Recipe for a Rainy Day and a Giant Bulb of Fennel….

The Giant Fennel Bulb

The Giant Fennel Bulb

With the weather promising cold and rain today, last night I made a run down to my garden to see what might be primed for picking.  While rummaging through an overgrown patch of swiss chard, there I found this amazing bulb of fennel.  By amazing I mean nearly the size of my head.

Fennel is a wonderful, aromatic plant that is a member of the carrot family.  In ancient times it was revered by the Greeks and Romans both for its culinary as well as medicinal properties.   All parts of fennel are edible, the fronds are also lovely and you can even freeze it if you don’t mind the loss of texture.  Young fennel bulbs are tender and delicious raw in salads and pair wonderfully with many Italian dishes.  But I had no idea what to do with this giant bulb.  It’s roots were so impressive that it took  two hands and a lot of strength for me to pull it out – fennel is actually a perennial so it grows to survive and thrive no matter what the weather.   I could not imagine eating this giant raw.  After spending some time googling around ideas, I finally came up with my own inspiration:  fennel simmered until tender with olive oil, garlic and sweet red onions, then finished with fresh picked cherry tomatoes and swiss chard.  Served over pasta and topped with fresh parmesan….wonderful!  Here are the top things I learned in this process.

  1. Cleaning fennel takes some attention.  Dirt gets into all of the crevices of the bulb.  To get the grit out, I found that washing the bulb, slicing it thin, and then running the slices through my salad spinner worked great to get it all clean.  Remember to remove the core!
  2. Fennel and swiss chard are an AMAZING combination.  The sweet, aromatic anise flavor of the fennel pairs wonderfully with the bitter greens of the swiss chard.
  3. While any fresh tomato may do, I used whole cherry tomatoes.  The effect was lovely.  Intense tomato flavor, a little “pop”.  My personal favorite for this recipe are my home-grown organic gardener’s sweetheart tomatoes (thank you Fruition Seeds!).
  4. You don’t need a recipe.  Just put it together any way and in any combination that works for you.  My main advice is to layer the flavors and the cooking, starting with meat (Italian sausage or diced pancetta work great in this recipe) and longer cooking aromatics first (the fennel, onion, and garlic) and layering in the other ingredients based on their cooking time, with tender greens like swiss chard at the very end.
  5. This tastes amazing over your favorite pasta, rice, or grains!

    The end result:  Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

    The end result: Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

To find sources of swiss chard, tomatoes, and fennel near you, check out our on-line directory.  Enjoy a cool rainy day of locavore cooking and eating!

Summer in My Freezer

Biofillia Farm VeggiesGroundhog Day!  If any groundhog is daring to look, he is probably doubting that spring is right around the corner or even six weeks away.   The wind is howling outside and blankets of snow are sweeping over my fields, house, and barns.  My windows are shuttered and all the draft dodgers are stuffed in my door ways.  It seems like a long time since I have experienced sunlight on my face.  It’s time for some summer.

So I go and open my freezer, and there, in the light of the incandescent bulb, is summer.  Bags of golden sweet corn, red peppers, and all kinds of tomatoes.  Cubes of pesto and herbs.  Batches of blueberries and raspberries and strawberries, their lovely vibrant blues and reds sparkling back at me.   Too bad Mr. Winter – I am freeing summer from the freezer and sending it to my plate for dinner tonight!

Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy my share of root crops in the winter.  Beets, carrots, celery root, potatoes.  It’s all very nice.  But right around February is when I crave my summer back, and so to the freezer I go.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Maybe its sweet corn risotto with Herbs de Provence, the frozen kernels perfectly preserving the delectable pop and sweetness of August.    Maybe it’s summer pasta –  the most perfect, thin spaghetti made with locally grown organic grains, cooked al dente and finished off with those fresh frozen tomatoes and some of that pesto.  Maybe I’d like a taste of July – some of those berries served over yogurt or ice cream or maybe in some pancakes.   No matter what I choose, it brings back that day that it was harvested, perfectly ripe and warm from the summer sun. fresh rasberries

I used to think that eating local and organic food year round would be too hard or too expensive.  This year I finally cracked the code to make it easy and economical for me to eat local organic year round.  So many farmer’s markets are now operating all winter – and from my friendly neighborhood farmers I still get local organic eggs, root crops, and greens that are growing even now in high tunnels.  And thanks to squirreling away and freezing spring and summer bounty, I can enjoy the taste of summer just when I need it most!  Hello summer!  Time to eat!

Grain coming into Focus: Long-standing New York traditional foods get their spotlight at last!

