Monday, 26 September 2011

A Visit to Bruce-Huron Produce Auctions

I mentioned in my post about travelling around with Robert Foreman to collect produce for his 100 Mile Produce farmers' market stand that we attended the Bruce-Huron Produce Auction. This is a new Mennonite-run produce auction held at 733 Kairshea Avenue (R.R.#3, Holyrood, ON) which is 2 kilometres east of Bruce Road 1, north of Lucknow.

The building is a new, purpose-built warehouse in a reclaimed gravel pit. It is surprisingly elegant, with natural stained board-and-batten sides and fibreglass (I think) skylights. At any rate, it's very rare to see something utilitarian and obviously built on a budget that's also attractive, and I commend the designers and builders.

Almost all the vendors arrive in horse-drawn wagons, which have their own entrance lane that runs around to the back of the building.

Behind the building there is a "truck" bay specifically designed for the wagons. The farmers quickly unload their produce and bring it into the building.

The auction is set up on carts and skids in rows, determined by marks on the floor. We arrived fairly early, and the first vendors were just getting set up.

The vendors fill out consignor tickets that get put with each lot of produce to be sold. These tickets will trace the vendor through to the purchaser, and determine what each purchasers is to pay, and what the vendors are to be paid.

There is a section walled off from the main area, which is full of packaging materials. Vendors take what packaging they need, and write the amount taken down in a notebook. Once a month, they are billed for the packaging materials they have taken. This keeps the produce in consistently sized lots from one vendor to another, and allows purchasers to get a similar product no matter who the vendor was, in quantity at least.

These beautiful Turban squash gave me a big smile. They were really lovely, but sadly, they sold for 5 cents each. Yes, I said 5 cents! As Robert succinctly said, "Won't see those here again." There's that problem with anything that isn't absolutely standard. People, when you see something unusual at the market, even if you don't know what to do with it - buy it! Figure it out! It's the only way to get new and interesting produce to show up.

Not surprisingly, that's way below cost for the farmer - Robert said that in general, regardless of size, if the farmers can sell squash for about 25 cents each, they will break even, and at 50 cents a piece they are making a reasonable return. He likes to bid up the prices towards the reasonable-return end of the scale, even if he doesn't intend to buy them. It's a dangerous game to play though - he ended up with a couple of bins of squash he didn't really need yet! Still, it's squash and it will keep, and he will sell it eventually.

The auction itself is surprisingly low-key, but very brisk. The auctioneer and three helpers start at the beginning of the first row of produce. The fellow to the auctioneer's left describes the produce. The auctioneer then begins his patter, and in under a minute the produce is sold. The two helpers to the right of him then get the successful bidder's bidder number, make sure it is added to the consignor ticket on the produce, and that a copy goes to the office where they are sorted by the bidders' numbers.

The auction moved along quickly, from one spot to another, with purchasers milling around. From my point of view, it was hard to tell who was bidding and who was scratching their nose, but the auctioneer always seemed to know.

And finally, after all these years, I figured out what the auctioneer is actually saying in that speed-talking patter that they do, and the answer is - nothing! Most of it is just filler sounds to keep up a sense of something happening. I told this marvellous insight to Mr. Ferdzy, and he stared at me in amazement for the fool that I am. Duh. Oh well. Some of us are just slow.

The Turban squash were probably the cheapest thing sold at the auction, but these giant pumpkins were probably the most expensive, at about $10 each.

There were a lot of different squash at the market - squash season has definitely begun, along with beets, potatoes, onions and carrots. There were huge numbers of pumpkins, and I was surprised to see that they all sold, and for much better prices than any of the other squash. Who knew?

Fortunately, for those of us still clinging to the end of summer, there were still some tomatoes, corn, melons, and green beans.

Once everything is sold the successful bidders go to the office to pay for their purchases.

While the purchasers are paying, the produce gets loaded into their vehicles. There were a number of teen aged boys there, who knew who the regulars were and who were happy to get them loaded up for a small consideration. The produce left the building as rapidly as it arrived, and an hour and half after we got there, we were driving out again.

This is the Huron-Bruce Produce Auction's first year in business, and I'd say it showed in that there is not yet a really high volume of goods going through yet. However, word is getting out about it and I expect that next year will be better for both sellers and buyers. Right now, for anyone who is able to do the driving to get there, it's likely that bargains can be found. There was certainly a pretty comprehensive selection of produce there.

There is a similar produce auction in Elmira that has been going on for a few years now. The lots there tend to be a fair bit larger. At the Bruce-Huron auction lots are still small enough that a family looking to fill their cold cellar and freezer could buy things here.

