Food crafted in small batches, small farms growing lush vegetables, fruits and pastured animals feasting on grass and grain, these are all the hallmarks of artisanal foods. And in Michigan, with its bounteous harvests, artisan food crafters and farmers abound.
“Michigan is second only to California in terms of agricultural production, “ says Jaye Beeler, author of "Tasting and Touring Michigan’s Homegrown Food: A Culinary Road Trip" with photographer Dianne Carroll Burdick (Arbutus Press 2012; $29.95). “Think about it – Michigan cold and snowy, California warm and sunny. We can grow all this because of the lake.”
File it under tough job but someone’s got to do it, but Beeler and Burdick spent a year touring the state at the request of their publisher with the goal of finding the “best in deliciousness.” The trip took the two of the Upper Peninsula where they foraged with gatherers for wild fruit such as thimbleberries, strawberries and blueberries which were then naturally sweetened and thickened without artificial pectin into jam.
Closer to home – Beeler and Dianne live in Grand Rapids – they delighted in Piggott's Market in Benton Harbor.
“It’s a gorgeous open-air market run by the youngest farmer we interviewed, George McManus who has a bachelor's from Michigan State University,” says Beeler. “Forty percent of George's glittery goods - tomatoes, green beans, and winter squash - are grown on his family's farm and the other 60 percent comes from a 10-mile radius. It's so local that they know each farmer by name.”
The following recipe is from "Tasting and Touring Michigan’s Homegrown Food: A Culinary Road Trip".
Michigan Whitefish Chowder
4 cups water
3 bay leaves
1-1/2. pounds boneless whitefish fillets, cut into chunks
3 strips bacon
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
Salt to taste
2 to 3 cups whole milk
3 medium-size Michigan Chippewa potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 pound smoked whitefish sausage, sliced
2 cups fish stock or clam stock 1 tablespoon minced chives for garnish
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, combine water, bay leaves and fish fillets. Bring to a boil, reduced heat and simmer about 10 minutes, until fish is cooked through and liquid is steaming. Transfer fish to a shallow bowl and cover to keep warm.
Reserve 2 cups of cooking liquid and bay leaves. Fry bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp. Transfer to a paper-toweled lined plate. In the Dutch oven, remove all but 1 teaspoon of bacon fat and sauté onion and celery until onion is translucent. Do not brown the onion and celery mixture. Add reserved cooking liquid, bay leaves, dill weed, pepper and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
Add whole milk, potatoes and fish sausages and simmer over low heat about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add whitefish chunks to the chowder mixture and continue to cook until the fish is thoroughly warm, about 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding salt if desired.
Transfer chowder to serving bowls and garnish with crispy bacon pieces and chives.
Makes 6 servings.
1 each gold flesh potato, small sweet potato, half a winter squash
(seeded), cut vegetable into large chunks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
Handful of chopped spinach, arugula, or your favorite hearty greens.
½ cup full-fat milk or half-and-half
½ cup freshly grated cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, or Provolone)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons freshly shredded basil, tarragon or sage
Heat oven to 350° degrees. Place potato and sweet potato and half of the winter squash on a baking tray, drizzle with one tablespoon of oil and toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes until crunchy tender.
Meanwhile, generously oil or butter an oven-proof 10-inch skillet, sauté the onions and bell pepper, until translucent, on a medium-low heat. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Toss in roasted vegetables and continue to cook.
In a large mixing bowl, add eggs, milk or half-and-half, cheese, salt, pepper, and herbs.
Whisk until fully incorporated. Pour egg mixture over vegetables. On stovetop, cook the frittata for about 3 to 4 minutes, until frittata begins to set around the edges. Place in oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, run a knife around the edge of the frittata to loosen. Allow to stand 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Makes 8 servings.
Jaye’s Basil Pesto
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1-½ cups fresh baby spinach, stems removed
¾ cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
To prepare in a food processor bowl*, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the spinach, basil, pine nuts, cheese and garlic. Cover and process until nearly smooth, stopping processor and scraping sides as necessary. Drizzle in remaining olive oil until mixture is smooth.
Makes 1-¾ cups.
*Note: To prepare in blender container, first coarsely chop the spinach, basil, pine nuts and garlic on a cutting board. In a blender combine all ingredients. Cover and blend until mixture is smooth. For more information on the book, the authors touring events and where to find homegrown resources, visit tastingandtouringmi.com.