KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, this is Earth Eats, and I'm your host, Kayte Young.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: To me, serving others, we might not be curing cancer but I think what we're doing matters. I think sending a smile to somebody, asking them where they're from, engaging, connecting with them on some level, and to me food does that.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, Ed Schwartzman on what's so special about a New York bagel, and what motivated him to open his own bagel shop in Bloomington. Plus a recipe featuring spring flowers, and a poem about pickles.
KAYTE YOUNG: All that and more coming up in the next hour, stay with us.
KAYTE YOUNG: During the pandemic, school lunch was free for all public school students, but last fall, students had to begin paying again, and families that qualified had to sign up for free or reduced cafeteria meals. Since that change, many school districts in the Midwest say fewer kids are eating lunch and meal debt is soaring.
KAYTE YOUNG: The United States Department of Agriculture recently proposed a change to try to get more free meals to kids across the nation. For Harvest Public Media, Kate Grumke reports some want an even bigger solution.
KATE GRUMKE: In the Mehlvilleschool district outside of St. Louis, kindergartners file into the cafeteria for lunch. Today's menu?
PAT BROZ: Breakfast for lunch. French toast sticks, sausage links, sweet potato tots.
KATE GRUMKE: Oakville Elementary students slide their trays toward Pat Brozwho's ringing the kids up.
PAT BROZ: Thank you.
KATE GRUMKE: Broz says last year, when school meals were free for everyone, more kids came through her line.
PAT BROZ: There was a lot more kids. Everybody wanted breakfast and lunch.
KATE GRUMKE: That wasn't just in St. Louis. When the program was free for all kids last year, schools across the country served more than 80 million more meals compared to the year before the pandemic. But now families have to pay again, and low income families have to apply to qualify for free or reduced priced meals. In Mehlville, they're seeing fewer kids in their subsidized program and, at the same time, meal debt is way up. School lunch debt is rising across the Midwest and the nation. In the Sioux City community school district in northwest Iowa, students have racked up about $22,000 in debt. Rich Luze runs nutrition for the district and says the government could have handled this change better.
RICH LUZE: Giving it for two years or whatever, and then abruptly stopping it, instead of phasing it down, so this year we'll cut it down to about half and then easing into it, that could have helped families prepare to readjust and rethink.
KATE GRUMKE: But instead many families didn't realize that they had to sign up to get free lunch and the change came as inflation meant their money isn't going as far. Some states are trying to fill in the gap. Minnesota, Colorado and three other states have passed legislation to offer free school meals long-term. There are also calls to go back to universal free meals at the federal level. Crystal FitzSimons is a director at the Food Research and Action Center.
CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: The pandemic proved that it is possible and that it is doable and that it is the right thing to do.
KATE GRUMKE: The Biden administration has a more gradual idea. The USDA proposed a new rule to expand something called the Community Eligibility Provision. It allows schools and districts with a lot of high need students to serve free meals to all of the kids. The USDA wants to lower the threshold allowing more schools to qualify for the program. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the proposed rule change at a school in Colorado.
TOM VILSACK: We're providing greater flexibility, more participation in our program, resources that take a little of the pressure off.
KATE GRUMKE: Before the pandemic, about one in three school districts in the US were already serving free meals to all students through Community Eligibility. FitzSimon says this proposal could bring even more in.
CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: This is a really wonderful thing because it increases the number of schools that can opt to offer free meals to all their students. But it doesn't actually increase the amount of federal funding that the school would receive. So, we're still hoping that maybe Congress would put in additional funding.
KATE GRUMKE: Because states or schools have to fund these programs themselves, not all eligible districts choose to participate. In Nebraska, a lot of districts are reluctant to sign up for the Community Eligibility Program, even if they qualify. The state's legislature has multiple school lunch bills. One proposal would incentivize school districts to sign up for that community program. It's from State Senator Eliot Bostar, a Democrat who represents parts of Lincoln.
ELIOT BOSTAR: It's difficult to have a family these days. It's expensive. So, anything that we can do to make it a little bit easier, to lighten the load, or ease the burden, is worthwhile.
KATE GRUMKE: Bostar says the biggest hurdle in his state will be finding a way to pay for this. For Harvest Public Media, I'm Kate Grumke.
KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media is a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest and Great plains. Find more at harvestpublicmedia.org.
KAYTE YOUNG: Next up, we have a story from producer Violet Baron about a local shop offering a not so local experience.
VIOLET BARON: If you go to Colstone Square in Bloomington on a Saturday or Sunday morning, that's that strip mall off Third Street and Dunn by campus, you'll see a line of people coming from the last storefront down, and they'll probably be snaking out the door and into the parking lot and then squeezing past the ones in line, there'll be a trail of people coming out the door, clutching brown paper bags with warm sandwiches inside. Everyone's chattering, enjoying the weekend, and eager to tear into their order.
VIOLET BARON: That's a common scene in bagel meccas like New York and Chicago but until recently not so much here in Bloomington. But now it is. That's thanks to Gables Bagels, a new shop in town that's been basically flooded with business from the moment it opened its doors, and the experience is guarded by a big personality inside the shop.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Good morning, ladies. Thank you for joining us today. You guys been here before? Well, I'm glad one is, and one not. That's even better. But I imagine she brought you in? Even better, thank you. Thank you.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: My name is Ed Schwartzman. I am the very proud owner of a new restaurant here in Bloomington called Gables Bagels. Now I'm born and raised in New York City, and any time a New Yorker leaves the city, usually a good barometer of how they judge a city, wherever they move to, whether it's Bloomington, San Antonio, doesn't matter, why is it San Antonio, I've no idea, but they'll say, "Can you get good pizza? And can you get good bagels?" A New York bagel, a New York pizza is just different. As my wife keeps telling me, "Don't say yours are better, it's just that it's a different flavor profile, or just a different way of doing things."
ED SCHWARTZMAN: So, I've never quite experienced New York pizza or east coast pizza outside of the east coast, and I've never quite experienced a New York bagel outside of the east coast. I've lived in Bloomington since about 2008 and I just didn't think I'd ever get what I call a New York bagel. When COVID broke out, so my wife and I own BuffaLouie's, and obviously COVIDd affected everybody, some more than others, obviously people lost their lives which is horrific, others lost their business which is tragic and others had their businesses tremendously affected.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Fortunately for us, that was our category. Sales were way down. It was just a downtime in the hospitality industry for obvious reasons. But in every tragedy or bad situation, there's always opportunity. The big thing in the restaurant industry during COVID was something called ghost kitchening. Ghost kitchening is simply a term that, if you already have a commercial kitchen, blessed by the health department, can you come up with another concept, maybe unbeknownst to everybody? Maybe if you have an Italian restaurant, can you make Mexican food and maybe just have it go out, either on Uber Eats or you get your own delivery service? They don't even need to know that it's coming from your kitchen, or they'd be amazed if they knew it was. But just a new concept.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Unfortunately I had a lot of time during COVID and I started noodling around and thinking about things and I found a bakery in New Jersey. First I started getting samples. I said maybe I could open up a bagel shop inside of BuffaLouie's. We have a little storefront that wasn't being used. Maybe we could sell the bagels out of there? I am not risk adverse, but I'm not a big risk taker. My wife is risk adverse. So, of course, I need her blessing because my marriage is far more important than selling bagels. She agreed that we're not going to open up a new store, so ghost kitchen was attractive, and I started importing these bagels from New Jersey.
VIOLET BARON: And this place in New Jersey, your supplier, is there any limit to them? They can just ship out whatever you need?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: We have been to the plant and I don't think we can max them. They make about 2,000,000 bagels a week. So, they're designed to do exactly what we need, which is to support a bagel shop that's not baking them from scratch. So, the term in the industry is they're par-baking them, but they bake them within such tight controls, and I mean when you walk in the plant, you could see what the humidity is, the barometric pressure, because baking is a science. It's chemistry. And they factor in humidity, outside temperature, all the factors that go into it which can make a bagel either too flat, too dense, too thin, et cetera. So the controls are amazing and we've been more than thrilled with everything they send us. So it's working.
