Thursday, August 25, 2016

Late Summer Farm Update

By Farmer Richard  

     Wow! That was a hot one! July was the hottest month ever worldwide! Aside from a few hot days, it really was not so bad here. We did have two days when we changed our work schedule and started an hour early, but we worked carefully, drank lots of water, and all did fine.  Even Jack, The Dog, survived….and he is one furry creature! He did learn (unintentionally) how to turn the air conditioning on in our new field truck. Easy, push the button! Turning up the fan speed is a little more difficult, but he asks nicely and I oblige!
     The rains and storms have definitely kept us on our toes. We expected drought, at least that was what the prediction was for the summer. Instead, we got rain after rain…and even as I write this article the rain is falling again. Many of our crops get a fertilizer boost of fish/seaweed and other natural minerals through the drip irrigation system when we water them. This year many of these crops have had little need for water, but they still need the nutrients. It takes “discipline” to set-up and pump even minimal water just to deliver the nutrients. Nonetheless, we have persevered, have some nice crops still to come and are thankful for the decided turn to cooler fall weather. The weeds have slowed down, we’ve been able to do timely cultivation and the fall crops look great! Sweet potatoes are looking very nice and the winter squash will be ready to harvest soon. We already have a few specimens setting on the kitchen counter, and we’ll sample them soon! The onion crop was fantastic this year, and we’re thankful we got it all in. The week we harvested onions, we raced against the threat of rain. The crew finished the harvest and had the last few crates tucked away on the wagon just as it started to rain!! They are still curing in the greenhouse, but we take advantage of the wet days to work inside, trimming and cleaning onions.
     We’ll continue to pick peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, but we’re approaching the point in the season where summer and fall collide. It’s nearly time to start making the shift to fall leeks, potatoes, celeriac, turnips, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Some of the fall brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli Romanesco, etc) have succumbed to wet and heat and you likely won’t see much of these in your fall boxes. Thankfully, the broccoli still looks good! We just started planting salad mix again last week and added spinach to our planting plan this week. We’re looking forward to a short run of fall greens in September and October, our favorite time of year to grow these crops. Yes, they grow a little more slowly, but the colors are intense and the cool temperatures lend to a sweet, pleasant taste. Our fall fennel and head lettuce crops look great as do the fall radishes.
     We’re hoping to dig the remainder of our potato crop later this week. Despite the fact that we reduced the acreage we planted, the yield looks to be quite abundant! Our fall carrot field looks great, rows and rows of beautiful green tops. Even our crop insurance adjustor commented on how good they look and snapped a few pictures to show his wife! Needless to say, we love fall!
Sunchokes standing tall & blooming
     Every year of farming holds both triumphs and disappointments. Last week we had a short, yet violent, storm that managed to flatten our last two crops of sweet corn. There aren’t as many ears in your box this week, but the corn has been so good this year we didn’t want to count it as a total loss! It’s a little more challenging to pick, but we managed to salvage the good ears and hope you will enjoy the last few tastes of fresh sweet corn this summer. The edamame field experienced a similar fate, and about 40% of a beautiful sunchoke crop lays with flattened stalks and exposed roots. Neither are a total loss though…there are still 60% of fantastic looking sunchoke plants standing proud and tall in all of their 12 foot glory! The edamame is slow to pick, but the pods have filled out and the beans are sweet and delicious. “Hope springs eternal!”
     We win some; we lose some. That’s just the game of life for farmers. We put forth our best efforts, make the best decisions we can, work diligently and proactively, and try to play the hand Mother Nature deals us as gracefully and successfully as possible. In the end, we always consider ourselves very blessed and always have plenty to keep us busy. When we have done all we can in the fields, we go to the woods to pick hickory nuts, clean up dead trees and turn them into beautiful things such as bowls and furniture we can enjoy. These are the late season projects I look forward to.
     We just started to get our loads of fall compost this week with the first few arriving today. We’ll take advantage of every dry moment to spread compost and plant cover crops. Yes, it’s time to put the fields to bed for the winter. As we wrap up one season, we’re already getting ready for a new year!

