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Maple Madness

By Stephanie Farrington
Berkshire Food

The sign at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock. Below, mini corn muffins and maple butter, and the entrance to the Calf-A.

HANCOCK, Mass. — Have you been out the the sugar bush yet? That’s the Canadian term for a maple farm.


At the rate the weather’s been going you’ve got about a week left to get out and see one in full swing. 

That’s because making syrup requires specific conditions that are closely tied to weather patterns in the Northeast. 

In order for the sap to run, daytime temperatures need to be above 40 degrees and at night the mercury needs to dip to freezing or below. You may have noticed, in the last few days we’ve had no trouble hitting the 40-degree mark but that freezing level seems to be fading pretty fast.

Once the trees begin to bud, the sap may still run but it becomes bitter and unfit for syrup.

If you want to get out to the bush, have some pancakes and watch the syrup being made, you’d better move fast. Our region has a few choices of farms offering maple breakfasts (or “maple meals”) and of course, if you’re feeling flush, there’s the Berkshire Grown Maple Dinner coming up on March 26 at the Red Lion Inn. Tickets range from $65 to over $100 per person. Contact Berkshire Grown for details.

For the basic maple breakfast here are a few choices:

Mill Brook Sugarhouse is located in Lenox, call 413-298-3473, for information.

Ioka Valley Farm serves “maple meals” until 3:30 in the afternoon. Perfect if you like to sleep late and take your time on weekends. Their corn muffins and maple butter are super-yummy. They have a website, too: www.iokavalleyfarm.com..

South Face Farm is open until 3:00 until Easter Sunday. Their webpage is here.  They serve whole wheat pancakes as well as the usual white flour, making South Face a good choice for the health conscious among us.

You can’t have breakfast at Blue Heron Farm but there’s probably somewhere near Charlemont that will serve you a pretty dandy breakfast and Blue Heron makes certified organic maple slurple, (syrup) that’s a steal at $52 a gallon (a gallon contains 11 pounds of syrup — check your local market and do the math, best I’ve seen is around $7 a pound.) Their website is here.

In Shelburne there’s Gould’s, open until 2 p.m. and right on the Mohawk Trail (they have a website but it’s not terribly helpful; you’re better off calling 413-625-6170). And also in Shelburne there’s Hager’s, also on the Mohawk Trail and while I’ve never been, their menu looks like a real bargain, you can see it here.

Hager’s thinks like real farmers, so if you want breakfast, you’ll have to get there before 11 a.m. 

I can’t vouch for Davenport Farm but they’ve been tapping trees for 99 years so they must be doing something right. They serve breakfast but don’t have a website: call 413) 625-2866. They’re not on the Trail either, you’ll find them at 111 Tower Road, Shelburne.

So there’s a sample of what’s on offer. A trip to a maple farm is a great way to get up close and personal with springtime but it doesn’t last long. Get ‘em while they’re running.

Hoses full of sap run straight into the sugar shack at Ioka Farm. Right, enjoying a maple meal; the kettle inside the shack.






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Farmers' Market Sticking to Homegrown, Homemade

Stephanie Farrington
Berkshire Food
North Adams Farmers' Market members met Saturday at Mass MoCA to plan out this year's market.
The North Adams Farmers' Market is getting a head start this year.


On Saturday, March 3, organizers of the market met with potential vendors to discuss plans for this year's market.

The meeting was chaired by Market Manager Diana Cirillo and convened by North Adams Director of Tourism and Community Events Veronica Bosley.

A number of issues facing the market were discussed. This year, the market will carry only products that are grown and made by vendors. There will be a restriction on crafts in order to focus on farm produce and home-made goods from around the region.

Eleven potential vendors were in attendance, including Square Roots Farm, Jaeschke's Orchard, Country Dreams Farm and Cricket Creek Farm.

Debate on several issues was heated. In the end, the group settled on a $10 weekly fee and plans to expand the present available methods of payment to include credit and debit cards as well as cash and SNAP benefit cards. 