I was chatting to a man (as we both hung over a bin of delicious-smelling melons taking up the scent for free) who told me that these auctions are becoming very popular with Mennonite farmers, and that there are somewhere around 100 such auctions in the United States now. They are an effective way for Mennonite farmers, who are restricted in how far they can reasonably travel by buggy or wagon, and who often don't have large quantities, to get their produce to distributors. It's more practical for the distributors too, than travelling from farm to farm, often for fairly small quantities.

As a final note, you may have realized that there were no pictures of farmers in the first post about this trip. That's because Mennonite and Amish people have a strong preference not to be photographed. I did explain to the manager of the auction what I was doing, and asked for permission to take photos here, as it would have been otherwise impossible to give any sense of what was going on.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Day In the Life of a Farmers' Market Vendor - 100 Mile Produce

One of the big questions whenever a farmers' market is set up, is "what sort of vendors will be allowed?" Many people who want to shop at farmers' markets immediately think, "Farmers only! No re-sellers!" The trouble is that finding people who farm all week and then are willing to spend the 1 to 3 days a week at the market, working from (say for example) 5 o'clock in the morning until 2 pm, not including the commute, is pretty much impossible for a number of reasons; not the least of which is that if you are spending 2 or 3 days a week at a farmers' market selling, you are not farming those days. And if you are not farming for those days, then you don't have enough to sell at a farmers' market 2 or 3 days a week, and if you are not selling at a farmers market 2 or 3 days a week, you are not making a living - especially when you are talking about vegetables.

Consequently, most farmers' markets of any size have re-sellers at many of the booths. Of course, there are re-sellers and there are re-sellers. If you are trying to eat local food and want to deal with farmers, should you avoid them? Not necessarily, although there are some unscupulous vendors out there, of course. There are also some very good and interesting ones that are an important part of the distribution system for local produce. I'm probably going to talk more and more about distribution on this blog, because it's a big difficulty for a lot of local farmers and producers.

Many of us recognize on sight the folks who have piles of out-of-season imported produce on their tables, and know that they have bought it at the Food Terminal and are re-selling it. Some of us avoid them, but they do stay in business, so obviously a lot of people don't mind! It's much easier to recognize that someone with a narrow selection of goods, in season, is probably a grower. And yet, these are not always the easiest vendors to buy from. There's something more appealing about stopping at a vendor with a good selection of different items to choose from.

Consequently, there are also a number of farmers' market vendors who fill a middle niche - they often grow some of the produce that they sell, and they also sell produce they acquire in other ways. I spent a day travelling around with Robert Foreman, who sells at Keady market on Tuesdays (where I got to know him) and also at St. Jacobs market (Thursdays and Saturdays), and who is one such vendor. His company name is 100 Mile Produce.

Since he is at market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are spent acquiring and preparing produce for the next day. Yes, that's a 6 day week. He used to go to a Sunday market too, where he would sell whatever was left over from the week. He's been doing well enough this year though, that he has little left over and can skip working Sunday. He's been doing this for 10 years.

I arrived at Robert's 24 acre farm just south of Wingham at 10:30 on Monday morning, as he prepared to go around and gather the produce he would need to take to Keady the next morning. He had already been on the road for several hours at that point, having just returned from dropping off 500 pounds of rutabagas in St. Clements.

We started off with a tour of his warehouse, really a large shed behind his house. It's a large, clean cement-floored space with two walk-in coolers, and this odd-looking piece of equipment. I couldn't have guessed what it was, but it's a cucumber grader. You dump the cukes in at one end, and they fall through progressively larger gaps as they travel along it, sorting themselves from smallest to largest. Robert says it saves him hours of work each week when cucumbers are in season.

A few years back, he spent $20,000 to enlarge his warehouse and add a loading dock, another improvement that has saved him hours, not to mention his back. Cases of vegetables can now be wheeled on and off the truck easily instead of the constant bending and lifting required before.

Behind his truck lie some of his fields on one side, and his barn on the other side. He is using neither of them at the moment. His barn is used by a neighbour for beef cattle. In exchange Robert gets the manure for his vegetable fields, and the neighbour cultivates his fields. The neighbour gets to use the field on the left every second year as part of this deal, so it's in soybeans this year as it's his year to use it. That's half of his land; the other half was planted with 9 acres of sweet corn (3 remaining to be harvested) and 3 acres of pumpkins. In addition, Robert rents a tractor for $700 a year. "I'm not a mechanic!" he says. (I've mentioned before how so many farmers need to be.)

