It is amazing what a little water can do for our thirsty valley.
This morning at the farm everything felt like impending rain. The smell in the air, the quiet, how vibrantly green the plants look under cloudy skies.
It felt like the landscape was anticipating the coming storm as much as the rest of us. Sadly, the skies didn’t open up as we’d all hoped, but the air feels fresh, the sky is clear, and the layers of red dust in garden are washed clean.
While many plants, such as the tomatoes, are winding down for the season, we do have some new seedlings in the garden. The most recent addition to the rows at the the farm project are newly planted heirloom radishes. (We like to keep a constant supply coming into our kitchens. More on how we achieve that here.) We’re currently growing Red Meat, D’avignon, and Easter Egg varieties.
If a Red Meat Radish sounds strange and unusual to you (as it did to me), you might already know them as a Watermelon radish. A little about them from winterridgefoods.com:
The Watermelon radish, also known as Rooseheart or Red Meat, is an heirloom Chinese Daikon radish. It is a member of the Brassica (mustard) family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips.
Watermelon radishes are edible globular roots attached to thin stems and wavy green leaves. Their exteriors are creamy white with pale green shoulders, a sign of the chlorophyll it received from exposure to the sun. Watermelon radish flesh is white closest to the exterior and becomes bright, circular striations of pink and magenta toward the center. Hence, the watermelon reference.
Our beloved starter at the girl & the fig, the heirloom radishes (mixed seasonal radishes, anchovy butter & grey sea salt) is the happy end result -which was captured this week at “the fig” by the talented Jen Lover. (Also, more on anchovy butter to come.)
It’s interesting to me that many of the recipes that are so “in” at the moment came about as ways to store food before there was refrigeration. Shrubs, ferments, jams, jellies, confit, cheese, charcuterie…the list is really endless and endlessly fascinating. For me the take-away of this is that age-old, time-tested recipes will never go out of style!
I also enjoy new spins on old classics. For instance, this month on the the girl & the fig menu there have been quite a few garden preserves among our offerings, but these are not your grandma’s jam recipes: apple-quince butter paired with our duck liver mousse, green tomato jam (on the MANO FORMATE BLT), bacon marmalade…getting hungry?
Which made it seem like the right time to talk about preserving for winter. When I first started gardening, I froze everything that I had in over-abundance. This makes for some awesome fruit smoothies in the middle of winter, but isn’t always the most space or cost-effective method of storing (especially if you’re thinking in terms of electrical use, carbon footprint, ect.)
So, today, an exploration of some classic techniques for preserving (as well as some recipes), that will have you enjoying your garden produce (or ours) long into winter!
Like all of the methods I’ll mention today, shrubs originated as a food preservation technique that dates back to the days before refrigeration. To prolong the life of ripe fruits, adding them to a crock with a good amount of sugar would transform them within a few weeks to vinegar. This vinegar, though, has the bright, fragrant fruit flavors and could be better described as a vinegar “syrup.” As Serious Eats better puts it, “a proper shrub has a flavor that’s both tart and sweet, so it stimulates the appetite while quenching thirst.”
The acidity of shrubs is in par what’s spurred their revival in popularity as an aperitif.
For instructions on creating your own shrubs, here is a good read.
For a signature “fig” cocktail recipe using our house-made shrubs, check out this article.
Confit which comes from the French verb confire (to prepare), is one of the oldest ways to preserve food, and was used long before refrigeration was invented. The term was first used in medieval times and applied to fruits cooked and preserved in sugar. Most often we think of confit as it applies to meats (cooked slowly at low temperatures and stored in fat), but fruits and veggies can also be stored this way.
If you’re interested in confits, I highly recommend this article by SALT & FAT. It’s hilarious and informative.
Confit is a fancy food-word. If you’re eating confit, there’s probably Salad Périgourdine and beurre blanc on the plate, and a Côtes du Rhône or something on the table. And sure, confit is a high-point of fancy cooking, but its roots are humble. If European farmers could invent it and then use it for centuries, we fancy, modern people can use it in the fancy-free dishes we make in our fancy, modern kitchens. Let’s demystify!
I don’t believe that pickles need much in the way of an introduction. What I will share with you is Sondra’s recipes for tart and sweet & sour pickles (full article here) made with our own Sharecropper line of spices:
Human history owes a lot to beans. They’re one of the longest-cultivated plants: gathered in their wild state in Afghanistan and the Himalayas prior to seventh millennium BCE, deposited in tombs with the ancient Egyptians, made mention of in the Iliad, and sown in the “Three Sisters” plantings of Native Americans. All this to say, people love beans. And with good reason.
