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Times They Are a-Changin'

Yes, daylight saving time kicked in this weekend.  But, the weather and routine of the farm is changing, too.

This week was what Hoosiers call Spring of Deception.  By the time you read this, it will probably be Third Winter!  This time of year, the workload on the farm really starts to increase.  In an effort to reduce propane use, we try to heat only one end of the greenhouse until it becomes absolutely necessary to heat the whole thing.  So, we have seedlings everywhere - lining the isles on the floor, on top of the heater, on the potting bench... Every time we work in there, we need to shuffle trays to the unheated side to make work space.  In just a couple of short days we'll need to open the divider and expand to the rest of the space.

Things are exciting outdoors, too!  The amphibians are waking up, and in the first article this week, I discuss our turtle log, as well as hearing the first singing frogs of the year!  One of my favorite sounds in the whole world is the call of spring peepers, and the article includes links to some resources to help you identify the calls of the frogs you hear!  The hazelnut trees are blooming, too!  Hazelnut trees have a fascinating and unique reproductive system. And, we're expanding our hazelnut plantings this year!

Bringing things back into the kitchen, we continue my review of (cook)Books Everyone Should Own.  These are books which offer an interesting perspective and are particularly valuable for helping you cook and eat seasonally and locally.  This week's selection: Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.  The review also contains her recipe for Rutabaga and Apple Bisque!  Finally, we wrap up the 'ish with a second recipe, my take on Southern Short Rib Soup.

Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now

Turtle Log

One of my favorite features of our farm is the turtle log.  It's  nothing special, really: just a tree that fell into the pond years ago.  However, it reaches from near shore into fairly deep water, creating ideal habitat for fish.  It is also a favorite for turtles, providing a gentle slope to climb out of the water, yet still protected from land predators.  Sunny days will often reveal dozens of turtles - mostly leatherbacks and snapping turtles, but we have a few others, including one beautiful box turtle, who come back year after year.  Some of the turtles have unique markings, and we can identify them from day to day, and year to year.  We should probably name them!  Alas, the turtles are skittish, and if you try to walk within even 25 yards of the shoreline, they will all plop back into the water.

The turtle log is also frequented by a great blue heron, who this past fall was seen every afternoon for 9 weeks straight, fishing and preening from it!  Though even more skittish than the turtles, great blue herons are my spirit animal, so it was an honor to watch him from afar.  I wish I had a longer camera lens to photograph both the turtles and the heron more appropriately.

The turtles returned to the log this week: a couple on Tuesday, a dozen or so on Wednesday, and on Thursday, so many that the log consisted of nonstop turtles stacked on top of each other three or more deep!  Surely, real spring is approaching. 

I even heard the first tentative warmups of two of our singing frog residents in the wee hours of Friday morning: a couple of spring peepers, and a few western chorus frogs.  We have good populations of several calling frogs and toads on our farm, and they provide some of my absolute favorite sounds in the world (on a sad note, it was finding that I could only hear spring peepers with my right ear while lying in bed one night that alerted me to how bad my hearing damage was.  Now, except during the peak of their mating season, I can no longer enjoy their chorus from bed, and must trek down the driveway).  Healthy populations of amphibians are one of the many benefits we enjoy by protecting the surface water quality and wetlands on our farm.

If you also enjoy the romantic overtures of our amphibian friends, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has two great resources for learning their calls.  The first, Know your Frog Calls, presents photos and quick access to the calls of many of Indiana's favorite frogs.  The second, the Fish and Wildlife Resources Animals page, covers far more than just amphibians, but lists many of our amphibious allies, and includes the calls of many.  It is less fast to navigate, but gives a lot more information about where and when to find them.

Hazelnut Blooms

An early sign of spring, the hazelnuts began blooming this week! 

Hazelnuts have separate male and female flowers.  The male flowers flowers are most prominent.  They are called catkins, and are large, long, and pendulous.  They make a large amount of pollen - my camera was half green by the time I finished taking the photo above!

The female flowers, called florets, are tiny and nondescript.  You need to be fairly close to the tree and paying attention to notice them.  If you look closely, though, they resemble Beaker from The Muppets.  Which makes them extra adorable.  They are rather unusual.  Instead of having an ovary with fertilization-ready ovules, Hazelnut florets have a tiny meristem connected to their ovules, with several pairs of long, fuchsia styles attached. 

