At Market this Week: Nettles!

There are a few items we choose to bring to market that we wild harvest from our property because they are delicious(most importantly) , super nutritious (like out of this world nutritious), and also (very kindly) fill seasonal growing gaps for us.  We do “cultivate” these wildings, clearing the areas where they grow or maintaining stands of them specifically for harvest, and we are always thankful to have such an abundance of them when we do.  In the early spring, when our over wintered vegetables are well harvested and new plantings are young, we are blessed with fresh growing nettles, perfect for nettle pesto and just in time to start getting the farmer’s body ready to battle pollen season.  In the summer, we harvest lamb’s quarters, a non-bitter tasting green that thrives in warm weather when our spinach has called it quits until fall and the kale has reached its height of “summer” flavor (not at all as sweet as in the colder months).

We never harvest a ton of these, but they are always a hit.  Some people already know how good they are for you and appreciate the chance to eat these nutritional powerhouses.  Other customers love their taste and will request them again and again.  We enjoy them in their season, and making nettle pesto is something we do every year.  It was the first recipe we tried the first time we ate nettles, back in the wilds of Colorado, with the encouragement of an old friend who not only gave us a taste for wild harvested weeds and king boletes, but also inadvertantly planted the seeds of our future–he had just returned to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest where he was working on a farm and we had many lively conversations with him about farming and this neck of the woods.

I was hesitant then, but the pesto was delicious and didn’t sting a bit.  We love it so much that we rarely make anything else with our nettles, aside from drying them for  tea.  But they really can  be used like any other cooking green, braised and finished with a bit of lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, or added to soups or sauteed and tossed with pasta.  But this is important–they must be cooked!  Between the soaking and washing we give them, and some cooking, even a light steaming, they will be sting free; but handling them out of the bag from our market stand with your hands will give you small stings.  We just dump them from the bag into the pan and steam them until they wilt, then cool them and proceed to make our pesto.  This blanching preserves their nice bright green color too.

We have always been fascinated by the high levels of nutrients in wild plants, so much higher than those cultivated by humans, even plants cultivated with as much love and care and attention to soil health as we give our plants.  This is one of the reasons we really attempt to mimic nature as much as is possible, keeping it as our growing model in as is applicable to our very human endeavor.  Nettles are really high in many minerals, including iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and nettles are often used to help with anemia.  I personally use them as a general blood builder and as a concentrated source of minerals during pregnancy and while nursing (though please speak with your health care provider before using if you are pregnant or nursing!) and for the kids.  They help lesson your bodies immune response to allergens, and the farmer uses them in the early spring to help prevent or lessen his immune response to pollens later in the season.

This nettle season, encouraged by a friend and our own gut feeling, we are going to try to eat nettles even more than we normally do.  They are recommended to help protect the body from radiation, and just in case we are coming into contact with more unfriendly radiation than we want, we will be trying out some different ways to cook nettles this year. Either way, we feel extra thankful to have such an abundance of this healthful and tasty green this spring.  Head out to the woods and wild forage some for yourself if you are feeling adventurous, or if you want to keep it simple, stop by our market booth at The Market this month and grab a bag.  Either way, enjoy the tastes of spring both wild and tame!

The first frost and what’s left of summer

Despite the warm weather most of these days and nights (even now, with the rain), we had our first frost in our lower field, a natural cold sink where all the cool air flows to at night.  It wasn’t a hard freeze, but it was enough to kill the winter squash plants and the tomato and pepper plants that were growing in that space.  We hadn’t yet harvested the winter squash because they were a little behind this year, and just two weeks ago they were not yet ripe.  Thankfully, by the frost most had ripened, and we got a good harvest, our best yet.  Now they are curing, although we have started eating the acorn and delicata squash–yum!!

We pulled all the ripe peppers as well, and both ripe tomatoes and any that had started to turn in color.  Those unripe ones will finish ripening in storage.  Thankfully, we had tomatoes planted in our upper field too, so there are a lot still on the vine, and those are covered, so the first early frost we get in that field (most likely in the next few weeks) won’t kill those plants and we should have tomatoes for quite a while still.

The rest of the early fall glut is slowing down though, just like that.  This week we didn’t bring cucumbers or summer squash to market for the first time since they started this summer.  It always surprises me how fast this happens, and I joked with the farmer that he should have warned me–I want to know when I am eating the last of something for the year.  Even when I take great pains to enjoy every flavor while it is in abundance, I would pay special attention to that last bit of something for the year!  Luckily, I am sure the kids and I can go glean some of these vegetables for ourselves, since they really are not completely done, just not prolific enough anymore to take the time to harvest for market or the CSA.

 

 

So this week, I plan to enjoy the last tastes of summer:  a few more meals of White Lebanese summer squash, simply sliced and roasted with olive oil and sea salt (everyones favorite!) or stuffed (so good!) and yellow summer sqaush diced and sauteed until browned. A few more cucumbers to throw on our salads and as many more as there are eaten out of hand by the children.  Eggplant in some of the last few eggplant recipes I wanted to try this year:  this and this!  And also in some of our favorites that we haven’t yet made this year:  moussaka and white bean and roasted eggplant dip (since as much as I love eggplant, I don’t love baba gonoush).  These alongside yummy winter squash and apple cider soups, turnip and turnip greens soup, and roasted pear, arugula, and balsamic vinegar salads.  The best of both worlds for another week, two if we are lucky!  And then it will be good-bye to summer meals for a good eight months;  it’s no wonder summer veggies are so prolific in their turn, they really have such a short window of time to bear fruit.

