Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Guajillo Chile Peppers

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
   
Our featured vegetable this week is an exciting one—the beautiful and ever-so-sultry guajillo chile pepper! Pronounced “gwah-HEE-yoh,” we dry ripe, fresh guajillos at the end of the summer so we will have them to enjoy in the winter. Their deep cranberry-red color has made them attractive not only for their culinary uses but also for their ornamental applications. (I’ll admit it—I have a string of these chiles hanging in my kitchen purely for aesthetic purposes.) Guajillos offer a moderately spicy and tangy flavor—you may even pick up on a hint of citrus. The Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of chile peppers, places guajillos somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 units on a scale that—believe it or not—extends beyond one million!
   
According to Rick Bayless, a well-known American chef who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, guajillos are “workhorse chiles with a lot of dazzle.” They are used extensively in Mexican cooking and lend their rich flavor to pastes, butters, and rubs for various kinds of meat. Almost invariably, guajillos are also used in making salsa for tamales. Bayless makes the case for using whole, dried chiles like guajillos and chiles de arbol rather than store-bought powders, insisting that dried chiles bring more spice and freshness to a dish, offering nuances that you would otherwise almost certainly miss. A similar comparison can be made between freshly cracked peppercorns and the shaker-grind variety of pepper that may have spent the last few months hanging out in your pepper jar.
   
While the thought of cooking with whole chiles may seem somewhat intimidating, I promise you that working these ingredients into your culinary routine is much easier than you may think. First off, when working with dried chiles, it’s always a good idea to wear gloves. Once the gloves are on, cut or slice your chile open lengthwise and remove as many seeds and ribs as you can. If you prefer your food spicier, feel free to reserve a few seeds for later. Next up we have the toasting process, which assists in further intensifying the flavor of your chiles. In a dry skillet or frying pan over medium heat, toast chiles for 20-30 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them. At this point, your chiles are ready for reconstitution. Soak the guajillos in warm water for 15-20 minutes and then drain them, discarding the water as it will have taken on a bitter flavor. Now you’re ready to chop, blend, or puree your guajillos. For a step-by-step visual guide, head to YouTube and search for “
The Test Kitchen: How to Clean and Use Dried Chiles—Gourmet Magazine.” If you’re a visual learner, this 3-minute video will be immensely helpful.
   
Guajillos can be used to make traditional Mexican molé, sauces for enchiladas, or incorporate them into tasty soups and stews.  They will keep for more than a year if stored in a dry location.  Feel free to put them in a jar on a shelf where they can be seen and enjoy their beauty until you are ready to use

Second Edition: Meet our Support Team!

By Farmer Andrea

In our last newsletter we featured some of the people we work with regularly to keep our farm running smoothly.  As we made the list of all these people, we quickly ran out of room! This week we want to share more of these people with you and give you a little insight into who they are and why they are important to our farm.  While I won’t be able to mention every individual, I do want to say we are very thankful to have such a wide network of people to help us take care of things.
 

Larry and Jack saying 'Hello' before working!
Let’s start off with two of Jack’s favorite repairmen.   We have a lot of refrigeration units to maintain and they need to work well or we risk losing valuable product.  Larry is responsible for teaching me everything I never wanted to learn about refrigeration!  I do appreciate his patience and thorough explanations that have helped me do a better job of managing our coolers so things run well.  Larry also understands that when I call him I usually have a problem that needs his professional attention and he responds quickly so we can fix the problem without creating more!  Plus, Larry and Capt Jack are great friends and love to squeeze in a game of stick when Larry comes to do work.  Larry breaks all the rules and lets Jack do things he usually isn't allowed to do….like eat an entire package of bologna as a treat!  Thanks, Larry, for being Jack’s big brother.  And then there is Randy, our copy machine repairman.  When Randy comes to fix the copy machine, Jack likes to corner him in the office and ‘invite’ him to play a little ball.  While Randy’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with the copy machine, Jack quietly passes the ball to him and patiently waits for the return.  Randy is kind to Jack and takes a little time to play.  He is always quick to come when we call him and usually can diagnose the problem and fix it quickly….so as not to delay newsletter printing!




