Monday, August 31, 2015

Culinary Corner: Onion Options

This installment may be a bit off of the regular Sunday schedule, but it makes it no less useful and interesting!  Elizabeth focuses on some options for using some of the excellent onion crop coming in at the farm this season.  We hope you enjoy reading about some different options for the onions our members receive.  And, the crop is good enough that some of these onions may appear in other venues this year! [RF]

A recent harvest at GFF
It seems like almost every recipe I made in school started with "sweat an onion.***" Onion appears everywhere, from mirepoix as a flavor base for stocks and mother sauces, to basic stir-fries, but not all onions are created equal. There are three basic kinds I'd like to focus on: Standard white onions, red onions and sweet onions. On GFF, you may recognize these as White Wings, Red Wings, and Ailsa Craigs, respectively. [ed. note: A fourth variety on the farm are the yellow storage onions, this year the varieties are Dakota Tears and Sedona]

The biggest difference between the red and white onions and the sweet ones is sulfur. Sulfur compounds are those annoying, naturally-occuring chemicals in onions that make you cry, and that give raw onions their acrid bite. These can be cooked out of regular onions, but you won't find as much of them in sweet onions. For this reason, sweet onions are my go-to slicers for sandwiches and salads. I tend not to cook with sweet onions, but they are also very good in stir-frys where all the vegetables still have a bit of crunch to them. [ed. note: A GFF favorite is to grill rings of Ailsa Craigs on the grill with hamburgers]

Ailsa Craig Exhibition sweet onion

So what about those red and white onions that are showing up in your shares? Here are a few ideas beyond the standard "chop and sweat."

Red Onions

Red onions add a pretty pop of color to whatever you're cooking and you'll often see them sliced thinly in salads, or used in salsas. One of my favorite ways to prepare red onions is by pickling them. The acid of vinegar or fruit juice turns the muted red into a vibrant pink and adds a sharp, bright taste to whatever dish you add it. I have two versions, a traditional apple cider vinegar recipe, and a citrus version that uses lime and orange juice. Try both and pick your favorite!
Redwing Onions

"Traditional" Apple Cider Vinegar recipe:

Citrus Pickled Red Onions:

If pickling isn't your thing, I also love turning red onions into a jam for a sweet topping to savory dishes. Red onion jam is really good with cheese and meats and the recipe is relatively fuss-free. I like this one here from a user on AllRecipes:

White Onions

My absolute favorite onion recipe comes from my mom's best friend. Her family is French and every year for New Year, she makes a huge pot of French Onion Soup. She'll start early in the day on NYE and we'll eat a bowl at midnight for good luck. I got the recipe from her and I love it for cool fall days when a hot bowl of soup with oodles of melted cheese warms me from head to toe.

White Wing Onions
Marlaine's French Onion Soup

3 lbs onions
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 gal of beef broth
olive oil for sauteeing
loaf of French Bread
1 lb Gruyere**
1 lb Swiss**

Peel the onions and cut into 1/2" slices. Saute in a large pan with olive oil. Add the butter and saute until golden. Add the flour, stir and cook about 5 mins more. Slowly add ~1/3 cup beef broth and mix until well combined. Transfer to a large stock pot and add remaining beef broth. Add salt/pepper to taste. Cook on med-low for a couple of hours. To serve, pour hot soup into an oven-proof bowl. Add about 1/2 cup shredded cheese and top with a thick slice of toasted and buttered French bread. Top with another generous helping of cheese and broil until golden.

**Note: Gruyere is a flavorful aged cheese that doesn't melt very well on it's own. When combined with a mellow cheese that does melt well, like Swiss, you get all of the flavor and none of the gritty chunks of stubborn cheese that refuse to melt. Marlaine recommends shredding the cheese the night before and laying it out on a cookie sheet to dry out a bit. It's less stringy when it melts!
*** Also Note: Sweating an onion for those who do not know, we found this website had a decent and simple explanation for sweating vegetables [RF].

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scavenger Hunt 2015

The Summer Festival at the Genuine Faux Farm for 2015 featured great food, great music and lots of fun for all ages this year.  We are grateful for the help we received in the set up (and tear down) phases this year and we think everyone had a good time!

