Harvest of the Month

Sweet potatoes are the November Harvest of the Month.

November is the time of final harvests, putting the garden to bed for the winter, and cooking warm, comforting foods to keep out the chill. This month, we celebrate sweet potatoes, one of the last crops to come out of the garden, and a food that can be stored in a cool, dark place (like a garage or pantry) through most of the winter.

Sweet potatoes are an incredibly interesting plant to grow in the garden. They grow from slips, the shoots that are cultivated from a mature sweet potato. Some gardeners grow slips just by placing a sweet potato in water, and then removing the resulting shoot for planting. Once you plant the slips, they produce beautiful, lush vines that fill up the garden bed. Sweet potatoes need at least four months of warm weather to grow, and it is well worth the wait. The real fun comes when you dig up the sweet potatoes, often to find huge, interestingly shaped orange roots hiding under the ground.

A star in the kitchen and on the table, the sweet potato can be enjoyed in many delicious ways: roasted whole and served as a side to any meal, cut up to make oven fries, sautéd with onion and pepper for hash, or baked with apples and cinnamon for desert. This month we are serving up sweet potato and black bean salad to students at all seven of the public schools on the Island for our Harvest of the Month taste test. Try making it at home:

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad recipe by Robin Forte

2 large sweet potatoes, (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 can black beans drained and rinsed

1/3 cup olive oil

4 Tbs. fresh lime juice, plus the zest

1 large red pepper, chopped

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

3 Tbs. honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350. Toss cubed sweet potatoes with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Roast in the oven until tender, 10-15 minutes. Cool. In a large bowl combine the cooled, cooked sweet potato, red pepper, cilantro and black beans. In a small bowl combine lime juice, lime zest, honey and remaining olive oil. Add the honey-lime dressing to the sweet potato mixture plus salt and pepper to taste.

Cranberries growing at Vineyard Open Land Foundation. —Photo courtesy Emily Duncker

This October, we celebrate the cranberry: one of only three fruits native to North America in commercial cultivation. There are reports of people growing 150-year-old cranberry plants on perennial evergreen vines in acidic bogs year in and year out. Cranberries have a long history on our Island, one that we are looking forward to exploring in the classroom with students.

New this year to our Harvest of the Month program, we will feature a local grower or producer for each crop of the year. This month, we feature Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF). VOLF is hard at work harvesting cranberries from the bog off Lambert’s Cove Road, which they have been restoring in recent years. VOLF grows Early Blacks, a heritage variety of cranberry. They are available for sale from VOLF, at Morning GloryFarm, Cronig’s Market, Tisbury Farm Market, and Alley’s General Store.

Experiment with ways to enjoy fresh cranberries: crush them and add to seltzer, add in the last few minutes of cooking oatmeal, make a savory cranberry/jalapeno salsa, or bake them with squash. Fresh cranberries are really only available in October and November, but the good news is that you can just toss a full plastic bag into the freezer to use whenever you crave that tart and refreshing taste.

Try this recipe for roasted cranberries with thyme. It’s delicious stirred into rice with toasted pecans, piled on top of roasted squash, or as a side dish with roasted meats.

Roasted Cranberries with Thyme

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh cranberries

2 tsp. olive oil

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 Tbs. honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss all ingredients together and stir until well combined.

Roast on a baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes until soft and slightly caramelized. (Recipe adapted from Bon Apetit).

We would love to hear any cranberry stories you have as we begin to build our curriculum around this fascinating crop. Find us on Facebook at Island Grown Schools or visit our website islandgrownschools.org.

Local tomatoes from Ghost Island Farm in West Tisbury.

We are back where it all began: the tomato. Three years ago Island Grown Schools started a Harvest of the Month program to highlight a locally available crop each month of the year in school cafeterias, restaurants, and grocery stores. The goal is to help children, their caregivers, and the broader community learn more about healthy, seasonal, whole-foods eating while supporting local farms.

