The dog days of summer are upon us, the sultry time when the rainfall diminishes and the temperatures rise, the corn stalks tower and the tomatoes finally turn fat and red on the vine. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional dog days from about July 3 to August 11, though in early times — when humankind’s observation of the sun ruled all — the period was figured to be 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the Dog Star) and the sun.
Centre County locavores will have their time in the sun this week when the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture presents Local Foods Week from Aug. 2 to Aug. 8. In addition to events at area farmers markets, several local restaurants are creating special menus that make the most of what is in season here in central Pennsylvania. Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering will donate 20 percent of each guest check to PASA when you tell your server that you are there to support the Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative. Spats Café and Speakeasy and Elk Creek Café + Aleworks will offer additional local food menu items that are in their prime at this time of year.
This year’s events include the 5th Annual Boalsburg Market Golden Basket Chef Competition, when six area chefs compete in live cooking demos to determine the best application of technique and training to quality local product. Come to be inspired and amazed.
The Golden Basket competitors include reigning champ Kirsch McMaster from the Nittany Lion Inn who won last year with his “Guinea Fowl, Two Ways.” This tour de force used guinea hen from Cow-a-Hen Farm that was broken down into components that received different treatments. The breast meat became a roulade stuffed with trim meat from the deboning, herbs and smoked sausage. The roulade was wrapped in bacon and vacuum sealed for two hours of sous vide cooking for two hours before it was pan fried in clarified butter. The leg and thigh were confit’ed, cured for four days and cooked sous vide for 16 hours. The side dishes on the beautifully arranged plate were Anson Mills coarse grits with smoked cheddar and baby leeks cooked in Good Intent apple cider. Not a dish likely to be made by a home cook, but one that certainly dazzled the judges whose unanimous decision resulted in McMaster winning the Golden Basket award.
Will the stakes be as high this year? The six chefs that will step up to the hot plate are Mike Benjamin, of Benjamin’s Catering; John Clickner, of Gigi’s; Jeremiah McClanahan, of Fasta & Ravioli Co; Kirsch McMaster defending his title; Harrison Schailey, of Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering; and Erin Snyder, of Elk Creek Café + Aleworks.
The cooking competition will commence at 2 p.m., with each chef having 45 minutes to prepare a main dish and two sides from ingredients produced by Boalsburg Farmers Market vendors. The chefs scouted out what was available last Tuesday and have had a week to dream and scheme and to do any pre-preparation that will facilitate the tight cooking time and al fresco kitchen.
This year’s lucky judges include Kate Delano, State College magazine editor and Chefs on Stage coordinator; Elizabeth Goreham, mayor of State College; Kevin Kassab, supervisor of inspections for the State College Borough’s Health Department; Michele Marchetti, Friends & Farmers Cooperative board member and freelance writer; Jamie Oberdick, WPSU Local Food Journey contributing blogger; and Vilma Shu Danz, food writer for Town & Gown.
PASA’s Local Foods Week includes a summer conference on Soil Health for farmers and gardeners on Aug. 6-7 at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall, also the site of Farm Fest, on Aug. 7-8. This event is put on by Pennsylvania Certified Organic and is lots of fun for children and families. The organic farmer takeover of the tents at the Grange Fair is worth the drive out to Centre Hall to witness. Workshops, exhibits, local organic food and music are featured attractions.
And last, but by no means least, is the 10th annual Farm Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 8.This is not to be missed if you have never attended because it gives you a whole new appreciation for the farmers that stand behind their vendor tables at the market each week and just what it takes to bring those foodstuffs to the table. Check out the list of participating farms on the PASA website and purchase your pass for $15 per carload or $10 for a bike. If you are not able to make a day of it, visit individual farms for $5 each. Be sure to check out the map and plan your day to make the most of your time as the 11 farms cover a wide geographic area. Farm Tour passes can be purchased at Tait Farm Foods, Nature’s Pantry, Webster’s Bookstore Café, through the Friends & Farmers online market and from PASA tables set up at the Tuesday Boalsburg market on Aug. 4 and the State College Downtown Market on Aug. 7. The PASA office at 104 North St. in Millheim and the PASA booth at FarmFest will also sell the tour passes.
For more information, check out www.pasafarming.org/events/pasa-events/centre-county-farm-tour with handy links for deciding just where you want to go to get your “farm” on.