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Kitchen Garden Journal

All About our Spring Cabbage

Cabbage is just now coming into season and because this year’s spring crop looks so nice, I thought I would share a few thoughts about it. 

First of all, you ought to know that not all cabbage is created equal. There are different types of cabbage for every purpose, and unfortunately, many people’s low opinion of this awesome vegetable is probably due to the fact that people use the wrong kind of cabbage for all the wrong reasons.

Our spring cabbage—we grow a variety called Tendersweet and I assure you it is both—is meant to be eaten when freshly picked. When cooked, it becomes very delicate and meltingly tender. (My mother in law makes stuffed cabbage with some frequency and swears by our Tendersweet.) But I think that it is really at its best when eaten raw.

In fact, cabbage itself is my favorite of all the members of its tribe (radishes, turnips, broccoli, etc) to eat raw.

But I wouldn’t eat just any cabbage raw. Our spring cabbage, because it’s meant to be eaten right after it’s picked, has traits that other types of cabbage can ill afford: a thin, tender leaf with a high water content. It’s very mild tasting; sweet, crisp and crunchy. 

Cabbage grown for long-distance shipping or winter keeping, on the other hand, has thick leaves with low moisture. That’s why when you eat most cabbage raw it has a squeaky, rubbery texture and a funky, sulfurous flavor. Not the kind of thing you want to make into slaw and serve with burgers at a 4th of July cookout. 

In other words, our cabbage is the heirloom tomato of cabbages.  It would simply not endure rough treatment or long journeys but it has a flavor that is truly wonderful and unique.

So, how do I love to enjoy raw cabbage in the summertime? Let me count the ways! 

My classic coleslaw, for one. I wrote up the recipe last year and published it on our site and got more feedback on that than any other recipe. Another perennial favorite is an Asian flavored slaw with roasted peanuts and herbs like cilantro, mint and Thai basil in a fish sauce-sugar-lime dressing. SO GOOD! 

A German-inflected slaw with a mustard vinaigrette and caraway seeds is another alternative to the classic. And easiest of all, when I was in Italy in the summer I was often served thinly sliced cabbage (they call this variety “cappuccio”) simply dressed with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper as the salad course at pranzo, the main meal of the day.

But lately, my favorite way to eat cabbage is a Mexican-inspired slaw that I like to call chile-lime cabbage. It is amazing when served with tacos (see last week’s post about spring pico de gallo).

 

Chile-Lime Cabbage

 

(Pictured in top of frame)

These days I am really loving vegetable dishes that are part-salad and part-pickle. Salads made with sturdy vegetables like cabbage or cucumbers (unlike lettuce or field greens) actually improve by marinating in the fridge for a day or two. So if you don’t feel like eating it all right away it doesn’t go to waste. 

½ head of Tendersweet cabbage, very thinly sliced, preferably on a mandoline slicer

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Powdered red chile to taste (I like to use about 1 Tbsp Korean hot pepper powder. It is made from seeded red chili peppers and is intensely flavored without being too hot. It also gives a nice red color. Hungarian hot paprika would make a good substitute.) 

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp white, rice or sugar cane vinegar, or more to taste

Silce the cabbage into a large bowl. Add salt and sugar and massage into the cabbage with your hand. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and serve. It is best to wait at least 30 minutes for the cabbage to go fully limp and absorb the flavors. It can also be made a few days in advance also. Feel free to add any other ingredients you want like cilantro, onion, garlic, scallion, fresh chiles, etc. 

 

The Week in Photos

This past week started just like every week does this time of year, with our Monday morning harvest. It takes us a while to wake up and get our heads around what kinds of superhuman tasks we're supposed to accomplish during the week. So it's nice to start with something utterly mindless like picking baby salad mix out of the weeds as the caffeine slowly kicks in. Caroline and Dan look like they are doing their best to focus on what good things have come from all this rain, like the size of our rainbow chard.

By Tuesday we're rushing around trying to get everything picked and washed and packed up for the Springfield market, wholesale deliveries, and CSA distribution. I like to pick beets because they're so colorful. Since I have to always tell everyone what to do, I always tell myself to pick the beets.

On Wednesday it started to clear up and it was a beautiful warm, sunny day. Caroline took a load of stuff down to the brand new Wednesday Amherst Farmers Market in Kendrick Park. I brought Lily and Oliver to hang out there after they got out of school. We sat on the grass and ate a lot of these beautiful Warner Farm strawberries as we caught up with so many friends. If you missed the market this week, come check it out. It's pretty nice. Lots of grass to sit on, produce to buy, and prepared foods to eat from places like Chez Albert (which are made with our veggies!).  

Wednesday night it rained hard again and it woke me up to the fact that I needed to seize every minute of sunshine to get caught up on my tractor work. On Thursday I was able to make lots of beds for planting, which was well-timed because Friday was the perfect day for it. Wet, drizzly conditions are good for some things--like setting out transplants. Heather and Alice dug out the leek seedlings from their nursery bed in the back corner of our greenhouse.

