This week was the annual ACORN conference at the Delta Hotel in Moncton. It's three packed days of workshops, a trade show, networking, reunions between friends, farmer to farmer panels, discussions and maybe some beer and really good local food sourced largely from farmers we all know and who are there at the conference. My mind is buzzing with the possibility of experiments for next season fuelled by the inspiring trials of other farmers and all the new ideas that are continually being explored in our domain. I came away from the conference with a sense of appreciation for this year's theme - seed saving for a sustainable future. Everyone seemed to have part of their minds and hearts tuned to the troubling onset of climate change and our need to respond, in caring for our land and setting up sustainable systems for generations to come. I was particularly inspired by the workshops on irrigation models for changing climates, cost of production in terms of environmental as well as economic and personal costs and finally greenhouse management with a specific view to issues that face maritime farmers. This was timely for me because I am just getting set up on my own land. I am lucky to have such intelligent, active role models who continue to stress the importance of “gentle” farming, of thinking about how I am helping already active natural processes to thrive instead of thinking about how much I can take from the land. This Winter and coming Spring are all about watching and learning what is already happening on my farm, species who already call this place home and how the land transitions through the season. For me this extra effort and sensitivity is what differentiates the small-scale organic movement from the current status quo in farming practices. Thanks to you, CSA member, for playing a part in supporting this effort in ecological regeneration and responsible food production. I am looking forward to slowly realizing the potential of my farm.
Stir Fry Mix
This is a mix of heartier greens that includes green Kale, Radicchio, Cabbage & Brussel Sprout tops. If chopped or shredded, this makes a great salad, if you like a crunchy texture. The mix can also be lightly sauteed or steamed as a side dish or added to stir fry to makes digestion easier and to soften the leaves.
Radicchio is the bitter, red and white leafy green from the Daisy family, genus Chicory. It's a great addition to the Fall garden because the cold weather mellows the spicy taste and stimulates the onset of the formation of the cabbage-like head. If watered frequently and allowed to grow in the field for up to three months, the plant creates a dense, tightly packed head. I was following some guidance from Eliot Coleman who recommended transplanting in August. For our climate I think this proved to be a little late so the heads did not develop as much as I would have liked. Next year I'll transplant a month earlier so the plants have time to mature in warmer weather before the cold sets in.
Winter Density Lettuce Mix
This head lettuce has performed well in the field, continuing to grow late into November and maintaining its quality even though it was hit by the frost several times..... and then buried under wet row cover and snow for about a week! I've always got tons of random varieties of lettuce seed left over from years of gardening and unfortunately, most should be thrown away. Lettuce seed can last for several years if stored properly, but pelleted seed is only viable for one year because the coating will start to disintegrate. Last year it sunk in that variety makes a big different when growing late into the Fall. I just threw a mix of lettuce seed into the ground in mid-September of last year and.... nothing happened really. That said, this is the last of the salad mix, made up of hardy Tat Soi, Winter Density Romaine and Red Butter Salanova. It was a joy to find this lettuce alive and well under all that snow and next season I'm looking forward to having a state of the art greenhouse so I won't have to bring a snow shovel out into the field.
Purple Haze Carrots ( 3.5lbs )
This variety will loose its purple colour if over cooked, so instead of boiling, steam, stir fry or eat raw.
There are several benefits associated with the pigment in purple vegetables and fruits. These benefits result from the higher level of antioxidants in purple foods, helping to enhance resiliency in the immune system and protect cells against disease. This is why purple food are associated with combating certain cancers and aging well. Some of the lesser known, but locally available, purple foods include Romanesco and other purple varieties of Cauliflower, purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radicchio, purple Kale and Kholrabi!
Porcelain Garlic (1 bulb)
Any allium (onions, leek garlic) will do you good at this time of the year to support the immune system and ward off cold and flu bugs. Eaten raw, the medicinal properties of garlic are strongest, but if you have trouble swallowing a clove of raw garlic every day, you can include raw garlic (chopped) in salad dressings or on top of home-made nachos or roasted potatoes, after they come out of the oven. Making pesto is also a great way to hang onto the immune-boosting properties of garlic. In the blender, the garlic essential oils are released and, if kept in the fridge and eaten within a week, the oils will retain their quality. Instead of cooking the pesto with potatoes or pasta, add some to your salad dressings or stir into your dish after cooking is complete. Heating any oil will cause the antioxidants and other medicinal properties to begin to degenerate, so keep heat low, or find an oil that will retain it's structure under high heat (like high quality olive oil).
Cortland Yellow Onions & Red Wing Red Onions ( 2 lbs)
I'm just assuming here that everyone likes onions as much as I do. I tend to use them in everything, always starting with sauteed onions or adding them to a large pan filled with other vegetables for roasting. If you happen to have an abundance at any one time, you can take a look at the French Onion Soup recipes below to use up several at once. Sometimes onions (and other allium family members like garlic) get a bad rep or are stigmatized for their supposed imbalancing effects. If you follow the art & science of Ayurveda or yoga, you may have heard that onions and garlic were forbidden for monks or spiritual aspirants because eating these foods was thought to increase desire and the fire element of Pita. If you are a practitioner, as yoga evolves, what you eat becomes very important in terms of keeping both the body and mind in balance. To consume something that has the effect of throwing you out of balance would negate all that hard work done during practice in an effort to cleanse body and mind. That said, members of the allium family have some amazing health benefits to offer which you can read about here:
Sweet Potatoes (2 lbs)
Once again, the sweet potatoes had a rough start this year. Instead of coming fermented in the mail like last year, this season the sweet potato slips got torched underneath a layer of row cover on a 35 degree day mid-June. Last year the postal service lost or failed to deliver the transplants, twice! This season, I still had to order twice because so many of my little plants were burned to death by the sun! I learned a lot about sweet potato cultivation this year, through these trials and disapointments. It turn out that consistent, warm soil temperature is important for the maturation of the tubers, especially later in the season during the month of September. Unfortunately, we usually experience a dip in temperature around the end of September with the first light frost, so keeping the plants covered is important (but not covered during the summer when it's above 30 degrees).
