Aley Chubeza #313, November 14th-16th 2016

Orange you glad it’s autumn?

For some time now we have been digging up delectable long roots, reddish/pinkish on the outside and beautifully orange on the inside. Sweet potatoes of course. Usually they receive their praise as soon as we begin their harvest, but this year they were pushed aside by holiday season. Only now as we return to blessed routine life, we’ve found the time to bring them to center stage…

Orange is definitely the seasonal shade here at Chubeza, with hues of autumn orange connecting past, present and future. There’s the bright orange pumpkins harvested way back when at the end of summer, gathered in their storage pavilion waiting patiently as we slowly distribute succulent slices your boxes. Then there are the orange sweet potatoes which were planted in summertime (see below for the full story). They ripen in autumn and are collected into your boxes when the weather is not too hot, just before it gets too cold. Last but not least, the carrots which just started ripening, making their first steps in the autumn field, are booked for a long winter stay with us. In Hebrew, orange is katom from the word ketem meaning “gold,” connoting the deep golden hue created when red meets yellow. I think orange is definitely worthy of this royal connotation, especially when linked to the now cooling weather.  The warmth radiated by the color orange is ideal to represent this enchanting season.

This week we dedicate our newsletter to the lovable, root-like, autumn-inspired sweet potato. Contrary to most roots, this autumn beauty grows in summertime, not winter, loves heat and hates cold weather. Though the Chubeza sweet potato crop is being harvested just about now, it commenced its journey about five months ago on the day that Oded of Moshav Yesha came to deliver bundles of green twigs – sticks really, most of them bereft of leaves – bundled together with a rope. We took these twigs (cuttings) and inserted them in the damp mounds of earth we’d prepared. Then we took one step back. Once again, as every year, we were astonished anew by the strange view of dozens of sticks standing in the brown mounds of earth. Sometimes agriculture can seem so weird…

After a few days, the sticks started blooming. Green leaves sprouted from them, and they looked like they were rising from the dead. After a few weeks, a green stripe of plants spread across the bed, and after two months, the whole area was one crowded, tangled carpet of branches, leaves, and lilac-looking flowers. Over 4-5 months, underneath this green entanglement grew chubby orange roots, so sweet and satisfying. Sweet potatoes! Six years ago I prepared a newsletter featuring photos of the sweet potato’s journey from a naked stick to that very delicious root hidden under the crowded carpet. This is it.

The origin of the sweet potato lies in tropical South and Central America. The most ancient evidence of sweet potatoes was found in Peru, from where they mysteriously traveled to the rest of Central and South America, all the way to Polynesia. Some say sweet potato seeds were carried from America to Polynesia by birds or by sunken boats that drifted away. Another assumption is that the sweet potato seeds floated along ocean currents from South America to Polynesia, as they can sprout after having been immersed in sea water. Columbus found sweet potatoes in Cuba, brought them along on his journey to Europe, and from there they travelled together with the European conquerors to Africa, India and Asia.

The sweet potato is a member of the renowned Convolvulaceae family, related to the wild field bindweed, the Cuscuta (dodder) and sister to the lovely morning glory found in nature and in your garden. Formally known as Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato is one of the only members of this large family that is edible, and definitely the only one to be industrially grown for food, a truly unique phenomenon. Like other members of her family, she tends to send out tendrils and twigs far and wide. If allowed, she will climb all over the nearest fence, covering it with a layer of heart-shaped green leaves and beautiful light-purple flowers that open in the morning and close in the afternoon sun.

Years of careful selection of sweet potatoes by farmers and nature have made today’s sweet potato very strong and resistant to (or at least tolerant of) diseases and pests. Sometimes the plants can be carriers of various pathogens that are not actively expressed and do not prevent the plant from growing or developing. Basically, the sweet potato hardly suffers from any problems, and usually grows nicely over a few months’ time. After four months we begin digging them out. First we fumble around, digging in one of the far corners to see what’s hiding down there. Are there any orange tubers? How many? How large are they? Do they seem healthy? Then, if they’re nice and ready, we gradually start digging them out.

When the time has come to harvest, there is no urgency to remove the sweet potatoes from the earth right away and store them. They are well-protected in the earth, even during cold winters, due to the warmer temperature underground. If you remove the sweet potatoes from the earth, they should be brought indoors so they’re not too cold. When the outside temperature falls below 13 degrees, the storage refrigerator should be at a temperature of 13-15 degrees so the sweet potatoes do not catch cold.

