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Color me Pickle: How to Eat Your Summer Favs All Year Long

Aug 26 2:28 pm

By JJ Gonson



Pickles come in every variety...just like 'Villens!

Ahhhh, pickles!  Them briny harbingers of summer time. Diced into potato salad, stacked on plates by hamburger-laden grills, and dawdling deep in the depths of spiced tomato-based adult beverages. Pickles are everywhere, well loved, and, happily, very easy to produce for your own delectation.

Before you get down to the process of pickling, it is key to understand that there are many, many different items that fall under the pickle category. To make pickles, some cultures use age, some use antimicrobial spices, some use pressure. You could spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities of corning for preservation.

The word ‘pickle’ describes a sour bath in which one soaks vegetables to preserve them for eating later. This bath includes a high percentage of acid, (equal to a PH below 4.6) usually in the form of vinegar, and leans towards tartness in flavour, although in some cases a lot of sugar can be added to make a sweet pickle, like those used for pickle relishes and bread and butter chips. Vinegar pickles, whether cucumber, pepper, carrot or any other vegetable, can be put into sterile jars and sealed by boiling in water, to be kept on the shelf before eating, as they have a PH level high enough to keep dangerous bugs at bay. This form of canning is convenient, but the result is not going to be fresh and crunchy, and therefore, vinegar pickles are soft. We throw the word about wantonly, but the truth is: if there is no vinegar, technically speaking, what you are eating is not a pickle.

A very crunchy and saltier ‘pickle’ is actually more likely to have been brined, or made in a salt water bath, rather than vinegar. This bath will slow down decay, but these veggies have to stay refrigerated or they will rot. Since they don’t keep forever these are often referred to as “quick pickles”, and will produce something flavored more like a traditional Kosher Dill, rather than the sour classic spear style of pickle.

For centuries, many cultures have harnessed anaerobic fermentation processes to create a combination of the salty and sour. Fermentation usually starts with just salt, and the water from the vegetables themselves create the brine. As the vegetables break down, they sour, and the result is wildly varied, depending on many factors: the food you are fermenting, the air temperature and humidity, the amount of salt, etc. Fermentation occurs in a controlled environment, and the resulting pickles are removed to cold storage when they are ready, where they will last for a long time. Fermenting cucumbers is a little tricky as they mold easily, but sauerkraut and kimchi are less challenging with very satisfying results, and are a good place for the amateur fermenter to start.

I can only caution, once you jump into the world of pickling, it can become an obsession. You may end up losing counterspace to lines of sterilized glass jars and your kitchen may take on a lingering scent of vinegar. I would like to comfort you with the reassurance that you will make many friends. Everyone loves a pickle!


Here are a couple of basic recipes to start playing with:

Classic Kosher Dills

Adapted from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

The easiest snack in the world to make!

  • Add 1/3 cup of Kosher salt to 1 cup boiling water.
  • Stir to dissolve the salt in the water and add ice, stirring until it stops melting, and the brine is cooled.
  • Pour over whatever veggies you want to brine - cukes, green beans, fennel…. with a handful of dill or fennel greens and a couple of cloves of garlic, broken but not mashed.
  • Weight the brining veggies so that they are completely submerged in liquid and let it sit at room temp for 24 hours, then refrigerate.

If the “pickles” get too salty after a few days, pour off the brine and replace it with clear water




From Alex Lewin/How 2 Heroes


  • ¼ of a cabbage (400 gm) or more of cabbage (green, red, or a mixture)
  • 8 gm (1½ tsp) sea salt

