Welcome back to the farm blog!
I am still studying Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass Amherst, but this blog is currently turning a new page. I have become Emily the Intern!
I am interning in the kitchen at All Things Local Co-Op in downtown Amherst. I am very excited to share all the details, so I will get started!
How the co-op works:
- This market opened November 2013, and held its grand opening in March 2014. It is a nonprofit, which means almost all of the revenue generated goes directly back to the producers; 80% of the profits to be exact. The rest goes back into maintaining the store. All workers and employees of the co-op work as volunteers.
- These producers bring in the following products for retail sale: fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, syrups, honey, cider, many different alcoholic beverages, spices and sauces. Not all products are edible, including lotions and beauty products, jewelry, knits and so much more.
- A membership can be purchased and offers many benefits such as the opportunity to run for the Board of Directors, attend member-only events, and purchase all products at a discounted price, as well as many others. Customers’ membership dues are a crucial piece of maintaining the co-op.
- What gives the co-op its “local” title? All products sold at ATL have been created, sewn, grown, fermented, knitted, and planted within 100 miles of Amherst, MA.
On Thursday February 19, I had my first shift in the kitchen working with Amanda, who is “Kitchen Liaison” on the ATL Board of Directors. During the entirety of my 12-5 shift, I could not wipe the smile off of my face. I could not think of a better place to spend my time after class than in a kitchen creating sustainable and delicious snacks and desserts, while earning credits, and learning new cooking techniques. Amanda had a list of recipes to tackle and I was already excited because we were about to deal with my two favorite things: lists and recipes.
As Amanda rewrote a pastry dough recipe, I slipped my head through an apron, tied a red polka-dotted bandanna around my hair, slipped on my glasses and got ready to tackle this dough recipe. It was a simple flour and salt pastry recipe that was going to create sandwich pockets. Once the dough was mixed, kneaded, and wrapped separately in plastic wrap, I was ready for my next task.
Amanda handed me a butternut squash and apologized, saying how her other interns cringe when they know they are about to peel one of these. I was excited! I had never worked with a butternut squash before, just eaten them. She cut both ends, and showed me her peeling strategies. Once it was my turn to complete the job, I realized almost right away how one may wince at this task. Butternut squash is round and has an awkward shape to peel. However, once I got going, using trial-and-error with two different types of vegetable peelers, I found my groove. After the squash was sliced, oiled, salted and peppered on its baking sheet, it went in the oven to roast. During this time, Amanda brought out three of the plastic-wrapped dough lumps that I made earlier and explained how she wanted them cut and rolled out to make ham and cheese pockets. I struggled heavily at the beginning trying to copy the exact thickness and shape of the perfectly-rolled rectangle that Amanda had made. She really put emphasis that it was okay if they were not all the same. Customers like uniqueness! And boy were some of these “rectangles” unique.
On each of the twelve dough-tangles, I placed a single slice of delicious smelling Havarti cheese with a slice of ham on top. After these rectangles became folded pockets, had an egg-wash bath, and were sprinkled with dried rosemary, they were put into the oven to bake once the butternut squash was taken out.
While these pockets were baking, it was time to make vegetarian sandwich pockets. By this time, my rectangles had significantly improved, and I was very proud of the dough shapes that lay in front of me. After Amanda’s instruction, I crumbled goat cheese onto the center of each rectangle and layered the butternut squash right on top. I sprinkled dried thyme onto the folded and egg-washed pockets and put those in the oven to bake while the ham-and-cheese pockets cooled on top of the stove.
Lucky for me, (and I quote Amanda) “the ugly ones make the best taste-testers”. This was regarding an unfortunate gluten-free peanut butter cookie I had made later on during my shift, but it applied to the current situation of one sad looking ham-and-cheese pocket. But it was very, very tasty.
The gluten-free peanut butter cookie recipe called for a few eggs. Amanda cracked one by hitting it off the flat counter and breaking it into the mixing bowl. When it was my turn, I hesitated to crack it against the bowl like I always had, in fear of small shell pieces becoming the next ingredient in the recipe. But I also knew I could not yet handle such a skill of cracking the egg on the flat surface, so I went for what I knew, and I cracked the egg right against the mixing bowl. Amanda corrected me right away and explained how breaking the egg on the edge of the bowl causes the little broken shell pieces to go into the egg opening, and then go into your recipe. But cracking the egg on the flat surface causes the egg to break flat, not allowing any pieces to fall into your gluten-free peanut butter cookie dough. Well now I know.
I did not realize five hours could speed by the way it did. I guess when you love what you are doing, you are enveloped in the present and focusing less on the future. This is an aspect of my life I have been trying very hard to work on and improve. It was invigorating to experience it in the kitchen, where I feel I belong.