Uncle Henry’s Garden
May 21, 2017
I have spent much time this week watching Kohlrabis and Napa Cabbages grow. You have to be in some kind of time warp to do this, but then, our entire farm seems to be a time warp just now. The Cabbages and Kohlrabis look fine, but they aren’t ready yet. Next week is a good bet.
Instead, we will have large amounts of our late winter planted lettuce, some superb looking radishes, large bunches of arugula, and some just flowering (and therefore peak flavor) sweet marjoram this week. Of course, all of this together would add up to some very good salads. But, since I have often had customers tell me that radishes and arugula were a little too (oh what’s the word) peppy for them, here is an alternative idea. Take your radishes and arugula and make a soup. I will give you the recipe below.
“To spray or not to spray, that is ingestion”
I have noticed that people tend to use the verb” to spray” as a kind of blanket indication for the use of toxic chemicals. Last season many customers at the Farmer’s Market walked up to our stand and asked, “Do you spray?” The question became so annoying to me that, I confess, I answered one elderly lady by saying, “Only when I eat too fast and try to talk at the same time!” She walked away without buying anything and I made a note to keep that one to myself from now on. I also am reminded of the time, (during a summer when late blight of tomatoes was locally rampant), that a woman ahead of me in line in the Tractor Supply store, complained loudly that “I need some spray and I can’t find any!” I think I will also keep to myself the images that this exchange triggered in my imagination.
But seriously, does anyone think about what exactly is in the sprayer before they pull the trigger?
These were my thoughts this morning as I walked the aisles of my spring cabbages, sprayer in hand, treating them to a yummy breakfast of minerals derived from seawater and kelp. Plants are actually able to absorb this nutrition through the stomata of their leaves. The technique is called foliar feeding and if timed correctly it is often a way to transition the plants from their vegetative growth stage to their reproductive stage, which, in most cases, is the stage which produces our food. The minerals are particularly important, as they catalyze and so enable many of the food producing processes which the plants carry out. While the so called macro nutrients plants need are either generally existing in the soil or easily supplied, trace minerals have been largely stripped from North American soils and cannot be manufactured by the plants. A brilliant scientist named Maynard Murray figured this out in the 1920’s and, at his urging, the US Congress actually passed a resolution in 1938 which acknowledged that the soils of North America were deficient in minerals. Many of today’s techniques for re -mineralizing soils are the result of Dr. Murray’s research. That these techniques are utilized today mainly by organic farmers goes without saying. But it doesn’t go without spraying. So to the ladies at the market and tractor supply I say; “I spray, therefore I farm”. Just pay attention to what goes into the sprayer. It doesn’t take a confused Danish Prince to figure that one out.
Radish and Arugula Soup (Zuppa della Poveri)
One large bunch Radishes, green and all
One bunch Arugula leaves
A potato or two, cut up any way you like
Three or four cups good broth
One tablespoon olive oil
A tablespoon or more each of chopped carrot, onion, and celery
Fresh Sweet Marjoram leaves and flower buds
A quarter cup grated parmesan
One third cup white wine or water acidulated with lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by heating your broth to boil, then add potatoes and reduce to a good simmer. When the potatoes are cooked soft, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Italian cooks call this “Sofrito”. When the vegetables are somewhat browned in the oil and softened, add your wine or lemon juice, cover, and let that cook down on low heat for fifteen minutes.. Now add the radish greens and cook for another ten minutes. Cut up your radishes in any way you like. Add them and the Arugula leaves for only a few minutes. You still want the radishes to be crunchy, just tamed a little. Now add the whole contents of the pan to your simmering broth and potatoes. Swirl in the marjoram leaves and the grated cheese. Serve right away.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
May 14, 2017
First Weekly Pickup
So tomorrow is our first harvest. It will consist of lots of beautiful lettuce, Bok Choy, Tatsoi, cilantro, rosemary, and garlic.
The lettuces are of various types, some green, some red, and some speckled with both colors. We will give you full heads (not bagged leaves), so I have a little primer in how to use these below, in case you haven’t done so before. We do some preliminary washing as part of our quality control regimen, but I would recommend that you go ahead and wash and spin them as you would from the store.
The Bok Choy and Tatsoi are Asian greens, but they go well in many different cuisines. I will give you a recipe below in which you combine them as a compliment to Soba noodles, but this could also be with rice. They also lend themselves to any Italian dish that uses cabbage or Kale. Just remember that the stems need to cook a little longer than the leaves, so separate them and start the stems first, the leaves will be ready after only a few minutes in the pan. Additionally, your Tatsoi is also excellent raw and cut up as part of a big salad. I wouldn’t try this with Bok Choy though. You’ll enjoy that more in a cooked dish.
Cilantro is the herb which gives salsas their characteristic flavor. But it is also great in any soup, with eggs and with seafood of any kind. Just remember that, as with many fresh herbs, it will lose its sprightly flavor with cooking, so add it in after the soup is done and off the heat. With scrambled eggs, it retains its flavor if you cook the eggs over pretty low heat. Try swirling in some grated pepperjack cheese with the eggs.
We will have lots of rosemary this year, so if you are not sure how to use this amazing herb, here are a few suggestions. Rosemary’s thick chewy leaves and strong flavor and aroma allow it to stand up to prolonged cooking. With roast chicken and potatoes it is superb. Or try chicken or turkey cutlets lightly browned in a pan then braised with garlic, white wine, and rosemary until very tender. Keep the heat quite low during the braising. Variations of this technique work with almost any meat as well as with potatoes and peas or squash.
Finally try a very simple pasta sauce with garlic, rosemary, some white wine, and a bullion cube (excellent bullion cubes are available that have no transfats and are completely vegetarian at our local health food store). Italians call this “Pasta col tocco d’arrosto” – with a touch of the roast.
Rites of Spring
Earlier this week our soil was finally dry enough that I could take out my Italian walk behind tractor (her name is Bertha). I plowed, then tilled, then shaped raised beds on a new field which is 50’ by 120’. Whenever I do this, I get vivid memories of my great uncle Henry . He was a strong and determined man. Along with his brother Alfonso (known by all as “Funzine”) he came to America before World War One. Together and with their wives (who were sisters from the same village in Abruzzo) they managed to acquire about an acre of land in the hamlet of Wappingers Falls, NY. They proceeded to turn this into a small, but very productive subsistence farm. After World War Two had concluded, the IBM Company situated its main headquarters a short distance away and the area became more and more suburbanized. Finally, in the mid 1950’s, they were ordered by the town council to get rid of the farm animals, including the donkey, that pulled Henry’s plow every spring. In that year, (I was five) I heard Uncle Henry declare that he would push his plow through the soil himself, since the @###*&”s had taken away his ***%$### donkey. Somehow, the word of this had gotten out to the largely Italian population of the town. On the morning he had announced for the plowing, the hedge that bordered his field was lined with all the neighborhood kids waiting to see old Enrico push his own plow. This band (called la ragazzi in Italian) cheered and whooped as my uncle gripped the plow. Stripped to the waist, muscles rippling, he grunted and issued loud profanity as the miracle occurred and the plow slowly bit into the soil and lurched forward. It was then that I noticed the small motor, probably salvaged from some broken down lawn mower, that spun the wheels he had bolted to the underside of his plow. The crowd roared, the field got plowed, the family went in for a hearty lunch, and nobody dared mention the motor. I learned something important about my great uncle that day. Yes, he was a strong and determined man, but he was no fool.
