Thursday, August 4, 2011

White Bean and Summer Greens Bruschetta

Wondering what to do with all of those leftover summer greens? Don’t worry, the YSFP has you covered.

We came back from the Wooster Square Farmer’s Market on Saturday with a crate of leftover Pirat lettuce, swiss chard, escarole, and tons of bok choy that we needed to use up for lunch on Tuesday. But what kind of recipe calls for so many different varieties of greens?

We decided to make our own.

It all started with Brian’s suggestion of revamping a class Yale Dining dish of Pasta with White Beans and Escarole. I put the beans to soak overnight on Monday, expecting that when I got to the farm Tuesday morning there would be several boxes of pasta waiting for me.

But Jacquie had another idea. Instead of pasta, she had bought bread. Instead of an ordinary pasta dish, we were going to make White Bean and Summer Greens Bruschetta with Squash Blossoms and Sungold Tomatoes. Definitely a more creative dish, and the perfect opportunity to clean out the farm fridge.

I put the beans (about 3 cups to feed 10 people) to boil with some of Jacquie’s special “salted herbs,” but any seasoning would do.

While I was waiting for that to boil, I chopped all the greens in the fridge: 3 bunches of baby escarole, 3 bunches of swiss chard (including stalks), and 4 baby bok choys.

While those were sauteing with a little oil and water,  I discovered a whole bag of squash blossoms and a few stunted eggplants that I decided to chop up and throw in for a little extra color.

The combination was unexpectedly beautiful.

We served with crusty bread, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and some of the first  Sungold tomatoes of the season.

Yum.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mint-Pickled Onions on the Farm

A few weeks ago, Jacquie, YSFP’s Special Events and Outreach Coordinator, catered an event for 40 people at the Yale Forest, creating a menu that featured parsley-spiked tabbouleh and lamb sausage. As an additional condiment, Jacquie decided to make “Mint Pickled Onions” by splicing two recipes from “The Joy of Pickling,” a great cookbook (picklingbook?) by Linda Ziedrich.

When I arrived at the farm Jacquie was waiting for me with 8 giant red onions and a plan. We would multiply the recipe by 8, with hopes of ending up with 8 cups of pickled onions, adding fresh mint from the farm for an extra twist.

I spent a long time learning to use the mandoline, but eventually I had two big bowls full of sliced red onions and no cut fingers. My feelings of success were short-lived however, when I realized that we didn’t have any white vinegar at all. After much scrambling, we found about a half cup of rice-wine vinegar and the ends of two forgotten bottles of apple cider vinegar. Added together, it was just enough to cover the onions.

Josh Evans, a former farm intern and fellow blogger visiting from New York, helped me chop up some mint from the farm and transfer the super-easy onion-salt-vinegar mixture into a beautiful five quart jar to be stored in the fridge until the forest event. Despite our haphazard substitutions, the mint-pickled onions were a huge success. Jacquie came back from the Forest with half a jar left over, and we enjoyed the benefits of overestimation for more than a week.

Not only do these onions go great on just about everything, they’re so sweet that they can be eaten by themselves as a side instead of just a topping. White onions would work just as well, but red turned the vinegar base to a beautiful magenta that made everything look more appetizing. Below is our basic recipe— though obviously, substitutions are encouraged!

Mint-Pickled Onions

1 medium-sized white or red onion sliced into thin rings

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar (or rice/ apple-cider)

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon pickling salt

Mint to taste (about 20 leaves)

1. Put onion into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand one minute before draining. Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and mint. Pour over onion.

2. Let the onion pickle for at least one hour before serving.

The onions can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a week.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Community Supported Fisheries & The Thimble Island Oyster Co.

There are basically two options for farmers who want to avoid the massive, impersonal supermarket system: selling at farmers’ markets, or starting a Community Supported Agriculture program. We’ve talked about how CSAs run here before, and why they’re such an important tool for small farmers looking to build a strong customer base and get the cash they need upfront at the beginning of the season. So what happens when you apply this system of exchange to another changing industry? What about fishing?

According to an article in YES! Magazine, the first Community Supported Fishery was started in Port Clyde, Maine in 2007, and it worked just like a traditional CSA: consumers paid a lump sum directly to the fishermen, then received a weekly allotment of seafood caught in local waters. Since then, more than 20 CSF programs have started up in the US and Canada, each of them dedicated to provided fresh local seafood and supporting shrinking fishing communities, many of whom can’t or won’t operate at the scale required by industrial buyers.

It’s a tough time for those fishermen as well as their catch: human demand for seafood of all kinds is quickly outstripping supply, leaving many global stocks in critical condition as their numbers dwindle and their habitats suffer the effects of pollution. Agricultural runoff creates nitrogen-choked dead zones that expand every year; the 2010 Gulf Oil spill was neither the first nor, sadly, likely the last of its kind. So when we eat seafood, it’s crucial to eat conscientiously, consuming species that aren’t dangerously overfished and that have been harvested or farmed responsibly.

