This week has been local foods week in Columbus and while many of us could say that every week is (or should be) local foods week, this week was special. It was special because every day was packed with events highlighting local foods, local producers and the people who are working to promote these things. The week was organized by the Central Ohio not-for-profit organization Local Matters who have a number of great programs in our community and run the Greener Grocer in the North Market.
I attended some wonderful events during the week including the Market to Market Bike Ride, North Market Harvest Festival, A benefit dinner at Alana’s and A Cow to Cone tour at Jeni’s Ice Cream. Coincidentally our Slow Food Locavore Dinner at Otter Creek was also held during local foods week, so it really was a localicious week.
The Market to Market ride was a joint venture between Hills Market in Worthington and the North Market. You could start at either market, have breakfast and then ride down the bike trail to the other market, stopping at various rest stops en route, to be rewarded at the end with Jeni’s ice cream and a goodie bag of coupons. It was a great idea and a fantastic example of local businesses working together. Hills had their Ohio Market day and the North Market had their Harvest Festival, so both were bustling and over 300 people did the ride.
We chose to ride up to Hills and have their blueberry pancake breakfast. It was really busy but they were churning out coffee, pancakes and sausage. My only disappointment – Log Cabin Syrup. On Ohio Market Day, during local foods week? What a missed opportunity to show off Ohio Maple Syrup. (Ohio is 4th in the country in Maple Syrup production).
By the time we made it back to the North Market the harvest festival was in full swing. I fought my way through the crowds to the Dispatch Kitchen where I was due to be judging the pumpkin bread competition. I had worked up an appetite cycling, but was still relieved to see that there were only 9 entries in the competition. I’m still recovering from the 39 entry pawpaw competition and I wanted to have room for my ice cream! I was joined by Bacon Camp winner Roland, judging supremo CMH Gourmand and RJ from A Taste from Belgium.
There was a tie for the second place pumpkin bread and Mary Martineau called for a taste off…. unfortunately it was still 2 votes apiece and Mary threw her hands up and awarded a joint prize. I left them to the pies, ate some ice cream (highly recommend pumpkin five spice with the Maker’s Mark), bought some apple cider and headed home.
Dinner at Alana’s is always a treat, but more so when it is for a good cause and you get to enjoy a family style meal with friends. There were ten different dishes and highlights included Bunny B’steeya, pumpkin, bacon and kale risotto and shell bean hummus with buttercup focaccia. A blow by blow photo account of the meal can be found on G.A. Benton’s blog. The wines were from our friends at United Estates and the dessert was a ‘surprise’ from Jeni’s, pawpaw ice cream in a waffle cone with her magical caramel sauce.
Alana does an outstanding job of using local ingredients and her menu always highlights local producers and farms. In this case it was particularly special because several of the farmers and producers who had supplied ingredients were at the dinner.
As soon as I heard about the tour of Jeni’s I called to book a spot and I am so glad that I did. This rare behind the scenes tour guided by Jeni was limited to twenty people (the reason became obvious as we squeezed into the kitchen and completely disrupted production) and had a wait-list of 50 plus. Given the 4 pm start time there were a lot of children and it was fun to listen to their comments and questions. For example: ‘my family loves your ice cream so much that we can’t even go to Graeter’s any more’, ‘can we go in the freezer again?’ ‘do you have any cherries?’ and ‘how many bags of sugar do you use a day?’.
The kitchen is surprisingly small for the amount and range of ice cream flavors they produce. Each of the two ice cream machines makes a batch of 10 gallons and Jeni’s can produce up to 70 gallons a day. The most popular is salty caramel which is usually made first thing in the morning every day. We watched as beets were juiced to color the red hot apple sorbet, pumpkins were washed and trimmed ready for roasting and marshmallows were mixed into the smoky milk chocolate. It was great to see the actual vegetables being used and to know where they came from (in this case Wayward Seed Farm). Of course not all the ingredients are local and we also got to smell the Ugandan vanilla beans that are specially flown in for Jeni’s.
As well as learning more about Jeni’s ingredients, process and philosophy we also got to eat ice cream – right in the kitchen. We had a sundae of freshly made vanilla ice cream and apple sorbet with caramel sauce and whipped cream. We also got a sneak taste of some of the upcoming winter flavors and the exclusive Dean & Deluca flavors including Limoncello with almonds and dried cherries, Goat cheese with cognac fig compote and Norwegian fruit sorbet.
Everyone from Jeni down seems to be intensely proud of their product and works hard to ensure that customers are happy with every pint. The attention to detail is impressive from the hand packed pints, to the house-made and hand mixed marshmallows, and the hand written labels and gift cards. The kitchen staff were very friendly even though we were completely in their way and happy to discuss their favorite flavors to eat and to make and how salty caramel is a great breakfast food.
You can see more photos from the tour in Jeni’s blog Salty Caramel.
What did you do for Local Foods week? Did you get scared by the living statue scarecrow? and what are you favorite local foods?