The tradition of Groundhog Day

The tradition of Groundhog Day

Despite a cold and cloudy day in a small town just northeast of Pittsburgh, the  plump marmot affectionately known as Punxsutawney Phil peeked his head out from the warm quarters where he hibernates during the winter months, saw his shadow, turned around, and went back to sleep…presumably signaling another six weeks of winter. Exactly how does this particular groundhog’s aversion to heading out into the cold equate to a longer-than-usual winter?  Who among us doesn’t react to a bleak and cloudy day by pulling the covers up over our heads and returning to our restful slumber for “just five more minutes?”

While many may argue the scientific accuracy of Phil’s prediction, others consider his forecast to be as accurate and reliable as the Farmer’s Almanac. Ignore the fact that, according to the calendar, Spring does not officially arrive until the vernal equinox on March 21st which is approximately six weeks from February 2. If Phil hadn’t seen his shadow (which may or may not have been caused by the lights from the many television cameras that were pointed in his direction), he would have ventured out of his warm sleeping quarters,  indicating that spring would arrive sooner than its mid-March due date.

Whether you trust Phil’s calculation or the weatherman’s prediction, it begs the question,  “how did we come to rely on a groundhog to determine whether the next season would arrive earlier than expected?” Just what are the origins of Groundhog Day?

After some not-so-extensive research that brought me no further than Wikipedia, here are some interesting “facts” that I have gathered about Groundhog Day and its tradition. Turning to a groundhog to predict the length of our winters is a German custom and the celebration in Pennsylvania dates back to the 18th century. It’s origins are rooted in ancient European lore in which a badger was used to predict the length of the winter. The practice is also very similar to the pagan festival of Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 2 and involves weather forecasting. The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day was found in a diary entry dated February 4, 1841, written by storekeeper James Moorris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania.

Whether we have an early Spring or cold winter days remain with us until the end of March, there are a few things we can be sure of. Spring will officially arrive on March 21; warmer days are headed our way; and the crew at Colchester Neighborhood Farm will soon be filling the greenhouses with small seedlings of organically grown fruits and vegetables in preparation for a stellar crop this summer.

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Mouthwatering Watermelon

Mouthwatering Watermelon

Watermelon is as integral a part of the summer experience as building sandcastles at the beach or catching fireflies on a warm evening. Easily filling the role of dessert, it is as tasty as it is fun to eat. Even as adults, we love the flavor of this melon, whether it is paired with a cheese in a salad or used as the foundation for an adult beverage. Though August is now in the rear view mirror and the apple picking season is just around the corner, Colchester Neighborhood Farm continues to harvest this sweet summer vegetable…yes, I said vegetable, because technically, it is considered both a fruit and veggie. And here are few more fun facts to consider about this sweet summer staple.

According to the website, betweenusparents.com, Americans consume more watermelon than any other melon. Cantaloupe comes in second place and honeydew in third place.

A cousin to the cucumber, pumpkin, and squash family, watermelon is considered both fruit and vegetable. However, according to the website, livability.com, in 2007, the state of Oklahoma removed any ambivalence about how to categorize the gourd when it passed a bill declaring it a vegetable, and the official state vegetable, at that.

According to the website, thetowndish, early explorers used watermelons as canteens.

In China and Japan, watermelon is given as a hostess gift similar to our tradition of bringing flowers.

In Israel and Egypt, the sweet taste of watermelon is often paired with the salty taste of feta cheese.

Egyptian hieroglyphics indicate that the first-ever watermelon harvest took place roughly 5,000 years ago. The sweet fruit (vegetable) often was sealed into the tombs of kings because, really, who couldn’t use a snack in the afterlife.

An estimated 40,000 visitors check out the soaring 154-foot watermelon-shaped water tower each year in Lulling, Texas, home of the annual Watermelon Thump event, named for the sworn-by method of “rind-thumping” for checking a melon’s ripeness.

The seedless variety of watermelons was invented 50 years ago.

According to Guinness World Records, the world’s heaviest watermelon, weighing 268.8 lbs. (121.93 kg) was grown by Lloyd Bright of Arkadelphia, Arkansas in 2005.

It takes approximately 90 days to grow a watermelon….from planting to harvesting.

The United States ranks 5th in worldwide production of watermelon. Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona consistently are the leading producers.

Every part of the watermelon is edible, including the seeds and the rind. In fact, the first cookbook published in the U.S. in 1776 contained a recipe for watermelon rind pickles.

Though the summer season and its harvest is winding down, the workers at Colchester Neighborhood Farm are still picking plenty of organically grown vegetables and fruits, including watermelon, which lets the taste of summer linger just a little longer.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

This recipe for Pico de Gallo uses fresh ingredients that are being harvested at Colchester Neighborhood Farm. While Pico de Gallo is very similar to salsa, the biggest difference between these two dishes is that salsa recipes can vary, using a variety of fruits and vegetables, some that are fresh and some that are cooked. Pico de Gallo uses only fresh, uncooked ingredients and the ingredients are always the same. Serve this up along with tortilla chips and some Margaritas this weekend.