The OREI Value-Added Grains Project is a multi-year collaboration between NOFA-NY, Cornell University, Greenmarket, GrowNYC, OGRIN and others to grow the potential of primarily ancient and heritage cereal grains in New York and the Northeast.  Robert Perry, NOFA-NY’s Grain and Field Crop Coordinator, and June Russell, Manager of Farm Inspections
& Strategic Development for Greenmarket/GrowNYC, share their thoughts about grains and the upcoming Grain Expo happening during the NOFA-NY Winter Conference.

Robert says,

“Who ever heard of spelt, einkorn, emmer, or farro until recent years? This, to many, was like another new food group being grown.  However, I grew up enjoying whole grain flours living near the New Hope water-powered flour mill. Leland Weed had resurrected the old mill and overshot water wheel and spent a lifetime providing bagged whole grain flours that my mother would bake into homemade bread and rolls every week. The mill was open for tours and photo opportunities and was famous for their Buckwheat pancake mixes. My Dad had a dairy farm and did custom harvesting of small grains with his various combines. Eventually we had three combines that my brothers and I operated as well. Riding on the old AC all crop bagging combine, sliding down the chute, and playing in the oat bin was all part of growing up. The coop was close by and everyone worked as a community to support the Grange and the GLF cooperative along with various milk coops. So when legendary music of the late 60’s came along (“Traffic” and Steve Winwood’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”; Jethro Tull with “Same Old Man Workin at the Mill”)l I was already hooked on grains. Over the years various flour mills and bakeries have indulged in stone mills, whole grain bakeries, and legends have lived on, made with a labor of love, by farmers, millers, and bakers. After a silent yet persistent journey by this passionate community the grain movement has once again come into the local regional spotlight.Spelt berries

So when the idea of a Grain Expo came about for the NOFA-NY Winter Conference, coupled with selection of grain farmers
Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens as our Farmers of the Year, it was my privilege to combine this into a celebration of the legends, the present, and the future of the incredible Northeast Value-Added Grains community.”

Same old man workin’ at the mill
Mill turns around of its own free will
Hand in the hopper and the other in a sack
Ladies step forward and the gents fall back.

June responds and reflects,

“I am afraid my first encounter with a mill or anything having to do with the production of grain was much less pastoral then Robert’s and most surely involved a rickety building with a lovely river view that either had been renovated into a Ye Olde Tavern of some sort or sold Christmas ornaments and fudge to tourists. Mills were relics of the past and flour was probably made by Keebler elves, as I saw it. Even as someone who had worked as a professional cook for 15 years, I had no idea how grain grew or flour was produced.

Early on in the quest to find flour for Greenmarket bakers, I saw Jack Lazor give a workshop on growing grain in Vermont at a NOFA-VT conference. Jack told the story of being a back-to-the-lander in the 1970s and how he grew wheat to make his own bread, but when he went to sell his crop he found that even the local Vermont co-op was buying grains and flour from the Midwest for half the price and he was laughed out the door. He said it was only now, decades later, that he was finally seeing interest in the market for his grain and he quipped, “I think we’re making progress”. (Editor’s note: Jack and his wife Anne will be presenting twice, and participating in a panel at the Grains Expo at the Conference)

This was circa 2007–a full thirty years or more after Jack and many of our elders were planting those first seeds. And it was true the market was finally catching up to the wisdom of farmers like Jack.  By 2008 the local foods movement kicked into full gear along with an explosion of artisanal food businesses guided by passionate and innovative entrepreneurs who embraced working with local ingredients with gusto.  We met essential allies and co-creators who were and are making incredible products for us to eat and drink from bread to beer, pasta to gin all using local grains …and supporting our farmers. By 2010, when Greenmarket implemented its 15% rule, the market was primed, the customer was ready and a few dozen farmers were willing to take the risk and begin the steep learning curve of growing, handling and marketing local grains.
Roggenvollkornbrot1The momentum is real, from Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes, The Hudson Valley to Maine, mills have been built, or put back into production; malt houses and distilleries have come on line; and support for re-regionalizing our food system is coming from all directions including the state of New York, which has given us the farm brewery and farm distillery legislation that is helping to drive grain production and much needed research and development of infrastructure.

It has been an incredible time to be a part of this work; rewarding and profound in ways I never could have anticipated. Back in the early 90’s while working for Greenpeace, a good friend and mentor said to me, “there should be a still in every county”. I think he was getting at a message about sustainability on a fundamental level, about feeding the soil, the animals and our selves in ways that align with our values, bringing full circle the agriculture, the market and the food culture in a way that just might have a shot at sustaining us in the long run.

