In The Box 3: Madison Delivery
Well, we could not be more relieved that June 2012 is over! What a hard month it has been at Circle M and in general out here among our neighbor farmers. We all need rain and we pretty much talk about it constantly. Are you feeling the same way in Madison? Has your conversation gotten pretty monothematic? Hopefully by next week we’ll have something else to talk about, and hopefully July will bring us more moisture and clouds!
Here on the farm we’re employing multiple strategies to beat the heat and get those veggies to you as beautiful as possible. Obviously, our first line of defense is water – and we literally use lines of it. We’ve got most of our crops irrigated directly at the roots by a brilliant product called “drip tape” which is essentially a more precise version of soaker hose. We’ve got 15,000 feet of this running day and night in eight rotations zones. We’ve also got sprinklers running on some of our smaller and more irregularly-shaped gardens, as well as on the perennial flower beds and on the pig pen – hogs love to play in sprinklers.
Our next line of defense is a spun-polyester “row cover” laid directly over the top of heat-sensitive crops. These cut down the sun and heat by several degrees. We also use these to keep bug pests off of susceptible plants like brassicas. Some plants, like potatoes, want their roots to stay cool, so we mulch them heavily with hay to keep the sun off the soil around them. Finally, we use actual shade cloth on the greenhouse and on very heat-sensitive plants like lettuce. We can cut about 40 percent of the light and several degrees of heat – the plants grow slower, but at least they will survive!
Most of the animals seem to be doing fine – they’ve got shade, fresh water, and shelters, should they want to go inside. We don’t have any small babies right now, which is a blessing, since heat is very difficult for very young animals. But the goats and chickens give us less milk and eggs in a week like this, and the animals in general eat less.
The farm crew have been holding up pretty well, too, though we’ve had to shrink our days considerably. We start at 6, which is no small feat with a crew of mostly teenagers, and try to end by lunch. Some days we go a bit longer if we can. Most vegetables cannot be picked past 11 am in such heat, so that schedule works for everyone! I have to say I am ridiculously proud of my crew – spirits are good, people are encouraging each other and right now everyone seems to be viewing the early hours as a bit of an adventure. We did run out last night and buy a window air conditioning unit at 9:59 pm, right before Menards closed. That made today’s lunch break a lot more restorative. Those of us who live here usually come back out after dinner for a few hours until dark, to move sprinklers and drip tape, check on the animals and make sure all the coolers and freezers are running.
In between those outdoor hours, there are quite a few naps happening, since the heat is just exhausting. After the initial panic of every day wears off, I’m finding this heat spell to be a bit of a sabbath rest, actually. I finished the Hunger Games books last week and am now immersed in Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series. I generally have to forgo reading in the summer – so these afternoons off are quite delightful. I’ve especially enjoyed having those extra few hours before dinner to tweak the recipes for the CSA harvest lists – we’ve had beets every which way this week!
We’ve heard of a few local farms skipping this week’s CSA deliveries, and we totally get it. Many of the crops we’ve all had planned to harvest last week and this week are ones that can bolt (start to flower and get woody or bitter) in extreme heat, let alone the added stress of drought on top. We feel great about this week’s box, but are definitely stressing about the next few boxes as we till crop after crop in without being harvested. We are even getting concerned about the late season now, because so many transplanting tasks have had to be delayed since we can’t risk the stress of putting baby plants out in such dry hot conditions.
Another concern is bug pest pressure, which is the worst we’ve ever had at this farm. I had a long talk with the Johnny’s Seed people on the phone this week about options for organic sprays for cucumber beetles, squash bugs and Colorado potato bugs, which have been quite damaging here. Their consultant said that all of those pests are much worse in a hot year. Today we started to see a large number of Japanese beetles on the fennel and beans. There is still time to replant a lot of the damaged crops, but it will certainly throw off our schedule for the boxes at some point.
I’m banking on a banner year for tomatoes – which look fantastic right now covered in blooms and green fruit. But for now we’ve got some beautiful root crops and greens coming your way. Here’s what’s in the box:
In order of most to least perishable…
Basil Tips We topped off the basil today, to help the plants branch into nice full bushes. Though these bags are barely a garnish, you’ll be getting lots of yummy pesto-making leaves later in the season. Basil leaves have been showing up a lot in Madison cocktails lately, and we think that’s a good thing. Muddle a few leaves into lemonade or iced tea. Use chopped over fruit salad, or in fresh mozzarella salad.
