And that’s exactly how we’re feeling at The Chef’s Garden right now.
So, Farmer Lee suggested we take a few moments to immerse ourselves in those feelings, to enjoy the best of the year before moving forward. To make that happen, we thought we’d share which posts our readers enjoyed most in 2018. Not all of these posts were written in 2018, interestingly enough. Some were actually written in 2017 but were among those read most often during 2018.
So, without further ado, we invite you to indulge yourself in our New Year’s countdown, feeling free to share this post, far and wide.
(Also let yourself imagine a sparkling ball of fresh vegetables, herbs and edible flowers making its descent—and go ahead and shout out countdown numbers as you reach them in this post!)
#10 Seven Reasons to Incorporate Edible Flowers into Menus
The tenth most well-read post during 2018 took us even further back in time, to the Victorian era in England, when edible flowers were highly valued for their marvelous flavor and delicate aesthetics.
In those bygone days, desserts were “almost always lavishly decorated . . . Cakes often were flavored with rose water and caraway seeds, and candies with lemon verbena, lemon balm and mint. Both fresh and candied edible flowers decorated dessert plates, tea sandwiches, and petits fours . . . nonalcoholic elder-flower beverages ended many a fine meal.”
Fast-forwarding to today’s times, blossoms and blooms are once again quite popular—and our post, Seven Reasons to Incorporate Edible Flowers into Menus, suggests these reasons for the upsurge in their use. Edible flowers and veggie blooms:
Provide texture and crunch
Offer up a pleasing aroma
Add a punch of nutrition
Allow you to tell a story
Permit people to dine with purpose
Because we’re feeling nostalgic right now, we’ll expand a bit on reason number six: how edible flowers evoke memories.
“If you want to congratulate someone,” Farmer Lee Jones points out, “you often say it with flowers. If you want to let someone know how much you love him or her, or how much you miss that person, you often send flowers. There is something celebratory about flowers, something soothing, something that makes an otherwise ordinary event extra special.”
Farmer Lee shares his belief that edible flowers allow talented chefs to demonstrate their artistic side, using the plate as their canvas. “Flowers are one of God’s most beautiful gifts,” he says, “providing a pleasing sensation to human psyches, and the beautiful range of colors in flowers allows chefs to share their culinary gifts along with the gift of flowers artistically expressed with their diners.”
#9 Current Food Trend: Delicious, Nutritious and Colorful Purple Foods
In 2017, Whole Foods predicted an increase in purple foods on the plate, and this caught our attention because we’d noticed the exact same thing. In fact, purple foods have become so popular that we decided this stunning hue is really the new black.
Here’s what ColorMatters.com says about this color: “Purple is . . . the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow – and it’s a color with a powerful history . . . purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious, creativity, dignity, royalty – and it evokes all of these meanings more so than any other color.”
If you haven’t read this post before, then we invite you to read it now (and, if you have, we believe it’s worth a second look). Highlights in the post include health benefits of purple foods, which one nutritionist lists as:
Keeping you looking younger
One government study shares how nearly 90 percent of Americans don’t eat enough purple produce, which is “linked to a slew of health benefits, from protecting memory, slowing the aging process and safeguarding your heart, to warding off Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.”
In this post, you can find out how multiple chefs use purple produce sustainably farmed at The Chef’s Garden, as well as links to purple goods we grow (some of them seasonably grown).
#8 Food as Medicine: Healing Yourself One Bite at a Time
This post provides an in-depth look at one of Farmer Lee’s favorite Roots panels ever. Yes, Lee’s list of favorite Roots panels is pretty darned long, but this one really is a keeper. Titled Food as Medicine, Healing Yourself One Bite at a Time, Jane Esselstyn moderated this panel while also offering her own unique insights into using fresh vegetables to help people get and stay healthier. Jane is a nurse, researcher, cookbook author and recipe creator, the last of which includes what she created for the New York Times’ bestseller, Plant-Strong.
Also on this illustrious panel was Chef Andrea Beaman, an internationally recognized holistic health coach and natural foods chef. She became interested in alternative healing and sustainable eating strategies when she was diagnosed with thyroid disease, healing herself without traditional medical help.
Chef Maneet Chauhan, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, shared insights from growing up in India, where food as medicine was simply accepted as a way of life. Since then, she has worked in some of the finest hotels and restaurants in India and in the United States, where she creates delicious dishes using the best of ingredients.
Rounding out the panel was Chef Jehangir Mehta. (If you haven’t yet read the post ranking #8, Farmer Lee suggests you at least check out Jehangir’s incredibly good taste in clothing!)
Chef Jehangir also grew up in India, and has earned a well-deserved reputation for juxtaposing textures, tastes and ingredients from India with those from around the globe. He specializes in creating menus specifically targeted to the memories of that day’s diners, sharing stories about the ingredients used and, sometimes, their connection to his childhood in India.
