A Local Food Love Story

For Ilene Bezahler, editor and publisher of Edible Boston, a love for local food and the personal stories of its producers are at the heart of why she publishes the magazine.

Edible Boston, which is published quarterly, focuses on local food and the people who love and create it. Although the name implies Boston, the magazine covers five counties: Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Worcester and Norfolk.

Bezahler began Edible Boston without any publishing knowledge and a dislike of writing, but understood the mission of the magazine, “to get people to understand local food,” she said, and to be a resource for people about what is happening locally with food in their communities.

Though Bezahler is the only staff of Edible Boston and produces the magazine out of her Brookline home, she works with many freelancers regularly including Sarah Blackburn, who holds the title of recipe editor and has been working with Bezahler since 2010. Andrea Pyenson has been writing about food for 15 years, including for The Boston Globe, and has been contributing to Edible Boston for about six years.

Bezahler decided she needed a career change in the wake of 9/11 after a long career in promotional marketing. The work she was doing was “not politically in line” with her views and she felt a “moral disconnect” by “pushing bad products to people around the world,” Bezahler said.

The career change resulted in a position at Allandale Farm, located on the border of Brookline and Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Allandale Farm has been operating for 375 years and is one of the oldest continually working farms in Greater Boston. The way Bezahler got the job was by telling General Manager John Lee that she wanted to work there. He gave her the opportunity.

“I really got to understand the difference between agriculture and agribusiness,” she said. “I absolutely adored it.”

Around her 50th birthday in 2005, Bezahler spent a day moving about 400 pounds of tomatoes and hurt her shoulder. It was then she realized it was time to figure out what was next.

On a trip to Long Island, Bezahler read a copy of Edible East End. In December 2005, she bought the license for Edible Boston. At the time, it was the 10th publication in the Edible community. “Now there are over 90,” Bezahler said.

Publishing the magazine was a way for Bezahler to fulfill her ethics, paired with an appreciation for the local economy that came from working at Allandale Farm.

Blackburn had “known Ilene from farmers markets,” and began working with Edible Boston with advertising and marketing through Facebook and Twitter. She then began editing the recipes sent in for the reader’s recipe contest, which features stories and recipes from readers in the magazine, in 2012. From there, Blackburn began writing columns as well.

Blackburn was raised living a lifestyle that valued food, “We never had any packaged food in the house,” she said.

She read cookbooks growing up and “liked them more than novels.”

Blackburn moved away from an interest in local food to the best of imported goods during her time as an imports manager for Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. She would go on buying trips to Europe and bring back the “best of something from 2,000 miles away,” Blackburn said.

But this “went back on what I learned growing up,” Blackburn said.

In 2002, when Bezahler began working for Allandale Farm, “local food wasn’t anything yet. Nobody thought about it,” Bezahler said.

The local food movement in Boston has evolved during the nine years that Bezahler has been publishing Edible Boston with the large number of farmers markets in Boston, which are the “main venue for many people to get their products out,” Bezahler said.

For Pyenson, talking with local farmers has “changed the way I shop,” she said.

Blackburn “loves going to farms to see what’s growing,” she said.

Bezahler has noticed changes in the products at farmers markets as well. Certain food categories were expected at farmers markets and before there was “never meat or protein,” Bezahler said, but now meat can be purchased.

As the local food movement has developed, the mission of Edible Boston has also changed. Bezahler is “more concerned about the sustainability of individuals. Farmers don’t support themselves through farming,” she said, describing many farmers as “land rich, but bank poor.” Small artisan food producers struggle as well because even though the sale prices are high for their products, they aren’t making any money related to the actual cost of producing goods, Bezahler said.

Pyenson enjoys “finding and writing about local food producers,” she said, especially when they have anything to do with her love of pastry and chocolate.

“People who do it are so passionate,” Pyenson said, speaking of artisan food producers.

Now in her work with Edible Boston, Blackburn is once again valuing local food, and more importantly the “stories behind food,” she said.

As part of the recipes included in each issue, Blackburn also wants to educate readers about ingredients and “where you can find things locally,” as well as seasonally, she said.

When she edits recipe submissions from Edible Boston readers, she is looking not only for a good recipe, but also why someone makes it. She asks, “Who does this recipe remind you of?”

Pyenson is “always looking for a good story,” and has often found this with food producers who are following their passion and “just love what they’re doing,” she said.

