Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eating Local With Ruth And A Great Lesson At The End

Gourmet Adventures With Ruth with Ruth Reichl

One can’t help but watch Gourmet Adventures With Ruth without looking for clues as to the cause of Gourmet’s sad fate. It was smart to involve Frances McDormand in this episode, who certainly works against the fancy and rarified Gourmet stereotype. There is no more fabulous low-key celebrity than Frances McD. She is irrepressible and fun without a hint of status-seeking about her.

I also keep thinking of Mario’s adventures with Gwynnie. Let’s see how this compares…

For the moment, Ruth and Fran are visiting Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee.

Ruth tells us that all the ingredients used in the farm’s kitchen come from within a few miles. “You get to experience the entire farm cycle”.

They are putting together a really ambitious menu:

Radish Beet Terrine with Baby Arugula

Sugar Snap Peas With Cheese Curd And Black Walnut Salad

Trout with Watercress, Roe, and Herb Broth

Ten-Hour Braised Lamb Neck with Wilted Creasy Greens
Grill-Roasted Potatoes
Strawberry Jam Tarts With Elderflower Blossoms

How are they are going to do all of that in half an hour?

They go out and visit the actual garden with Sam Beall, the proprietor. Ruth says it looks like “a glorious jungle.”

We learn, as they harvest sylvetta arugula, that Fran lived in Tennessee for awhile as a kid.

Back in the kitchen, Sam, Ruth and Fran make the terrine. They cut the radishes and beets paper-thin. They overlap only a few layers of the vegetables with salt and place it into the fridge. It looks like more of a base for something than an actual terrine.

Back in the garden they are shown lamb’s quarters - an edible weed, which is related to spinach. They’re in the kitchen now sautéing it over high heat. Sam prefers it to spinach.

Outside, Ruth says the garden looks both wild and cultivated. She talks with master gardener John Coykendall. He tells her about how a little girl, who was staying at Blackberry Farm a little bit ago, planted potatoes. I’m waiting for a punch line. Oh, this is it. The fingerling potatoes they’re picking, which are the size of pinkies, were planted by that little girl. They grill them simply. They look pretty darn good.

There’s more walking around the gardens and chatting about the growing and picking. Ruth says peas are the very best thing to grow fresh. The gardener calls them Skittles for grownups.

Frances is eating more peas than she’s picking. Fred shows her the black walnut tree. Frances thinks the walnuts seem like charcoal, because they’re so hard to crack.

We see the cheese making operation for a moment and the leftover curds. They will be used in a salad. They blanch the peas for 30 seconds and then shock and shell them. I think they’re slicing up the pods too. Yup, they definitely are. They mix the salad together.

They go trout fishing. I can’t decide if this is turning slightly dilettantish, but Frances is authentically enthusiastic. And no one can one fault Ruth for looking for something good to eat at every turn.

They inspect the trout in the kitchen. They remove the fillets (not that easily) and cook them gently over the grill. Ruth says the inside is “a lovely subtle color”. Frances feels bad because she’s left some bones in her fillets. They grill them skin side down, because the skin protects the flesh from the heat. Great tip.

The fish will be served in a broth made with the herbs that grow around the stream where the trout were found. THAT is cool. Talk about provenance...

They meet Michael Sullivan, the butcher, and they cut off the lamb neck from the carcass. Kind of eww. He cuts off huge hunks. He says the meat is “self-seasoned” by the grain that the animal eats and the hills and the air.

They rub the meat with grapeseed oil (I LOVE that) and salt and pepper. It will be cooked long and slow and Michael says it will taste like pulled pork. They brown the pieces of meat on the grill and then braise them in lamb stock in the oven for 4 hours. Then Michael begins to cut it off the bone and it's so tender he puts down the knife and just pulls it off in shreds. It tastes sweet from the spring grass that the lamb ate.

OOH, this exciting. They look at the bees and visit with bee keeper, Jeff Rabinowitz. THIS will be great. I love honey. Frances gets in a bee-keeping getup and goes to say hello. She’s fearless…at first. She takes off her glove and takes a finger full of gooey honey from the honeycomb, but is afraid to remove her hat/netting ensemble, so she sucks it off her finger right through the netting.

In the kitchen, they make dessert with Maggie Davidson, “the farm preservationist”. They add honey to the pie crust and they make strawberry jam and add elderflower blossoms to it. They fill the hugely thick jam into the pie shells.

Ruth and Fran and all the folks they’ve hung out with gather outside at a long table to eat everything that they've made. Ruth points out that it took the intermixing of all these creative people to make this amazing meal happen. They happily tuck into the nothing-could-be-more-local-or-fresher, beautiful food.

So how did this compare to Mario’s travelogue to Spain? Mario’s was certainly more travel than Ruth’s adventure, but Ruth spent a lot more time in the kitchen…even when you factor in Mario’s hour to Ruth’s half hour.

Maybe it was because I lived in Spain, but I did find Mario’s show more riveting than this first Adventure with Ruth. That is until almost the end.

The entire episode came together for me in a really compelling way. As I said, the Blackberry Farm folks and Ruth and Fran sat around this huge table, bathed in a communal Woodstock-type glow.

All the people that had raised and grown and gathered and prepared the food were eating each dish together, knowing exactly how it had all come about.

It proved the rule that what grows together deserves to be cooked together...AND will often taste sensational together. That fact alone made this show well worth watching.


Cynthia said...

I caught this show last Sunday. It was really good wasn't it. I enjoyed it from start to finish and I love the fact that the people involved all sat together to enjoy and appreciate the fruits of their labour.

Sue said...

Hi Cyn,
That was my favorite part - when they were all sitting together at the end and you saw how many people it took to create all the pieces of that meal.