Local…really local

When I lived in Salisbury, N.C., an old-time grocery store was a five-minute walk from my duplex. Pope & Arey had

sign at entrance to bickett market near five points, raleigh nc

sign at entrance to bickett market near five points, raleigh nc

worn wooden floors and minimal grocery items, but the draws were the meats and, to a lesser extent, produce. Most of the meats didn’t come from big companies because P&A was a small, independent place. It was the first time I got a sense that chicken could taste different from the stuff in the garish supermarket packages. The guys behind the butcher counter could tell you how to cook anything, from the sausage they ground in the store (scooped from a mound molded to look like a pig) to a fancy roast. I still use the method they recommended when I have occasion to roast a standing rib.

I thought about P&A when I walked into Bickett Market, a new Raleigh, N.C. market near Five Points. The wooden floors of the building for one thing. But mostly that the produce, meats, breads and seafood, and a handful of condiments and other prepared items, are local. In some cases, the produce is extremely local. The market works with New Grass Gardens, a company that specializes in edible landscapes. “A lot of it is grown in my yard by New Grass, and other yards in the neighborhood,” says Jason Stegall of the market.

The owners visit farms and select the pigs for the market’s pork offerings, including lard, which a recent missive to the store’s email list called it “ten times better than the best butter you have ever tasted…the all-natural fat is actually healthy for you.” Well, I don’t know about that health claim, but it does show the hands-on aspect of the market and their enthusiasm for products. The store also offers French Label Rouge heritage chickens from Triple T Farms in Fuquay-Varina, free-range eggs, coffee and roasted cornmeal from Muddy Dog Coffee Roasters, and other goodies.

There’s a variety of local items – but don’t expect everything to be there all the time. Many of the items are available in small amounts – produce, especially, as the weather and season dictate. Stegall says that most customers at the store, which has been open since mid-July, “get it,” that all-local, all-the-time can mean variability. Bickett received an unexpected number of shoppers recently due to an online coupon promotion, and Stegall said some shoppers brought in by the coupon didn’t understand why some items were sold out.

It’s not easy to get to the market with the current road construction in the area, but there’s plenty of room once you get there. And for the neighborhood, it’s a real asset. Find out more about the market here, and sign up for the email list to find out the latest on what’s in the store.

Point to a new farmer’s market

I love to see new farmer’s markets sprout. Residents of Raleigh’s Five Points have a new one in their own ‘hood as of May 1. The Five Points Farmers Market will operate each Saturday through Oct. 30, 8 a.m. to noon, in the parking lot of Nofo at The Pig on Fairview Road. According to market manager Anne Atkinson, there are nine permanent vendors, including Southport Seafood, Yellow Dog Bread Company and Bee Blessed Farm (honey and eggs). Two different guest vendors will be part of the market each week.

Food news roundup

It’s strawberry picking time! The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has recipes and a list of the area’s pick-your-own farms. Grab a bucket and head here.

Kathleen Purvis at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer muses on what makes a great cookbook. Hint: It’s not how many times you yell “Bam!” on TV. See if you agree with her here.

The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) gives the ol’ raspberry to the idea that the bumpy fruit is hard to grow in North Carolina. Don’t miss the author’s Favorite Raspberry Breakfast Recipe. I definitely share the sentiment. Read it here.

As cook at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C. for 34 years, Sylvester Murray has prepared food for people from all over the world who come to study at the lab. He his collected his recipes in a book, and the story is in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, here.

Pasta is classic, versatile and just good – and, apparently, preparing it is still frightening to many people. If you seek perfect pasta, look no further than the Dallas Morning News. It’s all explained here.

As the old song goes, “sixteen tons, and whaddya get?” For one Boston bakery, it was a French brick-and-copper oven that weighed that much and cost $90,000. Read about it in the Boston Globe, here.

Party at the market

If you live in West Raleigh, there’s a small gem on the N.C. State University campus worth braving the parking hassles to visit. A completely student-run farmer’s market sets up on the Brickyard every Wednesday during the spring and fall semesters from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. And, yes, students came up with the idea. All vendors sell North Carolina-produced items. Besides fresh produce, there is exotic ravioli from the Pasta Wench in Boone, roasted corn cornmeal (it has an interesting smoky flavor) from Carolina Grits & Co. in Rocky Mount and other vendors.

On April 14, the organizers are throwing “Localpalooza,” with food samples, music and information on finding locally produced food.

With NCSU’s agricultural roots, a market makes sense; with the stereotype of student eating (pizza and burgers), it doesn’t. Read about how the market came about in my article here. For information on the market, visit its blog here.

Spring into farmers markets

The Western Wake Farmers Market in Cary, N.C. has a big celebration planned for its spring opening on April 3.  Chef Ricky Moore of Giorgio Restaurant in Cary will share samples of Goat Cheese-Lavender Fritters with Local Honey, there will be information on starting community gardens, face painting for the kids and live music.

The market will be open each Saturday from April 3 through Nov. 20, 8 a.m. to noon, at 1226 Morrisville-Carpenter Road, Cary. The growers/producers only market sells goods made within 125 miles. For more information, check the web site.

Do you heart local food?

Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday (this Sunday, just in case you haven’t made arrangements for that special food blogger in your life). If you want to leave your evening free for other activities, and do something different, consider the “I Love U Lunch.” Slow Food Triangle, The Abundance Foundation and the economic advocacy group Loom are bringing together a list of local food producers including Celebrity Dairy, Scratch Baking, Carolina Brewery and the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro, N.C. The lunch, which will be held from 1 p.m. to -4 p.m. in the historic Chatham Mills in Pittsboro, N.C., will raise awareness of renovations at the mill and benefit the food co-op there, Chatham Marketplace. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door (children under 12 are $8), and can be purchased here.

You can warm up for Valentine’s Day and feel good about it on Wednesday, Feb. 10.  Fleming’s Steakhouse at
Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. holds  “Wine Wednesday” each month to benefit a different charity. This month’s charity is the Lucy Daniels Center, a nonprofit which provides mental health services for children. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., five different wines will be available by the glass at the bar at $10 per glass. All of that money goes to the charity.   There’ll also be complementary appetizers.

And while we’re all in a loving mood, don’t forget that it’s CSA sign-up time – show the love to your favorite farmer. Find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  in your part of North Carolina in this list at the Growing Small Farms section of the Chatham County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. Thanks to Debbie Roos of the extension service for compiling this excellent resource.

Green grows the kitchen

It’s all or nothing in the wonderful garden world. Not surprisingly, the first box of vegetables from my CSA at Coon Rock Farm is fluffy and leafy. Spinach, some exotic cabbage and lettuce – lots of frilly lettuce.

In addition, my neighbor-gardener Tom called the other day to ask if I wanted some lettuce from his backyard, before the un-springlike heat makes it bolt and become bitter. I didn’t realize “some” meant three gallon plastic bags full. Next time, I’ll ask for a definition.

I will long for this green stuff in a few months. For now, it makes for monochromatic meals. This afternoon, I’ve been rummaging through cookbooks, looking for ideas. The triumvirate of greens-olive oil-garlic in a hot saute pan (maybe a little chile pepper, too) is heavenly in its simplicity, but some variety would be nice, too. There’s a classic Italian dish that combines greens with potatoes which looks quite promising. Who has some other ideas?