Aley Chubeza #8 – February 15-17 2010

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: uri@mayerchissick.com or contact Uri at 04-6063699

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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:

Umbelliferae flower

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.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

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

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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

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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…

Tips:

  • 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…)

Recipes:

Parsley-Garlic Chimichurri Recipe

Parsley Pesto with Walnuts Pasta: Vegan Recipe

Taboule

Parsley Hummus with Whole Wheat Pita Chips

Garlic Parsley Mushrooms

And in preparation for Passover: Matzo Balls With Nutmeg and Parsley

 

Aley Chubeza #7, February 8th-10th 2010

The Winter Kinds

Last weekend’s nights were extremely frigid ones. With temperatures dropping close to Zero, it’s real winter everywhere. Our vegetables, of course, need to brave this weather, and though we worry about them and try to assist them in all possible ways, their main fortitude is in the way they cope with winter- they instinctively know how to adapt. This week I’ll tell you about some of the ways they protect themselves during these cold, rainy conditions.

One group of vegetables that easily confronts wintertime with maximum protection is the root vegetables. Botanically, they don’t belong to one family, but they all share a single survival strategy: burying themselves deep underground and covering up under a blanketing coat of earth. The carrot, beet, celery and parsley roots, various radishes, and potatoes all survive winter well, thanks to their thick, strong root that is well protected underground, bunkered up against the perils of hail, frost and other winter calamities.

In truth, winter is good for them. When the beets started maturing in autumn, Michal was disappointed. She had been waiting for the delicious beets she remembered from last year, and these- she pointed out – were anemic, not even sweet. We promised her those were autumn beets, and the cold winter would change everything. And aren’t we right! Usually the plant sends sugars to the stems and leaves to stimulate growth and development. But when it’s so cold outside, the plant “bunkers up” and drops its sugars to the most protected place, its underground secret hiding place: the root. And that turns the carrots and beets really sweet. The carrot, which grows within the earth and hardly ever sneaks a peek above, knows how to protect itself especially well. Extreme cold improves its taste, and I have been told that the very best carrots are those that survive a snowstorm.

If anyone can tell us about a vegetable patch in the Golan these days, I would love to hear!

Another wintery family that comes fully outfitted with a winter wardrobe ensemble is the cabbage family, complete with their own excellent accessories. The first, a pudgy physique: very solid, but also short, the type that won’t blow away with any wind. Their wide leaves are built to take advantage of each sunray that passes, using it to grow giant, strong, tree-like plants. Another of their amazing characteristics is the ability to use their big, wide leaves to stand huge quantities of rain without rotting. They do this with the help of a waxy cloak that covers the leaves. When the first raindrops fall, they are not absorbed into the texture of the leaf, but rather elegantly trickle downward to water the plant. Here are some descriptive pictures:

          

Now aren’t they beautiful?

At Chubeza, we cover our leafy greens which are less resistant to the extreme cold, winds and other winter damage– lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, parsley, garden rocket, etc.– with “Agril” row covers. These are made from a thin, spunbonded polypropylene fabric which is sunlight, rain and air-permeable and are spread over the plants with arcs and held down by homemade weights. The covers warm the sensitive leaves a bit and protects them from the hail. It looks like the Agril has done a good job over the past few nights, as our greens are safe and sound.

And last but not least, last week’s friend the fava bean, itself a strong and sustainable plant, grows throughout the winter and blooms towards its end. This year we seeded favas earlier, so they are producing around this time. But past experience has taught us to take special care to sow later rounds of fava, because this plant, which grows shoulder-high, can bend and even break during a strong storm or extreme frost. Such a threat exists specifically when the fava is already rising. When the plants are still young and relatively short, they are safer. Two years ago there was a serious bout of frost in the field, badly hurting the fava. The plant did produce new branches, which we used, but was still damaged. From that experience, we learned that during this time of the year, we should also have young, short favas that will recover easily.

