A hand pie is just a way to thank the farmers who lend you a hand

Using a mini cookie scoop to scoop the filling onto the pies speeds up the job. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

I wrote my first farming story in 1990 in Western Massachusetts following the Farm Bill’s 1985 Dairy Free program. My weekly newspaper editor loved catchy headlines. He had his eye on this one, “USDA dairy program is killing farmers,” before I even found my first source.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a sustained milk glut drove prices too low to cover the costs of dairy production. The USDA had started stockpiling cheese and giving it to starving Americans. Congress also passed the Dairy Stabilization Act of 1983. But none of these measures supported milk prices for very long. To a more drastic extent, the 1985 USDA program paid 15,000 American farmers to cull or export their entire herds and abandon dairy farming. For many reasons related to the economics of supply and demand, it did not work.

It was a complicated story to manage for a young journalist. I would never have succeeded without the help of a very patient farmer who had kept his herd but was still struggling to cover his production costs. I followed him from morning to evening milkings for three days, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells that would give me a flavor to weave around the dry meat and bones of milk price regulation data in my story. As he worked, he explained and re-explained the history of dairy farming, the rationale for the measures and the effects they had on his own livelihood. I wish I had saved a snippet of this story, as it was also the first time I remember appreciating the role of farmers in my food. However, my 22-year-old state of self-absorption probably prevented me from properly thanking him.

According to a USDA census, only 2% of us here in the United States feed and support the rest of us. In Maine in 2020, there were just over 5,000 farmers working in Maine and 1.3 million mouths to feed. So locally, nearly 4% of us feed the rest of us. That’s still a lot of work to do before the sun goes down in a climate with a short growing season.

And yet, I have to tell you how a few hard-pressed farmers recently dropped everything to help this middle-aged woman, herself both out of her element and a bit in trouble. It was a Thursday morning and I had managed to pick up a bag of Jacob’s Cattle beans from Fairwinds Farm that were almost but not quite ready enough to be bagged for sale. I needed it for a photoshoot. I drove to what I thought was field no 2 at Bowdoinham Farm. I got out of my vehicle to ask the farmers in the field where I could find my beans. Bad farm, they explained. I was at Six Rivers Farm. Fairwinds was across the road. Thanks!

While I was talking to these helpful farmers, my daughter’s dog, a cute but clueless mini dachshund named Ulysses, moved forward on the passenger side armrest to get a better view of me and the farmers. In doing so, he locked the car doors. Inside with Ulysses were my keys, my wallet with my AAA membership card and my phone.

“Do you mind if I leave my car here while I find my beans and figure out how I’m going to unlock my car?” I asked the farmers. Sure no problem. Thanks!

I walk up a muddy driveway to cross the street and up a second muddy driveway until I think I’m a bustling crew of Fairwinds Farms loading a truck. No. This is Harvest Tide Organics. “Can I borrow a phone to call my husband and admit what happened here?” Sure no problem. Thanks!

As I dial the number, another farmer tells me he can help. “We lock the keys in the farm vehicles all the time,” says Jon, offering to pick up the necessary tools. I’ll walk half a mile down the road to get my beans, if you don’t mind, I said. It’s the red Jeep at Six Rivers Farm. I will meet you there. Thanks!

After 1,500 steps, I meet Luke. He informs me: good farm, bad field. But he gives me a ride in his well-used Gator to first pick up my beans, then meet Jon. Thanks!

Luke and Jon spend the next 15 minutes placing foam blocks in the closed door and finding a wire long enough to press the correct button. “Thanks!!” I scream as I hear the telltale sound of electric locks being lifted.

I have since made these pies to the farmers as a thank you for their time and effort. Blueberry because Jon said it was his favorite. They were hand pies, easier to share with co-workers, as I knew they probably would.

You don’t need to lock your keys in your car to find an opportunity to appreciate your local farmers. You can do this with most meals. And you don’t have to bake them pies to show that appreciation. Just take the time to shop at farmers’ markets, visit U-pick farms, invest in a CSA, and always go local at the grocery store. Thanks!

Don’t skip the sprinkles on these hand pies. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Blueberry Ginger Tarts

These are homemade pop pies that combine the shortcrust pastry recipe from Joanne Chang’s “Flour” cookbook and an adaptation of the Blueberry Jam with Candied Ginger recipe from Marissa McClelland’s “Preserving by the Pint.” My advice: Don’t skip the nuggets. The puff pastry must cool for four hours before it can be rolled out.

Makes 8 hand pies

FOR THE DOUGH:

1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons of cold milk

FOR FILLING:

3 cups frozen Maine blueberries, thawed

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

1 lemon, zested and squeezed

1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

FOR THE GLAZE:

1 ½ cups icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of salt

FOR MOUNTING :

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon warm water

Rainbow sprinkler, optional

To make the dough, combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter and run the machine over low heat for 1 minute. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the milk and add the mixture to the bowl. Mix over low heat to produce a shaggy paste. Drop the dough onto an unfloured work surface in a mound. Gradually, use the palm of your hand to spread the dough from the top of the mound to the counter. Repeat this process until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a rectangle, wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

To make the filling, mash the blueberries and mix them with the sugar, grated ginger and lemon zest and juice in a medium saucepan. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens to the point that when you drag a spoon to the bottom of the pan, the jam does not immediately fill the space, 12-15 minutes . Add the candied ginger. Pour the jam into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

To assemble the tarts, first preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 2 pieces. Flour two 11 x 17 inch silicone mats. Roll each piece to the size of the rug. Use a knife to carefully cut one of the leaves into 8 rectangles, each the size of an index card (do not cut completely). Brush the marked piece of dough with the egg wash. Place 2 tablespoons of cold jam in the middle of each rectangle, spreading it a little but not near the edges. Take the second piece of rolled out dough and gently place it on top. Using your fingertips, press gently around the mounds of jam so that the sheets of dough adhere to each other. Using a knife or a pastry wheel, cut the tartlets into neat rectangles, taking care not to cut the silicone mat underneath. Transfer the tarts to baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake until tops of pastries are evenly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

While pastries cool, whisk together icing sugar, 3 tablespoons warm water, vanilla, ginger and salt in medium bowl. Pour the glaze over the pastries and decorate with sprinkles.

Local food advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a sustainable food column in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her cookbook from 2017. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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