Hazelnuts are wind pollinated, and we've certainly had plenty of wind recently to do the job!  Our hazelnut production is just getting started, with only about a pound of hazelnuts harvested last year.  However, we have good genetics in our current trees - a combination of local native hazels and OIKOS Tree Crops' "Precocious," which have a larger nut, thinner shell, good disease resistance, and were bred in a very similar climate and soil regime.  I've also germinated some of our own nuts, which will be a variety of crosses between those two sources.  We'll be planting them out this year.  I've also ordered some Controlled Cross Hybrid Hazelnuts from New Forrest Farm to plant this year, which should add some additional quality genetics to our future plantings.  In time, we'll select the most productive hazelnuts for our specific climate and soil.  They'll be tasty, productive without toxic inputs, and uniquely suited to our farm.

To date, we have used all of our hazelnut harvest for propagation and chocolate making.  Expect to see small quantities of Hole in the Woods hazelnuts for sale sometime in the next couple of years.  If the current flowering is any indicator, perhaps even this year!  In another 5-10 years, we should have a reliable harvest at market!

Vegetable Literacy

This week's Book Everyone Should Own is Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.  This is one of those cookbooks that is as valuable for its entertaining (and educational) reading as it is for its recipes, and it is filled with beautiful photography (it even features Egyptian Walking Onions on the front cover - a plus for any book!).

Vegetable Literacy presents information on eating (and a little on growing) an exhaustive variety of vegetables.  It is arranged by plant family, focusing on 12 different families of edible plant, including herbs and edible flowers, along with veggies.  Each chapter begins with an overview of the plant family, including a personal reflection, making the book resemble a meditation or memoir.  Then, each vegetable in a plant family gets a section, which includes history, cultivation, a brief description of some of her favorite varieties, tips on utilizing the whole plant (instead of just the portion that is most popularly used), some kitchen tips related to the veggie, and a listing of flavor pairings.  Then, she dives into several recipes for each vegetable.

Vegetable Literacy is a great source for inspiration when you're looking in the fridge or at the pile of irresistible goodies you just brought back from the farmers' market, yet don't know how to best use your treasures.  It is also great when you are planning your shopping: you know a particular favorite food is in season, but what can you get to go with it, so you can use it to its best potential?  She very rarely presents recipes with ingredients from opposite seasons.  Those recipes are only possible due to an industrialized global food supply that has lost all touch with the passage of time, cultural traditions, flavor, and nutrition: not what we aspire to!  So, very rarely will you be unable to find all of the ingredients required for a recipe in their high quality, fresh form.

Trying to eat more locally and seasonally?  Trying to provide more nutrient-dense food to your family?  Want some inspiration for beautiful and delicious meals?  Time to prepare some vegetarian meals that don't involve faux meat or leave meat eaters feeling like they've been deprived?  Then turn to Vegetable Literacy!

Rutabaga and Apple Bisque

The Rutabaga and Apple Bisque from Vegetable Literacy is perfect for this nebulous time between winter and spring (also known as the "Spring of Deception.").  The stock of foods put up for the winter is getting slimmer, but hearty, long-storing root veggies remain. Heavy, long-braised meat dishes are getting a little less enticing as the days lengthen, yet we still need some hearty sustenance for all of the work ahead.  This beautiful, hearty, delicious soup fits the bill on all fronts.

Adapted from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
Makes about 6 servings

1 medium Rutabaga (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 carrots
2 tart Apples
2 large Leeks
2 Tbsp butter, plus a bit
3/4 teas Herbs de Provence
5 C Vegetable Stock
1/2 C Half and Half
Black Pepper
Micro Arugula for garnish.

Peel and chop the rutabaga and carrots. Core and thinly slice the apples.  Clean the leeks, and slice the white part thinly.  Save the green part for another use, such as making vegetable stock.

Melt the butter in a stock pot over medium-low heat.  Stir in the rutabaga, carrots, apples, leeks, and herbs de Provence.  Season with salt, and add 1 cup of stock.  Cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining stock, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes (it will depend on the size of your chop). 

