Friday, November 4, 2016

Magically Magnificent Cinderella Soup


We recently stumbled onto a fantastic method of making squash or pumpkin soup by baking a whole, filled fruit in the oven and serving right from the shell! It’s a super simple yet rich and indulgent recipe that requires minimal effort but has a breathtaking presentation. Just right for a holiday meal, our Cinderella soup is delicious, warming and satisfying. Its quick prep means you could throw it together for a weekday meal as well. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Ingredients:
1-whole Cinderella pumpkin (or other squash that will fit in the oven, approximately 5 pounds)
2 quarts whole milk, a milk/cream mix, or vegetable substitute (try cashew, almond or coconut)
15 large sage leaves
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup (more or less to taste) Gruyere cheese, shredded or cubed

Method:



1. Move the rack to the bottom of the oven to make room and preheat to 375°F.
2. Cut a lid out of the top of the pumpkin making the hole large enough to form a tureen out of it. Scoop out the insides.
Pro tip: To make gutting the pumpkin super easy, put a hand beater blade in the chuck of a portable drill and run it carefully inside the pumpkin to loosen the strings and seed.
3. Rub the inside of the cleaned fruit with sea salt, and set it in a baking dish that’s large enough to contain the whole pumpkin. Remember, if the skin gets pierced in the process, the dish will need to accommodate all the ingredients!
4. Heat the milk with the sage, garlic, salt and pepper.
5. Pour the mixture into the pumpkin, cover the hole with aluminum foil to help support the lid, and fit the lid back in place.

6. Bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours or until it is fairly soft to the touch.
7. Remove from the oven, take off the lid and foil, and carefully begin to stir the cooked flesh into the liquid to combine. Taste and add salt if needed. If the flesh is stringy or the skin doesn’t hold up you may need to scoop everything into a serving tureen.
8. Stir in cheese.
9. If you want a very smooth soup, ladle the contents into a blender or use an immersion blender & mix.
10. Top with fresh parsley for garnish if desired, serve & enjoy!

Adjust the measurements as needed for larger or smaller squash. We’ve found this basic recipe very adaptable to your preferences. Goat cheese works well, curry or other seasonings can be added prior to baking, and sour cream makes a wonderful topping immediately prior to serving.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s recipe in her book, Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets.

If you haven't grown our Cinderella pumpkins before, be sure to add it to your list for next year!

Author: Kat B.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tomato Talk: Tips & Techniques for a Healthy, Tasty Crop

Tomatoes are probably the most popular crop grown by American home gardeners. With their high success rate and offering the rewards of incomparably delicious fruit, you’ll find tomatoes growing in the vast majority of gardens, patios and farms. Talk to any avid tomato grower, and you’ll undoubtedly be offered a heaping earful of personalized cultivation tips that will guarantee a bountiful harvest. These will range from the logical to the outlandish, which is enough to bewilder even the most seasoned gardener. The following tips represent a few of this gardener’s own guidelines from years of personal and professional experience and experimentation.

Since we’re currently well into the tomato growing season, we’ll skip seed starting & transplanting and move directly into cultivation of established plants, focusing on some basics that will hopefully aid in refining your tomato-growing techniques. One initial clarification is the difference between the two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate plants tend to grow bushy and stay short, producing a single, concentrated flush of fruit.

Indeterminate plants grow more like vines. They will grow very tall and full (if not pruned) and will continue producing blossoms and fruit until the plants succumb to the frost.

Most tomato varieties are indeterminate and require support to keep the vines off the ground and healthy.

Now that we’re clear on determinate versus indeterminate and have already mentioned support, let’s discuss the options for trellising. Providing support for your plants will help keep the tomatoes off the soil and reduce stresses on the vines that are bearing the weight of ripening fruit. If you happen to be growing short-statured, determinate plants, even they can benefit from support. The simple, small ring tomato cages are fine for most determinate varieties, although they’re usually too small and flimsy for most indeterminate plants.

Indeterminate tomatoes require taller and more heavy-duty support systems. These plants can grow 6-8 feet tall or more depending on the variety and growing conditions, so a 4-6 foot tall structure is not unreasonable. There are innumerable trellising structure designs available for indeterminate tomatoes, and I’ll break them down into two main categories depending on your pruning practices (we’ll delve into that next).

From an employee garden: A creative way to trellis using some leftover pea & bean string
If you don’t prune your indeterminate tomatoes, we found the most practical support system is a folding cage with a square footprint that’s made of heavy gauge wire. Designed to support the weight and accommodate the height of a well-developed plant, these long-lasting cages fold flat for easy storage in the off-season. They contain the plant and offer easy access to the fruit, too. I’ve seen similar cages made of 1 x 1 wood slats, but these usually don’t fold. If you’re handy, have some scrap lumber and room to store them, they’re a great option since they’re cheap and easy to make.