Now as another malting facility opens, another bakery incorporates local flour into production and another small batch distillery using local grains wins an award for excellence, I know what that mentor meant. And although I am pretty sure he would love the taste of the bourbons that our craft distillers are producing, he would be especially proud of what this community has accomplished, and the hope for the future that it signifies.

You can join in the fun and education on Friday January 23rd. 2015.  In the morning, there’s a Value-Added grain intensive with Klaas and Mary-Howell, followed by lunch with various grain-focused vendors, and a grain forum with legendary farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, distillers, researchers and you. Beyond the expo, there will be a total of 7 workshops for grain and field crop farmers, a homesteaders’ session on earthen oven cooking projects (Saturday afternoon), Klaas and Mary-Howell’s keynote address on Saturday afternoon, and an abundance of tasty treats made with New York’s grains.

Pre-registration ends on Friday, January 16th (walk-in registration starts at 7:00pm on Thursday, January 22nd).  Registration for Friday of the conference allows you entrance to the grain expo, plus all workshops and activities.  See www.nofanyconference.org for all the information!

The Story of Our Conference Food

This is a re-telling of the story of how our conference food program came to be. It is dedicated, in gratitude, to our wonderful conference food donors.  Read on for the tale of the NOFA-NY conference meals, as told by Bethany Wallis (Education Director, Conference Food Coordinator).  If you’re inspired to help us meet our menu wishlist, please be in touch!

Amazing food is the underlying pillar of NOFA-NY’s Annual Winter Conference. True, it’s not the first thing that might come to mind when you hear “farming conference,” but maybe it should be.  Yes, each year a new theme is chosen for our beloved winter conference and our staff works tirelessly to put together education around that theme that informs and represents our organic farming community.  This ever-changing and constantly-evolving conference is a venue for new research to be shared, farming techniques to emerge, friendships to begin, collaborations to blossom, and families to grow.  The constant is evident: this conference exists because everyone in attendance seeks to support the growth, distribution, and enjoyment of delicious, wholesome food grown in a way that supports the environment and the people who toil to bring it to the masses.

While many conferences offer delicious food, the NOFA-NY conference food stands apart because the ingredients provided for all of the meals, breaks, and social gatherings is sourced organically and locally, almost all donated by our farmers and business supporters.

I first came to NOFA-NY as a volunteer to assist in procuring the food for the winter conference many years ago when the conference was still held in Syracuse and boasted an attendance of over 300 farmers.  It was the best way to be introduced to the greater organic community of New York State.  Then and now, the generosity with which people are willing to donate is unbelievable.  Farmers in our midst wholeheartedly want to share the products they know are the healthiest available–making their actions speak for their ideals.  They care deeply that the food they grow and produce can be enjoyed while participating in an event that helps to strengthen the organic community.

child at buffet John-Paul Sliva 007

I am excited to once again be organizing the food donations for this great conference.  Each year, over 1200 attendees walk through the door, ready for 80+ amazing workshops, engaging keynote speakers, and plenty of social activities.  They’re hungry, too.  This year we will feed over 7200 meals, provide snacks for more than 900 people on Friday and Sunday and 1300 on Saturday, make sure that the 500 folks who attend our receptions also have munchables while they network.dining hall

That is no small feat with a farmer’s appetite!  The kitchen and service staff at the City Center often stand in the dining room, amazed at the way the crowd (respectfully, patiently) descends upon the trays of roasted vegetables and salad just as much as the heartier foods–we know about balanced and abundant plates!  Curious as to how many potatoes it takes to feed this hungry bunch? 500 pounds! Milk?  Only 125 gallons.  Then there are eggs (600 dozen, so get crackin’) and over $3000 worth of locally baked bread.  Everything is donated from the salt and pepper on the table to the transportation of the donated products from across the state.  The list goes on.

city center kitchen scene 2

buffet line with green veg

It is an intense experience to find all the needed items based on the menu and to confirm all the donations.  For example, if in late November we have 5 of 6 main ingredients to make a roasted pork dish, but we’re missing the meat, we have to decide whether to change the menu and use the 5 procurable ingredients in a different way, or to keep looking for organic, local pork.  We are so fortunate that the Saratoga Hilton and Chef Vik are so willing to work with us to make all of these meals possible without compromising our community’s values.  From September forward there is almost daily communication to nail down all the bits and pieces.

