At 118 miles from west to east, Long Island is appropriately named. It's total population of 7.5 million is divided between Brooklyn and Queens on the west followed by Nassau County. Suffolk County on the east occupies roughly two-thirds of the island. The population density is in inverse proportion to proximity to New York City. That is, the further out on the Island you go from New York the less densely populated.
About 80 miles out, at the end of Rt. 495 -- the Long Island Expressway -- you reach Riverhead. At this point the island splits into North and South Forks. If you follow the North Fork to the island's end, which I did, you reach Orient and the ferry that connects to New London, Connecticut across the Long Island Sound. The South Fork leads through chic Southampton and Easthampton out to Montauk. Ferries from Montauk link to Block Island, New London, Mystic and Newport. The South Fork's southern boundary is the Atlantic Ocean. Separating the two forks is Peconic Bay, home of Peconic Bay oysters.
Seeking out farm stands on Long Island's North Forth is like shooting fish in a barrel. Or as Julia Roberts said to Richard Gere in Pretty Women, "I'm a sure thing." Long Island has a long agricultural tradition with its ducks and potatoes gaining national renown. Today there are still some ducks and potatoes, but, buy in large, potatoes fields have yielded to vast expanses of vineyards that supply grapes to the more than thirty North Fork wineries. However, because of the North Fork's proximity to the New York market as well as the summer vacationers, the area still supports a vibrant farm industry. Most of the farms do not rely solely on their roadside stands and subscription CSA's -- Community Supported Agriculture, but maintain an ever-growing schedule of appearances at farmers' markets far and wide.
The North Fork begins inauspiciously at the Riverhead rotary where Route 24 takes you to the northern or Long Island Sound side of the North Fork. Route 25 runs near the Peconic Bay on the fork's south side. The Peconic Land Trust lists forty-seven farm stands stretched out like pearls on a necklace along Routes 24 and 25 and those do not count stands operated by the area's entrepreneurial backyard farmers.
This is not estate country. Rather, small towns dot the area with mostly modest homes.
Occasionally farm land has given way to modern housing developments.
But there is still lots of farmland. Here a watering system stretches from the foreground to the large housing development in the distance. With a very hot summer and relatively little rain, watering has been critical to maintaining crop health. Getting watered is a "sod farm" of which there were many -- vast expenses of PGA-worthy grass carefully nurtured in preparation for suburban lawns far and wide.
The North Fork is a biker's paradise with a scenic mix of long and winding roads and nary a hill. Lots of open roads -- even in the summer tourist season. The North Fork sees far fewer summer tourists than the South Fork so that while there is some congestion as you go through the occasional town or inevitably around 5 PM -- rush hour anywhere, even here -- it was fairly easy to drive slowly without a constant stream of people in a hurry behind you.
The North Fork is filled with over thirty vineyards with many producing high quality wines.
Vineyards often occupy former potato fields. Row after row, acres after acre.
Vines are carefully pruned so that clusters of grapes hang below grape leaves.
Not everything farmed is green.
For goat cheese you need goats.
Lots of goats.
The llamas were sheared either as a fashion statement or a "harvest" of their wool.
Of course there were some strange horses.
And very strange back yards.
Not all roadside stands sell farm products. Bird's also need homes.
But I was here for the farm stands, small...
...and large. Briermere is a traditional century old farm stand in the original farm house, known far and wide for its fresh-baked fruit pies. It was at Briermere that I purchased a bottle of their unsweetened pure Dansom plum juice -- something I had never seen before. When dried, Dansom plums become prunes. But this was the juice of fresh Dansom plums. I used it to marinate my Long Island duck breast. The juice proved to be very sour so I added a little honey. I have often marinated duck breast in pomegranate molasses and this turned out to be a delicious North Fork equivalent.
Garden of Eve is a 21st Century organic farm with farm stand - started in 2001. For the past seven years the Garden of Eve has sponsored a September weekend Garlic Festival at the farm. This year it is on September 25th and 26th. The festival attracts thousands to the farm for farm and restaurant vendors, a petting zoo, kids games, hayrides and live music. For Garlic Festival information.
Though pick-your-own does not have quite the same tradition on the North Fork as in New Jersey, there are occasional pick your own farms - here specializing in berries.
An advantage of pick-your-own -- in addition to price -- is that it puts you a step closer to farming. When I taught cooking to learning disabled children many years ago, among my objectives was to get them to understand that bacon, for instance, does not simply appear in supermarkets, but has its origins on the farm. My guess is that few folks can differentiate between blackberry, raspberry and blueberry plants. I accept that is not an essential element to succeeding in life, but it is nice to know from where your berries come. Blackberries are red and look like raspberries before they turn black. Note the heart-shaped leaves.
Raspberries turn from a greenish pink to ripe "raspberry" red. Note the more elongated leaves.
While blackberries and raspberries grow on vine-like plants, a blueberry bush is more compact with firmer leaves. Blueberries go from tight little green nuggets to violet to dark blue.
Signs come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of slickness. Here, a veritable department store of livestock and feed.
Some signs look as old as the farms they advertise.
