Westside Farmers' Market: A season in review

The Westside Farmers Market will start its 2011 season on Thursday, June 2. Last Thursday was the last market day of the 2010 season for the Westside Farmers' Market. We were gifted with a warm and clear day, a perfect chance to look back at the accomplishments in the market's 5th year.This was the first year we accepted Bridge Cards and Project Fresh Coupons. After we scared the bees' nest away from the Ethernet port, it became a weekly ritual to plug in the point of sale machine in order to swipe customers’ Bridge Cards and hand out wooden tokens. In September we doubled the amount of money SNAP users received thanks to Double Up Food Bucks (up to the first $20). More than $1,000 was funneled into the hands of our local farmers, in return for fresh healthy food.

The Cottage Food Law changed the landscape of the market as well. Several vendors choose to augment the weekly offering from their garden with items from their oven. As Brian Steinberg of Inchworm Farms said, “I have probably been able to double my sales this year because I did the Cottage Food bill. It was often the difference between breaking even and making a little money.”

Borden - long shadows at wsfm

Martha Dopokowski, of R Farm, thought, “[The Cottage Food Bill] has really helped – even though none of these items yet are making use of my own products … that is part of my business plan.” Granholm signed the law into effect Monday, July 12 and by the following Thursday there were already new items joining the wares on tables. On average we welcomed 28 vendors every week in addition to non-profits, live music and free massages. Chef demonstrations were fun, often spicy, and bewitchingly spontaneous – depending on the produce of the moment. Mark Baerwolf of Cornman Farms and Zingermans Roadhouse joined us many weeks to experiment and teach. Last Thursday, gas flames roared as he blackened peppers for salsa. We welcomed an average of 890 people to the market to meet their farmer, to learn about shrimp grown in Okemos, chocolate conched in Dexter, garlic grown in Ann Arbor, Highland Beef grazing in Jackson, or popcorn grown in Clinton.Every week we recorded our bounty with Real Time Farms. As our local restaurants continue to source their items locally, it is important to have as much information about the farmers and what they grow throughout the season as possible. I look forward to seeing how the website develops for our next season.

Many people have asked these last few weeks why the market does not stay open for a few more weeks, to which my answer is simple.

Borden - Seedling cider at wsfm

The convenience of having an open-air market in the afternoon means that by 7 p.m. last Thursday the sun had dipped behind the buildings of the Westgate Mall. Animals sleep by the sun, not the clock, as John Harnois, of Harnois farms, reminded me as we discussed the deepening dark. Unlike chickens, who put themselves to bed, he faced the prospect of chasing sleeping turkeys into the barn when he returned home.

One of my favorite aspects of eating locally is the reminder of the seasons and the connection with the earth that we share with all creatures, great and small. The deepening dark allows us all to settle in for the winter.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Will farmers markets be hurt if Congress cuts food stamps to pay for school lunches?

Borden - picture of Bridge Card sign at WSFM

I have received several emails on the Michigan Farmers Market listserv urging us to contact our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives not to pass the U.S. Senate bill Hunger-Free Kids Act, S. 3307. People are concerned because the bill, as it stands, pays for its $4.5 billion price tag by cutting $2.2 billion from the SNAP (food stamps) program.

The bill needs to be finalized this week before the current funding for certain school nutrition programs expires on Sept. 30. The House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, HR 5504 includes more provisions for summer meals and eligibility, but does not allocate funding for the $8 billion increase.

According to the Michigan Farmers Market Food Assistance Partnership (MIFMA), $297,000 in food stamp benefits were redeemed at Michigan farmers markets last year. MIFMA has done a lot of work supporting Michigan farmers markets to be able to accept bridge cards/food stamps this season.

All four farmers markets in Washtenaw County accept bridge cards. To date, the Westside Farmers Market has accepted nearly $1,000 in government nutrition benefits. That is $1,000 going into the hands of our local farmers and providing fresh food to our citizens versus a small step toward fighting the 30 percent obesity rate in American children by working toward healthier lunches.