Ruth from Jerusalem told me an interesting story about the impressive recovery of favas during a difficult wintertime (thank you, Ruth!): Some ten years ago, during a particularly harsh Jerusalem winter, Ruth and her family grew favas in a small community pioneer garden (in the late agricultural farm in Baka). That winter it snowed (B’Karov Etslenu!) and the fava, which had already grown quite high, completely bent over, with many of the stems cracking under the heavy snow. Initially it seemed like there would be no fava crop that year, but to their surprise and great joy, the stubborn, hardy fava reincarnated itself to produce new branches, resume its growth and make many precious, delicious fava pods!

So, with this happy tale of winter renewal, we send you wishes for a warmer week and a rainy, stormy, fruitful winter.

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza Team

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This week in our box:

Monday: lettuce, carrot, red/green mustard greens, dill/parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, celery root, white cabbage, fennel, cucumber, red beets (only in small box)

In the big box, an addition of: kale, scallions, celery leaves, red beets

Wednesday: kohlrabi, green cabbage, tomatoes, parsley root, celery, mustard greens/arugula, beets, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, green onions.

In the big box, an addition of: broccoli, fava beans, fennel/cauliflower

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Deep down under

 

There are many who think he’s evil, for some reason. In a futuristic comic strip titled Star Fruit Wars, there is a description of the battle the fruits and vegetables wage against mean old Celeriac, the evil celery tuber possessing super powers, who is trying to take over the world. But he only looks tough…

The celeriac has been described as the “vegetarian octopus,” but that description, too, is only skin-deep. On the outside, the tuber looks somewhat monster-like; rough, gnarled and usually dirty. But it is one of those creatures that harbors inner beauty which should not be missed, especially during its season — a rainy, cold winter. Those who like celeriac will grant it its due respect, and though it grows underground will affectionately call it a “celery head” (celeriac).

The celeriac, like its siblings the celery leaves, is a cultivated species. It was grown over the years by farmers vying for its thick root, thus seasonally selecting the celery variety producing the thickest, largest root. In its case, the stems remained short and thin, with a much more dominant taste than leaf celery– perhaps seeming inedible to many of you. In certain cases, the stems are also hollow like a straw (see tips for interesting uses…).

The celery grows slowly. It starts with tiny seeds that take their sweet time, 2-3 weeks, till they sprout. After this initial sprout, they need at least two months of devoted treatment in the warm temperature and protected environment of the nursery. Only after three months are they ready for planting. In our first year, we sowed celery ourselves in our plant hothouse, but the long process of tending to our “preemies” made it clear that we’d do better to buy the plants. Since then, we receive our toddlers at the age of three months, ready to leave their cube for the fruitful earth. Celery loves fertile dirt and lots of water. Originally it was a swamp plant, hence it adores humidity while in dirt and also during storage (see tips) — which is why in Israel it grows during wintertime. The Israeli winter is difficult and dry for the celery, which greatly dislikes water sprinklers. After three months in the nursery, it needs three additional months to ripen if picked for its leaves-stems. The variety that develops a thicker root is more patient, cuddling under the warm blanket of earth another month, as if unwilling to leave a warm bed to face the cold winter. A careful calculation will lead you to the conclusion that the silly little ball in your box these weeks started its journey from seed to tuber seven months ago!

The celery tuber tastes a bit like a cross between celery and parsley, similar to leaf celery, but sweeter and refined. Its history is similar to that of its swifter brother, the leaf celery. It too was cultivated from the wild breed that grew in European swamps, and east of the Himalayas. It was most probably domesticated somewhere in the Middle East, and was of medicinal value in ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Rome. Apparently, only in medieval times was it used as a vegetable, first described in Italian and Swiss botanical books from the 16th century, and gaining popularity in the 19th century. The celeriac is a very popular, widespread vegetable in Middle-Eastern countries and in Europe, but in England and its English-speaking colonies (U.S.A, Australia, etc.) it’s still relatively unknown.

