Aley Chubeza #119 – July 9th-11th 2012

Reminders:

Over the next few weeks, Manu the baker will be taking a short vacation, thus we will have no sourdough bread available until Manu’s return at the beginning of August.

We run out of Samar Barhi dates… This week we will only be able to fill some of the recent orders received. We will meet the Barhi again at the end of November, and till then we will miss them fervently… There is still a quantity of Dekel Nur dates available till the stock runs out.

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KING CORN

For the past few weeks, your boxes have contained the king of summer, his royal highness, the corn.

Corn is probably one of the first crops the Americans learned to grow. Approximately 7,000 years ago, some gleaners (probably women) noticed a spontaneous mutant among the weeds, a teosinte, with a cob that was longer and filled with seeds that were larger than your average ancient weed. Something sparked their intuition, and they tasted it – to their great delight. They also discovered that seeds which fell to the ground sprouted and became a mature plant that yielded more cobs. After some time, they learned that if they kept the better seeds and planted them, the next crop would be even more improved!

At the next stage, they (no longer gleaners, but now also farmers) discovered that if they grow corn, beans and squash, they could actually make a decent basic diet out of them. The plants also grew well together: the corn acted as a supporting pole for the bean to climb upon, and the squash that grew on the earth as live mulch, preventing weeds and keeping moisture in. This proved to be so time-efficient that it gave the people enough spare moments to build houses, weave rugs and baskets, develop astronomy and math, and of course- party…

To your left is the olden corn, and to your right is its current cultured form:

Today, corn is one of the only plants which cannot reproduce without a human hand, as it requires a planting of separate seeds in order for the plant to sprout.

In various languages, corn was granted venerable names. The first to bring corn to Europe were the Spanish, and they gave it a name from the native Taino: mahis in Taino, maize in Spanish. The meaning in Taino is “the seed that gives life.” The Latin name continued this theme, calling it Zea (life giver) mays.

Only when the wonder vegetable emigrated to Europe did it receive its dull, listless name “corn” that was a generic name for grains (even salt grains, hence “corned beef”), and the derogatory titles “Turkey wheat,” “Turkey/Egyptian corn,” or “Indian corn”. Apparently, they were not referring to the origins of the grain, but rather making a social comment that this was an uncultivated, wild, barbaric grain, as compared to “polite” cultured European grains. The Hebrew name tiras was given based on the English Turkey corn. The word tiras is mentioned in the Bible in the books of Genesis and Chronicles. Tiras was Jefeth’s seventh son (Noah’s grandson). Scholars identified Tiras as the father of the Turkish nation (Tractate Yoma), which is why the “Turkish” grain was granted this name.

Its unmotivated name certainly does not reflect the sweet, positive nature of this wonderful grain, upon which the world of South American natives was once so dependent. And perhaps the come-down of the name from “life giving” to “wild grain” somewhat reflects the devaluation of this outstanding plant in the western world. Today, too, we are dependent upon it in every realm, especially food: Almost every processed food contains corn, but of a very limited genetically-engineered variety that appears in its processed, worn and abused form, totally bereft of nutritional value and, of course, a product which demands an excessive exertion of energy.

We use corn starch for thickening and gluing, and corn syrup for sweetening. Expansion materials, emulsifiers, food coloring, citric acid— all are derived from corn, as well as most of the animal fodder in the meat industry. Corn also serves a role in the production of plastic and oil. (Those who wish to learn more about corn and food in our world are highly recommended to read Michael Pollans’ The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)

All of these applications are very distant from corn’s original glamour, with so many uses that were less processed and messy: eating it fresh or cooked, drying the cob and grinding it into flour, pounding the fresh grains to produce polenta- a wet corn porridge; decorating the house with colorful strings of corn, fashioning cornhusk dolls, popping it for popcorn, feeding animals the cobs, etc. The earliest corn consumers soon learned that corn had many other advantages, using corn stalks for building, fishing, etc., as well as weaving mats and baskets from cornhusks, creating masks, moccasins and dolls.

