Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August 31, 2017 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Peppers

Cooking With This Week's Box

This week we’re focused on peppers, both in our main newsletter article and as our featured vegetable of the week!  Depending upon the weather, we could have a few pepper-heavy CSA boxes coming up over the next few weeks.  There are so many ways to use peppers, but if you start to feel overwhelmed, remember they are super-easy to preserve.  Read this week’s vegetable feature on our blog for details about how to preserve peppers.  As for what to do with them this week, lets start with the Whole Wheat Udon Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables and Sesame Marinade. (See Below)  I actually made this recipe for the first time during the winter using edamame, corn and peppers that I pulled out of the freezer!  This is an easy salad to make and incorporates several different vegetables from this week’s box including edamame, an ear or two of corn, and lots of sweet, ripe peppers and onions.  This recipe travels well, so this would be a great item to take to work for lunch.  Add some baked tofu if you’d like or eat it alongside seared salmon, grilled chicken or steak. 

I like to save the classical French preparation of ratatouille for late summer when sweet, red peppers are in their prime.  Alice Water’s Ratatouille, originally published in her book, The Art of Simple Food, may be found at Food52 where it earned status as a “Community Pick.” Pick up an eggplant from the choice box and use it along with your zucchini or scallop squash, some of your tomatoes and some of your sweet peppers. You can eat ratatouille on its own as a main dish along with some crusty French bread, or repurpose it into a spread for pizza or flatbread, toss it with pasta, etc.

If your box contains cauliflower this week, check out this recipe for Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas found at Smitten Kitchen.  This recipe was tested by our farmer’s market manager, Sarah, who gave it rave reviews!  If your box contains broccoli, check out these Broccoli Balls, the creation of Sarah Forte found at her blog, The Sprouted Kitchen.  This is a kid-approved recipe.  If you don’t believe me, check out her blog and see pictures of her two cute kiddos eating these easy, tasty and highly portable broccoli balls.   This might make a good item for school lunches or an after school snack.

Andrea Bemis just posted this recipe for Spiced Cantaloupe and Honey Lassi on her blog, Dishing Up the Dirt.  This is a refreshing, simple way to enjoy this week’s French Orange Melon, or freeze the melon this week and pull it out of the freezer after melon season has passed and use it to make this delicious drink. 

Sometimes you just need to go deep and do some frying at home.  I’m a sucker for a good onion ring and I guarantee these will surpass anything you might get at the county fair or off a food cart!  They’ve been on my mind for several weeks, so I figure it’s time to try this recipe for Southern Fried Sweet Onion Rings.  Eat them with a grilled burger, or Farmer Richard’s preferred sandwich at present, a BLT.  If you do go with a grilled burger, consider garnishing it with a homemade pickle.  One of our members shared this recipe in our Facebook Group for Homemade Pickles and cited them as “the best I’ve ever had!”  They added lots of dill, garlic and some slices of jalapeño peppers to their batch for extra flavor and some heat.  We may be nearing the end of cucumber season, so don’t wait to try this recipe.  Make it this week!

Yukina Savoy in the field

Yukina Savoy, the bunching green in this week’s box, is one of my favorite Asian Greens.  Right now it has a mild, balanced mustard flavor because of the mild summer we’ve had.  While you may cook this green, I think it’s in its prime for eating raw in a salad.  Put together your own Yukina Savoy Salad with Thai Peanut Dressing  and top it off with thinly sliced onion & sweet pepper, grated broccoli stem, and some of your small tomatoes cut in half.  Finish it with chopped peanuts or almonds and add some protein of your choosing if you’d like.

Finally, make a special after-school treat for the kids.  It’s hard to admit summer is coming to a close, but all good things must end.  Perhaps these Watermelon Popsicles will make the transition back into school a little more acceptable. 

Well folks, I’m not sure what next week’s box will contain.  We’re nearing the end of the season for cucumbers and zucchini.  We’re hoping to continue picking tomatoes for a few more weeks, but at the same time we’re starting to harvest some late summer/early fall crops like celeriac!  Richard dug some sweet potatoes earlier this week and they are looking really good, but need more time and some heat!  Enjoy the final few weeks of summer!

Chef Andrea

Featured Vegetable (Fruit):  Peppers!

Peppers are classified as either sweet or hot and can vary in size from just 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 the  flavor of a green pepper is more mild without a lot of sweetness.  This is because green peppers are immature.  All colored peppers start out as a green pepper.  As the fruit ripens on the plant, it makes a transition from green to its fully ripe color.  As this change occurs, natural sugars develop in the fruit making it not only sweet but also flavorful.  As a pepper ripens, the nutrient content also changes.  Colored peppers can contain as much as 60% greater levels of antioxidants and other nutrients including Vitamins C, A, E, K, B6 and folate. 

