In honor of the upcoming Chanukah festival celebrating the victory of light from locally-produced olive oil that vanquished the darkness, this week we are happy to share with you a nice article (Hebrew) on a Chubeza associate, Sindyanna of Galilee. You’ll have a chance to read a bit about the history of this praiseworthy enterprise and also about the olive groves from which their outstanding oil is produced. Go directly to Chubeza’s online Order System to add the fruit of Sindyanna’s labors to your own box: za’atar, carob syrup and olive oil.
B’teyavon! Chag Sameach! Have a Joyous Chanukah!
Regards from Mother Earth
Over the last couple of months we’ve been harvesting beautiful orange tubers – sweet potatoes – and storing them in our packing house. Sweet potatoes were the first to reconnect us to the earth, after a summer in which we ate mostly fruits (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, watermelon, melon, corn) and pods (yard-long beans, okra, edamame) abounding with juice and seeds, grown hanging from bushes, trellised or lying on the ground. And now come the tubers to bring us back down to earth to the roots, the stability, and the blessing in the clods of soil that even in heavy heat above remain ever-cool below.
In Hebrew, the word for orange is כתום (Katom) from the word for gold (Ketem, also “stain”) because of the golden color comprised of red and yellow. For me, the orange deserves its royal name, and the synergy of cooling weather and the warmth of the orange hue are a perfect balance for this amazing season.
This week we dedicate our newsletter to the pleasant, rooted sweet potatoes which – contrary to most roots – grows in summertime and autumn, not winter, loves heat and hates cold weather (see below. Though the Chubeza sweet potato crop is being harvested now, it commenced its journey about five months ago on the day that Oded of Moshav Yesha came to deliver bundles of green twigs – sticks really, most of them bereft of leaves – bundled together with a rope. We took these twigs (cuttings) and inserted them in the damp mounds of earth we’d prepared. Then we took one step back. Once again, as every year, we were astonished anew by the strange view of dozens of sticks standing in the brown mounds of earth. Sometimes agriculture can seem so weird…
After a few days, the sticks started blooming. Green leaves sprouted from them, and they looked like they were rising from the dead. After a few weeks, a green stripe of plants spread across the bed, and after two months, the whole area was one crowded, tangled carpet of branches, leaves, and lilac-looking flowers. Over 4-5 months, underneath this green entanglement grew chubby orange roots, so sweet and satisfying. Sweet potatoes! A few weeks ago I prepared a newsletter featuring photos of the sweet potato’s journey from a naked stick to that very delicious root hidden under the crowded carpet. This is it.
The origin of the sweet potato lies in tropical South and Central America. The most ancient evidence of sweet potatoes was found in Peru, from where they mysteriously traveled to the rest of Central and South America, all the way to Polynesia. Some say sweet potato seeds were carried from America to Polynesia by birds or by sunken ships that drifted away. Another assumption is that the sweet potato seeds floated along ocean currents from South America to Polynesia, as they can sprout after having been immersed in sea water. Columbus found sweet potatoes in Cuba, brought them along on his journey to Europe, and from there they travelled together with the European conquerors to Africa, India and Asia.
The sweet potato is a member of the renowned Convolvulaceae family, related to the wild field bindweed, the Cuscuta (dodder) and sister to the lovely morning glory found in nature and in your garden. Formally known as Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato is one of the only members of this large family that is edible, and definitely the only one to be industrially grown for food, a truly unique phenomenon. Like other members of her family, she tends to send out tendrils and twigs far and wide. If allowed, she will climb all over the nearest fence, covering it with a layer of heart-shaped green leaves and beautiful light-purple flowers that open in the morning and close in the afternoon sun.
Years of careful selection of sweet potatoes by farmers and nature have made today’s sweet potato very strong and resistant to (or at least tolerant of) diseases and pests. Sometimes the plants can be carriers of various pathogens that are not actively expressed and do not prevent the plant from growing or developing. Basically, the sweet potato hardly suffers from any problems, and usually grows nicely over a few months’ time. After four months we begin digging them out. First we fumble around, digging in one of the far corners to see what’s hiding down there. Are there any orange tubers? How many? How large are they? Do they seem healthy? Then, if they’re nice and ready, we gradually start digging them out.
When the time has come to harvest, there is no urgency to remove the sweet potatoes from the earth right away and store them. They are well-protected in the earth, even during cold winters, due to the warmer temperature underground. If you remove the sweet potatoes from the earth, they should be brought indoors so they’re not too cold. When the outside temperature falls below 13 degrees Celsius, the storage refrigerator should be at a temperature of 13-15 degrees so the sweet potatoes do not catch cold.