An interest in the bean-to-bar chocolate industry inspired some of Pyenson’s stories, including one for the most recent issue of Edible Boston about Somerville Chocolate. Pyenson was a judge at a fundraising chocolate competition this past spring, when she met Eric Parkes, Somerville Chocolate’s owner. “His chocolate was really good,” she said. (Read her story here.)

Pyenson decided to pursue a story about Parkes and his chocolate business because when she “meet[s] someone like that, and get a good feel,” she know a good story will follow.

There are challenges when writing about artisan producers, Pyenson said and the timing of a story is important so as not to write about something too soon. This could kill a business if it can’t meet the demand and isn’t widely available, which frustrates readers, Pyenson said.

Pyenson’s goal for her stories is reflective of Edible Boston’s purpose. She is “always on the lookout for something people don’t know about. I want to tell them about it,” she said.

“Boston is a major player in the local food movement,” Bezahler said, and Edible Boston is chronicling the story.

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For more on what it is like for farmers preparing and attending a farmers market, read this story published by The Kitchn.

Mei Mei Kitchen is a Boston restaurant committed to sustainability and serving local products. I visited after talking with Edible Boston’s Ilene Bezahler and getting her recommendations for restaurants who use local food. Mei Mei Kitchen is “fun and delicious,” Bezahler said. Check out the gallery of photos from my visit.

As part of my exploration of local food and products, I learned about Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville. I was inspired to check out local bean-to-bar producers after reading Andrea Pyenson’s stories in the winter issue of Edible Boston and talking with her about her own love of chocolate. But when there’s chocolate involved I really don’t need any convincing.

Photos and video by Jessica McWeeney.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…for Baking

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I kicked off my Christmas countdown with a viewing of one of my favorite holiday movies, Love Actually, on Thanksgiving night after a day of playing in the snow and eating way too much good food. December is here and the decorations are up in my apartment, so now it is time to turn up the Christmas music and get baking!

The holidays are some of the best times for baking because so many events revolve around food. I’ve been getting some inspiration from watching the Holiday Baking Championship on the Food Network, which speaks to my love of food competition shows and my sweet tooth. It’s a winning combination that gets me in a baking mood.

Traditional buche de noel

Traditional buche de noel

I don’t have many traditions when it comes to Christmas baking. I usually will make some cookies and sometimes I go to my aunt’s house to help her family decorate all of the cookies they make. For Christmas dinner the dessert usually varies. This year, I am looking forward to trying out some new recipes. Last year I was in France for Christmas and made a buche de noel (yule log) with the family I was with. The springy rolled cake was surprisingly easy to make and was really delicious. I’m planning to make some version of it again this year and maybe get a little more creative with decorating it as well.

Here are some holiday recipes (133 of them!) to get you started this season from the Brown Eyed Baker, conveniently organized into categories.

Photo by Nathan2055 and photo by Jebulon, published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. 

I’m Thankful for Apple Pie

Classic apple pie

Classic apple pie

One of my favorite parts of every holiday meal is dessert, both because I have a sweet tooth, but also because I am a picky eater and usually find more I like at dessert than dinner. Over the years, I have also enjoyed volunteering to make a dessert for the party.

A snowy Wednesday before  Thanksgiving in NH

A snowy Wednesday before Thanksgiving in NH

Thanksgiving means pie, particularly apple pie. This year I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family in New Hampshire. It felt more like Christmas with the six or so inches of snow that fell on Wednesday. So with the snow falling outside and a fire blazing in the stove, I began my pie.

I’ve made apple pie quite often, but I have yet to find my perfect recipe. This year, I tried a recipe for classic double-crust apple pie from The Kitchn. I used a combination of Cortland and Empire apples. Using several varieties will give your pie a greater depth of flavor.

This recipe was a little involved, so if you are looking for a simple recipe this really isn’t it. It isn’t difficult, just time consuming and has many steps. If you do plan to try it, make sure you have plenty of time.

The dough recipe is straightforward and I mixed it together by hand using two knives

The dough divided and wrapped in plastic

The dough divided and wrapped in plastic

instead of the food processor. Then it gets divided in half and refrigerated for at least an hour. I learned a great new tip this week. Instead of using ice water for your dough, use the same amount of apple cider for the liquid. Tasty!

