It’s Cool to Eat Local

July is a sizzler this year, running to set the record of the hottest. It’s also the month that explodes with the fresh foods we love best: berries and basil, corn, crabs, cantaloupe and cucumbers, peaches and perch, rockfish, tomatoes, watermelon.
    You want to eat local, especially July 22 to 30, when the Buy Local Challenge ices the cake with prizes and recipes. But spend much time at the stove, and you could end up like a stick of butter left out in summer — melted.
    So for July’s Challenge, how about we eat cool?
    This July, I’m adding to my beat-the-heat-culinary repertoire two recipes created in The Culinary Club at Anne Arundel Community College. Both are so good they earned their place in the 2017 Governor’s Buy Local Cookout and Cookbook.
    Blackberry-Eyed Susan Spritzer, Christi Lathrop’s offering to Gov. Larry and First Lady Yumi Hogan and their guests, promises refreshment and nutritious hydration with so little fuss you won’t break a sweat in the preparation.
    Lathrop, a 1980 graduate of Huntingtown High School, started her own seasonal specialty lemonade and tea business in 1996. Jillian’s Fare ( has added wheels, and Lathrop’s concession truck serves at many local Maryland festivals and events. At Anne Arundel Community College, she is working toward a Baking and Pastry Arts certificate.
    “The Blackberry Eyed Spritzer seemed like a natural fit for me since drinks are my thing,” Lathrop says.
    “Because the cookout is in July, I needed to use ingredients that would be in season, and I wanted to have a recipe that had a catchy name and incorporated a Maryland theme. The Maryland State flower is the Black Eyed Susan, and I knew there was a famous Preakness drink called the Black Eyed Susan, so a light bulb went off, and I decided to do a non-alcoholic twist on the drink and name it the Blackberry Eyed Susan Spritzer.”

Blackberry Eyed Susan Spritzer

(16 eight-ounce servings)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 slices of orange peel
1 slice of lime peel
1 slice of lemon peel with pith removed
8 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice  
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice  
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 quarts sparkling water
1 cup local blackberries
1 orange, sliced

    Simmer water and fruit peels; add sugar, stirring well to dissolve crystals. Reduce heat to low, steep 15 minutes, remove from heat, strain and cool.
    In a one-gallon pitcher, to the cooled simple syrup, add squeezed juices and sparkling water.
    Add blackberries and sliced orange.

    To present her dish to the governor and 400 guests, Lathrop says she is “beyond excited.” She credits The Culinary Club at Anne Arundel Community College for extraordinary experiences like this one.
    “Chef Louise Nielsen is always thinking of different things the club can do as a group and makes it exciting and fun to be a part of,” Lathrop says. “She encourages students and allows them to be involved, which is building the confidence needed as we embark on our culinary journeys.”
    Advisor Nielsen describes the culinary club as “a group of students of all ages who volunteer their time in service projects, food competitions, organizing workshops and tending a culinary garden, among other things.”
    She herself created another Cool to Eat Local recipe, ‘Hon’-ey and Lavender Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Itty Bitty Meringue Cookies.
    “I thought a panna cotta would be nice, as it is a refreshing summer dessert,” says Nielsen, a certified working pastry chef with the American Culinary Federation and a chef instructor at the college since 2010.
    For local ingredients, she chose lavender and honey from Historic Hancock’s Resolution in Pasadena.
    “Lavender was a market crop in the 1870s,” Nielsen explains of an herb you may think of as a flower rather than food. “The farm used to take the crops to Baltimore markets for sale. Historic lavender crops are again grown at the farm, and several beehives are producing honey.”

‘Hon’-ey and Lavender Panna Cotta with Blueberries and Itty Bitty Meringue Cookies

The panna cotta, a gelatin dessert, is molded in two layers.

Honey Layer
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2½ cups heavy cream
½ cup honey
¾ cup sour cream

    Sprinkle water over gelatin in small bowl. Soften for about 5 minutes. Bring cream and ½ cup honey to a simmer. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture. Stir until dissolved. Whisk in sour cream. Pour in small custard cups and chill until firm.

Lavender Layer
½ cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons water
2¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 drop of purple food coloring (optional)

    Bring cream and lavender to a simmer off heat and steep about 15 minutes. Strain and discard lavender. Sprinkle gelatin over milk and soften. Reheat cream and stir in gelatin mixture until dissolved. Whisk in honey and yogurt and optional food coloring. Pour on top of previously set honey layer.

Blueberry Sauce Topping
1½ cups fresh blueberries
3 ½ tablespoon sugar
¼ cup water
1½ teaspoon good quality balsamic vinegar

    Heat all ingredients except vinegar until berries burst and liquid becomes syrupy. Off the heat, add balsamic vinegar. Cool. Pour on panna cotta. Garnish with extra fresh berries and a lavender sprig.

Itty Bitty Meringue Cookies
1 ¼ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 large egg whites

    Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Beat egg whites in mixer with whip attachment until fluffy. Add sugar slowly until mix holds a stiff peak and is very white, fluffy and has tripled in volume. Add color and flavor as desired. Pipe onto sheet pan with plain tip to make little kisses. Bake in low oven for up to 1½ hours or until dry and crispy throughout.