Rhode Island Rye

Rhode Island Rye supports a local farm, a local mill and a local bakery. And it tastes good, too.

I’ll admit that I’m not as much of a bread connoisseur as an ice cream one. Still, there are quite a few reasons to be impressed by Seven Stars Bakery’s addition of the Rhode Island Rye loaf. Modeled after a dense, moist German Vollkornbrot, the loaf weighs more than it looks. Sliced thin and toasted with some salted butter or Farmstead cheese, it offers a rich, complex flavor.  According to the bakery, it can last for several weeks when kept sealed in plastic.

But my favorite feature of this bread is that it’s home grown. The rye is grown on Schartner’s Farm in Exeter, RI then ground using traditional stone milling at Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Usquepaug, RI. The resulting flour becomes the star ingredient (along with RI rye berries, water, salt and yeast) in the official Rhode Island Rye bread.  Buy the loaves at Seven Stars Bakery locations and their farmer’s market stands.

Schartner’s Farm
Route 2 and 1 Arnold Place
Exeter, RI

Kenyon’s Grist Mill
Usquepaug, RI
www.kenyonsgristmill.com

Seven Stars Bakery
Providence & East Providence, RI
www.sevenstarsbakery.com

South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market

A variety of crunchy apples from Hill Orchards are available year-round at the market.

Next weekend will be the final weekend for the South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market. A down-home version of the Pawtucket Winter Farmers’ Market, the South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market features a modest selection of farms, but certainly enough to buy the wintertime basics — eggs, root vegetables, lettuces, apples, jams, sausages, cheeses, meats — and even a few potted herbs and flowers for building your garden. On our visit, we only had about $25 in cash which didn’t seem like much, but it stretched pretty far, enough to buy some homemade johnny cakes, pizza strips from Palmieri’s Bakery, eight apples from Hill Orchards, a bag of spring lettuce, some popcorn and even some homemade shea butter lotion for $15.

You can't go wrong with fresh, local eggs.

Despite the fact that I actually saw snow fall on Friday, spring has technically arrived, and in just a few short months, we’ll be coming upon the summer markets season with several dozen to choose from across the state. But I will miss the winter markets a bit. I’ve loved discovering such incredible bounty from our local farms in the midst of winter — from baby pea greens to tasty crisp carrots. As for the snow, that I won’t miss at all.

South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market
Saturdays 10 am -2 pm through April 4, 2010
Peacedale Mill Complex
1425 Kingstown Rd
South Kingston, RI
www.farmfresh.org/food/farmersmarkets_details.php?market=382

For a list of all farmers’ markets in Rhode Island, view Farm Fresh RI.

Farmstead: Lunch, Dinner and Gourmet Shopping

June 2014: Farmstead has been sold and will no longer be run by Chef Matt Jennings

Although there’s an official restaurant next door, diners are even happy to sit at the “cheese bar” for a meal at Farmstead.

I love any restaurant where the waitress asks, “Do you want the bacon with that?” and she’s talking about dessert. But what’s most impressive is that at Farmstead the bacon actually works in the dessert.  Especially since, as everyone knows, bacon is a health food.

I first discovered Farmstead’s gourmet store where they make superb sandwiches with local ingredients and sell an impressive array of cheeses, in-house cured meats and New England gourmet goods.  This array of items provides the backdrop for Farmstead which is usually enough to get me salivating.

It’s quite popular especially on weekends, but worth waiting for (even if it did take way more than the 45 minutes the hostess promised on one Saturday night visit). During the week or if you come early, though, you might just slide quickly into one of their precious few tables and enjoy expertly subtle flavors packed into a range of dishes that would satisfy both gourmands (seared vermont chicken livers) and more timid foodies (virginia ham & brie cheese sandwich). It may be hard to resist their meat and cheese boards, but it’s easy to fill up on those so my advice is to order a selection of the little plates to share as well as one larger plate and save the meats and cheeses to take home with you. Of course, I don’t follow that advice. But maybe you can.

