Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Locust Blossom Season = Time to Fritter Away

When I was a kid, Sam used to come in one morning each spring with a bucket or basket or flannel shirt brimming with locust blossoms. We would mix up pancake batter, dip the sweet blossoms, cook them on the griddle, and then eat them with honey or maple syrup. Locusts bloom suddenly and fleetingly, so fritters were a surprise spring breakfast party. 

Yesterday, I noticed a familiar scent in the air and glanced up and saw the tree above me bedecked with white blooms. Locust blossom season, I realized, my mouth watering. 

Since I'm not a dairy farmer, I'm not often up wandering around in the woods before my children are awake, so I didn't come in from the morning mist with a load of blooms, but this afternoon I tried to replicate this spring celebration with my own kids. My two-year-old and I picked blossoms at the river park on our way to pick his brother up from school. Then, in the spirit of the spontaneous festival, we kidnapped my husband from his office a couple hours early and set out to fritter away the afternoon. 

My husband didn't grow up eating flowers for breakfast once a year, so he was a little skeptical, but once he found out that Mark Bittman the Minimalist himself had a recipe for fritters (though it is hardly so minimalist as my father's recipe above), he was on board. We just had to run out for Grand Marnier first, whatever that was. 

Although this recipe is far more elegant than the one I remember, it isn't difficult and the result--made light with beer and whipped egg whites--plays to the tenderness of the flower. But the recipe, and whether or not you first soak your blossoms in liqueur, is hardly the point. The point is making a special meal that called attention to the season. Locust blossoms don't come on a particular day each year that can be scheduled ahead. The point is to acknowledge the source of our food--even living in a non-agricultural place as I do, to allow for awe in the bounty and abundance of the natural world that, if it weren't for that sudden, memory-stoking scent, we might forget to notice and appreciate. 

The harvest.

Plucking blossoms (the stems have toxins in them--who knew?!).


Sweet, subtle locust blossom fritters.

Delivering fritters to the neighbors.

- Post by Molly.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Can I do to Help the Honey Bees?

No matter what you eat today, one in three bites of your food depends directly on insect pollinators, especially honeybees. There are wild bees and domesticated bees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) effects them all, and has devastated North American honey bee populations in the last 10 years.

We have all been shocked by this emerging information and want to help our honey bee populations. National Pollinator Week is June 17 – 23 this year, but really, you need to think and plant before then, so here are some sites that can help you navigate how you can help.  great succinct list of plants to put in your yard to help honey bees.   help kids and families help honey bees  use your smart phone to help honey bees.

When in doubt, plant some buckwheat, even in your flower garden. Bees love it and it looks nice anywhere. Call my husband Sam Beer with Buckwheat growing questions 585 406 1941 or email him at He loves to talk about buckwheat, grows it, and will soon be milling buckwheat flour on our farm here in Angelica.

Sam, the buckwheat man, also says he’s be happy to give a small packet of free buckwheat seed to any one stopping by the Catbird Griddle Pancake Stand at the Angelica Farmers’ Market, either May 25 or any Saturday (9-1) from June 15 on. Buckwheat can be planted any time from now until the end of July.

Some experts estimate that there are statistically no wild bee colonies remaining in most of the United States. Here in Western NY we still have wild colonies but noticeably fewer. Wild bees have better natural resistance to the assaults on their health than domesticated hive bees. For example, wild bees have stronger resistance to parasites, and when hive mites become too numerous, wild bees increase grooming or swarm and move to a new place and establish a new clean hive.

Many of the huge monoculture crops used to feed livestock and all of us, along with the massive vegetable crop farms, are pollinated by domesticated bees in hives on the industrial scale. These hives are moved from place to place as crops come into bloom. Industrial beekeepers treat the various bee problems within their hives but now, it is believed, some of these treatments may also be culprits in the decline of hive health.

Wild bees cannot live amongst mono-agriculture, where all the plants bloom in a short period of time because the bees would then die of starvation. They simply cannot stick around big crop farms and must live in areas with more diverse use of cropland to have a continual supply of food, like here in Western NY State.

For a complete list of food and crop species pollinated by bees go to

The problems of big Ag and their beekeepers are many; pesticides, hive pathogens, and parasites all have to be dealt with on the National level and quickly. This leaves us ordinary citizens feeling powerless, but there are things we can all do to help bees, especially wild bees, make a come back.

This spring you can plant your yard to be a bee haven. In addition, you can either allow honeybee colonies to remain on your property or call a professional beekeeper to carefully remove a hive and give it a new home. To help you identify honeybee hives; they prefer the protection of empty cavities in buildings especially barns and uninsulated old structures. Never spray a bee colony with poison. Even people with bee allergies are better off having a hive completely removed than trying to kill the bees themselves. 

