Sky Full of Bacon

So we were walking back to the house the other night, a group of 8 or 9 of us since my sister and family were visiting… and suddenly I yelled… JUNEBERRIES!

Several trees, probably planted as they’re in a sort of parkway near our house.  Yet the apple-red fruit was completely undisturbed; if someone who planted them once picked them, no one does now.  There were two younger trees, which were fairly full of Juneberries, and one older one which was absolutely abundant:

After ID’ing the oval, serrated leaves on the computer to make sure we had the right tree, I tried them.  The harder reddish fruit was sort of like a tiny plum with a couple of grape seeds in the middle.  It was all right, but nothing to get THAT excited about.

We went back today, though, and by now most of the fruit, especially on the older tree, was a rich grape-purple.  And those were much more complex and interesting— not only more depth to the plum flavor, but an orangey note that had been completely missing the other day.

The ripe purple fruit slid easily off the stalk without breaking, and my helpers and I soon filled a small bag.  I’ll make a custard tart with them this weekend, I think.

Here’s what the trees look like, at least the younger ones, to help you spot them around town:

Meanwhile, not that anybody will likely read a blog over a holiday weekend, but I’m deep into production on the next two podcasts, so blogging will likely be light.  If you have bored computer time, click on “7 Links of Terror” and there are plenty of cool things to visit there.  Meanwhile, I shot at the Shedd Aquarium and a restaurant yesterday as I tackle the subject of fish, and will be talking to a rep from a major green fish co. in a couple of weeks.  Not sure when the finish date will be, but I’m working, anyway.

One of the things that didn’t make it into the urban foraging podcast was Art Jackson’s and my extended, and quite literally fruitless, search for juneberries, aka serviceberries. Only afterwards did it dawn on us that searching for June-berries in August was not exactly the brightest thing we could have been doing. I’ve been curious, now that June is not only here but quickly departing in a torrent, and had in the back of my mind that I should call Art up and see if he wanted to search for Juneberries…

…but he already has. He’s found them, and he’s cooked with them and eaten them. Check out his post.

If there were a dish that involved asparagus and strawberries, it would have been the salvation for Green City Market today, as plenty of both were on hand. A little sunshine might have helped too; we were among the hardy few in a decidedly sparse crowd.

I stopped by a new cheese vendor, Saxon Homestead Creamery, variously recommended by the likes of Michael Morowitz and Mike Sula. We sampled our way down the line and to our surprise, even the 7-year-old voted for the slightly funky raw milk Green Fields cheese, as well as one called Evalon LaClare Farm cheese. (Cheese Log post to come in a few days.)

At Cafe Floriole we got something to nosh— in this humidity, the crusts were soggy but the good stuff in the middle was still plenty good, I was very happy with a little goat cheese and green onions. A moment later I spotted something else someone (I think Monica Eng) had recommended:

Apple cider donuts! Okay, I don’t think I went quite as gaga for them as she did, but they didn’t exactly last long, either.

By the time I got to Fruitslinger’s stand I had three quarts of strawberries, so I didn’t really have any need to buy any more from him, but we chatted for a moment. I asked him about the fraises des bois (wild strawberries; they were planted, as a sort of cliffhanger, last year on his blog and they turned up recently on his Twitter feed.) He said ten minutes earlier Mark Mendez from Carnivale had bought everything he had. Then he searched around and produced one for me to try. Tart, not that different from the other strawberries. Wait another week or two, he said. When they’re good… his eyes rolled back in his head. (Here’s what happened to them at Carnivale.)

Got some green tomatoes from Growing Power, I’ll make fried green tomatoes in a day or two. Got a new glass bear full of that great black raspberry honey, some pork shoulder and hamburger from a new beef supplier, some eggs (all sold out closest to the parking lot, still available closer in). We went home, damp but happy. Tonight I made strawberry shortcake, tomorrow a strawberry-rhubarb pie and probably an asparagus tart.

A lot of activity from folks I know, and a new video series which is doing something a lot like Sky Full of Bacon… but about dairy in the New York region. So this is mostly a local logrolling edition, but plenty of good stuff to check out:

1. The Local Beet wants people to spread the word about its new Farmers Market Finder, and they should, it’s a very cool tool. Just enter your zipcode in the search box at the top right of the main page, and you’ll get a Google map that shows you by color code when the next markets are near you. Click on any of them to get more info. CORRECTION: It covers a pretty good swath of the region already, “the whole state of IL, plus some of NW Indiana, SW Michigan and southern Wisc.,” says local cheese Michael Morowitz, with new markets being added daily.
2. The Dairy Show is a video series by a doctor named Michael Crupain about people doing artisanal, sustainable stuff with dairy in the New York state area. Episode one includes a cheesemaker whose story is strikingly similar to that of the La Quercia folks in my most recent podcast: Episode 1 from TheDairyShow.Com on Vimeo.