Harris Parsnips ( 2 lbs )
Hand seeding definitely paid off this year. Usually I would use a push seeder like the Earthway or Yang for direct seeded crops like carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes etc... but the settings never seem to be accurate and always spread too much seed so that later, it is necessary to thin the small plants. I hate pulling out little plants and knowing that a seed was wasted! So this season, I hand seeded all the beets, carrots and parsnips. This means being chased by black-flies while slowly putting one seed at a time down into a little trench and then covering them by hand and hoping that I hadn't buried them too deeply or left them too shallow in the soil. It all worked out though, because I ended up with great spacing, no thinning to do and good sized root vegetables. Taking that extra time, walking hunched over for 1200 bed feet times 4 rows in each bed, was definitely worth the effort.
Organic Garlic Scape & Parsley (or cilantro) Pesto
I made this pesto when the garlic scapes were ready for harvest in early June. It has been preserved in the freezer where it can stay until you are ready to use it. If you do thaw the entire jar and put it in the fridge, it should be used within two weeks so the oils stay fresh. This pesto is great with roasted potatoes, rice noodles, on top of baked fish or chicken and in any salad dressing. It has a very strong garlic taste and the pesto does contain organic sunflower seeds from Speerville Flour Mill. The pesto is gluten free!
Experimenting with Recipes
French Onion Soup Recipe #1 (this one is fancy and for those who have some time to devote to the kitchen!)
2 lb medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (32 fl oz)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices of baguette
1 (1/2-lb) piece Gruyère, Comte, or Emmental
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Special equipment: 6 (8- to 10-oz) flameproof soup crocks or ramekins; a cheese plane
Cook onions, thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
While soup simmers, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange bread in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and toast, turning over once, until completely dry, about 15 minutes.
Remove croûtes from oven and preheat broiler. Put crocks in a shallow baking pan.
Discard bay leaves and thyme from soup and divide soup among crocks, then float a croûte in each. Slice enough Gruyère (about 6 ounces total) with cheese plane to cover tops of crocks, allowing ends of cheese to hang over rims of crocks, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until cheese is melted and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes.
French Onion Soup Recipe # 2 (this one is a lot easier despite the 15 steps!)
Some good advice from www.thekitchn.com
The Magic Ingredient: Time
French onion soup is probably the most dramatic example of how time is the magic ingredient in cooking, transforming humble foods into a final dish that is far, far more than the sum of its parts.
With French onion soup, the lengthy cooking time has two phases: Caramelizing the onions slowly and deliberately, and then simmering the broth for a long time with the caramelized onions. Skimping on either side will yield something a little less than the French onion soup of your dreams, but fortunately most of the time is hands-off. You can even do the simmer in a low oven (250°F) or in a slow cooker.
Based on and adapted from Julia Child's Soupe à l'Oignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
2 1/2 pounds yellow onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup white wine, optional
1/4 cup brandy, optional
6 to 8 baguette slices, toasted
1 1/2 to 3 cups shredded Gruyere or Parmesan cheese (1/4 to 1/2 cup per serving)
Minced raw shallot or onion, to garnish
Chef's knife and cutting board
4-quart or larger heavy pan, such as a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven
Oven-safe bowls or mugs, optional
Baking sheet or dish
Cut each onion top to bottom: Peel away the skin.
Slice into half moons: Slice each half of the onion into thin, evenly-sized half moons.
Cut the half moon slices in half: You will have at least 6 cups of chopped onions. But don't worry too much about quantities with this recipe; if you have an extra onion to use up, throw it in!
Melt the butter with the oil: Melt the butter in the pan set over medium-low heat.
Add the onions: After the butter foams up and then settles down, add the onions and stir to coat with the butter.
Cover and cook for 15 minutes: Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes on low heat.
Season the onions: Remove the lid. The onions should have wilted down somewhat. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, a generous quantity of black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar (this helps the onions caramelize).
Cook the onions for 40 minutes to 1 hour: Turn the heat up to medium and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until the onions are deeply browned. Turn down the heat if the onions scorch or stick to the pan; the browning doesn't come through burning, but through slow, even caramelization.
Heat the broth: As the onions approach a deep walnut color, heat the broth in a separate pot.
Add the flour: Add 3 tablespoons flour to the caramelized onions and cook and stir for about 1 minute.
Add broth and simmer for at least 1 hour: Add the hot broth to the caramelized onions and bring to a boil. If using wine, add this now too. Lower the heat and partially cover the pan. (If you want to add other aromatics such as herbs or spices, do so now.) Cook gently over low heat for at least 1 hour or until the broth is slightly reduced.
Taste and season: Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Add a finishing splash of brandy, if desired!
Top with toast and cheese: Heat the oven to 350°F. Divide the soup between small but deep oven-safe bowls. Top each with a slice (or two) of toasted baguette and sprinkle grated cheese in a thick layer over the bread and up to the edge of the bowl.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes: Place the bowls on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish. Bake until the cheese is thoroughly melted.
Broil until the cheese is browned: Turn the oven from bake to broil and broil the soup for 1 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove carefully from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on heatproof dishes or trivets. Serve with freshly ground pepper and minced fresh onion or shallot, which provides a welcome bite in contrast to the very sweet and mellow soup.