#7 2017 Research on Vegetables and Fruits: Major Health Benefits Abound
In 2017, the International Journal of Epidemiology revealed that people who ate extra produce (beyond the recommended five daily portions) received even greater health benefits. More specifically, eating 800 grams a day of fresh fruits and veggies was associated with:
24 percent reduction in risk of heart disease
33 percent reduction in risk of stroke
28 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease
13 percent reduction in risk of total cancer
31 percent reduction in dying prematurely
We were thrilled to share this research that focused on fresh vegetables and fruits, and would like to make a few recommendations about what nutritious and delicious veggies to choose:
Crisp and tender purple leaved spinach add interest to the plate; plus, as we noted above, purple vegetables are getting plenty of attention as flavorful, nutritional powerhouses.
If you looked up “farm to table eating” in the dictionary, Farmer Lee believes one of his favorite vegetables, petite mixed lettuce, should be illustrated next to that definition.
Micro Chinese cabbage makes for an interesting change of pace in dishes and menus.
Our yellow carrots are buttery and sweet with a nutty finish, satisfyingly crunchy and juicy. (Feel free, too, to spread the word that we’ve chosen mixed carrots as the veggie of the year for 2019!)
Plus, our exotic kale blend is available year round, and we hand harvest small and tender leaves in colors ranging from milky lavender to deep, rich purple, as well as emerald green.
#6 Farmer Lee Jones Remembers 2017 & Makes Five Predictions for 2018
Yes, this is a cliché—and, yes, it’s also true. It feels like only yesterday that Farmer Lee was reminiscing about 2017 while making his predictions for 2018.
As part of his look back on 2017, we shared how he expected fresh vegetables to become an even greater part of the plate—and we’re happy to see that happening in many different restaurants and locales.
His predictions for 2018 included the rise in popularity of:
Unique and uncommon herbs
Flowers with flavor
Cocktails and mocktails with farm-fresh ingredients
Unique shapes and structures in edible leaves
How do you think Farmer Lee did with his predictions? Did you incorporate one or more of these into your menus in 2018? If so, please share stories and send pictures! (And, yes. We’re serious! We want to see, hear and learn more about what you’re doing.)
#5 What's in a Name? For the Jerusalem Artichoke: Nothing
We were both happy and surprised to see a post about the Jerusalem artichoke on our top ten list. Happy, because we believe this vegetable deserves more attention—and pleased and surprised that it’s getting it in 2018 (confession time coming up soon!).
Other names for the Jerusalem artichoke include sunroots, earth apples, sunchokes and Canadian truffles. Interestingly enough, this tuber is not an artichoke, and it’s not from Jerusalem. It’s really a member of the sunflower family, originating in North America.
Now, it’s time for our confession. We didn’t realize the value of this creamy tuber, either, not for many years. We held onto a preconceived notion that chefs would reject this produce, and we didn’t change our minds until the James Beard-winning chef, Bradford Thompson, came to our farm and to the Culinary Vegetable Institute.
When we entered the CVI kitchen, Thompson was slicing up Jerusalem artichokes that he’d boiled the night before, and they were creamy and sweet with a hint of vanilla and an addictive crispy-crunchy texture. They were as good as or even better than home-fry potatoes would be and, in an instant, the way we felt about Jerusalem artichokes changed forever.
Since then, we’ve seen them used in these ways: “we've seen them celebrated in both savory and sweet recipes. From ice cream and dessert garnishes that are candied and dehydrated to velvety purees and savory tarts combined with wild mushrooms and tart green apples, the Jerusalem artichoke is at home in countless dishes. It pairs so well with heady game flavors as well as delicate poultry and fish dishes. It's also wonderful in soups and makes a delicate broth that is delicious on its own or as a foundation for sauces.”
There’s even more—so we invite you to read this post about the Jerusalem artichoke in full.
And, by now, we’re feeling a need for a drumroll. After all, we’re about to reveal the top four posts read in 2018!
#4 Chef Instructor Preps Inmates for Culinary Careers
This post, written in November 2018, quickly skyrocketed to the top—and for good reason. It shares the story of Chef Jimmy Lee Hill, now in his 29th year as executive chef of the culinary program of Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan. There, men in incarceration are unlocking a whole lot more than just improved culinary skills through the food service technology program offered at Lakeland Correctional.
For context: do you know that old movie cliché where the inmates use a file hidden inside a cake to saw through the cell bars then make a break for it? What if they flipped the script? What if, instead, the inmate baked a cake, and found his freedom that way?
That’s exactly what’s happening to some men, thanks to this highly successful program. Here’s how Chef Jimmy Lee puts it: “Some guys, just to look at their faces when they prepare a cake, or some cookies, it’s like they hit the lottery. Because of that smile. It’s like, ‘You know, chef? Man, I didn’t think I could do this.’ And sometimes I joke around with them and I’m like, ‘Man, if those drive-by shooters could see you now. You traded in that Glock 9 for a whisk!’ I try to have fun with them because it’s already tense enough in there.”
