Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson travelled thousands of miles, tasting some of the freshest ingredients along the way. They found world-famous chefs who eagerly share their enthusiasm for fresh, seasonal ingredients. And they sought out the best recipes to highlight those flavors. In Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans, they share such treasures as chef Renee Savary’s crispy roast duck, a grown-up grilled cheese from Jodi Swank, and Reda Larson’s divine peanut butter pie. The result is a cookbook like no other; a delicious celebration of Florida food and cooking that’ll lead you from the kitchen to the farmers’ market and home again.
I had the opportunity to interview these three remarkable women recently for the release of their new book. They will be presenting at Books and Cooks, an evening celebrating local talent at the Winter Park Civic Center this Thursday October 25th 2012 (details below).
Pam Brandon is managing editor of Edible Orlando magazine and a food columnist for OrlandoSentinel.com and the Palm Beach Post. She has written eleven cookbooks, including Delicious Disney Holidays and the 2012 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival cookbook. Pam grew up in West Virginia, where farm to table was a way of life. Her favorite taste of Florida is a toss-up: spicy hot boiled peanuts or wild-caught Gulf shrimp.
Katie Farmand claims the rare title of native Floridian. She was born and raised in the Sunshine State sipping Polar Cups and eating backyard tomatoes in February. Katie is the editor of Edible Orlando magazine and a freelance food writer, recipe developer, and food stylist. Her recipes have been featured in the Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Tampa Tribune. Her blog, TheThinChef.com, is a collection of her original recipes and photography. This is her first cookbook.
Heather McPherson is the food editor and restaurant critic for the Orlando Sentinel and a past president of the Association of Food Journalists. She has written two cookbooks, including Barbecue! Great Ideas for Backyard Get-Togethers, and has edited four others, including The Florida Cookbook: A Lighter Look at Southern Cooking. Heather grew up in Indiana sneaking vine-ripe cherry tomatoes from her grandmother’s summer garden and helping her mother, sister, and cousins snap beans for family dinners. For her, no Florida meal is complete without local beef, sweet corn, fried okra, warm biscuits dripping with honey, and late-winter berries.
TastyChomps (TC): How do you ladies all know each other? How did the idea of Field to Feast spring up?
Pam Brandon (Pam): Heather and I have been friends for more than 20 years – we met through work when I was a Disney publicist and she was (still is) food editor for The Orlando Sentinel; Katie is my daughter, and Heather has known her since she was a child. We all have journalism degrees; Katie develops recipes and does food photo styling, so we all brought writing-editing skills to the table.
The book started over a cup of coffee — Heather and I meet for a monthly gab and coffee. We often mused about projects we could work on together. When Katie and I launched Edible Orlando (she’s the editor, I’m the managing editor), we began to discover the stories of local farmers and artisans, and Heather has followed the local dining movement for years as food editor for The Orlando Sentinel. Heather wrote the proposal to University Press of Florida, and we were delighted when they said “yes!” A book was born.
TC: During the process of bringing this book to life, you all travelled thousands of miles around the state tasting the freshest ingredients along the way and meeting local chefs and farmers. Do you have any special stories from your adventures to share?
Pam: From peanuts and olive trees in the Panhandle to exotic tropical fruits in South Florida, we found such abundance. And we love that we discovered families who have been farming for generations, and neo-agrarians who grow just to sell at a local farm market. And pretty much everything in between. I loved the story of Teena Borek, a tomato farmer in Homestead who lost her husband when they both young farmers in their 20s and she went on to become a farmer with her two young sons — she grows some of the best hydroponic tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. I adored the Swank family in Palm Beach County, who live in a humble manufactured home on the farm with their three young children and raise vegetables that are sold at some of the top restaurants in South Florida — Darrin delivers the produce right to the kitchen door, and Jodi is a fixture at the Palm Beach farm market. Truly, every farmer has a story worth sharing. A doctor of psychology who’s now growing tropicals in Homestead; a Swiss woman who’s raising ducks in North Florida; a guy who’s growing hydroponics with solar power in Ruskin. We loved the stories and wish we had more room!
Katie Farmand (Katie): One of my favorite stories is of Don Meuller of Green Gate Olive Grove. He fell in love with olives while visiting Europe, and when he retired to Florida in the panhandle, he worked for many years to get olive trees not just to grow, but also to produce fruit…and eventually he was successful! Now he has a thriving olive grove and produces his own oil, as well as brined olives.
Heather McPherson (Heather): I loved the legacies that are thriving such as Doug McGinnis and his sister Patricia at Tropical Blossom Honey Co. in Edgewater, south of New Smyrna Beach. The company was founded in 1940 by their parents, David K. and Helen McGinnis. David kept bees in the orange groves, swamps and forests of Central Florida. Helen packed the bee’s honey in jars and they sold their hand-packed treasures up and down Florida’s coasts. The company specializes in the thick, sweet elixirs that are uniquely Florida: orange blossom, Tupelo, palmetto, unfiltered tropical wild honey and citrus honeys enhanced with the natural essence of Key limes and tangerines. Tropical Blossom sells honey throughout the United States and to more than 20 countries around the world.