Vegetable Feature: Tomatillos and Edamame

By Chef Andrea
     One of our featured vegetables this week is the tomatillo…which technically is a fruit!  Tomatillos, while most similar to a tomato, are very unique in their own way.  The fruit is hidden inside a husk that looks like a little paper lantern.  Tomatillos are ready to pick when they’ve nearly filled out their husk.
     Tomatillos have a mild flavor that is slightly tart and sometimes fruity.  They can be eaten raw or cooked and are most commonly used in southwestern or Mexican cuisine along with ingredients such as jalapeños, poblano peppers, cilantro, onions, garlic and limes.  Salsa verde is probably the most common use for tomatillos, but they have a wide variety of other uses as well.  Tomatillos may be added to soups or stews as well as blended into dressings or sauces where their natural pectin acts as a thickener.  Chunk them up and add them to a raw pepper and tomato salad or make a chunky fresh salsa along with other summer vegetables and serve it with grilled chicken or fish.
Tomatillos are best stored at about 50°F, but can be stored on your counter for several days or in a paper bag in the refrigerator.  Remove the husk before using and wash to remove the sticky film on the fruit.  If you aren’t ready to use your tomatillos this week, you can remove the husk and pop them in the freezer in their raw form.

Roasted Tomatillo & Apple Salsa

Yield: 3 ½ cups

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 green apples, such as Granny Smith, quartered
2 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
½ of a medium onion
2 jalapeño peppers, stem removed
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place the tomatillos, apples, garlic, onion and jalapeños on a baking sheet.  Toss with the olive oil, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper.  Roast in the oven until the tomatillos are softened and slightly charred, about 20 minutes.
2.  Peel the garlic.  Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Taste and season as needed with additional salt and pepper.

We sampled this recipe at our Harvest Party last fall, complements of a Madison CSA member who was willing to share the recipe with us!

     Edamame is a fresh soybean that has grown in familiarity and popularity in the United States over the past few years, but has been a part of Japanese and Chinese cuisine for much longer.  True edamame intended for fresh eating is quite different than oil-seed soybeans used for making 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.
     Edamame resemble a small lima bean encased in a pod.  The beans are sweet and tender and best eaten lightly cooked. It is easiest to cook edamame in its pod and then remove them from the pod.  Edamame is hard to shell when it’s raw.  To cook edamame, first rinse the pods thoroughly with cold water. Boil in heavily salted boiling water for 5-6 minutes, then drain under cold water to cool immediately.  After the beans are cooked squeeze the pod to pop the beans out.  Please note the pod is not edible and should be discarded!
      You can also roast edamame in their pods.  Toss the edamame pods with oil and seasonings of your choice.  Spread the seasoned edamame on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast in the oven until the bean is tender.  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 shell!
     If you are interested in preserving edamame for later use, simply follow the cooking procedure above, cool and freeze the beans either in their pods or remove them and freeze just the bean. You can store the edamame for up to a week in the refrigerator, but it is best to eat them soon for the sweetest flavor and best texture.

Quinoa Bites with Kale & Edamame

Photo borrowed from natural foods blogger Heidi Swenson

Yield: 2 dozen mini bites

Unsalted butter
2½ cups cooked quinoa, at room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten
scant ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ cup crumbled feta
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup very finely chopped kale
½ cup shelled edamame
¾ cup breadcrumbs
To serve: avocado, chives

1.  Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack in the top third.
2.  Butter mini-muffin tins generously.  Line each muffin cup with a strip of parchment paper in each indent, this makes popping the bites out of the pan after either baking or freezing simple.
3.  Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the onion, feta, garlic, kale, and edamame. Stir in most of the breadcrumbs, and let sit for a few minutes so the breadcrumbs can absorb some of the moisture. Fill the prepared muffin tins with the quinoa mixture, pressing the mixture down, and then sprinkling with the remaining breadcrumbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until baked through and deeply golden crusted.
4.  Remove the quinoa bites from the pans after a few minutes. Enjoy either hot, or at room temperature spread with salted avocado and lots of chopped chives.