Thank you to Doreen Burrows at Coop Ext, Belmont, for providing this list of local beekeepers who will remove hives.

Scott Fairbanks - 585-307-0433 - He stipulates that the bees must not have been sprayed or he cannot remove them.  He will remove from homes and buildings. He just removed the bees from the United Methodist Church in Friendship.

Eric Wuersig - 585-610-5920  Belfast. He says he prefers not to have to rip apart buildings but will certainly try to remove any hive within reason.

Harry Whitehead - 585-437-2332 president of the county beekeepers association. They are no longer in existence but he will still take calls.

Beekeepers will charge you an appropriate fee based on the degree of difficulty in removal.

For some basic honeybee information to teach your children or brush up on yourself, National Geographically says it best

Information thanks to The Land Steward, Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, also the sites listed above, and The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign @
and of course, how could we live without Wikipedia.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dandelions? Time to Plant Potatoes


Perfect vegetable gardens require two efforts, elbow grease and timing. Assuming we understand what elbow grease is about, let’s talk about timing. The USDA designates 11 different growing zones across the nation. The zones are based on average winter temperatures and indicate a 10 degree difference colder or warmer. This helps a gardener, but the world is full of micro climates. What grows sooner in downtown Wellsville, may be a week later up in the hills.

But you can also take your planting inspiration from the plants and animals in your own yard, like - plant your beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach when the lilac is in first leaf, which is now, by the way. This is the method based on the study of Phenology. According to Wikipedia: “Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation)”.

This is not the mysterious ‘planting according to the phases of the moon', but rather phenology is the ecology science of your own yard. So here are some tips to get you started.

Plant peas                                                                   
When forsythia and daffodils bloom

Plant potatoes                                                               
When 1st dandelion blooms
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinach             
When lilac is in first leaf
Plant beans, cukes and squash                                      
When lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoes                                                 
When lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom

Transplant eggplant, melon and peppers                        
 When irises bloom

Plant corn                                                                   
 When apple blossoms start to fall

Seed fall cabbage and broccoli                                   
 When catalpas trees bloom

Seed morning glories                                                 
 When maple leaves reach full size

Plant cool season flowers pansies, snapdragons             
When the poplar trees leaf out

Watch for:      

Eastern tent caterpillars to hatch                            
When crab apples start to bloom

Gypsy moths hatch                                                     
When the shadblow flowers
Squash vine borer eggs are laid                              
When chicory flowers

Mexican bean beetle larvae hatch                           
 When foxglove flowers open

Japanese beetles arrive                            
 When morning glory vines start to climb

          (Thank you Marie Iannotti of Organic Gardening Essentials)

Here’s another Phenology attribute you never knew but Wiki does...

“Because many such phenomena are very sensitive to small variations in climate, especially to temperature, phenological records can be a useful proxy for temperature in historical climatology, especially in the study of climate change and global warming. For example, viticultural records of grape harvests in Europe have been used to reconstruct a record of summer growing season temperatures going back more than 500 years.”

Well, at least the wine makers and drinkers were keeping good track of things. So when you finish the elbow grease part of your gardening day, toast the wine grape growers who have kept better growing records than any other farmers, perhaps because keeping records requires that you sit down for a few minutes and relax, always a good idea at the end of a gardening day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Got Leeks?

If you live in the foothills of the Northern Appalachian Mountains of western NY State, our time for leeks is now. Here at Catbird Farm, we harvest leeks every year by the bucket load because they freeze wonderfully, retaining their sweet oniony deliciousness for months and months. Leeks make a wonderful side dish just gently steamed served with ham and mashed potatoes traditionally.
But we still have a recession on so here is a recipe that will fill ‘em up with all the good stuff and cost about $1.50 per serving.  Use ingredients in parenthesis for increased nutrition. Of course, you can make it with butter, white flour, cream, and seasoned bread crumbs if you are of French descent.

1/3 a Grocery bag full of wild leeks
12 oz box of noodles (whole wheat)
3/4 cup oil (olive or canola)
2 cups flour (whole wheat)
4 cups liquid or more - cold milk and water from steaming leeks
1/2 cup mustard
1/2 pound cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 piece(s) bread hand crumbled (Whole Wheat)
1 tsp of thyme
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 tsp Cajun seasoning or salt
1tsp pepper
Olive oil spray or drizzled on top

Prep macaroni of choice per box instructions.
Steam leeks in large pot with just liquid left from washing them. Remove leeks with tongs to plate and chop. Keep liquid.
Make cheese sauce by smoothing flour into oil. Heat and cook flour-oil mixture over medium high heat until it’s golden and smells slightly nutty. Away from burner add liquid slowly while stirring to smooth, then cook over medium heat stirring constantly. Wisk it if you get any lumps. When nicely thick remove from heat. Add mustard (allows you to use much less cheese and still have a nice tangy flavor) and cut up cheddar.