It’s clear that Chefs Matt Jennings and Kate Jennings and their team have a passion for well-crafted fresh food made with locally-sourced ingredients, and the results are indisputable.  Next weekend, Chef Matt and his team will return to defend his last year’s win of the Cochon 555 competition, which you can attend this Sunday, March 28 in Boston.  Let’s hope as he says, Farmstead and Providence can keep “bragging rights” after the competition which sets five chefs (the other four are from Boston) against each other in the competition.  Providence may not beat Boston in many ways, but it’d sure be nice to continue to claim “Prince of Porc.” [Ed. note: Jennings did, in fact, win that year’s Cochon 555].

Farmstead, Inc.
184-188 Wayland Avenue
Providence, RI 02906
www.farmsteadinc.com

Cochon 555
Boston competition on March 28, 2010
www.cochon555.com

A Maple Sugaring Tour: Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge & Chepachet Farms

The "Sugar House" at Chepachet Farms.

It didn’t start off well — it was raining, and we were late.  It got even worse when we arrived at the Audubon Society in Bristol only to realize that we had misread — the maple sugaring tour took place at the Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge in Coventry, which was on the other side of the state.  Luckily Rhode Island isn’t that big, and luckily, the Audubon Society made space for us on the tour later in the morning.

We arrived at their house tucked in the woods to a breakfast spread of Dunkin’ Donuts muffins and doughnuts slathered with their homemade maple glaze and some pancakes to taste their maple syrup.  Then we followed our tour guide outside in the rain to learn about the Native American’s discovery of maple syrup and its rise to the sweet necessity we now know and love.   The program also demystified how to discern a sugar maple tree (forked branches, twin buds, color and shape of the leaves) and how to tap trees and produce your own syrup.

Inside the "Sugar House" at Chepachet Farms, the tree sap boils down into maple syrup.

Our tour ended back inside where we could taste test the real thing against Aunt Jemima’s.  As a pancake connoisseur, this happens to be one of my areas of expertise — the phony stuff has a stickier, stringier consistency and, in fact, has little maple flavor.  Also inside, Chepachet Farms had setup a stand for visitors to sample and purchase their homemade goods — a sweet maple salad dressing, a crunchy maple peanut brittle, maple-flavored popcorn, and, of course, maple syrup.  Learning a bit about the Chepachet Farms operation, we decided to drive there immediately.  After a bit of hunting around in the rain, we came across their “Sugar House” which is open to the public for a view of the sap boiling furiously in a wood-burning metal tub at a temperature of over 200 degrees.  In their farm operation, they gather up to 500 gallons of sap daily which they boil down to 12 gallons of maple syrup.  If you come during the season, you can literally buy syrup that’s been bottled that morning and is still warm, but if you can’t make it out, you can also order their syrup online.

See a list of Rhode Island farms that produce maple syrup at Farm Fresh RI. Or, go ahead, try this at home.  Here’s a handy guide on How to Tap Maple Trees and Make Maple Syrup.

Chepachet Farms
Their “Sugar House” is open to the public — call ahead for times.
226 Tourtellot Hill Road
Chepachet, RI 02814
www.chepachetfarms.com

Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Locations throughout RI
Annual Maple Sugaring at Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge
Maple Valley Road, Coventry, RI
www.asri.org

O Christmas Tree: Our Rhode Island Tour of Tree Farms

Lockwood's Tree Farm -- nice trees for a reasonable price, plus some extra hospitality.

On Saturday, we had grand plans of heading to the far reaches of Rhode Island to find a Christmas tree.

Let me clarify. I always have found it amazing when we lived in New York that we could drive an hour or two and wind up in some rustic town along the Hudson or a farm in Pennsylvania. Leaving Providence, however, it takes only a few minutes to reach a bucolic setting, as if everything in Rhode Island is miniaturized even the distance between city and country.

Geoff had read about Duquette Tree Farm in Chepachet, RI so we headed west. Our mistake was stopping for a late lunch along the way at Bishop Hill Tavern– not because the food was bad, because, in fact, it was pretty good for a random bar/restaurant, especially one that posts a sign, “Warm Beer. Cold Food. Slow Service. Have a Nice Day.” The problem was that our lunch ended after 4 pm which, in winter, is night or at least looks like it. We didn’t know when the farm closed but guessed it’d be hard to pick a tree in the dark. Nevertheless, we decided to visit Chepachet for the state’s oldest store, Brown & Hopkins Country Store, and happened upon a line of charming antique stores, which we made our way into just a few minutes before they closed at 5.