Recipe borrowed from Heidi Swanson’s blog,

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Prescription for Nature-Deficit Disorder

By Bobbie Harte
Photo by Bobbie Harte, Harte Ventures LLC

     It was early May.  My jeans were damp where my knees made contact with the ground, and I was digging around a clump of ramps with my hands.  Their wild, onion-garlic scent drifted up as I heaped dried leaves and cool soil from the deep, ineffective hole I was making.  Black dirt caked my fingernails, but the ramps held firm. My friend, who knew better, laughed and handed me a shovel.  “When was the last time you interacted with the landscape like this?” he asked.  I could not remember.
     The day before, I had driven from Madison to visit my friend’s family homestead near Ontario, Wisconsin, just north of Wildcat Mountain State Park and about an hour’s drive east of Harmony Valley Farm.  My schedule had been busy for weeks, and these two free days were a luxury.  The interstate hummed beneath my wheels until Mauston.  After that, two-lane roads undulated over hills and under a blue sky filled with clouds that chased their shadows over green valleys.
     We spent most of that first afternoon walking through brown grass, talking to neighbors, and taking photographs. Later, gathering firewood, we paused on an outlook that was so high, cars that seemed to be the size of ants rolled along a road that stretched for miles.  The air was cool and the trees were just beginning to leaf out.  The memory of winter still fresh, my eyes eagerly sought the shades of green that were emerging from the bare trees covering the distant bluffs.
Photo by Bobbie Harte, Harte Ventures LLC
     The next day we visited another neighbor to search for morel mushrooms.  We hiked through the woods, down into draws and up steep hillsides not yet choked with underbrush.  We did find morels, as well as wildflowers and that green carpet of ramps.  With the aid of my friend’s shovel, I filled a bag with them to turn into pesto later.  Not only could I not remember the last time I had interacted with the landscape so directly, I also could not remember the last time I had gone for nearly two days without checking Facebook, Instagram, email or text messages, or when I had felt so relaxed and content.  The scent of the forest floor – a combination of dried leaves, wet dirt, oniony ramps and crisp air – saturated my clothes and imagination.  Even when I was back in Madison, it remained.
     Northerners know how tempting it is to stay indoors during the cold months.  Eventually cabin fever sets in, a restlessness that can only be discharged by activity in the fresh air, no matter how cold.  This partially explains why that early spring visit to Ontario was so moving, but now I think a larger force was also at play:  nature-deficit disorder.
     Richard Louv created the phrase in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, as a way to talk about our culture’s increasing alienation from the natural world and why it matters. In 2011, Louv expanded on those ideas in The Nature Principle:  Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.  The ramifications of our disconnection from the landscape are disheartening: attention and behavioral disorders, depression, obesity and environmental degradation.  Through anecdote and formal research, Louv explores the power of nature to increase cognition, creativity, intelligence and productivity; enhance physical and mental health; enrich communities that value all living things; and create a purposeful sense of place, where natural and human histories combine to create regional and personal identities.  The book’s central questions are, “What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?” and, “How can each of us help create that life-enhancing world, not only in a hypothetical future, but right now, for our families and for ourselves?”  The Nature Principle is an uplifting read, especially because it suggests actions that each of us can take in our daily lives immediately.  In a world that seems to have gone mad, it is easy to feel paralyzed with fear, not knowing how to help.  Louv’s book is not an attempt to convince people that technology is bad.  Rather, he asserts that the more technology we have in our lives, the more we need to balance it with a solid connection to the natural world.  We can do that in lots of ways right now:  by tending houseplants or potted herbs on a fire escape, by going outside for a walk or by visiting a local nature conservancy.
Photo by Bobbie Harte, Harte Ventures LLC
     Another way to maintain a connection to the natural world is to continue supporting enterprises like Harmony Valley Farm, what Louv calls the “new agrarianism.”  This is a way of life that nurtures “lands covered with biologically diverse vegetation; lands tuned to functioning water, mineral and solar cycles; lands with abundant and diverse wildlife; a community benefiting from locally grown, healthy food; and a people aware of the importance of agriculture to the environment.”  These have been the working principles of Harmony Valley Farm for decades.
     On Sunday, September 25, Harmony Valley Farm will hold its annual harvest party.  Visitors to the farm will be able to pick pumpkins, tour the fields and eat gorgeous organic food.  This would be an excellent antidote to any nature-deficit disorder you might be experiencing.  I am certainly looking forward to leaving my cell phone in the car, getting my hands in the dirt again and connecting with the land.  I hope to see you there!