Other signs show an artist's hand. North Fork farm stands feature "roasted corn." I had not seen this before in my Pennsylvania and New Jersey jaunts. I will show you how to roast corn with a blog post on "Roasting Corn" soon.
Harbes Family Farm included a large farm market...
Some stands have modest ambitions and resources.
And not all roadside stands sell produce from the "north forty," rather their produce is the result of efforts before and after someone's day job and a fertile back yard.
Some "home grown" farm stands rival farm stands in scale.
Organic and Certified Organic produce exist along a spectrum. "Organic" based on an honor system and "Certified Organic" must adhere to more stringent rules and verification.
One of my goals is to find items at stands that fall outside the standard farm stand fare. Some farms, such as Sang Lee, specialize in more exotic produce along with very high quality standard fare.
Latham Farms was far out on the North Fork.
I had recently seen these Latham Farms "husk tomatoes" at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers' Market, but they are relatively rare finds. They look like tiny tomatillas and have a sweet, berry-like taste. Each one is about the size of a hazelnut. As with tomatillas, you peel away the papery husk and just eat the "berry" that sits within.
Catapano Dairy Farm makes premium goat cheese. A highlight of our North Fork Farm Stand dinner was the simplest of desserts -- tiny honey and olive-oil grilled figs served with fresh Catapano goat cheese.
Here is an entire field of lavender with the lavender flowers all harvested -- at Lavender by the Bay -- with bee hives producing lavender honey. There is a retail shop here that sells all things lavender including wonderful bunches of dried lavender. See At Home Page 414 for my Lavender Ice Cream recipe.
Like farm-fresh corn, farm-fresh fruit, picked ripe and ready-to-eat, is nothing like the shipping-ready, rock-hard fruit often offered in even the best supermarkets. It is a sweet reminder of why it is worth seeking out local farm-grown produce.
Wickham's Fruit Farm is recognized as a National Bicentennial farm. It occupies three hundred North Fork acres and is one of the largest farms on the North Fork.
Two hundred acres are planted with fruit. Wickham's is part of the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation program which means that this land is "forever agriculture." Wickham's land has been continually cultivated since 1661 making it among the oldest continuously cultivated land in the United States.
Cemeteries mark an unspoken history.
The main roads of Routes 24 and 25, mostly simple two-lane roads, enable you to hop-scotch from farm stand to farm stand. These roads run inland. For see some of the best scenery and find the magical water that surrounds the North Fork and provides its unique setting, you have to leave these roads.
Here steps lead down to a narrow beach along the vast Long Island Sound.
A lone clam digger in one of the many ponds, inlets and coves along the North Fork.
As you head further east toward the North Fork's end, the fork narrows and the main road offers an occasional glimpse of water. Here the main road runs adjacent to Peconic Bay.
Oysters join corn at farm stands.
Until you get to the end of the North Fork at Orient Point where ferries depart for points north and west.
Latham Farms is one of the eastern-most farm stands.
Krupski Farms is famous for its October pumpkins.
By August, just about anything you could want in the way of summer produce is available.
While farm stands call out their wares, other businesses take uncommonly more discreet approaches to signage.
Oysters on Long Island used to be nearly as common as potatoes. Well, not quite. But today Long Island oysters are a costly luxury items -- even at the source. One problem with buying oysters is that opening them takes some skill. But you can put raw oysters on your grill and let them steam open. Add a touch of lemon juice and they are delicious.
Long Island has a long history of producing wonderful ducks. A visit to Miloski's provided two fresh, plump free range chickens and a pair of duck breast for our dinner. Many people call ahead and have Miloski's do the cooking.
Some old tractors never die. They get painted red and sent out to pasture...as decoration. An ignominious end to a once proud machine.
Handsome old farm crates are put out to pasture...
...as new ones -- lacking a certain patina -- await a journey to farmers' markets.
Every farm stand has its unique personality.
You just don't get to look at this that often.
I have tried to become a more disciplined farm stand shopper with only modest success. I find it hard to walk into a farm stand and walk out without buying anything -- as a matter of courtesy. So even if I limit my purchases to one item per stand, it just adds up. Here is the day's haul and the basis of tomorrow's On the Table blog post.
Finally, a report from the North Fork would not be complete without North Fork Potato Chips -- Sidor Farms prized Andover, Marcy and Norwiss potatoes, kettle-cooked in healthy sunflower oil. This is the Sweet Potato variety. Worth the drive!
Fresh from the Farm - Great Local Foods from New York State by Susan Meisel & Nathalie Sann -- Rizzoli -- Available from Amazon
Peconic Bay Land Trust
Note: Wojculewski's Sweet Corn
In my drive through Salem County some weeks ago I visited Wojculewski's Farm and noted no corn for sale. I was a farm stand rookie and did not understand that their wonderful corn had not yet reached picking maturity. Their corn is available now and will be into October.
180 Upper Neck Road
Pittsgrove, New Jersey
The purpose of these On the Road and On the Table blog posts is to encourage and maybe inspire you to visit a farm stand or neighborhood farmers' market and share what you found with friends and family...At Home.
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