VIOLET BARON: Par-baked according to Ed means the bagels arrive in his kitchen having already gone through almost all of the steps in the baking process. They've been shaped, proofed, boiled, even seeded and then baked nearly to completion. They are then frozen and shipped to the shop, where the staff finishes the process, so they're freshly baked in house.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: And the proof is in the pudding because the reviews have been five star across the board. And, lo and behold, I was doing it out of BuffaLouie's and we made it very difficult for people to get the bagels. You had to order the day before. You couldn't get individual bagels, minimum of a dozen. You had to pay in advance online. We sold just bulk cream cheese and bulk bagels. There was no onesies, twosies.
VIOLET BARON: And was that by design or was that just the nature of it?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: It was just that I was doing it by myself, and so I can't make the bagels, schmear the bagel and plus the term we used was Trayce Jacksons, under threat of death from my wife, I was not allowed to have any impact, there was to be no trace or Trayce Jackson that I was even there. So, when the staff came in every morning, they would not be able to tell that it was doing bagels in the morning. No Trayce Jackson was the running joke. And so if there's not going to be a trace that I was there, I can't be online making sandwiches. I was just baking the bagels, putting them in bags, putting the cream cheese in a tub, off you go.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: We started doing that, in, I'll say the summer of 2021 and we did that for about six months and after six months, there was a measurable buzz. Bloomington Foodies was really the first one to pick it up. Somebody posted, "Who's got the best bagels in town?" And at that point I wasn't even advertising. It was almost like an underground thing.
VIOLET BARON: Best kept secret.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: People would text me, "Is this the bagel guy? I've heard you've got really good bagels." And it's like having a drug dealer but a bagel dealer. So, I was the bagel guy and I was fulfilling orders left and right, but still doing it by myself and they were long days because of getting up early, then running the chicken wing business. So, after a lot of consideration, and giving it some deep thought, my wife and I decided that we were going to open up a store, and we found a location which had its pros and cons, like any location.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: The thing that made it extremely attractive was that there was almost unlimited parking. The thing that made it unattractive, was that it was small, it did not have a back door for delivery. There is a back door but it leads to a deck and so all deliveries go through the front, of which I'm not a big fan. You'll be sitting in the store and a delivery driver comes in and it just is what it is. I just wish it wasn't that way but you can't have everything.
VIOLET BARON: Well, you're kind of bringing New York in there too, right?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Correct. The tumult, the chaos, 100%.
VIOLET BARON: You've just seen a delivery truck in the middle of the bike lane, and you've got it.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: 100%, Violet, 100%. It's funny because you are touching on something, so the vibe, the energy is a lot of chaos, a lot of noise, we crank the music up. People seem to like it. The feedback has been great. We signed the lease, January 1st of 2022 is the first day we took over the space, and by about January 5th, I was convinced I'd made an amazing mistake, that I'm in over my head, this wasn't going to work, but by about February 15th, I was thinking, "You know what? I think I can do this."
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Even though my wife and I already have a restaurant, we've never opened one, so when we took over BuffaLouie's, we just had to cobble together the money. My wife was already the general manager, so there was no decisions that had to be made except can we get the money together? We knew how much money was going down to the bottom line, et cetera.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: With the bagel shop, every decision has to be made. What kind of chairs? What colors are the walls? What oven do you want? What napkins? Every single decision had to be made and that's not fun. I don't like making a lot of decisions, but I forced myself to do so and my goal was to be open by graduation, which is in May and we took over January 1st. May came and went and it was not to be. We wound up opening August 1st, it took us a lot longer than I'd hoped and we opened very quietly because we weren't quite ready. But I finally said we've just got to do it.
VIOLET BARON: Do it, do the thing.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Exactly. Start disappointing people, but just get the register ringing and let's figure it out. You can't figure everything out on the drawing board. You've got to literally start making mistakes, and you learn and you lose and you make mistakes. So, we opened August 1st and we didn't even really announce it. Then again, posts started appearing on Facebook, "I think they're open." We never had a grand opening, flyers, or anything. We never cut a ribbon. I still think I want to do that which is kind of dumb now, we've been seven months. The response from the community has been overwhelming.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: The truth is, as much as we like seeing it, we're working on ways to speed that up, and I think we are getting a lot better, where it might be a five to seven minute, seven to ten, but in the beginning it was 20 to 30 minutes. I was thinking, "I don't care how good our bagels are, and all our cream cheese are made in house, they're not going to wait that long." So, we're working on processes, we're getting more efficient every day.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: We're looking, and I say looking, we're not hard core looking, but we are looking at a second location and the main reason I'm looking for a second location is that I want a bigger kitchen so that we can do things to support both spaces. Because the kitchen we have in there, it's real small. I talked about learning lessons, one of them was I wish we could do it again, because I'd have made the kitchen bigger, I would have made the space where the staff works bigger. I gave too much space to the customer, but of course we revere the customer, I want them to be comfortable. So, you live and learn.
