Monday, July 1, 2013

Wk 9, Variety is the Spice of Life

When we are making decisions about how much of each type of vegetable to grow, to offer you a season long ‘share’ of produce, a lot of thought and energy goes into selecting the best varieties or cultivars of each crop. There are thousands of varieties of sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers. Not so much for okra or kohlrabi. We must source organic seeds if the varieties we like are available. If they are not commercially available, then our certifier will allow us to use seeds that have not been treated with a fungicide/ insecticide or are produced through genetic engineering techniques. (There is a tremendous amount of scrutiny about this issue during our annual organic certification review process.) This also limits our selection, but organic seed companies contract with organic farmers around the country to produce the seeds, so supply is slowly growing each year, but we still have to get our orders in early each spring to secure the varieties that suite both you the customer, and us the farmers.

The varieties of vegetables you find at the super market are selected by the produce distributor that has a contract to supply retailers and food service processors. They have been actively selecting varieties that hold up well to shipping and long shelf life. Genetic engineering has been performed on many of these as a way to fix the shelf life issue, or be sure there is no trace of insects on the product, but they do not have to tell you that. Not only do they select varieties for looks not taste, the farmers that grow them can only sell the portion of the crop that meets the strict size and shape criteria set by those distributors. This means a high percentage of the crop is wasted because it does not meet specifications.

So, we have our old standby varieties that we know perform well for us in the field and you in your kitchen. Some taste great but they have a low germination rate, produce low yields, may have inconsistent maturity patterns, or one of a whole host of production considerations we must take into account. Some meet our production standards but get low ratings in the kitchen for taste, color, size and the like. Each year we try some new ones to see how well they grow in our soils and climate with our system, and how well they taste. We are fortunate to have friends around the country that have a similar philosophy on variety selection and we compare notes with them at the winter conferences we try to attend, during the ‘meeting season’. 

It is generally known that varieties that do well in the Deep South are not the same ones that do well in the upper Mid-West. Here in Scott County, Central Kentucky, we can have a spell during the growing season that resembles the South, hot and humid. We can also have spells that are similar to the upper Mid-West, cool and rainy, often in the same month. This presents a unique challenge to our selection process, and is one reason we try a small amount of a few new ones each year, looking for that new ‘old standby’.

Sweet corn is particularly problematic as there are not a lot of organic seed varieties available.  Those that are, are proving to be inconsistent from year to year in growth habit and vigor.  Most conventionally grown corn seed is encased in a fungicide coating that prevents the tender seed from rotting when the soil temperature is much-lower-than-ideal in early spring.  It also discourages insects, grubs and worms from feasting on the seeds.  Treated seed allows corn to get an early start resulting in sweet corn ready in late June or early July.  Organic seed corn is untreated and needs a warm-enough soil temperature to get a good start, so you won’t see it as soon as the conventionally grown. 

This season has offered good conditions for spring crops such as lettuces, leafy greens, root crops, and cabbages.  Frequent rainfall makes all the difference compared to one year ago when we had record-breaking temperatures in the 100°s, and had already set up irrigation pumps, pipes, guns and hoses in May.  Rainy conditions do present a challenge in keeping pea pods and green beans clear of discoloration.  We don’t want to harvest either one while they are wet, as they will ‘rust’.  Rain splashes soil up onto the pods or beans, and washing them after harvest also results in ‘rusting’ a few days later.  This discoloration does not affect flavor or freshness, but does affect appearance.  Sometimes we do need to harvest for you in the wet conditions, though.  Tomatoes are slow to ripen this season as they prefer days of sunshine over clouds, but we see lots of blooms, and many green tomatoes, so they are not too far away.  Blackberries are loaded and usually start turning in mid-July; garlic, onions, peppers and potatoes look good and we’ll be harvesting them over the next few weeks. 

It is necessary to begin thinking about fall crops.  We have already planted sweet potatoes and winter squashes, along with heirloom corn for meal.  Lots more still to come!

In Your Share  

Beets – organic

Broccoli – organic


Green Beans - organic

Lettuce – organic

Summer Squash Medley

Collard Greens – organic

Purple Top White Turnips - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Toasted Zucchini Rounds, thanks to a friend of the farm for sharing this recipe, makes a great appetizer or healthy snack.