This was a theme that came up again throughout the day - none of the farmers and gardeners we spoke to could do this on their own, in isolation. Farming is not for rugged individualists; it is a communal activity. It's really impossible to talk about "a farmer" doing anything all by themselves, let alone selling at market. It's almost always a bunch of farmers doing something.

This was the first of Robert's coolers, which he got second hand from a fast-food restaurant. Right now it's actually being used to keep vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes warm. The season for tomatoes is coming to an end as cooler nights begin to damage them. Soon they will be killed by frost, but right now there are still plenty, and his are being kept sheltered from chill damage in the (turned off) cooler, and also ripening a bit more.

The other cooler is also a second hand one, from a butcher shop this time. This one is being used as a cooler. Right now, it's low tide in the warehouse, and it contains only bags of beets and a few odds and ends. Our goal for the day is to fill this cooler in preparation for the market at Keady tomorrow.

Our first stop was Gorrie Line Produce, 44106 Howick-Turnberry Rd, RR#1, 3 lines north of Gorrie and just off to the east side of Gorrie Line. This Mennonite-run business is a combination retail shop and wholesale vegetable and fruit warehouse.

The shop wasn't open yet and looked a bit empty as baking and other products had yet to arrive. There was a good stock of preserves and honey though.

We pulled up behind the shop, between it and the warehouse.

Inside the warehouse, bins and cases of vegetables stood ready. We loaded up some carrots and onions, and Robert asked about getting some garlic. This was not actually for his market sales; he wanted to get some to a young couple who were moving north in the spring, but who wanted to get garlic planted at their new farm soon as now is the time to be planting it.

Robert deals exclusively with Amish and Mennonite farmers, and as someone who travels around with a truck he is often able to transport items for them that they would not easily be able to move around using horses and wagons. Sometimes this is done as a sale, sometimes this is part of the web of mutual favours that help make up a community. In this case, he was selling the young farmers the garlic, although at a considerably lower price than he could have sold it at the markets.

The garlic in question wasn't actually here; it was still at the farm where it had been grown, being cleaned.

Nothing to say about this; it's the yard at Gorrie Line Produce and I just liked the picture. Next we are off to the farm to pick up the garlic.

Garlic has been a bit difficult this year. It's selling very well. He had 3,500 pounds but it has all sold. In addition, one of the farmers growing garlic for Robert had nematodes in his, and it's mostly unsaleable and completely unplantable. Fortunately, one of Roberts' friendly competitors has only needed about 60% of some garlic he contracted for with Gorrie Line, and Robert has his permission to buy the rest of it. That will get him through the rest of the season.

At the farm where we are to pick up the garlic, we find the farming couple in their plastic covered greenhouse. I loved this greenhouse! It was still packed full of heirloom tomatoes, and was a slightly warm and pleasant place to be on a cool rainy day. We had a lively discussion about different tomato varieties, and they gave me a Pineapple tomato for the seeds. Hopefully, it will be in the garden next year.

I was very impressed by their cherry tomato plants. Even outside, they do get big, but these must have been 9' high as they had reached the ceiling. The tomatoes are obviously winding down, but they were still large and impressive.

The greenhouse is heated in the spring with a wood-burning furnace.

There's an upper room above the furnace where seedlings are started, mostly empty now.

From there, you can look out and see the vegetable gardens and fields behind it.

They had spent the morning picking beans before the rain got started. These beautifully sorted beans were for another purchaser, who supplies to the restaurant trade. They were perfectly sized and arranged with all the stem ends together, and the farmers sold them for 4 times as much as Robert pays for his beans, in unsorted sizes and higglety-pigglety. I imagine they were four times the work to pick, though.

Robert (and most other buyers) won't buy beans or greens picked in wet weather, because it will deteriorate too fast. The farmers don't want to pick them then anyway, as it isn't good for the plants either. Consequently, Robert ended the day a little short of beans and greens.

We had found the farming couple cleaning and sorting garlic when we arrived. They were happy to sell it, and when they heard it was to be planted to stop cleaning it too, in exchange for a slightly lower price.

Outside, some of the gardens were planted with buckwheat as a cover crop.

Traditionally, gardens have been mostly womens' work in the Mennonite and Amish communities, but as it becomes clear that there is money to be made in market gardening the men are getting involved as well.

We continued to travel from farm to farm, although we did stop back at Roberts' farm at one point to drop off the collection so far, and there were some other chores, such as stopping to gas up the truck and replace a defective windshield wiper. In all, I believe we visited 7 farms, although I lost track after a while. The one above was fairly typical; large tidy farmhouses with large tidy gardens, often with a shed turned into a small shop for their produce, or at least a sign out front advertising farm and garden produce for sale.

