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Friday, October 23, 2009

Ah, More Food!

Ah, the best laid plans of playwrights and other sentient beings. I promise to get back to writing about theatrical endeavors, disasters and personalities soon. Meanwhile, I’m still here in the country and music and local food keep me occupied. This is a good thing, as both these elements will play a big part in my new show. I made the first scratches on paper yesterday – so the beginnings of the script and one of the songs are in existence.

After writing in the morning, I went out to my buddy Frank’s farm to make paprika. On the way I picked up a 20 pound bag of organic potatoes from his next door neighbor, who farms some of Frank’s fields. I’d stopped by there the day before yesterday with my friends Madi and Mike, as they wanted to take some farm food back to Manhattan with them. They were flabbergasted at the price -- $9 for 20 pounds – compared to what they pay at the Union Square Green Market. I wasn’t exactly flabbergasted but did note that Roger raised the price a buck from last year. Oh well.

Anyway, I got to Frank’s and he had the smoker going full bore. Frank lost a leg due to a botched operation three or four years ago. He zips around in an electric wheelchair. His farm is a classic. It reeks of authenticity. Everything has its place and is utilitarian, no matter how colorful it all looks in the aggregate. Yesterday Frank was smoking sweet red peppers using apple, hickory and oak woods.

This is our third year making paprika in the autumn. Frank orders the plants to be started at a local greenhouse, using heirloom seeds and in the spring Roger and some part time farm hands and volunteers put the seedlings in the ground when the danger of frost is past. Frank always grows a few hot pepper plants, too. Everything gets smoked and then dried in an electric unit that he uses. I show up with my food processor and pulverize the dried smoked peppers. Then I separate the powder from the seeds and coarser flakes using a strainer and a wooden pestle. The result is an exquisite smoked paprika that you can’t buy anywhere at any price. It’s incredible in soups, on cut roasted potatoes and in all sorts of other dishes.

We get two basic grades of paprika – the fine powder and “pizza grade” – which has the consistency of crushed red pepper you find in pizzerias. We also make the tastes vary by using hot peppers with sweet red mountain peppers. We call this our zesty paprika. Everybody who works on the peppers, from spring through the final product, gets a jar of fine and pizza grade for their own use.

And speaking of pizza, that’s one way Frank gets people to volunteer to work on his farm. He makes the most incredible, thin crust homemade pizza and serves it to you for lunch. It’s a different topping every time, always delicious, and always, always, zestily spiced.

Frank is unusual character. On the one hand, he’s a bachelor farmer in the classic mold. On the other hand he’s an educated litterateur. He taught journalism at Columbia, worked at Rodale press as the editor of Organic Farmer magazine, and he was a night editor at the local daily until he lost his leg. These days his editorial efforts are limited to writing copy for the ever changing labels on his garlic vinegar. The garlic vinegar you can get by searching for Rolling Hills Farm on

Frank invited me to come out this Sunday for a special tasting. Ten years ago, we made several barrels of organic hard cider from apples in his orchard. (Frank was an organic farmer before it became stylish, way before.) Needless to say, a lot of the cider got drunk. Or should I say a few of us got real drunk. I vaguely recall one time drinking so much down in the cider cellar that I ate fresh smoked venison – even though I was a vegetarian at the time – before napping on the dirt floor for several hours.

Anyway, Frank being Frank, he put aside 15 glass carboys (5 gallon jugs) to age. So, this Sunday, he’s having an open house. Every person has to bring 2 gourmet sandwiches. We’ll be siphoning pitchers of the 10 year old cider and tasting it. Some will be vinegar, of course – which is a good thing. But some of it is sure to have mellowed into something truly worth quaffing. I suppose a blog report will be in order.

Speaking of quaffing, though – last night I had pumpkin ale that was brewed locally at The Gem and Keystone in Shawnee on the Delaware. It was an excellent brew made with pumpkins grown right in the restaurant’s kitchen garden. It was the grand opening last night. The menu is “locavore” and I’m looking forward to going there for a meal soon. Last night they were serving an array of Pennsylvania-made artisan cheese.

The Gem and Keystone is the brainchild of Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood, who own the Shawnee resort (and the Shawnee Playhouse, a charming little theater less than 5 miles from my house. Fred Waring used to broadcast his radio show from the theater, and Jackie Gleason owned a home on the resort grounds.)

Now that I’m warmed up, I’m off to work on my new show.

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