Cattle panel trellises at our trial farm.
A nice alternate is constructing a cage from cattle panel. This sturdy stuff is available at farm or building supply stores in 4 x 16 foot sections. I’ve found it to be very versatile. Bolt cutters make quick work of turning it into smaller size sheets, and it’s easy to connect together with zip ties.

From a customer garden: Zig-zag structure
You can make A-frame cages for multiple plants or upright zig-zag structures that will support entire rows of pruned or unpruned plants. The wire lasts for years, but you may have to replace the ties after a few seasons.

This leads us to the topic of pruning. Pruning your tomato plants keeps their structure and growth organized, focused and controlled. It also encourages air circulation, which will help reduce fungal infections, and it opens the fruit for even sun exposure, which can aid ripening. Determinate plants don’t require pruning, but indeterminate types can benefit from it.

If you choose to prune, there’s a very simple method to optimize production, fruit quality and plant health. Maintain two to three main stems from each plant. Doing so changes the natural growth of the indeterminate plants from super jungles to easy-to-manage vines and lends the plants to flat, espalier-style trellising. 

To prune, look at your indeterminate plant and identify the main stem coming out of the ground. Moving upwards, notice that at each joint where a leaf emerges from the stem, there’s a branch sprouting. These branches are suckers. Select all but two of the lower suckers and pinch them off. Those two remaining suckers will become stems and produce more suckers at their leaf intersections. Remove all the suckers as they appear on all three stems. The resulting triple-vine plant (or double if you choose to prune down to two main stems) can be supported on stakes, flat panels, walls, fences, or on suspended strings or wire.

Before being pruned

Pruning the "suckers"

After being pruned and supported.
My final tomato growing tip is the most fundamental and also the most important: watering. Tomato plants are fairly resilient and can thrive under a wide range of conditions, but you can potentially improve the health of your plants and flavor of the fruit if you follow some basic guidelines. Tomatoes don’t mind going fairly dry between watering. Once established, it’s best to give your plants very deep, infrequent irrigation. At our trial farm we typically water about once per week. The water is delivered very slowly to allow it to seep into the ground and encourage the plants to produce deep roots.

If you’re growing your plants in pots; choose large containers (ten gallons or larger for indeterminate plants) and regulate your watering schedule by the size of the plant and weather conditions. Always provide enough water to see the excess releasing from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, and don’t allow the plants to stand in water.

One final flavor tip: withhold irrigation in the final weeks of the season. This forces the green fruit to ripen, concentrates the flavor, and helps prevent splitting.

Since everyone’s garden conditions and techniques are unique, I like to stress that gardening tends not to be an exact science. The rules are fairly flexible, and each gardener discovers what works best for them through trial and error. Do what works for you and your garden, and keep an open mind. I recommend experimenting with different techniques or products when you’re looking to improve your results, and try new varieties every season. You never know what or how it will work until you grow it! 

Author: Kat B. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

4th of July Layered Smoothie

I don’t know about y’all, but it’s hard for me to think about cooking in the middle of summer. When it is a sweltering 90° outside, the last thing you want to do is run your oven or stove—making the house even hotter! And, besides, summer is the time to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. There’s nothing more refreshing than a smoothie for relaxing outdoors or sipping on the go. 

So, here we go—a recipe that quenches your thirst, gives you that fresh fruit and veggie fix and – yes – will even bring out your down-home patriotic side.

I always use three base ingredients in my smoothies – cucumber (preferably Armenian), agave nectar, and plain Greek yogurt. The cucumbers add a hydrating aspect to the smoothie, the yogurt provides substance and the agave, of course, adds extra sweetness. 

To begin gather all the tools necessary: a blender, pitcher, knife, cutting board, freezer (you can leave your freezer where it’s at—don’t actually try to move it), plenty of ice, and most importantly, a glass to taste-test each layer.

Blue Layer
  • 1 cup ice (I find that adding the ice first helps with the breakdown)
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: You can use all fresh blueberries if you want. If so, you might want to add another ½ cup of ice for thickness.

Pour the blue layer into the pitcher filling it up a third of the way. Then, put it in the freezer to solidify while making the next layer.

Rinse blender.

White Layer
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped Napa cabbage
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • ¼ medium sized honeydew melon (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: It’s hard to not add more honeydew, but try to refrain! Adding more will turn the layer a light green rather than keeping it white.

Pour the white layer on top the blue layer and place back in the freezer.

Rinse blender.

Red Layer
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 medium sized beet (washed and chopped)
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • ½ Armenian cucumber (peeled and chopped)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp agave – feel free to add more for desired sweetness!

Add all ingredients to your blender and pulse.

Note: If you are using frozen strawberries or raspberries, that second cup of ice may not be necessary.

Pour the red layer on top of the white and place back in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Your 4th of July smoothie is almost ready. Garnish with fresh honeydew, white grapes, strawberries, and blueberries. Serve up and enjoy!

Share with friends and family.

Happy 4th of July!


Author: Dana M.