Cooking with ingredients fresh from local farms

May 28, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When you've tasted strawberries picked fresh from the field or sampled milk straight from the cow, it's hard to buy anything but locally grown food.

That's Sandra Osbourn's philosophy on food and cooking. Growing up on a farm in Jefferson County, W.Va., Osbourn learned how to cook based on the food that her family raised.

Osbourn, 66, who lives in Shepherdstown with her husband and her mother, is a regular at local farmers markets. Even when she lived in Washington, D.C., she made it a point to frequent the farmers markets at Dupont Circle and in Georgetown.

"I like fresh food that I know where it came from," she says. "I really believe we need to support local farmers to help keep those farms going."


Besides, waiting for foods to come into season adds to the enjoyment of fresh fruits and vegetables, Osbourn says.

"It's fun to wait for the first asparagus, even if you can get it all year round," she says.

About a week ago the strawberry season started. The sweet, red berries likely will be found at local farm stands for the next two weeks. That triggered Osbourn to whip up some Strawberry Shortcake, based on a recipe that her grandmother originally used in the 1920s and '30s.

When Osbourn makes the shortcake, she makes her biscuits from scratch, uses strawberries purchased from local farms - in this case one quart came from Fairplay and another from Clear Spring - and heavy cream produced by Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa. She whips the cream by hand using a hand-crank beater and cooks the biscuits in her replica 1853 Elmira stove.

The result? When Osbourn finishes beating her cream, she licks one whipped cream-laden finger, looks up and says, "Mmm. Good."

While Osbourn doesn't get to cook as much as she'd like to these days, her three children remember fondly her devotion to cooking with as-fresh-as-possible ingredients.

"I consider having learned the importance of food to a family from (my mother)," says Dylan Hanna, Osbourn's second eldest. "Family meals were fairly mandatory around the house. We ate dinner every night between 7 and 7:30."

His favorite meals include his mom's breadcrumb chicken and beef stew, all made from scratch.

He remembers going with his mom to the farmers markets in Washington and to Washington National Cathedral where she would get fresh herbs.

Osbourn's culinary style rubbed off on her son. He also feels it's important to buy produce directly from farmers and regularly cooks at home with his wife.

Osbourn recently answered the following questions while making her grandmother's Strawberry Shortcake recipe at her Shepherdstown home:

Q: We're talking about how you learned to cook. You're making your grandmother's strawberry shortcake, so I'm assuming maybe your grandmother had an influence?

A: Grandma did, to some extent. We use a lot of her recipes. You can see some written down in this old book - her fruitcake recipe and the strawberry shortcake recipe.

She lived with us from the time I was 8 until I was about 18, when she died. So I still remember a lot of the things that she made. When I first knew her, she cooked on a wood stove. She was a little tiny woman, but she didn't have electric mixers and all that. I can remember her beating egg whites, and she had a big white ironstone platter and just one of those little kitchen forks, and that's how she beat egg whites.

But I learned to cook using recipes. I mean, with Grandma, it was just "Take some of this, take some of that" and put it together. But I guess I started using recipes when I was in 4-H, and I took a number of cooking projects. "Sugar and Spice" was the first cookbook I had. I don't remember if it was a 4-H cookbook or if that's just the one that I bought to start. It taught the basics - always wash your hands, and keep your cooking area clean and that kind of thing.

Q: 4-H - does that mean that you grew up on a farm?

A: Yes, actually we lived in (Shepherdstown) until I was 5, and then from then until I was 21 we lived in the country. When my grandparents came to live with us we had bought a farm out on Shepherd Grade (Road), and we were there from '48 until '61. My grandfather always kept a garden. We had a strawberry patch, so I'd pick strawberries and eat them warm from the sun, fresh right out of the patch. I raised chickens, my sister raised rabbits, so we were used to fresh food and farm-fresh things.

Q: That must be where your appreciation comes from for the fresh produce.

A: I think so, because people who didn't grow up on a farm ...

Q: They don't know how good it can be, maybe.

A: Exactly. They have nothing to compare (with) what they go and buy. So it does make a difference, having that experience.

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