fa-fa-fabulous Fava Beans

Fa-Fa-Fa Fabulous fava beans. Hannibal Lector agrees. He considered them a delicacy, and so does most people from Mediterranean countries, from which the plant originates. I also think the big broad beans are great, and really enjoyed watching the plants grow. Fava beans are a new vegetable to me this year, and are top of my ranking for gorgeousness. The plants grow 4 feet tall, with a square stem, and alternating leaves. The flower is the most fabulous part, it has a black velvety eyes, and white winged petals. The bean grows along the stem, jutting straight out, and starting to curve downwards as the pod enlarges. The pod of the fava bean grows between 4 – 6 inches and looks like a giant pea pod, (which people mistaken at market all the time; sorry we don’t grow genetically modified oversized veggies at Wicklow Way). Once the pod is unzipped, by pulling the thread at the flower end, it reveals a pillowy white soft foam texture which cushions the beans perfectly. If I were a teeny tiny person, I would make a hammock out of a fava bean pod. They would call me the fava fairy!

Favas are a bit of a fairy in themselves, because the beans are extremely great for adding nutrients to the soil, especially nitrogen and can fix the soil, like a sprinkling of fairy dust. Favas are used as a cover crop. They are the hardiest legume and can withstand the cold fall and winter conditions. I’m sure once the beans are harvested after having a frost, the big beans are sweet and tender. In addition the beans can be try to use like a lima bean in many dishes.

I prefer eating the beans fresh, and can be used in a variety of dishes. In the field was a popping the broad beans into my mouth like candy, but in fact they taste like a small hint of coffee, this Is due to the tannins in the skin. Once the pod is opened there lies a light white greenish coloured bean, but this is not the preferred edible part. This bean should be blanched and shucked out of the skin to reveal the bright green bean inside, which is soft and juicy, and taste really fresh. Simply sautéed in olive oil/butter with garlic would be my preference because I like to taste vegetables in their best, almost pure essence.

Fava beans are often overlooked and underappreciated because of the time it takes to shell them, however they are praised by chefs everywhere and are worth a try. They can used in dishes with other vegetables that are in season at the same time, and can be made into a puree for dips, embedded with rice, tossed with pasta or as Greg and Elaina did on Sunday night, toss in olive oil and place on the BBQ until the outer pod is charred, then shuck and indulge, like edamame!

As I mentioned earlier, fava beans originated in the kitchens of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Morocco, but are also included in cuisine from Mexico and South America. It is more common to find fava beans dried in these parts of the world because they are protein packed and easier to store for preservation. Another way to find fava beans is in cans, which I recommend staying very far away from. It ruins the bean, turning it into mush, and is loaded with gooey preservatives that wiIMG_5356 IMG_5400 IMG_5401 IMG_5402 IMG_5130 IMG_5129 IMG_5128ll be bad for you. It would be interesting however, to can your own fava beans to save for a winter treat!

Merry Christmas in July from Wicklow Way Farm

MEEEERRRRY CHRISTMAS! Yep that’s right, today was Christmas at Wicklow way, except minus the cold snowy weather, the red and green lights, and a roast beast. We decided to have a spirit day at the farm, with a Christmas theme, just in time for Christmas, five months from today! Greg and Elaina decorated the dining tent, and indeed we did have a roast beast, but it was free range organic Thai spiced chickens! The rest of the meal was prepared by my Indian roommates, of lentil daal and aaloo gobhi (potatoes and cauliflower). Our lovely field manager Emily brought triple chocolate ice cream, and when we were stuffed to the brim, we exchanged secret Santa presents. It was a blast and everyone was giggling and bursting with gift receiving happiness. We wanted to have a holiday to show the Indian boys partially what Christmas is about in North America, and also to welcome our new team mate Chelsea to the farm.

I have been writing my blog for about a month now, and haven’t properly introduced all the Wicklow Way staff, (I’ve always been bad at introductions). So now is the perfect time, and here we go.

