Friday, September 26, 2014

Vegetable Feature: Turnips

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Baby White Turnips
In Europe, turnips were once the vegetable of choice to throw at someone as an insult, and an eligible English maiden would present her suitor with a turnip when rejecting him. As you can see, our vegetable feature this week has certainly experienced its fair share of ups and downs over the course of history. A great degree of this unfortunate reputation can be attributed to the fact that turnips were (and still are, though to a lesser extent) often used as livestock fodder and were thus prone to being viewed as unfit for human consumption. Fortunately, turnips seem to be making their way back into the good graces of consumers, though we at Harmony Valley Farm have loved them all along! With the arrival of fall and knowing that colder days are just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to get acquainted with this wonderful, versatile veggie.

As members of the mustard family, you may hear turnips referred to as Brassicas—a classification they share with cabbage, kohlrabi and cauliflower, to name just a few. Turnips are what we call a cool-weather crop, in that they do best in the chillier days of spring and with the nearing of fall, when we see a drop in the nighttime temperatures. We grow two different classes of turnips. The baby white turnips in your box this week are classified as a salad turnip and are planted early in the spring and again in the fall. These pristine beauties are more similar in size to radishes and have a sweet, mild flavor and tender texture. They are harvested with their green tops which are also edible. The greens are quite nutritious and are a good source of vitamins A, K, and C. The greens can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed. Baby white turnips are meant to be eaten within a week or so after you receive them and are not meant to be stored.

Our second class of turnips, on the other hand, are grown for their storage potential. These include the common purple top turnip as well as two of our favorite varieties—Golden & Sweet Scarlet. The latter two are characterized not only by their colorful skin, but they are also more mild & sweeter in flavor than the traditional purple top turnips. Storage turnips are very dense and have a thicker skin making them better for storage throughout the fall and well into the winter. During a time when eating seasonally was more a necessity than a choice, turnips were often a staple due to their ability to endure long-term storage. Today, the average household likely keeps turnips around for a week or two by storing them in the fridge. You can, however, make them last for up to six months if you store them correctly.
Scarlet Turnips

This week’s baby white turnips really just need a quick scrub to remove any residual dirt. Given their thin, tender skin, there is really no need to peel them. From here, you can eat them raw—sliced or grated into a salad. They can also be lightly cooked with a quick saute or stir-fry, gentle boiling or steaming, or you can even roast them. Storage turnips are a great addition to a hearty soup or stew. You can even mash them, just as you would potatoes. Hold onto this information and refer to it in November and December when we include storage turnips in your box.

Quick Stir-Fried Celery & Turnips
Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Serves 3-4
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1-2 dried red chiles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
1½ cups celery, sliced thinly
4-6 baby white turnips, medium diced
2 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Heat a wok, cast-iron skillet or a sauté pan over high heat. Make sure all of your ingredients are ready before you start to cook.

2. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the hot pan and add the dried chiles. It’s best to tear or cut the chiles open. The quantity of peppers will be based on your heat tolerance.

3. Stir the chiles to keep them moving so they get toasted, but not burned. After about 45 seconds, add the garlic and continue to move the garlic to keep it from burning.

4. Immediately follow the garlic with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry until the mushrooms are softened. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil along with the celery and turnips. Stir-fry for several minutes or until the vegetables are tender, yet still crispy. Turn off the heat and add the soy sauce. Stir to combine the soy sauce with all the vegetables. Serve immediately. 

**Note: This is an incredibly simple preparation that is a delicious accompaniment to meals such as teriyaki beef with steamed rice or hoisin chicken and rice.

Roasted Squash with Turnips, Apples & Caramelized Onions

Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Serves 3-4 
2 cups winter squash, medium dice
6 tsp sunflower or olive oil, divided
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 medium apples, medium dice
4-6 baby white turnips, medium dice
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp salt
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil

⅓-½ cup toasted squash seeds or chopped hazelnuts

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a medium baking dish, toss winter squash with 2 tsp of oil. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, then add the apples and white turnips along with 2 tsp more oil. Stir to combine the vegetables and return to the oven. Continue to roast the vegetables for an additional 30-40 minutes or until the apples and vegetables are soft, tender and lightly browned.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat a medium sauté pan on the stove top over medium-low heat. Add 2 tsp oil, onions, fennel seeds, dried thyme and ½ tsp salt. Cook over low heat for about 20-25 minutes or until the onions are soft and a light brown in color. You will need to stir them frequently and adjust the heat in order to caramelize them and not fry them.

3. Once the onions are caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the apple cider vinegar. Add the butter and let it melt in the warm pan. Stir to combine everything and then set aside.

