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
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
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!
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.