In Israel, the celeriac is known mostly as a soup vegetable. In Europe, however, it is scalded, cooked or stuffed, or even served raw with some lemon juice to keep it from turning brown. In a classic French recipe, Céleri-Rave Rémoulade, it is served raw, cut into match-like sticks, dressed in lemon juice, mayonnaise and mustard. In Spanish Jewry tradition, it is a major component in the cooked salad (Apiu Ilado- see recipes). Celeriac goes well with potatoes, apples, lemon juice and cheeses. So try using it creatively: puree, make a quiche, grill it along with other root vegetables, slice thinly and fry in deep oil, like French fries, add it raw to salads- use your imagination!

 Celeriac Tips:

  • The hollow stem of the celery tuber can be sliced and used as a straw to quaff tomato-based beverages such as the Bloody Mary. The tomato juice that seeps through the straw will carry a hint of celery flavor.
  • The celery tuber can be kept well for 3-4 months if it is stored at a temperature of 0° -°5 in a moist surrounding. The moisture is important, as the tuber easily dries up.  Celeriac will not keep well in the freezer.
  • In order to facilitate peeling, the tuber can be cooked in its jacket and then peeled easily.
  • A peeled raw tuber should be kept in lemon juice or other acidic dressing to prevent oxidation and browning.

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Celeriac Recipes:

Smashed celeriac – Jamie Oliver

Celery root salad

Celery root soup – David Labovitz

Roasted Celery Root with Maple Apple Butter – Emeril Lagasse, Planet Green

Turkish celery root (Kereviz Kökü) – inspired by the book “Anatolian Feast”

Braised celery root (Apio Ilado) – 2 version, one from The Separadic Kitchen by Rabbi Sternberg, another from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Celerie-rave remoulade

Aley Chubeza #6 – February 1st-3rd 2010

Two words from the Chubeza technological division:

– This week we begin upgrading our Internet site. If you suddenly start receiving old newsletters sent to your mailbox, please look upon this as a temporary glitch on the way to better technology for Chubeza. (Our apologies in advance.)

 – As a further step in upgrading, we’re now able to publish the English newsletter on the website, and you’ll be able to automatically get the updates every Wednesday. Over the next week, we’ll sign you up to receive the newsletter through this system. You should receive an e-mail from feedburner asking you to confirm the sign-up by clicking on a link – click and you’re in!

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Rain, rain, don’t go away!

 The past two weeks have been rainy– although the weekend was dry and dusty– and now the forecast is for more rain towards the end of this week. I wanted to share some of the experiences of a wet winter at Chubeza (what joy!).

Today, we were visited by some very smart, sensitive children, who saw the rain gauge and decided it was an emotion gauge. And basically, they’re right as rain, so to speak. The rain gauge accurately gauges the happiness of the Chubeza team when the rain comes down in buckets and waters the fields. Last winter was gloomy, dry, cold, frozen and almost rainless from December to February. So far this winter, we have been blessed with nice showers, along with good dry interludes to allow our field to quench its thirst. Not that life is so easy in the rain and mud. We try to schedule our picking according to the rain forecast, and many times we pick most of the vegetables a day before the predicted rain. Still, there’s usually no recourse from picking in the rain. We try to dress accordingly: boots, rainproof pants, storm jackets and umbrella hats. Last Monday, under the pouring rain, we trotted out to pick the last of the greens. Lobsang, Alon and Rachel modeled their storm wardrobe for us:

A few final zip-ups:

 

 And… out they charge:

  

 Working in the rain, or a day or two after rain, means rolling in the mud–and when I say rolling, picture boots loaded halfway with sticky, brown, wonderful, heavy mud. And when I say heavy, picture us walking only by contorting every muscle from hip to toe to be able to lift each foot to take baby steps towards the next garden-bed. On the way back to the packing house, we try to shed as much mud as possible by jumping around, dancing (tap-like), rubbing against flora on the road, and trying to leave as much of the brownness around us. Removing the boot at the end of such a workday is like growing wings. You lose your sense of gravity and are ready to fly…

