Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Rutabagas

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Rutabaga is derived from the Swedish rotabagge, which literally translates to “root bag.” Not terribly glamorous I suppose, but the rutabaga really is an underrated vegetable. As Deborah Madison—author of Vegetable Literacy and my go-to for most things veggie—says: “Treated lavishly and respectfully, rutabagas are a fine winter vegetable.” The result of a fortunate cross between the wild cabbage and the turnip, rutabagas are often mistaken for the latter—in some countries, the two are even treated interchangeably! While both are members of the Cruciferae family, rutabagas differ from turnips in a few key ways. Most notably, with a longer growing period—90 days compared to 40 or less for the turnip—rutabagas are denser roots. As such, they take longer to cook. It’s often best to first peel and then blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes before tossing them into a dish with other (still raw, at this point) vegetables.

Nutrition-wise, rutabagas are a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Being that they are a winter root vegetable, rutabagas will keep well in your crisper drawer for a month or more. If you’re the homesteading sort, you can experiment with packing your extra roots in moist sand. Kept in a cool (but not freezing) location, you’ll be able to keep these roots around for several months.

The first written reference to rutabagas dates back to 1620, when they were observed growing wild in Sweden. Accounts vary as to the actual origin of this vegetable, though many believe rutabagas first appeared in Scandinavia or Russia.

Early on, rutabagas were commonly used as a vegetable in family meals, as fodder for livestock and, for a time in Britain, as cannonball substitutes! Among residents of the British Isles, it was tradition to carve rutabagas into lanterns and fill them with coal on Halloween night as a means of warding off evil spirits. Today, rutabagas’ uses are primarily culinary in scope. Honestly, a rutabaga is at its best when used simply. They are a prime candidate for roasting and pureeing, and they make an excellent addition to hearty soups, stews and casseroles. In addition to other root vegetables, nice companions for rutabagas’ crisp, slightly sweet flavor include butter, cream, parsley, bay leaf, smoked paprika, bacon, apples and pears.
Rutabaga harvest at Harmony Valley Farm

Rutabagas do not taste the same the world-around. The eating quality of a rutabaga is very closely connected to the weather conditions during its growing and harvest season. This year was a pretty mild, cool year and as a result you’ll find these rutabagas are quite mild and slightly sweet. In contrast, when the growing season is hot, the flavor of the rutabagas tends to be more sharp, bold and sometimes a little on the bitter side. In a good rutabaga year, Richard’s standby method for vegetable prep holds true for rutabagas—“just add butter, cream and cheese.” We’ve shared this in previous newsletters, but can’t help but repeat this very simple way to enjoy a rutabaga. If you’ve tried rutabagas previously and didn’t care for them, we’d encourage you to try them again. You may find these taste quite different from what you’ve experienced previously.

Mashed Rutabaga Potato Supreme
This recipe is borrowed from our friend, John Peterson at Angelic Organics Farm. It was featured in his cookbook entitled Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables. 

Serves 4
Salt, few pinches 
1 pound rutabaga (approx., 1 medium or 2 small), peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
½ pound potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 medium carrot, chopped
¼ cup milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a few pinches of salt and then drop in the rutabaga; boil for 10 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and continue to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 more minutes. Once tender, remove from the heat and carefully drain off the water.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil.
  3. Mash the rutabaga, potato and carrot with the butter until smooth, adding a little of the warm milk at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency you like. Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Future of Food Series Finale

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

As we conclude our Future of Food discussion series, I can think of few better topics on which to ruminate than that of the latest feature—the joy of food. Food means something different to each of us. To it, we attach meaning, memories, and value. We often place it at the center of our gatherings, and around it we, in the company of our friends and families, convene and converse. As we’ve followed National Geographic’s Future of Food series over the last five months, we have taken on some rather controversial topics—modern day fish farming, the Paleolithic diet, hunger in America, the industrial beef business and biotechnology’s application to food production. In this final piece, I’d like to take a step back and reflect on the worth of exploring topics such as these. There is no time like the present to consider what food means to us and to ask ourselves: “What kind of food system do I want to be a part of?”

