by Terese Allen, Food Editor
"We are a family of five, six if you count Dom, our border collie, and he probably should be included!" says Maureen Knapp, who, along with her husband Paul, a fourth-generation farmer, runs a certified organic diversified dairy operation in Preble, New York. In addition to milking 80 cows, they direct-market pastured meats and grow five to ten acres of pick-your-own strawberries
The Knapp farm is the kind of family business where everyone pitches in. Maureen and Paul's three boys, aged 17, 14 and 10, help with chores like moving and feeding the chickens, herding and milking the cows, and planting in the spring. That can make for a hungry crowd at meal time, so Maureen, the cook in the family, has her work cut out for her. However, "I get lots of help from [my youngest son]!" she says. "Everyone else loves to eat, but he really enjoys the fruits of his labor in the kitchen."
Maureen serves as president of the New York Agricultural Land Trust and the farmer-chair of the Northern Forest Compost Collaborative. She a member of the Agricultural Advisory Committee and the board of directors of the Cortland County Cooperative Extension, is on the state steering committee of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, and is a Farmer Ambassador for Organic Valley at many events and speaking engagements.
Do you have any special harvest food traditions in your family?
We try to go apple picking every fall and make enough applesauce to freeze for the winter. Making your own applesauce allows you to personalize it exactly the way you want it. We like to use some apple cider in it, with cinnamon and nutmeg, but no added sugar. It tastes especially good on a cool fall weekend, when I like to roast a fresh ham from our farm-raised pork and finish up the meal with a homemade apple pie accompanied by a slice of Organic Valley raw cheddar.
I also like to "harvest" plants by potting up some rosemary, basil and parsley to bring indoors for winter kitchen use.
What are some other favorite harvest foods of yours, and why?
Harvest is the time when you reap what you had sown so many months earlier. Winter squash, especially, is watched with anticipation until it is truly vine-ripened. We then carefully collect it so that no bruising occurs and we can look forward to several months of this deep orange delight with just the right amount of butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. On occasion it gets combined with apples, too.
Where do you get your recipes and menu ideas?
I have to say that the core of my menus come from my mom, from the foods I remember as we were growing up. I have branched out as I've discovered different flavors and styles—now it's sort of meat-and-potatoes meets stir-fry. I enjoy using citrus, fresh herbs and ginger to liven up a dish.
Which cookbooks do you use most and why?
I really like Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions because it teaches how to prepare and cook food, plus how to combine different foods for optimum health. A quick example is soaking oatmeal overnight and then combining the oatmeal with a fat (butter or cream!) for optimum nutrient uptake. I also like any of the Cook's Illustrated books because of the many different ways they try out just one recipe in order to get it just right--and then they tell you why it works.
What suggestions do you have for novices who want to cook and eat well?
A well-stocked pantry is probably the most essential component in cooking and eating well. With healthy, basic ingredients always on hand then one is rarely caught with nothing to eat when dinner has gone unplanned, as is often the case. Pasta, onions, garlic, olive oil, a few favorite herbs and spices will almost always fit the bill for a healthy, delicious dinner.