Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Solitary Sunchoke

Rock Dove Farm




What is a sunchoke and why in my 31 years of life have I never come across one? I felt deceived by my local grocery store. Isn’t that where all food comes from? My quest to seek out this mysterious vegetable lead me 19 miles west of Columbus to Rock Dove Farm. There I met Todd Schriver, his wife Heather, and their two very energetic dogs. They purchased their farm, consisting of 27 acres, in April 2010. Although the fields were used to grow conventional grain before the Shrivers, Todd considers the farm to be “transitional organic”. One particular sustainable practice that needs to be mentioned are the rabbits raised at Rock Dove Farm. This rare species, known as the Silver Fox, originated in North Canton, Ohio (a local choice!). Todd breeds and raises them for their meat, but also puts them to work on the farm. They eat leftover veggie and herb scraps that consumers will not purchase. They then turn those scraps into nutrient rich manure, which is spread over the fields including on the amazing sunchoke plant.

Back to the sunchoke, a.k.a the Jerusalem artichoke, a name which is ridiculous because it is indigenous to North America and has nothing to do with an artichoke. The sunchoke is actually a root vegetable that grows from a specific sunflower species (Helianthus tuberosus). This is not the traditional sunflower that first pops into your head, but one with much a smaller seed head and petals (see image above). Sunchokes are so amazingly versatile that they can be planted in either the spring or the fall, just like most perennials. Depending on when the sunchokes are planted, they are either ready to harvest October through around Thanksgiving or March until April. They seem to be one of the few harvestable plants that love our cold Ohio winters and are very effective growers in our native climate. This tuber plants and grows just like a potato and can thrive in great soil, but also does well in poor soil. How does it taste? I would say somewhere between a potato and water chestnut but leaving a bit of a pleasant, sweet aftertaste. Sunchokes can be cooked many ways (see below) or even eaten raw. So why is this not at my local grocery store?

Sunchokes are just one local choice you can make when visiting Rock Dove Farm. Todd is gearing up for a busy year with over 90 varieties of vegetables and herbs planned. He remarked “it would be easier to list what I am not growing!” Where can you buy Todd’s menagerie of veggies and herbs? Well, he plans to be at just about every farmers market in the spring. Also, you can contact him directly to sign up for his sure to be plentiful CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

Sunchokes




The sunchokes from Rock Dove Farm (pictured left) traveled approximately 19 miles to Columbus while the russet potatoes (pictured right) made a journey of close to 1,900 miles!! Even though they are not the same vegetable, they are often compared because of their taste and versatility when it comes to cooking. Both vegetables can boiled, roasted, mashed, or fried with amazing results. I recommend swapping out your everyday russet with local sunchokes when in season.

Benefits

  • Contain vitamin C, phosphorus and potassium
  • Very good source of iron and fiber
  • Fat free and low in sodium
  • Rich in inulin (carbohydrate linked with good intestinal health)

*Todd mentioned that eating large quantities of this vegetable could cause gastrointestinal issues because of the inulin. Upon learning this little fact, my husband jokingly referred to sunchokes as “the beer of the vegetable world – some is good; too much leaves you with regret the next morning.” As with all things in life, practice moderation.

References

Eat The Seasons

Roasted Sunchoke and Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Sunchokes from Rock Dove Farm (about 4 cups)
  • 1 lb Butternut Squash
  • ½ cup red onion, julienned
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil
  • Rinse sunchokes in cold water using a vegetable scrubber to remove any dirt. Slice sunchokes and butternut squash into relatively uniform sized chunks
  • In large bowl toss sunchokes, butternut squash, and onion with the oil. Add garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste
  • Spread on a single layer on a baking sheet
  • Cook veggies for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown



Saturday, March 19, 2011

March Maple Madness

Malabar Farm




Ohio is ranked fourth of all states which produce Maple Syrup. So why is it that the majority of us settle for the sugar water we find on our local grocery store shelves? I decided I’m finished with all the imitators and traveled north around 67 miles from Columbus to Malabar Farm State Park. Some of us know of or have read about the farm’s founder Louis Bromfield who’s efforts to connect human, beast and nature is still apparent on the farm. Most of us have never read about Jason Weisley, full-time Park Manager who is responsible for Malabar today. As he kindly walked me though the production process from sap to syrup, we toured the grounds and he made me realize how much time and effort goes into producing my first local choice – 100% Pure Maple Syrup.

