Monday, September 23, 2013

Birch Point CSA Week 16: Thyme for Soup!

What's in Your Share This Week?

Celery- the very first of the season!  I love homegrown celery for its intense flavor, dark green color, and versatility (did you know that if you grow your own celery, instead of cutting off the whole head at the base, you can harvest just the outer leaves/stalks as you need them, and the plant will continue to grow all season?).  Commercial celery is often blanched, or grown under hilled soil or mulch, which results in pale, weak-flavored stalks (read: less color, less flavor, less nutritional value, which is partly why celery has a reputation for being all fiber and nothing else).  We grow our celery exposed to the sun, which results in dark green, super flavorful stalks and leaves.  And yes! You CAN use the leaves.  Store-bought celery usually has the leaves removed because they transpire moisture away from the stalk, resulting in rubber celery, so removing them extends the storage life. The same is true for your farm-grown celery, BUT you should remove the leaves and USE them chopped in soup, stirfry, and/or egg salad-- anywhere you like celery flavor, basically.  Then eat the stalks fresh or cooked, too.  It's like double-celery (leaves AND stalk) ;)

Carrots- we just harvested a LOT of carrots and topped them for better storage life (see note on celery leaves. The same applies to any veggie with leaves).  You'll probably see carrots w/out tops for the next week or two.  These are still fresh (less than 2 weeks old, unless we have WAY more than I think, and they last us 3 weeks), and delicious raw OR cooked-- perhaps in soup?

Onions-- we'll continue to supply you with a mix of onion varieties.  We've just run through the last (I think) of the sweet onions, which we like to use up first because they don't store nearly as well as the red, yellow, and cipollini onions.  From now on, you'll see a mix of yellow and red storage onions, cipollini, Tropea (the long red ones resembling biceps- an Italian heirloom of gorgeous appearance and delicious flavor), and perhaps some shallots, too.

Garlic- could we go a week without garlic? I think not. If you use a lot of garlic, more is available to purchase; just ask at CSA pickup.  If you are stockpiling because you don't use much garlic, never fear- it keeps wonderfully for months IF you keep it cool and DRY-- i.e. NOT in the refrigerator.  Any cool, dry place will do.

Potatoes-- as with onions, you'll keep seeing a mix of potato varieties.  I believe this week it's Augusta, a white-fleshed, yellow-skinned variety, which according to Fedco Moose Tubers (where we purchased the seed potatoes) make the best potatoes au gratin, and are a favorite of our friends Bill and Patrice Bobier at Earthscape/Full Circle Farm in Hesperia, MI.  I am partial to all varieties of potatoes roasted (cut into bit-sized pieces, tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet or skillet, and roasted in the oven at 400-ish F til brown and crisp on the edges but creamy-soft in the centers). Seriously- any potato is good that way. But the best way to compare varieties is simple boiling- it reveals the texture (floury, waxy, creamy, or dry) and flavor of a spud.  Please check out the info-packed Wood Prairie Kitchen Potato Guide to choosing the best preparation for different potato types-- I believe Augusta is not on that list, but you'll get a general idea of what to do with floury vs waxy vs moist vs dry spuds. In case you need it :)

Leeks-- finally it's leek time!  In case you can't tell, we've basically handed you a potato-leek soup box this week. See recipes below for my fave version of this classic fall/winter soup.  BTW, you CAN use the green part of the leek. I've never understood why people don't use it more often-- it can be a little fibrous, but for goodness sake, just slice it finely across the grain and saute. Puh-leez.  And if you don't want to do that, toss it into your stock pot for the "onion" part of any soup stock (basic veggie stock: whatever "onion" and garlic parts you have around-- skins, butts, greens, etc, whatever carrot (or parsnip) parts you have around-- same, whatever celery (or parsley) parts you have around-- same, a good handful of thyme OR just the woody parts of fresh or dried thyme if you've saved those, a few bay leaves, salt and pepper.  Put it all in a pot, just cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer it for 10-20 min.  Cool. Strain. Use immediately or fridge or freeze according to your needs.  You can put anything in homemade stock-- I find veggie stock easy because I chuck into a bag in the freezer all the veggie end, butts, skins, unwanted "parts" all week/month (keep the bag near the top/front of freezer for easy access to add more parts every time you cook and generate veggie waste) until I have a stockpot worth, then I make stock and then compost the veg "waste" whose flavor I just captured.  If your veg waste was dirty/gritty to start, strain your stock through multiple layers of cheesecloth OR a paper coffee filter before using/freezing. Note: my opinion: avoid brassicas in soup stock (cabbage, kale, broccoli etc).  I think they lend too strong a flavor for most soups.

