This week I cordially invite you to visit the farm for a different experience: not to explore the cultivated vegetables we grow, but rather the wild nature that surrounds them and the nourishment that it provides.
Coming soon is an open “gather and cook” session with Uri Mayer-Chissick, scheduled for Friday, March 5, 2010 at 9:00 AM. Following a round of introduction to edible wild plants will be a wild-plant cooking workshop.
Duration of workshop: 3 hours.
Cost for the tour, workshop and meal: 140 NIS per person, or 200 NIS per family.
Places limited– please register without delay! For details and registration: email@example.com or contact Uri at 04-6063699
Umbrella or Parasol?
Last Thursday we were sweating at work. Not because we were thinning the parsley root or weeding the garlic, such easy and comfortable tasks, but mostly because of the scorching sun. It was hard to believe that only a week before, Alon and I had been so anxious over our young plants’ ability to withstand the frost and bitter cold rumored to be looming ahead. We’re no strangers to Israel’s capricious weather, yet we are constantly taken aback by the radical changes: one day we leave the house with an umbrella, the next day we need a parasol.
All these thoughts about umbrellas and parasols reminded me of the highly esteemed family flocking to the farm these days, the Umbelliferae‘s. This wintry-scented family includes the carrot, fennel, celery (leaves and root), parsley (leaves and root), parsnip, dill and cilantro, as well as other edible plants we don’t grow at Chubeza, like anise, cumin, caraway, etc. The family’s name was coined from the shape of its flowers, resembling small parasols or umbrellas. Here’s a look:
Each of these Umbelliferae’s consists of a few small umbrelliferaes called umbels, with tiny white or yellow flowers. And number five is their lucky number: each flower has five sepals, five petals and five stamens. Numerous insects are drawn to the nectar secreted by the myriad of flowers, and they pollinate the flowers. The sweet umbrella also attracts many cooperative insects, like ladybugs, parasitic wasps and predatory flies that hunt and consume insect pests on nearby plants. This nice crowd that visits our farm during wintertime, specifically at the blooming stage, encourages those omnivorous beneficial insects that are extremely important to our agriculture, based around creating a balance in the field and avoiding unnecessary crop spraying. After the early-blooming dill or coriander finish their job as a seasoning herb, we let them grow wild in the field: Aside from the pleasure we derive from their gentle fragrance carried in the wind, they greatly assist in maintaining the ecological system in the field.
This family is very diverse both in its functions and in the edible sections each plant features: roots (carrots, celery root, parsley root, parsnip); stems that are chubby (fennel) or long and crunchy (celery); herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill); and seeds (cumin, anise, coriander, dill, fennel, caraway.) But as in many families, certain members are truly toxic, like the Hemlock (whose potion killed Socrates). Some of the Umbelliferae’s, such as the seeds of the wild carrot, were used in old folk medicine as natural contraceptives.
The agricultural treatment of these family members varies from one another: the celery, celery root and fennel arrive at the farm from the nursery as young plants, and are planted in set, defined spaces. The rest of the family–carrots, herbs and parsley root — are sowed from tiny seeds, usually with our hand-seeder, and then we wait for them.
We exercise much patience until we start catching site of our little sprouts, which resemble two thin tongues peeking from the ground. In the case of herbs, we usually don’t need to thin out the sprouts, but the carrot and parsley root receive a diligent, accurate process of thinning. We try to learn from experience, and although we have a merciful inclination to let as many sprouts live and grow, we need to be mindful of the wisdom to distribute fewer plants and allow them more breathing space. Otherwise the result is tiny carrots or parsley roots.
The years at Chubeza were a gradual and good learning curve in terms of carrot- growing. The parsley root is a young growth in our field, now in its third year, with each year bringing a new learning and improving experience. Especially in terms of weeding and thinning. This year we even learned from one planting cycle to another, and with every thinning we made sure to leave more space, to allow more breathing room and more area for the roots that remain in the garden bed. I believe you have been observing this evolution in your boxes, as these vegetables grow before your very eyes. In the first cycle they were very small, while we hope this last cycle will yield good-sized produce.