Chef Jimmy Lee shared these thoughts and experiences at Roots 2018—and, yes. This is also one of Farmer Lee’s all-time favorite Roots panels!
#3 Vegetable State of the Union: Current Food Trends
“What we’ve noticed at The Chef’s Garden is that there is a cultural shift underway that is upending not only how we’re eating but shaping and transforming our entire way of living, buying, cooking and dining.”
That quote serves as the basis of our vegetable state of the union post, where we share insights into the following.
Vegetable-focused dishes are no longer reserved for the vegetarians and vegans among us. They are a top pick for the most ardent meat eater because there is so much flavor and diversity to be found in a dish comprised of vegetables executed in a creative way.
Trending flavors and colors
Sour and bitter flavors are on the rise. Guests are looking for something to enliven their palates and sour notes like those found in sorrels and nasturtiums are one place they’re turning.
Food waste solutions
Whole vegetable cooking is on the rise. No longer does one part of the vegetable grace the plate and the rest is relegated to the rubbish bin. Chefs are appreciating more than ever the value, diversity and flavor variations that each component of a vegetable has to offer.
Healthy cocktails and mocktails
Vegetables are also finding their way into cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages like never before. No longer are they merely viewed as garnishes in the beverage industry. Instead, they are playing a primary role in a cocktail or homemade soda, making each sip not only indulgent and flavorful but nutritious, too, proving that you can have your libation and be healthy, as well.
Vegetable-centric desserts are having a moment that we are confident will only become more intense and nuanced. Desserts are no longer the sole realm of sugary flourishes and sweet sauces.
Our food community is more global than ever before, and this is one of the reasons that our focus is turning to nations that are not as familiar in our culinary lexicon as Japan and Spain, such as Bolivia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Cuba – and African and Eastern European nations.
#2 Miracles of Microgreens: Benefits and Much More
Microgreens truly are miraculous, tiny, perfect representations of fresh vegetables, herbs and greens. They provide intense flavor in delicate bites – and studies are showing how their nutritional levels are off the charts. As another benefit, they add unexpected beauty to plates and texture to dishes. This post explores what a microgreen is, along with how, specifically, they’re attractive, flavorful and nutritious.
When cooks and chefs first see a microgreen, a natural response is that it would make a great garnish. And, they do! But they are so much more than that. Garnishes accent your dishes, giving them an extra pop of flavor, while microgreens really serve as an extension of your dish as you build incredible layers of flavor.
What’s amazing is that the nutrition found in these delicate bits of goodness may have the potential to boost brain power—and you don’t need to give up flavor to benefit from nutrition. That’s the basis of Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden.
“Think about it,” Farmer Lee says. “At The Chef’s Garden, we start with healthy soil. We then plant our crops in harmony with nature, never trying to outsmart Mother Nature. As these crops grow in healthy soil, they take in the sun’s vibrant rays. So, when we harvest these crops, they are chock full of nutrition. In short, the process goes this way: healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy food for people.”
That, my friends, is the miracle of microgreens.
#1 Insights into Potato Sizes – and the Beauty of Small Potatoes
Now . . . here is the most well-read post at The Chef’s Garden in 2018. Are you surprised?
We were—for a moment, anyhow. Then we realized that this post offers what readers look to us to provide: unique insights into fresh vegetables based upon our laser focus on growing them sustainably, slowly and gently in full accord with nature.
At The Chef’s Garden, we don’t focus on growing potato varieties that will yield tons per acre. Instead, we choose our varieties for their premier flavor and nutrition, potatoes that you can serve diners without removing the skin, if you so choose. Besides adding a punch of flavor and nutrition, the range of colors available in potato skins create an attractive presentation on the plate.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, then we encourage you to read Harvesting Potatoes: Our New Potatoes are Flavored with Excellence, because it truly gives insight into the love and attention we give to every single potato that we grow. Plus, the underlying wisdom shared in this post by one of our team leaders can apply to virtually any crop we grow.
When growing potatoes:
Maintaining good soil is crucial. Fortunately, the loose and sandy loam soil near Lake Erie is ideal.
Monitoring soil moisture is important. For potatoes, the soil should hold together like soft brown sugar.
Planting in stages is key to maintaining a consistent supply. As one planting gets depleted, another is ready to go. Yet another is still frilled with surprisingly delicate, papery white blooms signifying more backups to come.
An organized and strategic plan is needed at harvest time.
More details about what happens between then and when they’re on chef menus can be found in the post.
“I hope,” Farmer Lee Jones concludes, “you’ve enjoyed taking a look back in time, as we celebrate what helped our readers most during 2018. We hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday season and we look forward to ringing in the new year with even more plans on how to provide you with the sustainably farmed fresh vegetables, herbs and edible flowers you deserve to create your culinary masterpieces in 2019 and beyond. Happy New Year!”