Monday, October 17, 2011

Week 18 - The 2011 Season Ends with Acorn Squash

Wow. The last CSA distribution of the season. I'm feeling a little misty eyed. And more than a little exhausted.

2011 was our third year as CSA farmers. It was also our "jump" year. We made the plunge into full time farmer life and, while it certainly wasn't perfect, overall we think it was a success. Hopefully our members agree.

One of my favorite images of the season. I was taking photos of Scott getting
ready for the frost when Seda ran up to me with these baby carrots she had
pulled saying "Seda harvest. Picture! Picture!"
We had our successes (watermelons!) and failures (pole beans!) and, as with every year, we learned more and came up with more new ideas than we can hope to put into practice next year (though we're already itching to implement them). Thank you members for coming along for the ride with us. We really couldn't do this without you.

For our final distribution of the season members will receive Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Acorn Squash, Parsley, Kale/Chard, Clover Sprouts, and a selection of Herbs.

Honey Bear acorn squash just after harvest, curing in the early fall sun.
There are many ways to cook acorn squash, and there is certainly nothing wrong with simply halving them, scooping out the seeds and baking them with a little butter and cinnamon. But if you want to make them the centerpiece of a meal, try stuffing them as in the recipe below.

Lentil Stuffed Acorn Squash

If you don't have mace on hand try nutmeg or allspice. 

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 cup dry brown lentils
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (or less, to taste), minced
  • 1 small sweet potato, chopped into 1/4 inch dice 
  • 3 apples, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1/2 a bunch kale or chard, chopped finely
  • a pinch of mace
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove stems and halve the acorn squash. Bake them, cut side up, in a 350 degree oven until the are tender, approximately 45 minutes. 

While the squash is baking, prepare the stuffing. Combine the lentils, water or stock, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium sauce pan. Bring the lentils to a simmer and continue to simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes. If necessary add more liquid as the lentils cook. If there is remaining liquid when the lentils are tender, drain it.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium/low heat. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic is golden. Add the sweet potato and stir to coat with oil. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the apples and kale or chard to the pan and stir. Season with mace (just a pinch, the flavor can be overpowering in large quantities) and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally for another five minutes or until the apples and sweet potatoes are tender.

Combine the apples and sweet potatoes with the cooked lentils.

When the squash is tender, scoop out the seeds and spoon the lentil filling into the cavities of the squash. If you have leftover filling, combine it with seasoned brown rice and eat it along with the stuffed squash.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Week 17 - Apples, Apples, Sweet Potatoes

There is much to say about this share, even though its bulk is made up by the gloriously familiar apple.

This week's share includes: Apples, Chard or Kale, Sweet Potatoes, Mustard Sprouts, and Gourds. You probably all know this, but don't eat the gourds, just admire them. They taste yucky.

The sweet potatoes were grown in the hoophouse. They are shaped more interestingly than those at the store and also, because they're freshly harvested, they're starchier. You can save them at room temperature for a few weeks to let them sweeten up or eat them now. They're tasty already, they just get sweeter with time. Don't worry if there is a broken end on one of your potatoes. Sweet potatoes "heal" so they can be stored even if they are broken. Just be sure to scrub off the dirt well before eating them, but not before storing them.
This one sweet potato is over a pound. So far our record is a three pounder.
We're stretching them over two weeks so that all the half share members will have the opportunity to eat some Upper Peninsula grown sweet potatoes (not something you see every day!), which means that while full share members will get about 2.5 pounds of sweet potatoes all together you won't them all at once. If you full share folks want to make a large dish with your sweet potatoes you might want to wait until next week and combine them.

But the true star of this week is the apples. Everyone is receiving a can-able quantity and, with the area's rich mining (and hard cider drinking) heritage, it's not unlikely that some members already have some apples of their own to contend with.

Some of our apples have scab, a fungus that does not affect eating quality
(at this level - sometimes it's severe enough to affect the texture),
just appearance. We do not treat it because we see no reason to spray
fungicides to treat a disease that doesn't hurt our fruit. We do minimize it
the best we can.
Our apples were likely planted sometime in the 1920's, when the house was originally built. We have two varieties that produce well, and we have no real way to determine what kind they are. We think that one of them (the one members will mainly receive) is Duchess of Oldengurg, based on input from neighbors and online descriptions of the fruit. They are a bit tart, but also spicy, juicy, and sweet. I love to eat them fresh but some may find them too tart. They are excellent cooking apples.

So, how should you cook them?