On Sunday afternoon, we were ready to try again. This time I started with some research and called around. Turned out Duquette Tree Farm didn’t have larger 8-9 foot trees left, but they recommended Lockwood’s Tree Farm not too far from them. I also tried calling Big John Leyden’s Christmas Tree Farm but they never answered the phone. Instead of taking the good advice of a farmer, we decided to be adventurous and drove out to Greene Tree Farm & Nursery because I read they had maple syrup, and well, I’m the kind of person who will go those extra 10 miles for good maple syrup. Plus, over the phone, they said they had 8-9 foot trees, and the cost was $40 for any tree.

Picking a tree in the rain is not nearly as romantic as picking one in the snow, and we trudged around the farm amid drizzles looking at trees. They had plenty that were tall enough, but many were planted a bit too close together so they inevitably were thinner on one side than the other. Also most of their trees were a yellower green, which if I knew anything about them probably indicated that they were cypress instead of fir or something like that. Worse yet, their dilapidated maple syrup stand was filled only with debris.

Enjoy some cupcakes while you wait for your tree.

So we got back in the car, stopping along the way at Pezza Farm in Johnston, RI which didn’t have larger trees and whose wreaths were $50 each. Hence, back in the car to Lockwood’s Tree Farm in Smithfield, RI. As we drove up to their red barn placed alongside their field of trees and a pond for skating (although a bit wet for that currently), we knew we had found the place for us. With very little effort, we found a wonderful tree — tall, full, green, and trimmed — for a reasonable price of $45. Apparently the rain had curtailed business that day so they were glad to see us too. Even better, the owners welcome visitors into a heated room where they offer candy, cupcakes, and hot cocoa for the kids and cider and coffee for the adults — all for free. And every tree comes with a string of lights. Now that’s country charm that’s well worth the 15-mile drive from Providence.

Lockwood’s Tree Farm
129 Austin Avenue
Smithfield, RI
www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=509

Duquette Tree Farm
87 Reservoir Road
Chepachet, RI

RI Christmas Tree Growers Association www.richristmastrees.com

Farm Fresh RI’s list of Christmas tree farm vendors: www.farmfresh.org/food/food.php?zip=02909&food=130

Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers’ Market

apples

Apples aplenty at the first Pawtucket Winter Farmers' Market. These are from Hill Orchard in Johnston, Rhode Island.

Today marked the opening day of the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers’ Market season.  Held inside the the central atrium of the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket,  the market gathers over a dozen farms, bakeries, and other vendors come together.

pawtucketmarket

Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers' Market

I have a penchant for farmers markets, it’s true, but this one may be my Rhode Island favorite. First of all, it’s such a wonderful concept to begin a market’s season in November, when all the rest have already ended.  Winter can be so barren in New England, and it’s nice to know that whatever can be grown in the coming months (presumably indoors), I’ll be able to buy.  According to Farm Fresh RI, the market offers lettuces, greens, apples, potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, radishes, fresh herbs, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and winter squash all year round.  And of course, the meats (from grass-fed beef to pastured pork) along with cheeses, jams, honey, maple syrup, milk, and eggs will certainly be available year-round.

The architecture of the building reminded us a bit of Chelsea Market in New York, but in fact the market itself is more like a Paris market where you’ll find everything you need for a balanced meal — bread, meat, legumes, cheese.  You’ll also find local sweet and savory vendors such as The Cupcakerie, Olga’s Cup+Saucer, Seven Stars Bakery, Kafe’ Lila (for ice cream), Tina’s Caribbean Food, and even Hewtin’s Dogs (Chez Pascal’s food truck) so you can stop for lunch and dessert as well as get your food shopping done.

Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers’ Market
Saturdays 11am-2pm from November 7, 2009 to May 29, 2010
Hope Artiste Village
1005 Main St.
Pawtucket, RI
www.farmfresh.org/food/farmersmarkets_details.php?market=29

My Milkman: Munroe Dairy Delivery

Munroe Dairy Milk

Yes, we've got milk, and it's fresh and delivered weekly from Munroe Dairy.

