If there is one thing that annoys me more than what humidity does to my hair, it’s having to rid my Microplane grater of fresh ginger fibers. That is why I braved the inevitable frizzy hair and stepped into the 100-plus degree (and almost as high humidity) hoop house where Bowdoinham farmer Ian Jerolmack grows row upon row of baby ginger. Baby ginger – while it shares the genetics of the tough-skinned, mature, ginger root a cook finds in most grocery stores — is so young and tender that doesn’t have those pesky fibers that typically run from one end of mature ginger root.

Fresh baby ginger does not routinely grow well in this part of the world. Nor does one usually find it imported  in the produce aisle of the supermarket because the thin-skinned root doesn’t travel well from the tropical locales where it grows year-round (it’s sold seasonally at some Asian markets). Jerolmack says Mainers, knowingly or not, most often eat baby ginger after its been candied or pickled, preparations that make it better suited for the trek to colder climates.

Baby ginger is softer, juicier and has a more pink hue than mature ginger root. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Jerolmack, now in his seventh year of tending the young ginger rhizomes that sprout from mature ginger root he imports from Peru, has a reputation among local farmers as the best ginger grower in Maine. One flower farmer I spoke with grew it for a couple of years until the novelty wore off; the crop was too labor intensive and not always productive, he said. He told me to call Jerolmack.

“I plant what I think is quite a good bit of ginger,” said Ben Whatley of Whatley Farm in Topsham. He plants about 30 pounds of ginger root in a 15- by 60-foot greenhouse in June and harvests about 90 pounds of baby ginger in the fall. He sells his ginger at farmers markets around the Midcoast between Labor Day and early November.

He harvests the ginger before the first hard frost, typically in late October, because ginger cannot survive in frozen earth. Because Whatley’s crop lasts just 2-3 weeks after harvest and is ready at the same time as that from other local farms — Stonecipher Farm, Six River Farm in Bowdoinham and Goranson Farm in Dresden — Whatley whips fresh baby ginger into a garlic, ginger, chili hot sauce he sells year-round. Think Rooster sauce with an added something.

The standard yield is about five pounds of baby ginger for every pound of mature ginger planted, Whatley says. A self-effacing person, he blames his inexperience and lapses in his being able to water it consistently as his biggest impediments to hitting peak production. “But I’ve got to hand it to Ian. That guy’s got ginger down!”

For every pound of mature Peruvian ginger root Jerolmack plants, he harvests about eight pounds of baby ginger. He produces well over 2,000 pounds annually and distributes it, and the similarly reared turmeric root he also grows, to natural food stores and coops throughout Maine, local restaurants and specialty food producers such as jam and soda makers.

He’s loath to pull any from the ground before late September, although he doesn’t fault other farmers who harvest earlier to extend their ginger season — and subsequent cash flow. Local ginger fetches $15 to $23 per pound. Instead, Jerolmack is perfecting his cold storage techniques to give the baby ginger a longer shelf life. He is unapologetic about the price Maine farmers charge for this very labor-intensive, typically tropical ingredient. “It’s juicier, spicier and prettier than the mature ginger you find in the grocery store,” Jerolmack said. He says his baby ginger is twice as flavorful, too, and advises customers to use about half the amount of his ginger in recipes that call for commercial ginger root.

I literally begged Jerolmack to pick me a single root for my photo shoot and personal recipe testing. I paid him for the whole pound of ginger this plant would likely have grown to be in September. Inside the hoop house, hair frizzing, we walked the rows of leafy green stalks looking for a larger piece of baby ginger peeking out of the dark, damp earth.

When we found one, he knelt, eschewed the shovel he brought with him in favor of his fingers so he could gingerly separate this one from the others in the line, causing as little disruption as possible. The juxtaposition of old and new ginger, still veiled in the rich soil, was something I didn’t think I needed to understand before I saw it with my own eyes. The mature ginger was still supple as a life-giving mother, for sure, but the baby ginger with its bright white tips, bright pink curves and its green shoots reaching upward signaled many good things to come.

Seeing the care Jerolmack took with just this single plant, I didn’t have the heart to separate these babies from their mother so I could cook with them prematurely. Rather, I placed the whole plant in a pot with some rich soil and will wait to see what Septembers brings.

Double-Ginger Blueberry Tart Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Double-Ginger Blueberry Tart
This recipe was published by Portland-based food writer Mindy Fox in a small format paperback book, “Ginger,” published as part of the Short Stack, a single-ingredient series. It’s a play on a recipe her mom has been making since 1973 when she acquired her very first food processor. Fox uses both ground ginger and candied ginger, which is usually made from tender baby ginger. I used frozen Maine wild blueberries in the filling and cultivated for the raw blueberries on top.

Make one 9-inch tart

FOR THE CRUST:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, more for the pan
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, more for the pan
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

FOR THE FILLING:
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger
3 cups frozen Maine wild blueberries
1 3/4 cups fresh cultivated blueberries
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Plain Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a rack in the middle position of the oven. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. (If you use a dark, non-stick springform pan, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.)

To make the crust, cut the butter into cubes, then freeze until firm and very cold, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the 2 flours, sugar, salt and ground ginger; pulse just to blend. Add the vinegar and chilled butter; pulse 3-4 times to combine, then process just until the dough forms into a ball.

Press the dough into the bottom and about 3/4-inch up the sides of the prepared springform pan to create a 1/8-inch-thick wall.

To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, flour, ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the candied ginger and frozen Maine blueberries; toss to combine. Spoon the mixture into the crust, taking care to distribute the sugar mixture and blueberries evenly.

Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the filling is bubbling, and the crust is lightly golden, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the tart cool completely, then run a butter knife around the edge of the crust and release the sides of the pan. Just before serving, top the tart with the fresh blueberries. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve with yogurt or ice cream, if desired.

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