From the Fields to the Food Truck: Three Former Farm Apprentices Dish Up Local Produce in Breakfast, Lunch and Snack Fare
By CLAIRE HOPLEY Gazette Contributing Writer
Friday, May 22, 2015
(Published in print: Saturday, May 23, 2015)
There’s a new food truck parked at the Amherst Farmers Market on Saturdays this season dishing up egg and pesto breakfast sandwiches, parsnip fritters snacks and arepas — a kind of stuffed South American corn bread — for lunch.
The Wheelhouse Farm Truck is run by three partners, Zoe Abram, Jake Mazar and Will Van Heuvelen, all of them cook and all are former apprentices at the Brookfield Farm, a Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture Farm, in South Amherst.
“At Brookfield Farm, pretty much every apprentice has an idea of a farm-based business,” said Abram, who is now the assistant farm manager there. “We thought that if someday we had a community-supported farm like Brookfield, it would be so wonderful if people could pick up breakfast or dinner while collecting their farm share.”
But most farms don’t have commercial kitchens, so the three decided a food truck would be the way to go. That, they figured, would allow them to use what local farmers grow and travel to different venues to serve it.
Right now they have a regular station at the farmers market parked across from the Lord Jeffrey Inn with other events lined up for the summer.
All of their food is made with area produce. Even the beverages are made using local fruits and herbs — currently thyme — with a plan is to change flavors as the seasons bring in new crops. Everything on the truck is gluten-free.
The arepas, their featured item, are flat corn cakes hailing from Venezuela and Colombia, where they are eaten plain or with butter or cheese, or stuffed and filled with cheese, eggs, meats or vegetables. The Wheelhouse Farm Truck serves its arepas split and filled with braised greens along with black bean spread or various meats such as barbecued pork or pulled chicken or breakfast fillings.
To develop the business, which was nine months in the making, the first task was to find a suitable truck.
“We searched far and wide for the trailer,” said Abram, which they finally found in Brookfield. It was formerly used as a fish ‘n’ chips truck.
“We kept some facets of the kitchen,” she said, “removed some parts we didn’t want, and added some new cooking elements. We’re still considering more renovations.”
The trio, though, find the vehicle to be a good fit with its trailer that opens on three sides. “It really feels like cooking on a screen porch,” Abram said.
While all three partners cook, Van Heuvelen, an experienced professional who works at the Esselon Café in Hadley, is in charge of the food preparation. He orders the produce from farmers, develops recipes using seasonal crops and plans the menus. Mazar is a former business consultant so he focuses on the entrepreneurial side, such as business planning and accounting. Abram, who beside managing the shop at Brookfield Farm works on soil fertility, plant care and irrigation there, is responsible for growing crops. “In particular,” she said, “things that we can process in one large effort — like cilantro for pesto or tomatillos for sauce.”
Abram also maintains the calendar and handles logistics, describing the latter as one of the biggest challenges. For example, some of the food is cooked in the commercial kitchen at the All Things Local market on North Pleasant Street in Amherst. Because the market is located in the busy downtown area, the Wheelhouse Farm Truck partners can bring their vehicle there only certain times of the day. And because they all have other jobs, that can be difficult.
“It’s a challenge to figure out who picks up the food,” she said. While she has her responsibilities at Brookfield and Van Heuvelen his at Esselon, Mazar also runs another business, Artifact Cider in Springfield. Van Heuvelen also coaches the boys Junior Varsity Frisbee team at Amherst Regional High School.
“We’re all busy but so glad to be doing this business together,” Abram said.
In addition to its regular appearance at the Saturday farmers market in Amherst, Wheelhouse Farm Truck is scheduled to be at The Daily Hampshire Gazette Community Tag Sale on Conz Street in Northampton June 13 from 9 to 2 p.m. For a listing of other events, visit the Facebook page for Wheelhouse Farm Truck or wheelhousefarm.com.
And if you would like to try out some of its recipes at home, a sampling follows.
To make this recipe, the Wheelhouse Farm Truck uses a South American cornmeal called PAN. It’s available locally though the following recipe has been tested with a regular supermarket cornmeal.
⅔ cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup yellow cornmeal
Dissolve the salt in the warm water. Stir in the oil. Have the cornmeal in a bowl. Make a well in the center; pour in the liquid, and stir with a fork to make a thick mixture. It will thicken slightly as you stir. If it is very stiff — like a dough rather than a batter — add an additional spoonful of water. Grease and heat a griddle over medium high heat. Scoop about a third of a cup of the batter and pour it onto the pan so if forms a thick patty about 3-4 inches wide. Cook about 2 minutes each side or until both sides are golden brown. Split for a sandwich or top with eggs, beans, bean spread (see recipe below) meats or other savory mixtures.
Black Bean Spread
30 ounces very soft cooked black beans
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons onion pickling liquid (See pickled onion recipe below)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more as needed
Put all ingredients in food processor and mix until smooth. Add oil and more pickling liquid or lime juice to taste. Serve the black bean spread and pickled onions in an arepa. You can also add cheese or greens or eggs or sausage.
The Wheelhouse Farm Truck serves these pickled onions as a relish with various arepa fillings. The pickling liquid is also used as an ingredient in the black bean spread.(See recipe above).
Julienne 2 red onions, soak in a liquid that is 75 percent red wine vinegar and 25 percent water, with a pinch of salt. If you want the onions to pickle quickly, heat the vinegar and water first. Otherwise, store in the fridge and pickles will be ready in a few days.
Spring Dug Parsnip Fritters
If you love parsnips, you will be ecstatic when you taste these fritters. Even if parsnips are not a favorite, give them a try as they are unusual.
¾ teaspoon whole cumin
1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole coriander
½ teaspoon powdered cardamom
¼ teaspoon paprika
1½ pounds (about 6 cups) shredded parsnips
1½ cups almond meal
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
About 2-3 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil for frying
In a spice grinder, or using a pestle and mortar, or by placing the spices in a plastic bag and bashing them with a rolling pin, grind together the cumin, mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander, paprika, and cardamom Beat the eggs and mix with the shredded parsnips in a large bowl. Combine the spice mixture, almond meal and salt and add to the parsnips and eggs. Mix well then form into 3- to 4-ounce patties. Bake on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or pan-fry like latkes in oil for 5 minutes on each side.
Radish Top Pesto or Spinach Pesto Makes 12 ounces
This recipe comes with a note that it freezes very well.
Radish leaves from 3 bunches of radishes or ½ pound spinach
1½ ounces Parmesan cheese
1½ ounces whole or slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pulse all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Taste and add more of any ingredient until you get the flavors you prefer.