One of the delights of visiting your local farmers market is to observe the march of produce across the months, throughout the year. Each season provides an opportunity to discover extraordinary varieties of ordinary fare. Garlic scapes, with their wildly twisted shapes are a perfect, early summer example of this. As a member of the allium family, they are not only delicious but also have healthful properties, similar to garlic itself.
Throughout history, Allium sativum has enjoyed a reputation rich in folklore for its magical and medicinal properties. A member of the lily family, which includes onions, chives, shallots and leeks, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants, appearing as a staple in the Sumerian diet according to Sanskrit documents written over 5000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman literature is rich with reference to garlic acting as an aphrodisiac as well as promoting health, courage and bravery.
Current research supports a role for garlic in enhancing immune function and improving health. Allium sativum is being studied extensively for its potentially protective role in the initiation, development and progression of cancer and heart disease. The beneficial compounds thought to be functioning in these processes are referred to as phytochemicals or plant chemicals and may be acting as antioxidants, tumor suppressants, or detoxifying agents. The compounds have been studied in several forms, as isolated supplements or as a whole plant. Not surprisingly, it has been the whole plant, delivered as part of a healthful diet, which has proven to be most effective in the process being studied. A vegetarian diet is rich in phytochemicals including indoles, phenols, isothiocyanates, flavones, coumarins, plant sterols and stanols, ascorbic acid, carotenes, retinols and tocophereols, which continue to be studied for their evident roles in supporting immune function and reducing the risk and effects of chronic disease.
The firm yet pliable slender green stems of garlic scapes, complete with unopened flower buds, have a fresh, mildly garlicky flavor and crisp texture. Scapes can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. Sliced or chopped into a salad, their flavor is subtle and their crunchy texture holds up well with dressings. Added to sliced sweet peppers and mushrooms for a quick stir-fry, they can top any cooked whole grain for a satisfying meal.
When cooked a bit longer, scapes become soft and quite mild, losing some of their initial twisted charm but imparting deliciousness quite unlike garlic, leeks or onions. Soup made from a few potatoes, vegetable broth, three or four hands-full of scapes and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper can be pureed into an elegant offering, served either warm or chilled, and topped with the garlic buds.
I’ve included a photo of gorgeous scapes, freshly picked from my good friend’s garden. Garlic scapes arrive and disappear quite quickly from early summer markets, so don’t miss out this spring!
Nothing says summer like fresh fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of the season by feasting on local, fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t like to garden? Not a problem! Many communities in the United States offer at least one of the following options:
Farmers markets offer fresh picked produce grown by local farmers. Produce availability will depend on the season and what grows best in your area. Depending on the ethnic diversity of your community, you may even be able to sample produce you have never heard of before.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an opportunity to buy into a farm without actually running it. Shareholders usually pay in advance or through monthly installments and are provided with a box of produce on a weekly or every other week basis which is dropped off at a designated site. Some CSAs offer reduced prices if you volunteer to work on the farm. Many CSAs also offer extra perks like half-boxes for busy people or couples, newsletters and recipe ideas that use the produce grown on the farm, and special events like picnics or berry picking outings.
Pick-Your-Own Farms are a great way to get some exercise while you pick your own food straight off the farm. It is best to call the farm ahead of time to find out whether they have enough crops to pick that day. Also, remember to bring your sunscreen, a hat, and some water so you don’t get sunburned.
If you wind up with too much produce, never fear! Buying food when it is fresh and then canning or freezing it for later use is a great way to help bring memories of warm, sunny days to cold, winter nights.
October in the upper Midwest is usually the time for final fall harvests from the garden. The last of the tomatoes are gathered and processed. Herbs are cut and dried. Apples of all varieties are picked for snacking enjoyment. Annual trips to corn mazes are planned and taken and golden trophies are carefully chosen and carried or carted from the pumpkin patch.
