Yearning for Bernie

I grew up in Vermont, and have long admired Bernie Sanders. I was so excited when I recently saw that one of my favorite Vermont chocolate companies is making a “Feel the Bern” Maple Chipotle bar. That flavor combination sounds awesome, plus $7 per box sold is donated to Bernie’s campaign! Right now they have a goal to donate $2000. Even better, Liberty Chocolates uses only organic honey and organic maple sugar to sweeten their bars, no white sugar! They use organic Peruvian chocolate, which has a wonderful, deep flavor.  What a sweet way to support Bernie.

You may have seen in the news lately about Ben Cohen’s “Bernie’s Yearning” ice cream. It has a chocolate disc on top of the pint of mint ice cream, representing breaking through the top 1% system.  You can enter a contest to win one of only a few pints made.

There’s also a Bernie soap bar from Filthy Farmgirl Soap – they donate 100% of the bar’s profits to the Sanders campaign. The tagline is “Want to help clean up Wallstreet?!” Peppermint helps.

This post is a bit off topic from what I usually write about, but I’ve got a bunch of great new photos (and more recipes) coming soon, once I work out a technical difficulty with my camera.




New Year, New Squash

Happy New Year! For the last day of 2015, as well as for the first day of 2016, I made lucky black-eyed peas, in the form of super spicy gumbo made with okra I’d sliced & frozen months earlier & homemade habenero hot sauce, plus a non-spicy tabbouleh salad with BEP’s & the fresh parsley that’s still growing. There’s an interesting story of the traditional Southern US black-eyed pea New Year’s luck: during the Civil War, the Confederates had taken most food supplies, leaving the somewhat less desirable black-eyed peas behind. Everyone else subsisted off of the peas that winter, and were eating them on New Year’s Day when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, freeing slaves and ending the war.

Our food & seeds gardens have sometimes grown cowpeas, which are quite similar to BEP’s but rounder. While we freeze some of the edamame soy beans that we grow, the majority of the beans (and rice, and other staples) we find our community eating in winter come from bulk food purchases. We are still rich with veggies not only in the freezer, but fresh potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, many greens, turnips, radishes, garlic, sweet potatoes, and most of all, winter squashes!

Cuban Neck Pumpkin

Cuban Neck Pumpkin, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

People could probably survive a long while on just squash if necessary. Personally, by February I’ll not want to see another squash until next fall, while my undying love for sweet potatoes will carry me through winter as well as summer yearning until the next harvest. Such subtle taste & texture differences, but such vast preferences! It seems almost everyone has a favorite squash or two. Butternut seems an overall fave in fashion, but I’m glad to see many different colorful, variegated varieties around lately too – like delicata. Butternut is a favorite flavor-wise for me, but I’m fascinated by kabocha squash’s creamy texture. It’s a tough call.


Don’t Forget Butternut Squash


Can you guess which squash has the highest nutritional value? I assumed that pumpkins, and similar darker orange flesh squashes, would have more dense vitamins than lighter orange or yellow squashes. As it turns out, butternut wins by far with numbers similar to sweet potato. A 1-cup serving provides a staggering 300% DV vitamin A (from beta carotene, an antioxidant which makes squash & carrots orange, and is great for the immune system & eyesight), plus 50% vitamin C, 15% potassium, 10% magnesium & B-6, plus 5% iron & calcium. Wowza! Pumpkin has less, but comparable nutritional content. Kabocha squash have comparable vitamin levels to pumpkin, but lower calories, plus more iron, protein (3.5 g vs 1.4 g – twice as much), B-vitamins & omega-3’s. Hubbard, Delicata, & Acorn squashes have about a third of the vitamins that pumpkin has. Then there’s spaghetti squash, valued for its fun noodle-like texture (makes great gluten-free noodles!), which could be considered a “diet” squash (a nice way of saying it’s nutritionally deficient compared to other squashes, and low in calories).

Thai Kang Kob

Thai Kang Kob squashes, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

Save those seeds! Roasting winter squash seeds (especially pumpkin, butternut, kabocha) takes only a few extra minutes to do, but saves a lot of extra vitamins & makes a nice addition to salads! Squash seeds are dense with vitamin K, folate, largely more omega-6 than omega-3, lots of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, & selenium; plus more protein and fiber than even the squash itself. To prepare the seeds, scoop them, rinse them while removing the stringy flesh. Toss them with a bit of oil and salt, then spread onto a baking sheet and bake at 350*F for about 15 minutes, til crispy and lightly browned – you’ll hear popping noises coming from the oven.

When it comes to squash, I like it pretty simple: cut into a piece the size of a deck of cards or slightly larger, skin on, roasted til very soft with caramelized browning (about 40 minutes at 350*F). If it’s looking dry, add a little bit of water to the roasting pan. Occasionally, while cleaning the roasting pans, I run into a treat: “nature’s caramel,” squash drippings that set up like candy on the cooling pan… I see potential for a roasted squash creme brule which has yet to come into fruition.


Acorn squash

Growing up, my family most often made acorn squash, roasted halved, served with a pat of butter, maple syrup, & sprinkle of nutmeg in the warm bowl of the squash. Or roasted with a spoonful of cranberry jam, an orange slice and half an apple in the acorn squash bowl (zesty, fruity flavors highlight the squash flavors!). Or sausage stuffing. Or a half a small red onion and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Or cheese sauce. Basically, fill up the acorn squash bowl with anything scrumptious.

