Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Giving Thanks

The transition from fall to winter prompts reflection, which might account for Thanksgiving's place on the calendar at the end of November. Contributor Anthony Boutard takes a moment to express appreciation for those who help get his and Carol's goods to market, as well as to take the measure of some of this year's successful crops.

This week marks the last of the weekly markets at Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Next month we assemble but fortnightly. The market starts at 10 am, and is located in the parking lot of Wilson High School.

We do want to take a moment to acknowledge market manager Eamon "Shoehorn" Molloy and the Hillsdale Farmers' Market volunteers. Sometimes you all ask us why we only come to Hillsdale. Our answer: Why mess with perfection? It is a wonderful neighborhood market, and the intimacy that results is why we want to be at the market. Shoehorn and the board have been careful to keep that neighborhood spirit alive, and we appreciate their efforts. Thank you.

The staff at Ayers Creek is regularly joined by volunteer helpers on Fridays. Especially in the winter when our staff is working Copenhaven Nursery down the road and the harvesting falls to the two us, a few extra hands make a huge difference. For the last few years, Linda Johnson helped us harvest winter vegetables. This spring, Linda, a dancer, accepted an appointment at Mills College, so we picked up a new Linda, Colwell that is, who is also a regular at Hillsdale. Linda was joined a family friend, Julia Ruby, who helped with spring planting and is now a freshman at Oberlin College. Last month, sisters Meg and Cate joined us as WOOFERs.

After hearing her mother refer to "the sisters" several times, daughter Caroline asked if we were working with a convent. Meg and Cate Critcos are familial sisters. Meg's dog, Lucy, with a fair portion of pit bull in her, has taught our portly and bandy-legged little dictator, Tito, a few well deserved lessons in manners. More recently, Fridays have been enriched by China Tresemer and Bill Bains. We appreciate the help and, most importantly, the excellent company our friends have provided.

Kale, Collards and Swiss Chard

Like Jack Kerouac (left), chard is a rootless beet. They are the same species, beets and chards, that is. We have worked hard to find a true Swiss Chard with big, white ribs. Unfortunately, this form of the vegetable has slipped into obscurity, replaced by the leaf type chards. We still prefer the type with big stems, and have found a good variety from the Italian seed house Franchi. The white stems on these chards are sweet and tender. The leaf blade is fine for soup, but is incidental to the stem. The stem makes a wonderful gratin, either alone or in combination with potatoes. Alternatively, they are cooked until tender and then added to an olive oil and anchovy-based sauce with thyme, fennel seed, capers and perhaps some garlic. The French also pickle the stems.

And don't neglect the kale. Several years ago, we sat in a presentation where a researcher was talking about the antioxidant qualities of blueberries, blackcaps and blackberries. The tables caught our attention because Chester rated highest among the blackberries. As he summarized the results, he noted that the study illustrated the impressive benefits of eating dark-pigmented berries, adding quietly, "So long as no one compared them to kale." Kale is off the charts in its antioxidant qualities, vitamins, minerals and everything else you might dream of. Of course, there is no kale commission to promote the greens and tout their manifold health benefits. Another example of what Michael Pollan coined "the silence of the yam."


This is a special white-rooted variety of incomparable flavor and fine texture (top photo). Suspend any judgement you may have made about rutabagas.

For us, this was an accidental discovery. We bought a small package of seed labeled Gilfeather Turnip and promptly forgot to plant it. At the last moment, we sprinkled it at the end of the row because, if no roots formed, the turnip greens would be good. No turnips resulted and we forgot about the it.

Late in February, we noticed some odd-looking kale with a bulbous root. We cooked up the roots and they were absolutely delicious. Suddenly it dawned on us that the turnip was actually a white rutabaga, hence the unrecognized foliage. Eager to grow more, we opened the Fedco catalogue and under the variety it was noted that the seed crop had failed. Fortunately, we had not eaten all of the roots, so we immediately worked the remains of the patch, keeping the big roots and roguing out runts.

The next step was to eliminate any cabbages, turnips or kales growing in our fields. Pollinated by native bees, the various brassicas cross freely, and we needed to keep the seed pure. Fortunately we have good isolation in this valley. We harvested about a half pound of seed. Our first foray into rutabaga seed production proved a success as the plants grew true to type. Enjoy.

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