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Pie Really Does Take the Cake in South County

By Nichole Dupont

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Some people bond over martinis, others find their connection through grueling bike rides up mountains. Common denominators are rare, unless, of course, we are talking about pie. Say what you will, good tasty pie is what makes the world go 'round. Political differences are forgotten, screaming children are placated and "piece" is enjoyed by all.

 

At least, this is what happened at the first-ever "Anything Goes Pie Contest," held on Sunday at the Route 7 Grill.

More than 40 entrants, including crust novices and meringue extraordinaires, tried their hand at sweet and savory to the delight of tasters and judges. The delicious desserts made their home under a tent, where folks of all ages and walks of life – writers, grandmothers, sunburnt toddlers – lingered over strawberry chiffon, vegan sweet potato and triple ginger like kids in a candy store. The contest coordinator, Gina Hyams, author of the recently released "Pie Contest in a Box" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2011), stood amidst a flurry of pies and sharpies, signing books and handing out judging cards for all who wanted a little taste of Berkshire heaven.

While the stakes were not high for the entrants, the contest itself supported more than just local taste buds. Proceeds from the contest (each person who would judge the pies was asked to make a donation of $5 or $10) went toWBCR-97.7, Great Barrington's local and very diverse radio station. More than $700 was raised for the station and according to station manager Paul Rapp, "a new Berkshire tradition was in the making." Good news for everyone as they waited with bated breath to dig into the pies and begin the judging.

Once Hyams gave the go-ahead, the hovering, chattering crowd became a silent, well-oiled machine, each taster intent on the task of finding the pies they had chosen to judge and letting the flavors of chocolate, ricotta, cherry and even beets, roll around on their tongues before making that final decision.

What a tough decision it was, too. I elected to try five very different pies. Amidst the swirl of sweet and savory and tart and syrupy it was difficult to pinpoint my "favorite." The judging categories ranged from 1-Inedible to 10-Sublime, and I can assure you my clean plate was a testament to the "feasibility" of eating every pie without prejudice. Having myself made a pie for the contest, I could taste the hard work, nostalgia and generosity that went into creating each delectable disk.

But, all good things must come to an end and all contests must eventually have a winner. This pie-for-all was no exception. Third place went to Kilian and Tiernan Ramer (a very young brother and sister team) for their no-bake Butter Hazelnut Chocolate Pie. Second was swept up by Amy Rudnick for her Sour Cherry Almond Streussel Pie. The grand pie queen of the day was another young contestant, Liv Korth, for her Chocolate Raspberry Pie. Each winner received a custom-made apron from MoHo Designs.
 
Of course, the best part, aside from watching a bunch of kids "take the cake" in the winner's circle, was watching everyone go back for more once the judging ended. By the end of the afternoon, most of the entries were reduced to crumbs and memories. A community radio station walked away with the reassurance that the show would go on and all of us walked away with a smile, most to steal a quick cat nap and dream of pie.

     

College Offers Online Masters in Sustainable Food

Staff Reports

We've found a college course for locavores and local farmers that can be done right from home.

Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., has added a distance-learning master's degree in sustainable food systems to its offerings. Environmental studies dominate at this tiny liberal arts college in this very rural state so farming and sustainability seem a no-brainer.

According to a press release from the college, "over 30 undergraduate students already focus their academic work on food systems at the college. Four grants over the past three years totaling over $250,000 have enhanced facilities and supported faculty research capacity at the college's Cerridwen Farm and the adjoining Solar Harvest Center."

This will be the third online master's programs at the college, which added environmental studies and an MBA in sustainable business in 2006. The goal of the program is to investigate agriculture, environmental studies, businesses models and social forces and how they work together.

For more information, go to http://msfs.greenmtn.edu/.

Tags: education      

Area Restaurants & Farmers Go Into the Wild

Nichole Dupont
Courtesy photo

Morels are one of the many wild edibles found in the Berkshires.

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Mud is not the only springtime element running in abundance in Berkshire County; April and May also mark the beginning of wild edibles season.

Many area restaurants, foragers and farmers are taking advantage of nature's bounty, as both a means to educate and to feed a growing number of foodies and locavores. 

Ted Dobson, owner of Equinox Farm in Sheffield and co-founder (along with Laura Meister of Farm Girl Farm and Anna Mack of Wild and Cultivated) of Wild Leek Week, said shining the spotlight on nature's harvest is the key to encouraging responsible stewardship and eating well.

"There's a lot more appreciation in general for what grows in the wild," he said in a phone interview. "The whole eating locally and organic farming movement has really encouraged this kind of event. It's very tantalizing because they [ramps, fiddleheads, morels and other wild edibles] only come in season for a few short weeks or a month at most. Wild ancestral breeds always have a flavor that is unadulterated. Culinarily, we are much more attuned to flavor in its native state."