City Center Kitchen CrewOnce we arrive on site, everything is different than the norm of hotel food management.  The food is not pre-prepared for the kitchen staff, and sometimes comes in very close to meal time.  How quickly can one staff peel butternut squash before it needs to go in the oven?  The kitchen and service staff is involved in listing all the donors and ingredients in the dishes on the buffet line; I’m behind the scenes with key volunteers checking off and labeling deliveries, ensuring that snacks and products are left in their packages so folks associate farms and brands with the delicious food they’re eating and reminding kitchen staff to please NOT peel the carrots and to let the artisan cheeses come to the right temperature before serving (do not serve our Board President’s famous cheese at refrigerator temperature!).  We are for certain an interesting group!

I would personally like to thank each person in this amazing circle of food for a feast.  Thank you to the farmers, to the transporters, to the preparers, to the servers, and to the educators who keep us coming back every year to learn more, fueled by such delicious food!  I manage the intensity of this job because I am so rewarded to see how we unite in the love of food, in our support of each other, and in our commitment to work today for a better tomorrow for our ever-growing community.

DSC_0054

NOFA-NY Winter Conference Breakfasts are a hearty, healthy affair. Roasted potatoes, organic fruit including citrus from Thorpes Organic Farm citrus grove in Florida, meat, yogurt, granola, and milk!

Fall For Brussels Sprouts

Dave the Dog with this year's harvest

Dave the Dog with this year’s harvest

According to some, there is only one good way to serve Brussels sprouts – on someone else’s plate.  Dave the Dog disagrees, and will faithfully guard and gratefully eat any you send his way.  I just recently began to understand his perspective.

As a child growing up, Brussels sprouts were in the “no thank you” category in my house – the one dish my mother would allow us to politely decline.   While the overly processed, canned, and severely boiled Brussels sprouts of my youth were hard to stomach, the truth is that Brussels sprouts are a nutritious and versatile vegetable, abundant in both Vitamin C and Vitamin K and containing many antioxidants.

Aside from being good for you, I have discovered that fresh Brussels sprouts are delicious!  Brussels sprouts can be prepared using many different methods and they do not require many ingredients or skillful cooking to bring out their flavor.  If you are still in doubt, here are my two favorite ways to prepare and eat Brussels sprouts.

This first method is an almost sure-fire way to convert even the most reluctant Brussels sprouts eater to a raving fan:  Brussels sprouts braised in cream.  Here is a simple recipe for this amazing dish.  All I can say is that whoever first decided to try simmering Brussels sprouts in cream was a culinary genius.  For very little effort, you end up with a dish that melts in your mouth – and it even smells good when it is cooking!  Some of my favorite on-line reviewer comments of this recipe include “bewitching”, “self righteously easy”, and “makes the toughest man purr like a kitten”.

The second method is the most versatile – roasted Brussels sprouts.  This gloriously simply approach involves just tossing your cleaned and trimmed Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is caramelized with some burnt-looking edges.  (Editor’s Note: It’s best to try to get your sprouts to be the same size so they will cook evenly–halving or quartering the larger ones to be about the same size as the smallest ones should do the trick.  Depending on the size of your sprouts, or if you’ve halved/quartered the bigger ones, you may find they are done in only 20 minutes.)  Roasting Brussels sprouts brings out their sweet, nutty goodness and creates a wonderful “tooth” with a tender inside and slightly crispy outside.  There are scores of variations to meet your mood and your taste – try roasting with balsamic vinegar and honey, with garlic and pancetta, with bacon and mustard, and with other root vegetables.  Pretty much your imagination is the only limitation with roasted Brussels sprouts.  Some of my favorite on-line comments about roasted Brussels sprouts include “effortless,” “fell in love,” and “tiny nuggets of joy.”

So next time you see those great stalks of Brussels sprouts at your farmers market or in your CSA box, go with confidence and happiness that you are soon to enjoy this delicious fall treat!  Dave the Dog guarantees it!

More to try:

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon and Pecorino, Food52 (use any  NY aged hard sheep’s milk cheese to locavore-ize it)

Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Sriracha, Food52 (use NY honey and a local hot sauce)

Oregano Brussels Sprouts, 101 Cookbooks (great photos of prepping the vegetable, if you’re not accustomed to it)

Enjoying the Harvest from Canandaigua to Mattituck

Jazzy photo bombs harvest dinner

Jazzy photo-bombs my harvest dinner

One thing I learned this fall is that no one appreciates a good dinner party like a Corgi.   The other thing I learned is that if you invite folks to come to a dinner featuring fresh organic and sustainably grown food from local farmers, they will come!  They will come even if you tell them it is a fundraiser and they will need to make a donation to your cause!

In honor of National Organic Harvest Month, many of us on the staff and Board of NOFA-NY held harvest dinners at our homes across the state as a benefit for NOFA-NY.    I co-hosted my dinner with Sharon Nagle of Firefly Farm at my home in Canandaigua on a beautiful September evening.

