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Kitchen Garden Journal

In the Sweaty Kitchen

Why is it that the moment for canning and preserving always falls on really really hot days? Everyone with childhood memories of canning remembers two things: the smell and the heat. For many, sadly, the trauma of the heat curtails nostalgic longing for the intoxicating aromas of jam and tomatoes.

Lately, the humidity has been awful and, of course, I seized my opportunity for canning on a particularly disgusting evening. I set out to repeat the most delicious product of last year’s repeated bouts of sweaty, tomato-vapored kitchen delirium: sugo.

Sugo means “sauce” in Italian. Jars of pre-made tomato sauce like Prego are called sugo pronto, ready sauce. My sugo isn’t really a heat-and-serve thing that you just dump on boiled spaghetti, but it does save a lot of time later when making richly flavored sauces.

Sugo is basically tomato puree that also includes onions, carrots, red peppers, celery and herbs.  It’s like tomato puree and vegetable stock all rolled into one. I usually add it to meat sauces for pasta, but it’s great for other things like vegetable soups, dried beans, beef stew, and Spanish rice. It has a distinct sweetness from the onions and peppers and aromatic depth from the carrots and celery. You can feel all the warmth of summer on those cold winter nights.

And, most importantly perhaps, it’s a great way to use up some of the piles of partially rotting but perfectly usable tomatoes, onions and peppers that inevitably accumulate around the farm this time of year.

The method is very similar to my recipe for tomato puree. Basically, what you do is coarsely chunk up all the tomatoes and toss them in a big pot and bring it to a boil. Then, toss in coarsely chopped pieces of all the other vegetables and stew them in the tomato liquid until they’re soft. I also threw in a big bundle of basil and celery leaves that I took out before pureeing . (I also removed the celery so it wouldn’t make the sauce a yucky color: never puree red and green together, it looks like puke. If you have very light colored celery hearts, go ahead and puree them, too.)

So, for Christmas I asked for a mechanized solution to making this and here’s the verdict: the Kitchen Aid food mill attachment is really messy. I have never made such a mess of my clothes while canning; it even shot hot tomato water in my eye. (WTF!) Will I go back to the hand crank method? Hard to say. It was quicker and less physically exhausting, but not by much.

Anyway, if you want to make this—and I encourage you to do so—you can follow the procedure for tomato puree. You’ll find all the little tips and tricks I’ve learned in that post from last year. 

So happy canning, and please, take a shower.


Greek Style Braised Okra

Wow. I had never cooked okra this way until recently, despite the fact that for years some of our most dedicated okra customers have been Greek, and this is the way they make it. Most people associate okra with food from the Southern US (fried okra, gumbo, etc.), but it is a very popular food in most of the world other than Northern Europe and the northern US. It is widely consumed in Africa (where it originated), South-Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and Japan.

¼ cup olive oil

2 large onions, finely sliced

1 pint tomato puree, plus a little water, if necessary

Scant pinch each of cumin, coriander and cinnamon (optional) 

1 generous pound of okra, stem removed but left whole

Salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a tall-shouldered wide skillet with a lid. (I used a straight-sided 14” skillet). It’s a lot of oil, but don’t skimp. You want it to be swimming in oil by the end.

Add the onions and saute gently over medium heat until very soft and beginning to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes. Add the tomato puree, spices and okra and mix well. The okra should be packed into the pan and the liquid should not quite cover the okra. Add a little extra water if necessary. Bring to a simmer, cover and stew over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm, with rice, or at room temperature with bread as part of a spread of meze. It’s also great cold, just fished out of the leftover container and eaten with the fingers.

Is it slimy? Yeah, but in the best way possible.


We have been picking artichokes for a couple of weeks now and they have been really popular with our chefs and market customers alike. 

We get lots of comments like, “did you grow these?” Yes, we grew them. Normally artichokes are planted as a perennial and they send up their flower buds the spring after planting. But they don't survive the winter here so we grow the Imperial Star variety, which produces flowers the first year so it can be grown as an annual. 

But it’s still surprising. We’ve had mixed results with them in the past, but this year we put them in a good spot and they are doing really well. What’s most surprising is how great they taste. Fresh, tender and sweet with no chokes. Simply trim, cook and enjoy.

Artichokes contain compounds the effect the taste of other foods. When you eat them, take a sip of water and it tastes like someone put sugar in it. Take a sip of your wine and it tastes terrible. So, when serving artichokes, choose your beverages wisely.

