By Rob Kasper
March 31, 2010
Ask Lucie L. Snodgrass what she would recommend for Easter dinner and she does not simply say lamb. Instead, she says, "some of Edwin's lamb." She is referring to what would be an extremely local main dish, a lamb raised by her Harford County neighbor and cookbook collaborator, Edwin Remsberg.
Remsberg is a photographer who worked with Snodgrass to produce a striking new cookbook, "Dishing Up Maryland." The book contains 150 recipes featuring local fare from Maryland farmers, watermen and restaurateurs.
For Snodgrass, who is state director for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, and Remsberg, who raises lambs and grows hay on Maple Grove Farm in Fallston, cooking Maryland-grown goods results in both good eating and good agricultural policy.
"Maryland is an ideal niche crop state; we have all these people living close by, so farmers can sell things to them at a decent price," Snodgrass said.
Remsberg added, "It used to be that as a farmer you had to get bigger or get out. Now people are making a living on smaller farms."
To prove their points, this twosome combed the state, tracking down maple syrup maker Leo Shinholt in Western Maryland and visiting Brett Groohsgal, whose farm in St. Mary's County sells turnips and other hardy organic vegetables even during the winter. They trekked to cheese makers FireFly Farms in Bittinger and Chapel's Country Creamery in Easton, which is now making raw milk cheese. They coaxed recipes - such as Baugher's baked corn with Swiss cheese and Mrs. Balderson's Streusel Cream Peach Pie - from veteran Maryland cooks.
In addition to Remsberg's strikingly natural photographs of the food, their book also contains listings giving the names, addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, Web sites, of the spots that produce good local fare. Armed with these listings, Maryland locavores can track down the good stuff all over the state, and then peruse the recipes in the book to figure out ways to cook it.
Take for instance, the hunt for a local leg of lamb. While Remsberg's lamb operation was too small to make the book, "Dishing Up Maryland" listed several Maryland farmers (see box) who sell lamb to the public.
It also listed Gardener's Gourmet, the Westminster farm that sells locally grown greens, a key ingredient in the spinach soup that Snodgrass recommended as part of Easter dinner. It also lists the South Mountain Creamery in Frederick County that makes the cream and milk that go in her recommended creme brulee dessert. The dessert also features maple syrup drawn from Maryland trees and sold by Shinholt's S&S Maple Camp in Allegany County, and eggs from Andy's Eggs in Fallston.
During an interview in the kitchen of her Harford County farmhouse, Snodgrass, 51, served up a blueberry kuchen - made with frozen berries picked last summer at Spring Valley Farm in Cecil County - and talked about her background and reasons for writing this book.
Born in England to Swiss parents who migrated to the United States, Snodgrass earned degrees from Vassar and Harvard. She was working at the State Department in Washington when friends in Baltimore introduced her at a dinner party to her future husband, Edmund Snodgrass. He has changed his family's 135-acre farm from a dairy into an operation that grows drought-tolerant plants for green roofs. The couple has written a book, "Green Roofs: A Resource and Planting Guide." In 2006, she served as deputy campaign director for Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor. Now, Snodgrass commutes from her Harford County farm driving either to Mikulski's offices in Fells Point or Washington.
"I have always been interested in public policy, and I love cooking," she said. She said she wrote the book because "I realized that to get really fresh food you are going to have to support the family farm." She said she hopes the book will draw attention to Maryland's family farms and to spur their business. Some proceeds from the sale of the $20 book goes to Maryland's Best, a Maryland Department of Agriculture program that promotes the purchase of locally grown products.
"I am not a trained cook, but I come from a family where people love to cook," Snodgrass said. She tested the recipes for the book in her kitchen, feeding test dishes to the crews that work on her husband's plant-growing enterprise.
Remsberg said he shot some of the cookbook photos in that kitchen, using natural light. He also shot many photos in the state's farm fields and orchards. During his outings, he was struck, he said, by how proud the Marylanders were of their goods. Remsberg said that over the years he has traveled to farms throughout the United States. Sometimes owners of large farms, worried about sanitation and labor issues, have forbidden him from taking photographs, he said. In contrast, Maryland farmers and producers were eager to show off their food. As a result, Remsberg developed this maxim: "If I can't shoot it, I don't eat it."
Writers dealing with Maryland food usually have to wrestle with the state's big three - crab cakes, sweet corn and peaches - and declare their favorites. Snodgrass, who has penned freelance articles for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, handled this trinity with aplomb. For crab cakes, she came up with two recipes. One calls for broiling the crab cakes and using crushed saltines. It came from Eleanor Van Dyke, her sister-in-law, who lives in Cambridge. The other recipe uses bread and fries the crab cake. Snodgrass developed that recipe herself.
For corn, Snodgrass casts her lot with some Harford County neighbors, the folks who run Quigley Farm in Whiteford.
"Their Temptation corn is to die for," Snodgrass said, referring to bicolor corn that won a top prize at the 2008 Maryland State Fair. Each summer, Snodgrass freezes batches of the corn and periodically pulls them out to bring a taste of summer to the table during the long winter months.
On peaches, Snodgrass takes the "big tent" approach, praising many of the state's growers, such as Baugher's, Lohr's, Ivy Hill and Colora. She also advises peach shoppers to ask for "seconds," the slightly bruised but still delicious "chin-dribblers" that sell at half the price of perfect-looking peaches.
The book contains short profiles of farmers and producers. In these pieces, Snodgrass addresses questions that swirl around family farms and the movement to buy local fare.
To illustrate the point that a family farm can make money, she points to Jack and Becky Gurley, proprietors of Calvert's Gift Farm in Sparks, and to Joan and Drew Norman, owners of One Straw Farm in White Hall. Both farms do well, she said, raising organic produce and selling to restaurants, groceries, and to subscribers of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) buying arrangements.
While acknowledging that some families are having difficulties getting younger members to stay on the farm, she said it is also true that Maryland has a number of people who are taking on agriculture as a second career. Her book profiles several of these successful second-lifers such as David Smith, who raises heritage turkeys at Springfield Farms in Baltimore County, Claudia Nami and Susan Lewis of Dragonfly Farms, who make vintage vinegar in Mount Airy, and Sarah O'Herron and Ed Boyce of Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy.
Finally there is the issue of price. Locally produced goods often cost more than mass-produced fare.
Shinholt, the maple-syrup maker, told Snodgrass he refuses to raise prices, keeping his maple syrup at $33 a gallon, because "maple syrup is not a rich man's food."
Yet the producers and small farmers in Maryland aim for quality over quantity, and by the law of economics, that usually brings higher prices.
Remsberg, the photographer and farmer, is comfortable with that, saying that supporting small farms pays other dividends.
"You might be paying more for produce, but you are getting more," he said. "You are preserving the landscape that it was grown on, and you are preserving a quality of life."
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