Posts Tagged ‘Vegetable of the Month’

  • Vegetable of the Month: Tomato

    By Kathleen Yetman The tomato is the fruit of Solanum lycopersicum — a nightshade plant in the Solanaceae family, which includes eggplant, peppers and potatoes. The tomato is native to South and Central America, where ancient peoples domesticated the wild plants. While the date of its domestication is unknown, records show that it was being cultivated in Mexico as early as 500 B.C.E. When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they took tomato seeds back to Europe, where varieties evolved and spread. Tomatoes are a great crop for the beginning gardener. Plants can be started from seed indoors and transplanted outside after the danger of frost has passed (usually mid May), or simply planted in the ground at that time. Plants are categorized as either determinate, meaning that they will only grow to a certain height, or indeterminate, meaning they will grow as wide and high as possible. In greenhouses, growers have mastered pruning and fertilizing techniques that keep indeterminate varieties vining for several years, continuously producing fruit. Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors beyond read. Some tomatoes are green, yellow, purple, pink, orange, black, white, or combinations of those colors. Tomatoes are categorized based on their uses — plum tomatoes like Roma have a lower water content and are best for making sauces while Beefsteak tomatoes are best sliced on sandwiches. Heirloom varieties are increasingly popular with

  • Vegetable of the Month: Peas

    By Kathleen Yetman Peas are the seeds of the pods of Pisum sativum. The pods are botanically the fruit of the plant and, in the case of snow peas and snap peas, are as edible as the peas themselves. Modern pea varieties originated from the wild pea, which can still be found in the Mediterranean. Archeologists have discovered peas dating back to 4,800 B.C.E. in the delta of the Nile. Pisum sativum is an annual cool season legume grown widely for fresh peas and pods as well as for dried peas. Field peas are varieties grown for their dried seeds, which are commonly used in split pea soup, while “garden peas” are eaten fresh, pod and all. Until the 18th century, peas were primarily grown as field peas for their dried seeds. Years of selective breeding resulted in the modern varieties of sugar snap and snow peas that have a sweet, crunchy pod that is edible. In Yavapai County, peas are planted in early spring and generally harvested through July. Vining varieties send out tendrils that curl and wrap around surrounding objects and are best when trellised with string or branches. Peas thrive in cool to warm weather and fry easily during the peak of summer heat, so the window for home gardeners tends to be short. This short season makes the availability of fresh garden peas something to take

  • Vegetable of the Month: Rhubarb

    By Kathleen Yetman Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, is a perennial plant grown for its sweet fleshy stems. The Chinese have used rhubarb medicinally for thousands of years, but it’s only been in the past three to four centuries that it’s been used as a food. The season for rhubarb is generally April through October when stalks are long and abundant. Rhubarb prefers cool to warm weather so here in Yavapai County it begins growing in March and thrives until the heat of summer becomes constant. The plant may begin to produce again once the temperature stays below 90 degrees. Unlike the edible stems, the leaves of rhubarb are toxic and should not be eaten. The roots of the plant can be used to make a dark brown dye, similar to black walnut husks. Once planted, it will produce for eight to a dozen years. Rhubarb reproduces by rhizome, i.e. digging out a small section of a friend or neighbor’s roots and transplanting it will create a whole new plant. It’s important not to harvest any stems the first year after planting to allow the plant to establish a strong root system. Rhubarb contains many valuable vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. It is an excellent source of fiber and is known for aiding digestion. While rhubarb is technically a vegetable, most recipes use its

  • 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

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