Vegetable Feature: Poblano Peppers

By Lindsay the CSA Coordinator

     Originating in Puebla, Mexico, the poblano pepper is mildly spicy.  While it does have some heat compared to a sweet bell pepper, it is significantly less intense than a jalapeño.  You will still want to make sure to thoroughly wash your hands after chopping, but the oils are not intense enough as to require gloves when working with a few peppers.  The color of the poblano is such a dark green as to almost be black. You can identify poblanos by their dark color as well as by their shape: block-like on the stem-end but narrowing to a point.
     You can use these peppers to add a subtle kick to many different dishes or as a main ingredient in recipes such as chile rellenos or mole sauce.  If you aren’t able to use them right away, raw peppers can be frozen after they are deseeded and chopped.  You can also freeze the peppers for later use after roasting and removing the skin.  Poblanos can also be preserved by drying the peppers and grinding them or storing whole.  If you have ever come across ancho chiles, these are the dried form of the poblano.  It can be helpful to store small portions of the dried peppers in several containers in case any mold began to develop while drying.
     Because of their comparatively thicker flesh, poblanos will stand up to cooking without falling apart. They are great in summer soups and stews alongside other summer vegetables such as corn, tomatoes and tomatillos.  Poblanos are often roasted either using an oven broiler or other open flame. Let the charred pepper sit in a covered container for 15 minutes and the skin should subsequently rub off more easily.  Roasted poblanos have a unique flavor that can add interesting depth to tomatillo or tomato salsa as well as guacamole.  They are great in sauces atop summer vegetables, enchiladas or tacos.  Poblano Rajas is an easy condiment consisting of strips of roasted poblano pepper. You can either roast your poblanos and then cut into strips, or experiment with the time-saving recipe by Rick Bayless available at Also check out Chef Andrea’s recipe adaption below!

Roasted Poblano, Onion & Jack Quesadilla

3 poblano chiles
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced lengthwise (about      1 ½ cups)
1 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Two 10-inch flour tortillas
4-8 oz grated Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream or crème fraiche, to taste

1.  To roast the peppers using a gas flame: Turn a gas burner to high and char the poblanos directly over the flame, turning them with tongs as soon as each side becomes fully blackened, about 6 to 8 minutes per pepper. To roast the peppers in the oven: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve and seed the peppers and place on a parchment-lined (for easy cleanup) baking sheet. Roast for about 30 to 35 minutes or until charred in some places. (Don’t let them get too black or you will have trouble peeling them.)
2.  Immediately after roasting, put the poblanos in a bowl, cover, and set aside to steam and loosen the skins. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin off with your hands or a small paring knife. Pull out and discard the stems and seed clusters (if you haven’t already). Slice the peppers into ¼ inch wide strips and put them in a small bowl.
3.  Put a baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 150°F (or its lowest setting).
4.  Meanwhile: heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the mushrooms.  Continue to cook until the mushrooms are soft.  Add the poblano strips, season with a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are heated through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and wipe the skillet clean.
5.  Heat 1 tsp of the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add one tortilla and scatter over it half of the cheese, half of the poblano mixture, and half of the cilantro. When the tortilla smells toasty and the bottom is browned in spots, in 1 or 2 minutes, fold it in half, pressing it with a spatula to flatten it. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make one more quesadilla. Cut each quesadilla into wedges and serve with the sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

