Editor’s note: As we went to publish this blog it was announced that Chef Jay’s school, Pierpont Culinary Academy, was listed in a national publication as the fifth best culinary school in America. A great achievement for our local folks! Congrats to Chef Jay and the school’s Executive Director Chef Brian Floyd and all who contribute to the Academy’s success!
Well that most wonderful time of the year is nearly upon us. Already! What? Tomato season has come and gone and now we begin to prepare for “the harvest”! It is an exciting time to say the least. You can almost feel the energy in the air! I haven’t been as fortunate this summer to be as close to the gardening as I was last summer although it’s not as though I didn’t have the opportunity; rather I simply didn’t have the time. And I certainly don’t need to tell any of you how consuming it can be to raise livestock or tend a garden for a livelihood, do I?
So, last summer the fortune I speak of was the fact that a little reunion of sorts reconnected me with a friend in St. George, WV, (that’s up in Tucker County in case you didn’t know) who was totally enthralled with her gardening. She claimed she had so much produce that she wanted someone to cook for her while she canned the rest, which was not really true at all but it became obvious to me just what a major task it can be to try and save all the amazing things from the garden by canning, cooking, curing or pickling. Dear God what a tremendous amount of work, I don’t know how she did it! I gained the most incredible respect for her and all those who are willing to take on this labor of love. It’s all about preservation baby! We’ve got to find a way to make those things last throughout the year. As a matter of fact, that’s what one of the culinary classes I teach at Pierpont Culinary Academy is all about as well. Preservation of food, Garde Manger!
Garde Manger (gard-mahn-zhey), what the heck is that? Well it means many things. To a cook or chef it means “the art of cold food cookery and preservation”. It was also the storage area or larder in the beginning, usually a cooler place. And then it soon became the pantry or the person in charge of the pantry. We also refer to the cooks and chefs who prepare these cold foods as Garde Manger chefs, who share in a long culinary and social tradition that stretches back to the dawn of recorded history. That’s right! For example: fish were likely preserved by soaking in salty water and drying on the shore or smoking by the fire. Preserved meats and smoked hams were developed with the use of salt to keep them from spoiling. The first cheese making efforts took place in Mesopotamia around 6000-7000 B.C.E. from simple efforts to preserve milk solids from curdled goats and cows’ milk, one of the more fascinating foods at the disposal of the Garde Manger Chef. The list of preservation techniques just goes on and on, most of which rely on salt, cooking, or fermentation to help in the process. There’s an ongoing controversy as to whether the first method of preserving food was bread or beer. What do you think?
Anyway, let me get back to St George if I may. I was absolutely astounded at the amount of fresh produce from the garden that had to be dealt with immediately or lose it! A multitude of tomato and bean varieties, okra, corn, onions, peppers, pears, apples, etc., etc.! I’ve been using these ingredients all my life but never had I been exposed to such an abundance and variety of product that all had to be fabricated in some manner immediately and fast! When the time comes to harvest, there’s no time for anything else. I didn’t have a clue of the undertaking of events that precluded the consumption of all these goodies. Well, that’s not entirely true. But even as a kid when I visited my Aunt Mac down in Summers County and she would break out jar after jar of preserved fruits and vegetables at both the breakfast and supper tables I must have thought it all just magically appeared. But now that I was seeing this production come straight from the garden to the prep counters, piling up quickly and right in my face it really sank in! I’m a prepping maniac too! Ha!
Each year about this time we are all so fortunate to have access to this harvesting of wondrous flavors at our local markets and it just blows me away how much the local food economy in our region has progressed over the last decade. One would think as a chef I might have a better understanding of what it takes to prepare all of these things for future use, but until you’re face to face with the possibility of losing what you’ve worked so hard for all year, it’s difficult to understand what our farmers go through on a daily basis or at harvest time. I don’t presume to know either what the life of a farmer is like, I can only imagine. I can however begin now to understand the dedication and total involvement it takes to maintain this beautiful bounty year after year.
Those of you who work so hard to bring us all these products that have come from your blood, sweat, and tears over the seasons deserve a colossal thanks from those of us who rely on you to supply our families with the foods to help us stay healthy. We can only pray that we may help to sustain the movement, and your efforts. With a little luck and your perseverance we just may be able to pass these good practices and habits on to our youth.
Please show your Bridgeport Farmers Market Vendors how much they are appreciated by supporting them this fall and throughout the seasons.
We hope you will all join us in celebrating our first Annual Wild & Wonderful Table fundraiser September 10 in Sutton for a showcase of our local products by area chefs and entrepreneurs.
In the spirit of the harvest I leave you with my best pickled green bean recipe! Handed down to you the old-fashioned way in this case, HA!