Popping for Nearly a Century

Nick’s Nest

By Sara Pokorny, Photos by Dominic Perri

Nick Malfas struck buttery yellow gold when he began peddling popcorn from a cart on the streets of Holyoke in 1921. What began as a one-snack operation grew into a brick-and-mortar establishment on Northampton Street. The menu also expanded, offering everything from potato salad to soft serve to bacon cheese fries to loaded hot dogs, all alongside the still-enduring popcorn.

With its red and yellow awning, counter-style window seating dotted with jukeboxes, and 1950 Chicago Coins bandbox, Nick’s Nest is a haven for nostalgia. It’s also a family business, having stayed in the Malfas family for three generations until 2005, when Jenn and Kevin Chateauneuf bought it. Despite the last name change, the family vibe is there, extending outward from the kitchen to the customers. There’s a good chance that at least one person eating at Nick’s at any given moment has been going there since they were a child.

Jeff Ferreira of Chicopee is one such guy. On a busy Saturday morning, when the line is already out the door an hour after opening, he sits at the counter eating lunch. He’s come to Nick’s since he was a kid and can remember the smaller menu. Though the hot dogs are his favorite, he’s tried everything Nick’s has to offer and has never been disappointed.

“They’ve got everything here, and it’s all good,” he says. “Also, they’ve always been really good people, so it’s easy to come back.”

Malfas added hot dogs to his cart in 1922, and that other All-American food would prove to be an even bigger draw than the popcorn. In 1927, he opened a stand on Route 5, and in 1948 he moved into the location Nick’s occupies today. His son Nick took over, and then his grandson Charlie, before the Chateauneufs.

“We added to the menu gradually to bring in a fresh change,” Jenn says, “but at the same time not take away from the hot dogs.” The hot dog recipe remains: They’re steamed and sit in a light brown secret sauce until served. Mustard and relish were once the only topping options (as evidenced by a placard affixed to the counter), but now diners can get onions, cheese, ketchup, and more.

The popcorn is as simply made as the dogs. The modern kettle is tucked away into an older-style cabinet to keep a vintage air. Popcorn packs are roughly the size of a half sheet of paper, dual-sided with one half containing butter-flavored coconut oil and the other kernels lightly dusted in spices. One pack yields approximately three large buckets and, of course, there is butter to spare. Kept in a small metal pitcher near the kettle, the “extra butter” is a fan favorite.

Abby Griffin, an employee at Nick’s for 14 years and a customer since she was a kid, is all too familiar with the buttery appeal.

“One customer we had, I would know by the weight of the container it had enough butter in it for him.”

Built on kernels and dogs slung from a cart, Nick’s has thrived over the years thanks to this familiar food, and customers’ need to find comfort in it. Nick’s, as a place, has become just as comforting, and Jenn understands this.

“Our customers love us because it’s a ma and pa place. In the world of corporate, people appreciate that there are still small places like ours around.”

nicksnestholyoke.com

New Bakery, Traditional Breads

Rise Above

By Marykate Smith Despres, Photos by Dominic Perri

When people think of rye bread, they often think of deli rye. The deli rye I grew up with, even when bought bagged from the grocery store, yielded rounded, half-moon, gray-brown slices that stood (a bit stiffly) in stark contrast to the floppy, bleached white squares of typical sandwich bread. The bread I remember likely had very little actual rye flour, but what it did have—and what kept me from eating it—was caraway seeds.

Brian Meunier, head baker and owner of Rise Above bakery, which opened in downtown Greenfield this June, uses a lot of rye flour, which, he says “adds a slight nuance” of flavor to breads and pastries. It’s caraway, not rye, Meunier says, that “has ruined rye for most people.”

“I’m trying to set that straight. I want people to know that rye and caraway are not the same thing. If you don’t like caraway,” he says, “you can still like rye.”

In the absence of caraway seeds, it’s color (Meunier describes it as a “deep brown or reddish hue”) that signals a bread with a lot of rye flour. Another clue can be weight, as in a dense Roggenbrot—one of many Eastern European rye breads you’ll find at Rise Above-one of many breads with a story.

