News and blog
Why Are Peaches Fuzzy?
No, not Fozzie! Fuzzy!
This question was posed to me via twitter by Sean, proprietor and brewmaster at Mellody Brewing Co., food maven, #tastingjawn master, stylish bow tie wearer, friend of the farm, and stalwart Phillies supporter:
@3springsfruit why are peaches fuzzy?— MellodyBrewing (@mellodybrewing) August 26, 2014
A great question, Sean, and a worthy blog entry in our "Ask a Grower" series.
Peaches, Prunus persica, were originally grown in China. Clemson claims these fruits washed up on the shores of the New World in 1571 with Spanish missionaries, first arriving in what's now St. Simon's Island, Georgia. So, they evolved in a climate and environment not very familiar to me.
However, by my observation here in the Eastern US, peach fuzz (or pubescence to all we Horticulture nerds) is a natural defense system for protecting the fruits from rainwater. The tiny hairs allow droplets of water to sit on top of them and not on the more vulnerable skin of the fruit. Now certainly, when rains are heavy, the peaches will get wet. But for light rains or heavy dews, it's conceivable peaches could be more susceptible to rots and bacteria than they already are without that pubescence.
Unless, they just adapted to express the recessive allele for pubescence and became nectarines. Nectarines are simply fuzz-less peaches. Though there are markedly different flavors between peaches and nectarines in many cases, scientifically, this is all that separates them. Why don't nectarines rot more than peaches? Well... hehe - sometimes they do. However, they've been naturally selected for smoother and smoother skin, allowing (in an ideal environment) to allow rain waters to slip-slide all down the fruits and onto the ground, feeding the roots.
Some suspect peach fuzz can deter browsing from insects and other animals. Well... as I said, I've never been to China. The super smart-alecky farmer notion in me would like to know why it hasn't stopped any stink bugs, Oriental Fruit Moths, Tarnished Plant Bugs, Western Flower Thrips, Tufted Apple Budmoth, Plum Curculio, crows, turkeys, or deer that we have here in our environment... just to name a few. I'm just glad it hasn't stopped you, the faithful 3Springs blog reader and peach devotee, from browsing on them at your home!
Wocka Wocka Wocka!
- "Ask a Grower" vol. VI - Grafting
- "Ask A Grower" vol. V - Proper Apple Storage
- "Ask A Grower" vol. IV - All About Cider
- "Ask A Grower" vol. III - Clingstone Peaches vs. Freestone Peaches
- "Ask A Grower" vol. II - Granny Smith Fables
- "Ask A Grower" vol I - Roots & Scions
Heirloom, Just Old, or Ugly
Heirloom tomatoes are officially a thing! Or so I'm told.
All jokes aside, heirloom tomatoes more than a thing, they're an awesome thing! Since their advent into the marketplace, many other things have been anointed as "heirloom" as the term has come to be synonymous with a level of quality. But what does the word mean and how is it used? How is the term abused? Let's (blanch, and) peel back some tomato skin and learn more!
When a clock or a quilt is a family heirloom, it's an item that's been handed down in the family for generations. While there's no consensus definition of heirloom as applied to tomatoes, this first premise is required in any definition of heirloom - it must be a tomato that's been handed down for generations. When you hand down Grandfather's watch to a new generation, it's as simple as keeping it somewhere safe until you entrust a younger family member to keep it somewhere safe. To pass along an heirloom tomato, you need to save seeds and use those seeds to grow a new crop of tomatoes of the same variety (ideally) every year. Therefore, a hybridized tomato, whose seeds are infertile and designed such that their seeds must be purchased every year and not saved from the fruit, cannot be an heirloom.
Without any real numbers to back me up, hybridized tomatoes (red slicers in the grocery store and their ilk) make up the overwhelming majority of the marketplace but represent a very tiny percentage of the biodiversity of the tomato (tomatoes originated in Mexico, for the nutritional anthropologists out there). It's impossible to quantify the number of heirloom tomato varieties they are because many are open pollinated and the genetic makeup of each tomato can change from year to year. In this way, a seed saver's tomato patch is similar to a livestock operation - such that your neighbor's Green Zebra tomatoes might possess different characteristics than yours if you're selecting your seeds for different quantities.
For me, that's the whole of my definition. While the tomatoes your family brought over from Italy and have grown every year in your garden are, maybe, more heirloom (if there can be such a thing) than my Arkansas Traveler, if the tomato can be passed down (and has been), it's an heirloom in my eyes.
