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

Aley Chubeza #4 – January 18th-20th 2010

The CSA Story, Continued

This week’s Newsletter continues to focus on the history and present operation of Chubeza’s model, the CSA—Community Supported Agriculture. To give you a more personal account of CSA in the United States, I recommend excerpts from the 2003 diary of a CSA farmer in California, where she reflects on the passing seasons. I feel it’s a true depiction of the world of the farmer, the worries, hopes, difficulties and joys as seen from under a straw hat and blistered hands…

The original idea of the CSA is embodied in its title: Community Supported Agriculture. The initiative for the first farms in Japan, Europe and the U.S. came from the consumers who organized themselves, bought land and grew the produce in cooperation, or found a farmer willing to grow their weekly vegetable needs. To this day, some farms are managed by the community, i.e., the farmer and a nucleus of members. Sometimes the members serve as consultants, but in certain farms they actually take an active part in making decisions and carrying out functions within the CSA.

Over the years, many farms have been established under the umbrella of agricultural-community partnership, spanning a vast range of commitment and involvement. At one extreme is the actual communal farm, belonging to, operated by, and supported by the community. In this kind of farm, the members set the budget, as well as the annual membership fee to finance the budget. The community is also involved in determining what to grow, how to grow it, the variety of vegetables selected, purchasing equipment, etc. In many of these farms, the members commit to a number of hours or work days in the field or in the management of the CSA.

At the other extreme are the majority of CSA’s, farms such as Chubeza that offer a “membership plan” where the clients commit to a short-term period (weekly, half a season or a full season) and pay the weekly fee in advance or by monthly payments. In this kind of farm, it is the farmers who are responsible for the ownership and management; the clients are partners by virtue of their willingness to commit to membership and payment in advance for next season’s crop. Sometimes they lend a hand by organizing distribution or by working in the field. On the whole, members’ level of involvement is their own choice, with different people involved in different ways. Various farms also distribute their crop in diverse ways. Some simply spread out their weekly produce on tables in the field, for consumers to take their own apportioned vegetables (see picture):

In other farms, the boxes are prepared in advance for clients to pick up from the field, from the local farmers market, or as in our farm, distributed to various pick-up points in town or to the homes of the subscribers.

The common denominator between the various farms, and what makes them a partnership of farmers and community, is the connection between the grower and consumer. This can be personified in direct sales from the field to consumer, in direct communication via the newsletter, the growing-protocol and the estimated crop schedule, seasonal feedback, and the encouragement of clients to comment and make recommendations and requests. Involvement is augmented through visits to the field, pick-your-own days, planting events and seasonal celebrations. And again, the clients themselves determine the level of involvement and their willingness to take part in these events, read the newsletter, respond or give seasonal feedback. In most of the farms I’m familiar with, the farmers want/need this partnership more than the clients, of whom only a small portion actually take part in the activities offered by the farm. Still, many of the clients enjoy receiving news from the farm and communicating with the growers.

In the U.S. there are an estimated 1,500-3,000 CSA farms. In Japan there are over 1,000,000 consumers in the teikei system. I don’t have statistics for Europe, but in almost every country there is a cooperative of consumers and farmers (for example, Pergola in Holland, AMAP in France, etc.). What about Israel?

Leah Sigmund was the pioneer of CSA’s in Israel. A biodynamic farmer from Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava, she grew an organic vegetable garden in her kibbutz and ran a CSA some 5-6 years ago. They distributed approximately 40 boxes to various places, specifically Eilat, but also to Mitzpe Ramon and even to a group in Jerusalem! After a few successful years, the program closed down when Leah pursued advanced studies in the U.S.  At the end of 2003, right before I established Chubeza, I went in search of them, but sadly they were no longer active. In the meantime, the organic garden on the kibbutz diminished.

When I first wrote this newsletter in Hebrew two years ago and mentioned other failed attempts at CSA’s, I was somewhat in despair. I then encouraged clients to spread the idea and send us young or veteran farmers who would like to learn how to establish CSA’s. To my great joy, a real difference has occurred over the past two years, with more and more small CSA farms being established and flourishing. Today, several other similar farms adhere to the social-communal perspective. Some are (links in Hebrew) Maggie’s Garden, in Nataf, near Jerusalem, Meshek Chavivian in Moshav Hodaya near Ashkelon, Sde Shefa in Kibbutz Hukok, overlooking the Kinneret, and Etz Charuv in Klil of the Western Galilee. Even Iris Ben Zvi from Kfar Yehoshua of Yizrael valley, who has been farming organically for over 25 years, is now operating a CSA program. Our very own Eyal, who was the foreman at our farm till not long ago (and is still a loyal deliverer), became an independent farmer at Kfar HaNagid and is planning to start his own CSA. We wish him much luck.

And some reflections on us: when I first established the farm I encountered a lot of sarcasm from veteran farmers, who assured me, “It will never work– Israeli’s aren’t suckers like the Americans and won’t buy a vegetable they haven’t seen. It’s been tried before, and people are just unwilling to have someone else determine what vegetables they will eat, or tell them that there are no tomatoes in January…” In my naiveté (three years in California would do it to anyone…) I decided it had to work, but I internalized some of these fears. And so, instead of only going with seasonal vegetables, we decided to honor the sacred Israeli salad by purchasing tomatoes and cucumbers during wintertime. The original plan of payment-per-season also changed over time, and turned into a weekly or monthly post-delivery payment system.

Today, other than our weekly vegetable box, we invite our clients to visit us twice a year on open days over Pesach and Sukkot. Some of our clients schedule independent visits to the farm, and others participate in workdays. Last spring we started a tradition of Fridays on the Farm, inviting clients to help us out with the many spring tasks. The response was heartwarming: almost every week a family or two came to work on the farm, and we got to meet with you personally. We hope to be able to start this up again next spring.

Your feedback, comments, requests and recommendations are important to us and taken very seriously. We manage to develop, learn and adapt ourselves to your needs, thanks to your involvement. Every year we request you fill out a survey about the past year so we can adjust the planting accordingly, with your needs and desires in mind. Our weekly newsletter is sacred to both Alon and myself. Through the newsletter we attempt to keep you involved, while focusing on topics we think are important and interesting–or telling you about our experiences in the mud or scorching sun. This English newsletter has come at the initiative and perseverance of client-friends of Chubeza and is another step towards drawing all Chubeza members closer But there is still room for improvement: we would like to organize more events on the farm, collaborative working days, celebratory events based on the seasons and agricultural calendar, and of course-  random visits.

Wishing us all a great rainy week,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza staff

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, green onions, fennel, dill, tomatoes, broccoli, parsley root, cauliflower, cucumbers, arugula / tatsoi

In the large box, in addition: beets, fava beans / peas, green cabbage

Wednesday: cauliflower, red cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro, mustard greens, broccoli, fennel, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, fava beans – small boxes only.

