Week 13: August 24-29

What's In Your Basket?

Seascape Strawberries
Copra Onions
Slicing Tomatoes
Green Beans
Nelson Carrots
Hot Peppers
Sweet Peppers
Head lettuce
Zucchini & Summer Squash

On Rotation

Sugar Snap Peas
Cherry Tomatoes   

Produce Tips - How to Eat It, Cook It and Keep It!
Copra Onions – Allium cepa
This is the first harvest of our storage onion crop. Copras are a strong-flavored, yellow onion that keeps extremely well in dry storage. That said, the onions you’re getting this week are not yet cured (meaning the tops haven’t died back yet, nor has the skin set) and they need to be stored in the fridge. As of last week we turned the water off in the onion field and they are now on the road to curing – so they’ll end up looking just like the onions you see at the store with golden, papery skins and no tops.
I am kicking myself for not also growing a red onion variety this year (what was I thinking last January!?), so the Copras are the only onion type you’ll be seeing for the remainder of the season. There will be leeks and shallots as well to round out the allium offerings, so we’ll do our best to mix it up and keep it lively in your share. NEXT year, I am dead-set on seeding some additional varieties so we have wider diversity in the onion field. I suppose it's good to not get it perfect every time, because then there's always something to look forward to...

Green Beans –
Phaesolus vulgaris
Another bean medley this week, including:

  • Bush filets: thin and long
  • Pole filet: thin and even longer
  • Romano: flat, wide, Italian

Hot Peppers – Capsicum annuum
There are a couple types of hot peppers floating around in your basket this week:

  • Jalapeño: the big, plump, green one – about a 7 on a heat scale of 1 to 10.
  • Serrano: the slender red or green ones – about a 8.5 on the heat-o-meter.

Most of the kick in a hot pepper is in the seeds, so if you like it hot, chop up the whole pepper, seeds and all. If you have tamer tastebuds, you can de-seed the hot peppers and use only the flesh.

There are tomatoes, onions and peppers in your basket this week, begging to be made into some homemade salsa.
Storage: you can keep your hot peppers on the counter, or in the fridge. They hold up surprisingly well at room temp…

Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare
Big, fat, luscious fennel, and lots of it this week! We loaded you up because your basket contains all of the ingredients to make our FAVORITE fennel dish: Finocchio.

Fennel stores great in the fridge in a plastic bag, so if you can’t get to it for a little while, don’t sweat it.

Cherry Tomatoes – Solanum lycopersicum
The cherry tomatoes, unlike the rest of the solanums, grow outside in the field. They are just beginning to come on in profusion and we will be sending them your way as the harvest picks up. We’re growing a few different varieties:

  • Sweet Millions: a classic, sweet red cherry, on the larger side
  • Sungold: my all-time favorite tomato, period. Yellow-orange with a tropical, unbelievably sweet flavor
  • Red Grape: aptly named, they are a longer, oval shaped cherry tomato with a thicker wall – like a tiny cousin to a sauce tomato
  • Peacevine: yet another red variety that we’re trialing, bred by Alan Kapuler of Corvallis, Oregon.

All tomatoes are best stored on the counter, not in the fridge.

On the Farm....
Musing on peppers….
We are pepper lovers here at Valley Flora, so when August begins to nod towards September, my mom becomes the most popular person on the farm. The entirety of the capsicum harvest is the fruit of her labor. She grows dozens of varieties in the greenhouses and some of the cultivars have attained seasonal family member status: seductive Carmen, the beautiful, lipstick-red bullhorn pepper; goofy Jimmy Nardello, Carmen’s skinny, wiggly, contortionist cousin; serious Joe, the long, hot cayenne; sophisticated Gourmet, the heavy-set, sweet orange bell; and happy Labrador, our favorite sunny, yellow sweet pepper. The peppers stir up a fervor of vegetable trading amongst us: I’ll give you a flat of strawberries for those Carmens. A bag of Abby’s greens for some homemade salsa… For Christmas last year, my mom gave me a whole gallon of red Serrano hot sauce – a gift of gold.

When the capsicums begin to color up is when the best summer feasting really begins: homemade salsa, ratatouille, roasted jalapeños, stuffed peppers, chile rellenos. You name it, my mom makes it. She has grown peppers for a long time in her greenhouses and over the years has zeroed in on her favorite varieties. The sweet peppers are planted in profusion in the spring, but hot peppers hold down their own special corner of the greenhouses as well. They thrive with the added heat the greenhouses provide, even with our close proximity to the coast.

Not that there hasn’t been a learning curve to growing great peppers here. Take hot peppers, for instance. Every year, Mom imports compost to improve the soil in her greenhouses, and after awhile we began to notice that the hot peppers were getting milder and milder. They were losing their kick. She sought out a pepper aficionado and told him about her problem. Well, as it turns out, hot peppers – which hail from hot tropical climates with poor soils – lose their spiciness if grown in rich soils. The stress of growing in poorer soil is part of what imparts piquancy to a pepper. So, the next year Ma planted her peppers in the worst corner of the greenhouse and twoila, the heat was on again!

Hot peppers belong to the same family as sweet peppers, but differ in the amount of capsaicin they contain – the chemical compound that causes the burning sensation in your mouth. Sweet peppers have a zero rating on the Scoville scale (the pepper pungency scale that measures the amount of capsaicin present in a pepper, developed in 1912 by an American chemist). The hottest chilis, such as habaneros, have a Scoville rating of 200,000 or more. Jalapeños come in at around 5,000; Serranos at around 15,000. Law enforcement grade pepper sprays register about 5,000,000.

Most mammals – besides most humans - find the heat in a hot pepper unpleasant, but birds are unaffected by it (which makes me feel a little better about the time I saw someone at the Bandon jetty douse a loaf of white bread in Tabasco and toss it the seagulls as a practical joke….). Biologists assume that the presence of capsaicin in peppers is an evolutionary adaptation to protect the fruit from consumption by mammals while the bright colors attract birds that will spread the seeds.

Too bad for these peppers, the capsaicin doesn’t deter us one bit here at the farm. But then again, maybe the peppers have another evolutionary ploy at work: to be so beautiful and tasty that farmers plant them again and again every year and deliver them to Harvest Basket members from Gold Beach to Coos Bay, thus perpetuating their existence here on earth, making us but mere pawns in the great epic of Capsicum evolution…

Well, whatever you believe, one thing’s guaranteed: my mom is going to ensure that there are plenty of peppers in our little corner of the world for the next month or so, and I personally plan to eat as many as I possibly can.