 Our packing house fills with mud, and sometimes we need to use the shovel to clear the path to the door so that it can open and close. You’ve been receiving a lot of mud and rain in your boxes, in the bags and on the vegetables. Some of you may not enthusiastically greet the muddy box appearing at your door. Yet while there is no getting out of thoroughly washing the vegetables, there is an added bonus. Chana, who volunteered here last year, taught me that mud is a great grease remover. Just like sand is used for cleansing, the muddy globs can rub off stubborn stains, especially from metal utensils. So if you have a pot with black, hard-to-remove stains inside, try this: place the muddy vegetables you receive in your box (carrot, beets, kohlrabi, radishes, celeriac, parsley root, etc.) in the stained pot and cover with water. Now prepare yourself a cup of tea and relax—let the water do its work, softening the mud and separating it from the vegetables. After some time (a couple of hours or so), go back to your muddy vegetables, remove from pot, and wash under running water. Allow vegetables to dry thoroughly on a towel, then place in air-tight containers and refrigerate. Meanwhile, back to the stained pot: Carefully pour out the water, but don’t spill out the mud remaining on the bottom. Use it to rub the sooty parts of the pot and then rinse out. The result will be a surprisingly brilliant one.

 The most recent rains made us change our plans: in the beginning of the winter, we designated two one-sixth plots of our new field to spring planting, which is presently commencing. Initially, we planned on first cultivating the upper plot, and two weeks ago Gaby took the tractor to open up the garden beds, cultivate the weeds and prepare the earth. Post-factum, we learned that this may have caused more rain to be absorbed and permeate to the ground level. When Gaby arrived this Sunday to work the soil in preparation for Tuesday’s planting, we discovered that the upper plot is very wet and saturated, and of course, cannot be cultivated. An attempt to work the lower plot proved slightly more successful, allowing us to make a quick diversion in plans and designate the lower for first planting.

 On Tuesday we hope to begin spring planting. Many new plants await their acquaintance with our earth, accompanied by potato seeds and other vegetables that enjoy coming up over the second half of winter. Some of them will be protected by Agril or plastic row-covers; others are strong enough to withstand this cold season unprotected. Tuesday will be a very busy day, a real race against time before Wednesday’s rains catch up with us. Wish us luck!

 Wishing you all a great wintry week, awaiting the blessed rain and small wintry steps towards spring’s awakening,

 Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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 This week’s basket includes:

Monday: We weren’t able to find cucumbers, so we sent you potatoes instead.

Lettuce, carrots, parsley, tomatoes, broccoli, celery, green cabbage, kohlrabi, potatoes, fava beans – small boxes only.

In the large box, in addition: cauliflower, beets, leek, and fennel.

Wednesday: cauliflower or broccoli or kohlrabi, green cabbage, tomatoes, parsley, celeriac, tatsoi or mustard greens, fennel, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro or dill.

 In the large box, in addition: radish or daikon, green onions, Swiss chard or kale.

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 Over the past few weeks you’ve been receiving fava beans (ful) in your boxes. We don’t have great quantities just yet, so we alternate: some for Mondays, some for Wednesdays, some for the big boxes, some for the small. I’ve received inquiries regarding these beans, so for those who are curious, a few words about favas (or “broad beans”):

Full belly

 In the fava bean season, it is hard to work in the field without noshing. The green, juicy snacks wink at us and beckon from the bushes, begging to be sampled. Even when I take them home, fully intending to cook them this time, I find myself gobbling at least half before the stove burners are set alight. The green favas are one of the few vegetables that are still present only in their season, usually the beginning of spring. In our first year, there was something frustrating about that: on our first Open Farm Day which took place over Chol Hamoed Pesach, our garden beds were bursting with fresh favas and fresh peas, to the chagrin of many of our Ashkenazi Jewish clients who were forbidden to eat kitniyot during Pesach. This year we sowed the fava beans early so you can enjoy them as a pre-Pesach treat.

