Today--or really yesterday, I suppose--we enter a new chapter in the 2018 season. With just about a mile of various winter squashes seeded in the field (and rained in this afternoon), we have officially wrapped up planting our summer crops! Now it's just times to lay out in the lawn, go fishing, and watch the crops grow...
Of course, that's not exactly true, but this does mean a major transition in our schedule and our attitude toward the work. Spring and summer come almost all at once, and with them a mad dash to get as many crops as we can in the ground as quickly as possible. This can induce a certain madness in a farmer's work. Wet springs like this one only compound the craziness, demanding we work 12+ hour days every time we get a spell of sun. As any seasoned farmer will tell you, a successful fall requires an early start (we begin seeding fall transplants in two weeks and plant out in mid-July), but this in between time is when we get to take a deep breath, take it all in, clean the house, and, yes, maybe actually go fishing.
It's also the time of year when we really transform into stewards of the land and our crops. Instead of flying by with a rototiller, drip irrigation, and a prayer that it'll all work out, we can address pest and weed issues in our fields, and manage our veggies to a healthy, mature harvest. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with daily watching tiny green tomatoes get tantalizingly closer to red, or seeing the tassels develop on our sweet corn. It's also the time of year that we can slow down and notice the clouds of fireflies that grace our fields every night. I guess that's all to say, I am very thankful June is here in earnest.
Brassica oleracea two ways
Ok, I'm going to come clean here. I don't love kale. (This is Bryan writing, by the way. Joanna loves kale.) It's not that I dislike it. I'll even acknowledge that kale has played an outsize role, alongside tomatoes and strawberries, in the sharp rise in demand for farm-fresh produce over the last couple decades. I just worry its astronomical popularity might come at the expense of its humbler cousins, my favorite greens: collards. So this week I thought I might use this tiny soap box here to play the role of collard booster.
Collards belong to the species b. oleracea var. acephala, same as kale. Basically, the cabbage relatives that don't make heads. If they can survive the bugs of summer, and cold of winter, they are technically a biennial and will flower and produce seeds after growing in warm weather, enduring a spell of cold, and then entering into a second period of warm weather. The Greeks have been eating collards for at least 2000 years, and today they enjoy popularity everywhere from Indian and Pakistan, to East Africa, to perhaps their most famous home in the American South. Even if you haven't loved the collard greens you've had in the past, I recommend you give them another shot because they really are a green for every season. They're tender in the spring, sweet in the fall, and one of the only greens that will survive a Maryland summer.
The classic US collard recipe is stewed with smoked ham or turkey neck. Everyone has their own recipe for this, but my preferred method is to brown a smoked ham hock and some onions and garlic in a Dutch oven, cover with water and simmer for a couple hours with bay leaves and mustard seed to create a nice broth, remove the hock, pull the meat and return to the pot, and then toss in a couple pounds of chopped collards for the last half-hour or so. The key if you go this route is to cut out the ribs from the leaves and only stew the greens near the end. They'll still get super tender, but they're best and most nutritious when they're still an iridescent green.
But I recognize that old standard isn't for everyone. For what it's worth, the best collard greens I've ever had were at Stubb's Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Here's the recipe they give on their site for a quicker-cooking braised green that had all the rich hearty flavor you'd expect of something that spent all day on the stove. In any quick cooking collard recipe, the secret is to chiffonade. This technique leaves beautiful ribbons of your desired thickness and, like slicing a steak against the grain, removes any possible hint of toughness you might associate with collard greens. For tenderness, I'd put a chiffonade collard slaw up against a kale salad any day. I also love a simple collard sautee that relies on the chiffonade. Just mince a clove of garlic ahead, make relatively thick collard ribbons, about a half-inch wide, sautee the greens with salt and olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they start to release their juices and glow, then toss in the garlic, stir, and cook for an additional minute, remove from heat and serve immediately. Pure early summer heaven and a great showcase for a very humble green.
Come see us at Dylan's Oyster Cellar on Thursday night!
And a last note, friends: We're excited to have our produce featured alongside delicious oysters and WildJune gin this Thursday at Dylan's Oyster Cellar from 7-11. Event details here. Drop by, get some class food, and meet your farmers. We'd love to see you there!