4/22/09

First Harvest: Raab

Raab 1I had been hoping to finally plant the remaining cauliflower and broccoli plants last weekend, but on Saturday we had yet another spell of rain, so I was forced to wait once again. On Monday I wandering through the garden with Rob, seeing what needed to be done, and was surprised to find a yellow flower blooming on one of my raab plants. Now, I'm no expert on broccoli and its many relatives, but I'm pretty sure that's a sign your raab is ready to harvest.

Because I've never actually cooked with raab before, I decided to search for and try out a new recipe. The Hearty Peasant Soup from Whole Living sounded good, similar to minestrone, which I like. Anything with cannelini beans (or chickpeas, which are offered as another option) sounds good to me.

I cut the stalks for eating Monday night, leaving behind some little leaves in hopes of another harvest, tied them with a rubber band, and stuffed them in a plastic shopping bag overnight. Next time I think I'll harvest them the day of eating, so the greens do not turn limp. Also, freshly picked vegetables are loaded with more nutrients.

In case you're curious, this is what a stalk of raab looks like:

Raab 2

You might notice the little flower-head that looks like a mini-broccoli. The plant, though, is smaller and more loosely formed. They're grown primarily for greens. This variety is an open-pollinated cultivar known as "Sorrento."

Before washing the raab, I removed the big leaves like so:

Raab 3

After which I cut the leaves, stalks, and heads, then dropped them into the colander to be washed:

Raab 4

Finally, after I had sauteed the onions and garlic and thrown in some tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and a can of diced tomatoes in the pot, I piled in the raab:

Raab 5

I served the soup with a an Italian bread from Farm to Market. I like to slice it up, brush on a bit of oil and salt, and toast it in the oven. Yum! The recipe recommends a whole wheat bread, which would definitely suit the sweet-tang of the tomatoes and rough texture of the beans and raab, but I think a nice rustic French farm loaf would also do.

If you're wondering how raab tastes, it's comparable to mustard, turnip, or collard greens (all close relatives). If none of those flavors rings a bell, think of a stronger, spicier spinach. Like most greens, when it's cooked down or mixed in something, the flavor turns somewhat milder. It adds a nice texture and bite to anything. A few years ago, I wouldn't have thought myself a fan of greens, but now I love them. Raab is definitely a green worth trying. I'll be planting more when Autumn nears.

4/6/09

Changing Seasons

Vegetable Garden 040209 The last couple of weeks has been interesting, to say the least. Not long after I wrote about veritably spring-like temperatures, everything got cold and wet. The next week we got snow. I'm afraid this is typical for Missouri--not very temperate, is it?

The day after the snow, the weather warmed fast. I walked outside to check on the garden and found that the weight of the snow had broken the glass of a window I've been using as makeshift coldframe. The plants below got squashed and cut by the shards of glass, but for the most part they made it through the trauma just fine. And luckily the weather warmed enough that I didn't need to cover the plants.

Seedlings 040209Last week, things stayed on an even keel. The tomatoes sprouted and so did the herbs. I raked up the remaining leaves and tore out dried-up iris leaves in the front. The muscari bloomed. The poet's daffodils sent up buds. On Saturday, the high was 70. It was cloudy but otherwise gorgeous (of course, if you're like me and like cloudy weather, it was gorgeous anyway). I decided to finally plant some of my lettuces in the ground while the neighbor's children watched through the fence. It was a good day in the garden.

That night, however, the temperature began to drop. On Sunday we had rain and sleet, and the frost inevitably re-appeared last night. I hadn't thought far enough into advance to cover my vegetables, but I worried over it as I went to bed. While most of the plants outside are varieties able to withstand light frost, there's always the possibility that they won't.

'Sorrento' Raab 040209So this morning, after throwing some coffee in the pot to brew, I walked outside with a couple of old sheets and quickly examined my young crops. The cole crops looked a bit flimsy, but they had not shriveled up. The lettuce and remaining plants were a bit cold, but it was toasty in their glass-covered house then outside. I covered up my cole crops and also my peas (just to be safe) and walked back inside to eat breakfast.

All in all, quite a scare and a good reminder to never trust Missouri weather too much. Just when you think it's spring, winter returns. While I think climate change is playing into these strange shifts, I do think this region is just prone to it. Hence the old maxim, "If you don't like the weather, just wait another week." Or a couple days. Whichever.