Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 CSA Week 9

Heat wave! By last Friday, when the temperature topped 100 degrees, the farm was an arid landscape. Whirlwinds of dust moved across the paths between our fields, and we felt seared by the afternoon glare. We had recently made the difficult decision to transplant our entire fall brassica crop from the greenhouse to the fields--we knew temperatures were going to rise, and rain was not forecast, but the plants had outgrown their cell trays and were suffering from the constriction. We risked the imminent weather and planted them into dry soil and then watched on Thursday and Friday as they wilted in the heat. We are not equipped to water our fields, but we are farming a piece of land that has a high water table and is generally wet enough that in normal conditions our crops find the water they need. In this case, the crops were too newly transplanted to have fully established themselves before the heat struck, and while our other plants weathered the heat well, the new brassicas suffered unduly. And we suffered to see them: The sight of a full block of young plants prostrate beneath an unrelenting sun is painfully evocative of a genuine thirst most of us have never known, and by mid-day Friday Joshua had made the decision to get water to the plants by whatever elaborate series of contrivances necessary. Arduous work on a hot day, but with a semi-functional pump, a nearly-dry well, and a craftily modified tractor attachment, plants were watered in the field for the first time since we have been at Dover Farm.
And the next morning? We woke to the improbable sight of consistent, fully un-forecast rain. And this evening? Temperatures barely higher than seventy and a gentle rain better suited to springtime than late July. So easily can the universe make our worry unnecessary and our work redundant, but we are once again grateful it has done so and we remain prepared for the day it does not. The fall brassicas--the cabbage, the cauliflower, the broccoli, the kale and the rest--are upright, refreshed and recovered. And we feel the same way--slightly cooked, but perhaps stronger for the temporary discomfort.

The share this week:

Green Curly Kale
Rainbow Chard
Chioggia Beets
Summer Squash / Zucchini
Genovese Basil
Torpedo Onions
You-Pick Raspberries

Notes about the food:

* We have struggled to grow carrots this year. They are one of the few crops we don't start from seed in the greenhouse (their roots are sensitive when young, and the seedlings would not survive the transplant shock were we to uproot them from cell trays and re-plant them outdoors), and because we sow them directly into our outdoor planting beds they present us with several specific challenges. They require a regular input of water prior to germination--in the greenhouse we water seeds once or twice daily to sustain a consistent level of moisture, but we don't water our fields. This means that once we sow the carrots we are reliant on rainfall to provide the water the seeds require to germinate, and this year we have had either too much or too little: We have sowed carrots in advance of rain that when it materialized was so pummeling that those seeds not washed away were impeded by the soil compaction formed in its aftermath, and we have sowed carrots in advance of rain that was expected but never arrived, so the seeds remained dry. In both cases germination was inconsistent.
Even with appropriate inputs of water, carrots germinate slowly, and those sown into a clean planting bed take longer to appear than most weeds. By the time we see the first sign of carrot greens, they are in the midst of young, faster-growing plants that we did not sow, and there is nothing for us to do but carefully pull the weeds by hand while trying not to disturb the carrots (remember--they are sensitive when young, and won't tolerate disruption in their root zone). It's one of the pickiest, most labor-intensive tasks we perform on the farm. To our work-share CSA members and other volunteers who have crouched with us on hot days and helped excavate row upon row of the things, these might be the most delicious, hard-won vegetables you eat all year. To everyone else they might seem like ordinary carrots, possibly on the small side. In either case we are happy to finally have any carrots at all, and we continue to sow seed and tweak our methods in pursuit of a more perfect carrot crop. From Still Life With Menu:

Cabbage, Carrots, and Onions with Sesame

6 tablespoons sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 medium-sized onions
1 large or 2 medium-sized carrots, thinly sliced
1 small head green cabbage, coarsely chopped (6 to 8 cups)

Comine the sesame seeds and salt in a blender, or in a spice grinder or a clean electric coffee grinder. Grind until they achieve the consistency of coarse meal. (This is called gomasio or sesame salt.) Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized wok or a large deep skillet. Add the sesame oil and the onions. Stir-fry over medium-high heat for several minutes. Add about a tablespoon of the gomasio. Keep stir-frying until the onions are soft and translucent (5 to 8 minutes).

Add the carrots and cabbage, and sprinkle in about half the remaining gomasio. Keep stir-frying until everything is tender (another 10 to 15 minutes). Sprinkle in the remaining gomasio, and serve.

* Of the four types of basil we grow, we consider three--cinnamon, lemon, and Thai--to be specialty varieties. Each of those is imbued with a subtle variation of flavor that differentiates them from one another and from the more common large-leaf Italian variety that we offer this week. In most of our cuisine, this basil is the standard, and its scent and taste are immediately evocative of summer. Try it with summer squash in this soup from Food & Wine:

Summer Squash Soup with Basil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 pounds summer squash or zucchini
1 large baking potato, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups vegetable stock or low-sodium broth
1/4 cup shredded basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the potato and squash and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the basil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

* Finally, cookies. Possibly the only food for which I have a greater affection than vegetables. A CSA member has shared a recipe that will help us take baby steps (basil is more of an herb than a vegetable, right?) toward combining those interests:

Cinnamon Basil & Lime Icebox Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax seed, ground
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons nutmeg, ground
2 tablespoons grated lime zest
6 tablespoons fresh cinnamon basil leaves, chopped
2 cups pecans, chopped
parchment or wax paper for wrapping dough

Combine flours, flax seed, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix and set the mixture aside.

Place the butter in a different bowl and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and eggs; beat the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy. Add vanilla, nutmeg, lime zest, cinnamon basil; blend. Take a measuring cup, scoop a cup at a time from the flour mixture and add it to the butter and blend. Add the nuts and stir gently.

Once dough is mixed, remove from the bowl onto a piece of parchment paper that has been dusted with flour. Shape the dough into a log shape and then wrap it completely with the parchment paper. Put in refrigerator overnight until the mixture gets hardened so that you can slice the dough. Take the dough that was refrigerated overnight and using a serrated knife cut the dough into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the cookies on a cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 for about 10 to 12 minutes until the cookies become golden brown. Place on rack to cool.

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