This week’s share: Arugula, Beets, Cutting celery, Eggplant, Fennel, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Nicola potatoes, Tomatoes, Butternut winter squash
I ran into another vegetable farmer at a land trust event the other day and asked how he was. “Looking forward to a hard frost” was all he said. I know how he feels. In fact, I am sure I have offered the same reply to that question too. But do we really mean it or is it just a bit of rueful farmer humor?
The answer to that question is, of course, yes.
We certainly do look forward to that first real crop killing freeze. It is not that we hate all those summer crops. We are just sick of them by the middle of October. They are like a good friend who has out stayed his welcome.
You work so hard to prepare for those crops. You start the seedlings in March and tend them in the greenhouse for two months and prep the beds and set out the seedlings and put out row covers and put up trellis and pick off bugs and pull out weeds. By the end of June you cannot wait for those crops to arrive. And every year, it is still a bit of a thrill to go out and get that first harvest of tomatoes or eggplants or even zucchini. It starts slowly. Maybe just a handful of cherry tomatoes that you eat right there by the vines, or a couple of Asian eggplants that have somehow managed to size up improbably early. Small omens of the bounty (one hopes) to come. And then it comes and you are picking tubs of these crops every week (three times a week in the case of zucchini) and the abundance causes a tinge of thrill too, though muted by the work required. And the days grow shorter and the fatigue seeps into your body and you are still out there picking flat after heavy flat of tomatoes and buckets of spiny stemmed eggplants and those damn zucchini. You have brought in the winter squash. There are piles of onions to clean. The geese are migrating to their winter grounds. And you are still out there on your knees, the morning chill sinking into your joints, picking peppers that continue to flower as though they will just go on producing forever. You start to wonder if you could bring yourself to mow them down, though you know you won’t. You have put too much work into these crops to do them in yourself. But you hope someone else will.
Someone else will: the climate. In a warmer place one might have to keep harvesting these crops. But here we have until the second or third week of October–until the weather shifts and an arctic chill descends on us, as it did last weekend. Oh, I suppose we could have taken extreme measures, wrapped up the eggplant in multiple layers of heavy duty row cover and kept them going a little longer. But the rewards would have been meager, and anyway it was time for them to go.
Though of course once you see that first freeze warning in the forecast you start scrambling to salvage as much as possible, stripping the doomed plants, taking even the green tomatoes and tiny eggplants. There’s no time for anything to ripen and these are the last summer crops you will pick for many dark, grim, tomatoless months. Not that such a thought spurs you on to do anything to save the plants. A killing frost is a message that cannot be ignored. It is time to move on, time to fill the cooler with root crops, plant the garlic for next season, put in the last cover crops and start on the repairs and construction you had to put off all summer while you harvested zucchini.
So am I glad to be free of these crops or glumly resigned to their fate? Yes.
Vegetable notes: Those green tomatoes are not some green variety, just unripe tomatoes. And why have we given you unripe tomatoes? The simple answer is because we picked them before the frost and had a lot. The more relevant answer is that you can eat them. I would not particularly recommend them raw, though I suppose one could make an interesting salsa with them, a little bit like a tomatillo salsa in flavor I would think. Mostly I would recommend fried green tomatoes (slice them, dip them in egg and then in cornmeal and fry them gently until the crust has browned and the tomatoes are a little soft). I had an excellent fried green tomato po’boy with remoulade n New Orleans that would certainly be worth recreating.
The pointy red peppers in the box are Newmexes. I had one last night that actually had a noticeable heat. Maybe the decided to get a little hotter at the end, but I think they are mostly quite mild.
I would offer suggestions for what to do with the fennel (the heavy white thing) if I ever prepared fennel. but I am not particularly fond of it and Liz dislikes it. I can say that if you use it raw it has a nice crunch, and that I once had a fennel gratin that was not bad despite the fennel.