Our food writer looks back on two and a half years of dining in Lancaster [farewell column] | Food

As a cooking teacher, I urge my students to read the recipe at least twice, cover to cover. Read it as if it were a road map to somewhere you’ve never been, noting sudden right turns, merge lanes, and when you might arrive at your destination. I thought of this advice when Russ and I moved to Lancaster in the summer of 2019.

Unlike him, I had no job to go to or people to see. Nobody knew my name, unless you count the bees visiting the patch of wildflowers in the garden. Was there a beginner’s recipe, I wondered, for cooking a life in this place called Lancaster?

Wherever there is food, I told myself, there are people growing it and making it. Where there is farmland, there are farmers, and this, with any luck, will be my path. (I talked to myself a lot at the time.)

My first stop: Brook Lawn Farm Market in Neffsville.

Romaine Erb and her daughter Diana Stoltzfus have become the names I will remember.

Meeting them and training in sweet corn and cardinal basil (to name a few) inspired me to raise my hand and say “Hello Lancaster. I’m new here.” (Some of you may remember the essay that appeared in the Opinion section of LNP | LancasterOnline in September 2019.)

This essay led me to a full-time job as a food editor in these pages, a job I am retiring from next week.

If you’ve been following me for two and a half years, you know that I started running.

I’d only be a few weeks away on the job learning my rhythm when the pandemic forced a shutdown, upending our lives in every way ever thought possible. But I reminded myself – and you, in turn – that we can keep hope alive through the multi-sensory act of cooking.

Every time we boil water or heat a pan, we marry the practical with the magical. As we nourish our bodies, chances are we also nourish our minds – and perhaps even our communities. With practice, we grow stronger, our muscles developing an encyclopedic memory, preparing us for a time when a recipe or roadmap may not exist. Times like a global pandemic.

For the next 10 months, I felt like I was just cooking; after all, what else was there to do? The Stay-Put Cooking series culminated with a 32-page cookbook at the end of 2020, an uplifting way to end a most painful year.

The light at the end of the pandemic tunnel came – or so it seemed – when I was able to get vaccinated last April. Finally, I could get out in the field – both metaphorically and literally – and tell the stories of the people who make Lancaster such a delightful place to live. We launched a series on small independent farms and the creative use of farmland. Then I got hungry and went to pick berries until my hands were stained. I found myself braking for heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and peaches and was so overwhelmed with the bounty that I decided to document it, resulting in a huge seasonal farm stand guide that covers all corners of the county.

Together we marinated and pestoed and expanded our pumpkin horizons (pie crust too). You have regaled me with stories about your own families and their cooking traditions, and you have had no complaints when I shared mine. It’s the moment of the essay where I remind you that I didn’t know anyone in Lancaster 30 months ago.

Thanks for reading, and more importantly, thanks for keeping the spirit of cooking alive. It has been an honour.

My last piece airs on February 2. It’s not a goodbye, but see you at the farm stand.

To find out more about what I make next, email me at [email protected]

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