Herbs-Thyme OR Parsley-- Thyme for the stock and/or beginning of your soup project, parsley as generous fresh garnish.  Either or both will make your soup that much more delicious.  By the way, the parsley STEMS are delicious- crispy and juicy; chop and throw into anything you might like parsley in. OR toss them in your stock while simmering.

Kale OR Swiss Chard-- surely you know what to do with these by now?  If not, there's always eggs, the vehicle for all things mysterious.  Chop said mysterious things (though CSA members have no reason to include kale and chard in this category by this time of the season, you may still enjoy them with eggs!), saute with onions and/or garlic in skillet, pour in beaten eggs (whatever ratio of "things" to eggs you like- if you like eggs, use more; if you like greens use less egg), scramble and/or fry til flippable, then flip like a burger. Enjoy with chopped tomatoes, peppers, hot sauce, dash of lemon, bread, friends, family.

Cherry Tomatoes-- oh, you're tired of these?  Sure, we can leave them out next week... haha, kidding!  Once the frost hits, we'll be done with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, beans, and sunflowers.  Til then, though, these things are still going strong (see Field Notes for update on summer squash and cucumber).

Heirloom Tomatoes- thanks to all who came out for the Tomato Tasting and Rock and Roll Show last Tuesday!  Who knew that barnyard could create such an amazing amphitheater of sound?!  OK, it was actually farmer Spencer Boyles' band the Dead Letter Office, but we learned what a loud amp plus a natural bowl-landscape surrounded by walls can do. Wow! And the tomatoes were pretty tasty, too :)  As you might imagine there were as many favorites as there were tasters, but a few stood out as consistent faves: Gypsy, Green Zebra, Solar Flare, and Paul Robeson were each chosen by multiple people, though just about every variety had a fan.  What's your favorite so far? If you have no idea what you've been eating, please ask a farmer- OR consult the Birch Point/Bare Knuckle facebook posting from early in the spring about the varieties we grew.

Melons- watermelons OR canteloupe-- Here we are solidly into fall weather, and the melons are coming on like gangbusters. I hope you all get at least one more picnic in before it's too cold to eat outside.  Alternately, melon sorbet is lovely indoors, even in the winter.  (full disclosure: I haven't tried this particular recipe, and I don't have an ice cream maker, but I'm willing to give it a shot, modifying the directions to be something like instead of using an ice cream maker, just freeze it all, then chop into pieces, food process again, and freeze again. Perhaps twice.  I've done this with other "ice cream" recipes with good results)

Winter Squash-- Did you know that there is a seasonality to winter squash varieties?  The early season varieties, those we're harvesting now, are at their peak when harvested; they do store well but don't improve or change much with storage.  The later season varieties (buttercup, kabocha, butternut, hubbards, etc) actually improve in flavor and texture quality after a month or more of curing and storage.  So-- for peak squash experience, eat them each in season-- the acorns, delicatas and dumplings now, followed by the buttercups/kabochas, and last of all the classic keepers, the butternuts and hubbard-types. Everyone wants butternuts all time, but be patient, enjoy the squash that's peaking now, and it will afford you even more butternut love later when the time is right ;)

