Volunteers Keep Cropping Up: Promise for the Future of Good Food. Recipe: Black walnut torte.

Could you work up an appetite to rally around the cause of expanding access to local foods? A rallying of 70 community supporters came together in Fillmore County recently to do just that. Peggy Hanson (hilarious blow-by-blow how-to-use-a-CSA blogger for Featherstone Farm from 2009 to 2011) and Frank Wright (local gardener extraordinaire and rhubarb crop specialist) hosted the event in their home, the former Cady Hayes House bed & breakfast establishment in Lanesboro. But the real engine behind the affair was a cluster of passionate 20-somethings who recruited food donors, planned the menu, signed up cooks and orchestrated all the logistics. The dinner was a gala of volunteers, each sharing his or her authentic specialty, be it food, food prep, or flying through a pile of dishes. 


Guests were greeted with an elegant how-do-you-do of home brews. Loni Kemp (career conservationist, gardener and savvy farm bill commentator) shared the fruits of her meticulously tended apple orchard: choice of fresh cider or effervescent hard cider. Matt Hauck, brewmaster of Grey Duck Brewing, brought a keg of his Brown Sugar Winter Warmer micro-brew for all to lift a toast to local food. 


Next, appetizers included brie topped with spiced honey and black walnuts (recipe below) and a plethora of homemade pickles: small sweet and hot pickled red pimento peppers; beets dug from under mulch on leap-day, freshly pickled with sweet cloves and raw onions, served with flecks of blued cheddar cheese; spicy-hot cucumber chips; large pickled green and yellow string beans. These were the fruits of last summer’s Tuesday/Friday trips to the Amish Auction (Country Fresh Produce) in Utica and forays to farmer’s markets in Lanesboro and Preston. What else would you do with a peck of pickling peppers? A half bushel of in-season cukes? Ten pounds of string beans?


The dinner menu featured pan after pan of meatloaf wedges made from 30 pounds of primo organic grass-fed beef jazzed with local shiitake mushrooms and sidled up next to a mound of garlicky parmesan polenta made with organic yellow corn flecked with chips of heritage red kernels. To complement those two main stays was a medley of balsamic roasted vegetables. 


Laura Nethercut explains the mission of Eat for EquityLaura Nethercut explains the mission of Eat for Equity

A hush of anticipation preceded dessert. Short heart-felt greetings by Laura Nethercut, representing the Eat 4 Equity volunteer team, expressed their nonprofit’s mission and thanked the rooms filled with donors and volunteers. A few more words by Loni Kemp, Lanesboro Local board member (and Laura’s mother), offered an encouraging tribute to the sustainable economics of patronizing our local food-producing neighbors (see newsletter entry “Loni Kemp on Living Local”).


The "dessert" was literally a table full of flourless Black Walnut Tortes made with 14 cups of black walnuts (courtesy of host and chief walnut forager and cracker Frank Wright) and 10 cups of real whipping cream (no rBGH in this velvety rich milk fat) from Kappers Big Red Barn dairy in Chatfield. The recipe is surprisingly simple and elegant (see below).


With the support of so many advocates, both individuals and organizations, there is hope! Yes, hope for a future of food that is delicious, nutritious and joyful, while also supporting local producers and consumers alike in a harmonious, equitable and caring way. 


I look forward to many more helpings of gatherings like this one. Emily Torgrimson, founder of Eat 4 Equity, mentioned in conversation that their organization has many dozens of requests for fund-raising dinners to please come to communities across the USA. She is considering putting together a kitchen-on-wheels and hitting the road. I’ll be cheering for these amazing young people and many others like them who possess the will and the wherewithal to work minor miracles toward the important politics of good food.


Brie with Spiced Honey & Black Walnuts 

2-4 hours before serving, set brie out and allow it to come to room temperature 

and mix together the honey & spices to allow mulling of flavors.


Large wedge of brie 

½ c. natural honey*

1 T. dry mustard seeds (mixing tiny reds, medium browns, a few large yellow seeds looks gorgeous) 

Large pinch of ground cloves

Very small pinch of ground nutmeg

Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste**

2/3 c. black walnut pieces


While cheese warms on the counter, 

mix cloves, nutmeg, salt, pepper and mustard seeds into honey. 

Let honey and spices mull, stirring occasionally. 

Just before serving time, mix black walnuts into honey. 

Top cheese with honey/nut mixture at the last minute. 

Serve with crackers and/or crisp bosc pear or apple slices. 


*Since crystallized honey is less runny, this recipe is a great way to use grainy honey up. Can add a bit of fruit juice to provide enough moisture to soften mustard seeds. Also, good local honey that has not been processed or filtered contains lots of nutrients that are nullified if heated above 120 degree F. Eating it raw gives you the full benefit of extra nutrients in good local honey.

** Salt and fresh ground pepper add contrast and complexity to the sweetness of the honey, so be generous with these.


Black Walnut Torte 

5 oz. black walnuts 

4 large eggs

½ c. sugar

(I’d add a good pinch of salt to set off nuts and contrast sweetness of whipped cream.)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Place nuts in food processor and pulse to grind until fine but not pasty. May also mince finely with knife.

Butter bottoms (not sides) of 9-inch springform pan.

Beat eggs yolks in large bowl until fluffy, about 4 minutes and then gradually add sugar until well blended. Stir nuts into yolks, reserving 2T nuts for garnish.

Clean & dry beaters.

Beat egg whites in another bowl until stiff, not dry and then fold whites into nut mixture in 2 additions.

Pour batter into pan.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (approx 40 minutes).

Cool 5 minutes, run knife around pan to loosen sides.

Cool completely before frosting (cake may fall slightly in center).


Citrus Whipped Cream

3 T powdered sugar

1 t. lemon or orange zest

¾ t. vanilla extract

1 c. heavy cream

Black walnut halves for garnish


Beat cream, powdered sugar, zest and vanilla with electric mixer in large bowl until peaks form.

Spread whipped cream on cooled cake and sprinkle with reserved ground black walnuts.

Garnish with walnut halves and cut cake into wedges.


Kitty Baker grew up on a mixed ag farm, then in a small town, near Rochester, MN. She and husband Keith raised two daughters, living in Kansas City and Minneapolis. A professional writer, Kitty enjoys topics of lifestyle and food, especially since 1999, when they bought a farm, Root River Wilds, just north of Lanesboro, MN. The farm’s spectacularly varied acreage -- bluffs and woods, pastures and restored prairies cut with trails and wrapped in the oxbow of the North Branch of the Root River -- is rich with opportunities to discover and share ways to live abundantly. Her last article for SGT was: Up the Ante With Local Foods.