Missouri, Wisconsin and North Carolina don't come to mind when we think of wine-producing states. Nor do Iowa, Virginia and Michigan and maple syrup. But there they were, among the baskets sent by 15 states to show off local products at the Great Exchange, a conference about the marketing side of family farming, held here earlier this month.
For three days farmers discussed what consumers want and how to get it to them freshest. They talked of growing crops for the existing market rather than just hoping to sell whatever they grow, and about integrated pest management rather than heavy dependence on chemical pesticides. There were seminars on farm markets, pick-your-own operations, and how to sell directly to restaurants.
They came from Oregon and Tennessee, from South Dakota and Massachusetts. There were a couple hundred large and small farmers, representatives of state departments of agriculture, people with grants to set up farm markets. Several people came from Manhattan's Greenmarkets, which have 180 farmers in 18 locations. From California came muscovy duck farmer Marc Leinwand, and from Iowa egg producer Roger Steffens of the Fatted Fowl, who had turned disaster into booming direct sales to restaurants.
There were brand new strawberry growers and old-time soybean farmers, one of whom was losing his farm and turning to vegetable-growing in Iowa. Joe Huber of Borden, Ind., was there. He not only sells his produce fresh, but also cooks it in his own restaurant (the corn served is never more than three hours old). There was a farmer planning a barbecue operation for family dinners complete with hayrides and children's games.
The wonderful diversity of it all showed in the baskets, submitted for a contest to show off state products. Some of the states could be identified immediately by their products: Louisiana's crab boil, Tabasco and chicory coffee; Florilda's key lime juice and citrus fruit; Pennsylvania's dried sweet corn and Lebanon bologna, not to mention its Heinz ketchup and giant Hershey Kisses. South Dakota showed whimsy in its miniature Mount Rushmore in chocolate, and presented a serious collection of about 15 sausages and cured meats, including buffalo sausage.
Americans will always be clearly Americans, so there were potato chips galore (including South Dakota's thick and crunchy "Industrial Strength" chips) and popcorn in several baskets. Even more, the entries showed innovation. Missouri's was the most glamorous, a giant basket several feet in diameter, roughly woven of grapevines, studded with silk apple blossoms. What a breakfast it could have produced, with its bacon, eggs, ham, summer sausage and honey. It had black walnuts and pecans, grape juice as well as wine, and apples fresh, in cider and cooked into apple butter.
Oregon's basket showed the most exciting variety of handcrafted foods. The state's legendary marionberries were made into jam, the apples into cider mint vinegar and apple-pepper-onion chutney. Blackberries were transformed into a whole-berry condiment called Blackberry Jazz, cranberries into nutty candies, raspberries into a fudge sauce, hazelnuts into nut-honey butter.
The basket that showed the widest range and abundance of produce, though, was New York's. Into wintry Iowa it had brought 10 kinds of apples, four kinds of radishes (daikon, horseradish, Chinese red radish and black radish). New York's basket had Oriental products (adzuki beans) and French (two goat cheeses). It had red and yellow hot peppers in bunches, mushrooms and shallots and even bee pollen. Most unusual were the dried baby Indian corns. It looked like what one would might expect from California. California, on the other hand, showed merely one orange, one grapefruit, canned nuts, dried raisins and apricots -- plus wine and flowers.
What would I pull out to make the all-American basket? Certainly the lush and varied produce of New York and the charming condiments of Oregon, Indian fry bread mix from South Dakota and Oklahoma, Nebraska's chokecherry jelly, Wisconsin's pie cherries, Pennsylvania's chowchow and Dutch pretzels and, along with Virginia, its hydroponic "living lettuce." I would also add Virginia's Smithfield ham and peanuts, shiitake mushrooms and grits. Louisiana's creole condiments would be vital, and North Carolina's country ham, hot sauces and liver pudding. Florida would add its vegetables and kumquats, Iowa its toasted sweet corn, popcorn and corncob jelly. And California's pistachios would be just a beginning for that state's representation.
