Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August 16, 2018 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Edamame

Cooking With This Week's Box:

This Week’s Summary of Recipes and the Vegetables They Utilize:

Edamame: Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below)

Purple Amethyst Beans: Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below)

Zucchini or Yellow Summer Squash: Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza

Green and/or Silver Slicer Cucumbers: Easy Cucumber Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

White Spanish Onions & Red Onions: Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below); Easy Cucumber Salad with Red Wine VinaigretteItalian Egg Bake

Missouri Garlic:  Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below)

Red or Golden Grape, Sunorange or Chocolate Sprinkles Tomatoes: Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below)

Green Bell and/or Green Italian Frying Peppers: Crock Pot Chicken Philly Cheese Steak

Sweet Sarah Cantaloupe: Cantaloupe Rum PopsCantaoupe Popsicles  

French Orange, Sugar Cube or Sivan Melon: No recipe recommendations….just enjoy this melon as it is!

Red Seedless or Yellow Seeded Watermelon: Watermelon Salsa

Sweet Corn: Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below); Creamy Corn Pasta

This is the point in the season where we have trouble fitting everything into the box!  We have a lot to work with in this week’s box, starting with Edamame!  If you’ve never cooked edamame before, please read this week’s vegetable feature for more information. It’s quite simple, but important to cook edamame before you try to remove it from its pod.  I like to add these sweet, tender beans to salads, such as the Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo (see below) featured in this week’s newsletter.  This is a simple salad featuring fresh edamame, tomatoes, red onion, corn and the gorgeous purple amethyst beans in this week’s box.  This is a great way to use the purple beans and retain their dark, majestic purple color.

There’s nothing like the flavor of fresh sweet corn and sometimes the simplest dishes are the most enjoyable when you have good ingredients to work with.  This recipe for Creamy Corn Pasta comes as a recommendation from one of our CSA members who posted the link in our Facebook Group.  This recipe has just a few simple ingredients including sweet corn and fresh basil from your garden.  You can also garnish this dish with some fresh, diced tomatoes.

Easy Cucumber Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Photo posted by April N on
There were several other good recipe recommendations from members on our Facebook group this week including this simple recipe for Easy Cucumber Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette.  This is a simple salad pairing cucumbers with chunks of fresh tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions.  It’s a great salad to serve with dinner and will keep well so you can take leftovers in your lunch the next day.

Last week this recipe for Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza was featured at blog.  This is a simple pizza featuring marinated slices of fresh zucchini paired with mozzarella and basil pesto as the base.  After this is baked, you could serve it with some freshly diced tomatoes and/or arugula if you like.

I typically invest a little more time in Sunday brunch than I dedicate to preparing breakfast throughout the week.  This week I want to make this Italian Egg Bake,  another member recommended recipe.  This will make good use of some of the fresh tomatoes as well as some red onions and oregano from our herb garden.  This would be delicious served with a little arugula salad such as this on the side.  This is a simple recipe for an Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette  that would pair nicely with this dish.

Cantaloupe Popsicle
Photo from Leite's Culinaria 
This is a peak week for melons!  Enjoy them while you can, as we’re nearing the end of melon season.  If you have more than you can eat fresh this week, consider eating the small personal-sized melon fresh for a snack or breakfast and use the larger Sweet Sarah Cantaloupe to make these Cantaloupe Rum Pops.  These are obviously more for the adult crowd, but here’s a recipe for kid-appropriate Cantaoupe Popsicles.

While watermelon is delicious just eaten off the rind with juice running down your chin, you can also use watermelon to make a refreshing Watermelon Salsa.  Dice the watermelon flesh and combine it with red onions, cilantro, jalapeño, etc to make this delicious salsa to serve with grilled chicken.

This week’s peppers are going towards this chicken version of Crock Pot Chicken Philly Cheese Steak sandwich .  You cook the chicken and vegetables in the crock pot and then just build your sandwich.

Lastly, we need something on the sweet side, which is where this Flourless Carrot Cake comes into the picture!  This cake is supposed to keep for up to five days in the refrigerator, if you can make it last that long!

