Week 5

Week 5: Past, CURRANT, and future...

The backyard at sunrise Monday.

Click here for the preferred veggie form and see the full list of the contents of the box below.

The guest star of the box this week is black currants! Currants are one of America’s forgotten fruits. The reason for this is because back in the day, it was discovered that currants were a carrier for a disease that affects white pine trees. In order to protect the logging industry, it became illegal to grow currants at the beginning of the 1900s. Luckily, due to varietal selection, currants are safe for the pine trees again, and are no longer outlawed (as of 1966). However, by the time the restriction was lifted, currants had already fallen out of favor in American cuisine, and they are now practically unknown on this side of the pond. One (among many) of our goals here is to promote unusual and underutilized fruits and vegetables, so currants are on the menu!

Now you may wonder what types of “weird” fruits and vegetables we’re talking about, since our CSA has generally had standard fare this year. The reason for this is that many of the fruits and vegetables that we get excited about are perennials, and thus they take time to get established, often several years. This fits into our long-term goal for the land, which minimizes tilling and maximizes soil and ecosystem health. A brief list of berries, fruits, and nuts we’ve planted so far (but won’t have much of a harvest of for a while) include: red, white, and black currants, golden, black, and red raspberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, blueberries, lingonberries, several types of strawberries, hardy kiwi, seaberry, elderberry, rhubarb, asparagus, several varieties of hazelnuts and chestnuts, and pawpaw. So while we won’t be offering any, say, pawpaws, this year, hopefully in the years to come we will have a wide variety of unique offerings!

This itty bitty thing is a hardy kiwi, which can grow to be absolutely massive and produces grape-sized kiwi fruits.

We received several currant shrubs from our farm mentors, Erin and Rob of Hilltop Community Farm, but these little babies we just planted are not up to producing for our CSA this first year. The currants in the box are black currants and they are also from Hilltop Community Farm, as are some of the tips below for how to use them.

Here's a fancy currant recipe to try straight from the source (Hilltop Community Farm)

Blackcurrant-Buttermilk Ice Cream

The flavor of blackcurrants almost verges on savory, so don't be intimidated by the amount of sugar in the jam recipe - it needs it. It also need a lot of acid to balance that sweetness, so this ice cream has buttermilk in the base. I personally puree the jam after it's nearly done and then return to the pan to "hide" the blackcurrant's skins, but it's not necessary. Most home ice cream makers are 1 1/2 quarts; if yours is smaller, you can absolutely halve this recipe.

3 cups heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 vanilla beans, split & seeds scraped (optional, but definitely not going to hurt anything)

4 egg yolks

1 cup Blackcurrant Jam, recipe follows

1 cup buttermilk

Heat the cream, milk, sugar & vanilla beans (seeds & pods) in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot. You're looking for small bubbles at the surface. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and while whisking, slowly pour in about 1 cup of the hot dairy mix. When the mixture is smooth, pour it back into the saucepan. Whisking constantly, cook over medium heat, until the mixture thickens and coast the back of a spoon - if you can run your finger through the mixture on the back of the spoon and the line holds, it's done. This will take about 10 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a storage container. Cool completely.

Make the ice cream:

Stir the buttermilk into the ice cream base. You can add 1 tbsp. more creme de cassis here if you'd like and it will prevent the base from freezing too hard, but it's not necessary - it will however intensify the blackcurrant taste. Add it to the bowl of an ice cream freezer and follow the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is still more liquid-like than a "soft serve" consistency but still slightly more solid than liquid, add about 1/3 of the blackcurrant jam. This will tint the ice cream and flavor all of it. When the ice cream is about 95% done, add the rest of the blackcurrant jam. This will create swirls. When you see the big swirls, stop - just taking it out of the container will thin out the swirls further. Transfer to a storage container and freezer until solid.

Blackcurrant Jam

3 cups blackcurrants

2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. Mathilde Cassis liqueur or Creme De Cassis (optional, but nice, and prevents the jam from freezing too hard)

Combine the blackcurrants, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil rapidly, stirring constantly, for about 20 minutes, or until the jam has reached a temperature of 220 degrees. If you want, you can puree the jam for a smoother consistency after the blackcurrants have started to break apart but before the jam hits the set point, but it's not necessary. This produces a very, very tight jam with no pectin. Stir in the creme de cassis. Cool completely.

