This week’s share: Arugula, Beet greens, Dill, Garlic scapes, Lettuce, Onions
A couple of weeks ago we cleaned out the winter kale patch in one of our greenhouses. The kale, inspired by the lengthening daylight, had given up on leaf production and sent up tall spikes of yellow flowers (quite delicious, and sadly rather too delicate to send out in the share). We yanked the plants out by the armful and started tossing them over the fence to the donkeys, who had come to see what treats we had in store for them.
We clean out plants from the greenhouses fairly regularly during the season. We try to keep the houses as full as possible. That quarter acre of soil in the houses–irrigated, protected and heavily amended over the years with tons (literally) of compost is our most productive ground–and our most expensive too, of course, given the cost of the four structures covering it. Making sure we keep those houses full of crops ensures a steady supply of high quality produce and justifies the cost.
So we are often in a house cleaning out some patch to get it ready for another crop, pulling up weeds and stems and bolted plants. And a lot of that material gets fed to the donkeys. Maybe we should compost more of it, turn it back into soil and put it back in the houses. The circle of life and all that. But to do that properly, to create excellent compost rather than a weed mess, takes care and time that we cannot necessarily afford. Plus, the donkeys look so sad when we don’t give them treats, and they have a special tragic bray just in case the gloomy demeanor does not get the point across.
The donkeys get these treats regularly enough that they have learned to wander over and wait hopefully whenever they see us go into the greenhouses. Sometimes we are just going to trellis the tomatoes or transplant or pick and have nothing for them. And sometimes we are pulling out things they won’t like, such as radicchio roots or tomato plants–though they have fairly broad tastes when it comes to plants. They are basically goats. I have seen them contentedly chewing on a length of garden hose.
It seemed perfectly reasonable to think they would like the bolted kale. Especially that early in the season, when the only other things we could offer them were an assortment of small weeds. Armfuls of bolted kale ought to make a donkey happy.
They did not. Sean had already given the donkeys two loads of kale when I went over to the fence. I expected to find them happily browsing on it, but they were standing on the other side of the ditch eyeing me dolefully. It was the sort of look you would get from your kid on Christmas after he has opened the large package that he has every right in the world to think will contain his long hoped for dream toy, only to discover an itchy sweater. It is a look that says this is not merely an outrage, it is an injustice. A grand injustice. Dred Scott. Sacco and Vanzetti. The Holocaust. And now this: stalky kale.
The donkeys stared at me in disgust for a couple of minutes and then just walked away. It did not matter what else we had to offer them that day. It was too late.
I fear sometimes that our CSA shares might get the same response. Not that I am exactly comparing you to a donkey or suggesting that we fill your boxes with armfuls of crops long past their prime. But as we do with the donkeys, we aim to give you things you will enjoy eating–though we understand that, like the donkeys, you may not find everything you get delicious. We all have our tastes. I don’t like every crop we grow. We are fine with the idea that, like the donkeys, you may not enjoy turnips and simply choose to nudge them aside while grazing on your share.
We like to believe, however, that by and large you enjoy the crops we send your way and even anticipate them with some relish. But as the donkeys reminded me, there’s always the chance that, despite our best intentions, we will seriously miscalculate somehow. That’s one of the risks of distributing vegetables the way we do. One of the risks, really, of giving others anything rather than having them get their own stuff.
I will live with the risk. Mostly by doing everything I can to reduce it, such as growing a wide range of crops in a wide range of varieties chosen for their vigor and taste, using growing techniques that enhance those crops without harming the place they grow or the people who eat them, and getting them to you as fresh from our fields as possible. All of which our way of distributing vegetables makes easier for us to do.
Plus, even if we do hand out the itchy sweater equivalent of a crop, we will just keep tossing things over the fence, figuring that in the end we will offer up enough good stuff to make it worth wandering back over.
Vegetable notes: Another leafy start to another season. Welcome to vegetable production in upstate New York. Especially in a season when we have had cold nights nearly all spring. Warm days certainly help, but for some reason, warm nights really make a difference. Maybe plants are shy about growing and prefer to do it in the dark.
Which makes what the onions did all the more surprising. I put transplants in the greenhouse late last fall in order to get an early crop. I though that meant we would have nice young onions some time in early July. But the tops on these guys started to go down (a sign of maturity in onions) several weeks ago. This is the earliest by weeks that I have ever pulled onions. Not that I am complaining. I put onions in just about everything I cook so it is nice to have a fresh crop.
I also put garlic in most dishes. This year’s crop looks good, but it is some week away from being ready. What to do? Well, garlic scapes — those odd curly things in your box — will work nicely. They are milder than the cloves so you can put quite a lot in a dish without getting any overpowering garlic taste. I roasted some cauliflower with sliced scales recently. You can also use them raw. I have put them in various salads. And you can just make a dish of them. Cut them into pieces of whatever size catch your fancy and sauté them in olive oil and salt on medium low heat until they are softened and lightly browned.
The scapes would also be good sautéed with the beet greens. You can use the greens in a salad, but I think they are particularly good steamed and then sautéed with garlic and finished with a bit of vinegar and maybe a touch of hot pepper. You can use the whole plant, roots and all.