That brings us to the bottom of this week’s box.  Next week we’re hoping to harvest tomatillos and poblano peppers for you.  We’ll also likely start seeing some colored sweet peppers next week along with more tomatoes and corn!  Have a great week and I’ll see you next time—Chef Andrea 

Vegetable Feature: Edamame

Edamame (eh-dah-MAH-may) is a fresh soybean that has grown in popularity in the United States over the past few years, but has been a part of Japanese and Chinese cuisine for much longer.  In this country edamame is most often found in the frozen section either in the pod or shelled.  True edamame intended for fresh eating is quite different than oil-seed soybeans and tofu beans most often grown to make tofu and other processed soy products.  The edamame varieties we grow were developed specifically because they produce a sweet bean that doesn’t have a “beany” aftertaste and is the preferred variety in Japan and China for fresh eating.

Edamame resembles a small lima bean encased in a pod.  The beans are sweet and tender and best eaten lightly cooked. Unlike sugar snap peas, edamame pods are not edible and should be discarded.  Edamame is hard to shell when it’s raw.  It is easiest to cook edamame in its pod first and then remove the beans from the pod.   To cook edamame, first rinse the pods thoroughly with cold water. Bring a pot of heavily salted water (salty like the sea) to a boil.  Add the edamame pods and boil for about 3-4 minutes.  You should see the pods change to a bright green color.  Remove the edamame from the boiling water and immediately put them in ice water or run cold water over them to quickly cool them.   After the beans are cooked you can easily squeeze the pod to pop the beans out, either into a bowl or directly into your mouth!  This is a great skill to teach children so they can eat them as a snack and help you shell edamame!  Once you’ve removed them from the pods, they are ready to incorporate into a recipe or eat as a snack.

You can also roast edamame in their pods.  There’s a basic recipe on our website, but basically you toss the edamame pods with oil and seasonings of your choice.  Serve the beans whole with their pods still on.  While you won’t eat the pod, you can use your teeth to pull the edamame out of the pod and in the process you’ll pick up the seasoning on the outside of the pod!

shelled edamame
You can store fresh or cooked edamame for up to a week in the refrigerator, but it is best to eat them soon for the sweetest flavor and best texture.  If you are interested in preserving edamame for later use, simply follow the cooking procedure above for boiling, cool and freeze the beans either in their pods or remove them and freeze just the bean. It’s a nice treat to pull something green out of the freezer in the middle of the winter to enjoy as a snack or incorporate them into a winter stir-fry or pan of fried rice.

Children and adults alike often enjoy edamame as a simple snack, but you can also incorporate edamame into vegetable or grain salads, stir-fry, fried rice, steamed dumplings or pot stickers to name just a few suggestions.  They pair well with any combination of traditional Asian ingredients such as sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger.  They are also a nice, bright addition to brothy soups such as a miso soup.  If you follow the suggested method for boiling edamame before shelling them, the bean will already be fully cooked, so if you are adding edamame to a hot dish or recipe, do so at the end of the cooking. 

Summer Succotash Salad with Orzo

Yield:  6-8 servings

1 ½ cups dried orzo
3 quarts water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp stoneground mustard
1 Tbsp honey
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup red wine vinegar
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ear cooked sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
½- ¾ cup edamame beans (cooked and shelled)
1 cup diced tomato
½ medium or 1 small red onion, minced
½ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup bite-sized pieces purple amethyst beans
Handful fresh basil
  1. Put 3 quarts water in a 4-5 quart saucepot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Generously salt the water, then add the orzo.  Cook for 10-12 minutes or until the orzo is tender.  Pour orzo and water into a colander to drain the orzo.  Rinse with cold water, then set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine garlic, mustard, honey, ½ tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper and red wine vinegar.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until all is incorporated.  Taste the vinaigrette and add salt or pepper if needed.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium to large bowl, combine sweet corn, edamame, diced tomato and red onion.  Add the cooked orzo and about half of the vinaigrette.  Stir to combine.  Add more vinaigrette if needed.  You want enough that the orzo will soak up the flavor, but not so much that there is excess vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl.  You may not need all of the vinaigrette.
  4. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and black pepper as needed.  Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes or overnight.  Just before serving, add the purple beans and fresh basil.  Either cut the basil leaves into thin slices (chiffonade) or snip into coarse pieces with a kitchen shears.
  5. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Recipe created by Chef Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farm

