Posts Tagged ‘neil cherry’

Paw Paws, Possums and Pide

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In 1541, Conquistidor Hernando Desoto came acoss the paw paw in the Mississippi Valley while looking for the city of gold. He was so impressed with the fruit that he sent seedlings back to Spain. Poor Hernando never did find that elusive city, but did succeed in introducing smallpox to North America. Because of logging, the paw paw tree has reached the same endangered fate as those natives unlucky enough to have had Hernando sneeze on them. But luckily, in the Ohio Valley, the paw paw is celebrated. It’s a perfect topping for my next pizza.


My Paw Paw Turkish Pide (PEE-day) with lentil cream, arugula, goat feta, pancetta and black sesame.

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The glorious paw paw fruit that hangs from trees in bunches has a banana custard-like taste with a pineapple finish. The flesh feels like all the decadent desserts I’ve ever swooned over: creme brulee, creme caramel being on top of that list. When the leaves of the paw paw tree are young, in the spring, they look exactly like the pods from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.  Paw paw is the official fruit of Ohio and is suprisingly hard to spot, even when staring straight at it.

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Chris Schmiel, with the the tenderness of a urologist and the eyes of an eagle, takes the wild paw paw from the forest.

Luckily, I’ve got a friend in Chris Schmiel, founder of Integration Acres, the largest paw paw producer around. He’s also the guy who is makes great chevre and goat feta for my pizzas. Chris can have his goats graze through his paw paw forest without disturbing the trees or twigs, because of some intense chemicals in the bark called Annonaceous acetogenins.

Today is the day before the 2009 Paw Paw festival, which Chris organizes every year. I begged Chris to drag me though the forest for some righteous paw paw scavenging. We headed out into the forest while I kept an eye out for the billy goats (I have a history with them, and I want to sit down again).

Chris deftly dissapears into a leafy wall and screams “Gotcha, you varmint!” I run through the brush and see a live-catch cage with an oppossum in it. “That’s what these varmints do,” Chris says as he points to the opposum scat. The poor creature shoots me a “What? I swear dude, that’s not my poop” look. Here’s the possum:

Finding the right paw paws is a delicate process. Once you’ve donned your jungle gear and waded your way into the green forest, the last thing on your mind is to come back empty handed. This is why folks tend to grab the unripe paw paws and therefore never touch them the rest of their lives. Below is a tutorial on how to pick paw paws.

To taste the paw paw you have to throw caution to the wind. Take off that Hugo Boss tuxedo jacket and get your hands gooey, because most of the succulent soft meat surrounds the small black seeds. Once you taste it, your brain enters “custard mode,” a state of mind where you might babble, “I’m in my comfortable place now, you must leave” as you spit out the seeds and the paw paw juice dribbles down your chin. Chris has years of experience eating these fruits:

Bravo! Now let’s witness an uncultured putz eating a paw paw:

Man, I had some great fun here. I bid Chris Schmiel and Integration Acres good-bye. My car was 16 paw paws and 2 pounds of goat feta heavier as I headed back to make a paw paw pide.


Paw Paw Turkish Pide with Lentil Cream, Arugula, Goat Feta, Pancetta and Black Sesame

I wanted this pide’s flavors to compliment to the paw paw without overwhelming its complex, delicate taste. The creamyness of the ricotta, lentils and Parmesan mirror the texture of the paw paw and pair well with the  pancetta and the pineapple and almost-cinnamony paw paw taste. The spicy arugula wilts in the oven and offers a fantastic textural foil, as well complimenting the astringent goat feta. Finally, the black sesame seeds play the banana notes perfectly while counterbalanced by a tangy balsamic glaze (found at specialty stores or you can use regular balsamic vinegar).

I love keeping cooked lentils on hand at all times for salads. (Trader Joe’s has some bodacious precooked lentils in the fridge department.) If you think lentils are a pain in the ass, substitute cannolini beans out of the can.

Easy Dough Recipe

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese

8 ounces brown or green lentils

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 – 8 large leaves of fresh arugula

3 or 4 slices of thin-cut pancetta

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh crumbled goat feta or goat chevre

1 egg, whipped with tablespoon of warm water

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

4-6 fresh paw paws

Balsamic glaze or vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat baking stone or upturned heavy cookie sheet on middle rack of oven.

Prepare dough recipe using only one 7-ounce dough ball. Let one ball rest in a warm place. Put the extra dough ball on an oiled piece of plastic wrap and into the freezer.

Prepare the lentils.  Lentils are just like sushi rice in that they are best covered and cooked for 20 minutes under low heat after being brought to a boil. Bring either 1 3/4 cup water or chicken stock (or combo) to a boil. Bring back to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer on medium low for 20 minutes. Set aside 3 tablespoons of cooked lentils for this recipe. Let cool and hold the rests in the fridge for future recipes.


Put ricotta, lentils and Parmesan in bowl and whisk together.

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Place the round dough ball on the table with 2 tablespoons of flour. Push the dough out into an 8 – 10 inch football shape or oval. Spread the ricotta and lentils on the dough with a spatula.

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Tear arugula leaves and place on top. Scatter the crumbled feta on the arugula.


Place the pancetta on the pide. Don’t worry that it’s raw: The fats will cook and drain nicely, adding flavor to the pide.

Forming the Pide

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Go along the side of the football shape and fold the dough over the ingredients, making your way to the end. Do not pull dough too hard or it will rip.

(1) Pull both ends together and twist the excess dough. (2) Continue to pull so that you can tie a small knot (the stickiness of the dough will help so do not pull too much). (3) Wrap the dough around your finger and make a small knot. (4) You may need to manouver the dough through, using your pinky finger.