The group decided to look at planning one or two special weeks during which a combination Farmers' Market and Flea Market may be held as well as making it clear that this year, there will be no canceled dates. 

"I remember when we were canceled for Wilco," said one farmer, "You know, that doesn't work for me. I can't go out into the field and tell the corn to stop growing for a week cause the market's been canceled."

Maryanne Kufs, who runs the EBT machine, responsible for accepting electronic payments and managing coupons and SNAP benefits, said the grant from Wholesome Wave that made it possible to give double dollars to SNAP beneficiaries who use their cards at the market was coming to an end, but there is some money left in the account and other grants are presently being sought to continue the program.

Unlike last year, this year's market marks a return of sorts to its roots. The first North Adams Farmers' Market was held in 1976, initiated by the Chamber of Commerce as part of the Fall Festival of Foliage. This year, the market will be governed by the tourism director, who will seek advice from a volunteer-appointed board made up of individuals from the community, all of whom have an interest in supporting access to local food.

Those wishing to sell baked or canned goods at the market will need a permit from City Hall. And anyone who packages food on-site is required by Massachusetts law to be certified Serve Safe. Fortunately, Greg Roach of Wild Oats Co-Operative Market, a member of the Market Advisory Board, is qualified and will be available to administer the Serve Safe exam at a considerable savings. Greg may be contacted at Wild Oats.

For further questions about this year's market or to ask for a copy of the rules, email Veronica Bosley at vbosley@northadams-ma.gov.

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Nudel Owner Nominated for People's Best New Chef

Staff Reports
LENOX, Mass. — Once upon a time, Bjorn Somlo was a 16-year-old washing dishes at a pizza shop.

Now, the local chef and owner of Nudel Restaurant has received his second nomination in as many years as one of the top 100 chefs for The People's Best New Chef award for Food & Wine magazine. He's currently trailing in the New England region vote, which anyone can vote in until Sunday, March 11. The finalists will then enter another round of voting to compete for the title of People's Best New Chef and a spot in the July issue of Food & Wine.

Nudel Restaurant, which opened in 2009, strives to primarily include locally grown, organic and ethical ingredients in its dishes. The ever-changing menu currently includes four different pasta dishes and a variety of small and large plates.

The restaurant is located on 37 Church St. and is open for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.
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Mexican Supper Made Easy

Stephanie Farrington
Berkshire Food
From time to time, grocery stores seem to end up with a surplus of certain products. In the produce aisle, you can often find packages of fruits and veggies that are right on the verge of being overripe.

Sometimes these are best avoided but they can present an opportunity to try out something that might seem too expensive to waste were you to buy it at full price.

This week, Guido's Market in Pittsfield seemed to be having a tough time selling poblano peppers. I love Mexican food and Chile Rellenos are easily one of my favorites. But because poblanos don't grow in New England, they tend to be expensive and as a cook who grew up in the north, the chances of my being able to do justice to these beauties seemed pretty slim.

At $1.35 for three good-sized peppers, I could be a sport. Time to try my hand at a Mexican pepper dish.

Chile Rellenos are usually breaded and deep fried — that's too much work and anyway, my husband won't eat a big chunk of deep fried anything. That meant they had to be baked, which is healthier. But would it still be tasty? Had to be, otherwise, I wouldn't eat it.

Next, I had to face the fact that we are always short on time and our kitchen is, shall we say, unsophisticated, so they had to be simple.

I decided to bake the peppers with a Mexican stuffing and see if they would satisfy my craving. The results were surprisingly delicious so now I have another budget supper dish that is relatively healthy and dead cheap. Here it is:

First, wash three mid-sized peppers and pop the tops off. You do this by pushing the stem of the pepper down into hollow center. The stem and part of the top will break off in a neat little circle and usually the seeds will still be attached. It's kinda fun. 