We'll post more on the subject on a day when we are less tired.  But, for now, we thought we'd share our photos for the 2nd annual GFF photo scavenger hunt!  We'll follow up later this week with photos that give more location/context.  So, those that attended and missed some of them can see the 'key.'

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mid-Season Veg Variety Winners

I've actually had a couple of people ask what the mid-season favorites are for the Veg Variety Winners this year.  Obviously, it is way too early to know for sure how things will end up, but there are some obvious winners so far.  On the other hand, we see things like our melon vines dying off and the number of melons is far fewer than expected.  We were so happy with how that field looked too.  It's just the typical "looks can be deceiving" reminder.

But, without further ado - here are some mid-season guesses on veg variety winners.

Blizzard Peas
The peas were just amazing this year.  Each of our four varieties (Golden Sweet, Mammoth Melting and Oregon Sugar Pod II) did very will.  Actually, a fifth variety (Cascadia) didn't want to germinate, so all was not perfection.  In all of these cases, the variety classifies as a snow pea.  Overall, we think the best taste belongs to Blizzard and Golden Sweet.  But, Mammoth and Oregon have better substance for freezing and stir fry.  As far as production goes, Mammoth (.94 lbs/row foot) eked them all out with Golden Sweet having the lowest yield in pounds per row foot.  But, since Blizzard was close at .86 pounds per row foot and they had the better taste of the two, Blizzard wins. 

Oh, and picking Blizzard is so darned easy and fun!  I am sure the crew would agree with this pick as the overall winner for the peas.  But, the peas were so good this year, don't be surprised is more than one variety makes the list for the year.

Ailsa Craig Exhibition Sweet Onion
We're just starting to pull these in.  This is a variety that we grow every year because the taste is so good.  But, production can be a bit of a roller coaster.  Last year, we pulled in a respectable group of Ailsa's, but it wasn't overwhelming.  This year, I think everyone will be impressed with the quality and numbers.  We've only pulled in the high tunnel Ailsa's, and they are small compared to the field onions.  White Wing and Redwing are also doing quite well for onions this season, with the nod likely going to Redwing if one of them is going to beat Ailsa out.

 Bloomsdale Spinach
We haven't had spinach in a while, but I can still pull out the memory of the wonderful winter batch we got to enjoy in March through May.  And, we still have the Fall and early Winter for Bloomsdale to wow us some more.  Bloomsdale has made the list multiple times, but it actually may get some competition this year as we're trying two more varieties (Giant Winter and Butterflay).

Minnesota Midget melon
We grow Minnesota Midget exclusively in the high tunnel and it seems to really like that environment.  By trellising these vines, we avoid losing alot of space to them as well.  Thus far, our 60 foot row in the old high tunnel has yielded 120 melons and the taste has been great.  The only downside is the fact that we just can't get it to produce enough for everyone in each distribution.  But, next year, the second high tunnel will be going and we shouldn't have that problem anymore!

We've been pretty happy with the cauliflower in the first succession, but we really need more data from the next successions to make a choice.  Goodman, Amazing and Snow Crown all did well and the taste has been excellent.  If the Fall batch does as well, one of these will make the list.

Dragon Carrot
Our stand of carrots in the field and the high tunnel looked pretty good for quite some time.  We will admit that the harvest isn't likely to turn out to be as great as we hoped.  But, we also set our hopes pretty high based on the looks of the greenery.  Thus far, Dragon has been out-performing St Valery's and the consistency has been much better.  Again, it will be a few weeks before they are all out of the ground, so we'll let you know!

Touchstone Gold Beet
The high tunnel batch was tremendous and it looks like the Fall field planting is germinating.  If these do half as well as the high tunnel group, we have a likely entry in the top 10.  The consistency, decent size and excellent taste and texture make this a good one to watch.  The dark horse here is the Fall planting of Chioggia beets.  They are germinating even better than the Golds!

