May 2, 2012

CSA News--First Week of the Spring Share

This Week's Vegetable Harvest:
  • Mixed Lettuces
  • Arugula
  • Chives
  • Yellow Potatoes*
  • Italian Dandelion Greens
  • Cherriette Radishes
  • Easter Egg Radishes
  • Asparagus
*not from our farm. See 'Notes from the Farm Kitchen' for more info.

Farm News
Welcome to the start of our 9th CSA season. Many of you are returning members, and I want you to know how much we value your commitment to our farm. I'd also like to extend a special welcome to all of our new members. This year we have an especially talented and experienced crew of employees who have made day-to-day work on the farm a real pleasure. These hardworking folks have helped us navigate the wackiness of this spring's weather patterns with relative ease.

As you have probably guessed, most of our crops are several weeks ahead of what we typically see. It's been an interesting spring, that's for sure. Record warmth in March pushed everything ahead, but April had lots of frosty nights in store for us. Asparagus popped out of the ground earlier than ever, only to be knocked back repeatedly by frost. At the Wisconsin farm, where we are working to restore a lovely oak savannah on the property, native plants such as prairie smoke, shooting stars, all started blooming well before we expected. And here at the Grayslake farm, the fragrance of the old-fashioned lilacs, something I wait for all year, is a already a distant memory.

The positive side of all of this is that we didn't find ourselves worrying whether we'd have enough produce to fill the first week's CSA shares. Our first plantings of radishes, arugula, lettuce and spinach were ready to harvest last week. Last year at this time the soil wasn't warm or dry enough to plant, let alone harvest! As we move forward this season, we'll continue to do what we always do--take whatever nature gives us and figure out how to deliver the best possible vegetables each week. I'm particularly proud of this week's havest. Bon appétite!  --Peg

April in the farm kitchen

Notes from the Farm Kitchen

Like other members of the allium family, chive plants form purple flowers as they mature. Chive flower buds are not only pretty, they are also very tasty. Try sprinkling them over salads, roasted asparagus or as a last-minute garnish for cream of asparagus soup. Use chopped chives in potato salads, egg dishes, salad dressings, marinades and much more. You can make chive butter and freeze it for later use by adding chopped chives to softened butter. Mold it into a rectangle (or some fancier shape if you are the artistic sort), wrap in a piece of waxed paper and place in a freezer bag.

We don't yet have the infrastructure to store large amounts of potatoes, so this week's yellow potatoes come to us from our friend Brian Igl, an organic potato grower near Antigo, WI. These potatoes were harvested last fall and have been in storage all winter. Now that they are out of storage, they are going to want to sprout up on us, so I recommend storing them in a cool, dark place and using them in the next week or so.

Arugula, also known as rocket or roquette, is closely related to the radish. It has a mild kick but is not bitter. Because of it's tender texture, we prefer to enjoy it in salads rather than to cook it. We also love it on sandwiches in place of lettuce and as a pizza topping. Try strewing a large handful of arugula leaves on top of a pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven. Put it back in the oven for 30 seconds--just long enough to wilt the arugula slightly--and you've got yourself one gourmet pizza!

This week's dandelion greens are actually a type of Italian chicory. The chicory family includes frisee, belgian endive, escarole, radicchio, and Italian dandelion. Bitter greens have been prized for centuries in many European cuisines where their pleasantly bitter flavor is appreciated for its ability to pair well with rich cheeses, nuts and meats. Dandelion greens are best eaten cooked or semi-cooked. Try sautéing them, adding them to a quiche, or using them in a wilted salad with a hot vinegar-based dressing. They pair well with flavors such as brie or feta cheese, bacon, and nuts.

Over the course of the asparagus season, you will receive asparagus of different sizes. One week you may get thinner asparagus and one week the stalks may be thicker. Each type works best for different types of dishes and preparations. I think there is a common misperception that thicker stalks mean that the asparagus is older, and I want to reassure you that this is not the case. The truth is that from the moment the tip of the asparagus emerges from the ground, it is either thick or thin. Then over the course of a couple of days the stalk grows taller but not fatter. In other words, some of them are born thick and some are born thin. It all depends on the age and variety of the plant that gives birth to it. I love slender stalks for certain things, but I often find myself reaching for the fatter stalks because, once peeled, they are just as tender and delicious as the skinny ones, and they actually stand up better to the heat of cooking.

A Note on Storage and Preparation
Most spring vegetables must be refrigerated in a plastic bag. Some items (such as the leaf lettuce) are bagged by us at the farm. You will need to supply plastic bags for other items such as asparagus and head lettuce. Keeping these items in plastic helps prevent wilting. If you’ve got lettuce or some other tender vegetable that appears droopy, soak it in cold water for a few minutes, shake off the excess water, and refrigerate in a plastic bag until it perks up. On another note, we rinse all the vegetables here at the farm, but you should always wash them thoroughly prior to eating.

Recipe Links
Dandelion Greens with Hot Olive Oil Dressing
Mashed Potatoes with Dandelion Greens
Creamy-Crunchy Radish Sandwiches

Fun Photo of the Week
Driving through the Virginia countryside last month, Matt and I were stunned to come upon the ultimate playground novelty. It was so magnificent that Matt almost drove off the road. Some creative genius of a farmer had turned an old combine into the ultimate child's play palace, complete with a slide that goes from the cab, through the middle of the combine, and out the back. Why hadn't we thought of that?!

I wonder if I can find an old combine on Craigslist...

Next Week's Harvest (our best guess)... bok choy, head lettuce, asparagus, mushrooms, popcorn, swiss chard, radishes and more!