Posts Tagged ‘Vegetable of the Month’

  • Vegetable of the Month: Lettuce

    By Kathleen Yetman Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a leafy green plant in the daisy family that was originally cultivated from a weed by the Ancient Egyptians. There are hundreds of lettuce cultivars varying in color, leaf shape, texture, and growth habit. Lettuces generally come in a spectrum of green or red, with several varieties having both green and red leaves. Lettuce leaves can be oblong, flat, frilly, delicate, scalloped or ornate like oak leaves. Most Americans are familiar with iceberg lettuce and romaine lettuce but there are several common cultivar groups: Looseleaf lettuces are grown for their small, immature leaves and are used in salad mixes. Butterhead, or Bibb, lettuces are grown to maturity with a loose round head of tender, easily bruised leaves. Summercrisp lettuces tend to bolt (go to seed) slower than other types, which makes them ideal for warmer climates. Farmers growing looseleaf lettuces for salad mixes choose varieties with different textures in order to give the mix volume and colors to make them visually appealing. Lettuce grows best in cool temperatures. It can often overwinter, but doesn’t grow rapidly until temperatures warm and daylight increases. With the exception of some summercrisp varieties, most lettuces will bolt when temperatures consistently reach 75 degrees. Once the plant begins the process of bolting, the leaves become filled with a milky substance, which makes them taste bitter. When bolting, the

  • Vegetable of the Month: Cabbage

    By Kathleen Yetman Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a leafy vegetable grown for its heads of tightly-layered leaves. Modern-day cabbage varieties evolved from the wild cabbage of Europe thousands of years ago. Cabbage is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and mustard greens, which are also cultivars of Brassica oleracea. In Yavapai County, cabbages are planted in the spring through early winter for a nearly continual year-round harvest. Depending on the variety, a mature head of cabbage can take anywhere from 70 to 120 days from seed planting. Cabbage heads can be white in color or anywhere on the spectrums of green and purple. The leaves of different varieties are generally placed in one of three categories based on their texture: crinkled-leaf, loose-head savoy and smooth-leaf firm-head. What most people are used to seeing in stores is the light green or purple smooth-leaf cabbage. Napa cabbage originated in China in the 15th century and is widely used in Asian cuisine. It grows into an oblong shape and features crinkly light green leaves with white veins. The texture of the leaves gives Napa cabbage a fluffy effect, making it a great addition to salads. In the United States, the most common cabbage dish is coleslaw. Cabbage is a versatile vegetable, featured in cuisines around the world and can be prepared in numerous ways. Cabbage is one of the most popular

  • Vegetable of the Month: Parsnips

    By Kathleen Yetman The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable closely related to parsley and carrots that has been cultivated and eaten for thousands of years. Parsnips are indigenous to Eurasia. Documents show that they were cultivated in both Greek and Roman times. Like carrots, parsnips are a biennial plant, meaning that it produces seeds in it’s second growing season. Most farmers grow parsnips like an annual, only until the taproot has reached a good size. Here in the Greater Prescott Area, they are planted throughout the summer for a continuous harvest in the fall and winter. Parsnips are best in the winter, when the cold temperatures keep them crisp, crunchy, and sweet. The edible taproot is white or cream-colored and frequently grow up to a foot in length when left to mature, which generally takes about four months. Nutritionally, the parsnip is a good source of vitamins C, B, E, and K as well as potassium, manganese and magnesium. They also have a decent amount of dietary fiber and folate. Parsnips have a sweet flavor similar to carrots. They can be eaten raw, but are usually served cooked. Parsnips are typically roasted along with other vegetables and many people aren’t sure how else to prepare them. They are actually quite versatile. Some alternative ways to eat parsnips: boiled and mashed along with potatoes, sautéed and drizzled with maple