Salad Mix We’ve done everything we can to bring you lettuce as long in the season as possible, but unless something changes dramatically in the next week, this will be the last lettuce until the cooler months. You might notice the flavor of these mixed lettuces has changed – most of the leaves are now stronger-flavored, with a hint of sweetness underneath. Pair with strong-flavored dressings and feta cheese.
Thanks for all the great feedback about our salad mixes. Our secret: we harvest the day before or on packing day, and we immediately bring the cut leaves do soak in cold water for about 10 minutes. Then they are dried in a big spinner before we bag them up. We regularly eat from bags that are 3 weeks old, but leaves harvested in this week’s heat, even very early in the morning, will go bad much faster – so enjoy these soon!
Emma is super-excited about getting the spinner job. It’s in the shade!
Dill These ginormous chartreuse flowers with ferny leaves are at the top of your box because they are quite fragile. Of course, it isnâ€™t necessary to have them pretty to use them, but we want them to come to you nice. Leave them on your kitchen table in a big jar of water and snip as you use – both the leaves and flowers are tasty with potatoes, fish and peas. Terrific with beets! If they start to fade, take them out of the water and allow to dry in a single layer. When crisp, simply rub the leaves and flowers together between your hands over a piece of paper. Crease paper, and pour dried herb into a glass jar and seal to use later.
Cilantro The leaves become more delicate as the heat gets stronger. Store in the fridge in plastic, and pull off the leaves to chop. The flowers are just as tasty, and can be chopped as well. If you’ve gotten some seed pods on your bunch – you now have the spice known as coriander. Let dry and grind up (in your coffee grinder!) for Indian dishes.
Summer Savory One of my all-time hot-season favorites, summer savory is a great substitute for thyme, which I find more difficult to use. Strip the leaves and put them whole into your dishes. Great with the beets, or in any Mediterranean or European recipe. Full Shares got two bunches – one to use fresh and one to hang and dry for later.
Salad Turnips Shortie Shares only. These tasty young WHITE turnips are best eaten RAW. Peel and slice into a salad, or enjoy all by themselves dipped in a nice dressing. Like a cabbage in apple shape!
Red Turnips and Greens These were so large with their very nutritious greens that we only put those with greens in the Full Share boxes. Shorties just have the turnips. To distinguish them from the beets, which they do resemble, we did not bunch them with rubber bands. These mature turnips must be COOKED. Enjoy as you would a potato, mashed, or try the recipe link below which combines the greens with the root. These should be peeled, cut into 1 inch cubes, and boiled in salted water until tender. It could take up to 30 minutes, but the wait will be worth it, if you enjoy cabbage-y flavors! Season with butter, salt and pepper. Also wonderful mixed with mashed potatoes.
Baby Onions These are baby, uncured onions. They are not meant to be stored out of the fridge, and they should be used up like scallions â€“ use the tender parts of the greens, as well as the bulbs. The rounder ones are Italian Cippollinis. The longer ones are called “Expression.”
Snap Peas This is the last time through the trellises for these â€“ we are giving the fatigued vines over to all the birds, bunnies and bees that are living in there and scolding us every time we walk through. We had no idea what a vibrant micro-habitat these peas would create. Look on “facebook”:https://www.facebook.com/circlemfarm to see a little video of our brand-new babies in the nest we’ve been watching in the peas!
Beets Gosh, we are proud of our gorgeous beets. Both roots and greens are beautiful and we strongly encourage you to use both. Weâ€™ve given you a few good recipe ideas on the website, but basically, discard the stems and then use the greens anywhere youâ€™d use spinach or Swiss chard. We put some on pizza today for lunch and it was unanimously praised by the crew. In your bunches, you’ll find a combination of striped Chioggias, long Cylindras, dark Bull’s Blood and lovely Golden beets. The smaller beets in the Shortie boxes will be lovely roasted, and don’t bother to peel them. Larger beets may have firmer skins.
Garlic Yum! First time through the garlic. We’ll give you more as the season goes on, but this is our first picking and it is FRESH, not dried, and must be kept in the fridge.
Tansy – The strong-smelling ferny-looking herb on the top of your box – with DARK leaves – is Tansy, an old fashioned herb used to repel bugs. Put it in your fruit bowl to keep away the fruit flies on these hot days. DO NOT EAT!