Bren Smith, of the Thimble Island Oyster Co., does just that. His refrigerators are solar-powered; he uses recycled gear and farms shellfish like clams and oysters, which actually help clean the contamination in the waters where they live. Plus for which, the cages he grows them in act as an artificial reef, providing habitat for other creatures.

Luckily for us here in New Haven, Bren and Bun Lai, chef and owner of Miya’s Sushi Restaurant, have teamed up to bring us Connecticut’s very first CSF. CSF members pay an annual fee toward the oyster farm’s operating costs and receive a dozen oysters and two dozen clams weekly for 6 months, from June through November. The YSFP is a proud member, and we’ve already experimented with making clam pizza of our very own with the CSF’s bounty.

Interested in learning more? Check out their website for more information about how the Thimble Island Oyster Co. benefits the marine ecosystem and the local community.

Looking for a CSF near you? The Northwest Atlantic Marine Associate (NAMA) features a list of CSF locations. (If  you don’t find one, don’t despair. The Thimble Island Oyster Co. isn’t there yet either!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Urban Beekeeping: An Introduction
Just this morning, the YSFP office received a frantic phone call from one of our Connecticut neighbors. He was desperately searching for local honey for the treatment of seasonal allergies (more on that later) and he thought that we might be able to help him out. Although the bees that we installed on the Farm at the beginning of summer are still too young to produce honey, New Haven is home to many local beekeepers dedicated to the sometimes-difficult but always-rewarding task of urban beekeeping. This week on the blog we’ll highlight the benefits of urban beekeeping and introduce some of the local practitioners who have been working here in New Haven since long before it was trendy.
At first, urban beekeeping might seem like a contradiction in terms. It’s difficult to imagine a beehive in the middle of a city, and we might wonder if bees can even survive in an environment so completely altered by humans. And if they can make a home here, is there really any benefit to raising bees in what might sometimes seem like a concrete desert?
In fact, bees are constantly at work in even the most urban locations, affecting the landscape in ways we tend to take for granted. So what are bees good for?
1. Bees are pollinators. In the simplest terms, they take pollen from one flower and bring it to others, allowing for the fertilization that produces more seeds in flowers and fruit, thus ensuring a next generation and producing the parts of plants we like to eat. Without them, farmers would have to spend a lot of time hand-pollinating, and uncultivated crops would disappear almost entirely. Among the surviving plants, genetic diversity would plummet, since bees can carry pollen over many miles— and diversity is crucial to the robustness of any population. So without bees, all the flowers, shrubs and trees in parks and medians all over your city? They would pretty quickly disappear.
2. Urban beekeepers are doing their parts to counter Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In light of the recent and ongoing decline in wild bee populations, domesticated bees are increasingly responsible for the pollination of not just city gardens but also larger scale agricultural crops and uncultivated plants.
3. Perhaps most obviously, bees are the one and only source of honey! Everyone knows that honey is a nutritious and delicious natural sweetener, but some claim that local honey can also serve a medicinal purpose in the treatment and prevention of seasonal allergies. Because local honey is the direct product of region-specific pollen, consuming locally harvested honey is thought to accustom the body to those allergens in small doses, so that when they’re encountered en masse they aren’t seen as a threat.
We reap the many benefits of bees every time we put honey in our tea, slice up a tomato, or enjoy the flowers in our parks and gardens. Later his week we’ll take a more in-depth look at exactly how urban beekeeping works, with a post about the bee boxes Pollen recently installed on our Farm and a post about Vince Kay’s Swords Into Ploughshares, an operation that processes and packs honey just a couple of blocks from the Farm. Hopefully along the way we’ll inspire a few would-be apiarists to start hives of their very own!

Urban Beekeeping: An Introduction

Just this morning, the YSFP office received a frantic phone call from one of our Connecticut neighbors. He was desperately searching for local honey for the treatment of seasonal allergies (more on that later) and he thought that we might be able to help him out. Although the bees that we installed on the Farm at the beginning of summer are still too young to produce honey, New Haven is home to many local beekeepers dedicated to the sometimes-difficult but always-rewarding task of urban beekeeping. This week on the blog we’ll highlight the benefits of urban beekeeping and introduce some of the local practitioners who have been working here in New Haven since long before it was trendy.

At first, urban beekeeping might seem like a contradiction in terms. It’s difficult to imagine a beehive in the middle of a city, and we might wonder if bees can even survive in an environment so completely altered by humans. And if they can make a home here, is there really any benefit to raising bees in what might sometimes seem like a concrete desert?

In fact, bees are constantly at work in even the most urban locations, affecting the landscape in ways we tend to take for granted. So what are bees good for?

