Laura Gallup is the marketing and events coordinator for the Ithaca Farmers Market as well as the managing editor of Edible Finger Lakes magazine. She lives in Ithaca but grew up eating strawberries by the bucketful on her dad’s farm in Hector. In this new column, Laura will be sharing tips on how you can eat locally year-round.
If you’re grocery shopping this weekend, you might be stocking up for Thanksgiving dinner with fixins’ for turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy and more. Before you run to the store, consider what your local vendors have to offer at the Ithaca Farmers Market. The market runs outdoors at the Steamboat Landing pavilion until Dec. 21, and picks back up indoors at the Triphammer Marketplace on Jan. 4, so you really can eat local all year round.
Two Saturdays ago I set out on a mission to make a chicken pot pie with as many local ingredients as I could. While this isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving dish, it incorporates many of the same meats and veggies you use for the November holiday, and I got them all from small farmers.
Gathering your ingredients
Although not a seasoned cook, I vowed to make this pot pie from scratch. First up: buy a whole chicken.
Michael Burns greets me on a cold but sunny morning in a heavy Carhartt jacket and a black cowboy-esque hat. His wooden booth is full of signs and prices, but only when he opens the chest freezer behind the counter do I really see what my options are. He pulls out three raw, whole chickens in thick, plastic vac-sealed packs. “Most of us are selling whole, frozen chickens because the labor cost at the butcher is high for cut-ups,” says Michael, referring to himself and the other meat vendors.
I choose and pay for my four-pound bird (he takes credit cards on his iPad) as Michael tells me about my purchase; explaining that this “broiler hen” is more nutritious than a factory-farmed bird because of her complex diet. His pastured chickens live in outdoor pens and get to eat grain, insects and green grass – and also get access to sunshine, light exercise and social activity. “They are flock animals,” says Michael. “They like to interact with each other.” This lifestyle makes the meat a superior product, and that’s what I’m after – top-notch ingredients. Michael owns and operates Cayuta Sun Farm, about a 30-minute drive from Ithaca in Catharine, New York. He farms pigs and chickens on his land, as well as log-grown mushrooms.
With the chicken bulging from my canvas bag, I walk past a booth selling baked goods and another offering hard cider, and stop in front of Sabol’s Farm. His counter was mostly covered in bins and boxes of potatoes – small, medium and big ones – in hues of red, white and yellow. I got the urge to squeeze every one but didn’t. Paper signs noted the names and prices, and they all said the word “MOREGANIC,” suggesting that the goods aren’t technically certified organic … but that maybe they’re even better.
I ask which potatoes work best for a chicken pot pie and he comes around the counter to point things out. He suggests fingerling potatoes but says that the Katahdin variety will work great, too. “These don’t fall apart too much,” Richard says. “Which is good because you want them to keep their shape.”
The potato harvest in Upstate New York typically runs from the beginning of July to late October, but the crop can be stored until around April. Richard, who is a third-generation farmer, sells beans, cucumbers, squash, nuts, corn, eggs, pears and meat throughout the season, but his specialty is potatoes – they have 14 varieties. The family farm originally started in Candor in the 1920s but relocated in the ’40s to Ovid, where Richard lives today. Richard is a staple at the market year-round – you can usually spot him by his long, white beard, his signature suspenders and “Sabol’s Farm” hat – but today he is bundled up. I buy a pound of potatoes and also opt for a quart of walnuts in the shell – Richard tells me you don’t have to roast them, just crack the shells and eat up.
As my toes begin to go numb, I grab carrots, onions, garlic and celery from a few different veggie farmers including Lucy at Stick and Stone Farm. She has mountains of romanesco and kohlrabi on her table, and her full-to-the-brim bin of carrots draws me in. Feeling adventurous, I purchase a few mysterious parsnips to throw in the pot pie, not sure of what they taste like, and my boyfriend Zack buys a rosemary plant from Littleflowers to round out a successful grocery shopping trip.
Assembling your pot pie
Back home we let the chicken – and our toes – thaw and then we start cooking, beginning with the pie’s filling. I cut the veggies into big chunks and add them to a deep roasting pan. I bury fresh thyme and Rosemary in the veggies for flavor and set the whole chicken on top of them.
Zack slathers the naked bird with Tuscan Garden olive oil from F. Olivers and stuffs it with raw garlic cloves and more herbs. The bird goes into the oven to cook for two hours and we go to work on the next part: crust.
Zack is a professional chef so he coaches me in the kitchen – showing me how to do something and then watching as I slowly get the hang of it. I add three cold sticks of butter to a bowl of flour and Zack demonstrates how to cut them with two forks until they got smaller and smaller. During this time-consuming job, I realize why homemade crust is so tasty – all that butter. I knew I was done when the mixture looked like tiny yellow balls coated in dust.
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I add the rest of the ingredients and learned how to knead the wet mass. As I worked it with my hands, the dough firmed up and became less slimy. When everything was totally mixed together Zack portions the dough into 1/3 and 2/3 balls. We stick it in the fridge until the chicken is almost ready, and then with no rolling pin on hand, Zack used an empty wine bottle to flatten out the bigger ball into a circle big enough to cover the bottom of the pan and the sides. I nervously lay the dough into the pan and carefully press it into the sides to form the bottom crust. I flatten the smaller dough ball and set it aside.
As we wait, our house fills with the smells of childhood wintertime dinners. When the chicken is cool enough to touch, I pull it off the bone – a tedious, but satisfying task with ample opportunity for snacking. We set the carcass aside to make bone broth later, as Michael at the market advised us to do. I chop the chicken into bitesize pieces and Zack does the same for the veggies. I find out that a parsnip tastes like a cross between a carrot and a potato – a mild sweetness like a carrot, but starchy like a potato … with another flavor that turns out to be nuttiness (thanks Google!)
The leftover juices from the cooked veggies go into a pot on the stove for gravy. “You know the gravy is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon,” says Zack. Once complete, I dump the gravy onto the chicken and veggie mixture, making sure to coat everything. I then carefully spoon the messy filling into the pie dish and let Zack roll the top crust on. He expertly crimps the top and bottom crusts together to form a seal and cuts slits in the top with a knife. The pie disappears into the oven as we dip hunks of fresh bread into the remaining salty, delicious gravy, waiting for 30 more minutes as the crust cooks and forms a shell around our filling.
Dinner is served
It’s been dark for a few hours when we finally pull the golden-brown pie from the oven. As I bite into the first piece I’m thrilled with how it warms me from the inside: the crust is buttery and flaky- but not burnt, the gravy is creamy and warm, enveloping the carrots and potatoes, the chicken is juicy and bursting with flavor. I instantly start thinking about what to tweak next time, honing my pot pie craft. The recipe took a long time, but none of it felt like a chore. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to mean spending all day in the kitchen – but sometimes, that’s part of the fun.
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Want to make this? Find the whole recipe HERE on the Ithaca Farmers Market website.