by Norm Budnitz
Fava beans (aka broad beans) are native to northern Africa and southern Asia. They are one of the oldest plants known to agriculture, having been cultivated for perhaps 8,000 years. They are not grown much in North Carolina, but you can get them fresh from Four Leaf Farm in May and June. That’s because we have been diligent, and planted our favas in November.
Favas are an unusual crop for our area in that they are planted in late Fall. They sprout and then grow slowly all winter long. By December, they may be 3-4 inches tall. By March, they are still 3-4 inches tall, having hunkered down for the coldest weather. But when the temperatures starts to warm, they rouse themselves from their winter torpor and start their climb to perhaps 2-3 feet tall. By mid-April, they are covered with beautiful flowers—richly white with glossy black hearts. A couple of weeks later the pods start to form, and by the end of May, they are long and stout and ready for harvest.
Fava beans can be cooked in many ways, being fried and eaten as a snack or processed and prepared as falafel, a common Middle Eastern street food. But for a truly delicate and delicious dish try this. Split open the large, green pods with your thumb and remove the beans. Note that each bean is encased in a white covering that has to be removed before eating. Bring some water to a boil and toss in the beans. Cook them for a minute or two until the white covering looks loose and puffy. Remove them from the heat and cool them immediately in cold water. When they are easy to handle, release each bean from its white cover to reveal the rich green bean inside.
The fresh green favas can be chilled and tossed into a salad for a special mild sweetness unlike anything else you may have eaten. But if you have been on top of your game, you will have prepared a batch of risotto while you have been working on your favas. Just as the risotto is finishing up, toss in the favas and let them cook for another minute or so. Now you are ready for some delightful eating.
Some people, mostly of Mediterranean ancestry, have a genetic condition known as favism. These people cannot make a specific metabolic enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. (I didn’t make up the name; I’m just reporting.) The gene for this deficiency is found on the X chromosome and is therefore known as a sex-linked condition—like color blindness, hemophilia, and sickle cell anemia. As a result, favism is much more common in males, since they only have one X chromosome. If that X carries the bad gene, men don’t have a second X to cover the problem. Women with one normal X and one with the bad gene don’t have to worry. Their metabolism will work just fine, thank you.
How does this relate to fava beans? The genetic deficiency can lead to the breakdown of red blood cells, a condition known as hemolytic anemia. Fava beans contain chemicals that can trigger the anemia—hence the name favism. So people with the deficiency should not indulge in this delicious bean. Too bad. But here’s the good news. There is strong evidence that people with this genetic condition are resistant to malaria. So if you have favism, you may not be able to enjoy falafel, but you may be able to travel in countries with endemic malaria. (Here’s the fine print: always check with your doctor first.)
Celebrate Our First Anniversary with Us!
Six Course Spring Harvest Dinner at Pop's Backdoor
For more information click here
Four Leaf Farm is participating in the Piedmont Farm Tour.
Farms, Food and Fun on the 18th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour
Visit Local, Sustainable Farms, Meet Your Local Farmer and See Where Farm-to-Fork Begins
The nationally-recognized Piedmont Farm Tour was called, “something to squawk about” by this month’s National Geographic Traveler for good reason. Happening Saturday and Sunday, April 27-28, from 1–5 pm each day, the tour taps into the region’s vibrant local food scene. Over 3,000 people attended last year.
This self-guided tour, sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market, features 39 scenic and sustainable working farms in Orange, Chatham, Alamance, Durham and Person counties.
Tour tickets, good for both days, are $25 per vehicle in advance and $30 on the tour weekend or you can choose to pay $10 per farm (available for purchase at all of the farms during the tour). Cycle groups count as one vehicle. Tickets can be purchased online now at www.carolinafarmstewards.org/pft/ or at Weaver Street Market stores closer to the event date.
The tour is self-guided. Choose the farms you want to visit on the interactive map at www.carolinafarmstewards.org/pft/ to plan your tour. Visit any farm in any order. And, don't forget to take a cooler so that you can bring home some of the farm fresh products for sale at many farms! No pets allowed. The tour is rain or shine. Proceeds from the tour support the work of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
Complete information about the tour and the farms, with interactive maps and driving directions, plus tour tickets are available at www.carolinafarmstewards.org/pft/. Printed brochures and tickets are also available at all Weaver Street Market stores.
by Norm Budnitz
Squash that bug. Stomp that spider. Squish that worm.
