Yep, still cold

Comprehensive collection of our seed suppliers. Plus Amos Beiler of Cristianna, PA for sweet potato stock.

Comprehensive collection of our seed suppliers. Plus Amos Beiler of Cristianna, PA for sweet potato stock.

So, everything is still pretty much the same around here, and that same is cold. In fact, thanks to the vainly struggling heating infrastructure in many of the Baltimore City schools, I actually haven't left the house in two days. (This is Bryan here, by the way. The kombucha and kraut train rides on). This has been a tremendous boon to getting some planning done for next year and for getting deep into the organic certification process. It's also been a tremendous boon for me getting to hang out with a puppy.

Family picture.

Family picture.

And you know what, I'm tired of talking about the cold. Instead, I've been thinking about the future, so I thought I'd talk some shop and let you know about some of the changes that'll be happening around here this year. Number one: onions. We'll be growing a lot more onions. We had some great success with cipolllinis (Italian flat onions, French shallots, and some super flavorful modern open-pollinated varieties. This year we'd like to round out our offerings with some red and white onions, so we're planning to trial a selection of the best organic varieties out there right now.

This is how we go about most of our crop planning. Large plantings for wholesale naturally involve a significant amount of risk. There can be a substantial amount of capital and time invested in a large planting, so we try to hedge our bets by trialing a wide selection of varieties that meet our needs. We compare yields and--just as important--eating quality, as well as storage life for some crops. Then we try to really double down on the varieties we love.

In last year's variety trials, we absolutely fell in love with several types of carrots, sweet potatoes, "Irish" potatoes, winter squash, and Napa cabbage. Plus we found some globe radishes we didn't absolutely hate, while failing to find a single cantaloupe that we were 100% satisfied with. The successes will now make up the core of what we grow within that crop in the future--maybe 80-90%--while the remainder will be new varieties that caught our eye in the catalogs. For example, we definitely found our preferred early red (Red Norland), butterball, and late white (Dutch heirloom Bintje) varieties of Irish potatoes last year. We also found that two of our fingerling varieties (Papa Cacho, French Fingerling) were so excellent and productive that we'll be devoting a much larger portion of the overall potato crop to fingerlings. However, we discovered there is a much larger market for white potatoes than we realized and, because of potential disease and insect pressures, we'd rather not be fully reliant on a late-season cultivar. So this year, we'll be growing 8 varieties of faster-maturing white potatoes to pick a favorite.

Whether this sounds exciting to you or not probably depends on how much you like plants and growing them. But I think all eaters can agree that some of the wildest varieties (pictured below) we'll be trying next year are very fun to look at. Many of these will not work out due to poor germination, inconsistent performance, low disease tolerance, or weak yields, but this is also how we find personal favorite like the North Georgia Candy Roaster, Papa Cacho potato, and Tokyo Bekana mustard. Hope I can share that part of the fun of seed shopping with you.

Cold weather foods

When we visited Joanna's parents this summer for her Dad's 70th, we went out to eat at a French restaurant that served a truly decadent pasta dish with winter squash cream sauce. It seemed out of place for the summer (don't get me wrong, I still ordered it), but it was a revelation for another wonderful use of abundant, long-storing pumpkin relatives. They served theirs on hand-cut noodles. I just enjoyed this stick-to-the-ribs goodness on frozen cheese tortellini. It's great no matter how classy or not you'd like it to be.

And we get it, some of our winter squashes are ginormous. BUT, this, along with squash soup, cheesy grits with sweet squash, and many others, is a great recipe to use up frozen squash. Every time we use a candy roaster Tahitian melon, we roast the whole thing, and then quickly after dinner, scoop the innards into a freezer bag and keep it for a quick weeknight meal. Then it's good for any recipe where you'd puree it anyway (candy roaster purees the best).

Cube and pre-roast about 2 cups of winter squash. (Optional: Brown half-dozen sage leaves in 3 T butter for about 4 minutes, then set them aside to dry on a paper towel). Sautee a very thinly sliced onion in 3 T browned butter on medium for 10 minutes. Add in 2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 C white wine. Let reduce by half, then mix in the pre-cooked squash. Add a few pinches of salt and a dry hot pepper or 1/2 t pepper flakes. Cover with 1 C broth (chicken or beef) and simmer about 10 minutes until becoming very smooth. Vigorously stir in 1/4 C cream, or half-and-half, heat til warm. Serve over pasta and top with the sage leaves, cracked pepper, and some Parmesan cheese.

And if that recipe seems a little heavy on the ole' Winter Belly, then you can follow up with a lovely winter veg slaw like this one from Meera Sodha's cookbook Made in India. Find a cabbage or drop it entirely, swap sweet onions into the mix, and double up the quantity radish and use watermelon and purple bravo to match our version.