Gregory Hill bought the property in the small hamlet of Wicklow, just east of Grafton years ago for a comforting place to escape Toronto with his friends and enjoy the country. The property has many acres which Greg has cut out trails and built a small cottage in the middle of a tiny meadow, which now the artist garden is. Once he met Elaina they moved here full time and started developing the land for food cultivation. Greg is an excellent builder and has constructed all the structures on the farm, which includes his barn/workshop, chicken and goat homes, two small cottages for guests and our vegetable wash station. He is a talented man and takes care of all the infrastructure on the farm, which means he plows our fields with his beautiful Farmall red tractor, appropriately named Ruby. But ruby isn’t his only love, he adores his wife Elaina. His loves Elaina so much that he built her an outdoor brick oven in which to bake bread a few times a week for markets and csa boxes.IMG_4970

Elaina Asselin is also a Toronto escapee, where she worked in fine dining restaurants since her schooling in 1990. She has also spent many years being a baker and enjoying her quiet early mornings shaping dough. Now we find her Friday evenings preparing sourdough bread; four different varieties for markets on Saturdays, which are increasing in demand. Elaina is an extremely busy woman on the farm, and wears many hats. She milks her goats twice a day, makes our lunch every day, bakes cookies, grows sprouts, makes cheese, writes for the local magazine and the newsletter for CSA members, takes care of her young hyper puppy and over sees all tasks on the farm. With Elaina being the lovely queen bee, she works in partnership with our fantastic field manger Emily to make Wicklow Way successful, despite this weird weather we are having this summer.IMG_5264

Emily Keller is the sweet and smiley field manager of Wicklow way. She has grown food her whole life with her grandma when she was young, and on her own as she got older. A few years she has had her own market garden and sold roadside. Her and Elaina are the straight rows type of gals! Emily works extremely hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly; sowing seeds, taking care of the greenhouse, transplanting into the field, weeding, and harvesting, packaging, and organizing for csa boxes, the farmgate stand and markets. She carries a lot of responsibility and is always lovely to us, even though sometime she thinks her bark is worse than her bite. She is a soft gentle soul, and thanks us everyday for working hard. THANK YOU EMILY for being the best leader and so patient with us, your graciousness is appreciated. It’s not an easy job having a million things on her plate a day, and serving up staff, two if which are not from Canada.IMG_5225

Wicklow way has two interns from India this year, who are here attending Sir Sandford Fleming College in the Sustainable Agriculture program. Both the boys come from large conventional farms in the state of Punjabi and are here to learn organic practices to take home and convert their family’s land.

Simrat is a funny character and also the resident gangster! He likes to talk in different voices, make jokes and act silly. He is extremely smart and can always answer my questions about plants, name the latin names and most often their functions. He enjoys washing his hands before lunch, and is responsible for making Indian food for lunch on Thursdays. We have eaten well under his turmeric spiced spoon and he has taught me a lot of Punjabi cooking’s, including rice pudding, samosas and chapattis. Also he makes sure I learn Punjabi words, while I teach him Canadian slang. Simrat has a lot of family in North America and keeps in touch with them daily.IMG_5224

Gurpreet is the strong silent type. He speaks less around the farm, but when he does it’s most often something sentimental. Greg has taken Gurpreet under his wing, since he knows how to operate heavy machinery from home, and is eager to learn new things. Gurpreet is responsible for watering the fields, squashing Colorado potato beetle and tying up the tomatoes. When we get home from work, Gurpreet and I normally go adventuring around the property we live on, to find treasures washed up on the beach, skulls from deceased animals, roaming the barn, or planting things in our own garden.IMG_5385

It is fun to have a companion on my wild adventures. We live in a pretty secluded place, where not a lot happens. I am used to it and try to make the best of it! I have picked up the interest of wild edibles, and live in the perfect place for it. My backyard doesn’t have grass, only weeds, so it a food forest back there. I am also intrigued by permaculture, which simply explained is working with the landscape, and realising that every element affects every other element. Permanent culture.IMG_5339

Our new farm intern Chelsea is also interested in permaculture. She is from Colborne, which is the next town over, and where the big apple is located on the 401. She is a horticulture student from Algonquin College in Ottawa. While doing her studies she lost interest in being a perfect grass cutter or weed remover, but realised that a lot of the plants are edible and have a purpose. She is a small girl with a great work ethic, coming from a family of 10 children and employment in kitchens. She fits in with our team quite nicely, especially because she travelled to India and has lots to talk about with the boys.IMG_5387

The females now outnumber the males at Wicklow Way and I have to say, also out work them. The boys have mentioned that they are impressed with the woman in Canada, because we are strong and independent. Gurpreet has told me that woman would never enter the field in India, and I feel very proud for the profession I have chosen, the place I work, the sun on my back and the gorgeous food I help produce.