 But the story of the favas begins last fall. There is something beautiful about it, something that brings us back to our world of endless possibilities, the restraints of time and seasons, and slower, more silent rhythms of life. This year we sowed the fava in the middle of autumn and then again at the end of the season, attempting to hide it deep in the earth before the first showers hit. The rain covers them with earth, greeting with fanfare the big, familiar seeds, its friends from last year. This encounter results in quick germination of the favas, which courageously burst forth and continue growing even as the winter grows colder and rainier. The growth is slow and calculated. It takes its time, growing over an entire winter, patiently and steadily, elevating itself only ever-so-slightly every week. It covers the earth and protects the soil from erosion and rain damage. It crowds densely, preventing weed growth. Favas do not require fertilization, for like their siblings from the legume family, fava beans can fix nitrogen to fertilize themselves and enrich the soil within which they grow.

 After months of rain, wind and cold, the fava feels something moving inside. With its special plant sense, it feels the changing seasons, the days growing longer, the different light, and the sun’s locale—and then it knows that it’s time to smile. The fava smiles with fabacaea butterfly-like flowers that are both strong and gentle, so appropriate for this vegetable. In confident pastel festivity, they overtake the garden beds as if to say, we’re all clean and dressed up, and something wonderful is about to happen. Even during blooming, the fava takes its time- what’s the rush when it can look around and take time to smell the flowers. The garden bed appears as if it stopped at the flowering stage, while nothing else has changed. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, a small green boat appears in the flower. This boat will thicken and put on weight until it turns into a pod with seeds. We pick them before they fully ripen and dry, while they’re still green, fresh, sweet and juicy. And by then we know that spring is almost here.

 Although the green fava characterizes the season of renewal, courtship and vitality, over its long history it was affiliated ith death– perhaps because in farming and in general, life and death are bound together in a close, fateful dance. The dry and green fava beans have been consumed in the Middle East, and in north and South Africa for thousands of years. Fava remnants have been found in archeological sites in the Middle East from as early as 6500 BC! It served as an important, key food for all classes. Fava is rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fibers. It contains a good amount of iron, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and zinc. In ancient times, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians believed that the spirits of the dead wander into the fava’s buds, making it a popular food at funeral meals. Possibly the connection between the fava and the afterworld has to do with the fava allergy, also known as Favism (from the Latin Vicia faba). This allergy is very serious, deriving from a genetic deficiency in the G6PD enzyme. Fava consumption among some 20% of humans lacking this enzyme can result in acute anemia and even death. This phenomenon is three times more prevalent among men. The allergy is common among populations from three areas: Greece, southern Italy and the Aegean Sea; the Mediterranean shore of Africa, specifically Morocco and Egypt (in Israel it is mostly common among Iraqi Jews); and central Asia and China. The discovery of this allergy raised the surprising question: why did people continue eating fava in those areas, despite the clear risk to such a high percentage? The answer is fascinating: apparently the fava has chemical components similar to those in quinine medicines used to treat malaria, a once-common disease in Greece and southern Italy. It seems the fava fights malaria in a similar way to the anemia resulting from the G6PD deficiency, i.e., by reducing the amount of oxygen within red blood cells. The season of picking fresh fava, springtime, is also the breeding season of the malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito. So although fava is dangerous to part of society, its benefit to society as a whole outweighs its drawbacks.

 Another reason why fava should be part of our natural medicine chest is for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Fava naturally contains the L-Dopa amino acid, which becomes the Dopamine neurotransmitter upon reaching the brain and improves the condition of Parkinson’s sufferers, as the disease results from Dopamine deficiency. Even 250 grams of cooked fava has proven to significantly boost the level of Dopamine in the blood, improving the patient’s condition. The largest concentration of L-Dopa is in the green fava and its pods–dry fava contains much less. Research is still in the early stages, and those considering fava for the treatment of Parkinson’s should consult with their doctor.

