Friday, January 18, 2013
Photo by Rick Gush
Sugarloaf Chicory is an often-overlooked, delicious crop.
Sugarloaf chicory is one of those poor crops that gets lost in the glare of its spectacular neighbors. The most exciting chicories in Italy are the bright-red radicchios, which are the closest cousins to the sugarloaf forms. The most famous green-headed chicory is Belgian endive, but in many parts of Europe, farmers also grow a lot of other green chicories that make larger and tightly rolled heads — Bianca di Milano and Pan di Zucchero.
Known as the sugarloaf chicories in English, all of these chicories have green, football-shaped heads with white-veined leaves rolled tightly around them. The leaves of chicories are much more bitter than lettuces and most other salad greens, so it’s no surprise that a lot of the recipes that include sugarloaf chicory call for cooking it, sometimes by braising; the heat seems to tone down the bitterness. Sugarloaf chickory can also be a nice, raw green when the tender, blanched center leaves are used; the blanched leaves are considerably less bitter.
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Friday, January 11, 2013
Photo courtesy asiura/iStockphoto
My first edible crop as a gardener was the French Breakfast radish, and Icicle radishes were the first seeds I bought with my own money, so I have a strong emotional connection to radishes. It’s sort of funny that this crop that is so easy to grow doesn’t grow so well for me these days. Apparently, I make a lot of mistakes, but I keep trying, and I keep growing a few radishes every year, and it doesn’t really bother me so much that my crops are almost always less than stellar. I like eating my small, twisted, homegrown radishes anyway, because they give me an emotional feeling best described as pleasurable.
Although the list of my horticultural errors is long, my most grievous radish-growing error is certainly that I often do not thin correctly. In the first place, radish seed germinates so reliably that the seeds don’t need to thickly planted, but I always do anyway. I then often wait too long to thin the seedlings or I insufficiently thin them out; thin radish seedlings when the first two leaves are able to be grasped.
The next largest error I make is that I seldom sow the seeds at intervals. That’s really a rookie error yet I’ve been doing it now for 50 years. What radishes I do manage to cultivate are often ready, together, in a rush, which just makes for a few days of very radish-heavy salads. Radishes are best when sowed in one-week intervals in early spring and two-week intervals going into fall.
I am also lazy about the fertilizer I give to my radishes; I tend to use manure mixed in the soil and often a balanced liquid fertilizer that I splash on to the whole garden.
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Adding Value to Vegetables
Friday, January 4, 2013
Photo by Rick Gush
Someone has taken the time to wash and chop their carrots before selling them at the farmers market here in Italy.
The continuing trend in selling vegetables is adding value. Because someone took the time to wash and chop their carrots, that action has added “value” to the product. I’ll admit that, on some level, I’m not happy with this idea, but I suppose that’s because in this specific instance, I really enjoy chopping carrots, so the idea of buying pre-chopped carrots isn’t a perfect fit with me. I wasn’t so crazy about the mixed salad greens packages that started showing up a few decades ago, either, and I recently made fun of the cooked corn on the cob in plastic wrappers.
But, I’m obviously the dinosaur here, and of the less stubborn other customers in the world, a whole lot of them do seem to enjoy the convenience of value-added fruits and vegetables. This means that small farmers that sell their produce should seriously consider ways in which they might add value to their products.
In most cases, the added value is probably some form of processing. Carrots can be made into carrot cake, carrot salad, and used as an ingredient in canned stew; they can be freeze-dried and sold to backpackers, and so forth. The trick is discovering some synergy between your own capacity to add value and your ability to market the resulting product. There’s no point in making big batches of delicious carrot salad if you can’t sell carrot salad. But there aren’t too many products to which value cannot be added. If your customers really like you personally, and buy from you because they like you so much, or are comfortable with you, you have actually added value in the form of emotional comfort, which can be a pretty important motivator.
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