4. Once the vegetables are roasted, remove the pan from the oven and stir the onions into the hot vegetables. Put in a serving bowl and top with toasted squash seeds or hazelnuts.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Harvest Party Recap:

by Sherri Froh-Byrne
Wagon Tours at our Harvest Party, September 21, 2014 
We could not have asked for a more beautiful day for our annual Harvest Party on Sunday with mostly clear skies and temperatures right around the 70 degree mark! Our party kicked off at noon with live music featuring the sounds of Sonic Love Child filling the valley with Americana, classic country, folk and blues.
Live music with Sonic Love Child 
The music set the tone for the day and heightened the great spirits of all present! We also had a few activities planned such as “Pumpkin Ring Toss” which proved to be more challenging than we thought, but everyone who gave it a try had fun! I think Farmer Richard was one of the very few who was able to “ring” his pumpkin stem with the embroidery hoop!
Farmer Richard competes in a game of "Pumpkin Ring Toss"
We loaded up 4 wagons and made our way to the fields. Our first stop was the sweet potato field which was covered with giant field blankets to protect them from the threat of frost and to keep them warm. As we pulled back the cover, we were momentarily distracted by a Leopard frog that was sitting on top! The cover was caught by the wind and suddenly it had its own personal trampoline as it bounced freely before hopping off and landing on the ground.

Leopard Frog on field blanket

Leopard Frog caught!
Quick photo before its release.
We focused our attention back on the sweet potatoes, and with Farmer Richard’s direction, started to cut away the vines. We had many willing helpers to lift the sweet potatoes out of the ground. Several members who weren’t afraid to dig in the dirt walked away with bunches of sweet potatoes. Hearing the “ooh’s” and “aah’s” of children as the sometimes odd and twisted shapes emerged from the ground and watching each person hold up their sweet potatoes was priceless. Captain Jack and Richard determined we should let them grow just a few more weeks before we harvest the field.
Curious eyes look on as sweet potatoes are lifted from the ground
Next stop, the carrot field! We arrived at the carrot field and listened while Farmer Richard explained where to find the different varieties before giving the go ahead to start pulling carrots. Just like in the sweet potatoes, the sounds of satisfaction after pulling up beautiful bunches of fresh carrots filled the air. The children were especially excited about the different colors of carrots that they found. Farmer Andrea walked with a group out to where the radishes are grown and many members came back to the wagons with nice bunches of radishes. Captain Jack played a game of “stick”, and somehow he ended up with a tail full of burrs. After a bit of grooming he hopped on a wagon and we were on our way to our final stop, the pumpkin field.

Now that's a huge carrot!
The highlight of the wagon tour was the pumpkin picking. Everyone was excited to start looking for their very own perfect pumpkin. Farmer Richard pointed out which variety of pumpkin was most suitable for making pumpkin pie.
The search for the perfect pumpkin!

A few people found some “warty” pumpkins that caught their eye and others found some that would most certainly make the perfect Jack O’ Lantern. Some of the children were on a mission to find a special pumpkin that Farmer Richard had etched with Andrea’s name. I heard the lucky one cry out “I found AJ! I found AJ!” That little girl was so proud of herself for finding Andrea’s pumpkin.
Farmer Andrea's pumpkin

Captain Jack also had a pumpkin with his name etched into the skin that was found amongst all of the pumpkins in the field. It was fun watching everyone decide which one held the most beauty in their own eyes and I am certain that there was not one person who left the field feeling disappointed in their decision.
Captain Jack looks for his pumpkin!
Now that everyone worked up an appetite with all of that field work, we headed back to the packing shed for our potluck. The food was plentiful. Chef Caleb made some delicious Vegetarian Tamale Pie packed with veggies and our own dried beans. This was accompanied by an abundance of salads, side dishes and desserts. I think that it is safe to assume that nobody left the party hungry. Sonic Love Child performed during our meal and for the remainder of the celebration. Again, the music was pleasing and I am certain that I saw toes tapping and lips moving as people sang along with a few familiar songs!
So much food! Truly a bounty of the harvest!

Our big activity this year was “Pack a CSA Box”. The mission of this game was to see who could assemble a box and pack it full of vegetables, fitting all of the vegetables from their tote into the box without crushing or damaging any items. Teams were not only racing against the clock and each other, but racing against Farmers’ Andrea and Richard. Since they have a bit of an unfair advantage due to their combined experience in CSA box packing, it was decided that they would have to compete while wearing blindfolds.
Farmer Andrea and Farmer Richard compete in "Pack a CSA Box"
We had a tie between 2 winning teams who were able to complete their task in a record 43 seconds. Each of the winning teams took home a special box full of vegetables. The remainder of the teams took home the produce that they had packed and we had additional prizes for everyone participating in the game. Farmer Richard and Andrea were great sports for playing blindfolded. They did come in last place, but certainly their reward was the greatest as because of them and their effort, everyone who attended this year’s harvest party had a super time.