This is also the reason that they should not be stored in your home refrigerator. The sweet potato that grows primarily in warm seasons dislikes cold weather, and refrigeration impairs its taste. Store them in a cool, ventilated place, not in a bag or a sealed container, in order to prevent the accumulation of excess moisture. They need not be hidden from light, because (like radishes and beets) sweet potatoes are roots that contain no chlorophyll, therefore will not turn green (contrary to the dense-stem potato which turns green when exposed to light and should be stored in dark places). High temperatures will make the sweet potato sprout or ferment, thus warmth should be avoided (unless you wish to make liquor).
We keep our harvested sweet potatoes in the packing house for only a short time before sending them to you. Sweet potatoes that are mass-produced for industry and kept till the end of wintertime undergo a process called “curing.” They are pulled from the earth and warmed up in a room that is temperature and moisture-controlled. This process thickens their peelings and they grow scab-like skin to cover areas bruised during the digging-out process. Sweet potatoes which have undergone curing can be stored for longer periods of time.
The luscious, soothing taste of sweet potatoes is an especially great blessing in the cold evenings of autumn, when your sweet tooth craves attention. You can eat sweet potatoes without feeling an iota of guilt, as they are bursting with benefits to your health. The orange color assures high levels of beta carotene, which becomes vitamin A when consumed, a multi-armed warrior for battling cancer in various forms, essential for good eyesight, strengthening your immune system, keeping your skin healthy and contributing to proper growth.
Despite its sweet taste, the sweet potato is considered an “anti-diabetic” vegetable, recommended for diabetics because of its contribution to the balancing of sugar levels in the blood and to reducing the resistance of the cell to insulin – perhaps because of its rich carotenoid content. Along with our friend A, the sweet potato also contains good levels of vitamins B6 and C rich in potassium, magnesium, iron and dietary fiber. This team works to control blood pressure, strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis, and allow for proper brain function and the development of learning skills in children and babies.
In Chinese medicine, the sweet potato is recommended for weight loss. It strengthens the spleen, which according to Chinese medicine regulates metabolism and our need for sweet foods and food in general. A weak spleen will create a strong need for sweets, and an inevitable weight gain. According to this approach, the body must receive naturally sweet food, i.e., there is no harm in a sweet diet, on condition that the quantity of sweets is limited, natural, and does not derive from processed foods like white sugar or candies. A medium-sized sweet potato contains 150 calories (equivalent to two slices of bread), but it is very filling. Chinese medicine perceives the sweet potato to be one of the most balanced foods and therefore can be eaten by almost anyone. According to the Chinese, the orange color ties it to earth, making it a warming, strengthening food.
So what can you do with your fresh, delicious sweet potatoes? No need to work hard at peeling them. Many of the vitamins and dietary fibers are in the peeling, so don’t pare them—just scrub well. The sweet potato should be cooked immediately after being cut in your kitchen, as its skin will oxidize and blacken once it comes into contact with the air. If you must wait, keep them in a bowl of water to prevent blackening. See our recipe section for more ideas of how to enjoy those autumn sweet potatoes.
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
* This Week’s Cauliflower: This year in Chubeza’s early-cauliflower patch, we are meeting black “rot spots” we’ve never before encountered. We are sorting out and removing the badly-injured cauliflowers, but in the interest of saving at least some of the crop, we’re sending you those cauliflowers with only slight damage spots. Just slice those away and enjoy using the rest of the cauliflower.
* This week’s boxes carry the last of the year’s eggplant and bell pepper crop. We bid these veggies farewell with great appreciation for the bountiful yield they brought over this complex, heavy year we’ve endured. This week’s peppers are green, since the plants have been removed and the beds stripped and cleared, thus even those peppers who didn’t have time to redden were picked and packed into the boxes. Enjoy!
Monday: Swiss chard/kale, lettuce, slice of pumpkin/broccoli/lubia Thai yard-long beans/Jerusalem artichokes, eggplant/green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions/celery, beets/fennel/kohlrabi, coriander/parsley/dill, carrots, sweet potatoes. Special gift for all: arugula/mizuna.
Large box, in addition: Cabbage/cauliflower, baby radishes/daikon, totsoi/New Zealand spinach or winter spinach.
FRUIT BOXES: Bananas, red apples/kiwi, oranges/pomelit, clementinas, avocado.
Wednesday: Lettuce/arugula, slice of pumpkin/broccoli, eggplant/green peppers/Jerusalem artichokes, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions/celery, beets/fennel/kohlrabi/turnips, coriander/parsley/dill, carrots, sweet potatoes, New Zealand spinach/winter spinach. Special gift for all: totsoi/mizuna.
Large box, in addition: Swiss chard/kale, cabbage/cauliflower, baby radishes/daikon.
FRUIT BOXES: Bananas, red apples/kiwi, oranges/pomelit/red grapfruit, clementinas, avocado.