HARVEST GUIDE - WEEK 12 - AUGUST 15, 2013
Welcome to week twelve. As you may have noticed, there was no week eleven harvest guide, so I have some catching up to do this week. I hope everyone enjoyed their first batch of tomatoes. There will be more of those this week, along with peppers, eggplant, carrots, kale and/or chard, lettuce, and possibly basil.
For those of you who are new to the world of local food, you’ll notice a drastic difference between the tomatoes you’ll find in your CSA bag versus the ones you’ll find in grocery store displays. In the grocery store, uniformity is the norm, as you’ll find attractive-looking tomatoes that are all generally the same size, shape, and bright-red color. In contrast, your CSA tomatoes come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, often prettier, but sometimes uglier than those grocery store displays. Then you bite into a farm-fresh tomato, and you know you’ll never want to buy a tomato from the grocery store ever again. I may be biased, but I think most people can agree that the taste of a farm-fresh heirloom bursting in your mouth far surpasses that of the dry, mealy taste of one you’ll find in the grocery store, even if it is an attractive shade of red. So what’s an heirloom tomato? Many of you have probably at least heard the word, but over the past couple weeks I’ve had several people ask me to explain what the term “heirloom” actually means. Although an exact definition is disputed, an heirloom-variety fruit or vegetables is one that was grown years back before hybridization and GMOs were the norm. Most heirlooms can be traced back at least fifty years or, more commonly, to the pre-World War II era before hybridization was a common practice. Unlike hybrids, heirloom plants are open-pollinated, which means that their genes will be passed on to the next generation more-or-less unchanged. In other words, you can save the seeds from an heirloom tomato and use it to grow next year’s crop of tomatoes. This can’t be done with hybrid seeds, as you will not get the same result from saving seeds and planting them the following year; the genes will will form new combinations and you will have no idea what will come up. Although I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to genetically modified crops (a topic for a different day), I want to make it clear that I am not trying to paint a bad picture of hybrid plants. Hybridization has been an influential and often positive advancement in the recent history of agriculture. We grow many varieties of hybrid plants at the farm, such as the chocolate pepper (Capsicum annuum) found in last week’s share, which--according to Johnny’s Seed Catalogue--was developed by E.M. Meader of the University of New Hampshire and is known for its “remarkable earliness” and “tolerance of cool nights.” However, the importance of heirloom seeds is undeniable. Growing heirloom plants helps preserve diversity in agriculture, a diversity that becomes crucially important when monocultures fail. If farmers can’t save seeds from one year to the next and if we limit our production to one variety of crop, as large-scale agricultural operations usually do, we’re leaving ourselves open to the possibility that a single fungus, insect, or act of nature can wipe out everything. By growing a wide variety of heirloom crops, we can protect against this. Also, hybrid (and GMO) plants are often created with certain traits in mind (yield, uniformity, timing, disease resistance, etc.), but taste is rarely one of those traits. This is why heirloom crops commonly have the best flavor. We are growing nineteen varieties of tomatoes and all but two are heirloom. From yellow brandywine to green zebras, we hope you think they are as delicious as we do!
My favorite thing to do with tomatoes is make a tomato, mozzarella, basil salad. If you’re looking for a project this week, try making your own mozzarella cheese--it’s easier than you think! But fresh, store-bought mozzarella works just as well. Slice the cheese into thin circles and layer with tomato slices. Top with ribbons of basil, and sprinkle with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. If you need more inspiration, check out the following New York Times link for an attractive display of Mark Bittman’s favorite summertime tomato recipes: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/08/07/magazine/mag-07eat-recipes.html?_r=0
Last week for the first time you found jalapeño peppers in your bags, and, since these peppers are so prolific, there will certainly be more to come. In the week ten harvest guide, I provided you with some information about peppers in general, but since we were only harvesting bell peppers at that point, I didn’t mention anything about spice. The spiciness of a pepper is measured with the Scoville index. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, back in July Amber and I visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which had a temporary yet extensive exhibit on food and agriculture. To quote their display on peppers, “Scientists give each pepper a number rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). These numbers tell you how much sugar water needs to be added to a ground-up pepper until its heat can’t be tasted. The hottest peppers need to be diluted a million to one before the heat disappears, for an SHU of 1,000,000.” Some of the hottest peppers in existence include the moruga scorpion, the bhut jolokia, and the dorset naga, all coming in at around one million SHU. U.S. grade pepper spray ranges from 2-5 million SHU, and pure capsaicin comes in at a whopping 16 million Scoville heat units. On the other hand, your jalapeño peppers are only about 3 thousand SHU. So yes, I guess I am calling you out on it if you think they’re too spicy. :-)
Looking for something to do with jalapeños other than stuff them with cheese and fry them? (Not that that’s a bad idea by any means). Use both your green heirloom tomatoes and your jalapeño peppers to make this delicious summertime soup:
TANGY GREEN ZEBRA GAZPACHO
2 pounds Green Zebra tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped plus and extra tomato cut into wedges for garnish (you can also substitute tomatillos or unripe red tomatoes)
1 cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped plus finely diced unpeeled cucumber for garnish
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled
1 small jalapeño, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a blender, combine half each of the coarsely chopped green tomatoes, cucumber, and onion with the jalapeño, garlic, lime juice, and 1 cup cold water and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a large bowl.
Add the remaining coarsely chopped green tomatoes, cucumber, and onion to the blender along with the 2 tablespoons of mint, the cilantro, and 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse to a chunky puree. Add the puree to the bowl and stir well. Refrigerate the soup until well chilled, about 1 hour. Season the gazpacho with salt and pepper and ladle it into chilled bowls. Garnish the cold soup with the tomato wedges, diced cucumber, mint leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil to serve.
My friend/slash working share member Allison keeps asking me when we’ll have kale. Well Allison, here it is! Not always a summer crop (we’ll have more of it in the fall), kale is definitely a treat when it’s in season, the perfect texture with just the right amount of bitterness. A member of the Brassica family, kale is incredibly nutritious. One cup of chopped kale contains all of your daily recommended value of vitamins A, C, and K. It’s also high in calcium, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. It is known to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention cancer-fighting agents. You can store dry kale for up to 5 days in an airtight ziplock bag in your refrigerator. When cooking, I recommend steaming for about 5 minutes to maintain as many nutrients as possible. Deborah Madison, the author of Vegetable Literacy, likes to pair kale with Spanish chorizo, smoked paprika, and sea salt. It’s also good paired with garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and/or goat cheese. Enjoy!