Pandora & Clint our Farm Insurance Agents
Adam and Jody our
Health Insurance Agents









Aaron and Greg our CPA's
We feel lucky to have some very knowledgeable folks to help us maneuver the worlds of insurance, banking and taxes.  Pandora & Clint help us with the majority of our farm insurance needs while Adam & Jody take care of health insurance.  These four people attend to all the small details to make sure our policies are up-to-date and are quick to respond if we
have a question.  Sandy & Kathy are the bank gals who make sure our bank accounts are in order and payroll goes through without a hitch.  We also appreciate working with Terry, our banker from State Bank.  In this day and age, it’s unique to be able to work with a community bank where the business stays local and the bankers still will do business at our kitchen table.  And then there’s the dynamic duo of Greg & Aaron, our CPA's.  They deal with all things tax-related and keep us up-to-date on changes to tax laws that impact our business.  We really enjoy working with all of these individuals and are grateful to have them as a resource.




Charlie













Robert (above), Peter & Troy




We can’t forget Charlie, our neighbor, friend, landlord and plumber.  He’s done many a quick repair for us when we have a broken pipe or a leaky valve and he always has a story to go along with the job.  Greg is the guy we call when we have computer repair needs that go beyond what we can diagnose and fix ourselves.  We rely on the use of computers a lot on a daily basis, so when the systems aren't working properly it can really affect our work.  DJ & Mike are our trusty UPS delivery guys who have learned quickly that the most appropriate place to put a box of seeds is NOT in the puddle of water.  Peter, Troy and Robert are some of our longtime truck drivers that work for some of the delivery companies that deliver orders for us to other parts of the region.  They are conscientious, reliable and very skillful drivers.  I appreciate their excellent communication and the care they take in transporting our vegetables.  Since my vegetables are like my children, I appreciate knowing that they are in good hands as they leave our dock and travel out into the big world.
 

Mary Beth                        Carl & Mary Pat
While we spend a lot of time taking care of machines, equipment, vegetables, banking, insurance, etc., we can’t forget about our own health and maintenance!  We've developed relationships with several providers in our community who help us maneuver our own healthcare needs.  Mary Beth, RN & Julie, PA-C work at the Hirsch health clinic in Viroqua.  They are both bilingual and help us triage minor health questions or concerns we or our crew members might have.  They even came to the farm last spring to train us about Lyme’s disease and what to do if you get a tick bite.   Mary Pat & Carl are CSA members who pick up at our farm, but are also chiropractors.  They help keep Kelly, our bookkeeper, in alignment and have helped us find a supplement for Captain Jack to help him treat his achy joints, a result of his own battle with Lyme’s disease.

 
Grace

We should also mention Grace, the gal who comes every week to keep our offices neat and tidy.  Grace doesn’t have an easy job.  There is a lot of traffic in and out of our office space and you have to remember….we work with a lot of dirt.  Grace tackles the job each week and attends to all the small details which leaves us with a clean space. She’s a very talented individual and has helped us with other missions over the years.  She has even repaired my work boots!
 




Dane, Andrea & Sonny                     Greg (aka Eggit)
I’d like to mention our friends, Sonny, John and Greg (aka Eggit) who keep our propane tanks filled and help us troubleshoot problems with furnaces.  Two of our three greenhouses are heated by propane furnaces, so during transplant season we watch them pretty closely.  If one of the furnaces goes down on a cold night, we could lose our precious little seedlings.  These guys understand how important their services can be to our success and are quick to respond when we have an issue.  They've gone above and beyond several times to make sure that our equipment is fixed quickly so we can get back up and running. While they take their jobs seriously and know what they are talking about, they can also joke around and are enjoyable to work with.
 
Once again, I’m out of room.  There are many other individuals who help us out in a variety of ways. While we may not have mentioned them by name, we do appreciate their skills, expertise and contributions to our farm.  We've never done anything like this before, but I’m glad we did.  It was really meaningful for us to take pause and reflect on the many relationships we’ve built over the years.  We really do have quite a network of friends in the business who are important to our farm.  If you haven’t been following us on Facebook, I’d encourage you to take a look.  For the past two weeks we've featured some of these folks in our posts so you can see yourself who they are! www.facebook.com/HarmonyValleyFarm.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Featured Vegetable: Shallots

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz



Our feature this week is the shallot—specifically the French red shallot. These beauts, with their reddish-pink exterior and pale purple-pink flesh, belong to the Allium genus, along with garlic, chives, scallions, leeks and—many a market-goer’s perennial favorite—ramps. Shallots are often regarded as just a fancy type of onion and while they both belong to the same family, shallots differ widely from your typical onion. For starters, they grow in cloves, more similar to garlic than to onions. Some varieties of shallots can contain up to six cloves per head (though I find that I typically uncover two or three), each protected beneath a thin, papery skin. This feature designates shallots as multiplier onions.

