Not fiddling around

When it comes to winter produce, Fiddler’s Green delivers the goods

Don’t know how to prepare kale and other winter vegetables? Check the recipe below.

Don’t know how to prepare kale and other winter vegetables? Check the recipe below.

Julie Cross directs the sampling, cooking and wine-tasting classes at the Davis Food Co-op.

One of the many pleasures of eating locally is shopping at farmers’ markets. It’s fresh, it’s lively and, perhaps best of all, it offers us the opportunity to try varieties rarely found in your average big supermarket. If you’re new to the scene, the sheer number of really delicious choices at our area markets will astonish you.

Take greens, for example. At the Davis Food Co-op today, we have: dino, green curly and red Russian kale; spinach and arugula, both big and baby; red mustard greens; red and green dandelion greens; chard, red, green and rainbow; rapini, trevisio and castle Franc; tatsoi; baby bok choy and four or five more common cabbages; and the usual lettuce suspects. At the Saturday Davis Farmers Market, you’ll find all of that and at least a dozen more—each one with a slightly different flavor and texture, and all of them good.

Fiddler’s Green farm is a stalwart supplier of greens at both the Co-op and the farmers’ market. In my tour of the market, they’re often my first and last stop—first to see what they have and get my ration of hugs from staffers Kevin, Christine and Tessa, and last to pick up spanking-fresh greens, beautiful roots and some new cooking ideas.

Jim Eldon has been farming for 24 years this coming April, and the 37 organic acres of Fiddler’s Green have been under his care since 1991. The beauty of having a farmer with a vision is tough to overstate. Take asparagus, which is a difficult crop to grow.

“Two years ago,” says Jim, “I planted 40,000 new plants, a little over half of them the green variety and the rest purple. Fiddler’s Green Farm has enjoyed a longstanding reputation for exceedingly high-quality, fresh, organic asparagus, going all the way back to the early 1980s when Cliff Cain was the first farmer in the county to produce the crop. When I came up here in 1991, his crop was old and in decline, so I put in a new crop—an acre of green in 1992 and 3/4 acre of purple in 1993. Those crops faded out in recent years, so this new crop is the third in the history of the farm.”

You’ll have to wait a bit for asparagus, but greens we always have. Jim says the baby spinach, baby-lettuce mix and Italian mix (cut up hearts of escarole, radicchio and arugula) are all of excellent quality right now. With young tender greens like that, you need nothing more than a simple dressing. If you go for stouter greens, say chard or kale, greens soup (below) is just the thing for a midwinter evening.

Greens Soup
serves 4

2 bunches dark greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
6 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons sweet butter
dash of nutmeg

Chop the tough stems out of the greens and cut into ribbons. Drop into a pot of boiling water and cook for one minute. Drain. Sauté onion in olive oil until fragrant, about five minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute. Add greens, potato, milk, salt and bay leaf and cook gently about 25 minutes. Remove bay leaf and discard. Purée soup in batches with blender or hand blender. Return to heat and stir in sweet butter and nutmeg. Serve warm.