But for all its many uses, there is nothing like simply sinking your teeth into a fresh ear of corn. There are those who do not trust the Kashrut of corn. They fear that tiny insects lying within the corn silk will find their way into the  kernels, becoming impossible to detect and remove.  Dror, one of our loyal deliverymen, recently told me that he heard from a “Sunfrost” mashgiach (kashruth supervisor) how to deal with this matter. According to the mashgiach, the bugs run towards the cob when they are exposed to light, as the corn is peeled and its silk removed. The solution is simple and creative: peel the corn in the dark! This way, the bugs remain in the silk and get tossed to the compost. You are more than welcome to try this out at home…

Here at Chubeza, we began seeding the corn (or Mahis) at the end of March. The two first rounds are seeded within a month of each other. The next round is already spaced at a two-three week interval; then they’re seeded within a week of each other. The reason for this activity is the variable weather and the heat. If for the first round we needed 100-110 days to reach full maturity, the latter will ripen within 80-90 days. Thus, varying the seeding intervals allows us to send you sweet corn almost every week, or every two weeks at the most.

As I mentioned last week, this year we encountered our first damage to the corn beds perpetrated by wildlife. Every night for a month now, wild animals come to the field, break the plants and consume hundreds of ears of corn. This surprised us, specifically because our fields are smack inside the moshav, among the houses, where animals usually fear to tread. In the beginning, it only happened at the bed bordering the olive grove, and we hoped that this was where it would stay. But when we moved to harvest the next beds, further away from the grove and closer to the houses, the frenzied, forbidden eating did not stop, but rather grew!

Last week the National Park Authority officials came to help us identify the intruders. After consultation, they decided it was jackals, and said there was a big jackal problem all over the country. The immediate solution they gave was to request a professional hunter to set a trap for the animals and shoot, aiming to kill a few jackals and deter the entire group. As this shooting would take place within the confines of the moshav, it was important we carry out the mission with professional hunters who work with the National Park Authority.

The jackal problem is indeed widespread this year, so it was hard to set a time with the hunters from our area. In the end, The Hunter arrived Sunday night and set an ambush. He identified the jackals and shot one of them. Once again, this is a limited activity and only intended as a deterrent. We now are moving to other methods to confront the issue, examining the options of a fence and a watchdog. Hopefully we will have good news regarding a ceasefire in our field.

Wishing a nice summery week to us all,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: melon or watermelon, lettuce, oregano or thyme, corn, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers or fakus, chives or Chinese chives, eggplant, yellow potatoes, acorn squash

In the large box, in addition: squash, coriander or parsley, okra or Thai beans or spaghetti squash

Wednesday: eggplant, lettuce. green onions or chives, tomatoes, cron, acorn squash, cucumbers or fakus, red potatoes, parsley, red or green peppers, melon or watermelon.

In the large box, in addition: cherry tomatoes, zucchini, okra or Thai beans or Kury Japanese pumpkin

 

 

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It’s a pity to give you recipes for corn, since I know that you’ll just eat it straight off the cob. But below are recipes for cooking up two of the vegetables sharing the box with the corn:

EGGPLANT AND PUMPKIN RECIPES (of 2 great Israelies cooks):

eggplant and lemon risotto – Yotam ottolenghi

crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream – Yotam ottolenghi

squash and onion antipasti – Hila Kariv

eggplant salad and antipasti – 3 recipes – Hila Kariv

Aley Chubeza #92 – November 21st-23rd 2011

Fond Farewells and Serendipitous Surprises

Our contented field has been lapping up the rain since last Wednesday. Silvery ribbons of droplets descending from the heavens have satiated the field with a generous outpouring of amazing aqua. Our joy is as plentiful as the puddles! The vegetables are growing vigorously, indulging in the joy of November rains, when the temperatures are not yet too low, the rain is plentiful, and the occasional sunbeam still glitters.