Now let’s consider flavor. Shallots, in general, are recognized as having a rather delicate taste. When used raw they bring a subtle pungency to a dish and, as such, are a natural addition to salads, sautés, gratins and vinaigrettes. When soaked in vinegar (if you’re making a vinaigrette, for instance), their flavor will become even more mild. On the other hand, gently cooked shallots become, much like fennel, a very rich and sweet treat. In general, know that you can typically use shallots in place of onions. Be warned though, that despite their delicacy, I often find the tears flowing just as often when cutting and preparing shallots as when working with red or yellow onions. Look to our earlier vegetable feature on onions (from August 29, 2014) for suggestions on how to avoid this.

The name shallot comes from Ashkelon, an ancient Philistine city where the shallot is believed to have originated. From there, merchants transported the shallot to India and the eastern Mediterranean, and by 800, it had been widely popularized throughout France by Emperor Charlemagne. Shallots are frequently used in traditional French sauces for fish and meat. Shallots are also an important feature in Chinese, Burmese and other Asian cuisines. In fact, if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, I would suggest you check out Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid—it’s one of my most valued cookbooks and many of the recipes also prominently feature shallots.

Nutritionally, shallots are an excellent source of iron and dietary fiber, aiding in optimal red blood cell function and digestion, and working to lower blood cholesterol levels. Shallots are also high in potassium, which plays an important role in nerve and muscle cell function and in supporting your body’s metabolism. Shallots should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. If stored in the appropriate conditions, they will keep for several months.

Potted Cheddar with Bacon and Shallots
This recipe is borrowed from www.nourishedkitchen.com.
The combination of bacon, heritage organic, grass-fed cheddar and caramelized shallots blends together beautifully for a satisfying potted cheese spread. It assembles in about a half hour. I spread it against homemade crackers or toasted sourdough bread, or take it along to potlucks and holiday parties.

Yield: about 1 pint

2 Tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (I buy grass-fed organic ghee here.)
8 ounces bacon
2 medium shallots, sliced paper thin
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (I used and recommend Kingdom Cheddar in this recipe.), shredded
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons dry sherry


  1. Melt ghee in a pan and fry bacon over medium-high heat until cooked through and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan, and set the strips on a pan to cool slightly. Drain the bacon fat, and reserve two tablespoons in the pan.
  2. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Toss the shallots into the hot fat, and saute them until deeply fragrant and browned, about 15 minutes.
  3. Combine bacon and cheddar in a food processor and pulse until well-blended. Add the cream, shallots, and sherry to the bacon and cheddar, and continue to process them together until they form a smooth, spreadable paste.
  4. Spoon the cheese spread into a jar or into ramekins, and either serve right away or store, carefully covered, in the fridge for up to a month. Remember to bring the potted cheddar to room temperature before serving, and spread over crackers or bread as an appetizer or starter.


Sherried Mushroom Soup
Recipe from Cooking Light, Annual Recipes 2003.

Yield: 12 servings

Broth:
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 pound shallots, coarsely chopped
6 (14 ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
Remaining Ingredients:
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 4 ounces mushrooms)
¼ cup dry sherry
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
 
  1. To prepare broth, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add thyme and shallots; cook 10 minutes or until shallots are golden brown. Stir in broth and porcini mushrooms; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. 
  2. Return broth to pan. Stir in shiitake mushrooms and sherry; cook 10 minutes over low heat. Stir in chives. Serve immediately. 


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Who Else Makes This All Possible? Meet Our Support Team!

By Farmer Andrea

There are many facets of expertise required to run a vegetable farm, and we certainly aren’t experts in all of these different areas. In the course of our work, we turn to many other very talented individuals who help us keep things running smoothly. It’s important to like the people you work with, and as we reflect on all the people who contribute to our farm we have quickly realized that we are blessed to work with many excellent individuals. We also feel that it’s important to support local businesses and as a result we’ve developed many longstanding relationships with many local businesses in our community. We value these relationships as they come to know what we need and understand that sometimes we have important, time-sensitive needs. They are often able to make suggestions that help us improve our farm and benefit us in the long run. We really appreciate being able to work with so many good people and want to take time this month to say thank you to as many of these people as we can and share a little glimpse of just who all these people are!