Maple trees produce sap

There are many maple tree species native to the U.S., but Sugar, Black and Red are among those that produce the most sap. At Malabar, their 914 acres are rich with Sugar Maples. Near the end of February, the Malabar crew (which consists of only 3 full-time employees) tap their mighty maples hoping for another good season. They drill a small hole into the tree, insert a spile or spout, and attach a can to catch all of the colorless sap. The trees naturally send sap from their roots to give energy to the new buds developing ensuring the leaves will open in the spring. Jason explained that in this business no two years are ever the same. This year, they tapped the trees on February 20th and started collecting sap on the 28th. The season runs only 4-5 weeks on average, but it is all up to our ever unpredictable Ohio weather. When asked if he thought this year would be a good one he remarked, “Ask me in April and I will tell you what kind of year it will be.”

Sap is collected

The sap starts to flow when the weather is freezing at night and above freezing during the day. During Maple Syrup season the Malabar Farm employees collect syrup from their 1,000 taps. (To put it in perspective, some of the big Vermont farms have close to 25,000 taps!) They collect the sap the old - fashioned way by horse and sled, testing the sugar content with a hydrometer. At this point the sap contains between 2%-3% sugar content and the rest is water. After collecting, the sap is stored outside the Sugar Shack until it is ready to be evaporated. Depending on the sugar content, it will take between 35-45 gallons of raw sap to produce 1 gallon of Maple Syrup.

Sap is boiled, turns into syrup

In 1980, the Sugar Shack was built at Malabar Farm as a primary means of educating the public. As you approach the cabin the air smells sweet of Maple Syrup. You enter into a warm room filled with steam and a large rectangular stainless steel pan in which the sap is boiled down into syrup. The sap makes its journey through a series of grooves in the pan and when finished it needs to have a sugar content of 60% to be considered Pure Maple Syrup. In staying true to Mr. Bromfield’s closed loop practices, Malabar recycles its fallen trees as firewood to heat its evaporator. It’s this recycled firewood that gives Malabar’s Syrup a unique slightly smoky flavor that sets them apart from the rest.

Syrup is bottled

The newly evaporated syrup is brought down from the Sugar Camp and right before bottling it is heated to 180° to kill any bacteria that may have formed in the short period in-between. Jason emphasized the importance of the sap going from the tree, to the evaporator, to the bottle as fast as possible to preserve freshness, taste and color. Once the syrup is bottled it can last 4-5 years unopened on your pantry shelf.
You can purchase Malabar’s syrup directly from the farm or at either the Malabar Farm Restaurant (about 1 mile east from the farm) or the Mohican State Park Restaurants. Malabar sells around 400 gallons of Maple Syrup each year. At the end of the season, the cans are removed and spiles are taken out, allowing the tree to scab over and heal. Next year, the process will repeat itself in hopes for another good season.

Maple Syrup




The Malabar Farm State Park Maple Syrup (pictured left) traveled roughly 67 miles to Columbus. The first and only ingredient is 100% Maple Syrup. The syrup (pictured right) traveled approximately 422 miles from Cherryhill, NJ where it was processed and distributed. The first ingredient (in a long list) is High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Grades of Maple Syrup

  • Grade A Light Amber – first of the season, lightest in color and maple flavor, most sought after and referred to as “fancy”
  • Grade A Medium Amber – made early to mid-season, light brown in color and mild maple flavor
  • Grade A Dark Amber – made late in the season, dark brown in color and strong maple flavor
  • Grade B – last of the season, very dark brown color and bold maple flavor

Benefits

  • All natural
  • Fat and cholesterol free
  • Contains polyphenols (plant-based compounds that work as antioxidants)
  • Good source of Zinc (maintains good levels of white blood cells)
  • Excellent source of manganese (mineral that protects immune cells from inflammation and damage)
  • Contains calcium and potassium
  • Is the lowest in calories of all natural sweeteners

References

Ohio Maple Producers
WHFoods.org
Health.com

Maple Oat Walnut Scones




Ingredients

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups oats
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup 100% Pure Maple Syrup from Malabar Farm

Directions

  • Heat oven to 350°F
  • In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat and white flours
  • Cut one stick of butter into the flour using a pastry blender (or two knives) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  • Stir in oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, and raisins
  • In a small bowl, whisk together applesauce, cream, egg and Maple Syrup. Add to flour mixture and mix until dough comes together
  • Drop by mounded scoops (an ice cream scooper works well) onto a baking sheet forming 6 scones and leaving a few inches in between each
  • Bake until golden brown, 30-35 minutes
  • Transfer to wire rack to cool
  • Makes: 1 dozen