Green Salad with Fresh Head Lettuce
One head fresh lettuce, any type
Two or three tablespoons extra virgin Olive oil
A generous pinch or two of sea salt
One scant teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Place your head of lettuce on a cutting board. Cut off the butt end of the lettuce. Roll the leaves up into a tight ball and cut into strips. Turn your board a half turn and cut again. Place the cut leaves in your salad spinner or in a bowl of cold water. Wash and spin dry. Place the washed, dried leaves in your salad bowl and sprinkle a generous pinch or two of salt over them. (If you are watching sodium intake, you can be sure that the salt you add will be much less than is contained in any bottled dressing).
Add two or three tlbspns. Olive oil and toss vigorously. The object here is to have the oil dissolve the salt and distribute it evenly over the leaves. Now add your vinegar and toss again. That’s it. Any additions of other vegetables, fruits, grilled meat or fish etc. etc. etc. should happen before you add the salt.
Bok Choy and/or Tatsoi with Soba noodles
One large Bok Choy and/or one rosette Tatsoi
Two cloves garlic
Two tablespoons grated ginger
Three tablespoons soy sauce
One tablespoon olive oil
Two tablespoons butter
One tablespoon sesame oil
Cut off the butt ends of the Tatsoi and/or Bok Choy. Cut the leaves from the stems, then roughly chop each. After mincing your garlic cloves. Let them sit for ten minutes. This dramatically increases the available nutrients and antioxidants in the garlic. Heat your frying pan or wok and add the butter and olive oil. Start by adding the stems of the vegetables after a few minutes add your ginger and soy. Then add the chopped leaves and stir fry for a minute or so. Meanwhile, cook the soba noodles according to box directions. When the noodles are done add the contents of your frying pan or wok. Sprinkle a little more soy sauce over the noodles and add another pat of butter if you desire. Finally , off the heat, sprinkle the sesame oil over the dish and toss thoroughly. This is a basic recipe and additions of fish, chicken, or other vegetables or nuts are both possible and delicious. Use your imagination.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
Newsletter 1 D
May 8, 2017
Death by Weeding
I once visited a thriving and very successful garlic farm on the eastern slopes of the Cascade range in Washington State. As I was walking the fields with the farmer and listening as he described his growing procedures, he suddenly stopped cold and, pointing to a patch of bindweed, said with some real anger and frustration, “that’s the weed that will drive me out of farming for good”. We do have some bindweed in the northeast, but not the same kind. For me, the Pennsylvania equivalent of his rage would take the form of something we call pigweed.
Pigweed, here on my farm, seems to sprout up ubiquitously in every possible and impossible patch of bare earth. It has the infernal ability to re-root after it has been pulled and I have often come back to a place where I had pulled it just yesterday to find a sleek stand of the stuff upright and happily crowding out my eggplants. It is extremely prolific and aggressive and it will rapidly outgrow almost anything that I plant. Though I do not use herbicides such as roundup, I was vindictively pleased to read that pigweed was among the first noxious weeds to develop resistance to this herbicide. My rage at the weed was further assuaged when I read in Charles Walter’s excellent book “Weed Control without Poisons” that pigweed is a symptom of soil compaction. Actually in the long run pigweed (a poor step sibling of the useful vegetable called amaranth) will help to heal the soil compaction problem by breaking through the hardpan that underlies my topsoil with its powerful root system.
So pigweed provides both an analysis of a problem and a solution. I’d be happy about that so long as it did not involve the demise of my eggplants. So this morning, I spent several hours freeing those eggplants, along with cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi, from the nasty grip of pigweed. In the doing, I rediscovered something else about weeding which always surprises me even though I stumble across it on a nearly weekly basis. Weeding gets you up close and personal to your plants. As I weeded this morning, I discovered the beginnings of infestations of Colorado Potato Beetles on my eggplants and cabbage worms on the cole crops. These are easily dealt with in the early stages and can be devastating if you notice them too late. Had I used roundup to kill the pigweed, I would have missed the early stages of the insect invasions and perhaps have lost those valuable crops.
So, in answer to the question, “Is there life after death by weeding?” I say a heartfelt “Yes there is, and it will lead to cauliflower and eggplants (so long as nothing else goes wrong)”.
This is a microcosm of the life of an organic farmer. If you keep your wits intact, have plenty of energy and well aged horse doo-doo, you might just succeed. It’s a great life so long as you don’t weaken.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
Stanley’s Newsletter 1C
April 23, 2017
Since my last newsletter, two weeks ago, some dramatic changes have taken place on the farm (as well as some dramatic rearrangement of my musculature – good thing one of our members is a chiropractor). The majority of our spring crops have been planted in our greenhouses and so far, they all seem to be growing well.
Most recently, we have cleared out our two high tunnels of all the previous year’s debris. Then they were liberally dressed with compost, and some other special soil amendments. Finally they were tilled and raised beds were shaped. Just today, we laid in a drip irrigation system. These tunnels are higher up on our south facing hillside and distant enough from our water source that a drip system is crucial. After all, it never rains in there. In the next few days we will begin planting some early summer crops under the protection of our newly prepared tunnels.
After all of this, we decided that some weeding in our greenhouse lettuce beds was necessary. (I gave up on witing and withmatic after high school but I have never stopped weeding). As we worked our way through the lettuce rows, we kept noticing little sprouts of some nice Forellenschluss lettuce growing in the aisles. Since these had been transplanted in their spot (not direct seeded), we at first could not understand how they got there. Then we remembered that during the transplanting, there had been several cells in the tray with seedling that we thought were too small to survive. The little cells with their plugs of dirt got discarded in the aisles as we went on planting the many hundreds of viable healthy seedlings. Sure enough, those orphaned lettuce plants had found a way to get roots into the ground, and were not merely surviving, they were thriving! I was overwhelmed with the remarkable resiliency, the utter refusal to give up, and the innate cleverness of the life force that flows in these tiny plants. It really helped me to laugh off all the recent rearrangements of my musculature, and the fact that my sixty something year old body sometimes wonders if it can still stand up from a crouch. That life force lives in all of us and as long as I can keep getting up from that crouch I will keep nurturing the life force in my vegetables so that we can all partake in it.
