Thursday, July 30, 2009


At Tierra Vegetables, a lot of cabbages are grown each season. Many are divided up for the CSA, displayed for sales in the farm stand, hauled off to the city for committed customers, etc... A good quantity of large cabbages are planted with the intention of making sauerkraut, a traditional method of storing cabbage through the process of fermentation thus creating a product full of natural nutritional benefits. The larger the cabbage, the easier it is to process for this purpose.

On the right, father and son field crew Pablo and Jesus display thier larger-than-head size cabbage harvest. When producing and growing vegetables the best case scenario is that the veggies are sold as is, no processing necessary to create additional labor and time consumption on the farmer's end. It just so happens Lee, the sister half of the farming team, is quite the vegetable processor when time permits. Not only is she the genius behind many of the chile products, but also works hard each season to bring fermented pickles and sauerkraut to customers. The commercial kitchen located in Windsor also facilitates the plethora of possiblities for value added products at Tierra Vegetables.

Lee and Wayne usually work together on projects like these when their schedules collide with a size-able harvest of cabbages. I have had the pleasure of learning the new trade a few times as well. In this image Wayne takes the slicing position which is best or someone with strong arms since handling the large heads of cabbages can be tiring. As the sliced cabbage piles up, Lee weighs it out and adds salt in small portions, then pouring it into the crock and firmly pressing it down. Sometimes additional creative ingredients are added including chiles, carrots or beets since they are often not hard to find around the farm.

This is the view inside the crock during processing. Once full, a proper weight and cover is placed over the top in order to allow for the fermentation process to occur. It favors a specific ideal environment. It is then left to rest, wait and ferment until a bit of taste and quality testing deems it ready for packing off to market.

What is sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that becomes acidic, or tangy, in flavor as populations of beneficial bacteria go about their natural fermentation process.

The product contains shredded cabbage and salt. It is a raw, live product and ought to be kept refrigerated.

Fermented foods are alive with flavors and nutritional benefits. The acids produced during fermentation preserve and break down nutrients into more digestible forms. These acids create nutrients as microbial cultures go through their life cycles, supplying your digestive tract with living cultures to break down foods and assimilate nutrients.

Check out the current batch which is also the first batch this spring. There was a lull between the last fall cabbage harvest and the time it took to produce enough fresh spring cabbages for a new sauerkraut project. Lee and I made it one Monday about a month ago or so. We decided to add some shredded beet for a bit of pink coloring. This is just the first of many seasonal selections of fermented cabbage and pickles. Keep your eye out for these unique products. If you don't see them, just as, they are usually someplace to be found.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009



Pimientos de PadrĂ³n are named after a town in Galicia Spain. They are usually fried in salt and served as a tapa. Eating them might be compared to playing Russian Roulette. Each pepper is delicious, but occasionally you will get one that is explosively spicy. Sometimes almost all of them are highly explosive but then occasionally, an entire batch is sweet. Enjoy the gamble!

Uses: The best way to eat them is to savor them in unfussy glory—toss in a pan with olive oil and cook over high heat until blistered, about 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt, and devour.

Heat: Mild to extremely hot, notoriously variable.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The long, drawn out arrival of summer vegetables

Many of you have come by the farm stand seeking tomatoes, strawberries, corn, beans, etc.... I think I can confidently say it is all available now. It always seems to take to the end of July before abundant quantities of things we wander around waiting all season for, like tomatoes, actually arrive. Variety is still on hold as heirlooms take a bit more time to mature often, but tomatoes are ripe! Strawberries are available in some limited numbers...they aren't lasting all day long as supply hardly keeps up with demand, but there are lots now. Corn is just beginning to harvest from the first crop this season, please keep coming to try and get your hands on some.

Why does it take so long? In a grower's world there is something called a heat unit, also called Degree Days, when looking at things scientifically. This concept can be hard to grasp if you aren't used to thinking this way, but basically is the amount of heat that occurs each day above a certain benchmark temperature. These heat units are what contributes to growth. It may refer to growth of the vegetable plants and the progress in their vegetable production or is also used to determine life cycles of certain farm pests, say for instance, when the tomato hornworm is going to arrive on your beloved plants for the season, chewing away at the plant in camouflaged ecstasy.