“People who grew up with this bread, it really means something special to them,” Meunier says. He’s seen it in the way people’s faces light up when they see these traditional breads on the rack at the bakery, the recognition upon feeling the weight of a full kilo of bread in hand. The remembering that happens, and the ways in which that remembering becomes stories shared over a loaf of bread—a Latvian woman at a record store in Somerville transported back to her childhood, a man returning to the bakery with an armful of German and Austrian cookbooks and an offer to translate, a woman sharing her experience learning to bake Roggenbrot under master baker Jeffery Hamelman in Brattleboro in the ’80s—becomes what Meunier describes as “a religious experience.”

“I love that I can connect with people in ways beyond that it tastes good,” he says. “I fell in love with the bread and then fell in love with all these people’s connection to it.”

Rye isn’t the only way Meunier connects with the community. He bakes other well-loved staple breads including baguette, brioche, and challah, plus bagels, muffins, cookies, and a host of pastries that often feature fruits from local farms like Clarkdale just down the road in Deerfield.

And while patrons sit and enjoy local coffee (or kombucha) with their baked goods and their little ones pop in and out of the puppet theater, the bakers work in an open kitchen with café-facing ovens so that people can “see it, hear it, smell it.”

“We’re back there making a mess, flour all over. We make noise. We listen to rock ’n’ roll,” Meunier says. He doesn’t want to hide or separate the process from the product, or from the people tearing pieces and taking bites of that product straight from the bag. “I want you to know that everything’s happening right here.”

Instagram @riseabove_413

FaceBook @riseabove

Telling the Story of Sourdough

Hungry Ghost Bread

By Marykate Smith Despres, Photos by Dominic Perri

It’s not an art,” Jonathan Stevens says of baking bread, rolling his eyes. “It’s a craft.” Stevens has been baking bread for 25 years, 15 at Hungry Ghost Bread in Northampton with partner and co-owner Cheryl Maffei. “Craft is an expression of material and tradition. Art is an expression of the artist. [You need to have] a sense of humility in the face of 10,000 years of bread baking.”

But by that definition, Stevens’ impassioned explanations and interpretations of the process and of bread itself put him somewhere in between artisan and artist, into the realm of storyteller. “There are different ways to understand bread,” says Stevens, the son of a chemist and a psychologist. “Scientifically—that’s just not my thing.”

The story of bread has become, quite literally, ingrained in him, finding its way into song lyrics and poems penned on the back of bread schedules, into the annual Bread Festival puppet-and-brass-band parade through town, into the ways in which he thinks about the history of civilization—from Persephone (the goddess of harvest), to cats in ancient Egypt (whose sacredness came from their ability to guard the grain), to the agricultural industrial revolution—and the ways in which bakeries serve and sustain their communities. Clearly, unscientific does not mean uninformed.

Hungry Ghost breads are sourdough, meaning each loaf begins as a live, fermented culture. Stevens believes that often, a sensitivity to gluten is actually a sensitivity to unfermented gluten. “People need gluten to be fermented,” he says. “The body can’t access the vitamins and minerals [in unfermented wheat]. It can see them, but it can’t access them.”

The crust on a loaf of bread, more specifically, the way the scoring creates sharp ridges and yawning crests, is what Stevens calls “a photograph of perfect fermentation.”

“It’s the last gasp of wild yeast. If you get it right, they die with their arms over their heads,” he says. “It’s a Vesuvian death. You want people buried mid-party.” Stevens dances around to demonstrate, throws his hands over his head and yells, “Yay!”, freezing mid-cheer in mock joy. He’s right—it’s not a scientific explanation. But it certainly makes for a better story.

Hungry Ghost Bread’s 15th annual “Wonder Not!” Bread Festival is on Sunday, September 22, 11am–5pm. The festival is free and includes a giant puppet parade through town with the Expandable Brass Band, wheat planting in the garden, live music, vendors, and lots of bread!

hungryghostbread.com

This Loaf for President

This bread does not boast

This bread does not need

A chief of staff

Or a press secretary

Even at its greatest,

This bread will soon get eaten

-or go moldy.

