Welcome back to our series Top Crop where we connect with PA farmers, celebrate local produce, and pair seasonal dishes with Pennsylvania wines. Next up is summer, the season when farmers’ markets bulge with unbelievable bounty, from colorful berries to hot peppers to heirloom tomatoes.
At The Seed Farm in the Lehigh Valley, they’re cultivating far more than just produce. The goal of this innovative enterprise is to grow and nurture new farmers. In addition to a farm-business incubator, the farm also hosts an intensive training program for wannabe growers.
“The county has been preserving farmland, investing millions of dollars since 1989,” explains Program Administrator Lindsey Parks. “After doing that for about two decades, some residents of Lehigh County started saying, ‘Here we are preserving all this farmland — but who is going to farm it? People are leaving agriculture and they’re retiring. Is there another generation waiting to take over this farmland?'”
The training program teaches planting and harvesting, but there is also a heavy emphasis on planning, budgeting, and marketing. The produce grown belongs to The Seed Farm and is primarily sold through an employee CSA program with St. Luke’s University Health Network.
The agricultural business incubator, meanwhile, is a jumping-off point for fledgling entrepreneurs who apply for admission. Participants receive resources and access to land, and everything they grow is theirs to sell. Ten new farms have been launched from the incubator, including Periwinkle Flower Farm, Kneehigh Farm, and Bee Well Blooms.
The Emmaus-based farm also offers internships and a CSA work-share program. In the latter, participants work three-to-four hours per week in return for a share of farm-fresh produce.
“We’ve had so much interest in the program,” says Parks. “We introduced that as an entry point into farming. We would often hear from people who weren’t able to commit to a full-season training program but they were interested in farming and wanted to know how they could get started.”
In celebration of the coming summer, Parks shared some of her favorite seasonal dishes with us, which we paired with Pennsylvania wines.
“I have traditions,” says Parks. “On Memorial Day, we pick strawberries. I don’t like buying things when they’re out of season, especially berries. So I just go overboard when these things are in season. By the time they’re done, I’m good for another year.”
To celebrate strawberries in all their glory, Parks throws a yearly Strawberry Dinner featuring strawberry soup, strawberry bread, salad with strawberries, and strawberry shortcake.
For the soup, blend a bunch of strawberries with yogurt and citrus. Pair this cold, sweet, tart treat with a glass of dry rosé from Pennsylvania. The berry notes in the wine will make the flavors of the dish sing, and the color is perfectly on-theme.
Sour-Cherry Syrup with Local Cheese
“I find pitting cherries to be the ultimate kid-friendly summer activity,” says Parks. “It’s hot out so you can wear a bathing suit and get cherries all over the place. My younger son especially loves sour cherries. They have such a short season, so you have to stock up. Sour cherry pie is the obvious thing that comes to mind, and I also like to do syrup that you can mix with sparkling water and put into cocktails.”
Or you could serve the syrup alongside a fresh local cheese such as Witchgrass, a delicate, creamy, ash-kissed gem from Valley Milkhouse in Berks County, recommended by Parks. Reach for a PA Chardonnay — a wine that will complement the richness of the cheese while allowing the pucker of the syrup to shine.
“My favorite thing to do with tomatoes is a cherry-tomato galette,” says Parks. “Whenever I have an excess of produce, whether it’s vegetables or fruits or cheese, the easiest thing for me to do is a galette. And everybody loves them. With a galette dough, I tend to use yogurt or sour cream. It just gives it a little more density and decadence.”
A galette exudes rustic elegance — pastry dough is folded over the filling, creating something between a pie and a pizza. Pick up the prettiest heirloom cherry tomatoes from your local market and use them to create a stunning centerpiece for the table. Serve the dish with a big side salad and a bottle of Pennsylvania Pinot Noir. This light, dry, fruity red is perfect for a cool summer evening, and the high acidity will play well with the tomatoes.
Fried Eggs with Homemade Hot Sauce
“I like to ferment peppers and make them into hot sauce,” says Parks. “I’ve found that if you do half Anaheim peppers and half really hot peppers, then it’s perfect. When you ferment it, it gets this cultured flavor to it. It has so many layers of complexity. My kids like to dare each other to make ‘hot sauce pockets’ — they’ll take the pimento out of an olive and fill it with hot sauce and see who can eat the most.”
Let homemade hot sauce really shine by shaking it onto perfectly fried eggs for Sunday brunch or a simple summer supper (extra points for local farm-fresh eggs). The runny yolk is the ideal foil for such a bright, spicy condiment. Make sure you have some crusty bread for sopping it all up, and a bottle of PA Riesling. Pick a bottle with a little residual sugar — the gentle sweetness will amplify all things hot, funky, and fatty on your plate.
Vegetable Stir-Fry with Thai Basil
“I’m obsessed with basil,” says Parks. “I know that’s an easy one — everyone loves basil. We had a plant sale last weekend and sold 15 different varieties of basil. I really love lemon and lime basil. They’re great in a vinaigrette. They’re amazing in cocktails. Then there’s Thai basil, which is awesome for a stir fry. Basil is the herb that has my heart.”
Stir fries are a perfect way to use up bushels of summer’s best produce: cabbage, peppers, carrots, onions, etc. Throwing in fish sauce, lime, and a giant handful of Thai basil at the last possible moment will add freshness and complexity. This is an ideal moment for PA Albariño, a high-acid white wine that exudes zip and brightness. Hot tip: Thai Basil is actually an aroma you can look for in this Pennsylvania varietal.
So whether you’re culling vegetables from your overgrown garden or spending far too much time deciding between colorful heirloom tomato varieties (get them all!), extend that locavore philosophy to your wine. There’s no better way to mark the season.