VIOLET BARON: You live and learn, right? Is the majority of the business through that storefront now? Or are you still doing orders? You mentioned, you had, what, a ten dozen bagel order coming up?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Right. This morning we fed the ROTC. It might have been 20 dozen. If I had my druthers,I would rather only do big bulk orders. I would rather, you said, "Alright, Ed, we have a function, I'm feeding 400 people." "Great, Violet, I'll bring 600 bagels, piping hot, fresh out of the oven, tubs of cream cheese, lox, platters if you want, fruit bowls." That is still going to be easier than making 600 individual sandwiches or even 100 individual sandwiches. So, we prefer the bulk orders, but unfortunately we don't always get to decide how we're going to get to pay the bills each month.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: So, I would say the onesie, twosies, people walking in and getting a breakfast sandwich, people walking in and getting a bagel with lox, represents 85% of the business and 15 to 20% is the bulk orders, but we're doing more and more with that every day. I have a couple of fraternities and sororities where we deliver them once a week, a couple of doctors offices, once a week, like a route. I don't want to walk away from or poo-poo the onesie, twosies, but that's good business where it's just easy and as you get older, easy's good.
VIOLET BARON: Easy is good. Yes, that's interesting because it kind of goes back to the ghost kitchen, right? That was always a good model.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Correct. But I don't want to say I got greedy, but I realized that if I did spend some money, and put more behind it, that there was more to it. And the community has responded, so turns out I was right which is nice because that very seldom happens. The easier model would have been to stick to what I was doing, but then it was more of a hobby than a revenue stream, and probably if I did the math, we probably broke even and if I figured out how many hours I spent doing it, I basically just bought myself a job when I was doing the ghost kitchening.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: So, now it's a real thing. We have a real business. We're employing 15 people. We're looking at maybe a second store. There's other people from other communities who are talking about possibly opening up and copying our model which is very flattering. So, we'll see where it goes. One day at a time. Right now it's at that one store. If I go to my grave with just one bagel store, I'm content with that. But if I go to my grave with 50 stores, I'm content with that too.
VIOLET BARON: People might be seeing you as a model now, and you think you'll do consulting or something?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Why, thank you very much. Don't mind if I do.
VIOLET BARON: Well, you mentioned it.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: I'm not sure what our next move is. The good news is, that we have options, and even if we do nothing, that's an option, but we're very anxious to add more items to our menu but with our small kitchen, we're very limited. So, as a result, I know I need a bigger kitchen, so I could either get what's called a commissary kitchen, and just make stuff out of the kitchen and then bring it into the shop.
VIOLET BARON: Not so different from the BuffaLouie's, right, when you were making it there?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Correct. We made it there and sold it there. So, now I'm saying that I want more stuff in my kitchen and I want more items to sell at Gables Bagels. I just don't have the capacity to make it or store it. I'm very limited in my freezer space, refrigeration space. So I need a second kitchen. What if that second kitchen is attached to a storefront? So now not only are we making stuff there, we're generating revenue there.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: So, these are all things I think about and if I see a For Lease sign, I look and then I've got to just try to talk myself out of it. Slow down, slow down, it's okay, just do what you're doing, maybe thinking in a year. So, it's very exciting to think about but it's also a matter of discretion being the better part of valor. So, in this case I'm going to try to go slow and in the worst case do nothing for another six months.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: But don't be surprised if next week you read that we're opening up a store on campus. But we'll see, we'll see. I don't know. We'll see what the future holds.