Poblano peppers in the field.
While most of the peppers we grow are sweet peppers, we do grow several hot varieties.  Our two main hot peppers are jalapeño and poblano peppers.  The heat of a hot pepper is mostly contained in the white pith and seed cavity within the pepper.  If you don’t have a tolerance for the heat, you can remove this portion of the pepper and significantly reduce its heat.  Two more words of caution when handling and cooking with hot peppers.  First, adjust the amount of hot peppers in the dish you are making to your liking.  Remember, you can always add a little more but you can’t take the heat away!  Second, it is advisable to wear plastic gloves and/or be aware of where you put your hands for awhile after you cut the pepper—as in don’t rub your eyes!

From a culinary perspective, peppers are 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 which means they also pair well with sweet potatoes, fall greens, and winter squash to name just a few. 

Roasting peppers on a rack placed
over the burners of a gas stove.
Peppers are part of many cultures around the world and, as a result, they are a key ingredient in some traditional dishes.  Ratatouille is a classical French dish from the Provence region.  It is a summer “stew” made from onions, garlic, sweet peppers, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and herbs.  It may be eaten as a dish on its own, served as a side dish, or re-purposed in many ways to become a topping for pizza, bruschetta, etc.  I learned about Shakshuka several years ago when I was researching peppers for the newsletter.  This is a dish thought to have originated in Tunisia, spreading through the Middle East and Northern Africa.  Tomatoes, onions and peppers create a sauce in the bottom of the pan and eggs are cracked on top.  The eggs are poached by the heat of the sauce.  This has become one of my favorite summer brunch or light dinner dishes.  Sweet peppers are also an important part of Spanish cuisine.  Sweet red peppers, along with tomatoes and onions, are paired to make sofrito.  This is used as the base for many other dishes, similar to a French mirepoix or the combination of garlic, ginger and onion in Chinese dishes.  There is also a Spanish sauce, Romesco sauce, made from sweet peppers and nuts (often almonds) that is thickened with bread and often served with seafood and fish.

Peppers are often roasted to not only develop their natural sweetness, but to also give them a smoky flavor.  You can roast any kind of pepper, but generally those with a thicker wall will yield better results.  There are several methods for roasting peppers---none of which are difficult.  Fire-roasted peppers can be charred 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 on all sides, 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, salads, etc.

Homemade pizza in February, topped with
sweet peppers pulled out of the freezer.
Peppers are one of my favorite vegetables to preserve and use throughout the winter.  They can be frozen raw or roasted, either whole or cut down into smaller pieces, strips or diced.  When you want to use them, just pull them out of the freezer and use them as a pizza topping, put them on sandwiches, or add to soups, stews, sauces, etc.  You can also preserve peppers by dehydrating them.  For most peppers, you’ll want to cut them into strips or smaller pieces so they dehydrate faster.  Peppers with a thinner wall are best for dehydrating.

Orange Italian frying peppers in the field.
Please note, while many recipes call for “Red Bell Peppers,” any sweet pepper will generally do fine as a substitute.  Our Italian frying peppers (orange or red), orange Ukraine peppers and mini-sweet peppers are our main sweet varieties.  You’ll need to use your best judgement as to how many of whatever sweet pepper you are using is equal to one bell pepper.  Typically I substitute two Italian frying peppers or 2 medium to small orange Ukraine peppers for one red bell pepper. 

Udon Noodle Salad with Summer Vegetables & Sesame Marinade

Yield:  4 to 6 servings

1-2 ears sweet corn, husk and silks removed
1—8 ounce pack udon noodles
2 Tbsp unrefined, untoasted sesame oil or extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced sweet peppers
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
¾  cup cooked edamame beans (out of their pods)
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbsp tamari (or soy sauce), plus more to taste
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
3 Tbsp toasted black sesame seeds, plus more to garnish (may substitute white sesame seeds)
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
½ cup finely minced sweet onion or scallions
1 cup chopped cilantro
  1. Boil a large pot of water.  Add the corn on the cob and cook for 2 minutes.   Remove the ears from the pot, reserving the water;  set the corn aside to cool.  Use a strainer to remove any stray corn silk from the boiling water.  Add udon noodles and cook according to directions on package or until tender.  Drain and rinse the noodles under cold running water;  set aside to drain well.
  2. Warm the unrefined sesame oil or olive oil in a wide skillet (with a lid) over medium heat.  Add the peppers and saute for 10 minutes;  stir in ½ tsp salt, reduce heat to low, cover skillet, and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove the lid;  raise heat to medium;  and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes more or until peppers are cooked through and beginning to brown.  Stir in edamame and chili flakes.  Set aside to cool.
  3. Make the marinade:  Add garlic, tamari, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame seeds to a salad bowl and whisk to combine.  Drizzle in toasted sesame oil and whisk again.  Add noodles;  toss until evenly coated with marinade.  Cut corn off cobs (you’ll need about ¾ cup) and add to noodles along with the pepper mixture, onions, and cilantro.  Mix well to combine.  Season to taste with extra tamari or sea salt.  Sprinkle with additional black sesame seeds and serve at room temperature.

