Barely into January, and here we are, catalogs spread over our kitchen table; with lists of vegetables and dreams in hand. At the beginning of each year, Val and I decide on what we want to plant for the next farm season. These decisions must be made early since the availability of choice seed is awarded only to those organized enough to order early.
We grow many of the same crops each year, but even within those crops we must decide whether or not to change the varieties grown. The weather over the past several years has been unpredictable; we have come to recognize that we really have two separate farm seasons. Spring is starting sooner than ever, and fall is lasting later in the year. Our irrigation protects us from drought, but we are still dealing with extreme temperature shifts. Since we use succession planting methods for many of our crops, its incredibly important to think through how to adapt to the change in weather patterns.
When we sit down with all our catalogs to discuss what new crops we might consider, it doesn’t take long for our heads to start spinning with all the glossy photos. We call it vegetable porn. Did I mention we aren’t getting any younger? So we are starting to scale back slightly on some of our more labor intensive crops, like potatoes. It’s always a balancing act between the weather, crops, weeds, our stamina and market interest. We are very selective about introducing new vegetables at market. The choices we make directly impact our income. Many stalls compete for each customer’s food dollar. We place a premium on the relationships we have built and the quality produce we bring. We count on, and are grateful for our faithful customers that support us each week. We take great pleasure in helping to educate them about our different varieties and how to use them in exciting ways.
We will be working on our seed order for several days, dividing our time between splitting wood, making soaps and seeing dear friends. Winter is such a great time for reflection and balance after a busy market season; soups and stews make an appearance once or twice a week. Here’s one of our current favorites.
Sausage, Fennel and Potato Chowder
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium red onion, cut into large dice
- 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and cut into large dice (about 2 cups), plus 1 to 2 Tbsp. chopped fennel fronds for garnish
- 3 Tbsp. dry sherry
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
- 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring with a wooden spatula to break it up into small pieces, until it starts to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in potato, onion, and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add sherry and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 10-12 minutes.
- Add the parsley and the sun-dried tomatoes, heavy cream, and lemon zest and stir until incorporated.
- Using a potato masher, gently crush the cooked potatoes until most of them are masked and the stew is somewhat thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, garnished with fennel fronds.
“There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric; no two are every alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.” –Laurie Colwin