Mix together noodles, sauce, and leeks and pour into baking dish. Scatter topping on and spray top with olive oil or drizzle it if you don’t have a sprayer.

Cook at 350 for 30-40 minutes until bubbly. This serves 4 hungry people or as a side dish will serve 6-8.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Farmer Sam, his corn, and a grandson...

Saturday Aug 25 at the Angelica Farmers' Market we honor that global foodstuff, corn. Important to all cultures and grown in most corners of the world, corn is the kingpin of Allegany County farming, feeding livestock and humans alike. Humans eat only the ear, but livestock eat the ears for grain and the rest of the plant as silage, chopped and "ensiled" so that it ferments and therefore does not spoil, somewhat like sauerkraut. Hmmm, yeah well, cows love it.

So the Catbird Griddle will serve CornCakes tomorrow with hot buttered local maple syrup and if you don't think that is delicious, you're dead wrong. We'll also be serving TexMex Corn Salad with fresh tomatoes and cilantro from our gardens. All the vendors will have corn related treats to be enjoyed in the late summer sun in Park Circle, Angelica, 9-1. Don't miss it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Grace Under Fire

Catbird Griddle treated employee, Ksa, to a front seat helicopter ride from the Wellsville Airport Sunday after we put on a benefit Fly-In Pancake Breakfast for Comfort House of Allegany County. Over 500 people came for breakfast and Ksa just kept flippin' cakes. 75-250 were expected. Talk about grace under fire!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Inland Sushi

Sushi is an ancient Southeast Asian food that gradually became popular through Southern China before becoming associated almost exclusively with Japanese Cuisine. Originally made by wrapping fish in fermenting rice and letting it ferment further, the fish was then eaten, discarding the microbially laden rice. Why this did not kill off the entire population of the Japanese archipelago is a mystery. A few hundred years later, the use of vinegar improved the the flavor of Sushi and also the Japanese' chances of surviving this treat.

Sushi, as we might recognize it, has been around for a couple hundred years, becoming very popular as a street food in Edo (modern day Tokyo). Sushi finally sailed the Pacific Ocean, coming to the US in the 50's with migrating Japanese Chefs, who quickly learned how to adapt it to American tastes. Now there are many styles and tastes of 'Western Sushi' as shown here in Wikipedia's little chart.

The Sushi we are serving at the Wellsville Farmers' Market on Thursday is not rolled but in salad bowl form, more akin to the Japanese style. The idea for this salad, indeed the recipe and some of the more difficult to obtain ingredients, was given to me by fellow Angelican, Rebecca Lindamood, creator of the marvelous blog Foodie with Family Her photographs, recipes, and comedic prose about raising 5 sons are not to be missed.

Food Definition
Alaska roll a variant of the California roll with raw salmon on the inside, or layered on the outside.
B.C. roll contains grilled or barbecued salmon skin, cucumber, sweet sauce, sometimes with roe. Also sometimes referred to as salmon skin rolls outside of British Columbia, Canada.
California roll consists of avocado, kani kama (imitation crab/crab stick) (also can contain real crab in 'premium' varieties), cucumber and tobiko, often made uramaki (with rice on the outside, nori on the inside)
Dynamite roll includes yellowtail (hamachi) and/or prawn tempura, and fillings such as bean sprouts, carrots, avocado, cucumber, chili, spicy mayonnaise, and roe.
Hawaiian roll contains shoyu tuna (canned), tamago, kanpyō, kamaboko, and the distinctive red and green hana ebi (shrimp powder).
Philadelphia roll consists of raw or smoked salmon, cream cheese (often Philadelphia cream cheese brand), cucumber or avocado, and/or onion.
Rainbow roll a rainbow roll is a California roll with typically 6-7 types of sashimi (yellowtail, tuna, salmon, snapper, white fish, eel, etc.) and avocado wrapped around it.
Seattle roll consists of cucumber, avocado, and raw or smoked salmon.
Mango Roll includes fillings such as avocado, crab meat, tempura shrimp, mango slices and topped off with a creamy mango paste.
Spider roll includes fried soft shell crab and other fillings such as cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts or lettuce, roe, and sometimes spicy mayonnaise.