  • Vegetable of the Month: Leek

    By Kathleen Yetman The leek is a cultivar of Allium ampeloprasum that has been grown for its edible leaves for millennia. Dried specimens and wall drawings and carvings of leeks in excavated Ancient Egyptian sites show that the leek was a popular vegetable there as far back as the second millennium B.C.E. It is closely related to elephant garlic and shares a genus with onions and garlic. While the mature leek appears to be a stem due to its length and shape, it is actually the leaves that grow so tightly together that they create the long stalk. Leeks can be grown year-round here in Yavapai County. They are generally planted in late winter and throughout the spring and can be left in the ground during the winter, allowing for a continual harvest. Leeks prefer well-draining soil. The edible part of the leaves is the white part that grows beneath the soil. Farmers can increase the length of the edible part by adding soil to the base as the leek grows. Sometimes soil gets caught between the leaves. In order to clean it, slice the leek lengthwise once and run each half under water before cooking. Nutritionally, leeks are similar to garlic and onions — i.e. they support cardiovascular health and acting as anti-inflammatories. The leek is a versatile vegetable that can be cooked as a substitute for onions. Raw

  • Vegetable of the Month: Carrots

    By Kathleen Yetman The carrot (Daucus carota) is a familiar root vegetable in the Umbelliferae family that is grown and consumed around the world. The modern day carrot was likely domesticated from wild carrot in Europe and/or Southwest Asia. The history of the carrot’s domestication isn’t clear, but it appears that humans have been eating wild and then cultivated carrots for thousands of years. While most people are accustomed to carrots being orange, they come in a variety of colors: white, yellow, red, purple, and black. The orange varieties gained in popularity in the 17th century and have stayed popular since. The carrot plant is a biennial, which means that it requires two growing seasons in order to produce seeds. The family Umbelliferae is named as such because of the umbrella-shaped flowers its plants produce. Other plants in the family have similar flowers and seeds: cumin, fennel, dill, caraway, parsley and parsnips. The plant produces delicate, white, lace-like flowers in the second growing season, which when pollinated form hundreds of tiny seeds. Carrots prefer well-draining soils, high in organic matter and can be grown year-round in Yavapai County, although the sweetest, crunchiest carrots are harvested in the winter months. During the peak of summer’s heat, carrots may taste bitter and have a more woody texture. Fast-growing varieties produce good-sized carrots three months from their planting date. Orange carrots are known

  • Vegetable of the Month: Kale

    By Kathleen Yetman Kale is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea, or wild cabbage, along with cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. The origin of wild cabbage is controversial with several theoretical locales including the coast of southern and western Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, and Asia Minor. Evidence shows that kale has been domesticated for at least 2,000 years; both the Greeks and the Romans grew kale as a food. Kale is grown year-round in Northern Arizona and is a fairly easy crop to raise for the home gardener. Plants are generally started from seed in the ground and can handle a wide range of temperatures. Kale plants can withstand light frosts, which makes the leaves taste sweeter. If a kale plant survives through the winter it can reach heights of six or seven feet. The most common varieties in the United States are Red Russian kale, Lacinato (Dinosaur) kale, and Siberian or curly kale. Many people’s first introduction to kale may have been as a garnish on their dinner plate. These purple, red, and white varieties are just as edible as their green counterparts. Kale recently enjoyed a few years in the spotlight of American cuisine, making it a hip vegetable and touting its many health benefits. The leaves of kale are host to many nutrients; they are a great source of vitamins A, C, K, and B6, folate, and manganese. Kale

  • Vegetable of the Month: Pumpkin

    By Kathleen Yetman October means pumpkins in the minds of many Americans, and rightly so. Pumpkins are cultivars (plants selected for specific characteristics and maintained by propagation) of Cucurbita pepo, and one of many winter squash varieties that are harvested around this time. Pumpkins are indigenous to North America — squash seeds dating back to 7,000 B.C.E. have been unearthed in Mexico. Pumpkins are closely related to other winter squash. The term generally applies to round squash with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and an orange color, however cultivars of other colors, shapes, and sizes are gaining in popularity here in the United States. Pumpkins are so popular that over 1.5 billion pounds are grown in this country each year. In Yavapai County, pumpkins and other winter squash are planted between April and July to be harvested between September and December, weather permitting. Different varieties of pumpkins are grown for ornamental use and food. The pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns, Connecticut Field pumpkins, are typically grown for that purpose and aren’t the best for eating. The best pumpkins for eating are strains of that same cultivar, but are considered “pie pumpkins” and tend to be much smaller and meatier. Cucurbita maxima are squash grown for their immense size and can weigh upwards of one ton. Pumpkin is usually associated with desserts but can be used in a variety of savory dishes as