Shake the topless pepper out over the compost bin, the rest of the seeds will fall out. Doesn't matter if you don't get them all, you'll never notice a few little seeds in the end. 

Set the peppers aside.

Cut a medium-large sized onion in half, take the skin off and cut it into a bowl. You can dice it as fine as you like; I just cut little chunks off until it's all gone. It's easy and clean. 

Next, get a few garlic cloves, three at least, more if you like, peel them and mash or cut them into the same bowl as the onion. 

Take a slice or two of stale bread, any kind. The grainier it is, the better it will hold up. I like rye. Tear the bread into the bowl, (in fingertip-sized chunks.) 

Find a few tomatoes or a zucchini or some mushrooms or a combination of the three but not a lot one medium tomato, half a zucchini or half a dozen mushrooms are enough. Cut them into the bowl with your bread, onions and garlic, cut them small once again, the size of your fingertip (just don't cut your fingertip!). 

Cheese is next: use whatever you have in the fridge. I used about a half cup of very sharp cheddar, one called Coastal, that we like in just about everything. That said, it doesn't matter what kind of cheese you use as long as you like it. Your cheese pieces should be small, too,like everything else.

Next, dump in around a quarter cup of cumin. Yes, I know, it seems like a lot. Trust me, the second time you make it, you'll use even more. If you don't have cumin, use chili powder and use a little less maybe an 1/8 cup. If you don't have chili powder or cumin are you sure you like Mexican food? Again, use whatever you have and like the most. 

I add 1/3 cup of chicken stock, jellied. It’s something I usually have around but if you don’t have that, you can use canned stock or no stock at all use a little olive oil and milk or vegetable stock or tomato juice or even a little bit of water. You just want it to be a bit moist, if you can add to the taste that’s great but it will still be good without.

You can also add some chopped chicken if you eat meat or a handful of nuts if you don’t.

Vegan? Leave the cheese out and substitute tofu or a cut-up avocado. If you like heat, now is the time to shake in some hot sauce, ditto for salsa. 

Gluten-free? Use cooked rice instead of bread in the stuffing, and use gluten-free cheese or once, again, an avocado with a few pepitas (pumpkin seeds) inside.

Whichever was you go now’s the time to toss the stuff in the bowl until it's evenly mixed and then, using a tablespoon, fill each one of the peppers as tightly as you can. 

Once the peppers are filled, lay them on their side in a baking dish and put them in a 350 oven for an hour. You can cook any leftover stuffing in a dish alongside.

The result? The skins of the peppers will look black but the peppers will be sweet and mellow. Everything else melts together and the result is a simple main dish that looks and tastes like a summer dinner on the patio but feels warm and comforting.

Serve with rice and a salad, or rice and beans or roasted sweet potatoes and cole slaw, whatever you like. Easy yum.

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Seasonal Farmers Markets

Berkshire South Community Market
15 Crissey Road, Great Barrington
Saturdays through Oct. 27 from 11 to 3

Berkshire Mall Market
Sears parking lot, Route 8
Wednesdays & Saturdays through November from 8 to 2

North Adams Farmers Market
St. Anthony's Municipal Parking
Saturdays through Oct. 27 from 8 to noon

Great Barrington Farmers Market
Taconic Avenue & Castle Street
Saturdays through October from 9 to 1

Lenox Farmers Market
70 Kemble St., Shakespeare & Company
Fridays through Oct. 5 from 1 to 5

Oits Farmers Market
L & M Auto, 2000 East Otis Road (Rte. 23)
Saturdays through Oct. 6 from 9 to 1

Pittsfield Farmers Market
First and Fenn streets, across from the Common
Saturdays, May 11 through Oct. 26, from 9 to 1

Sheffield Farmers Market
Old Parish Church, Main Street
Fridays through September from 3 to 7

Williamstown Farmers Market
Spring Street parking lot
Saturdays, May 25 through October, from 9 to 1

Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
The Armory
Wednesdays, 4 to 7


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