All in all, it was a very successful harvest party. So many people commented on how they couldn’t have asked for a better day for a drive to the farm! It was great to meet so many people and for Richard and Andrea to see so many familiar faces of people who have supported the farm and encompassed the whole CSA concept. Thank you to all of the Harmony Valley crew who showed up to make this day successful by helping with set up, assisting with parking, driving the tractors and clean up. Thank you to those of you who came, and to those of you who couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Vegetable Feature: Celeriac

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

This week’s vegetable feature was highlighted in a 2006 National Public Radio (NPR) article entitled: “The vegetable world’s ugly duckling: Celeriac.” We admit it—celeriac is certainly not the most visually pleasing vegetable out there, but what it may lack in terms of aesthetics, it more than makes up for in taste with its subtle parsley-celery flavor profile. A member of the Umbelliferae family and a cousin to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips, you may also hear celeriac referred to as celery root, turnip-rooted celery or knob celery. Historically speaking, it is believed that celeriac had medicinal and religious uses in many early civilizations, including those of Italy, Egypt and Greece. While it was not recorded as a food plant until 1623 in France, celeriac did make an appearance—not as celeriac or celery, but as selinon—in Homer’s Odyssey all the way back in 800 B.C. Today, celeriac is most widely used in France and is famous for its role in the traditional Céleri Rémoulade salad (check out David Lebovitz’s take on this dish on his website). Celeriac is much more resistant to disease in comparison to celery. It also can be stored for up to 6 months making it a great substitute for celery as part of a local Midwestern diet.

Celeriac in field
Having been developed from the same wild species as stalk celery, celeriac differs in that it is grown
not for its stalk but instead for its developed root. Although part of the celeriac plant does indeed consist of deep green, upward-reaching stalks and leaves, celeriac gets it somewhat unfortunate reputation from what grows beneath the soil—a gnarly knob which, according to NPR, looks like “a troll’s orb of warts and roots.” Now, don’t be intimidated and remember that celeriac is a truly underrated vegetable! To get to the crisp ivory flesh underneath, just cut a slice off of the top and bottom. Then, use a paring or even a chef’s knife (a peeler won’t work as well) slice down from the top, removing the roots and skin as you go. From here, you can boil, braise, steam, shred or roast your celeriac. You can even eat it raw. One cautionary word of advice—celeriac is quick to discolor, so as you dice or shred it, promptly place it into acidulated water (water with a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar). Finally, don’t toss those stalks and leaves! They will lend their rich flavor to soup stocks, while the leaves on their own may be finely chopped and thrown in with any dish in need of a little extra flavor. Nutritionally, celeriac is an excellent source of vitamins B and C, as well as potassium, manganese and phosphorous. Being low in carbs, you may be urged to substitute celeriac for potatoes. If you ask us, we say use them both! There’s nothing quite like a winter mash of celeriac, potatoes, garlic and cream.

Sources: Vegetable Literacy; National Public Radio

Curried Celeriac Slaw with Dried Cherries
Recipe borrowed from Cooking Light Annual Recipes from 2003

Yield: 4 servings

½ cup dried tart cherries
½ cup finely chopped red onion
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
3 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp olive oil
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
3 cups shredded, peeled celeriac

Combine all ingredients except for the celeriac in a large bowl, stirring well to combine.
Add the celeriac; toss well to coat. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving

Celery Root and Mushroom Latkes 
with Onion Applesauce
Recipe borrowed from Bon Appetit magazine in December 2011.

Yield: 16 latkes

Onion Applesauce
1—8 oz Granny Smith apple 
1 medium onion, unpeeled
2 tsp kosher salt plus more for seasoning
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 pound celery root (celeriac), peeled, coarsely grated
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, coarsely grated
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 pound fresh mushrooms, washed 
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil (for frying)

First prepare the onion applesauce. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a small rimmed baking sheet with foil. Wrap the apple in another piece of foil. Place the unpeeled onion and apple on the prepared sheet. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool completely, keeping the apple in the foil.
Unwrap the apple, core, peel and place with juices in a food processor. Peel onion; add to processor. Add 2 tsp salt. Puree until very smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl. Season applesauce with salt. Cover, chill. Stir in cilantro just before serving.