This bread won’t build walls

Drop bombs, sell fighter jets

Or make secret deals with

Shady Russians

This bread cannot lie

This bread will not exaggerate

How many people it fed

-its list of ingredients

Is astonishingly short

This bread will not play golf

Instead of sitting patiently upon your table

This bread is smarter than you think:

It will teach your tongue

About the Fertile Crescent

It will move your mouth

With a song of scythes,

Of broadcasting hands,

of the furrow on the miller’s

hands, and his stones

This bread believes in

universal health care, from the

inside out, a gut feeling

about common sense

and simple decency

This bread has a heel one can chew on

a crust you can sop up sorrows with

wings for the Angel of Victory

over every kind of hunger

Poem reprinted from Jonathan Stevens’ Bread Poems, collected and published by the author in 2019.

Will Travel for Food

MUSSEL RISOTTO WITH PARSLEY PURÉE

By Sanford D’Amato, Photos by Dominic Perri

mussel-risotto.gif

I’m keeping my foot to the floor so I don’t lose the firefly-sized tail lights in front of me. It’s almost a losing battle as the matchbox Fiat rental Angie and I are in seems to be powered by a wind up rubber band. The rain is pummeling the windshield and the only thing I’m sure about is that there is a large crevasse on either side of the road.

It’s 1985 and my wife, Angie, and I are driving through Europe for the first time. From our starting point in Brussels until our last day in Paris, there was one daily ritual we could count on—we would be lost for part of the day.

This day, it was the second largest city in Italy: Milan. We started out from a small pensione called Hotel Asnigo situated in the hills overlooking Lake Como. The older proprietor, Luigi, lent us his personal map—which, judging from the condition of the paper, must have been a christening gift—to direct us the 40-some miles to Milan from Cernobbio.

We arrived in Milan a few hours before our dinner reservation at 8pm. Being that it was sunny and light out, we didn’t really need the map as the route was very well posted with “Milano” directing signs every few miles.

We went to a traditional Milanese restaurant, and we put ourselves in the hands of the waiter. He brought us a selection from the copious antipasto table that we had to maneuver around as we were seated. The plate contained all pristine grilled and roasted vegetables, some sweet and sour, stuffed or crusted, flanked by paper-thin regional cured meats and salamis.

For the entrée, it was Piccata of Chicken and Veal Cotaletta. All was delicious, but the star of the dinner arrived between the antipasto and entrée. This was usually the position reserved for pasta in Italy, but we were in the north, which means rice, and the waiter brought two of the special Seafood Risottos. This was my first taste of risotto and it immediately changed the way I thought about the white grain. Growing up, we were a Minute Rice family, and I felt that the bland white kernels just took up valuable real estate on my plate that could have been put to better use. This rice took more than a minute. It was cooked all’onda, which loosely translates to wavy. When you tap the rim of the dish, the creamy rice slightly undulates like ocean waves with the pristine chunks of seafood looking like little bouncing buoys. It was absolutely luscious, with each perfectly cooked kernel of rice exploding with briny crustacean goodness.

We walked out of the restaurant after dinner, and the perfect night had turned into an impromptu gale. We ran to the car and unfolded the map, which quickly deteriorated into four separate pieces. Using our best internal GPS, we tried to retrace our way back to the Autostrada (highway), but soon found ourselves following the only tail lights around down a dark and otherwise deserted road. We knew we were in big trouble when the tail lights became headlights that started to beam down on us, eventually swiping right past us on the narrow road. That’s when we figured out we might be following another lost traveler.

After an hour of aimlessly driving, we miraculously ran into the Autostrada ramp flanked by a minute arrow sign pointing toward Cernobbio. Saved again from self-destruction.

Today’s risotto is inspired by that night of highs and lows. I suggest using short-grain Carnaroli or Nano Vialone rice or the easier to procure Arborio for this dish. Be sure and keep it fluid (but not watery) and please don’t overcook the rice. After your first taste, you’ll agree this is a dish worth driving for.

MUSSEL RISOTTO WITH PARSLEY PURÉE

Serves 4 as an appetizer

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced fine; need ½ cup

1 cup Carnaroli rice

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 cup dry sherry, heated

2–2¼ cups no-salt vegetable stock, heated

24 cleaned mussels, placed in a covered pot with ¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup packed (½ ounce) cleaned fresh Italian parsley leaves, puréed with ½ cup no-salt vegetable stock

2 tablespoons salted butter

Fresh Italian parsley sprigs for garnish

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add oil, then add onion, and cook about 3–4 minutes, until opaque. Add rice and, with a wooden spoon, continually stir to lightly toast, about 3 minutes.