At market and in the farm kitchen this week

Pickings were slim this week at our market booth and a few others as the cool weather and gray days were again here more than gone.  We could hardly believe that there was so little growth from last week’s harvest to this week’s.  This happens in early spring, but the pace of growth usually continues to get faster and faster as we approach the summer solstice.  The longer days usually mean more sun and warmer temps, but not so this spring.  We have had funny (although really, not so funny) conversations with a few other farmers, commiserating over wet fields that can’t be tilled and spoiling crops and worries about the rest of the season.  There is some solace in this, knowing we are all in the same boat.  It’s wild that in every year of this farming adventure, the weather has provided such a hurdle in one way or another.  It is one of the constants of farm life, I suppose.

Still, the farmer keeps smiling; and as hard as it has been to have lower than average harvests (and thus, sales) at market this first month, the CSA harvests have been good.  And as much as I go back and forth these days, becoming irrationally worried that it really will never warm up this year…I am sure that it will (right?)!  Either way, we are happy that we plant diversely enough to squeak by even if we had a crazy year that just stayed cool.

Even this guy, who is ever so serious as you can see, isn’t too worried even though each week he struggles to find enough flowers to fill his bouquets and this year’s annual flower  seed plantings are no more than an inch high and only barley inching there way higher each week.

In the meantime, market shoppers, CSA members, and us alike are all eating well from the springtime bounty that the earth is providing.  Salad turnips, eaten peeled and whole by the children, or sliced and added to our salads, or in tasty recipes like this turnip slaw (minus the sweet pepper), are so good.  We also saute them a lot, simply by themselves as a side dish, or in a dish such as this, with chard..mmm.  The turnip greens are some of our favorites, too.  They end up in soups or curries, lending to dishes their small mustard tang and nutritious greens goodness.

Kohlrabis are one of those fun, unique vegetables that are such a joy to look at, and after peeling away all those knobs and the thick outer skin, make a mama’s life easy by being a fast snack to set on the table, tasty just to munch on as they are.  But since we end up with so many, we use them in many of the same ways we use salad turnips as well.  Grated and made into kolrabi slaws with turnips or alone, or used as you would cucumbers in the summer to make this yummy salad.  Someone just mentioned to us at market this week that when they lived in Germany, in the winter they always made that sweet, creamy cucumber salad we all love in the summer with turnips instead.  We are trying it with the kohlrabi this week!

Spring always means lots of parsley and green onions, thrown in many, many dishes, but especially any kind of cold vegetable or grain salad (our go to market day make ahead lunch standbys).

And of course, sweet, beautiful lettuces!  This we eat for the rest of the season, but it is always the best in the spring, after a winter without lettuces.  And, for Farmer’s market shoppers, it is always nice to be able to get good quality meat easily each and every week.

Spring, too, brings about the time when our family begins to harvest some of the years first meat chickens and some of last year’s baby goats, finished on freshly growing spring green growth.  And finally, after almost a whole year, the last half of our spring piglets from last year were processed as well.

We don’t eat a lot of meat, and we especially don’t in the winter unless our freezers are stocked from our farm or others sources we trust.  We round meals out with legumes a lot of times, but we also can’t eat wheat and dairy, and most other grains aren’t really very good for us either, so good meat is definitely a spring blessing for us.

And we have, of course, been enjoying those special treats of spring that we don’t yet have growing on our farm.  We picked up asparagus last week, roasted it and swooned.  And strawberries, twice a week, from each market, get brought home and devoured.  We planted both of these crops this year.  The strawberry planting looks good, the asparagus…questionable.  We will just have to wait and see next year.  This year, we are waiting, as well.  Waiting for summer to come, but enjoying what we have right now as well.

Gratitudes

After this week’s pick-up, we will have just three more pick ups for 2009! It is hard to believe; like this summer, the fall season is just flying by. And although not much needs to happen in that time in the fields, we do have to finalize and bring together all the details for 2010 in just a few weeks. The planning happens, in many ways, all season long as we respond to the way things unfold, always looking for ways to improve our service and find the things that work best for our farm, its land and its folks. We are already so excited for next year, and are happy to be bringing this year to an end with abundance and a feeling of success with small but measurable growth!

And since this is Thanksgiving week, here is a list of some more of the things we are thankful for, in addition to the above, that we will fill our gratitude tree with this week:

*Our family, our togetherness, letting the world rush by without us.

*So much laughter…our house is the funny house.

*Fresh paint

*Good books and great music

*Ever improving soil and more wiggly worms.

*Baby goats and farm fresh eggs.

*Friends, past and present, that make life so rich.

*A bustling market stand and busy Farmer’s market.

*Heater-Allen Brewing

*The best CSA members ever!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you all so much for being a part of this adventure with us!

Staying Healthy

I spent most of this week on the farm tending to fevers and sore heads, throats, and tummies. As terrible as that sounds, the farmer was better by day 3, the kids each after 1 or 2 days. We made lots of chicken soup from Kookoolan Farms’ birds with lots of veggies to make a rich, healthy, and healing broth. We sipped tea with some of the elderberry syrup we made at summer’s end for just such occasions, and we took hot baths and rested. In the end, we were happy that it was over quickly and that it wasn’t too bad.

We tend to look to food for our vitamins and minerals and medicines, and I feel blessed to be able to continue to eat fresh, nutritious vegetables through the fall and winter, times when our bodies are called on to fight off the colds and flus that come during this time of year. All growing vegetables and fruits begin to lose nutritive value once they have been picked, and they also will not reach their maximum nutritive value if they are picked under ripe to make it through shipping and handling to stores far and wide. And although each season offers its own set of repeating foods, we hope that with your CSA share you notice a rainbow of colors, from dark leafy greens to bright orange carrots and squash, with red, cream, purple, and white roots. All of these provide a well balanced supply of various vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. There are, no doubt, always many pieces to the pictures of our health, and colds and flus are hard to avoid, but I hope that you are staying well and enjoying the bit of natural medicine the healthy and tasty produce we share together provides!