HarvestofMonth_Tomatoes_September_2014.jpgThe first-ever crop we featured was the tomato, the late-summer treasure of the garden and farmer’s market. From extra-sweet little cherry tomatoes, to multicolored heirlooms, to large slicing tomatoes, there are so many different types to try. Full of antioxidants, lycopene, and vitamins A and C, these sweet fruits are a healthy treat. This month in the schools we brought in different types of tomatoes to try with students. Children as young as 2 years old were voting for their favorite tomato, usually the Sungold cherry.

There are so many ways to incorporate fresh local tomatoes into your cooking. They are a great staple for making many different types of salsas and sauces, and for adding to soups. Fresh chopped tomatoes can be used for kabobs with cheese and cucumber, or can be tossed with basil and balsamic for an instant side dish. Visit a local farm stand or the farmers’ market to pick up a variety of different tomatoes, try each one, and decide which is your favorite.

Have a bumper crop of tomatoes? Try making this Slow Roasted Tomato recipe by Harvest of the Month chef Robin Forte.

 

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A sprig or two of fresh thyme leaves, picked and finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Put tomatoes cut-side up on a large four-sided sheet pan. Sprinkle tomatoes with the minced garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper. Roast in the oven 6 to 8 hours. Cool. Will store in a sealed container in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Emily Duncker is the preschool coordinator for Island Grown Schools. IGS works with nearly every school-age child on the Island, ages 2 through 18, to empower them to make healthy eating choices, learn to grow food, and connect with local farms. For more information, visit islandgrownschools.org.

Ripe strawberries spell summer on Martha's Vineyard. — Courtesy Emily Duncker

A freshly picked strawberry, juicy, ripe, and warmed by the sun, is the taste of the summer solstice. This month we celebrate strawberries as June’s Harvest of the Month. They are one of the first fruits to be ready in the garden and their sweetness is such a welcome treat to mark the beginning of summer.

Strawberries are a perennial crop, fairly easy to grow in the garden, and will come back every year with just a little bit of work.

Strawberry plants fall into four categories: June-bearing, Ever-bearing, Day-neutral, and Alpine. June-bearing varieties produce one very large crop towards the end of June and are the best if you’d like a quantity with which to make jams. Ever-bearing varieties usually produce two smaller sized crops, one in June and another later in the season. Day-neutral varieties, a personal favorite, produce a small amount of strawberries throughout the season, but stop briefly when it is very hot. Lastly, Alpine strawberries produce a continuous supply of very tiny but incredibly delicious strawberries.

To ensure success with strawberries year after year make sure to weed the bed and control the runners they send out. There’s even a special “strawberry planter” that you can pick up at garden stores to grow plants in a container on your patio.

Try this Strawberry Vinaigrette recipe from Harvest of the Month chef Robin Forte the next time you make a salad.

Strawberry Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

2 cups strawberries, sliced

1 Tbs. sugar or sweetener of your choice

1/3 cup vinegar (white, cider, red wine, rice, sherry, or white balsamic work well)

1/3 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine strawberries, sugar, and vinegar in a sauce-pan, cook until berries are soft (3 to 5 minutes). Cool slightly, puree strawberry mixture in the blender and slowly add in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For more information on Harvest of the Month and Island Grown Schools, visit islandgrownschools.org.

Emily Duncker is the Preschool Coordinator for Island Grown Schools.

— Island Grown Schools

Tender green leaves of perennial herbs are one of the first things to grow in the garden, poking out from under last year’s dried stems to herald the warmer weather. Mint, marjoram, oregano, thyme, and chives are finally tall enough for their first harvest and help reassure us that our gardens will grow again.

Herb plants can be purchased from a local nursery, and they are very easy to grow in a small garden or in pots. As farm stands begin to open up for business around the Island, find the first small bunches of spring herbs for sale.

Try adding fresh herbs such as dill, chives, or basil into your salad for a little bit of extra flavor. Pour boiling water over mint, steep for five minutes, and strain for a refreshing, digestive tea after dinner. Extra, unused herbs can be chopped and packed into ice cube trays with water, wine, or a little bit of stock. These herbal ice cubes can be stored in a plastic bag and pulled out a few at a time to flavor soups, sauces or pasta.