Also, for 12 generations the name Lightsey has been associated with cattle ranching. Since the 1850s, in Central Florida, there have been six generations who have worked the land. Marcia and husband Cary, along with Cary’s brother Layne and wife Charlotte, manage more than 6,000 head of cattle on more than 32,000 acres in three Florida counties for the Lightsey Cattle Co.. The 7th and 8th generations are now learning the trade. It’s big farming with an eye for critical environmental detail. Marcia Lightsey told me: “One day you realize that as ranchers you have the same goals as environmental activists. Clean water, good soil and clean air are critical to our livestock and preservation of our land. Instead of pushing back, we opened our doors and invited people in to see how practices — such as rotational cattle grazing to prevent erosion, water recycling in our groves and controlled burning to rejuvenate the land and wildlife habitats — have paid off. Our ranches are home to many rare and endangered species. We have about 14 active bald eagles’ nests, scrub-jays, gopher tortoises and black bears. Our 3,000-acre ranch on Brahma Island in Lake Kissimmee is home to 28 protected species, including snail kites.”
TC: As long time foodies, I am sure you have probably seen your share of food trends come and go. What were some of the strangest that you can remember? What are some of your favorite food trends today?
Heather: As a culture we have a hard time of grasping moderation. Headlines tell consumers eat this, eat that, live longer, run faster etc. I remember phone calls from readers who were drinking olive oil because they heard monounsaturated fats were good for you. They are. Just not by the cup. Some of my favorite trends today include no boundaries as we explore the flavor nuances of diverse cuisines (blueberries, corn masa, cardamom), local sourcing of food, shopping at real farm markets, community supported agriculture and retro-cocktails.
Katie: – I’ve noticed a real shift in people caring where their food was grown, and where and how the meat they eat was raised. Many chefs are putting lists of farmers and artisans on their menus, and local-only farmers’ markets are popping up in communities all around us. I think it’s really exciting, not only to see the support of small farms, but also to see people getting interested in finding the roots, so to speak, of what ends up on their dinner plates.
TC: A few local chefs are also featured alongside local farmers in the book. Can you tell us a little about them?
The local chefs we feature are all sourcing as much as they can regionally, and celebrate Florida farms with their menus. Kevin Fonzo (K Restaurant & Wine Bar) grows a garden right outside the restaurant’s back door – and spends a great deal of his time educating children about the importance of eating healthfully through a program with a local school. Chef Brandon McGlamery (Luma on Park and Prato) has local farmers delivering produce right to the restaurant. Chefs James and Julie Petrakis (The Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder) showcase local farmer products on a blackboard in the dining room at Cask & Larder, where there’s usually a dozen or more featured.
TC: Both Katie and Heather have fond memories of ripe tomatoes growing up, if you could go somewhere locally, where can we get the best tomatoes in Central Florida?
Pam and Katie: [We] love the hydroponic tomatoes from Waterkist Farm in Sanford. You can get them at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market from November through June. Heather agrees, but also suggests checking out the Blue Bayou (Yalaha) and Long & Scott (Zellwood) farm markets. [She] also love[s] the flavor of the Florida grape tomatoes especially Santa Sweets sold in major supermarkets.
Palmetto Creek Farms
TC: Pam, what’s the secret to a really good bag of spicy hot boiled peanuts?
Pam: Fresh green peanuts and the recipe from Page 34 in the book – I’ve tried the roadside version many times, but this recipe from Holland Farms up in Milton was simply the best. (And let them cool in the water to completely soak up the flavor.)
TC: I know it’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child, but what were some of your favorite recipes from the book?
Pam: The boiled peanuts (Holland Farms in Milton), Dale Volkert’s lemon curd (Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee) Renee Savary’s roast duck (Twin Oaks Farm in Bonifay) and the fresh passion fruit juice (Gaby’s Farm in Homestead).
Heather: The Spicy Strawberry Margarita with nice jalapeno kick (Parkesdale Farm and Market in Plant City), Cilantro-Lime Kohl Slaw (Superganic Farm, Pensacola) and Radish Top Soup (Worden Farm, Punta Gorda)
Katie: [My] favorites are the saucy beef tacos (Lightsey Cattle Co. in Lake Wales), the olive oil cake (Green Gate Olive Grove in Jackson County) and the sweet corn chowder (Long & Scott Farms in Zellwood).
TC: If you could give advice to all the home chefs out there looking to cook good food at home, what advice would you give them?
Heather: Think fresh and buy local as much as possible. For Central Florida, local to me is a 100 mile swath that circles up to Alachua County, out into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and across the St. Johns River and loops downward to the top of Lake Okeechobee. That’s a huge market basket of produce, fish, seafood, beef, poultry, eggs and more.
Katie: Don’t be afraid to try something new and out of your comfort zone. Pick one new recipe a week that you’ve never attempted—it’s a great way to learn new skills and to try different flavors. And always use the best quality ingredients you can afford. When you can, buy them from local sources. Choose fresh, crisp veggies with brightly colored skin…use whole milk, real butter, and kosher salt…use fresh herbs and a fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor of almost anything…and, most importantly, have fun in the kitchen.
TC: Where can we find the book locally? Will you be at any book signing events soon?
You can purchase signed copies at our website, www.fieldtofeastfl.com. It’s also available at Barnes & Noble, Books a Million, and Amazon; we’re at Books & Cooks Oct. 25 at the Winter Park Civic Center, and will be selling and signing books at the Winter Park Harvest Festival on Nov. 17.
What are some future projects you are working on?
A companion Florida seafood book is next!
Catch Pam, Heather, and Katie at Books and Cooks this Thursday October 25th at the Winter Park Civic Center