Note:  This recipe was adapted from Amy Chaplin’s cookbook, At Home In the Whole Food Kitchen.  While this salad is delicious to make in the height of the summer vegetable season, you can also make it in the winter.  Thinly slice peppers and freeze them, raw.  Cook the corn, cut it off the cob and freeze the kernels.  Boil a pound of edamame pods and then remove the beans.  Pop those in the freezer too.  In the middle of the winter when you’re missing the summer heat, pull out your frozen vegetables and make this salad again!  Serve this on its own as a main dish item or as a side dish along with chicken, fish, tempeh or another protein of your choosing.

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers with Chickpeas

Roasted peppers, cooled and ready
to remove the charred skin.
Yield:  4 servings as a side dish or small plate

3-4  red bell peppers, stems, seeds, and ribs removed
1 ½ tsp coconut oil
3 Tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 pinches of fine sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp raisins
Handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 ½ ounces feta cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Rub the peppers with the coconut oil and place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.  Roast until blistered and blackened in a few places, 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove the peppers from the baking sheet, place them in a bowl, and quickly cover it with plastic wrap to steam the peppers, which makes the skin very easy to remove.  When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins.
  2. While the peppers are roasting, in a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Mince the raisins and chop the parsley.
  3. Tear or slice the skinned roasted peppers into large pieces and place them in the bowl with the dressing.  Add the chickpeas, toss to coat, and let marinate for about 15 minutes.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly among 4 plates.  Sprinkle with the minced raisins and parsley and crumble the feta over top.  Serve immediately.

Author’s note:  Make this a main dish by serving it over cooked quinoa.
Recipe borrowed from Naturally Nourished, by Sarah Britton.

Learning To Farm Better, Lessons From The Pepper Field

by Farmer Richard and Chef Andrea

When we start to see more color in the pepper field, we know we’re approaching a transition point in the season.  This usually happens towards the end of August or first part of September.  The days are getting shorter, nights are a bit more cool, and we start thinking about when the first frost might nip us. While we’re still harvesting many summer vegetables, we’re also starting to move into fall vegetables such as celeriac and winter squash.  In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, there are peppers.  They won’t take a direct frost, but we can cover them to protect them from frost damage or we can pick them really hard before the first frost and just hold them for a bit in storage.  Sometimes, after the first frost, we get lucky and have a few more weeks of warm weather which pushes any green peppers along so we can continue harvesting into the end of September or first of October!  From a culinary perspective, peppers handle the seasonal transition well.  They pair well with summer vegetables, but they also play nicely with fall and winter vegetables too.  They really do play an important part in our progression through the seasons and are a reliable mainstay in our Midwestern diets.

Our winter crew does a thorough,
top to bottom cleaning of our
greenhouses at the beginning of each year.
Peppers have a long history at Harmony Valley Farm.  Over the years we’ve grown a lot of different types, both hot and sweet.  Our pepper selection has evolved over the years, partly because of changes in what our customers want, but also as a result of changes within the seed industry and as we learn more about growing them.  In fact, peppers have taught us some very valuable farming lessons over the years.  Some years ago, we discovered what bacterial leaf spot (BLS) is and how devastating it can be when it infects your crop.  We thought we were carrying over the disease from one year to the next in our greenhouse.  We changed our greenhouse set-up protocol to include a more extensive cleaning process including sterilizing the inside of the greenhouse, benches, equipment, etc before we started planting.  We also started sterilizing all of our greenhouse flats with hopes that if the bacteria was living on any of these surfaces, we could kill it and stop the cycle.  Unfortunately, we still had the BLS and were still losing pepper crops as a result!  We still thought the disease might be being carried over in the greenhouse, so we partnered with a new grower who had just built a new greenhouse, had new flats, etc.  He agreed to grow our pepper transplants for us one year in his new house that had never seen a pepper plant.  Well, low and behold we still had the disease.  Fortunately, we were able to detect that the disease was on one specific pepper, the Gypsy pepper.  This is how we learned that the disease was seed borne, came to us on the surface of the seed and then spread throughout our pepper field.  We lost our pepper crops for at least three years while we were battling BLS.  We still employ very thorough cleaning and sterilizing procedures every year when we set up our greenhouses.  While this may not have made a difference with this disease, it is a good practice that is valuable for preventing other plant diseases so we chose to continue the practice.  We also learned about the importance of carefully selecting pepper varieties, specifically ones that have disease resistance and are tested for BLS to guarantee there is no disease present on the seed coat.  Additionally, we started sterilizing seeds that have the potential to carry seed borne disease.  This is done through a treatment involving hot water only and, while not always 100% reliable, is beneficial.