Chive pesto

Try making this chive variation on pesto, a little bit spicier than traditional basil pesto.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 large bunch chives
  • olive oil

Directions:

Place sunflower seeds into bowl of food processor. Run food processor to chop the sunflower seeds. When they are sufficiently chopped, add in the garlic. Run processor until everything resembles a crumble. Add chives, lemon juice and about 2 Tbs. oil into food processor. Process until it starts to resemble a paste. Add olive oil by the Tbs. until it reaches desired consistency.Taste and add a pinch of salt and pepper.

For more information on Harvest of the Month and Island Grown Schools, visit islandgrownschools.org.

Emily Duncker is the Preschool Coordinator for Island Grown Schools.

Making homemade ricotta cheese is not as difficult as one might think. — Emily Duncker

Martha’s Vineyard farms are waking up for spring as a chorus of little “baas,” “moos,” and “cheeps” can be heard from the baby animals being born.

Step five: Scoop cheese curds into the colander with a slotted spoon.
Step five: Scoop cheese curds into the colander with a slotted spoon.

For many farmers, spring is a time of birth and renewal for their flocks and herds. When any mammal gives birth, they produce milk to feed their young, and for a dairy farmer this can mean twice-daily milkings. This April, we celebrate Dairy, in all of its delicious forms, as our Harvest of the Month.

On the Vineyard, we are lucky to have two commercial dairies, Mermaid Farm and Grey Barn and Farm, which sell milk and value-added products from their farms at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and in some independent food stores. Milk products from cows raised on grass have higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as well as richness and complexity of taste.

When purchasing milk and other dairy products from the grocery store, be sure to read the labels. Make sure the product contains no rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) or the similar hormone rBST. Check milk, yogurt, and smoothies for added sugar, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, and other artificial sweeteners, and avoid these products if possible.

You, too, can make ricotta

Ricotta cheese is fun and easy to make at home (we promise!). Try this recipe from Harvest of the Month guest chef Robin Forte.

Ingredients:

1 quart whole milk

Step six: gather corners of the cheesecloth and close with a rubber band.
Step six: gather corners of the cheesecloth and close with a rubber band.

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 and 1/2 tsp. white vinegar

1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:

In a medium pot, combine the milk and cream. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to 185 degrees; do not let the mixture boil. Remove the pot from the heat and add the vinegar and salt, stir for a minute, cover the pot with a clean dishcloth, and let sit two hours.

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place in a large bowl. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the curds into the colander. Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth and close with a rubber band. Let sit for 30 minutes. Transfer ricotta to a bowl and use right away, or refrigerate for later.

Emily Duncker is the Preschool Coordinator Program Administrator at Island Grown Schools.

Local eggs come in a variety of sizes and colors. — Photo By Emily Duncker

As we approach the spring equinox and the days get lighter, chickens have started laying more eggs, a sure sign that winter is coming to a close. At about 50 cents a portion, Island eggs are one of the most affordable sources of locally produced protein. With many families and farmers raising chickens on Martha’s Vineyard, we celebrate the spring and eggs as our Harvest of the Month this March.

Pasture raised eggs are a great source of many nutrients and minerals, such as omega-3 fatty acids, and the proof is in the yolk. Birds that are free to forage for bugs and graze on grass will have rich, orange yolks. A fresh egg will have a yolk that stands up and a firm white that does not spread much.

There is a wonderful world of chicken breeds that you can get lost in, and each one has a uniquely different shaped or colored egg. Australorps lay brown eggs, Auracaunas are famous for their pale blue eggs, Buff Orpingtons lay a beige egg, and the list goes on.

Try making this green frittata with your kids, inspired by Island Grown Schools’ curriculum director, Kaila Allen-Posin.