Special Equipment

  • 1-pint mason jars
  • digital kitchen scale
  • large mixing bowls


  1. Quarter the cabbages. Discard the cores or keep them and use them, as you like
  2. Weigh the cabbage
  3. Measure salt equal to roughly 2% of the weight of the cabbage. (Metric measures make this easier.) Alternatively, as in this video, measure 1½ tsp of salt per 400 gm (¼ cabbage). Too much salt will slow down the fermentation, and result in an overly-salty product; too little salt will increase the likelihood of mushiness or even putrefaction
  4. Slice or shred the cabbage using a large chef ’s knife, a shredding attachment on a food processor, or whatever tool you like
  5. Place the cut cabbage in a large mixing bowl, adding salt as you go. When everything is in the bowl, mix and squeeze the mixture with (clean!) hands for a minute or two, until the cabbage has started to release liquid
  6. Pack the mixture as tightly as you can into 1-pint mason jars, leaving at least an inch of space at the top of each jar. Close the jars, and store them at room temperature, away from sunlight
  7. Once a day, open the jars and pack down their contents so that the liquid rises. If the liquid does not cover the cabbage completely after two days, add brine to cover. (The brine should be 2% salt by weight. Use filtered water; the chlorine in municipal tap water kills bacteria—that’s why it’s there!)
  8. Make sure to keep the cabbage covered with liquid thenceforth, otherwise your sauerkraut may discolor, dry out, or even become moldy.  If you don’t leave enough space at the top of the jars, some of the liquid may leak out as the fermentation progresses. This is an inconvenience, but not a cause for alarm
  9. Taste the sauerkraut after a few days four days, and periodically thereafter. Depending upon ambient temperature, your taste, and other factors, the sauerkraut may be “ready” after 4 days, or after 4 months, or some time in between. When you decide it is “ready”, or slightly before, put it in a refrigerator or a cool cellar, or bury it in the ground. The cooler the environment, the slower the subsequent fermentation


  1. Sea salt contains healthy trace minerals. Prefer sea salt over kosher salt. In any case, do not use iodized table salt, and do not use salt containing “anti-caking agents.” (Check the list of ingredients.)
  2. Use a mixture of green cabbage and red cabbage to make pink sauerkraut.
  3. Herbs and spices may be added when making the sauerkraut. For instance, you can add a teaspoon or more of caraway seeds per pound of cabbage. (Or fennel seeds, or anise seeds. Toast them first if you like.) On the other hand, making unseasoned sauerkraut gives you added flexibility; you can always season your sauerkraut a la minute.
  4. Precise kitchen scales can be bought inexpensively over the Internet. A digital scale with 1-gram resolution is very useful for cooking and baking. 0.1-gram resolution can be useful, too, when working with spices, for instance.
  5. On sandwiches, food-processor-shredded sauerkraut works well. On its own, hand-cut sauerkraut is crunchier and perhaps more interesting.


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The Economics of Local Food

Dec 15 2:44 pm

In light of the announcement of Somerville’s new Winter Farmers Market we invited community blogger Rachel Leah Blumenthal of Fork It Over, Boston! to share her wealth of knowledge on the local food economy. Rachel wrote this article for her master’s degree capstone project at Boston University’s Center for Science and Medical Journalism. This is an excerpt; please follow the link at the bottom of the post to read the full article.

Meat Meet Lamb Chops

Lamb chops from the Meat Meet

At 4:30 on a gray November afternoon, I stood alone in a parking lot near Central Square in Cambridge, warily waiting for a van. When it arrived, the driver swung open the back doors to reveal a refrigeration unit filled with coolers. Inside, I saw pork butt, lamb chops, liverwurst, pigs’ legs - meat of all kinds, neatly packaged in airtight plastic with printed labels. My apprehension lessened as others arrived and began to purchase meat.

This was a “Meat Meet,” a sporadic, unofficial version of a Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA) organized by JJ Gonson, a private chef and “locavore,” and Katie Stillman, owner of Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm in Hardwick, a tiny town 20 miles west of Worcester. Several times a month throughout the winter, a Stillman’s van arrives at a pre-determined drop-off spot, and anyone can come and buy meat.

Word spreads mainly by mouth; I learned of the Meat Meet that very morning thanks to a vague message posted by Gonson on Twitter. It was the first Meat Meet of the season, and only five people, including me, showed up. The others stocked up on several meals’ worth of meat, but I just bought four lamb chops and prepared them for dinner that night. They were probably the most delicious lamb chops I had ever eaten.