Both the Senate version and the House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act will increase funding for school lunches by six cents, up to $2.44 per meal. It is also the first time there has been an increase in 30 years.

Is the six cents a meal for the children worth cutting food stamp benefits for the whole family? If I were in Congress, I would pay for the six cents by taxing the "edible food-like substances" that line the shelves of convenience stores. In fact, I would increase school lunches by as much as I could tax, because I have taught in an inner city charter school and seen the difference in the attention span of a student subsisting on marshmallows and Cheetos and one who had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. (Alternatively, we could scale back the subsidies that hide the real price of what food costs.)

As Stephen Colbert said recently, in his testimony to Congress about the plight of the migrant workers picking Americans fruits and vegetables, “The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating our fruits and vegetables.”

That is one solution, but perhaps our representatives have another one. If you care about this issue, contact your Representative.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

John Dingell launches Double Up Food Bucks in Washtenaw County

Borden - Dingell, Hesterman, Edwards at Ypsi market for DUFB

Photo courtesy of Richard McLeary

Congressman John Dingell, Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and Amanda Edmonds of Growing Hope spoke Tuesday afternoon at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market to launch the Double Up Food Buck program in Washtenaw County.

As I wrote about in July, the Double Up Food Bucks program matches every food stamp dollar spent at a farmer’s market up to $20 per visit.
Congressman Dingell spoke in support of the program from his perspective, “as the sole remaining author of the three of us who introduced and moved forward with the food stamp bill back in the Eisenhower administration.” Our nation has been supplementing nutrition for low-income individuals and families for more than 50 years, and our representative was there at the beginning.

Currently, 12.9 percent of the U.S. population receives federal food assistance benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. Dingell outlined the scope of the issue for our state, reporting that, “Michigan now has more than 17 percent, 1.75 million of our people, … on food stamps.”

Borden - Washtenaw participating markets

Double Up Food Bucks launches this week in four markets in Washtenaw County and in Calhoun County (Battle Creek area) this weekend. From this week until the end of October, Double Up Food Bucks will be accepted at all Washtenaw farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits: the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (7 a.m.-3 p.m.Wednesdays and Saturdays), Westside Farmers Market (3-7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 30), Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays), and the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market (2-6 p.m.Tuesdays).

Rachel Chadderdon, program manager for Double Up Food Bucks, explains the decision to stop at the end of October. “We will take a break - while Michigan produce takes a break - and then once there is enough Michigan produce, probably in June or July next summer, we will start up with those three sites [Detroit, Washtenaw, and Calhoun] and as many other sites that we can find funding for around the state. We hope to be running this program for the next three summers.”
Funding for the program comes from major foundations such as the Kresge Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, with a one-to-one match from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations for each dollar of local foundation funds received. One such local source is the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF). AAACF Vice President Martha Bloom, a fellow audience member, shared that they have given the Double Up Food Bucks program “one grant, and there is a potential for more.”
Hesterman hopes the Double Up Food Bucks program will create data to “share with Congressman Dingell and others in Congress to show them that it is time for us to move from this kind of program being funded solely by foundation dollars…into federal legislation as the next generation of food assistance programs.”
As witnessed by cameras, videos, and wind-blown audience members, Congressman Dingell reiterated his promise to help the program when successful. In the octogenarian’s words, “If you guys can make this new proposal work, I’ll be glad to try to help you get it into law.”

Here is the article on annarbor.com

(on a somewhat unrelated note, here is the Growing Hope Flickr site, where you can see a picture of all of the market managers surrounding John Dingell - lucky duck.)

Westside Farmers Market hosts over 1100 people!

Borden - Valentine Gardens at wsfm

Last Thursday was hot and humid with a scattering of clouds. Perfect weather to ripen tomatoes, squash, and eggplants - perfect weather to visit the Westside Farmers Market. I was not the only one who thought so, for the first time in our market’s five year history we counted over 1000 people at the market. In honor of breaking the four digit hurdle, here is a summary of the new doings at the market since our strong start to the season.