Meanwhile, mix celery root, potatoes, and salt in a large colander set over a large bowl to draw out moisture. Chill; let drain for 1½ hours. Mix in mushrooms; let drain in refrigerator for 30 minutes longer.

Using your hands, squeeze excess moisture from the potato mixture. Transfer to another large bowl. Stir in the eggs and the next 4 ingredients; blend thoroughly. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours. (This will help bind the latkes).

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Divide latke mixture into 16 equal portions on another baking sheet. Form each into a ½-inch thick patty. Pour oil into a large nonstick skillet to a depth of ¼ inch; heat over medium heat. Working in batches, fry latkes until cooked through and golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to prepared sheet; keep warm in oven while frying remaining latkes.

Serve warm latkes with onion applesauce.

Meet the Lopez Tapia family!

by Kelly Kuester
Angel, Juan Antonio, and Rufino

Jose and Angel cleaning ramps
We are happy to have the opportunity to introduce you to the Lopez Tapia family which includes
Angel, Rufino and Juan Antonio. Let’s start with Angel Tapia Lopez, who has been working at Harmony Valley Farm for 8 years now! He has been married to his wife Rosa Zuniga Zuniga for 21 years. They have 4 children together, Maria Itzel, 20; Juan Antonio, 18 (more on him later); Tonia, 15; and Angel Alejandro, 10. In Mexico, Angel likes to go fishing and dancing with his family. He will sometimes work home constructions jobs, as well as taking care of his 25 sheep and a pig at his home. Yes, just one pig. Angel is child #7 out of 11. He lives close to his parents and most of his siblings as well. He helps out his father with his 50 plus sheep as well as his own.

Angel roasts the pig
Angel has become an important leader at Harmony Valley Farm, and excels in many areas of
responsibility. He is an experienced crew leader for beets, kale, collards and sweet corn. He has a way of motivating the crew to meet their goals every time they go to the field. Not only does he lead the crew on occasion, but he also does a lot of field preparation, including rotovating and bed shaping before the planting crew takes their turn in the field. He is considered our resident butcher and chef as well as fencer and animal guru. One of the more important tasks that Angel is very well versed in is chopping. After a crop is finished, we have to chop it before we can work the remaining plant matter into the soil. It is extremely important to know the field numbers and crops. It could be disastrous to chop a crop that we should be harvesting that week! Because Angel has been a long time trusted worker, we listened when he asked to bring another member of his family to work here. This year we have his son, Juan Antonio, and brother, Rufino, working with us.

Rufino is Angel’s brother, #9 of 11 in the pecking order. Rufino had worked with us many years ago, and then decided to branch out and work at other farms across North America. Although we like to encourage new things and experiences, we are certainly happy to have Rufino return! This is his second year back with Harmony Valley Farm. He is very serious about any task given to him, from leading a crew to cleaning up the packing shed, it is all business till the task is done. He has been a crew leader this year for cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and radish harvests. He is also learning the trick to meat packing on the CSA truck. He said that there were no favorite tasks on the farm, he likes it all. Then there was the tell-tale pause. When pressed, he admitted that he did not like to harvest nettles. He said sometimes if your gloves are thin, you get stung right through the gloves. While in Wisconsin, Rufino likes to fish and go shopping for ‘stuff’ at the mall for his wife and children.
Rufino with celeriac
Rufino has been married to his wife Maria de Los Angeles Sanchez Mendez for 11 years. They have 3 children together: Natalia, 9; Juan Diego, 8; and Aide Jennifer, 3. Like Angel, Rufino lives close to his parents. He farms 7 hectares, or roughly 17.30 acres of corn, dry beans and oats. He has 3 chickens and hopes to increase that number to 40 next year. He also has 1 pig, and we can guess what that one pig is for. To keep Angel’s pig company of course! When not working his farm, or helping his father feed and water his sheep, Rufino likes to play soccer, cards and going fishing with his kids. He said his wife really does not like fishing at all. He takes her dancing in town sometimes. 

Juan Antonio bunching cilantro
This brings me to the last of this family, (so far) Juan Antonio. He is our youngest employee this year. He turned 18 in March. He is not yet married, but plans to marry Leticia, his girlfriend, in February 2015. They had a baby, Ana Paola, 5 months ago and are looking forward to living and being together when he returns to Mexico. When in Mexico, he helps his father (Angel) and grandfather with their sheep as well as working construction. For fun, like most teenagers he likes to go into San Miguel and walk around town and look at everything and nothing at the same time.