Add garlic, pepper flakes, bay leaves, and thyme and stir for 30 seconds. Add hot sherry, continue stirring, add salt and pepper, and cook until rice starts to absorb sherry.

Start adding the stock by small ladles, just enough to keep the rice liquid and continually absorbing—keep stirring so rice does not stick.

While rice is cooking, place mussel pot over medium heat and steam mussels open—should take 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat as soon as the mussels open. Keep pan covered.

Add all liquid from mussels as the next addition of liquid to the risotto. Taste rice and continue adding stock until rice is just cooked, but still al dente. At this point, rice should be creamy and fluid, but not watery.

Finish rice by stirring in butter and parsley purée, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately in 4 hot bowls. Garnish with warm mussels and parsley sprigs on top.

Field Notes from Old Friends Farm

Farmer in resiPANTS

By Casey Steinberg, Photos courtesy of Old Friends Farm

Over the past two years, we’ve used our Field Notes column to bring you stories from farmers across the Valley. We loved getting a peek into a different farm each season, but thought it would be nice to try something different and invite a single farmer to share a whole year’s worth of insights. In his second column of the year, Casey Steinberg continues to share his perspective with us all.

It’s easy to slip into the cliché of writing about how fall is the time we start turning inward, thinking about sweaters, the crispness of the air, the waning light, and the impending immense task of extracting the bounty out of the Valley’s farms. But that tends to get predictable and boring. I should talk-up our imminent, magical crop of ginger and turmeric and the gorgeous triple-washed and spun-dry salads we produce weekly. Instead, I want to talk about blue jeans.

Yep, blue jeans, or rather brown, as the filthy case may be. According to a segment of “fashion” news I heard recently, it appears that “dirty” pants are in style. You can now buy the appearance of having worked all day on the farm without having lifted a finger (save for the one it took to click “add to cart”). No joke—these faux-dirty pants go for over $400. Maybe fake dirt is really hard to source? I won’t go into all the potential character judging and social commentary these pants inspire. The attraction is likely rooted in our culture’s innate desire to be connected to the earth in this new world of concrete.

The dirt (read: soil) and wear and tear on our pants at Old Friends Farm is genuine. We feel proud to offer up some real mud-caked-stiff competition to those clean-fingernailed posers. With that, I introduce the limited edition Old Friends Farm Real Dirty Pants, and with them a window into farm life! Each of these unique pairs comes adorned with real soil, mud, grease, and rips! (We can assure you that even though some of our clothes get quite dirty, our produce is immaculately clean by the time it gets to market!)

We’ll start with the old style double knee jeans. They are rare, as the new cuts are baggier with tiny pockets (not large enough for the standard equipment: wallet, mini-wrench, various nuts and bolts, collection of pens and markers, mini tape measurer, granola bar, drip irrigation couplers, write-in-the-rain notepad, handkerchief, cotter pin, and the special rock my daughter insisted I carry with me on any given day). They don’t make these anymore, and when they finally give up the ghost, I will be devastated.

Then there’s the artfully ripped jeans. The back left pocket of these well-loved pants tore when they got caught on a tractor implement. The hammer loop (which is actually completely useless) is tattered because it catches on everything, including the knobs of my cabinets at home—very annoying. Not visible are the mended front pockets, which developed holes due to carrying around loose hardware and sharp giblets. Without these extra stitches, your change winds up in your boots!

Don’t forget the “give and take” jeans. The first area to “give” is always just above the double knee due to repeatedly carrying harvest crates, tools, and other whatnot and the sharp corners on our greenhouse tables that catch our pants at that exact height. Randomly spaced dark spots are a combination of mud, grease, used vegetable oil (used to fuel our delivery truck), and resin from harvesting sunflowers. Some of the newer spots are from sneaking bits of leftover flourless chocolate birthday cake from the crew fridge and wiping the sticky evidence on my pants.

Finally, we have the real dirty Real Dirty Pants. The soggy knees variety originated from a morning of transplanting fall stock—a beautiful, fragrant flower. (The flowers smell infinitely better than the pants.) And the holes-in-the-knees style is created by crawling miles of veggie beds in order to hand weed them.

If, as the poet Kahlil Gibran suggests, “work is love made visible,” then Real Dirty Pants are work made visible, and we love our work!