Here’s a simple way of preparing them:

Broiled Artichokes


Olive oil

Lemon juice

Salt & pepper

Trim the artichokes down to the heart. Start by peeling off all of the tough green petals. Then peel a few more. Less is more. Now trim the stem to 1 inch and peel the tough skin from it. Next, cut the top third of the artichoke off and slice it in half lengthwise. If the choke part is hairy, scrape it out with a spoon. Put the trimmed artichokes in a bath of acidulated water to retard the browning caused by oxidation.

Blanch the artichokes in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and toss with olive oil and lemon juice. Spread them out on a baking sheet, drizzle with some more oil, coarse sea salt and pepper, and broil until slightly charred. 

The Squeeze

I need to be frank with you. This time of year it is simply insane to be a farmer. 

The tomatoes are heavy on the vine. The beans are begging to be picked. Orders are pouring in. The markets are incredibly busy and exhausting. Out in the field, the ragweed is as tall as a man. The crew is tired. The tractor is on strike.

There are 25 things on our weekly to-do list and 15 of them will still be there next week. 

No, I’m lying. We stopped even writing a to-do list because it’s too depressing.

But I can’t worry about that. I have to put the blinders on, start prepping land and planting all the fall crops. For me, it’s basically springtime all over again. Plant the spinach, plant the beets, plant the turnips. Never mind that it’s 100 degrees and they probably won’t even germinate.

I wake up in a panic at 3 a.m. with visions of our neighbors’ gorgeous, weed-free fields of corn and squash and wonder why I even bother.

But let’s be real here. This feeling only lasts about 6 weeks all year. And this is probably the least stressful summer I’ve had as a farmer. But this time of year on the farm is kind of like the opposite of sex and pizza. 

Even when it’s good, it’s still pretty bad.

Tags: musings

Allium Harvest Heat Wave

The heat wave brought some intense hot and dry weather to the valley last week. While it certainly stressed out a lot of plants and farmers alike, it was the perfect opportunity to get our garlic and a lot of our onions out of the field.

Due to the cold, wet spring we had—which seems like a distant memory now—the garlic harvest started a week later than usual, around the second week of July. The hot, dry conditions that ensued were perfect for harvesting garlic. If it’s wet and rainy during the harvest, the garlic might not dry properly. That was definitely not the case this year, and after a couple of weeks hanging in the loft, the garlic is good and dry and we’re now bringing cured garlic to markets. Check out last year's garlic harvest post for some arty work shots.

After we missed the promised rain last Monday, I saw my chance to field-cure some onions and shallots. So we started windrowing them on Tuesday (where we lay them out in the sun in rows) and by the end of the week they were ready to bring inside. We got to use the onion boxes that we made back in March, which are copies of boxes used on this and many other Valley farms back in the old days. (The one that Alissa & Brian are modeling in this photo is an original one that we found in the barn here. The new ones are visible behind.)

Now the barn is filling up: garlic in all the rafters and onions all over the floor in the loft. Now we just need to sell some and quick, so we can stop worrying about the loft collapsing! Although we hopefully will still have some to sell during the winter time.

Some of our favorite garlic and onion recipes can be found in The Vegetable Pages, like spaghetti with aglio, olio and pepperoncino, Greek salad, and green beans with red onion & vinaigrette. We'll be demonstrating how to make french fries with aioli at this year's Garlic & Arts Festival, Saturday, October 1 in Orange, MA.

The heat is also pushing along our summer crops and we’re excited to start harvesting some new things. Tiny Padron peppers are a popular snack in Spain just tossed with olive oil and pan roasted or grilled. Once in a while you get a hot one, so watch out! (Martha likes them.)

We’re also psyched about our artichokes coming in. They look great and the flavor is so amazing. So different from the week-old ones we get from California. Here's a link to how to trim an artichoke for cooking. Now we need to get our own page on artichokes up!

And tomatoes are really starting to come in now so stay tuned….  

Magic Soup

Our kids love to eat vegetables - but no thanks to us. Here's the awful truth: we toil away all day producing beautiful vegetables and then come home for a family dinner of pizza or crackers and cheese with salami and fruit. We enjoy lovely farm lunches chock full of fresh veggies with our crew everyday but we're often too tired to cook anything serious at the end of a long day. 