Spring 2017 has been exceptionally beautiful, and good things are on the way. We’ll keep you posted as they get closer.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
Newsletter no. 1b
April 9, 2017
When T.S. Eliot wrote “April is the cruelest month” it was because he had never spent a sunny April day in my greenhouse. With temperatures in the mid 70’s, brilliant sunshine, trays and trays of perky green seedlings to plant, beets peas, and fava beans popping up from their seedbeds, the mixed aromas of aged horse manure and fish emulsion (well I admit that might be an acquired taste), today was anything but cruel.
Friday, however, was kind of cruel, with an overnight low temperature of 28 degrees. However, when I got to the greenhouse early Saturday morning, the temperature in there had held at around 60 and the Napa Cabbage seedlings I had planted the day before were pretty comfortable looking. It is surprising but true that our latitude in Western PA is about the same as Rome, Italy or Madrid, Spain. While our climate is much harsher than either of those locales, day length and sun strength are the same so climate mitigation as provided by a well built greenhouse brings us much closer to being able to grow as they do in Rome when not in Rome.
So, over the last few days we have transplanted Napa Cabbage, Bok Choi, Tatsoi, and Lettuces in large numbers into our greenhouse. The second, slightly cooler, greenhouse has now received some much needed patching up and has been prepared for Cabbages and Cauliflowers, and even some early tomatoes and eggplants which will go in tomorrow or the next day. All of these seedlings were started in trays in mid March. It has been a lot of work all at once and I have aches in places where I didn’t know I had places. I note, however, from last years records that I am way ahead of last years place and so far all seems to go well. Those transplants will need lots of water and fussing over for the next several days as they get their roots established, but growth is usually fast and furious in this season of increasing day length.
We will soon turn our attention to the outdoors as we begin field preparation. For the farmer, spring is a whirlwind of work, fitted in between rainstorms. I’ll catch my breath somewhere around mid June. But before that y Nou will already be getting baskets of vegetables from us. That is, if I stop babbling here and get back to work. Now let’s see…. Who’s next?
Uncle Henry’s Garden
Newsletter no. 1a
April 1, 2017
Fresh from the garden summer produce may not be the first item that comes to your mind on this cold and gray April Fool’s day, but it certainly is on my mind. It has to be, or we will not have any of the above when the sun finally comes out and banishes our arctic spring. I have been busy getting seedlings started and preparing the soil inside our greenhouses.
Already, fava beans, peas, beets, cilantro, and parsley are in the ground and some are just starting to show. Seedlings of lettuce, cauliflower, various cabbages, kohlrabi, and even some tomatoes, eggplants and peppers have germinated and are growing nicely in their trays. Probably the biggest challenge for me right now is to try and accommodate the varied needs of all of these.
Fava beans and (to a lesser extent) peas like it cool, and in their native Mediterranean habitat they actually grow over the winter. Our winters are too harsh for this so our only recourse is to plant as early as possible and hope it doesn’t get too hot too soon.
Meanwhile seedlings of peppers and eggplants need a constant 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit to even germinate. So we have a “germination chamber” which is actually a big plywood box with a front opening that can be covered with greenhouse plastic and kept at the right temperature with a small heater. The seedlings, once germinated however, need light, so it’s in the box on cold days and out on sunny days, back and forth, back and forth…………..
When the sun comes out the mercury can quickly climb to 85 degrees in the closed up greenhouse, so then we have to open roof vents to moderate the heat. Open, close, open, close………………
Below are a few pictures worth several thousand of my words. They should give you an idea of where we are right now in our progress toward healthy and delicious food. I hope they will also remind me why I am doing this. Now back to open, close, open close, back and forth, back and forth………………………………………………….
Uncle Henry’s Garden
October 17, 2016
It is always sad to say goodbye and it seems particularly sad to bid farewell to the 2016 season of Uncle Henry’s Garden. Twenty weeks of deliveries is a long time, but our first crops were started long before that. Actually, I put the first seeds into little cells filled with soil around March 1and planted the first lettuce seedlings on April 11, so for me the end comes after well over 30 weeks of planning and hard work. Even before this, the thought process stretches back into the previous year. Furthermore, as soon as we have harvested the last Bok Chois and Brussels Sprouts, it all begins again with planning for 2017. There will be little time for dwelling on the fond memories and successes of the season passed, but much time spent puzzling over hard lessons learned from the things that didn’t work. The best part of farming is always about the season to come with its alluring sense of promise.
But enough reminiscing and preminiscing (is this really a word?). As of this morning, 2016 was not over yet and we have a big and beautiful box for you on this , our last week of delivery.
Your box this week has, Swiss Chard (big bunches, and it gets so colorful and bright after a frost), Bok Choy, Peppers (saved from frost last week and stored), Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts (finally), Cilantro, Garlic, Eggplant or patty pan squash (unbelievable), a big bag of Arugula, a big bag of mixed salad greens (lettuce, beet greens, baby chard, spinach, baby asian mustard, and nasturtium flower), a bag of smallish Kale, and a sprig or two of Basil. We kept the kale separate from the mix because it is sort of in its preteen stage, not quite baby but not full grown. If you find it a little too firm for raw eating in a salad, you can lightly steam or sauté it, or add to a stew or a soup or rice dish.
The Brussels sprouts waited all season through the long drought and searing heat of this summer, and finally came through as virtually the last crop standing in our field. Brussels Sprouts have acquired an undeserved bad reputation among picky eaters everywhere. There are at least two very good reasons for this. One is the time and manner of harvest. Brussels Sprouts harvested in the heat can be almost tasteless, but when harvested after being touched by frost , they become sweeter and take on a slightly nutty flavor. The second reason has to do with the manner of cooking. Brussels Sprouts contain quantities of chemicals known as glucosinols. These are wonderfully healthful and have been shown to guard against cancer. However, if the sprouts are cooked too long, these chemicals get released with a strong smell of sulfur. So cook them for no more than 5-7 minutes and you will avoid this unpleasant outcome. Steaming, sautéing, and braising all work quite well. I’ll give you a more fancy recipe below.
Notes from the Farm
The farm, after frost, is a different place. The chorus of grasshoppers and crickets is now mostly gone, but for a few stragglers. They won’t last long. But they, along with the cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, flea beetles, spiders, etc. etc. etc., have left copious traces of their DNA in secret and unseen places. Somehow, after the long frozen and desolate months, the miracle will begin again – all of it. I will be out there as well, attempting in my own haphazard way to turn my little piece of the planet into a small miracle of delicious and healthful food. I am hoping that you plan to join me in the adventure for another year. I will have more information about next year for you soon, but for now please allow me to express my gratitude for your membership and for the great pleasure that I derive from serving you. This would also be a great time for feedback. Let us know what you liked, what you could use more of, or what things I did not grow that you might appreciate. This information will be very helpful, and, of course, we graciously will accept any compliments. Have a happy and blessed end of 2016 and enjoy the holidays. We hope to see you again as the new season unfolds.
