This is the story about a dish I made for a special potluck today. This is a story about food with roots.
(Photo credit: Andy Noyes)
Today I gathered around a bountiful table with over a hundred residents from the Finger Lakes, among them farmers, chefs, bakers and winemakers. While the sun took notice with it’s generous beams, it wasn’t an average Wednesday potluck. It was a feast that took place on the side of Rt. 14, the legs of our harvest tables standing solid in snow, and the lot of us armed like puffed marshmallows against the 6 degree temperatures. The only thing marring a perfect view of Seneca Lake was the chain-link fence of Crestwood Midstream’s gas storage facility, which poses enormous threat to our water, our land, our livelihoods and our bounty. As a local chef and business owner invested in our region’s natural resources, I decided to join the months-long movement behind We Are Seneca Lake in the best way I knew how: to help organize a party.
(Photo credit: Andy Noyes)
This past weekend I started reading “Good Morning, Beautiful Business” by Judy Wicks, a renowned Philadelphia restaurant owner and sustainable business leader. She begins with a quote that resonates with me deeply, “my story and the story for each of us begins right at home in our own community – and with our own capacity to recognize and protect what we truly care about.”
When I love a place so much, I want to invite everyone into my home. I’m first-generation American, and have lived in many places I’ve loved, but never have I felt so firmly in my bones that I am at home in the Finger Lakes. And so, when I moved here four years ago I began to invite people in.
I started by cooking. I began a food blog that told the stories of people and places that inspired me in my community: strawberry picking at Gordie & Liz’s Silver Queen Farm, crafting a recipe with mushrooms from Steve Gabriel’s shitake farm, a picnic of Seneca Lake cheeses and Atwater wine on the banks of Seneca lake, and harvesting Sapsquatch Maple Syrup. I partnered with the Full Plate Farm Collective to host a series of cooking classes in my kitchen and in the kitchens of other local chefs like Katie Church. People came from Binghamton, Trumansburg, Elmira, Ithaca and once, even Colorado!
Left to Right: Me, Frank, Heather Hallagan and Sarah Kelsen, chomping down on Frank’s insanely awesome orange-rind infused meatballs. Frank is the Executive Chef at Northstar Pub, dedicated to sourcing food from Finger Lakes farmers. Heather is one of the masterminds behind Gather, a local event and design team that also outfitted Firelight camps…and, she brought two of her husband’s hand-crafted stunning harvest tables. (Photo credit: Andy Noyes)
When my kitchen became to small, I applied to cook in an even bigger kitchen called Food Network Star. Some of you may have heard of it? My first day on the show, I stood on a rickety apple crate in the middle of a Hollywood set, and with quivering knees declared: “Hi, I’m Emma Frisch, I’m from Ithaca, New York, and I’m your farm-to-table chef!” Alton Brown immediately got down on his knees, kissed my feet and then booked his trip to the Finger Lakes. If you missed that part, I’m sure you were off peeing or cracking another beer to drown the suspense (wink, wink).
But in all seriousness, I found the courage to take this message nationwide because I live in a community where farm-to-table is not a trend, but a generations-old way of life … and it works. It would be devastating to see the very foundation of our home destroyed.
People are paying attention to the Finger Lakes. Right now we’re standing on the banks of an award-winning wine region, and the Ithaca Farmers Market was ranked by Zagat as the 4th must-visit farmers market in the country.
I met Tony Potenza of Potenza Organics, the NY State’s first certified organic farmer. He has been farming in the Trumansburg area for (Photo credit: Andy Noyes)
In September, my husband and I opened a hotel just south of Ithaca called Firelight Camps. It’s made of beautiful safari tents perched on the creek that runs into Upper Buttermilk Falls (one of the major state park destinations in our region). I can tell you that the two most popular activities for our guests – who came from all over the world – were wine tours around Seneca Lake and visits to the Ithaca Farmers Market. Food and beverage is the largest sector of the Finger Lakes tourism industry, which is recognized as an epicenter for food, wine, beer, cider and spirits. Check out this cookbook made specifically for Ithaca-grown ingredients.
But not only does our region feed hundreds of thousands of people in Upstate New York, we are a major foodshed for the NYC metropolitan area. I can always count on finding The Piggery’s bacon in my twin sister’s fridge, which she buys from the deli around the corner in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. My best friend’s opened their pizza bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey (Talula’s) where the dough is made with Farmer Ground Flour.
At the end of the day, we are what we eat. As a local chef and business owner who depends on our bounty and the local economy it creates, it is a top priority for me to serve clean, healthy, vibrant food. And this is why I stand with We Are Seneca Lake, and hope that you will wield your fork and let your voice be heard at the table too.
Melissa Madden (pictured above), owner and farmer of The Good Life Farm says: As small farmers, we have already bet our livelihoods on the health of our soil, water and community. At this time, everything we have is leveraged towards creating a landscape that is productive, healthful and beautiful. Our community eats what we make, and we depend on them to help us continue forward. Without this circle and these resources, all that we’ve created is for nought. I participate because protecting Seneca Lake is one of the many stories at the core of what we do, and I am so grateful for the sustained efforts on our behalf that allow me to return to running my business, hopefully on all of your behalf.
My Strawberry Lemon Clafoutis was made with love, and with lovingly-produced Finger Lakes ingredients:
Strawberries from Silver Queen Farm, Trumansburg, New York
All-Purpose Flour from Farmer Ground Flour, Trumansburg, New York
Unsalted Butter from Kriemhild Dairy Farms, Hamilton, New York
Whole Milk from Ithaca Milk, New York State sourced
Cherry Liqueur from Finger Lakes Distilling, Burdett, New York
Eggs from Westwind Farms, Interlaken, New York
Plucked in the summer, igniting our bodies with joy in the winter.
Tips on How to Freeze Strawberries.
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A clafoutis is a classic French dessert, like a flan or custard, but laced with fruit and other sweet (or savory) treasures. If using frozen strawberries from your winter stock, add to this recipe when called for frozen. Do not defrost or they will release too much water. (Tip: how to freeze strawberries).
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
- 4 small-to-medium eggs, room temperature
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1.5 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons cherry liqueur (sub with other fruit-flavored liqueur or brandy)
- 1.5 cups strawberries, halved
- 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375 and move the oven rack to the middle position.
- Grease a 9-10 inch pie dish with the teaspoon of unsalted butter.
- Use the specified 1 tablespoon of sugar to coat the pie dish.
- In an electric mixer or with a whisk, beat the eggs and 1/3 cup of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- While mixing on low, add the all-purpose flour, whole milk, vanilla extract, lemon zest and cherry liqueur. If whisking, add one ingredient at at time and whisk briefly to incorporate.
- Arrange the strawberries in an even layer in the pie dish.
- Pour the the batter over the strawberries.
- Bake the clafoutis until the top is golden brown.
- Sprinkle with confectioners sugar before serving. Best served warm.
You can refrigerate the dish for up to 3 days, covered. Reheat gently before serving.