CSA Newsletter Week 3
Muir Head Lettuce
Red Tide Head Lettuce
Pint 'o' Snap Peas
Green Bell Peppers
Dante Hot Peppers
Some Kind of Zucchini and/or Summer Squash
Notes from the Farm
Before farming, I'd never really thought much about head lettuce.
In 2006, I left my public schools job, and teamed up with my buddy Sarah to work on a farm in North Yarmouth. I didn't know anything about the farm, or farming, but Sarah was already working there and she vouched for me and them.
Meadowood Farm grew 8 acres of vegetables and 4 acres of flowers... I don't really know what they do now, but I know that they're still at it ,and are still one of the longest running farm booths at the Portland Farmers' Market.
At Meadowood, I mostly hoed... I only hoed... I was not skilled labor. I would help with other tasks as asked, but they correctly slotted me in the blunt object category of farm worker, and I worked to be the best blunt object I could be... and I tried to pay attention. They did so many things so well... one of them, maybe most impressively, was to grow great head lettuce. From seed to market stand, they were lettuce maestros.
We would set the planting furrows with a Valley Oak wheel hoe, drop trays, pull plugs from trays, drop seedling plugs, and plant with care... over and over again, every Monday, hundreds and thousands of heads. We'd harvest in teams, Bruce mostly cutting, the rest of the team cleaning and crating the lettuce, covering it from time to time with burlap to keep it out of the sun. We'd wash it in two (at least I think it was two) large tubs... one dunk and than another, and into short plastic trays with water... leafy greens are no different than flowers. Flowers in an empty vase are fleeting, lettuce is no different than a mixed bouquet, lettuce requires water to maximize it's flavor and keeping ability.
They grew beautiful varieties of speckled boston, green leaf, read leaf, escarole... it was amazing. Beautiful food for the people... affordable, stunning, nutritious, underestimatable... I was hooked, I would be a lettuce farmer.
My first gig running a farm, in South Tamworth NH, included my attempt to replicate that Meadowood lettuce protocol... and I did pretty good. I added a third bucked to the two bucked wash system, and I grew an embarrassing variety of lettuce, too many varieties, and I was excited about it... and I can laugh now at the number of times I was shut down by customers, mid sentence, because my lettuce enthusiasm was maybe a hair & a half too extreme.
We did the same wheel hoe system, we marketed it the same, it was a good time to be a lettuce farmer in the greater Mount Washington Valley... but it didn't last.
After a couple of years, Gina and I went out on our own and created Alma Farm (Changed to HFF when we moved to Casco). Alma Farm was tractor powered, and even though we did almost all planting, harvesting and weeding by hand, we were tractor centric... the Ford 4100 set the systems... and modernized our approaches to all kinds of farm tasks, including growing lettuce.
We abandoned the single row, wheel hoe furrowed, lettuce system for tractor set beds. The tractor system made three rows per bed. We used a modified 3 Point Hitch Cultivator... it did the job. After some growing pains, we got pretty good at it. With the tractor, we could make straight(ish) rows and beds. It made it easier to plant, weed and harvest, and took up much less room not having a walking path between each row.
The single bed, three tine, three row protocol stood for eleven seasons... it was maybe the most consistent feature of our farm over that time period.
Any farmer that has come to work with us learned our system. They could probably all tell you, errorless, the entire process, seeding to sale, without hesitation. We take growing, harvesting, washing and storing lettuce seriously... like crazy seriously.
You see, lettuce is the perfect vegetable. Lettuce is to farming, what the Cucumber Roll is to the Sushi Chef... it's so simple, so understated, but requires obsessive attention to do it well... and even when we do it well, it doesn't mean we'll do it well again... and sometimes we don't... sometimes we grow terrible lettuce... but we always look to grow a perfect bed of lettuce.
This year, either by necessity or monotony, I tried a new system for growing lettuce. Gina has been suggesting for years that we use the Water Wheel Transplanter to plant the lettuce... which might as well have been a suggestion to trade in my daughters for robots... it was a nonstarter. We had our lettuce system, furrows and tractors, hand planting and spacing... and I loved it... but she was right, there was a better way... she was very, very right.
