Friday, April 28, 2017

Sorrel Is Salad Gold!

Eating with the seasons can be an exciting, yet sometimes challenging adventure.  After a long winter, we’re anxious for the return of fresh food and are grateful for any green thing we can find!  While we are able to start planting vegetables in April, the days and nights are still cool and it takes awhile for the soil to warm up.  Thus, things often grow slowly and we have to wait patiently until the end of May and into June before we can start harvesting peas, beets, carrots, etc.  In the meantime, nature takes care of us by providing us with some delicious spring vegetables to enjoy.  Most of the vegetables we harvest this time of year are perennial plants that are either wild harvested, such as ramps and sometimes nettles, or are crops we planted in a previous year that start poking through on their own early in the spring.  Some of these vegetables include sorrel, chives, nettles, rhubarb and asparagus.  These are important vegetables for us to eat in the spring and all have different nutritive properties that help our bodies transition from winter into a new season.  If you are not familiar with these vegetables, they might be a little intimidating at first.  However, don’t let a vegetable intimidate you, just dive in and start learning how to enjoy something new!  Don’t worry, we’ll help guide you along the way!

Sorrel is a unique perennial plant we look forward to every spring and is amongst the first greens of the season.  It is actually in the same family of vegetables as rhubarb!  Sorrel leaves have a pointy, arrow shape and are thick in texture and bright green in color.  You’ll recognize sorrel by its tart and citrus-like flavor if you nibble on a raw leaf.  It has a bright flavor that will call your taste buds to attention.  Sorrel is a very nutritious green that contains antioxidants as well as vitamin C, fiber, iron, magnesium and zinc.

Sorrel may be used in a wide variety of preparations and may be eaten either raw or cooked.   Raw sorrel can brighten any salad and is excellent when blended into cold sauces, vinaigrette's, dressings or dips.  Because of its bold, tart flavor, it is often treated more like an herb when used raw and will give the end product a bright, cheery green color.  When cooked, sorrel behaves in a very interesting way.  First, its color changes from bright green to a drab olive green almost immediately.  Don’t worry, this happens to everyone and it’s just the way it is with sorrel!  The other unusual thing about sorrel is how it “melts” when added to hot liquids.  The leaves will almost immediately change color and then start to soften.  The longer it’s cooked, the more the leaves break apart and you can stir it into a coarse sauce.  This is one of the reasons it’s often used in soups and sauces.

The acidity of sorrel makes it a natural companion to more rich foods such as cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt, duck, and fatty fish (salmon & mackerel).  Additionally, it pairs well with more “earthy” foods such as lentils, rice, buckwheat, mushrooms and potatoes.  As with many other spring vegetables, sorrel pairs well with eggs and is often used in quiche, scrambled eggs, custard etc.  Don’t be afraid to think “outside of the box” and incorporate this green into beverages too!  In this week’s newsletter I have provided a tasty recipe for a Frosty Sorrel & Banana smoothie and in a past newsletter we published a recipe for a Sorrel-Lime Cooler (May 10, 2013).  The raw sorrel in both of these recipes lends a bright, fresh flavor to the beverage that is invigorating!

We have featured a wide variety of sorrel recipes in past newsletters.  These recipes may be found in the searchable recipe database on our website.  Here are a few of our favorites that might interest you:

  • Sorrel-Lime Cooler 
  • Sorrel Hummus
  • Spiced Lentils with Nettles & Sorrel Yogurt Sauce
  • Sorrel-Honey Vinaigrette
  • Sorrel Pesto
  • Sorrel & White Bean Soup

If you are interested in preserving sorrel to use during the winter, here’s an interesting idea from Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy.  She recommends making a sorrel puree to freeze.  “Drop stemmed leaves into a skillet with a little butter and cook until the leaves dissolve into a rough puree, which takes only a few minutes.  Cool, then freeze flat in a ziplock bag….Just a dab will add spirit to the quiet flavors of winter foods:  break off chunks to stir into lentil soups, mushroom sauces or ragouts, or an omelet filling.”

We hope your spring is off to a good start and encourage you to incorporate some of these special spring vegetables into your meals.  In next week’s newsletter we will be featuring nettles, another unique spring green that is packed with flavor and nutrients!

Frosty Sorrel & Banana Smoothie
Yield:  2 servings, 14-16 oz each

¾ cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1 frozen banana, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
7-8 ice cubes
½ bunch sorrel 

 1.  Put all ingredients in a blender in the order listed above.  Put the cover on the blender and, with the blender on low speed, turn it on.  Gradually increase the speed of the blender and blend until the mixture is smooth and bright green.
2.   Serve immediately in a chilled glass.  

