By Emily J. Weitz
Sometimes to find something new and fresh, you need to look back to something old and forgotten. That’s the way it’s been with the local agriculture, which has been as alive on the East End as it ever has been. With young farmers and food purveyors flooding the farmers’ markets from Riverhead to Montauk, the agricultural practices that first sustained the Hamptons are experiencing a rebirth.
The Amagansett Food Institute is at the heart of this movement, representing dozens of innovative farmers, chefs, and fishers who are changing the way the East End sources its food. When Kathleen Masters, Executive Director of AFI, met Tom Edmonds, Executive Director of the Southampton Historical Museum, they realized they shared some common ground.
“We both thought the idea of preservation of our history, through the land and farms and food system, was a good match,” said Ms. Masters. “Food is a part of cultural history.”
That’s why they created “Lost Foods, New Foods,” a delicious celebration of food and wine on the East End in the Sayre Barn at the Rogers Mansion in Southampton. The grounds will be open for wandering, including the tiny shops that recreate the Southampton of 200 years ago. But the nostalgic stroll is meant to be connected to the present moment as well, because even though many of these food purveyors are fresh-faced and young, they’re utilizing methods that get back to the roots of their practices.
For example, farming on the East End used to be diversified. Almost every farmer did a little of everything. They all had dairies, and their own eggs and chickens. But after World War II, things shifted towards corn and potatoes.
“The young farmer movement started to reintroduce diversified farming,” said Ms. Masters. “Amber Waves reintroduced grains, Mecox Dairy brought back cheese making. And now the producers and chefs are using those products.”
Everything will be served in small bites, so guests will have the opportunity to sample a little of everything. Carissa Waechter, of Carissa’s Breads, will be making focaccia using wheat from either Amber Waves or Quail Hill Farms in Amagansett as well as local vegetables. Hamptons Aristocrat will be making dumplings featuring a wild duck. A chef from the Millhouse Inn will be making venison hot dogs with potato chips made by Balsam Farms.
Ms. Masters points out that the concepts behind the dishes are meant to be evocative of Long Island’s history and culture. Crops and game that were traditionally a part of the diet of people here will be reinvented.
“Gula Gula Empanadas will make bison and corn empanadas,” she said. “Bison is an animal that was not thought of for food for a long time, and is now being raised for food again.”
Joe & Liza’s ice cream will be serving up beach plum ice cream for dessert. In their ice cream base, they only use the purest ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then they add locally gathered beach plums.
“East End families have been making homemade ice cream out of locally sourced ingredients for centuries,” said Liza Tremblay, co-owner of Joe & Liza’s and Bay Burger restaurant in Sag Harbor. “Our beach plum ice cream tastes just the way your great-grandmother would have made it in her own kitchen.”
When you talk about lost foods and new foods, you might think you’re talking about two different things. But the idea of this event is that they’re actually not. They’re one and the same.
“We were losing our diversity, and now it’s back,” said Ms. Masters. “In some ways, these are new foods, but in other ways, they’re ancient. It’s a new thing to have wheat growing on the East End, but it’s also very old. There’s a modern take on the family farm, and the way things used to be.”
Ms. Masters also wants people to understand that, while the local food movement has become a catch phrase, it’s not just a trend.
“Local food matters and diversity matters,” she said. “It’s not just the in thing. There’s a large variety of products that are being made locally and consumed locally. It’s partly about preserving our cultural heritage because food is a big part of that. And it’s also about being ready for the future.”
Lost Foods, New Foods will take place Thursday, August 25 from 5:30-7:30 at the Sayre Barn at the Rogers Mansion on Meeting House Lane in Southampton. Tickets are $125 in advance or $150 at the door. For more information, visit southamptonhistoricalmuseum.org.