While waiting for my dough to cool, I prepared the apples. They are precooked in this recipe, which helps to combat any separation between the filling and crust that might occur while baking. The seasoning are basic. I increased the amounts by about double because I like a stronger spice flavor.

Cooking the apples for the pie filling

Cooking the apples for the pie filling

As my apples cooled, I rolled out the dough. I liked that it was fairly easy to handle even though it had been in the refrigerator. Once the dough has been rolled out gone into the pie plate, it once again goes into the fridge (see, a lot of small steps).

After everything has cooled, the pie can be assembled. You can freeze your pie if you are making it in advance or bake it right away. I made and baked mine the day before serving.

One thing I do really like about this recipe, is that the steps are explained in detail with the reasoning behind what you are doing. Keeping the dough cool, for example, so that the butter doesn’t melt will result in a flakier crust.

The filling goes into the pie crust

The filling goes into the pie crust

The flavor of the pie was fantastic. I really liked the apple combination and the crust tasted great and wasn’t too heavy (make sure to use butter, it tastes better than shortening). I think I could achieve similarly good results without some of the steps in this recipe, but overall I enjoyed the baking process with some help from family and to see how quickly the pie disappeared on Thanksgiving made it all worthwhile.

Classic Double Crust Apple Pie

The assembled pie waiting to be baked

The assembled pie waiting to be baked

Yields one 9-inch pie (recipe from The Kitchn) 

For the crust:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
12 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water (or the same amount of apple cider)

For the apple filling:
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, or to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon)
5 pounds of various sweet and tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices (I used Cortland and Empire)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tapioca flour (I didn’t bother with this, but it might be worth trying)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white, lightly whisked

For the crust: Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and continue pulsing until the majority resembles coarse meal and the remainder of butter is the size of small peas, 5 to 10 quick pulses.

Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Run your hands through the flour, using your fingers to pinch any remaining larger pieces of butter into smaller crumbles. Add 1/2 cup of cold water to the mixture and toss with your hand until shaggy clumps begin to form. Sprinkle more water over the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until about three quarters of the dough holds together when squeezed with your fingertips; the remainder should still quite dry and crumbly. Turn the entire mixture onto a work surface. Gather the loose bits into the dough and use the heel of your hand to press, i.e. smear, the dough out in a few forward, sharp motions.

Divide the dough in half with a bench scraper and transfer each section to a sheet of plastic wrap. Gather the edges of the plastic wrap tightly to form a round mass. Use the heel of your hand to flatten the ball into a disk — this allows you to shape the dough and collect any remaining crumbs. Chill the dough for at least one hour, or overnight.

Remove the disks from the refrigerator, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured work surface. (If refrigerated longer than one hour, let sit for 15 to 20 minutes until pliable.) Begin rolling out the first disk, rotating the dough a quarter of a turn after every few rolls and lightly dusting the underside with additional flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until the diameter of the dough is 3 to 4 inches larger than a 9-inch pie pan and about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.

Use a bench scraper to gently loosen the dough from the work surface. Fold the dough in half away from you, lift, and carefully arrange over the pie plate, aligning the seam with the center of the pan. Open it up and gently ease the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Roll out the other portion of dough into a circle about 1-inch larger than the pan. Transfer this round to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate both the bottom crust and the top crust for at least 30 minutes.

For the pie: Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven (or divide into two skillets if necessary) over medium heat until foaming. Add the sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the butter and stir until combined. Gently fold in the apples.

Cover and cook the apples, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is boiling and the apples have started to soften, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the cider vinegar, tapioca flour, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Make a well in the apples and pour the mixture into the bottom of the pot. Gently toss to combine. Continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes; you want the apples to become tender but still have a little bite. Allow the warm filling to cool at least 30 minutes, or overnight, before continuing.

To assemble the pie: Place a parchment-lined (just in case the pie leaks, as it inevitably does) baking sheet on the center rack in the oven and preheat to 425° F.

Remove the pie pan from the refrigerator and brush the insides of the pie shell with a thin layer of egg whites (to help prevent it from becoming soggy and to improve crispness). Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the cooled apples to the pie, creating a tall mound in the center. Pour the excess juices from the Dutch oven into a liquid measuring cup. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the liquid over the apples and discard the rest.