In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, parsley root, green onions, arugula / tatsoi

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THIS WEEK’S FEATURED VEGETABLE: THE FENNEL

Fennel belongs to the Umbelliferae family (called such because the flowers are arranged in a small, umbrella-like shape), a relative of the dill, coriander, carrot, parsley, celery, anise, cumin and others. Its origins are in the Mediterranean basin- a neighbor! As it is well-accustomed to our surroundings, fennel grows peacefully and comfortably in many wild fields, takes over abandoned agricultural plots or even the random urban open field. It understands our fickle weather, demands order from the weeds surrounding it, lest they take over its territory, and grows in the winter sun, sometimes reaching a height of two meters! The fennel is indeed a strong plant: it successfully endures weather changes, even extreme ones, and hardly ever suffers from pests, thanks perhaps to its strong scent. When it is big enough, fennel gets along well with the weeds, staking out a territory for itself. Its dominant character is a solid reason not to plant other plants alongside, and to give the fennel its own garden-bed.

 

Contrary to other cultivated vegetables, the Florence fennel we grow is not very different from its brother, the wild fennel, except for the fact that it is shorter and puts most of its energy into thickening the leaves at its base until they become a sort of white bulb, sweet and juicy, which we can eat. Here too, it is a mistake to think we eat the root or onion of the fennel when in fact we’re eating its lower leaves, which in the case of the Florence fennel are puffy and fleshy. These leaves taste more delicate and sweet than the wild and common fennels, grown to extract seeds.

The aroma and distinctive taste come from a unique phytochemical, the anethol, which is the main component of the volatile lubricant it contains (similar to the anise). This phytochemical retards inflammation and reduces the danger of cancer. The volatile lubricant in fennel can also protect from various chemical toxins, in the liver and other organs. Its strong smell can be used to refresh and prevent bad breath, and it is a component of most natural toothpastes. Those who do not enjoy the smell can identify with the pests who stay far away from the fennel, and with medieval witches, who were scared away by sheaves of fennel and St. John’s Wort hung on the thresholds during the June 24th agricultural summer festivities celebrated in Europe.

In ancient Greece, fennel was a sign of success. Its name “marathon” (=”place of fennel”) is also the origin of the place called Marathon, the scene of the famous battle in which Greece triumphed over the Persians. Pheidippides, who ran150 miles in two days, and then another 25 to announce the Greek victory, was rewarded with a fennel wreath, visible in the many statues of this famous sprinter. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus stole the fire of the Gods using a burning fennel stalk. Not surprising, since one of the uses for dry fennel stalks among middle-Eastern Falachim (farmers) is to ignite flames. The high level of oil they contain makes them a very reliable source of kindling. Roman soldiers used to eat fennel, for it was rumored to be the vegetable of heroism.

Plinius Secundas, otherwise known as Plini the Elder, an ancient Roman writer, wrote highly of the fennel. He attributed to it 22 medicinal qualities, including the fact that snakes eat it while shedding their skin and sharpen their sight by rubbing up against it. Fennel is considered an important medicinal plant, one of nine Anglo-Saxon sacred herbs (along with mugwort, plantain, watercress, betony, chamomile, nettle, crabapple and chervil). The oil is primarily in the seeds, which are a major component in Indian and Chinese mixtures.

And a little more flattery: the fennel’s main claim to fame is as a digestive aid. In India it is served at the end of a meal (in Indian restaurants it comes with the bill) and chewed in order to help the food go down. Perhaps this is the reason fennel is considered to be a good diet supplement. The leafy bulb is rich in dietary fibers which in themselves contribute to efficient, healthy digestion. Fennel is also recommended for colicky babies. Even I drank the… hmmm, how shall I describe it… strong-tasting brew, composed of fennel seeds and anise stars, to help my babies out during colic times. Young mothers still willing to sacrifice themselves will be rewarded twofold: helping the baby and increasing their own milk. And if that still doesn’t help and the baby keeps screaming, a fennel drink will help his/her throat, relieving hoarseness and coughs…

 But the fennel has a dark side as well (depending of course on the full or empty part of the cup…). It is one of the spices composing absinthe, a strong alcoholic liquor, made of wormwood, moss, anise, Melissa and fennel. Its anise-taste  and green color give it the nickname “the green fairy.” Absinthe has been known to cause hallucinations (or to inspire muse, depending on who you ask) and was very popular in the 19th century with bohemians and artists, with Van Gogh being one aficionado.  Some claim that he cut off his ear under the influence of absinthe.

But let’s forget about hallucinations for a minute, and take a deep breath. If you’ve decided to go out picking wild fennel flowers, you can add them to salad dressings, to soups and sauces. If you chop the flower very thinly (or use a mortar and pestle) and mix with soft butter, you can make a great spread for fish or grilled chicken. The flowers can also be used for décor. The seeds should be gathered immediately after the flowers have bloomed and shed and the seeds are still green and fresh.

TIPS:

  • Fennel oxidizes upon contact with air: sliced fennel should be stored in the refrigerator in a container with water and a small amount of lemon juice.
  • Place a fennel branch on fish as it bakes. The fennel will absorb the fishy odor and replace it with a fragrant fennel aroma instead.
  • If you collect fennel flowers or seeds from wild plants, it is important to remember not to pick them from along the roadside. These flowers absorb toxins from automobile exhaust or from pesticide in weed sprays. 

 

RECIPES:

Roasted Fennel 

Ingredients:
4 fennel bulbs
2 T. olive oil
1 T. coriander seeds
1 T. mustard seeds
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
Heat oven to 180˚ Celsius.
Slice fennel lengthwise.
Lightly crush the coriander and mustard seeds.
Mix the fennel with the spices in a baking pan. Bake for around 40 minutes, until the edges of the fennel begin to brown.

 

Fennel Baked with Cheese 

Ingredients:
1 kilo fennel
250 gm. Mozzarella cheese (balls)
40 gm. butter
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2 T. olive oil
3 T. breadcrumbs/matza meal

Preparation:
Slice each fennel lengthwise (not in rings) into 8 pieces
Arrange the fennel slices in a Pyrex baking dish, and spread the Mozzarella cheese over fennel.
Melt butter together with olive oil and pour over all.
Spread breadcrumbs or matza meal, and bake in high oven for around 20 minutes.

 

Cooked Fennel

Ingredients:
5 fennel bulbs
¼ c. lemon juice
3 t. chicken soup powder
Salt to taste
Coriander, thickly chopped
Chives (optional)
Trace of nutmeg
50 gm. margarine or butter
2 c. water

Preparation:
Slice fennel bulbs into quarters and wash.
Melt butter in wide pan for 5 minutes, add soup powder and mix.
Add lemon juice and cook over medium flame up to 2 minutes, till mixture thickens.
Add the water, nutmeg and salt. Lower flame and cook for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add coriander and chives, mix, and remove from heat. Cover, cool for 3 minutes and serve

 

Fennel and Potato Casserole 

Ingredients:
4 medium fennel bulbs, halved
4 potatoes, peeled and sliced in quarters
2 c. water
2 eggs
1 c. parsley, chopped
3 T. coriander, chopped
1 T. oil
2 T. soup powder
¼ t. thyme
¼ t. black pepper
Salt
Butter

Preparation:
Cook fennel and potatoes in water till soft.
Cool and mash slightly, and place in large bowl.
Add remaining ingredients and stir till completely mixed.
Transfer mixture to greased baking pan, and smooth evenly.
Bake for around 45 minutes, till medium browned.