Raising the Bar

Bar Snacks That Go Beyond the Basics

By Mary Reilly, Food Styling by Joy Howard, Photos by Dominic Perri

Who said bar food needs to be basic? Not us! With just a little effort, you can easily add flair (and vegetables!) to make old favorites new. Transform classic bar-top and couch-side snacks into even tastier treats and pair them with a local beer, a homemade soda, or a good game.

Mini Potato Skins

Cracker Jill

Inside-Out Shishito Poppers

Sriracha Cauliflower

Chickpea "Fries"

Bear & Bramble: Brewing Beer, By the Batch

By Jordana Starr
Photos by Matt Burkhartt

Tym McDowell has been homebrewing since he was 20, about a year before he could legally sit down at a bar and order a beer. Though he knew he wanted to brew for a living, his parents encouraged him to pursue a more academic career path. He chose to study medicine, but brewing remained a passion. Today, he splits his time as a physician assistant in neurosurgery at Mercy Medical Center and co-owner of Bear & Bramble Brewery in Florence.

McDowell met his business partner, John Wanner, at work in 2010. Wanner, a nurse anesthetist, had been homebrewing for a year, and the two soon developed a friendship that grew out of their love for beer. By 2011, they were brewing together regularly at McDowell’s home in Easthampton. A year later, they moved the brewing system to Wanner’s garage in Florence, and soon expanded the system to accommodate up to 22 gallons of beer per batch. “It was a natural transition from hanging out, talking about beer, to hanging out and starting a business,” McDowell says. Their new venture, Bear & Bramble Brewery, received its federal and state licensing late last year, which meant they could finally sell their beer to the public.

A 22-gallon batch is tiny for a commercial brewery. But there are advantages to brewing on such a small system. McDowell and Wanner can take more risks and produce experimental beers. They are also able to remain self-funded and avoid taking on debt. “At some point, we’ll be happy to take money,” Wanner says, “but not yet!” Their brew system is still in a constant state of development and redesign as Bear & Bramble grows and evolves.

Family support has been crucial to their brewery. Cousins have fabricated sheet metal and installed ductwork, while wives meticulously hand-label each bottle. The brewery’s electric control system is housed in an old ammo box that once belonged to McDowell’s uncle, the first homebrewer in his family. As their young children grow, they hope to see them become a part of the business as well.

McDowell and Wanner source most of their base grains from Valley Malt in Hadley and look forward to building relationships with local farmers. After brewing, they feed the spent grains to Wanner’s chickens. They are also aging some beer in whiskey barrels, increasing the beer’s complexity and, for many fans, its appeal. When the beer is ready, they bottle it and self-distribute to a handful of retailers, including Provisions, Cooper’s Corner, State Street, and River Valley Co-Op.

As for the future, the duo hopes to move into an industrial space or buy some land. McDowell envisions having a little farm, offering a welcoming tasting experience with fresh bread and fine cheese and a place for kids to play. But for right now, their focus is on the beer.

“Brewing is a great blend of art and science,” McDowell says. And, compared to neurosurgery, “you’re less likely to maim people.”

www.facebook.com/pages/Bear-and-Bramble-Brewing-Co

Wallow in the Blues

A truly fresh fish yields a happier tune

by Sanford D’Amato
photo by Kevin Miyazaki

There is a solid rap at the back kitchen screen door of the restaurant. I look over and see that the bright morning sun is completely eclipsed by the husky outline of a local fishmonger, self-named Chubby. 

“I’ve got a surprise for you today!” he calls out as he wedges himself through the doorway, each of his large paws grasping a three-foot fish. As he points one of the fish, as rigid as a board, toward my face, he proclaims, “They’re still in rigor mortis!”

Chubby was a local legend in the East Quogue area of Long Island where I worked in the late ’70s. He would arrive daily with bags of the most pristine Peconic Bay scallops that, because of their inherent sweetness, you could pop straight into your mouth like lush, briny candy.

But today, he has caught a beautiful 12-pound striped bass and a slightly smaller bluefish. They are so fresh that I expect them to start flipping. “Well, do you want them both?” he asks. The striped bass is for sure but, as blue things go—I love blueberries, I’m a huge blues music fan, and I’m a true-blue friend. But I hate bluefish.