For the brief stint that we lived in the suburbs of Massachusetts, we had fresh milk delivered from Crescent Ridge Dairy.  I adored this creamy milk delivered in recycled glass bottles.  But no dairy delivers in Boston, and who could blame them?  The traffic would surely consume any possible profits.

So it was with great enthusiasm that Geoff and I recently spotted a Munroe Dairy delivery box on a friend’s Providence stoop.  Soon after, we placed our first order — Bliss Bros. cookies & cream ice cream and raspberry sherbet, Autocrat coffee syrup, and of course milk, both whole and 1%.  This week, we expanded the order to include chocolate milk (tastes like melted ice cream — in other words , delicious), apple cider, bread, and eggs.  You can nearly do your grocery shopping through them — they even deliver laundry detergent.  I was a bit disappointed to discover some of their products are not all that natural.  For example, the bread contains partially hydrogenated oil, and the ice cream has corn syrup.  As for the milk?  Well, just imagine how good milk can taste when it only takes 24-36 hours to get from the cow to you.  Yes, it is that good.

A.B. Munroe Dairy
Delivery throughout RI (except Block Island)
151 N. Brow Street
East Providence, RI 02914
www.cowtruck.com

Chez Pascal: Market Menu Mondays

escargot

Sweet escargots but was it intentional?

We had planned to go to Tini, a new downtown Providence bar and restaurant serving tiny, tasty dishes, but discovered they are closed Monday nights.  So is Al Forno.  So is Farmstead.  Just as I was starting to think Monday might be the worst night to try to have an elegant and delicious dinner in Providence, I found Chez Pascal open.  Better yet, they offered their special “Market Menu Mondays” featuring all dishes created solely from local ingredients purchased at the nearby markets and farms.

We chose all our dishes from the Market Menu.  Well, except for escargots.  Oddly they were quite sweet which I didn’t notice until Geoff guessed that they had accidentally sugared not salted them.  The waiter attributed it to the pernod, but we never did hear the official word on that from the chef.  Still, we gladly ate them — once we added a bit of salt they tasted a bit more familiar.  Although much breadier than their Paris counterparts, the escargots were just as tender and perfectly paired with some toasted parsley-scented brioche. 

apple

Cortland apple crumble with lemon verbana ice cream.

For an appetizer, I ordered the fresh crisp greens with cortland apples, ginger pecans and sweet honey vinaigrette.  Geoff had the hearty escarole and potato soup.  For entrees, the Market Menu choices were meat (angus strip steak) or more meat (brined pork chop) so we ordered both.  The salty, blackened crust on the steak balanced the tender rare interior, and a sweet sauce complemented the pork chop and braised red cabbage.  Both were terrific.  We shared the baked cortland apple with rolled oat crumble and lemon verbena ice cream. Overall, Chez Pascal was a pleasant surprise, and I was glad to see the restaurant full and the bar humming. There is restaurant life in Providence on a Monday night, after all. Just make it an early night — the kitchen closes at 9 pm.

Chez Pascal
960 Hope Street
Providence, RI
www.chez-pascal.com

Schartner Farms: Hay Ride, Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

Over the weekend, we spent a day with our family at Schartner Farms in Exeter, RI.  The farm stand alone is an impressive sight– in autumn, they sell over a dozen crops grown on their 85 acres — beets, apples, peppers, carrots, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, string beans, potatoes and of course, pumpkins.  They also offer fruits, vegetables and flowers from other farms so you can pick up staples like lemons when you need them. From their on-site bakery wafts the smell of their pumpkin, apple, and berry pies which are obviously quite popular judging by the volume they churned out last Sunday.

Heading into the corn maze on Schartner Farms.

Heading into the corn maze on Schartner Farms.

The family fun begins with a hay ride which winds you deeper into the farm along dirt roads.  It drops you off at the ‘pumpkin patch’ where you find an assortment of activities for the kids.  Madeline enjoyed the waist-high mini-maze, but gave up quickly on the the larger corn maze which I continued on alone.  Their maze is based on a quiz  — this year’s theme was insects so the questions centered on the peculiarities of mosquitos, dragonflies, cockroaches and more.  For example, how long can a cockroach survive without it’s head?  The right answer leads you to the correct path.  Let’s just say it took me a little while to get out of there — I apparently don’t know much about insects.