The Westside Farmers Market continues to expand our acceptance of supplemental nutrition programs. Bridge Cards (formerly Food Stamps) are administered through the USDA and we have accepted over $500 so far this season. Two weeks ago, we became eligible to accept Project FRESH coupons.

Project FRESH Coupons are administered through the Michigan Department of Community Health as part of their WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program and Senior Project FRESH program. Project FRESH Coupons enable the holder of the coupon book to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from participating farmers. The coupon book holds 10 pages of $2/each. When I received my training by the State to accept the coupons one of the other students was curious why the amount given, $20, has not increased in value since the program began in 1986. To which, the very nice woman replied, “State budget.”

As we maximize our space within the boundaries set for the market in our zoning permit we have had welcomed new vendors to the market. Spice Merchants from Saugatuck, My Kitchen Gourmet from Pinckney, Dick’s Pretty Good Garlic from Ann Arbor, Farrell Fruit from Ann Arbor, and Stone Hearth Breads and Bakery from Brooklyn, MI. In addition to the former collection of bakers, farmers, and jam makers — we have two new very unique vendors.

The Westside Farmers Market is a producer only market — every vendor at the market is required to grow, bake, cook, sculpt, or somehow create whatever it is they are selling. Therefore you would not expect, in Michigan, to see a shrimp farmer and a chocolate maker at a producer only market — yet there they are. I wrote extensively about the business of shrimp farming and Russ Allen’s Shrimp Farm Market in Okemos in the Spring. Angela Smith posted a full history of Mindo Chocolate in April. You can now meet both businesses every Thursday until the end of September at the Westside Farmers Market.

Last Thursday, Alicia Meza-Wilson, daughter of Barbara Wilson - owner of Mindo Chocolate, describes to me what is involved in “bean to bar” processing of the cacao beans that arrive to their kitchen in Dexter from Mindo, Ecuador (where the beans are grown and fermented). According to Alicia, the business started 8 months ago when her mother wanted to bake brownies in Ecuador — one never knows where inspiration will come from to start such an adventurous business.

You can continue to follow our vendors at the Westside Farmers Market and other markets on Real Time Farms. Real Time Farms continues to expand and streamline their website, making it easier to add pictures for contributors and creating a more dynamic experience when looking for markets. For example, they now have a slideshow of your market that you can embed anywhere.

Instead of asking markets to add every booth and tag every item, Real Time Farms has started an add 5 campaign, with the goal of adding every farmers market in the country to their website with 5 photos of the market - highlighting a cross section of what is available and exciting in the market. (Check out the captivating video that launches this campaign). Anyone with a camera on their smart phone can add pictures and information to the website, Real Time Farms is truly created by and for the people.

There is nothing better to me than a full meal grown by my local farmers. Starting perhaps with a cool cucumber soup, topped with dill (from Cassidy Farm in Chelsea). Followed by fresh corn , with ripe tomato and basil salad (from Pregitzer Farm Market), and lamp chops hot off the grill (from Ernst Farm). And for dessert, perfectly sweet watermelon (from Ruhligs Produce), with a seed spitting contest into the blooming hostas.

August in Ann Arbor — I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Food Gatherers becomes "Super Carrots" at the Westside Farmers Market

Borden - Tyena Lyons at the Super CArrots booth

The Westside Farmers Market runs June-September in Zingerman’s Roadhouse parking lot (on the corner of Jackson and Maple) on Thursdays 3-7 pm. I am an active volunteer with the market and provide an insider view of the establishment.

This past March, Missy Orge, Director of Outreach and Training for Food Gatherers, reserved a spot at the Westside Farmers Market to sell vegetables under the name, “Super Carrots,” as part of their Community Kitchen Job Training Program (CKJTP). Seeds were planted, earth was watered, the sun shone down, and plants began to grow, and grow, and grow.

Borden - Super Carrots!Thursday’s market was a shining sunny day to welcome Tyena Lyons, Patti Ramos (intern from the School of Public Health), and Missy Orge to our rows of tents and tables selling carrots, cabbages, tomatoes, and broccoli. The vegetables were harvested that morning from the 8 raised beds at the Gathering Farm in front of the Food Gatherers warehouse on Carrot Way.

