"Dja get any rain?" is the common form of address between farmers and gardeners at this time of year, particularly in a relentless drought and heatwave like the one that's enveloping us now.
The scattered showers and thunderstorms that we've had this week are a common summertime weather pattern. It's a hit or miss affair. They leave some thankful for a bit of relief, while others remain high and dry, listening to the echo of thunder.
Plan to cool off with a fresh melon this weekend, one for right away and maybe another for later in the week. Shop around the market to find the different growers who have begun bringing cantaloupes to market. They're the ones to ask when the watermelons will be here. (Not long now!)
Step away from the stove. We've got lots of fresh veggies for cool summer salads, dips, chilled soups, and grilling - Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers, Eggplant, Onions and Garlic - this is when the quality and flavor of fresh local food really stands out.
There's cool food for hot times this weekend at the SKY Farmers Market! Come early to beat the heat. The market opens at 7am.
See you there!
GMO: a “New” Buzzword
for Farmers Market Customers
More and more we are hearing about Genetically Modified Organisms (or sometimes GEO - genetically engineered organisms). What does GMO mean, and as a farmers market customer, what should you know?
GMO seed is a big player in the conventional farming sphere. In the US in 2011, 94% of the soybeans and about 85% of the corn being grown (as well as other major commodity crops) were GMO varieties.
Basically, the crops have gene sequences from other organisms inserted into them for a particular purpose. In the case of soybeans, it is to make them resistant to Roundup – a commonly used herbicide – so the fields can be sprayed to kill the weeds without killing the crop. In the case of corn, there are Roundup-Ready varieties (herbicide resistant) as well as Bt varieties. The Bt varieties express Bacillus thuringiensis, a toxin affecting Lepidoptera (caterpillars) in every cell of the plant, so if a caterpillar eats them, it dies. Some corn varieties have both herbicide resistant and Bt traits engineered into them.
Although approved as safe by the USDA, some people prefer to avoid eating GMO food whenever possible. One way to do this is to purchase certified organic grains, as they are not produced with GMO seed and are usually tested for contamination by cross pollination from nearby GMO crops before being sold.
Since most farmers market customers are not purchasing grains at their market, it may seem a very safe place to buy food for those who wish to avoid GMO products and, for the most part, it is. There are very few vegetables which are genetically modified (or sometimes called transgenic). However, there are a couple to be aware of.
The first is summer squash. There are a few transgenic varieties of summer squash with gene sequences inserted for resistance to viral diseases. They can usually be recognized by a Roman numeral after the variety name – as in Dasher II.
The second major vegetable to be aware of is sweet corn. For the same reason as for field corn – resistance to caterpillars – there are some varieties of Bt sweet corn.
Because the Bacillus thuringiensis is expressed in every cell of the plant, Bt sweet corn will have almost no earworms in the ear. This is a HUGE thing! NO ONE likes worms in their corn, and Bt varieties will have few or none. So, the farmers often advertise them as “un-sprayed”, because they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. Therefore, as a consumer, if you wish to avoid GMO’s, you need to be aware of variety names (Attribute and Performance series for sweet corn) and/or, ask the farmer. If it says it is unsprayed, and it is worm free, you might want to ask about growing practices.
You may already know that organic farmers have been using Bt for decades to help minimize caterpillar damage on crops – particularly brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. How is this use of Bt different?
When Bt is applied to a crop as a spray, it has a very short effective life on the plant leaf. Typically just a day or two. But when it is part of every gene of a plant, it doesn’t “disappear quickly”. Some research shows it persisting in the soil for months and also in the guts of bees (from the pollen) and earthworms (from crop debris).
Takeaway Information: A few GMO vegetable crops exist. Your best defense if you wish to avoid them is to know your farmer, and ask questions. At SKY Farmers Market, where the produce is always producer grown, not purchased from an anonymous wholesaler, that is an easy thing to do. So, Shop at SKY, on Fifth and High, Tuesdays and Saturdays, April – October.
How to Pick a Good Melon
We've all experienced it: the mouth-watering anticipation that accompanies slicing into a fresh melon; the tragic disappointment when the flavor turns out flat and bland.
