With the beginning of December, we’re really barreling into the offseason around here. Joanna has been hard at work helping coordinate the Future Harvest-CASA Beginning Farmer Training Program. Meanwhile, I’ve started a contracting project renovating 10 massive, aging high tunnels at Strength To Love 2 Farm in Sandtown-Winchester. So while we may not have many veggies in the ground, I have been thankful for the higher-than-average temperatures as I wrestle with old steel piping all day.
But just because we haven’t been on the farm as much lately, doesn’t mean your CSA will be getting any less interesting. Cabbages and beets are in from Sassafras Creek Organic Farm in Leonardtown, and a couple varieties of onions are now available from 78 Acres farm in Smithsburg. Both these trusted growers sell through the Chesapeake Farm to Table aggregator, with whom we work closely, and we’re very glad to offer some of their crops to you.
If you’re wondering why we choose to buy some vegetables in, it’s a bit like our choice to buy in tree fruits, if less obviously so. Different farms have different systems, specialties, and business models that make them much more proficient at growing large quantities of certain crops as opposed to others. Specialized weeding, harvesting, and washing equipment, even on a relatively small footprint, allow a farm like Sassafras Creek to successfully grow many more beets and carrots, more efficiently than we could without changing quite a lot around here.
So we choose to focus our current carrot-growing capacity on producing unique varieties for fresh, greens-on marketing, and leave the orange long-storage guys to someone who’s really mastered it. Similarly, we take advantage of our favorable growing conditions to produce lots of extra winter squash and watermelons to sell to other CSA farms in the area. We feel very lucky to have so many other organic and sustainable farms in the area we can trust to grow produce that lives up to the same standards we set for ourselves.
One such crop that we think we really get right is the mustard green. Although in America, we most commonly think of mustards as the get-the-heck-out-of-here horseradish spicy of “Southern Curled,” mustard greens are as diverse as cabbages and kales. As they grow up in our tunnels, we’ve decided to start listing many of our mixed greens individually so you can love them as much as we do.
My personal favorite is the “Miike” mustard green from Kyushu, the southernmost of the main Japanese islands. We’ve grown several varieties from this region, but have finally landed on a “reselection” from Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon. If mustards enjoy any advantages over kale, it’s their consistently tender texture, regardless of age or size, as well as the eating quality of their stems. Instead of having to cut out and discard the stem, it’s actually the best part. Miike exemplifies both these qualities, and it’s very sweet, ever-so-slightly hot, and uniquely umami flavor is best enjoyed cooked lightly or not at all.
If you’re a serious mustard lover, this one is perfect sliced into ribbons, and tossed with a touch of sesame oil, vinegar, soy, and pepper oil into a slaw. Colorful radish disks or matchsticks make a great topping.
Another great choice is to stir it into a soup at the very, very end. For a more traditional south Japanese vibe, try a very simple soup made with broth (dashi, chicken, or vegetable) with scallion whites, ginger, cubed tofu, a splash of soy and mirin, and a coddled egg. Right before serving, stir several whole leaves into the soup until just wilted but still florescent green, top with a dash of sesame or pepper oil and serve.
But the sweet, tender virtues of mustard need not only be enjoyed in East Asian cooking. Miike greens are also great in classic Tuscan white bean soup. Make any Italian-y bean soup of your choosing—something like this—skip the kale (and the de-ribbing), and instead of cooking all the green out of your greens just let them simmer for 3-5 minutes before serving. Give any or all of the above a try and let us know what you think.
Bryan and Joanna