We had the opportunity to spend some time this week with Orie’s Farm Fresh to learn more about what they grow, how they grow it, and how they eat it. We got a great recipe too that you can learn about near the end of the video!
We are squarely in the middle of the “spring” (read: summer) beet season here in south central Kansas. Beets are typically planted in the early spring for harvest in early to mid-summer. Then a second crop is planted in late July for fall harvest.
I never liked beets growing up. We boiled them or boiled them with the saucy stuff. Ugh. Then I grew up and was introduced to roasted baby beets mixed with other root veggies and seasoning. Yum. And gold and white and candy stripe beets. Yum. And then I got crazy and went down the – beet smoothie, beet ice cream, borscht, beet pickles – happy path to beet-land.
And then kids came along. And life got crazy. And beets…well, here’s the dirty secret about beets. As delightful as they are once you find a way you like to eat them, almost any recipe or preparation other than “cook and eat” requires the first step of roasting or steam-boiling or par-roasting or some other cooking process. Because beets are hard and crunchy, and to do fun things with them, you have to cook them first. And it’s not fast – it can take 1+ hours to roast some beets to the fork-tender stage. So not only do you have to find time for your beet recipe, you also have to find time to cook the beets first and then make your recipe. Beets didn’t fit into my schedule, as much as I wanted them to.
Then this past fall, we added an electric pressure cooker to our stash of kitchen appliances. And a few weeks ago, I was looking at the beautiful piles of beets at the farmers’ market, and realized…I can do those in the pressure cooker.
Ironically, the pressure cooker isn’t much different from the boiling that I scorned in my childhood. But it does get the beets cooked and ready for the next step faster, and fast is more important than the beautiful flavor profiles of roasting.
Here’s the quick directions: trim, halve or quarter the beets (depending on the size), and put them in a pressure cooker with one cup of water. Seal and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Then you can let the beets cool a bit and easily slip the peels off. Super easy, relatively fast, no hot oven during the summer.
Once your beets are cooked, the sky is the limit for beet recipes. The first thing I tried? Refrigerator beet pickles.
1. Slice the cooked beets.
2. Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar and 1 part water. (Enough to cover the beets.)
3. Place vinegar and water in a saucepan. Add one cinnamon stick, a pinch of salt, 1/3 cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of whole cloves or whole allspice. I didn’t have any allspice and only a single lonely clove, so I substituted a whole star anise pod.
4. Bring the mixture to a slight boil and make sure the sugar is fully dissolved.
5. Pour over the sliced beets and refrigerate for 24-48 hours for flavors to develop.
The result? Yummy home pickled beets that took a little time, but a lot less time than they could have.
If you’ve looked at our list of “What’s In Season?” and then looked at your garden or a planting calendar, you may be wondering how it is possible for all of these things to be in season at the markets for our local farmers? Are they cheating? Are they using some type of magic or witchcraft? Do they know something that the average Kansas gardener doesn’t know?
The answer is No! No! And Maybe!
Many of our local produce growers are using season extension techniques to help them beat the Kansas weather – spring, summer, and fall. I have been very impressed with the wide array of produce that is available locally, despite a pretty challenging spring of early warm, then rain, then cold, then more rain.
Some of the season extension techniques that local producers use include overwintering crops, row covers (low tunnels), hoophouses (high tunnels), and greenhouses.
In the early spring, the farmers bringing spinach and carrots to the market were most likely harvesting from plants that were planted last fall, either outside or under cover.
Farmers can use row covers or low tunnels to protect crops from unseasonable cold spells and keep things just a little warmer, enabling earlier harvests of spring leafy greens and root vegetables. These covers can also sometimes be used to help exclude insects or provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer. They can also protect plants from the worst of the Kansas wind and prevent grit and dirt from getting into hard-to-clean places.
An increasing number of our local farmers are also using high tunnels to get their crops ready for market earlier in the spring. A high tunnel is simply an unheated, lower cost greenhouse where the vegetables are still planted in natural soil. They rely on the sun to warm the air and soil inside the tunnel, allowing vegetables, fruits, and flowers to be planted earlier than normal, or even grow throughout the winter. Then the plastic covering keeps the warm air inside when the temperatures drop each night.
Another benefit to the high tunnel is that when we have rainy weather, the crops are protected. They don’t get washed away or drowned. They just happily keep on growing! (And it’s more enjoyable for the farmer to work and harvest too!) By keeping the rain off, it also prevents a lot of diseases and other weather related problems that we experience in our outdoor gardens.
Growers using high tunnels in the summer for tomatoes tend to have more tomatoes to harvest with fewer cracks. Using shade cloth can also help keep plants cool and productive during the worst of our Kansas heat. If you remember the awful, hot, dry summers of 2011-2012, when it was too hot for most of us to have tomatoes, farmers using high tunnels had more tomato production than those relying strictly on field production.
The other way that producers circumvent the crazy weather is by using greenhouses. The main difference between a high tunnel and a greenhouse from a production standpoint is that a greenhouse usually has a heating and cooling system. Some can even have supplemental lighting. This makes them completely independent of most of the vagaries of weather (beyond how much it costs to heat or cool). We also have several local producers using greenhouses and hydroponic systems to provide you with lettuces, tomatoes, and a few other crops throughout much of the year!
So now you know…it’s not cheating, magic, or trickery bringing great vegetables to your tables. It is science, technology, and farmer ingenuity making the best of our crazy Kansas weather!
We are into our 4th week of the asparagus season, and if you are like me, you are getting a little tired of the go-to roasted / grilled asparagus recipes. There’s a reason it’s a popular way to cook asparagus. It’s easy. It’s quick. It makes for tasty asparagus. But after eating it a couple times a week for 4 weeks, I’ll be honest that I’m a bit tired of it. But I still want to gorge on it while it’s in season, and I don’t have time for fancy risottos and soups and quiches on a regular weeknight. I found and modified this recipe for a quick dinner one night last week. It is a great way to use a bunch of herbs too. I used cilantro, mint, and tarragon. You could also use parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, or dill.