Fall has definitely arrived here in the foothills with the first rain storm last week. Three days of a deluge, and now beautiful, crisp, sunny days and fire-time nights. All the oaks are turning yellow, the days short and sweet. Halloween approaches next week and close on its heels, Thanksgiving, the epitome of fall harvest and abundance. It’s a time for gratitude (of course, any time really is) to the earth, the sun, the soil, everything that conspires to bring us this incredible nourishment. It’s such a mystery and such a simple thing, yet think about the miracle of planting a seed and the seed unfolding into a spreading pumpkin plant. It’s pretty amazing. This time of year, my pantry is full of canned and dried foods, potatoes and winter squash precariously stacked in the corner of my bathroom, and the freezer jammed to the point of things falling out when I open it. I feel so safe, so securely provisioned for the winter. A full pantry and a full woodshed at the onset of November are the definition of wealth in my opinion.
And now, sitting on my couch, watching the afternoon sun through the window grace the ridge across the valley, I want to express my gratitude to all our wonderful CSA members. Thank you for supporting us this season with your money and time. Thank you for investing in small, local farms and trying things you may have never tried before. Thank you so much for coming with your bags and boxes every week and oohing and aahing over the veggies. Maisie and I couldn’t have done it without you!
Enjoy the last harvest and get some cozy time this winter!
Pumpkin Doughnut Holes:
My friend Stephanie Rosenbaum is a great chef and cookbook author and recently sent me this recipe, which I plan on trying as soon as possible. I recommend you do to! For Pumpkin Doughnut Holes click here.
Parsnips: I like to roast my parsnips in a simple fashion. Just cut them into small chunks coat with olive oil and salt and roast in the oven until soft and slightly crispy around the edges. They are also great in chicken soup.
The farm is a quiet place lately. The last successions of lettuce and root crops are in the ground, and now instead of planting we are focusing on harvesting and starting the annual process of putting the farm to bed. The winter squash are peeking out bright orange and green behind their browning vines, the corn stalks are drying, rustling gracefully in the autumn breeze, and the finches are plucking out the seeds from the last sunflower heads. There is more spaciousness to the work, not the frantic pace of “getting everything into the ground in time” of the spring, but a slow steady rhythm of abundance.
The fall tasks tend toward stocking up for the winter; preserving everything possible in order to savor some summer sweetness in January. On Sunday Chris and I made four gallons of the Sicilian spread caponata. I had never tried caponata, but Chris promised it was well worth all the effort of dicing, and so we began. We got up early and cut up tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and onions into tiny pieces, fried them in olive oil and threw all those glistening jewel-colored bits into a big pot. The pot simmered on the stove, filling the house with savory, mouth-watering smells. We listened to loud music as we chopped and rambled on about whatever popped into our heads. It was a good four hours to get everything into the pot but felt like the right way to spend time, in the tradition of slow food and Italian grandmothers. By the late afternoon the caponata had cooked down into a thick, chunky sauce and we took it still warm to the river to enjoy on crusty baguette with good friends. It was such a satisfying process and a timely reminder of what life had been and could be, focused on feeding and sheltering yourself and your loved ones with tangible effort, rather than having a job in order to buy those things.
This is why I love fall, and why I love farming. The abundance that comes at the end of the season, and the lifestyle that includes preparing and eating food with family and friends. When I encourage people to buy local and organic foods, besides all the myriad health and ecological reasons, the incredible flavor and pleasure of eating is probably the most compelling to me. The slow food movement recognizes and celebrates this and I encourage y’all to look into it more here if you haven’t heard about it. I hope you are able to spend some slow, pleasurable time enjoying this week’s share, and I’ll see you on the flip side.
Here’s the caponata recipe we used, courtesy of Susan Shehab (Chris’s mom)
2 large eggplants, diced
1 cup olive oil
4 bell peppers, diced
1 large onion, diced
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup green or black olives, pitted and sliced
3 hearts of celery, chopped
1/4 cup capers (the celery & capers are important)
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
Brown the eggplants in half of the oil. Remove.