A field of young pepper plants. Notice the reflective
plastic mulch covering their raised beds!
Remember the corn earworm Richard wrote about in last week’s newsletter about the challenges of growing corn?  Well, that little pest is attracted to peppers as well.  The larvae burrow into the pepper and feed on the flesh.  One of the means we’ve found to deter this pest in peppers is by changing our planting system.  We now plant our peppers on raised beds covered with a reflective plastic mulch.  The reflection helps to deter and confuse the moth that lays the eggs on the peppers.  With this system, we also use buried drip tape that helps us deliver water and nutrients as needed at different stages of growth.  While this is a more costly system, the results have been good for us and we’ve had some outstanding pepper crops over the years! 

This orange Ukraine plant is loaded with immature peppers
that will turn bright orange-red in color when fully ripe.
Ripe orange Ukraine peppers ready to be picked.

Peppers have also taught us a thing or two about saving seeds and developing varieties.  The Orange Ukraine peppers in your box this week are grown from seed we’ve been saving since the mid to late 90’s.  Richard used to work on the board of directors for the Michael Fields Institute, an organization that supports organic agriculture and research.  The director of that organization at that time visited the Ukraine, saw this pepper and liked it.  He brought some of the seed back and shared it with Ruth Zinniker, a biodynamic grower in East Troy, Wisconsin, who then shared it with Richard.  Richard has grown it ever since, being careful to always keep some of the previous year’s seed as well as saving new seed every year.  One year Ruth had a crop failure and didn’t have any seed to save for the following year, so Richard gave some seed back to her so she could keep growing it.  To our knowledge, we are the only two growers in this country who have grown this pepper!  We like this variety because it produces very heavily and the plants are pretty resistant to many diseases.  The fruit is similar to a bell pepper, except it is smaller with a pointy end instead of a blocky bottom.  When ripe, the fruit is more orange-red than a red bell pepper, but is equally as sweet if not more.  This fruit also has a thick wall which makes it a good choice for roasting! 

We save our own seed for our mini-sweet peppers.
There are usually only 4-6 seeds in each pepper!
This is not the only pepper variety we save seeds from.  It’s probably been at least 15 years or so since we started saving our own seed for mini-sweet peppers.  One of our longtime CSA members, David, was helping us out at a CSA fair in Madison in early March and he told us about this little sweet pepper from Mexico that they were selling at the Willy Street Co-Op.  He pegged it as the next hot thing in the vegetable world and encouraged us to check it out and see if we could grow it.  On his way home from Madison that day, Richard stopped at the Willy Street Co-op and bought a package.  When he got home he extracted all the seeds (which is not that many when you’re talking about this pepper) and planted them in the greenhouse.  It took several years to build up the seed stock to the point where he had enough seed to grow this pepper in volume.  In the early days, this pepper was only available out of Mexico in the winter months.  When we first started growing it, we were selling large volumes both in our region as well as shipping pallets to Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even California!   The commercial seed company picked up on this vegetable’s success eventually and one company released seed for a variety called “Yummy.”  We bought some seed and grew it side-by-side with our mini-sweet pepper.  We thought it was pretty similar until we tasted it.  The difference in flavor was dramatic!  Our variety was by far a superior tasting pepper and we still consider it the best tasting and sweetest pepper we grow.  Despite the painstaking task of extracting just a few seeds from each pepper, we decided to continue to save our own seed and have not bought another commercially produced snack pepper seed since then.  The downside of this story, at least for us, is that the mini -sweet pepper market is now saturated since more growers are now growing the commercial varieties.  Over the past few years many of our markets have faded and we’ve had to cut back on the size of our planting.  We used to get a premium price for our mini-sweet peppers, but now that there are so many peppers on the market, the price is more volatile and can be pretty low at some points in the season.  Regardless of these changes in the marketplace, we continue to grow our original variety for our CSA members and our wholesale partners that know our pepper!

HVF pepper field circa 2012: One of the
most beautiful pepper fields in HVF history!
Yes, peppers have definitely taught us a lot over the years.  We continue to learn more lessons from this crop from year to year and it continues to be one of our favorite crops to grow.  This year has been a somewhat challenging year for our pepper field.  The plants were transplanted in the field when it was still pretty cool, but they did ok, put down roots and started to grow.  The field was looking pretty good when we had that rain event the end of July.  Unfortunately the low end of the field died out because the plants were sitting in standing water for too long.  The drainage for this field got backed up because of the silt that washed into an adjacent field and backed everything up.  Unfortunately we lost some of our hot peppers as well as some sweet peppers.  The remainder of the field is still looking good and producing well.  We have started to see some spots forming on some fruit, specifically the red Italian frying peppers.  This is not uncommon to see in a wet year and/or when peppers are fully ripe.  The pepper might look just fine when we put it in your box, but a spot could start to form after you get it.  Watch your peppers closely and if you see this starting to happen, cut the spot away and eat the remainder of the pepper as soon as possible! 