Well, sometimes ‘yes,’ sometimes ‘no,’ and sometimes ‘maybe.’
Many true bugs (stink bugs, squash bug, harlequin bugs, etc.) are bad guys in the garden. They stick their piercing mouth parts into a plant and suck out its juices. ‘Yum’ for the bug; ‘grr’ for the gardener. An infestation of squash bugs can leave your butternuts looking like limp lumps. But there are some good guy bugs—predatory bugs. These insects attack other insects, often harmful ones.
Most spiders are good guys (mostly gals, actually) in the garden. These arachnids (not insects) spend their lives eating lots of the bad guys. So don’t kill spiders, just wiggle their webs a little and they will move out of the way and hide for a while. It’s true that when humans get bitten by spiders they may be in for a bit of pain or sickness or even death in rare cases (the proverbial black widows and brown recluses). But most spiders, including those two dangerous ones, would much rather scurry out of the way when a big old mammal wanders by.
The common garden spider (Argiope aurantia) is a big beautiful female who often sets up shop in or on the edge of the garden. Her web is quite a large affair—a circular orb, 1 to 2 feet in diameter, suspended by strong, straight strands of silk that can be 5 feet long or more. She is striking with her black and yellow abdomen about the size of your thumb. And she reinforces her web with bright, thick strands of silk that she lays down in a zigzag pattern that sometimes seems to spell out things (MMMM in the picture here). The male garden spider is a thin, lanky little brown guy who builds a smaller web. His sole job is to eat enough to get the energy to breed with a female, after which he dies, sometimes being eaten by his mate.
Tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta (pictured here feeding on a pepper plant), and tomato hornworms, Manduca quinquemaculata, are big green caterpillars—not worms in the sense of earthworms. They have white slashes along their bodies, a horn on the tip of their butt, and can get up to 3-4 inches long. Hornworms feed on members of the nightshade family—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tobacco, and potatoes. In spite of their names, both of these species will happily eat any of these crops. They are quite impressive beasts and can eat a lot of foliage in a short period of time. Bad guys in the garden!
Here’s the good guy (gal, again)—a wasp called a braconid. When the female braconid is ready to lay her eggs, she goes in search of a hornworm. She has a long ovipositor (egg depositor) sticking out of her abdomen that she sticks into the caterpillar. The eggs are laid inside the hornworm where they hatch into larvae and grow, eating the caterpillar from the inside. The hornworm stops eating and eventually dies. After the larvae have had their fill, they turn into pupae and build a cocoon around themselves when they emerge from the hornworm. In the picture here, the hornworm has lots of little rice grain sized cocoons sticking to it. Eventually, each one of these pupae will undergo metamorphosis like a butterfly. But instead of a big, beautiful butterfly, it will become a wasp—beautiful in its own right—that will go on to parasitize another hornworm someday.
As for the hornworm, it’s not all bad either. True, it’s a bad guy when it’s eating a lot of tomato leaves. But if it pupates successfully and undergoes metamorphosis, it will emerge as a sphinx moth or hawk moth, sometimes even called a hummingbird moth. Its job in the garden is to pollinate flowers while it gathers nectar. No pollination, no fruit. So the larvae may eat the leaves, but the adults help to make the tomatoes.
When: Saturday August 4th at 6:15 (farm tour) 7:00 dinner
Where: Elodie Farms 9522 Hampton Road Rougemont, NC 27572
The Event: A four course meal prepared with vegetables sourced from Four Leaf Farm and chickens from Sunset Farms. The goal is to represent Rose’s view of the importance of using whole animals and making every part count. The menu will takes influence from the Japanese approach to chicken cookery. The courses will reflect the different parts of the chicken, the skin, the breast, the thighs, and the bones. The final menu will be released when we have a better idea of what veggies will be available. Please join us for our second dinner of the summer and look for more in the coming months.
For more details please check Rose's Meat Market and Sweet Shop's website. http://ow.ly/cwcGc
We hope to see you there.
by Norm Budnitz
I’ll say it flat out, “I like okra!”