Eight Great Things to do with APPLES
  1. Sauce them. I use a food mill when I make apple sauce. I halve the apples but do not peel or core them. Simmer them in a heavy bottomed pot with about an inch of water (just so they don't burn) until they are completely soft, run them through the food mill, and can in quart sized jars (which require 20 minutes in a boiling water bath). If you don't have a food mill you can peel and core before simmering and then just mash them if they don't soften completely through cooking. Whatever method you use, you can add whatever sweeteners or flavorings you like as well. I like my applesauce plain.
  2. Make Apple Sauce Pie. If you find yourself with a few jars of applesauce on the shelf in mid January try making a pie with some. Combine three cups apple sauce, one and a half cups cream (or evaporated milk), four eggs, 2/3 cup sugar (if using unsweetened sauce), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour it into a pie shell and bake at 425 for 15 minutes, and then at 350 until it's set (45 minutes to an hour). It's basically a pumpkin pie with apples instead of pumpkin and, as far as I know, I invented it (probably others have made it - but sometimes I like to pretend I am a genius).
  3. Make Apple Cake. I made an apple cake for Seda's birthday this year (with sungold tomato frosting - which was way better than it sounds) and she loved it. Your family will too. The internet is crawling with apple cake recipes and I actually forget which one I used. Be adventurous and try one!
  4. Caramelize them. Those of you that (wisely) eschew corn syrup should move on to the next idea. Those that occasionally indulge read on. Melt caramel cubes in a crock pot with a little bit of water (otherwise it gets all lumpy). If you are planning to do this with your kids keep in mind that it takes a while for the caramels to melt (about an hour on high in my crock pot) so prepare them for a wait. Once the caramel is smooth, dip in apples that have popsicle sticks stuck in them. Allow excess caramel to drip off and roll the apples in something good like peanuts, coconut, sprinkles, or crushed cookies. I especially like coconut. Have waxed paper on hand to set them on. They'll stick to whatever they touch!
  5. Saute them. Chop them into bite sized pieces (one apple per person plus an extra "for the pot") and saute them in olive oil or butter, depending on what you're going for. If you want something sweet add a bit of sugar or honey, some cinnamon or nutmeg, and a little vanilla. If you want something savory add some black pepper and garlic, chopped kale or chard, and a little balsamic vinegar or grate some cheddar cheese over them when they're done (which is whenever they're as soft as you like them). 
  6. Make Campfire Apples. Make a fire and let it burn to coals. Core apples, place each on a square of tinfoil and fill the middles with a little butter, rolled oats, sugar/honey, and dried fruit. Wrap up the apples in the tin foil and place them in the coals. Let them cook until they are completely tender.  
  7. Apples, Potatoes, and Sausage. To serve four people brown a pound of your favorite kind of sausages (I like to use sweet Italian for this - the fennel goes great with the apples) in a medium frying pan. Slice the sausage into 1 inch pieces, return it to the pan, then add 4 apples (chopped into bite sized pieces) and two large potatoes (sliced thinly) to the pan. Add a little olive oil if there isn't enough fat in the pan to keep the apples and potatoes from sticking. Saute until the sausage is fully cooked and the apples and potatoes are tender. This is great with homemade sauerkraut.
  8. Bake them with Sweet Potatoes. Core four apples. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Slice a pound of sweet potatoes 1/4 thick. Layer these slices so they are just overlapping in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Add a tiny bit of apple juice or water (to just barely moisten). Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350 until tender, about 45 minutes.
WHEW! I hope you all enjoy your apples!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week 16 - Tomatillos from the Hoophouse

This week we are cleaning up the last fruits in the hoophouse. That means everyone will get a last hurrah of tomatoes. Eat them quick because they are starting to split on the vines out there. Members will also receive a bag of tomatillos this week. It's time for a big batch of salsa verde or, for those interested in another canning project, pickled tomatillos (recipe below).

Pickled tomatillos, pictured snug in their jar, make an awesome addition to quesadillas,
burritos, roast meats, and fish all winter long.
For week 16 members will receive Spaghetti Squash, Carrots, Apples, Fenugreek Sprouts, and Kale or Chard along with their Tomatoes, and Tomatillos.

We've let the last of the tomatoes ripen up in the hoophouse.
As you can see, the plants are done now. Eat your tomatoes
up fast because they are ready to burst!
Tomatillos will keep for a week or so on the counter. Use them in salsas, stews,
or sauces. They also make fantastic chili. Or try them out in the pickle recipe below.
Pickled Tomatillos

Last year we were overrun with tomatillos from the hoophouse very late in the season. I had to figure out what to do with them before they rotted. The favorite solution turned out to be these pickles, based on a recipe from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling. If you are itching to can something, give these a go. They're simple to put together and oh so welcome when the summer garden is covered in snow.

This recipe makes about a quart of pickles. It works best canned in 1/2 pint (1 cup) or 1 pint (2 cup) jars
  • 1 Pound Tomatillos (amount in share), husked, washed, and halved or quartered.
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons pickling salt (or sea salt - just make sure it doesn't have an anti-caking agent)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
The following ingredients are per jar of pickles:
  • 1 clove garlic, slivered
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
Pack the tomatillos into two prepared pint or four prepared half pint jars (prepare jars by washing them and drying them in a 200 degree oven, or sterilizing in some other manner) leaving a half inch head space. Add one clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and 10 peppercorns to each jar.

Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a simmer. Stir until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Pour the liquid over the tomatillos, separating it evenly between the jars. If the tomatillos are not quite covered add an equal amount of vinegar and water to cover them.

Cap the jars with two piece canning lids, be sure not to close the rings to tightly. Boil for ten minutes in a boiling water bath. Let sit for one month before eating so that the flavors (especially the oregano) have a chance to mellow and combine. The pickles will keep for at least a year, or a month in the refrigerator once opened.