My initial plan for a small dinner for 8 grew and ripened like my giant Brandywine tomatoes to a dinner for nearly 30 people.   Fortunately, Mother Nature smiled upon us and provided a late September Saturday where the temperature was 78, the breeze was light and the sky was perfectly blue.  We were able to set up a big tent outside along with folding tables and chairs.  Jazzy the Corgi designated it worthy of photo bombing.

This Way to Food!

This Way to Food!

A meal that took a few hours to eat was months in the making.  The food at the table came from more than 12 different farms from Canandaigua to Mattituck.  The fruits, vegetables, honey, and eggs, poultry meats and wine took months (and in some cases, years) of dedicated farmers’ time and skills to plant, nurture, harvest, age and ferment.  It was my thankful task to simply gather the bounty.  I was also very grateful for Sharon Nagle’s help as a farmer and co-party planner, for the culinary skills of local chef, Evan Schapp of Roots Café, who created an array of side dishes, and for my husband Chris, who manned the smoker that infused extra flavore into locally-raised turkey and Chris’s famous ribs.

Dinner started with an array of fresh vegetables and roasted acorn squash hummus from Sharon Nagle’s Fire Fly Farm located in nearby Canandaigua and delectable raw milk cheeses from NOFA-NY board president, Maryrose Livingston and her Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon.  Both created a buzz with guests, who quickly searched their smart phones to learn that these were foods not typically (if ever) found at grocery stores.

For our main course, Chef Evan Schapp created an array of sides with Sharon’s vegetables, including a velvety potato-leek soup in the French style, a medley of roasted potatoes with foraged white pine needles, and a fermented slaw of baby bok choy.  Alongside was the most amazing corn bread, made with roasted white corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project in Farmington and raw honey and certified organic eggs from Browder’s Birds certified organic farm in Mattituck.

Iroquois White Corn

Iroquois White Corn

During the meal we discovered that there is nothing like Hampton tomatoes – and what a treat all the tomatoes were from Board member Phil Barbato’s Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport.  We ate beans from the famous Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett,  fresh rosemary from Marion Gardens in East Marion, wheat berries from Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett canned heirloom tomatoes from Sang Lee Farms in Peconic.

YUM!

YUM!

Browder’s Birds honey also found its way into a signature Finger Lakes Fall dessert – grape pies made with locally raised concord grapes from Naples, NY.  We also had wild apple galettes served with fresh organic cream, along with chocolates and ice cream from Rochester’s Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream and Chocolates.

As I explained all about NOFA-NY to my guests, the fragrance, textures, and tastes from so many different farms and regions of our beautiful State wafted around us.  New York State is wooded, grassy, flowery, hilly, flat, rocky, smooth, salty, loamy, sandy, and if there is such a word, “clayey”.   Each of these soils and micro-climates transferred a unique flavor to the food raised upon it.  Some of my guests had never experienced this range of fresh, local organic and sustainably-grown food.   Most had no idea the diversity and flavor available from their neighborhood farmers.

Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards

Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards

 

The sun set a red cloak over the Bristol Hills, the crescent moon rose up and the stars leapt out.  Somewhere on a distant hill, a small town held a fireworks display.  The food was amazing, fresh, and all local.  The company was wonderful, and we made a number of new friends and some generous donations for NOFA-NY.  Thank you all!

If you, too, would like to donate to NOFA-NY during our Harvest Appeal, please head to our online donations form, or if you have questions, contact Cecilia Bowerman at (585) 271-1979 ext. 512.

Fall’s Royal Crop: Growing, Selecting and Eating Storage Squash

Erik Fellenz weighs red kuri squashWith names that tend toward the fairy-tale (Cinderella, Moonshine, Black Forest, Hubbard, Carnival) to the exotic (Rouge Vif D’Etampes, Musque de Provence, Kakai, Red Kuri) to the downright confusing (Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, NutterButter, Pink Banana), the thick-skinned storage varieties of the Cucurbitaceae plant family (which also includes summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, decorative gourds, chayote, and luffa gourds) represent a diverse and flavorful food source for us in the Northeast.  Many of us are accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for pumpkins and gourds destined only for carving and decoration, and buying canned pumpkin off a grocery store shelf (organic canned pumpkin is available in this day and age, a nice alternative for the non-DIYers among us).  A conventionally-grown or imported pumpkin creates quite a toll on the environment, and builds a perception that all thick-skinned squashes, whether for centerpieces, Jack-o-Lantern carving, or eating, should be a cheap food.  Squash may not be as precious as baby salad greens at the start of the spring, or those heavy 3-lb heirloom tomatoes at summer’s peak, but growing flavorful, ripe squash at a small scale, without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, and in our unpredictable climate zone, causes farmers to either take a loss to bring us these colorful fall favorites at our expected price point, or ask a large price for something we’ve come to expect to be cheap.