When I’m looking for a nuanced, yet straightforward discussion around the current state of agriculture in this country, I turn—invariably—to Wendell Berry. As a farmer himself, Berry has long written of many of the topics on which we have touched and possesses that elusive ability to present an issue in a brutally honest, yet still uplifting sort of way. For the purposes of this discussion, one of the more powerful statements he has written is recorded in his book What Are People For? He states very simply that “…eating is an agricultural act.” Today, we tend to think of food as a product of agricultural toil, but we often fail to go beyond that and regard ourselves as not just customers, but as discerning consumers. We buy food in various forms and from various locales, but for the most part, we make these decisions in a passive way. We choose from among the food options presented to us, and we pay the price attached to these items without asking what that price reflects. As Berry sees it, “The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical.” I would modify this by suggesting that these two extremes exist not in isolation but instead along a continuum—that at any point in time, we can move closer to or further way from the industrial eater extreme.

Operating from this point of understanding, I think there’s value in addressing a topic that is often left out of this discussion—that of personal guilt. Pursuing the type of food system that Mr. Berry and we at Harmony Valley Farm are trying to imagine and create is no small feat, and in many ways, the deck is stacked against us. I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve come to more deeply understand the implications attached to my individual food choices, the more guilt I feel when I choose to move closer to the industrial eater extreme. It’s true—sometimes I buy conventionally grown grapes or cheese made with milk that is not rGBH-free. Quite honestly, I think it’s nearly impossible at this point to live a life beyond the reach of industrial, conventional agriculture. Admittedly, my main motivation for making these purchases is price—I buy them because they’re cheaper than the alternative. The guilt I feel is a product of my decision to embrace the notion that individual choices matter. Yes, it’s a romantic approach to take, but at the same time, I truly believe in the power that individual effort yields. After all, at the end of the day, individual choices are to a great degree what propel larger efforts forward.

The visual learner that I am, I often regard each individual food item as the tip of an iceberg—a small part of a much larger whole. Beneath the surface lies the collective history of that food item—the agricultural inputs, the labor practices and the farming philosophy that together created that specific product. It was not until I started digging into the literature and thinking about where this information fit in relation to me did I begin to feel intimately connected to and invested in this larger system. Similar to the topics of faith and spirituality, I think deciding what food really means to us is an individual, reflective and ever-evolving journey. Exposing ourselves to information—in the form of the pieces covered in this series, for example—allows us to gather facts, consider multiple perspectives and ultimately formulate our own opinions. From here, we take action—we join a CSA, we begin to garden, we have conversations, we rent a library book, we sit and think. There is no “right” way to approach and react to these difficult topics.

At this point, I have to bring in a critical piece that is, as yet, missing from this discussion—many people are, to varying degrees, limited in their capacity to participate in shaping the type of food system we’re envisioning. As we explored (albeit briefly) in an earlier feature on “The New Face of Hunger” there are multiple obstacles—many of them entrenched—that limit this capacity. Income, transportation, awareness, a preoccupation with basic survival—innumerable factors shape and restrict the degree to which people engage with the food systems operating around us today. While this topic requires much more space than a single paragraph, I’ll settle for the words of Geoff Tansey, a member of The Food Ethics Council: “We need a fundamental change in the food system that has developed in the rich world…It is dysfunctional and unjust—and it fails to deliver a safe, secure, sufficient, nutritious diet sustainably for everyone with equity.” Put simply, there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Naming this problem is merely the first of many steps.

As this discussion series draws to a close, where does this leave us? For starters, we know that we all need to eat, and we know that food is, inherently, the product of a larger agricultural system. The food options we are faced with reflect a complex network of explicit choices and practices. If we more fully insert ourselves into the equation and begin to transform ourselves into active, rather than passive consumers, we will be taking a firm step towards creating an alternative food system—one that is, as Tansey calls for above, both sustainable and equitable. It is my hope that throughout this series, the topics we’ve addressed and the questions we’ve raised have peaked your interest—to whatever degree—and have led you to consider your place within this food system that we are all part of.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Daikon and Beauty Heart Radishes