Green beans, which are really just the un-ripened fruit and pod of common beans, are one of the most popular vegetables world-wide. They’re nourishing, delicious, and, best-of-all in my book, easy to grow. Especially for the rookie gardener, or someone with little time to devote to the garden, beans are a breeze. (In fact, there’s a collection of heirlooms dubbed “lazy wife” beans? Curious.)
At the farm project this season, we’ve grown a tri-colored assortment of beans: Italian Flat, Yellow Wax, & Snap Beans. These are all bush bean varieties, which have the advantages of not requiring supports to grow on & are and quick-to-yield, so that it’s possible to include 2 plantings per season.
In Sonoma, sow beans in a sunny spot with fertile soil in the Spring or Summer months (May through August). According to www.gardeningknowhow.com,
Of the two types of snap beans, bush beans are preferred for fall planting beans over pole beans. Bush beans produce a higher yield before the first killing frost and earlier maturation date than pole beans. Bush beans need 60-70 days of temperate weather to produce. When fall planting beans, keep in mind that they are a little slower growing than spring beans.
At the fig farm, we sowed our second planting of beans in early August, and are now harvesting every-other day for both restaurants.
When beans are ready to be harvested, look for swelling to about one quarter the size you’d collect as peas. They will keep well in the fridge for about one week (they’re always put straight to use in our kitchens), or you might consider storing large harvests for later use. Stay tuned for a “putting up for winter” post this month.
It is important to keep up on harvests to encourage production – and you’ll be rewarded with this!~
This week’s Plat du Jour: Grilled Skipjack-garden beans, pickled onion, chèvre crema
Fall is here and it is sweet. My favorite combination of hot, sunny days, cool evenings, long shadows, the smell of wine on the breeze during crush, the crunching leaves on the ground. It’s such an amazing time of year to be in wine country. It’s my opinion that there are few things better than watching the seasons turn in a farming county, and I’ll never get tired of it.
Today: a tour around the farm project and a look at all the changes fall has brought in with it.
The line-up of produce has already shifted significantly from the bright red and yellow hues of summer’s tomatoes and peppers and squash, to varied shades of green as the rows transition to cool season crops.
We’re currently pulling squash and pepper plants from the rows, and replacing them with carrot and brassica plantings. (Did you know that you can grow brocolli as a perennial crop? More on that here.) We’re still bringing in summer squash daily, but as the length of the days shorten, so do the squash.
Other happy sights are rows of carrot tops peeking out of the ground, oodles and oodles of green tomatoes, beans swelling on the vine, voluminous basil bushes, and blossoming perennial herbs in the hedge rows.
Even though the days are are shorter and the nights are cooler, there’s still plenty of harvests making their way to the kitchens of the girl & the fig and fig cafe!
In your own Sonoma garden, don’t forget that now is the time to sow seeds of radishes, spinach, asian greens, mache, fava beans, or cover crops if you’re wrapping things up for the year. It’s also time to set in your transplants of the leafy assortment (that is, lettuce, endive, escarole, and brassicas). Now is also the time to use all of that fallen leaf litter for next year’s compost. Find our guide to fall composting here.
Things don’t always go exactly as we hope at the farm project.
We wrote about some common troubles that one might encounter in the organic tomato patch a few weeks back, which can happen in any garden, as well as organic methods of dealing with them.
We’ve gone to great lengths to treat some minor tomato troubles of our own this season. Fortunately, we’re still harvesting huge heirloom tomatoes, but there are a few plants that we just can’t seem to bring around despite our best efforts.
The solution in the case of stubborn blossom end rot (which is not nearly as terrible as it sounds) is simply to harvest those plants while the tomatoes are green, before the problem develops. The happy upside of this? You’ve probably guessed – lots of delicious green tomatoes!
And true to usual form, the creative and varied ways that they’re being put to use on the menus of the girl & the fig and fig cafe will have your mouth watering. The fried green tomato sandwich at the girl & the fig is served with bacon marmalade, tomato & smoked paprika aioli, and a heaping side of frites. And at the fig cafe in Glen Ellen, fried green tomatoes with chevre crema and chives is crispy, tangy and totally yummy. (I’ll let you in on the secret to these light and crunchy fried tomatoes: panko flour. Shhhh.)
The transition to fall is beautiful at the farm this time of year. Stay tuned for more on fall plantings next week!