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Leeks must be thoroughly washed before using. Slice leeks lengthwise in half and wash under running water to remove any soil that might hide between leaves. Use green fibrous tops when making stock. The Roman military introduced Leeks in the wake of their European conquests, the mild allium went on to grace Scotland’s cock-a-leekie soup, to feed Chaucer’s Canterbury-bound Pilgrims, and to become the national symbol of Wales. You may use leeks, in any recipe calling for onions.
Leeks are members of the vast and varied group known as Alliums, which are related to both the Lily and the Amaryllis families. Leeks are one of the oldest cultivated Alliums. Our English word leek, which comes to us from the Saxon word “leac”, once stood for any member of the onion family, as in “gar-leac”. With a more delicate and sweeter flavor than onions, leeks add a subtle touch to recipes without overpowering other flavors. Their soft texture is essential in making flavorful winter soups with other cool season crops like kale, chard, turnips, potatoes, and carrots. Alliums have been well-researched and found to reduce total cholesterol and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels, while at the same time raising HDL, or “good” cholesterol levels. Additionally, “leacs” can help lower high blood pressure, all of which reduces one’s risk of heart attack and stroke. As few as two servings per week are associated with a reduced risk of prostate, ovarian and colon cancers. The combination of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and iron make leeks particularly helpful in stabilizing blood sugar, since they slow absorption of sugars from the intestinal tract, and help ensure proper sugar metabolism in the body.
Legend tells us that during the Briton vs. Saxon battle of 640 AD, the Welch combatants wore Leeks in their hats to distinguish themselves from the enemy. Ever since, patriotic Welsh have worn leeks on St. David’s Day to both honor their patron saint and commemorate that victorious event.
The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking features Braised Leeks, Slow-Roasted Leeks, Grilled Leeks, Creamy Leeks and Warm Leeks Vinaigrette. We love caramelized leeks on foccacia bread or pizza.
“It’s the kiss of frost that puts the flavor in Root Vegetables.”
We first grew carrots just for our family and selected the Nantes for its sweetness, knowing that this variety is too delicate for mechanical harvesting. We thought we could never grow them commercially, but visitors to our farm kept begging us to make them available in stores. Bunched carrots are your guarantee of freshness, but remove the tops promptly to preserve the carrot’s flavor after you get home.
Carrots were once highly prized both as an exotic food and delicate ornament. Ladies of the Stuart court pinned the young feathery plumage of carrots on their splendid hats!
Beta-carotene is a deep-orange compound abundant in Nantes Carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupes. Populations whose diets are naturally high in Beta-carotene have low incidence of lung, colon, prostate, cervical and breast cancer.
Unlike the bright orange varieties most familiar in this country, ancient Carrots derived from purple species first grown in Afghanistan during the seventh century. The Moors brought seeds of purple carrots, together with a yellow mutant variety, to Western Europe. From these, Dutch gardeners developed the orange carrot during the Middle Ages. Some are under the mistaken impression that “orange carrots are not that nutritious.” Beta-carotene is a deep-orange compound abundant in carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupes.
Cut the stems off leaving the leaves intact. Fill a deep basin with water, immerse leaves and after gentle agitation, allow to rest undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Scoop out leaves, drain and coarsely chop. Wash and trim the turnip root, but you don’t need to peel them. For each bunch of turnips, use 1 tbsp. each of butter and olive oil. Heat in a large heavy skillet. Sauté the sliced bottoms about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Add the coarsely chopped greens, stirring constantly until all the green are wilted and turn dark green. Serve at once; these need no further seasoning.
Our “Snow White” Turnips need not be peeled and may be eaten raw or cooked: shred or julienne turnips into salads or soups. Thinly slice Turnips and sauté in just a bit of butter and olive oil or roast with meats and other vegetables.
My sister and I eat Snow White Turnips like apples. You may wish to cut turnips into sticks and serve with dip or instead of celery alongside some Buffalo wings. Creamy white turnip bottoms are a low-carb substitute for potatoes in chowders and stews. To bring out their sweetness, bake them alongside a chicken or roast.
Colza oil, pressed from the seeds of Indian Turnips, was imported to fill the lamps of Europe from the thirteenth century until replaced by whale oil. The Romans, familiar with this edible root crop, were said to prefer it to the carrot. Through the Middle Ages, the turnip was considered a modest staple. Thus, turnips on an English coat-of-arms indicate the family as a benefactor of the poor. In colonial Massachusetts, a bushel of turnips would buy a cord of oak firewood and the enthusiastic Thomas Jefferson grew ten varieties! We grow a pure white Asian variety with mild spicy greens.
We once believed that Brussels Sprouts could only be grown within view of the cool foggy oceanside. We started these plants from seed last summer, transplanted them in September and began harvesting the “little cabbages” just last week. As with all Brassicas, cook uncovered, or covered very loosely so that objectionable sulfurous compounds may escape. Toss Sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper, spread them out on a sheet pan so that air can circulate freely, do not crowd them. Roast at 400 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, until crispy on the outside.
Bunched Red Beets may be eaten raw, or cooked by roasting, steaming, boiling or baking. Use small, tender leaves in green salads; braise remaining greens, pinching off coarse stems. The lovely red color of beets will stain your hands, clothes and counter tops, wear gloves, apron and use a cutting board.
The secret to enjoying beets is to roast them like you would a baked potato. When they are cool enough to touch, don a pair of gloves and peel them. Now they are ready to use in a salad, in Harvard Beets, Pickled Beets, or served warm with butter, salt and pepper.
The wild beet ancestor of the Red Ace Beet is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores. The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe. Beets’ value grew in the 19th century when it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar, and the first sugar factory was built in Poland. When access to sugar cane was restricted by the British, Napoleon decreed that the beet be used as the primary source of sugar, catalyzing its popularity. Around this time, beets were also first brought to the United States, where they are widely cultivated. The wildly creative energy of innovative chefs is revitalizing interest in what many of us still remember as an unappetizing canned vegetable. Beneath the beet’s unattractive hide is found a versatile flesh that may be served hot or cold, pickled, roasted, juiced, deep fried, mashed or eaten raw.
Pizarro was the first European to discover Potatoes in the Andes after the Incas had been cultivating them for thousands of years. The Incas made a freeze-dried concoction of their potatoes and thus, were the first in the new world to process or preserve food. A few decades later Sir Francis Drake brought potatoes home to England and gave them to Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh attempted to woo Queen Elizabeth with this gift from his garden. Her chefs threw out the lumpy looking tubers and served the stems and leaves. As they did not know that potatoes are in the deadly nightshade family, the queen’s guests all became deathly ill and Elizabeth remained unmarried for the remainder of her reign. We owe the potato’s acceptance to a French pharmacist, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who championed the potato following a stint as a German prisoner during the Seven Years’ War. He was fed almost exclusively on potatoes during his captivity and returned home convinced that the tubers had unplumbed possibilities. To convince the public that potatoes were not only safe, but desirable, he planted a large field and posted sentries to guard the valuable and mysterious crop. Once the potatoes were set and sizing, he sent the sentries home at night. The locals, convinced by this time that there must be something very valuable growing in his field, snuck in to “sample” the goods. Today one cannot graduate from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School until she or he has prepared potatoes 30 different ways!
Russet Potatoes are the high-starch potato used for “chipping”, baking and frying. In Ireland “floury” potatoes are boiled “in their jackets” until not quite tender, drained and returned to fire to “steam”. When the jackets burst open, they are served with just butter and salt.