Where to get your goat…

…and your heirloom tomatoes?  In Jenkintown, of course. Now Jenkintown, (Montgomery County, PA) hasn’t been home to a farm in a century, and when I moved here in 1984, a rather small Acme pretty much was it for food supplies. The world for foodies has changed considerably starting in the mid-1990’s. Zagara (short-lived but exciting while it lasted), Whole Foods, Produce Junction, Trader Joes, Peas in a Pod, and the Acme, are all within walking distance or short drives from anywhere in Jenkintown.          

The farms of Philadelphia’s surrounding counties – Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Lancaster and Berks – are historically famous for their products. Yet in this age of diet-by-frozen-foods, we forget that there are places within less than an hour’s drive where leg of goat (grass-fed) is available, as well as drop cherries, raw honey and Thai eggplant.              

Thai eggplant, heirloom tomatoes & carrots

 

This June, Jenkintown inaugurated a weekly Wednesday Farmers Market in the Town Square from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. For a variety of reasons, today was the first time I had a chance to check it out. I walked the less than 10 minutes from my house not necessarily with high expectations that I’d discover anything different from the normal stands of fresh, small-farm produce I’ve come to expect.           

It’s nice to be surprised in your own backyard. Three sizable stands of produce were brimming not only with the normal assortment. Herrcastle Farms (Holtwood, PA, Lancaster County) has an impressive display of heirloom tomatoes and the unusual drop cherry - beautiful yellow color and crisp texture. Tall Pine Farms’ (Rushland, PA, Bucks County) table caught my eye with a half-dozen eggplant varieties, including the crisp, tennis ball sized Thai eggplant that’s great in curry and stir-fry. Farmer Thad of Jett’s Produce (Telford, PA, Montgomery/Bucks County) prominently displays a sign “We grow chemical free.” Isn’t that organic? To Farmer Thad, it’s “organic” minus the bureaucracy, paperwork and high fees to be FDA organic certified. Herrcastle and Tall Pines, as well as many small farms I know in Pennsylvania, agree.             

Drop cherries

 

Not all is produce. In the center of the square at least six long tables were overflowing with cinnamon rolls, muffins, carrot cake, decorated cookies and at least a dozen savory breads including a still warm loaf of Olive Rosemary bread. This carb heaven is the work of Tabora Farm and Orchard (Hilltown, PA, Bucks County). It seems Tabora’s still a farm and orchard with a bakery that produces 160 different baked items per day!              

Tabora Farm's baked products

 

A small stand displayed raw honey, including my favorite, Buckwheat Honey. The product of Everich Honey Farm (Cedars, PA, Montgomery County), I had an informative conversation on the still real threat of Colony Collapse Disorder and the possible ties to the over use of chemicals in American farming. Coffee is in the mix as well with One Village Coffee (Souderton, PA, Bucks County) a company that takes corporate “fairshare” seriously, funding farming projects in third world coffee growing areas. A Little Taste of Tennessee (Jenkintown, PA, Montgomery County) started in April by Pat Walton, a Tennessee native is a new catering business and weekend restaurant in Jenkintown featuring the country foods of that state. At the market, they were offering Ms Ethel’s and Aunt Weeze’s nut brittle and a variety of fresh, crisp pickles – the Bread and Butter nicely under sweetened. Varieties with jalapeño peppers would probably burn my tongue off.          

Two craft stands are in the mix – one selling hand bags made with recycled material, and another table of handmade “Jewelry From a Writer, for Word Lovers” from Words at Play (Elkins Park, PA, Montgomery County). Janet Falon, a writer, creates necklaces and bracelets built with word blocks so the wearer can create a message.          

What really caught my eye, shortly after I arrived at the Market, was a mobile kitchen parked at the edge of the Square. Thinking it was a misplaced Philly Steak and hotdog stand, I finally walked up to the M & B Farview Farm (Hamburg, PA, Berks County) mobile unit to discover a refrigerated/freezer trailer selling grass-fed beef, veal, lamb, goat and pork. With a 142 acre farm (soon to grow to over 200 acres) M & B, from looking at their order form, utilizes every part of an animal offering kidneys, hotdogs, sausages as well as a full line of cheeses from both cow and goat milk. M & B’s ranching techniques would make both an American Indian and an Argentine Gaucho proud!           

Prices at the market are comparable to Whole Foods or anyplace selling premium products, but now you know where they’re coming from – your own backyard.           

           

  Herrcastle Farms, 198-A Douts Hill Road, Holtwood, PA 17532, www.herrcastlefarm.com          

Tall Pine Farms, 1046 Swamp Road, Rushland, PA 18956           

Jett’s Produce, 87 Ridge Road, Telford, PA 18969, www.facebook.com/JettsProduce           

Tabora Farm and Orchard, 1104 Upper Stump Road, Hilltown, PA, www.taborafarmandorchard.com/store/           

Everich Honey Farm, Cedars, PA 19446, (215-565-6422)           

 One Village Coffee,18 Cassel Road. Souderton PA 18964           

A Little Taste of Tennessee, 307 Old York Road,  Jenkintown, PA 19046 (215-432-8028 or 215-906-3903)            

Words at Play, Elkins Park, PA, 19027  (215-635-1698)           

 M & B Farview Farm, 229 Farview Road, Hamburg, PA              

 

Yiddish in the Pampas

 
                 “We planted wheat and grew doctors.” (Argentine Jewish saying)   

For a tourist, the Pampas present an endless flat grassland punctuated by small, nondescript towns and immense fenced estancias, many still owned by families that are a “who’s who” of Argentine society. Traveling through the pampas is akin to driving through Nebraska. As often as possible during my many trips across the Pampas, I traveled on comfortable overnight busses knowing that I was not missing any “sites” during the 1,000 mile journeys. Yet at day break, even bleary-eyed and looking out a bus window, I cannot deny the beauty of these grasslands bathed in the pink light of dawn, gossamer layers of mist hovering over the ground and the black cattle – herds of them – dotting the fields. 
 
