Week 2 of Winter CSA!

  • Mixed kale
  • Carrots (they are juice grade again; this is our final harvest)
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Rossa di Milano Onions
  • Beets
  • Mini Daikon Mix
  • Radish Microgreens
  • Bunched "Wild" Arugula
  • Bunched Mustard Greens
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Celeriac

Winter Foraging on the Farm, and an Italian Reverie...

One of the things I like about the Winter CSA is that it affords us the opportunity to make the most of a plant's life cycle. Kale for instance: all season long we harvest kale for its leafy greens, but as the days stretch longer some varieties will start to bolt, sending up delicious tender shoots of spring raab (unopened flower buds). Some might call it bolting, but to the Winter CSA it's good eating. Same thing this week with the mustard greens: these were harvested from Abby's 2021 salad greens beds, the late-planted ones that get left to overwinter because there isn't time to get a cover crop seeded in their wake. Normally one of Abby's salad beds is only harvested for baby greens and is in the ground for a short month before getting turned under and reseeded. But a dozen or so winter beds get to grow to full maturity and then bolt, creating essential early nectar for the bees -  and this week, beautiful mustard bunches for the CSA. I feel like an excited dumpster diver when I'm out there bunching Abby's leftover mustards: one farmer's trash becoming another farmer's winter treasure. I get a thrill from the intrinsic efficiency of maximizing the potential of one seed for mulitple uses and meals. 

It was when I was foraging for those mustards in the sublime sunshine of Monday afternoon that I wandered west and came across the arugula: about 50 feet of it planted at the end of each bed, all of it gangly and tall and budding up. I nibbled a finely-lobed leaf and my taste buds lit up. Now THAT tastes like arugula! All at once it was 1989, August, I am nine years old, in Italy with my family for a month. A friend of my mom's did an international house trade and swapped her place in Marin for a villa in Sasso Marconi, a little village outside of Bologna named after the inventor of the radio. It was a sprawling place in semi-disrepair with grapes growing wild and a spooky ruin of a mini-castle built into a limestone cliff out back. With the house came Maria, the old woman who lived nearby who checked in on us daily and brought us things from her garden. In my mind she is missing her top teeth (possibly untrue), she is wearing a sack-like house dress with an apron, and she is sporting thick-soled, brown old lady loafers. She doesn't speak a word of English (our collective Italian isn't much better) and she is utterly delightful.

Except every day she brings us fistfuls of this weedy green and earnestly, urgently, thrusts it at us shouting "Rucola! Rucola!"

And we smile and nod and accept the armload of weeds, faking our way through it over and over every single day. The first morning it was genuine, until we tasted the stuff: Horrible! Bitter! It dawned on us that this was the same plant that the Italians insisted on putting on their pizza, and that we would diligently pick off every time we got a pie, which was often because we were in Italy. What was their obsession with this gross ditch weed?!

After Maria left each morning there would be a new, hushed confab about how in the hell we were going to get ride of this latest batch of rucola: we couldn't put it in the compost, she might see it! We couldn't flush it, the pipes might clog. We couldn't burn it, it was too green. So we took to burying it, or tearing it into pieces small enough to longer be incriminating and then tossed it into the bushes in the backyard. But then a new day would dawn and Maria would be back, proudly foisting rucola into our arms with the loud, insistent "Rucola! Rucola!" As if saying to us, this plant is a part of me, of my people, of my culture, of my country. The most important part. And then we would promptly bury/stomp/dismember it as soon as she left.

That was a great trip, albeit hot and sticky, with an un-ending radio soundtrack of accordian polkas, daily gelato, and shops that sold only pasta (a mind-blowing array of it, including 50 lb bags of dry pasta for dogs, and a super-long, corkscrew spaghetti with a hole down the center that you could suck wine through like a 5' straw). 

We returned home to life on the creek, where it took quite a few years before rucola found us again. When it did it was called "rocket" or "arugula" and it was all the craze in the foodie scene. Everyone had to be seen eating it.

Fast forward a couple more decades, and arugula is very much the foundation of Abby's Greens. Baby arugula. It wasn't until this week though, when I nibbled that mature leaf, that Maria came flooding back into my memory in such vivid detail. I'm not wearing a house dress, I still have my top teeth, and I don't yet own a pair of squishy granny shoes (though they might be a great idea for those long days standing on concrete in the barn), but here I am thrusting a bunch of wire-stemmed arugula at you, imploring earnestly, "Rucola! Rucola!" 

Thank you, Maria. 

(p.s. I suggest dismembering your arugula and then EATING IT: pluck the arugula leaves from the stems for the most refined eating experience. The stems are edible as well, but will be woodier lower down. And I will know, intuitively, if you bury, flush, burn, or stomp your rucola. I will feel it as as deep pain in my soul.)