Farmed and foraged
When Executive Chef Katherine Miller opens the doors of one of her four dehydrators to show the seed crackers drying within, there are her garden chives as bold, linear stripes in a pattern of swirling beet and carrot shavings. Each matzoh-size cracker is an abstract painting: iridescent plumy reds and oranges and strands of green against the grainy background.
Even on a gray morning, the kitchen of the center is bright with light streaming through its many large windows.
"I try to think of what colors are," Miller says of the crackers she and her staff are preparing to serve along with kale chips as accompaniments to cream of wild ramp and wild watercress soup. They will be the first course of a gourmet vegan dinner on Saturday part of Berkshire Grown's Farmed and Foraged weekend.
Berkshire Grown, the county nonprofit that promotes farm-to-table dining and seasonal eating, is celebrating spring's bounty of wild and cultivated foods Friday through Sunday at the suggestion of new board member Nancy Thomas, owner of Mezze Restaurant Group.
Seventeen area restaurants are offering three-course prix-fixe menus or a la carte selections featuring wild edibles, locally grown produce, Berkshire artisan cheeses, heritage-breed meats, locally farmed fish, and locally made bread, chocolate, beers, ciders and spirits.
"We've been part of Berkshire Grown for a few years, but I've just gotten more active with them going to meetings, meeting more of the farmers and meeting more of the chefs," Miller explains.
In the early 1980s, she studied macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute when it was in Boston and has been cooking vegetarian and vegan food for more than 30 years. She moved to California to study the connections between culture, consciousness, enlightenment and the future with Andrew Cohen, teacher and founder of Enlighten-Next which until this year was called Enlightenment Now.
She has been cooking for the 60 to 125 people who study, live and/or work at EnlightenNext since she returned to the Berk-shires from California in 1996 with her husband, Robert Heinzman, publisher of EnlightenNext magazine.
"It's a little like a coming-out party for me," she says.
It is the first time the public is invited in to sample the party version of what Miller serves every day at EnlightenNext.
"I've started to meet a lot of the local chefs. They always ask me where I cook. This is a way for me to invite people in to experience the kind of whole, live foods we specialize in."
Her menu offers, in addition to the soup and accompaniments, warm sprouted lentil salad on mesclun with chive dressing; quinoa and walnuts wrapped in sorrel leaves with mushroom demi-glace, glazed shittake mushrooms, crispy yellow oyster mushrooms, and braised cattails; home grown sour cherry-rhubarb coco-nut custard tarts in almond-date crust sprinkled with violets; and organic wines..
For many Berkshire chefs and restaurateurs, such as Castle Street Café's Michael Ballon, Old Inn on the Green's Peter Platt, Red Lion's Brian Alberg and Williamsville Inn's Erhart Wendt, this farmed and foraged celebration highlights what they do all year some for many years.
Offering seasonal, local foods, "is what we do since we opened every week of the year," Ballon commented.
But, in the spirit of the event, he is adding a spinach salad from Equinox Farm in Sheffield, with a boiled egg from North Plain Farm in Great Barrington whose yolk will remind diners what eggs truly are. He is also serving shad roe from either the Hudson or Connecticut river (whose highly regulated catch is limited to just a few weeks in the spring) served with wild ramps (wild garlic leeks); and fettuccine Bolognese made with grass-fed natural beef from Cricket Creek Farm in Williams-town among other dishes.
The Old Inn on the Green already serves local eggs from several different places and "the usual list of local foods": milk and cream from High Lawn Farm in Lee, greens from Equinox Farm in Sheffield, goat cheese from Raw-son Brook Farm in Monterey, micro greens from Snow Farm, asparagus from Taft Farm in Great Barrington.
"We have our own herbs. We have our own honey (my wife) Meredith gathered last summer. We gather local ramps and fiddleheads (unopened ferns) and we have morels (prized wild spring mushrooms," Platt said. "All of this is on our menu now."
Chef Alberg calls the weekend "a great kickoff for the new season."
