Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CSA Week 14

The rain broke after four full days, as you know. I was surprised that night to wake to the sight of moonlight through my window and to the sound of insects instead of the sound of water falling from the sky. Those were four days of November transplanted to late August, and now that they're over they have been replaced (as you also know) with a dry, baking heat that we expect to continue until Friday. When it is raining it is hard to think of anything but the rain, and when it is hot it is hard to think of anything but the heat, but the contrast between these two consecutive periods of weather reminds me that though we cannot often see beyond the horizon of our present condition, moments are replaced often and easily. This is as true of the weather as it is of the mornings I wake with a headache and a stiff body and am immediately consumed by thoughts of my own mild discomfort. They are conditions that will pass, and once gone will feel as distant and unknowable as a cold and blustery August day from a hot and dry vantage point that is only one day later. May we no time soon be subject to the sort of personal or meteorological calamity that gives permanence to our discomforts and finally teaches us how fleeting they have always been.

Was that a downcast paragraph? This isn't downcast: Here is what's in the share this week:

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Husk Cherries
Hot Peppers
Sweet Corn
You-Pick Snap Peas (optional)

*We did not grow the corn that is offered in this week's share. Because it uses a lot of space for a relatively scant yield, corn is a tricky crop for small-scale farmers. Each corn plant, planted at 1-foot intervals the length of a bed, will grow to be nearly eight feet tall and will produce only one ear of corn. The plant feeds heavily from the soil to attain its height, and it offers little in return. A single ear of corn sells for very little money, which means that a full bed of corn will use far more of the farm's resources (soil fertility, human labor, etc.) than it is worth. For these reasons, and because it is our first year planning a crop schedule for a CSA, we decided not to grow our own corn. That said, in the CSA model the value of a crop is more than its direct monetary worth: Each distinct crop that we grow adds diversity to the CSA as a whole, and enhances the experience of the subscribers. And because corn is something that we feel it is safe to assume people like to eat during the summer, we decided to buy corn from another local farm and offer it in three weeks worth of CSA shares, beginning this week and continuing for the two weeks that follow. We placed inquiries with several local farms, and we decided to order our corn from Volante Farms in Needham. What you need to know about this corn is that unlike everything we grow ourselves (that is, everything else in the CSA shares) it has not been grown using organic methods. The difficulties I mentioned with corn are slightly (and only slightly) abated by the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They skip some of the steps of soil building and weed management that require so much time on an organic farm, and therefore allow the farmer a slightly improved (again--only slightly) profit on his crop. For this reason it was easier for us to source corn from a grower using non-organic methods--they devote more acreage to the crop and grow far more corn than most organic farmers in the area, and they therefore had some to sell to us.

So: The corn is not organically grown, but we are happy to be supporting a local business, and we're proud to be able to offer corn this year from Volante. If you are uncomfortable with the contradictory growing methods the corn represents, don't feel obliged to take it. Like I said, the corn is a bonus that we wanted to offer to any of our members who want it. It is likely that with a year of experience under our belt we'll try to incorporate corn into our crop plan in the future. Until then, we're interested in any feedback you have about this issue. Please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or send an email to doverfarmcsa@gmail.com.

*I mentioned last week that we were offering husk cherries as a you-pick item. The plants are producing so well, though, that we decided this week to pick them ourselves to ensure that everyone in the CSA gets a pint. They're packaged for you in shell that is like a paper lantern. Remove this and you'll find the ripe yellow cherry itself. They're sweet, with a flavor a little unlike anything else we grow. Eat them as they are, add them to salads, use them for jam, or try them in this pie:

Husk Cherry Pie

2 1/2 - 3 cups husk cherries
2/3 cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp butter

Place the husk cherries in an unbaked pie shell. Stir together the brown sugar and 1 Tbsp of the flour. Put this evenly over the husk cherries and sprinkle everything with water. Stir together the 3 Tbsp sugar and the remaining 3 Tbsp flour. Cut in the butter until it is crumbly, and place on top of pie. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn down to 375 and bake another 25-28 minutes.

*You may have more experience with them than I do, but the only thing I know to do with Tomatillos is make salsa. That said, they make some of the best salsa I've ever had.

Salsa Verde

1 1/2 lb tomatillos
1/2 cup chopped onion
chopped garlic to taste
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp sugar
2 hot peppers
salt to taste

Begin by heating the tomatillos whole in a skillet until their papery husks have blackened and the fruit is soft. Puree with the remaining ingredients. Easy!

*This eggplant recipe was sent to me from Austin, Texas. It originally appeared in the Austin Chronicle.

