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EatDrinkShopCook: Eat your vegetables -- local crops are finally rolling in

Published 6:23 am, Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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  • Now that the spring weather has finally warmed up, the gardens at Sport Hill Farm in Easton are starting to grow rapidly. Photo: Patti Woods / Westport News
    Now that the spring weather has finally warmed up, the gardens at Sport Hill Farm in Easton are starting to grow rapidly. Photo: Patti Woods

 

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THE SCOOP
• JONES FAMILY FARMS, 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton; 203-929-8425; www.jonesfamilyfarms.com
Strawberry picking: Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon. Call ahead for picking conditions.
• SPORT HILL FARM, 596 Sport Hill Road, Easton; www.sporthillfarm.com
Vegetables, fruits, bread, eggs, ice cream, maple syrup: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• STONE GARDENS FARM, 83 Sawmill City Road, Shelton; www.stonegardensfarm.com
Vegetables, beef and chicken: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
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Fallout from the harsh winter is still being felt at area farms. Usually at this time of year, new plantings are well underway and spring vegetables like kale and cabbage would be abundant.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

"This year, winter decided to stick around a little longer than anyone had hoped or planned, which delayed some of our early spring crops," said Stacia Monahan of Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton.

"Many of the veggies we had left in the field last fall hoping they would survive the winter are taking their time re-growing. And quite a few have succumbed to the harsh winter and are a total loss. Mother Nature was not as excited to get spring started this year as she was in years' past."

At Sport Hill Farm in Easton, owner Patti Popp has been keeping a close eye on the crops. "I feel the vegetables are just as confused as we are," she said a few weeks ago. "Record-breaking heat on Tuesday and 45 degree night temps on Wednesday left all our summer crops dazed and confused. We are still in green season."

Popp explained that the snow and ice storm in mid-April, along with the cold temperatures, slowed down the growing process. "Right now, you can expect all the spring favorites: lettuces, kale, peas, bok choy, arugula, radishes and asparagus."

So what exactly does that mean? It's time to eat your greens. Easy, versatile lettuce comes in many varieties and doesn't require full sun to grow, so you can certainly find it at the local farms and markets. One of my favorite greens is escarole. I don't necessarily love it in salad, but sauteed in olive oil with garlic and white beans, it is one of the easiest and healthiest dishes you can make. I also love using it in soup. Add it to some chicken or vegetable stock with sausage, beans and pasta.

Bok choy (also known as Chinese cabbage) can also be found now. Again, this is another easy and delicious vegetable that can be the star of the meal. I like to chop it up and stir-fry it with carrots, onions, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil and serve it over brown rice. If I'm feeling particularly indulgent, I'll sprinkle some toasted cashews on top.

Colorful Swiss chard is an often underrated vegetable. With its dark green leaves and bright red, pink and yellow stalks, it's visually one of the most beautiful greens. Raw chard can be quite bitter, but once it is cooked, the flavor mellows and is easily adaptable to other flavors. It can be sauteed on its own as a side dish, or combined with mushroom and Parmesan cheese for a meatless main dish. I like to add it to a frittata, served with a side salad and some home fries.

Speaking of colorful vegetables, rhubarb is perhaps the ultimate spring vegetable. It needs cool weather to really thrive, so it's certainly available this year. There are many different ways to prepare rhubarb, but perhaps the tastiest (and most well- known) is in a pie with strawberries, another iconic spring plant.

Area farms are reporting that strawberries have come in late this year, also. Picking has just now started at Jones Family Farms in Shelton, which is kicking off its 50th year of selling strawberries.

What's up next in the local line-up? "By the weekend we should have arugula, mustard greens and greenhouse tomatoes from New York State," said Popp. She offers this advice: "When in doubt of what to do with the spring greens, saute in oil and onion and toss with pasta. If it's lettuce, top with some local goat cheese and make a fabulous salad dressing with apple cider vinegar, local honey and olive oil."

The effects of this past winter have presented a challenge for local farmers, but it's one that they've been able to deal with. "This has been such a slow starting, frustrating spring for farmers all over the state," said Monahan, "but we've learned how to try and adapt to the different weather patterns over the years." Hopefully, Mother Nature will be a little more merciful this summer and we can all enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of the bounty.

THE SCOOP

- JONES FAMILY FARMS, 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton; 203-929-8425; www.jonesfamilyfarms.com

Strawberry picking: Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon. Call ahead for picking conditions.

- SPORT HILL FARM, 596 Sport Hill Road, Easton; www.sporthillfarm.com

Vegetables, fruits, bread, eggs, ice cream, maple syrup: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

- STONE GARDENS FARM, 83 Sawmill City Road, Shelton; www.stonegardensfarm.com

Vegetables, beef and chicken: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.