Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You say potato...

The sun tried its hardest to make us believe it really is summer for the past week, but today turned again-- cool & rainy. We just got 1 1/2 inches of rain last night. Which is great for most of the vegetables in the field-- they had been getting a bit thirsty so I had started irrigating again. But the tomatoes aren't happy at all. In fact I think I heard them groaning as the storm clouds approached. Moist, overcast days are exactly what tomato plants fear most-- because it leaves them very vulnerable to fungal infections. Like Phytophthera infestins (Late Blight).

The Cornell Cooperative Extension expert was out at the farm last week. My tomato plants have Late Blight & Early Blight... and the potatoes have Late Blight too. Early Blight is something that most tomatoes get and deal with-- it kills them slowly, yellowing the lower leaves first-- and you can still harvest a bit. But Late Blight apparently moves quicker. A farmer who had it on his tomatoes a few years ago said that his plants just melted, and he lost the whole crop.

The expert suggested I spray Potassium Bicarbonate, which is organic & basically like baking soda-- it dries out the leaves so that the spores of the blight cannot spread as quickly. So I bought a backpack sprayer & tried it. It takes a long time to spray 1200 feet of tomatoes, and another long time to spray 1200 feet of potatoes. And there's not even a guarantee that it will work.

So what does all this mean for CSA members of Mud Creek Farm? Well, we'll start with potatoes. You will get plenty of early "new potatoes" but maybe not as many storage potatoes.

"New Potatoes"
Immature potatoes harvested during the spring or summer are called new potatoes. New potatoes are not a separate variety of potato, but younger versions of other varieties. We are harvesting most of our potatoes early because it is uncertain when the Late Blight will take the plants down! And because they're so delicious...

The skin of new potatoes is generally thinner and flakier than the skin found on older potatoes. For this reason, new potatoes are rarely if ever peeled before cooking. Restaurants and cafeterias use special machines with rotating abrasive wheels to remove some of the peels from new potatoes, but home cooks may just want to wash the new potatoes thoroughly and keep them unpeeled.

New potatoes can be stored at room temperature, but because they have not been cured, they won't last as long as regular potatoes -- several days instead of several weeks. When refrigerated, the starch will begin to convert to sugar, so if they're chilled for very long they'll taste sweet. Make sure you always store potatoes out of direct sunlight, because they will turn green, become bitter & inedible.

Because new potatoes are very small in size, they are well-suited to boiling and roasting. Boiled new potatoes retain their shape and texture, and can be seasoned to match the overall tone of the meal.

Steam new potatoes in a tightly closed pot until they are tender enough to be pierced with a knife, about 12 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, beat together 2 tablespoons softened (not melted) butter and some chopped onions or scallions and herbs (parsley and savory are particularly good). When the potatoes are cooked but before they cool, toss them in the herb butter and stir to coat well. Serve hot.

Okay. Now the tomato report. A few of them are starting to ripen, very very, very slowly. The brown spots of the blight are jumping from leaf to leaf, and will soon be on the stems. Some of the flowers are turning brown & falling off. If we get a few tomatoes harvested, they probably won't keep more than a few days before they also start turning brown. Is this stuff pretty depressing?
I think so-- tomatoes are pretty great. A tomato-less summer seems dismal. When I start getting sad about it, I think about all the other crops we're growing here that are completely healthy and in fact incredibly bounteous!

Watermelons & canteloupes are as big as softballs right now, cucumbers are loaded with flowers & inch-long fruit, eggplants are growing quickly & look very healthy, peppers are coming in very soon-- green sweet peppers & hot peppers (red comes later), beans both green and purple, summer squash kicking out tons of zucchinis, yellows, and UFO-shaped patty pans, beets rolling in from all corners of the field, bunches of carrots popping out really soon, and sweet corn? Yes! I planted sweet corn. Kind of an experiment-- we'll see how it goes. The stalks look healthy and I saw a tassell yesterday. And did I mention the onions? Oh boy, we have some onions. Big onions. Hopefully all these sweet summer offerings will more than fill the void that the tomatoes have left.

Being part of a CSA farm means that you get to swing along with the ups and downs of a growing season which is entirely dependent on the local weather-- sometimes one crop will suffer and another will benefit. That is why I am growing 45+ kinds of vegetables-- kind of a buffer against things like the Irish Potato famine. I hope that you all have been exploring the creative joys of cooking these myriad veggies! Thanks,
-Farmer Erin

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