A pound or so of freshly picked, post frost, Brussels Sprouts
A Tablespoon of butter
Salt to taste
A sprinkle of Soy Sauce
A handful of roasted walnuts, pecans, or almonds
Preheat your oven to 400. Get about a cup of water boiling in a small saucepan. Put your Brussels Sprouts in a steamer basket and set them over the boiling water. Sprinkle with a little salt and steam for just 5 minutes. Put the steamed sprouts into a baking dish and sprinkle with soy sauce. Add the nuts and stir. Place the baking dish in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the sprouts have dried out and browned a little.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
October 10, 2016
This morning, for the first time since April, I had the heat on in my truck as I drove to the farm to harvest. It’s an unmistakable sign that things have finally changed. The great wheel turns, driving us deeper into the season. The days get shorter and the wind bites a little more each day. It is time to clean up and prepare for the long cold dark season to come. But it is also the time to prepare for what follows. The light and warmth will return, and with them comes an overwhelming amount of work. It is now that the smart farmer can get a real jump on things so that spring can get off to a good start for 2017. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. 2016 is not yet over and we have a bountiful harvest for you this week.
New this week are butternut squash. These are the true winter storage squash and they actually get sweeter with storage. Please note that we have left a piece of the stem attached. This bit of stem actually still stores sugars from the parent plant which will travel down into the fruit with time. It is also protective, as it keeps spoilage organisms from getting into the fruit and degrading it. Leave it in place and you can store this in a cool dry place until thanksgiving, Christmas, or well into next spring. There are many ways to prepare and eat butternut squash. You can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds (which by the way you can save and plant yourself next year), and bake it cut sides down, until tender. The cooked squash can then be mashed into a puree and enhanced with butter and spices like cinnamon, clove, and ginger. While this is delicious by itself, the puree can then be used to create a soup, or bake into a pie, or even used to fill ravioli. You can also peel your squash while still raw and cut it into discs (or any shape) and bake it with a salsa or barbecue sauce, or coated thinly in maple syrup.
Also new this week is an Asian type of cabbage called Bok Choi ( or Pac Choi, Bak Choy, Bokshemi, Boksieri……. Oh well, a cabbage by any other name still smells like a cabbage). This calls for a quick stir fry with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. I’ll give you a recipe below.
We have also packed for you some “Salsa Bags” as we did last week. These contain tomatillos, some late tomatoes, and hot peppers for those who wanted them. Along with the cilantro and garlic that you get this week, you can make some nice salsas.
Additionally we have; summer squashes and/or cucumbers (the reports of their demise was slightly exaggerated), beets, radishes, arugula in bags with edible nasturtium flowers, savoy cabbage, and rosemary.
Notes from the Farm
Last night we actually had some patchy frost out at the farm. It was not yet the killing frost that ends all, but that will not be long delayed and in fact, more is predicted for tonight. As you might guess, I follow these reports very closely. Knowing that frost was in the air, we got out on Sunday afternoon and got all the remaining peppers, tomatoes , and squash off the vines and into safe storage. We also rolled down and secured our greenhouses and high tunnels. Soon, we will go out and pull up all the old vines and shred them for compost. Then we completely clear the fields and plow, fertilize, lime, mineralize, etc. and till. We also will do my very favorite thing, which is to plant garlic for next spring. For some hope springs eternal, for me it is garlic that stirs the hope of an eternally recurring spring. This hope has gotten me well into my seventh decade and I am planning on at least a few more. We will certainly be back next week with more, but as we approach the end of this season, I am hoping that you have found our offerings to be delicious and nutritious, and that you also are stirred by hope for the seasons to come.
One Bok Choi, leaves and stems
A piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Two tablespoons olive oil
Two tablespoons soy sauce
One large garlic clove
One tablespoon sesame oil
One hot pepper (optional)
One third cup of cooking sherry or rice wine
Crush and peel your garlic, chop it finely and set aside for ten minutes. Meanwhile, remove the root end of your Bok Choi so that the stems separate. You can shred the leaves and chop the stems, but try to save the heart (which actually looks like a baby Bok Choi). Heat the olive oil in your pan. Add the garlic, ginger and hot pepper. Stir these as they turn color and release their aromas, but don’t let them get too brown. Add your Bok Choi leaves and stems and stir them around vigorously in the hot oil for about a minute. Add the wine and soy sauce and cover the pan for three to five minutes over high heat. Check every minute that the liquid has not boiled away. If it has, add a little water. Remove the cover to let any remaining liquid dissipate. Take the pan off the heat and dress the contents with the sesame oil. Serve immediately.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
October 3, 2016
We are now deep into Autumn. The sweltering days of August and much of September are a distant memory as we enter Keats’ famous “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” . Your vegetables this week are typical of the season – mostly. I know it is unheard of, but I was wrong last week when I predicted the demise of the eggplant. They keep producing, along with our summer squashes and Basil, so you will get a share of these. Peppers are literally dripping off the vines, but most are still green. I have harvested some green for you this week, as the now cool nights offer less hope that they will turn for us. I will hang on to the last so there will be more of whatever color. I have also harvested many of our yellow banana peppers. These sweet peppers have three color stages, green, yellow, and finally red. They seem stuck at the yellow stage as of now so we will harvest them over the next weeks. We also have winter squashes for you, either the acorns, or a native American heirloom called Lakota. New this week are tomatillos, those small husk fruits that look like little green tomatoes (they aren’t). You need to remove the papery husk and wash them off a little to remove their sticky coating. They have slightly sour, lemony flavor and are used to make Mexican Salsa Verde. I’ll give you a recipe below. Additionally, we have more radishes and lots of greens and herbs, including Swiss Chard, Arugula, Basil, Cilantro, Marjoram, and Mint. I got lucky with the radishes because their greens are full and show no signs of the usual insect damage. I had a complete success using the greens in a made up dish last night (success means both of my very picky children actually liked it) and I will give you the recipe below. Of the herbs, the one that may be new to you is Marjoram. This is a very delicately fragrant herb that pairs wonderfully with chicken or fish. It can only take a little heat, however, before that lovely fragrance fades so sprinkle the leaves over your dish after it is mostly cooked. Cilantro is one of the main ingredients in most salsas and it will naturally go with your tomatillos. Your mint would make a nice pot of tea, but also could be chopped and mixed into plain yogurt along with a crushed garlic clove to make a nice middle eastern dressing for radish slices or grilled zucchini or eggplant.