Some people say it’s too slimy. Others simply say, “Yuck!” The methods of cooking okra for long periods of time that result in a mucilaginous goo leave me wanting something different. I don’t mind stewed okra and tomatoes, just like I’m willing to tolerate eating other veggies that are cooked for a long time, if there’s nothing else available. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are quick and easy ways to cook okra that are simply delicious. As it is, I spend enough time with my okra in the field; I want short and sweet and eat in the kitchen. Read on, recipe at the end.
Okra is a tropical plant in the mallow family, related to cotton, cacao, and hibiscus. I’ve seen it growing profusely in roadside ditches in Madagascar. It thrives in our North Carolina clay soils and hot, hot, hot summers, so long as it has sufficient water. By summer’s end, some plants will be 10-12 feet tall with stems as big around as your wrist! Frost, of course, does them in. They are tropical, after all.
Okra flowers are beautiful. They are 3-4 inches across, bright yellow, with deep red or purple centers. The plants typically bloom in the morning, the flowers fading as the day wears on. One flower lasts one day and results in one okra pod. My job is to pick them before the pods get too big. Perhaps one of the reasons for the tradition of cooking okra so long is because when the pods get big, they get tough and fibrous. I don’t like that. So I try to pick our okra no longer than 3-4 inches. The problem is that the plants seem to know that. They seem to wait till I’m not looking and suddenly produce pods that go from about an inch to as long as an ear of corn in almost no time at all. I argue with the plants, but they don’t seem to listen. They just grow taller and make bigger pods as soon as I turn my back.
Though they make those pretty flowers and growing stunningly quickly, the plants have a dark side. It seems that they don’t like people. I learned this the hard way. I had one of those one-trial-learning experiences. On a hot, sunny day, I decided to pick okra bare-handed in a short-sleeved shirt. May I humbly recommend that you DO NOT do this. The pods are often deep inside the plant near the stem, so I dove in with my bare hands, bare arms, and bare face. Okra leaves are covered with tiny hairs (I guess you could call them bristles) that cause many humans to itch, particularly me. The stinging and itching were unbelievable—on my arms, hands, cheeks, forehead, and even my neck. Now, even if it’s 90° and 90% humidity, I wear my long-sleeved ‘picking shirt,’ rubber gloves, and a hat. And I do not stick my head into the okra patch.
In spite of okra’s defensive tactics, I love these plants. When they are young, I have to bend over to harvest them. Oh, my aching back. When they are old and 10 feet tall, I have to reach up and pull the tops down in order the clip the pods. Oh, my aching shoulders. But still, I love them. And here’s why:
Roasted or Grilled Okra
by Bryan Christopher
2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes
4 cloves garlic*
2 tsp salt
crushed red pepper, to taste
1 big can of diced tomatoes or 2 cups Christopher Sauce or 2 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced
12 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 pound roughly-grated ricotta salata**
1 box short, tubular pasta, like penne or rigatoni
*If you're using a premade sauce (that already includes garlic) instead of tomatoes, consider reducing or omitting the garlic
**Ricotta salata is salted sheep's milk ricotta cheese. It's much more firm than regular ricotta. Substituting ricotta produces a smooth, creamy sauce that's different in texture but equally raucous. Another option is to substitute another firm, salty cheese like pecorino romano.
1. Placed the diced eggplant and salt in a strainer with a bowl underneath, then put something heavy on top. Let the eggplant sit for an hour. During this time, the salt will pull the bitter juices from the eggplant pieces into the bowl underneath the strainer.
2. Fill the bottom of a saucepan with 1/4" of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot (test it), add the eggplant.
3. Stir the eggplant frequently as it fries, being careful not to break the pieces. Add more oil if necessary. When the eggplant has turned golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towel to dry.
**Note: now would be a good time to begin boiling your pasta water
4. Discard the vegetable oil from the pan. Wipe the pan clean and return it to medium heat.
5. Add 2 tbs olive oil to the now empty saucepan. Just before the oil begins to smoke, add the garlic. As the garlic begins to brown, add the crushed red pepper and let simmer for 30 seconds.
6. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens, 5-10 minutes.
7. When the sauce has reached its desired consistency, add the eggplants and fresh basil and let the sauce simmer on low heat for 5 more minutes.