The Arkansas Traveler (pictured above) was an intentional example, to demonstrate a counter argument. One of the first things you'll learn when you study heirloom tomatoes is there are multiple and conflicting stories around the origin of each variety. Many of these are fictionalized and romanticized to make them more appealing. So, depending on which story you believe, the Arkansas Traveler was either passed down "through folks in the Mountains of Arkansas where it was a hillbilly favorite" or it was developed by tomato breeders at the University of Arkansas anywhere from the 1930's to the 1970's. But this much is for sure, the seeds saved from our Arkansas Traveler tomatoes will yield tomatoes similar to its predecessors. Since this has occurred over at least one generation, I consider these heirloom tomatoes. Again, the main distinction being it's viability from seed.
So, why do heirloom tomatoes taste so much better? First, a reminder that language is what we make it to be, just like a wiki. Sometimes, our population gets it right. Sometimes, we abuse terms like "artisan" (NSFW language). But, there's nothing about "heirloom" that automatically means delicious! More than likely, the heirloom tomato seeds were saved by folks because somebody found them tasty. However, I've had plenty of heirloom tomatoes that didn't taste good and a very select few hybrid tomatoes that did taste very good as well. However, by in large, tomato breeders bred hybrid tomatoes to look good, store well, and take abuse. Heirloom tomato seed savers have selected and saved seeds almost exclusively for taste and flavor. And that's why heirloom tomatoes taste better. It isn't that they automatically taste better, it's because they were selected for taste rather than anything but, in the case of their hybrid counterparts.
So! To review, in a very logic problem kind of way. All non-hybridized seeds can be heirlooms, but not every one is. All heirlooms are non-hybridized. Not all "old" tomato varieties are heirlooms, BUT (again) all heirlooms are (at least a few generations) old. Heirloom tomato seeds can be saved based on any preferable characteristic but are most commonly saved because of their superior flavor, often resulting oddly colored and oddly shaped tomatoes that taste good! However, not all heirloom tomatoes are oddly colored and oddly shaped just as not all hybrid tomatoes are uniformly colored and shaped. Anything can be considered "heirloom" if it has been passed down over a number of years, but that doesn't mean it has the characteristics you want.
And that is as comprehensive a lecture on heirloom tomatoes as you'd ever care to read!
If you're reading this update, a grocery store near you recently pulled California peaches off its shelves because of a recent lysteria contamination.
Should local Giants, Aldis, Trader Joes, Costco's etc. be stocking peaches, plums etc from California? Well, if people buy them, they'll continue to sell them. A better question, should these stores stock peaches while local products are in season? Well... again, California peaches will always be cheaper because they've got the economy of scale on their side. A lot of people are looking to buy cheap peaches. Georgia, South Carolina the same - they can grow peaches cheaper in these places than we can. When people want cheap fruits and vegetables, these grocery stores will sell them. However, lysteria is no laughing matter so that could start to make an impact on people's buying decisions as well.
So, there's a reason that cheap food is so inexpensive and this week's recall is a prime example of this. But what can we do to lower the cost of food? Well, as French grocer Intermarché has done in this video(embedded below), we can reduce food waste. The third largest chain of groceries in food-crazed France introduced the concept of "inglorious fruits and vegetables" - oddball and somewhat ugly produce purchased directly from local growers and offered to the public at a discount. The idea was a huge hit and produced measurable impacts on their receipts AND in reducing food waste. How cool it would be to see these super markets replace the shelf space one occupied by recalled California peaches with local, "inglorious" fruits and vegetables? That sounds like cheap(er), healthy, safe eating that we can all get behind.
It takes a lot of good people to make us successful. And certainly, Shane is a big part of our success at market! When you see Shane and Lauren at market, thank them for their hard work and see what he's "arted" from our produce this week! Also, check out his Instagram feed for updates on produce art , it was recently featured in American Fruit Grower magazine!
What Is FarmFan?
We stand on the edge very edge of exciting new products at market, folks! All in the running for weekend market table debuts include: kale, head lettuce, chard, rhubarb, and strawberries. Of the five, rhubarb is the best bet for sure-fire inclusion, but it's coming down to the wire on all of them. If your'e a regular reader of our emails and blogs, then it's important to you what's shaking around the farm here. For that we are extremely grateful - you're the reason we put such long hard hours in every week. We also can keep in touch with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for those who are social media savvy.
In addition to these steadfast "known entity" ways to keep up with your favorite fruit farm, we offer FarmFan (click to sign up) as a new way to be in the know. Whereas it's hard for me to contact you in regards to your specific market with an email, Facebook status, Tweet or instagram (save #HHmkt, #FOTSmkt), this new option allows me to but a very timely market-specific produce update right in the palm of your hand. When blueberries are few in the early season and it's going to be a massive disappointment to get ready to go to market and arrive only to find they're already sold out, FarmFan is a way you can get the "inside track" on the items that we'll have and figure out how to prioritize your time - get to market super early, or catch a coffee with a friend. It's no more than one text per market day and we would never in a million years be able to live with ourselves if we abused your phone number - after all, we've safeguarded your email all this time, haven't we? Just another option for the truly dedicated farmers market devotee to stay one step ahead of the produce-hungry masses!