 

Pickled Fennel, tasty and refreshing Bella Rudnick, from the website ynet.co.il

For 1 1/2 liter jar 

Ingredients:
5-7 fennel bulbs
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into thirds
12 thyme sprigs
2 lemons, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 heaping t. salt
2/3 c. regular vinegar
1 2/3 c. olive oil
Several black pepper pods, ground
1/2 t. sugar diluted in 1 T. water
Olive oil to cover

Preparation:
Wash fennel well and remove stalks. Cut bulbs in half and cut into thin slices. Place in bowl and add olive oil, garlic cloves, lemon, vinegar, thyme, freshly-ground pepper, salt, and the sugar and water mixture.
Add enough olive oil to cover the fennel, and transfer to jar.
Pickled fennel is ready within several hours, but taste will improve with time.

 

Persian Fennel Salad with Pomegranate and Apples – Gil Hovav

Ingredients:
2 pomegranates
2 green apples
1 fennel bulb
Juice of one lemon

Preparation:
Slice pomegranates in half, remove seeds and place them in a large, clear salad bowl. (It’s important to use a clear bowl to show off such a beautiful salad.)
Thinly slice fennel bulbs along the width; add to bowl.
Peel and core apple. Cut into quarters and slice thinly; add to bowl.
Pour lemon juice over salad, mix and serve.

 

Pasta with Fennel – Beth Elon, The Big Book of Pasta

Ingredients:
500 gm. spaghetti
2 fennel bulbs (750 gm – 1 kilo)
1 container sweet cream (shamenet)
2 T. brandy
Container of fresh olive oil
100 gm Kashkaval cheese, grated
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Preparation:
Fill a pot with around 5 liters of water, add salt and bring to a boil. Carefully clean the fennel bulbs, cut into quarters and drop into boiling water. Cook fennel till soft, taking  care not to overcook. Bulbs should be firm to the bite. Transfer with slotted spoon to a   bowl.
Bring water to a second boil, and cook spaghetti to al dente texture.
Meanwhile, drain excess water from fennel and cut into 2 cm. rings. Place the cream and brandy in a small, deep skillet, and heat just to boiling.
Cool pasta and transfer to heated serving dish. Stir cream mixture into pasta, top with grated cheese, 1 t. salt, and a generous addition of freshly ground pepper.
Mix again, and add fennel last. Before serving, mix once again; add a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

 

Cold Fennel Soup – Ofer Gal, “Date Palm” Restaurant, from www.hashulchan.co.il   

Ingredients:
4 large fennel bulbs, cut into thick slices
1 onion, cut into 8 sections
1 small leek cut into thick rings
1/3 liter yoghurt
1/3 cup pastisse (anise-flavored alcoholic drink) 
Salt and pepper to taste
Several freshly ground black pepper pods
1/2 t. sugar diluted in 1 T. water
Olive oil to cover

Preparation:
In a large pot, mix fennel, leek and onion, add water just to cover, season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and cook over low flame for 40 minutes, till fennel is quite soft. Blend vegetables with the cooking liquid, and refrigerate. On a low flame, bring pastisse to a boil. Light with a match and continue boiling until the flame goes out. Mix pastisse with the yoghurt and add to fennel mixture. Season with salt and pepper and serve cold.

Aley Chubeza #3 – January 11th-13th 2010

The History of Love (of seasonal, healthy vegetables, of agriculture, and farmers)

Now that you’ve become acquainted with the farm and with us, the farmers, it is time to add the next piece of the Chubeza puzzle: our form of operation, “CSA,” Community Supported Agriculture. This Newsletter and next week’s will be devoted to the CSA mandate to forge a partnership, responsibility and reciprocity between farmers and consumers.

 When Ecclesiastes said, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” he was surely referring to this movement of partnership between farmers and consumers. And not just because farms grow vegetables in season and send fresh produce in boxes, but also because this model arose simultaneously and independently in both Japan and Europe– without either country being conscious of the other (in the pre-Internet era). It was the 1960’s, when an awareness of the dangers of modern farming was just beginning to emerge. Countries were losing farming viability and the wherewithal to sustain independent farming in an era of global market economy and low-cost imports. In short, people began waking up to agricultural problems that were threatening the mouth that consumes it, and began searching for answers. Japan became concerned with food safety, pondering whether the connection between artificial inorganic material and food was beneficial—an issue urgently driven by disturbing revelations on “Mina Mata Disease.”

It began in an affirmative, pastoral environment: in the 1920’s, a chemical plant was established in a small fishing village in the peaceful Mina Mata Bay. The villagers were convinced that the factory would provide support and boost opportunities for the residents. “Chisso Chemicals” started out producing fertilizers, and later expanded to manufacture material for the plastics industry. They released their industrial wastewater into the bay. The plant was a great commercial success, but eventually the residents of Mina Mata began noticing that for no obvious reason, their cats would become spastic, contort, and drop dead. Dead birds then started falling from the sky. Soon it was the people who were getting sick and babies were being born with dreadful deformities. The villagers suspected a connection between the chemical factory and these phenomena, since no such symptoms had existed before Chisso Chemicals arrived.

An exploration revealed that between 1932 and 1968, the plant released approximately 27 tons of methyl mercury into the bay, which bio-accumulated in shellfish and fish that were consumed by the local populace (including the cats and birds). This highly toxic chemical produced neurological damage, resulting in 68 deaths from mercury poisoning, including 22 miscarriages. The villagers demanded that the wastewater be banned from the bay, but Chisso superiors concealed scientific data they had amassed and claimed the mysterious disease was unrelated to their operations. Subsequently, they paid the victims’ families a small “indulgent” compensation, extracting a commitment that no legal claims be brought against the plant. Chisso continued to release the toxic water into the bay. Forty years later, some 4,000 people were diagnosed with “Mina Mata disease,” and the plant was obligated to compensate them. To this day, people living in the area continue to claim compensation from the company.

This episode, among others, caused more and more Japanese citizens to opt for organic food, but they encountered difficulties in this endeavor as well: on one hand, the increased import of agricultural produce posed a threat to local Japanese farming. On the other hand, forgeries and fabrications in labeling organic products sent consumers in search of an alternative. The solution: direct purchase from the grower, in return for his/her commitment towards the consumer. The first group organized in 1965 along the existing teikei (Japanese for “cooperation” or “joint business”) model. With reference to CSA, it is commonly translated as “food with the farmer’s face on it.” A small group of woman formed the first cooperative, and went in search of a farmer who would create a partnership of mutual support.

It is no surprise that this development took place in Japan, where a respect for health is integral in the culture. But beyond, the Japanese boast a tradition of co-ops, the first established in 1897! To this day, 14 million Japanese (some 22% of the population) are members of the cooperative Japanese consumers union, the largest of its kind in Japan. Japanese co-ops run the gamut from medicine and housing to insurance and education. Most teikei programs are partnerships between farmers’ co-ops and consumer co-ops.