Add more oil if necessary & when hot – add
Peppers – cook ’til wilted & remove.
Now, sauté onions ’til wilted then add
Tomatoes & simmer ’til they are reduced to sauce.
Add olives, celery, capers; simmer a few minutes
Then add wine vinegar, water, sugar, cooked peppers
& eggplants. Season with s/p and cook over low heat
’til vegetables are well cooked and sauce thick (30 minutes).
If you are canning: process in hot water bath as follows:
1/2 pints for 20 minutes boil
pints for 40 minutes boil
Serve at room temp on small pieces of good bread
With a sprinkling of grated cheese. Enjoy! Love, Mom
And in case you haven’t already had an eggplant parmesan (a favorite way of mine to eat eggplant and tomatoes) here’s a nice twist on this traditional dish.
Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
The eggplant is normally baked in a single layer with sauce and cheese, but in a pinch you can feed more people in one pan if you do it lasagna-style in layers. Serve over angel hair pasta.
5-7 large tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1Tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 medium eggplants (about 4 pounds), cut in 1/2 in. thick slices
2 eggs, beaten
Olive oil, for frying
2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese (about 8 oz)
2 cups shredded mozzarella (use fresh, water-packed mozzarella if you can)
1. Preparing the Sauce:
Dice the tomatoes and put them in a colander in the sink. Let them sit for about 20 minutes, so that all the extra liquid drains out. In the meantime, chop your basil and garlic. You’ll have some extra time to use up here, so start slicing your eggplants up. When the tomatoes are drained, mix them in a bowl with the basil, salt, garlic, and olive oil and let it all marinate.
2. Frying the Eggplant:
Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. (Or, if you’re coordinated, I recommend doing two pans simultaneously, to save time.) When the oil is hot, lower the temperature to medium. Briefly dip each slice of eggplant in the egg and shake off the excess, then toss it in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until it is soft. Put the cooked slices on a platter off to the side.
3. Assembling the Casserole:
Preheat your oven to 350°. Spread about 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of a large baking dish. Lay slices of eggplant on top, with edges touching. Sprinkle about half the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses over the top, then add another layer of sauce and another layer of eggplant. Spread the remainder of the sauce over the top, then finish off with the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the casserole is heated through.
I’m struck in this moment by the peach tree in my yard. It’s just a wee thing, 12 feet tall and growing next to the chicken coop. I never planted this tree, neither did the land owners here. Instead it came in with some compost, a gnarled little pit tossed into the pile on a summer day, left to it’s own devices. When I moved here, almost four years ago, it was a spindly bit of root stock, sad sickle leaves covering it’s few branches, looking a little misplaced in the yard, next to the shed that the land owner’s kids had painted with flowers and clouds. In fact, that year, sometime mid-summer, it was mistakenly weed-wacked along with the rampant blackberry, and I never expected to see it again.
Every year since I’ve almost peripherally taken note of the thing. Someone over for lunch will comment on it. “Oh, you have a little peach tree right there,” they’ll say, and I’ll nod, but almost not quite believe it, because, really, how does something as tender as a peach just grow on its own? I mean, it died once, so why would I place my attention on something so destined to fail, so fragile it takes whole orchard set-ups and specific varieties just to survive the strange weather and frosts of the foothills?
Looking at it now, I realize that I have been captured by that little sweet thing without even knowing it. It has four peaches on it, ripening in the heat, fuzzy like little kitten paws and the color of rainbow sorbet – orange and pink and green. In fact, I almost feel like crying, I am so struck by the beauty of this tree that has grown up all on its own.
What if I could regard my own growth like this perfect little peach tree? How relaxing, to consider my evolution to be as beautiful as this one right in front of me. I’ve been growing up a lot this year, learning to love and learning to be my most authentic self and learning to take risks and be true. It’s been hard, but how different it is even in this moment to consider that my process has been just as natural, just as painful, just as wind-tossed, and just as fruitful as that of the peach.