While squash indeed grows in our region, and is prized for its nutritious flesh that keeps within a protective shell throughout the winter, our Northeast summers are not ideal for this plant to bear and set fruit.

Challenges and Strategies for Growing Winter Squash:

More days in the field means more potential for pest infestations, disease-producing conditions, weeds taking over, and mammals to munch leaves.

Other crops (including those high-priced greens and tomatoes) can’t be grown in a squash field for the whole spring-summer-fall season, an example of an opportunity cost.

Plenty of heat and sun (temperatures in the 80’s during the day and 60’s at night) are needed for squash to grow well.  With 2014 providing an excellent example, it’s clear that our climate doesn’t provide that consistently.  Growers have some management options here, including black plastic, Biotella biodegradable mulch, or dark landscape fabric (all of these help with weed suppression, too), a well-sited field with southern exposure, and starting the plants in a greenhouse or cold frame to have them maturing for more of the hot days of the year.

Squash are susceptible to moisture-borne diseases, namely powdery and downy mildew.  Variety selection and air circulation are key for crops, but no grower is immune to poor weather.  While some growers will provide cucumbers a drier environment in a high tunnel, this is not practical for the area of space and amount of time (again, it’s an opportunity cost, this time with expensive infrastructure) the pumpkins and winter squash require.  Disease-tracking reports are available to help growers be aware of the movement of disease via tropical storms.  Yearly crop rotation and proper disposal of infected plants help the chemical-free grower avoid future issues with these diseases.  Organic producers must always be on the preventative side, planning management tactics into their production plans, rather than wait for disease and pest problems that can be killed via non-organic methods.  If you’re interested in being such a savvy producer (of more than winter squash), attend the October 21st workshop in Geneva, NY, which will feature a number of experts in organic disease management!

Squashes need lots of soil fertility, so a grower needs to build soil for years prior to a planting of winter squash, and any crop that follows squash should be one that returns nutrients to the soil (like leguminous cover crops), or at least does not require a lot of soil fertility.  This long-term planning, and heavy use of resources outside of the actual growing year for the squash crop, makes the cost of production even higher than most farmers calculate.Joshua Levine (13)

Squash plants are spaced out significantly in the field to allow the roots to soak up nutrition, and the vines spread out to absorb the 3-4 months of sunshine that go into ripening each hefty, colorful, knobbly, lovable fruit.  Weeds can populate the between-vine and between-plant space and cause serious competition.  Cultivation and tillage when the plants are young might be one option for controlling weeds, but hand labor or deciding to not weed are the late-season options for weed control.  Growers use mulch to reduce the areas of the field where weeds can catch sunlight and flourish, and there has been some research into no-till methods of growing squash.  Conventional squash fields can be sprayed with certain herbicides to kill grassy weeds, and organic farmers can’t take that option.

Ripe squash fruits are heavy and require lots of labor and proper conditions to move from the field to storage, and from storage to sale.  Fair labor and living wages for farmers and their crew mean that squash harvest is pricey!  Squash must also be “cured” for 7-10 days at 80 to 85 degrees, meaning a grower must hope for late-summer/early fall heat waves or use up high tunnel and greenhouse space for curing.  A good storage facility for long-term storage has temperatures around 50 degrees and 60% relative humidity.  Beyond that, there should be good protection from rodents and the stock should be checked regularly for signs of storage decay, which can spread.

Further resources:

Enjoying and Eating Winter Squash:

pumpkins groupNow that you know the ways that your local farmer is working to bring you these great foods, you’re probably in the market for a few good techniques to prepare these squashes.  Some are better for certain applications, and your best bet is to ask a farmer about how watery/dry the flesh is, and how sweet/savory the flavor.

To roast small squash (Delicata, Acorn and Carnival varieties), you can split them stem-to-end, scoop out the flesh, and rub them with just a little fat, salt and seasoning (see below for ideas).  For larger varieties, peel and cut the squash into chunks or slices and massage with the oil and seasoning combination, then bake until tender.  Bake halves on a tray (line with parchment or foil, or just embrace the scrubbing you may need to do later) cut-side down in a 400 degree oven until you can pierce the skin with a fork and find soft flesh underneath.  Make a whole batch of roasted squash, and see all the ways that it can feed you.  Intact but cooked-through and chilled squash pieces even work well in salad, and any amount of cooked flesh can be dumped into simmering broth, then pureed into soup.