We made these raised beds using our Mulch Layer... the Mulch Layer is the thing that makes those planting rows for everything in the main field. If you don't use any plastic on the Mulch Layer, you just get these nice raised beds. Then we let it set... the weeds started to grow, and we torched it with a Flame Weeder... it kills the emerging weeds and makes for a nice clean growing bed... and then we loaded the Water Wheel Transplanter with organic fish/seaweed fertilizer, the lettuce and a lot of deep breaths. The Transplanter has wheels on it that poke holes at desired distances, the crew sits on the back and plugs plants in the holes, one foot apart in this instance... and we can do two planting rows at a time... one raised bed, two rows... it was already a little unnerving. They were planted out and we waited... but not for long... About one month after planting out the lettuce seedlings, we harvested them today... and they are the most beautiful heads of lettuce I've ever cut. Something about the raised bed, the spacing, the season, the crew, everything, made these perfect. We didn't need to jump around to find the right heads, we cut right down the row, skipped maybe one or two heads, and I've never been happier cutting lettuce in my life.
I know, this is ridiculous, it's lettuce, I get it... but it's more than that... lettuce might be the most significant crop we grow.
Head lettuce is the still point of our turning farm.
We are not serious farmers... we keep terrible records, we make half hearted attempts at solving problems, quickly abandon crops that look like they're on the sad side of questionable. We tend to take a global approach with our farm, worrying more about the greater whole than the specific singularity... this whole operation is held together with cosmic bailing twine... except for a few things, there are a few things that ground our farm, hyper focused singularities... lettuce is one of those touchstones.
This is my 15th season farming, and I finally grew a perfect bed of lettuce... and I could not be more excited to share it with you all.
A Walk Through The Food
Boro Beets: It's a beet, you eat it... but it's a fresh beet, so you don't need to, and shouldn't, peel it. Fresh beet's skin isn't set up, so there's no difference between the meat and the flesh. Also, the greens are still pretty good and good to eat. Beets and Chard are genetically the same plant, Beta Vulgaris, one was selected for tops, one was selected for bottoms. So you can eat beet greens like chard, and honestly, you can dig up and eat chard roots like beets...
Imperial Broccoli: Fresh broccoli is a different kind of food... and broccoli doesn't keep well, you don't want to know how they keep it looking good in stores, so eat it up sooner than later.
Lacinato Kale: This is a great version for Kale & White Beans... it's heartier, richer flavor holds up well to heavy cooking. It can be made into marinated Kale salads, and can be used any way kale is used... but it's also the most common variety found in northern Italy... so it's a good excuse to dust off your inner Dianne Lane, and explore the world of Tuscan Kale.
Pac Choi: A classic Asian head green. It is classically stir-fried, but there are many other ways to use it. AND, the stem is the best part! We use it as a celery substitute for chicken & tuna fish salad. We also like making Bourgeois Ants On A log. Take the stems off the plant, keeping the leaves connected to the stems, fill with Almond Butter & Dried Cranberries, dust it with Maldons Salt... amazing!
Broccoli With Olives
1 head broccoli, cut into medium florets
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup pitted and slivered Kalamata olives (easily found in the pickle isle)
Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Put broccoli in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover, and steam until just tender, about 7 minutes. Briefly plunge into ice-water bath. Drain; pat dry.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a wide saute pan over medium heat. Add half of the broccoli, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the olives. Cook until heated through. Transfer to a serving dish; cover. Repeat with remaining oil, broccoli, salt, pepper, and olives. Combine batches. Serve immediately.
Beet Carpaccio with Goat Cheese and Mint Vinaigrette
bunch of beets
1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 5 ounces)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup walnut oil or olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place beets on sheet (if using both light- and dark-colored beets, place them on separate sheets to prevent discoloration). Sprinkle beets lightly with water. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until beets are tender when pierced with fork, about 40 minutes. Cool on sheet. Peel beets. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place in resealable plastic bag; chill.)
Using cheese slicer or knife, slice beets very thinly. Slightly overlap slices on 6 plates, dividing equally. Sprinkle with cheese, then shallot, salt, and pepper. Whisk vinegar, mint, oil, and sugar in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over beets. Sprinkle with chives.
White Bean and Kale Stew
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounces) whole tomatoes, chopped (juice reserved)
1/2 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into small pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and season with salt. Cook vegetables, stirring, until tender, about 8 minutes.
Increase heat to medium high and add tomatoes and their juice. Cook, stirring, until mixture begins to caramelize, about 3 minutes.
Add 7 cups water, potatoes, and beans, and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, then stir in kale.
Cook, covered, until tender, about 2 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan.
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