Of course, there are other suspects for this lineup, but some of them admittedly have a tougher road to follow.  For example, it takes alot for our beans to have an exceptional year.  They are looking good thus far, but have to continue to be considered.  I guess you're all just going to have to wait until we publish our top ten in November/December!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Hopefully, we are not as contrary as Mary Mary who has the silver bells and cockle shells!  But, we'll leave that to you to decide if we are contrary or not.  But, I'll tell you right now that you'll likely be wrong!

With all of the introductory silliness aside, we thought we'd share a bit of a farm report.  But, instead of just giving you a list of things that are doing well or poorly, we include pictures!  And, of course, we are working to make these reports more entertaining and potentially useful to those who read it.  As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Are we finally 'Right Sizing' some of our crops?
We have had years where certain crops have gone absolutely bonkers.  Perfect timing for planting, motivations to pick it all and excellent weather for the given crop all have something to do with it.  But, the other thing that often plays into it is the amount of a crop we plant. 
Painted Pony beans in bloom.
Green beans are a great example.  We feel that 750 pounds of green beans for a season is a reasonable goal.  Everyone in our CSA gets a fair amount of green beans.  We get to freeze some for ourselves and we can sell some excess at that level.  From 2009 to 2014, we picked an average of 693 pounds each season.  This includes a really awful year (2010's 181.5 lbs) and a really fabulous year (2012's 1068 lbs).

Right now, we are approaching 500 pounds for the season, which has us on target for our goal.  It won't break any records for us, but maybe that's ok.  We know about what we can harvest reasonably and we know what we can successfully move.  So, hitting a target works well.

A&C Pickling Cucumber

Another crop that we have shown the ability to grow is actually going to have much lower numbers than in recent years.  And, it isn't because we didn't have good production from the vines.  It has more to do with our not having the time to get it all picked.  When you combine this with a bit less demand and the motivation to get it all picked won't be there.

In 2012 and 2013, we harvested over 5000 cucumbers each year.  Last year was a down year and we only harvested a little over 2000 cucumbers.  And, we did a decent job of meeting demand.  As a result, we reduced our goal to 3500 cucumbers for a season and we are sitting at 2800 at this time.

We should reach our goal.  But, part of us remains disappointed in this.  We know what we CAN produce.  In fact, we harvested over 7000 marketable cucumbers in 2010.  But, sometimes it isn't always the best thing for the whole farm to maximize a particular crop. 

Some crops on our farm have been a real struggle.  There are many reasons for this, with the primary reason often being the weather combined with our farm's soil types.  But, this isn't the whole truth.  Another reason is the simple fact that it is NOT easy to scale every single vegetable crop we grow up to a proper size for our farm.  Some of the issues have to do with tools, some with techniques and some with knowledge.

We all live in a yellow submarine.....
Think about it this way.  You play the hurdy gurdy (why not?  it sounds like fun!) and you want to learn one song and play it well for a concert.  You have one week to learn it and then have a performance.  If you can play the hurdy gurdy already, this might not be so hard.  But, what if you are told that you have to learn to play TEN songs in one week for a performance?  Suddenly, it doesn't seem so easy.  This is a fairly decent analogy for what we have tried to do over the past several years.  We have learned to grow crops on a larger scale in a fairly short period of time.  But, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we weren't able to figure out all of the tools and techniques that work for every crop at our farm immediately.  And, even when you figure out the best ways to do things, there is not much you can do if a string breaks on the hurdy gurdy or the weather is contrary to growing a particular crop.

Touchstone Gold beets love the high tunnel
As you might have guess by the pictures, the two crops we are focusing on for this section are potatoes and beets.  Our heavy soil makes it difficult to grow root crops.  This is especially true if there is a need to get them in the ground earlier.  While we aren't saying we will never have problems with these crops ever again, we can say that we have more tools in our toolbox that put the odds more in our favor.

Potatoes have been difficult the prior couple of years because we could not get into the fields to prep the soil for planting.  But, the real issue was the fact that we simply didn't have the tools on hand to get the ground worked fast enough if a window presented itself for planting.  With Rosie the tractor and some assorted implements, we can now take advantage of much smaller planting windows than we ever have.  The results?  We put half of our potatoes in before May 5 and the rest in by May 15.  As a result, we have already harvested two rows of potatoes and are a quarter of the way to our goal of 1 ton of taters for the season.