We are hoping to have several more weeks of peppers to include in your boxes, however if this cool weather continues it is highly likely the first frost will come soon.  We’re preparing to lay out remay (field blankets) to protect peppers as well as other vulnerable crops such as eggplant and basil from frost damage.   If we’re lucky, the pepper field will still be alive and well at our Fall Harvest Party coming up soon on September 24.  This is usually one of our favorite stops along the field tour as members get to pick and eat as much as you want!  Hope to see you there!
Children of all ages enjoy picking
peppers at our fall Harvest Party!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where's the Corn??!?!

By Farmer Richard

Before and after cultivating pictures. 
We have planted four different plantings of sweet corn, with the first on April 28.  With each planting we plant two different varieties of corn, each with different maturity dates so we can get two weeks of corn from each planting for a total harvest window of eight weeks!  Unfortunately, things don’t always work out as planned.  Corn needs warm soil to germinate and if you think back to April, it was a cold, wet spring.  We picked a warm day, 65°F, when the forecast was for a second warm, dry day to follow.   We planted varieties with good cold soil vigor and only planted the seeds about ½ inch deep with hopes that the sun would warm the top of the soil enough to get the seeds going.  The first 24 hours are the most important to start the germination process.  One variety germinated ok, the second variety produced very few sprouts and wasn’t enough of a crop to keep.  Well, the first planting didn’t go so well, so the second time out, still cool, we replanted part of the ground we had planted the first time and, again, planted shallow.  This time it turned dry and the seed germinated unevenly over the course of two weeks after a small rain.  Ok, well that’s better than nothing, but then we had a wet period that prevented cultivation and weeds became a problem!  Thankfully, the third planting came up nicely and we had dry weather to cultivate it, so no weeds!  We followed this one with our fourth and final planting.  We decided to make it a larger one to try to make up for the poor early ones.  Even though the first two plantings weren’t that great, we chose to fence them anyway to keep the critters out.  So then what happened?  Well, July 19th happened and we had a severe weather event that sent water running across the middle of the field and took out the fence and much of the corn. 

After the rain, there wasn’t much left to do except clean up the fence.  We left the corn, fully exposed, for the raccoons as a sort of peace offering that they could have as much as they wanted from this field, but please stay out of the later plantings!  The last two plantings that are in a different field looked good initially, but after 8 plus inches of rain the plants started to yellow.  The excessive moisture rotted the main tap root leaving only shallow side roots, collaterals, supporting the plants!  The dry end of the field fared a little better and will produce some ears this week.  The remainder of the field is delayed and the quality of the corn is questionable as the ears haven’t filled out properly.  Nonetheless, we put up a 7-foot high fence with an electric tape running around the base of it.  The height of the fence will deter the deer and the low electric tape will keep the raccoons and other short, 4-legged creatures out of the field.  We also put up some owl and hawk decoys as well as bird scare eye balloons and reflective streamers to deter the birds.  Aside from playing some music and having a dance party, I’m not sure what else we can do!  Why have we gone to such extensive measures to protect our corn?  Well, it’s because we have a reputation amongst our local wildlife for having excellent sweet corn.  Unfortunately this is information that is passed on from generation to generation and thus, it is a never-ending, yet peaceful battle for us.

So our last field of corn is protected with all the bells and whistles to protect it from raccoons, deer, birds, and even bears!   But wait, there’s one more pest.   It’s the dreaded corn earworm!!  We monitor corn earworm presence by putting up a pheromone trap in the field to attract the corn earworm moths.   They migrate from the south and only arrive later in the season.  The female moths lay eggs on the new silk on the ears of corn and then 4-5 days later the eggs hatch and a worm emerges.  Conveniently, they are in perfect position to infiltrate the ear in their search for something to eat.  It is very difficult to combat this pest with any type of spray because you only have a small 2-day window of opportunity to kill the worm after it hatches and before it enters the ear of corn.  Once it’s in the ear, there’s nothing else that can be done.  So I use this pheromone trap to help me monitor the presence of the moths so we can try to time our spray applications with the best chance of killing the newly hatched worms.  I hadn’t found any moths up until last week when I found 12 corn earworm moths in the trap in one night!  That is the most I’ve ever caught in 40 years of using pheromone traps!  So where does that leave our last and best hope for sweet corn?  Only time will tell.