I am fortunate to have grown up in and continue to live in an area that is rich in agriculture. I can attend a farmer’s market almost any day of the week from May through October. Although I have not always considered myself as such, I feel blessed knowing that I have a connection to the land and to its bounty, one than many Americans who live in literal “food deserts” are not able to enjoy. Even worse, some don’t even know that they are missing this connection.
But I also have hope and a sense of responsibility to share the harvest with others. There are many opportunities out there. In my hometown our farmer’s market has a collection table where extra produce can be purchased and donated so that people who many not be able to afford it can enjoy fresh produce. We have several local gardens located in inner-city neighborhoods where people of all walks of life are welcome to work and eat from the land. Local nurseries, garden centers, master gardener groups, libraries, and technical colleges offer a variety of classes on gardening from container gardening to straw bale gardening, composting to seed saving. Even at work, people bring in grocery bags full of fresh produce from apples to zucchini. We share recipes on turning green tomatoes into mock raspberry jam, swap heirloom seeds, and talk about what the deer and rabbits got away with this season. Even in October we plan ahead with the eternal optimism of micro-farmers, looking ahead to what is possible next season.
As lovers of the earth and its bounty I encourage us to “share our harvest.” It might be a recipe for using a seasonal fruit or vegetable. Or perhaps it is saving and sharing seeds with friends, co-workers, and neighbors. It could even be just talking about our experiences with a garden, no matter how big or small that garden is. Talking about the fruits of our labors is a wonderful way to spread our passion for plant based living.
As daylight changes, subtly signaling the approach of fall, we can comfort ourselves against the loss of summer with anticipation of autumn harvest.
This is the time of year when a magical little golden fruit within a paper lantern package begins to appear in farmers’ markets. Once widely cultivated, ground cherries are enjoying new recognition as we rediscover their clean, sweet, citrusy flavor and explore the many ways to incorporate them into our late summer fare.
Ground cherries grow globally in warm to temperate climates; some being perennial, and others, annual fruits and are used for both culinary and ornamental purposes. North American ground cherries, physalis pruinosa, are one of more than a hundred different species, a quarter of which are native to the United States. Similar in appearance to orange/yellow cherry tomatoes, this fruit grows on a more stiff stemmed small shrub and has a papery covering, husk or cape. Physalis peruviana is a larger variety native to South America while Central America produces p. philadelphia. The latter’s fruit can be green, yellow, red or purple; the green fruit more commonly known as tomatillo or tomate verde. This last species is probably one of the oldest cultivated ground cherries in the Americas. P. alkekengi is the striking, large orange ‘Chinese lantern’ that appears in so many ornamental arrangements in the autumn.
The ground cherry is a member of the nightshade family, solanacea, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. The immature plants contain solanine, a toxic substance that should not be eaten.
The flavor of ground cherries has been compared to strawberry but with distinctly unique tartness and subtle hints of pineapple and mango. They may be enjoyed raw, straight off the vine, dried, frozen or cooked into pies, jams, chutneys and sauces. The many uses for this versatile fruit are limited only by the cook’s imagination. If left in their husk, they will keep for up to 6 months in a well ventilated spot, although they also freeze well.
This fruit has the same healthful properties as tomatoes; low in calories but high in nutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, especially those associated with the color orange. Its vitamin A, C and niacin content rank it among the most nutrient dense for fruit with these nutrients. One ounce has approximately 16 calories and 0.5 grams of protein. Based on a 2000-calorie diet, the RDA for vitamin A provided is 4%, vitamin C, 5% and niacin, 4%.
Native Americans as well as the American pioneers included ground cherries in their diets. The Chinese used them as a remedy for sore throats, coughs, fevers and abscesses.
The simplest way to use the cherry is to gently hold it between your index finger and thumb, near the stem-end. Applying pressure will help the fruit to pop out of its protective papery husk, straight into your mouth! If you really want to share this treat, slice it into a summer salad along with all the other vegetables and fruits ripening now; tomatoes, peaches, berries and herbs. Season with good quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon or lime, and enjoy. Adding cooked grains and dried beans will take the salad to the level of entree.