After they have matured, the celery and fennel are reaped at their base, while the carrot, parsley root and celery are pulled from the ground (sometimes with the help of the pitchfork). In contrast, the herbs are cut at different heights to allow their renewed growth. The cilantro and dill give us 2-3 harvests during a cold winter. The parsley, a biennial plant, can be harvested many times and hold up in the field for over a year!
These fellows beneath the parasol provide us many scents and aromas. Reaping the cilantro or fennel can be a very pleasant experience. Imagine that with every slice you make, the air is filled with one of these whole-bodied winter fragrances.
On this aromatic note, I would like to wish Lobsang a happy new year (Losar, the Tibetan New Year, falls on February 14th this year.) And a happy new year and a new agricultural happy, fruitful season to us all.
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: lettuce, green onions, beets, dill/cilantro, leek, tomatoes, broccoli/cauliflower, celery, red cabbage, kohlrabi/daikon, cucumbers
In the large box, in addition: fennel, mustard greens, parsley root
Wednesday: broccoli/fava beans, red cabbage, tomatoes, parsley, celeriac, Swiss chard/mustard greens, cauliflower, green garlic, leek, lettuce, cucumbers
In the large box, in addition: beets, green onions, fennel/kohlrabi
To the Victor Goes—-the Parsley
The common parsley (Petroselinum crispum), which we nonchalantly sprinkle over salads or cook in soups, is associated in Western culture with such heavy-duty issues as life and death, wars and victories, romance and break-ups.
Parsley’s been present here in the Mediterranean for many years, originating in southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. The spice is first mentioned in ancient Greece. The Greeks wore garlands of parsley to celebrate victory, and would scatter parsley leaves upon gravestones. They are also the ones who gave it its name, attempting to differentiate between parsley and its cousin, the celery. The title Petroselinum means “rock celery,” as opposed to heleioselinon – marsh celery (regular celery), which grows near water sources. Perhaps because it was a holy symbol of victory and death, Greeks never served parsley as food!
The first to actually use parsley in cooking are the Romans, but parsley owes its culinary victory to Italian princess Catherine de’ Medici, who married a Frenchman but refused to leave home without her Italian spices. From there, it was a short and tasty path towards parsley’s required presence in every kitchen in the area.
Leaf parsley, as opposed to that grown for its thick root, has two types of leaves: flat or curly. Curly leaf parsley is often used as a garnish. The flat leaf is the more common one, used in cooking for its rich content of essential oil apiol which gives it a stronger taste.
In Greek mythology, parsley is tied to the story of baby Archemorus, son of the Nemean king Lycurgus, who was left alone by his nursemaid and bitten to death by a snake. When the nurse lifted the dead child, she found a parsley bush beneath, which legend said grew from the boy’s blood. In his memory, the Greeks established the Nemenean Games in which a eulogy was recited in memory of the dead child, and the winners were crowned with parsley garlands. This is how the parsley became a holy plant associated with honoring the memory of the dead. In the same context, parsley was dedicated to Persephone, queen of the underworld, who spends autumn and winter in the underworld and surfaces in springtime, spurring blossoming and renewal. Another underworld creature linked to parsley is Charon, ferryman of Hades, who carried souls of the newly- deceased across the River Acheron that divided between the world of the living and the world of the dead. To convince him to take the dead to the hereafter, it was customary to use parsley at funerals and bury it near the grave.
And in an altogether different function: Children on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands who ask where babies come from are told that they’re dug out of the parsley patch by golden rakes.
Parsley arrangements adorned festive tables in Greece and Rome. Wearing a parsley wreathe was considered helpful for freshening bad breath (even garlic breath), eliminating the scent of wine and for sobering up the intoxicated.
In one of his tales, Greek biographer Plutarch tells about the life of Timoleon, a Sicilian warrior from the town of Corinth, who set out to protect the city of Syracuse against the invading Carthaginians surrounding the city from the west. Timoleon was only able to muster 3,000 soldiers to face an army 10 times their might. When they climbed the hill to observe the Carthaginians, they encountered a convoy of oxen laden with parsley. The frightened soldiers saw this as cause for alarm, but Timoleon delivered an impassioned speech in which he proclaimed that the gods had sent them their victory crowns. Immediately, he made himself a crown of parsley, and his officers followed suit. Sure enough, the Sicilians braved the invaders, thanks to their skill and the patronage of a sudden rainstorm that blocked the armored and cumbersome Carthaginians.