There was a time when huge flocks of bats emerging from caves in the south intercepted the moth migration and devastated their numbers.  Any moths that did make it to our region would be taken care of by our local bat populations.  Sadly, bat populations are being decimated by “white nose syndrome” brought on by a compromised immune system from eating insects that are contaminated with neonicotinoid insecticides used extensively in modern, conventional agriculture.  This leaves us facing a potentially severe earworm invasion!  We do have two organically approved insecticides that we can use, BT (bacillus thuringiensis) and Entrust.  Alejandro has been very diligent working late on Saturday night to time the application just right and try to coat the silks and infect the worms before they enter the ear.  Neither of these insecticides are systemic.  Conventional growers use systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids and GMO traits, that poison all parts of the corn plant thereby killing the earworm no matter where it is on the plant or in the ear.  But I don’t want that in my ear of corn!  I do not care to eat systemically poisoned corn!  Our experience is that it is impossible to kill every earworm with organic sprays.  We are doing our best, but if you find a worm on the tip of the corn in a future week, we hope you will cut off the tip and enjoy the remainder of the ear which I guarantee will be delicious.  It may be the best corn you have ever eaten and will be the best we can do for this year!

Well, battling corn critters is not the only thing we’ve been doing around the farm, so I’d like to share a few other farm and crop updates.  Overall it has been a cool summer!  Beautiful weather to work in with highs around 75°F and just a few days creeping into the 80’s, but nothing higher than that and cool nights dipping down to 50-60°F.  The eggplant has done well and the peppers look great and are ripening to orange and red.  The tomatoes, on the other hand, have been slow to ripen and the second planting may not ripen at all before we see the first fall frost!  Yes, we are close to the first fall frost which is still predicted for around September 15.  It’s been a few years since we’ve picked green tomatoes before a frost, but this just might be the year.  Don’t worry, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Fried green tomato sandwiches are delicious!

Carnival Squash still on the vine.
The sweet potatoes look very good and have set on many tubers that just need some heat to “size-up.”  The jicama also has some nice roots and could be a good crop if the moisture stays steady to avoid growth cracks!  We will likely be harvesting some of the winter squash before too long, so we’ve been working diligently to get all of the onions and shallots trimmed and put into the cooler for long term storage so we can use our greenhouses for the squash! 

Salad Mix planting
While many farmers are done planting, we still have several more weeks of plantings remaining.  Earlier this week we beat the rain to do our final planting of fall turnips and daikon radish as well as our weekly plantings which included our first planting of lettuce for fall salad mix!  In addition to harvest, planting, etc, we are working on removing trees and repairing a major drainage ditch that dumped silt and rock onto one of our fields during the weather event at the end of July.  It’s quite an undertaking, but I think we’re making progress and we’re hopeful it will keep the water contained should we have another big weather event in the future.  

We believe climate change is real, so we’re not wondering “If” it will happen again but rather we are preparing for when it happens again!  We may not see the extended warm fall we have seen for several years, but we will do our best to respond to the extremes, both hot and cold!  We hope you will be understanding as crops continue to come in.  Like it or not, we’re in this together and these are the realities of farming this year.  Despite the challenges, we are reminded every day of the bounty of food our resilient fields continue to produce.  We are truly blessed and grateful for the opportunity to share this summer bounty of vegetables with you this week.   

August 24, 2017: This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Tomatillos

Cooking With This Week's Box

This week’s box is packed full, so lets dive in and start cooking.  As usual, we’ll start with this week’s featured vegetable, tomatillos.  If you’re feeling like making a traditional tomatillo salsa this week, go right ahead.  The purple tomatillos in particular make a gorgeous salsa, raw or cooked.  If you’re looking for something a little different, try the Roasted Tomatillos & Chickpea Curry recipe in this week’s newsletter (see below).  This is a very easy dish to make, leftovers are even better than the first day, and it’s an easily adaptable recipe.  You can keep it simple with just the chickpeas, or add some thinly sliced chicken breast to the mix.  Serve this dish with slices of fresh, salted cucumbers and diced tomatoes. 

This week I came across this recipe for One Pot Pasta for Late Summer  This recipe really does use one pot and celebrates the simplicity of summer cooking, which somehow always comes around to a dish containing pasta and fresh tomatoes!  This recipe includes several items in your box including the pint of small tomatoes, some of your zucchini, and an onion.  You’ll also need to snip a few herbs from your herb garden to round out this dish which will stand on its own, or serve it alongside a piece of sautéed fish or chicken. 

While we’re talking about noodles, I should mention that this week’s yukina savoy can stand in for bok choi in most recipes, including Melissa Clark’s recipe for Spicy Ginger Pork Noodles with Bok Choi which we featured in our June 2016 newsletter.  Use the entire bunch of yukina savoy in place of the bok choi in this recipe.  This is one of my favorite recipes for several reasons including 1) it’s very easy to make 2) leftovers are equally delicious 3) it’s always a  crowd pleaser—who can go wrong with noodles?!