Recipe adapted from

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Making A Connection

By Farmer Richard
CSA Members enjoying the scenery of
'their'  farm during our Harvest Party!
     It is now official, reported in major and minor news outlets across the country…CSA farmers are losing members faster than they are being replaced with new members. We started to see a decline in our CSA membership around 2009, and unfortunately we aren’t the only farm that has seen numbers slowly slide each year.  Many thought it was the economic downturn, but overall sales of organic foods is still consistently continuing to grow each year.  More and more people are concerned about the health of their family and turning to organic.  So why the decline in CSA membership?
     We, and other CSA farmers, have been asking this question and trying to figure out what’s going on for the past few years.  One reason may be supersaturation of CSA farms offering shares.  During the past 6 to 8 years the number of new CSA farms has grown faster than the rate of new members interested in joining a CSA.  Most of the growth in CSA farms has been beginning farmers with little experience.  We have long understood that CSA farming is “graduate level” farming, not for beginners.  Growing a wide variety of crops to fill boxes over a full season requires skill and experience.  Many consumers have been alienated forever by a poor CSA experience, “All we got was kale!”  Certainly not true, but a perception from “new” CSA customers who were also new to eating “in season.”
A picture of a summer CSA box contents from Harmony Valley Farm
     Organic food has also become more available at almost all supermarkets, mostly shipped in from distant growers. The advantage for customers is they can stop in and buy a few items of their choosing for dinner without the commitment of the whole box of CSA vegetables. It is good that more acres somewhere in the world are being farmed organic, without toxic chemistry, but what about eating locally and eating in season?
     Another contributing factor to the decline in CSA may be attributed to the growth we’ve seen in farmers’ markets.  The USDA estimates farmers’ markets have doubled over the past 10 years.  While it may be convenient for customers to shop at their small neighborhood markets, this growth has not been as good for farmers.  In addition to pulling members away from choosing a CSA share, farmers are also seeing their sales at each market become diluted.  Many farmers now have to go to several markets per week to sell the same amount of produce that they used to sell at a larger, once-a-week market!
Farmer Richard digging Sweet Potatoes with CSA Members.
     Finally, as times have changed we’ve seen an influx of home delivery services that will deliver not just vegetables, but everything to your door and only what you order!  If you want to break it down even further, there are now meal delivery services that will deliver everything you need for a meal or two in one package.  It may not be “organic” and you have to ignore all the excess packaging for the service, but if you only cook a couple meals a week it may seem like a good option.
     As you can see, there are now lots of options for where and how you can purchase food!  Unfortunately some families have less time to plan and cook meals, thus they opt for choices with the highest level of convenience.  So where does CSA fit into the current picture?
Well, despite the decrease we’ve seen in our own membership over the past seven years, we still consider CSA to be beneficial to our business and the part of our business we enjoy the most.  We’re not ready to “give-up” on our CSA and don’t believe CSA is going out of style.  Despite the changes we’ve seen in the food supply over the past 7-10 years, the concept of CSA remains the same.  CSA still stands for “Community Supported Agriculture” and offers one of the most holistic approaches to sourcing food for your family.  Yes, you are supporting our farm by purchasing shares with us for the season, but it’s so much more than that.  We are part of the same community and we support each other.  As CSA members, you have direct access to your farm and the land where your food is grown. We talk to you each week through our newsletters and email communications and you can talk to us any time you’d like.  You are welcome to come to the valley where your food is grown…breathe the air, walk in the soil and experience not only the food we’re producing, but the land and area in which it is grown.  Last week Bobbie reminded us all just how special and unique our region is and we want to share this experience with you as well.
Farmer Richard showing a CSA member how to 'drive' a tractor!
     When you participate in a CSA, you have an opportunity to connect with the people and places where your food comes from.  You learn what it means to eat with the rhythms of nature and embrace the seasonality of eating.  When melons are in their peak (as they are this week), you eat melon several times a day!  In the spring you long for anything green and in the fall we can’t wait to eat rich winter squash and sweet potatoes.    
     We have seen and heard so many positive stories from members about how CSA has changed and made a positive impact on their lives.  We have many members who joined our CSA when their children were little, twenty years ago.  These kids had the opportunity to grow up as “CSA kids.”  They are now healthy adults seeking out their own CSAs and continue to ask “where does my food come from?”  For many of these kids, their first taste of vegetables was something from our farm.  Many of them visited our farm when they were youngsters.   They camped in the meadow and played in the creek, fed the animals, got to sit on the tractors, gorged on warm strawberries in the field, picked peas right off the plant and built lasting memories of their farm.   They know what “real” food tastes like, understand how to eat with the seasons, and know how to cook and prepare whole foods!  We’ve heard many stories about picky eaters who, after a visit to the farm, will now eat vegetables…but only vegetables from “their farm!”  Other members have told us they eat more vegetables and have seen positive health benefits as a result of eating out of a CSA box.  Yes, eating out of a CSA box requires time and cooking, but it also gives you an opportunity to learn new things about food, build culinary skills and gives you an opportunity to spend invaluable time cooking and eating with your family.
Farmer' Richard and Andrea with Captain Jack the dog!
     We value the connection we have with you through our partnership in CSA.  There are so many benefits beyond the actual box that come along with the CSA experience.  This is something special and unique that a supermarket or home delivery service will never be able to match