1 lb zucchini or squash (about 2 medium)
1/4 C shredded Parmesan (heaping)
1/4 C Panko bread crumbs (heaping)
1 T olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray.  Slice zucchini or squash into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Toss rounds with oil, coating well.

In a wide bowl or plate combine Panko, Parmesan, salt & pepper.  Place rounds in Parmesan mix coating both sides, pressing to adhere.  The mix will not completely cover each round, but provides light coating on each side.

Place rounds on a single layer on baking sheets. Sprinkle any remaining Panko mix over rounds. Bake for about 22 to 27 minutes until golden brown.  There is no need to flip them during baking -- they crisp up on both sides.

Summer Squash Enchiladas, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe.  You can use salsa verde in place of enchilada sauce for a different flavor direction.  Serves 4.

12 corn tortillas
1 sm onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 C cooked black beans
1 T chopped fresh thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin powder
crushed chile flakes to taste
1 T olive oil
¼ C Mexican cheese blend, or to taste
salt to taste
4 C chopped summer squash
1 jar enchilada sauce

Prepare the black bean and summer squash filling: Saute half of a chopped onion and two minced cloves of garlic in 1 T olive oil over low-medium heat. When the onions are tender, add the squash, salt and cook uncovered until squash turns tender and barely starts to fall apart (10 minutes or so). Add rinsed black beans and mix well. Let cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and add cumin powder, fresh thyme and chili flakes. Mix well and remove the filling to a serving bowl. 

Preheat the oven to 375-380F. Lightly brush a rectangular glass baking dish with oil spray.  Warm up the corn tortillas one by one. Take one tortilla. Add a tablespoon of the filling in the center. Spread the filling vertically. Roll up the tortilla, tuck it well and place in the baking dish. Repeat the process with each of the 12 tortillas.  Spread sauce over the tortillas. Spread cheese over the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes or so until the cheese is melted. Serve warm with guacamole or sour cream and/or fresh cilantro.

Shredded Root Vegetable Pancake, adapted from Eating Well 

1-2 large eggs, lightly beaten

¼ C whole-wheat flour

3 T chopped scallions or onions

1 T chopped fresh dill or other favorite herb

1 T prepared horseradish

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

4 C assorted root vegetables, peeled and shredded (about 1 ½ lb), can use beet, radish, carrot, turnip, parsnip, potato, kohlrabi or whatever root veggies you happen to have

2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)


sour cream or yogurt, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Whisk egg, flour, scallions, herb, horseradish, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Stir in vegetables and bacon (if using). 

Brush a pancake griddle, or heavy skillet with cooking oil, and heat.  Place about ¼ C vegetable mixture on the surface and press with the back of a spatula to flatten into a 2- to 3-inch pancake.  Cook until crispy and golden, 1½ to 3 minutes per side.  Transfer the pancakes to the prepared baking sheet.  Continue with 2 more batches, using the remaining oil and vegetable mixture.  Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until done.  Serve garnished with sour cream, if desired.

Quick ways to serve green beans from the Lexington Herald Leader:

Roasted green beans and pecans: Toss green beans and pecans with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees, tossing once, until beans are tender, about 12 minutes.

Green beans with creamy basil dip: Blanch green beans and serve with a mixture of pesto and mayonnaise.

Lemony tuna and green bean salad: Chop blanched green beans and olives. Combine with canned tuna, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Green bean, tomato and bacon salad: Cook sliced garlic in olive oil until golden. Toss with steamed green beans, halved cherry tomatoes and cooked bacon.

Grilled Cajun green beans: Toss green beans with Cajun seasoning and a touch of olive oil. Grill over medium-high heat until tender, 4 minutes.

Green bean and feta relish: Chop raw green beans and red onion. Mix with crumbled feta and red wine vinaigrette. Serve over grilled meat or seafood.

Easy pickled green beans: Save a pickle jar and the brine, and fill with green beans. Let marinate at least a day and as long as a week before serving.

Spicy Asian green beans: Toss steamed green beans with soy sauce and chili-garlic sauce (found in the international aisle in most supermarkets).