Notes from the farm
I was up at sunrise earlier this week and was struck by the near silence in our field. No sounds could be heard save for the occasional caw of a slightly annoyed crow. What a stark contrast with summer’s sunrise symphony of birds. Even the crickets seem subdued, perhaps they don’t like getting wet. When it rains in summer, the drying out is usually soon and very quick. In autumn, the moisture stays around much longer as the cooler temperatures cause much less evaporation. I am seeing slugs and the occasional large toad again in our greenhouses. I wonder where they all went during the hot months. So far, our night time temperatures are staying around 50 with occasional dips into the 40’s. Eventually, they will dip further and we will have frost, which will change everything. But for now, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness seems to want to linger in that in between zone for some time. This means that for the next few weeks we should enjoy some more bountiful harvests like this week’s. I may even dish up a surprise or two before we are done.
Risotto with Radish Greens
One cup uncooked Arborio rice OR one cup of any rice you prefer
Four cups chicken or vegetable broth
A large bunch of radish greens washed and chopped (you could also mix in any other green)
A small onion, chopped
Two tablespoons butter
One half cup grated parmesan cheese
A third cup cream (optional)
A dash of sherry (optional too, but very good)
Salt to taste, depending on how salty the broth you’re using is.
There will be two methods here depending on what kind of rice you use. If using the Arborio, or a short grained white rice start by sautéing your onion in one tablespoon of the butter over gentle heat. Have your broth at a simmer in another pot nearby. When the onion colors and releases its fragrance, add the uncooked rice and stir it around to coat it with the hot butter and fry it a little. Now add your chopped up greens and sprinkle them with a little salt. Add one cup of simmering broth and cover the pan for about five minutes to wilt the greens. Remove the cover after the greens have wilted and raise the heat to high. Keep stirring with a long handled wooden spoon and add broth as the liquid in the pan bubbles out. Add a third cup or so of the broth every time the rice starts to stick a little and keep stirring. Arborio rice or a short grain white rice should take 15 to 20 minutes of this cooking to soften.
If you use any other kind of rice start by cooking it the way you normally do with just a little less liquid than usual. Construct the rest of the dish as above, using a little broth to braise the greens while the rice cooks separately. When your rice is done add it to the pan and stir to mix everything together. Continue as follows.
While the heat is still on pretty high, add your dash of sherry and cream. Let this cook down to a thick creamy sauce. Turn the heat off and add the rest of the butter and the parmesan. Stir thoroughly. Pour this into a serving bowl and let it set for five minutes before serving.
Fifteen or so tomatillos- husks removed and washed
A large garlic clove
Serrano Peppers to taste OR about half of a yellow banana pepper
A bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped
Salt to taste
Line a frying pan with aluminim foil and place your tomatillos, pepper and crushed but unpeeled garlic clove on the foil over high heat. Leave until the skins and peels begin to develop some black spots. Flip everything over to do the other side. It is not desirable to completely blacken everything, just make some spots. Turn off the heat. Lift out the foil and put all the contents, including any juices that have accumulated, into a bowl to cool. When cool, peel the garlic and add everything, along with your cilantro and a pinch of salt, into a blender or food processor and process to a smooth mixture. If the tomatillos seem very sour, add in a piece of pineapple or mango, or any sweet fruit to balance. Your salsa verde will be great with chips. It can also become a wonderful sauce for chicken or fish or vegetables. It has a marked affinity for the squash family.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
September 26, 2016
Autumn appears to have finally graced us with its arrival. Nighttime temperatures are now dipping into the 40’s and daytime highs are in the low seventies. Afternoons spent on the farm are now comfortable and enjoyable. There are signs of Autumn as well in your vegetable boxes this week. While tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and summer squash are present but winding down, we have some beautiful red savoy cabbages, some nicely ripe acorn squash, and bunches of multi colored radishes for you this week. We also have basil, parsley, and garlic. The garlic is now cellar stored while the herbs are growing in our greenhouse and so are still thriving.
Radishes, of course are a great addition to any salad, but please don’t overlook the green tops. These are both edible and delicious when cooked a little to tame there slightly spiny exterior. I’ll give you a couple of recipes below.
Your acorn squash are a true winter squash. However, some of these were so ripe that they had fallen off the vine before we got to them. If your acorn squash has no stem attached, you should plan to use it within a month or so. If you want to save it for the holidays you can roast it soon and freeze the roasted squash, it keeps quite well that way. We will have more winter squashes of different types in weeks to come, so you won’t miss out if you use it soon. To roast your acorn squash, carefully cut it in half and scoop out the seeds (I find that a grapefruit spoon works really well for this purpose). Put the halves in a baking dish, flesh side down, and roast at 450 until you can easily pass a knife right through it. For a finishing touch, turn the halves over and pour a few spoons of maple syrup, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a handful of walnuts or pecans into the seed cavity. Put the halve back in the oven flesh side up now and bake another ten to fifteen minutes.
Your red savoy cabbages are not the deep red of the cabbages we had in the spring, but their red veins are chock full of a powerful antioxidant and so they are really good for you. These would be perfect for a meal of stuffed cabbage. They are also quite good when braised in a covered pan in butter and cooking sherry with some onions.
