Hi Everybody: For years now we’ve called the mixed produce boxes that we have been packing and selling as “mystery boxes.” So, why?
It’s an inside joke, I guess; sometimes it’s a “mystery” to me as to how we’ll get the produce harvested, packed, and delivered on time. A lot of things can happen between the time I give Shelley the list of what I intend/hope to put in the box and the moment that the cartons are opened and emptied by the home cooks. We strive to deliver value to our supporters in every box, but sometimes nailing an explicit list made days in advance down to the last letter and leaf can be challenging. Maybe I made a mistake when I looked at the fields and calculated the yields and we came up short on a promised item. Or maybe a sudden freeze, rainstorm, heat wave, or hail storm ruined the produce I’d planned on picking, and I have to improvise. Or maybe there’s a power outage the day of the pick and we can’t pump water to wash muddy produce or water the crops that are still in the ground….and it’s really hot. Or the field conditions are optimal but, since we don’t have a big crew, if somebody gets sick and can’t work we’re short-handed. Or somebody’s child has to go home from school and the parent can’t stay at work because they can’t find child care at the last minute, so we end up one person short. And, because all of our people ride share, if a driver has an issue we may lose the entire car load of workers who no longer have a way to get to work. There are a lot of potential issues that can unfold during a busy day that affect the composition of the final box. But sometimes all the stars line up and everything gets harvested just as I planned- today is one of those days- and the only mysteries remaining are for the people who receive the harvest box and ask themselves, “what is this? What do I do?” Here are some thoughts in case you’re mystified.
1. Little Gem lettuce: They make great salad lettuces but Gems can also be cooked too. See “Chinese Lettuce” below.
2. “Celtuce” aka Chinese Lettuce: The Chinese appreciate the stems on their lettuce because they can be chopped into coins and stir fried. The leaves can be cooked as well, but also serve well in salads.
3. Italian Parsley: I like to pick parsley with long stems. Parsley is a close cousin to celery. If you look at the parsley stem and imagine it to be vastly fatter you can see the family resemblance. Sure, parsley leaves are fine for salads and seasoning, but the minced stems have lots of flavor and can sub for celery in many dishes.
4. Beans: Whatever kind you get this week, be they Cranberry, or White or Scarlet runner beans, remember that these beans are very fresh and won’t take nearly as long to cook as the dried beans from the supermarket, which can be quite old by the time you buy them. There is no need to soak these beans overnight. I learned to just boil the beans until tender in unsalted water, then add any seasonings you might want later. For me, a pat of salted butter and some black pepper is enough for a satisfying bowl of beans. Easy!
5. French Breakfast radishes: Radishes for breakfast? I don’t know about that, but they’re great raw or cooked like baby turnips. Cook the radish greens or use in salads.
6. Meyer Lemons: Yes, Meyer lemons are sweeter than Eureka or Lisbon lemons, but don’t forget that half the flavor is in the peel, not the juice. I’ve been making simple syrups by cooking the zested rinds with sugar water. The lemon infused simple syrup is great for lemonade or limoncello. Lemon zest can jazz up shortbread cookies too. I use lemon juice instead of vinegar in many of the salads that I make.
7. Pomegranates: Yes, pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, so they make a healthy addition to salads or to eat out of hand, but they can also be juiced to make a killer cocktail when antioxidants sound boring. We garnish guacamole with pomegranate seeds too, and they can be a nice surprise in a green salad.
8. Winter Squash: Some of you may receive a “Doran” squash, which is a small, round Butternut variety, and some of you may receive a Napolitano squash, which is a larger, longer Butternut type. Either way, these squash make great pies, soups, and roasted dishes, and they can be stored for a year if kept in a cool, dry place. Both of these squash types are open pollinated, heirloom crops, so if you’re a gardener you can save the seeds from the ones you receive and plant them next year.
9. Red Beets: Beets are great, but too many people forget that the greens are as good as chard. In fact, beets are the SAME PLANT as chard- Beta vulgaris- beets just have fat roots. The beets would be nice roasted with the French Breakfast radishes, the round carrots, and any potatoes you have lying around.
10. Round Carrots : These small, round, sweet carrots eat well out of hand, but their shape helps them roast well, and they’re also good for blowing little kids’ minds, because their shape is surprising.
11. Spigariello: This kale cousin is actually better at being kale than most varieties of kale are; the leaves are tender, cook fast in the wok or pot and they make a nice layering leaf in a veggie lasagna. The plant is Brassica oleracea- exactly the same as kale- so it can honestly be used to make a kale salad that is better than kale salad.
12. Arugula: Yes, arugula is good for salads and pesto dishes, but this mustard green marries well with the Peanut based sauces that show up in Thai food.
One of the big mysteries remaining for me is “how mild and negotiable is this winter weather going to be?” I’ll find out in the fullness of time. For now we’re planting like there are going to be no problems. Spinach is sizing up, cauliflowers are buttoning up inside their big floppy leaves, the broccoli is thinking about heading up and green garlic is almost ready to plant. Thanks, Andy
© 2020 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.