Caribbean Griddled Aubergine

5 Tbsp olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp to brush on eggplant
3 sweet peppers, deseeded and diced
3 sticks of celery, diced
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggplants, cut into rounds about 1/2 inch thick
1 hot pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
3 Tbsp tomato Puree
3 Tbsp tamarind paste
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the peppers, celery, squash, and garlic, cooking until almost soft (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, brush the eggplant with oil and fry very quickly in another pan, on both sides, to brown.

Add the chile, tomato puree, tamarind paste, and sugar to the softening diced vegetables along with 4-5 Tbsp of water and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste, and add more tamarind or sugar as necessary to get a good sweet and sour balance. Put eggplant in an ovenproof dish. Top with dollops of the suace and cover with foil or a lid. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the eggplants are tender. Served garnished with the cilantro or parsley.

*This has been a lot. There's barely room to mention the mizuna. It's an asian-style green with a spicy, mustardy taste, great in salads and on sandwiches, and a great addition to any stir-fry.

*I'm temporarily out of current photos of our produce, so this is what you get:

Monday, August 23, 2010

CSA Week Lucky Number 13

I have a theory that there is always at least one blustery day in the second half of August. Today, then, along with yesterday, is fall's annual incursion upon summer. We expect sun and warmer temperatures by the end of the week, but for now it is cool and windy and the rain has been steady and it certainly feels like a new season. Our soil will appreciate the moisture, and we appreciate the opportunity to leave the fields to the weather while we complete a few indoor projects. (This morning, for example, we spent some hours preparing our seed garlic. Of the garlic that we grew for CSA distribution we set aside a crate of particularly robust heads; we separated these into individual cloves, each of which will be planted next month as part of next season's garlic crop.) Our harvest, though, isn't slowed by the temporary change in conditions. This week's share:

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers
Red Russian Kale
Edamame Soybeans
Summer Squash

*The fact that the watermelon is being distributed during a blustery week is inadvertent. The melons are ripe now, but they'll last a few days on your counter (longer in the refrigerator) if you want to save them for a day that is more summer-like. We're growing a few varieties, so don't be surprised if your melon is either yellow or white. I've never pickled watermelon rind, but I'm curious. If you have, let me know how it turned out. If you haven't and are also curious, try this recipe:

1 4-pound watermelon, quartered
8 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
8 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp pickling spice
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Cut watermelon pulp from rind (eat it!), leaving thin layer of pink on rind. Cut green outer skin from rind and discard. Cut rind into 1 x 1/2 inch pieces to measure 4 cups. Combine water and 2 tbsp salt in large pot and bring to boil. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain and transfer rinds to large metal bowl. Combine remaining 2 tsp salt, sugar, and next 7 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour over watermelon rinds. Place plate atop rinds to keep rinds submerged in pickling liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Strain liquid from rinds into saucepan and bring to boil. Pour over rinds. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Repeat straining and boiling of liquid and pour over rinds 1 more time.

*Edamame are green soybeans. We've harvested them by cutting and bunching entire plants, so what you pick up at distribution will have the appearance of a small bush adorned with many fuzzy pods. The beans can be prepared simply by removing the pods from the stems and steaming them for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice and eat the beans directly from the pod. They are also good marinated in soy sauce.

*A CSA member sent us this suggestion for fennel:

Very thinly slice a whole fennel bulb--a mandolin works best. In a serving dish make thin layers--fennel, a little shaved parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Be sure to top the last layer with parmesan. You can either serve this as a salad and top with the fennel fronds, or you can bake it in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes until the top browns slightly and then top with the fennel fronds.

*We planted a row of husk cherries earlier in the season, and they're beginning to ripen. Like tomatillos, the fruit grows inside a papery shell, but they're smaller than tomatillos and have a unique taste that is somewhat sweet, somewhat vegetable-like, and somewhat tomato-like. We probably won't harvest them for distribution, but if you are interested in taking a walk on the farm and eating a few, ask Joshua or Jonathan to show you where they are, and to tell you how to know when they are ripe.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

CSA Week 12

The topography of the farm is a good indicator of the season's progress. In the spring our fields are flat and bare; we plant them one row at a time and watch as the crops grow and the average elevation at which we work rises. We may never fully cease to stoop, but what we plant directly in the ground we harvest--with the exception of root crops, which expand the field of our labor in the opposite direction--somewhere above the ground. When a crop is finished, we mow it and till the soil so that the land it occupied is returned to flatness. Now, at the mid-point of the season, when we are harvesting from established beds at the same time that we are erasing spent beds and planting new beds, plant-growth is represented at heights of all variety. We're an undulating landscape of bare soil, melon vines that spread laterally across the soil's surface, pepper plants and eggplants at knee-height, and sunflower stalks that are taller than any of us. The trend is earthward as we approach fall and the end of the season, but that's still a long ways off. For now the variety of our harvest is reflected in the various stages of plant-life in our fields, and that's exciting. All of which is to say: look at the height of those asparagus fronds in the picture to the left. Only two months ago we were harvesting asparagus as soon as it emerged from the ground, and now it's a forest in which even the tallest of us could hide. Which is actually to say: look at the strange object that presides as some sort of totem in the foreground. It would make sense if in our free time we were practicing to be wizards, but we aren't, I don't think.

