Berkshire Fall Salad With Whole Milk Slicing Ricotta

A fall-in-love local sourced salad

The fall harvest offers a rush of amazing produce in Berkshire County. All the major ingredients for this simple salad are available from area farms. Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham and Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough are good sources for produce, while Moon in the Pond Farm in Sheffield and Berkshire Wildflower Honey in New Marlborough offer honey.

3 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mixed varieties
2 medium-sized slicing cucumber
1 red or orange bell pepper
½ pound whole milk slicing ricotta made from this recipe
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
¼ cup wildflower honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

  1. Dice the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and cheese into ½-inch cubes.
  2. Add the chopped herbs and mix the salad gently.
  3. Put the honey, vinegar, oil, black pepper and salt in a closed 1-quart jar and shake until blended.
  4. Dress the salad and serve at room temperature.
Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

Slicing ricotta

Left: Separating the curds from the whey; Right: Voilà, firm whole milk ricotta

This is an easy cheese you can make at home. Start with good-quality whole cow’s milk such as Cricket Creek Farm’s raw Brown Swiss milk or Leahey Farm’s or High Lawn Farm’s pasteurized Jersey milk.

You will need:

1 gallon whole cow’s milk
2 cups white vinegar
Rinsed cheesecloth
1-gallon colander
2 tablespoons kosher flake salt, as desired

  1. Heat the milk to 180°F, stirring gently but constantly. Once the milk reaches this temperature, turn off the heat and stop stirring. Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into the milk and wait 1 minute. Observe the formation of the curd, which will collect like fluffy white pillows. If the milk is still white and opaque, add more vinegar, up to 1 additional cup. Ideally, the liquid surrounding the curd should be translucent and have a green-yellow color. Allow the curd to form for another 5 minutes, without stirring.
  2. Line a 1-gallon colander with wet cheesecloth. If the cheesecloth is thin with many holes, fold it over so that there are 3 layers. If the cheesecloth is finely woven, use only 1 layer of it to line the colander. Put the colander in the sink.
Read the rest
Continue Reading ·

Preserving the Past: Truly an Art Form

 Inspired by age—the abandoned past.

Helga S. Orthofer understood that
these preserves … represented the
history of the house and the family
that resided there for generations.

There they sit in a cupboard all to themselves: jars and jars and jars of preserves—peach, blackberry, strawberry, you name it. Their age is unknown, possibly 100 years old, more or less.

What tale do they have to tell? Who picked the fruit and then lovingly preserved and stored them in this ancient basement?

Many new owners of an antique home would toss out the jars and strip the space bare to create a new, modern one. After all, the preserves will never be eaten. But Helga S. Orthofer understood that these preserves were the ghosts of East Street in Stockbridge. They represented the history of the house and the family that resided there for generations. And they would become one of her subjects and her inspiration.

Helga is a still life painter. She is known to imbue inanimate objects with personality and character. It’s her eye. It’s her talent. Her childhood and upbringing held hints that Helga would become both a great fine artist and also an amazing culinary artist.

Helga was born in Vienna, Austria, and spent most of her formative years at her grandfather’s house on the Semmering.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Helga’s Preserve “Recipe”

Recipe courtesy of Helga S. Orthofer

Yield: 4 quarts

4 pounds each sugar and choice of fruit, cleaned and chopped (Discard anything you won’t eat, like pits!)

Put it in a large sauce pot, cover and let rest overnight on the kitchen counter.

Cook for ½ hour or so, slow boil until thickened.

Taste it. If the fruit is too sweet, add freshsqueezed lemon juice and pulp; if too sour, add more sugar.

Clean the jars and place in boiling water. Remove jars one at a time.

Add the piping hot, still boiling fruit and sugar mixture to each jar.

Cover immediately and listen for the pop of the lid that confirms a tight seal has been formed.

And then set the jars up in the studio and paint to your heart’s content.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

OMG on GMOs?

 Uncertainty Adds to Berkshires’ Concerns

Berkshire Organics, IPM, integrated pest management, is a process
used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks
to people and the environment.

By Judith Lerner

Why all the fuss about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Plants and animals used for food, medicine and personal care are being perfected, bred and hybridized all the time. Isn’t genetic modification just a more modern and efficient method?

Well, no. Well, not at all.

Traditional breeding enhances and strengthens the best natural characteristics of an organism by bringing highestquality specimens together over generations to develop qualities already present. GMOs, (or GEOs, genetically engineered organisms) have their genetic material, their DNA, modified in a laboratory in ways that cannot happen in nature. Pesticides and antibiotics are built into seeds; animal DNA is spliced into plants and vice versa.