The drier fleshed squashes can be sliced very thinly and added to skillet sautees and even stir-fries (make sure they get good browning in a hot pan with oil, and that they cook through).

All squash will steam up nicely, cubed, sliced or chunked.  Keep an eye on it to keep it from disintegrating (use it for soups and better-than-potato mashes if you end up with too-soft pieces).  Pile some cooked beans and salsa atop, dress simply with olive oil, or add to a pasta dish.

A pressure cooker (assuming it’s the right size) makes quick work of halves and quarters of squash.  Just 10 minutes atop a steam insert is really all it takes.  Add some strong herbs into the steaming water for a lovely infusion of flavor.

Try these flavor combinations with squash:

  • olive oil, black pepper, garlic paste, and rosemary
  • sesame oil, maple syrup, and miso paste or soy sauce
  • butter, crushed fresh or dry sage, thyme and honey
  • olive or sunflower oil, crushed hot pepper or chile powder, cocoa powder (not cocoa mix), smoked paprika
  • coconut oil and curry powder or garam masala blends of spices
  • “Pumpkin Spice” mixes tend to include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves; they go well with butter
  • finish any of your squash dishes with chopped and toasted nuts or (appropriately) pumpkin seeds or something creamy

Make your own pumpkin puree (via Local Kitchen, the key is straining out lots juice from the cooked flesh, then it will act much like the canned type, but with local flavor!)

Variety guide (Co+Op)

See the ode to winter squash (and all Cucurbitaceae) in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.

Tips for cutting the tough and dense raw fruits abound on YouTube: Soften the skin in hot water (Down to Earth Organic & Natural), navigating the butternut shape (Chef Tips), Use the microwave (CHOW)

More fun recipes: Pumpkin Spanikopita (Local Kitchen), Butternut Squash and Kale Beef Stew (Girl Meets Paleo), Red Kuri Creme Fraiche Pie (Co+Op), Roasted Winter Squash Salad (101 Cookbooks)

Lots of Locavores in the Kitchen

By Tess Gee, Locavore Challenge Intern

Every group of friends has that one thing they all bond over. Maybe it’s a TV show, playing a certain sport, or a favorite band. With my friends, it’s food. Whenever we get together, at one point someone usually asks when the food is either arriving or going to be made. All of us love to cook, and some of us cook for a living, so our meals are never casual and the old saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” takes true form.

Cooking is therapeutic for me; it is similar to watching a seedling grow from start to finish to produce a flower or hearty vegetable. I love the entire process, from buying fresh ingredients to the end result on the kitchen table. And finding a great group of people that have the same ideals feels even better. Making brunch together is one of the best meals I make with my friends. It usually begins with a late, frantic rush to the market on a Saturday or Sunday morning. After we regroup, we all take stock of what we have and start brainstorming our menu. Eggs are always in someone’s bag, along with tons of veggies to add to the beaten eggs for an on-the-fly frittata or crustless quiche. [Editor’s suggestion: try this Soft Boiled Egg Breakfast Salad for a new brunch favorite].

eggs

We end up with more fruit than we know what to do with, so a massive fruit salad is ever-present. And someone usually ends up buying some yummy cookies or sweet bread to top it all off. Foraging at the market with a group is beneficial to both sides involved. We get a fresh meal that we can feel good about eating, and our local farming community keeps thriving. It’s a win-win.

Laura Knight (13)Cooking with friends is the highlight of my week. Everyone swaps ideas and techniques, there is laughter, shouting, and side debates about how to cut a mango or the best way to caramelize an onion. Creating a meal from scratch with and for people you care about is one of the most comforting things you can do, and a great way to keep connected to each other. Knowing that we are also involving our community by using fresh ingredients from local farms makes it that much better.

A few more autumn recipes that would feed a crowd:

Discovering Joy, Community, and a Healthier Self through Local Food

Sondra Gjersoe is one of the friendly voices you may hear when you dial our general office line.  She’s the Administrative Assistant for NOFA-NY, and when she’s not answering general inquiries, she coordinates Sponsorship and Advertising opportunities, the Locavore Challenge, the Farmers Pledge program, the Neighborhood Farm Share program and so much more!  Here’s her tale of becoming a Locavore.

