Bryan Greenawalt is an important link between Pittsburgh and a community of Amish farmers in Somerset County. Each week in the summer, and just about every other week in the winter, Bryan visits a network of farms and picks up things to bring to the Saturday East Liberty farmer’s market, the one right next to Home Depot. It’s the city’s longest running and only indoor farmer’s market.
I’ve gone out to Somerset many times with Bryan over the years, and every time something fruitful comes from it. I think it was seven years or so ago when I first met Sam and Nettie, one of Bryan’s biggest suppliers. I asked them if they’d ever heard of Shaker dried corn before, and they hadn’t. I told them it was dehydrated sweet corn and left thinking that they weren’t interested in doing it.
Three months later, Bryan showed up to the market with a five gallon bucket of Shaker corn. It was a pleasant surprise. Sam and Nettie had had a neighbor fashion a homemade stove top corn-dehydrator, and had been dehydrating corn for the entire months of July and August. It takes about 24 hours for the corn to properly dehydrate.
We’d tried dehydrating corn before in our electric dehydrator, but the Shaker corn from Sam and Nettie was a completely different thing: golden yellowish brown with a nutty aroma, and the texture of fresh corn when rehydrated overnight. I don’t know why theirs is so good, but it probably has something to do with the steady radiant heat of their wood stoves.
One of the great things about working with this particular Amish community, is that the scale most of their farms operate on is a good fit for our needs. For example, when we asked them to grow Tarbais beans for us, they were able to do it. We only use around 150# or so a season, which isn’t enough for a typical farmer to bother with, but it worked on Sam and Nettie’s scale. One of their neighbors grows chervil, summer savory, and epazote for us. It’s only a few pounds or so of herbs a week, but Bryan tells me they’re happy to do it.
Bryan asks me each spring what we’re looking for at Legume. Three years ago, I told him we wanted haricot verts, the tiny little French green beans which I absolutely adore. I picked out a variety from a seed catalog and gave Bryan the information. Four months later, Bryan showed up with a nice box of beautiful green beans. I took one bite and it was leather. I’d failed to mention that the beans needed to be picked really small.
Last year around this time, Bryan came with haricot verts again, and this time they were perfect. The next week, however, they were too big again, and not useable for the restaurant. But since they’d gone through the trouble of growing them, I bought a couple bushel anyways which we ate at staff meal over the next couple of weeks. (If you want people to grow things for you, you need to buy their food, even if its not perfect.)
When Bryan asked me if I wanted anything this year, I didn’t mention haricot verts. I’d given up. I didn’t want to ask these Amish guys to grow something we might not purchase, but low and behold, Bryan showed up with a bushel of perfect haricot verts this past Saturday. I’ll be really excited if they’re perfect next week too.
I really appreciate this relationship we have with this community, and am thankful for Bryan for making it happen. Most of the exotic local things we use throughout the year come from him: black walnuts, ground cherries, asparagus, red currants, quince, fresh shelling beans no one else seems to grow around here, sunchokes, over-wintered parsnips and salsify, grapes, and a few other things I’m probably forgetting right now. This spring Sam and Nettie planted some seabuckthorn plants, per my request, after I learned about it in Russia a few years ago. It’ll take a number of years before they produce fruit, but it’ll be worth the wait.