 

Pico de Gallo

1 Onion, finely chopped

1 lb Tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1 Green Pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 or 3 Jalapeño Peppers, seeded and finely chopped

½ cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped

Juice of one Lime

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Combine all ingredients and serve with tortilla chips or alternative. Use in wraps or in a salad with greens and avocado.

The sweet and spicey facts about peppers

The sweet and spicey facts about peppers

Given the vast array of varieties as well as their versatility, peppers just might be considered the little black dress of cooking….they go with almost anything.   From the mild green bell pepper to the sweet red bell  to the oh-so-very-hot haberneros, this multipurpose non-veggie is this week’s celebrated food item.  Yes, I said non-veggie.  According to the website, servingjoy.com, because peppers have seeds and come from flowering plants, they are actually a fruit. Though bell peppers come in an assortment of colors, including black, brown, and dark purple, they all come from the same plant. While green bell peppers are the most familiar, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers are merely the riper versions of the green pepper. Colchester Neighborhood Farm is currently harvesting a number of different peppers that will perk up the flavor in any recipe while providing a pop of color that will make the dish as beautiful to look at as it is delicious to eat. Here are some other fun facts about this member of the Capsicum family.

  • Despite the similarity in name, the bell pepper is not related to the plant that produces the popular kitchen condiment, black pepper.
  • Unlike other members of the Capsicum family, bell peppers do not contain capsaicin, the compound responsible for the spicier version of peppers.
  • As bell peppers mature, their sugar and nutritional content also increase. Although green peppers might be crunchier, you can make your dishes sweeter and healthier if you use the brighter-colored red bell pepper. In addition to providing more Vitamins A and C,  this version contain the antioxidant lycopene, a nutrient not found in the green bell pepper.
  • Move over orange juice…the bell pepper tops the list of foods with the highest levels of Vitamin C. A large red pepper provides more than 300% of your daily requirement of this essential vitamin and three times more vitamin C than an orange.
  • To get the most nutritional value from peppers, it is best to eat them raw, since heat decreases their nutritional levels. If you do cook them, do so for a short period of time.
  • Does the second bite of a chili pepper seem hotter than the first? That may be because you are getting closer to the stem. Some people believe the seeds are the spiciest part, but it’s actually the flesh near them that sets your tongue on fire. According to the website, mentalfloss.com, the part of the pepper closest to the stem is usually the hotter part because it has the highest concentration of capsaicin, which is responsible for causing irritation to the skin and that distinct burning pain on your tongue.
  • Although mammals react to that capsaicin in hot peppers, birds are completely immune to its effects. And because of this, birds are largely responsible for helping to spread while wild peppers, by eating them and excreting the seeds.
  • The measurement for determining and ranking the hotness level of a pepper is called the Scoville scale, named after pharmacist Wilbur Soville. Mild bell peppers fall within 1 to 100 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) while their hotter counterparts, such as cayenne fall at 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. The spiciest pepper known to man is called the Carolina Reaper…it measures 2.2 million SHU on the scale. That is one hot pepper!

Beyond providing color, flavor, and nutritional value to a recipe, some suggest that the heat in hot peppers increase metabolism thereby promoting weight loss. In recognition of this multi-talented fruit, we celebrate all peppers….both hot and sweet…. and encourage you to do the same by stopping in at Colchester Neighborhood Farm to purchase some freshly harvested, organically grown members of the Capsicum family.

Zucchini and Potato Bake

Zucchini and Potato Bake

We found this dish on the website allrecipes and while we like any recipe that calls for using vegetables that are in season, we especially liked this one since it uses three vegetables that are now being harvested at Colchester Neighbhorhood Farm. Our crews have been busy picking a vast array of vegetables and among them are peppers, summer squashes and potatoes. Though this recipe calls for red bell peppers, feel free to swap them out for purple beauties…they are just as sweet and tasty and add an unexpected pop of color.

Ingredients

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. In a medium baking pan, toss together the zucchini, potatoes, red bell pepper, garlic, bread crumbs, and olive oil. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper.
  3. Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender and lightly brown.
You Say Potato….

You Say Potato….

Friday, August 19, in case you didn’t know, is National Potato Day. Thanks to Mr. Potato Head and even Mrs. Potato Head, this vegetable enjoys more celebrity status than any of its colleagues. And because it can be served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and enjoyed later, as a snack to crunch on, the spud earns high marks for its versatility and chameleon-like qualities. Whether you bake it, boil it, mash it, fry it, serve it as hash browns first thing in the morning or crunch on it straight from a bag late at night while watching a movie, the potato is without doubt a vegetable worth celebrating. The crew at Colchester Neighborhood Farm has been busy digging up the spuds and there is plenty of the harvest to go around.  In honor of this day officially recognizing the potato for its contribution to our overall health and well-being, I give you a few more interesting facts to consider as you nibble on some French fries.