Each side of the pide should have a knot. Gently place the pide onto a parchment covered pizza peel (large spatula for pizza) or a parchment covered pizza screen, or just parchment.

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(1) Using a whisk, stir the egg and water in a bowl until foaming. (2) Brush the egg wash onto the pide with a pastry brush. Remember, if you miss a spot, the sesame will not stick, but do not put too much egg wash on. (3) Using both hands,  sprinkle on the sesame seeds. (4) You may need to use your hand for some hard to reach areas.


Place pide in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Oven temperatures may vary so as a rule of thumb, check the pide after 8 minutes and check the bottom and top dough for golden-dark brown look. The black sesame may make it a little hard to discern the color on the sides.

While the pide is in the oven, prepare the paw paw topping. Use a bowl to catch the pulp.

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Start by cracking the paw paw in half like Chris did in the video. Grab the seeds and press each firmly in your hand.

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You will feel the pulp squeeze away from the seed. The pulp will squirt out between your fingers. Not to worry, keep going, and flick the pulp into the bowl.

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When the pide is out of the oven, don’t worry about cooling it. Place the paw paw on the pide in stripes or any artistic way you can handle. Lick the bowl clean. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and enjoy one of the best fruit pizza recipes inspired by the paw paw.


Schiacciata con L’uva (Grapes) from Neil Cherry Orchards

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The crispness in the air brings thoughts of Halloween and jumping in mountains of leaves, while the waining days of summer take their toll on tomatoes, cucumber, sunflowers, summer squash and basil here in Appalachian Ohio.

In Athens, the 30,000 some-odd students are back and one of my ovens is broken so I am beside myself. My managers look at me like the chefs of the Titanic probably looked at the captain of the ship. “Like, uh, John, so how we supposed to pump out the usual 250 pies tonight with one oven?” they ask. Luckily, I’m skilled enough at evasion to issue a forceful and concise directive. “Do the best you can, guys.” The parts will not get here until next week, and this weekend will be hell. Fortunately, I am blessed with a great staff that would take a bullet for me. (Well, maybe a taser. Naw, a wedgy. No, probably a spitball.)

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Cherry Orchards and Neils’ huge pumpkin patch.

I took some time out of my freak-out and jumped in the first life-boat to go to Neil Cherry at his orchards 3 miles east of Deavertown Ohio. Neil grows peaches, pears, apples and the most beautiful grapes I’ve ever eaten. In fact, years ago, when I first started selling breads at the Athens Farmer’s Market, I was amazed at the taste of  locally grown grapes. They may have thick skins and some have seeds, but the taste is far superior to supermarket grapes that have been modified and/or genetically engineered to have soft skins and a bland sugary taste.

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The Schiacciata in the making (If I could just stop popping the grapes in my mouth). Neil at the Athens Farmers Market.

This day, I’ve come to score some great seedless grapes for my Schiacciata Con l’uva, or Etruscan (Tuscan) Grape Bread. As with most schiacciata, the recipe ususally depends upon the baker. Traditionalists bank upon using lard, fennel seed and honey, and most modern recipes rely upon sugar, baking powder, eggs or even milk. I like it my (the easy) way. I use my schiacciata recipe for pizza and bread dough, knead it with raisins and walnuts,  pull it into the traditional football shape, topped with seedless grapes and honey. Done and deliciously sticky.

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After arriving at Cherry vineyards, the first thing I notice is the smell. It’s the scent of autumn, bursting ripeness at its zenith, followed by the natural slow rot on a cool breeze. Being the agricultural moron that I am, I hold back on the stupid statement, “So Neil, where are all the freakin’ grapes?” Neil brushes back the big sail-like green leaves and boom: more grapes than you can shake a bottle of 1945 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild at. He rattles off the numerous names of the grapes and where they came from, while I envision not remembering even one name. (A self-fullfilling prophecy as you can see.)

Neil Cherry ‘s intoduction to his grapes:

Neil and his family have been growing fruit for over 50 years. The thing you can always count on with Neil is that he always has a smile. Sometimes, as he sells his awesome apple cider in the depths of winter, it’s a frozen smile, but a smile nonetheless. He, his wife Faye and his family work hard to maintain their farm and compete with the all-too-cruel seasons for a bounty of great local fruit. We all benefit here from his labor, even me, the lowly pizza freak making an old Italian bread during the grape harvest.

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1 dough from my schiacciata recipe

1.5 ounces chopped walnuts

1.5 ounces raisins

1 -1 3/4 cups seedless grapes

3 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven with upside-down cookie sheet or pizza stone on middle rack to 425 degrees.

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Make dough and form into a football shape. Distribute the raisins and walnuts on top of the dough. Press into the dough.

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Roll the dough up and knead it  gently, evenly distributing the interloping raisons and walnuts within. Do not overknead. Form into another ball and let sit to proof for 30 minutes to an hour in a warm place. The gluten strands will accept the nuts and fruit better then.

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Pull the dough apart using both hands. Using your thumb and fingers, press the dough as you move it counterclockwise in both hands, making an even thickness all around. Form into a football shape while on a tray covered with parchment paper.

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Press the grapes into the dough and let the gluten surround the grapes. Place the pressed grape dough in a warm place for more proofing. By doing so, the grapes will stay in the dough when cooking. Take time to press the grapes down into the dough again and again.

Drizzle with a three tablespoons of honey. Don’t let the drops fall off of the crust. This will not bode well for your oven tray or pizza stone.

Bake in oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Please remember, the grapes may ‘pop’ to the surface and roll off. Use a spatula at regular intervals to gently press the grapes down into the dough. The grapes will also release liquid along with the honey, requiring extra cooking. Check the top interior of the schiacciata for uncooked dough.

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