I want to thank all the staff at Wicklow Way for making this one of the best summers of my life, the most beneficial farming experiences I have had, and for being a great team. I am proud of us all! We are the team of the century; as Emily likes to call us.IMG_5298 IMG_5407 IMG_5410 IMG_5412 IMG_5414 IMG_5415 IMG_5416 IMG_5417

Beautiful Borage

Today I weeded all day, instead of driving to Toronto to drop off CSA boxes, like I normally do. My body felt like an 80 yr old who was thrown down a flight of stairs at the end of the day. However, I had a really fun time tackling weeds in the field today; acting like Rambo, hacking and slashing the tallest weeds with a machete and doing it with brute force as fast as I could. I enjoy weeding for the most part, because it is either a zen like experience where little thought is involved and I can think about other things (or nothing) or I can Mr.Clean a row until I fall over! At the end of today, I would estimate that I handled about 1000 weeds all together, including lambs quarters, pigweed, milkweed and thistle; the meanest plant of all.

So for today’s blog I am not going to talk about any of the wild edibles I encountered today, but a much more beautiful one, which we are growing intentionally at Wicklow Way. Borage is a hardy annual that is known for its gorgeous electric blue star shaped leaves. It is also known as starflower and has been an herbal remedy since ancient times. The health benefits of borage are well known, and is used as an alternative for relieving minor depression, effects of the heart, adrenal glands, kidneys and the entire digestive system. It has been used as a cure for jaundice.

Borage is known as a plant to lift the spirits and would be a great garnish in spirit drinks, along with in a salad or iced drinks. The flavour of borage is a light tinge of cucumber, to match the brilliant blue colour. The leaves can be eaten cooked like spinach, which takes the hairiness away from the constitution. The word borage is presumed to come from the Latin barra, meaning hairy garment, and in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, where this plant is plentiful, it is spelled with a double ‘r. In addition to eating the furry leaves and beautiful flowers, you can also consume the seeds of borage which are high in gamma-linolenic acid, which helps to regulate the hormonal systems and lowers blood pressure. It is used both internally and externally as it can relieve PMS and skin complaints. For fun the flowers can be crystalized to make candy.

Something else that I am interested in, is natural dyes and which plants provide the special properties to do so. Borage is one on the list, as you can make a blue dye from the flowers, and some people use to colour vinegar, although apparently it turns pink when contacted with acids.

Borage in the landscape is grown for it’s beauty, attracting bees and pollinators and can be a companion plant with tomatoes to deter hornworm and Japanese beetle, and also stimulates the growth of strawberries. It is best to plant when the soil warms up in the spring and will grow in any soil but prefers soil that is somewhat dry, however, can withstand shade. If you are lucky, borage will occasionally reseed itself, and return in the same spot as the previous year. It is important to pull the leaves off the plant before the flowers form, so the leaves will be young, tender and flavourful. Like any plant, once it starts to go to flower or seed head it changes the taste of the plant.

I have yet to try eating this cobalt blue plant, but I admire it every day when I see it growing. I will grow it in the future and add it to my list IMG_5291 IMG_5293of edible bouquet flowers.

Wild Edible Wednesday: Lamb’s Quaters

I have dedicated my Wednesday blog to wild edibles, which is appropriate because we do most of our weeding on Wednesdays as well. It’s the only day of the week we aren’t harvesting and preparing for CSA boxes or markets. The days get filled up pretty quickly with tasks to do around the farm, and sometimes the weeding gets pushed to the back burner. At the beginning of the year we tried to stay on top of the weeds, addressing them when they are small so they couldn’t get established. We run the rows with claws and hoop hoes, and the idea is to disrupt the roots so the sun can kill them off. However, when five acres are under cultivation, and the weeds grow faster than the vegetables then it’s easy to have more of the unwanted green stuff than expected. At this point in the season, we aren’t using tools to remove the weeds, only our most valuable power tools; our hands. It takes more time to weed by hand, however I enjoy the satisfaction from yanking them out. It’s fun to throw them in a pile, and look back to see the progress I’ve made, like a Mr. Clean commercial.

The weed we are currently battling the most is Lambs Quarters. It is an annual wild edible that has spade shaped leaves with a mint green colour and looks dusty. This is due to a white powdery coating on the leaves, which easily rubs off with your fingers. Lambs Quarters is also known as wild spinach and is packed with nutrients and minerals, and included in the quinoa family, giving it plenty of antioxidants as well. The plant is not only healthy for human consumption, but for the soil it grows in. It is a purifying plants and helps to restore healthy nutrients to the dirt if need be. It brings up the nutrients from deep in the soil from its roots, which helps other surrounding plants to grow. This means that lambs quarters can be considered a companion plant, if the quantity is kept under control.

