Lettuce tasting at 10am in a chilly feed barn on a foggy Saturday morning was all the rage this Saturday at the Point Reyes Farmers Market.
Here in West Marin, we are an intrepid bunch and made sure to add to the fun with a salad dressing competition and blind taste testing.
As for pairings, I recommend the tangy vinaigrette, that was in mason jar #1 and a cappuccino to go with your lettuce. Please note that two of the mostly commonly misspelled menu items are cappuccino and vinaigrette.
Back to pairings – I learned in the “Wine Class” at the Professional Food Writers Symposium at the Greenbrier (yes – I was a scholarship winner – just wanted to remind you in case you missed me on the front page of the Point Reyes Light) that not getting it terribly wrong is more important than making a perfect pairing. Tasting guests boldly paired mochas, macchiatos and chai tea with the anonymous dressings and lettuce.
Comments and impressions were requested and received as our guests grazed the lettuce offerings.
And one of the best parts of the morning were the number of children who participated and wrote their opinions. The thing most children are eating early on a Saturday morning is a sugary cereal, but not our little food rebels in West Marin. My favorite young citizen comments were on the flavor of Red Oak lettuce as “nondescript, but that is good” and it’s texture as needing “more dirt and sand.”
Seeing the young folks eating lettuce and climbing bales of hay in the feed barn warmed the cockles of my fog-chilled heart. I remembered one of them coming by our chef’s booth several months ago and exclaiming, “Yum! Kale!” as our local Chef Eleanor made her beautiful chopped kale salad with nuts and raisins. I never dreamed I would hear a ten-year old say those two words together.
Can Amy just do a lettuce tasting and a salad dressing contest? No, she prepared and served something hot, but not until we had all had our fill of the lettuce on the table. This is why she is our fearless food leader. She made a leek soup with lettuce stock a bit of butter and then added freshly chopped lettuce into the hot soup immediately before serving. The lettuce flavor wasn’t overwhelmed by the leeks and gave a beautiful delicacy to the soup.
I did a salt and pepper tasting that could be used with the lettuce or our lovely lettuce leek soup. I brought Ecuadorian black peppercorns that have a sharp, hot, robust flavor because they are grown on the equator in Valle Hermoso. For some contrast I had Sichuan peppercorns that aren’t really peppercorns, but are the dried seed of a prickly ash tree. They have a great woody aroma and tongue numbing effect similar to cloves nd a nice citrus note. I love using this sparingly in more delicate soups and salads. My third pepper was pink peppercorns which I ground gently in a mortar. They are actually the berries of the Baies rose plant. It’s as if a rose, a chili and a peppercorn had a baby – I adore using them. For salts I had my coarse ground Baja hand harvested salts, a Portuguese sea salt that is similar to a French Grey salt, but because there is less rainfall where this salt is gathered it’s whiter than the French. My third salt was a blend I get from a the Spice House in Illinois. It is called Vulcan’s Fire Salt and makes things as disparate as popcorn and hot chocolate taste amazing. It really popped the Lettuce Leek soup. What’s in it – it’s a secret. The most amazing salt was local salt from a group of West Marin youth who let local sea water sit in the sun until they had salt.
The finale of the day was the announcement of the blind taste testing salad dressing contest. We had seven entries ranging from a variety of vinaigrettes to a ketchup-y “camp” dressing. The winner was Eleanore Despina with a beautifully balanced simple vinaigrette. Second place was Anne Milne’s lemony, honey/mustard dressing. In third place was Stephen Horvat with an herby vinaigrette that had wonderful texture and aroma.
I do want to say that every single dressing was unique and I actually liked them all. I noticed the favorite of our younger attendees was Camp Hawk’s Bolinas Salad Dressing submitted by Hawk Weston. It called for mixing together the following ingredients:
1/2 cup of catsup
3 TBL of lemon juice
3 TBL of sweet red chili sauce
1.5 cups Aioli
1 TBL Rice vinegar
1 TBL Worcesteshire sauce