1. Bees are pollinators. In the simplest terms, they take pollen from one flower and bring it to others, allowing for the fertilization that produces more seeds in flowers and fruit, thus ensuring a next generation and producing the parts of plants we like to eat. Without them, farmers would have to spend a lot of time hand-pollinating, and uncultivated crops would disappear almost entirely. Among the surviving plants, genetic diversity would plummet, since bees can carry pollen over many miles— and diversity is crucial to the robustness of any population. So without bees, all the flowers, shrubs and trees in parks and medians all over your city? They would pretty quickly disappear.

2. Urban beekeepers are doing their parts to counter Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In light of the recent and ongoing decline in wild bee populations, domesticated bees are increasingly responsible for the pollination of not just city gardens but also larger scale agricultural crops and uncultivated plants.

3. Perhaps most obviously, bees are the one and only source of honey! Everyone knows that honey is a nutritious and delicious natural sweetener, but some claim that local honey can also serve a medicinal purpose in the treatment and prevention of seasonal allergies. Because local honey is the direct product of region-specific pollen, consuming locally harvested honey is thought to accustom the body to those allergens in small doses, so that when they’re encountered en masse they aren’t seen as a threat.

We reap the many benefits of bees every time we put honey in our tea, slice up a tomato, or enjoy the flowers in our parks and gardens. Later his week we’ll take a more in-depth look at exactly how urban beekeeping works, with a post about the bee boxes Pollen recently installed on our Farm and a post about Vince Kay’s Swords Into Ploughshares, an operation that processes and packs honey just a couple of blocks from the Farm. Hopefully along the way we’ll inspire a few would-be apiarists to start hives of their very own!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Grow: Tomatoes

It’s that time of year again when the first really warm days mean the same words from everyone who visits our stand at market: “When will your tomatoes be ready?” In fact, our tomato seedlings have just been transplanted into the ground from the soil blocks where they spent the first few weeks of their young lives. While tomatoes can be planted any time after the threat of frost has passed and nights stay above fifty degrees, we waited until our seedlings were strong and hearty enough before transplanting them into one of the farm’s high tunnels.

Everyone has a secret to the best way to grow tomatoes, but the majority of growers train the tomatoes upright using one method or another. Whether it’s by caging, staking, or stringing up the tomato plants, any method that raises the plants off the ground increases the airflow around the plant, preventing the spread of disease and leading to a surplus of healthier fruit— this is especially crucial in a damp, humid climate like New Haven’s! At the Yale Farm, we take advantage of the overhead bars of our high tunnels to string a trellis from the top of the tunnel to a stake attached to the ground near each tomato plant. We can then clip the stem of the young plant to the string to encourage vertical growth. Much like using a stake, stringing tomatoes in this way helps support the fruit-bearing plant, preventing bending and breaking while ensuring a more equal sun exposure. We choose string rather than stakes because the string provides more vertical space for indeterminate varieties such as ours to grow taller.

Now that the tomatoes are planted and the string is stretched between the overhead bar and the base of the plant, the real fun begins. Every foot or so we’ll add another trellis clip to attach the stem to the string, and every few days we’ll pluck off the suckers – the tiny off-shoots that grow horizontally from the stem – encouraging the plants to focus their energy on growing taller and bearing more fruit rather than spreading out horizontally. While some growers allow the suckers to develop and produce fruit, our careful pruning ensures even sun exposure and allows us to grow the plants closer together, eighteen inches rather than the conventional two feet. We get a better use of space and healthy, evenly ripened tomatoes.

What’s the number one trick for growing tomatoes at home? More sun! We plant our tomatoes in full sun under the plastic of the high tunnel so it’s as hot as possible. You’ll want to make sure they’re well watered at the roots— we use drip tape to irrigate our plants— so that they can absorb all of the necessary nutrients from the soil, which prevents common problems like catfacing and end rot.

Over the course of this week, as we ease into our new blogspace, we’ll be introducing both ourselves and our Farm with posts on who we are, what we grow, and how to cook with that produce.

Hello blog-reading public! My name is Rachel Kempf and I’m a Summer Events Intern at the YSFP. More generally though, I’m a double major in English and Film Studies at Yale, just about to enter my junior year. I originally hail from rural central Pennsylvania, a place where there are more deer than people, so I appreciate the green oasis of the Yale Farm in the city of New Haven.

I spend most of my time on the Farm using our fresh produce and herbs to prepare meals for the other interns and making brick-oven pizza for the Farm’s volunteers. This summer, I’ll also be learning how to best take advantage of the myriad plants in our perennial beds – I’m happy to report that my first attempts at herbal tea have been very successful! I’ll be a regular contributor to the YSFP blog and I can’t wait to catalogue my adventures as a fledgling urban farmer!