July 26th, 2013

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes!

The season is upon us.  All of the seeding, transplanting, suckering, Thursday trellising, and constant watering is paying off in the form of tomatoes.  The orbs of various sizes and shapes have been on all of our minds for the last few weeks – but really hitting home this week.  Yesterday I spent a good amount of time picking the green zebra tomato – one of my favorites.  An heirloom with yellow and green stripes, its flavor is sweet with a bit of a bite to it.  We have dedicated a significant amount of time to cherry tomatoes.  We plant so many not because we love to pick them (though it is a lot of fun at the beginning), but because we enjoy eating them and they provide us a type of tomato insurance.  When disease starts to take down the plants, the cherry tomatoes seem to handle it the best. 

A little more about tomatoes:

Botanically, tomatoes are fruits (a berry, the edible seed-containing part of a plant).  Legally, however, tomatoes are vegetables, thanks to a US Supreme Court ruling that favored their “common use” over their botanical origin.

The Nix vs Hedden case in 1893, addressing the Tariff law of March 3, 1883, (which taxed imported vegetable but not imported fruit) brought the tomato classification to light.  John Nix, a tomato importer brought Hedden, a collector of the port of New York to court to regain the taxes he had collected under protest.  The Justice decided in Hedden’s favor, thus making the tomato, legally, a vegetable.

Ohio, in 2009, passed a law that made the tomato the official fruit of the state of Ohio.  It is the official state vegetable of New Jersey.  And politically correct Arkansas has named the “Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato” to be both the state fruit and vegetable in the same law, covering both its legal its culinary and botanical base.  This January, Jeff, Betsy and I traveled to that fine state for the Southern SAWG (southern agriculture working group) conference.  One of the things I was introduced to was the Arkansas traveler tomato.  This is the pink heirloom we’re growing this year! 

A sidenote about the guineas:  They flew the coop and Jeff has pointed out their new location at a house across Hwy 801 – where they are enjoying the company of 3 new friends.  I hope they kept fond memories of Sugar Creek and will visit at some point.  Meanwhile, we are bringing in the chickens to do the job they left behind.  Today Jeff will be moving their whole operation to sit on a large portion of block 2.  The squash and cucumber beetles hours are numbered.  We will let you  know how it goes.  

Enjoy the tomatoes this week,
Natalie and the Sugar Creek Crew

Mom's Rosemary Focaccia

1-1/3 cups warm water
2.5 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
3.5 cups unbleached white bread flour
Cornmeal for dusting cookie sheet to prevent sticking
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary leaves
¼ cup additional olive oil
1 teaspoon course salt, maybe less

Place first five ingredients in order in the mixing bowl. Knead in the bowl until smooth, dough will be sticky. Add in cut-up rosemary and mix. If you’re using a bread machine mix the first  ingredients for five minutes and remove.
Grease cookie sheet with vegetable oil—cover with cornmeal.  Shape dough into a flat disk in the middle of the cookie sheet. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes until almost double in height and puffy.
Preheat oven to 425. Poke holes with your finger all around the top. Drizzle with ¼ cup olive oil and sprinkle with course salt, Bake for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 for 10-15 more minutes until bottom is a little brown.

Sungold Tomato Gazpacho (adopted from Milner's American Southern)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 cup minced fennel bulb (1 small bulb)
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 to 4 pounds Sungold tomatoes
1 cup ground fresh breadcrumbs
1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small jicama, peeled and diced
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Hot sauce, optional

1. Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat and cook the onions, garlic, fennel and ginger until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Puree tomatoes till smooth in a food processor. Add tomato puree and the ground breadcrumbs to the onion mixture. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Add bell pepper, cucumber, jicama, vinegar, basil, cilantro and chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add hot sauce. Cover and chill at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. To serve, garnish each bowl with 3 halves of Sungold tomatoes.

Makes 12 servings.

July 18th, 2013

Well the summer weather finally arrived this week.  With temps in the 90's and high humidity it actually felt like mid-July.  The heat is putting an end to our spring greens but fortunately our summer crops are doing well.  We are hoping that the greens will not be gone too long as we already started our Fall greens a few weeks ago!  It seems crazy to think about autumn but around here we constantly thinking 3-6 months out.