*Note:  While this smoothie is best served immediately while it’s frosty, you can store it in the refrigerator for a day or so and it will still be delicious.  It may separate a little bit, but it will come together again if you just give it a good shake before you drink it.  

Recipe by:  Chef Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farm
Armenian Cold Yogurt & Sorrel Soup
Yield:  4 servings

1 ⅔ cups plain yogurt
1 quart water
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup long-grain white rice
4 oz spinach, chopped
2 oz sorrel, chopped (1/2 bunch)
½ bunch cilantro, chopped*
½ bunch dill, chopped*

*Note:  Since we do not have cilantro or dill available yet, I (Andrea) substituted 1 cup of chopped chives for the cilantro and dill.  It was delicious!

1.  Mix the yogurt, water, and egg together in a bowl.  Season this well with salt and pepper and give it a good whisk to incorporate the egg thoroughly.
2.  Place the rice in a large saucepan, cover with the yogurt mixture, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent the egg and yogurt from curdling.  
3.  Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the rice is cooked, about 10 minutes.
4.  Add the spinach, sorrel, and the herbs and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and let cool in the refrigerator, then serve cold.

Recipe borrowed from: Olia Hercules’ cookbook entitled, Mamushka: A Cookbook

Olia is from Ukraine and the recipes she shares in her book highlight the many other cultural influences she experienced growing up in this region. This recipe is one she learned to make from her half-Armenian Aunt Nina. It’s an interesting spring soup that you can actually enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner! Since it is served cold, you can make it the night before and it will be ready to enjoy for breakfast with a piece of toast and a hard-boiled egg. You can also take it along with you to work for a simple lunch with a few crackers or take it on a picnic!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time to Ramp Up!

Ramps are a special sign of spring we look forward to every year.  We’ve been wild-harvesting them for over 30 years in our valley and still get excited when we see the first green ramp leaves emerging from the forest floor.  Ahhh….spring has returned!  With their lily-like, delicate, rounded leaves and distinct aroma, there is nothing else that can be substituted for a ramp.  They are sometimes referred to as “wild leeks” and have their own distinct “rampy” flavor, but if they must be likened to another vegetable they may be described as having a garlic-onion like flavor and aroma.  Ramps are only available for a few weeks in the spring.  Most years we get about 4 weeks of harvest, but we’ve also seen years where the season is only 3 weeks and then they’re gone.


When you stand in the forest at the beginning of the year and look out over the sea of green leaves, it seems impossible that you could ever harvest so many that eventually they’d be gone, but we must remember nature is delicate and likes to maintain balance.  Ramps are a very slow growing crop and propagate themselves by bulb division as well as producing seeds.  They grow in many places around the world, mostly on steep hillsides and in ravines.  Since we started harvesting ramps back in the mid 80’s we’ve been aware of the need to manage our harvests responsibly so they continue to come back and flourish year after year.  It’s tempting to harvest the ones closest to the entry into the woods so you don’t have to hike as far to carry out the harvest…..but, we understand that if we were to do that year after year the ramp population would decline.  So, with respect, we enter the forest and carefully climb the steep hillsides taking care to tread lightly and carry out anything we carried in.
We have a very skillful crew who has been trained on proper harvest methods.  Ramps grow in clumps, and we are careful to only take a portion of a clump.  We intentionally leave some behind that will continue to grow and divide and are careful to do so with little disturbance to the soil.  Our forest hillsides have remained abundant with ramps for over 30 years as a result of these practices.  In fact, when we leave a portion of a clump behind, it may be 5 years or more before we come back to that area!  While most ramps grow wild in the forests, often on north-facing hillsides, they can be cultivated either from seed or by transplanting a ramp with the bulb and roots intact.  We have successfully transplanted ramps in suitable areas on our land where they were not previously growing, but we understand it may be many years before they are established enough that we can harvest them.
       Sadly, not everyone practices sustainable and ethical harvesting practices which does raise the concern that ramps may be overharvested.  When there is a demand for ramps and someone is willing to pay the price for them, opportunists may seize the opportunity to make a dollar with no regard for the plant or environment itself.  We share these concerns and feel it is important for consumers to know how the ramps they are purchasing have been harvested. As with so many other aspects of our food system, it’s important to understand the story behind your food so you can make informed purchases!  It takes more time and effort to carefully hike into the woods and up the steep hillsides to harvest ramps than it does to just walk into the base of the forest near the access point and easily walk them out.  If you ever wondered why ramps are a bit more expensive than other vegetables, it is because of the time we invest to harvest and carefully clean them.  