Sweet Dumpling


1. End-of-Season Harvest Party and Potluck: We've narrowed it down to two possible dates:
Sunday Oct. 13    OR
Tuesday Oct. 15
Please RSVP with your preference ASAP!
Harvest will start at 2 pm and go through 6 pm; potluck 6:30-8:30-ish.  Join us for either or both parts! We'll be digging potatoes (remember planting those back in May? seems like just last week!), bringing in the very last of the winter squash, and cleaning garlic and onions.  Bring your APPLES and a JUG to contribute to the Community Cider Pressing- throw in your apples, take home a jug of cider!  We'll borrow a press for the day, and press until we run through all the apples (there are  few feral trees on Birch Point Rd I've got my eye on- how about you? got any favorite feral trees?)
If we do it on Tuesday, it's partly during CSA pickup, so many of you will be here already. Plan to come early to help harvest and/or stay for the potluck.

2. Art in the Garden: Did you see Colleen's announcement about a second art workshop in the Children's Garden? She and Blackbird Arts teachers Melissa and Phil are also trying to plan the date for the workshop and pole-raising.  Please RSVP directly to Colleen by Sept 23 if your family would like to be part of the workshop in October:
Reply to colleen@creehanphotography with the following info...

1) how many in your family are interested in participating
2) does Tuesday, October 1st starting at 5pm work for you?
3) does Tuesday, October 8th starting at 5pm work for you?  

3. 2014: Farm Collaboration! Many of you already know this, but it's official: Brenin Wertz-Roth, of Giving Tree Farm in Grawn, and I are going to join farming forces starting next season.  Brenin and I have wanted to collaborate for some time now, and we're making the big move: his CSA and my CSA are merging.  We'll keep some crops going down at Giving Tree, things like garlic and pumpkins that don't need daily attention, but focus attention on Birch Point.  What does that mean for you?  
     1. More CSA options next year: I think we're going to keep all current options available for pickup, which means Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, at the farm, at the TC market, AND at Little Fleet on Monday evenings.  I'll keep you updated if that changes, and we'll hold a general meeting next spring for members of the two farms to meet each other, answer questions, and for them (and  you!) to see Birch Point and meet both your farmers and our respective families!
     2. Perhaps a different mix of crops-- as you know, my favorite crops are tomatoes, alliums, leafy greens, and flowers, although we do a little bit of everything.  I happen to know Brenin is a brassica-phile, and his cabbages and Brussels sprouts may even be nicer than ours! (you haven't seen any of those yet, but next week you'll get cabbage.  Brussels sprouts will come after the frost, when they truly sweeten up).    Next year- more of all of them!  Our combined experience and interests will, I hope, create an even better, lovelier mix of crops for you next season.  On that note, look for an end-of-season survey to help us better plan for next year-- your feedback helps form the crop plan!
     3. More early crops- the current plan is to move Brenin's hoophouse here, which means more space for early lettuces, spinach, herbs, root veggies, etc.  Your CSA shares and our farmers' market stall will reflect that extra capacity for early production with more volume and more diversity early on.

Potato-Leek Soup
6 -8 med potatoes, scrubbed and chopped (why bother peeling, unless you're bored?)
1 onion, chopped
1-2 leeks, chopped (see note above re: green parts. go on, use them)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 carrots, scrubbed and chopped (see note re: peeling potatoes)
3-4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
olive oil or butter
water/stock of your choice
optional: milk or cream or plain yogurt, fresh parsley and/or other fresh herbs

Saute onion, leek, and carrot in a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot on medium heat til tender/translucent. Add garlic and potatoes, thyme and bay leaves, salt and pepper, and saute another couple of minutes. Add water/stock til soup is a little thicker than you like it, but all veggies are at least under water.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cook til potatoes are tender.  Optional: immersion blenderize partly for a creamy soup with some chunks, or completely for a smooth soup.  You can also do that transfer-to-a-blender-or-cuisinart-then-transfer-back thing, but I find that tedious at best and dangerous at worst. If you like blenderized soups, just admit it and go get an immersion blender. You won't be sorry!  Taste.  It probably needs more salt. add it. don't be shy. If you honestly have dangerously high blood pressure or are cooking for someone who does, I suppose you could go light on the salt, but for everyone else- Don't Undersalt Your Soup!  While you're at it, add more pepper.  Keep tasting, though.  Make sure it's how you like it.  Add a little more hot water/stock as necessary to make it the consistency you like.  Keep it hot.  If you like creamy goodness, add a generous splash of milk or heavy cream and/or plain yogurt to each bowl- you might heat the milk/cream gently first so as not to make the soup lukewarm.  You could also add it to the pot, but if you'll have leftovers, it's nicer to reheat if it's dairy-free (no risk of scalded-milk-taste that way).  Top each bowl with a generous grind of black pepper and sprinkle of fresh parsley and/or other herb of your choice.  Try some red pepper flakes and/or fresh hot chiles, minced, for a spicy new-world twist on a European classic dish.

