Aley Chubeza #14 – April 12-14 2010

Yom Ha’Atzmaut Changes in Delivery:

Next week’s Monday delivery will take place on Sunday, April 18th, in order to avoid the Erev Yom Ha’Atzmaut traffic.
This is, of course, only relevant to Monday deliveries. Wednesday delivery will continue as scheduled.

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Spring Awakenings

The weeks following Pesach are marked by an emotional roller coaster: celebrations swerve into mourning followed by celebrations at the next turn. Memories create empowerment, which opens room for pain, which transforms to happiness and major celebrations. The weather too is veering: a heat wave turns into scattered showers, then warms up and suddenly becomes an autumn-like day. This is springtime in Israel–and perhaps other transitional periods in life, specifically those which require leaving and going to a new, unfamiliar place, bringing eventual growth and development, but with so many hitches, doubts, falls, and reminiscences along the way…

Chubeza’s field, however, is actually undergoing a quiet, relatively calm transformation. We are gradually parting from the winter vegetables that warmed our hearts and hearths with soups and dishes over winter, and happily greeting the nascent spring and summer vegetables.

But first, let us bid farewell to the broccoli, cauliflower, fava bean, winter spinach, clementines and arugula leaves. The last of the fennel, celery, mustard and tat soi greens, turnip, beet, radish, kale and carrots are still growing in the field, and they will appear in your boxes over the next couple of months. But they’re the last of the season.

The field has been emptied of most of its winter occupants, the garden beds have been cleaned, the earth loosened and prepared for new seeding and planting. Much of the planting will take place in plastic covered beds to maintain moisture, prevent weeds and protect the earth from harmful summer radiation. Last year we successfully used plastic made from cornstarch, which slowly and gradually wears out and degrades before being buried in the earth to disintegrate. This year, too, we will use as much cornstarch cover as possible. Although it looks like a thinner version of regular plastic, the cornstarch product is not as sustainable when temperatures rise, and tends to tear when being spread. Eventually, as summer proceeds, we will move on to regular plastic, but most of the coverings take place during this season when we happily use the biodegradable covering.

The first of the summer vegetables have already been seeded and planted, some quite a while ago, and others over the past few weeks. Spring fever is in the air, bringing rigorous planting and seeding: zucchini (the heirloom chubby, striped kind as well as green zucchini, light zucchini and long-striped zucchini), pumpkins (two types), cucumbers, fakus, winter squash (acorn, butternut and kabocha), small watermelons, lubia (black-eyed pea), string beans, corn, popcorn, tomatoes (round and plum-tomatoes).

Some crops will enjoy two rounds and more, such as zucchini, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, beans and fakus. The many rounds we give our crops (summer and winter) are designed to ensure a more or less constant supply throughout the season, with an aging bed maintained by one that is only beginning to ripen, and then passing the torch before retiring. Some crops are sown at one-and-a-half-month intervals, other have a break of only several weeks. As the summer heat advances, the intervals between rounds shorten, resulting in corn, for instance, being sown almost every week or two.

Other beds are now ready, clumped and festively awaiting to be planted over the next couple of weeks. These are the eggplants, cherry and plum tomatoes, yard-long beans, mint, basil, orange kabocha pumpkins and yellow zucchini, to be joyfully followed by melons (galia and pineapple) and peppers at the end of this month. Last, the queens of summer, green soybeans (adamame) and okra, anxiously await the real May heat.

Some of the first harvest is already included in this week’s boxes: the first four squashes were our Tuesday lunch, and this week we already managed to pick a few boxes’ worth. The beans, lubia, fakus and cucumbers need over two months during this season, facing cloudy days and heat waves, and will start arriving next month. And there are others which demand patience: the sweet corn which requires a grace period of 100 days; his explosive sibling the popcorn, which needs almost five months; and the large pumpkins in kind. Smaller winter pumpkins make do with just over three months, as does the watermelon.

Tomatoes, too, will take approximately three months until they produce their sweet, red fruit. This year we are exploring tomato species that are more virus-resistant, particularly against that vicious tomato yellow leaf curl virus which has destroyed our tomato plants in their mid-youth. We are experimenting with around six different species to test their ability to fight, hoping to be rewarded with a nice, bountiful harvest.