This is also the reason that they should not be stored in your home refrigerator. The sweet potato that grows primarily in summertime dislikes cold weather, and refrigeration impairs its taste. Store them in a cool, ventilated place, not in a bag or a sealed container, in order to prevent the accumulation of excess moisture. They need not be hidden from light and stored in the dark like dense-stem potatoes, because (like radishes and beets) sweet potatoes are roots that contain no chlorophyll, therefore will not turn green like a potato exposed to light. High temperatures will make the sweet potato sprout or ferment, thus warmth should be avoided (unless you wish to make liquor).

We keep our sweet potatoes in the packing house for only a short time before sending them to you. Sweet potatoes that are mass-produced for industry and kept till the end of wintertime undergo a process called “curing.” They are pulled from the earth and warmed up in a room that is temperature and moisture-controlled. This process thickens their peelings and they grow scab-like skin to cover areas bruised during the digging-out process. These sweet potatoes can be stored for longer periods of time.

The luscious, soothing taste of sweet potatoes is an especially great blessing in the cold evenings of autumn, when your sweet tooth craves attention. You can eat sweet potatoes without feeling an iota of guilt, as they are bursting with benefits to your health. The orange color assures high levels of beta carotene, which becomes vitamin A when consumed. Beta carotene is a multi-armed warrior for battling cancer, maintaining good eyesight, strengthening your immune system, keeping your skin healthy and contributing to proper growth.

Despite its sweet taste, the sweet potato is considered an “anti-diabetic” vegetable, recommended for diabetics because of its contribution to the balancing of sugar levels in the blood and to reducing the resistance of the cell to insulin – perhaps because of its rich carotenoid content. The sweet potato also contains good levels of vitamins C and B, potassium, magnesium, iron and dietary fiber. This team works to control blood pressure, strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis, and allow for proper brain function and the development of learning skills in children and babies.

In Chinese medicine, the sweet potato is recommended for weight loss. It strengthens the spleen, which according to Chinese medicine regulates metabolism and our need for sweet foods and food in general. A weak spleen will create a strong need for sweets, and an inevitable weight gain. According to this approach, the body must receive naturally sweet food, i.e., there is no harm in a sweet diet, on condition that the quantity of sweets is limited, natural, and does not derive from processed foods like white sugar or candies. A medium-sized sweet potato contains 150 calories (equivalent to two slices of bread), but it is very filling. Chinese medicine perceives the sweet potato to be one of the most balanced foods and therefore can be eaten by almost anyone. According to the Chinese, the orange color ties it to earth, making it a warming, strengthening food, suitable for winter.

So what can you do with your fresh, delicious sweet potatoes? No need to work hard at peeling them. Many of the vitamins and dietary fibers are in the peeling, so don’t pare them—just scrub well. The sweet potato should be cooked immediately after being cut in your kitchen, as its skin will bleach and then oxidize once it comes into contact with the air. If you must wait, keep them in a bowl of water to prevent browning. See our recipe section for more ideas of how to enjoy those autumn sweet potatoes.

Before we say goodbye, we extend hearty congratulations to Manu, our baker par excellence from Taoz, on the occasion of her eldest daughter Noam’s Bat Mitzvah. We wish Noam, Manu, Yoni and the whole family much happiness, curiosity, enjoyment, love and goodness. Mazal Tov!!

We are biting our fingernails in wait for winter. Starting last week, Jewish worshippers have added an explicit prayer for rain to come for the good, the blessing, the joy and the happiness. Join us in our hopes, prayers and wishes for very wet showers of great big chubby raindrops for our thirsty clods of earth.

Wishing us all a season of deep breathing, growth, prosperity, life and good!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the entire Chubeza team

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WHAT OTHER COLORS ARE JOINING THE ORANGE HUES IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Tuesday: Coriander/parsley, kale/Swiss chard/spinach, kohlrabi/beets, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots/pumpkin, radishes/baby radishes/ turnips, cabbage/corn, tomatoes, lubia/ Thai lubia/eggplant. Special gift-of-greens: mizuna/arugula

Large box, in addition: Fennel/Jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, celery/scallions/ leeks

Wednesday: Coriander/parsley/dill, kale/Swiss chard/New Zealand spinach/winter spinach, beets/cabbage, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots/pumpkin, radishes/daikon/turnips, tomatoes, broccoli/celery, scallions/ leeks. Special gift-of-greens: mizuna/arugula/baby greens mix.

Large box, in addition: kohlrabi/Fennel/okra, lubia/ Thai lubia/Jerusalem artichokes, eggplant/peppers.

And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products, apple juice, cider and jams and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now