Meanwhile, at the same time, across the ocean:

At the beginning of the 20th century the Anthroposophist movement was established, based on the ideology of philosopher, architect, and Austrian teacher Rudolf Steiner, and on his writings in education, medicine, arts, religion, economy and agriculture. I will only relate to his approach to agriculture, but for further information I suggest these sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy,  http://www.waldorfanswers.com/Anthroposophy.htm

The Anthroposophist relationship to agriculture is otherwise known as “biodynamic agriculture.” In 1924, Rudolph Steiner was sought out by a group of Central European farmers concerned with the deterioration of various plants and animals resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers. They requested that Steiner set out the foundations for applying anthroposophist tenets to practical farming. In eight lectures given in Silesia, Germany, Steiner characterized the optimal agricultural system as a complete ecologic system where people, animals, plants, microorganisms, earth, water and air exist in a dynamic balance and equilibrium. He also stressed an astrological element, in the influence of cosmic powers upon fixing stars and planets, to the fertility of the earth and the vitality of the metabolic processes in the earth’s organism and the kingdoms of nature. Practical use of these powers in agriculture enables the elimination of toxics and chemical fertilizers, aiming to provide agricultural produce with biological and nutritious quality.

Since 1924, biodynamic agriculture has developed in many countries, and the scientific research of Rudolph Steiner’s blueprint is carried out in institutes devoted solely to this pursuit.

Steiner also focused on “associative economics,” to create an alternative to competitive economy. Steiner’s model presents an economic order that cultivates reciprocation and communication between manufacturers, merchants, credit suppliers and consumers to deal with issues of fair prices, actual needs, reduction of poverty and expansion of social equality and environmental influences. A combination of the two approaches–biodynamic organic agriculture and an economy based on cooperation and reciprocation–served to create the ultimate model: a partnership forged between farmers and the non-agricultural community to confront these issues.

At the end of the 1960’s, the Buschberghof Farm, a German collective farm based on these principles, was established alongside a “collaborative agricultural community.” This initiative aimed to create a network of non-farmers who support farmers by giving loans and partnering. In Switzerland a similar process took place, influenced by the Chilean cooperative movement during the regime of Salvador Allende (1970-1973). In the 1980’s, agricultural partnerships and communities were established in Germany and Switzerland, influenced by parallel processes taking place in the U.S. The Buschberghof Farm evolved into an actual CSA.

The development of the CSA movement in United States was quite similar to that of their European counterparts. I won’t go into the details here, but for those interested, I recommend this very informative and interesting article about the origins of the movement, focusing on the nation’s pioneer CSA farms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire: 

Each of these two farms, by the way, is still operating as a CSA today, some 20+ years later. B’karov etzlenu!

 

Next Newsletter: The different faces of today’s global CSA Movement, and Chubeza’s commitment to stimulate this model in Israel.

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: lettuce, carrots, mustard greens / tatsoi, kohlrabi, cilantro, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, green cabbage, beets, cucumbers, spinach, fennel.

In the large box, in addition: cauliflower, green onions, first fava beans!

Wednesday: cauliflower, arugula/spinach, tomatoes, dill, green onions, broccoli, turnips, clementines, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes / fennel.

In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, beets, new fava beans!

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And Now to Our Featured Vegetable: the Kohlrabi

It’s a UFO! It’s a parachuting turnip! It’s a long neck trying to swallow something round and wide. No! It’s the kohlrabi, an amazing, if unassuming, vegetable in this week’s box.

(I even found this description somewhere: “Hold the kohlrabi root-side-up, and the stems will look like boiling wax dripping from the bulb…)

So our friend is rather strange looking, and that is because he is a very unconventional phenomenon in the vegetable world. We know vegetables that are the fruit of the plant, or the leaves, or the flowers or even the roots, but this time it’s the stem! True, it’s a little strange to think of a round ball-shaped stem, and the kohlrabi resembles other round roots such as his distant cousins, the turnip and radish. But to be honest, the only similarity between them is on the outside: botanically speaking, the kohlrabi is actually closer to the cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and broccoli. In the beginning of its growth, the kohlrabi looks a lot like the cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli or kale plant. It sprouts green leaves on an upright plant. But upon maturity, the kohlrabi searches for an individual identity, and suddenly its stem thickens, curves up and becomes ball-like until a round kohlrabi sits on the earth (not under it!), light green (or purple, depending upon the type), sweet and juicy.

For those of you who may not be acquainted with this vegetable, or perhaps once found it tasteless, or was put off by its strange shape, I have only one thing to say: take one out of the box right now. Find a small one, peel it and take a bite: it is juicy, sweet and delicate, and just wonderful!

Speaking of hot air balloons, the geographic distances the kohlrabi has traveled over the years wouldn’t shame any frequent flyer. Like the rest of its family, the kohlrabi’s ancestor is the wild cabbage, or curly cabbage, whose origins are very ancient. In the first century, Roman agronomists and cooks wrote about it.  Roman Emperor Karl the Great demanded that kohlrabi be planted in his kingdom. From Europe it traveled to north India in the 17th century, where it became a main component of the Hindu diet. From there, our vegetable migrated to Northern Africa, the Middle East, China and Africa, and later, to the United States–specifically, to the southern kitchen. To this day kohlrabi is a main favorite in Indian, Asian, German and Hungarian cookbooks.

The origin of its name derives from German: kohl=cabbage, rabi=turnip. But it isn’t really a hybrid of the two. The name was given perhaps because the vegetable belongs to the cabbage lineage, but looks like a turnip or a similar bulb. But that too is misleading, because the kohlrabi is neither a root nor a bulb. If you’ve ever seen a kohlrabi in the field, you can easily define the edible part, for it is sitting atop the earth, and is, in fact, a thickened stem.

Like the rest of its relatives, the kohlrabi is fond of a cool climate and grows in different seasons in different areas. Thus, while we Israelis are already receiving a second crop of this friendly creature, in California or in different parts of the U.S. they’re only now seeding it in the hothouses. In Israel, the kohlrabi will find it very difficult to grow during summertime, but where spring and summer are cooler, he enjoys sprouting, just like the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.

The kohlrabi is speedier than the rest of his family, because we don’t have to wait for the plant to flower in order to get to the edible part (like the cauliflower or broccoli) or for the leaves to close (like the cabbage.) As a matter of fact, the kohlrabi should be picked early, when it hasn’t yet matured. A big kohlrabi means it was picked too late, and its texture is liable to be fibrous. This is also the reason you sometimes receive tiny kohlrabies. The winter stopped their growth, but a longer wait would have harmed the juicy, crispy texture, which is why they were picked small. Kohlrabi comes in green or purple, although for both the inside is light green. 

So the kohlrabi is picked young, in some seasons less than two months after being planted. But it is in fact a bi-seasonal vegetable, meaning that in order to arrive at a complete growth cycle climaxed by seed production, it must undergo two growing seasons. In between is a rest period, or “incubation,” after which it will flower and produce seeds during the following springtime.

Kohlrabi can be eaten in any form. It is customary to eat it raw, which is why we will name other forms of consumption. The vegetable is delicious grilled or roasted in the oven or an outdoor grill. It is delicious cooked or steamed, not only in soup, stir-fried in butter or baked with salt, white pepper and sage. It can even be pickled. In Chinese-food recipes, it can substitute for radish or turnips and for water chestnuts. Its leaves are similar in taste to kale, and are great in soup, pasta sauces and stir-fries. 

