Because they are the tastiest always! That’s the short answer, the long answer is more complicated. Once upon a time all vegetables were heirloom – the definition is simply varieties of fruits and vegetables where the seed is viable and true to type (with some genetic diversity) and passed down through the generations human to human. Heirloom implies traditional, old, heritage and something you’d likely find everywhere if you went back in history 60 years. Today, heirlooms are making a big comeback – they are finally trendy! They tend to have a ton of flavor, come in odd shapes and not look at all like anything you typically see in a grocery store. The downside of an heirloom is it’s lack of shelf life. No big deal if you shop at a farmers market or grow your own garden, but if you shop regularly at a grocery store you are unlikely to find an heirloom anywhere.
Thank goodness heirlooms are making a comeback and becoming more of a household word! Up to 90% of diversity within food crops has been lost since the turn of the last century replaced by one variety of corn, one variety of cucumber, one variety of tomato and so forth. With the resurgence of interest and the return of a discerning palate heirlooms are out of danger for now. If you are interested in learning and growing heirlooms you’ll want to know about the amazing work of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa. They have literally rescued thousands of varieties of endangered seeds and making them available to the public. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is another entrepreneurial business venture that began for Jeri Gettle in his bedroom when he was a teenager. They sell thousands of seeds from all over the world and hosts the National Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa every year.
We were blessed to have moved in next door to Italian market gardeners that operated at the turn of the 20th century up until the late 1970s. They were famous for their onions and tomatoes and that legacy continues today. We are very proud to continue growing these two local heirlooms – the red Camay tomato and the sweet red onion. Both of which are available now at our farm stand and through our CSA.
I find harvesting is one of the most satisfying activities for a number of reasons. The most obvious is reaping what you sow, and the less obvious and equally rewarding is the way in which it puts one’s mind to rest.
The combination creates an experience that is uplifting and gratifying like none other. I have discovered over time that dropping into the spaciousness of “being in the moment” can be done with ease while harvesting. Getting close to a plant requires getting down to ground level and this act of kneeling and squatting is deeply cathartic. Grounding oneself literally on the earth is the first step, the second is feeling your way into the activity. This requires some mental stimulation but once you get the swing of things you can drop into auto mode and free the mind. It’s in this state of present moment awareness that time slows down and almost simultaneously surrounding sounds become louder and more acute. Awareness to one’s surroundings and the subtleties of aroma and feeling are pronounced. It’s here at the juncture of timelessness where the breath is a rhythmic exchange of energy with all elements.
Wendell Berry is my hero! His many essays on American agriculture are so in-depth and beautifully written that whole landscapes of understanding are born by just reading his works. His writing is grounded in the notion that “one’s work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one’s place”. He reminds me of my other hero, John Muir in the way that he captures our imagination. Living in the early 1900’s the voice of nature was yet to be recognized and described – John Muir did this perfectly and very effectively. I was reading a snippet of a story written by a fellow adventurer of John Muir and was struck by the description, as was the writer, of the way Muir related so intimately to the plants and flowers as if greeting an old family member; cooing and exclaiming all the while, picking and stashing samples until his jacket was full!
This reminds me of yet another hero and a perfect moment that describes this intimate connection. We often visited our then centenarian neighbor, Josephine Quirelo (nee Vogliotti) in the height of summer and would bring her vegetables and especially tomatoes. We were so proud of the tomatoes we grew (and still grow), the seeds of which she and her family had saved for well over 80 years, and we were so excited to bring her some to eat. She greeted us and held the tomato in her cupped hands, smelling the distinct aroma and looked at us both with wide eyes and declared “this is one of ours isn’t it?” It still brings a tear to my eyes as I remember her filling up with joy and relaxing with ease in the knowledge that her tomato would remain a legacy for many more years to come. For over 25 years (that makes them well over 100 years a Murphys’ heirloom) we have planted this same variety, and in fact today, May 2nd I planted the first succession of these babies. I am in present moment awareness, listening and hearing Josephine’s joyful exclamation.
One asks oneself “what motivates and inspires the work I do?” and my reply is love and beauty, compassion and caring in the greater context of making a difference.
Dear all, we have a promising season of abundance ahead of us. The spring rains have quenched the soil’s thirst for moisture and the garden is well under way with young plants eager to nourish. We harvested our first salad greens this week and they are so tender they practically melt in your mouth. Next week French breakfast radishes with their red and white exteriors will be plucked and bunched for market.
Asparagus has had it’s usual spring glory and now that is fading out and Fava beans are coming in. It’s hard to resist is the Fava bean – the Italians make a hoo-ha about this vegetable, celebrating their spring arrival with a holiday and festival. The bean is also called a horse bean by the English and in other colonial countries. Simply shuck the pod to reveal a large bright green kidney shaped bean. This activity can be done while sipping wine. In their tender early stage they can simply be steamed and served with a little butter. Later in the season they are steamed and their tougher outer skins pop off, with a pinch, to reveal a bright tender green heart that can be pureed and made into a delicious dip. May 1st is the date the Italians celebrate the fava and Eric tells me that he was there in 1976 when he was ten. It wasn’t until another ten years later that he encountered the fava bean at a roadside stand grown by an Hispanic family. We grow a small amount of this crop every year. It has the unique ability as with all legumes to fix nitrogen to root nodules and acts as a natural fertilizer for plantings that come after their harvest.
Our farmstand is open in Douglas Flat on Thursdays from 11 am to 6pm. Soon to be open more!
Easter is almost upon us and asparagus season is in full swing. Catch our Easter Brunch and celebrate with your family and friends. Reservations recommended by calling 209/728-1164 or emailing: OuterAisleFoods@gmail.com
All ingredients need to be at room temp or the sauce just won’t set up. Classic aioli employs 100% olive oil but I prefer to mix it with grapeseed oil, especially if I don’t have a high quality olive oil on hand. The flavor is more subtle—but try it both ways and decide for yourself. Making aioli by hand is easy, and I think faster than in a food processor. If you haven’t made it before, don’t feel daunted by the directions below. You’ll get the swing of it in no time and soon it will be a regular sauce for your fish, lamb or veggies. Make your aioli before roasting the asparagus and keep it in the refrigerator (up to 2 days) until you’re ready to use it.
1 pastured egg yolks (left at room temp for at least an hour)
1 cloves of the freshest garlic you can find, minced
1/4 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil.
1t finely grated lemon zest
1T lemon juice
1 t salt
With a large whisk or electric food processor begin to beat the yolk until even consistency, continue beating and have someone else drizzle in the oil. The mixture will emulsify before your eyes as you fast-beat and continue to drizzle in the last of the oil. Add the zest and lemon juice and salt to taste!
We have Easter Brunch Buffet this weekend …join us and book your table now!
Source: Hot peppers on a cool morning in Calaveras
Read artist Maggie’s account of her drawing journal of seasonal vegetables. A great perspective and her drawings are so delightful and real.
Drawing in the Outer Aisle.
“A few days later, I was sitting cross-legged in the loamy soil of Taylor Mountain Gardens, sketching a light purple Asian eggplant. Owners Christine and Eric Taylor had just given me a tour of their lovely slice of organic paradise, and introduced me to at least 4 kinds of eggplant growing in lush, thick rows. Eggplant heaven.”