  • Ever wonder who came up with the recipe for potato chips? Apparently, the idea for this now popular snack came from a passive aggressive chef working at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. According to potatogoodness.com, in 1853 railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt complained that his potatoes were cut too thick and sent them back to the kitchen. To spite his haughty guest, Chef George Crum sliced some potatoes paper thin, fried them in hot oil, salted and served them. To everyone’s surprise, Vanderbilt loved his “Saratoga Crunch Chips,” and potato chips have been popular ever since.
  • The world’s largest potato chip was produced by the Pringle’s Company in Jackson, TN in 1990. It measured 23 inches by 14.5 inches.
  • The suggestion that it’s not the potato but rather the stuff that you put on it that’s fattening is, unfortunately, true. Baked potatoes by themselves do not pack all that many calories; it’s the butter, sour cream, bacon and cheddar cheese we top them with that adds to our waistlines. According to idahopotatomuseum.com, the potato is about 80 percent water and 20 percent solid. An 8 ounce baked or boiled potato has only about 100 calories.
  • In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, and eventually, feeding future space colonies.
  • Thomas Jefferson introduced French fries to America when he had them served at a White House Dinner.
  • The average American eats about 124 pounds of potatoes per year.
  • The first permanent potato patches in North America were established in 1719, most likely near Londonderry (Derry), NH, by Scotch-Irish immigrants.  From there, the crop spread across the country.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest potato grown was 7 pounds 1 ounce by J. East and J. Busby  of Great Britain.
  • The strong connection between the Irish and potatoes is directly linked to the major outbreak of potato blight, a plant disease that swept through Europe in the 1840s, wiping out the potato crop in many countries. Because the Irish working class lived largely on potatoes, when the blight reached Ireland, killing their main staple food, many poverty-stricken families were left  with no choice but to struggle to survive or emigrate out of Ireland. Over the course of the famine, almost one million people died from starvation or disease. Another one million people left Ireland, mostly for Canada and the United States.
  • Though they share similar names, they are not related. The sweet potato belongs in the same family as morning glories while the white potato belongs to the same group as tomatoes, tobacco, chile pepper, eggplant and the petunia.

Stop by Colchester Neigbhorhood Farm today and pick up some freshly harvested, organically grown potatoes and serve them any way you prefer….as hash browns in the morning, french fries with lunch or baked and loaded with toppings for dinner. Tell us your favorite way to enjoy the spud.

 

Crunch on these fun facts about Celery

Crunch on these fun facts about Celery

It’s the go-to diet food. The minute we notice we have to drop a few pounds, we immediately reach for that stalk of celery. We chew on it, feeling deprived, but a bit less guilty and maybe even a few pounds lighter. Packing only ten calories while requiring a bit of energy to chew it, some believe that celery actually has a negative calorie count.  But there is so much more to this vegetable than just being a popular snack for dieters. Celery, onions, and carrots are the key ingredients for mirepox, which is used as the base for many French cuisines, including sauces, stews, soups, and stocks.

This crunchy and watery vegetable has a host of other attributes, as well;  from acting as an aphrodisiac to containing properties that will reduce anxiety and calm the nerves. And the best news of all is that it is currently being harvested at Colchester Neighborhood Farm and is readily available for purchase.  Here are a few other fun facts about celery for you to chew on:

  • Exactly how did celery become the garnish for a Bloody Mary? According to our friends at, healthdiaries.com, after a patron at the Pump Room in Chicago’s Ambassador East Hotel decided to stir his Bloody Mary with a stalk of celery, the idea caught on and it became permanently linked with the drink.
  • Ancient Romans considered celery to be an aphrodisiac and they may not have been wrong about that. Today, scientists know that celery contains androsterone, a pheromone released by men’s sweat glands that attracts females. Famed Italian lover Casanova made sure to include lots of celery in his diet to keep up his stamina.
  • Meanwhile, 18th century French courtesan Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, ate celery soup and truffles in an effort to adopt a “heating diet” so she would be less frigid and more attractive to the king. It is also believed that she fed the king celery soup to fan the fires of his passion.
  • A recipe was uncovered in Pompeii for a dessert that called for roasting chopped celery in an oven and serving it with honey and ground pepper.
  • Around 30 AD, Aulus Cornelius Celsus  wrote about using  celery seeds to relieve pain.
  • Celery was first introduced to America in 1856 when a Scotsman named George Taylor brought the vegetable to Kalamazoo, Michigan. By 1872, Dutch farmers were transforming acres of Kalamazoo into celery fields and the town began promoting itself as the “Celery City.” The town of Celeryville, Ohio was settled by celery farmers from Kalamazoo, Michigan who began growing the vegetable there. There is a celery museum in Portage, Michigan called the Celery Flats Interpretive Center. Despite Michigan’s and Ohio’s early lead in growing the vegetable, today, California is the nation’s top celery producer; Michigan ranks fourth.
  • The 1897 Sears Catalog featured a nerve tonic made from celery and described it as a “great nerve builder.”
  • Celery, onions, and bell peppers are considered the “holy trinity” of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine.

With so many fine qualities besides being a staple food for anyone trying to shed a few pounds, it makes sense to keep and use celery and  celery stalks in our recipes. Stop by Colchester Neighborhood Farm on Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. to purchase freshly harvested and organically grown food.