Health-wise, the kohlrabi holds all the medical merits of the Cruciferae family. It has a much greater nutritional value than cabbage, is an outstanding source of vitamin C (one cup of sliced kohlrabi supplies the recommended daily portion), and like the cauliflower, is a great source of nutritional fiber. Kohlrabi also contains high levels of potassium, folic acid and calcium. In folk medicine it is considered to cleanse the blood and kidneys, as well as being beneficial for the lymphatic system and for digestion. Nissim Krispil writes of Moroccan Jews who make kohlrabi and honey juice to remedy hoarseness and mucus. In natural medicine kohlrabi is mixed with other vegetables to make a juice that treats asthma, improves lung function, sinus problems and the thyroid gland. Adding carrot juice will improve the taste of kohlrabi juice.

And a little joke before we turn to recipes: The American indexing society that is devoted to indexing, summarizing and building databases, awards an annual “Kohlrabi Order Prize,” named such because, “Just like the kohlrabi, no one knows who we are or what to do with us.”

But after this newsletter, you all do now!

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Baked Kohlrabi

Ingredients:
4 kohlrabies
2 cups sweet cream (shamenet)  
1 t. salt, or to taste
½ t. white pepper
1 T. very soft butter

Preparation:
–   Peel the kohlrabi and slice into as many thick pieces as possible. Place in a deep bowl.
–   Mix the cream with salt and pepper and pour over the kohlrabi slices.
–   Mix gently until all slices are coated with cream.  
–   Grease a medium-size flat baking pan with butter. Add kohlrabi slices and level them on the surface.
–   Bake in medium oven (pre-heated) for around one hour or until the cream is almost steamed and the casserole is golden.
–   Turn off oven, and leave the casserole inside for another 10 minutes, until solid.
Serve warm.

 

Kohlrabi and Rocket Salad with Apples and Apple Vinaigrette: Recipe from “Shkedim” Catering. From www.eat2.co.il

Ingredients:
5 small kohlrabies
3 hard Grand apples
2 lemons
1 pkg. fresh rocket

Vinaigrette:
1 can apple juice concentrate
1 t. coriander seeds
½ t. mustard seeds
1 c. corn oil
½ c. olive oil
1 t. ground ginger
salt, pepper
walnuts for garnish

Preparation:
–   Peel kohlrabies and grate coarsely.
–   Core apples and slice into very thin crescents; soak apples in water with the juice of two lemons
–   Wash the rocket, dry and place on paper towel.
–   In a small pan, add apple juice concentrate, coriander, mustard seeds, and ginger. Bring to a boil, cook for 3-4 minutes, and cool.
–   When mixture is cool, place in blender. While blending, add corn oil and olive oil; add a bit of salt and pepper, and continue blending till mixture becomes brownish.
–   Place kohlrabi and rocket in bowl, drain apples from lemon mixture and add to bowl. Pour on the dressing, toss and serve.
–   Can garnish with shelled walnuts or cashews

 

Rumanian Kohlrabi Soup: Recipe from the book The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook–Healthy Traditions from Around the World by Debra Wasserman

Ingredients:
2 kohlrabies, peeled and chopped
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
Small onion, peeled and thinly chopped
½ c. dill, finely chopped
½ c. parsley, finely chopped
2 T. oil
½ t. thyme or basil
salt and pepper
1 T. cornflower
11 cups water
½ c. lemon juice
425 gm. tomato paste

Preparation:
–   In a large pot, sauté kohlrabi, cauliflower, carrot, onion, dill and parsley at medium-high heat for around 5 minutes. Season.
–   Dilute cornflower in a cup of water and add. Add 10 more cups of water and bring to boil. Lower flame and cook covered for an additional 30 minutes.
–   Add lemon juice and tomato paste, and continue cooking on low heat for an additional 15 minutes

 

Kolhrabi Fritters

Ingredients:
4 kohlrabies, peeled and grated
¼ c. chopped scallions
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. breadcrumbs
1 t. salt
very hot pepper
¼ c. olive oil (for frying)

Preparation:
Drain grated kohlrabi well
Mix all ingredients (except oil) together in a bowl
Heat oil in large frying pan
Using a spoon, drop fritters in the pan
Fry 3-4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until golden

And, one last:

Stuffed Kohlrabi with Lemon-Tarragon Sauce

Aley Chubeza #2 – January 4th-6th 2010

The Hand that Sows the Soil…

In traditional agriculture, the winter months of January-February are family time. After the hard work of autumn and the rush to get everything done in time, it’s the weather which dictates a slower pace and provides the farmer with shorter work days, a temporary respite from the never-ending toil, and a time for introspection– with hope and prayers for timely rain and bountiful harvests.

In this wintry spirit, I’m devoting some of this week’s Newsletter to the faces behind your–our– vegetables, the people who work all week preparing the earth, planting and seeding the vegetables, watering and fertilizing the growing plants, weeding and thinning the garden beds, trellising, covering or pruning if needed, and lastly, picking and packing the produce. There is a great deal of manual labor in vegetable growing, but in Chubeza, we believe that it doesn’t end with just the physical exertion. We all gain from the happiness and devotion our workers put into their efforts. When farming can be pursued in an environment of friendship and cooperation, concern and faith in the good earth, and out of a connection to nature and labor, this is all thanks to a good, talented team of diligent workers. I’d like to introduce you to them now.  Each is of course a world within him/herself, but I tried to limit myself to one paragraph per person…

I established Chubeza over six years ago. Six months later, Alon Efrati joined, first as a worker, then as a manager. Finally he took over management of the entire farm, a burden he carries on his calm, strong shoulders to this day. Today he and I are partners in the management of Chubeza.  

I arrived at Chubeza as a sort of retraining and career change, after spending most of my adult life in the realms of education and therapies. I did realize that an occupation that involves a lot of speaking and responsibility for the well being of human lives might be too hard for me. After several years of dealing with the difficult, even filthy, areas of life, I needed the peace and quiet offered by working alone in a green field—where the dirt is just mud and there’s a plethora of growth and blooming…Life’s interesting jolts led me to San Francisco Bay Area in California, where I took a local gardening course and started working in small farms that managed to survive, despite it all, in the heart of Silicon Valley. After two years in three farms, I returned to Israel bounding with western optimism, positive that I would be able to establish a CSA in the Promised Land.

I’ll spare you the sarcasm and cynicism (some would call it experience and realism) that I encountered when I first began. Yet, somehow I managed to move on, encouraged by support from family and friends, and most of all, my dear sister, who introduced me to Alon Efrati (one of the three Alon’s), who helped me nurture Chubeza then and now.

Alon, an agronomist by profession, brought the professional side and diploma to Chubeza. Unlike myself, Alon had known for some time that he would be a farmer. In his “post-Army-tiyul” he stayed in South Africa for a short while and worked in a small permaculture farm. While at school, he started a home vegetable garden to (literally) get his hands dirty. From the start, Alon brought a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs, wild plants and plants in general. To this day, he continues to contribute his knowledge, with modesty and a readiness to learn and understand more about farming. Our first years supplied many opportunities to learn—most of them the hard way–how, where, how much and when to grow quality vegetables. We’re still learning, but today we can happily say that the great vegetables you find in your boxes are first and foremost thanks to a talented, modest, calm and very intelligent farmer named Alon Efrati.

