Top Crop: Pairing PA wines with the spring harvest

This article was originally published on 05/01/19

Welcome to our series, Top Crop, where we connect with PA farmers, celebrate local produce, and pair seasonal dishes with Pennsylvania wines. First on the docket is spring, which means work is picking up at the state’s small organic farms. It also means that Commonwealth eaters are in luck, as warm-weather harbingers begin to appear in shops and markets.

Hannah Smith-Brubaker runs Village Acres Farm in Mifflintown, Juniata County, with her partner Debra Brubaker. Debra grew up on the horseshoe-shaped property abutting Lost Creek, and is the third generation to work the land. Village Acres has been certified organic for 28 years, even before there was a federal organic certification program. Now Smith-Brubaker is about tackling a fresh challenge: She is executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).

Spring is an exciting time at Village Acres. Their hoop houses will soon say goodbye to bitter winter greens and hello to tender spring mix and baby spinach. Woodland wild ramps are appearing. The family is prepping pollinator areas for the year — designated spaces for flowering plants that draw bees and other beneficial insects — and clearing out the strawberry patch. And the couple and their kids are shearing sheep and welcoming baby lambs: This year, they had their first and second ever sets of triplets.

All the while, they are gathering around the table to enjoy the spring bounty. Smith-Brubaker shared some of her favorites, which we paired with Pennsylvania wines.

Asparagus Quiche with Ramps

“Soon we’ll have so much asparagus that by the time we get to the end of the row, we can see it growing again at the beginning of the row,” says Smith-Brubaker with a laugh. “My absolute favorite way to eat asparagus is just sautéed with butter, garlic, and salt. We also have a lot of eggs and love to make quiches. I love the combination of asparagus and eggs.”

We recommend taking your quiche to the next level with the addition of fresh herbs and ramps (which have a mild garlic flavor), and pairing it with a grassy, high-acid white like Grüner Veltliner. This wine will bring out the bittersweet charm of the stalks and balance out the richness of eggs, cream, and pastry crust.

Spring Greens with Chèvre, Onion Tops, and Honey-Tahini dressing

“We have a neighbor who has goats, so we make a lot of chèvre at this time of year,” explains Smith-Brubaker. “We’re often tossing spring greens in chèvre and some sort of light dressing. At this time of year we also transplant our onions and you have to trim all the green tops. So we’ll chop those up, almost like chives.”

We suggest throwing together a simple dressing of olive oil, tahini (a rich, slightly bitter paste of sesame seeds), and local honey. This is a perfect moment to reach for an off-dry wine like Traminette. This floral white will balance out the bitterness of the greens and the dressing, and boost the tang of the goat cheese.

French Breakfast Radish Tartine with Good Butter and Sea Salt

“I really like radishes just on their own with a little bit of salt,” says Smith-Brubaker. “You can just pop them right in your mouth. French breakfast radishes are really popular.”

To dress up those bright red gems for company, slice them thin with a mandolin. Spread your favorite butter (look for something local from grass-fed cows) on a thick slab of rustic bread and arrange the radish discs in rows. Top with flaky sea salt. This deceptively simple appetizer is actually a dance of crunchy, bitter, creamy, and salty. Pour a glass of dry Pennsylvania sparkling wine to keep the tastebuds kicking. Look for grapes like Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, or Pinot Noir, which is used for a brut rosé.

Rhubarb-Poached Salmon

“I am a rhubarb fan,” says Smith-Brubaker. “You can actually poach salmon in rhubarb. That on a salad with a little bit of goat cheese: Whew! So delicious!”

Many people stick to using rhubarb for desserts — think classics like strawberry-rhubarb pie and rhubarb-vanilla custard — but there is so much more this brilliantly colored stalk can accomplish. While its trademark tartness helps even out sweet treats, chutneys, and syrups, it can also stand on its own in savory preparations. Try making a concentrated pink poaching liquid for fresh salmon, then serve it with a tart, acidic wine. You’re probably thinking white, but escape convention and crack open a bottle of Chambourcin. Low in tannins, but with a dose of earthiness and spice, this popular Pennsylvania hybrid will make the rhubarb pop.

So whether you’re plucking the first tender greens from your own backyard garden, sampling a favorite farmers’ market vendor’s heirloom radishes, or keeping an eye out for local items at your neighborhood grocery store, extend that locavore philosophy to your wine. There’s no better way to mark the season.