Drape the second round of dough over the pie. Use kitchen shears to trim the excess to about 3/4-inch. Fold the edge of the top crust over the bottom crust and gently pinch to seal. Use the index finger of one hand and the thumb and index finger of the other to create a fluted edge. Cut 5 slits into a star pattern in the center. Brush the top crust with remaining egg whites and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

→ If at any point during these steps the dough begins to feel too warm, put the pan in the freezer for a few minutes to firm back up. The assembled pie can also be completely frozen for four months (see Recipe Notes).

Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet and cook for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 325°F and cook until golden brown and bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cool the pie on a wire rack for a minimum of three hours, or overnight, before slicing. As it rests, the fruit will reabsorb some of the juices; if you cut too soon, the pie will be soupy. Serve with ice cream.

The pie will keep at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days and refrigerated for up to five days. Reheat in a 350°F oven until warmed through.

Photos by Jessica McWeeney.

Canned Cranberry Sauce Has New England History

Cranberry harvest in Massachusetts

Cranberry harvest in Massachusetts

Ocean Spray began producing the jelly-like canned cranberry sauce in 1912. This long history of why we eat canned cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is explained in a post by The Kitchn.

Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America. Wisconsin produces the majority of the cranberry crop, over half of the world’s total crop, according to the post. New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts are also producers.

Cranberries are native to Massachusetts, which may account for their association with the Thanksgiving meal. “It’s widely accepted that the Pilgrims were introduced to the berry and its many uses by the Native Americans,” The Kitchn said. This would make it likely that cranberries were part of the meal at the first Thanksgiving.

The rise of canned cranberry can be linked to changes in harvesting techniques for commercially grown cranberries, largely by the Ocean Spray company. Cranberries grow on vines and were originally “dry harvested,” which was very labor intensive. In the 1930s, wet harvesting was introduced, which involves flooding the cranberry bog and loosening the berries. It also produces berries that aren’t perfect enough to be sold in stores. The solution Ocean Spray came up with was to can the cranberries.

Who knew that jiggling, can shaped cranberry sauce that will probably end up on your Thanksgiving table had this background? If you are like me and prefer not to partake of this classic side, here are some recipes for making your own fresh cranberry sauce.

Photo by HalBrown and published under a Creative Commons (cc) license. Some rights reserved. 

Is Pumpkin Pie Boston’s Favorite?

Pumpkin pie tops the list of favorite pies by people in Mass. Boston.com gathered some data through Facebook using either mentions or likes of pie varieties to get there tallies. Pumpkin was the overwhelming favorite in Mass. with just about 51 percent of the likes or mentions.

This may not be the most scientific way of going about gathering data, but it is certainly creative. Boston.com put together a pie chart (ha!) to represent the five most popular pies. Apple pie was a close second with 41.8 percent.

What would you imagine came in last? Boston creme pie (is this really even considered a pie though? I’m pretty sure it’s cake) with only 1.7 percent of the mentions.

There is a poll up on the site right now so you can cast your vote for your favorite pie. I wonder if those results will reflect the same information as the Facebook searching. I just voted, and you can also see how many other people have voted for your favorite pie variety. (So far apple is in the lead).

Forgetting the Traditional Desserts this Thanksgiving

IMG_3565

The countdown is on to Thanksgiving! I am looking forward to taking a little break from all of the work I have and enjoying some good food with some great people.

I came across this post a few days ago from the Huffington Post with some non-traditional dessert suggestions. I’m always torn when somebody suggests changing up my traditions. For years I would always watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and make pumpkin muffins on Thanksgiving morning, and the day after was for putting up the Christmas decorations. Once I even tried the “tradition” of not eating anything on Thanksgiving until the big meal. That was a tradition I chose not to continue. So suggesting non-traditional desserts gives me pause. Trust me, when you see what this list has to offer you’ll be saying pumpkin pie who? The caramel apple blondie cheesecake and rosemary corn cake with honey & brown butter frosting look particularly delicious.

I will be making an apple pie for Thanksgiving this year, as I usually do. (There will be a post, so check back for that). If I wasn’t going to a meal at someone else’s house, I would add one of these recipes to my menu. Lucky for me, these are desserts that can be enjoyed at any time, so I’ll just add them to my “to-bake” list instead.

The full list will inspire you to start a new tradition. Happy feasting!

Photo by Jessica McWeeney.