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

There are two kinds of radishes—the quick growing, spring varieties, and the slower-to-mature winter varieties. As winter varieties, daikon and beauty heart radishes share the spotlight for our vegetable feature this week. Members of the mustard family, radishes were first domesticated in the Mediterranean during pre-Roman times. By 500 B.C., traders had carried them first to China and shortly thereafter to Japan where cultivation quickly became widespread. Early on, radishes were most commonly grown for their seeds, which were pressed into oil. Despite the multitude of varieties, all radishes share certain characteristics—a crunchy texture, with a unique sharp bite and a varying degree of pungency. They are rich in vitamins C and B, are an excellent source of potassium, calcium and iron, and are often utilized as a digestive aid, detoxifier and blood cleanser.

Winter radishes are, you might have guessed, built for storage. In order to preserve their quality, however, be sure to keep them sealed in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Preventing moisture loss is key to maintaining freshness! If stored properly, daikon will store for several weeks and beauty heart radishes will store for several months. Don’t let a little browning on the surface fool you. This is a normal development with extended storage, but the radish is still good on the inside.

Daikon radishes
Daikon radishes, commonly referred to as Japanese horseradish or mooli, are rather easy to identify. A staple in Asian cuisine, daikon radishes are much milder than the traditional red radish. Their crisp, juicy texture is complemented by a sweet, slightly peppery bite. Interestingly enough, the thickest part of the root is the mildest, with pungency increasing as the root narrows. Although the typical daikon will measure between 15-20 inches in length, certain varieties can grow to be 36 inches long!

Beauty heart radishes
Beauty heart radishes, on the other hand, look more like a storage turnip than anything. Their pale, cream-colored exterior hides a rather stunning interior, however, the flesh exploding with unique patterns of fuchsia, white, and green. It’s no surprise then that their Chinese name, Xin Li Mei, literally translates to “heart inside beautiful.” At the Harmony Valley Farm market stand, the crew continually encourages patrons to give beauty hearts a try. They are, as we say, “the radish for non-radish lovers.” I like to think of these beauty hearts as a gateway variety—one taste of this mild, slightly sweet radish and you’ll be whisked away into a glorious world filled with tens upon tens of radish varieties! Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but these radishes are most certainly a culinary treasure.

Daikon radish is most often used raw and is often pickled. It can be used as a condiment to eat on sandwiches, alongside vegetarian rice dishes, or to accompany grilled or roasted meats. It is also a common ingredient in kim chi.

Beauty heart radishes can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a beautiful addition to winter vegetable slaws or can be the feature of a winter radish salad. We also enjoy them on winter crudité platters served with creamy dip or sliced cheese or slice thinly and put them on a sandwich for a little crunch. They also make a nice addition to stir-fry and are a great vegetable to add to simple soups such as miso or hot & sour soup.

If you are looking for recipe ideas, go to our searchable recipe database on our website and use the search terms “daikon radish” & “beauty heart radish.” You can also look to the Local Thyme online CSA recipe service for more ideas. See our weekly email for sign up instructions.

Hot & Sour Soup
This is a recipe sent to us by CSA members who adapted a recipe for Hot & Sour soup to incorporate beauty heart radishes. The original recipe came from The Meatless Gourmet by Bobbie Hinman (now under the title The Vegetarian Gourmet’s Easy International Recipes). 

Yield: 4 servings (1 cup each)
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 cups vegetable broth (4 cups water + a veggie bouillon)
1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
1 cup beauty heart radish, coarsely shredded
1 Tbsp sherry
4 ounces firm tofu, sliced, then cut into small rectangles
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp pepper (white or black)
2 green onions, thinly sliced (may substitute minced red onion)

1. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir to dissolve cornstarch. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine broth, carrot, beauty heart and sherry. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add tofu, vinegar and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium and when mixture boils again, cook uncovered, 3 minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to saucepan while stirring. Continue to cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil and pepper. Garnish with onions.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sustaining our Woods:

by Richard de Wilde

Our primary focus is producing top quality vegetables for our thousands of customers throughout the Midwest region. Our silt loam valley fields are prime land for vegetable production with rich soils mixed with sand and silt loam deposited in this valley over thousands of years. Our tillable land for vegetable production on the land we own is about 40 acres, however our total property is about 500 acres. There are another 60 acres of hillside fields that were tilled in the late 1800’s, sometimes with disastrous erosion problems. These have since been converted to pastures for grazing animals. This is a much more appropriate use for the land and helps to prevent invasive plants such as prickly ash, multiflora rose, sumac and unwanted trees from taking over. Beyond vegetable ground and pasture, we still have over 400 acres of woods that are not suitable for either vegetables or animals.