Although he always highlights local and sustainable dining, he has added more local, seasonal and wild items to his menu, including locally produced chocolates; a Berkshire cheese plate with offerings from Cricket Creek Farm, Rawson Brook Farm and Old Chatham Sheepherding Company; housemade Spanish chorizo (spicy garlic sausage) with potatoes, wild watercress and cattails; seared shad with lemon-infused fiddleheads; and braised pork belly from his own pigs, with foraged mushrooms.
Wendt said he takes his children in the morning to forage for ramps, mustard greens, watercress, morels and rhubarb on their property. On his "organic little farm the kale is coming out; the beets are coming out and the salad is coming out."
His four-course prix-fixe menu includes a wild herb salad with ramps, mustard weeds, watercress, Equinox Farm greens and lemon dressing; ramp soup; beef tenderloin from Ioka Farm in Hancock with morel sauce, sautéed ramps and potato risotto; and wild rhubarb tart with homemade ice cream.
Nancy Thomas' three restaurants allium in Great Barrington, Café Latino in North Adams and Mezze in Williamstown are offering three-course prix-fixe menus featuring, among other items, wild rhubarb clafoutis with housemade ginger ice cream at allium; bistec rancheros with ramps chimichuri and ranchero beans at Café Latino; and braised lamb from Hidden Valley Farm and spinach from Mighty Food Farm (both farms in Pownal, Vt,).
Allium's cocktail of the weekend, "the allium," will be be made with Ice Glen vodka from Sheffield's year-old Berkshire Mountain Distillery (the first distillery in Berkshire County since Prohibition)
Allium manager Halle Heyman says the coming weekend is, "exciting. It's fun. It's the start of a fun season eating out of the backyard!"
For newer Berkshire Grown members, Farmed and Foraged is an opportunity to showcase their kitchens, dining rooms and gardens.
Linda Fisher and her husband, Andrei Nankov, moved to North Egremont from Boston in 2006 and opened The Inn at Sweet-water Farm with six guest rooms. Sunday breakfast is always open to the public by reservation. For the farmed and foraged weekend, the inn will be serving brunch both Saturday and Sunday.
"I stay seasonal," said Fisher, who is the cook. "That's the reason we're out here - the abundance of local foods. I choose local first - except for sugar and coffee.
Her a la carte menu includes the inn's own eggs, Rawson Brook Farm Monterey chevre, fiddlehead ferns, ramps, steelcut oatmeal prepared with backyard maple sap, homemade sausage from Sheffield's Moon in the Pond Farm pork and wild ramps, morels sauteed with High Lawn Farm cream, and homemade rhubarb pie.
"I promised an old customer I would always serve pie with breakfast and, so far, I've kept my promise," she said.
Christy Thorne and Kelly Hagan opened The Point at Thornwood Inn in Great Barrington last December. Thorne, who manages the front, is the daughter of the inn's owners. Her partner, Hagan, is the cook and the daughter of the restaurant family that owned the Queechy Lake Inn in Canaan, N.Y., for more than 25 years until the early 1990s.
They served 80 dinners their first night and are having success with their mostly local, mostly organic modestly priced menus. Word has been spreading so the Farmed and Foraged weekend is a natural for them.
"I just love to do it," Hagan said of cooking at the inn.
Chef-owner Adam Zieminski has been an active member of Berkshire Grown since he opened his Café Adam in Great Barrington in 2006.
"It was a new event, so it grabbed my attention. I felt compelled," he said of the weekend.
"We're trying to become one of the leaders in (using) local produce and trying to celebrate that as well."
His menu showcases many local food purveyors as well as housemade and wild items: Taft Farms asparagus and rhubarb, Nodine's bacon, Berkshire bluecheese, Equinox Farm mesclun and spinach, Holmdale Farm beef, Rawson Brook chevre, High Lawn cream Blue Moon mushrooms, housemade fettuccine, and smoked salmon and wild ramps.
Route 7 Grill in Great Barring-ton is offering suggested pairings of local ciders and beers with their three-course prix-fixe dinner which features organic leg of lamb from Monterey with a side of foraged stinging nettles sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and a side of wild mushrooms if they can be foraged.
Moon in the Pond pork chops and Sir William Farm Angus beef prime rib also will be on the menu, as will products from Equinox Farm, Paul Paisley in Alford and Holiday Farm in Dalton.
"All local. Some foraged. Some organic," quipped owner Lester Blumenthal.