The next tribute to a Chubeza worker goes to Suwet– our most veteran worker, who arrived to Israel from a “moshav” (as he describes it) in the Chiang Mai area of north Thailand. Like other Thai workers, Suat came here initially to earn a living, but we were blessed with a smart, dedicated worker who has great knowledge from his own rich experience (he taught us about growing and picking ademame, the green soybean). But his success comes mostly from the love of his work. Today Suat is our field manager, infinitely capable of maneuvering his heavy workload with wisdom, calm, and a constant smile.

Next is Alon Karni from Mesilat Zion, who became interested in the organic farming of his yoga student (Alon Efrati) and eventually found himself, three and a half years ago, straining his body at Chubeza twice or three times weekly. Aside from being an excellent yoga teacher for children and adults, Alon teaches environmental studies at a boys school near Lod, where he instructs these youngsters how to grow vegetables, make natural buildings, and most of all– how to live, grow and enjoy it. On harvest days, Alon is in charge of the packinghouse, and he does this with skill, diligence and serenity.

Two years ago, Alon brought along his brother-in-law, Lobsang. Tibetan by birth, Lobsang was raised in India. Although he spent most of his life in the snowy mountains of northern India, he is Chubeza’s greatest hater of winter. But even on rainy, wet, cold days, he keeps up his good spirits, singing as he works. Beyond his agricultural skills, Lobsang is an amazing chef. After he came aboard, our cooking rotation quickly dissolved. The job went solely to Lobsang, who upgraded our hummus-based meals to true vegetable delicacies. If the sun and green haven’t yet convinced you to come visit, now we can bribe you with one of Lobsang’s renowned lunches…

At approximately the same time, two years ago, we were joined by Mohammed, who comes from Beit Likia, in the Judean Hills north of Chubeza. So close, really, only half an hour by bike, but over the “border.” Mohammed is a veteran farmer who has been growing vegetables and olives in his village and other moshavim in the area for years. His intelligence and farming experience, which cannot be learned in any college, come from a deep understanding of how to raise crops and how to love and respect the earth. Mohammed is our collector and teacher of edible weeds. More than once he has pointed to some wild plant or another and suggested a recipe for a tasty meal.

Our newest additions to the “Chubeza Salad” are Shacham from Kibbutz Nachshon, and Yossi from Har Adar. They’ve both joined recently and are making headway on the farm, learning from our veteran staff, and experiencing first-hand what pea picking in the rain is like, how heavy feet-in-boots can be after walking around the farm on a muddy day, and how delicious a lunch salad and hot sweet tea can be on a strenuous workday. We also have a supplemental crew that joins occasionally- Miriam and Sarah from Lod. They are our guardian angels, arriving just as the weeds are threatening to take over, weeding garden-bed after garden-bed. Our new very weedy farm could never have provided the produce in your boxes without the rescue team from Lod.

In addition to our paid workers, we have been blessed with very devoted volunteers who pitch in to help with the farm’s endless chores, enjoy the sun (or rainy days), get their hands muddy, strain their muscles, and of course, dine on Lobsang’s lunches… First and foremost is our oldest volunteer (so to speak), Alon’s grandfather, Avraham Sabach, who has arrived every Wednesday for the past three years to be Alon Karni’s personal assistant in weighing the vegetables and distributing them in the boxes. Over the past year, Rachel from Tel Aviv and Alon from Beit Shemesh have been coming faithfully every Monday harvest day, bright and early, to toil till almost the end of our workday– and making us feel we’re doing them a huge favor. Lately, Na’ama from Neve Ilan has joined as well, and together with her sister help us out with every necessary farming task.

Last but not least, Davidi from Bar Giora, who has been with us for the past two years in various jobs, comes on Wednesdays to help out with harvest.

You usually don’t come in contact with us, the actual farmers, but every week we do   meet, via our loyal delivery team. Eyal delivers to the “Jerusalem outskirts” on Mondays and to the Jerusalemites on Wednesday. Ariel delivers a surprising amount of boxes to Jerusalemites on Wednesdays, Eli is in charge of Modiin-Jerusalem-Gush Ezion on Mondays and even Alon Karni joins the delivery forces (once a fortnight, at the end of a long workday) delivering to Nes Ziona, Rehovot and Mazkeret Batya. In the Tel Aviv area, Amit is in charge of the crew for clients of Tel-Aviv, Ramat Gan and Givatayim. Our delivery team has been with us for a long time. Neither rain nor shine, nor gloom of the night, car problems or other mishaps, will keep these men from delivering your fresh lettuce, carrots and broccoli that only yesterday were snuggled in the warm earth.  

This combination of volunteers and workers, older and younger people, and the diverse cultural backgrounds of those on our farm is another aspect of poly-culture–the multi-culture that is not merely expressed in the variety of vegetables and species in a small farm. It’s a devoted group of people happy to bury their hands in the earth, who hope together for its successful harvest, who rejoice at the sight of the first potatoes, and sigh (sometimes with relief) when the last one is pulled from the earth. Most of all, they enjoy the farm work, the observation work, and the work of the heart that go with farming.

I apologize for the long newsletter this week. It was important to me to introduce you “personally” to each and every partner in our work, and to thank them all for joining us.

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This week’s basket includes:

 Monday: lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard / tatsoi / kale, turnip/kohlrabi, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, new potatoes!, beets, green onions, cucumbers, celery

In the large box, in addition: cauliflower / green cabbage, peas, small radishes

 Wednesday: tatsoi, parsley, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green cabbage, carrots, fennel/turnip, cucumbers, potatoes, green onions/celery

In the large box, in addition: kohlrabi, peas, lettuce

 ______________________

A Fairy-Tale Vegetable

As a child, we had an old storybook with innocent, old-fashioned drawings in light colors. I don’t remember any of the stories, but I do recall that one was about a turnip. The children in the story sowed a turnip in their yard, or ate it for lunch or something along those lines. I remember we kids being astonished: what is a turnip? We imagined it to be an exotic European vegetable that only grows in heavy winters (maybe the children in the illustrations were wearing coats?), with a heavenly taste (the children seemed very happy from their delectable meal).

In Israeli reality, the turnip rates very minimal acclaim. It is considered to be a boring, tasteless vegetable. But in stories, it is highly regarded.

The well-known “Eliezer V’HaGezer” story is originally the tale of a huge turnip that required the cooperation of all members of the household to pull it out of the ground. The original Jack O’Lantern was an Irish drunkard who scooped out the insides of a turnip and placed a candle to act as a lantern.

A Grimm Brothers tale tells about two brothers, one rich, one poor. The poor brother grows huge turnip in his yard, and because he can’t figure out what to do with it, brings it to the king who rewards him with a huge fortune of gold. When the rich brother hears, he comes to the king with his own gift: gold and horses. The king is enthralled by this gift, and in thanks, sends the rich brother home with his gift: a huge turnip.

But beyond fairy tales, the turnip deserves real respect for being a truly great vegetable. Perhaps underrated, because its taste is mild and not as pronounced as other vegetables. Which is unfortunate, because I fear we’re getting used to the strong tastes of over-seasoning, brought to us by fast food and nosh that bombard us with overbearing flavors. We then miss out on the more gentle savors, ones that don’t grab the stage and holler.

