This week’s share: Basil, Beets, Garlic chives, Dill, Endive, Kale, Koji, Lettuce, Scallion, Squash
As a rule I strongly approve of those who widen their taste in vegetables. I like to hear from members who have happily discovered a new vegetable or even found that they like something they thought they did not. My own wife believed she disliked beets until I started growing them and she learned that fresh beets bear little resemblance to the things she had been served at her grade school cafeteria. And while my older son is a reasonably accomplished guy and soon to be 20, I remain particularly proud of the time when he announced at the age of three that he likes turnips (and I don’t think he has gone back on that opinion since).
I have an obvious commercial interest in people eating a wide range of vegetables (I am assuming such people also end up eating more vegetables rather than just having increasingly small portions of more and more different crops). But I like to think I am in favor of broad vegephilia for other reasons too. Such as the feeling that an openness to new things suggests a more tolerant approach to the world, and god knows we could use a little more tolerance. Or that an enthusiasm for discovery suggests an active mind, and it seems we could certainly have more of those. Or that the ability to take pleasure in something as simple as a vegetable suggests an aptitude for contentment, and we could all learn to be a little more content with our lot.
But more than any grandiose dyspeptic social theory, it really comes down to the fact that I like eating all sorts of vegetables, even sometimes fennel. That is why I farm, and farm they way I do. Liz tells me from time to time that I ought to pare down my crop list, concentrate on a few crops well suited to my soils. But what crops would I jettison? I have tried a pretty broad range of crops over the years and I can think of four that I don’t plant any more. I cannot even make myself stop trying to produce artichokes, despite the obvious difficulties of that undertaking. It may not be fully efficient, but I like having a wide array of crops. And I like giving them to people who feel more or less the same way about them–and if giving people a wide array of crops helps them to discover a taste for a wide range of crops that is particularly satisfying
Given all that, I suppose I ought to feel rather pleased with the deer around here, who have decided this year to start eating all sorts of crops they normally would not touch. For 20 years they have had fairly consistent preferences: chard, beets, lettuce, endives, carrots, soy beans. And when they cannot get at those (because we have moved those crops into field houses or put up electric fence or sprayed repellant) they will eat dill and parsley and beans and peas and celery and artichokes, And in the late fall as they run out of other things they will browse on radishes and pumpkins and maybe even the occasional zucchini.
But this year they have, so far, eaten the tops off about a third of the outside tomatoes, browsed the ends of the potato rows, had a go at some pepper plants and even snacked on a few onions. Well, bravo deer. You have really expanded your palate.
I cannot help wondering what has come over them. Tolerance, curiosity and contentment no doubt. But I feel like something else must be going on too. Are these different deer? Has some new herd moved into town, immigrant deer with their own peculiar eating habits? Or just a new generation, hipster deer caught up in their own foodie enthusiasm for everything fresh and local, snapping pictures of the tomato plants on their cell phones before tucking in. Or have they started to sense the change in the climate? Perhaps the weird winters and increasingly violent storms are starting to freak them out, and they realize they are going to have to change their habits to adapt to whatever exactly this is.
That or, being deer, they are just looking for new ways to irritate me. Sure, digging up carrots and destroying row covers may still get a rise out of me after all these years, but if you keep going back to the same tricks they start to lose their power. So they have decided to mix things up a bit. If deer can chortle, that is what I would hear them doing in the dark as the ravage the tomato rows. And I seriously doubt they even like tomato plants. If I looked around carefully enough I would find where they spit out the plants.
Which is why I am less than chuffed about the deer broadening their diet. Trying new things is good, but ideally you try them and like them. And if you don’t like them at first, sure, try them again once, maybe even twice more. But at some point, move on. There’s no shame in discovering that you dislike something. Just don’t wreck it for the people who do. That’s just rude. Clearly, I am going to have to be quite stern with these deer. Well, that or just start spraying more deer repellent and hope they develop a taste for something else. Such as weeds.
Vegetable notes: Koji, the head of crinkled dark green leaves and crisp stems, is a new variety somewhere between a bok choi and a tatsoi. You can eat more or less the whole thing, and you can cook it whole. Just steam the whole head until the stems are slightly tender (you don’t want to lose the crunch entirely) and pour over a little chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce and some chopped garlic chives. Or you can cut it apart and add it to a salad, or you could cook it with your beet greens.
As for the beets, you can boil them until a fork slides in smoothly or bake them or roast them or eat them raw. I know most people don’t think of eating them raw, but you can grate them into salad or cole slaw and have the texture of carrots and that good earthy beet flavor.
The head of frilly leaves is frisee endive. You can cook it, but it is really meant as a salad green, especially the paler central leaves. Because it is a bitter green I like to adjust the dressing a bit when I use it, maybe add a little cream or some bacon or even a touch of something sweet to balance the flavors. I know a lot of people choose to accomplish more or less the same thing by not using adding the endive in the first place, but I think it makes salad a little more interesting.