Geographically, the Pampas is one immense great plain covering nearly 300,000 square miles of central and northern Argentina. Ecologically, it is divided into the southern wet pampas, dominated by cattle, and the northern dry pampas, dominated by large scale farming. For finance, it is the agricultural engine that made Argentina wealthy and comprises the single most important sector of the economy. For the national culture, this is the heartland of gaucho romanticism.   
 
 Gauchos are nomadic horsemen riding the plains, following herds of cattle – “cowboys” who developed their own code of honor, music, machismo and myths. Fiercely independent, they wore black hats and wide belts, and always carried a well-sharpened knife – and they still do. It’s said that some Jews at first mistook the bearded gauchos for rabbis on horseback. Ultimately it was the gauchos who taught the Jews how to survive. 
 
As befitting an immigrant nation, the Pampas attracted its own unique settlers. Like the United States, Argentina was actively recruiting immigrants to fill the vast and empty country. Eight hundred eighty-four Jews arrived in 1889, escaping persecution in Russia, without tools or provisions in a geography far different from Eastern Europe. Months later, William Lowenthal, a Romanian Jew, surveying the countryside for the Argentine railroads, discovered a ragged band of settlers living, literally, at the end of the line. Having been transported to the sparsely populated northern Pampas, they were stranded and their meager savings were soon exhausted. Lowenthal found them subsisting on hand-outs from workers extending the line. Appalled, he urgently appealed to the Baron Mauricio de Hirsch — financier, philanthropist, and builder of the Orient Express, the legendary rail link between Paris and Istanbul. De Hirsch immediately came to the aid of the impoverished settlers. This was the beginning of the first Jewish agricultural colony in Argentina: Moises Ville (the Village of Moses).  
 
 With an endowment of $450 million ($12 billion in 2010 dollars) Hirsch created the nonprofit Jewish Colonization Association. Between 1891 and 1932 the JCA purchased  one and a quarter million acres  in the provinces of Santa Fe, Buenos Aires as well as watery Entre Rios for Jewish settlement. The Jewish Colonization Association gave each family a 200 acre homestead, a mortgage, a few cows and some chickens. Yiddish-speaking Jews from Eastern Europe, many with beards and side curls, were transplanted to Spanish-speaking, Catholic Argentina bringing the Torah, pickled herring, building wooden synagogues and becoming farmers and ranchers of the vast pampas.  
Jewish gauchos, playing guitars and sipping mate, could be seen strolling the village plazas in the Argentine colonies. Where there had been a wilderness, the pioneers built schools and libraries, hospitals and theaters, synagogues and agricultural cooperatives. The 72-minute documentary, Legacy — produced by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation — is the second best experience other than traveling through the pampas. 
 
 Despite an element of anti-Semitism, which seems to be fading since the terrible events of the early 1990’s, Jewish-Argentine society has prospered, but most of the Jewish towns in the pampas either no longer exist or have lost their Jewish populations. In the post World War II years, the younger generations migrated into Buenos Aires for educational and professional opportunities. Today the Jewish community in the capital is over 200,000, and you can eat kosher pizzas or grilled Argentine beef, both dairy or meat – in separate sections – at El Pasaje Resto & Bar and at dozens of delis and shops. 
 
 Food does bring people together.  

 

You can read more about Gauchos and the Pampas at my web site: www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com

 

 

     
 

 

 

Welcome to the ends of the Earth

Welcome to the ends of the Earth… 

 

 …and to your own backyard. Travel with Pen and Palate Blog will soon post on organic food in Pennsylvania, an ode to the ham and cheese sandwich and an essay on Jewish gauchos in Argentina.  

 

Many childhood weeks visiting grandparents in Florida and wandering the South of the 1950′s excited a life-long desire to travel. Summers spent at an ancestral home in Canada stirred a love of discovery. A year of university in Ireland, travels in England, Scotland, Luxemburg, Germany, France, Austria and Italy and nine years working in Puerto Rico, as well as travels to various Caribbean Islands, has infected me with the incurable desire to have fun learning about other cultures. Six months exploring over 15,000 miles of Argentina while creating the web site www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com cemented the fun of sharing experiences through vivid personal essays.   

Thirty-five years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality world, and as a Chef/Educator, coupled with a diverse educational background, helps me focus on the kaleidoscope of images a traveler experiences every day. As a chef, the question’s not only “what’s to eat?,” but rather “is the food grown/raised local?,” “who makes the best comfort food,?” and “most adventurous dishes?” What makes the local area unique – what culture/diverse backgrounds did the residents come from? What traditions did they bring to a new land?” The more I travel the longer the list of questions, which makes the journey more exciting.   

Travel with Pen and Palate will apply the same sense of wonder whether writing on a great craft market in New Jersey or catering a Good Friday meatless buffet in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Travel with Pen and Palate is a magazine without borders.

Enjoy reading as much as I do writing!

Chef Marc d’Entremont

Member: American Culinary Federation

International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association

Feature Writer for Suite101.com

International and Philadelphia Fine Dining Examiner for Examiner.com

Header photo by Marc d’Entremont : Alaska dawn, September 2010