The modest turnip is an ancient cultured crop, known in Greece, Rome, China and ancient Egypt. Its origins are in China, central Asia and the Near East. In Israel, the turnip was grown during the times of the Mishna, where it is mentioned as a popular garden vegetable. It belongs to the Cruciferae family, a cousin to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, garden rocket, mustard, horseradish, radishes and others. Like the rest of the family, it favors a cold winter climate that slows down the plant’s breathing and raises the quantity of the carbohydrate reserve, a process that improves its taste. Variable, unstable conditions will produce a woody root and strong flavor, and the turnip turns bitter if the weather is too hot or dry. Perhaps this why in Israel the turnip is a true winter vegetable. The plant develops a dense root with a crown of leaves on its head, similar to the radish. There are many varieties of turnip: the spherical, the round, the oblate and the skewered, and their colors vary from pink to purple to yellow.

 In Israel, the root is the edible part, but in the Far East and southern United States it’s the leaves that are eaten, with some species specially developed for their leaves. The root is eaten raw, cooked or pickled, and the leaves are cooked like spinach. There are countries that produce oil from the seeds. Somewhere in cyberspace I read about a Canadian who married a southern American, and one day they decided to have turnip for dinner. At the supermarket he placed a turnip root into his cart, to his wife’s astonishment. She was used to giving the root to feed pigs, and demanded the greens instead. He declared that as far as he’s concerned, the turnip IS the root, and leaves are animal fodder. Sadly, neither ever touched a turnip again. The moral: both greens and root can be eaten.

 So indulge yourself with turnips in everything from soup to meat dishes to cholent. Use the turnip as you would a carrot (crusted, steamed with butter, glazed) or a potato (chips, pureed). Combine long, thin pieces of raw turnip (made with a peeler) in a vegetable salad. Or pickle it for two days without pre-cooking in a sweet and sour liquid consisting of a cup of plain vinegar, a cup of water and a cup of sugar boiled together.

 The turnip also has medicinal qualities. According to Nissim Crispil, it relieves coughing and hoarseness, mucus buildup and breathing problems. In natural medicine, quaffing turnip juice is said to improve your mood. It is also beneficial for the kidneys. Turnip roots contains calcium and potassium; drinking turnip-leaf juice aids in neutralizing excess blood acidity, and fortifying bones, hair, fingernails and teeth. 500 grams of turnip root will produce a glass of juice beneficial for anemia, arthritis, asthma, disruptions in the menstrual period, bladder obstruction, heart disease, fever, and kidney, liver and lung function. 500 grams of leaves will produce half a glass of juice (one quarter in the morning, a quarter in the evening) to heal a cough, hoarseness and hair loss.

Tips for Turnips:

  • Peel and wash turnips just before preparing, to prevent darkening
  • Cooking time for turnips is 5-10 minutes in boiling water.
  • Since turnips tend to absorb a great deal of water, dry them a bit after cooking in a frying pan slightly greased with butter.

 

Turnip recipes:

Ruth from Jerusalem sent me this one, fresh from last Shabbat’s meal: With all the turnips and sweet potatoes we’ve collected, I made up a soup Friday which everyone loved:

4-5 turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 sweet potatoes
1-2 big onions
water
salt and pepper
olive oil
fresh sage
a little butter

Sauté onions in olive oil. Add turnips and sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook in water till tender, then blend.
In a small frying pan, heat olive oil and a little butter, stir-fry fresh sage leaves till brownish. When serving soup, garnish with crumbled sage leaves.
Enjoy!

 

Shalram—an Iraqi dish that’s perfect for very cold days and Shabatot

Ingredients:
5-6 medium turnips, cleaned and trimmed
4-5 T. sugar
Black-tea bag
Water to cover
Salt (just a little)

Preparation:
Slice turnips in half or in quarters. Bring turnip slices, tea bag and sugar to a boil.
Now you have two options – you can lower heat and continue cooking until tender (about 20 minutes), or you can treat it as chulent: place it on the Shabbat plata and let it cook overnight. Serve warm.

 

Turnip Puree

Turnips, like other root vegetables, are particularly delicious as a puree, which brings out the flavor. Simply peel and boil in salted water. Once turnips are soft, drain and place in food processor with a bit of milk. In moments you’ll have a white, lustrous puree with a gentle bitter savor.

 

  “Torshi” Tunisian Turnip Recipe (from www.matkonim.net )

A winter salad, hot-bitter-tart, served with couscous and also excellent with hamin

Ingredients:
2 turnips
2 green chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
1 medium lime, or several Chinese lemons
1 T. Tunisian harissa
1 t. ground caraway seeds (kimmel)
salt
2 T. regular oil

Preparation:
Clean and wash turnips. Cut to thin slices, and then cut each slice into small triangles. Slice the pepper and cut in thick rings. Peel the lime, slice into large pieces, and crush into the vegetable mixture. If using Chinese lemons, slice into small cubes. Slice garlic thinly. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Salad is ready immediately, but it’s preferable to leave at room temperature overnight to enhance the absorption of the flavors.

 

Turnip Salad, Lettuce and Carrots

Ingredients:
Raw turnip and grated carrot
Vinegar
Fresh dill, chopped
Lettuce
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
Mix and serve

 

 Like Other Vegetables, Turnips Can—and Should—be Preserved

Ingredients for pickling mixture:
1 c. sugar
1 c. vinegar
1 c. water
salt

Preparation:
Carefully peel turnips and cut into cubes. Bring pickling liquid to a boil and pour over vegetables. Store in glass jar.
Can be served as soon as the liquid cools, or kept refrigerated for several weeks.

Aley Chubeza #1 – December 28th-30th 2009

Our first English newsletter is a cause for celebration–and a mark of maturity. It means we are sufficiently fluent in our “mother tongue,” which is Hebrew, as well as “farm language” – the language of vegetables, weeds, insects, earth microbes, raindrops, sunshine, and most of all- the language of the earth.
After five and a half years of writing in Hebrew (our first Chubeza newsletter debuted in April 2004, with our first box of vegetables) here we are, ready to publish in an additional language.
For me, personally, it signifies a sort of closure. My entrance to the world of organic farming came when I worked and farmed in California. My language of discovery and practice was English, and when I returned to Israel I struggled to translate the nomenclature to Hebrew.
The English newsletter would have never happened without Melanie and Aliza’s persistence (they’re editing and translating the newsletter), and before we even start, I would like to thank them in advance for sleepless nights in the race to translate each Monday’s newsletter in time…
Some of you have been breaking your teeth over the years reading our newsletters in Hebrew, but for others, this is a first introduction to our weekly message. For that reason, we’re adding a bit more background information about Chubeza and about us. The first newsletters will feature a brief look at our piece of land, the people who work it and the ideals behind “Chubeza.”

It all starts in the land

I first laid eyes on our field October 2003. The thorns were man-high, but in my passionate, blind love, I knew this was a sign of fertile land and great promise. The field was surrounded by a tree nursery that added greenery and some shade, and to the north were the hills of the Ayalon Valley, its fields and houses.

