From the Farmer

Week 8 – 7/8/2015
In Your Share Last Week
We were pleasantly surprised last week to add sweet corn to our shares.  We haven’t grown much sweet corn to date largely for space considerations – corn takes up a lot of real estate and the margins tend to be thin – instead we’ve grown small amounts of the crop the last two years to get the hang of it in anticipation of expanding onto new land next year.  
Where I come from we’d say that corn should be “knee high by Fourth of July.”  Last summer we had a nice crop later in the summer, and this year we decided to see if we couldn’t turn that saying on its head: we wanted sweet corn for the Fourth.  I looked at the crop three weeks ago, though, and was ready to mow it down; the plants were short, the ears looks small, and a few ears with the ripening tell seemed to be instead far from good.  “This crop is a failure”, I said, and a combination of negligence and hope kept me from tilling it in.  We were rewarded.  We had our crop, just in for the week of the Fourth.
Of the three rounds of corn we planted to pick over several weeks, all three have ripened within a week and a half of each other.  It may be that the earliest plantings can really wait – sometimes we find that plants have their own schedule and that trying to push the season is one of those “strutting to and fro” kind of deals, where we end of being busy for busy sake.  Maybe we learned something there.  While our own sweet corn may not last long this year, we expect to have other local sweet corn at the Farm Stand this summer.
In Your Share this Week
New in shares this week: eggplant and green peppers.  Eggplant is an underappreciated vegetable.  They are striking in dark purple, white, green, variegated varieties; reason enough for us to grow them.  Heather M. also really likes them, which is second reason enough.  I will admit to being an ambivalent eggplant grower in the past, though the plants are beautiful and the fruit so rewarding, I don’t always give it the attention it really deserves, and I sometimes even hate myself for this.  It is in fact a challenge, and I like farming challenges and have found myself really admiring the plants and endeavoring to be a more attentive grower.  Many if not all crops I really enjoy making food with, and I’ve always been hesitant myself to eat eggplant without first being breaded, hot waxed with cheese and smeared with marinara sauce.  
Eggplant grew wild in India before being cultivated in China long BC.  They traveled east to Japan and west to Africa before the Middle Ages and then continued on to Italy and throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Centuries later they made it to Italian-American menus to star as celebrity vegetarian entrees.
It turns out there is such thing as progress.  Those original varieties were far more bitter than modern ones, so much so that eggplant had the reputation for causing insanity, leprosy, and cancer.  Most things did in the Middle Ages, of course, and we now know just how to prepare this beautiful thing.  
Eggplant is pleasantly bitter and has a spongy texture, and it balances the flavors of other ingredients well.  The trick is to prepare them correctly.  (Or to fry them deeply).  Here are a few tips:
  • Eggplant don’t like to be too cold nor too hot.  Ideal storage for eggplant is 50° F.  Do not slice before you store it – it doesn’t keep well!  Do not wash it either – if you need to put it in the refrigerator, put it in the crisper or a plastic bag to keep it humid.  Careful not to damage it, it is fragile.
  • Use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel reacts with an eggplant’s biochemistry.  Wash and cut off the ends.
  • You can sweat the eggplant to tenderize and to remove some of its natural bitterness.  Cut into pieces and sprinkle with salt on your countertop.  Let these sit for half an hour.  
  • Rinse with water after sweating.  
  • Viola, you can bake, roast or steam.
You can also bake eggplant whole (try 350° F for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size).  Pierce it with a fork several times if you bake it whole.
We grow eggplant of several sizes and shapes; some are larger and deep purple and some are smaller like fingerling sweet potatoes.  Try baking these as a side dish, or slice into rounds and add to a versatile dish like stir-fry, vegetable casserole, risotto…
Peppers.  It seems to me folks are also either green pepper lovers or green pepper haters.  Indeed.  Green peppers are crisp and tart and they add crunch to your meal.  Green peppers are, in fact, unripe peppers – as with a green tomato, if they stay on the pepper plant long enough they will turn red, orange or yellow and will sweeten, too (remember from biology class, fruits ripen to attract consumers).  In those extra weeks the fruit is exposed to sunscald, pests, disease, and farmer anxiety.  Farmer therapy bills explain the high price of red peppers as compared to green.
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Willowsford Conservancy

41025 Willowsford Lane, Aldie, VA 20105

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23595 Founders Drive, Ashburn, VA 20148

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