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or, let it cool some, and puree it in a food processor or blender.  But an immersion blender is faster, easier, and safer.  I recommend one with a removable shaft and no annoying safety switch that requires two hands and makes pulsing impossible.).  Add the half-and-half, and re-heat if necessary.  Add the pepper, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.  Stir in a pat of butter to finish it, yielding a creamy and thick, yet delicate, soup.

Garnish with arugula microgreens.  They provide both a nice visual spark, and an important flavor and textural contrast.

Southern Short Rib Soup

In the days before I came to Culver, when my income was higher and gas prices were lower, I used to storm chase.  It was mostly a weekend hobby, and more frequently than was probably healthy, we'd find ourselves driving back to Indianapolis in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, to arrive back just in time to go to work Monday morning.  It was on one of these outings that we once stopped at a nondescript truck stop diner in northeastern Alabama for a midnight lunch.

The soup of the day was Southern Short Rib Soup, which I had never had before (or since).  It was a hearty bean soup with thin slices of beef, and lots of beef flavor.  Soups of this sort often utilize less prized, and less pricey, cuts of meat, yet provide the best flavor.  These cuts often contain a lot of connective tissue, which is full of glucosamine, collagen, gelatin, and other nutrients that are valuable for joint health - just in time for the work that comes with spring! They just require long, slow cooking to make the meat edible and the nutrients available.  This one is not an exception! 

So, here we have my attempt, based on that year's old memory, using short ribs from Amor Beef, navy beans, and common, inexpensive vegetables.  Yet the result is luxurious and filling!

Makes about 9 servings

2 C dried Navy Beans
3 lbs Beef Short Ribs
18 C Water
4 Onions, divided
2 Carrots
2 Stalks Cellery
2 Bay Leaves
12 Whole Pepper Corns
1/2 teas dried Thyme
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 C brown Rice
4 Medium Parsnips
1 pint Tomato Juice
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
5 tsp Beef Better than Bouillon *
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
1/2 Bunch Parsley

Rinse the beans, cover with water, and soak overnight. 

The next day, put the short ribs and water into a large stock pot, and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, Quarter two of the onions.  Scrub the carrots, and cut them in half.  Halve the celery as well. 

When the water has come to a boil, add the prepared vegetables to the pot, along with the bay leaf, peppercorns, and thyme.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.  Partially cover the pot, and simmer for about 3 hours.  The meat should be quite tender.

Strain the soup through a colander into another pot or bowl.  Remove the meat to another container, and compost the veggies.  Refrigerate the broth and the meat overnight.

The next day, the fat will have solidified on top of the broth.  This is suet.  Remove it, and use for cooking, making bird feeders, etc.  Return the broth to the large stock pot.  Remove the meat from the rib bones if it hasn't already fallen off.  Trim off the fat, then thinly slice the meat, adding it to the pot.  Drain and rinse the beans, then add them to the pot.  Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer until the beans are cooked, about 90 minutes.

When the beans are nearly cooked, chop the other two onions, and mince the garlic.   Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onions, and saute until they just begin to soften, about 5 minutes.   Add the garlic and rice, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.  Add the rice mixture to the stock pot.

Stir in the tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, better than bouillon, salt, and pepper.  Return to a boil, then reduce the heat.  Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the parsnips.  Chop the parsley.  Add the parsnips and parsley to the stock pot, and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until the parsnips are tender, and the beans and rice are fully cooked.

Serve with a crusty, rustic bread.

*Better than Bouillon is a concentrated paste, made with meat and vegetables.  Like bouillon, it is frequently used as a substitute for stock, or, as here, to strengthen the flavor.  Also like boullion, it is very salty, so you should only adjust seasoning after adding it.  I added it to beef up the beefiness of the broth and combat perhaps too much tomato sauce. 

Unlike bouillon, it is a paste, rather than a cube or powder, and must be refrigerated after the jar is opened.  It is usually located either near canned stocks and broths, in the canned meat section, or in the spice section.

Alternatives that might be better would be using beef stock instead of water at the beginning, or adding reduced beef stock (a demi-glace) instead.  But that would have taken more advanced planning, and I'm pretty sure the soup I had years ago was made with quite a bit of boullion.

Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now
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