New York has long been a food capital, from the upscale kitchens of our finest restaurants to the bagels and sausages on the street corners. But as anyone who has walked around Brooklyn has figured out, the next chapter of New York’s food history has everything to do with the local, “artisanal” food scene that is making its mark on the city. From the rise of greenmarkets and food fairs to the focus on seasonal ingredients, these products embody a DIY ethos that New York City has had from the very beginning.
The New-York Historical Society’s Museum store is introducing it’s A Taste of New-York History collection of specialty foods produced in New York City and State, including jams, savory condiments, and chocolates. One of those vendors is Beekman 1802. Founded by partners Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell in 2008, this Sharon Springs, NY farm produces everything from goat cheese to soap to condiments. We spoke with Brent about learning to farm, their show The Fabulous Beekman Boys airing on the Cooking Channel, and getting Upstate New York the attention it deserves.
When you first bought the farm, is this what you were planning to do with it?
We had purchased thinking it would be a weekend getaway. But we ended up losing our jobs, and had to make the farm sustain itself in order to keep it. It just kind of grew into what it is now. It was completely out of necessity.
Did you always have a passion or interest in making things like cheese and soap, or was this something you learned as you went along?
Both of us grew up gardening. I grew up in the rural South, and Josh grew up in Wisconsin, so we had some experience with these things. I had also worked at Martha Stewart for 5 years, so creating things and doing things from scratch was at the top of our minds. I think these were all things that we would have done naturally, but we probably never would have done a business if it weren’t for the specific circumstances. So much of what we do is all self-taught and experimentation. With cheese and soap and other products, it’s always talking to neighbors and learning something new.
Have your neighbors been receptive to your business and other endeavors?
They really are. In retrospect, I think the way we became so assimilated so quickly is that we never went in trying to change anything. We never said we know how to do it better. We went in saying that we’re novices and would just knock on their door, asking for advice. We asked how to raise pigs, or chickens. Everyone wants to feel that, with their work, the culmination is being able to teach something. I think that’s the ultimate flattery. We saw that they were experts, and we treated them as such.
How did the option for your TV show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, come up?
We had started keeping a blog on our website, about what was happening on the farm. The president of Planet Green network, owned by Discovery, was on our newsletter list. And she sent us an e-mail saying she was interested in what we were doing. We thought they just wanted us to blog with them! But they said it would be an interesting TV show. They started producing it, and when Planet Green folded the Cooking Channel purchased it. It just sort of fell into our laps. What was really interesting was that it opened peoples eyes about what was special about upstate New York, and reminded people here what is special about the community. People take that for granted sometimes, and lose perspective of what is around them. Seeing it reflected back on TV made people proud, and has galvanized the community. It’s just really a small American town success story.
What do you believe makes upstate New York so special?
When I think history I think upstate New York. The whole area is so rich in American and pre-American history. Schoharie County is said to have some of the most fertile soil in the whole world. It was called the “Breadbasket of the American Revolution” because so many of the crops for the army were harvested here. Agriculture is still the predominant industry. We’re helping people from greater New York appreciate what’s coming from here. It’s a three and a half hour drive from New York City, so a perfect weekend trip.
These particular products were all products we developed as pairings for cheese. We got tired of always having quince paste or fig jam to pair. There has to be something more interesting! So every year we’re going to introduce a new condiment that you can put on a cheese plate. The first one was the Blaak Onion Jam with local onions and local maple syrup. And it’s amazing on cheese, but also on chicken or pork or on a hamburger.
The next year we installed beehives, and someone brought over a package of rosemary crackers one day, and we had it with cheese and thought those flavors worked so well together. The Rosemary Creamed Honey is great for doing a glaze on chicken, or a sandwich spread.
Last year the condiment was the Blaak Balsamic Drizzle, with fig, balsamic, and local elderberries. You almost never see products with elderberries, but it’s a native product to New York State! It’s great for use on a salad, or to pour over fresh berries or ice cream. This year it’s going to be a tomato ginger jam, which is really delicious.
What do you hope people learn about New York from your products and your show?
I would love for more people to come visit us. We’re going to open up our flagship store on Main Street in Sharon Springs, and our next huge festival is the Harvest Festival from September 21-22. We got about 10,000 people last year for that. The more the merrier!
Frosted Flakes Fried Chicken With Rosemary Honey Glaze
5 large chicken legs
3 cups buttermilk (substitute: whole milk)
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons water
1 cup crushed Frosted Flakes
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed fine
1 teaspoon powdered sage
1 teaspoon powdered thyme
2 teaspoons paprika
approx 2 tablespoons coarse salt (add after frying)
For drizzle: 5 tablespoons Beekman 1802 Rosemary Creamed Honey heated in saucepan.
Soak chicken legs in shallow pan with buttermilk for 6 hours (up to 12) in refrigerator, turning every few hours. Add two beaten eggs and 3 tablespoons water to shallow bowl, large enough to accommodate at least one chicken leg. In second shallow bowl of equal size, combine Frosted Flakes, flour and all spices, except coarse salt.
Remove chicken legs from buttermilk, pat dry with paper towels. Dip leg into egg mixture, turning to coat completely. Immediately dip into dry spice mixture, turning to coat. Using tongs, drop into deep fryer, with the oil pre-heated to 350F-375F. Repeat using other legs. Do not crowd chicken in deep fryer. Cook each leg for 10-15 minutes or until thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg registers 165F.
While chicken is frying, heat honey slightly in small saucepan (or microwave) until very runny. Remove chicken from fryer, and blot with dry paper towel to remove excess grease. Immediately sprinkle with coarse salt to taste. Drizzle with honey and serve immediately.