Bringing some fire to Out of the Fire

Two or three years after she opened Out of the Fire, Amy Haines figured she might try to grow some of the produce. The Easton restaurant, after all, was committed to fresh, local ingredients from small producers, so Haines reasoned she could provide it herself.

“I was like, sh*t, this is hard!” says the restaurateur, who moved to the Eastern Shore from the San Francisco Bay area. The experience, she says, “gave me a whole new respect for people who do this for a living.”

But she didn’t give up. Last spring, she planted several pots of peppers, herbs and heirloom tomatoes, but they were all washed out by the persistent rain – reaffirming her sense that raising produce is “like playing Russian roulette with nature.”=

Haines’ garden isn’t providing the shishito peppers for a popular menu item, seared peppers. Fortunately, she has a good relationship with Baywater Farms in Salisbury.

“We’re heavy into specialty products,” says Tim Fields, farm manager. “Shishito peppers fall right into the niche category.” The farm began growing the sweetish green Capsicum annuum about five years ago in response to customer demand, Fields says. Now you can find Baywater’s peppers at Whole Foods and Giant, and also see plenty of Instagram photos of shishitos in various dishes. “People like to imitate what a chef did, and they send us a picture,” he says.

 Fields has worked for the family farm, owned by Andie and Matt Holloway, since 2011. The couple’s 12-year-old son, who has recently started helping out, represents the 6th generation in the farm family.

Chris Berger, the Chef at Out of the Fire, wok-sears the shishitos on high heat and peppers them with tamari and smoked sea salt, says Haines. “It’s so simple, but so beautiful.” Out of the Fire’s ethos of working with local producers, she says, is a great fit for Chesapeake Harvest. “I really appreciate what the growers are doing, and Chesapeake Harvest gives them a platform to reach people they wouldn’t otherwise reach.” Choosing local ingredients, grown by local farmers, she says, “is a little more expensive, but I believe it’s important.”

Blistered Shishitos

Shishito peppers are a flavor forward mild pepper that are great oven-roasted, pan-roasted or fried. Once cooked and cooled, they can be chopped and added into vegetable ragouts, omelets, hashes and pasta dishes to name a few possibilities. Cooking shishito peppers is more of a technique than a recipe. Heat a skillet large enough to hold your peppers in a single layer, with a thin mask of your home cooking oil.  Once the oil begins to lightly smoke, carefully add in your peppers.  Allow the peppers to blister and develop some roasted color, then flip around in the pan for even heat and cooking distribution.  Finish with a desired amount of salt and flip into a serving dish.

Recipe courtesy of Jordan Lloyd

Food Safety audits help ensure that farms are maintaining a “culture of food safety” in their processes.

Food Safety and Produce

When it comes to food safety requirements for fruits and vegetables from the Maryland and U.S. Departments of Agriculture (MDA and USDA) Good Agricultural Practices certifications and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule there are many similarities. Understanding the differences can be very confusing. We asked Deanna Baldwin, program manager for Food Quality Assurance at the Maryland Department of Agriculture to explain.

 Q: What is the difference between the FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule (PSR) and USDA Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) requirements?

The main difference: The FSMA Produce Safety Rule is based on law and requires compliance. GAP certification programs are voluntary.

DB: The FSMA is a federal law that establishes controls to prevent contamination of both human and animal food with pathogens that can cause food-borne illness. The FDA Produce Safety Rule is one of several rules adopted to implement the FSMA. The PSR applies to the growing, harvesting and packing of fruits and vegetables that may be consumed raw. There are some exemptions and modified requirements based on sales, but for the most part, farmers who grow produce that is consumed raw must comply with at least some parts of the requirements.  The rule sets basic food safety standards for worker health and hygiene, worker training, agricultural water quality, use of biological soil amendments of animal origin, proximity of animals (both wild and domestic) to crops, and handling both during and post-harvest. The majority of state Departments of Agriculture, including Maryland, have entered into cooperative agreements with the FDA to provide the outreach, education, technical assistance, inspection and enforcement necessary to assist farmers with compliance.  Although the FDA has taken an education-before-regulation approach, inspections to verify compliance will begin during the 2019 growing season.  Inspections will not necessarily be conducted on an annual basis and farmers will not receive a certificate of compliance.

The MDA and USDA GAP certification programs are voluntary, but a lot of retail buyers won’t buy your product if you aren’t GAP certified.  Many of these buyers also want food safety certifications for produce – such as potatoes, collards and sweet corn – that is rarely consumed raw and is not required to be grown and harvested in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule. The MDA and USDA certification programs can be requested for any fruit or vegetable.

The MDA GAP program has basic food safety requirements for direct marketers and those who want to progress to the USDA GAP or USDA Harmonized certification required by buyers. The MDA GAP, USDA GAP/GHP and USDA Harmonized GAP include the same basic standards as the FDA Produce Safety Rule. A farm that has successfully passed an MDA GAP or USDA GAP audit is more than likely in compliance with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. The USDA GAP/GHP and USDA Harmonized GAP have additional requirements that satisfy most wholesale buyers. Audits are conducted annually, at a minimum, in order for farmers to maintain certification. Farmers are provided with a certificate documenting they have met the standards established for each of these audits.

Fresh Pick of the Month

Lima Beans

Remember as a kid, sitting in front of a plate with vegetables boiled to a dull army green, or in the case of lima beans, khaki? It turns out, when sautéed in a little butter and salt, roasted on a cookie sheet or mixed into a succotash, these fiber-rich legumes can be sublime. It’s worth seeking out fresh lima beans, pretty pale green, encased in a their thick pods – or if you’re lucky, pre-shelled. A cup of lima beans, at about 200 calories, also contains 25 percent of the daily recommendation of iron. Note that lima beans come in bush and pole varieties, each with their special attributes.Some even eat fresh lima beans raw, like edamame, sprinkled with salt or a bit of soy sauce. If you’re (yet) not a fan of lima beans, maybe the recipes here will convince you.

Serious Eats calls pawpaws “America’s best kept fruit secret.” Indeed, the lush fruit with its tropical flavor somewhere between mango and banana, is native to our region and grows wild all over. Many forage for pawpaws in local forests (like Steve Monnier, owner/chef of Baltimore’s Chez Hugo, pictured here). Andrew Moore, author of the book Pawpaw, has this advice: “the best thing you can do with a ripe, fresh pawpaw is just to eat it out of hand. Cut it in half, scoop it out and eat it like a custard in a cup, which is essentially what it is.”