As the warm sun begins to shine down on us, the familiar white canopies of our local farmers’ markets begin to pop up around our neighborhood parks. This is our indication that spring has arrived and fresh vegetables are becoming readily available. Like blossoms on the trees, asparagus shoots begin to show their stalks from below the soil.
As I look outside today, the rain has not stopped. By the end of the day tomorrow, it will be the third continuous day of rain here in Adams County, PA. Our asparagus will be reaching for the skies.
Get your grills ready, and your propane tanks filled, because our asparagus will be growing like grass on your lawn!
For those of us who love eating this rich, nutritious vegetable, we can thank the Greeks and the Romans centuries ago; they ate it fresh when in season and dried it for the winter months and later preserved it by freezing. They have long since eaten it for its unique flavors, texture, and medicinal qualities. Scientifically named as asparagus officinalis, it can also be referred to as speargrass, esparrago, asparago, and sparrow grass.
Asparagus is generally available year round in most grocery stores and markets throughout the country; however spring is the best time to buy it fresh locally. Although available commercially, it is of less quality than purchasing it from your local farmer. Shortly after being picked, asparagus begins to lose its sugar causing it to become more starchy and tough. The best time to eat your asparagus is within a day or two of being picked. Many ask the question of how it should be stored once purchased. Asparagus is related to the lilac flower, so when storing, cut about a half inch off the bottom and place into a cup or jar with water and cover the tops loosely with a plastic bag.
Many foodies these days are always trying to find the next best (or best looking) edible to dress up their culinary plate. That’s why if you’re lucky, you may be able to find the elusive white asparagus. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the white asparagus, it is a more expensive and labor intensive asparagus grown by depriving it from the sunlight. As the tips begin to break through the soil, farmers must continue covering the plant with soil to prevent the development of Chlorophyll. Using a special tool, workers can dig and cut the white asparagus from the ground; however, after harvest they must be kept in a box away from light (note: white asparagus is not a variety). Purple asparagus is another ever growing variety, mainly sought after for its coloring; it is more tender and has a slightly sweeter, fruiter flavor. After prolonged cooking, the asparagus will lose its coloring and turn green.
For most consumers in the U.S., the green-colored variety of asparagus is the most common type found in grocery stores. When selecting your bundles, look for stalks that are rounded with firm stems. At the tips, be sure the colors are a deep green to purple with closed tips. As the plant matures, they do get wider in diameter. Thinner asparagus, also referred to as sprue, don’t tend to have as much flavor and substance as thicker diameter stalks; but if you go to thick, they can tend to be a bit tougher and woodier in flavor.
So, the question remains, why should we be eating more asparagus? Well, it’s no different than any other reason why we should be eating more fresh vegetables. It’s nutritious. Asparagus is a great source of fiber and protein, which are both essential for digestion and the immune system. It contains multiple vitamins such as A, B, C, E, and K. Add a few more letters, and the asparagus is one of the healthiest vegetable to eat. The health benefits are endless; anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidants, digestive support, blood sugar regulation, and anti-cancer benefits name just a few.
Well, sure it’s healthy, but some may be wondering if you should eat it because of the smell of your – you know what. You will be happy to know that being able to smell this pungent odor is very normal, well, half normal. Only 22% - 40% of the population have the sensitivity to smell it. As the asparagus digests in your stomach, the sulfuric amino acids break down in to a smelly chemical compound called asparagusic acid that can actually be detected up to 15 minutes after you eat. It’s ok, whichever way you smell or don’t smell, you should still be eating asparagus!
By now, you may be asking, what’s the best way to cook and eat my new bundle of asparagus? There are so many options where do I begin? Grilled, sautéed, roasted? I think the simplest and most delicious is to grill them over an open flame. Drizzle the asparagus with some EVOO, salt and pepper and put them on the grill; add a grilled steak or chicken and some mashers and dinner is served. Not in the mood to grill? Do the same prep and roast them in the oven for at 400 for 8-10 minutes and it’s just as good. I love to cut up asparagus and add them to my omelets in the morning for a rich flavorful breakfast.
Here are a couple of recipes that I have used that can help get you started on your own asparagus journey.