As you may recall, Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. In 2005, they implemented the Job Training Program for youth (ages 17-21) who work for 6 weeks to learn marketable skills in the food industry. In 2007, Food Gatherers began offering paid internships to the stellar graduates of the program.

Tyena Lyons is one of those stellar graduates. Lyons describes her experience, “the job training program here at Food Gatherers is great to bring the kids off of the street in the community that have been dealing with drugs, that have been abandoned, that have parental problems…the students are happy because they can come to someone who shows them love.”

Lyons mans the booth at the market on Thursdays and she also assists Chef Ellen at the Delonis Center with the current students in the training program. The current class of students started with 14 and there are now 11 students. This attrition is not uncommon, Orge explains, “a lot of people come into the job training program thinking it is easy and fun, but they have to be there every day… But we especially chose Tyena for this project, so she can be the face of Food Gatherers.”

Super Carrots will be at the market every Thursday until the end of September.

Double up food bucks and food policy with the Fair Food Network

According to the Michigan Food Stamp Calculator, a single person earning $1,000 in Social Security income a month, with a $300 monthly rent payment, would be eligible for $66 in food stamp benefits that month. Say this person lived in Detroit, without a car, and wanted to purchase food. According to Oran Hesterman, inaugural president and CEO of Fair Food Network, “60 percent of all food stamp benefits are redeemed in liquor stores, party stores, and gas station convenience stores. People are doing their grocery shopping at gas stations. Detroit is not unique, it is happening all over the country.” When I taught in Washington, D.C., a student came to school one day with marshmallows and Cheetos for lunch. Think about the dietary repercussions of such “food” - day in day out. Think about the $70 billion a year of your tax money spent on food stamps where 60 percent of that contributes to our pandemic of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity - welcome to our health care.

Fair Food Network’s solution to this Gordian Knot is simple: encourage people to spend their food stamp benefits on local produce, chronicle the benefits and evidence scientifically, and change the policy in Washington, D.C. Their Double Up Food Bucks program matches every food stamp dollar spent at a farmer’s market, up to $20 per visit. Hesterman speaks broadly and with conviction about the program. “Instead of watching our $70 billion of food assistance going to support the highly processed food industry while keeping our low-income families and kids unhealthy: eating high fat, highly processed, high sugar food. We need to use that same resource in a way that gets healthier food to people while also supporting a local food economy.”

From planting the first heirloom apple trees in the organic farm at UC Santa Cruz 35 years ago, to granting millions of dollars over nearly 20 years as part of the Kellogg Foundation’s Sustainable Food Systems Program, Hesterman has either worked with, or given seed money to, many of the organizations involved in the local food movement. Hesterman feels his lifetime of work has enabled him, “to gain a perspective as to how this movement has been growing from very early on and has provided me with an incredible network of people and projects all of the country … and a lot of good connections in the philanthropic world.”

Borden - Double up food bucks front logo

Those connections with philanthropic funding are pivotal because Fair Food Network is talking about a statewide Michigan program for Double Up Food Bucks, in order to help convince policy makers as to the feasibility of the project nationwide. Piloted last year in Detroit (under the name Michigan Mo' Bucks), this fall he hopes to expand to Ann Arbor. “We are working on engaging radio, billboards, bus signs, direct mail to SNAP [food stamp] recipients,” Hesterman shares. When I spoke to him in June, they planned on ordering $300,000 worth of aluminum coins.

Headquartered in downtown Ann Arbor, Fair Food Network has a director of policy and communications working in Washington, D.C. toward effecting food policy. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill will happen sometime in 2012 or 2013 and food stamps are part of that behemoth of a bill (just looking at the outline of the 2008 enacted bill is dizzying). Hesterman hopes the Farm Bill reauthorization will, “include in it some form of incentive that is encouraging people to use their food stamp benefits to buy healthier food,” based on the evidence presented with the Double Up Food Bucks program.Borden - Double up food bucks back logo

In addition to his leadership of the Fair Food Network, Hesterman is working on a book. “The book chronicles the movement and introduces a lot of the good food heroes. Some of these are small scale - but some of it is big company, too. You don’t hear about it commonly, but some of the largest food companies in the country are doing some very interesting work right now creating more ecologically sound systems and insisting that farmers that they source from produce their food differently.” The final part of the book focuses on the, “ways you can plug into this and help this revolution.”

