Week 22: October 26-31

What's In Your Basket?

Sunshine Winter Squash
Fingerling Potatoes
Lacinato Kale
Rainbow Carrots
Head Lettuce

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

Sunshine Winter Squash
Sunshine is a Scarlet Kabocha type squash with smooth, sweet, bright orange flesh that is great for mashing, baking and pies. The flavor is almost tropical. If you’re hooked on making fresh homemade pumpkin pie now, you can substitute Sunshine for a pie pumpkin. Or consider baking your squash (cut in half, cut sides down on a baking sheet) until soft, scooping it out of its skin, and then mashing it like potatoes. Alloro Wine Bar in Bandon buys lots of Sunshine Squash from us to use as filling for homemade raviolis (the chef, Jeremy, insists that they are the best squash for that purpose because of their dry, incredibly sweet flesh).

Store your Sunshine on the counter, not in the fridge. It will keep for months if conditions are cool (about 50 degrees) and dry.

Fingerling Potatoes

You might be wondering about the oddly-shaped spuds in your share this week. Long and skinny, crooked and wobbly, nobbed and hooked – allow us to introduce you to fingerlings. You are getting two almost indistinguishable varieties mixed together, Austrian Crescent and Russian Banana.

Fingerlings are a bit of specialty item due to the fact that they yield fewer and smaller potatoes than your standard Yukon Gold or russet varieties, and are far from uniform. Nevertheless, they are a popular gourmet item with chefs, and wonderful to use in the home kitchen. The texture of fingerlings is often described as waxy and firm. They are not a mashing potato so much as a roasting or steaming potato, and due to their small size they rarely take more than 25 minutes to cook.

Make a marriage of your fingerlings and your lacinato kale this week and try this Kale and Potato Spanish Tortilla – a potato and egg frittata chock full of greens and flavor.

You can store your fingerlings in the fridge, or in a cool dark place.

Lacinato Kale
Also known as cavolo nero (“black cabbage”), Tuscan kale, Italian kale, dinosaur kale, black kale or flat black cabbage, lacinato kale goes by many monikers. I like to think that’s because this particular kale has earned itself an honored place in many different culinary traditions around the world. This is the kale that Marisa, my friend from Hawaii, threatened to forsake island paradise for, after all. And why? Because lacinato kale doesn’t grow well in the tropics; in fact, its glory season is just beginning here in Oregon as the days get shorter and the nights get cold. Little by little, the sugars are beginning to come up in the lacinato, and once we get a frost, it will be the best tasting kale on the farm, hands down.

A few tidbits of kale trivia should you like to begin crusading as a kale converter:
•    Kale is a form of cabbage in which the central leaves do not form a head.
•    Kale is the hardiest vegetable on the farm, withstanding (and in fact, improving with) hard freezes.
•    During World War II, the U.K. launched its own kale crusade via the Dig for Victory campaign (similar to the U.S.’ victory gardens). The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients that were in short supply due to rationing.
•    Because kale can grow well into winter, one variety is called 'Hungry Gap' - named for the winter months when precious other crops are available to harvest.
•    In Scotland, kale was such a staple in the traditional diet that the word “kale” in dialect Scots is synonymous with food. To be "off one's kail" is to feel too ill to eat.

If you don’t try this week’s recipe, you can improvise with you lacinato the same way you would any other kale – steamed, sautéed, in soup, or raw. Store in the fridge in plastic bag.

On the Farm....
We’re beginning to look ahead into 2010 and think about things like next year’s crop plan, the marketing mix, and labor, which inevitably means we're first taking a good long look at 2009. The consensus amongst everyone here at Valley Flora is that this has been the best season ever for us, in large part thanks to you, our Harvest Basket members. Having a CSA (community supported agriculture) program has made it possible to have a wonderful, direct connection to the people who are eating our food, and farming has never felt more fun, more gratifying, and more sustainable.

When I say “sustainable,” I mean it on a number of fronts: personally, financially, and environmentally. As for personal sustainability, Abby and I were just commenting this week on the fact that neither of us feel burned out the way we have in season’s past come Fall. For that we have Blake - our dedicated farm worker – to thank, as well as the many friends and volunteers who have helped out this season: Sara and Marisa, dear friends who each came on a month-long farm-cation this summer; Robin Giss, our amazing strawberry picking volunteer from Coos Bay; Jeri Bissel from Bandon who has been volunteering since September and who by now has plucked millions of petals off of the bachelor buttons and calendula flowers that Abby puts in the salad mix. All of these individuals have given the farm – and us - a loving boost this year.

But the other reason we aren’t burned out is because the CSA has brought a certain steady predictability to what is usually a hectic, frenzied growing season. We know just how many heads of lettuce and bunches of carrots we need to harvest each week – and the fact that the food is pre-sold takes a lot of the hustle and stress out of marketing in the summer. Unlike 2008, I was able to take a weekend off here and there this season, to go swimming up Elk River with family and friends, and to can some of my own tomatoes. Your commitment to the farm, your decision to be part of this with us, has helped make those simple but restorative pleasures a reality this season.

Financially, all of you helped the farm achieve a stability it has never experienced before. Knowing we had Harvest Basket commitments from 55 families enabled us to create a job in Curry County by hiring Blake full time on a year-round salary. It helped us afford the walk-in cooler, which has proven indispensable (I don’t know how we farmed without it before!). It helped avert the spring cash flow crisis that is so ubiquitous among farmers who typically have to spend heaps of money to get the season up and running, but won’t make that money back until later in the summer. And it enabled us to forecast and plan with a known budget.

In terms of environmental sustainability, you Harvest Basket members get full credit for the fact that the farm is more diverse than it has ever been in history. I was just glancing at our website today and read the paragraph I wrote 8 months ago about Valley Flora and the “60 crops” we grow. I haven’t done an official tally yet, but I’m guessing that number is closer to 100 now, in large part because having a CSA program means that we need to grow more variety so that there is always something new and exciting to toss into your tote. What we can grow will always be dictated by the arc of the season, by shrinking or expanding daylight and the natural miracle of photosynthesis, but within that natural arc we now have a reason to grow as many different crops and varieties as we think you’ll eat! Watch out: rhubarb, sunchokes, collard greens, figs, pie cherries, hardy kiwis, table grapes, quince and tayberries could be finding their way into your fridge some day!

What all this diversity means is that the farm is becoming ever-more complex, providing habitat, nectar, and forage for all kinds of critters; that the crop rotations and cover crop cycles are becoming more refined; that we as farmers are learning more every year about how to best assemble the puzzle and manage this precious piece of river bottom so that our kids and grandkids can continue to farm it if they want to, and your kids and grandkids can continue to be fed by it.

At a time when a lot of the news is grim, we feel lucky to be part of this great experiment in eating with you. We know full well there are days when you pull that bunch of kale out of your tote and wonder, “what in the world am I going to do with it this time!?” We know that some of you have pushed yourself to your culinary limits with things like fennel and beets and turnips. And we know that some of you have juggled your schedules and figured out complicated veggie carpools just to be able to pick up your share each week. We know all this takes commitment and we are deeply grateful to you for your partnership - for saying to us, and the world, “Local food matters. Family farms matter. Sustainable agriculture matters. And eating well, eating seasonally, eating as part of a community, matters."

Thanks for all that you eat.

1 Comment

Epicurean Experience

To all who have made this incredible trip to open a tote that holds the earth's beauties both visual and tasty, we thank you.  Eating has taken on a whole new meaning at our dining table.  You each are extraordinary for soooooo many reasons and we are blessed to be a part of the Valley Flora experience.
Pat & Bruce