While ramps are not an endangered species, we do feel it’s important to be proactive in managing ramp populations to make sure we have them for years to come.  As part of our annual inspection, our organic certifier (MOSA) reviews and inspects our ramp woods and harvest practices.  They are concerned with maintaining organic integrity of the product as well as ensuring that we are using sustainable practices.  We support further regulation of ramp harvesting in public areas, as these are the most vulnerable locations where over-harvesting and disturbance of the ecosystem may take place.  If you are harvesting ramps yourself, please do so responsibly so they will be there for others to enjoy in the future as well.

Storage & Use

Ramps are a delicate vegetable and should be handled with care.  It’s important to store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.  The leaves are delicate and can wilt very quickly, so we recommend wrapping them in a damp towel and storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  The bulb portion of the ramp will store longer than the leaves, so some people choose to separate the bulb from the leaf and store them separately.
The entire ramp is edible with the exception of the roots on the very bottom of the bulb which should be trimmed off.  Ramps may be eaten either raw or cooked.  The flavor and aroma is a bit more pungent when eaten raw and mellows a bit with cooking.  

Ramps pair very well with other spring vegetables.  Mushrooms (morels in particular if you can get your hands on them!), overwintered spinach, and asparagus are a few of our favorite companions for ramps.  They also pair nicely with eggs and may be used in any kind of an egg preparation ranging from scrambled eggs to quiche, frittatas, omelets, deviled eggs or even egg salad.  Ramp risotto is a popular spring dish that many of our longtime CSA members make every year as a way of ushering in spring.  Ramp pesto and pasta dishes are other common favorite ways to prepare ramps.  Over the past few years, we’ve noticed an increasing affinity amongst our market crew members and customers for ramp butter--and rightly so!  The beauty of ramp butter is you can make and eat it when ramps are in season, but you can also freeze it to enjoy later in the year; perhaps in the middle of winter as a reminder that the season won’t last forever.

If you are trying ramps for the first time, start with something as simple as adding them to your scrambled eggs.  Finely chop the bulb portion of the ramp and saute it briefly in butter before you add the eggs to the pan.  Just as the egg is starting to become solid, fold in thinly sliced ramp leaves, season with salt and pepper and then cover the pan with a lid so the leaves wilt down and the eggs finish cooking.  You can find ramp recipes we’ve featured in previous newsletters in our searchable recipe database on our website (including the ramp butter recipe).  There is also a collection of tasty ramp recipes available at including Ramp Focaccia and Egg and Lemon Soup with Ramps.

We hope you enjoy this spring vegetable treasure as we enter into another year of seasonal eating.  As you try new recipes and find your own “favorite” way to enjoy ramps, please keep us in mind!  We enjoy learning about new recipes and being reminded of the “oldies but goodies.”  Happy Spring! -Your farmers, Andrea & Richard


Spaghetti with Ramps and Mushrooms

 Yield:  3-4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish

 8 oz spaghetti
 4 oz fresh mushrooms
 2 bunches ramps (approximately 6-8 oz)
 2 Tbsp butter
 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
 4 oz grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar, plus more to garnish
 2-3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste 
 Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

 1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Once the water is boiling vigorously, add the  pasta and cook until it is al dente.  Reserve one cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.  
 2.  While the pasta is cooking, prepare the remainder of the dish.  Thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside.  Separate the ramp bulbs and leaves.  Thinly slice both the ramp bulbs and the leaves and set aside.  
 3.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Melt the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan.  Add the mushrooms and 1 tsp salt to the pan and saute’ for 3-5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft.  Add the ramp  bulbs and saute for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the ramps are translucent. 

 4.  Add the ramp leaves to the pan and stir to combine.  Let the leaves wilt slightly and then add the spaghetti and about ½ cup of the pasta water to the pan.  Season generously with black pepper and stir to combine. 

 5.  Next, add 4 oz of grated Parmesan or sharp cheddar, about 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir to combine, adding more of the pasta water if needed to form a glossy sauce that lightly coats the pasta.  If you choose to include the bacon, add it now.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking by adding more salt, black pepper and/or lemon juice as needed.
 6.  Serve hot topped with additional cheese.

Recipe adapted from Alison Roman’s original recipe for “Spaghetti with Ramps”(Bon Appetit, April 2016)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Happy Spring Everyone!

