Aley Chubeza #5, January 25th-27th 2010

This week you’ll find in your box a new offer from Rona and the Yotav Dairy crew. Up to now you’ve been able to make individual orders from Rona, but today she is giving the opportunity to order a regularly delivered box at a specially-reduced price–and at the frequency you choose. Full details here and in your boxes.

After several introductory weeks, the English newsletter will now join its Hebrew sibling, appearing weekly as a translation (with some additions here and there.) Behind the scenes, we are working on our new bi-lingual Internet site to include an archive of   information on a host of vegetables and their recipes. In the meantime, we will continue focusing each week on one of the seasonal vegetables in the box, gradually building up the English-language archive.

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An Unwelcome Guest

This week we found many lovely little flowers growing amidst our carrot patch:

 

After our initial delight, we discovered that this pretty flower has not been so kind to the carrot, to say the least. More accurately, the chummy beauty was actually extorting the carrot’s water, nutrients and vitality. When we dug it up, it looked like this:

 

Of course, the deadly embrace made us think twice before we smiled at that plant again. Mohammed’s grim countenance added to our concern “This plant is called alouch in Arabic,” he explained, “If it attacks the fava bean, the plant won’t produce even one pod.” And all of a sudden, the beauty of this plant was only skin-deep; its cruelty shone through. We quickly went to check the rest of our crops and our concern intensified. Indeed, there is broomrape (Orobanche) in our fields.

The Orobanche is a complete parasite (holoparasite). A parasite is an organism living within or on top of another creature (the host) from which it acquires food and other materials necessary for its existence and reproduction. A holoparasite has virtually no chlorophyll and thus cannot perform photosynthesis, which is why it takes water and nutrients from its host’s tissues. Are you beginning to grasp the full problem here?

The tiny seeds of the broomrape or Orobanche (one quarter of a millimeter) can remain unseen and dormant in the soil for many years, even a decade, until stimulated to germinate by certain compounds produced by living plant roots. Broomrape seedlings put out a root-like growth, which attaches to the roots of nearby hosts, penetrates, and begins the process of fusion. Once attached, the broomrape robs its host of water and nutrients. By the end of the growth, the broomrape develops a light yellow stem that emerges above surface. By the time this stem appears, the host has already been damaged. Each of these plants produces hundreds of thousands of seeds; spread by water, wind, animals, farming tools, plant residues– anything that passes through the field.

Within the botanical term Orobanche are hundreds of species. In Israel there are around ten, most of which reside in natural habitats. In nature, hosts of the various broomrapes are scattered throughout varied plant and environmental conditions, which is why they only rarely meet the Orobanche parasites. Even when these encounters occur, usually only one of the parasitic species turns up, so the damage is not great. However, in farms the situation is quite different. The hosts are densely exposed, and the growth conditions are improved, enabling the Orobanche to thrive to the point where a collection of parasites cling to one host, strangling it till it wilts.

Four of the Orobanche parasites existing in Israel settle in fields and attack agriculture: the Orobanche crenata (bean broomrape) which parasites legumes, carrots and celery; the Orobanche cernua (nodding broomrape) which adores the solanaceae: the tomato, eggplant, potato and tobacco; the Orobanche cumana which latches onto sunflowers, and the cruelest of them all, the Orobanche aegyptiaca, Egyptian broomrape, that is willing to parasite everything: tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, sunflowers, peanuts and many other crops. The Orobanche we discovered on our carrots, and more recently, in the pea patch as well, is most probably the Orobanche crenata. Its damage to the carrot is characterized by a dramatic decrease in the sugar level, which nullifies sweetness and damages quality.

The broomrape is major pestilence in agriculture. Some of you may remember that last year we planted wheat in our rotating field that had previously grown sunflowers. One of the reasons we chose wheat is that the Orobanche, that adores sunflowers, cannot latch onto wheat, thus reducing the parasite in the field. For some crops, the broomrape is deadly. In northern Israel there are vast fertile areas where previously tomatoes were grown, now abandoned because of the Orobanche. Researchers are seeking solutions, including the usage of hardcore chemicals, but also in developing resistant species that can better withstand the Orobanche.

In organic farming, the main solution is solar disinfection, i.e., spreading a transparent plastic sheet over the ground in the peak of summer heat, causing the earth to reach very high temperatures, and the fungus, pathogens, weed seeds (and also some beneficial earthly creatures) to cook to death. The result is a disinfected and “clean” earth, just before the start of the fall planting and seeding. We don’t love this method, and hope that the variety we grow and the constant crop rotation (the fact that one type of vegetable replaces another) will aid in preventing the surge of Orobanche to the point of an epidemic.  

In the meantime, we decided to use a preventative method: we collect the broomrape flowers to remove as many seeds as possible from the field. Next season, we will not grow tomatoes and legumes in the contaminated areas in the field. Like good farmers, despite our concern, we put faith in the poly-cropping vegetable garden system, and hope for the best. Please keep pulling for us!

At the end of this week, the trees will celebrate their birthday and begin a new cycle of blossoming, ripening and great joy. The best birthday present for them – and for us – were the bountiful rains our area received this past week, with more wet abundance in the forecast. We wish our green friends a happy birthday, and many seasons of health, strength, flourishing and fertility.

