The Farm Hits a Cultural Curve!

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Okra, having its roots from Africa, is a very hardy plant. It can handle periods of drought and heat. This made it a favorite in the south east upon its arrival during the slave trade. It’s relatively easy to grow and can tolerate ‘not the best of soils’.  When given optimal growing conditions it will give you a bounty of fruit that will need to be picked every 2 – 3 days, throughout the summer. Okra was traditionally used as a soup, stew thickener throughout the African continent, eventually being the reason for Gumbo in Cajun style cuisines. One of Okra’s love or hate qualities is the fresh seeds sliminess. The Okra’s seeds have a mucilaginous property. This is the scientific term for sliminess. It was this texture that our ancestors used to thicken their soups. Okra was also praised for its high fiber count as well as the many antioxidants that are present. When the sliminess effect isn’t desired an acidic property chemical such as vinegar or lemon juice can be used while cooking to decrease this effect. The recipe that was brought by the slave trade is as follows. The okra was usually added with a green, depending on the available crops, such as kale or collard greens. Keep this in mind when looking at the recipe. Just as they did then, substitutes are often encouraged.i_market_women

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What you need

  • one onion, chopped
  • two tablespoons of palm oil or any cooking oil, (palm oil gives the most authentic taste)
  • one cup water
  • one pound greens, cleaned, stems removed, ,and shredded: cassava leaves ( Feuilles de Manioc), kale, collards, or similar)
  • twenty okra
  • two cups palm butter or nyembwe sauce, or canned palm soup base — peanut butter can be substituted
  • two or three chile peppers, chopped (or cayenne pepper)

What you doOkra

  • Heat oil in large pot. Saute onions until clear. Add water and bring to boil.
  • Add all remaining ingredients. Cook until all is tender, stirring often.

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A recent addition to the farm is the Luffa plant. They are currently reaching their peak size and that will be limited by the night temperatures. Once a frost hits the plants will die and the Luffa will start to do its own natural drying process. The Luffa plant found its way to the Americas via the Pacific Ocean with the Asian immigrants. Back home in Asia it was heavily prized for its fibrous texture that made it a wonderful sponge and textile. In its premature days it can be harvested and flavored much the same way you would tofu. Being fibrous and bland in taste it can retain the desired flavor when marinated. My grandmother used her apple trees as a trellis for her Luffa plants. Luffa gourd sponges were a very important part of my great grandparents homestead.

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Another crop that has been garnishing attention at the student garden is the White grain Amaranth. The big red ‘weed’ is easily noticed. One seeded itself right in the middle of our high traffic area. Hillary Heckler being the, if you can do it, then do it, kind of person, let it grow til its bounty. It has beautiful purplish pink color flower/wheat like heads that make it a wonderful addition to any garden. It can tolerate harsh soil conditions and has a similar productivity factor to that of wheat or maize. One great property about it is that its gluten free, so it’s a wonderful substitute for those who have gluten allergies. Amaranth can also be used to make oil. Here’s a picture of a cluster at the farm!Amaranth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last but not least of the cultural wave is the harvesting of Tomatillos. Like Amaranth they come from ancient Mexico. They’ve become a favorite in the cooking world because they store better than traditional tomatoes, extending their usage. Tomatillos are typically the reason you see green in a sauce in a Mexican dish. They are known for having a tougher inner portion and have a more tarty taste than the average tomato. TomatillosPics1

My mother likes to sauté sliced or diced tomatillo with any of her regular sauté mixes.They can usually be substituted for any tomato salsa recipe. Add some additional spices and a little sugar and you’ve got a ‘new kid on the block’ salsa.

 

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On the lighter side of life, the farm is still having consistent pepper production. Tomatoes still have fruit growing with some looking to be harvested before weather becomes an issue. If the warm days and not so cool nights continue then we can expect to still get some mature tomatoes off the vine. With the cooler night temperatures we can expect the basil production to decrease. Basil isn’t a fan of cold nights and its leaves, the product, start to show signs early.  Harvest what you can before the near frost! Mammoth sunflower are doing just that, being mammoth and close to harvest! The bush beans in the hoop house are looking great and hopefully will be ‘just right’ for Thanksgiving.

Garden1

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In this picture you can see the still flourishing pepper production and great basil. To the far right is the Congo leaf okra that’s just producing. The Luffa plants are in top left and just below that you can spot some tomatillos.

 

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