This is what eating local food is all about - sometimes it takes a little bit of foraging to find it. From farmers markets to Meat Meets to CSAs (programs where you buy shares of a farm in exchange for produce), it can take a lot of time and effort to find, purchase, and cook exclusively local products.  Cost is a big issue as well: local food has earned the reputation of being an elitist movement, only available to those who can afford it. But when we stop looking at the prices solely from the consumer’s standpoint, it’s clear there’s a bigger picture.

Production costs, labor costs, and many other factors go into that number on the price tag, and though we’re used to seeing the artificially low prices that come out of the industrial food system, we can come to accept the “high” prices of food coming out of our local small farms as we examine the intangible benefits that those prices include. As Boston’s local food movement grows, the issues of affordability and accessibility will become more complex. However, a mix of policy changes, education, and cooperation between producers and consumers can lead to a better food system that benefits everyone.

Continue reading here.

Cook Local for the Holidays: Where to Buy Locally Sourced Ingredients in Somerville and Cambridge

Dec 07 11:16 am

JJ Gonson

Having trouble finding local ingredients for your upcoming holiday feast? Today on the Somerville Local First blog JJ Gonson, Gourmet Chef Extraordinaire of Cuisine en Locale and co-founder of Cambridge Community Kitchen, gives us the inside scoop on where to buy the best fresh local food items:

When the farmers markets begin to close all around us it means that finding local food will go from a bit of work to a downright chore.  Happily, as awareness is growing about the value of eating food produced close to home, so the demand is making availability easier.  There is no simple solution to the winter food acquisition dilemma, but I think it is in the finding that the best experiences are had.  Here is a round up of places I like to go when I am on the hunt:

Let’s start with markets; places that are there, and don’t move about, or have irregular hours:

Sherman Market 22 Union Sq in Somerville

The market arm of the excellent Sherman Cafe, this is our “local market” where everything is sourced from local producers.  Winter items of particular interest here are root veggies, maple sugar, oats, whole wheat bread flour, and a full selection of dairy goods and delicious local kimchee from Lion’s Share Foods

Formaggio Kitchen 244 Huron Ave in Cambridge

Formaggio is a luxury market, rather than a local-centric one, but still an excellent place to gather local cheeses, crackers, beer, honey and some produce, just ask if it is local, they will be happy to tell you.  I could not live without cheese.  Some of my current faves are Bayley Hazen Blue, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Ascutney.  We call Ascutney the Brangilina of the cheese world.  It’s a sort of aged gouda/cheddar marriage- absolutely gorgeous!

Savenor’s Market 92 Kirkland St in Cambridge and 160 Charles St in Boston

Always the “best on the block” for the highest quality (aka most delicious) meats, a recent understanding of the benefits of local meat has made them even more dilligent about sourcing and carrying a dependable supply of excellent meats and eggs from the area.  Try the Double J Farm beef!

The Harvest Cooperative Market 581 Mass Ave in Central Sq, Cambridge

This is an open Coop, so anyone can shop there.  I wouldn’t suggest you go there for meat, but they do have an excellent bulk department, and they carry many local grocery items such as Teddy’s Peanut Butter (as local as peanut butter can get- if you cannot live without PB, and my hubby cannot, this is the locavore’s acquiescence),

Market Basket 400 Somerville Ave, and all over MA and NH.

Yes, you read that right, Market Basket.  There isn’t a huge number of items I will buy at this Tewksbury MA business, but they do have the big name local stuff at a good price, so I go here to stock up on Kate’s Butter, Cabot Cheese and Stoneyfield Farms Milk, plus they have a lot of the organic cleaning stuff I like to use.  I don’t go often, and never after 10am, for fear of being mowed down by a tiny woman dressed entirely in black driving a shopping cart like it is the Grand Prix.