Notes from the Farm
All in all, it is a big box this week. As next week will bring us deeper into Fall, I am not sure if we will see any more of our summer crops. Eggplants are (I’m fairly sure), done as are the cucumbers and the patty pans. Tomatoes are iffy from here but who knows. The summer squashes still have lots of babies so we should get more. Finally, peppers are still dripping off the vines but mostly still green. I have mentioned my aversion to picking green (a.k.a. unripe) peppers, but as we get closer to frost, you may see a week with an avalanche of green or nearly green peppers. I’ll wait until the last minute, but I won’t let them rot. Yet with all the colorful fruits of summer on the wane, Fall will offer its own surprises as the results of my almost too late summer plantings come into their own. I have done some research and much brainstorming about the problems involved in getting fall crops started during a hot summer. Some excellent strategies have been evolved, but of course, they will have to wait for next year. As for this season, what remains is by no means a total loss and I do hope to dazzle you yet with a few fall surprises. Until then…………
A bunch of large radishes with the green tops attached
Two quarts good chicken or vegetable broth
A dash of Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce)
A spritz of lemon juice
A medium potato, diced
Half an onion
A clove of garlic
A tablespoon of chopped parsley
A third cup of cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat your broth to a low simmer in a separate saucepan. Meanwhile sauté chopped onion and garlic (the garlic should sit for ten minutes after being chopped) in a little butter or olive oil in your soup pot. Add your diced potato and simmer for fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Separate the radish tops from the bulbs and chop them roughly. Slice up the bulbs and add both bulbs and greens to the soup. Add your other flavorings and the cream (if using it) and simmer for only another ten minutes. (You want to tame the radishes, not obliterate them). Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a regular blender (I would let it cool though, before putting it in a plastic blender jar). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Chicken tenders with Radishes
A bunch of radishes with greens attached
Two tablespoons olive oil
A Garlic clove chopped and allowed to rest for ten minutes
A few cashews or peanuts
A small package chicken tenders (or substitute shrimp or tofu)
Chopped fresh Basil leaves
Chopped fresh parsley
A third cup white wine or sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the Garlic in olive oil until it releases its aroma. Add the chicken and stir to brown on all sides. Add the nuts and let them brown in the oil briefly (a few hot pepper flakes or pieces would go nicely here as well). Add the wine and let it bubble for a few moments, then turn down the heat. Cook over low heat for ten minutes or until the chicken is done through. Add the radish greens and cover the pan for five minutes over very low heat. Thinly slice the radish bulbs while you wait Uncover the pan and add the radish bulbs. Stir on the heat for a few minutes, then turn the heat off, add the basil and parsley and stir around a little. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve
Uncle Henry’s Garden
September 19, 2016
Remarkably, we are just two days from the Autumn Equinox, when the sun is directly over the earth’s equator and our day and night length are briefly equal. To me, it still seems like late August out in our fields. While the weather has moderated greatly from two weeks ago, it still does not yet feel like fall. Your vegetable boxes will not look or feel like fall yet either. Summer lingers in our fields and this week we still have some tomatoes, lots of peppers, basil, garlic, cucumbers, and squashes. Our Autumn like offerings of this week are more of those spagetti squashes, some arugula and, new this week, swiss chard. Our swiss chard has been troubled all summer by bugs (something I haven’t identified yet) and erratic growth. We kept pulling off the outer damaged leaves in order to stimulate new growth and, finally, it has worked and we have some nice bunches for you. Swiss Chard is a wonderful and much underappreciated green. It is actually a type of beet which does not have the edible root of a beet. Instead the leaves and stems are edible, delicious, and highly nutritious. The list of vitamins and minerals that chard provides would rival the label of many commercial vitamin pills. You will release much more of the nutrients if you cook your chard as opposed to eating it raw in a salad. I incorporate it into all kinds of stews and sauces. You can chop up and include the stems with the leaves, or keep the stems aside to cook separately. I will give you a few recipe ideas below. The arugula also looks good this week. These were actually volunteer plants that came up in a bed of parsley that I planted in late July. The seeds must have lain dormant from a much earlier planting. Fortunately, they emerged just late enough to avoid the flea beetles which make arugula all but impossible to grow in the hot months. Arugula is definitely a raw salad green as it will lose all of that nice mustard flavor with cooking. We have lots more of this coming for the fall season.
Notes from the Farm
The word on the farm for this week is “Quiet”. All the finches, swallows, starlings, robins, etc have left or are leaving. Crows and the occasional hawk circle overhead in silence. Squirrels, of course are busy, and the chorus of grasshoppers and crickets will keep singing their songs until a frost ends it all. The air has now a softer feel and the work is leisurely in pace (I like that leisurely part). I am putting as much thought into preparations for next year as I am into the ending stages of this one. Speaking of the last stages of this year, all my hopes now are pinned on the possibility that this late summer will extend well into fall. As I have mentioned elsewhere, August was simply too hot to successfully plant fall crops at the usual time in mid month. As a result all of our kale, spinach, Bok Choy, radishes, etc. got a late start. They are two or three weeks behind, but growing fast and if we don’t have a freakishly early frost or a hurricane, or an invasion of Bulgarian dung beetles (you see, I have thought of everything ), we might just get them through and into your boxes before season’s end. So for this week, enjoy your late summer bounty and let me do the worrying. It is, after all, my specialty.
One bunch Swiss Chard
Two tablespoons olive oil
A small onion, chopped
Two tablespoons lemon or lime juice mixed with half a cup orange juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the chard leaves from the stems. Chop the leaves finely by rolling them into a tight cigar shape and cutting across. Then give the mass of leaves a half turn and chop again. Cho the stems into small segments the way you would with a stalk of celery. Saute the onion and your chard stems in hot oil until they have softened. Add your juice mix to the pan, keeping the heat high until the liquid begins to boil. Now put in your chopped leaves. Cover the pan and lower the heat. In three or four minutes the leaves should be cooked. Remove the cover from the pan, add salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix the flavors. If there is still liquid in the pan, remove the leaves and stems to a serving bowl, put the heat up high and boil down the liquid to a thicker sauce. Pour the sauce over the leaves and serve.
Swiss Chard Stalks
One bunch Swiss Chard stalks (leaves removed and set aside)
A tablespoon lemon juice
Three slices of Bacon or prosciutto OR a dozen greek black olives
Bechamel sauce made with tablespoons flour, two tablespoons butter, and one and a half cups of milk
In a deep pot, stand your swiss chard stalks up in an inch or two of water with the lemon juice added. Cover the pot and steam the stalks for about 15 minutes. Now divide the stalks into three bundles (or as many as you want) and wrap each one with a strip of bacon or prosciutto. For vegetarians, tie up the bundles with string and chop your olives and sprinkle over the stalks in the baking dish. Either way put the bundles into a baking dish and cover with the béchamel and some parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
September 12, 2016
I have been musing this week on the great number of our most common vegetables that originated in the Americas and so were unknown in Europe until the explorations and conquests of the 16th Century. Consider the contents of your summer vegetable boxes – tomatoes, peppers, squashes, cucumbers, beans – all native American in origin. I often wonder what exactly did Europeans eat prior to Columbus. This week, the summer bounty is at a peak and we have very full boxes with most of the above in abundance. You will still have tomatoes, though their season has crested I hope to have small quantities in your boxes for a while yet. We have an explosion of sweet peppers coming ripe, as well as hot peppers for those who like them. We have done our last of four pickings from our beans. Incredibly, a few weeks ago I was ready to plow the vines under so I could start something else in their place, but as I was preparing to do just this, the rains started and I noticed that the vines were flowering – again! Now, three weeks later we have gotten another harvest from them so you have big amounts of beans this week. Also rejuvenated from the late rains, our squash and cucumber plants are producing with vigor. Additionally, you have again, very large bunches of Basil so try some more pesto or refer back to the ways you can preserve your Basil for future use. I will give you another way to have pesto in a recipe below. We have also thrown in more garlic. If you haven’t used your garlic yet, remember that it is cured for long term storage so there is no hurry with it. Keep it in a cool dry place and it will be good through next spring. New this week, we have Spagetti Squash. Spagetti Squash is a winter squash, so it will store for several weeks or a few months. Note that you get it with a piece of stem attached. That is done on purpose to increase storage time so don’t take it off. If it comes off, you should use the squash within a week or so. Spagetti squash has the added charm that the flesh, when cooked, separates into spagetti like threads, and this gives rise to some unique recipes for it. I’ll give you one below.