Since she has been in this region for a good while and seen empires rise and fall, seasons change, and stars be born and die, Ms. Parsley has all the time in the world. She sprouts very slowly. In cold temperatures, this can take forever. Sometimes we’re almost dismayed when a month goes by with no sign of the parsley, but just then, right as we’re ready to give up, suddenly the soft green strings emerge. And as soon as it sprouts, it’s here to stay. Parsley survives heat and cold, sun and partial shade, continuing to grow green leaves even after many harvests– alive and kicking long after the cilantro and dill go to flower and seed. In contrast to the annual plants, she is a biennial, staying around for two years before blooming and seeding.
Parsley has always been popular in home gardens and in window boxes. Different reasons have been attributed to parsley’s growth, perhaps because the seeds sprout so slowly. In cold England, the belief is that the parsley seeds pay a few visits to Satan and back before they can sprout. This is why sprouting parsley seeds under glass is a good idea in cold weather, since it warms the ground and perhaps halts the visit to the underworld.
An ancient belief is that parsley only grows in homes where the woman is dominant. Or there are others who claim that parsley only grows for witches and cruel women (dominant or not)… Also, if your parsley has already sprouted and grown, don’t dare dig it out, as this will bring bad luck. Or- if you give someone your parsley, you give away your luck as well. So next time you move, try to find an apartment with a window box that holds parsley.
But aside from matters of luck, parsley is good for us. The first proof of this comes from my husband’s favorite childhood book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, with the story of hungry Peter Rabbit, a farmer’s nightmare: “First he ate some lettuce and some broad beans, then some radishes, and then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.”
As a veteran of the western world, parsley is known as a rich source of a host of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C (three times more than citrus!), folic acid, beta-carotene – pro-vitamin A, potassium and magnesium. But lately it’s been glorified yet again, this time by the Asians: Japanese research has recently discovered a new vitamin, pyrroloquinoline quinine (or PQQ). The previous vitamin was discovered in 1948! This vitamin, which is most likely connected to the vitamin B group, is involved in encouraging fertility, and researchers believe it has other health advantages. Good sources of PQQ are parsley, green tea, green pepper, papaya, nato (fermented soy beans) and kiwi.
Herbs in the Umbelliferae family, among them our friend the parsley, contain phytochemicals, many of which have cancer- preventing attributes. These phytochemicals block hormonal activity that is linked to the development of cancer. Throughout history, parsley has been used to treat a variety of medicinal problems. It seems like the ultimate magic potent: drinking a parsley brew is good for treatment of indigestion, urinary tract infections and kidney diseases. For swollen eyes, it’s best to use a compress of brewed parsley liquid. Parsley helps lower both cholesterol and blood pressure; it prevents the formation of blood clots and protects against heart diseases and arteriosclerosis. Parsley eases menstrual pain and can be used externally for skin problems. In addition, parsley bolsters the immune system, acts as an antiseptic, helps purify the body from toxins and is good for preventing water retention, including edema and overweight. Parsley is helpful in preventing dysentery and is beneficial for the lungs, stomach, liver and thyroid gland. However, pregnant women and nursing mothers are cautioned not to consume large quantities of parsley or use parsley liquid, for it can stimulate the uterus and dry up the milk. We’re discussing large, medicinal quantities, not small pinches…
- Store parsley wrapped in paper in a plastic bag, refrigerated. The paper will absorb the excess moisture, and the plastic bag will keep it from over-drying.
- Parsley loses vitamins in the cooking process. In order to coax the most taste and nutrients from parsley, add it only at the final stages of cooking or sprinkle fresh over prepared food.
- Chewing parsley leaves after eating garlic eliminates the garlic smell from your breath (replacing it with parsley-breath…)
And in preparation for Passover: Matzo Balls With Nutmeg and Parsley