The social aspect of the farm visiting was an important componant of the day. These are people with whom he has been working for over 10 years now, and with whom he hopes to work for years to come. People who don't have much to sell him today may have something he needs in the future. There was a little haggling about price that I saw; it might seem odd that in all the cases the guy who was buying (not always Robert) was offering to pay more, and the guy who was selling was requesting less. But everybody is aware that the deal has to work for all concerned, not just today but in the future. As is usual with haggling, they generally met in the middle. It was just amusing to see the usual process reversed.

We also spent an hour and a half at the Bruce-Huron Produce Auction; I'm going to post about that separately later.

I tend to moan a little about how standard all the produce is at farmers' markets, but here's one reason why. Robert saw some seeds for white cucumbers at William Dam, thought they looked interesting and got them for one of his farmers to try. They haven't sold at all; no-one wants them. Good thing the farmer didn't plant very many.

That, by the way, is how Robert's agreements with his farmers work. He buys the seeds, and any sprays (generally fungicides) required. Sometimes he buys some of the equipment needed. The farmers supply the land, the labour, and some of the equipment. In general, Robert gets about 50% of the final selling price of the produce, and the farmers get 50%. It does vary a bit by vegetable. For more labour intensive crops, the farmers get a bigger cut. That would be things like beans, green onions and asparagus. For some things, he gets a bigger cut, for example beets. They are easy to grow and harvest, and he bears the cost of storing them.

Robert decides how much he is likely to sell of the various vegetables, and that's the amount he requests from his growers. He's on the hook for that amount; if they grow it for him he is obligated to buy it. If the crops fails, as crops sometimes do even for the most experienced growers, it's up to him to find a replacement source.

Out of his approximately 50% cut of the final selling price, he has other costs. He spends about $3,000 per year on seeds, a little less than $9,000 a year to rent space at the farmers' markets, and about $1,000 a year on liability insurance. Then there's the cost of running his vehicles - he does as much as he can out of a modified mini-van to save fuel and reduce his carbon footprint, but he also has a small cube van. There's the hydro for his coolers. He does hire help; he has university students help with growing and harvesting his own produce and selling at the markets in the summer, as well as some younger students hired on a more casual basis. When all is said and done, he hopes to keep 30 cents of every dollar's worth of produce he sells.

The gardens are winding down. Once Labour day is past, sales at Keady slow down considerably. After Christmas, Robert has no more market sales until asparagus season starts. He works at the local Co-op for a couple of months in the spring, organizing seed sales and mixing fertilizers. The pay isn't great, but it keeps him in touch with the local non-Amish and Mennonite community, and gets him through a slow time of year.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Corn Soufflé

The basil in my garden is looking ratty, but it's still there, and there's still some sweet corn available out there too. Serve this with some of the last of the slicing tomatoes, and try to pretend that summer isn't nearly over.

I served this as the main dish of the meal, but it could be used as a side dish instead.

4 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Corn Souffle
4 cobs of corn
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 or 4 good sprigs of basil
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup butter
3 extra-large eggs

Husk the corn, and cut the corn from the cobs. If you like, run half of it through the food processor until fairly finely chopped, but don't purée it. You can also proceed as-is.

Put the corn, milk, salt, sugar and basil in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes, stirring constantly, then add the cornmeal. Pour it in a steady stream, stirring as it goes in. Continue cooking the mixture, still stirring, until it thickens; approximately 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Set the pot aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 2 1/2 quart (3 litre) baking dish. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in mixing bowl as they are to be beaten stiff.

Beat the yolks into the slightly cooled corn mixture. Fish out and discard the basil.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold them gently into the corn mixture. Scrape it into the prepared pan, and smooth it out. Bake for 10 minutes at 400°F.

Reduce the heat to 375°F, and continue baking for another 50 minutes. Serve at once.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Corn & Edamame Salad

We've pulled up our edamame, and most of them are now residing in the freezer. I did save a few out to eat fresh, and this is what I did with them.

Edamame (fresh soy beans) are a bit hard to find, but hopefully if you have a good farmers' market you can find some. Corn should still be around for a week or two, but we are definitely heading into fall vegetables. I'm rushing to get in the last of the tomatoes. Speaking of which, a chopped up tomato would have been nice in this.

4 servings
30 minutes advance prep - 10 minutes to assemble

Corn and Edamame Salad
Pre-Cook the Corn and Edamame:
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame (1 quart in shells)
2 cobs of corn

Boil the edamame in their shells for 4 or 5 minutes, then rinse in cold water. Shell them, discarding the shells.

Husk the corn, and boil it for 4 or 5 minutes, then rinse in cold water. Cut the corn from the cobs.