Last week we picked the last of our corn. Sadly but acceptingly, we bade farewell to Chubeza’s only grain, our summer’s sweet dessert. When we sealed last Wednesday’s boxes, I thought this was the last we’d see of the corn. But the next morning I was surprised by a rainy Chubeza tale which I shall share with you:

On Thursday, I got a phone call from Katy from Jerusalem. Katy is a veteran client, and a cook who hails from South America. This winning combination brought her to open the catering business Smells Good, specializing in Latin American food. She had a quick question: how could she obtain banana leaves? Could we possibly supply her with them or refer her to a banana farmer? I sent her to our neighbor and colleague Hilaf, but she needed a larger quantity than he could supply. Yet Katy did not despair. Instead, the intrepid chef decided to substitute corn husks for the elusive banana leaves.

She needed these in order to make “Hallacas,” a Venezuelan food traditionally served at the Christmas meal, and a beloved winter staple. The dish consists of a stuffed corn flour pastry filled with a mixture of ground meat, green pepper, onion, olives, raisins, almonds and capers, wrapped in a banana leaf (plantain) and steamed. The whole family takes part in preparing the Hallacas, with the cooking accompanied by music and drinking, and lots of stories and songs. The stuff that memories are made of, each winter.

This is how the Hallacas looks in preparation:

There is real logic in substituting corn husks for the banana leaves, as this dish is the sister, or at least the cousin, of the Mexican tamale, a popular dish of cornmeal dough steamed in corn husks. This is probably the origin of the Hallacas, but over the years many colorful tales have emerged to describe the birth of Hallacas, traditionally told and retold during its preparation. The most popular legend purports that Hallacas were created by slaves during the colonial times. In those days, the slaves used leftovers from their master’s Christmas feast to place in a bit of cornmeal dough. Then they would wrap them with banana leaves and boil to blend the flavors. Another tale narrates the toil of the native workers who built the “Cerro El Ávila” to the nearby port of La Guaira, feasting on tamales prepared from cornmeal. However, during the construction project to improve the road, the Indians workers began dying en masse from diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies. The Caracas families then donated from their meat and vegetable dishes in order to fortify the workers’ diet.

Meanwhile, back to Israel 2011 and rainy Jerusalem: I told Katy we could give her a couple hundred corn husks, but only the next day, and that she would have to pick them herself as we were working in-house due to the rain. Katy replied that she’d make one more stab at procuring banana leaves from the market. If unsuccessful, we would talk the next day. On Friday morning, she informed me that banana leaves were no longer an option, and she was going for the corn husks. Later in the afternoon, I guided her and her husband David by phone to the edge of our wet field. I wished them a successful harvest, and warned them not to try to drive into the field, as their car is liable to sink.

Katy wrote today to thank me for the corn-husks-that-saved-the-day. I asked for full details as to how they managed to pick between the raindrops. Her response: “It was beautiful!!!!!” Even via e-mail, her excitement and wonder came through loud and clear. Our corn is truly a wonder, and once again it surprised us all by giving a lovely farewell gift at the end of autumn.

May we all have wonderful days, after the blessed and abundant rain that brings joy to our hearts. And don’t be too sad about bidding adieu to the corn. The cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi are already here!

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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What’s in our After-the-Rain Boxes? Lottttttts of Mud, Plus:

Monday: Baby potatoes, beets, red mustard, scallions, cauliflower, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, parsley, carrots, radishes, lettuce

In the large box, in addition: Cowpeas (lubia) or yard-long beans or peas or eggplant, arugula, kohlrabi

Wednesday: arugula, lettuce, cucumbers, parsley, scallions, beets, red bell peppers, Swiss chard or kale, tomatoes, carrots, daikon.

In the large box, in addition: cabbage or cauliflower or broccoli, mustard greens, baby potatoes

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Recipes:

The first recipe, Vegan Hallacas, calls for seitan, a wheat gluten similar to tofu. It’s fine to substitute tofu for the seitan:

Vegan Hallacas

In the next recipe for festive Hallacas, feel free to ignore the pork, a staple element of the Venezualan diet.

Venezuelan Hallacas

To inaugurate the start of the radish season, Ornit sent me this recipe for Pickled Radishes (you can try it with daikon too):

Pickled radishes

From your responses, I see that it’s time to refresh your knowledge of how to prepare those tangy, healthy mustard greens that are filling your boxes.

Pickled mustard greens

Mustard greens with cumin and balsamic

Mustard greens and red lentil soup