Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rhubarb and Rain

For the last three years, we have supplied over 200 pounds of rhubarb to one of the largest CSAs in Vermont.  They can grow everything else, from artichokes to Asian greens, but they can't grow rhubarb.  So they buy it from us.  This CSA is as popular as Misty Knolls Farm, who has the corner on local "free-range" poultry, but that's another story.

Our rhubarb patch is about 80 feet long and is made up of plants that we transplanted from my childhood home in East Middlebury (the plants were there when my parents bought the place in 1962), and from some plants dumped on the side of the road that Kyle lugged home after upheaving the FREE! sign.  

Kyle has babied these plants, keeping them weed-free, dosing them with copious amounts of aged manure, mulching them, reigning in my overzealous harvest.  The plants are beautiful.

 So on this day, Kyle and I harvested the rhubarb for that big CSA, who said that a truck would be coming bright and early to pick it up.  We picked 190 pounds of beautiful stuff, the same stuff that we have been selling at Norwich Farmer's Market for the past four weeks.

Four hours later, after it had been harvested, washed, boxed, and weighed, I get a message on my cell phone that said:  I can't find you, you need to meet me at the interstate; I don't have a cell phone.

Who does not have a cell phone in this day and age, whose job depends on constant communication?

Naturally, I 'm freaking out, calling the company that has the CSA, calling the trucking company who is supposed to be picking up my precious rhubarb.   Finally, eight hours later, the trucker finds our farm and gets the rhubarb.

The next day, I get a call from the CSA,saying how they could only use 146 pounds, and could they have a discount on the rest, cuz it took a long time to pick through all of the bad stuff.

At this point, I am just trying to do my yoga breaths and not fly off the handle.  I then explain AGAIN how the driver hadn't found the right address and had actually missed pick up so that he was 7 hours late.  I tell them, that yes, I'll eat the 44 pounds of the precious stuff that is useless, but no, I am not going to do a discount for the time it took to pick through the rhubarb- they need to be equally responsible for the trucker's error.

To date, I have not heard about whether I will be paid at all- $380 worth, and perhaps, the last time that I will be supplying them rhubarb.

All I can say is that the "local" movement stopped treating small farms like what we are very shortly after local,sustainable, and CSA became buzzwords.  I am saddened by the fact that this mega CSA won't stick by their local, small producers (the company spokesperson actually chided me and said that the can only offer quality product to their consumers).  In years past, the truck has come when and where he said he would, and the CSA has been thrilled.

I'm really not sure why I'm complaining about this, other than the fact that our tiny farm now has a tarnished rep as a rhubarb supplier because the buyer gave the transportation company the wrong address.  I guess I thought that local meant Vermont, but maybe I need to be even more local….

Here's a pic of my local supper...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homage to Lovage

I don't even know where I got my Lovage from.  It was a long time ago, I know that.  And I think I got it just because it sounded like a cool word.  Most people don't know how to pronounce the herb's name, let alone what to do with it.  Lots of people ask me at market what to do with "love-ahhjeh"

Europeans and English folks are much more comfortable using it.  They put it in soups, fold it into egg dishes, toss it with asparagus and green beans, even dry it and combine it with more traditional herbs, like parsley and sage and thyme.

What's best about lovage, like dandelion and nettle, is that it pokes its lime green head out of the soil and announces Spring like one of those first hot days does- even when hot means 60 degrees, and not 16 degrees.

It reminds me of one of those brilliantly colored songbirds, gone for so many months, now back at the feeder, tasting the oranges that we've laid out to lure them close for that fleeting moment before they head off to the forest.  One day last week, I had a rose-breasted grosbeak, a northern oriole, an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager ALL in the same platform feeder.  Lovage is like that: it's here first, so it begs to be used. Who would think that an indigo bunting would be attracted to an orange in a feeder.

The thing about lovage is that a little goes a long way.  It is in the celery family, but it's spicier- like a cross between fennel and black pepper- and bitter- like arugula or orange zest.  People are scared of it here.  What do you do with it, they ask at market.  And so, I made pesto out of it to show everyone how versatile it is. In the raw, I sprinkle it on asparagus (it tames the sweet), put it in deviled eggs (brings out the creamy yolk), steep it in soup (best with poultry, again, taming that sweetness).

I guess my point is that just because it's different, doesn't mean it's not good.  The songbirds that have travelled hundreds of mile know this when they come to our yard in search of oranges before retreating to the forest.  And we should experiment with learning how to use what comes back to us in spring.  That means to me using one of the first of my perennial herbs to come back to life in the garden.  Here are two great recipes that have passed the teenager's and the midwestern meat-and-potatoes' taste buds.

