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As Food52’s photo producer, in addition to organizing and coordinating shot lists, assisting on set, and eating (so many) cookies, I’m also responsible for having certain ingredients sourced for the shoots.
These ingredients either A) are unavailable on FreshDirect to be ordered with the rest of our supplies, or B) need to land on set beautiful and ready for their close-up—and therefore can’t travel as well as other foods. For the latter, we depend on the Union Square Greenmarket for handsome produce or cute artisan pretzels. For the former, sometimes many, many phone calls are made. Luckily, our office is between a Whole Foods and a Fairway—and a stone’s throw from Eataly. I’ve come to know the hours of operation, credit card minimums, and familiar faces of these neighborhood digs where we find our obscure recipe components.
Now that the hunts are mostly over for the year, I think I'm ready to relive the tribulations. Here are some of the wacky adventures I went on this year:
It was the middle of a shoot on a hot August day and we needed prune plums. You may know these as Italian plums, French plums, or blue plums. They’re small and oval-shaped and occasionally tricky to find. For some reason, they were not at our own Chelsea Fairway. Not in Whole Foods, not in Eataly. No one had this elusive stone fruit. After roaming around New York for 3 hours, absent from set, one subway trip, and a cab call later, I found myself at Fairway on the Upper East Side. Finally, we were rewarded with the beautiful prune plums to be used in this recipe.
More often, our sourced ingredients are stranger than fruit that’s only in season for a couple weeks. Luckily, Kalustyan’s is within walking distance from the office. Recently, I’ve gone to retrieve fermented bean curd, palm sugar, and Thai sticky rice. We’ve also found canned huitlacoche for queso fundido, horn salt (a.k.a ammonium bicarbonate) for these Norwegian pancakes, and Chinese cinnamon for some Masala Chai with Madhur Jaffrey.
Every so often, an ingredient is so rare that we have to order it online—take, for instance, sorghum syrup for this post about sorghum products. Ali looked high and low, and after being vanquished, we resorted to the internet. We also went straight to the world wide web for dinosaur-shaped sprinkles for dinosaur egg oatmeal.
Depending on the time of year, genre of product, or just the powers that be on any given day, a lot of things can be tricky to find and throw you for a loop. Other tricky ingredients I came up against this year include:
Delicata squash: On December 1st, 2015, there was a delicata squash shortage in New York City. We called 4 Whole Foods, 2 Fairways, Eataly, and others, but everyone was out. Finally, Le District came through with 3 for us. The saddest part of the whole story? Our CSA delivered delicate squash the next day.
Cardoons: You have to call Eataly every few hours for these impossible-to-find artichoke relatives we needed for our digital cookbook with Mario Batali.
Orgeat: We eventually found this almond syrup commonly used for cocktails at Whisk—after looking at liquor stores and grocery stores were unsuccessful.
Ovaltine: Described by our editors as “Americana,” it became clear that I wouldn’t be locating this in our local Whole Foods but instead a Key Food in the East Village. (We needed it for some Filipino cookies.)
So when you notice recipes on our site with hard-to-find-ingredients and grimace at the thought of finding them, know that I’ve been there. And that it's never impossible if you look hard enough. And, if all else fails, you can find nearly everything on the internet.
What ingredients have stumped you this year? Tell us in the comments!