Growing Onions at Harmony Valley Farm

By Farmer Richard

We have long felt that onions, and the related families of garlic and ramps, are essential to good health and should be eaten daily.  Thus, we consider onions to be a staple vegetable and plan to include some type of onion/garlic selection in every box throughout the course of our CSA season.  This is quite a feat, but we’ve been able to include some perennial and foraged crops such as chives and ramps that allow us to get our weekly onion selection until our overwintered scallions are ready. We plant onion sets and onion tops in the fall for our Egyptian walking onions and potato onions.  These are both multiplier onions that are established in the fall, continue their growth cycle the following spring and are ready for harvest ahead of any spring planted onions.   Next are the first spring scallions which are planted into the field in April from transplants we grow from seed in our greenhouses.  Once we’ve moved through the scallions, we continue with our seasonal progression and harvest an early fresh purple cipollini onion called Desert Sunrise.  This usually brings us to about the end of June when some of our early sweet Spanish onions are big enough to harvest.  Due to their high sugar content, they are an excellent choice for eating fresh as they are pretty mild.  Unfortunately, they don’t store very well.  That’s ok though, because they come in ahead of our storage onions and fill the mid-season slot very nicely.  Once we’ve moved through the sweeter Spanish type onions, we turn to our red and yellow storage onions to take us through the latter part of the season and through the winter.  Yes, it’s a challenge to pull this off, but if you look back over this year and previous years, you’ll find that we’re able to achieve this lofty goal most of the time!

We eat a lot of onions in our household, using them at least once a day if not more.  They often provide the background flavor base for our meals and we include them in everything from our scrambled eggs in the morning to soup, salads, etc.  We do believe onions play an important role in health and value our daily dose of nutrients from this food.  Onions contain powerful antioxidants, many of which are sulfur compounds.  These antioxidants play a role in overall health and immunity and benefit the body with their anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.  They are also thought to play a role in cancer prevention as well as a whole host of other health benefits.  Eating onions raw may be slightly better than cooked, but onions in any form are beneficial.

Onions starting life in the greenhouse this March.
There are some challenges to growing onions, but I’m always up for a good farming challenge!  We start onions and shallots from seed in the greenhouse late in February.  We plan to take care of them for at least 7-8 weeks before they are transplanted into the field.  They are the first crop transplanted in early April.  They can survive snow and cold to 20° F!  While we don’t have to worry about weed pressure in the greenhouse, we are thinking about how to control weeds in the field.  Because of their slim, round stem, onions are poor weed competitors.  Plants that have a wide leaf are able to shade the ground and deprive weeds of valuable sunlight.  Onions grow upright and their tops don’t provide much shade, thus weed control can be a challenge.  They are one of the first crops to need hand weeding and we have found we have to make this job a priority so we have a clean field before we divert our crew time to picking strawberries and peas.

Twenty years ago we planted our spring onion transplants into flat bare ground.  If we managed to keep the weeds out, they grew well.  However, we faced another challenge presented by a tiny little insect called an onion thrip.  This little creature pierced small holes deep in the center growth point of the plant where organic insecticides offered limited control and protection.  The onion thrip is very difficult even for conventional growers, so they have gone to using 100% systemic insecticides, mainly neonicotinoids that make every part of the plant toxic.  It works well to control the thrips, but do we want to eat a toxic plant?
Our onions grown in the flat ground would look good until we brought them into the greenhouse to dry.  After drying and cleaning, we found a soft rot in the neck and top of the onion and often a bad rotting ring somewhere in the onion.  We went to the extension service and had the disease identified by plant pathology and asked what we could do.  The answer was to grow on raised beds.  Heavy rain events on small onions make them vulnerable to getting bacteria inside the center of the onion.  The bacteria causes rot on the inside layers of the onion but appears to be fine from the exterior.  We only see the damage after some time in storage or when we cut them open to use them!  The same is true with another onion disease called neck rot.  Bacteria enter the neck and develop during curing, and often go unnoticed until the end user cuts it open!  This all points back to thrip damage that created the entry point to allow the bacteria to enter!

Raised beds?  How do we do that?  This is not a garden.  We figured it out.  We built equipment to create a 6-8 inch raised bed with a smooth top to plant or transplant all our crops on.  Now, most of our crops, onions included, are planted on raised beds.  The raised bed allows excess water to run off the bed into the lower wheel track between beds and careful ditching at the lower ends of fields prevents the water saturation that would cause onions to later rot.  With this new system, the quality of our onions improved!  But we still had the onion thrips piercing holes that allowed disease bacteria to enter the neck.

