Monday, September 19, 2011

Good food for autumn

Click to "embiggen"
This week, an extraordinary event took place in Santa Monica. It was the Good Food Festival & Conference. Celebrating the bounty of the Farmers' Market and also the 30th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, the event took place all over town.

It opened with a kick-off at the Wednesday Farmers' market - the grand-daddy of the Los Angeles farmers' market movement. It's one of the largest, most diverse and most sought-after markets in town, where famous chefs come to shop for fresh produce for the finest restaurants in Los Angeles.

Over the next four days, at venues all over town, you could enjoy a film festival, a conference on food policy and public health, an art show featuring rediscovered WPA artwork, and a marketplace with book signings, cooking demos, and delicious foods for sale. There were gardening workshops, talks with famous chefs, and symposia on the modern organic farming industry.

On Friday night, I snuck into a $125 per person benefit gala featuring tastes from over 30 chefs - just for a quick peek, you understand. But sadly, I erased those photos by mistake.

Bonus gift - a recipe for Fig crostini!
Saturday and Sunday I went to the much more affordable ($10 per person) Street Fair, which was held on the campus of Santa Monica High School.

There was a food court with a dozen or so of the coolest food trucks, including the Border Grill truck, where I got this delicious pork taco

There were also the Green Truck; the Grilled Cheese Sandwich truck; a Vietnamese banh mi truck; the gourmet hot dog vendor Let's Be Frank, and the ultra trendy ice cream sandwich truck Cool Haus.

I was interested in some workshops about canning, pickling and preserving - so naturally I checked out the vendors of preserves, pickles and jellies in the festival.

Gunnar and Jake's Gourmet Foods had a booth, and they offered samples of their delicious pickles. A young family with a thriving small business, they make fantastic pickles - and the kids are fabulous salesmen! For me, looking to explore pickling on my own, their offerings were more inspiring than tempting. I did end up buying a jar of dill pickles, since [The Man I Love] loves dill pickles.

The Farmers Kitchen is another vendor of pickles and preserves. They had pickles for sale, but also kits to help home cooks make kim chi and other fermented treats. They also conduct classes and hands-on workshops in their Hollywood kitchen.

Lemonbird Handmade Jams offered some really delectable jams, jellies and preserves with unusual flavor pairings. Grilled peach spiced with coriander? Sweet tomato jam flavored with vanilla bean? Sweet onion confit? Satsuma plum with Sichuan pepper? Lilac jam? Wow!

One thing that struck me about all these pickle and preserve vendors was the price of their products. They all looked - and tasted - delicious. But the prices were premium. Ten dollars for a quart jar of pickles? Yikes! But that almost sounded fair compared to eleven dollars for a pint jar of jam at another vendor. While I understand how quality ingredients plus artisanal creativity justify premium prices - how many people in today's economy can afford double-digit pickles?

But perhaps that's a compelling reason to explore canning your own pickles and preserves.

I attended three workshops - the first was on preserving lemons. Our lemons are due to ripen in a couple months, and I'm itching to make limoncello and Moroccan preserved lemons.

Plum jam bubbling away during a demonstration
A workshop on plum jam showed how very easy it is to work with this delectable fruit. Next year, I hope to beat the birds to my plums!

Finally, a workshop on canning tomatoes by Kevin West really inspired me. Perhaps later in the season, I'll can crushed tomatoes as he demonstrated. But after leaving the festival, I stopped by the Palisades Farmers' Market and bought eight pounds of tomatoes to make one of my favorite home-canned treats - homemade ketchup!

It's a little silly to have a hot stove bubbling away on a warm Sunday afternoon - but the smell is heavenly and the ketchup is worth it!

I cooked it down for a couple of hours. Eight pounds of tomatoes yielded nine pint jars of ketchup. It's spicy and tangy-sweet. Although I know [The Man I Love] will like it hot, next time I make it I might not put in so much red chile flakes.

And the price? Well...I got eight pounds of tomatoes for $7, buying them during the last half-hour of the Sunday Palisades market. I bought a dozen Ball pint jars for $8.99 - with lids and bands - and of course the jars and bands are reusable.  I figure it's about $1.60 per pint for the tomatoes and the jars, and you can round it up to $2.00 for the onion, spices, sugar, and vinegar that were already in my pantry.

Making your own premium preserves is pretty cost effective!

I had a lot of fun, and the whole process led to more delicious ideas. What should I try next? Piccalilli? Bread-and-butter pickles? Pickled carrot sticks? Apple butter?

Not only was the Good Food Festival great for the community, it was a great opportunity for SAMOHI students to get involved. Lots of student volunteers helped with guidance, ticketing, production and set-up. Who knows, maybe some of them will go on to be cooks, or farmers, or food industry professionals. Maybe they'll even make ketchup!


smalltownme said...

Glorious fall colors!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I haven't seen many apples for sale around here. The darned imported stink bugs have made an impact.

Karen S. said...

You are right! Too perfect! Stunning way to move into fall....

Max said...

All those peppers make me long for a bowl of the black bean soup I make. I'll go down to the grocery and get a couple of each type of pepper for it, mmmmmm good.

A Paperback Writer Photos said...

That top one is beautiful!

Little Nell said...

All such glorious colours, but the first one is a beauty. It was a mistake to view this very interesting post with an empty stomach! Now I’m off to raid the fridge.,..purely healthy options you understand!

Anonymous said...

That first picture is absolutely incredible. I can barely see beyond it.

Limar said...

Lovely and colourful :)

Audrina said...

How lovely, beautiful colors. We are tempted with our eyes first.

Bob Scotney said...

All this needs is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing in the background. Now I'm hungry.

Carmi said...

Mother Nature really can paint! The colors are so saturated...I need to spend more time making the rounds of the markets. You've inspired me. Again :)