A good example of long term planning is with our potatoes.  We placed the order for our seed potatoes back in Dec 2012.  Seed potatoes are actually normal looking potatoes that are ready to send a sprout out from each eye.  The seed potatoes arrived in February and we planted them into the ground on March 17th.  Just prior to planting the seed potatoes we cut each one into smaller chucks that contain at least one eye.  We spaced the potatoes about one foot apart and then covered them with soil.  A few weeks later after they sprouted we went through with the tractor to "hill" the potatoes which helped keep the weeds away.  Now it's July and the potato plants have died back and now we can dig them up.  To dig them up we actually use a potato plow on the back of the tractor.  The potato plow is simply a large single spade that is pulled behind the tractor.  We run the potato plow down the row and it digs a trench and leaves the potatoes on top of the fresh dirt (see pic below).  I love harvesting potatoes because it only takes 1 minute to run the tractor down a row and when you turn around to see your work there are hundreds of potatoes nestled on top of the soil.  The last step is to gently place the potatoes into our harvest bins.   This year we planted somewhere around 2,500 feet of potatoes.  The Yukon golds are typically very prolific but for some odd reason our yields on these larger potatoes are down this year.  However, our fingerlings in addition to our purple and red fleshed potatoes are doing great and we look forward to several more weeks of spuds!

Enjoy your tubers!
Jeff and the Sugar Creek Crew

Purple Potato Salad via food network

2 pounds small purple potatoes
1 purple onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the potatoes until fork tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain, then rinse in cold water, and cut in quarters. Place the warm potatoes in a large bowl and toss with onion, celery, dill, and parsley. In another bowl, stir together mayonnaise, mustard, celery seed, cayenne, vinegar, and lemon. Check seasoning. Add the dressing to the vegetable mixture. Toss gently to coat taking care not to mash the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad via food network

6 small tomatoes (4 medium)
1 pound fresh mozzarella
10 to 15 basil leaves
3 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella and arrange casually with the basil leaves on a large platter. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.

July 12th, 2013

The rain has slowed down and I feel like we finally got some looming chores done on the farm this week.  We finished trellising eggplant and the pepper rows and got them mulched as well. All the garlic has been harvested and all of the weeds in block 6 have been tilled under (special thanks to Mr. Bill White for helping us fix our PTO shaft for the tiller today!). We conquered the weeds in the hoop house, and put on the shade cloth Natalie purchased. There is continuous planting going on in the new roadblock and it is filling up fast. Also we got around to weeding and doing some much needed maintenance on the hops.

My independent project this year has been hops. I have always been a craft beer fan and spending time in Asheville really got me interested in different flavors and aromas beer can take on. Last year while at the CFSA Sustainable Ag conference I took a workshop about growing hops in the Carolinas. Most of the information given was tentative because growing hops on this latitude is experimental. Commercial hops usually are grown from latitudes of 35 and 55 degrees because the yield depends greatly on the day length. North Carolina, specifically Advance falls on the 35.9 degree so we are right on the line where they can or will not produce. As of now there are two experimental hops yards in Western North Carolina and from what I read they were doing pretty well. So I approached Jeff and Natalie about my idea this winter and they liked it. After doing some research I chose the Cascade hop variety and ordered the rhizomes. Once they arrived I felt a fire to get the land ready and set up a trellis. I opted to do a tepee or a single pole trellis system. This seemed like a good fit for the space and the amount of rhizomes I planted. The team erected a 27ft pole and with the tractor and Jeff’s sturdiness we attached twine from the outer circle to the pole, creating a teepee effect. I planted 26 rhizomes in March and have kept them weeded and watered. Now in July they are starting to cone. The cone creates a powder called lupulin this is used to give the beer the bitterness or aroma. Later this month when the cone begins to loose moisture I will harvest. This first year will not yield enough for market but I look forward to doing a homebrew with them. In the future I am looking to sell them to a local microbrewery interested in local hops for a wet hop brew.

Drink a beer and enjoy the weekend!

Ann and the Sugar Creek Crew

Cucumber-Dill Soup via: Williams Sonoma

3 cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 cup Greek-style or other thick, whole-milk plain yogurt
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 green onions, including tender green portions, chopped
3 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp. caraway seeds, crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1 cup vegetable stock or reduced-sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. fruity extra-virgin olive oil

Coarsely chop 5 of the cucumber halves and transfer to a large bowl. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, green onions, dill, garlic, caraway seeds, salt and white pepper. Stir to combine, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to blend the flavors. Dice the remaining cucumber half and set aside until ready to serve. 

In a blender, puree the cucumber mixture until smooth. With the machine running, slowly add the stock and puree until it is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a pitcher, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. (The soup can be prepared up to 12 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If it separates, simply stir it until emulsified.) 