I keep thinking we’re at the end of green bean season, and then Richard finds more green beans!  That’s ok though, they’ve been really good and, sadly, this really is the last week for them.  I’m going to try this recipe for Ginger & Garlic Green Beans.   This recipe is written for a 2 pound quantity of green beans.  Unless you have more  beans lingering from last week’s box or have some from your own garden to supplement this week’s half pound bag, you’ll need to either cut this recipe down or substitute some other vegetables in place of some of the beans.  I’m going to use this week’s broccoli (stems and florets) along with the green beans and smother them both in garlic and ginger.  This dish will go great alongside this recipe for Chicken Teriyaki featured at NYTimes Cooking. Serve the chicken over steamed rice, and make sure you make enough so you have plenty of leftover rice to make Fried Rice with Edamame later in the week.  There’s a simple recipe featured in our August 2015 newsletter.  This recipe calls for a half pound of edamame and some corn.  Since we don’t have corn this week, just double the amount of edamame in this recipe.  You have about one pound of edamame in your box, so this will work out perfectly.  You can use ground pork, as the recipe calls for, or you can leave the pork out and have a vegetarian version.     I love fresh edamame in fried rice and I love how fast it is to make fried rice!  You’ll have dinner on the table in no time!

This week’s Italian frying peppers are going to find their home on an Italian Sausage Sandwich with Spicy Grilled Peppers and Fennel-Onion Mustard.  As long as you have the grill fired up to make the parts and pieces of this sandwich, you might as well enjoy this meal out on the patio taking in some summer night air. This is a substantial sandwich, so you won’t need to serve anything more than some fresh tomato slices to go along with it.  Finish off this meal with the French Orange Melon or some chunks of watermelon for dessert!  Not sure how to cut up a watermelon?  Check out this video at  The author, Ali, shows you how to cut a watermelon in several different ways! 

What shall we do with this week’s cucumbers?  Perhaps we should make Cucumber Mojitos!  Summer won’t last forever, so make a drink to enjoy as you grill out on the patio.   You can make it with or without rum, your choice.

Well, we’ve almost finished eating through this week’s box.  The final little bit of zucchini, onions, garlic and the green bell pepper will go into a saute pan and be used in a morning scramble that will become a Breakfast Burrito when wrapped up in a tortilla along with some fresh tomato salsa. I don’t have a recipe for this, so feel free to wing it and customize your scramble to match whatever little bits and pieces of vegetables and other ingredients you have lingering in your refrigerator. 

This brings us to the end of another week’s CSA box.  If you are wondering where the sweet corn is this week, please take a minute to read Farmer Richard’s newsletter article which will answer your question.  I’ll see you back here next week for more summer recipe ideas.  Next week’s box should have some colored sweet peppers in it as well as some poblano peppers, which is one of my favorite peppers.  Thankfully I have a whole week to figure out how I’ll incorporate them into next week’s meals.  Have a great week!—Chef Andrea

Vegetable Feature:  Tomatillos

Tomatillos are an interesting “vegetable,” which are technically a fruit.  Despite the fact that they are often referred to as a “green tomato,” they are a bit different.  Tomatillos grow on plants that are similar to a tomato plant, but they are usually larger and have more of a wild, jungle-like appearance.  Their main stem is thick and sometimes resembles a small tree trunk! The plants can grow to be over seven feet tall, so we put stakes in between and tie the plants to them progressively as they grow in order to keep the plant upright and the fruit off the ground.  Tomatillos grow from pretty little yellow blossoms which are a favorite food source for bumble bees and other pollinator creatures.  The fruit is hidden inside a husk that looks like a little paper lantern.  You know the tomatillo is ready to pick when it fills the husk completely.  While most tomatillos are green, this year we’re growing a heirloom purple variety that, when fully ripe, is dark purple on the outside and light purple inside!

Tomatillos may be eaten raw or cooked and have a mild, tangy flavor that is slightly fruity.   Purple tomatillos are more fruity and sweet than green tomatillos.  When raw, tomatillos are firm with a dense flesh.  Once cooked, tomatillos soften and break apart becoming more like sauce.  They have a lot of natural pectin which is a natural thickener.  The outer husk is not edible, so this needs to be removed before you use them.  The fruit inside might feel a little sticky, which is normal.  Just give them a quick rinse and you’re ready to go. 

One of the most familiar ways to use tomatillos is in making salsa!  Tomatillo salsa may be prepared with all raw vegetables which will give you a fresh, chunky salsa.  The alternative is to cook the tomatillos on the stovetop with a little water before blending the softened, cooked tomatillos with the other salsa ingredients.  If you cook the tomatillos first, you’ll get a more smooth salsa.   Roasting tomatillos along with the other salsa ingredients such as onions, garlic, peppers and even limes cut in half will further develop the flavors of these ingredients giving you yet another version of tomatillo salsa.  You can roast the vegetables over an open flame on a grill or gas burner on your stove or put them in the oven under the broiler so you get that nice charred exterior.  Tomatillo salsa is delicious when simply served as a snack or appetizer along with tortilla chips, but it can also be used to top off tacos, quesadillas, make enchiladas, or served alongside your morning eggs or stirred into a bowl of black beans and/or rice.

