A few of our new dishes as Spring nears!

Even as this can be a farm to table cook’s most trying time of year, it is fun for me nonetheless. The summer and fall seasons in the Great Lakes region are so abundant with beautiful local produce that they challenge me to utilize all that is available, and that is a major driver of Big Jones’ menus during those seasons. This time of year, as all but a trickle of the last harvest is gone and we can get a little local lettuce and some herbs, at this time we have no choice but to look outwards to fill out our needs for fresh produce. We still have lots of preserves, pickles, and the like that we put up last summer and fall, and those pop up all over the menus and will until this fall harvest comes in. We just sold our last brandied Harrow’s Delight pear last weekend but there are still blueberry preserves, raspberry preserves, pepper jelly, preserved blackberries, dried raspberries, brandied cherries, and at least a half dozen varieties of pickle and relish. As the harvest moved South for the winter, we spent some time putting up preserved Meyer lemons, kumquat marmalade, and candied citron to keep some interesting things in the larder for the leanest preseason weeks. So, lots of great stuff to offer even in March when it’s still (!) 40 degrees outside.

I’m a fairly fervent advocate of the Certified Organic label when we can’t buy something directly from a local farmer we know and trust. Goodness Greenness is our go-to supplier on that front, hooking us up with everything from gorgeous citron and kumquats to chervil and collard greens so very nearly tasty as the ones we buy from Genesis, Green Acres, Ridgeland, and Tipi in season. Right now the artichokes are beautiful and I have to say that once in a while it’s nice to work with some produce that is alien to our northern climes. We have some beautiful snap peas in house from Blue Sky Organic Farm to finish our current Gunthorp Farm chicken dish, and we’re looking forward to peas and fava beans in the near future. Then, our local harvest should be in swing with ramps, morels, rhubarb, spinach, and garlic scapes and my favorite time of year to cook is underway!

We have one last major menu change to carry us through until the Spring harvest and it’s underway now. I hope to be making a big announcement soon, but that will have to wait. Here are a few of the dishes gracing our menu the next few weeks:

This is a fried organic artichoke with black garlic & sherry vinegar emulsion, mustard greens, and redbor kale. The breading is a combination of sea island bennecake flour and Carolina gold rice flour. Bennecake is a fairly recent project and success of Anson Mills, a reproduction of an old staple of slave cooking. They start with heirloom sea island benne (aka sesame seeds) which are lower in oil than modern industrial sesame seeds, and higher in protein. The seeds are steeped in water to remove more of the oil (to be used in cooking) then redried and ground into flour. The texture is rich and fine, the flavor intensely nutty and buttery, the perfect foil for the green bitterness of artichoke. We poach the artichokes in barigoule, a classical French preparation, to flavor them and ready them for the deep fryer. The condiment is cross-cultural, but we thought the sweet earthiness of aged black garlic and the gentle yet forward acidity of sherry vinegar would tie it all together. The greens keep it fresh and add a peppery note on the top.

I’ve wanted to do split pea soup for the longest time, and the dearth of local produce this time of year seems like the perfect time to cook it up, especially with the chilly rainy months ahead. Rather than do the obvious ham pairing, we are searing pig trotter rillettes and pouring the soup tableside. A small salad of toasted almonds, parsley, and garlic (think pistou or persillade) adds some crunch and green notes.

You might not know that historically peas were cooked with fat to supplement their lean nutritive properties with another element essential for human health: fat. In the old days, the fat was likely to be whale blubber since ordinary folks couldn’t afford meat. Over the centuries as pork gained influence as a source of both lean protein and fat, pork became the choice for cooking with peas or beans for complete nutrition. Trotters make one of the most nutritious and delicious additions because they do contain some fat but are also a truly rich source of collagen, a fantastic dietary protein that is a major key to keeping lean and mean. It’s not coincidence that societies and social classes that eschewed the most nutritious (and flavorful) parts of their animal foods also experience high rates of obesity.

This is a frozen citron cheesecake with basil sorbet, oat scone shortbread, blueberry preserves, candied coconut, and sansyo pepper. While this is a chance to play with exotic ingredients, it also incorporates preserved local basil and blueberries. Citron is so fantastically aromatic it was a joy to score some organic fruit to work with, and it continues to amaze me that it’s not more widely used and available. Sansyo pepper is a Japanese preparation of the more widely-known Sichuan peppercorn. The Sichuan is toasted and has darker, toastier properties, while the Sansyo pepper of Japan is simply dried and features bright, woodsy, lemony flavors and aromas. They both share that classic sparkling, numbing tingle that is unique and sets it apart from ordinary peppercorns.

Toasted pimiento cheese and tasso sandwich with chow-chow and eggs on marbled rye. You can get this during brunch and lunch. As a total egg and cheese sandwich whore, I endorse this with every fiber of my being. Just do it. It’s pictured here with fried okra pickles and house bread and butter pickle spear. During brunch it’s served with potatoes O’brien, but if you ask the okra pickles are yours.

There’s more on the docket, so stay tuned. I also promise a new Anatomy of A Dish post, as well as some pointers on how to make your own awesome jambalaya.