The share this week:

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Slicing Tomatoes
Summer Squash
Chioggia Beets
Bunching Onions
Hot Peppers

Notes about the food:

*In recent weeks we harvested all of the garlic, cleaned it, and hung it in the barn to dry. It was a time-consuming job (Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped us!), but the work invested saves us time for the rest of the season. The garlic has done its stint in the barn and is now dry; we cut the bunches from where they were hanging and cut each bulb from its stalk, which means that we now have a supply of cured garlic that we'll provide in shares for the rest of the season. Try it along with the eggplant in this easy recipe:

Baba Ganoush

1 large eggplant
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tbsp tahini
sea salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Chop eggplant in half and roast at 400 degrees until soft, approximately 45 minutes. Allow to cool, then scoop out inside of eggplant, leaving the skin behind. In a blender or food processor, combine eggplant with remaining ingredients, except oil and parsley, until smooth. Slowly incorporate oilve oil until well mixed. Mix in chopped parsely by hand.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CSA Week 11

We estimate that two inches of rain fell in less than one hour last Thursday afternoon. I was riding my bicycle home from the farm when the shower began, and the water moved across the pavement in streams that accumulated faster than they could disperse so that by the time I got home I had seen cars parked in water up to their undercarriages. Our soil is more absorbent than the surface of a road, and the farm welcomed its own pummeling. The fast infusion of water was a relief to the crops in spite of its violence: we're not equipped to irrigate our fields, so after several consecutive hot and dry days we welcome rainfall of any kind. The well, too, from which we draw water to wash the crops we harvest and from which we fill buckets to water our seedlings benefited from the shower. It had been intermittently dry in recent weeks, and we had been relying on water from the well of a neighbor. (The fact that we she gives us water and we give her vegetables makes me feel like we're part of an apocalypse economy in which currency doesn't exist that is neither edible nor potable.) Warm days and rainfall that is ample but not constant are the best conditions we can hope for, and both have been provided this season.

The season, by the way, reaches its halfway point this week. This is the eleventh CSA distribution, and there will be eleven more. It is going fast, and we are mindful of the fact that the second half of anything is faster than the first. It will be October before we fully realize that it is August, and then it will be winter. Please take the time time to enjoy this week's harvest, and the harvests of all the weeks that remain.

Here is what's in the share:

Heirloom Tomatoes
Slicing Tomatoes
Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
Hot Peppers
Golden Beets
Summer Squash

Notes about the food:

*Eggplant is one of the loveliest things we grow. The plants themselves are solidly rooted and adorned with large triangular leaves, and amongst these bloom small lavender flowers. In the hottest parts of the summer these flowers dropped without producing fruit, but the temperatures have been slightly cooler in recent weeks and the plants are finally laden with the deeply colored, glossy eggplant that we've been waiting for. We've been preparing them by cutting each unpeeled eggplant in half, spreading both halves with olive oil and wrapping them along with a few cloves of garlic in tinfoil. Baked like this for 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees they become soft and infused with the flavor of the garlic--we've then chopped them as an addition to pizza or pasta, but they are also a good stand-alone sidedish at this point.

*Treat the fennel as a plant with two complimentary parts. The bulb is crunchy and makes a good addition to raw salads. It is also excellent grilled--slice it into strips and brush with olive oil and grill alongside other summertime staples. The fronds are more herb-like, and their flavor is reminiscent of licorice. A little bit goes a long way to flavor soups or salads. Try this easy salad from a website called "vegalicious":

Orange, Beet, and Fennel Salad

2 large beets, peeled and cooked
2 medium oranges, peeled and segmented
1 medium fennel bulb

for the dressing:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fennel frond, finely chopped
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp agave syrup

Peel the oranges and cut them into segments. Slice the cooked beets in fine circles. Clean the fennel and cut off the bottom part of the bulb. Slice the fennel into very thin slices or shavings. Assemble these components on a plate and drizzle with combined dressing ingredients. Garnish with sprigs of fennel.

