Of the Earth: Gearing up for future food celebrations

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I was a daily news reporter in 1993, covering (among other things) the struggle to protect the valley’s open space and farms from a surge in land development. I remember writing a column titled “How New Jersey is my valley.” That was the year that Steve Kulik of Worthington was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives from the First Franklin District. Today, and due in no small part to Kulik’s tireless focus, our region is now thriving with local food, local farms and our own rather lovely lifestyle.

Energy, the environment, agriculture, economy, food policy, health care, nutrition and academia: He has stayed focused on just how interrelated they all are, and on the acute and intimate impacts of any single decision on our very interrelated rural communities. It’s all right there, I swear, in the soil.

Later, when I was working on agriculture and nutrition issues with UMass Extension-UMass Amherst, I came to know Kulik as somebody I could turn to for fresh, reliable insights in the face of mayhem, both budgetary and climatic.

Kulik is now getting ready to retire from the General Court. As we prepare to deal with challenges like the local fallout from the new federal farm bill (more on that next week), remember again what he has done. He is one of those rare policy makers who is genuinely of the earth. And if you see him, say thanks.

The Cutting Board

Food Fight: Speaking of the federal farm bill, you will surely want to check out “Food for Change,” a powerful and insightful film by of Montague’s Steve Alves, who will be on hand for a Q&A session at a free public showing of the film at Greenfield Community College. The screening takes place at noon on Wednesday, March 7. You can view the trailer at: http://bit.ly/2oip4o0

Fastnacht!: The bad news is that we missed Fastnacht Day. It went right by me, along with the culinary impact of Mardi Gras and pancake day and, perhaps, other ancient pre-Lenten observances.

Fastnacht Day is an annual Pennsylvania Dutch celebration that falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The word translates to “fast night” in English. The tradition is to eat the very best foods, and lots of it, before the Lenten fast. Mostly, Grammies used up lard in their pantries through Lent until Easter Sunday. Fastnachts (pronounced fos-noks in German) are doughnuts. There are three types of fastnachts, one made with yeast, one made with baking powder, and one made with potatoes and yeast. All are slightly crispy on the outside and not as sweet as standard doughnuts. This applesauce fastnacht recipe is my favorite.

The good news is that we have my friend and neighbor Sandy Thomas to remind us of such things, and to supply us with the recipe to enjoy fastnachts any time you’re craving them. With this recipe in hand, we will be ready for next year.

Homemade Fastnachts: Recipe by Sandy Thomas


1 egg

⅓ c sugar

⅓ c applesauce

1¼ t grated lemon rind

2 T melted butter

1⅓ c flour

½ t baking soda

½ t baking powder

¼ t nutmeg

¼ t cinnamon

¼ t salt


Beat egg. Gradually add sugar, beating constantly. Add applesauce, lemon rind and butter. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Add to applesauce mixture. Mix well and place dough in wax paper.

Chill and roll out ½ inch on a slightly floured board. Cut with doughnut cutter. Heat oil and fry two at a time in vegetable oil for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Drain. Sprinkle with sugar.

Makes 1 dozen.

Goetta This: As long as we are on the subject of German inflections and confections from the heartland, here’s Carl Doerner of Charlemont with some reflections on keeping a personal cookbook, and a recipe for Breakfast Goetta:

“I’ve always liked to cook, particularly to diagnose and replicate excellent menu items from restaurants. My evolving problem is I both have collected or developed too many recipes. My solution has been to assemble a personal cookbook, in this case titled ‘Carl’s Kitchen.’ The process is simple with each item entered in narrative form. For example, this is a favorite from my Indiana grandmother, who was of German heritage. The recipe was developed to help stretch a meat-based morning meal.”


2 chopped medium onions

4 chopped cloves of garlic

2 T olive oil

1 lb. bone-in pork

4 c steel cut oats

½ t pepper

1 T salt

1 T allspice


Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Add the pork to 8 c water. When this has been cooked, deboned and returned to the pot, add the garlic and onion, oats, salt, pepper and allspice. Cook 30 minutes.

If necessary, thicken with rolled oats. Also, you can sub out the meat for a meatless option.

When cooled, flatten and store in serving sized zip-lock bags and stack in the freezer. To serve, thaw and form patties. For best flavor, fry to a surface crispness on both sides in a hot skillet.

Look for Doerner’s novel, “Come to the Window,” at local bookstores.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at: wesleyblixt@me.com.