Both of these should be cooled quickly, and cool when you proceed with the salad. They can be prepared in advance.

Make the Dressing:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

Whisk together in a small bowl, or shake in a jar.

Finish the Salad:
1/4 of a small red pepper
1 slice sweet onion (or 1 green onion, or handful of chives)
1 stalk celery

Wash, de-seed and chop the red pepper. Peel or clean and mince the onion or chives. Wash, trim and chop the celery finely.

Mix the pepper, onion and celery with the edamame and corn. Toss with the dressing.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sweet Siberian Watermelon

Sweet Siberian Watermelon
Whoooo! Watermelon success at last!

Actually, we have managed to produce a watermelon or two in the last couple of years, but this is the first year we have had melons in any quantity. Unfortunately, we've struggled to get this melon bounty ripe, as they got off to a very slow start in our cold, wet June. However, we picked short-season melons for a reason and they have at least partially paid off. We'll be trying this one again next year, for sure.

We grew 4 Sweet Siberian watermelon plants, and got 5 large melons, plus a couple which did not ripen. In a better year, I don't believe 3 or 4 melons per vine would be too much to ask for. This doesn't sound spectacular, but these are nice compact vines. The four of them did not take up much more space than a 5 foot by 6 foot square. When vines grew out of their alloted space, we just turned them around and redirected them back in.

As you may suppose by the name Sweet Siberians originated in Russia. They were grown as early as 1901 at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. After that, their history in North America is somewhat obscure, although they were offered by the Oscar H. Will Seed Company of North Dakota for a number of years. According to Heritage Harvest Seeds, where we got the seeds, they are still grown for market by Hutterites in Manitoba. They were recently re-introduced to the general public by Glenn Drowns of the Seed Savers Exchange after he acquired seeds from the USDA, and have been gaining wider notice since then. They are a quick-growing melon, ready in 80 to 85 days from planting out.

That was one reason we decided to try them. The other was that in a comparison of 17 different watermelons done in Santa Clara County (San Francisco bay area) they were selected as being tops for flavour. While Santa Clara County has a far longer growing season than we do, like us they don't always have the hot weather that watermelons love. We certainly thought these had excellent flavour, not just sweet but distinctly watermelony. The colour is pretty too, being a rich warm apricot yellow when ripe. The seeds seem to remain an oaky brown.

Like most melons, these like rich soil with plenty of compost, plentiful water and lots of heat. If we have another early start as bad as last years, we will not hesitate to cover them with the hoop-house. We grew them on the ground, but one started up our trellis and I think could have managed there quite well, although it was the last to start forming and never reached full size. The recommendation is to support watermelons with old pantyhose if you are going to trellis them. At 6 to 10 pounds each expected weight, these are fairly small for a watermelon.

It's also recommended to grow melons through dark plastic, which keeps weeds down and traps heat. We just mulched them with lawn clippings. That early heat is very helpful though. Watermelons do ultimately originate in Africa, and they have never lost their taste for sunbathing, even if we have acquired certain types via Siberia.

One problem with all watermelons is telling when they are ripe. The signs to look for: the tendril opposite the stem of the fruit turns brown and shrivels (but this may happen a week or so in advance of ripeness), weight increases and the melon sounds more hollow when tapped, the bottom of the melon turns from pale white to bright yellow (this is the most reliable indicator in my somewhat limited experience) and finally, the melon skin loses its shine and appears more dull overall. And finally, the test which really decides it: you cut them open and eat them. Yum? Yum! Ah, sweet success.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Baked Chiles Rellenos

I was very excited to go into my local grocery and find Ontario-grown ancho and Anaheim chiles for sale! Until recently, they have been practically unheard of here. However, the influx of Mexican Mennonites returning to Canada in the last few years has made available much more in the way of Mexican food and ingredients than used to be the case. Snatch them up if you can find them!

Anaheim chiles are long, straight and fairly narrow, in a light mid-green. They are quite mild. Poblanos are a very dark green, wider, and shorter, but they will hold more filling. Poblanos are more of a gamble, in terms of heat: they may be quite mild, or they may have a real bite, although most will be more in the middle. Either way, they have a rich and unique flavour.

North Americans tend to think of chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles) as containing cheese. That is certainly one traditional filling, and one I really love. However, Mexicans fill chiles with all kinds of things. Meat and rice, other vegetables, fish - there are lots of possibilities.

When planning to serve the chiles, keep in mind that most people will probably eat two if they are the main portion of the meal. They are generally served with rice.

When I have wanted to make them a little less rich, I have cut the filling with other ingredients such as lightly cooked fresh corn kernels, or cooked quinoa or cous-cous. A little minced fresh parsley, if you have it, is a good addition.