  • Vegetable of the Month: Eggplant

    By Kathleen Yetman Eggplant, or aubergine (Solanum melongena), is a plant in the nightshade family domesticated in Asia thousands of years ago. The plant is indigenous to an area encompassing Northeast India, Northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Southwest China. Descriptions of the plant have been found in Sanskrit documents as early as 300 B.C.E. By the Middle Ages, eggplant had spread to the Mediterranean area and from there north into Europe and south into Africa. Eggplant is closely related to tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, which are also members of the Solanum family. Here in Yavapai County, seeds are generally germinated in a greenhouse in the spring, and seedlings are transplanted in the ground in between April and June. The plant is technically a perennial but is usually grown as an annual with a harvesting season between July and November. The fruit is botanically a berry with dozens of edible seeds inside. Eggplants come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors: slender and oblong, round, the size of a butternut squash and as small as a golf ball. Black, dark purple, lilac, reddish-purple, orange, green, yellow, white, and purple, and white striped varieties can usually be found at farmers markets. The name “eggplant” was given to the small, round white variety that resembles a chicken egg during the British occupation of India. Eggplant is popular in food cultures around the

  • Vegetable of the Month: Corn

    By Kathleen Yetman Corn or maize (Zea mays) is a grain indigenous to North America. Corn was first domesticated more than 9,000 years ago from teosinte, a grass found in the Central Balsas River Valley of Southern Mexico. It’s estimated that the selective breeding process from the grass to the corn we eat today may have taken hundreds of years. Domesticated varieties spread across the Americas through trade networks around 5,000 B.C.E. Indigenous groups in Arizona and New Mexico began cultivating corn around 2,500 B.C.E. Corn plants send up a tassel that produces pollen. Ears of corn are formed when the wind carries pollen to the silks of an ear. Each silk corresponds to a potential kernel, meaning that if one silk isn’t fertilized by pollen, the ear of corn will be missing a kernel. Because corn is pollinated by wind, farmers seeking to maintain the variety they have control pollination through various techniques: planting only one variety, delaying the planting date for each variety, planting varieties far away from one another, and in small crops, placing paper bags over the ears after hand-pollinating. The most common types of corn are sweetcorn, flint corn, flour corn, popcorn, and dent corn. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are full of water, or during its short “milk” stage. Flint, flour, and popcorn are all left to mature on stalks until their

  • Vegetable of the Month: Garlic

    By Kathleen Yetman Garlic (Allium sativum) is a bulbous plant native to central Asia whose cultivation started more than 5,000 years ago and is popular in cuisines around the world. It is closely related to onions, leeks, and shallots — all of which share the same genus, Allium. The ancient cultivation and use of garlic both as food and medicine was widespread and well documented. Garlic was commonly used in ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Garlic is rich in sulfur-containing compounds that give garlic its strong odor and are also the source of its many health benefits. These compounds have been proven to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol, inhibit inflammation, and act as an antioxidant. Research suggests that these compounds help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Garlic also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. In Northern Arizona, garlic is planted in the fall, between September and November, and left to grow all winter and spring. In addition to the mature “cured” garlic found in stores, other parts of the plant are also edible. Farmers may choose to pull immature garlic to sell as “green garlic.” Green garlic looks similar to green onions and has the same taste as mature garlic, but with less spiciness. As garlic plants approach summer, they often send up stalks in order to produce seeds. These “scapes” are harvested in order to allow the plant to put all

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