All my experiences with bluefish up to this point were from my time at the Culinary Institute of America. Students were responsible for receiving fish (steward class), prepping fish (butchery), preparing fish (kitchen class), and serving it (service class). We also had to eat whatever we made.

Bluefish has high oil content and is very perishable. Slow and inexperienced student handling, slightly improper trimming and cooking, and delayed serving made this fish the scourge of lunch and dinner classes. The mere mention of bluefish was enough to send student diners scurrying for the exits to escape the funkiness.

I relate my misgivings to Chubby. “I’ll give you this one for free,” he says, “because I know after you have a really fresh bluefish, you’ll be buying all I can get you in the future.” 

I fillet the glistening fish and remove the skin and its red outside bloodline to yield thick filets that look like slightly darker-hued striped bass. I grill up a piece with just a bit of salt and pepper. The oil content of the fish helps it grill up with a golden, crunchy exterior and a moist, flavorful interior. This bluefish has zero relationship to my previous frightening experiences. As usual, Chubby didn’t disappoint. 

Thirty-plus years later, Angie and I are luxuriating in our first visit to the Pioneer Valley. Our friend David, the self-appointed guide for the day, takes us on his personal “Best of the Valley” tour. We start on River Road for blueberries, cross Christian Lane and go down to Golanka’s for corn and tomatoes, then into Northampton to Northshore Seafood for fish. As we enter the corner fish market, I am immediately smitten with the concise repertoire of the East Coast’s greatest piscatorial hits: sword, cod, hake, stripers, sea scallops, cherrystones, and mussels. David, with the excitement of a lottery winner, looks past them all and exclaims, “Yes! Bluefish!” 

Within an hour, we are scarfing down succulent, crusty bluefish between bites of sweet corn and a perfectly balanced tomato salad. It’s hard to seal a deal in one meal, but it is the start of the journey that brings us from Wisconsin to our current home on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hatfield. 

 

PEPPERED BLUEFISH WITH GLAZED TURNIPS AND TURNIP GREEN BROTH

This preparation makes full use of the Valley’s vibrant farmers’ markets. Find a nice bunch of just-dug early turnips with really fresh green tops to use when enhancing the broth. (If you can’t find turnips, radishes with tops will do.) The key, as Cubby taught me: It’s all about the freshest blue.

Serves 4

1 cup unsalted chicken stock

4 small (about 4 ounces each) turnips with fresh green tops, greens removed and reserved. Turnips peeled and cut in 1-inch wedges.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Zest of ½ lemon and juice of 1 lemon (need 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon juice)

2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns, strained in a fine strainer to remove any pepper dust

4 (6- to 7-ounce, about 1-inch thick) skinless bluefish filets (can substitute striped bass)

2 shallots (1½ ounces), peeled and thinly sliced 

2 garlic cloves (½ ounce), peeled and finely chopped

½ cup dry white wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the turnip wedges with stock, add a pinch of salt, and bring up to a simmer for about 4–5 minutes, until just tender. Strain and reserve the turnip stock. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When oil is hot, add the turnips, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Add the sugar and lemon zest and toss together. Add ½ teaspoon of the lemon juice, glaze, remove from pan, and reserve warm. Clean the pan and put back over medium-high heat. Divide the pepper evenly over tops of the bluefish and press in. Season all lightly with salt. Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the fish until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the fish to a plate. 

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sauté for 1 minute. Add the wine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and reduce by half. Add the reserved turnip stock and reduce to ⅓ to ½ cup. Place the reserved stock and reserved greens in a blender and purée until fine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the fish and turnips between 4 plates and divide the turnip green broth around and serve. 

Summer on a Stick

Farm to Freezer with Crooked Stick Pops

By Marykate Smith Despres
Photos by Dominic Perri

Julie Tuman loves heat and humidity. She grew up in the South, where summer stretched from March to November, eagerly awaiting the Memorial Day opening of the neighborhood swimming pool. The North Carolina native “got sucked into” the Pioneer Valley when she came north for graduate school 15 years ago and never left. But she brought a little bit of that long summer with her and turned it into Crooked Stick Pops.

Tuman started making and selling the frozen treats just last May, hawking handheld relief from the heat at farmers’ markets and community events around the Valley. At the end of each market, Tuman buys whatever fruits and veggies farmers can’t sell. “I just clear ’em out.”

