Central Illinois advocate for local foods finds ingredients in unusual places | Food and cooking


Bloomington-Kelly Lay is the one to ask for advice on how to control slugs in a small garden, or for an exotic recipe that includes spruce branch tips, or how to navigate the Illinois Cottage Food Law.

It’s all about local foods. She operates Meadow Lane Farm, a small market park in LeRoy.

She worked with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance where she helped change Illinois Cottage Food laws to provide more opportunities for local producers and consumers.

She mentors new farmers including Kian Glenn, a former pastor and urban farmer in central Illinois who started The Table Farm & Workshop.

Lay started her new job as director of local food programs at The Land Connection in May. She’s a local diet advocate and curator based in Champaign.

“I have a great passion for it,” she said.

Lay says she’s learned a lot by working, sometimes alone or working with other farmers including Prairie Earth, an organic farm in Atlanta, Illinois.

Kelly Lay prepares to plant asparagus on Monday, May 11, 2020, in the backyard of her Leroy home.

Louis Marian, paragraph

She sometimes learned things that led her further into her career, for example, early on when she was making jams and jellies for trading and selling.

“I didn’t realize it was illegal in Illinois to sell the things I made,” she said.

So I learned about the Illinois Cottage Food Law and became an advocate of updating it so that small producers could sell their produce at outlets other than farmers’ markets. These changes helped many products in a world forever changed by the pandemic.

She continues to advocate for food and the people who produce it. This might mean answering questions about growing things or helping people navigate how to work with the health department.

Lay does not come from a generational farm.

“I grew up moving. My dad was in the Air Force,” she said.

But the family has roots that would call them home in Princeton in northwest Illinois, where her grandparents had a truck garden and raised rabbits.

She visits her grandparents during the Bureau County Fair season, where she prepares pies and other entrances for the event that has been the center of community entertainment for more than 160 years.

She said she came from a family where if someone was deficient in food, everyone would gather with food to share.

Lay said her mother’s book of family recipes is a treasure. Pictures of weddings, birthdays, holidays and summer gatherings are scattered among the cherished family recipes. It contains a recipe for naturally dying Easter eggs with pictures of children doing it.

“My mom did this,” she said, showing a photo and a much-loved and outdated recipe book.

rhubarb spruce syrup

The syrup can be used anywhere honey can be used and is good in soda and even pancakes. Lay gathers fir tree limbs in the spring when the needles and buds are soft.

“It tastes like lemon and smells like jungle,” she said.

  • 1 c. Spruce tips (Be careful not to harvest too heavily while removing the growing tips.)
  • 2 c. Thinly sliced ​​rhubarb
  • 4-5 m water
  • sugar (see instructions)

Coarse fir tips and add to a large saucepan with thin rhubarb slices. Cover with water (4-5°C). Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until rhubarb is very tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Strain into a clean bowl. A double layer of cheesecloth will produce a fairly pure syrup, and a fine mesh strainer will be more sour, but both are acceptable. Weigh out the drained liquid and add it back to the stockpot with twice the amount of sugar by weight. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for at least 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Keep boiling until the syrup reaches the consistency you want (like honey).

Add it to tea, sprinkle over chevre cheese on crispbread, add it to soda or make fun cocktails. Honey is useful in almost any capacity.

Chocolate zucchini bread

  • 5 eggs
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 m brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 m oil
  • 1 T. Vanilla
  • 4 m flour
  • 1 T. Baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1 cocoa
  • 2 c grated zucchini
  • 1 c grated apple
  • Optional: 1 1/2°C walnuts or pecans and chocolate chips on top of the loaf

Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then stir into the wet mixture. Finally, add the zucchini, apple, and any other optional filling.

Fill greased loaf pans or small loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes (whole loaves) or 20-25 minutes (small loaves) or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let it cool down. Can be packed and frozen for up to 6 months.

Hot honey barbecue

In her own garden, Lay grows over 50 different types of peppers and uses a blend of them in her spicy, pepper-infused honey. It also raises bees with five hives on sites including Glenn Farm and its own farm in Leroy.

  • 2 c local honey
  • 3 Dried Pepper Powder (High quality, fully dried pepper powder is key!)

Gently heat honey in a double boiler until lukewarm, no more than 95 ° C (this preserves the delicate flavor and beneficial effects of honey). Add pepper powders until fully blended. Let it soak for 1-2 hours, being careful not to heat above 95 degrees. Remove from heat, cover and leave to cool completely overnight. Store in airtight jars.

Uses: Dripping over fried chicken, fresh cheese, cornbread, pepperoni pizza, bacon pies, seasoning/dry rubs, or adding a little spice to cocktails.

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