Juan Antonio, like others who are new to the crew, works on the harvest crew and he is quickly learning the field numbers and crops. Andrea likes to quiz the newer crew on field numbers they were just harvesting from when they bring the veggies to the packing shed. Juan Antonio is passing those quizzes with flying colors. He hopes to learn more about the tractors and equipment in the future so he can follow in his father’s footsteps. He is very happy to be working here and says that it is much easier being this far away from home when his father and uncle are both here with him. (Side note: Angel was standing right next to Juan Antonio when he said that. My assumption is that it is true, but thought it should be stated.) If you are able to come to our Harvest Party this weekend, you can meet these three handsome gentlemen in person!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vegetable Feature: Leeks

by Andrea Yoder

Freshly harvested leeks in the field
Tomas shows me a healthy leek
While leeks are in the onion/allium family, they “add more of a whisper and less of a shout” in terms of their role in cooking as stated by Chef Deborah Madison. Nigel Slater, in his book Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch describes leeks as “the onion’s refined sister, brought here by the Romans, for the times you want the latter’s silken texture…” Leeks have a long white shank that turns to more of a bluish green color as you reach the top of the leek. The lower white portion is tender and consists of many layers of thin flesh stacked upon each other. The upper dark portion tends to be more coarse and thicker. The upper portion is best used in making vegetable or meat stocks. When the lower white portion is cooked, the leeks become soft and silky. They are more mild in flavor in comparison to onions, with a distinct flavor of their own. They have fewer sugars than onions, so they will not caramelize in the same way as an onion.

Leeks pair well with many fall vegetables including potatoes, celeriac and fennel. They are often incorporated into soups and egg dishes. It is best to take your time and cook leeks more gently and slowly over medium heat. Leeks become creamy and silken when simmered in butter or olive oil. They pair well with white wine, cheese, chicken, bacon, fish and fresh herbs.
The crew puts in a hard days work on the leek harvest

As leeks are growing, we “hill” dirt up around them several times during their growing season. We do this in part for weed control, but it also helps to keep the lower portion of the leek nicely blanched. As a result, you may find some dirt has found its way in between the layers within a leek. You’ll want to make sure you rinse leeks well before using. You can do this by simply cutting the leek in half and holding it under running water while separating the layers with your hands. You can also slice or chop the leeks and then wash them in a sink of water and dry them in a colander. Store leeks loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Apple, Leek & Cheddar Quiche
Recipe borrowed from Andrea Chesman’s Recipes from the Root Cellar.

Serves 4-6
Pastry for a 9-inch or 10-inch single-crust pie
3 Tbsp butter
1 large leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp dried thyme
1 cup firmly packed grated smoked cheddar or sharp cheddar  
   cheese (4 ounces)
3 eggs
Milk or cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Roll out and fit the pastry into a 9 or 10-inch pie pan. Fold the overhang under and flute the edges of the dough.

3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté until limp, about 3 minutes. Add the apple and sauté until the leeks are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and thyme.

4. Sprinkle ½ cup of the cheese into the pie shell. Layer the leek mixture on top of the cheese. Cover with the remaining cheese.

5. Beat the eggs in a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1½ cups. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the pie filling.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until puffed and browned. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy for brunch, lunch or supper!

Seared Salmon with Braised Leeks & Potatoes
Recipe adapted from a recipe published in Salmon, A Cookbook by Diane Morgan, by Diane Morgan.

Serves 4
3 large or 4-5 small leeks
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium potato, peeled, small-diced
1 cup white wine
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
4 salmon fillets, 4-6 oz each
1 Tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, tarragon, thyme, or other)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces. Rinse leeks in a colander to thoroughly clean them. Drain well.

2. In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat and swirl to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Add the leeks and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until softened.

3. Add the potatoes, wine, and ½ tsp salt and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until potatoes are tender, leeks are silky and nearly all the liquid has been reduced.

4. Remove from the heat and set aside partially covered to keep it warm until you are ready to serve it.

5. In a separate sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers in the bottom of the pan. Season the salmon fillets with salt & pepper. Place salmon in the pan, skin side up. You should hear a nice sizzle when you put the salmon in the pan. Sear the salmon on that side until it is golden brown and has a nice crust. Turn the salmon over and continue cooking, skin side down, to the desired degree of doneness.