VIOLET BARON: Who are your primary customers? Is it different in the storefront versus the order? Is there one group that really comes out? Or everybody?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: I would say everybody. Certainly the student body has been crazy for the bagels, particularly the east coast kids, because they grew up on this flavor profile. Not only are they crazy about it, they bring their parents in and the parents, of course, I say, "Is it your first time here?" They say, "Yes, my son has been raving about your place, but I'm a little skeptical." And I say, "Hey, this is how I am walking into any bagel shop or pizza shop anywhere. I tell myself I'm not going to be the typical New Yorker, but I can't believe these bagels or these pizzas are going to be any good." And then they try it. So, certainly the students represent a strong percentage, but the locals, and then groups, all kinds of groups as I mentioned before, the hospital, surgery center, doctors offices, insurance agencies, fraternities, sororities, anybody.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: The other nice thing is because of what we're doing, and the word's getting out, it's kind of a new thought for people because it used be, "Well, I'm going to a meeting, I'll bring donuts." Well, now, wait a minute, bagels are just, I think, better. It's more of a wow, in my humble opinion. I would say I'd say it's a cross section of everybody, but probably the students lead the way.
VIOLET BARON: You were saying you can't really replace yourself. You're a big part of the store, and when I come in, when my friends go in, they say, "It's the guy. He's such a big part of the experience." Because you're chatting everyone up, you're making jokes and stuff. Do you think that's a big part of the model for you?
ED SCHWARTZMAN: You know the old phrase, "Treat others like you'd want to be treated." I enjoy that. Now, not everybody does, and hopefully I've learned enough to read people. If I greet them and smile and they just keep their head down and just say, "Give me a bagel," fine. I'll probably try one time to crack that veneer, but most people, and I mean the majority of people coming up, first of all the music is pumping, there's just a vibe. In fact, going back to those reviews, you read some of those reviews, they comment on the vibe and the energy in the place and that's not just me. I'm also not always there. Our staff plays the role, I think, very well.
So we think it's important, it seems to work for us and it's also a much better way to pass the day, being friendly, outgoing, getting to know your customers. I can't tell you the amount of people that walk in now, we know their name. Boy, does that feel good. They like it, we like it, because we ask for your name, we take your order. But if you walk through the door and we yell your name, "Violet, welcome back! Good to see you."
VIOLET BARON: Yes. You got regulars.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, and we do. Oh, boy, do we ever. And that is, to me, the biggest compliment of all is when people come back again and again and again. So, not only do they like us, but we're putting out a consistent product that they know they're not going to be disappointed. To me, serving others is, we might not be curing cancer, but I think what we're doing matters. I think extending a smile to somebody, asking them where they're from, engaging, connecting with them, connecting on some level, and to me food does that and particularly bagels. I love asking where they're from, and they say New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and it's their first time in, you better believe I'm walking over to their table, if they're eating in, "So how did we do?" and usually they've got cream cheese coming out of the side of their mouth, they're just nodding their head and saying, "Dude."
VIOLET BARON: Speechless.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: "I can't believe it."
VIOLET BARON: Chewing on Gables Bagels, I get it. When I moved to the Midwest from Brooklyn four years ago, I knew I would be compromising on some New York favorites. What makes a New York bagel, or in this case Jersey, I guess, is something in the texture and flavor. They're big, for one. Fluffy, but also chewy. Soft but substantial maybe. They have a good moisture content and if you wrap them in a plastic bag, they'll coat the inside with humid drops. They're not super sweet, but you can taste the gluten as you bite down.
VIOLET BARON: What struck me about bagels, like all New York goods, is that they're wrapped in the feeling of being in New York. Crowds, sounds, smells, good and bad together. It's a tough place to live despite its pleasures, even for a native like me. I do think Gables gets the formula just about right. Maybe something in the feeling of being in that chaotic shop helps, that sensory overlap, the personality, the vibe. It's an experience.
ED SCHWARTZMAN: So, the Jewish word is mitzvah and that means to do a good thing for somebody. Do a mitzvah. And I cannot tell you how many customers have come in, and they've tried our whitefish spread, and we make it all in house, they've tried our smoked salmon spread, we make all our spreads in house, and they literally say, "Ed, you're doing a mitzvah for the community." And maybe I am, I'm not trying to make it out to be too much, but it feels good to hear.