Stagecoach Tavern chef Sarah Dibben will offer a three-course prix-fixe dinner, "vegetarian op-tions as well as meat options plus a couple of special extras," she said.
She is thinking of a Moon in the Pond Farm veal tartar appetizer and a chervil salad from Equinox Farm. For dessert she mentioned a local honey custard tart with milk from Blue Hill Farm, and flour from Lightning Tree Farm in Millerton, N.Y.
For her it is a matter of "narrowing down what to use and what not to use."
"I have more local food than I know what to do with," she said. "There is so much available. We had local items all winter."
Chef Joe Mazza has created an ambitious, three-course, prix-fixe ramps tasting menu for the weekend at Pittsfield Brew Works consisting of cream of roasted ramp soup; linguini with sautéed ramps, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, Kalamata olives and milkweed shoots in basil pesto; and cheese and polenta wrapped in ramps over a ramp-marinated tofu and quinoa napoleon.
Chef-owner Alexander Smith at Gramercy Bistro in North Adams has a supplemental menu of inexpensive small plates and sides, including locally farmed barramundi fishcakes, a Cricket Creek Farm cheese plate, Cricket Creek pork belly, fiddleheads and ramps.
"The Berkshires has a really great network of farm-to-table restaurants," Nancy Thomas ob-served.
Berksire Grown's Farmed and Foraged weekend is intended "to highlight spring when we go out to responsibly harvest wild foods," she went on. "It celebrates the region and showcases what each restaurant already offers. I'm happy to jump in."
Berkshire restaurants participating in Berkshire Grown's Farmed and Foraged event this weekend include:
allium restaurant + bar, (413) 528-2118 44 Railroad St.,Great Barrington.
Three-course prix-fixe $40, Friday through Sunday.
Barrington Brewery (413) 528-8282, Jenifer House Commons, Route 7, Great Barrington.
Café Adam (413) 528-7786 325, Stockbridge Road, Route 7, Great Barrington.
Three-course prix-fixe $35 lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday.
Café Latino, (413) 662-2004, 1111 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams
Three-course prix-fixe $40 Friday and Saturday.
Castle Street Café, (413) 528-5244 10 Castle St., Great Barrington
Menu selections Friday through Sunday.
EnlightenNext, (413) 637-6000/6021, Main house at Foxhollow, Route 7, Lenox.
Four-course prix-fixe $55, Saturday.
Gramercy Bistro, (413) 663-5300, 24 Marshall St., North Adams.
Supplemental menu of small plates and sides $5 to $12 Friday through Sunday.
Inn at Sweetwater Farm, (413) 528-2882 Main Street, Route 71, North Egremont.
Menu selections $8 to $11, Saturday and Sunday.
John Andrews Restaurant (413) 528-3469, Route 23, South Egremont, Friday through Sunday.
Mezze Bistro + Bar (413) 458-0123, 18 Water St., Route 43 Williamstown.
Three-course prix-fixe $40 Friday and Saturday
The Old Inn on the Green (413) 229-7924, Route 57, New Marlborough.
Menu selections Friday through Sunday.
Pittsfield Brew Works, (413) 997-3506, 34 Depot St., Pittsfield.
Three-course, prix-fixe, ramp tasting menu, Friday through Sunday.
The Point at Thornewood Inn (413) 528-3828, 453 Stockbridge Road Route 7, Great Barrington.
prix fixe plus other menu selections Friday and Saturday
The Red Lion Inn (413) 298-5545 30 Main St., Route 7, Stockbridge Friday through Sunday.
Menu selections plus sustainable dinner specials Sundays and Mondays throughout May.
Route 7 Grill, (413) 528-3235, 999 Main St., Route 7, Great Barrington.
Three-course prix-fixe $30, as well as menu selections, Friday through Sunday.
Stagecoach Tavern, (413) 229-8585, 854 South Undermountain Road, Route 41, Sheffield.
Three-course prix-fixe menu, $40, Friday and Saturday.
The Williamsville Inn, (413) 274-6118, Route 41, West Stockbridge.
Four-course, prix-fixe, $45, Friday and Saturday; plus homemade ramp butter available by preorder.
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