Chris is an incredible chef, food enthusiast, globe traveler and (along with her husband Jim) a huge fan of all things British and French! In this post, Chris gives a 'shout out' to local Ohio farmers who are striving for excellence and making top quality product! Buy local, folks, and you buy right!
It's all Jim's fault. "Look," he prods. I peer into the meat case to see the most beautifully marbleized slab of Ohio beef, cut to London Broil perfection. "Sunday?" I agree with enthusiasm. Jim has very few signature dishes, but this is one that qualifies him as a Master of the Universe.
We are great little weekend shoppers, so off we go, ca et la, here for meat, there for wine, but always to Marc's for fruit and veg. Really? Yes, really. Marc's, at least in our Coventry neighborhood, has a solid produce section, much of it organic, and all of it priced well. Being a notoriously parsimonious shopper, I always check prices and labels.
OK, so now I'm thinking about potatoes with that beef. I usually like a Yukon Gold, but I spy something that I haven't seen in a long time; potatoes in a paper bag. "Heartland White Potatoes" the banner reads as it unfurls across the front and over a funny mesh opening. Marked "Michael Farms, Inc., Urbana, Ohio." Well, yay! -- local spuds in a paper bag! And then when I see the small print under the mesh window, "Place this side down to prevent greening" I know what's going home with me.
So fast forward, where for reasons too boring to list, the potatoes never leave their sack, as they say in Ohio. Early the next Saturday, a full week later, I enter the kitchen to see said sack giving me the stink eye: cook me or I'm compost. So I do, and I'm shocked that not one is green or has a sprouted eye. All five pounds go into a soup pot and forty minutes later, I fish out 15 steaming-hot potatoes, some the size of hamburger buns. I halve them to cool, and abandon the spuds to secure my lounge chair on the deck.
As I peel each one, and start nibbling on them, I realize that I have the creamiest, most flavor-packed potatoes yet eaten. Not one skin was split, not one piece crumbles as I cut them for potato salad. They are perfect. OMG what is this vegetable? I make enough potato salad for the whole neighborhood. I am the Barefoot Contessa.
Back at work I keep thinking about Michael Farms, Inc. in Urbana, Ohio. We haven't yet joined a CSA, that's for next year, but my drive to buy local makes me curious enough to check out their website, also printed on the bag/sack. Michael Farms is a third generation farm, and they all farm armed with degrees from Ohio State University. They grow only four vegetables: sweet corn, green beans, cabbage, and red and white potatoes. They hire local people to help them harvest. And best of all, get this: they deliver from field to store in 24 hours. 24 hours! If I picked them myself I wouldn't have vegetables any fresher.
The email, at the bottom of their website page, beckons me. I write a thank you with details, pointing out the lure of the bag/sack and its message for freshness. I feel pretty good, and I send it, on company time, so my Ohio big city address goes with it. I want them to know that the urban prairie appreciates their excellence. And they write me back in minutes! Holy Toledo! Farmer Michael thanks me for my positive comments and gives me bit more detail. He tells me that although the bag/sack is more expensive than plastic, it keeps the potatoes fresher, longer. And that white potatoes have less carbohydrates than russets, giving them a creamy texture (so true).
I'm astonished. I'm over the moon. My mother used to accuse me of being a food snob. "I'm not, I'd say, really not." "I'm an ingredient snob." And shouldn't we all be? It's only a potato, but it is also three generations of a local family working hard to produce excellent nutrition. For you, and for me.