KAYTE YOUNG: Violet Baron is a producer for our show and also for WFIU's Inner States. Violet is also the local on-air announcer for All Things Considered, weekday evenings on WFIU in Bloomington.
KAYTE YOUNG: Farmers markets across the Midwest are summer havens, a welcoming community gathering space, rich with healthy fruits, vegetables and local goods. But people of color, both vendors and shoppers alike, have been systematically excluded from these spaces. A new initiative is trying to change that.
KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media's Dana Cronin spoke with Midwest-based Julialynne Walker who helped the Farmers Market Coalition develop an anti-racist farmers market tool kit.
DANA CRONIN: So before we talk about the tool kit itself, I'd like to hear your perspective on racism at farmers markets. I'll be totally honest, when I think of farmers markets, I think of them as predominantly white spaces. Why is that?
JULIALYNNE WALKER: Exactly, and I think that it is a reflection of our society overall. It's a reflection of our beliefs that we hold that certain institutions are for certain people. So, when people are put into positions of power, however limited those positions may be, they make decisions that are consistent with their environment, decisions consistent with what they see around them. So, if you consistently visit farmers markets that are all white, you don't think about, "What do I need to do to make sure that all people in the community are represented?"
JULIALYNNE WALKER: Whether it is information you merely disseminate, or whether it's how you structure your market, or even in terms of the items that you have. There's a couple of times I would walk in and say, "Oh, which vendor has okra?" And they would just look at me. Or, "Which vendor has collard greens?" "Well, none of our vendors." Well, then, I don't want kale. So,, if you really want to attract a particular market, then it's important to have the foods that that market wants. Otherwise, we won't come.
DANA CRONIN: So tell me about the tool kit. What is the overall goal?
JULIALYNNE WALKER: I would say to get people thinking and then to get them to act based on new thoughts that come up. So, it's to help you think through, as I said before, in terms of messaging, really, how do you step back and look at the kinds of material you're using, look at your market, look at the vendors, and at each level of the process, ask yourself, "What is the message being sent if I were to look at this from a different perspective?"
JULIALYNNE WALKER: So whether you are a for-profit, a non-profit, or a municipal agency, within each level, you have to talk about decision making. Who's at the table to make the decision? Whose voice is weighted? Whose voice is listened to? Then once the decisions are made, how are those decisions implemented? And finally, is there a process by which we evaluate what happened and then reassess at some future point?
DANA CRONIN: What is your hope for the future? What do you hope a typical farmers market might look like down the road?
JULIALYNNE WALKER: Well, I would hope that it really is reflective of the community and that we have all kinds of people involved and there are all kinds of representation, not just in terms of food, but it's in terms of the activities, the music, really make it holistic, and I know that that's only possible when everybody's seated at the table. So, I hope that at a minimum, the people who pick up the anti-racism tool kit, at the very least, will begin to work on, how do I make sure that everybody is at the table, and once they're at the table, listen to them?
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Julialynne Walker, a market manager based in the Midwest who helped develop a new anti-racist farmers market tool kit. She spoke with Harvest Public Media's Dana Cronin. Find more at harvestpublicmedia.org.
