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Acadian Cake illustration by Toki OshimaBecause I often cook for large groups, I try to be sensitive to individuals’ many eating styles and dietary requirements. One diet that has become increasingly prevalent is gluten-free. This diet excludes all foods that contain gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat, and in similar proteins found in crops of the tribe Triticeae, including kamut, spelt, barley, rye, malts and triticale.

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RaspberriesStarting in June, my friend Heather and I celebrate the seasonal bounty with weekly trips we call Farm Days. Every Thursday we leave Deer Isle, car packed with cooler, shopping tote and six-pack carrier, and enjoy a local foods treasure hunt. When we return home, we'll provision our kitchens with the best of the summer harvest and delicious, farm-fresh treats.

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Garden at MOFGAWe all pack a lot into our fleeting Maine summers. Lettuce, spinach and peas intertwine with weddings and graduations, green beans and raspberries bump up against summer camp, melons and blueberries go to the beach, sweet corn attends a barbeque, tomatoes are the life of the party, then the kale finds itself wondering where the woolly sweaters got stowed, and the carrots and potatoes actually need some warmer gloves for this task.

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LambsquartersLambsquarters! Pigweed! Fat-hen, goosefoot, bacon weed, dirty Dick, Muck Hill weed. Despite numerous, often odoriferous monikers (and this little list is only partial), Chenopodium album is a delicious, nutritious delight for foragers, and a summer treat no one should miss.

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When the skies turn a dark, mottled gray and the clouds start to scurry as the winds pick up from the northeast, my heart flutters. As the elegant spruce trees bend into swirling white snowflakes and our lights flicker, my taste buds quiver. There's a winter gale coming: time for a pot of cassoulet.

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RhubarbOne of the joys of local, seasonal, organic eating is anticipating the bounty of summer. Once the first ruby stalks of rhubarb unfurl and the golden dandelion blossoms beckon, my gastronomical fever quickens. My mouth waters for freshly steamed fiddleheads tossed with farm butter, tender asparagus shoots, crunchy-sweet sugar snap peas, sun-warmed raspberries. It's the start of a whole new season of eating!

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Toki Oshima drawingPulling out a cookbook or two can spark new ideas, or at least inspire a new twist on the same old root cellar and freezer fare. This spring’s new twist is tarts, both sweet and savory. They make leeks and carrots strut their stuff anew. Spinach gets all dressed up with feta. Broccoli dances with celeriac in a potato crust. The beet and cabbage salad suggests a little candle light, maybe some music. The strawberry tart says to turn it up a notch.

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John BunkerThe Great Maine Apple Day – to be held on Saturday, Oct. 24, this year [2009] – is one of my favorite events at MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center in Unity.

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Sales in the seed trade were up 30 to 80 percent this spring. The growth was attributed to the increased interest in eating more locally grown food. People are getting closer to their food sources, whether from farmers’ markets and farm stands or a community supported agriculture share, or from locally grown, seasonal produce in restaurants. We want to put a face on the farmer who grew our food, to have a conversation deeper than the checkout line query of “paper or plastic?”

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When I was just starting to garden in northern Maine, I would stop at a small, local greenhouse to ask the older woman who ran the operation about seedling problems or how to plant something. I no longer remember her name or much of what she looked like, but I vividly recall the lush plants she  grew every year on the last 15 feet of bench space.

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Long before I ventured into the catering and restaurant business, I learned to cook for large crowds by volunteering at community meals.  The grey-haired ladies who cheerfully organize and prepare our baked bean suppers, chowder fests, spaghetti feeds, chili cook-offs and fundraising dinners have much to teach us.

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Orenco applesAs the weather gradually changes, so do our eating habits. I add white beans to the pasta that is tossed with the last of the sautéed summer tomatoes. The flesh from our Halloween pumpkin is roasted and frozen, ready to be pureed into soups and baked into muffins. Ruby-red cranberries are put up into sauce and relish.

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Siberian kaleTo go out to a snow covered tunnel or cold frame, brush away the snow and open the lid never fails to give me a sense of magical wonder and reverential awe.

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I feel like I have come full circle. When I started writing this column close to 25 years ago, I converted the sugar in recipes to honey or maple syrup, and I wrote about how to use other sweeteners in recipes. At the time, white sugar was called “white death,” and some parents went to extremes to keep it from their children.

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Onions at Common Ground Education CenterWith the fall harvest, I declared the season a great success. The garlic, leeks and onions were watered three times in July. As a result I had a bumper crop of alliums. I could actually use a few small onions – you know, when you need just a little onion, a few tablespoons, minced finely. With softball-sized onions you have to put half of it in the fridge, then remember that it’s there. At last count there were three partial onions in my fridge; but who can really complain about onions that are too big? We should all have such problems.

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BroccoliAround the end of June or the very beginning of July, the garden changes dramatically from a plot full of fragile seedlings and newly seeded rows into a full-blown summer garden. This year the shift occurred on July first in my garden.

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Pancakes – they’re not just for breakfast any more. They haven’t been for centuries, but lately most of us seem to think of pancakes as synonymous with blueberries and maple syrup. Pancakes in one form or another are a part of every culture, including scallion pancakes or pa jun in Korea, German potato pancakes, Jewish potato latkes, Sephardic bimuelos, and Scandinavian pancakes in many forms – and so many more.