Sonoma County is a great place to grow in general. There are many cold nights and foggy mornings that do not contribute to the seasonal progress of warm season vegetable production, limiting the heat units per day. If you go looking for it, you will find your warm season favorites shipped in from southern California and the Central Valley far sooner than your local community is able to provide these items. This makes it all the more special when that time is here and that time is now! No shipping involved, harvest season is here, get ready to preserve and enjoy the bounty of 2009.

Enjoy your veggies. Summer harvest season is on at your local farm.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Aji Amarillo

Aji Amarillo means yellow chile in Peru and refers to the vibrant color of this chile when allowed to fully ripen. Aji is the commonly used word for chile in the South American region.

Other Names: In dried form this chile may be referred to as cuzqueno (from Cuzco, Peru).

Uses: The fresh and vibrantly colored pods are wonderfully fruity when used fresh and are a perfect ingredient for ceviches and salsas. The pods are also dried and ground to make a beautiful and uniquely flavored powder. Aji chiles are considered a staple ingredient in Peruvian cuisine.

Heat: Very Hot. Aji chiles compete with or exceed the heat of Habanero-type chiles both being members of the chinense species and containing some of the highest levels of capsaicin.

Friday, July 17, 2009



The name Habanero means from Havana, referring to Havana, Cuba where it may have originated. Noted to be 50-100 times hotter than a Jalapeno and is one of the hottest chiles to be found. Be careful when handling this intensely hot chile.

Other Names: Habaneros are closely related to and are often called Scotch Bonnet and Jamaican Hot chiles.

Uses: Complimenting the intense heat of these chiles is a distinct tropical fruit flavor that mixes wonderfully with tomatoes and fruit. The riper the chile the sweeter the fruity flavor will become. Habaneros are used for salsas, chutneys and marinades, and “jerk” recipes and are increasingly popular as a bottled hot sauce. Preserve some for later by freezing whole pods or drying them for later use.

Heat: Extremely Hot. Hababneros are members of the chinense species and contain some of the highest levels of capsaicin.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Specialty Product: Wonderberry

The Wonderberry is the little black fruit lying upon a small pile of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Just a few of the plants were added to the end of one of the "specialty harvest" rows up front and close to the farm stand where harvesting can occur quickly on demand. They just recently ripened, offering another new flavor experience for myself, having never yet experienced the unique tiny tomato-like product. I like it. Others not so much. You must give it a try! Come by and ask. Like I said it is close to the farm stand and you could likely walk out and try a few for yourself, right off the plant.

This is what they look like outside, reminiscent of a similar nightshade-family weed you may have seen, but black berries perfectly edible and containing a unique sweet flavor all their own. You won't find these little guys in the grocery store, that is for sure. Come and check them out while the season is happening.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Red and Golden

The origin of this chile is likely traced back to the South American country called French Guiana. It may have been named for the capital city that exists here or the river called Cayenne that flows through the country. The name may also be rooted in the South American Tupi Indian word for pepper, kian. Portuguese traders have since spread this chile around the world.

It is unfortunate to learn that commercially produced “Cayenne” condiments or spices may or may not actually contain the actual chile. Rather a blend of similar pungent and small red varieties of the same species may be used to create a product using the name Cayenne.

Other Names: Sometimes called a Ginnie pepper. Both the guajillo and de arbol chiles are types of Cayenne.

Uses: Caynne may be used in sauces or soups, in bottled hot sauces, or decoratively. Favored in Creole and Cajun cooking, Cayennes may often be selected for gumbos and like dishes. Use in fresh green or red form for spicy salsas. They are predominantly used as a dried chile powder.

Heat: Very Hot.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Broccoli In Season

There is plenty of broccoli in season this week and for those of you who are intent on eating locally and seasonally, this is your ideal choice right now. Tierra has lots of broccoli this week for everyone! I hope you will all enjoy it because each of these florets are now sentimental to me since I sowed many a seed to make them possible this season.

This broccoli is called Violet Queen. If you are a grower of broccoli and/or cauliflower you may notice the leaves attached to this look more like a cauliflower. It is an interesting plant because of this growth habit, but sends out this beautifully colored, purple broccoli bouquet.

Enjoy some green and purple broccoli this week. Try them both and see if there is any difference in your opinion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Jalapeno and New Mexican Chiles


The name of this well-known chile came from the town of Jalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The Jalapeno is likely the most well known chile of all.