Field Notes

Summer Squash/Zukes and Cucumbers are nearly dead.  There were new plantings of both that were begining to flower, promising another wave of potential pickles and pattypans, but they got hit by a disease I couldn't identify-- a drying of the leaves despite ample rain lately, no apparent mildew or much yellowing, but they plants have stopped growing (which could of course be due to cool temps) and leaves are drying/dying back from the edges toward the stems.  This means less photosynthesis, less growth, less flower/fruit formation.  I am not hopeful, friends.   It was a good run of cukes and zukes from the early plantings, so I'm satisfied with our yield, but of course I would have liked one more wave of cukes at least, as I didn't pickle any yet this year!  I'll let you know if anything changes, but I think that's a cuke/zuke season.  Everything else is looking good- the fall brassicas in the field by the road are lush but have been hit hard by cabbage loopers (the larvae of the white-and-yellow cabbage butterfly, which eat large, ragged holes in brassica leaves, reducing photosynthesis and slowing growth, also depositing copious amounts of frass, or larva poop, in the cabbages- ick).  Just so you know, I did spray Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, on that field to control them.   Bt is a naturally-occurring soil bacteria that, when ingested, kills moth and butterfly larvae.  In this case it specifically targets cabbage loopers, as they are the larva that eat the leaves of the brassica plants (brassica=everything in the cabbage family, like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, collard greens, radishes, turnips, mustard greens, etc), and it is when they munch the sprayed leaf that the Bt on it kills them.  Since it rained, I'll have to reapply it, as the little monsters are still active.  Bt IS safe for humans- I don't know what kind of studies have been done about how much you'd have to ingest to observe damage, but in recommended quantities, it is not dangerous to us. Although I cringe at spraying anything (it feels like cheating at best, dangerous at worst) on our crops, the damage done by the loopers far exceeds, in my estimation, any risk posed by Bt.  In an interesting twist, BT is such an effective organic insecticide that the GM crop industry has engineered crops like potatoes to manufacture their own Bt in their own cells.  One might think (if one were open to GM crops at all) that is a reasonable use of genetic engineering in crop development, but the risk posed is that of Bt-resistant pests.  Since organic farmers have been judiciously (hopefully judiciously) using Bt for years to safely control cabbage loopers, the idea that broad expanses of cropland might suddenly present an opportunity for Bt-resistant mutants to survive and spread is rather terrifying.  Not only could Bt-producing genes potentially escape and react with unanticipated outcomes in the environment, a dependable, safe (to the best of our knowledge), organic pest control could be rendered useless.  Lots of things about GMO crops are terrifying, but to me the most unforgivable is the seemingly cavalier attitude of the industry to the unknown environmental impacts, which are inextricably linked to the success of organic producers, as described in the above scenario.  Note:NewLeaf (Bt) potatoes were pulled from the market in 2001, but Monsanto et al. continue to provide pesticide-producing commodity crops like grain and fiber crops. I don't even know where to begin thinking about addressing the fiber issue, but I think we can grow some grains locally-- for example, corn, buckwheat, and rye, and possibly wheat and barley too, on an economical scale.  What locally-produced, organic grains would you like to try? Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Celery! The soup needs celery--- 2-3 lg stalks, chopped. in the saute with the onions, leeks,& carrots. bon appetit