Mark and Al keep things "rolling"with tires for the farm!
Lets start with Mark & Al, two guys who have been with our farm for a long time. Mark & Al are our go-to tire experts. We have a lot of tires, specifically large tractor tires, rolling around our farm and it is inevitable that sometimes you’ll get a flat. Mark has been selling and repairing tires for us since Richard first started farming here in 1984. While he now works at our local Cenex station, Richard did business with him for about 10 years when Mark worked with a different company. About 20 years ago Mark decided to start working for Cenex. When Mark moved, we moved with him. We have committed to buying all of our tires through him. He also sources all of our batteries and makes hydraulic hoses for us. He knows more about tires, rims, tubes, stems, hoses, connectors and a whole host of things that, at the end of the day, allows him to source the best products & parts for our needs...and in a very timely manner. And then there is Al, the repair guy who actually comes to the farm to repair the tires. Al is a “get the job done” kind of guy. He never knows what situation he may be walking into, but he is easy to work with and always seems to get the job done. This past fall we were racing against time to try to get as many root crops harvested with our mechanical harvester (ASA Lift) before rain storms moved in. In the fall, it’s crucial to take advantage of every dry day possible to harvest or you risk falling behind. On this particular day, the crew called and said they had a flat tractor tire….at about 4 pm in the afternoon. Al likes to start early and call it a day around 4:30 pm, so I was afraid I might not be able to get him out to the farm until the next day. But the next day would be too late…it would be raining. To add another complication to the picture, the flat tire was in a very hard to access place and the ASA Lift had to be unhooked. However, since the tire was flat the ASA lift was not setting level and if they unhooked it they risked damaging the machine. As I looked at the situation, I wondered how they were ever going to accomplish this repair without causing damage. It seemed highly unlikely that we’d be harvesting anything else that day. Around 4:30, Al pulled onto the scene. I exclaimed “Al, if I weren’t so busy right now I’d give you a kiss!” Al responded with “I’ll pass on the kiss, but I would take some rutabagas and celeriac.” Ok, fair enough. I went to get the vegetables and Al got to work. Al became part of the ASA lift crew that day along with Juan Pablo & Rafael. In less than an hour these three guys had figured out how to get enough air into the tire to level the machine, unhook and pull the tractor forward enough so Al could fix the tire. Next thing I knew, Rafael was calling the rest of the crew back to the field to continue harvesting and Al was already half way home before I could say “Thank you!”

There are a lot of other people who help us keep our machines and equipment up-to-date and running well. When we need bearings, pulleys or shafts repaired or sourced we turn to Roger Tollefson, whom we’ve worked with for about 15 years. He’s isn’t afraid to work on some of our unusual requests for parts specific to our vegetable equipment. Dwight is our friend at Tractor Central. He works closely with Juan to help us source parts for our John Deere tractors and sometimes does deliveries to the farm. If we can get the right parts, we can usually do the repairs here and save an expensive repair bill and lost time spent transporting the tractor to town and back. Norm is our friendly Auto Value delivery driver, and also happens to be a CSA member! We have a lot of field vehicles to maintain and we appreciate Norm bringing the parts to us so we don’t have to spend time running to town to pick things up. When we call for parts, Norm is the friendly face bringing us what we need.

While we’re talking about repairing machines, we have to mention our friend Bill, the forklift repair guy. Bill has been working with us for well over 10 years. He’s helped us make purchasing decisions when we needed a new forklift and visits the farm for regular maintenance checks. He is also very quick to respond when I call him with a specific problem. He does his best to fix the problem and get us back in the game. And then there’s Marty, our electrician. Marty has answered many of my frantic electrical emergency phone calls. “Marty, the motor on the salad washer isn’t working and we have 1,000# of spinach to wash in the next 24 hours!!” “Marty, the motor on the bin dumper keeps tripping the breaker. We have over 200 cases of root vegetables to wash tomorrow!! That’s over 5,000# of vegetables. No way we can lift all that into the barrel washer by hand! Can you help us?” Marty does his best to fix any equipment breakdowns as fast as he can. Since his work usually involves disconnecting the electricity, he often works late after hours and comes in early to get the job done before the crew is ready to work so as to not disturb the work day. I really appreciate that he understands the importance of some of these pieces of equipment and does his best to repair things quickly to minimize downtime.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention Brad…The Phone Guy! Brad is the mastermind behind our phone system as well as maintaining our connection to the world via the internet. He is always very responsive whenever we have a problem and need to call in his expertise. If he isn’t able to troubleshoot the issue remotely, he doesn’t hesitate to just jump in his truck and come to check things out himself. He’s very good at problem solving and has helped us set up a system that is tailored to our needs. He is definitely an integral part of our team and we appreciate everything he does to keep our connection to the world running smoothly! If you ever have problems calling us, just wait a few minutes…Brad is probably working on it.