Uses: Jalapenos may be used for virtually any recipe including green or red variations in ripeness, de-veined or de-podded chiles to lighten the amount of heat, raw or roasted, dried or smoked as chipotles*. Perfect for salsas, soups, pickling, or any all-purpose spice need.

*Chipotles are often made using Jalapenos. Our chipotles, however, are made from a variety of chile types, including the traditional Jalapeno. Sample from the diversity of chipotles that Tierra offers to find what variety you like best.

Heat: Hot, but variable.

New Mexican Varieties

New Mexican chiles include the Anaheim (so named when it’s seeds were historically transported from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Anaheim, CA where a chile cannery operated in 1900), the Espanola Improved (best as a dried chile with thin walled fruit), Big Jim (one of the larger varieties-best for stuffing).

Traditionally New Mexican varieties have fallen under the umbrella name Anaheim and perhaps have become misunderstood as a result. In fact, there is a diversity of New Mexican chiles under cultivation, approximately 50 percent of the U.S. chile production is represented by New Mexican varieties, the majority still produced in New Mexico.

Uses: Use green (chile verde), or red (chile colorado). The red form of any chile has had more time to ripen and develop sweet flavor, the green version has a fresh green chile flavor that is perfect for rellenos. Deep red, ripe and leathery New Mexican chiles provide the materials you needs to make ristras, chiles hung to dry in the autumn sun. Roast them red and green.

Heat: Mild to medium to hot, may be quite variable.

Sweet Red Onions in Season!

These onions are perfect. They look perfect with a deep red/purple color and a round and somewhat flattened shape. They are called Red Burger and are similar to a Stockton Red onion, simply a variation upon the locally bred and popular Stockton variety. I guess the name Burger refers to the "burger" shape of the bulb, less round and more squat or flattened. Perfect to slice and lay upon the grill next to a slab of meat or all on it's own. Or with a small smattering of summer squash to accompany it as it is also now in abundance this time in the season.

Tierra Vegetables saved the seeds from these red onions last season, replanted last fall, and has a fantastic crop of them as a result this season. I even planted some of the seeds in my own garden and am enjoying my own Red Burger harvest right now.

While the majority of these onions will be sold for fresh use throughout the next months, a good supply of the will go toward processing too. Smoked, dried onions are a staple item in the Tierra inventory. These sweet red onions will make a great new crop for this product.

While you wait for the red, ripe tomatoes to present themselves, consider featuring onions in your dishes for a change. Before all of the other veggies are set aside for the tomato abundance of 2009, it is great opportunity to recognize what is available this time in the season.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Planting Above Ground Leafy Annuals and Flowers

Here are those same plants that were moving their way out of the greenhouse yesterday. They never made it in the ground on Tuesday due to the distractions of other work that needed to be done (operating the farm stand and CSA for one) and because the planting beds are still being prepped. Hopefully today, they are ready to go!

This is a nice overview of the southwest portion of the farm here, this is the area closest to the farm stand when you pull into the parking area. Behind the boxes full of plants that are itching to find their new homes in the field are rows of basil, behind them a couple of rows of tomatoes, behind the tomatoes and hidden from view in this shot is a mix of flowers/herbs/specialty products, then an area that needs planting represented by the bare patch and beyond this dry beans of all sorts that will fill the bean pots for sales throughout the winter. There is much more beyond this and plenty to see if you have not yet made the trek about the field. If you are in a hurry, bring a bicycle, I saw a couple take a quick field tour on wheels yesterday and thought it was a brilliant idea.

Now looking towards the parking area, this view is from those bare rows behind the tomatoes I mentioned above. It is not so bare after Lee spent some time working on them yesterday afternoon. A couple of rows of flowers were added here yesterday. Lee is adjusting the drip tape that will provide water to the tiny seeds in the field to assist germination. A single tape will feed both of these furrows as it is moved between the two rows of flowers seeds when they are young. Once older and established the tape will be left in the center where it will reach the roots of all the plants.

Lettuce was planted again yesterday too. This is the diligence that keeps us in constant supply for salads as long as possible throughout the season. Lettuce only lasts for so long in the heat of summer, but is so nice to have as a bed for our fresh tomatoes...