Another great thing to do with squash is to sneak it into other dishes, like casseroles, stir-fries, stews, pasta sauce, veggie burgers, cake, bread, cookies, biscotti, smoothies, coffee… If you like “pumpkin spice” coffee, try adding a couple spoonfuls of actual pumpkin or squash puree for a vitamin boost. A quarter cup of pumpkin contains a day’s worth of vitamin A! The simplest way to make squash puree is to halve the squashes, scoop out the entrails, and roast face-down (skin side up) until soft. Once cooled a bit, slip off the skin and scoop the squash into a food processor. Another way of making squash if you don’t care for the caramelization, or if you’re making baby food, is to peel & cube & boil.


Some of the squashes in our kitchen, grown by Common Wealth Seeds

Another favorite dish of mine is Crispy Curried Chickpeas with Squash Slivers. Pre-soak & cook chickpeas if dry, or rinse if from a can. Peel a butternut squash and quarter lengthwise, then slice thinly to get crescent slivers. Mix chickpeas, squash slivers, a couple spoonfuls of your favorite curry powder, salt, and a liberal amount of oil – I like to use a mix of canola and sesame oil for this. Spread onto baking sheet pans (one layer, without too much crowding), and bake at 375*F until the chickpeas are crispy on the outside, about 25 minutes.


Crispy Curried Chickpeas with squash slivers

Pumpkin butter, or squash butter, is great for toast or anything you’d use jam for. Heat pumpkin or squash puree in a big pot on the stove, stirring constantly on medium heat. Add spices to taste (cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, nutmeg, and allspice), plus optional honey, molasses, or sugar. Cook down until the squash has thickened, which could be up to an hour or so. Put a spoonful of the squash butter on a plate and see if liquid separates out after 15 minutes cooling. Funnel the squash butter into jars, which could get canned, or refrigerated for up to a month.

African Drum Gourd

African Drum Gourds, photo by Common Wealth Seeds

Living with farmers who grow for seed, I feel lucky to get to cook with a huge variety of squashes! This includes heritage varieties which I haven’t found at grocery stores or farmers’ markets – so you might just have to grow some of your own! My favorites have been seminole squash (dark orange flesh like a pumpkin, light tan skin like a butternut), Thai pumpkins (very pie-worthy flavor, and decorative flowery shape), soler (dark green skin, with a thick three inches of flesh – a bit drier of a squash, but great for bulk recipes – you need only cook one massive slice!), and longneck Tahitian melon squash (looooongneck like the swan of the butternut world).


Edmund and Sapphyre at the Common Wealth Booth

Some friends of mine recently created their own farmer-direct seed company, Common Wealth Seeds, with a focus on cucurbit downy mildew resistance breeding, and rare heritage varieties that you can find on their webpage. They also grow many varieties of gourds for drums and decoration. Check out their biggest and smallest varieties, the African Drum Gourd, and the Miniature Bottleneck Gourd. Other favorites for crafts are their Birdhouse Gourds and Warty Bule Gourds for making soup bowls. It’s been inspiring to see Edmund and Sapphyre create their visions, manifested from determined dreams and experiences in the fields.


Sapphyre and Edmund with Birdhouse Gourds, last year

Rutabagas & Turnips


Growing up in Vermont, I’m no stranger to turnips and their sweeter, yellower counterpart, rutabagas. They could practically be the State Vegetable. They are a great winter storage crop which generations of Vermonters have relied upon to bring them through the long winters. There is an annual festival for the gilfeather turnip, which is a relative of rutabaga, almost a hybrid. People “turn up” by the hundreds in the chilly autumn air…


Yes, those turnips in the foreground are bigger than the heads of the women in the background.

Rutabagas are a great source of vitamins C & B-6, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Turnips have slightly smaller amounts of the same nutrients. Earthy and sweet with a distinct radish-like bite, I can understand that it’s an acquired taste. But for me it’s a fondly familiar, comforting presence at fall & winter harvest meals like Thanksgiving.

But for most of the rest of the country, as our great First Lady Michelle Obama once said, “Turnip what?!” After moving south to Virginia, I naively realized that I was not in “Kansas” anymore. Turnips were that bitter vegetable used only as a last resort. People argue that there’s no difference between turnips and rutabagas! Blasphemy! Rutabagas were nere to be found, a rat-tailed shadow of its full body grown up north, a true cold-weather crop. Even in supermarkets, I’ve never been able to find a rutabaga bigger than a softball; almost unrecognizable to someone used to them being football, or even volleyball sized, covered in a thick layer of wax.

The wax is not the only part needing peeling – the tough, woody skin is usually about a millimeter thick. Pare it clean off, watching for any remaining woody bits, and rinse. First attack it in half, for easier handling of the large rocky vegetable.


Mashed Rutabaga with Maple

Cut into strips, then into half-inch cubes. Place in a pot with water to cover, and boil until very tender, about half an hour to an hour. Drain the water, and add pats of butter to melt on the cubes. Mash with a drizzle of real maple syrup, salt, & fresh-cracked black pepper.

Rutabaga fries

Cut into french fry sized strips, toss with oil & salt, bake at 350 until crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside, about 40 minutes.

A few years ago when I used to home-brew wines, I made some rutabaga mead using the cooking water, honey, and champagne yeast. The smell was… pungent. Let’s just say that it could not be kept in the house for more than two days while brewing. It was banished to the basement for a year after the smelly fermentation stage was over. I rediscovered it almost accidentally, having banished the memory of the smell from my brain as well. “Oh no, this,” I thought, having flashbacks to the dreaded stink. But I was pleasantly surprised that the smell had mostly vanished, leaving a more beer-like smell. After racking it for another month, it tasted like a vodka made from rutabagas instead of potatoes (so, weird, but strong). A fun experiment, but not one that I recommend.