 By Andrea Yoder

Onions still in the greenhouse
April showers bring May flowers…..and green hillsides on our farm!  The pace of the farm has picked up and we’re rocking and rolling again!  This week we returned to the fields to harvest, work ground and plant.  Spring cleaning is happening in the packing shed and we’re all starting to get back into our vegetable groove.  Our CSA deliveries start in just three weeks and we’re excited to return to Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for our first farmers’ market of the season!  Things are changing fast and there’s quite a lot to fill you in on this month!

Both planting crews out in the fields
Our first group of field crew members returned from Mexico and started work on Monday.  We were thankful for their safe travels and were happy to see their smiling faces.  They hit the ground running on Monday.  Rafael, Juan, Jose Ramon and Nestor started off the week getting tractors, trucks and equipment out of winter storage.  By noon Nestor had already prepared ground for planting, so after lunch Rafael and Tomas were in the field doing our first direct seeding of the season!  Manuel and Juan Pablo followed behind and planted our first baby lettuces on Monday as well.  Angel and Juan Pablo have been working on fencing in the pastures……the cattle are anxious to be back out on grass and are happy to see the hillsides greening up.  Other crew members hopped on spring cleaning projects, joined the packing shed crew to transplant baby pepper plants in the greenhouses and started working on some field clean-up projects.
Ramps ready for DCFM
We decided to start our harvest for the farmers’ market on Wednesday, seeing rain in the forecast for Wednesday night and the latter part of the week.  While the ramps are still a little small, the crew was able to find enough to take to market and we anticipate they’ll be ready for larger harvests next week.  In the afternoon they went to the spinach field and spent the afternoon harvesting some sweet, tender overwintered spinach.  The hum of vegetable sorting and washing has returned to the packing shed this morning.

Lettuce planted in the Flower Tunnel
We have had some rain this week, so some of our field work is on hold.  We’re hoping to see some dry days in the near future so we can get some critical things done.  The onion transplants are almost ready to go to the field, but first we need to prepare their beds by covering them with the reflective plastic mulch that helps with weed and pest control as well as heat gain.  Next week we will be receiving some rhubarb and strawberry plants and need to get those fields ready for planting as well.  We are also anxious to plant some of our other early-planted crops including parsnips, burdock root and our first carrots and beets.

Transplanting pepper plants

The greenhouses are almost at full capacity, with only about two tables left in the nursery greenhouse……and we need those to finish the plantings on this week’s schedule!  The plants are looking very nice and many will be ready to go to the field within the next few weeks.  This year we’re trying something new.   Usually we use our greenhouses for transplant production only in the spring and we have one small house we seed edible flowers in for our salad mix.   This year we decided to try growing some early season head lettuces in these houses.  Simon, Scott and Gerardo started preparing the soil for planting last week and on Monday Scott and Leonardo finished planting the lettuce.  We’re hoping they’ll be ready for CSA boxes and the farmers’ market by the first to middle part of May which is several weeks earlier than the head lettuce we’ll harvest from the field.  

Jicama starting to come up in the greenhouse
Over the winter, Richard and Lisa spent quite a bit of time reviewing the results of the survey we did at the end of last year.  We really appreciate the input we received from those who chose to participate.  One of the questions we asked was for input on helping us choose three vegetables from our list of “unique crops” that you would like us to grow this year.  The top three vegetable choices were jicama, broccoli raab and dried beans!  We’re happy to report the jicama is planted and started sprouting this week.  The broccoli raab will be planted within the next few weeks and we’ll probably do a fall planting too.  It’s a little early to plant beans, but we have the seed!

Eagle in the tree
Farmer Richard is getting very excited for the May Woods Walks that he has planned.  In case you haven’t heard, we’ve invited our members to come to the farm this spring to join Farmer Richard for a walk through our wooded hillsides.  You will have the opportunity to explore areas of the farm we don’t usually feature at our other farm events.  There are a lot of treasures to discover in our woods and Farmer Richard is looking forward to guiding you on a walking tour using the new trails he and his crew made last fall!  As you hike through the woods, you’ll have the opportunity to look for spring wildflowers, learn how to identify different species of trees by their leaves and bark, forage for wild edibles, listen and look for birds, and you might even stumble on a morel mushroom or two!The two dates are May 13 and 20.  You’ll find more information about the event in this week’s email. This event is for CSA members only and space is limited, so we do ask that you email with an RSVP in advance.

We do still have CSA shares available for this year’s season, so please remind your friends and neighbors to sign up soon!  If you are in Madison, please stop by and visit us at the farmers’ market starting this weekend.  If you reside in the Twin Cities or our local area, please read your email for more details about some of the other events going on in the next few weeks.  Ok, that’s a wrap for now…time to water the greenhouses!