In the Box

  • Salad mix (lettuce mix, mustard greens, spinach, lamb's quarters, arugula, sorrel)
  • Small bunch of kale
  • Green onions
  • Garlic scape(s) (These are the flowering stalks of garlic plants. We cut them off to force the plant to send more energy into the garlic bulb)
  • Basil
  • Carrots with tops (half of the shares will get them this week)
  • Beets (for about half this week)
  • Peas (for the other half!)
  • Black Currants
  • Eggs (for some)


Veggie Burgers

In my opinion the way veggie burgers go wrong is when they start to try too hard to be a meat substitute. As a frequent veggie burger eater and maker, some of the best ones I've had taste nothing like a real burger, but rather have a combination and complexity of flavor all their own. Here is a stab at a recipe for veggie burgers, but my favorite thing about them is how versatile they are. The only down side is that, since I haphazardly put them together with whatever type and amount of ingredients we have on hand, I can never replicate them when I stumble upon the perfect combination.

Veggie Burger rules of thumb:

- lightly roast all the ingredients it makes sense too (reduces the moisture, concentrates the flavor

- pulse/mash beans, but don't puree

- use multiple binding agents...eggs, flax or chia seed "eggs", cheese. I've tried molasses and honey before as well. It worked fine, but I decided it probably isn't best since these liquify when heated

1 cup of dry beans (black or kidney, but anything will work!)

1-2 Carrots with tops

1-2 Beets with tops

1-2 Onions

1-2 Garlic scapes

2-8 pieces of Kale

1. Cook the beans. Drain well and add to a large roasting pan. Put the pan in the oven and turn to ~350 degrees.

2. Cut the green tops off the carrots and set aside.

3. Cut carrots, beet, onion, and a garlic scape into small little pieces (no bigger than a penny) and add to roasting pan with beans already in the oven, making sure to stir it all together in case any beans have started to stick to the pan (somewhere within the first 5 minutes after the oven preheated). If you are feeling really resourceful strip the kale (two fingers pinching starting at the base and moving up the stem) and chop up the stem finely to be added and roasted at this step.

4. Finely chop up the kale, carrot tops and basil and stir into the roasting pan 10-15 minutes after the last step (making sure nothing is sticking to the roasting pan).

5. After 2 or 3 more minutes turn off the oven and take the pan out to cool. If you've really planned ahead and have hours before meal time, just turn off the oven after adding the green stuff and let it sit in the oven for like 2 or 3 hours to cool (making the most out of that energy!)

6. Combine some of the bigger roasted ingredients with 3 eggs in a blender and blend but do not puree.

7. Take the blended ingredients and combine with the rest of the roasting pan in a large mixing bowl. Add a flax egg, or just flax meal. Mash ingredients together with a fork.

8. Get a cup of flour or cornstarch ready and try to make balls out of the mixture. If it doesn't stay together, keep adding flour until it does.

9. Place the ball in a well oiled frying pan, smush it down and rotate it against and along the edge of the pan in order to form a circular patty (or you could use two spatulas to form it into something fun and different like a triangle...that'd be neat).

10. Let the one side cook a long time at low-medium heat without touching it (after having formed it into the desired shape) (7-10 minutes maybe?).

11. Once you are pretty sure the bottom has browned (I've found even a "burnt" side doesn't really ruin the patty), flip it over and cook another 3 or 4 minutes on low-medium. Enjoy!

Brad's Food Philosophy Corner

Brad shares his reasons for farming, one per week!

It's Fresher

When you grow your own food, you can harvest right when you need it, meaning the freshest and most alive produce. When you buy from small and local, the chance you are getting fresh food also increases. At the scale we are at, we can afford to harvest day of, meaning almost all of the produce in our CSA boxes delivered Thursday night is picked Thursday morning. This is all in contrast to industrial ag. As this article summarizes (here is the 800 page version), fruits and veggies in the grocery store could be weeks, months, or even a year old. Depending on the item, this is done through a combination of heat or cold shock, long-term refrigeration, controlling the atmospheric gas composition in the storage environment, picking while unripe, and chemical treatments.

Why should all of this matter? Well in addition to the decrease in nutritional value and flavor mentioned in the article above, there are those pesky negative externalities again. Treating, packing, chilling, heating and refrigerated shipping exert a serious environmental toll not fully accounted for in our current economic model. Further, there is the matter of variety selection. That deserves its own week, but for now it is worth noting that the incentives in play for industrial ag steer only towards getting a product that looks and tastes enough like the vegetable to get people to buy it. Questions of nutritional value and nuances of flavor are largely, if not entirely, left out of the picture.

Sunset on the farm Monday.