This week’s share: Bok choi, Napa cabbage, Cilantro, Cucumber, Garlic, Lettuce, Mint, Sugar Snap peas, Squash, Hakurei turnips
Sometimes people ask what I would do if I were not farming. Well, obviously I would have to spend time going around to farms buying enough vegetables to fill the boxes. Which, come to think of it, would put me more in line with current trends in CSAs. I have a feeling, though, that is not what people mean. I think they want to know how I would fill my days if I did not have to fill the boxes.
I can think of lots of things I would not do: go to meetings; refine organizational flow charts; craft interoffice memos; make sales calls; give motivational speeches; wear a suit; lead team-building exercises; draft reports; fill out forms; amend protocols; assess investment strategies; or really anything that happens in an office. It is not that I consider office work useless or beneath me. I don’t doubt that important and productive things sometimes happen in offices, and some of my best friends work in offices.. But offices don’t work for me. They are not the right habitat. It would be like asking an orangutan to live on the Steppe. What would he do with those arms?
Maybe 20 years ago I could, grudgingly, have learned to adapt, changed my ways. But all this farming has left me, I feel sure, permanently unfit for normal jobs. I dress like a homeless man, often, frankly, smell like a homeless man, have the social habits of some shy nocturnal creature. I read a quote in Burt Shavitz’s obituary that he considered it a good day when nobody came and he did not have to go anywhere, and while it only reinforced his image as a cranky loner, it sounded pretty reasonable to me.
Not that I am alone on the farm, or even notably cranky–though I aspire to be. And not all kinds of farming disqualify you from regular employment. There are farmers who spend their days in offices selling stuff and watching the futures market and coordinating with the HR department and logistics staff. I used to receive–I don’t know why–American Vegetable Grower, which had a cover photo on one issue of the farmers of the year, three Florida brothers standing in a parking lot in front of their multistory corporate headquarters.
But for those of us engaged in hands on farming, life is rather more corporeal than corporate. And somehow that work seems slowly to wear away your tolerance for what makes much of modern office life possible. Or maybe farmers just come that way to begin with, and the repetition of farming just turns tendencies into hardened features, like bone spurs.
Whatever the case, I feel fairly certain if I folded up the boxes for the last time I would not switch to any sort of regular job. Mostly likely I would put in a big vegetable garden, learn to make pickles, put up fencing around the field by the pound and raise a few sheep, clear hedgerows, try welding, go for walks, attempt to master some Szechuan dishes, read more books, get a new flock of chickens and generally continue to make myself unkempt. None of which, I admit, sounds much like a job, much less a career. But then it is, I think, long past the time I could really consider having either of those.
Vegetable notes: As you probably know, you can eat the whole Sugar Snap pea. In fact, you can just snack on them right out of the bag. They are pretty good raw. Better, though, cooked. Cooked, but not overcooked. Steam them too long and they start to get mushy. Two or three minutes is enough.
The same, roughly, goes for the Napa cabbage. Not that I suggest steaming it. But I do recommend cooking it only briefly. It is tender enough that it just needs a few minutes to wilt slightly. Ideally, it will keep a little of its crunchiness. Try tossing it quickly with some sautéed onion and bacon and adding a little vinegar and maybe a few hot pepper flakes. Or wilt it and mix in some crushed garlic, chopped mint and cilantro, and maybe a bit of lime juice.
Speaking of garlic, I am sorry to say our crop did not come through the winter at all well. Which is to say, more than half of it did not come through at all, and rest came up late and has struggled ever since. I don’t expect it will get very large. But it still tastes good. Especially now as green garlic (pulled before the tops start to die back and used before it has dried out for storage). You will find it notably juicy and sweet.
What’s the best way to use up a big bunch of mint? Mint juleps spring to mind. Or at the very least, mint syrup (bring equal parts water and sugar to the boil and simmer for five minutes, then add the minute and let steep until cool), which makes a refreshing drink with soda water or lemonade.