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When I first farmed in Maine, I would set up a little table in the garage by the road and sell produce. Each week on Fridays, the same women would stop to buy summer cabbage and early carrots. Friday night was baked bean, cole slaw and corn bread night in that rural town, and once I caught on to the pattern, I did pretty well with my stand.

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The cookbook Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking features old and new recipes and recollections of Shaker cooks and Community life, as well as descriptions of the Shakers and of herbs.

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As the first frost came, I must admit that I breathed a sigh of relief. This has been the most trying gardening season of my life, and now I can begin to put it behind me, but not without an eye toward the sky. You may recall that the garden soil was drying nicely in mid-May. I seized the opportunity to plant my wettest ground to peas, five 70-foot rows, which nicely filled an area that was usually far too wet to cultivate until early June. Then the rains came and kept coming. During one deceptive reprieve, I replanted the sections of peas that had rotted. A week later the entire pea section was under water!

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Many of the recipes below are quite fiery. They can be moderated by using milder peppers or by removing the seed and white, pithy, inner ribs of the fruits. Lightweight surgical gloves will protect your hands from the oily heat. If you're working with large amounts of peppers, change gloves every half hour or so, as the oil will eventually work through the latex.

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Health certainly factors in to most people’s dieting motivations. As a gardener, I gravitate toward lots of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, garlic, fish, lean meats and delicious pastas; in other words, The Mediterranean Diet, I am told. These choices are good for the heart and tend to be low in calories while being satisfying, filling and flavorful. Since most of the Mediterranean region diet comes from simple fare produced for generations with home grown or local ingredients, the diet fits well with a gardening lifestyle.

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Each spring when the shad bushes bloom – those beautiful white-flowered shrubs that are the first to blossom (like snow on bare branches) – my grandmother, who was a coast woman, always said, “The shad are running!” It was time to go fishing. In those days, fishing was easy, for the bluish backed, silvery sided creatures swarmed up Maine’s rivers along with salmon and alewives, sure to please palates from Native American to European settler to otter.

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Toki Oshima drawingWhat’s so round, so firm, so – strangely hairy? If you’ve never seen celeriac, you couldn’t guess. The literature has few references to it – at least in America. It’s a root vegetable that’s been around for about 4000 years, but its lack of publicity wouldn’t tell you so. In Europe, however, this member of the Umbelliferae family, related to parsnips, carrots and parsley, has long been revered.

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TomatillosEach year I seem to get excited about a different fruit or vegetable. Last year it was soybeans and black currants, the year before favas. Not that I lose interest in the old ones: I made some lively black currant juice this summer, and the soybeans were prolific. It’s more like my curiosity moves on to something new. This year, I grew a lot of tomatillos.

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SorrelTwo kinds of perennial garden sorrel – Rumex acetosa and R. scutatus – pop through cold, springtime soil to stand crisp and green, and they continue to thrive all summer. In fact, by cutting them back, letting tender new shoots grow, and adding some protective cover, you can enjoy sorrel’s piquancy long into the fall.

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Ashwood Cookbook“These recipes are our gift to you. They are the ones we love, the ones that work, the ones that carry us through trouble and heartache, celebration and joy.” So begins the Ashwood Cookbook, Food for Family and Friends, a simple yet elegant collection of wholesome recipes gathered by friends of the Ashwood Waldorf School in Rockport, Maine.

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GrapevineThe Norse tale of Leif Eriksson’s epic voyage across the Atlantic to “Vinland” circa 995 - 996 AD reports that the adventurers “found vines and grapes” in America. The saga also reports that “No frost came in winter and the grass withered only a little.”

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Along with parsnips and the last of the well-mulched carrots, every New Englander with a garden, or a good eye for old cellar holes, can welcome a once-popular, now mostly forgotten, springtime treat: the tubers of the native American sunflower. Knobby and brown on the outside, but crisply ivory-colored inside, the oddly named Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus of the Compositae family) is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke.

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Sue Szwed drawingI once stated that if I could grow only one plant, it would be sweet basil – aromatic, pungent, mouth-watering basil. No sooner were the words out of my mouth when thoughts of tomatoes, fresh salad greens, cilantro, and garlic immediately challenged my claim, and I conceded that basil was better with an entire garden to back it up.

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Toki Oshima drawingLoaves of bread hot from the oven become wildly appealing on raw spring days. From hearty Sourdough to sweet smelling Italian Panettone or satisfying Russian Rye, the list is tempting. One suspects it has always been so – ever since the discovery that yeasts make dough rise. But has bread always been safe to eat? The yeast used in bread-making is a fungus.

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Herbs and vegetables that are used to flavor oils are low in acid and may have considerable moisture content. The oil will encircle the food particles, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to grow – which can lead to serious food poisoning, including botulism.

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A recipe for Dandelion Bruschetta

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Do your neighbor’s beans always seem to taste better than yours? Do your family members seem to enjoy Grandma’s cooking more than yours? Then perhaps you should try this old-time way, taught to me by my Granny, to season and flavor your dry beans.

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