By Analiese Paik
It’s August already and time to think about some special things to do during the last weeks of summer. Have you gotten through your summer bucket list? If you don’t have one, or have already completed it, here are five things to do before the summer ends that will maximize your enjoyment of the local harvest and beautiful weather. This is the time of year when farms are bursting with corn, tomatoes, eggplant, summer squash, beans, cucumbers, peppers and more.
Whatever you do, don’t let them summer go by without visiting a farm stand or farmers market to take in the excitement and try some new flavors. This is where the best produce and fruit are, hands down. Most produce and fruit at the supermarket was picked before it was ripe, and has typically traveled a great distance. But corn, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, cherries, peaches, squash are picked daily at their peak of ripeness by local farmers. Grab and friend and go. Chances are you’ll find something you’ve never had before and will really enjoy it. And if you don’t know how to prepare it, just ask a farmer.
- Host a Tomato Tasting Party – A sun ripened heirloom tomato from a local farm is one of the joys of summer. Buy a dozen or so different heirloom tomatoes of varying shapes and sizes (they’ll all taste different) from a farm stand or farmers’ market, then invite a few friends over for a tasting. Keep it fast casual by slicing each tomato and serving it on a plate labeled with the tomato variety.I obtain the information for my labels by asking the farmers to name each tomato while I’m buying them, then jotting the information down in my phone and taking a photo to keep the order straight. Guests can walk down your table laden with plates of sliced tomatoes and load up their plates or taste one by one. If you want to get more involved, make a list of the tomatoes for your guests and ask them to jot down tasting notes and vote for their favorites.Remember to never refrigerate tomatoes or you’ll damage them and compromise their delicious flavors. Once the tomatoes have been tasted, make a salad using the leftover tomatoes and dress it with kale pesto to serve to your guests with some mozzarella or burrata cheese, bread and rose wine. Here’s a recipe for Chef Cecily Ganz’ kale pesto that’s so easy and delicious, you’ll wonder why you don’t make pesto every week. If you’d rather attend a tomato tasting than host your own, register for Ambler Farm’s tomato tasting and cooking demonstration on August 16 from 1-4 pm and bring the whole family to enjoy a picnic at this beautiful community farm in Wilton.
Hemp Seed & Kale Pesto
By Chef Cecily I. Gans of The Main Course Catering, LLC in Fairfield, CT
1 bunch Lacinato/Tuscan kale, stemmed and chopped
10-15 stems basil – about one bunch, leaves only
2 cloves standard garlic, or 1 clove elephant garlic, chopped
½-¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup organic hemp seeds
½ cup grated hard cheese* – Parmesan, Romano or a like cheese
In a Vitamix or food processor, pulse all of the ingredients to a coarse, wet meal, season with salt and pepper and store in the refrigerator. It will make a good portion and you will likely use a half cup or so and have a full 8 oz. container for other purposes. This may also be frozen.
Chef Cecily served the pesto with halved cherry tomatoes and other local vegetables, but you can add roasted or grilled vegetables or whatever vegetables you like. It makes great pasta salad, crostini/bruschetta or add a little extra olive oil and drizzle over sliced fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. Experiment!
- Go Fruit Picking – Blueberries, peaches, plums, raspberries and the first pears and apples ripen mid to late August and a picking adventure at an orchard is a wonderful way for the family to spend time together and create lasting memories. I will always remember the tractors rides we’d take, perched on bails of hay, to go picking in the strawberry fields at Jones Farm with my children when they were little. Jones Family Farm and Bishop’s Orchards are two top destinations for PYO in the area. Always call ahead to be advised of picking conditions, hours and closings due to inclement weather.
- Taste Local Wines at the Shoreline Wine Festival – Head to Bishop’s Orchards Winery in Guilford the weekend of August 15-16 to enjoy tastings from six Connecticut wineries, entertainment, and food vendors. Visit shorelinewinefestival.com for complete information and online ticket sales.
- Attend a Farm Dinner – Dine al fresco at a farm with friends for a magical evening that’s likely to be the highlight of your summer dining experiences. Visit our Guide to Farm Dinners in and around the county for complete information.
- Preserve the Harvest – whether you make jams and jellies, pickle cucumbers, can tomatoes, or dry herbs, now is the time to start.How to Dry Fresh Herbs: Wash and thoroughly dry herbs immediately after picking. Use a kitchen towel or paper towel to remove any excess water rather than treating them too aggressively in a salad spinner. Bundle each spring up into a bouquet and secure with a rubber band, making sure to leave the end slack so it can be hung on a cabinet handle.
How to Freeze Fresh Berries: Wash and thoroughly dry the freshest berries possible, then place them in a single layer, without touching one another, on a sheet pan and freeze overnight (chest freezers are great for this). Gather the frozen berries and store them in a freezer bag with as much air as possible removed or fill a freezer safe container. Be sure to use the fruit within the next 6 months. Try placing a handful of frozen berries in your hot oatmeal this winter or cooking the berries with a little sugar and lemon juice to make a compote for pancakes or waffles.
How to Pickle Vegetables: All you need are some lidded jars, vinegar, salt and some spices to make delicious pickled vegetables you and your family can enjoy for weeks. Try mixing garlic, chiles and herbs with your vegetables to make zesty pickles you can serve with any meal. You can find some great pickling recipes on marthastewart.com and other trustworthy websites like Food & Wine and Food52.
How to Can Food: Canning is a science and guidelines must be followed to ensure your food is not only properly preserved, but also safe to eat. Start with this excellent article from Mother Earth News, which includes websites for additional resources and recipes. Local farms, including Wakeman Town Farm and Millstone Farm, hold canning workshops in late summer, so be on the lookout for those. We always post them.