Even with the best of intentions, buying locally is not easy. Some local farmers’ markets carry out of season produce from Mexico, and the gourmet super market has bread from 300 miles away. Battle local foods highlights the difficulty of buying all local foods in Philadelphia but also shares a local, seasonal, meal that is delicious and fun. Buying local foods just requires asking a few questions and learning where to go.
Two teams of friends create an appetizer, entrée, and dessert using only items that are either locally grown or locally produced. It was up to the diners to decide who would win the battle! Now let’s get local in RhodeyGirl’s kitchen, with special guests Heather of Hangry Pants and local food lovers Gina & Jake!
This fall I went to my local grocery store to get some apples, and I was appalled when I saw they were from Washington state. Pennylsvania has hundreds of apple orchards, yet our market was stocking apples from literally thousands of miles away. That experience made me become passionate about supporting local farms as well as local producers. Why go to Washington state for apples when less than an hour away we have Terhune Orchards? It doesn’t make sense.
While I still buy bananas & avocados (let’s face it- life would not be the same without peanut butter banana oatmeal and fresh guacamole), I try to buy as much local, seasonal produce as I can. When I learn about a small local company making chocolates or pretzels or whatever it is, I also try to support them.
Some items have been traded for thousands of years or are truly special, gourmet items that I don’t mind purchasing from all over the world. These include some brands of tuna packed in olive oil, Nutella straight from Italy (the U.S. version is just not the same), marcona almonds from Spain, olive oil from Greece, Italy, and Frog Hollow Farms in California, and every kitchen’s basic items like sugar, kosher salt, spices and flour.
I began the search for my items for our menu on Thursday of this week by stopping at a few super markets to see what local items they had to offer. For the first time I really paid attention to the recently mandated country of origin labels. I found shrimp from India, pine nuts from China, and lots of produce from Mexico and California. I was surprised that even the asparagus, which I know can be sourced locally, came from California.
On Saturday morning I continued my search by stopping at a few local markets. My favorite one was the Rittenhouse Square farmers’ market. Every vendor there carries locally grown or produced items.
I have been to markets before that actually buy their produce from places like Costco and then place them in small baskets to give that farm feel. I only know this because one day I asked, and the gentleman shared that knowledge with me. Luckily, Rittenhouse market has all local items, and I confirmed just to be sure. I also visited the Reading Terminal Market, The Pretzel Factory, Whole Foods,DiBruno’s and a grocery store.
The other team visited Suburban Square market, Lancaster County, and a grocery store. For a list of all Philadelphia’s Farmers’ Markets you can visit the farm to city website. Many of them will be opening in the next two weeks, including my local one, the Fairmount Farmers’ Market!
In this challenge we were allowed to use items that have been traded or imported for a long time such as spices, olive oil, salt, etc. Everything else, however, had to be locally grown or locally produced. Diners were given ballots to judge each dish based on taste, presentation, originality, and adherence to the challenge.
The two teams were both really excited to take on the challenge, as all four of us are passionate about local foods in some way. On one team we had Gina & Jake, a husband and wife couple that planned their strategy for over a week. Gina typically only buys organic meats and tries to buy organic produce when possible.
On the other team we had Heather of Hangry Pants and yours truly. I buy mostly organic dairy (with the exception of specialty cheeses for PB), organic meats, and try to support local farms when possible, as I mentioned above. You all probably know Heather by now, but if you don’t head on over to HangryPants.com to read more about her. Heather & Mark came to Philadelphia just for this fun battle. So exciting!
Here is the Battle Local Foods menu:
*Asparagus and fresh mozzarella bruschetta
*Whole wheat fettuccini in a fresh basil cream sauce with roasted grape tomatoes (Photo courtesy of hangrypants.com)
*Rhubarb crumb cake with fresh vanilla ice cream
*Philly soft pretzel chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream
Note from the teams: While over 90% of each item on the menu was sourced locally, both teams used a few items against challenge rules. Gina & Jake used fresh lime, and Heather and I used a bit of parmigiano reggiano and some mustard. We also put out an assortment of cheeses & cracker trays (not part of the challenge- but containing a few local cheeses) for everyone to enjoy.
The diners/voters really got into the battle and left interesting and funny notes about the foods.
Here are some of them:
-O.K. (sorry, not a fan of bruschetta)
-needs salt, yummy!
-danger: toothpick. Bread needs more toasting. I like the oil. Cheese needs more bite: provolone maybe?
-I liked this a lot!! Very fresh & very delicious! A fun dish- good for parties. I would eat this at a wedding.
-not enough flavor
-love the mint!
-a little too much balsamic
-danger: possibly has (unintelligible word); needs cheese like bruschetta. I don’t like vinegar.
-Just a lil’ more kick would have been good. I could have used some local cheese- but that would have given me gas.
-Like the mint! Actually, love the mint!
-Looks and tastes good. Not great, but good.
-needs salt + spinach needs more cooking and flavor
-chicken little dry. Broccoli rabe taste (writer’s note: it was spinach!). stuffing was confusing
-This was good, but I didn’t get the local flavor. Still, very delicious!
-would prefer seasoned bread crumbs. Needs more seasoning
-Just very blah! Sorry.
-needs more salt + flavor. Too much basil
-not too cheesy, perfectly cooked pasta. Tomatoes surprisingly pleasant
-liked the tomatoes, would like more. Needs more seasoning.
-This was good. A little heavy for my liking. I think this might give me gas, but that is not your fault- it’s my problem.
-very nice! With what was faced with (local foods)
Rhubarb Crumb Cake:
-Sorry, really does not taste good. I can’t eat it, and that’s saying something.
-sad face. This dish confused me. But I do appreciate the originality of the use of the rhubarb.
-I like the cake better than the crumbs
Philly Pretzel Bread Pudding:
-A pleasant surprise in my mouth- needs more chocolate sauce drizzled
-Awesome! I want this every night. If this is Sabrina, make this more. If this is Jake/Gina, please come over soon. YUM!
-Wish the pretzels were more moist/soft- more pudding like…
A few surprises:
-I was shocked to learn that the pine nuts at our market come from China. Where can one find local nuts?
-Our guests did not like rhubarb! This was surprising because I found it to be absolutely delicious. I wonder if my taste buds have changed?
-Everyone was as excited about the battle as we were!
Preparing a meal from start to finish using only locally grown and locally produced foods was a challenge, but both teams did so successfully and we put together a great dinner. Head out to your local grocery store or farmers’ market, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the source.