Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Great Places to Shop in Lancaster County (Fourth in a Series)

Unlike my other blogs about places to shop, this post is not about one particular store. But it does describe one of the best things about living in Lancaster County: our local farm stands.
They carry a wide variety of fruit and produce so freshly picked that they sometimes still holds the warmth of the sun. To be able to get fresh asparagus in the spring, dozens of ears of corn in the summer, and pumpkins by the wagon load in the fall is pure joy to anyone who likes to cook, eat, or decorate!
Harvest time makes for a very special time to visit - as crops burst from every roadside stand and market.

To know that your purchases help support local farmers makes the shopping experience so much richer. We are grateful to have at least eight stands within two miles of The Artist’s Inn. Thank you to the farmers who work such long hours to bring us the best food around. And especially the ones who grow unusual crops – sugar plums, heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, chestnuts, ten different kinds of squash – you just never know what you’ll find!
One thing is almost guaranteed: you will find a money box; for these purchases are made on the honor system as most farmers are too busy to tend the stand. This is a tradition that is common to the locals, but surprises my guests, who are often from suburban areas.

So, if you can’t visit, I hope you enjoy this little blog journey today – a feast for not only our taste buds, but our eyes as well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Feasting on Figs in Lancaster County

I have long dreamed of going to France and Italy – taking cooking classes in some wonderful classic school, shopping in small villages with orange roofs, tasting the local wines while watching the sunset and biking through the countryside so that I can continue to eat and drink without suffering the usual consequences of such behavior. My long-time friend, Paula, and I have dreamt of this trip forever.
Life has a way of altering plans, and, though we often talk of it, we have yet to take our journey. So I bike though beautiful Lancaster County, attend cooking classes here and there when I can, enjoy some wine at sunset on our porch and, this year, planted a fig tree. It’s my little bit of Italy and France in our inn’s backyard.

When I bought it this spring at Deer Creek Farm,
my friend and owner, Kathy, warned me that not all fig trees will bear fruit. “It should be near a brick or stone building so that it can stay protected in the winter,” she told me. “It also needs the hot afternoon sun”.

So I paid my money and took my chances.

The tree seemed to thrive in our hot and dry summer – I wish I could say the same for my flowers.

As if the beautiful leaves weren’t enough reward themselves, soon my little fig tree was growing and branching off. I cut off four branches, encouraging it to grow up straight. And, although tall wouldn’t be quite the word I’d pick to describe it, the tree did produce three figs. The first got a little brown spot on the bottom – maybe I didn’t pick it fast enough. This made me pay even closer attention. Soon the other two green figs were a nice lime color and “gave: a little when squeezed.

I decided to harvest my crop early one morning and serve the bounty for breakfast. There was just enough for my guests. Though the portions were small, the warm, sweet fruit exploded with flavor. It was certainly a feast!

I was very proud.

The next challenge will be trying to get the tree to make it through the winter. Maybe someday I’ll even get to taste figs in France or Italy – perhaps topped with a little crème fraiche and toasted hazlenuts!