Whew, that’s a lot of people and I haven’t even mentioned Larry the refrigeration guy or Randy the copy machine repairman, Mary Beth, Troy, Robert, Peter, Mary Pat & Carl, John, Sonny, Eggit, Greg, Charlie, Aaron, Adam, Pandora, Clint...Stay tuned for the next newsletter and we’ll pick up where we left off with more stories about these wonderful people!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Rutabagas

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz


Rutabaga is derived from the Swedish rotabagge, which literally translates to “root bag.” Not terribly glamorous I suppose, but the rutabaga really is an underrated vegetable. As Deborah Madison—author of Vegetable Literacy and my go-to for most things veggie—says: “Treated lavishly and respectfully, rutabagas are a fine winter vegetable.” The result of a fortunate cross between the wild cabbage and the turnip, rutabagas are often mistaken for the latter—in some countries, the two are even treated interchangeably! While both are members of the Cruciferae family, rutabagas differ from turnips in a few key ways. Most notably, with a longer growing period—90 days compared to 40 or less for the turnip—rutabagas are denser roots. As such, they take longer to cook. It’s often best to first peel and then blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes before tossing them into a dish with other (still raw, at this point) vegetables.

Nutrition-wise, rutabagas are a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Being that they are a winter root vegetable, rutabagas will keep well in your crisper drawer for a month or more. If you’re the homesteading sort, you can experiment with packing your extra roots in moist sand. Kept in a cool (but not freezing) location, you’ll be able to keep these roots around for several months.

The first written reference to rutabagas dates back to 1620, when they were observed growing wild in Sweden. Accounts vary as to the actual origin of this vegetable, though many believe rutabagas first appeared in Scandinavia or Russia.

Early on, rutabagas were commonly used as a vegetable in family meals, as fodder for livestock and, for a time in Britain, as cannonball substitutes! Among residents of the British Isles, it was tradition to carve rutabagas into lanterns and fill them with coal on Halloween night as a means of warding off evil spirits. Today, rutabagas’ uses are primarily culinary in scope. Honestly, a rutabaga is at its best when used simply. They are a prime candidate for roasting and pureeing, and they make an excellent addition to hearty soups, stews and casseroles. In addition to other root vegetables, nice companions for rutabagas’ crisp, slightly sweet flavor include butter, cream, parsley, bay leaf, smoked paprika, bacon, apples and pears.
Rutabaga harvest at Harmony Valley Farm

Rutabagas do not taste the same the world-around. The eating quality of a rutabaga is very closely connected to the weather conditions during its growing and harvest season. This year was a pretty mild, cool year and as a result you’ll find these rutabagas are quite mild and slightly sweet. In contrast, when the growing season is hot, the flavor of the rutabagas tends to be more sharp, bold and sometimes a little on the bitter side. In a good rutabaga year, Richard’s standby method for vegetable prep holds true for rutabagas—“just add butter, cream and cheese.” We’ve shared this in previous newsletters, but can’t help but repeat this very simple way to enjoy a rutabaga. If you’ve tried rutabagas previously and didn’t care for them, we’d encourage you to try them again. You may find these taste quite different from what you’ve experienced previously.

Mashed Rutabaga Potato Supreme
This recipe is borrowed from our friend, John Peterson at Angelic Organics Farm. It was featured in his cookbook entitled Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables. 

