October 15, 2010

Soup to Nuts: A rare opportunity for these fruits, veggies

The American Harvest Picnic spotlights endangered fruits and vegetables and efforts by local farmers, chefs and food activists to bring them back from the brink.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

At Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham, Chris Cavendish gathers Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers. The rare heirloom pepper originated in Italy, and its seeds were brought to America by Nardello in 1887. It is among the vegetables that will be featured at Sunday s American Harvest Picnic in Wiscasset.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Chef Daran Poulin of Bowdoin College in Brunswick will be using Fishbowl Farm Long Island cheese squash to make a pumpkin bisque for the American Harvest Picnic.

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunda

WHERE: The Morris Farm, Route 27, Wiscasset

HOW MUCH: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12

INFO: For a list of participating producers and restaurants, go to www.SlowFoodMidcoastMaine.org.


EIGHTEEN FOOD PRODUCERS are providing everything from bread to wine for the American Harvest Picnic. Here are the RAFT foods being grown by local farms:

Jacob's cattle beans (Ark of Taste)

Vermont cranberry beans

Marfax beans

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage

Boothby's blonde cucumber

Jimmy Nardello pepper (Ark of Taste)

Green Mountain potato (Ark of Taste)

Katahdin potato

Long Island cheese squash

Canada crookneck squash (Ark of Taste)

Valencia tomatoes (Ark of Taste)

Gilfeather turnips (Ark of Taste)


FOR A COMPLETE LIST of foods in the Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) program or the U.S. Ark of Taste, go to



BOWDOINHAM — Chris Cavendish clipped a bright, stunning red pepper from a group of about 30 plants he tended this year at Fishbowl Farm. He took a big bite right where he stood, and the Jimmy Nardello sweet Italian frying pepper, named after a 19th-century seed saver, rewarded him with a satisfying crunch and burst of flavor.

"They have a fruitiness and almost a tanginess at the finish of the pepper that other sweet peppers don't have," Cavendish said.

The Jimmy Nardello pepper originated in Basilicata, a southern region of Italy. Nardello brought the seeds with him to Connecticut in 1887, but 123 years later, most people have never tasted the 10- to 12-inch-long fruits of the plant.

Here's your chance. The peppers that Cavendish grew this summer are just one of a dozen rare vegetable varieties that will be prepared by local chefs and served Sunday at the second annual American Harvest Picnic sponsored by Slow Food Midcoast Maine.

These hard-to-find foods have been tagged by Slow Food USA's RAFT program as in danger of disappearing from America's dinner tables. RAFT stands for Renewing America's Food Traditions.

Foods that end up on the RAFT list – they include everything from nuts to meat and poultry – are traditional regional foods that have lost favor for some reason. In many cases, they have been replaced by foods grown in industrial agriculture operations that are then mass-marketed in grocery stores.

"We've all been programmed into seeing things that are perfectly red, perfectly round, perfectly green, but that's not really what historically food was," says Kim Wisneski, who has acted as Slow Food's liaison with midcoast farmers.

Some of the RAFT foods have such deep cultural roots and such an interesting flavor profile that they have been placed on the Ark of Taste, a list of more than 200 regional foods in danger of extinction.

For these endangered foods, Wisneski said, "Our hope is that it finds its way back in the marketplace, or find its way back on the menu at restaurants."

To support that goal, the Midcoast Maine chapter of Slow Food enlisted the help of seven local farmers to grow a dozen crops on the RAFT list for the American Harvest Picnic. Half of those RAFT foods are also on the Ark of Taste list, including the Jimmy Nardello pepper.

The seeds for the picnic project were donated by Fedco and Johnny's Selected Seeds.

The farmers have been asked to donate a small amount of their RAFT crops to the picnic, but they will be able to keep most of them to sell at local farmers' markets.


Chefs from nine restaurants have agreed to create special dishes with the vegetables that will showcase their flavor and appearance.

Cafe Miranda in Rockland will be working with local beef, local organic apples from Sewall Orchards and Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, a variety that is on the RAFT list and grown by Phoenix Farm in Monmouth.

"We're going to cure and applewood-smoke the beef and then braise it in our homemade barbecue sauce," said Kerry Altiero, owner of Cafe Miranda. "And then we're going to make a crispy slaw vinaigrette with the apples in it for the beef."

At Solo Bistro in Bath, chef Tony Lavelle will put his own spin on the same RAFT ingredient. He'll be serving beer-braised Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage with a wedge of Pineland Farms cheddar and a scoop of savory Ricker Hill Orchard apple bread pudding.

Chef Daran Poulin of Bowdoin College will be using Long Island cheese squash grown by Chris Cavendish at Fishbowl Farm to make a pumpkin bisque. Cavendish estimates he grew at least 1,000 pounds of this "heavy, dense, meaty squash."

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Additional Photos

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Chris Cavendish of Fishbowl Farm in Bowdoinham with some of the 1,000-plus pounds of Long Island cheese squash that he grew this season.


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