KAYTE YOUNG: Raleigh, North Carolina based poet and storyteller, Beverly Fields Burnette, originally published her poem Artichoke Pickle Passion in Catch the Fire, a cross-generational anthology of contemporary African American poetry in 1998. It has since been republished nationally, as well as in cookbooks. In honor of National Poetry Month, she joined producer Josephine McRobbie to talk about the inspiration behind her sonnet.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: My name is Beverly Fields Burnette. I grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. We lived with my mother and her two old maid sisters. I eavesdropped and I was quiet, they thought. I was just nosy. I had to learn that if you don't sit right up close to grown people, they'll keep talking. If you say, "Oh, I'm tired of playing," and you go and sit on the side of the porch, or whatever, you can listen without looking directly at them. But the crazy thing about it is, it has honed my skills for listening and remembering everybody's story.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: I'm a retired school social worker, worked for Wake County public schools for 25 years. I am a published poet, and a storyteller. I'm president of the North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers, and it's an affiliate of the National Association of Black Storytellers.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: It was tenth grade, and one day in English class, the teacher said everybody should write a poem. I remember just sitting and looking and trying to get something to inspire me. It got to be 9:30 at night and I'm still sitting there, trying to write a poem. Finally I just said, "In English class I was told to write a poem, oh, so bold. I thought and thought and thought and thought, and came up with this poem, not. Miss Grams, if this poem isn't right, I won't get mad or get in a fight. It took much more than a hour and also a lot of brain power." That was the gist of it.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: She loved it, she took it around all over the school. Just a little ABAB rhyme poem that set me ablaze because she was so proud and then from then on, I didn't have to write about the flowers or the moon and the stars. I'd write about what was around me.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: I wrote this poem called Artichoke Pickle Passion, an Elizabethan poem put in the form of such an ordinary everyday kind of thing. I just like the style, I like the rhythm of that style.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: Artichoke Pickle Passion, a sonnet. "In Southern Springs, we dug for artichokes in Miss Olivia's tall and weedy yard. She dipped her snuff but never ever smoked. At 85 she wasn't avant garde. Her 'bacco spittings grew the vegetable. Well nourished were the tubers, strong the stalks. And even though their worth was questionable, with hoe in hand, we dug, postponing talk. Once washed, soaked, sliced, they met some torrid brine. Aromas flew on steamy clouds of heat. When canned, the waiting was the longest time. How many weeks or months before we eat? In Southern Springs, we dug the precious root and still this day, it is my passion fruit."
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: My mother did domestic work so my aunt [PHONETIC: Floss], who was a retired teacher, was our nursemaid you might say. I had one sister. And one day she said we were going to go up the street to Miss Olivia's yard. In front of our house was the elementary school I went to, and to the left, a block up, was a whole long list of apartments that were really rather dilapidated looking. Miss Olivia lived in the corner apartment, and we have to pass her house going to church and she'd be sitting on the porch in a little gingham faded dress, and she would pull her stockings up to her knee, and put a little knot in it. So, she had on these stockings and she had on a head rag, and she had her lip full of snuff every time I saw her. My aunt said, "We're going to go up to Miss Olivia's yard and dig artichokes." I didn't know what artichokes were and, most importantly, although Miss Olivia had these beautiful tall sunflowers she always grew every year in her back yard, she'd be leaning over her back porch and spitting into the yard.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: So, we went because you have to obey your elders. We went and dug and dug and dug and it was the roots of these sunflowers, these 6ft, 7ft, maybe even 8ft tall flowers, they're called Jerusalem artichokes and it's like the consistency of a sweet potato.
BEVERLY FIELDS BURNETTE: I didn't write it till the 90s, and I know that I was, what, ten years old when we did this digging. Sometimes as children you don't appreciate the elders around you, and being, as I said, the inquisitive one, I would have loved to have sat down with her and found out her family history.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was poet and storyteller Beverly Fields Burnette, talking with producer Josephine McRobbie in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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KAYTE YOUNG: Spring flowers are bursting out all over the Midwest right now. The daffodils are still blooming. Tulips are coming on, and the buds on the trees are beginning to swell, a few are already in full color.
KAYTE YOUNG: There's one tree that blooms rather late that I want to draw your attention to. It's the black locust tree. Sometimes people hear the word locust and they think I'm talking about insects. Not this time. I'm talking about the tree. They tend to bloom in late April or early May, so there's still plenty of time to catch this fleeting beauty, but these flowers are not just beautiful and fragrant, they are edible. And they're a lot of fun to harvest and to cook with.
KAYTE YOUNG: Dedicated Earth Eats listeners might remember a recipe from a few years back, chef Daniel Orr makes a locust blossom jelly. You can find the recipe for that on our website, eartheats.org. This recipe for black locust flower fritters comes from my partner Carl. He's the only person I know who makes these, besides his brother who lives in Kentucky. So, for this one, I had to look no further than my own back yard. Well, and down the street for the flowers.
KAYTE YOUNG: Locust flowers are easy to spot, just look up. The trees are usually pretty tall, with dark bark and branches dipping down covered in lacy clusters, of shimmering white flowers. You can usually find them late April, early May, and they stand out since most of the other trees have already leafed out.