Asparagus Sesame Soup
serves 4
1 pound asparagus
1/8th cup peanut oil
1 1/4 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 large all-purpose potato, peeled and diced

1/2 quart chicken stock
pinch of sugar
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons soy (or tamari) sauce
1 tbs sesame oil
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbs chopped lovage for garnish

Snap the ends off of the asparagus, or alternatively, peel the first two inches.  Cut off 1 inch of the tips and reserve.  Slice the remaining stalks thinly.

Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan or soup pot that is big enough for all of the ingredients.  Add the onions and scallions and stir over medium heat until wilted and soft, but not browned.  Add the potatoes and the sliced asparagus.  Pour in the stock, the sugar and half of the toasted sesame seeds.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until all ingredients are tender, about 20 minutes.  Then pour the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.

Add the reserved tips, the soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper.  Sprinkle individual bowls with the chopped lovage.  
The soup is good chilled or hot, although I prefer it hot.

Adapted from Judith Olney's The Farm Market Cookbook 1991

Lovage Pesto

makes about a half pint

3 large cloves garlic peeled and chopped ( or 4 tbsp chopped wild leeks)
1/4 pound lovage leaves, stems removed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) walnut pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt

Put the garlic or wild leeks in a food processor or blender, then the lovage and half of the oil.  Blend until smooth (I sometimes add a bit of water to help the process along).  Add the walnuts and the remaining oil and salt.  Let it sit for at least an hour before using.  It will stay good for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

From Barbara Kofka's Vegetable Love 2005

Friday, May 16, 2014

Eating Spring's First Weeds

The first time I heard that dandelions weren't native to North America, I didn't believe it.  Then came the hard truth that Vermont's state flower, the red clover isn't a native.  Then earthworms (well most species), potatoes, garlic and all apples except the crab apple fell from grace.  I think I nearly lost it when I found out honey bees had been imported.

To most of us, the dandelion is considered a weed.  Unless you're making a dandelion chain necklace, or playing the mommy had a baby and… you know the rest- game, it's regarded as a troublesome pest.  It invades our gardens and lawns, and those gorgeous yellow flowers turn into poofy,white turbans that stick to everything and fly everywhere.

But in Vermont, where there are literally 9 months of winter, when those first Spring shoots come poking out of the ground, they are cause for celebration.  And their astringent, earthy taste is just the tonic we crave after months of grocery store produce that all tastes like wax boxes and is as crunchy as cardboard.  Like radicchio and chicory, it's a breath of fresh air after weeks of iceberg, or if you're a real purest, no greens at all.

I've used dandelion greens for tea, raw in salads, and chopped in smoothies.  The greens are best before the flowers come out of their pin cushion-like knobs, and they certainly are too bitter to eat after the flowers are in full bloom (though the blossoms make awesome wine).  I chop the base off, pull out any leaves that have hung on through winter's cold (they'll be pale and wilted), and steam them. Then I rinse them and squeeze all of the excess moisture out. I chop them fine and use them as I would steamed spinach or kale.

Besides my pursuit of how best to eat weeds, I am a bit of a cookbook hoarder.  People ask me why I still read cookbooks now that everything can be found on  Dr. Google.  I just like the feel of the book in my hand, and the ability to jump from page to page and back again without getting dizzy when those pages go flicking by on my Kindle or my monitor.

I have Judith Olney's The Farm Market Cookbook (1991).  In it, she describes farmer's markets across the country and how they've contributed to bringing the farm back to the table.

Bradford, age 8, enjoying dandelions

There is a recipe for Maggie's Spinach Nutmeg Muffins for which I used dandelion greens instead of the spinach called for, and used smoked gouda cheese instead of Swiss cheese (dandelion greens are amazing with bacon, so the smoked cheese kind of reminded me of that pairing).

Ironically, I googled Maggie Middleton, who at the time of Olney's writing, owned with her partner, a burgeoning bakery business in Carrboro, NC.  She retired from the business just 6 years later, died in 2009, and requested that donations in her name go to LIVESTRONG, Lance Armstrong's charity.   How fickle life is, where we perceive one reality, and it later turns into another.  Perhaps fame, instead of scandal, will some day be the fate of the harbinger of spring here in the northeast, the dandelion weed.

Here is an adapted version of Maggie Middleton's muffin recipe from Olney's book. I made them using gluten-free flour, and they were awesome.

2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup grated smoked gouda cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
10 oz dandelion greens, washed well, base chopped and discarded, steamed and squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Stir the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

Chop the cooked dandelion greens.  In another bowl, combine the greens, buttermilk, butter, half of each of the cheeses and the egg.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, and stir in the the liquid.  Don't combine them to a smooth consistency- they can stay chunky.    Spoon the batter equally into the tins, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and stick them in  the oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove the tin from the oven, and let rest for 5 minutes before popping them out. 

These are great with cream of asparagus soup.  You'll have to pull out a cookbook or google that recipe.