Flower Bouquet The greens in this festive bunch are blue-tinged False Indigo, which is a prairie native, and ferny Asparagus leaves. The berries are High Bush Cranberry. The yellow flowers are yarrow and heliopsis. The icing on the cake is a mature Garlic Scape or two. Too tough too eat, but adorable like a little gnome.
Potted Herb: Basil Youâ€™ll be harvesting off this basil soon, if you plant it in a sunny spot and keep it from drying out in the heat. Actually, be sure to pinch the top off in about 10 days, to stimulate the plant to branch out into a prolific bush.
“Red Turnips over Pasta”:http://thenewlyfeds.blogspot.com/2010/05/red-turnips-scallops-and-pasta.html
This link takes you to the Newlyfeds blog – basically a journal of marriage and food that contains lots of good local eating tips and recipes. This recipe in particular is just delightful! It makes great use of rather strong-tasting summer turnips, which have a charm one can only appreciate through proper cooking. But it also has some great directions for cooking scallops, which I’m tempted to pick up at Woodmans the next time I deliver to Madison. Oh, and if you do follow this link, be sure to read the previous post, too: “In Which I Nearly Kill Fred.”
Beet and Greens Salad with Feta
This yummy salad is a variation of one I found while enjoying some internet recipe searching one steamy afternoon last week. It utilizes a whole bunch of things you have in the box this week.
3 beets, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
6 slices bacon
1 bunch beet greens, stems discarded
1 cup snap peas, with strings zipped off and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
apple cider vinegar
Place the beets into a saucepan with enough water to cover by 1 inch; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the beets are easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until evenly browned, about 10 minutes; transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, reserving the bacon drippings in the skillet. Roughly chop the bacon and set aside. Add the drained beets and greens to the reserved bacon drippings; cover the skillet, place over medium heat, and cook until greens are wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the chopped bacon and peas into the beet mixture; continue cooking until the peas are slightly darker and tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the feta cheese over the mixture; stir. Serve hot. Sprinkle with apple cider vinegar, if desired.
FRESH BEET SALAD WITH TURNIPS
This is a vibrant, refreshing salad that is best made with small sweet turnips and beets.
Ingredients for the Turnips
4 small turnips, peeled and trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
Slice turnips very thin (about 1/8 inch thick). Blanch them in boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt to 1 qt of water) until they begin to soften but are still crisp, 1 minute. Drain, and rinse well with cold water. Drain again and pat dry. In a large bowl whisk together the olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and cumin seeds. Toss the turnip slices in the vinaigrette, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Ingredients For the Beets
3 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 large shallots or small onions, peeled
1 1/2 lbs beets, peeled and finely grated
1 hard-cooked egg yolk
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, parsley, or summer savory leaves, minced
Whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic in a small bowl. Finely slice the shallots, and toss them with the beets in a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the beets, and toss until they are thoroughly coated with the dressing. Place a mound of the beet salad in the middle of a serving platter. Surround it with the turnip slices, closely overlapping them. For garnish, push the egg yolk through a fine-mesh sieve over the beets, and then sprinkle the beets with the tarragon. Serve immediately.
Cream, butter and onions bring out the savory best in turnips.
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
4 cups peeled, thinly sliced turnips
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 1 qt casserole. Melt 1 Tbspn butter and lightly saute onions until just wilted. Layer a third of the sliced turnips in the casserole dish; top with a third of the onion; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of flour, 1/3 teaspoon of salt, and one grind of pepper; pat with dollops from 1 tablespoon of butter. Repeat this layering twice. Mix milk and cream together and pour over the turnips. Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until tender and bubbly.
ROASTED BEETS AND SAUTEED BEET GREENS RECIPE
1 bunch beets with greens
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped onion (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C). Wash the beets thoroughly, leaving the skins on, and remove the greens. Rinse greens, removing any large stems, and set aside. Place the beets in a small baking dish or roasting pan, and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you wish to peel the beets, it is easier to do so once they have been roasted. Cover, and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a knife can slide easily through the largest beet.
When the roasted beets are almost done, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion, and cook for a minute. Tear the beet greens into 2 to 3 inch pieces, and add them to the skillet. Cook and stir until greens are wilted and tender. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the greens as is, and the roasted beets sliced with either red-wine vinegar, or butter and salt and pepper.