In Israel, there are two varieties of fava, the larger Cypriot or Italian fava (which we grow in Chubeza), and the Egyptian fava, which is smaller, almost the size of a pea pod. In Egypt, fava is called “Ful Hamam” for a fascinating reason: in Medieval times, preparation of the fava was exclusively carried out by those who lived in the area surrounding “the princess baths”- the public baths at the site of the Fountain of Mohammed Ali Pasha in Cairo. During the day, the water in the great basins was heated for bathing. By night, when the burning coals were still ablaze, the great basins were filled with dry fava beans which cooked on the coals overnight to provide breakfast for the residents of Cairo.

 There are many ways to prepare green favas. Some of the simplest are:  

Cook in unsalted water (similar to blanching peas–the salt hardens the skin).

Sauté onion and garlic, then add fava, boiling water and lemon juice, and cook for 15 minutes till liquid is absorbed.

Turn oven to low heat, and place garlic and such fresh herbs as rosemary, thyme or za’atar on a lightly olive-oiled baking sheet. Add the fava and bake slowly. When the fava is very soft, crush together with the garlic and herbs and spread on bread.

 The fava bean does not have to be peeled! The skin can definitely be cooked and eaten.

 This week I’m including a host of recipes, but I must admit that although they sound delicious, I never get around to actually preparing the recipes, for– as previously mentioned– in our home the fava is eaten fresh the minute it pops out of the pod.

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 Recipes for Fresh Fava Beans – some for beans in the pod:

 Fresh Fava Beans, Indian-Style – Noam Lipshitz, from www.ynet.co.il

Ingredients: (Serves 6)
1 kilogram fresh fava beans in pods
2 tomatoes, crushed
200 grams tomato sauce
2 c. water
3 T. Indian curry powder
1 T. cumin
2 T. sweet paprika
4 dried chili peppers
2 onions, finely chopped in food processor
4-5 T. oil
Salt
1 T. sugar

Preparation:
Remove fava beans from pod.
Heat oil in saucepan and add curry powder, cumin and paprika. Sauté for around 3 minutes.
Add the fava beans and sauté with the spices for around 2 minutes. Add chopped onion and sauté for an additional 2 minutes. Add crushed tomato and stir well. Bring to a boil.
Add tomato sauce, 2 cups boiling water, sugar and salt. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add chili peppers and bring to a boil; lower flame and cook for 1½ hours. The chili peppers add a special spicy flavor, but they can be omitted if desired.
 

Fresh Fava, Syrian-Style

Ingredients:
500 grams beef
1 kilogram small fresh fava, unpeeled, sliced
1 bunch fresh coriander
10 cloves garlic
Salt, black pepper, allspice to taste
4 T. canola oil

Preparation:
Place meat in pot; add water to cover and cook till soft.
Rinse fava beans several times in cold water, drain and trim edges. Cut into 3 cm. pieces with peeling.
Add canola oil, crushed garlic, fresh fava beans, and coriander. Steam mixture for several minutes.
Add cooked meat and its cooking liquid, spices and salt.
Note: It’s also possible to gradually add the cooking liquid to make gravy.
Best served with rice.
 

Fresh Fava Beans in Pods with Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:
750 gm. fresh fava beans, in pods
1 large onion
1 large tomato
1 T. tomato sauce
3-4 garlic cloves
4 T. olive oil
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 T. cumin
1 T. sumac
Lemon salt (citric acid) or lemon juice to taste
Water, as needed

Preparation:
Cut onion into small cubes and sauté in olive oil. Chop garlic and add; add all spices.
Peel tomato and cut into cubes, add to chopped onion. Add tomato sauce and half cup water, cover and cook over low flame.
Rinse fava beans well, cut into 2-centimeter slices, and add to mixture. If needed, add a small amount of water and continue to steam in covered pot till soft.

Grilled Fava Beans

Marinated Fava Beans

Moroccan Tagine of Fava Beans and Artichokes

Moroccan Fava Beans in Tomato Sauce

Fresh Ricotta and Fava Bean Bruschetta

Two Fava Bean Favorites: Bissara (Fresh Fava Bean Dip) and Fava Bean Relish

Fettuccine with Fresh Fava Beans and Fresh Peas

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.