In turn, she gets new ingredients to play with, and advice along the way. The folks from Crabapple Farm noticed her use of basil and turned her on to tulsi. Now, they grow a few rows of herbs just for her.

Those herbs and fruits are processed in the 800-square-foot commercial kitchen Tuman built in Easthampton’s Keystone building. Making 500 pops a day with 150 flavors “in solid rotation,” she spends three 12-hour days a week during peak season processing, freezing, and bagging “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of beautiful local fruit.”

The other four days, April through October, Tuman is outside, selling from her cart or her pop trike, which can hold up to 800 pops. Crooked Stick Pops are “what you see is what you get,” with flavors like Cantaloupe Mint and Kiwi Ginger—names and complete ingredient lists in one.

Tuman likes savory pops, like Maple Pear and Vanilla Lemon Basil, best. (She lovingly refers to the latter as her “bourbon pop” because, at the end of a long day, “It has the same effect on my shoulders.”) She’s not attached to, or even particularly a fan of, sweet treats. “If it grows, I will try to throw it in a blender and put it on a stick.”

After just one year, Crooked Stick Pops is expanding. Tuman hired a few “pop slingers” so the treats can be offered in three places at once, including a new brick-and-mortar location in Eastworks, opening in June. The pop shop will be open year round as the flavors “get heavier and richer, moving from herbs to spices.” Tuman says people love fresh-from-the-freezer pops in winter to soothe sore throats and perk up a flu. And who among us hasn’t wished, in the bitter days of winter, for a bit of summer on a stick?

crookedstickpops.com

Pen in the Hand, Hands in the Soil

Farmers Speak Out Against Immigration Policy

By Marykate Smith Despres

We’ve protected some of the most precious farmland,” said Linda Kingsley of Twin Oaks Farm in Hadley. “What are we gonna do to harvest it?” 

Kingsley, who has been farming for over 40 years, was one of about 100 people gathered at Wally Czajkowski’s Plainville Farm in Hadley on April 8. Czajkowski and Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots invited farmers and other small-business owners to discuss concerns, according to their press release, “about the impact of current immigration policies on their livelihoods.” 

“We have a population we need to protect,” said Kingsley. “It’s only fair to them.”

Eric Stocker, co-owner of local distributor Squash, Inc., opened and moderated the forum, calling out “inhumane” policies and political rhetoric that “ignore the basic facts about who does the work” and leave those workers “living in uncertainty and fear.”

Heads nodded and applause rang out in recognition, again and again, as people spoke of the the web of bureaucratic red tape created by the H2A program, the misclassification of farming as unskilled labor, and the ignored integrity of the local immigrant workforce.

“Nobody in their right mind wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to leave my home,’” said chef and food justice advocate Neftali Duran. “That desperation comes from policies.”

Organizers and many attendees hoped to help change those policies by signing letters to the State House, urging Governor Baker to support the Safe Communities Act, and to the Senate, asking for implementation of immigration reform that ensures: 

  • Current experienced workers can obtain legal work authorization.
  • Their businesses can access new authorized workers when needed in the future.
  • The workers on whom the local economy depends have a pathway to citizenship.
  • State resources are not used to enforce federal immigration policies that harm local businesses and workers.

Postcards were penned and marks were made, but there was still an overwhelming unrest at the meeting’s end. Some left with both more clarity and concern than they had come with. Julie Pottier-Brown, operations manager of the Farm Direct Co-op in Salem, Massachusetts, who has bought food from growers in the Valley for 24 years, was “struck by the level of fear being reported by the immigrant community.” 

“We are an interdependent community,” said Pottier-Brown. “Take away one part, and there will be collapse.”

There are some programs that have consistently offered services and support to the migrant and immigrant farm worker community. Gloria Penagos, a migrant enrollment specialist at Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield (HCS) Head Start, encouraged farmers to spread the word about a migrant/seasonal program specifically designed to meet the needs of farmworkers with young children. The program offers free extended day care, beginning as early as 5am, for children as young as four weeks. She also urged business owners to consider offering transportation to workers in the Springfield area who would normally be commuting to farms around the Valley, but are afraid to leave home in the current political climate.

