This week’s share: Thai basil, Chard, Kohlrabi, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Snap peas, Radishes, Squash, Turnips
My farm is teeming with immigrants. From South America and China, India and Europe, the Middle East and Mexico. These aliens have turned up on our shores with their own sometimes peculiar tastes, odd looks, distinct habits, special needs. Some of them are full of vigor and set about outcompeting the natives. Others require constant care to survive at all. They have been here for years or only just made it to our shores. Some have entered our culture easily, some have had to work their way in, some linger on the margins, never fully accepted.
Have they wrecked our country, caused us to slip from our former greatness, debased our purity, taken opportunities from those who belong here? Maybe we should we pack them all up and send them back to their own lands.
Call me crazy, but I think not. Far from wrecking anything, these immigrants have added enormously to our lives, adding variety and complexity and real economic benefits, and just generally making things more interesting. Plus it would be really tough to round them all up and send them home, and if we somehow managed to do that we would quickly find that we missed them.
Just in case anyone thinks I have opened a refugee camp, let me clarify that I am talking about vegetables. I am tempted from time to time to take in some family fleeing one horror or another, let them pursue their agricultural lives in peace. For the moment, however, and rather less nobly, I have just taken in their crops: beets, tomatoes, garlic, kale, potatoes, broccoli, lettuce, parsley, carrots, onions, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, radishes, rutabagas, cabbages, peas, turnips, dill, currants, leeks, kohlrabi, cauliflower. Actually, it would be easier to list the crops that don’t come from elsewhere. It is a short list. Squash and pumpkins, beans and husk cherries, sage and… well, that may be it.
It is not that there are no other edible natives. People lived here for thousands of years before the cucumber showed up and they must have had a few green things to go with their giant ground sloth. If you want to get some idea of the variety out there, take a walk around the farm with Sean, who spend many evenings gathering wild crops from the woods and streams and hedgerows–and even some of the weeds from our fields.
You might be surprised how much is out there. Young cattail shoots and day lily roots and ramps and hickory nuts. Though you might also be surprised by the effort required to get enough of these crops (well, other than the edible weeds, which we have in dismaying abundance) to make anything like a meal. An evening of foraging will net Sean a small bag of goodies. I can pick enough lettuce for all of you in half an hour.
I suppose there is something attractive about the idea of making do with what you find right around you. It sounds sustainable and simple and natural and balanced, a sort of ideal self-sufficiency. But what’s wrong with a little help from others, especially when that help tastes as good as a tomato or garlic. And anyway, this idea of things belonging immutably to a particular place–of true natives–is nonsense. We have all been moving around for eons, peoples and plants and microbes sweeping across continents, changing what they encounter and being changed by it.
Of course, Japanese eggplants and Peruvian tubers coming to live in my Easton fields causes fewer social problems than, say, thousands of Syrians fleeing through Europe. But this vegetable melting pot I call a farm does remind one that things tend not to stay put, for which we human beings bear a huge portion of the responsibility, and that we have consequently benefitted as well as suffered. Choosing a moment in time and declaring it the point of equilibrium may impose some desired order on the chaos we inhabit. But it is a fiction, and most often told for no good purpose. Better, it seems to me, to accept the change as generously as possible, set aside a little ground to give the newcomers a place to grow. It will cost space and time and effort, but it may well improve your life too.
Vegetable notes: As always, I make my plea on behalf of your snap peas. Do not cook them for more than a couple of minutes. They just need to turn bright green. Nothing more. Well, a little salt. But that’s it. Cook them longer and they turn from snap peas to mush peas.
As you can see, the squash patch has hit its stride. Opinions vary about whether or not that is a good thing. You may start to get tired of them in a few weeks. We, most likely, will get tired of picking them. But they are a versatile vegetable. I think of them as sort of vegetable pasta. They go well with all sorts things. I think, though, that they may be best grilled, marinated (olive oil, vinegar, smoked paprika, basil, garlic, salt and pepper) and eaten cold, in particular as an addition to a sandwich. Just about any sandwich. Maybe not peanut butter and jelly (I dare some one to try it).
Thai basil can be used in place of the more familiar Italian, and obviously it goes well in Thai dishes. It’s also good in various desserts or infused in simple syrup and mixed into various drinks (try it with bourbon for a start).
As many of you may recall, we had a terrible garlic crop last season. I am happy to say this year’s crop looks much better. Well, you can see for yourself. Right now the heads are uncured (we dug these bulbs a couple of days ago), which means the cloves are a little milder and a lot juicer. The garlic would go well with some sautéed chard.
The kohlrabi (round green object) is, I think, best just peeled and sliced up and eaten raw so it is still crunchy. But if you don’t like crunchy you could cut it into chunks and steam it.
On a general note, any pockmarks you might notice on your produce are the result of the hail we got last Friday. As hail goes, it was not bad, but ice pellets blown into vegetables at 50 miles and hour do tend to leave a mark.