It is extremely important to keep Lambs Quarters at bay, and avoid the plant going to flower and seed. The reason being that each plant can produce up to 75,000 seeds, which means, you’ll never rid your garden of the plant. The stems of the plant are branched, the leaves are goose foot shaped, with some teeth along the edges and the flowers are tiny whitish green. It can be found pretty much anywhere soil is disturbed.

The parts of the plants that can be consumed are the leaves, shoots, seeds, and flowers. The seeds turn black in the fall, and are healthy to eat, but difficult to extract, similar to quinoa. Lamb’s quarters contains oxalic acid, and should be eaten raw in small quantities, until the digestive system is used to it. However, cooking the plant removes the oxalic acid. Great ways to prepare this wild edible is steaming, soups, salads, smoothies or sautéed. To preserve this plant for the winter, you can blanch and freeze it or dry it.

Lambs quarters is the second highest wild edible in minerals and nutrients (after amaranth) and contains vitamins A, and C, B1, B2, B3, B6, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, potassium and phosphorus. In addition it is a good source of omega -3 and -6 fatty acids and also fibre and protein. This miraculous plant is not only good for humans and soil, but also for chickens and will result in dark yoked eggs and tender meat, and has also been grown for pig and sheep food.

Similar to quinoa, which is considered the food of the Mayan gods because of its power packed properties, lambs quarters has a great reputation around the world and throughout history. This plant can be found in all conditions from spring to fall and even grows in the Andes at a height of 3660 metres and has become an important substitute for rye and barely. This hardy plant has been found in archeological digging since the new Stone Age.

Lambs quarters is a wild edible that everyone should know about and consume. It’s easy to find, tastes great and grows in abundance. So help out your neighbour and pull some weeds out of their flower bed for them, and enjoy for dinner!lambs-quarterslambs-quarters-leaveslambs-quarters-seedsIMG_5122

Nifty Napa Cabbage

Today at the farm we planted our fall crop of cabbage, broccolini and Napa cabbage. We pulled out the old plants and replaced them with the new transplants. While in the field, we realized that today marked something special. The first day that Simrat, Gurpreet, myself and our field manager Emily spent planting at the beginning season, we transplanted the broccolini, cabbage and Napa cabbage, in the exact same spot that we did today, which was our new team member Chelsea’s first day on the job. Because we sowed those plants during the last week of April, we are educated on the maturity length and have seen the plants complete a full cycle. These new cabbage plants will mature when the weather starts getting cold again, however the Napa cabbage is a faster crop and will be ready by end of august/middle of September.

Napa cabbage is also known as celery cabbage or Chinese cabbage and it quite beautiful and different from the cabbage we know from the early Europeans. Napa is light green in colour, with thick white stalks and crinkly leaves that can be yellow nearing the middle. The head grows in a cylindrical shape that is quite compact and the stalks have more water content then round cabbages. The vegetable is very popular in East Asia, where it is pickled, salted and added with ginger and chili flakes to make kim chi, the national dish of Korea. The flavour of Napa cabbage is mild and sweeter than that of regular green cabbage and will take on any flavour that is added to it, especially when used in a stir fry with oil and spices. We also use Napa cabbage raw in our salads at Wicklow Way. Last week for the CSA boxes we made an Asian salad mix with tat soi, green coin, a variety of chrysanthemum (which tasted like green mango) and chopped up Napa cabbage. The mix could be used raw or cooked in a stir fry. Napa cabbage is quite versatile and can be used finely sliced for an excellent coleslaw with shredded carrots, a great vegetable to make soups and stocks, or because the leaves are soft and large can be used to make wraps or stuffed for tacos.

Napa cabbage has an abundance of vitamin C and E, contains a lot of soluble fibre and is helpful for the function of a healthy GI tract. In addition it also lowers blood cholesterol and improves the strength of blood vessels. Like most vegetables that are consumed often, Napa cabbage can increase your skins glow, detox your body and apparently prevent cancer.

I personally had never purchased or consumed Napa cabbage until this summer and am now a very big fan of the H20 packed vegetable. I like to flavour it with lemon juice and sesame seeds, let it sit and quickly fry it, and place it on top of quinoa. I am going to constantly find new ways to use Napa cabbage, and I suggest you do too!IMG_5116IMG_5132

Wild Edible Wednesday

IMG_5040 IMG_5041 IMG_5042The old farm house I live in, located in the small hamlet of Wicklow, 20 kms east of Cobourg and just a little west of Colborne; where the Big Apple is, has an amazing property along the waterfront of Lake Ontario. The house was owned by a lady named Sheila, who lived here most of her life, spending most of her time being in the great outdoors. I can understand why Sheila loved to live here, there is a beautiful old barn, a gorgeous meadow surrounding it, and damp woods with paths running through it. I also spend most of my time outdoors, even after working at the farm all day, I want to wander the woods to see what I can find.

