Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CSA Week 21

The mornings are getting colder. The days are still warm by afternoon, but they begin with frost. We arrive at the farm by seven, before the sun is higher than the trees that surround our fields, and on the plants and on the bare soil of our empty planting beds there is a thin layer of white frost, a powdery crust that glistens cold. The morning light, when the sun does rise, is soft, and as the air warms steam is released from every cold surface. It wafts upward, illuminated, evaporation like the slow exhalation of a thing that has been still all night.

This morning was especially cold. We are accustomed to beginning our harvest with lettuce and other leafy greens that will wilt if left in the field until the day is hot, but this morning those things were frozen. They were stiff with rime and would break if we handled them, and so we harvested the crops for the CSA share in reverse order. By late morning the sun had burned through the clouds and the tender plants had softened and we were able to harvest last what we would usually harvest first.

The cold mornings are a challenge for people as well as for plants. As we harvest, our hands are in contact with moisture that is nearly frozen, and for all of us (and especially those of us who are tall and thin and whose extremities are particularly far from our heart) this results in fingers and hands that hurt in the cold. Last week my hands became sort of inoperable after half a morning in the mizuna and kale; I could no longer use my fingers as individuals, so I went to the barn and used my hands like shovels to pick up and count garlic and onions for the CSA share. Meanwhile the sun outlasted the mist and the generalized pain in my hands and feet ceased to register as a sort of nausea and the day continued to its warmer stages. We begin the work day in a cold that is bracing and end it in a warmth that is comforting. It's not a bad way to be.

Here is what's in the share this week:

Swiss Chard
Collard Greens
Dandelion Greens
Hot Peppers
Sweet Peppers
Delicata Squash
Sweet Potatoes
You-Pick Tomatillos
You-Pick Husk Cherries

*The proliferation of root vegetables is appropriate for this time of year, and I find that on many cold nights I want nothing more for dinner than a roasted medley of the things. This week that includes the carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic, and if you have any parsnips from last week those could be added as well. I chop the vegetables into cubes; the onion I peel and quarter, and the garlic cloves I peel and add whole. Everything can be assembled in a pan, coated with olive oil and seasoned with salt + pepper and any fresh or dried herbs that you like. I roast the dish at 400 degrees for approximately 40 minutes (until the vegetables are soft enough that you'd want to eat them), stirring occasionally. The Delicata winter squash in the share this week and next week would also make a good addition--chop it into bite-sized pieces, leaving the skin on, and roast it with the rest. And keep root vegetables in mind, because next week we're hoping to offer a medley that will include carrots, turnips, and beets.

*It is also apple season, so if you find yourself with an excess of fresh apples, try this spoon bread that also includes sweet potatoes (and sage, if you are still looking for a use for last week's herb):

Sweet Potato, Apple, and Sage Spoon Bread
(Thanks to Erin Harvey for the recipe.)

1 1-pound sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 6-oz. Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
2 tsp coarse salt
1 cup white cornmeal
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Cook sweet potato in pot of boiling water until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; transfer to large bowl.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add apple; saute until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add apple to sweet potato; mash together. Cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 350. Bring milk, sugar, sage, and salt to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; gradually whisk in cornmeal. Cook until cornmeal absorbs milk and pulls clean from bottom of pan, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 Tbsp butter. Whisk yokes in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in cornmeal mixture. Whisk in baking powder. Mix sweet potato mixture into cornmeal mixture. Beat egg whites in medium bowl to medium-stiff peaks. Fold whites into warm cornmeal mixture.

Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in heavy large ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Pour batter into skillet. Transfer skillet to oven; bake spoon bread until top is golden and puffed, about 1 hour. Serve warm.

*I am loath to include a photograph of myself in which neither Joshua nor anyone else farm-related is also pictured, but this week I am light on photographs and I am also loath to post an entry that is all text, and you can see how those scales tipped. You should focus on the carrots, they are prospering in the cold soil, and they have been fantastic in recent weeks.

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