            Our field now numbers some 12.5 acres and is located in the fields of Kfar Bin Nun, on the Latrun-Ramle road in the Ayalon Valley. After six years in our first field, where the entire valley lay before our eyes, we changed our location to various plots within the Moshav– close to our modest packing house, peeking mischievously from  between the houses, adding grace, beauty, and an old-fashioned aura to the modern Moshav. Another plot, still young, is outside the Moshav; behind it is a natural grove which makes the view of the Nesher Factory in the distance a little more tolerable…

Some of the plots have been organic for the past two years, and another for only one year. It has undergone detox and is now taking its first steps in the chemical-free world as it transforms to being organic.

            After last year’s winter, we’ve started this one with a sigh of relief (bli ayin hara). The timely, gentle rains gracing our fields every few days are ultimately manifested in the quantities of mud in your vegetable box. Such is characteristic of this time of year, when hearty showers have already saturated the layers of land (may they continue till springtime!). This is typical specifically of our heavy earth, the Terra Rossa of the coastal plain of Judea– red, clay-like dirt that is rich in iron oxides. This type of earth is common in the hilly areas of limestone and dolomite. It contains a high volume of clay created by the erosion of these rocks, arriving here after being washed down from the hills and reaching the valley. The red soil, from which actual clay is made, is the thinnest soil entity (made from particles smaller than 0.004 millimeters). Just like when you wet clay, you get mud, when this soil gets wet it absorbs the water, drains slowly and becomes very muddy. Which is why it leaves a residue of mud on the vegetables. The advantage of the mud is that the Terra Rossa clay is also very rich and fertile earth: it absorbs various minerals, iron and potassium oxides and even nitrogen, which is why it can be found in nature in various colors. Once it dries (rather slowly), it shrinks and naturally crumbles into small clumps, allowing roots, water and air to penetrate. This is why clay is an ideal environment for growing almost all types of plants. It is porous, ventilated and hydro absorbent.

The earth of the Ayalon Valley is indeed fertile and high-quality. As Gabi, a veteran farmer, neighbor and close friend, says, “We have all the weeds in the world, plus a few more that are just ours alone…” Weeding is indeed one of our more common tasks, especially during wintertime–even more so, in a wet winter like this one, and specifically in new organic fields like the one we are now cultivating. As you will notice, root vegetables are an inseparable part of life at Chubeza (a major reason we named the farm after one of our favorite and most common edible weeds in the field, and in your boxes, every winter and spring).

We will now have some time for weeding, as we are entering a short recess in planting. Last week we completed our final planting and seeding for this period, and now, over the next month and a half, we will only be planting a new crop of lettuce and scallions. The rest of the vegetables will wait patiently while the Class of Pre-Winter will grow. In February we start planting anew.

Winter is a lovely time here at Chubeza. As Moshe Stavi (Stavsky), a chalutz, farmer and Hebrew writer beautifully describes Israeli winter, “The first rain brings relief to man, livestock and flora, and the heart sings in joy, anticipating the new life… here the word ‘winter’ symbolizes revival, invigoration and youth.” It is true–Our farm gladdens the heart this time of the year: plants decorate everything in dozens of shades of green, the brown earth is soft and saturated, and the air is full of movement and the buzz of life. Rainy days warm the heart, after-the-rain days are clean and beautiful and clear, and it feels good to warm up in the winter sun. Even hazy days, like the ones we had last week, are sweet because we know they precede rain.

Come visit us– we would love to host you in our winter. And we welcome your feedback to this newsletter!

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza Staff

________________________

This week’s basket includes:

Monday: lettuce, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, dill/parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, fennel, arugula, clemetines, cucumbers, small box only-red beets

In the large box, in addition: small radishes, mustard greens, kohlrabi, turnips.

Wednesday: cucumbers, mustard greens/kale, cilantro/parsley, tomatoes, lettuce, red beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower/cabbage, carrots, snow/green peas-small box only.

In the large box, in addition: small radishes, turnips, leek, celery

_______________________

Each week we will aim to focus on one of the vegetables in your box (specifically the more unusual ones). In this first newsletter, we shall discuss the green leafy vegetables.

Wintertime brings many greens to your box: lettuce, garden rocket, chard, green and purple mustard greens, kale, spinach, tat soi and winter herbs (parsley, coriander, dill). What’s so nice about the greens is that they do not succumb to cultural sophistication and human technology (some say “not yet,” but I hope it’s for good): they’re absolutely seasonal and at their best during winter and fall. In the Israeli summer, most suffer terribly and require a lot of protection and spraying to guard them from pests and other woes. They also cannot be stored for long–they wither and dry up and spoil and play all sorts of tricks to indicate that their time is up and they must be eaten in season and fresh. How nice!

For those who are confused by the variety and quantity of greens in the box, let’s begin with an introduction:

Red leaf lettuce:

Romaine lettuce:

Tat soi:

 

Arugula

Swiss chard

                                                          

Green beet leaves

Flat mustard greens

Curled mustard greens

Purple mustard greens

Spinach

Kale

And now that we’ve met— some words of praise: the leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, those elements that allow the plant to protect itself from solar radiation, diseases and contamination, and from harmful oxidization. They perform similar services for humans as well. Leafy vegetables are rich in lutein—an antioxidant from the carotenoid family, vital for optic health and an aid to cardiac and vascular health–as well as a cancer preventative. The dark, leafy greens are also rich in vitamin K, potassium, folic acid, calcium and magnesium. And what’s good is that these leaves succeed in doing the work much better than any food supplement. The timing and perfect arrangement of the dance each leafy vegetable shares create betters health—fortifying bones, heart and vascular system, muscles, the nervous system, balancing sugars in the body—for the human body as a whole.

Leafy vegetables belong to different families: spinach and the root vegetables beet and chard belong to the chenopodiaceous family; rocket, mustard greens of all types, kale and tat soi belong to the brassicaceac (cruciferae) family; lettuces represent the complex. Their tastes run the gamut—rocket and mustards are pungent, chard and lettuce leaves are sweetish, and the kale and spinach are somewhat bitter. Except for lettuce, where each head is detached from its base, we pick them all in a way that enables regrowth: from chard, kale, tot soi, mustard greens and spinach, we remove the large, older leaves from the plant’s circumference, leaving the young center to sprout. We cut the rocket, similar to herbs, and leave several centimeters from the stalk from which the plants grow anew.

It is highly advisable to consume the greens quickly: their nutritional value is highest when they are fresh. To keep them crisp and fresh after a few days or even a week or more—wrap them in a cloth or paper towel; then seal this well in a plastic bag. Keep the package in the colder, lower sections of the refrigerator. Our members have recommended keeping one sample leaf outside the towel to help identify the desired green from amongst the mummified wrappings on the refrigerator shelf….

The most well-known use for greens is in fresh salads—almost all, even the kale, will add taste and zest to a salad. The stiffer leaves can be sliced thin, but don’t give up on them! Greens can also be cooked—stir-fry them with other vegetables (add during the last few minutes of frying), blend them into quiches (use the more sharp-tasting greens cautiously), prepare warm salads or add them to pasta. Several more interesting uses are to dry the leaves to create crispy chips or to drain and blend them with sweet fruits and vegetables to create a delicious green beverage.

Recipes:

Gingery Sauteed Tat Soi with Tofu Steaks

Mustard greens with onions and more thoughts recipes

Pasta with tat soi

The 5 best kale recipes for everyday cooks

Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas and Mustard Greens