While the farmers and bureaucrats talked and developed marketing ideas, chefs from Des Moines showed their perceptions of American cooking in Iowa corn fritters from the Hotel Fort Des Moines, Iowa quail and beef served side by side from the Metz restaurant, and Iowa garden vegetables turned into Poached Eggs Iowa Princess for an imaginative brunch by the Des Moines Golf & Country Club. Diced vegetables and poached eggs had been piled into a cunning crepe cup formed by dipping a heated fluted metal ramekin into thin buttermilk pancake batter and, holding it with tongs, deep-frying it until golden (English muffins work perfectly well if less charmingly).
It was Sibella Kraus, of California's Greenleaf Produce, who summed up the confluence of farmers, chefs and administrators in the Great Exchange: "I think it's wonderful when people start thinking of agricultural products as food." Tabletalk
* A couple years ago the Paris Chamber of Commerce cooperated in setting up a French professional cooking school in New York called the French Culinary Institute. Now the Paris organization is setting up its own nine-month bilingual course at home, starting in September, billed as "France's first bilingual cooking program in a nationally accredited hotel/restaurant school awarding a diploma from the Ministry of Education." For more information write Paris En Cuisine/Spencer Associates, 130 So. Bemiston, St. Louis, Mo. 63105.
* Happy Hours are on their way out, though perhaps in name only. These days those 5-to-7 nibble-and-drink times are being called Hungry Hours or Healthy Hours. And Ran-Getsu, a Japanese restaurant chain in Orlando, Fla., is adding another meal to the lexicon. It is Snacktime, from 10 p.m. to midnight. Next, I presume, will be 4 a.m. Refrigerator Raiding, when the chef has gone home and the diners do it themselves.
* For the person who has been everywhere and tried everything there is still one possibility: Gourmet Tours of Australia. Surely a first. They are planned by World Travelers, Inc., 19032 66th Ave. S., Suite C-107, Kent, Seattle, Wash. 98032. Telephone 800-426-3610. What gives me pause, though, is that the brochure promises "British Type Recipes." POACHED EGGS IOWA PRINCESS (4 servings) 1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter 1/2 cup chopped leeks 1 cup diced sugar-cured smoked ham 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper 1/4 cup diced cooked potatoes 1/4 cup cooked corn 1/2 teaspoon tarragon 1 fresh tomato, diced Salt and pepper to taste 8 toasted english muffin halves or crepe cups* 8 eggs, poached softly 1 cup hollandaise sauce (recipe below) Slivered black olives for garnish
Melt butter and saute' leeks, ham, pepper, potatoes, corn and tarragon until tender. Add tomatoes, season to taste. Spoon mixture onto muffins and top with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. Garnish with slivered black olives. HOLLANDAISE SAUCE (Makes 1 cup) 3 egg yolks 1 tablespoon cold water 1 tablespoon lemon juice Pinch salt 3/4 cup butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons cold butter White pepper and lemon juice to taste
Beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute in a saucepan, or until they become thick and sticky. Add water, lemon juice and salt and beat for half a minute more.
Add 1 tablespoon cold butter, but do not beat it in. Place the saucepan over very low heat or barely simmering water and stir the egg yolks with a wire whip until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whip.
Immediately remove from heat and beat in remaining tablespoon of cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking. Then, beating the egg yolks with a wire whip, pour on the melted butter by droplets or quarter-teaspoonfuls until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then pour the butter a little more rapidly. Omit the milky residues at the bottom of the butter pan.
Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
*For crepe cups: Heat oil for deep frying. Heat metal ramekins or other small fluted metal molds and, holding with tongs, dip them into thinned buttermilk pancake batter so a thin layer of batter adheres to the outside. Then dip the batter-covered ramekins into hot oil until golden brown, remove batter shell from ramekins and drain.