Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ugly pancakes

First, I must apologize for being absent so long from this blog. Yes, there is lots to write about in summer -- Montana farmers markets are opening left and right, and people are gardening and cooking and creating food like nobody's business.

But I am busy finishing my guide to Montana farmers markets, which will be available within about two weeks. At last! You will be able to purchase it online at my website, which is just about ready to be unveiled, too.

Second, I must apologize to my pancakes for calling them ugly. But in all honesty, they do not come up to restaurant or fancy-pants gourmet standards. Perhaps homely would be a better way to describe them. No matter, they are delicious!

The recipe comes from A Little Book of Rhubarb Recipes, compiled by the Pondera Arts Council in Conrad. In June Conrad hosts a rhubarb festival during their Whoop-Up Trail Days celebration. This year over a hundred pies were entered in the dessert contest, and the largest rhubarb leaf was 30 inches by 30 inches. That's a big rhubarb plant.

The cookbook is worth buying if you like rhubarb, and I suggest that the recipes would win over someone who does not like rhubarb. I got permission to include a recipe for rhubarb bread pudding in my market guidebook, and I went completely nuts when I tested it and then tasted it. That recipe would definitely win over anyone who doesn't like bread pudding.

So when I got to the end of the rhubarb in my own garden this week, I flipped through the cookbook to find some way to use about a cup of tiny rhubarb stalks. I found the following, another winner. The recipe says the pancakes taste like "rhubarb cake, only less sweet," and that is an accurate description. I added a bit of honey on top of the warm pancakes, and they were just right.

Rhubarb Spice Pancakes

To two cups of pancake batter, fold in:

3/4 cup finely diced rhubarb
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Pretty good looking rhubarb/applesauce/spice mixture

To order a copy of A Little Book of Rhubarb Recipes, send e-mail to

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Clyde Park market

In case you are wondering, I don't visit farmers markets and write about them because it seems like the right thing to do. I just plain love farmers markets.

I love the people, I love the creative things they make. And I love the food, although in Montana we're pretty much confined to baked goods and salad greens until June (western part of state) or July (eastern part of state).

The Clyde Park farmers market may be small (about 10 vendors), but it is a fun place to visit, and I hope you'll make an effort to see for yourself this summer.

I thought the story of how the market began is interesting. Market manager Joanie Miller ("the brains and energy of the outfit," according to one vendor) told me that the town was dividing into factions and that just didn't seem right to her. She got together a group of people who were also concerned about the situation, and they prayed and felt led to start the market.

Which goes to show prayer works, because two years later the market is now a thriving center for social interaction. I felt that even before I heard Joanie's story.

I won't say more, but I do encourage you to visit, talk to the vendors, and become part of the community for an hour or so.

These beautifully framed puzzle pictures bring a family together. The kids and grandkids love piecing them; grandpa makes the frames.

Ninety-year-old Frances Ross makes the most marvelous stick horses, each with a quaint name and guaranteed not to fall apart easily.

Look around to see the beauty, natural and handmade.

You'll find lots of bargains.

The produce and cake shown in the photos below are both fresh in their own way. The baked goods are made from freshly ground flour and baked on Friday night or Saturday morning.

Clyde Park Farmers Market
City Park, 1 block east of Highway 89
June 12 - August 28 (no market July 3)
Saturday, 9 am - noon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Montana Morning Coffee

It's Monday morning! Have you had the best cup of coffee in Montana yet?

You can find cups of gourmet coffee in every corner of Montana, from Alberton to Wibaux. There are even many places where coffee is roasted on the premises. You'll find your own favorite coffee as you travel around the state, but I urge you to stop at the Dillon farmers market (opening July 10) and look for Montana Morning Coffee.

Montana Morning Coffee is roasted one bag at a time by one woman, Mary Anne Wofford, whose passion for good coffee is revealed in many ways.

"I'm selling Montana," Mary Anne told me when I visited her to see how the process works. "I'm selling everything that goes with Montana, through the ambiance of a cup of coffee, through the ambiance of the morning, the mist, the fresh air."

She is also selling some mighty tasty coffee. She says she's heard "This is the best cup of coffee I've ever had" many times. In fact, her business started soon after her son came home one day in 2006 and said just that about some coffee he had drunk. She found the source and started asking questions. Her first experiments began with a hot air popcorn popper.

"Smoke was filling my house, there was chaff flying everywhere. We went through a lot, a lot of stuff to figure this out."

Mary Anne graduated to a small home roaster and did a lot of fast talking to keep her warranty intact, promising the manufacturer she would buy a commercial roaster next time.

