Week 16: September 14-20

What's In Your Basket?

Caroline Raspberries
Seascape Strawberries
Italian Plums
Sugar Buns Sweet Corn
Rainbow Chard
Slicing Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes
Zucchini & Summer Squash

On Rotation
Cherry Tomatoes

Produce Tips - How to Eat It, Cook It and Keep It!
Italian Plums
If I had to guess, I’d say that the molecular make-up of my body is at least one tenth Italian plum. And not just any Italian plum; I mean these Italian plums. The farm driveway is lined with a half dozen crooked, lichen-covered Italian plum trees that have stood there for decades – pre-dating my birth on Floras Creek, my sister’s birth on Floras Creek, and even my parents’ arrival on Floras Creek in the early 70s. These are wise old trees.

And each year come September, they are prolific bearers of honey-hearted, dusky purple plums. Abby and I were raised on these plums: fresh in September, and dried, canned and frozen the rest of the year. My mom’s dried plums have saved me from the brink of many a blood sugar crash on backpacking adventures, roadtrips, and bleak, late-night strandings where Cheetos and Sprite would have been the only thing to eat at a gas station, were it not for the jar of dried plums in the backseat. When Abby and I were at college on the east coast, Mom would FedEx bags of them to us – along with half gallon tubs of Nancy’s Honey yogurt.

In record-breaking plum years, we have harvested up to 1000 pounds of fruit off of these few trees. This year, the harvest was moderate at about 400 pounds. I missed the picking because I was in D.C. this weekend, but have been in full-on plum gorge mode since my return on Sunday.

We’ve sent you a sampler basket of them this week and my suggestion to you is straight-forward: just eat them (mind the pits). If you want to get a little fancier with them, try this Rustic Plum Cake recipe. And after tasting them, if you decide you want a higher percentage of your molecular make-up to be Italian Plum like us, contact us. We have bulk plums available by the pound for canning, drying, freezing, baking, and plain old munching.

As for storage, leave your plums on the counter. They are soft to the squeeze when ripe. The firm ones will ripen up over a couple of days (faster if you put them in a brown paper bag).

Sugar Buns Sweet Corn
Oh heavenly sweet corn. In our microclimate, sweet corn is an exercise in delayed gratification. While everyone else in the Willamette Valley has been gnawing fresh corn on the cob for the last month (or more), Abby’s corn has been slowly, steadily inching towards maturity. Cooler days and nights near the coast usually mean that her corn is only shin high by the Fourth of July, but it also means that September is a glory month if you are a corn-o-phile. The only downside of our late corn season is that as organic growers we are more susceptible to corn earworm, a gross, juicy larva that likes to nestle into the tip of the corn cob and munch away at the kernels. You may encounter a corn earworm or two this week. If you do, simply cut the tip off the cob. The worms usually only affect the tip.

After years of trialing lots of different varieties, Abby mainly grows Sugar Buns, a sweet, tender yellow corn. She also plants her corn in succession, so there should be more to come in the next couple of weeks.

If you’re not going to eat your corn right away, store it in the fridge in a plastic bag. Remember that once picked, the sugars in sweet corn begin to convert to starch – so eat it soon!

Heirloom Tomatoes
You are not hallucinating. Some of the tomatoes in your share this week are indeed green, purple, orange, striped, or somewhat contorted-looking. We grow a handful of heirloom tomato varieties in the greenhouses, including:

  • Cherokee Purple: A deep, purple-brown variety with green shoulders and sweet, tangy flavor
  • Green Zebra: A greenish-yellow tomato with zebra stripes and tangy flavor
  • Tigerella: A red and orange striped tomato, on the small side, with tangy flavor
  • Brandywine: A big, beefy pink-red variety with greenish shoulders and sweet flavor
  • Striped German: A big tomato with all the color of the sunset marbled into its sweet flesh
  • Persimmon: Bearing a striking resemblance to its namesake, this is the meatiest, sweetest tomato we grow!
  • Valencia: A medium, deep orange tomato that won our blind taste tests last summer.

Heirlooms are a little finicky to grow, maturing later than many tomatoes, yielding less, and straying far from the uniform. It’s why they are more expensive in the store. But fundamentally, heirloom tomatoes are the populists in the Solanum family. What makes an heirloom an heirloom is the fact that they are open-pollinated (as opposed to hybrids) and you can save your own seed from the fruits you grow. The official definition of an “heirloom” also has to do with how many generations it’s been saved for, where it originated, etc., but at core it is a variety that anyone can grow, save seed from, and share with others.

Store your tomatoes on the counter – NOT in the fridge (!). They are great sliced in rounds, fanned out on a plate, and drizzled with olive oil and salt. Take it a step further with some fresh mozzarella and basil for a fresh caprese salad…

On the Farm....

I have shaken off the jetlag, coaxed my bones back into the strawberry-picking crouch, and traded the ironed business attire for the perma-stained farmwear again. It’s good to be home.

There is a lot afoot in Washington, D.C. that gives me hope for sustainable food and agriculture right now. At our meeting with Deputy Secretary Merrigan at the USDA, we learned that as second-in-command, Merrigan’s top mandate is to expand opportunities for local and regional food systems. That could mean more funding for local meat processing facilities, more loans for beginning farmers, and more incentives for communities to invest in endeavors to feed themselves locally - like community kitchens. We also learned that this very week, the USDA is launching a ground-breaking new initiative called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” in order to campaign for vibrant local and regional food systems. Even the food historian in our group of Fellows could not recall a time when the USDA has ever taken such bold action on behalf of local food. Nor could she remember the last time there was a “People’s Garden” on the lawn of the USDA, which there now is at the Northeast corner of the compound.

This week, the USDA “Know your farmer, know your food” campaign also coincides with the official opening of the brand new White House Farmer’s Market, this Thursday, September 17. Michelle Obama has worked with the city of Washington, D.C. to permit a new farmers market, practically situated at the front door of the White House.

Our tour of the White House Garden, led by Sam Kass, the Obama’s personal chef, was a chance to see the first garden that’s been planted on the White House lawn since Elanor Roosevelt’s 1943 Victory Garden. Sam was generous enough to let us all steal a Sungold cherry tomato off the vine, and took the time to show us the array of produce being grown: cauliflower (from seeds saved by Thomas Jefferson from the Monticello collection), heirloom beans, tomatoes, raspberries, herbs, radishes, lettuce, eggplants, peppers, sweet potatoes and more. After wrestling with extensive red tape, Sam has also managed to establish the first ever “First Compost,” as well as the first ever “First Beehive.” He said the compost is a little limited (one State dinner and the whole box is full!), but the bees (which belong to a White House carpenter) have already pumped out 100 pounds of honey this season. The hive is perched 5 feet up, atop a handmade wooden pedestal (to keep them out of reach of the Obama’s dog), and then strapped down carefully (to keep them from crashing to the ground when Marine One comes in for a chopper landing on the south lawn).

Though the Obamas’ garden is small and the farmers market is but one of the thousands around the country, all of these actions are sending a tremendously powerful message: That eating from your backyard is important. That food should be a cornerstone of the health care debate. That without farmers, there isn’t much for dinner. That we - as a nation, as communities and as individuals - have an amazing opportunity to re-engage with food and eat like it really mattered.

Enjoy your tomatoes this week. The heirlooms were ripe at the White House Garden, so chances are the Obamas are eating Cherokee Purples for dinner, too.