt). These microscopic friends are found in the air, the flour and on the bakers’ hands. Biodiversity is always beneficial, on farms, in forests and even in bread. Not only does the sourdough make the bread taste better, more complex and rich, but it also has more vitamins than standard bread, a benefit of the digestive process of the starter. The longer fermentation process of sourdough bread also makes in easier to digest because more of the gluten is broken down.” Hungry yet? Olivia’s bread is available at Scottish Bakehouse and Ghost Island Farm every Saturday this time of year. You can also find her at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market in season.

If you’re inspired and want to get started with more fermented foods in your diet right away look in the refrigerated section of your local grocer for pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. Check labels for any of the following terms including live, cultured, raw, probiotic, or active. You can also prepare many fermented foods quite easily at home by yourself. IGI recommends checking out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz as a good DIY reference book for your own creations. Here’s a recipe to get you started.

 

Creamy Miso Dressing

3.5 tbsp white miso paste

3.5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled

A few pinches of black pepper

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup avocado oil or regular olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.