One of the most wonderful aspects of growing your own food has to be the joy of preparing and eating your produce after harvest. We are in the midst of this pleasurable activity right now, having just returned home from our Organic farming course. We feel that eating food that you have grown yourself, has to be one of the most deeply satisfying experiences in the world.
While Michelle is typing this, Rachel is making a delicious pasta meal using Spinach, Cauliflower and Rocket from the Organic Farm. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion (p.228) and is called….wait for it….
Spinach Pasta with Cauliflower, Rocket, Vino Cotta Butter and Fried Almonds
How amazing does that sound??
See recipe below…
Simultaneously, Michelle is in the process of making Ice-Cream from Custard Apples that we picked at our TAFE campus 2 weeks ago. On the day, our teacher Mark, explained that you could make a simple, no-cook, lactose and sugar free ice-cream from Custard Apples. We both thought that sounded worth a try! So we plucked a couple of large ones from the tree and then placed them in a brown paper bag. They have been slowly ripening up until today, when they are ready to go. The recipe is quite simple, as you can see below. We are yet to taste the finished product, but the mix tastes awesome and it’s been popped in the freezer for an initial 30 minutes. Should be ready in time for dessert tomorrow night!
Today we visited an interesting place called ‘The House With No Steps‘. This place operates essentially to create jobs for people with intellectual disabilities, and they have 200 acres on top of the hill just outside of Alstonville, Northern NSW. The mainly grow Avocados and Macadamia’s. Today we went up to help out with the Avocado harvest and learn about the sorting and packaging process. House with No Steps is not an Organic Farm, although they are becoming more organic in their practices with time (which is great).
Picking Avocado’s was heaps of fun, and Rachel especially had a real knack for using the extendable fruit picker thingo!
We then saw how the fruit was processed and packaged. It was interesting to be inside a fully operational farm of this scale (although not organic) for the first time. Our teacher wanted us to have some exposure to the harvesting, grading and packaging processes. We are really keen to see these processes more fully on organic farms and hopefully will be doing some harvesting and growing of seedlings at Summit Organics in near future.
Of course, one of the key reasons to go organic is to escape the chemicals associated with large scale modern agriculture. We all know that chemicals are used on non-organic produce. And as part of our tour we saw the Avocado’s we had just helped pick go through a wash with an insecticide as part of the pre-packaging process. The plant manager explained that all Avocados that are sent interstate are treated in this chemical solution to prevent fruit fly, whilst Avocado’s sold locally, do not need this treatment.
After about 2 minutes within the vicinity of Avocado’s that had just been treated by this chemical (whose name we can’t remember) Michelle’s glands started to swell up! Another person in our group had a similar reaction. Others didn’t notice anything. But here’s the something new that we learnt. These chemicals are what’s known as ‘systemic‘ – this means that you can’t just wash them off after you take them home. They go right through the entire fruit/vegetable. They help control pests (like fruit fly) after harvesting and ensure produce looks good by the time it reaches the supermarket shelves. It’s our understanding that these are routinely used (on non-organic food) when they are sent interstate/overseas to be stocked in supermarkets. So the implication is that you cannot simply wash off the chemicals on your produce, which is what we have both assumed up until now. Basically any non-organic veggies and fruits have been exposed to a range of agricultural chemicals at many points throughout the planting, growing and harvesting process. These can’t be quickly removed by running them under the tap!
Goodness, it has really made us question whether we want to be buying anything that is not organic, especially if it is from interstate or overseas. We have been really committed to buying organic, but sometimes will purchase something we need and haven’t been able to get from an organic supplier. But the consequence of this choice is digesting unknown and probably harmful chemicals into our systems…
Wouldn’t you think we’d have access to information about what is present in the food we are eating?
Another thing we didn’t know, is that, because organic farming is still a growing industry, many seeds are not available as Certified Organic, because there are simply not enough organic farmers and nurseries out there to produce the number of seeds or seedlings some farms require. Or there may not be seeds or seedlings in all the varieties, but farmers want to bring consumers both their favourites as well as new and interesting seasonal produce. So organic farmers must sometimes select seeds/seedlings that have come from non-organic backgrounds. There is a real need out there, apparently, for organic seeds and seedling nurseries. The other thing we didn’t realise is that an organic farmer can purchase seedlings, such as carrots, from any farmer who has probably used chemicals in the initial stages of the plants life, and then the organic farmer can still call this organic produce because they don’t use further chemicals. Of course, organic farmers want to be growing food with no exposure to chemicals from seed to harvest, but this is not always possible and depends on the stocks of seeds and seedlings available. As the organics industry grows (and it is booming!!) then you would expect that things will change and so our organic veggies are getting more and more deeply organic.
I guess it speaks to the importance of having a relationship with your organic farmer, where possible, and knowing their actual practices, whether you get this information through their website or their market stall or through becoming involved as we have. It also speaks to the power of the consumer (that’s you and me). Purchasing power works and as we put our dollars more and more into organics, we will be rewarded with the best standards and the best produce. A paradigm shift always takes time and there are tensions that must be managed as the whole society catches up.
Now to some recipes:
Spinach Pasta with Cauliflower, Rocket and Vino Cotto and Fried Almonds
- 20g unsalted butter
- 1/4 flaked almonds
- 300g dried or fresh spinach pasta
- 300g trimmed caluliflower florets
- sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- 2 big handfulls of rocket leaves, washed and dried
- Vino Cotto Butter Ingredients
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely choppe
- 75g unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon vino cotto
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Make the vino cotto butter first of all. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until well combined. Scrape into a large bowl and set aside.
Melt butter in a small frying pan over medium heat, then saute flaked almonds until golden and quickly tip them onto a plate lined with plenty of paper towel.
Preheat oven to 100 degrees C and put an ovenproof serving dish inside to warm.
Cook pasta in a large saucepan or pasta pot of boiling lightly salted water until al dente. Cauliflower takes just 5 minutes to steam so plan accodingly, depending on whether the pasta is dried or fresh. If you have dried pasta it will take at least 10 minues to cook (read what the packet says). If you have made your own pasta, it will only take a few moments to cook, so in this case the cauliflower should be cooked before the pasta.
Half-fill a wok with water. Place a bamboo steamer over water and turn heat to high. Once water is boiling, scatter cauliflower florets inside steamer, cover with lid ans team for 5 minutes or until tender. Tip cauliflower florets into large mixing bowl with vino cotto butter.
Drain pasta, and add to bowl with cauliflower and vino cotto butter. Toss gently to thoroughly coat cauliflower and pasta in vino cotto butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in rocket and transfer to warm serving dish. Scatter over friend almonds and serve at once.
Custard Apple Ice-Cream
(Sugar Free, Lactose Free, No Cook Recipe)