They also have a number of photo ops in addition to their pumpkin patch like their enormous funky scarecrows, Halloween-themed pictures to poke your head through and some larger-than-life cartoonish bugs.  You’ll also find a handful of carnival-like games (guess the number, ball toss).

After you’re done, you take the slightly bumpier hay ride back to the farm entrance and by then you’re certainly ready for a snack (or at least we were).  No need to leave, you can get hot dogs, their custom soft drinks and tasty french fries made on the spot with their own fresh farm potatoes.  For dessert, pick up a slice of one of their pies (we preferred the crispy apple pie to the pumpkin).

French fries freshly made from farm potatoes.

French fries freshly made from farm potatoes.

On your way out, you can pick up a pumpkin (if you hadn’t already at the pumpkin patch).  At their stand, they have all shapes and sizes — tiny ironsides to ones large enough to need two hands and your full attention to carry.  They even have a collection of decorated and painted pumpkins which come with names like “Grumpy Dave” and “Scary Mary.”

Shartner Farms
Route 2 and 1 Arnold Place
Exeter, RI
http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=11

Cupcakes, Jerk Chicken, Natural Soda (oh, and Fruits and Veggies too) at Providence Downtown Farmers’ Market

Peanut butter cupcake with dark chocolate frosting -- why didn't I think of that?

Peanut butter cupcake with dark chocolate frosting -- why didn't I think of that?

A bit of squash, some onions, certainly apples — these are the things I expected to find at today’s visit to the Providence Downtown Farmers’ Market in Kennedy Plaza. And although it’s a small market, there were certainly enough vendors to satisfy, including some of my favorites from the Newport and Middletown markets — Simmons Farm (squash, lettuce, corn, heritage pork, etc.) and Barden Family Orchard (peaches and apples). I also discovered some new farm vendors — Big Train Farm, Hill Orchards and Heritage Farm.

Madeline wakes in time for The Cupcakerie.

Madeline wakes in time for The Cupcakerie.

What I did not expect to find were cupcakes. Now, I do agree that there is a cupcake bubble. Yet I have to agree with a friend of mine who recently admitted that there’s no ceiling on the price he’s willing to pay for one of those small perfectly iced cakes.   But the disappointing truth is most cupcakes are just awful and usually the better they look, the worse they are.  A trip to New York is worth it if only for a sloppy Magnolia cupcake, but I only needed to try once the delicately designed and lousy imitation cupcakes from Sweet in Boston or Crumbs (from New York to California). So I remained fairly skeptical as we paid $2.75 per impeccably iced cupcake from The Cupcakerie stand at the market today. Our choices: a lemon cupcake for ourselves and a peanut butter with chocolate frosting for Madeline who instinctively awakened from her nap as we approached the stand. I’ve never had a peanut butter cupcake with a smooth dark chocolate frosting, but now that I have, I’ll say, it’s about time. It was one of the softest, tastiest cupcakes I’ve ever had — a perfect balance of light cake and rich frosting.  The lemon cupcake equally impressed us with a simple cake and and heavy-on-the-butter (I’m not complaining) lemon frosting.

The stands at the Providence Downtown Farmers' Market.

The stands at the Providence Downtown Farmers' Market.

The market was full of other wonderful sweet and savory surprises like the fabulously tender jerk chicken from a stand by Tina’s Caribbean Restaurant and a clearly addictive agave-sweetened and purple corn infused soda by Misti.  Oh yes, I’ll be back.  And I’ll try to remember to pick up some fruits and vegetables while I’m there too.

Providence Downtown Farmers’ Market
Kennedy Plaza & Exchange Terrace
Providence, RI
http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farmersmarkets_details.php?market=13
Fridays 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM from June 12 to October 30, 2009

The Cupcakerie
www.thecupcakerie.net

Misti
www.misticorporation.com

Tina’s Caribbean Restaurant
www.tinasjamaican.faithweb.com

Simmons Farm
www.simmonsfarm.com

Barden Family Orchard
www.bardenfamilyorchard.com

Heritage Farm
www.heritagefarmri.com