Onion transplanting crew, putting the little onions in the
raised beds with the reflective plastic mulch.
Next, we found a reflective plastic mulch that we could use to cover the beds.  It is shiny like aluminum foil and when the sun shines on it the reflection off the mulch disorients thrips and totally deters them from entering the field and onion plants.  We found that this technique also works for other insects on other crops!  So we covered our raised bed with reflective plastic and the high and dry onions without the thrip damage were better than ever!

Did I mention that growing onions has some challenges?  The raised, plastic covered bed has 2 drip tapes buried under 4 rows of onions.  With the help of water sensors we found the onions need lots of water, sometimes we have to irrigate twice per week when it is hot.  Each time we water the onions, we can also give them some fertilizer through the drip lines to provide the nutrients and nitrogen they need to produce well.

The sum total of our efforts allows us to prevent thrip damage to produce healthy onions.  We do still need to manage the harvest and try to bring them in with some green still remaining in the tops. We put them into our shade covered greenhouses to allow them to dry down, cure and set skins for longterm storage.  We are now able to have disease free onions that produce yields comparable to conventional yields but without using systemic poison!

Last year's onions drying in the greenhouse.
Once the onions are dry, we choose to top and clean all our onions and shallots by hand.  It takes time, trimming the top off of every onion with a scissors, but we think it is worth it for a pristine appearance.  Mechanical means of topping onions can cause injury to the onion which then can limit their ability to store well.

As you can see, onions are very important at Harmony Valley Farm and we have a very good crop this year.  We plan to keep you supplied with onions weekly until our CSA delivery season ends.  If you get behind and they start building up on your counter, don’t worry. If you store them properly they will keep well for quite awhile.  Keep them in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight.  When the season ends, we’ll give you an opportunity to order more onions, shallots and red cipollini onions to supply your pantry through the winter!  Display your onions proudly in your kitchen, eat them daily and enjoy being healthy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

August 9, 2018 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Sweet Corn

Cooking With This Week's Box:

This Week’s Summary of Recipes and the Vegetables They Utilize:

Zucchini or Yellow Summer Squash: Vegetable KabobsZucchini Breakfast Cookies

Cucumbers: Easy Greek Salad

White Spanish Onions: Corn & Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons (see below); Vegetable Kabobs

Red Grape Tomatoes: Vegetable KabobsEasy Greek Salad

Italian Frying Peppers and/or Green Bell Peppers: Vegetable Kabobs

Sun Jewel Melons or Sweet Sarah Cantaloupe: Melon Prosciutto SkewersMelon Sorbet

French Orange Melon: Melon Prosciutto Skewers; Melon Sorbet
Sweet Corn: Corn & Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons (see below); Jalapeño Popper Cornbread Muffins

Variety of Tomatoes: Corn & Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons (see below); Easy Greek Salad

Green Beans: Cashew Curry

Can you believe this week marks the halfway point in our CSA season?  This week we’re packing box #15 of our 30 week season.  Yesterday Jose Antonio asked me if I’d taken a look at the winter squash field recently.  His observation was they look like they’re almost ready to harvest!  Yes, the reality that fall is just around the corner is very present in our minds, but we can’t dwell on that thought too long because we still have a lot of summer distractions.  So let's focus on some of those delicious summer distractions this week starting with Sweet Corn!  This is a bountiful week for sweet corn and it is delicious!  This week we’re picking a new variety called Kickoff that is proving to be quite tasty.  I hope you’ll agree.  Of course you may choose to just boil or grill your corn on the cob, slather it with butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  You can’t go wrong with this and often that’s the way we eat it.  But you don’t have to eat corn on the cob.  It’s a great addition to other dishes including salads such as the Corn & Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons that we’ve featured in this week’s newsletter (see below).  This is a recipe from Chef Joshua McFadden’s book, Six Seasons, A new way with vegetables.  It’s a simple salad combining fresh corn cut right off the cob combined with onions, tomatoes, a light vinaigrette and rustic croutons.  A great salad to serve alongside a grilled steak for dinner.