The working title of the book is "Good Food Revolution," with the Double Up Food Bucks program as one front, I look forward to reading of more.

Here is the link to the article on annarbor.com.

Farm to Fork: Inchworm Microgreens

In my Farm to Fork series I visit local farms around Ann Arbor and share what I learn.Borden - sunflower microgreens with eggs

Brian Steinberg is a man of many interests and many talents - among them a chef, a cooking instructor, a TV producer, a student and a microgreen farmer. This is the first summer of his backyard farm, Inchworm Microgreens. He inaugurated his sprout trays last year at the HomeGrown Festival and fully launched his microgreen cultivation this spring in anticipation of market clientele at the Westside Farmers Market. What is a microgreen, you may ask? It is exactly what it sounds like - the first tender stalk of a plant, when the first two leaves (the cotyledon leaves, thank you Master Gardener Classes) and perhaps a few more are emerging from the plant. It is different from a sprout because you do not eat the root - microgreens are grown in trays of soil or a special growing medium; they are a cut stem and leaves. Like sprouts, they are packed with nutrition.

Borden - Inchworm Microgreens at WSFMSteinberg has grown sunflowers, arugula, wheatgrass, beets, radishes, onions, cilantro, broccoli, adzuki beans, basil, collards and red kale in his back garden space. Originally, he had planned on offering a CSA of microgreen trays, but soon realized that he wanted more experience under his belt before committing to having a certain volume of produce available.

Steinberg’s enthusiasm for his work is contagious, “I don’t have to be up at 5 a.m., there is no weeding, there is no bending over, there is shade here, and within about an hour I am done for the week.”

Steinberg’s method is simple. He soaks the organic seeds overnight and rinses them.

 

Then, Steinberg sits at his table and plants 6 trays at a time.

Steinberg is careful with the moisture level, too much and the seeds will mold and too little and they will be stunted. The trays receive only water, no fertilizers or other sprays. Rain sometimes can be a problem.

In 10 days or so, depending on the weather, he harvests his microgreens. Steinberg shares with a grin on his face, “most of the time I don’t have to wash because if I cut them high enough it is not a problem.”

Then he tosses the cut tray root mass into the compost pile. At the moment Steinberg is using organic soil from Downtown Home & Garden and can fill 13 trays with one bag. Next year he hopes that his compost pile will provide all of the nutrient-rich soil his seeds require.

The next project for Inchworm Microgreens is growing microgreens without the soil. A perfect solution for tiny seeds or consumers who may want a plethora of choices and an option for Steinberg to continue Inchworm Microgreens inside his house during the winter. There is enough energy contained within the seed to sprout with water only.

Finally, Steinberg takes his trays and his cut bags of microgreens to the market. He has found that it is very important to sample because so many people are unsure as to what to do with the tiny delicate tendrils of green.

Sunflower microgreens are among my favorites. They are nutty, full of flavor, have a great texture, and are great both raw and lightly sautéed. I like to softly scramble two eggs from our girls with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce and mix it with the sunflower microgreens. Delicious!

Here is the article on annarbor.com!

Vegan Garlic Scape Pumpkin Seed Pesto inspired by Dick's Pretty Good Garlic

According to the pictures and data on Real Time Farms, this week at the farmers markets in and around Ann Arbor was garlic scape week, often referred to as just “scapes.” The Washington Post describes scapes beautifully in a recent post, as “a part of the garlic plant that is a garlic lover's nirvana.” Borden - Scape pesto on pasta Farmers harvest scapes from the hardnecked garlic plants because keeping the flower shoot (the scape) attached will curtail the continuing development of the bulb. Not only does it help the bulb develop, it is a delicious treat of garlicky goodness that is a step down in intensity from munching on raw garlic cloves.