Armando logging on the hillsides surrounding our farm.
So just what do we do with all of this wooded land? Unfortunately, we pay a high tax rate for this land based on ‘recreational value’, ie, deer hunting, bird watching, mushroom hunting and just enjoying nature. Our other option is to put the land into a “managed forest” program through the DNR. This would significantly decrease our taxes, however this program would require us to conform to a plan which dictates when trees will be harvested every 10 to 15 years. It is assumed that we will hire a logging company to come in and cut down the trees when indicated. While the logging company does have some obligation to seed down the logging roads they need to access the trees, their interest is in removing the best timber which is most saleable. So what remains when they are done? The crooked, storm damaged or diseased trees are left behind. This is not a recipe for forest improvement, but a huge taxpayer subsidy of the large scale forest industry! In addition, the amount of money the landowner receives for the logs that are removed is only about 1% of the value of the lumber when it is sold as a finished product to the consumer. The bottom line is you will never get enough return from selling standing timber to cover the tax liability, pay for the land and compensate for the time spent managing the woods over time in order to maintain a healthy woods and produce more “good” lumber-quality trees (ie removing undesirable trees). At present, we have about 80 acres of woods that is in the managed forest program, while we manage the remaining 320 acres ourselves.

Manuel and Nano Morales stacking wood
Over the past three years we have been selectively logging and cutting down trees that are too close
to our fields or were left from previous logging. We have tried to put this resource to use by using much of the wood for firewood to fuel clean-burning stoves which heat as many as 6 buildings on our farm. We also saved 15,000 board feet of lumber that, after kiln drying, was made into paneling and flooring that we were able to use in our new home. We have a great satisfaction in ‘knowing’ the trees that became our house! We learned a lot in the process and want to continue to sustainably manage our woods well into the future. However, our on-farm needs for wood are limited in comparison to the amount of this resource available to us. Thus, we are now considering options that would make this resource available in a variety of ways to many of our customers who may also have a use for wood. Perhaps you are considering building a home or have a remodeling project and would like to use wood for flooring, paneling to cover walls or ceilings, cabinets, or furniture. You could quite literally choose the trees that would end up in your new house, addition or room. If you are planning a project and are interested in wood products, give us a call and we can send you samples of wood, paneling and flooring.

Richard preparing to haul a load of freshly
sawed board to the kiln to be dried.
Sawing logs into boards at Harmony Valley Farm. 
We are planning to build our own solar kiln this spring, which would allow us to kiln dry our own lumber instead of having to haul it to a kiln for drying. This fall we cut down quite a few ash trees that died as a result of the emerald ash borer. We’re hoping to turn some of this into lumber that could be used for building projects, furniture, doors, etc. As we look into the future, we know we will have many more ash trees that will soon succumb to the invasive ash borer and need to be harvested. In addition, we have several varieties of oak, cherry and walnut that will need to be removed to make room for new growth. We would like to turn some of this wood into interesting and unique products such as cutting boards, cheese and bread boards, bowls, wooden kitchen utensils and wine bottle stoppers, all finished with beeswax and organic oils safe for use with food. We have some of these types of products made for us by family members and friends and really cherish their uniqueness in our own home. In our end-of-the-year survey, we will be asking you about your interest in this endeavor and value your feedback as we explore this opportunity. Other options we are considering for adding value to this resource includes deliveries of firewood brought right to your home, cut, stacked and ready to load into your wood stove or fireplace.

It is exciting to learn more about this valuable, beautiful natural resource that we are blessed to have on our property. Our goal is to preserve and care for our woods well into the future and set the precedent for the generations of caretakers of this land that will follow in our footsteps. We have a lot of logistics to explore and many more details to work out, but we’re excited to see what the future may hold.