Harvest of the Month

Ripe strawberries spell summer on Martha's Vineyard.

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.

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.

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. — Emily Duncker

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. — Emily Duncker

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.

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.

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.

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.