We got them in, buried up to their tipppy-tips so they will make long, white shanks. Just in time for some more heavy rain (WTF?!).

This is a shot from our Saturday market stand in Northampton. It was a busy day and we sold mostly everything we brought. The fennel really loves the rain. We also had the first of the fresh garlic, our Spanish Roja variety that matures a good two weeks before the other varieties. 

All in all it was a pretty good week and, as ever, we couldn't do any of it without our amazing crew. Thanks to Heather, Alice, Brian, Alissa, Dan, Joe and Ben, as well as Dorothy, Bob, Celia and Barbara who look after our kids. You guys are amazing!  

Spring Pico de Gallo

I love tacos. There's nothing quite like that combination of fresh corn tortillas, crispy, fatty meat, pickled vegetables and cilantro. Before tomatoes are in season I like to make this spring version of pico de gallo using baby root vegetables, spring garlic or scapes, green onions and the first of the homegrown cilantro. 

I served this at my Wednesday lunch this week along with my goat meat tacos made with an amazing piece of goat shoulder from Wild Mountain Farm at our Tuesday Springfield market. FYI, I made the goat meat according to this method for making carnitas. I also made some cilantro cream to drizzle on top, which was truly a revelation. I took cilantro, garlic scapes and the juice of a lime and whizzed it with the stick blender with a pint of sour cream. It's like Mexican tzatziki.

Caroline just picked me up a new bag of pickling lime from the Greenfield Farmers Coop so I can make another fresh batch of masa for tortillas with the corn from last year. I'm so excited.

1 bunch baby carrots

1 bunch radishes or Japanese turnips

1/2 bunch spring garlic or a handful of scapes

1 bunch scallions or spring onions

fresh or frozen chili peppers to taste (I used 3 Thai chilies from the big bag in my freezer) 

1/2 bunch cilantro

juice of 1 lime

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vinegar

1 Tbsp sugar

Dice the vegetables and herbs into small cubes. Add, salt, lime juice, vinegar, sugar and stir. Good the next day, too.

Summer’s Here! (or isn’t)

This week I’m not going to talk about the weather. Well, let’s just say I feel jerked around. 

The good news is that after last week’s heat wave and storms, we had a massive bursting forth of growth on the farm. The squashes are pumping, the beets are plumping, we’ve got the first cucumbers from the greenhouse, and generally everything looks twice as big as it was last week. 

So do the weeds. We were staking tomatoes last week and kind of squandered a great opportunity for hoeing.

But let’s not dwell on that for a moment. What I’m enjoying right now is the feeling of having some real food to cook with.  Summer always seems to start for me when the first herbs come in. Our three favorite herbs are basil, cilantro and parsley and I can hardly think of a summer meal that doesn’t begin with at least one of these three. 

I love insalata caprese (fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, & basil), and I am looking forward to harvesting June tomatoes next year from our newly completed greenhouse. I love pasta with the first basil and the first zucchini. I love clams or mussels steamed with garlic, white wine, and parsley. I love spaghetti alle vongole (clam sauce). 

I love pico de gallo made by dicing up whatever vegetables are fresh and combining them with chilies, lime juice and cilantro. I love it with chips, I love it with tacos and burritos and beans and rice. I love cilantro and mint wrapped into a Vietnamese rice paper roll with fresh lettuce, rice noodles and grilled lemongrass pork. I love tabouleh, the greener—with parsley and mint—the better, especially when served with a spread of Middle Eastern or Greek foods. 

Oh yes, all of this is what I think of when I think of summer. But the thing I love best about all of these foods is making them with the fresh herbs that we grow. Everything takes off from there.     

 

Extreme Weather and Farming

A farmer griping about the weather is a cliché for sure. I try not to dwell too much on the weather on this blog, but today I can't help myself.

Without a doubt, this year's cycle of winter giving birth to spring has been a drawn-out and difficult labor. But last week, the Pioneer Valley got its natural disaster bona-fides after tornadoes ripped through Hampden County.

And after reading the article on the front page of today’s New York Times about how global warming is affecting agriculture, yes, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts on the weather.

My own thoughts, assumptions, and observations about global warming were eerily mirrored in the article. I often quip that New England farmers may be among the few beneficiaries of global warming. Our growing season is short, our winters are long. What could be bad about a few extra degrees? But the truth, of course, is hardly that simple.

Climate experts also thought agriculture might benefit from global warming because plants would have access to additional CO2, a primary fuel for their growth. However, these scientists have now found that erratic and extreme weather caused by warming counteracts any gains. I and many other farmers are nodding our heads in agreement.

Just over the past two or three seasons we have had floods, droughts, extreme winds, crazy snow and ice, new and terrible diseases, and a host of other plagues, it seems. It used to be said that if you didn’t like the weather in New England, you just had to wait a moment and it would change. Last summer we had a month without a drop of rain and already this spring we had ten straight days with no sun. It seems that these days the weather is no less variable, but we are waiting longer for it to change.