CARL: I went out this morning, to search for black locust flowers and they were super easy to find. There are trees all along the B line here in Bloomington, just dripping with the flowers. And there are some trees, in which the branches are low enough that I could just walk right up to them, and start pulling flowers off. But sometimes you have to get a ladder to get to them.
CARL: And now, I am pulling off the flowers off the stem, one by one until I have four cups. The fritter batter is one and a half cups of flour. And a can of seltzer water. Some people use beer, but seltzer water will work just fine, and then I've added a teaspoon of vanilla. Next, I will fold in these beaten egg whites, that are peaks but they're not too stiff. I'm folding the egg whites into the flour and seltzer water, or flour and beer mixture.
CARL: In the refrigerator I have four cups of black locust flowers that I picked this morning. I mix those with a quarter cup of sugar, and three tablespoons of orange flavoring. The recipe I have calls for Grand Marnier, but I just use the organic orange flavoring that I found at the grocery store. So now I'm going to fold in these flowers that I mixed with sugar and the orange flavoring, and I put those in the refrigerator for an hour. I got everything cold.
CARL: And that's it for the batter. Now I'm going to take them to the deep fryer, and with one third cup scoops, I'm going to make, say, four or five or six fritters at a time. We'll see how many fit. And we'll cook them for four minutes per side.
KAYTE YOUNG: Just to back up a bit, the first thing you want to do once you've harvested your flowers and picked them off the stems, is mix them with some sugar and Grand Marnier or orange extract. Cover them, put them in the fridge for an hour. Next you want to get your deep fryer ready. Fill it with peanut oil and set the temp at 375.
KAYTE YOUNG: Next, separate your eggs and beat the egg whites until they have peaks, but they aren't too stiff. Now you're ready to mix up the fritter batter. Add the chilled and sweetened black locust flowers, and then it's time to fry the fritters.
CARL: This is a recipe that I have adapted from my brother's recipe who in turn adapted his recipe from Jacques Pépin who recommends making acacia flower fritters as well, but I've never tried that. So now I'm putting quarter cup fulls of the batter into the 375 degree oil. You could make this on a stove top. But I'm making it an electric deep fryer outside in my back yard on a beautiful spring day.
CARL: This recipe makes a lot of fritters and they're best in the moments after they've been made. So to prevent us from getting sick to our stomach, we usually try and invite people over to have fritters with us. Our neighbors are due any minute. And these'll be done in a few minutes.
CARL: The recipe that I have says cook them for four minutes on one side, and then turn them over and cook them for four more, but it looks like these are going to be done in a lot less time than that. This has been about three minutes, and I think they are done. I'm cooking these at 375 degrees. They're nicely browned, so I'm going to take them out and put them on a wire rack and let them drip off a little bit. Then we'll put them on a platter and we'll sprinkle some confectioners' sugar on top to add a little grace.
KAYTE YOUNG: Our neighbors arrive through the back gate. Robin and her three kids, Lucia, Nova and Colette. Lucia was the first to give them a try.
KAYTE YOUNG: What do they taste like?
LUCIA: Mm, like a donut sort of, except less sweet. Really good.
CARL: Can you taste the flowers?
UNKNOWN FEMALE: A flower donut.
LUCIA: Yeah, a flower donut.
KAYTE YOUNG: It makes a really good sound on the microphone.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: I bet it's real crisp.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: It melts. In your mouth.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: Mm. [CHOMPING]
KAYTE YOUNG: Melt in your mouth crunch. Doesn't get much better than that. You will notice the flowers, even in all that fried dough. They have a lush fragrance and a sweet nectar-like flavor that mingles nicely with the orange. So, keep an eye out for those locust flowers in the next couple of weeks and you can try this recipe yourself. You don't need a deep fryer. A heavy skillet or a Dutch oven works great too. We have the instructions for black locust flower fritters on our website, eartheats.org.
KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for our show, thanks for listening, and happy spring.
DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young, with help from Eobon Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Samantha [PHONETIC: Shimminauer], Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Violet Baron, Ed Schwartzman, Beverly Fields Burnette, Josephine McRobbie, Carl Pearson, Robin, Lucia, Nova and Colette.
DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey, and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Production Music. Our executive producer is John Bailey.