Indeed, the pungent tang of ramps is a draw for many diners and local chefs as is the idea of foraging for food, an activity that Dobson said has long been an integral part of human survival and, more recently, food culture.

"Our history as a species is one of eating from the wild," he said. "In doing so, one needs to be responsible just like with anything else. The idea should be, don't take more than you need. It's common sense. It's important to take a cue from people who are good hunters. They know what role these edibles play in their natural state. We need to be thoughtful, we didn't sow these seeds."

Photo by Austin Banach

Ramps in the wild.

Although we didn't sow the seed, the literal fruits of foraging labor are on full display this week at area restaurants, as each pays homage to the ramp with unique recipes, lavish meals and drinks.

Cafe Adam is offering the Dirty Ramp Martini (served with Berkshire Mountain Distillers gin or vodka) and Prince Edward Island mussels with ramps, bacon, green peas and Highlawn Farm cream. In addition to these savory appetizers, Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield is holding a "Rampapalooza" five-course wine dinner on Wednesday, April 20, while the Castle Street Cafe is offering a "Redolent Ramp" three-course dinner on Thursday, April 21.

Other participating restaurants have also jumped aboard the ramp ship including Allium, Old in on the Green in New Marlborough, John Andrews in Egremont and Caffe Pomo D'Oro in West Stockbridge.
  
Area restaurants are not the only promoters of wild things in the Berkshires. Berkshire Farm & Table, an organization bringing Berkshire food culture to the forefront of the sustainable food movement, will present Where the Wild Things Are, a series of eight wild food walks lead by experienced instructors who will focus on responsible harvesting techniques, recipes and the history of foraging in the Berkshires. The walks will take place on four weekends during the month of May and are presented in partnership with Berkshire Grown’s Farmed and Foraged culinary event May 20-22 and are sponsored by the Williams College Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program. Program manager Katherine Millonzi said the high demand for sustainable, local food sources provides a perfect opportunity to raise awareness about sustainable practices.
  
"It's a chance for the community to get acquainted with what is growing in their landscape and to become familiar with sustainable practices," she said. "Everything about this is coupled with education. What we are trying to do is strike a balance — raising consciousness about people's diet, never taking out more than you put in. It's rooted in a desire to connect people with the food they eat. Taking something out of the earth and preparing it is one of the most beautiful things we can do as humans."

Not to be outdone, the educational arm of the foraging journey is not the only benefit harvesting in the wild.

"It provides a unique and wonderful gastronomic experience," Millonzi said. "It's using all of the senses, not just your brain and connecting your taste buds with your brain. There's diversity built in."

Tags: Wild Leek Week, Where the Wild Things Are, foraging      

Mezze Mention Brings Farm-to-Table Food to Bigger Market

Nichole Dupont

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Berkshire restaurants are taking their food seriously, and outsiders are taking notice.

Mezze Bistro and Bar, which opened its new location on Cold Spring Road 10 months ago, received a mention in this month's issue of Food & Wine on Dana Cowin's Editor's Letter page. Cowin writes that Mezze Bistro and Bar (founded by Nancy Thomas, who is also owner of the Mezze Group Inc.) "executed simple dishes magnificently, like a pan-roasted salmon served with tomato, beans and olives." It is this simplicity that is putting local farm-to-table eateries, including Mezze, Nudel in Lenox and the Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington, on the Northeastern food map.

Photo by Jason Houston 
The interior of the new Mezze on Cold Spring Road in Williamstown.

"Mezze's menu is very much focused on the farm-to-table movement, sourcing local ingredients whenever possible," said communications director Angela Cardinali. "Changes to our dinner menu are made daily by our chef, depending on what is available at local farms and from artisan producers. The mention in Food & Wine magazine may impact the restaurant in visitor season as potential new patrons visit the area and may be looking for a restaurant they have 'heard about'. Some F&W readers take Dana Cowin's recommendations very seriously. The mention by the editor provides validation for Mezze Bistro for people interested in a reputable restaurant if they happen to be visiting the region."

While visitors to the area may be discovering Mezze for the first time, local residents including business owners and area chefs continue to demand local ingredients for their meals. Many area restaurants (such as Mezze and its sister restaurant Allium in Great Barrington) and some markets are active sponsors of Berkshire Grown, and have developed strong relationships with local farmers.

"Mezze's involvement with the locavore scene is that Nancy Thomas, founder, is an active member of the board of Berkshire Grown. We sponsor and produce many of the food-related events that take place for Berkshire Grown," Cardinali said.  "Future plans include the implementation of an edible garden on the Mezze Bistro property and creating additional opportunities to tell the Berkshire 'food culture' story. We believe the food story of our region is one that should parallel the arts and culture position we are able to project so well today. We are at the beginning stages of creating Berkshire Farm & Table, an organization whose mission is to share the story of the Berkshires' culinary artisans, farming values and agritourism experiences."

