Friday, February 27, 2009

Gilfeather Turnip

The Gilfeather Turnip is on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste and is one of the featured vegetables in the Slow Food USA/Chefs Collaborative Foods at Risk/Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) Grow-out taking place in New England. Despite the attempts of developer John Gilfeather to guard his stock and keep propagation to himself, some seeds did make it off of his property, and a few farmers have continued to grow the Gilfeather Turnip after Mr. Gilfeather died.

The Gilfeather is an egg-shaped, rough-skinned root, but unlike its cousins, it has a mild taste that becomes sweet and a creamy white color after the first frost. While the hardy Gilfeather turnip does well in nearly any climate, this touch of frost contributes to its unusual taste and texture. Developed and named after John Gilfeather from Wardsboro, Vermont, this turnip is one of the state’s unique contributions to cold weather agriculture.

Seeds are available from Fedco Seeds, whose site informs us that though the Gilfeather is called a turnip, it is, in fact, a rutabaga. They also say that the greens are tender (we all like a two-for-one vegetable when we can get one), it doesn't become woody even at larger sizes, and, as mentioned above, tastes better after frost, which is handy as it matures late in the growing season. Why not try it out in your garden? And if not, be sure to be on the look-out for it at farmers markets and participating restaurants later in the year.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Taste Memory: More on Eating it to Save it

For a quick overview of why the Foods At Risk/Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) Grow-out project is so important, have a look at this video of Slow Food New Orleans founder and leader, Poppy Tooker, as she tours the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden and talks to farmers and food producers about endangered foods. Among other interesting stories told in the video, a grower of Gravenstein Apples tells Poppy that at the height of their popularity, 9,000 acres were planted in Gravensteins, and now, they are grown on only 700 acres.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet

photo courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

As promised, we will be posting historical information on the RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions) Grow-out project food varieties. The RAFT Grow-out project is a joint effort of Slow Food USA and Chefs Collaborative whereby local farmers have committed to growing the endangered foods and local chefs have committed to serving the endangered foods on their menus at harvest time. In addition to the farmers' and chefs' participation, we encourage you to select a vegetable that you can grow in your garden or in a container. The more exposure individuals have to these foods, the more likely we are to be able to save them and preserve biodiversity in our food system.

The Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet is a variety that has been cultivated since the early 1800s and is prized for its sweet and tender flesh. The beet has very dark, violet-red flesh with lighter zones. The leaves are dark with bright red petioles. Even when it grows to a large size, the flesh remains flavorful, tender, and juicy.

It has a slight clove-like aroma and wonderful sweetness - light like a carrot, but without the intensity of sweetness that a carrot has. If you were to sample it raw, you would find it has an apple-like, slightly astringent flavor. It has a complexity of taste that starts with a cinnamon flavor and a hint of heat, followed by a tartness and rich, earthy finish. The beet is good both boiled and baked, and the leaves are an excellent cooked green. And that's an added bonus - it's two vegetables in one!

If you are looking for a beet that will overwinter well, the Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet is an excellent beet for cold-storage, keeping well in root cellar storage for 8 months or more.

It has a variable rate of maturity - between 48 and 68 days - which makes it somewhat challenging for commercial growers, but an ideal variety for individuals and smaller farms.

The Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet is a highly endangered variety and is on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.

In addition to growing the Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet, other actions you can take include requesting it from farmers at farmers markets - now is a good time to do so in order that they have time to plan - and requesting that your local grocery store carry the Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet.

Seeds are available from Old Sturbridge Village and Seed Savers Exchange.

Please feel free to post a comment to let us know if you or someone you know will be growing the Early Blood Turnip-Rooted Beet. We'd love to hear all about it!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slow Food RI and Farm Fresh RI Movie Night, Wednesday, February 25

Slow Food Rhode Island and Farm Fresh Rhode Island are sponsoring their first movie night together on Wednesday, February 25 at Local 121, 121 Washington Street, Providence.

We will be showing James Spione's documentary, American Farm, about the upstate New York dairy farm that has been in Spione's mother's family for over 150 years. His cousin is the fifth generation to face the challenges of running this family farm, and has survived recession and pressure from agribusiness. Now that he is approaching seventy, and with none of his six children interested in assuming responsibility for running the farm, it must be sold.

The film is narrated entirely by the family members and chronicles the history of the farm as well as the social circumstances surrounding small family farming that have led to the decision to sell.

You can have a look at the trailer by clicking here.

As you may know, Local 121 is a restaurant that is dedicated to serving the best locally-raised food available. They work with local farmers to source the best foods from our food system, and, of course, support the wider community with events like this movie night. There will be a buffet of locally-sourced food available for $15 as well as a cash bar. Admission to the movie is free.

The room will open at 6pm and the buffet will be served starting at 6:15pm. The movie will start at 7pm.

Please RSVP to Local 121 at 401-274-2121.

We hope to see you at Local 121 on the 25th!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Eat It to Save It

We mentioned in last week's post that we're very excited about the collaborative effort of Slow Food USA and Chefs Collaborative's Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) grow-out project. This year, the grow-out is taking place only in New England, and it offers we Rhode Islanders (and all New Englanders) a great opportunity to experience the tastes of endangered foods by purchasing them later this year at farmers markets and restaurants that feature these foods, and we are also fortunate because we can grow some of these foods ourselves in our backyard gardens and balcony planters.

Below is a list of RAFT grow-out foods for Rhode Island. If you click on the variety name, it will bring you to a seed source website for that food so that you can grow these heirloom varieties yourself. If you do have a garden, consider planting a plant or two of each variety - or even just a few varieties - and share the seeds with your neighbors. Please do spread the word - the goal for these foods is to repatriate them here in the region in which they originated, and the more individuals who take up the cause by sowing seeds, buying this produce at the farmers market, or requesting that their grocery store carry these foods, the better chance they have for survival.

RAFT Grow-out Varieties:

Early blood turnip-rooted beet
Jimmy Nardello’s sweet pepper
Sibley’s Pikes Peak squash
Boston Marrow Squash
Long Pie pumpkin
True Red Cranberry beans
Marfax bean
Gilfeather turnip
Winningstadt cabbage
Boothby’s blonde cucumber
Student parsnip
Wethersfield onion
Trophy tomato
Siberian Sweet watermelon
Stowell’s Evergreen sweet corn

There are an enormous assortment of foods that originated in New England - everything from fruit and nut trees, to chickens, to shellfish, as well as other vegetables - that are endangered. For the full list, please visit Slow Food USA's website to download a pdf on New England's Place-based Foods at Risk with more information on the RAFT project.

Also, to read a wonderful article on the Ark of Taste - created by Slow Food to raise awareness about these endangered foods and to keep them in production, therefore promoting biodiversity - and to learn where the title for today's post originated, please take a look at the FLYP website.

As winter slowly begins to wind down, we'll be posting more and more information on the RAFT project and the stories behind the foods. Once the growing season is upon us, we'll provide information on the farmers' efforts in growing the foods, and then, at harvest time, we'll let you know where to find these heirloom varieties - at farmers markets and on restaurant menus, and with your help, maybe even in grocery stores. We're looking forward to seeing the cycle unfold, and hope you'll join us in our efforts to restore these foods in Rhode Island.