Notes from the Farm
Well the words for this week are Cool, Finally Cool! Saturday at the market, and later on the farm, was still unbearably hot and humid. But overnight Saturday something (beside more rain) happened and Sunday dawned suddenly cool and dry. This wonderful break in the weather promises to extend through the entire week. I can remember years not too long ago when this change in the weather pattern would be more or less expected by mid August. We are already three weeks past that time and the shocking and strength sapping heat and humidity of August 2016 was still going well into September. Those who might be tempted to think of this as a good thing for the farmer, extending the season further than usual, should think again. This has been one of the most challenging summers in my agricultural memory. Along with the intense and unrelenting heat, the precipitation patterns were the opposite of what we needed. Ideally, we need a rainy spring and early summer followed by a drier summer with a few intermittent rains. This year, we had prolonged and severe drought through part of June and all of July, followed by way too much rain in August. This was pretty damaging to many of our crops, and it has also delayed our ability to get a good start on the fall season. Most of August was simply too hot to successfully start crops like spinach and Kale. About September 1, my alarm bells went off and I could wait no longer on the Fall crops. So I planted and watered and watered and watered through the brutal heat of the last two weeks and I am happy to say that spinach, kale, fall beets, lettuce, and a few other things are on the way. The now more seasonal weather should really help them grow. Fall harvests may be a little late this year, so we will keep you posted. Meanwhile, enjoy the second part of August while it lasts.
One recipe for Pesto from my earlier letter, or any one you like
One container of ricotta cheese
Lasagna noodles, either homemade or any good brand, but don’t use the “no boil” type
One batch béchamel sauce made with :
2 tablespoons butter
One third cup flour
One and a half cups milk
Salt to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Ricotta cheese from the grocery store is often homogenized. This causes the problem that liquid gets released during cooking. My Uncle Henry had special pails with holes in them for ricotta cheese. The farmer would literally shovel the fresh made cheese into these pails and the whey would drip out as he walked back to his truck. The cheese that remained was dry and crumbly. I cannot reproduce that picturesque memory today, so I do the following: either in a double boiler, or in the microwave (covered with a cloth screen), cook the cheese for a few minutes until you see the liquid begin to separate. Pour the cheese into a strainer and set it over a bowl until most of the liquid has drained out. Now you can mix the ricotta into your pesto. Meanwhile boil your noodles until done “el dente”. They will not be baked like a normal lasagna so they should be fully cooked. Butter a baking dish and lay down a layer of noodles. Cover this with your pesto ricotta mix, then add more noodles, more pesto etc. The top layer should be the noodles. Now make your béchamel Keep the sauce a little runny so you can easily pour and spread it over the top layer of noodles. Sprinkle the top with parmesan. Run this under a hot broiler for no more than 5 or 6 minutes. You should see brown spots forming on the Bechamel. Serve immediately.
Spagetti Squash with sauce
One spagetti squash
Any sauce or salsa
Two tablespoons olive oil
Cut your squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place the halves, flesh side down, in a baking dish and bake at 400 until a knife goes right through it with ease. Take them out and let cool. Slowly, fork the now cool flesh out from the squash. You should see it begin to separate into fibrous threads. As you get these into a bowl, use a circle motion with your fork to separate the threads even more. In a sauté pan or large frying pan, put the olive oil and heat. Now add your chosen sauce. My preference is a nice red salsa (remembering that squashes too are native American in origin and their slight sweetness pairs well with the salsa), but use your imagination. I have tried everything from simple marinara to a sauce of gorgonzola cheese, cream and walnuts, and I have never been disappointed. Anyway, get the sauce heated in the oil, then add in your squash, stirring and mixing the threads, oil and sauce. You could add cooked greens, cubes of chicken or fish (already cooked) or shrimp if you like. Keep stirring until all ingredients are well mixed. Serve warm.
Note-If you like this, but have used your spagetti squash already, try grating a zucchini into similar threads and using that instead. In this case, cook the grated zucchini in the oil first, then add your sauce.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
August 29, 2016
The word for this week is HOT, HOT, HOT! August is refusing to go gently into any kind of September, and the heat and humidity have been nearly unbearable. This kind of hot humid weather pattern includes the possibility of sudden and violently powerful storms and last night I felt as if we barely escaped with our lives as the storm rolled in just as we finished harvesting. Meanwhile, I am waiting with baited breath for some kind of moderation in the weather pattern so I can plant spinach and radishes with some hope that they will germinate (which they often refuse to do in very warm soil). These sudden and violent storms have dumped enormous quantities of rain on our fields and this, in combination with several preceding weeks of drought, has wreaked at least temporary havoc with our tomato crop. Much of what was coming ripe when the storms hit has cracked and degraded. There are many green fruits still on the vines, however, so if the weather could mellow out a little, we may have more coming in a few weeks. For now, we still have some, but we may have to wait a while for more. Fortunately, one of our goals is to diversify as much as possible so that when one crop is challenged, others step in to fill the gap. This is to say that your boxes will be very full this week, in spite of the tomato problems. You will get : melons, cabbages (the first of our fall cabbages), summer squashes, sweet peppers, hot peppers (for those who like them), eggplants, garlic, rosemary, Red Kuri squash, and tomatoes.
The Red Kuri is our first ripening winter squash. Winter squash is a true misnomer because these are vegetables that need a long hot summer to grow well and are harvested in late summer or fall. The winter part comes in because certain types are thick peeled enough for winter storage. Red Kuri has a thinner peel and so will not store for more than a few weeks. These are actually a small version of the giant Hubbard squashes you sometimes see at markets in the fall. They are perfect for squash soup and I will give you a recipe below.
The hot pepper people have four types of peppers. The small stubby green one is a Serrano – very hot, the bright yellow one is a Peruvian Aji pepper – also quite hot but with a distinctive, citrusy flavor, the larger dark green is a Poblano - milder than the others but still with some heat, and the long tapered one turning from green to red is an Annaheim – the staple of New Mexican cuisine, it is fairly mild and nicely flavored. The Poblano and Annaheim are often stuffed with cheese and fried or baked as in Chiles Rellenos. The smaller ones would work well in a salsa made from your tomatoes.
The sweet peppers are now turning to colors (I am not fond of picking them green and will only do that when frost threatens). Many that you will get are still partly green. You can let them sit on a windowsill if you would like to see the process complete itself. Over the years, many people have asked me why I do not grow green peppers as well as the red, yellow, and orange kind. They do not seem to understand that green peppers are just the unripe versions of the sweeter and more flavorful colored ones. At any rate, you should, at least once, try roasting these over a gas flame until the skin blackens. Then wrap them in a paper towel and after they cool, rub off the blackened peel and cut them into strips. This adds a whole new dimension to the taste of the lowly pepper and I find that people who claim to hate peppers and won’t eat them, will enjoy them when roasted and peeled.
