Eat local: Grow your own

Published 8:07 am Thursday, September 20, 2018

Go to just about any restaurant these days and you’re likely to hear a recitation of the origins of every ingredient on your plate: the microgreens are from Manakin Sabot, the tomatoes are from Hanover and the mushrooms were foraged in Highland County just yesterday morning. The flour used to make your bread? Why, it was ground from a special heritage variety that was revived for your enjoyment. Sometimes it’s too much to bear.

You hear this talk everywhere and yet, the restaurant that is the ultimate eat local dining destination doesn’t bother with much of this hype. It just quietly puts out local food. The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine (population +/- 700 and not located near anywhere) is only open from early May until New Year’s Day. It seats 45 guests every night during that period. This year, the Lost Kitchen received more than 20,000 requests for reservations before opening day. The year before, the onslaught of calls crashed the local phone lines. The Lost Kitchen is on the latest list of 100 places/things you must do. What’s so special about a small restaurant at the end of the world? The food. It’s all locally grown or foraged or caught, but no one talks about purveyors; it’s just how most people in Freedom, Maine eat. The chef writes a new dinner menu every day, and it’s based on what local growers bring her. If a forager shows up with a bounty of morels, then they’ll be featured on the menu. The flowers on the tables and counters were picked along back roads. Nothing fancy ever.

But back to the food. Imagine a chilled squash soup garnished with impeccably fresh herbs and maybe a nasturtium flower. Follow that soup with a just caught fish that’s so fresh it’s practically wiggling and then indulge in a slice of buttermilk pound cake topped with compote of local fruit picked at the peak of perfection and you may just die of happiness. I know. I was there three years ago, before the madness began. The Lost Kitchen serves real food that’s fresh and perfectly prepared, but it’s nothing that we can’t do at home. It’s what your grandmother and great grandmother served every day or at least for Sunday dinner — corn that went from the field straight to a pot of boiling water; cantaloupes still warm from the afternoon sun; and eggs with yolk so yellow they might blind you. Oh, and butter churned at home and tasting of fresh grass and a hefty sprinkling of salt. Just real food simply prepared.

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While getting a reservation at the Lost Kitchen these days is nearly impossible, we can all feast just as well. Grow several tomato plants in pots on your deck. Plant some specialty peppers, herbs, and Swiss chard in your flower beds, and, yes, get to know your local farmers, the people growing heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, okra, squash blossoms and concord grapes. Find someone selling eggs with intensely yellow yolks, and you’ll want to put a fried egg on top of everything you cook. Just as important, teach your children and grandchildren about where their food comes from and how it is made. You may be surprised at what they think. I know I was. My grandchildren refuse to eat maple syrup because they think boiled tree sap is disgusting. They prefer the fake stuff.

Just grow something and teach others how to grow it too. Show others how to prepare fresh food. It’s all about sharing wisdom for the ages.

CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener who writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is cynthia.