RODALE NEWS, HARDWICK, VT—Facing a Main Street once dotted with vacant stores, Hardwick, Vermont, a hardscrabble community of 3,000, has reached into its past to secure its future. The residents are betting on farming, much of it organic, to make Hardwick the town that was saved by food. (You can read all the details in The Town that Food Saved, by Ben Hewitt, Rodale, 2010).
And it's working. With the fervor of Internet pioneers, the area's young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors, and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.
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THE DETAILS: The most visible sign of Hardwick on the rise is Claire's Restaurant, sort of a clubhouse for farmers, that began with investments from its neighbors. It’s a CSR, a community-supported restaurant, of which there are only a handful around the country. Fifty investors, who put in $1,000 each, will be repaid their money through discounted meals at the restaurant over four years. Blending the growing interest in eating local, healthy, organic food with a new business model seems to be a winning formula. ''Local ingredients, open to the world,'' is the motto on restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows. Here, it's possible to attach not just a source but a name and a face to almost every item on the menu. ''There's the guy from Patchwork Bakery,” said Linda Ramsdall, the force behind the CSR, when I visited. “We’re using his bread tonight. 'That's Pete from Pete's Greens. You're eating his tomatoes.”
Most of what you eat at Claire’s is organic as well as local. Stephen Obranovich, the chef, makes sure of that. So there are no tomatoes in the winter. And asparagus was only on the menu for a short time this spring. Right now there are more than 30 local farmers, bakers, and cheese- and wine-makers providing the ingredients.
Obranovich’s recipes are delightfully creative, and make the best use of what is in season. He's sharing three of his recipes with us that are simple, cheerfully colorful and, most important of all, suffused with flavor—much of it coming from herbs, sometimes used in unusual ways. Like the basil in the strawberry-blueberry crisp. And a pesto made of almost any assortment of herbs you find appealing, used under and on top of the skin of roast chicken.
I’ve tested the three following recipes, and adjusted as needed for the home kitchen. The result? Three delicious, very summery treats you can make and share. And someday, should you make it up to Claire's, you can tell Chef Obranovich how you did with them.