Cooked purple tomatillo salsa (left) and
fresh purple tomatillo salsa (right)
Salsa is not the only thing you can do with a tomatillo.  There are many other interesting ways to take advantage of their unique tang and natural pectin.  The tanginess of tomatillos pairs very well with pork and can make a delicious Pork and Tomatillo Stew  which is thickened by the tomatillo.  They can also be used to make sauces for chicken and bean dishes, blend them into guacamole, or incorporate them into soups such as the Chilled Buttermilk and Tomatillo Soup we featured in a past newsletter.  They can make a delicious fresh vegetable salsa or salad when combined with fresh tomatoes, corn, edamame, onions, garlic, sweet and/or hot peppers and fresh herbs such as cilantro, parsley or basil.  Purple tomatillos are one of just a few purple vegetables that actually retain their purple color when cooked.  In fact the color of a cooked purple tomatillo is a stunning bright purple that is just gorgeous!

Tomatillos are best stored at room temperature until you are ready to use them, however it’s best to use them within a week.  They are also very easy to preserve for use in the off-season.  One option is to make salsa now and either can or freeze it.  If you don’t have time to make salsa or just want to have tomatillos available in the off-season for other uses, you can freeze tomatillos whole and raw.  Simply remove the outer husk, wash and dry the fruit.  Put them in a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer.  They don’t retain their firm texture after freezing, so don’t be surprised if they are soft when you thaw them.  If you are using them to make a cooked salsa or some other cooked preparation, the texture issue isn’t an issue.  If you are interested in purchasing a larger quantity of tomatillos to preserve, watch your email for a special produce plus offer within the next few weeks.  Have fun and enjoy this unique selection!

Oven-Fried Tomatillos

Yield:  4 servings

Olive oil cooking spray
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and cut into ½-inch thick slices
¼ tsp salt 
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Creole or Cajun seasoning (or other spice blend to your liking)
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup mayonnaise

  1. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F.  
  2. Sprinkle tomatillo slices with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  3. Combine the flour, garlic powder and seasoning blend of your choosing in a shallow dish.  Crack the eggs into a separate dish and lightly beat the eggs.  Put the breadcrumbs in a third dish.  Dredge the tomatillos in the flour mixture, dip in the egg and then coat both sides with breadcrumbs.  Place the breaded tomatillo slices on a backing sheet with a rack.  Generously coat the slices with cooking spray.  
  4. Bake the tomatillos for about 8 minutes or until the top side is crispy.  Turn the slices over and spray the second side with cooking spray.  Return the tomatillos to the oven and bake an additional 6 minutes or until the second side is also crispy.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the ketchup and mayonnaise in a small bowl.  Serve the tomatillos warm with the dipping sauce.  The outside of the slices will be crispy and the inside will be warm and soft.
Recipe adapted from

Roasted Tomatillo and Chickpea Curry

Yield:  4 servings

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed
1 poblano pepper or jalapeño pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup cilantro (handful of fresh leaves & stems)
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp salt

Chickpea Curry
⅓ cup coconut milk, plus more to taste
1—16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. Roast the poblano or jalapeño pepper and tomatillos directly on an open flame either on your stovetop or on a grill.  If you don’t have a gas range, you can also roast the vegetables under the broiler until nicely charred and soft.  Once the pepper is cool enough to handle, scrape the skin off of the pepper and remove the seeds.  
  2. Put the tomatillos, poblano or jalapeno (you may want to start with just half of a jalapeno and add more later if you want more heat), and the remaining salsa ingredients in a food processor.  Process everything to a smooth sauce consistency.  Pour the salsa into a bowl and set aside.  You should have about one cup of roasted tomatillo salsa.
  3. Put ½ cup of chickpeas into the food processor and pulse it a few times to mash them.  Set aside.
  4. Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add 1-2 tsp olive oil, then add the curry powder and stir it into the oil.  Let it sizzle in the oil for about 30 seconds.  It should be very aromatic.  Add ½ of the tomatillo salsa and cook for about two minutes.
  5. Next, add the mashed chickpeas, the remaining whole chickpeas, the remainder of the salsa, and ⅓ cup coconut milk.  Mix well and bring the mixture to a gentle boil.  Reduce the heat and continue to simmer the curry until it thickens a bit (5-7 minutes).  If it gets too thick you can thin it with a little water.  Taste and adjust the sauce to your liking by adding more coconut milk, salt, pepper and/or a squeeze of lime juice.  
  6. Serve over rice or quinoa with lime wedges on the side.

Recipe adapted from

Chef Andrea’s serving suggestions and variations:  You can make this dish as spicy or as mild as you’d like.  Sliced, salted cucumbers are a nice accompaniment for the dish that helps cool off the curry.  While this dish is good made per the recipe, I think it would also be good served with fresh, diced tomatoes on top or with the addition of chicken.