3. Michael Nagrant’s back in the audio podcast biz after a hiatus, talking to Curtis Duffy of Avenues and Jason Hammel (seen in my “There Will Be Pork” podcasts) of Lula and the new and oh-so-hot Nightwood. I’ve only listened to the latter so far, but Jason is one of the most thoughtful chefs I’ve met (perhaps not surprising when you consider that he was in a writing program under David Foster Wallace before becoming, somewhat casually at first, a cafe owner and chef), and he has a lot of interesting (if not entirely cheerful) things to say about writing and cooking as both art and craft, how personal creative aspirations intersect with the reality of running a business and managing a staff, being a parent in the food biz, and so on.  (Fun fact: Jason’s first food jobs were California Pizza Kitchen and TGI Friday’s.)
4. Honestly, I don’t link to every episode of KCRW’s Good Food, but this New York-based one is another really strong one, including the owner of NYC’s appetizing store Russ and Daughters explaining how controversial “and Daughters” was back then, and a middle eastern store owner in Brooklyn talking about business pre and post-9/11. Hey Evan, we’ve got good food too, come to Chicago and I’ll show you around.

5. David Hammond talks to a couple of wine mavens about what you’re tasting when you’re tasting barolo.
6. Chuck Sudo has started making guanciale (something I also did here). We will cover this story as it develops.
7. And finally, another thing New York has that we don’t, thanks to Daley’s anti-street vending stance: hipster ice cream trucks.  From the Plate of the Day blog. UPDATE: See comments for a lead on a hipster ice cream truck in Chicago after all!

UPDATE: Okay, despite saying the audio podcast would be at iTunes, I can’t seem to get it to show up there. So listen to it here, or download it via the link below and add it to iTunes manually. And scroll down one post to view the latest video podcast.

UPDATE 2: Finally, some link rays of sunshine: thanks to Chuck Sudo at Chicagoist for some very nice words, and Carolina Bolado subbing for the vacationing Mlle. Rosner at MenuPages (no, I don’t know what’s with the pissy second comment, either; wasn’t aware I was making news, I thought I was making erotic food poetry, frankly).

UPDATE 3: Thanks to Mike Sula for this nice piece too, which directs you where to try Acorn Edition prosciutto in Chicago when Ham Independence Day rolls around.

WARNING, NEW MEDIA MUSINGS AHEAD: Beyond that, it’s still a little slow on the linky linky love. When I started this thing, okay, Plan A was that one of the media outlets would want to be my advertising godfather (making me money without having to soil myself), and obviously that went pfft with the fact that they’re all desperate to survive themselves; but Plan B was, hey, at least I’ll give them something to write about now and then, and to embed on their sites, and to contribute to the general cause of attracting traffic with interesting food talk. Not because what I do is so all-fired great (though of course it is!), but because if they’re all running food blogs, they gotta write about something and post 3 or 4 times a day, right? Right? In fact, though they all have food blogs, they don’t seem to feel the need to post that much, and though overall they’ve been very good to me publicity-wise and I am certainly grateful, I very much doubt they see it as, how nice of me to give them something to make a post about today.

But really, it’s a service to your readers, I see what traffic I get from any link I get and consistently it’s 50, 75, even 100 or more of your readers watching my video all the way through and, presumably, feeling that the time spent reading your food blog was in part justified by that interesting video you told them about. It costs you nothing and it makes your readers happy. It gives you one more thing to write about on a particular day and c’mon, you know you need to be blogging multiple times a day, not just 3-4 times a week. So link to Sky Full of Bacon today, embed the new podcast at your blog today.

* * *

Extended audio interview with Herb and Kathy Eckhouse of La Quercia, artisanal prosciutto maker in Iowa.

For more information on this and the accompanying video podcast, go here.  (This post is mainly just to alert iTunes.  The real info is there.)

Listen to it below, or go here, or listen to it at iTunes here.


Can food as good as Europe’s best come from the midwest? Go inside the Italian-style prosciuttificio of La Quercia in Norwalk, Iowa, and see for yourself.

Sky Full of Bacon 10: Prosciutto di Iowa from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Here’s an example of a local food from the midwest that’s not just good for a local product, but as good as any of its kind on earth. Since it first hit the market in 2005-6, the prosciutto made by La Quercia has been hailed in rhapsodic terms by top chefs and food writers (as you’ll see and hear from three of Chicago’s top chefs). Herb and Kathy Eckhouse set out to make a truly world-class product—and to do it in accordance with their principles about being environmentally responsible and humane toward the pigs they use. In this Sky Full of Bacon podcast, we tour the prosciuttificio south of Des Moines to see how state-of-the-art technology simulates the traditional Italian way of making prosciutto, and we hear the Eckhouses talk about how they got started, how they’ve built a business in line with their principles, and about getting Iowa farmers to adopt the ancient practice of raising pigs on acorns for the best hams.

Bonus Audio Podcast

I conducted a long and thoughtful interview with the Eckhouses, only a small part of which could fit into the video. So I’ve condensed the highlights of it into a 44-minute audio podcast which goes into greater depth into such issues as starting and marketing an artisanal food business, and how their prosciutto fits into the local food movement. It’s an interesting conversation that expands on much of what’s in the video; you can listen to it below, or go here, or listen to it at iTunes here.

La Quercia’s website is here. I highly, highly recommend the organic prosciutto. It costs more, but it’s worth the extra.