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Eggplant

By Andrea Yoder

   Eggplant is one of the most beautiful crops we grow.  The plants grow several feet tall and, in their peak, are loaded with beautiful glossy fruit hanging heavy on the plant.  There are many varieties of eggplant ranging in size from small round eggplant the size of a golf ball to large globe eggplant weighing over a pound.  They come in a variety of colors ranging from various shades of purple to black, green, lavender, white and orange.  We have narrowed our lineup of eggplant to our four favorite varieties including Lilac Bride, Purple Dancer, Listada and the traditional Black eggplant.
   Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family.  While it is thought to have originated in the area around India and Pakistan, it has now been spread around the world.  Since eggplant is part of so many cultures, you can take your pick on how you’d like to enjoy it.  It is often incorporated into curry and stir-fry dishes in Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisine.  Sicilians are famous for eggplant caponata while Middle Eastern dishes include baba ganoush.  The French put their mark on eggplant with the traditional Provencal dish, ratatouille.  Eggplant has a mild flavor and soft texture when cooked. Many resources will tell you to salt eggplant before cooking it to remove bitterness.  While older varieties were bitter, the new varieties we grow have been bred so they are not bitter, thus you can skip the salting step.  Most of our varieties of eggplant have skin that is tender enough to eat, thus you do not need to peel them.
   Eggplant does not store terribly well, so it is best to use it soon after getting it.  It is best stored at a temperature of about 45-50°F, but your home refrigerator should be colder than this.  Thus, we recommend storing your eggplant on the kitchen counter until you are ready to use it.  Use within 2-4 days of when you receive it.
Use the guide below to identify the eggplant in your box this week.

Black Globe Eggplant: This is the most familiar variety of eggplant. It is characterized by a dark skin that looks black. It is best used in dishes like Eggplant Parmesan or to make dips, etc.  This variety will also hold up on the grill or if roasted.

Lilac Bride Eggplant: Lilac bride eggplant is long and slender with lavender skin and white flesh. It is best used in Thai curry dishes, stews or any other preparation where you want the eggplant to hold its shape better.

Listada Eggplant: Listada is characterized by a small globe shape with dark purple/magenta skin streaked with white stripes. It is an Italian heirloom variety characterized by dense “meaty” flesh that holds up very well with grilling or roasting.

Purple Dancer Eggplant: This superb variety is characterized by an elongated tear drop shape and a bright purple skin. Purple Dancer eggplant is an all-purpose eggplant that has creamy, white flesh.  It is firm enough that it keeps its shape if you grill it or use it in curries, soups or stews. The flesh is also soft enough when cooked to use in dips, etc.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Penne

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork (optional)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 sweet Italian frying pepper, diced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
One large eggplant (approximately 1 ¼  pound), cut into ½-inch dice
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
3 cups marinara sauce
12 ounces penne pasta
½ cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup panko bread crumbs

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering.  Add the pork, if using, and cook over medium heat until browned.  If you are not using pork, skip directly to step 2.