Or try this Ratatouille recipe from Epicurious:

1 bulb fennel, stalks discarded
3 red bell peppers, pierced with tip of knife
3 yellow bell peppers, pierced with tip of knife
2 medium zucchini, quartered
1 medium eggplant, quartered
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In large saucepan over moderately high heat, bring 2 quarts salted water to boil. Add fennel and boil until tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, rub red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and eggplant with olive oil and transfer to large baking sheet. Cut off top 1/2 inch from garlic head. Wrap in foil and transfer to baking sheet alongside vegetables. When fennel is tender, use tongs to transfer to sheet and rub with oil. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until tender and slightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer roasted peppers to large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let all vegetables stand until cooled slightly, about 10 minutes. Peel and deseed peppers, then finely dice. Remove seeds from zucchini and finely dice. Finely dice eggplant. Core fennel and finely dice. In large saucepan over moderately high heat, combine diced roasted vegetables and tomato sauce. Squeeze garlic from skins into pan. Simmer mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened with very little liquid remaining, about 10 minutes. Stir in basil, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

CSA Week 10

Our farm is surrounded on all sides by thin woods or by suburban lawns that are surrounded by their own thin woods. So we are situated below the horizon, and as the sun rises and lights the sky our fields are a rectangular cup that holds shadow until the sun rises higher and the morning light moves down the trees and across our crops. The cool and shaded early morning of a bright August day contains its own sort of quiet, and it is a good time to work. It is the warm and sun-filled days, though, that have been good for the things we grow. Melons, tomatoes, and peppers are all hot weather crops, and all are included in the share for the first time this week. It is hard to overstate the satisfaction we felt harvesting such things this morning: their availability to us means that the farm has fully entered its summer season, and has done so with the sort of abundance we are scared to hope for, but hope for anyway.

The success of these crops has also pleased the crows. You'll notice that we have strung VHS tape across several beds of tomatoes and melons: This is because as those fruits ripened they were--without exception--pecked and sampled. (A former teacher of ours would refer to fruits destroyed in this way as "bird-certified ripe".) To prevent further loss we collected old videos from the Dover dump, and we dismantled them for the tape. Unspooled and strung above our crops, it moves in the wind and catches the light, and its flicker and glimmer deters the birds. So far it has worked: we haven't found a pecked tomato since it has been there, and because one of the videos is Hercules we're able to say--finally--that our farm is adorned with images of Greek gods doing battle, albeit in the form of Disney animation, preserved on magnetic tape.

Here is what's in the share this week:

Cherry Tomatoes, sungold
Slicer Tomatoes, oregon spring
Heirloom Tomatoes, prudence purple -and/or- paul robeson
Green Peppers, ace
Summer Squash
Basil, genovese

Notes about the food:

*Heirloom tomatoes are notable for their bulbous shapes and for the variety of colors in each fruit. Don't be put off by their appearance! They look exactly as they should, and we assure you they are some of the best tomatoes you've had. Because of their odd construction they don't stack or ship well, which is why heirloom varieties of tomato are almost exclusively available direct from farmers--large scale growers have no recourse for distributing such unpredictable fruit, which is why grocery store tomatoes are uniformly red and round.

You'll notice that we harvested some with green shoulders. We do this because we don't want to risk allowing the tomatoes to over ripen and crack on the vine. A tomato with green shoulders will be good eating now, but it will also continue to ripen if you leave it on your counter for one or two days. If you plan to eat the tomato today, take one that is fully colored. In this week's share the pinkish heirlooms are a variety called Prudence Purple, and the deep orange-red heirlooms are a variety called Paul Robeson.

*The Cantaloupe, too, can be allowed to sit on the counter for a few days. Test the melon for firmness, and eat it before it is too soft. Melons cause us a little bit of trepidation, because there is no way we can know what the inside of every melon that we distribute is like. We harvest them when we are confident they are ripe, but there is a certain amount of educated guesswork involved.

*The CSA email included "broccoli leaves" as an item in this week's share. Joshua and I both like the idea of providing a leafy green in the share whenever possible, and at this point in the season the leaves of our broccoli plants are the best that we have. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the leaves of broccoli plants are under appreciated, but they are nutritious and can be prepared like other greens in the brassica family (kale, collards, etc). After assessing the crop, we realized that many of the plants had produced florets, so we changed the item to full-fledged broccoli, and we harvested stems and florets of various sizes, and bunched them with extra leaves. I like to prepare the broccoli leaves as I would prepare collard greens:

Freshly harvested greens
olive oil
sesame oil
hot pepper oil
sesame seeds
soy sauce or salt

Carefully stack and roll leaves, and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Heat olive oil in frying pan or wok. Toss in coarsely chopped garlic, a dash of hot pepper oil, and a dash of sesame oil. Quickly saute garlic until lightly browned. (Scallions can be included as well.) Over medium-high heat, throw in the greens and toss to uniformly mix and cook. Add a dash of salt or soy sauce and the sesame seeds, and stir to mix. Lower heat, add a few tablespoons of water, cover and steam for several minutes until tender.