As Mezze moves forward and will most likely receive more accolades for its sustainable menu, Cardinali said the restaurant is preparing for a busy summer season as well as many Berkshire Grown events that it has come to sponsor.

"Guests come from the surrounding colleges, visitors to the Clark, WCMA and Mass MoCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival as well as Jiminy Peak. We have a very busy season in summer, fall foliage and ski season," she said. "We sponsor and produce many of the food-related events that take place for Berkshire Grown including 'Farmed + Foraged: A Weekend of Spring Flavors' (taking place May 20-22), 'Preserving the Bounty" (Aug.-Sept.) and the very successful Holiday Farmers' Markets.

"We recently sent two of our chefs down to the James Beard Foundation in NYC along with four other talented Berkshire chefs to present 'The Whole Berkshire Hog' in early February. We are planning on participating in Berkshire Farm & Table's 'Where the Wild Things Are' – foraging walks led by experts throughout the month of May – as well as a whole bunch of other events with a focus on local food and farming."

Tags: Mezze, Berkshire Grown      

Route 7 Grill Is Taking It Easy

Nichole Dupont

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — I like to revisit food, at least, good food. In that way, we are like well-trained dogs. Good food feels good and makes me happy, bad food feels bad and makes me sick.

Ask me when was the last time I stepped foot into a Burger King.

On Saturday night, maybe because the full moon had us all swooning with the prospect of spring, or because it was late and we (we meaning myself, the kids and the nearly 7-foot eating machine called the boyfriend) were in the mood for some good spring eats.

And what says spring more than barbecue?

"Let's go to the Route 7 Grill," I said to the kids, whose faces were buried in their Nintendo DS game. Lucian was killing Anna; it seemed like a good time to break things up. They perked up immediately at the suggestion.

"I'm totally getting a cheeseburger," Anna said in her annoying, pre-teen voice. Lucian just nodded his head saying something about the cornbread and butter.

Let me back up for just a second. My first run in with the Route 7 Grill  on Main Street was about five or six years ago. It was a spring day and I was scheduled to do an interview with the owners of this new BBQ joint that had just opened. I thought I could kill the interview and then make my way up to the DMV to get my license renewed, which was, like my inspection sticker, long overdue. So, there I was, the rookie reporter sitting with the owner, Lester Blumenthal, talking about slow smoking and roadhouse culture in the Berkshires. As much as I wanted to get in and get out, I could not refuse the brisket sandwich and fries that Lester put in front of me. I took a bite; he held his breath.

"That's d*mn good," I said, savoring the buttery meat and sauce. "Wow, really d*mn good."

My review/interview that day was their first write-up in print. Since then, the Grill has been in several foodie magazines and seen numerous reviews and accolades. But, we grew up together, Lester and I. The rookie reporter and the business guy turned professional meat smoker.

Filled with the usual good will and nostalgia, we dove into our meal by the light of the Crow Moon. Immediately I noticed something different about my salad. The smoked chicken was richer, much richer, almost as if it had been sitting in a hickory tree for weeks, waiting for me to enjoy. I took several bites, savoring the familiar flavor of my childhood.

The kids ate in silence, Anna just humming and chewing on her burger and Lucian deftly focused on his homemade chicken tenders.

"They've done something different here," I said. "This is so authentic."

Lester sidled up to the table, ever the awesome host checking in with his clearly happy customers. Before he could even ask the question, I jumped in.

"What's going on, man?" I said. "This stuff is amazing. You're doing something different, you can't fool me."

"Nothing too different," he said with an almost sly smile. "Just taking our time. I had an epiphany a while ago. We slowed down the smoker, got some new recipes in there, and really looked at our ingredients."

So humble. The mashed potatoes with a hint of blue cheese made my mouth tingle, the smoky mushrooms with the meat were a meal in themselves, and the dessert, oh the dessert. Chocolate espresso cheese cake (all homemade, bitter grounds, handcrumbled crust) and a polenta dish with spiced apples and caramel sauce.

Simple yet effective is putting it lightly. The savory sweetness of the dessert pretty well encapsulated the entire evening.

A roaring fire, familiar faces, and a delicious meal with hints of woodsmoke and lots of surprises.

Outdoor pig roasts are coming soon on Fridays. You know where to find me.

The Route 7 Grill is on 999 Main St. (yes, Route 7), Great Barrington. Its hours are 5-9 weekdays (to 10 on Friday and closed Tuesdays) and lunch and dinner on the weekends. Check out the Facebook page.

Tags: Route 7 Grill, barbecue      
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Saturdays through Oct. 27 from 11 to 3

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Sears parking lot, Route 8
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