Of course, our weather problems—annoying and damaging though they be—are mild compared with the floods, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes (and earthquakes, which are not connected to global warming) going on elsewhere in the country and the world. No matter how bad it gets around here, someone else somewhere has it ten times worse.

And that is worrisome for farmers and people who eat food wherever they are. A passage from the Times article posed the challenge we collectively face in these blunt terms:

"… in coming decades, farmers need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand. And they need to do it while reducing the considerable environmental damage caused by the business of agriculture."

But despite the dread that rises in me when I read these words, I take heart that my small farm may hold some keys to solving this problem on a local, national and even global scale. Climate shocks notwithstanding, we’re already doing our part on these issues.

We produce far more food per acre on our farm than the monocultures surrounding us. We produce an array of diverse crops on a small piece of land, and while we may not be harvesting record-breaking yields for particular crops, we are producing them without doing lasting harm to the land or the surrounding environment. What we grow is consumed fresh by people living in our community, not shipped halfway around the world or processed into Doritos.

When I think about the challenges facing agriculture I am proud of what we do here at The Kitchen Garden. And I believe that if farms around the world start getting smaller, more diverse and more rooted in their communities, we’ll all have an easier time riding out the storm.

Tags: weather

Semantics and Spring Pastas

Last week the New York Times printed a recipe in their food section for a spring vegetable-inspired version of puttanesca. While the recipe sounded pretty good to me, the fresh, seasonal ingredients seemed an insult to the character of puttanesca. 

Puttanesca, named for the Neapolitan prostitutes who supposedly made pasta this way, is traditionally spaghetti with a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, anchovies, capers and olives. Its beauty lies in the fact that it can be made from what you already have in the pantry. Apparently, the prostitutes worked at night and slept too late to get to the market before the produce stalls had been packed up. But that didn’t stop their creativity in the kitchen.

So why put all those fresh flavors of spring in there, straight from the farmers’ market? 

Why not put them into a carbonara? After all, carbonara (named for charcoal makers who work in the winter and early spring in the forests) is an egg emulsion. And egg emulsions are classically employed to dress up springtime delicacies. 

Asparagus and hollandaise anyone? How about some spinach on those Eggs Benedict? So why not spring garlic (or spinach or asparagus, for that matter) in your carbonara? I love spring garlic with eggs! 

And it seems to me that if those Apennine wood cutters found a way to keep some pigs and chickens around, they most certainly would have planted themselves a little patch of garlic, too. 

A quick perusal of the internet turned up this recipe for a garlic scape-based carbonara from the very nice Italian cooking blog Sarah’s Cucina Bella:

Garlic Scape Carbonara

  • 1/2 lb campanella pasta, or shape of your choosing
  • 4 slices bacon (about 3 1/4 ounces), chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic scapes (or spring garlic)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

Set a pot of water to boiling on the stove and cook the campanella pasta (or desired shape).

While it’s cooking, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned. Remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and add the garlic scapes. Cook until soft (2-3 minutes). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. (Drain both the bacon and the garlic scapes on a paper towel).

Whisk together the eggs, salt and red pepper flakes.

When the pasta is done, quickly remove it from the stove and set a different burner to low heat. Drain the pasta and add it back to the pot, on the burner set to low. Stir in the garlic scapes and bacon. Add the egg mixture and stir feverishly for 3-4 minutes until sauce is thick and creamy. Don’t let it overcook or it will be gloppy. Sprinkle the romano cheese in, a little at a time, and stir to combine. Don’t add it all at once or it won’t mix throughout the pasta as well (since it will clump).

Serve immediately.

First Week of Markets

The start of marketing season is always a rush. Besides just being in a rush, it is an exhilarating feeling to step away from the fields and behold the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor for the first time. It feels good to put on a fresh face and reconnect with everyone.

Going back to the markets always feels like a return to a familiar routine, but this time around it also is the start of something new. It’s kind of like that “back-to-school” feeling. Familiar places and faces, but the new clothes feel a little strange. It’s an opportunity to start fresh with the way you present yourself to the world. We’re growing into a lot of changes we’ve made over the past year: a new market, a new van, a new display, new people, new opportunities. (This is Ben Winter, a longtime friend and Pedal Person who we've roped in to helping us at the market.)

This Saturday we set up our stand at the Northampton Farmers Market for the first time and it was a great success. People were extremely receptive to our products and very personally welcoming. We saw lots of friends there, new and old alike. (Like Dan Martinez of Bistro Les Gras who stopped by on his very sexy custom-painted bike. VIVE LE COCHON!)

We are thrilled to imagine what we can do at that market, and we are happy for the opportunity to be a part of some very positive changes taking place there. If you’ve not been there in a while, it’s worth checking out.

And if taking on a second Saturday market weren't enough of a rush we're excited to join the new Kendrick Park Farmers' Market in Amherst on Wednesdays from 2-7pm starting June 15...