6. Just before serving, add the fresh herbs to the braised leeks and potatoes. Adjust seasoning as needed. To serve, place a portion of the braised leeks and potatoes on each plate and place the seared salmon on top. Top each piece with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Future of Food Series Part IV: The Evolution of Diet

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

This week, we return to our exploration of National Geographic’s Future of Food series. In the latest featured article, “The Evolution of Diet,” Ann Gibbons—author of The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors—opens the discussion with a simple question: “Could eating like our ancestors make us healthier?” This is an incredibly timely conversation of a topic that has gained quite a bit of attention as of late. I’m referring of course to the Paleolithic Diet, better known by its abbreviated form—the Paleo Diet. Paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas sheds some light on the craze surrounding this new Stone Age-inspired diet. One of the principle tenants underlying the Paleo Diet is the idea that we modern humans have not had sufficient time to evolve from hunter-gatherers to those who consume farmed foods. Supporters often ground this point in a discussion surrounding the general youthfulness of agriculture—it only came to the fore about 10,000 years ago. One of the Paleo Diet’s staunchest advocates, Loren Cordain, an evolutionary nutritionist at Colorado State University, draws from modern-day studies he has conducted on traditional hunter-gatherer societies. Having found that 73 percent of the societies he studied obtained at least 50 percent of their daily caloric intake from meat, Cordain thereby encourages his fellow humans to focus on eating lean meat and fish, while limiting intake of beans, cereal grains and dairy products. Doing so, he insists, will allow us to avoid the “diseases of civilization”—heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

Numerous studies, including a few referenced in this piece by Gibbons, partly substantiate Cordain’s findings—that eating a diet of non-processed foods can help us avoid these so-called diseases of modern civilization. However, researchers are less quick to get behind Cordain’s and the Paleo Diet’s meat-centric ideology. Gibbons lays out one of the major unwavering concerns here, which I touched on back in July: with the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, we need to ask ourselves which diet is best. “Simply put, a diet that revolves around meat and dairy, a way of eating that’s on the rise throughout the developing world, will take a greater toll on the world’s resources than one that revolves around unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.”

Moreover, if you look deeper into what academic studies on both historic and modern hunter-gatherer societies have found, they echo what Gibbons has said: that “the real Paleolithic diet wasn’t all meat and marrow.” While it appears that hunter-gathers the world over crave meat more than any other food, the amount of meat they are actually able to secure and consume on a regular basis varies widely. Overall, researchers have estimated that meat provides around 30 percent of their annual caloric intake (with the notable exception of the Inuit and other groups residing in the Arctic, who typically obtain 99 percent of their calories from seals, narwhals and fish). Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology points out that: “There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human.” This picture, however, is incomplete. We are instead reminded that man the hunter is backed up by woman the gatherer, and that during lean times, what these societies really subsist on are plant foods.

Speaking directly to and perhaps contradicting one of the arguments that advocates of the Paleo Diet make—that humans are not evolved enough to eat grains and other farmed foods—Henry has identified the presence of starch granules on fossil teeth and on stone tools dating back 100,000 years. These findings suggest that humans may indeed have been consuming grains and other plant foods long enough to have evolved the ability to tolerate them. “What bothers a lot of paleoanthropologists is that we actually didn’t have just one caveman diet,” says Leslie Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. “The human diet goes back at least two million years. We had a lot of cavemen out there.” Where the Paleo Diet goes wrong is that it fails to replicate the wide diversity of foods hunter-gatherer societies have historically eaten. At the same time, the strong possibility that those who subscribe to this diet will fail in mimicking the active lifestyles that safeguarded our ancestors from diabetes and heart disease is often downplayed.

What this really comes down to is the notion that no one diet epitomizes the ideal human diet. Rather, one of the wonders of Homo erectus—and this has typically been true of humans today—is that we’ve been able to adapt to our environments throughout time. Adaptation is one thing, but many humans today are currently facing a new sort of dilemma. Touching on the evolution of cooking and what this development has meant for us humans, Gibbons explains how, by cooking our food, our guts get to spend less time trying to break down energy. What this means is that we’re allowed to extract more fuel by doing less work. Unfortunately, many of us have gotten a little too good at this. As Gibbons says, “For the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they can burn in a day.” So, where does this leave us? Whether you’re the type of person who needs to have a regimented diet, or someone whose schedule doesn’t allow for much home-cooking, Gibbons leaves us with a succinct message: “If most of the world ate more local fruits and vegetables, a little meat, fish, and some whole grains, and exercised an hour a day, that would be good news for our health—and for the planet.” We will all need to figure out what sort of diet works for us individually, based on our predilections and the various responsibilities we’re faced with on a daily basis, but I would say that this framework certainly seems like a good place to start.

Read more about the "Future of Food" on National Geographic's food channel.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Featured Vegetable of the Week: Peppers

by Andrea Yoder

Pepe (and Leonardo) picked a peck of pickled peppers!

