Scavenger Hunt for Late Winter Vegetables

Planning our your weekly boxes is always a central activity of our week here at Terra Firma, starting the prior week and continuing into Monday and Tuesday. Paul Holmes and our Harvest Manager Efrain spend several hours checking the fields to see what is ready to harvest and estimating how much of each crop we have. Then we factor in customer preferences and crops that we have in storage.

This is often a challenging task. Sometimes it is difficult to narrow the list down from all the produce we have available. There are weeks when we go through several draft box lists before we settle on the one that seems the best.

March 2012 is not one of those times. Late winter is always a time of scarcity at Terra Firma, and this year that time has come earlier than normal. So assembling the box list feels more like a scavenger hunt — exploring the fields in the hope of finding something that may have grown more quickly than we expected, or something that we forgot was there (yes, that does actually happen!).

This week, we discovered some goodies in a field that we have not harvested since the big freeze of early January. There, we found escarole, frisee and treviso radicchio that have regrown from the roots after the freeze damaged the original plants — much the same way as last week’s fennel did.

Searching through weedy, forgotten fields is not really farming as it is generally practiced in California. It’s more akin to mushroom hunting or clam digging, where experience and historical memory guide you to a place where you are very likely to find the food treasure you are looking for. These are human experiences that predate agriculture completely, that light up synapses that kept our ancestors alive as hunter-gatherers many thousands of years ago.

You’ll be seeing these “semi-wildcrafted” greens from our abandoned fields in your boxes over the next couple of weeks, starting today with Escarole. We hope their very slight bitterness sparks something inside that connects you to the humans of long ago. Or at least that they make a nice late winter salad.

Thanks,

Pablito

In Your Boxes

The Escarole in your boxes today is fairly mild tasting and very well blanched. The heart of each head is full of crisp, lettucy leaves that are perfect for a salad like the one in the recipe. The outer leaves with less blanching might be better used cooked.

You may notice some light brown edges on the tops of the leaves. This is called “tip burn”. It is caused by cold, but is easy to remove by cutting the tips of the leaves off. In general with escarole, the tops of the leaves are the least desirable part anyway, since they tend to be more bitter than the lower parts.

With it’s tight heads, escarole is a magnet for silt and should be carefully and thoroughly washed before using: remove/separate all the leaves and soak in water. After draining, check the base of the leaves for dirt and rinse them individually if necessary.

I know a few weeks back I said you were getting the last Butternut Squash of the season in your boxes, but it turns out I was wrong. I hope this is a pleasant surprise. As I mentioned last time, you should probably store this butternut in your fridge until you use it and not at room temperature.

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