I hate to say this is a simplified version of Chiles Rellenos (because they are baked rather than fried) because they are still very time-consuming, and the roasting of the vegetables definitely requires some patience!

4 to 6 stuffed chiles
Allow 1 hour to roast chiles, and do it 1 hour in advance, at least
Then, 20 minutes prep time plus 1 hour cook time

Baked Chiles Rellenos
Prepare the Vegetables
6 Anaheim or 4 poblano chiles
4 medium tomatoes

Wash the chiles and tomatoes. Roast them over a stove element. This is best with a gas stove, but it can be done on an electric stove too. Alternatively, they can be roasted under the broiler. In either case, watch them carefully and turn them every 5 minutes or so in order to get them done everywhere. The skins should get quite charred all over. Once they are done, put them in a container that has a cover, cover them and leave them to cool. This may not take as much as an hour, but it is slower than you would expect so allow yourself lots of time.

When you are ready to proceed, peel off the skins. They should come right off fairly easily, and can be helped along by holding the chiles under cold running water as you peel. The peeled chiles should be softened, but not enough to be particularly fragile. You may wish to simply blanch the tomatoes, rathe than charring them, but the charring will add a little depth to the flavour.

Cut the cores from the tomatoes, and chop them roughly. Put them in a pot with any juices they have accrued and bring them to a boil. Boil until they are quite soft - 5 minutes should be sufficient - then purée them. This is the sauce to be served hot with the finished chiles. It is supposed to be rather thin.

Cut the cores from the chiles, removing the seeds and any tough inner membranes. Rinse them in cold water and drain well.

Make the Filling:
100 grams (1/4 pound) old Cheddar cheese
300 grams (3/4 pound) ricotta, chevre or other soft, mild cheese
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano

Grate the Cheddar, and blend it with the ricotta and the oregano.

Divide the cheese into equal portions, one portion for each chile. Stuff the cheese into the chiles. using the broad end of a chopstick or a wooden spoon handle to poke it in all the way to the ends.

Make the Batter:
6 tablespoons soft whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
a bit more flour

Lightly oil a baking pan that will hold the chiles fairly snugly. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, and give them a stir. Break in the eggs and add the oil, and mix until well blended.

Dust each chile in a little flour, then dip them in the batter. Lay them in the prepared pan. Scrape any extra batter over the top of them once they are all in.

Bake the chiles for about 1 hour, until the batter is fairly brown and the cheese is bubbly. Heat the tomato sauce through, and pass it with the chiles.

Last year at this time I canned Tomatillo Salsa and cooked Edamame. I have just dealt with both of the same things for this year as well. I've added a photo for the salsa, which I didn't have last year.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Snow White Cherry Tomato and Great White Tomato

Snow White Cherry Tomatoes and Great White Tomato
Well white, like black, is a pretty relative term when it comes to tomatoes. I would describe these as a pale, buttery or lemon yellow. Very pretty, and nice as part of plate of mixed tomato colours.

Great White

While this is often sold as an heirloom tomato, it is a fairly recent open pollinated selection, first discovered by the Gleckler Seed Company in the late 1980's, in a batch of Orange Oxheart tomato seed sent to them by a customer. They began selling it in the mid 1990's. In spite of this documented history, a lot of people seem to think it dates back as far as the Civil War era, but they are mistaken. We got our seed from Tatiana.

Great White has rapidly become one of the more popular of the so-called white tomatoes. Many of them are dismissed as bland and uninteresting in flavour, but Great White generates some very positive reports. I have to say I was pleased with it. I'm not a big eater of raw tomatoes and I prefer a mild, sweet tomato to one with more traditional flavour. This one manages to do a good balancing act - not so sweet and mild as to be dull, but without the traditional strong acid flavour of dark red tomatoes. Of course, some people will like this more than others! It's dense and firm-fleshed, without a lot of seeds.

We found it a very good producer, and although it came to a premature end (like every single other non-cherry tomato in the garden this year) due to septoria spot, it produced very generously compared to many of the others. The tomatoes are a very large, quite dense beefsteak type tomato - ideal for sandwiches, pizza and the like. Some of them blushed pink on the bottom as they ripened. These are a large, rangy, indeterminate plant (which is why it survived the septoria spot fairly well - all those that survived did so by out-growing it) and it will need lots of room and staking. It's a bit of a late starter, at 85 days. It is said to be crack and drought resistant, and indeed I would say so. We had a very trying year for tomatoes, with a wet, cold June followed by a hot, dry July and and hot-mostly-dry-but-intermittently-quite-wet August. In other words, the exact weather to make tomatoes crack and many of them did. Not Great White. It may have some tendency to Blossom End Rot, but we had no problems with it.