Oh, Melon! Thou cruel temptress! What went wrong?!
Cantaloupes, honeydews, and the great variety of specialty melons like casabas and the many persian melons are all varieties of a single species, Cucumis melo, more closely related to cucumbers (Cucumis saliva) than they are to watermelons (Citrullus lanatus).
The flavor of a melon comes from a complex interaction between volatile aromatic compounds, sugars, salts, acids, and proteins. The specific flavor of a melon is determined by it's genes, but can be greatly influenced by environmental conditions like sunlight, temperature, rainfall, soil nutrients, and of course ripeness.
Although a melon will continue to ripen after it's harvested, if picked too early it can never develop its full flavor and sweetness. Melons rapidly accumulate sugars and develop their aromatic compounds in their final days of ripening. Cultural conditions can also have a big impact on the development of good flavor and sweetness in melons during ripening.
Picking a melon
Once the grower's done their job, there are two issues that can lead to disappointment: a melon that's under-ripe, and one that's over-ripe. Either one will lack flavor and sweetness. Your job is to find one that's just right.
As a melon ripens, the green in the seams of its shell begin to take on a more golden hue. A ripe melon will be firm, but have just a little bit of give at the blossom end (opposite the stem end). Many cantaloupes develop a strong fragrance as they ripen. Honeydews are generally less fragrant and more sweet. An over-ripe melon can have a powerful fragrance but a disappointing flavor.
Judging the look, feel, and scent of a melon can help you determine its ripeness. But different varieties each have their own unique qualities. What's just right for one variety may not be quite right for another. The best way to develop the skill of picking a good melon is through direct personal experience. Slice open half a dozen melons, paying attention to the look, feel and scent of each one and you'll soon hone in on what to look for.
That's where your local grower comes in. You can count on it that a melon grower is eating at least one melon every day, and has been for years. They're not settling for a so-so one, either. The growers you buy from at the SKY Farmers Market have many hours of direct experience with the varieties they sell and want you to be happy with the melons they've worked so hard to grow. They're your best bet when you're looking for help finding that perfect melon.
If ever a vegetable deserved a cult following, it is garlic. What other food promises to lower blood pressure, reduce "bad' cholesterol, alleviate cold and flu symptoms, cure athlete's foot and a host of other maladies while it boosts the flavor of just about every food it touches with it's seductively pungent earthiness?
Garlic is recommended for use as an aphrodisiac in the Talmud, the ancient Jewish book of law and tradition, and ancient Egyptians used garlic for testing fertility. During World War II, Russians rubbed raw garlic on soldiers' wounds when they ran out of antibiotics. And where would we be without garlic to ward off vampires and other blood-suckers like ticks and mosquitoes?
Marcel Boulestin, renowned 20th century French chef, restaurateur and author, whose cookbooks popularized French cuisine in the rest of the world says, "It is not really an exaggeration to say that peace and happiness begin, geographically, where garlic is used in cooking."
No wonder garlic has a huge fan base that has flourished through the ages and across the continents.
Here are two more reasons to love it:
Soft, mellow, nutty and buttery - a taste of heaven to the garlic lover!
It's super easy to roast a few heads of garlic on the grill. No peeling necessary. Just place them on the hottest spot, turn occasionally and in 20 - 30 minutes they're done!
You can roast them in a 350º oven. Cut off the tops of the heads, arrange them in a shallow baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 45 - 60 minutes, brushing with oil from time to time.
Baba Ganoush is a traditional Middle Eastern dish served as a dip with bread, vegetables, crackers, etc. It also makes a tasty burger or sandwich spread.
- 3 large eggplants
- 2-4 cloves garlic (or to taste)
- 1/2 cup tahini (or less, depending on the size of the eggplant)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- juice of 3 lemons (or more to taste)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Seer the eggplants on the grill or under a broiler until the skins blacken and blister.
Rinse the eggplants under cold water.
Peel and scrape out the pulp.
Crush garlic with salt and mash it into the eggplant.
Add tahini, lemon juice, and cumin. Blend well.
Garnish with parsley (black olives, tomato slices, and a drizzle of olive oil are great additions, too).