After last year's wet, wet Spring, I never thought I would say this, but boy-oh-boy, did we need rain.
And yesterday, it came. In the perfect amount. At the perfect speed. The rain gods, who never have really like me, smiled upon us yesterday. Who knew a simple day of rain could make a person giddy. But it did and we are off to a great week.
This past Wednesday and Thursday were our first CSA pick-up days of the season.
One of my favorite things to put in the baskets are garlic scapes. I like to put them in the baskets because they are unusual. Many of our shareholders have never used them before. To me, that is what a CSA is all about -- trying new things. Things you might never have seen or even knew you liked.
Scapes are the flowering stalks of the garlic plants. They are usually cut off the plant so more of the plant's energy can go to the bulb, which is normally the part you eat. You don't usually see scapes in grocery stores -- and that's a downright shame.
Scapes have a slightly less intense garlic flavor than the bulb. Most people treat them like a green onion. I have a restaurant friend that turns them into garlic scape pesto -- and let me just say yum!
There are so many delicious and perfectly edible parts of plants that we, as a culture, typically throw away because of lack of knowledge. You can bet that in parts of the world where food is scarce that a garlic scape would never go uneaten!
The same holds true for radish greens.
This week, our CSA baskets held a nice bundle of French Breakfast radishes, greens attached. Sure, you could cut off the tops and just eat the radishes. But we like to cook our radish greens in a little olive oil and then toss them in with the radishes, which we've roasted. A bit of salt and pepper and you've got yourself an outstanding side dish.
Poach an egg and put it over the cooked radishes (with our without the greens), and you've got yourself an entire meal. An easy, low in calorie high in flavor and nutrition meal. It really doesn't get any easier than that.
Strawberries are in season and are sweet and juicy. The lettuce is still tender and oh-so flavorful.
Remember those dark, cold days of Winter, when you longed for a fresh vegetable that wasn't shipped to Ohio from Florida or California. A vegetable that tasted like a farm-fresh, real-life vegetable. Well its time folks.
If you don't belong to a CSA, go to a farmer's market. Buy something fresh and in season. Look for lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, strawberries, spinach, kale, garlic scapes, green onions and new potatoes.
Let the healthy eating begin!
Heirloom Tomato: An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it's valued characteristics. -- Gary Ibsen, TomatoFest
If that's the definition of an heirloom tomato, then the latest tomatoes going into the garden here at the farm can certainly be considered heirlooms.
These are my five prized tomato plants grown from seed by my Uncle Jim. For more years than he can remember, Uncle Jim has been growing one type of tomato and one type of tomato only. It is this baby, and now I have a few of my own to grow.
Years ago, Uncle Jim's neighbor brought back seeds from Italy of this roma-type tomato, the name of which is long gone. My uncle, an expert gardener with a knack for growing outstanding tomatoes and peppers, fell in love with it's rich, meaty taste and decided to be a one-tomato kinda guy. All other varieties of tomato were banned from his garden so the seeds wouldn't cross pollinate.
Each year, he patiently saves the seeds from his prized tomatoes, fermenting them until the seed has let go its "goo" -- the gelatinous outer layer covering the seed. He then lays them out on a plate to dry for a few days. When the seeds are bone dry, they go into an old pill bottle and are stored for next year.
In the past, I've enjoyed the abundance of Uncle Jim's garden. And he's right -- these tomatoes are outstanding in flavor and texture. Tomatoes the way tomatoes are meant to be. Not the pretend tomatoes the grocery store sells.
This year, I was lucky enough to receive five of my own plants. Plants that have gone into the farm's herb garden so they are far away from the hundreds of other tomato plants we grow. I'm not giving them a chance to cross pollinate.
I, too, want to save the seeds of these plants. I want to grow an heirloom tomato that I am personally attached to. A tomato with which I have a history. While I love each and every tomato variety we grow, I know these are going to be my "babies."
In anticipation of tomato season and warm tomatoes fresh off the vine, we made a batch of chive blossom vinegar.
Our CSA members will be recieving a bottle in their baskets this week.
If you have chives blooming in your garden, go out now and cut them.
Early in the morning, when the chive blossoms haven't yet lost their oils to the heat of the day, cut off the blossoms. Rinse them in water then put them in a large glass container. Cover with white wine venegar and put the bottle in the sun. After a day or two, strain off the blossoms and the result is a slightly onion/garlic flavored vinegar.
My idea of heaven: chive blossom vinegar mixed with a good olive oil and a dash of sea salt, then drizzled over heirloom tomatoes. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Summer is here folks. Bring on the tomatoes.
The soil is warming up. The seeds are ready to go. Early flats have been planted and some lettuce is already in the cold frames.
That means its time to eat fresh veggies again! "Simply in Season" is an excellent cookbook that contains hundreds of recipes celebrating fresh, local foods. Like the "Spring Greens Salad" with a fresh vinaigrette, or celery seed dressing, or strawberry vinaigrette, or ginger dressing or creamy dressing. That's five ways to eat one salad.
Not to mention the Spring Quiche Trio. And let's not leave out creamed asparagus or fresh pea soup. Not bad. I feel healthier just thinking about it.
To kick-start your spring and summer season of healthier eating, we're offering "Simply in Season" for $15 during the month of March. You'll save $5 off the regular price. Five dollars you can spend on spring greens, or peas, or asparagus.
You can also spend it on candy and ice cream, just don't tell anybody.
