SPRING IS HERE, SO LET’S EAT ALL OF ITS BEST, MOST SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLES

Mar 23, 2016 by

artichoke
Ramps, artichokes, and green garlic are in season, but they aren’t all grown equally.
Artichokes. (Photo: Kotomi Creations/Flickr)
Mar 23, 2016
Jane Lear is a regular contributor to TakePart. She was on staff at ‘Gourmet’ for almost 20 years.

 

Longer days and warmer weather mean that early spring greens and other things are starting to appear in the markets and not a moment too soon. Here are a few updates for you.

The passion—nope, make that frenzy—this pungent wild allium inspires every year never ceases to amaze. From March through May, ramp festivals will be in full swing in Appalachia and beyond—and many chefs, home cooks, and the foragers they depend upon will do whatever it takes to get their hands on some.

In May 2015, I wrote about the abusive overharvesting of this plant. This year, I’d like to up the ante: If you’re lucky enough to have a cool, shady wooded area with damp soil, then why not think about starting your own ramp colony? It is true that when it comes to ramps, patience is not just a virtue, it’s a requirement. They can take 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years may pass before they’re mature enough to harvest. But since when was sustainability about quick fixes?

In the meantime, enjoy the seasonal bounty at a local farmers market, but buy wisely. Choose plants with wide leaves and plump, mature bulbs, and avoid those with a few small leaves and straight, slender bulbs, as they’ve been harvested too young.

Aspiring ramp wranglers, take note: The Asparagus Gardener, in Spencer, Tennessee, has some good horticultural info online and ships bulbs for planting now. Although the Ramp Farm, in Richwood, West Virginia, shipped its last bulbs in February, seeds are still available.

Artichokes

Artichokes, with their intriguing meaty sweetness, are an obsession for many this time of year. When I last wrote about them, I mentioned that sometimes you’ll see these giant flower buds with their outer leaves blemished from frost, but not to worry—like many cool-weather vegetables, they typically taste all the better for it.

Interestingly, this winter, Ocean Mist Farms rolled out a savvy marketing and consumer-education campaign for its frost kissed artichokes. “California winter frosts can yield ‘Frost Kissed’ Artichokes that are available in stores for a limited time. Frost causes the outer layer of the Artichoke to turn brown, flake and peel, much like we do after getting sunburned,” the website states. While they might not look their best, the frost “enhances the flavor of the artichoke, resulting in a nutty taste,” it continues.

Artichokes aren’t the most user-friendly vegetable. They have thorns, armorlike leaves (brachts), and an appropriately named choke, which protects the tender heart. But they’re high in antioxidants, fiber (including the polysaccharide inulin), and minerals such as copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Most of the commercial artichokes in the United States are cultivated (OK, monocropped) in one small area—Monterey County, California. As Deborah Madison writes in Vegetable Literacy, they grow in a climate that is hospitable to all kinds of problematic creatures and conditions—fungus, moths, aphids, and the like—and thus tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides.

The use of beneficial insects to combat pests has replaced chemicals in part, and Ocean Mist (the largest artichoke producer in North America) is now producing certified organic artichokes and transitioning more conventionally farmed land to that farmed with organic methods.

Now about those beautiful dark red or purple artichokes that are becoming more readily available—those are from Steve Jordan, of Baroda Farms, in Lompoc, California. He specializes in new hybrids from French and Italian heirlooms, and his interest and investment in the painstaking technique of tissue propagation has resulted in signature varieties such as Fiore Viola and the tulip-size Fiesole, as well as the pale green (and thornless!) Lyon.
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Jane Says: Taste the Green Side of Garlic and Onions

Green Garlic

The term green garlic refers to the young, tender plant picked before the head of cloves is formed. It looks very similar to a scallion, and yep, you can use both the white and pale-green parts, just like a scallion. Long one of my favorite spring alliums, green garlic is gentle and fresh in flavor—at the other end of the spectrum from ramps—so it won’t overpower a vinaigrette or the fluffy, buttery insides of a baked potato. It has always been a waste-not-want-not sort of deal for farmers, who sell the thinnings almost as an afterthought. But now it’s turned into its own vegetable—one that’s patented, no less. With plant breeders and marketers focused on the farmers market favorite, it’s likely to start showing up at the supermarket before long.

“Green Garlic is one quarter the strength of clove garlic. This means that the plant can be consumed raw without objection and allows the plant to be used in new applications as additions to fresh salad mixes, sauces, etc.,” states the release from the Plant Biotechnology Laboratory at the University of Rhode Island announcing what it calls a new vegetable. “But perhaps more importantly, as a raw vegetable it retains the nutritive benefits that are destroyed on cooking clove garlic. Green Garlic provides a fresh source of dietary thiosulfinates, which confer the therapeutic properties of garlic (heart healthy) and antimicrobial attributes. Green Garlic may inhibit microbes involved in food borne diseases.”

It may be all that and a bag of chips, but God deliver me from GarLikins—a name as dismaying as the whopping typo (“New to the Produce Catergory [sic]!”) in the sign trumpeting their launch at the 2015 Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit. “With more than a decade of varietal selection and development invested, VoloAgri holds the patent on green garlic commercialization. A select group of growers are being chosen to provide retailers with product in the spring of 2016,” reads the release. Can Rampikins be far behind?

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