Here’s Jeffrey Steingarten’s December 2006 piece from Vogue, referenced in the video. (You have to register to read the whole thing.)

Here’s a NY Times piece which came out right after I first contacted them— I thought for sure they’d be too busy for me after that, but thankfully not. (You glimpse it on the wall in the video.)

Here’s a piece by, who else, Mike Sula in the Reader a couple of years ago on their guanciale.

Here’s a piece (which was Beard-nominated) on Russ Kremer, one of the two farmers Kathy’s talking about at the end when she says if she had to be a pig, this is where she’d want to be one. (The other is Jude Becker, who is the “Jude” Brian Huston of The Publican refers to offhand in Sky Full of Bacon #5, incidentally. It’s a small world of good, humane pork.)


About Sky Full of Bacon
Sky Full of Bacon #9: Raccoon Stories
Sky Full of Bacon #8: Pear-Shaped World
Sky Full of Bacon #7: Eat This City
Sky Full of Bacon #6: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2)
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

Please feel free to comment here or to email me here.

The local CBS station does a piece on eating local featuring two people who’ve been in Sky Full of Bacons: Cassie Green of Green Grocer and Rob Gardner, Vital Information/Local Beet, procurer of pig heads.

Of course, for the in-depth version, you know where you have to go!

So Monday night I went to a press event at mado for The Local Beet, my friends Michael Morowitz and Rob Gardner’s local eating site which, if you’re reading this, you probably know about.  I’ve contributed very modestly to it (mainly they feature my podcasts whenever they relate to local eating, which is fairly often since it is, after all, local filming) but it’s rapidly becoming a great overall resource for what’s at farmer’s markets, how to incorporate local eating into your diet, etc.  It also looks so much sharper than it did when it started.  A couple of particular things to check out:

• Michael has a great guide to CSAs, just in time to order and start getting weird vegetables every week.

• Melissa Graham has a very interesting piece on local honey (“Not to be indelicate, but it could be said that honey is bee barf”), which as someone who’s been enjoying the heck out of raspberry-tinged honey I bought at Green City last winter, I concur with entirely.  (It was the Bron’s raspberry honey, which Melissa also raves about in a buyer’s guide at the end.)

Meanwhile, I got lucky at the press event.  No, not that way.  I won a jar of pickled beets from Vie.  Not many people would get as excited about beets as a door prize as me, but I couldn’t be more pleased.

“The always superb Sky Full of Bacon video podcast from Chicago’s Michael Gebert serves up a tour of Oriana Kruszewski’s orchard which contains Asian pears, paw paws and black walnuts trees. Kruszewski’s knowledge, enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring.” —

Ever wonder about the farmers who grow and sell the produce at your local farmer’s market?  In this Sky Full of Bacon podcast, we meet Oriana, the Asian pear lady at Chicago’s Green City Market, and travel to her orchard in western Illinois.  She may not look like your typical midwestern farmer, but her challenges (from weather to pests) and her joy at making things grow are universal.

Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Here’s another podcast shot while things were still growing, to help keep your spirits up through the long winter!  If you visit Green City Market in the fall, you’ve probably seen Oriana Kruszewski showing off whatever interesting thing she happens to have picked that week along with her trademark Asian pears— paw paws, persimmons, watercress, Asian herbs, ground cherries.  Oriana has some 500 pear trees at her farm near Galena; I visited her in October as the freeze was approaching and she was picking the last of her fruit for storage.  She’s always interesting to talk to and I think you’ll enjoy the chance to see what all lies behind the produce you buy at a farmer’s market.

For more information about Green City Market, go here. And as you may know, another fruit vendor at Green City had an entire blog about his experiences.

Mike Sula wrote about Oriana a couple of years ago; he fills in more of her personal history.

Josephine at LTHForum first posted about Oriana’s black walnuts in this thread; be sure to read Pdaane’s post about black walnuts in his Wisconsin home town.  (I’m in there too, eventually.)

Here’s a tart I’ve made a couple of times for Christmas using Oriana’s black walnuts:

About Sky Full of Bacon
Sky Full of Bacon #7: Eat This City
Sky Full of Bacon #6: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2)
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

Please feel free to comment here or to email me here.

Just got this from Nance Klehm, star of my foraging podcast:

swap seeds and enjoy a bowl of organic vegan posole! (BYOB)

2446 south sawyer avenue (little village, chicago)
sunday, feb 15th 3-7pm

3-5pm SWAP n’ STORE
please bring seeds that are healthy, viable, open-pollinated, and true to variety. if you have no seeds come anyway and learn about sowing, growing and saving seeds!

we will cover seed starting techniques, timing of sowing, issues of cross-pollination, seed collection and storage of seeds.

a seed’s potential is only released through the cycle of sowing and saving. to keep future generations of heirloom and wild seed in the hands of the public we need to plant them and pass them on.

The SEED ARCHIVE is housed in chicago. it is a public archive of healthy seeds collected from many places and people. seed is loaned for free to those who are commited to growing them, enjoying them and returning some of the next generation of seed back to store at the seed archive.

Questions: [email protected]