2.  Add the 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil to the pan.  Add the onion, pepper, mushrooms and garlic along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper and sauté  over moderate heat, stirring, until the vegetables are softened.  Add the eggplant and ¼ cup of water and cover.  Cook, stirring periodically, for 8-10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.  Remove the lid and add crushed red pepper and marinara sauce.  Continue to cook, gently, until the sauce is hot, about 4 minutes.

3.  Preheat the broiler and position the rack 8 inches from the heat.  Bring a large pot of salt water to a boil.  Add the penne to the boiling water and cook until al dente.   Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.  Stir the pasta, cooking water and the basil into the sauce and season with salt and pepper.

4.  Transfer the pasta to a 9 x 13—inch baking dish.  Scatter the mozzarella on top followed by the Parmesan and panko.  Broil the pasta for about 4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the panko is lightly browned.  Serve hot.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Exploring the Driftless Region

By Bobbie Harte

Photo by Bobbie Harte, HarteVentures LLC
     Although I have lived in Wisconsin my  entire life, I only discovered the Driftless region about six years ago.  I will never forget the first time I drove from Madison to Richland Center on Highway 14 and took that left turn towards Viroqua.  Bluffs covered in snow and leafless trees rose up on either side of the winding road.  I grew up in the rolling countryside of Wisconsin, but these tree-covered bluffs and stone outcroppings were new to me.  I had no idea that my home state contained such a landscape. 
     While the majority of the Driftless region is in western Wisconsin, it also extends into parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.  Why is it called “Driftless”?  Retreating glaciers leave behind silt, clay, sand, gravel and boulders, which is generally called drift.  During the last glacial period, which ended some 12,000 years ago, ice did not cover this area.  It is drift-less.  
     During the last two million years, glaciers up to two miles thick sculpted about one-third of the earth’s topography, creating North American landmarks such as the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, the Kettle Moraine and the Ohio River.  The Driftless was never an island surrounded by ice, but over the course of time different glacial lobes moved around it.  The deep fold in the bedrock at Lake Superior (known as a syncline) siphoned ice from Canada to the southwest.  Weak rock created lowlands that were easily scoured by glaciers, acting like a funnel to draw ice to the southeast.  Structurally, Wisconsin is an arch from east to west, with friction of rocks causing resistance to northern glacial advancement.  All of these factors played a part in drawing ice away from the Driftless region, preserving this ancient landscape of sandstone bluffs and deeply-carved river valleys; of sinkholes and cave systems; of underground rivers and above-ground springs; of rock shelters and effigy mounds; of Ice Age relict animal and plant communities like snails, rattlesnakes and Northern Blue Monkshood; of algific talus slopes and goat prairies.
Photo by Bobbie Harte, Harte Ventures LLC
     Last month I had the great privilege to meet Harmony Valley Farm’s neighbor, Jim Theler, a retired archeologist who has spent much of his career researching land snails and effigy mound cultures in the Midwest.  It was a sweltering July day, but Jim gamely took me on a tour of a goat prairie on his property.  The phrase “goat prairie” refers to the steep topography (you have to be part mountain goat to manage it!) but they are also called hill prairies and dry prairies.  Now these slopes are mostly choked with trees and underbrush, but before European settlement, the south and southwestern slope faces looked like Jim’s goat prairie, which was an oak savannah:  a combination of shortgrass prairie and fire-resistant trees like bur oak, white oak and cottonwood.  Whether ignited accidentally by lightning or purposefully by Native Americans, fire played an important role in maintaining these diverse landscapes of deep-rooted grasses, forbs and shrubs.  Prairie fires clean out dead plant material and expose the soil to the warmth of the sun, encouraging new growth.  The arrival of Europeans and their fear of fire led to the densely-wooded landscape we see today. 
     Goat prairies have sparked my curiosity in two main ways.  First, the plants themselves are fascinating.  With the help of a specialist from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Jim has identified more than 250 native plant species on his property alone, and each one has a story.  Take Leadplant, for example.  This native woody shrub can live for centuries, although it never grows past a height of three feet.  Leadplant is also sometimes called Prairie Shoestring because of its large and complex root system, which grows as far as ten feet deep.  Deep roots make this and other native plants uniquely suited to such rocky terrain.  They are able to withstand dry summers, prevent erosion and maintain the fertility of the soil.
     The second way goat prairies have sparked my curiosity has to do with the effect that human habitation has had on the landscape.  In 2003, Gerald W. Williams wrote a paper for the USDA Forest Service entitled “References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems.”  Williams writes that American Indians modified the ecosystem, largely through the use of fire and for a variety of reasons:  to make hunting easier; to improve grass grazing for deer, elk, antelope and bison; to deprive enemies of hiding places; to improve the fertility of the soil; and pest management.  This is a topic I would like to explore further.  I suspect we can learn much from the practices of past human cultures and use them as an example for our own interactions with the landscape.  
     Partly to catch our breath and partly to appreciate the view, Jim and I paused at the top of the goat prairie, looking over the distance to other bluffs and other valleys.  I tried to comprehend it all:  the variety of animal and plant life around me; roots plunging six, ten, fifteen feet into the earth; the course of the twisting Bad Axe River.  I tried to comprehend living as a hunter-gatherer who built effigy mounds in the shapes of bears or birds.  I tried to comprehend a different sense of time, one not based on hours or days or even a human lifespan, but encompassing thousands and millions of years.