Vegetable Kabobs
Photo from damndelicious
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve made kabobs, so this week I found this recipe for Vegetable Kabobs that will make good use of the zucchini, white Spanish onions, green bell or Italian frying peppers and red grape tomatoes.  This recipe calls for roasting the kabobs in the oven, but you could also grill them if you prefer.  Serve this with a simple rice pilaf and you are set for dinner.  If you have some zucchini left over, use it to make these simple, yet tasty Zucchini Breakfast Cookies.  I made them last week for our market crew snack and they were a hit.  I  didn’t have any chocolate chips so I substituted raisins instead.  They are great for a quick breakfast to go or as a snack.  I had intended to make zucchini bread, but didn’t have a lot of time.  These came together really quickly and only took about 10 minutes to bake.  Super easy.

What are you going to do with those little jalapeño peppers this week?  If they don’t end up in a bowl of fresh salsa, use them to make these Jalapeño Popper Cornbread Muffins.  If you have a little extra fresh corn you could even add some fresh kernels to the batter to jazz it up a bit.  Serve them for breakfast with scrambled eggs or as a side for dinner.

Now that we have tomatoes in the box, it’s time to pair them together with the cucumbers to make this Easy Greek Salad.  You can use your grape tomatoes or just cut up some of the larger variety of tomatoes in this week’s box.  Serve it with Greek Chicken Marinated Chicken.  If you have any leftover chicken and salad, mix the two together and put it in a pita pocket for lunch the next day.

Melon Prosciutto Skewers
Picture from delish
The French Orange melons are decadent and delicious all on their own.  I seldom recommend doing anything other than just eating them as they are.  However, this recipe for Melon Prosciutto Skewers would be a great way to use either the French orange melon or the sweet Sarah melon.  I also found this recipe for Melon Sorbet.  It calls for using a charentais melon, which is similar to the French Orange melon, but you can make this delicious treat using any melon including the Sweet Sarah cantaloupe or sun jewel melon.

I want to do something different with carrots this week and thought this recipe for Roasted Carrot Hummus would be a great way to use this week’s sweet carrots.  Roasting the carrots will enhance the sweetness and flavors of the carrots.  You can use this hummus as a snack or eat it for lunch with pita bread and fresh vegetables or turn it into a pita sandwich or wrap.  Use the hummus as the spread and add chunks of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes.  This might be a winner with kids too, making it a potential school lunch option and a great way to include vegetables in their day!

This week’s boxes will contain either broccoli or cauliflower, and thankfully both pair well with cheese!  I’ve been hungry for mac & cheese lately, but I like this simple recipe for One-Pan Cauliflower Mac & Cheese that doesn’t even contain pasta.  While the recipe calls for cauliflower, you could easily substitute broccoli.  You could also use the broccoli or cauliflower along with this week’s green beans to make Heidi Swanson’s Cashew Curry recipe.  This recipe includes tofu as the protein, which could be substituted with chicken if you don’t care for tofu.

Ok friends, we’ve reached the bottom of another box.  We have more delicious summer vegetables to send your way over the next few weeks.  Edamame should be ready for next week’s boxes and we’re hoping to include tomatillos and poblano peppers very soon.  The mini-sweet peppers should be ready for picking very soon as well and we have a cool, new Chinese hot pepper we’re anxious to’s purple!  Have a great week, enjoy cooking and I’ll see you back next week.—Chef Andrea 

Featured Vegetable: Sweet Corn

There’s always some excitement around sweet corn, after all it is a classic summer vegetable loved by most!  Farmer Richard enjoys the challenge of growing “the best” sweet corn, a delicate balance between choosing a variety with good genetics, one that will perform under challenging field conditions, and one with good corn flavor and just the right balance of sweetness and tenderness.  No small task!

As for eating sweet corn, it’s important to keep sweet corn cold.  After the corn is picked, sugars will start to convert to starch.  Keeping corn cold will slow this process down, preserve the quality and sweetness and give you a few more days to enjoy it.  One of the qualities Richard looks for in a sweet corn variety is the rate of conversion of sugars to starch.   We choose ones that have been developed to have a slower conversion rate, which gives you more time to eat and enjoy the corn before it becomes starchy and compromised.  Despite the fact that you see people selling and transporting corn out of the back of a pickup truck, this is not the best tactic.  We take ice to the field when we harvest it, ice it again when it comes in and store it in the cooler until we pack it and load it on a refrigerated truck.  We do what we can to grow the tastiest corn for you, but you need to do your part too!  Take a cooler with you when you pick up your box, store it in the refrigerator and eat it within a few days.  If you have limited refrigerator space, husk the corn and put it in a plastic bag before refrigerating it.