8 Serve the sauce over pasta and garnish with grated cheese and additional basil.
This was originally posted on Bryan Christopher's blog. He was kind to share it with Four Leaf Farm.
by Norm Budnitz
Or perhaps more appropriately, rotation, rotation, rotation.
Closely related plants tend to be susceptible to similar diseases and insect pests. For example, the caterpillars that eat cabbages are quite happy to gnaw away at cauliflower as well. Both of these crops are members of the mustard family (the Brassicaceae, for the vowel lovers among you), along with kale, broccoli, kohl-rabi, Brussels sprouts, collards, turnips, and radishes.
The fungus-like organism (Phytophthora infestans, for you consonant lovers) that causes ‘late blight’ was responsible for destroying the potato harvest in Ireland in the 1840s, resulting in part in the Great Irish Famine. That same organism attacked tomato plants in the eastern US a couple of years ago. Potatoes and tomatoes, along with peppers and eggplants, are members of the nightshade family, the Solanaceae. But so are belladonna (aka deadly nightshade), jimson weed, mandrake, and a number of other plants that produce some chemicals that can be quite toxic to humans. Tobacco is also in this family. I’ll let you decide into which group to put it.
Here at Four Leaf Farm, we grow lots of crops from both of these families. And there is a third family well-represented in our gardens as well, the Cucurbitaceae—squashes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, gourds, and even luffas.
It is good farming practice to move these crops around in our gardens, so that no member of a given family grows in the same spot where another member of that family just finished growing. For example, it is not a good idea to grow tomatoes in a section of the garden where we have just dug potatoes. Or if we have grown squash in one section this year, next year we will grow them in another section. In other words, we ‘rotate’ our crop families.
So here’s a puzzle for you. On Norm’s land, we cultivate 4 plots of garden space (about 1/8 acre each). We mostly grow members of the 3 families described above (cabbage relatives, squash relatives, and tomato relatives). The cabbage family crops like cool weather, so we grow them in one whole section in the spring and in a different whole section in the fall (never in the same section). Potatoes like it cool, too, so they get a whole section to themselves in the spring as well. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants like it hot, so they go in for the summer, one whole section, but not where potatoes have grown recently. Squash do their own thing, get a whole section in the summer, and they can follow either of the other two families.
Three families. Three seasons. Four sections. How would you set up the rotation? Oh, and by the way, we also squeeze in a couple of rows of other crops, too—okra (mallow family, along with cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus), edamame or green soybeans (legume family, along with peas and other beans), and sweet corn (a grass, like wheat and oats). And if we have some time between plantings, we put in a cover crop like buckwheat or ryegrass.
So how would you set up the rotation? I dare you to try.
[FUN WITH WORDS. For those of you who like to read out loud in your heads, you may be wondering how to pronounce the ‘-aceae’ ending on those family names. Here’s one way: a (as in ‘hay’), suh (as in ‘yes, suh’), ee (as in ‘seed’). “Yes, suh. I’m a hay seed, suh.” ‘aceae’—a suh ee. Try it. You’ll like it. Try the names above. Then try these: Chenopodiaceae (the ‘ch’ has a ‘k’ sound, these are things like beets, chard, and spinach); Scrophulariaceae (snapdragons); and my personal favorite, Bignoniaceae (trumpet vine).]
by Zach Schreiber
2 cups dices raw potatoes (red or russet)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks washed and chopped into 1/2 inch rounds
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 ¾ cups of cream or sour cream or a mix of both
3 pieces of crispy bacon
1. Boil potatoes in salted water until soft, then drain.
2. Sauté leeks in butter on medium heat until soft.
3. Combine remaining ingredients with potatoes and leeks and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Garnish with chopped bacon or some delicious Pea Shoot Pesto (see recipe below).
Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Pea Shoot Pesto
2 packed cups pea shoots (from Four Leaf Farm, of course)
¼ cup mint leaves (we’ve got these too)
¼ cup pecans
3 medium cloves of garlic
1 ½ lime, juiced
1 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup grated parmesan
Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy.
Tempura Squash Blossoms
For the Tempura batter combine:
1 cup flour
1 cup ice cold club soda
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Heat vegetable fryer oil to 375 F (2 inches of oil if using cast iron pan).
2. Dredge blossoms in tempura batter and fry until lightly browned (about 3 minutes) turning after 1-1.5 minutes.