As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.
Photo by Judith Hausman
Ivy isn’t the only green you see around the hallowed halls of Harvard University. Recently, I shopped at the small but well-stocked farmers’ market right on campus, located between the famous Harvard Yard and science center. The weekly market is organized by the university’s hospitality and dining services and sponsored by their Food Literacy Project. Harvard also sponsors a Friday market across the Charles River in Allston.
What I remember most about the dining services in my college years is that I could eat ice cream every day, rectangles of it wrapped in cardboard sleeves. Today, though, students’ awareness of and participation in what they eat has exploded. While Yale University has probably been the Ivy League leader in campus gardens (coinciding with Alice Waters’ daughter’s attendance there), Harvard is catching up. (Bowdoin College, way up in chilly Maine, is also noted for its locavore/sustainable dining services).
Photo by Judith Hausman
The dining services’ Food Literacy Project also helped set up a student-run garden, sponsors events that address community hunger and nutrition in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health and leads other sustainable-food efforts on campus. Campus gardens not only nourish students and community but also can be integrated into curricula.
On that sunny, hot and humid afternoon, the lilies and snapdragons for sale were wilting in their buckets, but the shoppers were smiling. The produce at the Plato’s Harvest (Middleboro, Mass.) stand was nearly sold out. I bought three roly-poly, green-and-yellow patty pan squash. I like to sauté the scalloped slices in garlic and olive oil or grill them with a freckling of chili powder. Ward’s Berry Farm (Sharon, Mass.), where I’ve picked strawberries myself, had precious, translucent currants for sale, but we bought two brimming pints of the tart blueberries, one to keep one to give away to our hosts.
I resisted the buttery smells coming from the Danish Pastry Shop (Watertown, Mass.) stand, even though they make a dense, dark health bread that looked terrific, but I couldn’t resist the four-year aged, artisanal Gouda from Narragansett Creamery (Providence, R.I.). It’s hard for a small cheesemaker to keep a cheese out of circulation to age it that long, and I was curious to see how they did with it.
I didn’t buy beets that day at Harvard, but how can I not include a recipe for Harvard Beets here? The unverified story is that this preparation was either created by a Harvard student or named with a mispronunciation of Harwood, the name of an English tavern where the recipe was created. This style began to appear in cookbooks in the early 1900s.
Recipe: “Educated” Beets
3 pounds fresh beets, trimmed (Reserve greens for another use.)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup cider vinegar, or 1/4 cup cider and 1/4 cup tarragon vinegar
2 T. unsalted butter
Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
Simmer* the beets in water or half orange juice, half water, until tender, about 40 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid.
When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and cut the beets into a 1/4-inch dice. You should have about 6 cups of diced beets.
In a medium-sized pot, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, vinegar and reserved beet liquid. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Whisking constantly, cook for 30 seconds or until thickened. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until melted.
Stir in the diced beets and cook to heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
*Or, roast and peel the beets using OJ and any captured juices for the sauce. You can add some chopped tarragon at the end, too.