While eating it off the cob is a special summer treat, fresh corn can be enjoyed in so many other ways.  Cut it off the cob and add it to summer vegetable salads, salsas, or relishes.  Stir fresh corn kernels into cornbread batter, make fritters or sweet corn pancakes.   It’s also good in summer vegetable chowders and light soups.  If you cut the corn off the cob, don’t discard the cob.  Add it to soups or stock where it will impart a delicious corn flavor.

Corn pairs well with a lot of other ingredients including summer vegetables such as green beans, tomatoes, edamame, onions, and peppers.  It also plays well with butter, cream and cheese such as Monterey Jack, Parmesan and feta.  As for herbs, corn dishes pair well with cilantro, basil, mint and thyme to name a few. 

If you’d like to preserve sweet corn, it’s a little messy but overall pretty easy to do.  First you remove the husk and silks.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water.  Cook the ears of corn just until you see the color of the kernels change to a bright yellow.  Remove the corn from the boiling water and put it in a pan or sink of clean water with ice in it.  Put the corn in the ice water to stop the cooking process.  Once cooled, stand the ear of corn upright on the wide base of the ear on a cutting board.  Cut the corn off the cob by running the paring knife down the ear.  Try to cut as close to the ear as possible to avoid wasting any of the good corn or the juice! You can also run the back of a knife on the cob to get all the good corn juice.  Once the corn is cut off the ear, just spoon it into a freezer bag, close the bag and freeze the corn.  You’ll be glad you did this when you are pulling frozen corn out in January to make a delicious corn chowder!

Corn and Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Kernels cut from 3 ears sweet corn, plus the milky pulp scraped from the cob (about 2 cups total)

1 lb tomatoes (all shapes and colors) cored and cut into wedges or chunks, or whatever looks pretty

1 medium white Spanish onion, sliced thinly

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups torn croutons (see recipe below)

½ cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped

½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 handful basil leaves

1 handful mint leaves

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

  1. Put the corn, tomatoes, and onions in a large bowl.  Add the vinegar and toss gently to mix.  Season generously with salt and pepper and toss.  Taste and adjust the seasoning so the salad is nicely bright.
  2. Add the croutons, pistachios, pecorino, basil, and mint and toss again.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.  Moisten with ⅓ cup olive oil and toss again.  Taste and adjust.  Serve lightly chilled or at a little cooler than room temperature.

Torn Croutons

Yield: about 2 cups

2 large, thick slices country loaf (about 4oz)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Tear the bread, crust and all, into bite-size pieces.  Toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  3. Spread the croutons on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until golden brown, checking every 4 to 5 minutes and moving the outside croutons to the center of the pan so they cook evenly.  Don’t let them get rock hard; leave a little bit of chew in the center.  The total baking time will depend on the type and density of bread you’re using, but most likely will be 10 to 20 minutes.
  4. Slide onto paper towels to absorb any extra oil and season again lightly with salt and pepper. Store the croutons in an airtight container.  (Be sure to make more than you need for your recipe because you’ll find yourself eating these as a snack.)

These recipes were adapted from Six Seasons, A new way with vegetables by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg.

Sweet Corn & The Science Behind the Selection

By Farmer Richard

“Some crops we grow for profit, others, i.e. sweet corn, we grow to make friends.” –Farmer Richard, 1980

The genetics of corn breeding have changed dramatically since I started raising sweet corn in the 70’s.  Even then we sought out the exceptional!  Sweet corn varieties are classified with terms that describe and classify their genetic traits.  Back then, all corn was classified as SU (sugary), but we found that white corn had less pericarp (outer skin on the kernel) which made it much more tender.  ‘Country Gentleman’ was an heirloom white corn with irregular rows, but it was tender, sweet, and had great corn flavor.  While these were superior tasting varieties, all the SU corns had a rapid conversion of sugar-to-starch which shortened the shelf life.  If promptly cooled and iced, you had a few good days, but eating the same day was by far the best!

