Recently I had the pleasant experience of receiving an email from a reader. Having a reader is cause enough for appreciation. This particular reader is not from Fort Collins. Or Colorado. But she will be shortly. In researching her soon to be home, she stumbled across Farming Fort Collins. She wrote to me thanking me for the blog, and my grammar (must have caught me on a good writing day). She is coming from a very defined and familiar food culture to a place that is new and wasn’t necessarily on her radar. As a transplant myself, from the same part of the country as this reader, I immediately empathized with her apprehensions of “palate acclamation”.
It made me think about how would I describe the food scene here to someone who hasn’t experienced what Northern Colorado has to offer. It is distinctly different and actually quite unique. The soil here is mostly clay, which leads to tougher growing conditions, for both the farmer and the produce. Stress on the plants, whether from sun, soil or limited water can actually boost the flavor in some vegetables and fruits. Just try stressing those tomato plants a little. They may be smaller and less abundant, but man the flavor will be like no other. The root vegetables, who have some reprieve from the sun of a high desert do well and have a noticeable sweetness. The sage that comes through, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, in our livestock and game hints to season and forage locale. And you have never had trout like those rainbow trout from a rocky mountain stream in Leadville. Clean, crisp without a hint of the muddiness that can come from lower altitude waters.
The one thing I have come to appreciate is the simplicity in preparation and flavor. In other parts of the country, and even the world, the flavors of an area are born from centuries in place. Cultivated from generations of tradition and experimentation on the foundations of that tradition. Not so in the wild west. Colorado is new, relatively speaking, and it’s local flavor is new, untamed. Not bound by centuries of culinary tradition, it made due with what it had and what it found. It’s not over produced and it’s unpretentious. Emphasis is on the growing, and the flavor of a particular item is complimented by seasoning and companions, but can just as easily stand on it’s own. It is not a menu of heavy sauces and layers. It is a grass-fed steak on the grill with a light dash of salt, pepper, and for the adventurous, a sprinkle of our beloved chipotle. It is beets tossed with local goat cheese. Greens dressed in herbs and with light coatings to enhance and not hide the bitters and bites. It is green chili and roasted corn. It is real, honest and the manifestation of 300 days of sunshine and cool mountain air nights.
You may not taste a watermelon that draws its summer quenching goodness from a season of humid days and long hot nights, but when you taste a Rocky Ford cantaloupe or a Palisade peach, you will become a believer. When you pull strawberry scones with fresh basil out of the oven, you will praise the grower of Fort Laramie strawberries. And the sweet corn will have you wishing for longer summers. Sage honey on fresh biscuits or local yogurt is one of the best desserts. And it will all come from folks who love food.
My appreciation for the culinary adventure that is Colorado came from two folks who gave me new eyes to see what this amazing place had to offer. Reading Gary Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat and Rowan Jacobson’s American Terroir cleansed my palate so to speak and piqued my curiosity about what our local flavor is. I have not been disappointed by what I have found in the region and neither will any other lover of food. What I say is, come to see for yourself. Let go of any ideas you have about your own geographic terroir, and open yourself to a menu as unique and varied as the location itself. And in the words of the lovely Julia, Bon Appetit.
And… for those lovely little hearts of sweetness that Garden Sweet and others will be bringing to market soon, here is a wonderful treat.
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 tbl. sugar
- 1 tbl. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, cut into chunks
- 1 c. chopped fresh strawberries
- 2 tbl. snipped basil
- 2 eggs (from your girls if your lucky), lightly beaten
- 1/2 c. half-and-half
- Half-and-half or milk for brushing the scones
- Sugar for sprinkling (I like the chunky fancy sugar sprinkles for this. Adds a festive touch)