Vegetable Feature: Sweet Corn

By Andrea Yoder

     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!
     There are many varieties of sweet corn, but not all are created equally.  First, we do not grow any GMO sweet corn.  We opt to use organic or untreated seed and rely on newer “sugar-enhanced” bi-color hybrids, many of which are recommended to us by our knowledgeable seed rep.  These varieties start sweet and have tender kernels.  Early in the season we look for a variety with the ability to germinate in cold soil.  We do what we can to help it along by planting the seed fairly shallow on a sunny day.  The first 24 hours are critical to success so we rely on the heat of the sun to warm the soil.  This tactic, in Farmer Richard’s words, gives the seed the “kiss of life” and just enough heat and encouragement to germinate the seed.  The other tricky part of choosing an early season variety is that most varieties we have trialed don’t taste that great.  We’re happy to have found two delicious varieties this year, Sweetness & Nirvana.
     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.  Another reason we plant the sugar-enhanced varieties is because they have a slower rate of conversion of sugars to starch.   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.
     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 try the recipe for 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.

Sweet Corn Pancakes

Yield: 16-silver dollar size pancakes
½ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh corn kernels
2 Tbsp minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp finely chopped jalapeño, optional
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, etc)
Vegetable oil, as needed

1.  In a small mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add grated cheese and mix just enough to coat the cheese with the flour mixture.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk until well combined.  Stir in the cornmeal mixture along with the corn, onion, garlic, jalapeño (if using) and fresh herbs.  Stir just until all the ingredients are mixed well.
3.  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add just enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the pan.  Drop the pancake batter in small spoonfuls into the hot skillet.  Cook for about 2 minutes or until the underside is golden brown.  Using a spatula, flip the pancakes and cook on the other side until it is golden brown.  Remove the pancakes from the pan and hold them in a warm place until you finish making the remainder of the pancakes.

4.  Serve warm as a side dish or as the main part of a meal.  They are delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream or fresh salsa if desired.

Recipe by Andrea Yoder

Charred Corn Salad with Mint, Parsley and Cilantro

Photo from Food & Wine website
Yield: 4 servings

4 large ears of corn, shucked
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ small onion, thinly sliced
2 ½ Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
3 Tbsp torn mint leaves
3 Tbsp torn parsley leaves
3 Tbsp torn cilantro leaves

1. Heat a large grill pan or an outside grill.  Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill over moderately high heat, turning, until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes.  Let cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the onion and lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes.  Stir in the syrup, jalapeño and 2 Tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

3. Working in a large bowl, cut the kernels off the cobs in sections.  Add the onion dressing and toss.  Add the mint, parlsey and cilantro and toss again.  Serve warm.

This recipe is the creation of Chef Yotam Ottolenghi.  
It was featured in the September 2012 issue of Food and Wine magazine.