Our solution for beets has been to stop growing them on our farm and let Jeff Sage grow them.  However, we really wanted to grow some specialty beets in hopes that it will meet the needs of persons who just can't stomach the red beets.  So, every year, we've made a half-hearted attempt to grow Touchstone Gold beets and Chioggia beets.  It wasn't until this year, when we worked to add the second high tunnel, that we allowed ourselves to use some high tunnel space for beets.  The result?  We were able to introduce our CSA members to golden beets!  We beat our modest goal of 100 pounds of beets for the season and we're wondering if our Fall field planting will add to that total.  Who knows?  Maybe if we challenge them?  Tell them to try to beet our previous record?

Sorry, I can't help it.  I must pun.

Continued Incremental Improvements
If you have a diversified farm, such as ours, you need to avoid the approach known as "delayed perfection" and adopt the "incremental improvement" mantra.  It doesn't mean that there is no planning or research that goes into it.  But, it does mean that you have accept that you can't do everything exactly the way you want to immediately.

Some crops that are showing better results because of incremental improvements are our peas, onions, melons and cauliflower.
These melons are 2+ weeks away form being ready.
After some early successes that we think have to do with a combination of beginner's luck and perfect weather, we think we are finally getting a handle on how we can best grow the heirloom melons we favor.  Last year was a reasonably successful season with nearly 400 melons harvested.  But, this year, we felt fairly confident that we would pass that number easily - but that's during a season where the weather has been a bit cool for their liking, so we shall see.

If we think back to how we used to grow melons, we are easily amazed by how many adjustments and changes we have made.  We used to do what every gardener has done.  Make a hill and place 3 to 7 seeds in each hill.  Water as needed, weed when you can and then harvest.  The problem with that model?  It doesn't work when you want to start growing enough to have 500 to 1000 melons for CSA and direct sales.

Then, there are the peas.  We had an awful year in 2014 because soil conditions didn't support germination, but we've had some decent production prior to that.  This year, everything came together and we blew past all prior years with over 400 pounds of peas (as opposed to the average 119 pounds from 2011 to 2014.  The final piece of the puzzle was our trellising techniques and timing.

This may be the year of the pea?
I think we have shown that onions are no longer a fluke on our farm.  We've written about this one before, so I'll just link you to a prior post!
White Wing onions
And, then there is the cauliflower.  We haven't pulled in many yet, but hey are coming.  And, they look fabulous!  This is a case where it is a matter of finding the varieties that work on our farm.  Sometimes, a vegetable type just doesn't get enough attention because our energies are focused elsewhere.  But, finally, cauliflower is getting its due and we're pretty certain that we like the triad of Amazing, Goodman and Snow Crown.  As with all things, finding the varieties is not the only thing that has changed over time, but appears to have been the last key we needed to identify to increase our reliability with this crop immensely.

Don't know what it is, but a head of cauliflower in the field is very rewarding to the farmer
And things beyond our control

Then, there are things you can't do anything about.  For example, we like to grow Listada de Gandia eggplant and Rosa Bianca eggplant.  Listada is the top photo and Rosa is below.

We acquired seed for each and started plants.  We got them in the ground and they are growing fine.  Listada looks good and is beginning to produce.  The Rosa's?  Well, their fruit look alot like Listada - even if the plant looks alot like a Rosa Bianca plant.  So, clearly there was an issue with the seed.  We will not get any Rosa Bianca's this year because of it.  But, we'll test the fruit the plants do produce to make sure they taste fine and go from there.

I saved this item for last as a reminder to myself and to everyone else that there is always more to learn and there is always a chance that mistakes will be made.  It is also a good reminder that, even if you think you did everything 'right,' things can still go wrong.  So, I may be speaking with confidence about our abilities to grow things, but I always know how easily Mother Nature can make me look very silly.  I am also painfully aware of my own short comings.

So, with that in mind - we're still doing pretty darned good and we're just planning on getting better.  If things go wrong (and they will) we will make more adjustments and do what seems best to the best of our abilities.  I don't think we can say fairer than that!