Snow White Cherry

Unlike Great White, I can't find a lot of information about the history of Snow White. Tatiana briefly describes it as having been bred by Joe Bratka of New Jersey, who is a very well known amateur breeder of tomatoes, and who is also known for having introduced some heirloom tomatoes that had been in his family for a long time. So again, it's quite a recent tomato but as an unusual open-pollinated variety it tends to make the rounds with the heirlooms. It should be ready in 65 days, so a fair bit quicker than Great White (but that's usually the case with cherry tomatoes).

At any rate, we picked this to grow because like Great White, it's widely reckoned to be the best of the white cherry tomatoes. We certainly liked the flavour very much. Like Great White it's sweet and mild without being bland. Everyone who has tried it this summer has liked it very much. Most cherry tomato plants make up for their small fruit by growing huge, rangy vines and producing lots of tomatoes, and that was the pattern with Snow White as well. Good staking or trellising is vital! It had the septoria spot as badly as anything else, but like the rest of the cherry tomatoes it has continued to grow new leaves as fast as the septoria destroyed the old ones, and to produce plenty of fruit.

I've seen it described as crack-resistant, which is to laugh. I'd have to say that's the one flaw - it cracks like peanuts at an elephants' party. It was quite a lot of effort to find a handful of uncracked tomatoes for the photo. Like I said, we had the ideal weather for cracking tomatoes, but I also have to say that given the opportunity to crack, it took it. This has been a problem in general with the cherry tomatoes this year, but some have done much better. Ildi, for instance, and Black Cherry. Nevertheless, I'd be inclined to grow this again. We've been drying a lot of them. We'll see what we think of that.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Beans & Cabbage with Paneer

When we dropped Mr. Ferdzy's Aunt off at the airport lat week, we took advantage of the fact that we were surrounded by what must be one of Canada's largest Sikh communities to do a little shopping for items not found in our sleepy little community. In short, we got some paneer!

The great thing about paneer is that it can be fried, and gets soft and melty but holds together. (Fried cheese! Two of my favourite things, together!) It was delicious with some beans and cabbage from the garden. We didn't put in too much paneer, as this was a side dish for us, but you could use more and it would make an excellent main dish.

2 to 4 servings
25 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Beans and Cabbage with Panner
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
pinch of cayenne

2 cups chopped green beans
3 cups chopped cabbage
1 or 2 teaspoons very finely minced fresh ginger
100 grams (1/4 pound) paneer
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Grind the fennel seed and mix the seasonings in a small bowl. Set them aside.

Wash, trim and chop the beans, and trim and chop the cabbage. Peel and mince the ginger. Cut the paneer into 1 cm or slightly larger dice.

Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the beans, along with several tablespoons of water - watch out, it is likely to spatter - and cook for two or three minutes, stirring frequently, until the water is evaporated. Add the cabbage and another tablespoon or so of water, and again cook, stirring frequently, until the water is evaporated. Add the ginger, paneer and seasonings, and continue to cook for 3 or 4 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft and browned in spots, and the much of the cheese is also browned.

Last year at this time I made Chile Garlic Sauce and Monster Zucchini Slaw. The Chile Garlic sauce, by the way, was hot but not as hot as I had expected, considering the quantity of cayenne chiles that went into it. Something about the canning process mellows them considerably. Also, I am working on the last jar of it - time to make some more!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Miso Broiled Vegetables Including a Giant Puffball!

Giant Puffball
Oh, la LA! Mr. Ferdzy has the knack. Here's his latest - an enormous puffball, over a foot in diameter. Completely clean, fresh and edible too, which is rare at this size. It was found in the woods at the back of our property. Perspective makes it look smaller than it really was - in reality, the ends of the puffball protruded beyond the ruler on both sides.

So what to do with this fabulous find? The first thing we did was divide it up and give some away, as there was no way we could eat the whole thing. We kept one quarter of it, and then I thought to weigh it. The quarter weighed 750 grams so the whole thing must have been around 3 kilos! WOW!

So, what to do with it? We broiled a bit of it with other vegetables and smeared them with a miso paste. Some may go into spaghetti sauce. The guy who was here finishing the floor, and who had already expressed an interest in foraged foods, got a chunk of it too. He recommends garlic and butter, or cooking it with a little red wine, or even with a little mustard and maple syrup. Interesting ideas!