For a great start to the day check out this filling morning omelets recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/spring-omelet/
For those of you who love the cooking on the grill: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/grilled_asparagus/
If you have a lot of mouths to feed and short on time, here is an easy kitchen prep: http://natashaskitchen.com/2012/04/13/baked-asparagus-with-lemon-butter-and-parmesan/
Three Cheers for L.E.A.F!
It took a lot of work, sweat, blood, and tears to bring this family farm into its seventh generation of stewardship. In respect of that fact and the privelege I feel, as a seventh generation grower, to have a farm to inherit, we try to give back whenever we can.
And in so doing, we find the rewards come back to us threefold! A fine example of this was our participation in the first season of Project LEAF. Friend of the farm Heidi Witmer has been putting years of effort into getting this project off the ground and, in our opinion, she hit it out of the park. The kids were outstanding and asked terrific questions - they were so engaged when they came to visit us. They worked hard and learned a lot - making cases of value added products from a wide range of our "secondy" farm products. The dinner they served and prepared for the final LEAF Feast was epic and delicious.
I've always said, more than the food, more than the lifestyle, more than pride I feel - the community I work in nearly always wins out as "top perk of the job".
We were honored to host the preeminent International group of tree fruit professionals to our farm this July, 2013. Here's a slideshow of some photos documenting the tour!
Our first ever farmers markets in Philadelphia occurred way back in July of 2007. At the time, one of the few things we had for sale were tart cherries, a crop we've grown in high volume since I was about three years old. We were blown away with how excited people were to have these fruits, 28 acres or so of which comprised my "back yard" growing up.
But never in my wildest dreams did I expect these humble, yummy nuggets to receive such fanfare! Perhaps the word is out on their nutritional benefits, perhaps folks just learned to eat them fresh as snacks as I did as a child. Regardless, check out just a few of the noteworthy uses and destination for this, the 2013 crop of tart cherries.
- How about Baltimore's pioneering, phenominal, every-bit-as-good-as-advertised Woodberry Kitchen? <one of my all-time favorite, must-eat-here restaurants>
- Zagat Survey in Philadelphia touted our crop of tart cherries to be the best thing they that weekend!
- Philadelphia's Ritz Carlton "10 Arts" chose our cherries for their menu this year
- Through our partnership with Zone 7, Three Springs produce made their NYC debut at such establishments as Print in Hell's Kitchen, Angelica Kitchen in the East Village, Light Horse Tavern in Jersey City plus a slew of cool-looking joints in Brooklyn too numerous to mention (which, truthfully, might be where I'd like to taste these cherries).
- Chef Brian Ricci at Kennett (more destination dining/big friend of this farm) made a big batch of cherry mustard which must be tried the next time I brunch there after Headhouse!
- Chef Valerie Irwin at Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Mt. Airy (Philly) will be out of her cherries quickly seeing as how they won't open until Wednesday dinner service and there were already mobbed by swarms of hungry would-be diners when I made my delivery today (Monday), thanks to the feature on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
- Talented South Philly Brewmaster Sean at Mellody Brewing Company has his cherries pitted and ready to brew in this year's vintage of the highly appetizing Sour Cherry Patersbier!
- The @3springsfruit #cherrytour in #Philly proudly made stops at the storefronts of some old friends (Weaver's Way Coop, Greensgrow Farms, Fairfood Farmstand at Reading Terminal market) and some new ones too (Swarthmore Coop, Teens 4 Good, Oyster House, Christina Maser Co., and Sweet Elizabeth Cakes).
- As always the bulk of our tart cherries were sold to Knouse Foods Cooperative here in our backyard to make Lucky Leaf and Musselman's brand cherry pie filling, using this handy method:
- The Cooperative provides us the means by which we can provide you with another year's supply of this customer favorite:
So, now that we've plumped the ego of one of our favorite fruits, we'll have a hard time living with them until next June/July when they'll bask in the glow of the superfruit spotlight once more. I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Demille!
In 2008, Three Springs was a vendor at the inaugural year at the short-lived Harbor East farmers market. When that market was shuttered, we promised our good customers there that if we had the chance to return to the area, we would.
When that opportunity arose in 2011 to join the Fells Point Farmers Market, we jumped on board. When circumstances necessitated our exit from that market before THIS season, we vowed to return to Baltimore for the right opportunity.
The opportunity has finally come around! Starting this Thursday, 6/13/2013, Three Springs will be back in the Land of Pleasant Living for the opening of the Pratt Street Farmers Market. This market is producer only, a quality missing in many other Baltimore markets. We'll be selling our tasty, farm-grown wares on at the plaza at Pratt and Light Streets from 11am-3pm each Thursday until September 26th! We can't wait to see you there.
And LET'S GO O'S!