Thankfully, we've never had to worry that Lily and Oliver weren't eating enough veggies because they love Celia and Barbara's soup. For two years Celia Riahi and Barbara Audley have been taking care of our children at their lovely Waldorf-inspired home day care in Amherst, The Cottage Garden. I remember marveling the first time I witnessed my son and daughter sitting around a teeny table with six of their friends happily shoveling spoonfuls of thick green soup into their mouths. Some days it's orange soup, sometimes with Israeli couscous or barley stirred in. Either way, the kids gobble it up and we feel like virtuous parents.

Celia and Barbara take the summer off and the kids just started camp at Amherst Montessori, so we started freaking out when we realized we'd have to start packing their lunch. We begged Celia and Barbara for the magic soup recipe and because it's been such a life saver for us we thought we'd share it with you.

Soup Base

  • Rapunzel vegan soup bouillon (or just water)
  • Olive oil
  • Onions, 4 medium or 2 large
  • Garlic to taste
  • Potatoes 5 lbs
  • Carrots 3 lbs

This is the base for both green and orange soup variations. Follow this method but add the ingredients below for either green or orange soup, depending on which one you're making.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil in a 5 quart saute pan until soft and translucent. Peel, chop and wash all the veggies. Boil 8 cups water and dissolve 4 cubes in it and set aside. When the onions are done add the soup boullion or water and add cut veggies. Add water to cover and simmer on low until everything is soft. Puree with an immersion blender. It should be thick but add water as necessary to blend. Put in containers to freeze until needed. 

To serve, thaw, heat and add a bit of water if needed. Cook a grain separately and add to the soup so it is sort of a thick veggie sauce with a grain - Israeli couscous, barley, quinoa, brown rice or even a small pasta shapes work well. Do not blend the grain, just stir it in. Be sure to leave the soup smooth but thick like a veggie sauce. Add grated cheese on top or serve with some cheese on the side. Serve with carrot sticks and fruit for a great lunch.

Orange Soup

  • The Base as above
  • Sweet potatoes, 3 large
  • or
  • Large Butternut squash, bake separately and add before blending
  • Optional: 2 apples

Green Soup

  • The Base as above
  • 2 bunches of either: spinach or kale
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Cumin to taste, salt to taste
  • Optional: mustard greens, chard, bok choy, lentils

Note: Celia never adds tomatoes, mushrooms or celery to the children’s soup.

Tags: soup

Wild Mushrooms!

I am an amateur wild mushroom hunter. These days I have little if any spare time for wandering around in the woods in the summertime looking for mushrooms. So my mushroom hunting is mostly confined to the driver’s seat of my car, scanning the landscape for any protruding irregularities.

Last Friday—remember that warm, drizzly, mushroomy day?—I spotted a big score of oyster mushrooms growing out of a tree by the side of the road in the center of Hadley. This is just the kind of windfall that automotive mushroom hunting relies on, and I just about had an accident as I made my abrupt, rubbernecking U-turn.

That tree yielded about 5 pounds of perfectly fresh, pristine mushrooms. When I got them home I immediately tore up a few into some hot oil and had mushrooms on toast, which is, in my opinion, the best way to savor fresh mushrooms. (Recipe below.)

Emboldened by my good luck with the oysters, I got the whole family in the car on Saturday and drove out to my chanterelle spot. It seemed the perfect day to go out looking for chanterelles: month of July, after a rain, warm day. Check, check, check.

The spot was “given” to me by our friend Tony, who used to be the chef at Green Street Café, when he moved away from the valley. Tony, a fellow-amateur mushroom collector, came across the patch of chanterelles when he, in turn, was driving past them in his car and spotted blotches of bright fluorescent carmine dotting a mossy swath of roadside in the forested outer reaches of Northampton.

It’s a bit of a drive to get out to the spot, but we were just in time. They seem to have emerged that day and were in perfect condition. No slugs, not oversaturated by heavy rain, just perfect, tiny, tight little buttons of fungus emanating their heady chanterelle perfume.

Now that I’m stocked up, I can cook all of those amazing simple preparations that highlight the essential flavors and textures of these mushrooms. There are a few rules for cooking mushrooms: 1.) keep it simple, 2.) use plenty of fat, and 3.) like Julia Child always said, “don’t crowd the pan.”

Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms with garlic and parsley on pasta. Mushrooms in cream on pasta (sometimes with fresh peas also). Mushroom and onion omelet with Gruyere. Those are really the only ways I ever cook wild mushrooms. All of these recipes are based on the simple technique of sautéing.

If you are not a mushroom hunter, your best bet for local wild mushrooms is to find Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles at the Tuesday Market in Northampton or the Greenfield Farmers Market on Saturdays. Get there early, of course, for the choicest specimens.