Wishing us all a good week,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: lettuce, carrots, leeks, cilantro/dill, tomatoes, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, fennel, cucumbers, red or green cabbage.

In the large box, in addition: radish, celery, clementines

Wednesday: cauliflower/radish/carrots, red or green cabbage, tomatoes, dill, celery, broccoli, fennel, leeks, potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers.

In the large box, in addition: beets, parsley, spinach

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Happy families are all alike

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, line 1

A Tale of One Family

Every once in awhile, we hear about the scientific development of a new vegetable or other edible plant. It’s possible that the pace of change is much faster now than in the past, yet even in the distant, primitive past, farmers constantly refined their crops. Actually, many of the most amazing changes in species development came not as a result of structured research, but rather out of the simple act of a farmer’s choosing and collecting seeds from the plants he favored over seeds from less-desired plants. This straightforward action of promoting one plant over another had a huge effect on the improvement and change of a specific harvest or species. Long before man understood the genetics of plants, his actions caused small, slow variations in the crops, which compounded over time until they brought about actual results.

One of the processes emerging from this breeding was the domestication of plants. The slow, persistent plant selection conducted by ancient farmers led to a dramatic transformation in certain wild plants to produce plants with more desirable traits–which rendered them dependent on artificial (usually enhanced) environments for their continued existence. The practice is estimated to date back 9,000-11,000 years. Many crops currently cultivated are the result of domestication that occurred about 3,000-5,000 years ago. 

The Brassicaceae family (or “cabbage family”) is a perfect example. All family members derive from one wild plant, the brassica oleracea, which originated in the Mediterranean area and resembles the canola in appearance. Sometime after the plant was domesticated, people began growing it for its leaves. Since they consumed the leaves, it made sense to choose the plants that produced the biggest leaves. As a result, those leaves became bigger and bigger, eventually creating the plant we now know as kale or collards. Kale’s botanical name is var. acephala, translating to “a headless cabbage.”

Other farmers preferred plants that produced small, denser and more delicate leaves in the center of the plant at the head of the stem, hence advancing plants with those characteristics. Over the seasons, the process of compacting became more and more prominent in those plants. Over the years, it grew and evolved into a real “head of leaves” which we call cabbage. Its actual title is var. capitata, meaning “a cabbage with a head.”

Around the same time, in today’s Germany, farmers preferred short and thick-stemmed kale. They ate the actual stem, and gradually, in choosing plants with a tendency for thick stems, caused the former cabbage to alter its greatly-thickened stem. This turned into kohlrabi, which earned the name var. caulorapa, meaning “a stem turnip.”

Over the past thousand years, man also developed a passion for the undeveloped flower buds of the cabbage, and chose the plants that produced large bloom heads. This is how we got cauliflower and broccoli, both different variations of an undeveloped cabbage plant. The cauliflower is var. botrytis, meaning “cluster,” for its resemblance to a cluster of grapes. The broccoli, which was developed in Italy, earned the title var. italica.

And the last member of this extended family: we each have our own taste, and apparently there were those (most probably the Belgians) who preferred plants that developed an assembly of dense leaves along the stems. They chose and re-chose plants that produced this sort of leaf shape, and thus brought the world Brussels sprouts, titled var. germmifera “the cabbage with gems.”

In summary, this long, winding familial tale demonstrates that without a systematic education in genetics or plant propagation, but via a simple process of seed selection and a lot of patience, more than six unique vegetables have developed over the past 7000 years. It happens in the best of families. 

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Recipes:

 Alice Waters’ Spicy Cauliflower Soup

 Crispy Cauliflower with Olives, Capers and Parsley

 Broccoli Gratin

 Mushroom & Broccoli Quiche Recipe with a Gluten Free Potato Crust

– sent to me by Margie from Jerusalem

3 or 4 red potatoes, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 scallions, chopped
450 gram mushrooms, quartered
1 head of broccoli
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 c. soy milk (or whatever type of milk you have)
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
Pinch nutmeg
up to1 1/2 cups cheese, grated (use whatever you have on hand)

1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees. Slice the red potatoes very thinly – around 3mm thick. Layer them around a pie plate, starting in the middle and trying not to leave any spaces where the filling might run through. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

2. Begin heating the oil in a non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Clean the mushrooms with a slightly damp cloth. Remove the stems and then quarter them with a sharp knife. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and stir frequently until they are golden brown.

3. While the mushrooms are sautéing, chop the florets off of the head of broccoli and separate into small pieces. Then use scissors to finely snip the green part of the scallions. Add the broccoli florets and sauté until they are bright green, and then remove the skillet from the heat.

4. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, and egg yolk together until they are slightly frothy. Season the egg mixture with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

5. Now it is time to construct the quiche. Your potato crust should be ready by now, so

evenly sprinkle 1/2 of the cheese over the crust. Then spread the mushrooms and broccoli over the cheese, and top with the remaining cheese. Finally, pour the egg mixture over everything else, and place the dish in the over for 30 to 35 minutes. When the quiche is ready, the center should be firm, and the top should have started to brown. (I probably could have left mine in a bit longer, but we were really, really hungry!) Take the quiche out of the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing.

Korean cabbage kimchee

 World’s best braised cabbage – by Molly Stevens

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