Notes from the Farm
Last night’s excitement aside, life on the farm has been calm and slow moving. The excessive heat tends to make the processes of fruiting and ripening move at a glacial pace. I would characterize my own movement around the fields and greenhouses as being at a similar pace, except glacial is hardly the word that comes to mind. Meanwhile, the pace of life in Indiana, PA has accelerated considerably as fifteen thousand students descend on our little town and bring their noisy parties and traffic with them. I feel blessed to be able to spend time on my little south facing hillside, where the arbitrary human invention of the academic calendar has no meaning at all. Fall semester may have started, but out here it is still late summer and the crickets and grasshoppers, as well as the spiders that are trying to catch them, have grown to their enormous late summer proportions. While their parties are not so destructive as the student parties, they sure do make some wonderful noise with their singing. In this hidden, off road place, the cycles of life go on pretty much as they have for millennia; without our having to schedule them or oversee in any way. The stark contrast between these two landscapes is always most striking at this time of year, and always leads me to meditate on the big questions of actual reality versus the reality we imagine to be real……………….. The meditation almost always ends in a confused slumber, so the next step is to go and make a good soup. Here’s the soup!
One Red Kuri Squash
Two quarts of chicken or vegetable broth
Half a yellow onion, chopped
Half a cup of cream
Two teaspoons of Garm Masala OR a combined two teaspoons (or so) of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice your squash in half and remove the seeds from the seed cavity. Heat the broth in a large stockpot. Chop your squash into medium size pieces and place in the broth along with the chopped onion. With Red Kuri squash you won’t need to peel because the thin peel will dissolve into the soup as it cooks. When the squash is fully cooked and very soft, you can mash it up with a potato masher, or blend it with one of those immersible blenders. Add your cream and the spices and simmer for another fifteen minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed and serve.
Uncle Henry’s Garden
August 22, 2016
You might think that, as a child growing up in an Italian-American household in the 1950’s and 60’s, I would have been very familiar with the classic basil sauce known as pesto. I was not. Even though Uncle Henry grew basil in abundance, there was no such thing as pesto on our table and I only learned of it as an adult in the 1970’s when Marcella Hazan’s excellent books brought northern Italian cuisine to America. This is because, until quite recently, Italian food was a very regional, even local set of culinary traditions. The country was only united under one flag in the 1860’s and that act of unification brought together numerous different regions as culturally diverse as, say, New England and Oklahoma. The country united, but the cultural divisions remained. Southern Italians like my grandparents didn’t know northern food, they didn’t trust northern food any more than the people who ate it, and, though they had probably never tried it, they didn’t like northern food.
Fortunately, by now, the great creations of Italian cuisine, regardless of origin, have spread throughout Italy and thus to the whole world. This is good for us because we have big and beautiful bunches of Basil in your boxes this week. These will be enough so you could make some pesto if you wish. There is a confusing and conflicting wealth of recipes available on line for this sauce. The amounts of basil(the main ingredient) vary from half a cup up to five cups ( what exactly is a cup of basil leaves anyway, I have tried and have never reached a point where I couldn’t stuff a few more in!). There are recipes calling for truly exotic ingredients such as macadamia nuts. The old recipes from pesto’s home region around Genoa are actually quite simple. The only ingredients are olive oil, fresh basil, garlic, and parmesan cheese. One such recipe also notes that the basil must be grown within site of the Mediterranean Sea. They don’t make it easy, only simple.
I’ll give you a recipe below that I have worked out over many years and am finally pretty happy with. If you don’t want to try pesto, basil also is a striking addition to any cold salad. It has a special affinity for tomatoes. Just keep in mind that prolonged cooking will break down the esters that create basil’s wonderful aroma and flavor, so either use it in an uncooked dish or add it to a dish after cooking, and preferably off the heat. I take my extra basil and pulse it in a food processor with olive oil and salt, then spoon it over a tomato sauce dish, or tomato pizza, or chicken or shrimp, just out of the pan or the oven. I also freeze some this way. Finally, if you like dried basil, you can hang your bunch upside down in a cool place with good airflow and in about a month you will have a big bowl of the best dried basil you can imagine.
This week we also have the first of our ripe sweet peppers. These are just turning colors and some may be still partially green. You can set them on a windowsill and wait a few days and they will complete the process, which also makes them sweeter.
We are holding off on the hot peppers this week so nobody gets confused. There will be a lot more of both in weeks to come.
We will also have beets, squashes, eggplants, tomatoes (of course), cucumbers, and garlic.
Notes from the Farm
It looks as if the deluge has finally stopped. Now I have to go out a dig up the missing tools and farmhands that sunk into deep mud pits last week. The sudden onslaught of rainstorms was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, cabbages and squash are growing again after having suffered a near death experience during the long weeks of drought. But tomatoes, which were just fine, thank you very much, with near arid conditions, are now starting to crack and degrade. Nothing comes without a price to pay.
Last night our nighttime low temperature was in the 50’s and this morning I got the first inkling of fall as I harvested in the cool, dewy wet morning. The great wheel turns us a little further each day, and I take much pleasure in watching its slow progress from my vantage point on the south facing hillside that allows our farm to prosper and grow. I look forward to living out the completion of this years cycle and also the start of the next from this same tiny piece of the planet. Perhaps, with good luck and lots of garlic, I will be here for many more such cycles. Farming is hard and dirty (in the literal sense) work, but it does have its rewards.
A large bunch of fresh basil
A third cup of extra virgin olive oil – the best you can obtain
Two large cloves of garlic
Two tablespoons of pine nuts, or cashews, or sunflower seeds
One half cup grated Parmesan Cheese
One half cup grated Romano Cheese
One tablespoon butter
One tea spoon salt
Cut the top of each stalk of basil just below the second set of lateral branches. From here on up, where the stem is still as green as the leaves and fairly thin, you can use stem and all. Below that point, where the stem becomes thicker and shades toward white, strip the leaves from the stem. Save all the leaves and the upper stems in a bowl and set aside. Slice your garlic and set aside for ten minutes, then place it in a 400 degree oven for about ten minutes, watching that it doesn’t burn, but just begins to brown. I find that this step really mellows the garlic and takes the sharp edge from the sauce. While you are waiting for the garlic you can grate your cheeses. The mix of Parmesan and Romano is essential. Just Parmesan leaves the sauce too mellow and uninteresting. Just Romano would be too salty and tangy. The two combined, however, seem to hit just the right balance. After the garlic cools, place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse a few times until you have a paste that is still slightly textured. Transfer the sauce to the bowl that will hold the pasta. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook your pasta taking care not to overcook. Just before you drain the pasta, take one ladle of the boiling water out and pour it over the sauce and stir. Now drain your pasta and pour it immediately into the serving bowl with the pesto sauce. Stir with your ladle to mix pasta and sauce thoroughly. Serve right away.
Uncle Henry's Garden