Other ways I get stuff I can’t get at those markets:

For meat, mostly, I buy direct from my friends at Stillman at the Turkey Farm.  For the next couple of weeks they are going to be at the Holiday Market at Downtown Crossing every day.  EVERY DAY!  Wow, that is almost easy!  You can send an email ([email protected]) or call them ahead if you want them to bring you anything special.  They are very accommodating about that.  In addition, I organize something called a Meat Meet with Kate on a regular basis.  There isn’t much to it.  The truck shows up and you dig through the coolers, or you can order ahead of time by posting a comment below the blog posting about the upcoming Meet.  It’s a little rustic, but it’s been working for us for a few years now, so you know what they say about things that ain’t broke.  The next Meat Meets are on the 18th of December- the first is from 2:30-3:30 at Harvard Law School, in the Pound Parking Lot, the second is from 4:30-5:30 in the parking lot behind Quest Diagnostics in Central Sq, at about 47 Bishop Allen Drive.  Keep track of upcoming Meat Meets by signing up for the Stillman email list, or checking my blog.

There still is no real year round farmers market in the Somerville/Cambridge area.  Not, to be honest, in the whole greater Boston area, even!  But there is a lot of movement in the direction of creating one, and no one has done more to get there than Shape Up Somerville, who will be holding a winter farmers market every Saturday from 10-2pm, at the Somerville Armory, from January 8- March 26 2011

Once a week there is a new service called Farmers To You coming from Vermont, and bringing down stunning and very well priced products, direct from those farms.  I cannot emphasize how much like this company- they are solid people on a mission, and you can find them in a number of places which is growing regularly as demand increases. The Misty Knoll chickens are deeeelicious, and I’ve never seen them at a better price- nice!

Enterprise Farm Share CSA

Finally, if you are interested in a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share- a predetermined selection of food you buy into in advance and get a share of weekly/bi-weekly) you can still get in on the action with the Red Fire Farms and Enterprise Farms food programs, both available through Metro Pedal Power in Somerville.  Red Fire are bringing the storage foods they grew- lots of gorgeous roots and cabbages.  Enterprise are consolidating foods from where they are in the Pioneer Valley, as well as something referred to as the “East Coast Food Shed”, which means that they bring foods from as far South as FL, like amazingly delicious, candy sweet, small grove, organic pink grapefruits.  You can talk to the fine folks of Metro Pedal Power about what is on offer, and they can arrange to deliver it to you, by bicycle, if pick up is inconvenient.

Yes, the opportunities are out there, and with some planning and some running about, it really is still possible to eat local.  Thanks for making the effort- the farmers really appreciate it!

Happy Holidays, and I hope to see you out there in the mix, hopefully over a cup of local eggnog,

xo JJ and Cuisine en Locale (locavore personal chefs, cooking and blogging about it at

Photos from The Boston Local Food Festival

Oct 03 5:58 pm

by Joe Grafton

It’s pretty safe to say that The Boston Local Food Festival presented by The Sustainable  Business Network of Great Boston exceeded everyones expectations.  While estimates have yet to be announced, I was there and think the number is at least 10,000 people, and likely many many more.

Here’s a selection of images from the day

A view from behind the stage....the festival was supposed to close down one of the bridges, but the night before the permit was not approved by the city. Instead, a dense network of vendor tents on the lawn made things a little tight but packed with local love.

A view from behind the stage....the festival was supposed to close down one of the bridges, but the night before the permit was not approved by the city. Instead, a dense network of vendor tents on the lawn made things a little tight but packed with local love.

Festival Sponsor, Katsiroubas Brothers Fruit & Produce

Festival Sponsor, Katsiroubas Brothers Fruit & Produce

Unsurprisingly, the area in front of the Taza Chocolate booth was packed

Unsurprisingly, the area in front of the Taza Chocolate booth was packed

Cooking Demos, like this one by friend & SLF Blogger JJ Gonson, were a hit....