Do you remember earlier in the year, in Spring, when I did all that complaining about the never-ending rain and cold weather?
I take it all back. I've changed my mind. It's mid-July and I want rain and 70 degree temperatures. Yes, it rained yesterday for a bit. Just a small bit really. But what I wouldn't do for one of our earlier Spring, all-day soaking rains right about now, followed by a blissful cool day. How quickly I have forgotten!!
The heat-loving plants don't mind our 90 degree days, but that ground says, "Hey lady, how about a drink. Something. Anything. Beer. Vodka. Or even just plain, old water!"
The tomatoes, being less rude than the peppers, aren't screaming (out loud) for water.
But they're thinking it.
The lavender, being proper and oh-so European, said the temperature and water levels are just fine, thank you very much. For those of you looking for a plant that likes hot, dry conditions, let me introduce you to lavender. You'll get along swimingly.
Our first crop of dill is setting its seeds nicely. Earlier in the season, we enjoyed the dill leaves in cheddar biscuits. Now its time to make batches of dill vinegar.
All-in-all, I can't complain. . .
. . and I wouldn't if I were sitting in the luxury of my air-conditioned house.
But it's darn hot out here and I'm cranky.
So I'm going to step back and enjoy a little bit of cuteness. The new chicks are groing up just fine and are now allowed out of the chicken house to explore the great big old world.
No matter how hot it is or how little rain there is, one simply can not be cranky when viewing a baby chicken!
According to several Ohio organizations that keep track of such things, only 11 percent of Ohio's crops are planted so far this year due to rain and saturated fields. Eleven percent. And it's almost June.
This is a statistic that we know all too well at That'll Do Farm. But we want to let our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and roadside stand customers know that we are doing all we can to get our crop in. But expect the season to be about two weeks behind schedule.
The potatoes are, surprisingly, doing quite well. We've spent the last month worrying that the seed potatoes would rot in the ground, but they have shown themselves to be true performers and are going great guns. (Deep worry lines in my forehead were also going great guns. But I can stop growing them now that it looks like the potato crop won't fail!)
Some early varieties of tomatoes and peppers are under these row covers. The rest of the crop has not been planted yet. We put down boards to walk between the rows, but even those are partially under water.
The lettuce, especially that grown in the cold frames, is doing o.k.
The weather this week finally appears to be in our favor. Sunny and warm. Perfect weather for drying out the fields and then for planting.
Today's Guest Blogger is That'll Do Farm's manager, Mike. He recently returned from a trip to Italy where he learned the Italian way of farming and cooking.
If the Italians do one thing right (besides wine), it is preparing fresh food.
Everything I ate on my trip to Italy was - "insert buzzword of choice here -- 'organic,' 'local,' 'pesticide free'"-- but the restaurants hardly even thought to mention it. That was just the way it was. After all, how else would food be? The 'slow food idealogy' is simply a way of life in most of rural Italy. Expected. Not special or unique like it is here in the states.
Our slow food enthusiast group stayed at Peppe Zullo's Villa Paradisio, located in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy.
Peppe's restaurant defined farm to table in every sense of the word - from our table, we could see the trees that produced his olive oil that was used in every dish. Same for the vegetables.
The secret to Peppe's food philosophy is its' simplicity. Not only does he avoid the strange, non-food things that find their way into American cooking (corn syrup, for example), but he uses just a few ingredients fresh from the land, bringing out the flavors of each. No exotic sauces or spices. Simple, "peasant" food that is so bursting with fresh flavor you can hardly believe so much taste can come out of such common ingredients.
I went on the trip with the brother and sister team of Mike and Carmella Fragassi of La Campagna restaurant in Westlake. During one of our meals with Peppe, we realized that we could offer our own Farm to Table dining experience at That'll Do Farm.
With the Fragassi's cooking skills and our farm fresh produce, this Spring, we hope to bring the same freshness in cooking to the farm. Just like in Italy, how and where the food is grown and the lack of miles it travels to get to your plate all contribute to the flavor of the meal.
While Italy is the center of the Slow Foods movement, the idea is certainly growing in the United States. I felt like I was learning from the best, from some of the leaders of Slow Food.
"Whose Your Farmer" has never had more meaning than it does right now.
We'll keep you updated on future Land to Table dinners at the farm.
-- Mike Wargo
Farm friend Sherri came to visit from Portland today.
I've known Sherri for exactly 430 years. That's a long time.
Sherri grew up on a farm here in Northeast Ohio and she's come back to her roots for a few days.
But she did not come empty handed. She brought loot.
This woman is a traveling pro. I want you all to take lessons. If you ever come to stay at the farm, you must bring two bottles of excellent wine, a billion really good chocolate bars from your local gourmet chocolatier, jam featuring fruit from the area in which you live and a leg lamp mug.
Sherri has set the bar pretty high. All future visitors will have to live up to this standard.
Anytime your chocolate is imprinted with the company logo, you know you are dealing with the good stuff. Rich. Creamy. Fill-Your-Senses-Good. Chocolate is an on-going theme at the farm.
The leg lamp mug was a nice touch. I think we'll open the wine and drink it out of this mug. You can never have too much elegance and sophistication at the farm.
But I don't want you to get the idea that today was all about playing and not working. Sherri and I worked very hard today. Somebody had to watch the Farm Manager plant garlic.
We were very good at pointing out exactly where each and every bulb should go. Mark your calendars for July/August 2011. We should have some pretty darn good hardneck garlic ready to harvest.