Ok, so now I am crying a little bit. And I’m feeling a lot of love for not only this peach, but my yard, the wind today, the overhead sprinklers drizzling the lettuce sprouts, the river that awaits my afternoon visit, my sweet lover flying across the world to hike great mountains, all the great mountains that watch over us, and the ripe peach, from another little peach tree, that sits on my table and smells like heaven. And of course the peach pit beneath, which will make it’s way into my compost, and sprout, and be pulled inextricably, in it’s own sweet time, to become something beautiful.
Summer Squash – we are going to give you a lot, be prepared.
Greens – Kale/Chard/Collards
I know I don’t always give out complicated recipes, but more and more I realize that I hardly ever try complicated things in the summer. I just make a salad, and put everything delicious in it. So, with that being said, I want to encourage you all to use your grills and ovens this week, especially with the summer squash and eggplants. Because all you need is a little brush of olive oil and sea salt, and shazam, you’ve got gourmet. I have been appreciating eggplant, sliced 1/4 in thick, grilled both sides, and just plain like that. Same thing with the tomatoes even, roast them before you make a sauce or salsa and the caramelized flavor of acid and sweet come right out. Have fun!
So, it rolls around again, another spring and the first CSA harvest. I’m looking forward to seeing you all in the shaded driveway of In the Kitchen talking veggies and sharing smiles. Right now there’s an early, cleansing summer rain, and Maisie and I are enjoying a day of staring at computer screens and drinking hot tea. A nice contrast from the last week of high-80’s weather and constant irrigation.
On the farm we’ve reveled in the frost-free spring. All the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other tender crops are happy in the ground and establishing strong supports for the heavy fruits they will soon produce. The carrots and beets will be ready in the next few weeks. The sugar-snap peas are at the top of their trellis and flowering prolifically. It’s been a gentle ease into summer, and the crops as well as the farmers are sitting pretty.
In your CSA this week you will receive some onions that got confused. Every spring it happens, here in Nevada County where the spring has dramatic temperature changes. The onions start to flower (otherwise known as bolting), thinking two years have passed instead of one. The onion is a biennial plant, and it will normally grow for a year, store nutrients in it’s bulb and then re-sprout the following spring, grow a flower and produce seed. Unfortunately for us, with the dramatic hot and cold fluxes of foothill springs, the onions think two years have gone by and start to flower. This creates a smaller onion and sometimes a hard core in the bulb. Here’s a good article about this. So enjoy these smaller onions now, and expect some more in the fall when our spring planted (these onions were planted last fall) onions are ready to harvest.
You also get this week one of my favorite unusual veggies. Something rarely seen outside a CSA box or farmer’s market…. garlic scapes! These are the beautiful flourishes of the hard-neck garlic. The flower that curls around itself and creates a delicate spiral (or question mark) at the top of the garlic plant. These taste just like garlic, but a little milder and way less peeling. Great for salad dressings and greens, just mince them like you would regular garlic. They’re also extremely artistically inspiring, so I welcome any poems, prose, songs or paintings brought on by the muse of the garlic scape.
Thank you all so much for once again choosing to support local agriculture and being a true advocate for change. This is one place where values and good living come together in a beautiful place of ripe tomatoes and golden sunflowers. I’m so grateful to grow food for you and count you in my community.
I hope you all enjoy these early-season veggies, and get ready for some serious bounty come July.
spring onions (may have a hard inner core as most of the onions have bolted)
italian herb bundles (rosemary, sage, oregano)
The camomile can be dried or used fresh for a calming cup of tea
Roasted Garlic Scapes:
One of my favorite ways to eat the beautiful curling flower of the hard-neck garlic is to simply roast them in the oven. Put them in an oven pan, coat them generously with olive oil and a little salt and roast at 375 until soft and a little crispy. They make great appetizers.
Fava beans are another early summer delicacy. They are also delicious roasted or grilled and eaten like edamame. Just suck the beans out of the pod with your teeth. You can also shell the beans and then take the tough outer coating off each bean. They are delicious and tender at this point and can be lightly steamed or sauteed and served with pasta or a grain.