Week 19: October 5-11

What's In Your Basket?

Pac Choi
Copra Onions
Italian Parsley
Hot Peppers
Yellow Finn Potatoes
Liberty & Chehalis Apples
Cherry Tomatoes
Sauce Tomatoes

On Rotation
Zucchini & Summer Squash

Produce Tips - How to Eat It, Cook It and Keep It!

Pac Choi
We are boomeranging back towards some of the flavors of springtime as cool weather crops like pac choi and broccoli start to head up in the field. This choi variety is known as “Prize Choi,” an open-pollinated variety (non-hybrid) that comes from my friends Brian and Crystine at Uprising Organics in Bellingham, Washington. Along with running a commercial produce farm, raising a son, and starting the first-ever low-income, food stamp CSA program, they are also growing their own seed business. They are dedicated to being a regional seed company that offers only organic, open-pollinated seeds.

You may encounter a few holes in the leaves of your Prize choi, a telltale mark left by the flea beetles late this summer. We planted these chois in late August, when the flea beetles were still rapaciously roving the farm in search of yummy, tender brassicas to eat – like Abby’s arugula and mustard (which she carefully protects with floating row cover for the salad mix), and yes, these tasty pac chois. With all the other projects on the farm, we didn’t get around to protecting the chois with floating row cover right away. As a result, those tiny beetles had themselves a small feast nibbling on the young outer leaves of the choi, leaving the plants with buckshot holes. We did finally get around to it after a week, so most of the inner leaves went unscathed.

The good news is that the swiss cheese effect of flea beetle mandibles doesn’t keep this pac choi from being one of the juiciest, sweetest varieties I’ve ever tasted. Try this easy, simple Pac Choi and Cabbage Stir-Fry - and help winnow away at that lunker of a red cabbage from a few weeks ago while you're at it!

Store your Prize choi in a closed plastic bag in the fridge.

It’s back, and it’s big! This is prime-time for fall broccoli, so you’ll be seeing it in your totes for a few weeks. If you didn’t try some of the earlier broccoli recipes that were posted on the Recipe Exchange, now’s the time!

Remember, broccoli stores best in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Yellow Finn Potatoes
One of the most beloved taters ever to grow at Valley Flora: the Yellow Finn. Fortunately, they are also one of our best yielding varieties on the farm, so we are amassing quite a stockpile of Yellow Finns in the cooler as we dig more of the cured potato beds each week. Unlike new potatoes, these spuds are cured - meaning they have set their outer skin and do not necessarily need to be refrigerated (there’s no harm in keeping them in the fridge if you have the room – either way works). Great texture, great flavor and great versatility make these a blue ribbon spud.

Abby is the Queen Orchardess, the master behind all of the grafting, planning and tending of the orchards on the farm. In particular, she’s had a lifelong passion for apples (“apple” was her first word, and at one point she considered becoming a pomologist – essentially, an apple scientist). Her obsession means that there are now over a 100 different apple varieties bending under the weight of their own fruit right now, two of which are in your totes this week. Chehalis is the light green, tender-skinned apple (watch out, it bruises easily!); Liberty is the red apple mottled with green (if you rub these apples they polish up to a Snow White kind of shine). Both are fantastic eating apples.

Store them in the fridge if you’re not going to eat them soon – they’ll stay crisper.

Sauce Tomatoes
Super Marzano is their name – a roma type sauce tomato that my mom grows in the greenhouse every year. The tall, sprawling plants put on a heavy fruit set of long, large, tasty, pointy tomatoes - wonderful for making up a quick fresh tomato sauce, canning, or eating fresh. Like any sauce tomato, the Super Marzanos are meatier than they are juicy. If any of your tomatoes are not scarlet red yet, give them day or two on the counter to redden up.

Like all tomatoes, the flavor and texture of saucers is best if they go unrefrigerated.

On the Farm....

This week of clear skies could not have come at a better moment – because this is the week of winter squash harvest. Clipping squash off the vine is something I always look forward to because it’s such a quintessential autumn project, and because winter squash is one of those crops that bides its time, like the tortoise in a vegetable-growing marathon. It is patient in its pursuit of glory – quietly and vibrantly emerging from a drab tangle of dying squash vines when most other crops are spent. The crimson-orange Sunshines. The jade-colored Buttercups and the tawny Butternuts. Carnival-esque Delicatas with their splashes of orange and stripes of green. Somber, slate-grey Hubbards. And the almost-black, hard-as-rock Acorns. We planted six main varieties this year, plus some pie pumpkins, a few giant Cinderella pumpkins, and a smattering of weird Italian varieties that got plugged in last minute.

We typically plant the winter squash at the beginning of June, from seedlings we start in the greenhouse in early May. Winter squash is one of the lowest-maintenance crops on the farm, getting watered just once a week during the summer (via driplines), and requiring one – maybe two – cultivations before the plants vine out and shade the weed competition. By early September, once the fruits have sized up, we shut the water off altogether to encourage the squash plants to die back and the sugars to come up in the fruit. Many farms begin harvesting squash in September – even August in hot places - but our cooler coastal climate means that our squash often aren’t fully mature, and sweet, until October.

Pushing back the harvest window means that every year near the end of September we begin playing a game of Roulette with the weather. In a perfect world, you clip the squash off the vine during a period of dry weather, then leave them windrowed in the field for about a week to cure. When the squash heavens are looking kindly upon you, those curing days will be in the 70s, dry, frost-free at night, and maybe even a little windy. The idea is to allow the cut stem to heal over in order to seal out any funk that might want to travel down the squash stem and cause the fruit to rot later on, and to help harden up the squash skins so they’re more durable in handling. All of this contributes to a better and longer storage life for the squash. When things go well in the curing process, we’re still eating winter squash in March. When they don’t – because of rain or an early hard frost – we start to see rot in the squash by Christmas.

That perfect weather recipe isn’t a sure bet in October, but we’re getting it this week. And next week, you’ll be getting a first taste of the harvest. We’ll probably send out Acorn squash in next week’s basket, which is a variety that can be eaten almost immediately after harvest. Other types – like hubbards and butternuts – tend to get even sweeter in storage, so we’ll be holding those back for later weeks.

Winter squash are for me the truest hallmark of Fall, and the beginning of a shift in how we eat: from heirloom tomatoes and basil to roasted roots and butternut squash soup. Meals to match the waning daylight, the dropping thermometer, and – like clockwork – the desire to curl up cozy by the woodstove and re-activate the Netflix account.

But that’s getting ahead of the game. It’s t-shirt weather out there, and we’ve got squash to clip.