New England Ginger
There's something deeply meditative about visiting a farm, but especially come late November in New England. Mid-afternoon brings sunset, covering the landscape in gold light; blue shadows nestle around the few kales and mustards still growing. Most farms are breathing a sigh of relief after the busy market season, when the fields are overflowing and farmers hustle to get it all harvested, processed, and sold. There's a lovely hush to late November in New England—a lullaby of frosts that signal it's time to put the farm to bed. We gather for Thanksgiving: eat till our bellies are over-full, then drink tea, maybe with a splash of bourbon and a dash of ginger; go to bed early.
This Thanksgiving week I had the chance to visit a farm in Amherst, Massachusetts called Old Friends Farm. While my journey there had nothing to do with Thanksgiving, it reminded me of why I'm in business with Curio - to honor the farmers who grow our food and to honor the natural environment that these farmers look after. Old Friends Farm is special (especially for me!) because they grow organic ginger and turmeric. Yes, in New England! Most fresh and dried ginger in American households today comes from Asia (such as India, the world's largest producer) where the warm climate and heavy sunshine allow it to proliferate. Hawaii is the only U.S. state with a significant commercial production of ginger, but for us East coasters, that's still a long way away. On the label of their dried ginger and turmeric products Old Friends writes "More flavor, less miles."
Old Friends Farm in Amherst is one of just a handful of farms in New England that grow the mighty delicious rhizome with the help of greenhouses. When I visited the farm last week, I found Casey, one of the owners, on his tractor up near the greenhouses. He jumped off to say hello and explain a bit about the farm—how they use passive solar greenhouses, and crop rotation. He apologized for the quiet state of the farm (no ginger growing now) but I assured him I still found it beautiful, since I've always been a fan of the transition of one season to the next. And I promised I'd be back next summer. Sadly the fresh ginger season is past, but happily there is dried ginger from Old Friends that will soon be available in a blend offered through Curio (stay tuned!). Likewise, Old Friends makes a few blends of their own, as well as a delightful ginger syrup that can be found in shops around Boston.
Us humans have been addicted to ginger since prehistoric times. It was hugely popular in medieval Europe, hence the famous and strange gingerbread men.
The flavor of ginger comes from chemical compounds related to those in black pepper and chili peppers giving it that capsaicin-like heat (and antimicrobial properties) that prove so useful when suffering from a cold or aches and pains (the Huffington Post explains this nicely here). The chemical compounds present in fresh ginger actually change when ginger is dried, intensifying the flavor as opposed to weakening it, allowing dried ginger powder to be an extremely useful household ingredient for everything from cakes to meat-marinades and soups.
This year, as my brother gave grace around the Thanksgiving table, thanking those that made our meal possible, I didn't just picture the poultry farmer who raised our turkey, nor just the veggie farmer who grew our sweet potatoes. Now my picture included the spice farmer. Our beautiful feast included black peppercorns from Cambodia, soft-stick cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and now a delicious dried ginger from Old Friends down the road.