Peppers are classified as either sweet or hot and can vary in size from a small pepper that resembles a large bean seed to a big, blocky bell pepper. While it is common to eat green peppers, you’ll find that the flavor of a green pepper is more mild and straightforward without a lot of sweetness in it. This is because green peppers are technically not ripe. All peppers start out as a green pepper. As the fruit ripens on the plant, it makes a transition from green fruit to a colored pepper. As this change occurs, natural sugars develop in the fruit making it not only sweet but also flavorful. An added bonus is that as the pepper ripens and changes color, the nutrient value of the pepper also increases. We will pack a variety of peppers in your box throughout the season. Always check the newsletter “What’s In the Box” section so you can identify the peppers and determine if they are hot or sweet.

Peppers are very versatile in use. They can be eaten raw or cooked and pair well in dishes with other summer vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant. Peppers mark the transition from late summer into early fall, and as such, can dance on the line between summer and fall vegetables which means they also pair well with sweet potatoes and winter squash to name just a few.

Mini Sweet Peppers
Roasting peppers helps to develop their natural sweetness and gives it kind of a smoky flavor. There are several methods for roasting peppers. Fire-Roasted peppers can be roasted over a direct flame, either on a grill or over a gas burner. Just put the pepper directly over the flame either on a metal rack or just hold it with tongs.  Rotate the pepper until the outer skin is charred. An alternative is to roast peppers under a broiler or just put them on a pan in a very hot oven. This last method won’t give you as much of the smoky flavor, but still works great. Once you’ve roasted the peppers, place them in a bowl while they are still hot and cover with plastic wrap so they steam as they cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, pull out the cores and scrape the skin away from the flesh. Now you can chop or slice the roasted peppers and add them to sauces, dips, soups, etc.

Peppers are very easy to preserve as well. The simplest way is to just wash them and freeze them raw. You can also dehydrate or pickle them. Peppers are great to pull out in the winter and add to pizzas, soups, sauces,etc. Have fun with peppers for the next several weeks…summer won’t last forever!

Sweet Pepper Mashed Potatoes
Recipe developed by Chef Andrea Yoder

Serves 6
2 pounds potatoes*
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup sweet pepper, small dice
1 cup onion, small dice
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
⅔ cup milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste

1. Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a medium sized saucepot and cover with cold water. Add 1 Tbsp salt. Place the pot on the stove, cover and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the potatoes are tender, then remove from heat and drain off the cooking water. Turn off the burner you used for cooking and place the pot with the potatoes, uncovered, back on the burner. Allow the steam to roll off the potatoes for about 10 minutes. 

2. While the potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add sweet peppers, onions, garlic and 1 tsp salt. Sauté the vegetables in the butter until they are all soft. Reduce the heat to low and add the milk. Simmer just until the milk is warm.

3. Using a food processor or blender, puree the pepper and milk mixture until smooth. Set aside in a warm place while you mash the potatoes.

4. Once the potatoes have steamed dry, mash them using a potato masher. If you are using a starchy potato you can mash the potatoes until they are fairly smooth. If you are using a potato that is a little more waxy, minimize mashing and go for a more coarse mash with chunks in it. 

5. Fold the pepper mixture into the potatoes. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Add more milk if needed to get the desired consistency. Reheat gently prior to serving.
* Starchy potatoes, such as Russets or Purple Viking potatoes, work better for mashed potatoes than waxy potatoes . If you choose to use a waxy potato, try to minimize the amount of “mashing” you do to prevent them from becoming pasty. 

Creamy Roasted Sweet Pepper Dressing
by Andrea Yoder

Makes 1 cup
1 Orange Ukraine pepper or 2 Orange Italian Frying peppers*
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Roast pepper(s) on a grill, under the broiler or use the flame of a gas range. You want to roast the peppers until most of the skin is blackened, turning as needed to roast all sides of the pepper. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl with a cover to steam for about 10 minutes. 

2. Scrape the charred skin off the roasted peppers and remove the stem and seeds. Cool to room temperature, then place in a food processor along with the onion and garlic. Process until almost smooth.

3. Add mayonnaise, sour cream and apple cider vinegar. Blend to combine all ingredients thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed.
*May substitute any other sweet pepper variety as well.

Serving & Use Suggestions: 
  • Make a late summer chop salad using the vegetables in this week’s box. Tear romaine lettuce into bite sized pieces and place on a dinner plate. Top with diced cucumbers, halved sungold or grape tomatoes, thinly sliced sweet peppers and thinly sliced raw onions. Add diced, cooked chicken, feta cheese and Kalamata olive halves. Drizzle with Creamy Sweet Pepper dressing and serve as an entrée salad.
  • Use the dressing as a dip for fresh vegetables such as carrot sticks and cucumber slices
  • Drizzle on top of sautéed green beans or grilled zucchini.
  • Use as a sandwich spread.
  • Use as a dipping sauce for grilled chicken or grilled sirloin kebobs.