About a decade ago, I had a bit of a revelation. I had reached an all-time low, the end of a long term relationship, dissatisfaction in my job, a loss of self-identity and self-worth. I would go to work, come home, shut myself off from the world and sit in front of the computer fiddling around until I was so tired I’d pass out. My sedentary lifestyle took its toll on me physically; I reached my heaviest weight ever, and began to have heart palpitations at work when I was moving quickly. This was different from the Sondra I knew I could be.  I come from a long line of mariners (ask me how to pronounce “Gjersoe” the proper way).  My Scandinavian heritage and childhood upbringing instilled in me a great love for the sea, a frolicsome friend full of joy, laughter and mirth… I go there when I’m happy and my spirit longs to be wild and free.  At that dark time in my life, just like other periods of struggle or quiet reflection, I was longing to feel grounded, longing to be reminded of the roots I had forged in my community and longing to share in the creation of new growth.  I knew I had to be willing–nay, eager–to put forth the effort to make positive changes to improve my health, and the pathway seemed to involve connecting to the earth and growing anew.

I eased into it, did some research on nutrition and started changing my diet, incorporating fresh organic foods rich in vitamins and nutrients that boosted my mental health. I began to visit local farmer’s markets and discovered a rich tapestry of life, a community coming together.

So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored "lunchbox" peppers.

So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored “lunchbox” peppers.

I would often strike up conversations with the farmers, learning more about their lives, their passion for farming. There was a sense of coming together and sharing and I found myself filled with inspiration. I started doing things that brought me joy again; cooking new dishes, sewing, yoga, and I bought myself a bike and started cycling.

SondraCycling

The weight flew off, my muscles strengthened, and the feel-good endorphins kicked in.  I was living again, laughing, appreciating the abundance around me. I realized that though the source of the change started within me, I fueled that power to change with healthy, delicious food rooted in a community both vibrant and welcoming.

Stir FrySharing recipes and ideas was important at the start of my locavore journey.  My wok became my best friend as I began to eat more healthy, so I thought I’d link you to a garlic chicken stir-fry recipe.  That said, I don’t worry too much over recipes–technique is more important than what can look like lengthy ingredient lists.  [Editor’s note: if you want more recipes and technique guidance, Serious Eats will walk you through all the ways to maximize flavor while you choose which local and organic produce and meats to use as the star players].  I prefer to play “mad scientist” with what’s available and seeing what I come up with.  It’s part of the fun of taking ownership over my healthy lifestyle.

How a Reformed Tomato Hater Preserves Tomato Bliss

BIG Brandywine!

BIG Brandywine!

When I was young I hated tomatoes.  You know the kind I am talking about.  They were packed three to a plastic tray and wrapped in cellophane.  They were pale red on the outside and almost transparent on the inside, and they were hard.  So hard if you threw one at your brother it wouldn’t break open.  It would hurt.

I remember vividly the first time I tasted a real tomato, picked fresh and sun-warmed directly off the sprawling vine that my neighbor was tending among her flowers.  It was a revelation!  A hefty classic beefsteak that, when sliced, was larger than the bread I used to make my sandwich.  It was bright red throughout, juicy and sweet and slightly acidic.  I was hooked.

From cherries to beefsteaks and from red to yellow, purple, orange, and even black, the tastes and varieties of tomatoes available at our local farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs are astounding and delicious!  As I look at my own garden this year, I am grateful for the farmers and seed savers who have brought back my favorite heirloom varieties that seemed long gone when I was a child.  Who knew tomatoes would become one of my favorite foods?

But here is the problem.  If you are a tomato lover like me, you may have also planted many more tomatoes than you could ever eat.  Even during a harsh growing year like this one and with the late blight finally hitting my plantings, I still have more tomatoes ripening than I can reasonably consume before they go bad.  I can’t stand the thought of wasting a single tomato.  However, the thought of standing over a hot stove, canning or putting up a sauce is well, uninspiring to me!

So here is my solution – slow roasting and freezing

Take any variety and amount of tomatoes you have on hand.  Slice them in halves or quarters if need be, cherries can stay whole.   Put them in a pan, drizzle with good olive oil, add some minced garlic to taste, along with a good grind of sea salt and fresh pepper.    I wait and add herbs later.  Pop the pan in a 300 degree oven for about 2-3 hours, until you see the tomatoes caramelize.  Remove them and when they come to room temperature, pack into the container of your choice and freeze!

Some cold and blustery Friday night in February, when you are settling in for the weekend and in no mood to go out, take this out of the freezer.  It is delicious served with hot fresh pasta, or you can chop it up more finely and use it as a topping on any kind of toasted bread – it makes a great bruschetta or pizza depending on the herbs and other toppings you choose.   Now you can enjoy your fresh local tomatoes all year!

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic