By Josette Keelor
In an Heirloom Baking seminar on Saturday, Middletown chef Melinda Bremmer plans to serve foods high on taste but low on sugar and wheat.
Her recipes for cake in a jar, sweet and savory scones, strawberry bread and her grandmother's white gingerbread with apples and streusel topping all have ingredients that go way back -- even hundreds of years.
The fact-filled class will include information about heirlooms -- recipes using seeds passed down from generation to generation instead of newer, genetically modified seeds -- and participants will come away with recipes to use at home and a plan for healthier cooking.
Bremmer admitted heirloom vegetables aren't available locally at this time of year, so in class she'll demonstrate the recipes using organic when possible. Heirlooms are preferable for their taste, she said, since usually store-bought items have to be shipped all around the Americas before they're even ripe, and they are engineered to last longer.
Unfortunately, she said, heirloom produce is hard to find.
"My daughter has no idea at 15 what a real strawberry tastes like," Bremmer said.
Bremmer recommended organic and heirloom seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral and DeBaggio's Herb Farm & Nursery in Chantilly, but hasn't grown any heirloom strawberries yet.
"They sell seeds that are specific for our area," she said. "So you're not going to buy something that's not going to work."
According to Bremmer, knowing the right ingredients to use will make food taste better.
"I don't think people think about what they're eating," she said. "It's surprising how many people never cook or bake anything. And I think more and more people are accepting food that just doesn't taste good."
Rebecca Davis, food, nutrition and health agent for the Family and Consumer Sciences division of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, agreed that cooking with heirlooms can allow for more nutrients in a meal.
"The benefits of growing them and keeping the seeds going is that it enables humans, us, to choose from a wider variety," she said.
Distributors of heirloom tomato seeds offer a wider variety of produce than most stores do, Davis said, and some have been around for hundreds of years.
Though Davis said she hasn't found much research that supports the idea of foods with GMOs being less nutritious, she said heirlooms flood diets with more nutrient options that can be of benefit.
"They're more flavorful," she said, "and certainly people benefit from that."
Bremmer's class will be on the second floor of Shenandoah Valley Artworks, 234 W. King St., Strasburg, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The class is $30, and participants will get to try the food. Joining her will be Julia Child-impersonator Andy Slathers, whom Bremmer described as "the funniest thing on two legs."
"They're going to learn a lot of techniques," Bremmer said. "And they'll learn nutrition and why things are the way they are."
To register for the Heirloom Baking class, call Melinda Bremmer at 540-692-9895 or go to www.wildflowerentertains.com and click on Melinda's Heirloom Cooking Seminars. For more information on the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, call 540-894-9480, or for DeBaggio's Herb Farm & Nursery, call 703-327-6976.
Roasted Winter Heirloom Vegetables, four ways
Prepare equal amounts of:
Carrots: Trim ends cut in quarters vertically, then in half. Do not peel.
Fingerling potatoes: Scrub, cut in quarters. Do not peel.
Golden delicious apples: Wash, remove core, cut in thick slices. Do not peel.
Brussels sprouts: Trim and wash, cut in half if large.
Asparagus: Wash, trim woody ends.
1 fresh lemon
4 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees, or 400 degrees convect roast. Prepare a baking sheet with a Silpat liner or parchment paper.
Toss carrots in olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Add a touch of pure maple syrup to this if you like sweet carrots. Do not be tempted to use "peeled baby carrots," which are not babies at all and lack flavor. Organic carrots are much better in flavor. Place a piece of foil on the parchment paper and create "sides" for the foil. Spray the foil with olive oil.
Toss the potatoes in rosemary-infused olive oil (Bremmer used Laconiko), sprinkle generously with rosemary, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Place on the foil.
Toss apples in olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place on another foil.
Toss the Brussels sprouts and half a cup English walnuts in a mixture of 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons honey. Place on foil.
Toss asparagus in olive oil with juice from half a lemon. Sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Place on the foil.
Roast vegetables for about 45 minutes to an hour or until tender, caramelized and well browned. Arrange in groupings on a platter, mixing the apples with the potatoes
Drunken Salad with Cinnamon Pears and Blue Cheese
Dressing (light and fruity):
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (she used Laconiko)
1/4 cup apple wine (she used North Mountain)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoon honey
2 pinches salt
1 tablespoon fresh chives chopped
Whisk all ingredients until well blended.
A mix of favorite greens (She used baby kale and baby romaine)
Seedless cucumber (as long as possible), counting on one cucumber for a maximum of four salads
Walnut halves (Roasted in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes and cooled)
Pears, slightly under-ripe, cored and sliced
Blueberries as garnish
Sauté the pear slices in butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Cook until tender and cool.
Cut cucumbers in half, slicing off ends for a long rectangular shape. Cut cucumbers in slices lengthwise and cut one-inch slits at both ends. Build a triangle with three slices, joining the cucumbers at the slits. Or build a square or rectangular shape using the same technique. Fill with the greens. Sprinkle with blue cheese chunks. Arrange several pear slices on the salad and garnish with a walnut half. Garnish with blueberries (optional) on the plate. Pour on dressing and serve. Leftover dressing will keep for several days.