Ingredients:

One bunch greens such as kale or chard

Diced onion and garlic

One dozen eggs

Shredded cheese

Tortillas

Directions:

  1. Parents: preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Kids: For an easy crust, soak enough tortillas in water to cover the bottom of a pie dish.
  3. Kids: Remove large stems from greens and rip into small pieces.
  4. Parents: Add oil to a pan and sauté diced onion, garlic and greens until wilted.
  5. Kids: Crack and whisk a dozen eggs in a bowl.
  6. Put it all together: Place soaked tortillas on the bottom of a pie dish, heap cooked onion/green mixture on top. Pour whisked eggs over everything and move around to evenly distribute. Sprinkle cheese on top of everything.
  7. Place in oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until center of eggs are set.

Nora Duncheva inspects a sprouted onion. — Photo courtesy of Island Children's School

This February, Island Grown Schools celebrates the Allium family as its Harvest of the Month. These bulbing vegetables have layers of often papery skin, are prized for their anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, and add essential flavor to cooking. Alliums include garlic, onions, leeks, and chives.

Jack-Sherman-Explore-Sprouted-Onion.JPGFresh alliums, including leeks and chives, are harvested from mid-summer through fall, while garlic, shallots, and onions are harvested in late summer, then cured and stored for winter. Though alliums in storage begin to sprout green leaves at this time of the year, they are still as flavorful as when they were first harvested, and such a treat to enjoy in the winter.

This February, add some flavor to your cooking, and find new ways to incorporate alliums in your dishes. Try roasting peeled cloves of garlic covered in olive oil in an oven-proof dish until tender. Use the flavor-infused oil to drizzle on salads, and use the roasted garlic cloves in hummus, soups, or as a snack on bread. Find other ways to flavor your cooking with alliums from caramelized onions, shaved shallot, or braised leeks.

Roasted Garlic, recipe inspired by Nicole Cabot, IGS Coordinator for the West Tisbury School

Ingredients:

  • Two full bulbs garlic
  • Olive oil to cover

Directions:

  1. Parents: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Kids: pull each clove of garlic away from the bulb. Peel each clove of garlic.
  3. Put peeled garlic cloves into an oven-proof container, cover with olive oil, and place lid on. If you don’t have a tight-fitting lid, you can cover with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake in oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until garlic cloves are a light golden brown and soft.

You can always buy pre-peeled garlic at the grocery store, which makes this cooking project even easier. Store cloves and oil in an easy to reach container in the fridge to add to everything.

A sample of artwork created for the Harvest of the Month by West Tisbury School students. — Photo by Nicole Cabot

This January, kick off the New Year by celebrating Island Grown Schools’ Harvest of the Month — beans. These protein-packed legumes will give you the post-holiday energy boost you need to get through cold, dark days.

Dry beans are available year round in the bulk section at all grocery stores, and for added convenience you can also buy already cooked beans in cans. When purchasing canned beans, look for a low or no salt added brand.

Some popular varieties include: garbanzo/chickpeas, lentils, pinto, kidney, black, and cannelloni beans. In the garden, dry beans are planted in late May and grow all season to be harvested, dried, and shelled in the fall. Check local farm stands in the fall for interesting varieties of locally grown beans, such as Cranberry Beans at Morning Glory Farm.

Try to go “Meatless Monday” and use beans as the protein for your main dish. Make this kid-friendly Black Bean Hummus at home. Recipe courtesy of Robin Forte.

Black Bean Hummus

Ingredients:

3 cups cooked black beans

3 Tbs. lemon Juice

3 Tbs. sesame Tahini

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 Tbs. tomato paste

1 tsp. cumin, ground

1 tsp. salt

3 Tbs. Olive Oil

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, optional

1 Tbs. black sesame seeds, optional

1/4 to 1/2 cup bean cooking liquid or water as needed to thin hummus

Directions:

Kids and parents, in a food processor, combine first eight ingredients until smooth, adding water or bean cooking liquid as needed. Add red pepper flakes if using. Put hummus in a serving dish or bowl, sprinkle with optional black sesame seeds.