Serves 4
Salt, few pinches 
1 pound rutabaga (approx., 1 medium or 2 small), peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
½ pound potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 medium carrot, chopped
¼ cup milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a few pinches of salt and then drop in the rutabaga; boil for 10 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and continue to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 more minutes. Once tender, remove from the heat and carefully drain off the water.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not boil.
  3. Mash the rutabaga, potato and carrot with the butter until smooth, adding a little of the warm milk at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency you like. Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Future of Food Series Finale

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

As we conclude our Future of Food discussion series, I can think of few better topics on which to ruminate than that of the latest feature—the joy of food. Food means something different to each of us. To it, we attach meaning, memories, and value. We often place it at the center of our gatherings, and around it we, in the company of our friends and families, convene and converse. As we’ve followed National Geographic’s Future of Food series over the last five months, we have taken on some rather controversial topics—modern day fish farming, the Paleolithic diet, hunger in America, the industrial beef business and biotechnology’s application to food production. In this final piece, I’d like to take a step back and reflect on the worth of exploring topics such as these. There is no time like the present to consider what food means to us and to ask ourselves: “What kind of food system do I want to be a part of?”

When I’m looking for a nuanced, yet straightforward discussion around the current state of agriculture in this country, I turn—invariably—to Wendell Berry. As a farmer himself, Berry has long written of many of the topics on which we have touched and possesses that elusive ability to present an issue in a brutally honest, yet still uplifting sort of way. For the purposes of this discussion, one of the more powerful statements he has written is recorded in his book What Are People For? He states very simply that “…eating is an agricultural act.” Today, we tend to think of food as a product of agricultural toil, but we often fail to go beyond that and regard ourselves as not just customers, but as discerning consumers. We buy food in various forms and from various locales, but for the most part, we make these decisions in a passive way. We choose from among the food options presented to us, and we pay the price attached to these items without asking what that price reflects. As Berry sees it, “The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical.” I would modify this by suggesting that these two extremes exist not in isolation but instead along a continuum—that at any point in time, we can move closer to or further way from the industrial eater extreme.

Operating from this point of understanding, I think there’s value in addressing a topic that is often left out of this discussion—that of personal guilt. Pursuing the type of food system that Mr. Berry and we at Harmony Valley Farm are trying to imagine and create is no small feat, and in many ways, the deck is stacked against us. I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve come to more deeply understand the implications attached to my individual food choices, the more guilt I feel when I choose to move closer to the industrial eater extreme. It’s true—sometimes I buy conventionally grown grapes or cheese made with milk that is not rGBH-free. Quite honestly, I think it’s nearly impossible at this point to live a life beyond the reach of industrial, conventional agriculture. Admittedly, my main motivation for making these purchases is price—I buy them because they’re cheaper than the alternative. The guilt I feel is a product of my decision to embrace the notion that individual choices matter. Yes, it’s a romantic approach to take, but at the same time, I truly believe in the power that individual effort yields. After all, at the end of the day, individual choices are to a great degree what propel larger efforts forward.

The visual learner that I am, I often regard each individual food item as the tip of an iceberg—a small part of a much larger whole. Beneath the surface lies the collective history of that food item—the agricultural inputs, the labor practices and the farming philosophy that together created that specific product. It was not until I started digging into the literature and thinking about where this information fit in relation to me did I begin to feel intimately connected to and invested in this larger system. Similar to the topics of faith and spirituality, I think deciding what food really means to us is an individual, reflective and ever-evolving journey. Exposing ourselves to information—in the form of the pieces covered in this series, for example—allows us to gather facts, consider multiple perspectives and ultimately formulate our own opinions. From here, we take action—we join a CSA, we begin to garden, we have conversations, we rent a library book, we sit and think. There is no “right” way to approach and react to these difficult topics.

At this point, I have to bring in a critical piece that is, as yet, missing from this discussion—many people are, to varying degrees, limited in their capacity to participate in shaping the type of food system we’re envisioning. As we explored (albeit briefly) in an earlier feature on “The New Face of Hunger” there are multiple obstacles—many of them entrenched—that limit this capacity. Income, transportation, awareness, a preoccupation with basic survival—innumerable factors shape and restrict the degree to which people engage with the food systems operating around us today. While this topic requires much more space than a single paragraph, I’ll settle for the words of Geoff Tansey, a member of The Food Ethics Council: “We need a fundamental change in the food system that has developed in the rich world…It is dysfunctional and unjust—and it fails to deliver a safe, secure, sufficient, nutritious diet sustainably for everyone with equity.” Put simply, there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Naming this problem is merely the first of many steps.