Just before serving, stir in the diced cucumber and olive oil. Pour the soup into widemouthed glasses or cups and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Warm Garlic String Beans via: thedailygreen.com

1 pound mixed yellow and green string beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons minced garlic

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Blanch string beans for 2 minutes.
2. Rinse to cool.
3. Return to a saucepan with olive oil, butter, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
4. Cook 4 minutes on medium-high heat.
5. Toss with parsley and lemon zest. Serve warm.

July 5th, 2013

Do you know the difference between hay and straw?  (You horse folks can skip on down to the next paragraph – more hay and straw talk to follow)  I remember looking for straw for a Halloween costume/decoration in college and asking several folks working the Home Depot cash registers the difference and not getting a very sure response.  Later at the Rodale Institute, researcher Dave Wilson thought it important for us all to know.  So I’ll pass along what was imparted to me.  Hay is used for livestock feed, straw is used as bedding.  Hay is cut from a live plant – commonly alfalfa, clover, and young oats.  I just came across a website that goes into more detail on livestock and their eating needs/preferences – ex. the third cutting of alfalfa has very leafy growth which is higher in protein - great for calves, pregnant and lactating cows.  Straw is cut after the grain (commonly wheat) has been harvested.  Straw is the hollow shaft that’s left to dry, then it is cut, raked and baled.  It is great for construction – straw has got less weed seeds, and has a higher Carbon: Nitrogen ratio meaning that it’s harder to break down.

Why it matters to us? Mulch!!  A huge time, back, and knee saver.  The brassica block that we piled up with several inches of spent hay down the paths between kale, collard and broccoli plants on black plastic - has not needed weeding since!  Those hay bales sat out over the winter, allowing the weed seeds to germinate, grow a bit and then die back.  Perfect.  For the last several years we have used city leaf mulch to cover the garlic over the winter and help suppress weeds – usually a few weedings and we’re in the clear.  This year = a few weedings and then the weeds took off!  Seeing the success the hay had in the brassica block, we’ll look to do the same when covering our alliums this fall.  When the brassicas are finished, we've pulled the plants and plastic up, we'll till the beds incorporating the mulch, adding organic matter to the soil, feeding the microbes and adding tilth to the soil to better support and encourage the next crop's growth. A side note about the brassicas this year - this spring/early summer has favored this springs' greens considerably.  Looking at last year's notes, the last kale harvest was June 8th, the last collard harvest was June 15th!  

We pulled up the last round of garlic this week - which is currently hanging from the rafters for curing, trellised our third succession of cucumbers, and put in another round of green beans.  We're picking the first few cherry tomatoes and the bigger tomatoes look like they'll be turning in the next couple of weeks.  I hope you all had a Happy Fourth of July.  This year, we relaxed to celebrate the birth of our nation - and it was wonderful. 

Enjoy your produce!
Natalie and the Sugar Creek Crew

Savory Zucchini Bread (one of my favorites!!) from Closetcooking.com

1 1/2 cups zucchini (grated, squeezed and drained)
2 roasted red peppers (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (grated)1/2 cup feta (crumbled)
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Mix the zucchini, roasted red pepper, garlic, feta, oregano, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and eggs in a large bowl.
2. Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and oregano in a bowl.
3. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
4. Pour the batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.
5. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until a toothpick pushed into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

or a little Jamaican Flavor, from jamaicatravelandculture.com comes

Callaloo and Codfish

1/2 lb Saltfish (dried, salted codfish)
1/2 lb shredded callaloo
1 medium onion
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp of butter
1/2 a hot chilli pepper (ideally Scotch Bonnet)
1 sweet pepper
1 chopped tomato
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 cloves of garlic (optional)
4 Scallion (or spring onions) (optional)
6 Slices of bacon (optional)

1 - Cover the saltfish in cold water.  Let it soak overnight (min 8 hours) changing the water several times (this removes most of the salt) Same day method = put codfish in a saucepan with water and bring to a boil then drain.  Repeat 2 more times; drain, flake and set aside.
2 - Bring a pan of cold water to boil and gently simmer the fish for 20 min until tender.
3 - chope the onion, sweet pepper, chilli pepper and tomato while waiting for the fish to cook.
4 - Wash the callaloo in a pot of water and drain thoroughly.
5 - Remove the fish form water and allow to cool. Remove all of the bones and skin then flake the flesh of the fish.
6 - Melt the butter ina frying pan and add the onion, black pepper, sweet pepper, chilli and thyme.  Fry for about 5 minutes.
7 - Add the callaloo and half a cup of water, cover and steam for 15 minutes.
8 - Add the tomatoes and flaked fish and steam for another 10 minutes.
Serve with yam, green banana, fried dumplings and Irish potato.  This is also great over rice.