Luckily for me, this property is a gold mine of wild edibles and precious plants. I have made it my hobby to collect the plants, hang them to dry and use them in teas or other ways of consuming them. I have decided that I will make my Wednesday blog dedicated to wild edibles and help you to understand that those weeds in your yard, or garden are actually delicious, nutritious and not obnoxious.

A flowering plant that most people recognize from the side of the highway, in meadows, woodlands and open areas is the Sweet Rocket. It stands tall with either white or light purple flowers that look similar to phlox, however sweet rocket flower has four petals and phlox has five. The flowers are very fragrant, especially in the evening. Sweet rocket is in the Brassicaceae family which also includes mustard, radishes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. The flowers are great for attracting wildlife, are hermaphrodite,and pollinated by bees and other insects and bloom from April to July.

The edible parts of Sweet Rocket are the young leaves which can be tossed raw into salads or other dishes, and the flavour mimicks that of arugula. To avoid having a bitter bite to your salad, harvest the leaves when the plant is young and before it flowers. However the flowers can also be eaten, adding a mustard flavour to your dish and a punch of beauty. The seeds can be sprouted or pressed, because it contains 50% edible oil. The leaves are rich in vitamin C, A B1, B2, B6, E, K, and also contain calcium, iron and magnesium. This wild edible contains vital phytonutrients and antioxidants that support good health.

Sweet Rocket grows on the edge of my property which I walk past everyday to work. I cut a big chunk down and hung it upside down to dry in my room, which also acted as decoration. When I removed the plant to replace the area on my wall with a shelf I built, I placed the bundle on the floor, which was immediately attacked by my two kittens. They loved the frilly flowers, chewable stalks and crinkly leaves, within minutes my room was pleasantly scattered with Sweet Rocket. The dried stems have been a constant source of entertainment for the cats and me.

Sweet Rocket has many benefits and is waiting in a woodland near you to be found and foraged.

Gorgeous Garlic Scapes

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One of my favourite things to eat is butter, (and cheese, this girl could never be vegan), and one of my second favourite things to eat is garlic. And when the two are combined it’s a deadly combination of deliciousness. This weekend I made a big batch of garlic scape butter, enough to last me at least six months, or so I hope. Once I make the mint green goodness, I eat it on everything, everyday. Last summer my roommates caught me scraping crackers off the top of the garlic butter and eating it straight up. Yikes, get fat or dying trying!
Garlic scapes are a great culinary treat because they have a stronger garlic flavour than the bulb itself. They can be used in any method of cooking like garlic heads; sautéed, roasted, in soups, salad dressings, in sirfrys, BBQed and even pickled. The most common way to prepare garlic scapes is by making a pesto with parm cheese, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and spices. Last week Elaina made a roasted parsnip and garlic scape dip, with a hint of maple syrup. I was skeptical at first, but the sweet and garlic spicy was so fantastic that I found myself fingering the bowl when no one was looking at lunch. I took the parsnip garlic dip to the Cobourg farmers market on Saturday and it sold out rapidly. Everyone loves garlic, in any shape or form.
Garlic scapes are the flower stems that emerges off the garlic plant in late spring, early summer. It is a green solid stalk that curls around in a loop like a roller-coaster, and needs to be harvested before the white flower head develops and opens. Growers often remove the garlic scape to push the plants energy into bigger garlic bulbs, for the remaining of the season. When harvested at the earliest time, the scapes are tender and delicious.
The scapes grow up straight out of the top of the plant for a couple of inches and then begin to curl. This curling is due to the variety of garlic, and caused by the cells on one side of the stalk lengthening before the cells on the other side. The number of curls the scape will achieve depends on the type of garlic, and can curl two, three or four times before straightening out and proceeding to open the flower head, which looks similar to a chive flower.
Harvesting the scapes is a fun and easy task. It is best done with a knife or scissors in the heat of the day, so the open wound where the cut happens can scab over and prevent any bacteria from entering the plant. Garlic scapes are harvested all at the same time, and the season only lasts one to three weeks. so get to your farmers market get the gorgeous green garlic scapes and experiement!
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