Then came the SE (sugar enhanced) varieties.  The conversion of sugar-to-starch was much slower and we found bi-color corn to be much more tender, but still the rapid cooling and cold temperature kept the SE corn very sweet for several days.   Next, Sh2 (shrunken gene) varieties were being produced.  The sugar-to-starch conversion was greatly slowed, but they had a thick pericarp, read “tough and not tender.”  Some newer Sh2 and SE ‘synergistic’ varieties have managed to achieve most of the desirable characteristics including good corn flavor, sweetness, slow conversion of sugar-to-starch, plus cold soil vigor and a tight husk on top to deter corn earworms from entering the ear.  All of the above improvements have been accomplished with natural breeding.  Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, most conventional sweet corn is now genetically modified to produce the Bt toxin in every part of the plant.  But in addition to killing root worms and earworms it has been devastating to other butterflies, including the Monarch.  Aside from the Bt toxin, GMO corn is also modified to be tolerant to Roundup Weed Killer.  GMO corn is not labeled, so as a consumer you have to ask and trust the answer.  GMO varieties are not allowed for certified organic growers, so if you wish to avoid GMO sweet corn, your best bet is to choose certified organic.  Our overall goal is always to produce “the best corn ever!”  Thus, we continue to carefully choose varieties, plant the seeds in rich organic soil, and cross our fingers for cooperative weather.  But the better the corn, the more wild critters come to try and eat.

Corn behind a fence to keep the critters at bay.
Pest control is quite the ordeal with sweet corn.  We put up an 8 foot high fence for deer.  It works, but we have to check daily for breaches.  The cute little raccoons are more persistent.  It takes two electric wires close to the ground and in place to keep them out before they even get a taste.  We also worry about the birds.  The beautiful red winged black bird plus many other birds love a good ear of corn!  They peck the top off the ear to get to the sweet juicy kernels.  We put up scare eye balloons on tall poles with many shiny streamers that flash in the breeze as well as several life sized hawks and owls that turn their heads from side to side.  We try to make it a scary place for the birds before the birds get a taste!

If we can manage to keep the raccoons and birds out, we aren’t in the clear yet.  There’s the corn earworms, a dusty gray moth that migrates yearly from the south.  I liked the image of large flocks of bats leaving their caves in Texas to intercept and feed on the moths before they can get to us.  But, sadly, the health of the bat populations has been compromised by agricultural chemicals, specifically neonicotinoids, and many are unable to fly high enough to intercept the corn earworm moth.  Thus we are left with a greater number of earworms migrating to the north that we now have to deal with.  Instead of combatting this pest with harmful chemicals, we use a pheromone trap to monitor the earworm moths during their night time visit to the corn field.  We haven’t caught one yet, but we check our traps daily now!  If our timing is good, we can have Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) available for them to eat when they hatch on the fresh corn silks.  Bt is a naturally occurring bacteria that affects only lepidopteron worms.   Our use of Bt affects only the worms on the corn ears, while GMO corn pollen drifts for miles, spreading the Bt toxin to non-target species, especially the monarch larva feeding on milkweed.

Ok, is the corn ready now?  No, patience.  Check the fence, check the traps, and watch for birds daily.  As the ear fills the tip goes from a point to having “shoulders,” which is the kernels, full to the top.  The last week before harvest, we pick a few ears every day to look and taste.  The difference between a good ear of corn and an excellent ear of corn can be the difference of just a day or two. 

Finally picking day comes!  One of the most skilled jobs on the farm, picking corn is done only by a few very experience pickers, all of whom were trained by me, Farmer Richard.  It takes sharp eyes to see the full shoulders through the husk.  Placing your hand over the top, if you feel a full ear with a soft tip under your hand, you twist down and turn, the ear is off the stalk and into your shoulder bag.  Or if your hand feels a slightly stiff tip and not quite full top, you leave the ear to be picked a few days later.  The decision is made in less than a second and you move to the next ear.

Silvestre returning to the farm with iced corn
from the field.
We average harvesting 100 ears per hour, including packing and icing in the field, before the ears come home to the cooler.  We have four fields of sweet corn this year.  The first early corn was planted only half an inch deep just before a couple of warm sunny days to avoid the colder, deeper soil.  It worked, they germinated, but the birds ate 50% of that shallow planted crop.  This is why there were only a few ears per box last week.  The second crop is abundantly ready this week, but space is limited in the box, so we offered it as a Produce Plus item.   We are happy to have received so many orders for it!  Fresh frozen corn has always been a favorite winter treat of ours.  With all due respect to organic processors, you can do better! 

We have two more promising crops to go, if we can beat the critters to it.  We plan to get as much excellent corn to you as we can manage and hope to make some long-time friends. Please let us know if we reached the status of “best corn ever!”