Brian Gibbons, a horticulturist and co-owner with his wife, Aleisha, of Berkshire Organics, a store and organic food delivery service in Dalton, explained the difference: “The natural way plants reproduce is through pollination, the transfer of pollen from male flower parts to female flower parts, producing a fruit or vegetable. Inside the fruit is the seed that contains the new genetic material for the next generation if you grow the plant from this seed.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·




After 10 years of offering a seasonal menu at their casual French Bistro, chefs Rachel Portnoy and Franck Tessier decided that climate change was the straw that made the joy of cooking a pain in le derriere. This past summer’s slow growing season meant that many anticipated crops arrived late or not at all. How do you plan a seasonal menu when you’re forced to scramble daily to acquire the fresh raw ingredients you committed to on your printed menu? Well, you don’t; you change your menu daily, buying the best available each day. At Chez Nous, Lee, the menu goes with the flow; each day it changes based on market availability. They also offer half portions of all entrees, because many want to eat less!

Cheers to them. This world will be requiring lots of adjustments! Hours, reservations,



Dan Barber—chef, restaurateur and co-owner of Blue Hill Farm in Great Barrington—and Elizabeth Kolbert of Williamstown—journalist, author of The Sixth Extinction: Field Notes from a Catastrophe—spoke at the Mahaiwe before a capacity audience of food professionals and locavores on Aug. 18. Titled “Beyond Farm-to-Table: The Future of Food,” the event was presented by Berkshire Grown.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

LETTER TO THE PUBLISHER: Kids Cooking: Recipe for Lifelong Health

Dear Bruce,

Your Letter from the Publisher “Cooking Is Not a Spectator Sport,” from the Summer 2014 issue, brings up a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As a nutrition educator, I strongly believe that knowing how to cook (from scratch) is the only way to be totally in control of your health. In my work at The Nutrition Center we focus on teaching this very important skill to kids and teenagers.

The Nutrition Center (TNC) will be cooking up a storm this fall in its popular Food Adventures program. Food Adventures, a collaboration between TNC and the Berkshire Co-op Market, is beginning its fifth season with a bang! The program was recently rewarded a grant from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the General Mills Foundation to bring cooking education to Pittsfield community schools, allowing elementary-aged students at Conte and Morningside the opportunity to learn basic cooking skills and learn valuable nutrition information.

At The Nutrition Center, we have discovered that teaching basic cooking skills to children and adults has a much stronger influence on their food choices and long-term health than simply sharing nutrition information. Recent studies have shown that learning basic cooking skills has the greatest impact on the long-term health of children under 8.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Heavenly Chicken

The Great Chicken in the Sky


The height of my religiousness peaked at 12 years old, right about the time my favorite chicken got mauled by a fox. Back then, going to church and praying was as much a part of my Catholic school curriculum as social studies. I wasn’t a fan of either.

The night the fox attacked my Brahma hen Tweety, I decided it was time to use my super duper prayer training skills to convince God that Tweety should survive the night. It never occurred to me that God might have more important things to do than salvage some weird little girl’s pet chicken, but rationality wasn’t one of my stronger points. So, I stayed up the entire night, praying to God through a mess of tears and snot.

As much as I begged him to work a modern miracle and heal all of my bird’s wounds, Tweety did not recover. I still had to go to school the next morning and give the bad news to my best friend Tessa. I told her that the bird she and I had spent so many hours giving chicken manicures to had, in fact, died. I pretended that I forgave God for not making my chicken a priority over world hunger and global poverty.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·


Oxen Make Great Dates at Shaker Village Dinner


“The peaches in this vodka better be free range and grass fed,” I said to the man behind the picnic table, laughing at my own joke. He chuckled and handed me an ice-cold glass of local organic peach-lemonade vodka from the outdoor tablecloth-covered bar. I took a sip. The drink was a perfect end-of-summer concoction, and a mix so delicious, God himself might be serving the same exact thing in Heaven. It was September 2013 and I had been asked by Edible Berkshires to have dinner and give my editorial opinion about dinner in a field!

I stood on the grass outside Hancock Shaker Village and watched the crowds of people gathered near the long, narrow dinner table centered in the Shaker gardens for the renowned Outstanding in the Field (OITF) Farm to Table Dinner. Within an hour, over 100 guests would be served some of the highest-quality local food from surrounding farms by top local Chef Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

The event was said to be run like a culinary circus, a group of people traveling the country on a bus, organizing, hosting and setting up the tables and chairs for each dinner.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·

Hive Talkin’

Help honeybees, help us

Photo courtesy of Mars Vilaubi, photo editor, Story Publishing

Ask anyone who visits—Berkshire County is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet. With rolling hills, unmatchable foliage, flowers of all shapes and sizes and deliciously homegrown and raised foods, we can surely appreciate all that this area has to offer.

But many of us are unaware of a critical element that produces much of the beauty of this land. That small, yet incredibly important, ingredient is honeybees.

Bees are an essential part of our ecosystems. They play a vital role in pollinating plants that bear many of the fruits and vegetables that we consume on a daily basis, such as apples, cucumbers, onions and pumpkins, to name just a few. And as insect foragers, they not only help keep our ecosystem running properly, but also produce delectable honey and beeswax that offer many benefits from health to beauty.

Without bees pollinating plants, farm stands would become sparse and the landscapes around us bare. And as the demand for locally grown produce increases, the smaller amount available would be much more expensive. Even more alarming is that if we continue to treat the plants and ecosystem around us with disrespect, we may see this future sooner than many anticipate.… Read the rest

Continue Reading ·