As this discussion series draws to a close, where does this leave us? For starters, we know that we all need to eat, and we know that food is, inherently, the product of a larger agricultural system. The food options we are faced with reflect a complex network of explicit choices and practices. If we more fully insert ourselves into the equation and begin to transform ourselves into active, rather than passive consumers, we will be taking a firm step towards creating an alternative food system—one that is, as Tansey calls for above, both sustainable and equitable. It is my hope that throughout this series, the topics we’ve addressed and the questions we’ve raised have peaked your interest—to whatever degree—and have led you to consider your place within this food system that we are all part of.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Daikon and Beauty Heart Radishes

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

There are two kinds of radishes—the quick growing, spring varieties, and the slower-to-mature winter varieties. As winter varieties, daikon and beauty heart radishes share the spotlight for our vegetable feature this week. Members of the mustard family, radishes were first domesticated in the Mediterranean during pre-Roman times. By 500 B.C., traders had carried them first to China and shortly thereafter to Japan where cultivation quickly became widespread. Early on, radishes were most commonly grown for their seeds, which were pressed into oil. Despite the multitude of varieties, all radishes share certain characteristics—a crunchy texture, with a unique sharp bite and a varying degree of pungency. They are rich in vitamins C and B, are an excellent source of potassium, calcium and iron, and are often utilized as a digestive aid, detoxifier and blood cleanser.

Winter radishes are, you might have guessed, built for storage. In order to preserve their quality, however, be sure to keep them sealed in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Preventing moisture loss is key to maintaining freshness! If stored properly, daikon will store for several weeks and beauty heart radishes will store for several months. Don’t let a little browning on the surface fool you. This is a normal development with extended storage, but the radish is still good on the inside.

Daikon radishes
Daikon radishes, commonly referred to as Japanese horseradish or mooli, are rather easy to identify. A staple in Asian cuisine, daikon radishes are much milder than the traditional red radish. Their crisp, juicy texture is complemented by a sweet, slightly peppery bite. Interestingly enough, the thickest part of the root is the mildest, with pungency increasing as the root narrows. Although the typical daikon will measure between 15-20 inches in length, certain varieties can grow to be 36 inches long!



Beauty heart radishes
Beauty heart radishes, on the other hand, look more like a storage turnip than anything. Their pale, cream-colored exterior hides a rather stunning interior, however, the flesh exploding with unique patterns of fuchsia, white, and green. It’s no surprise then that their Chinese name, Xin Li Mei, literally translates to “heart inside beautiful.” At the Harmony Valley Farm market stand, the crew continually encourages patrons to give beauty hearts a try. They are, as we say, “the radish for non-radish lovers.” I like to think of these beauty hearts as a gateway variety—one taste of this mild, slightly sweet radish and you’ll be whisked away into a glorious world filled with tens upon tens of radish varieties! Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but these radishes are most certainly a culinary treasure.

Daikon radish is most often used raw and is often pickled. It can be used as a condiment to eat on sandwiches, alongside vegetarian rice dishes, or to accompany grilled or roasted meats. It is also a common ingredient in kim chi.

Beauty heart radishes can be eaten raw or cooked. They are a beautiful addition to winter vegetable slaws or can be the feature of a winter radish salad. We also enjoy them on winter crudité platters served with creamy dip or sliced cheese or slice thinly and put them on a sandwich for a little crunch. They also make a nice addition to stir-fry and are a great vegetable to add to simple soups such as miso or hot & sour soup.

If you are looking for recipe ideas, go to our searchable recipe database on our website and use the search terms “daikon radish” & “beauty heart radish.” You can also look to the Local Thyme online CSA recipe service for more ideas. See our weekly email for sign up instructions.

Hot & Sour Soup
This is a recipe sent to us by CSA members who adapted a recipe for Hot & Sour soup to incorporate beauty heart radishes. The original recipe came from The Meatless Gourmet by Bobbie Hinman (now under the title The Vegetarian Gourmet’s Easy International Recipes). 

Yield: 4 servings (1 cup each)
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
4 cups vegetable broth (4 cups water + a veggie bouillon)
1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
1 cup beauty heart radish, coarsely shredded
1 Tbsp sherry
4 ounces firm tofu, sliced, then cut into small rectangles
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp pepper (white or black)
2 green onions, thinly sliced (may substitute minced red onion)

1. In a small bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir to dissolve cornstarch. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine broth, carrot, beauty heart and sherry. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Add tofu, vinegar and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium and when mixture boils again, cook uncovered, 3 minutes. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to saucepan while stirring. Continue to cook and stir for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil and pepper. Garnish with onions.