Dick’s Pretty Good Garlic was selling 18 different varieties of garlic scapes last Thursday at the Westside Farmers Market. Dick and Diana Dyer were handing out recipes for their Garlic Scape Pesto along with the nubile round stalks.

As you may remember, I am not very good at following directions for recipes, but the idea of Garlic Scape Pesto was captivating as a jumping off point.

So I looked in the larder and came up with a new recipe. I had a big bag of pumpkin seeds and three walnuts left in the cupboard, so I threw a handful of pumpkin seeds with the walnuts into the toaster. I don’t like putting cheese in my pesto because I prefer to add fresh grated later (if at all).Borden - Garlic Scapes

While the pumpkin seeds and the three walnuts toasted, I cut up the 9 scapes, and threw them into the blender. My scapes were the Stull variety, according to the handout from the Dyers.

The nuts and the scapes blended together as I drizzled olive oil into the blender until the mixture was a cohesive mass; at the very end I added a swig of pumpkin seed oil. I did not add extra salt because the pumpkin seeds were salted.

Then I spooned it on top of the Mixed Blend Pasta Noodles from Pasta e Pasta, grated some pepper, and took a bite. It was perfect. For me, the classic recipe of garlic with olive oil on top of pasta often ends up with chunks of garlic either undercooked or charred. Scape Pesto spread the intensity of the garlic along every noodle. The color of the pesto is bright green and I like the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds. I think it would work very well in lasagna, on eggs, and even with meat.

Next week I am going to purchase more scapes to freeze some pesto for the wintertime!Borden - scapes in situ

(Check out Diana Dyer’s blog for other ideas of what to do with scapes.)

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

 

Photo of Spanish Roja scapes courtesy of Dick Dyer

Westside Farmers Market starts the season strong

The morning dawned cloudy with a forecast of thunderstorms, “sometime around noon,” in the forecast. I looked at the sky again, and again, and again. I thought to myself of all of the things I did not want to get wet at the market: Bridge Card machine, lawn signs, me. I worried that some of our new vendors would not have proper ballast for their new tents and would be blown away in gusts, product ruined, money lost. Borden - wsfm lawn sign Then I shook myself, and remembered I was not in charge of the weather, and tried to change the subject.

Anxiety for naught, the Universe smiled on us, the sun fought through, and there was nary a ripple of wind for the first day of the Westside Farmers Market.

The numbers tell the tale beautifully. Last year the first day of the market welcomed 467 customers; Thursday there were 692 - a 48 percent increase. Last year the Roadhouse hosted 19 vendors; Thursday there were 25. Last year we did not accept Bridge Cards; Thursday (after a small shuffle with the machinery) we did.

There were complimentary lawn signs available for supporters to show their support for the market and help spread the word. We had CSA pickups for Two Creeks Organics, Zilke Vegetable Farm, Pregitzer Farm Market, Down on the Farm (the Amish Community cooperative), and Our Family Farm. There were several options for cookies and baked goods: Stone Hearth Breads and Bakery, My Kitchen Gourmet (South American baked goodies), Bizzy Lizzy Bakery, and Zingerman’s Bakehouse. After filling bags with rhubarb, fresh lettuce, strawberries, onions, scapes, highland beef, fresh eggs, and pork chops - a bit of decorating was in order.

Nancy Melet’s hand-linked silver jewelry sparkled in the fighting sun. Also available to titillate the external senses was Nakee Natural handcrafted soap and skincare; her collection is made from organic, unrefined, all fairly traded ingredients - and her whole tent smelled like a florist shop. Borden - bridge card sign at wsfm (day 1)

For a full list of the bounty and variety of the first day check out the market report on Real Time Farms. I watched Karl and Cara Rosaen for more than an hour at the market, speaking to every vendor to be able to accurately record what they offered to sell and taking pictures as well. Cara shared with me that the response to their website has been overwhelming, new markets are recorded on the site every week from over the country - from Connecticut to California. I think this is a great comment on the vitality of our farmers’ market community.