Cooking Demos, like this one by friend & SLF Blogger JJ Gonson, were a hit.... were butchering demos were butchering demos. Bringing meat eaters closer to their food.

The festival was packed all day long.  This was taken the @ 3:00 PM.

The festival was packed all day long. This was taken the @ 3:00 PM.

Some great roots music took the stage to close things out

Some great roots music took the stage to close things out

The festival organizing team:  Emily Kanter (Festival Organizer), Laury Hammel (SBN Executive Director), Erwin (Festival Organizer), Fan Watkinson (Festival Organizer), Nicola Williams (Lead Festival Organizer)

The festival organizing team: Emily Kanter (Festival Organizer), Laury Hammel (SBN Executive Director), Erwin (Festival Organizer), Fan Watkinson (Festival Organizer), Nicola Williams (Lead Festival Organizer)

Finally, here’s an interview with festival organizers (with a late appearance form me) from a documentarian traveling across the country on a cross country, called the Sustainable 1000,  doing 1,000 interviews in 250 days.

How Local Food is advancing the Local Movement

Aug 28 3:55 pm

by Joe Grafton

Note: This post was written in conjunciton with the Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts blogathon, organized by the author of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.  This week long blogging effort is intended to raise awareness about locally produced food and further strengthen the local food movement.  We encourage our readers to donate to Mass Farmers Markets as this effort runs in conjunction with Farmers Market Week.

Local:  It seems like that word is popping up everywhere these days.  From food to finance, energy to retail, there is a growing cultural meme around local.  Frankly, I’m not surprised.  Local just makes sense and as time goes on, more and more economic impact studies prove the case that  Local Works.

Being on the ground in the movement, I feel I have an inside perspective on how the movment has evolved and is evolving.  That’s why Local Washing and its main perpetrators is of GRAVE concern to me.  That’s why I believe that the groundswell around Local First efforts will soon lead to substantive funding from government and foundations.  And that’s why I know that the movement owes a great deal of gratitude to Local Food advocates.

It seems to me that, of all the industries and aspects of Local, food is the one that is leading the way.  I think in large part, this has to do with the amazing work done by pioneers like Michael Pollan, our own JJ Gonson and the creators of Food, Inc.  I think it has to do with the way  in which Big Agribusiness works, and how that makes people feel.  I think it has to do with the way we feel about farmers.

But what I think it has to do with most is community.  That’s ultimately what local is all about.  Bringing us back together to do the things that worked for people in the past, but to do them in new ways that can last into the future.

And one of the hallmarks of community is coming together to eat.  When people are buying, preparing and eating local food, they tend to feel better about the purchase because the feel connected to the food system and they tend to enjoy it more because it is fresher and it tastes better.

But let’s not just make a case based on warm fuzzy feelings.  The truth is that if you look at the data, local food is exploding in our communities.  Farmers Markets are growing at a staggering rate.  Local food oriented businesses are springing up and expanding (Sherman Market, Dave’s Fresh Pasta, The Dairy Bar).  The Boston Local Food Festival is coming in October, and is going to be HUGE.  Heck, even Restaurant Week got into the act, offering a Local option through numerous participating restaurants.

Local Food has its challenges.  Prices can be high.  People don’t know how to cook and prepare food like they used to.  (Note:  both of those inhibit my personal consumption of local food). There are still a vast number of people who don’t ‘get it’ or are unaware of ‘it’ at all.  But this much is clear to me…local food and its advocates, suppliers and pioneers are out in front.  And I say to all of you early adopters out there:  Thanks for leading the way, and get ready to make more room at the Local table because we’re coming in force behind you.

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JJ Gonson

Jul 22 10:44 pm

JJ Gonson

JJ Gonson is a woman with a lot of energy. She has two kids, and wrangles the whole Cuisine en Locale circus. With a background in short order, rock and roll and photography, she likes to tell herself that maybe she is no longer merely a jill of all trades, but perhaps even master of a few. Find her on facebook or email her [email protected]

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