Anyway, the miso paste:

Makes enough for 8 to 16 large vegetables slices (1/3 cup)
5 minutes to make the paste; 15 to 20 minutes to broil the veg

Miso Broiled Vegetables
Make the Miso Paste:

2 tablespoons miso
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a small bowl, and mix well, until the miso in particular is thoroughly blended. It will still be a little lumpy, but that's fine.

Broil the Vegetables:

zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, squash, or peppers
mild vegetable oil

Wash the vegetables (not the mushrooms) and trim and slice them as appropriate into slices about 1 cm thick. Preheat the broiler.

Brush the vegetable slices with the vegetable oil on both sides, and lay them on a shallow baking tray. Broil for 4 to 7 minutes per side, until slightly browned and bubbly,

Brush the vegetables with the miso paste, and return them to the oven for another 4 minutes or so, until the miso paste is bubbly and slightly crisped in spots.

Last year at this time I made Vegetable Pie with Cornbread Topping, and CLT sandwiches.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Late Summer Garden

Oh, hello.

Yes, I'm still here. Still not cooking much. The garden has taken up a lot of time, or rather, dealing with all the vegetables being pulled out of the garden has taken a lot of time. Vegetables to freeze, tomatoes to can, some meals made up and frozen. Dry beans to be shelled, pickles to make. Every day, we need to get at least one preservation project going.

The year is moving on - by late afternoon the shadows are getting long. No more working in the garden for several hours after dinner, unless you want to be eaten alive by mosquitos.

We spent a lot of August running around visiting people and having them visit us, not to mention working on other projects, and the garden got a bit out of hand. In particular, I have not kept up with keeping the grass cut, or the weeds pulled. Ugh.

The potatoes planted in the experimental bed have not really started dying down yet. They were planted a bit later than the others, also they did not really get to grow right away because we kept piling more soil on them. They are just starting to look a little less lush than they did, although they have made the paths around them pretty impassable given how much they have flopped.

Still, it hasn't all gone to rack and ruin. We have pulled the garlic (quite some time ago) and the carrots, and have planted radishes, beets and turnips in their place. A few of the potatoes have been dug, although most of the potatoes in the regular beds are still just dying down. We're starting to put in spinach and other greens for overwintering under hoophouses.

Tomatoes have been producing a reasonable, but not spectacular amount this year. That's because in spite of good growing conditions (mostly) they all have a bad case of septoria spot, a fungal disease. You can see all the dead and dying leaves working their way up this row of Black Cherry tomatoes.

Fortunately, the peppers seem very healthy this year - no sign of last years' virus - and are producing reasonably well. The melons, behind them, have produced a record (for us!) number of melons. Unfortunately, we are having some trouble with peppers, tomatoes and melons all being very late this year. July and August were excellent months for these plants, so the trouble must be traced back to June, which - wasn't. June was very cold and rainy, and they never completely caught up, I guess. That's a lesson. Next year, if June is cold, we must keep these plants covered with hoop-houses.

The cucumbers and summer squash are now coated in powdery mildew, another fungal disease but pretty much par for the course by this time of year. It seems particularly bad this year though. On the other hand, both the cukes and the zukes have produced enough that we don't mind them slowing down a bit too much.

Our new trellis design, about which I was expressing some doubts this spring, has turned out to work mostly pretty well. We need to adjust exactly where we plant the vegetables to be trellised, and get the trellises in early and the plants started up them right away for better results, but the basic idea is sound and worked.

Soy beans, almost ready to pick, in the foreground. They have some sort of caterpiller eating the leaves, as do all the beans pretty well. Fortunately, while the caterpillers are large, they are not terribly numerous and are more amusing than troublesome. I do wonder, if I allow them to stay, if I will be saying the same thing next year. But I do like to take a live and let live attitude if I can. I suppose I should look them up and see if I can find out what they are.

We planted a second set of peas and snow peas, and they are growing okay, in spite of weeds and encroaching uncut grass. It's really hard to get motivated to get the grass cut once it gets this long. I need to use a weed-whacker to get into the paths, and the batteries are getting old. I barely get around one bed with 2 batteries, and at that rate it seems hopeless to ever catch up. Still, if I want any peas this fall I need to find a little motivation.

Pole beans are still going strong, in spite of their problems with bean yellow mosaic virus. The Blue Lake, Purple Peacock, Trionfo Violetto and Grandma Nellie's beans have all done better than Fortex as time has gone on. Another reason not to grow Fortex next year.

We have probably picked at least 6 bushels of beans this year. Next year, we are going to grow far fewer beans. FAR fewer.

Still, the alley between the 2 beds of pole beans was one of my favourite places to spend time this summer. Good thing! I spent a lot of time there, picking beans, and it isn't over yet!