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers can also find support through the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program (CRVFHP), which, in conjunction with health centers in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, offers free and reduced-cost health care services for both workers and their families. Moreover, CRVFHP makes its services accessible by providing transportation to and from appointments as well as on-farm and in-field intake and primary care services. 

Whether farmworkers from within immigrant and migrant communities will feel safe enough to access these services as often as they did in previous seasons is yet to be seen. 

www.hcsheadstart.org
www.massleague.org/Programs/CRVFarmWorkerHealthProgram/AboutCRVFHP-English.php

Local Traditions are Made in the Kitchen: Hadley’s Asparagus Supper

Story by Mary Reilly, Photography by Elaine Papa

Hadley grass is responsible for one of my springtime traditions: nearly getting rear-ended as I see a farm stand and brake for the first bunch of the season. A more longstanding local asparagus-based tradition is the First Congregational Church of Hadley’s annual Asparagus Supper. Since 1931, the volunteers from the congregation have been dishing up an all-you-can-eat asparagus feast one Saturday a year in May.

The meal’s choreography and menu remain the same from year to year: Hungry diners line up for a family-style dinner (the church offers two seatings), are escorted to their reserved seats, and dig into an endless procession of platters. The menu is simple and satisfying: rolls and butter, baked ham, potato salad, and thick spears of asparagus. Counter to our modern passion for al dente spears, the asparagus at this supper is steamed to tenderness. The mossy-green spears are juicy and addictive and disappear in a flash. Servers buzz through the room, trays heaped with seconds and thirds, so when a platter is scraped clean another materializes to take its place.

The menu highlights local food, from across Hadley and beyond, which streams into the kitchen all day long leading up to service: produce from Szawlowski Potato Farms, biscuits from Barstow’s Longview Farm Bakery, milk from Mapleline Farm, butter from Maple Valley Creamery, ice cream from Flayvors of Cook, and coffee from Esselon.  

Last May, I spent the day watching the event come together. One of the first chores the crew tackles is preparing the strawberries for dessert. A group of men, ranging in ages and experiences, mans the sinks. They wash, hull, and cut flat after flat of berries. The room rings with conversation––folks use the time to catch up, tell jokes, and share stories. They are neighbors and church fellows and family, and some have been slicing berries in this kitchen together for generations.

Before long, I’m recruited onto the asparagus-collection crew. We drive a few miles away to Joe Czajkowski’s farm, one of two providing asparagus for the supper (Boisvert Sugar Shack supplies the rest of the asparagus quota). When we arrive, the farm is in full harvest and pack mode. The process goes swiftly: Large totes of asparagus get sorted by size and placed onto a conveyor that leads to a scary-looking device that lops off the bottom-ends of each spear. They’re then banded into bunches and packed gently into wooden crates. Finally, they’re  loaded into the van and we head back to the church.  

By the time we return, the dinner tables have been set with china, coffee cups, and fresh flowers. I pop into the office and say hello to the team of ladies who manage the reservations. Yes, this is a casual family-style event, but reservations are essential. The table layout is a collection of names and seating assignments. Regular attendees know where they will be sitting, near friends and family, and the thoughtfully engineered floor plan ensures that will happen.

As the clocks ticks closer to the 5:00 seating, the energy in the kitchen starts to rev up. There is ham to slice, potato salad to platter, rolls to warm. The asparagus is loaded into a steamer to begin its transformation into tender morsels.

Diners start to line up by 4:30, waiting eagerly for the doors to open. Each guest is led to their table and the feast begins. People have been coming to this event for decades. I met Betty Pout: She and her family haven’t missed a supper in over 60 years. Melanie and Richard Sitnik, attendees for nearly 50 years, met for the first time over a platter of the church’s asparagus. Today they were dining as three generations, though their grandson Tyler hedged his bets and brought a bag of Cheerios “just in case.”

By 6:00, the first seating is over, and as satisfied diners file out of the church the volunteer crew starts to reset the tables for the 6:30 seating. The pattern repeats: Food comes flying out of the kitchen, diners reminisce and share stories, and the room fills with chatter and laughter.  

At the end of the night, I peek into the kitchen and see that group of men, neighbors and church fellows and family, clustered around the sinks again. This time, the basins are filled with dishes instead of strawberries. But stories are still being shared and jokes are still getting told as they wash and put away the platters, until next year.

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