The dry garlic which grew from fall to the end of winter, and whom you met in February in a moist-green form, has dried in ventilated boxes and will reappear in your boxes as aromatic dry garlic.

I feel like a school principal bidding the graduates farewell and acknowledging their contribution to the school, as I thank our graduating winter vegetables for a nutritious and yummy winter. Now I gladly welcome the new crop, those just beginning to sprout and those which are already acclimated and can now plunge their energy into growth, flowering, germinating and bearing fruit.

Wishing us all days of growth and festive transitions,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: cucumbers, carrots, leek, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, red Russian kale/New Zealand spinach, parsley root, Iceberg/red leaf lettuce, Osaka or Suehlihung mustard greens, red or green cabbage.
In the large box, in addition: green onions/beets, dill/cilantro, turnip

Wednesday: red/green cabbage, cilantro/parsley, tomatoes, Suehlihung mustrad greens, Swiss chard, tatsoi, carrots, red leaf lettuce, beets/turnip, parsley root, cucumbers
In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, zucchini, New Zealand spinach/red Russian kale.

Fruit box: Hass avocado, Yehuda loquat (small white sweet variety), Valencia oranges, Mor clementines. In the large box, in adiition: strawberries

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You ask, “What is life?” That is the same as asking, “What is a carrot?” A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more.
Anton Chekhov in a letter to his wife, Olga Knipper Chekhov (April 20, 1904)

We are slowly approaching the end of carrot season. The carrot does not like heat. Though it is possible to grow it under special conditions, we stop growing carrots for a few months, and re-sow towards autumn. The carrots you will be receiving over the next several weeks are the last for now, but after the joy they’ve brought us over the winter, I’m devoting this end-of-the-season tribute to the carrot.

Genealogy first: the carrot (Daucus carota) belongs to the Umbelliferae family which includes such vegetables and spices as celery, parsley, fennel, dill and cilantro. Various wild carrot species have grown in many areas in the world, specifically in the Mediterranean, south Asia, Africa, Australia and America.

The domesticated carrot comes from the wild species D. carota, or rather, from a crossbreeding with an additional wild species. The origin of various domesticated species is probably Afghanistan and Turkey. The Arabs introduced the carrot to Spain, where it spread to Europe. The first domesticated types came in a variety of colors: red, purple and yellow-green. Later, the yellow and white carrots were developed in the 18th century. The Dutch grew orange carrots, which are today’s most common variety. In Israel, the carrot has been harvested from the beginning of the Jewish settlement. The Arabs used to grow dark purple carrots, which can still be found today, to a small extent.

carrots_of_many_colors

The wild carrot is known in English as “Queen Anne’s lace,” whose name originated in a fairy tale about how the wild carrot’s flower got its unique look: a sort of white lace embroidery, with a dark red-purple dot at its center. Queen Anne, wife of King James the First, queen of Denmark in the 16th and 17th centuries, was an experienced lace tatter. One day she pricked her finger while sewing and a drop of blood rolled onto the center, creating this special flower. Although the tale only appeared in writing some 200 years after Anne’s death, it is possible that it’s associated with the 17th century custom for ladies to smartly adorn their hats with wild carrot flowers.

Today the importance of this distinctive look is perceived as a means to attract insects to the flower. A fly or beetle in flight might notice the white flower, take the dark spot at its center for a fellow (or female) insect and drop by to say hello. As the insect rubs against the flower, the pollen scatters and sticks to the insect, which will, in turn, pass it on and assist in the pollination process.

carrot flower

When we place a carrot seed in the ground, it sprouts and begins to develop leaves and a root. The leaves grow quickly and use sunlight to make sugars through the process of photosynthesis. Much of this sugar is transported to the root, where it is stored. The accumulation of sugar in the root causes it to expand greatly, forming the taproot. Biennial, carrots in natural environments rather than gardens live for more than one year. At the end of their first year of growth, the carrot’s leaves die and the tiny stem becomes dormant. The next year, in spring, the sugars in the root rise into the stem, which begins to grow. The stem extends upward and ultimately forms flowers and fruits. Flowering and fruiting often require tremendous energy, provided by the sugars stored in the carrot roots during the first year of growth that are now ready to be broken down for energy. When a carrot is grown for food, we are interested in its taproot, which is why it should be picked before reaching flowering and seeding – for by then the root is too old and becomes woody-textured.