Seasons Changing…

By Farmer Richard & Captain Jack—the dog

RICHARD: There is something in the air, I feel it and see the signs. Fall is coming, or is it already here? Our yard has a new silence. After seeing our resident barn swallows and bank swallows congregating on the overhead wires throughout the summer, suddenly they are gone! Did they see the same forecast we saw? Temperatures are dropping this week by 15 degrees! We’re preparing to say goodbye to summer and usher in fall…although we long for just a few more days of summer fun.

The crops are changing too! We are harvesting a mature crop of winter squash this week, at the same time the summer squash, cucumbers and melons draw to a close. We are also picking the last crop of green beans, edamame and sweet corn. We missed a couple of plantings this spring due to wet soil, but gambled on a late sweet corn planting. Gambled? Yes, the dreaded corn earworm, which does not overwinter here normally, migrates north from the south in mid-summer. Late planted sweet corn is very susceptible to corn earworms. We use a pheromone trap to tell us when the earworm moths are laying their eggs. Last year it failed us, no moths in the trap, but lots of earworms in the corn! So far this year we haven’t seen any signs of earworms, so lets keep our fingers crossed that they stay away for just a little while longer!

Sweet corn in the field is protected from birds by flashy streamers and bird scare eye balloons.
Thousands of dragonflies also keep insects at bay.
JACK: I check the corn every day with my dad, Farmer Richard. He checks the moth trap, I check for signs of deer or raccoons! We have a tall fence to keep the deer out and it has a low electric wire to keep the raccoons out. Sometimes I get excited sniffing around for signs of critters and forget about the wire. In fact the other day I got zapped by the electricity! I yelped and went back to the truck to recover from the surprise. I can guarantee that no raccoons will get in the corn this year! The corn field looks like a circus with flashy streamers and bird scare eye balloons all sparkling and flashing in the breeze. I know that is to keep the red-winged blackbirds from shredding the tip of the corn ears. I don’t understand why the birds can’t eat the entire ear of corn, but for some reason they must prefer just the tip of the ear.

Farmer Richard and Captain Jack counted
over 500 pumpkins in the field!
This week I saw something else exciting flashing in the air. The last time we checked the corn field, I saw dragon flies everywhere, thousands of them! Their iridescent wings flashing in the sun! I asked Dad about them and he says it’s just another sign of fall. Just like the barn swallows, the dragonflies congregate and migrate to the south for the winter.

Today we counted pumpkins! There are more than 500 pumpkins in the field (I got tired of counting) including some nice silky “Winter Luxury” pumpkins that make great pie. I hope you are planning to come to our Harvest Party on September 21st to help us pick all of these pumpkins. I might need my friends to help me find the pumpkin in the field with my name carved on it. Dad said it’s out there, but I don’t read very well and haven’t found it yet. If it’s a big one, I might need help hauling it home!

RICHARD: As for the other crops, the peppers have been slow to turn ripe, but here they come now!  Enjoy the sweet taste of red/orange/yellow ripe, sweet peppers before the first frost ends the season!

The sweet potatoes and jicama are looking good, but they need to see a few more days in the 80’s to accelerate their growth. The fall cole crops, including broccoli romanesco, cauliflower, broccoli, rutabagas and cabbage, are enjoying the cool summer and are maturing extra early this year! A few of you might even get a purple cauliflower in your box this week!

As we move into root crop season, I’m happy to report that the parsnips look great! Celeriac, leeks, beets, carrots and the late russet potatoes are all looking good and it won’t be long before we harvest them for your boxes. Plus we may still see some nice greens like salad mix or spinach before the winter freeze moves in.

JACK: Summer is fun, but I prefer cool weather. If you have as much hair as I do you would understand why I like fall and winter. My dad helps make the summer heat more bearable for me by turning on the A/C in the truck for me on hot days, but I prefer to get out and run around instead of sitting in the cool truck listening to NPR. I’m happy to see the temperatures dropping…it means we’re one day closer to the first snow fall. I can feel it in the air!

RICHARD & JACK: We hope you’ll consider joining us for our harvest party in just a few weeks. We have a lot of exciting things to show everyone and we’re hoping you’ll help us dig some sweet potatoes, pick the last of the mini-sweet peppers, and find just the right pumpkin for you to take home! See you soon!