Finally, Mary Anne purchased the fluid bed roaster she now uses. This method of roasting is similar to the popcorn popper she once used, with the coffee beans cooked by being tossed in hot air instead of banging against the hot surface of a drum roaster that larger companies use. A drum roaster is not cleaned after every use and oily residuals can build up, slightly altering the coffee beans' taste.

Mary Anne can roast only one pound of coffee at a time, but this attention to detail makes hers a true specialty coffee because she can adjust the process for each customer. She keeps meticulous records of each roast so that customers can ask for the same thing they had last time, or request something lighter or darker.

She says several shops have wanted to sell her coffee, but she prefers taking her coffee to the farmers market or other places where she can have one-on-one contact with customers. Part of her business is to educate people about coffee as they buy a cup or a pound.

She is also careful about the beans she buys. She researches online and buys the best she can find, organic and Fair Trade when possible. If there isn't enough information about a bean to satisfy her, she doesn't buy it. "I don't want bad coffee," she insists.

Once you buy the coffee, Mary Anne suggests using it within 10 days if possible. Otherwise, put the whole beans in a good-quality plastic container (no bags or glass, according to her research) and store in the freezer up to two months. You can use the beans right out of the roaster, but their quality peaks in 4 to 24 hours. A French press is the method of coffee-making Mary Anne recommends, although the drip method is fine.

When she sells cups of coffee at the market, she uses reverse-osmosis water, from jugs she refills at Safeway. She also has a formula packet that she adds, which results in "150 total dissolved solids, and that makes the best chemical reaction, the best extraction and bonding of the coffee molecules to the water." She sells these formula packets, but only one customer regularly buys them. Ordinary water is perfectly okay, she says.

But Mary Anne's passion does not stop at selling the coffee. By her couch is a pile of books and magazines about coffee. She showed me one called The History of Coffee, printed in 1922, from which she has gleaned some marketing ideas.

In the mid-1800s John Arbuckle began roasting and selling coffee by the pound. Until then it was roasted at home -- or at the cowboy chuck wagon -- in a pan, a process that could result in burnt beans. Soon bags of Arbuckle coffee included premiums, like a candy stick.

"I just get really excited about this kind of stuff," Mary Anne said, her eyes sparkling. "Back then a peppermint stick was a big thing. Now kids have too much candy. But what I'm banking on is drawing it all together and bringing the late 1800s into the 2000s, and that's where the excitement will come in, not just the piece of candy."

At the end of our conversation, Mary Anne said: "I like what I'm doing right now. I don't want to talk about [making] oodles and oodles of coffee. I want to talk about one pound at a time and going to markets. I love it. I just love it. It's just so much fun."

As shown below, Mary Anne ably described a complex process so that even I could understand it.

Mary Anne will measure just over a pound of coffee to go into the roaster, which you see behind the can she is filling here. She is a stickler for cleanliness, but she can be a bit more casual at the pre-roasting stage because the beans will cook for 20 minutes in 400-degree heat.

Mary Anne usually stays nearby during the roasting process. Although the machine is computer controlled to her specifications, she still uses all her senses to tell when the beans are ready. Sight, smell, and hearing are each important. For example, there is a first crack and a second crack to listen for, which sound something like corn kernels popping.

The roasted beans look -- and taste -- good.

If you can't wait for the farmers market to open to get a gourmet pound of coffee, contact Mary Anne at

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spring bouquet

My friend Jackie phoned this morning to say she was dropping off a spring bouquet on her way to town.

I envisioned tulips and iris and maybe lilacs. Instead, I got asparagus! The first wild asparagus of the season.

Yes, it comes late in south-central Montana but is all the more welcome because of that.

Jackie introduced me to hunting for wild asparagus, although for my first hunt last year, she passed me on to her friend. (See my blog entry on wild asparagus for that story.) She said she didn't want to give away any of her spots.

No matter how close you are to anyone here in Montana, you know better than to ask where they pick huckleberries or find asparagus. They'd rather tell you how much money they make, how they spent Friday night, or how much they weigh.

But I love Jackie. She shares.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Twin Bridges and Ennis markets

It was a beautiful day to drive through the Madison Valley to visit the Ennis farmers market and then through the Ruby Valley to see what was happening at the Twin Bridges market.

I visited each market last year (see Ennis and Twin Bridges), and it was exciting to see what was the same and what had changed.