This vitality reflected in the comments I heard from customers and vendors about the first day of the Westside Farmers Market: “I love the energy in this market.” “We missed you during the wintertime.” “I couldn’t make the market on Wednesday and needed something for dinner tomorrow, so glad you are here!” “Chalk for the children, we love playing with chalk, thank you!”

To these sentiments, I add my own - thank you, Universe, for the sun.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

Okemos shrimp with pipian sauce

Ever since I wrote about our homegrown Michigan chemical free shrimp offered at The Shrimp Farm Market in Okemos, I wanted to try out a recipe my parents have been raving about for my entire life. When I say my entire life, I mean the recipe comes from the dusty shelves under the basement stairs groaning with hardcover recipe tombs. Tucked amongst seemingly hundreds of cookbooks are copies of the out-of-print Time Life Foods of the World. On pages 66 and 67 in the Latin American cookbook are circles, stars, and exclamation points with a “Super!!” in my mother’s handwriting on the top of the page. Borden - shrimp pipian Pipian de Camarones: Sauteed Shrimp with Tomato, Pumpkin Seed, and Coriander Sauce.

I know of two places in Ann Arbor to purchase Russ Allen’s Michigan raised shrimp in addition to his store in Okemos or the Okemos Farmers Market: Arbor Farms and Morgan and York.

My parents always described this recipe as, “shrimp with a pumpkin seed sauce,” so it was not until I started doing research that I learned pipian sauce is one of the subsets of the classic mole sauces in Mexico. Mole sauces are a thick, dense, intensely complex ground or milled sauce designed to accompany meat or vegetables. There are often many ingredients in the thick sauce, giving an incredible complexity and richness. My first mole experience was in Mexico,halfway through devouring my lunch I learned the main ingredient in the unusual and scintillating sauce was chocolate, which I had never eaten before with chicken.

Here is my modified recipe for this unctuous, nutty, spicy, complex sauce, perfectly accompanying the bite and flavor of the shrimp. In terms of time, we ate an hour after we started shelling the 2 pounds of shrimp because the sauce is ground in the blender. Note: the original recipe called for sugar and pequin chiles, which we changed - also, online wisdom says the sauce will get spicier the longer it sits, overwhelming the subtly of the original intent - so use this all at once and enjoy!

(To serve 6)

  • 2 pounds raw shrimp in their shells
  • 1 ½ cups cold water
  • ½ cup roasted, salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped - or drained, canned Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped onions
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped, drained, canned pimentos
  • 6 dried chilies (of whatever heat level you find comfortable), crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 cups of cooked rice for accompaniment

Step 1 - Shell and devein the shrimp. Place the shrimp shells in a saucepan, add the 1 ½ cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Pour off the stock, leaving the shrimp shells for the compost pile.

Step 2 - Blend the pepitas until pulverized, add the tomatoes, onions, pimento, chilies, fresh coriander, ground coriander, garlic, salt, and pepper and blend at high speed until the mixture is a smooth puree.

Step 3 - In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until a haze forms. (Cover your body with an apron at this point if you have forgotten, things are about to get messy). Quickly toss with a spoon the shrimp about the oil until the outside is uniformly pink (you do not want them cooked through). Remove the shrimp and place them onto a plate.

Step 4 - Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and pour in the pureed sauce. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently for 5 minutes, over moderate heat. Stir in the cup of shrimp stock and the shrimp. Cook over low heat until the shrimp are cooked through (2 minutes). Pour in the lime juice.

Step 5 - Find bowls that are deep and wide, spread the rice over the bottom of the bowl and ladle the shrimp and its sauce on top.

Final note: We used canned tomatoes (which have a lot of juice) and barely green pumpkin seeds. My mother tells me if you use fresh tomatoes and bright green pumpkin seeds the sauce will be green, which is a great contrast to the pink of the shrimp - and a wonderful challenge for me to try this recipe again and again. She also tells me of a dinner party where guests tiptoed back into the kitchen to have third helpings of this meal - ¡Buen provecho!

Here is the article on annarbor.com.