Monday, July 26, 2010

Tomato Famine?

About a month ago a guy who has a paper route mentioned to me that he had seen some funny spots on a person's upside-down tomato plants. Later in the day, a woman who lives in Florence said that she saw the same thing on one, just one, of the leaves on her tomatoes. She picked it right off, hoping it wasn't what she thought it was... what it was last year.


This week, a farmer from Hadley was sure what it was when he plowed his entire tomato crop because of late blight. Now it is late July.

The first official indication of blight came in an alert from vegetable entymologist Ruth Hazzard on the UMass Extension Service website. Ruth is an early pioneer in organic growing in Massachusetts and in the country. Last summer, she managed the blight crisis with information on detection, remediation and prevention of the very same fungal disease that felled Ireland in the potato famine. Hazzard continues to advise on late blight detection and response at the UMass Extension website.

The organic response to stemming blight—which reveals itslef as nickel-sized dark green or brown lesions on the leaves, and brown lesions on the stems—is to use a copper-based fungicide on the plants. It isn't cheap, nor is it a quick fix, but if used in time, it can save the crop. The danger is that the blight can spread to plants such as potatoes.

Last year some organic farmers, very few, managed to avoid the blight by treating their tomato crop early in the season. Simple Gifts Farm of North Amherst was one such farm, and ended the season with such a harvest they were still selling tomatoes in January at Winter Fare in Northampton.

Because tomatoes, including heirloom varieties, are a big money-maker for farmers, some started their tomatoes in hoop houses this year to hedge their bets. This summer the blight has the potential to take down any and all organic farmers who happen to be up- or down-wind of the airborne fungus.

Corn is one crop that is doing well this year. It came in early, is coming on strong, and is being consumed now.  This Friday, for example, corn will be a topping on wood-fired pizza at the Hungry Ghost Bakery on State Street in Northampton. (On Friday nights they serve pizza and bread made with wheat grown in Hadley.)

If you miss your heirloom organic tomatoes this summer, don't fret, they'll be back. Everything else, from wheat to cheese to eggs to meat to fish, and this month corn, along with most produce, can feed everybody, even ghosts.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Melintzanosalata

Aubergines to the French, Melazana to the Italians, eggplant travelled from the Iberiann peninsula to Siciliy, southern Italy and finally Greece. This little bunch was purchased on Saturday morning in Greenfield.

The following dish is interpreted from the greeks from Patience Gray, who wrote "Honey from a Weed" while traveling the Mediterranean seeking out marble and quartz mines with her lover, a sculptor. Living in the remotest of regions for months at a time, they ate like the locals. During the day he carved and she wrote and cooked, seeking advice from the wives of stone masons and the occasional wandering chef. Dinner combined fire with a surrounding abundance of things growing on trees, swimming in the sea and local wine.

This salad, actually a babaganoush of sorts combines eggplant, olive oil, lemon and garlic with some hardboiled egg. Except for lemon and oil it is all Valley.

Melintzanosalata - Eggplant Salad

"Make a vine-twig fire out of doors and, when it flares up, put a number of young shiny aubergines on a grill directly on the flames. Keep the fire going fiercely and, when the undersides blacken, turn them over. In 10 or 15 minutes they will be pulpy (they collapse) and completely black."

If you are fresh out of vine twigs, I recommend a fire fed with gas and continue as directed. Once the young shiny aubergines are fully black, scoop out their innards and mash with two cloves of garlic, two to three tables of lemon juice (to blanch) and at least one tablespoon of salt. This can be done in Greek fashion with a mortar and pestle but a food processor will work, or a couple of sharp knives. Once the mixture is the consistency of cream, add some capers (without caper juice) and top with fresh parsley or basil leaves. Patience recommends making the dish in the cool of morning and then serving it chilled "for super out of doors with hard-boiled eggs, black olives and good bread." That part requires no substitution.