The root develops in three stages: at the first stage, right after sprouting, a long skewer-like root grows. At the second stage, the root thickens and becomes longer, receiving its orange color. At the third stage, the downward growth stops and the root only thickens.

The root consists of a central stele, the endodermis and the cortex. The cortex tissue is rich with color substance and sugars. A carrot’s quality is determined by the thinness of its central stele in comparison to the cortex tissues. In difficult growing conditions, or as the plant ages, the central stele becomes woody and the carrot is no longer fit for human consumption, although it is a common animal fodder.

carrot root

The carrot consists of a short stem from which the leaves develop. At exposure to the sun, it receives its green chlorophyll color. The orange color is a result of the accumulation of pro-vitamin A, beta-carotene, a member of the carotenoid family that is also an antioxidant.

Beta-carotene supplies the carrot with a multitude of medicinal attributes: it strengthens the immune system, minimizes sensitivity to light thus protecting the skin from sun damage, and fights infections and bronchitis. It relieves symptoms of alcoholic hangovers and symptoms of AIDS. It assists in battling anemia, reduces the chances of heart disease and high blood pressure, and fortifies muscles and skin. The carrot — particularly its juice– protects against stomach ailments. Vitamin A spurs production of normal cells, as opposed to cells that do not develop properly and are more susceptible to cancer. The carrot is indeed good for your eyes, with beta-carotene and vitamin A reducing the chances of contracting eye diseases. Vitamin A also assists in relieving heavy menstrual bleeding, vaginal infections, urinary infections and others.

Overdosing on carrots may cause carotenemia– a temporary yellowing of the skin, caused by excess consumption of beta-carotene from fresh carrots. This is not dangerous, only a little strange looking, and it goes away several weeks after going cold turkey on beta-carotene.
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Tips

- To store carrots, remove the green leaves, otherwise they will draw water from the root and cause it to shrivel.

- Carrots should be kept in the coldest place in the refrigerator in a sealed container, to protect from gases discharged by other fruits and vegetables that encourage ripening and may also lead to shriveling.

- The carrot is best unpeeled. You can lightly scrape the peeling, or not at all. The peeling is tasty and nutritious.

- Like the tomato, a cooked carrot is more nutritious and healthier than a raw carrot. The level of vitamin A rises as the cooking breaks down the cell walls. It is best to cook the carrot in a small amount of water, so the vitamins do not get wasted in the cooking liquid.

- Adding a small amount of oil to the cooking liquid will increase the absorption of antioxidants.

- It is recommended to combine carrots with foods containing vitamin E, like peanuts, pumpkins, leafy vegetables and whole grains.

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I assume that you all have a stock of tried-and-true carrot recipes, so below are recipes for The Last of the Winter Vegetables.

In the coming weeks, you’ll be receiving the last beets and turnips of the season. For those of you who loathe parting with them, here’s an idea for Pickled Turnips and Beets, with thanks to Tami from Jerusalem, who gave us a delicious sample for lunch:

Ingredients:
Beets
Turnips
Garlic
Hot green peppers (optional)
Vinegar
Coarse salt
Water

Preparation:
Slice beets and turnips and arrange in layers in a jar. Sprinkle whole garlic cloves and hot peppers, if desired, throughout.
In a separate bowl, dissolve coarse salt in boiling water (quantity depends on size of jar), and pour over turnips and beets to 3/4 of the jar. Fill the space remaining with vinegar. Place in the sun for several days. Enjoy!

This week I was asked if there’s anything to make from red cabbage besides salad. Indeed, there are delicious options for cooked/steamed/stir-fried red cabbage, all somehow sweeter, lighter and less wintry than the green variety. Attached, for example, is a recipe for red cabbage with apples

And before we bid farewell to kohlrabi, it deserves a different notice, like in a soup thinly chopped with lemon and salt. (Not that it’s any less spectacular when just eaten raw, but even kohlrabi needs a little diversity in life….) Try these, for example:

Roasted kohlrabi and carrots
Roasted kohlrabi

And just before the kale departs, remember that it is an outstanding accompaniment to pulses of all varieties. Here’s a recipe for kale and bean soup.

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