Notes from the North Fork

Ahoy from your wandering Edible Community Gardens Project member. We are in the North Fork of Long Island soaking up the last golden days of Indian summer. Our boat, New Fidelity, is moored in Greenport, an old whaling town, right on the waters of the Peconic Bay.  We have fallen in love with the historic seaside villages of Long Island.  Greenport, once a forgotten backwater, is where all of the action is today. It’s the heart of the North Fork farming, wine and seafood industries. The food, wine and maritime atmosphere are a natural synergy for this un-Hampton like town where you can buy a clam rake, a fancy dress, or an antique oyster basket.

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Greenport is popular because it is an authentic town where you can walk anywhere; on the boardwalk, along the waterfront, through old shipyards, to Aldo’s coffee roasting shop, (there’s no Starbucks), to chic little stores, the IGA supermarket, Latham’s Farm Stand, the Greenport Brewery, where you can fill up your growler with local craft beer, Preston’s hardware store and the Coronet Café, just to mention a few. Local restaurants offer a variety of farm to table food; there is no shortage of a good bowl of chowder.

Just outside of Greenport Village we found  Mattebella Vineyards, one of the 30 plus wineries of the North Fork offering tastings of their 2009 Famiglia Chardonnay. The grapes thrive in the region’s cool maritime climate and are raised with love by Mark Tobin and his wife, longtime residents of Miami Beach. They produce 765 cases a season and as I write, the grapes are ready to be crushed in early October.

The Southold Fish Market is a source for local fish, just down the road in a trailer, where one can  buy local steamers or cherrystone clams for a spicy chowder or a whole bass for roasting.  Owner Charlie Manwaring says his secret of success in the fish business is that he knows the first names of all of the fishermen.   We have prepared fresh-caught  fluke, flounder, Montauk Sea Bass and blue crab cakes, all in my boat galley.  Our favorite fish meals are enjoyed when we meet up with a crew from a day of fishing and chat them up during the cleaning session; inevitably some filets come our way.

The local farmers market in Greenport features a selection of Peconic Bay oysters for tasting; they’ll open 3 for $2.50 or try the smoked blue fish served up in hand wrapped  foil packaging . We tried it out on a Sunday morning bagel with smoked blue fish and long island creamy goat cheese.  That works, especially on fresh Brooklyn imported bagels. The most interesting vendor at this little farmers market was the Honey Bee vendor with her bees in a glass paneled bee hive. A thousand bees and their queen busily tending to their hive while we chatted on about the problem of colony collapse.

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With nearly a dozen active farmers markets operating on the East End, the first in Sag Harbor opened in 2005, was my personal favorite, with 30 vendors and a great location by the waterfront in town.  In late September, on a Saturday morning, I found several varieties of squash,  peppers (padron), golden beets, baby potatoes , Long Island duck, Japanese and globe eggplants, award winning Sag Harbor cheddar, heritage tomatoes, flowers, craft beer , winemakers, bakers,  fermented vegetables,  and seafood mongers. There were no crafts or fast food or jewelry makers to fill up the stalls.  Instead the finest offerings of North Fork home grown food and wine, that seems more world class than local.

Most of the East End markets run from late May through September or October, the Sag Harbor Market has operated year round for the last two years.  The Greenport Market struggles to stay open even in the season because the location, in a church parking lot, is several blocks away from the downtown and marina district, ferry and rail stations.  What a great move it would be for the entire town if the market came to the marina on a Saturday morning where they could be part of the existing community gathering space . Farmers markets thrive in locations such as community centers, ferry terminals, downtown squares, Village Greens and marinas.  As the season winds down, there is optimism on the part of local farmers who will still harvest their pumpkins, root vegetables, squash, kale and potatoes well into December.

Ahoy, as we continue our adventure and gather stories for another travelogue!