At the Ennis market, I couldn't find my favorite polka dot cupcakes, but the same baker had loaves of artisan breads, cookies, and Basque cake. My travelling companion, Christine, bought a slice and shared it with me, and if you think I paused long enough to take a photo of it, you're wrong. We wolfed it down with deep sighs of contentment, and Christine vowed to find the recipe. I'm waiting for Christine to fulfill her vow, because I've been online myself to search for a recipe and so far I don't see anything that looks like what we ate.

Another baker, new this year (she arrived in Ennis during the winter), is Lexi. She is so cheerful that it is worth a stop at her booth just to chat with her. Do stop long enough to buy a piece of pie or a cookie. Lexi is a talented baker as well as clever at arranging her goods. This was the first time I have seen a pie in a suitcase.

A third baker was proudly displaying her "pie in a jar." She makes a miniature pie in a small jar and tells the customer to freeze it. When you want a bit of pie, take the jar out and bake it as is. Now that's a clever idea, and if you want to order one or several, come to the market and look for Molly.

You might easily think there was no one but bakers at the Ennis market this week, but in fact you could also buy meats and eggs from Sabo Ranch, wooden items from Marc, plant starts, wool, heirloom seeds, handspun yarn, soap, and tie-dyed clothing.

The road to Twin Bridges goes through Virginia City and Nevada City, two towns preserved pretty much as they were when founded in the late 1800s. So much so that there are rumors of ghosts heard enjoy the quiet moments when tourists have gone elsewhere. We didn't stop in either town, but someday I will take time to leisurely examine each building.

In Twin Bridges, we caught the tail end of the market near noon.

About 10 vendors were lined up along the street selling, well, yes, you guessed it, lots of baked goods: cookies, bars, pies, and breads. I was told that last week the vendors braved 32-degree weather, and so you can't really expect many vegetables here yet. The Hutterites had some produce, but for lush greens, you had to buy plant starts, which offered hope that in a month or so there would be more variety.

A few craft people displayed a variety of interesting items. I meant to look more closely at them, but I got distracted by Linda Redfield, who had a pile of cupcakes and attractive loaves of bread and displayed a poster of types of grains that are sold by Wheat Montana.

Linda explained that she wants people to see the types of grains that go into her whole-grain loaves of bread. She also enthusiastically described how she bakes her bread and how she developed the recipe through the years since she began baking when she was 16 years old. She now feeds and homeschools four children and wants them -- and her customers -- to have the very best. I bought a loaf of spelt bread and can testify that Linda has an excellent product.

Christine and I enjoyed lunch at the nearby Old Hotel, after first checking out the window overlooking the market, where chef Paula had been supplying coffee, churros, and coffeecake to hungry shoppers.

Now, yes, I do wax enthusiastic about a lot of the food I taste along my journey (justifiably so, I believe), and after enjoying a lunch prepared by Paula, I have to say that if you haven't eaten at the Old Hotel, you really haven't tasted all the best that Montana has to offer. Paula uses as much local food as possible, and her imaginative dishes, with splashes of Hawaiian, Polynesian, French, and good old Montanan, are easy to like.

Christine enjoyed the day's special, a BBQ salami sandwich, and I had a BLT with avocado. But these were not ordinary sandwiches. Along with her special sauces and breads, Paula used pork from Montana's Best Meats just up the road near Whitehall. If you eat pork and you plan to pass that way, be sure to carry a cooler with dry ice to cart home your meat purchase. They make really good bacon and salami. 'Nuff said. (Or maybe not enough.)

Lone Elk Mall, Main Street
May 22 - September 25
Saturday, 9 am - noon

Twin Bridges Farmers Market
Main Street Park
May 22 - September 25
Saturday, 9 am - noon

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

So much more at the Livingston market

The Livingston farmers market opened today, and I am trying to think how to describe it. You can look at the photos I took, and I can tell you I walked through a light rain to look at spring vegetables, jewelry, pottery, heirloom plant starts, breads, and cookies.

But you won't be able to share the friendly handshake Lyle gave me before he described the farmers market special of naturally raised pork products offered by Miller Farm, where he is a ranch hand.

You won't catch the proud look of Leah as she describes the gourmet crackers she wrapped with pretty bows for her very first market. She used to be a chef she tells me, but . . . and her glance at the sweet-faced baby in her arms explains how some things are more important than a mere job.

There's a whole story behind the Dancing Kettle Korn sign that I could sum up in a few words to fit onto this blog, but those words could not capture the proud spirit of the couple who run their own business that gives them an income and freedom to travel and the joy of feeding others something truly sweet.

You just have to get out and visit your own area farmers markets -- to discover for yourself who those people are who grow and produce and create the food that nourishes you.

Sacajawea Park bandshell
June 2 - September 29
Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm (music 6:30 pm - 9 pm)