Farmer Lee likes to call petite vegetables the “littlest cuties of the garden” and that’s definitely true of our flavorful petite carrots. In the world outside of The Chef’s Garden, it’s the oldest children who leave home and go out on their own. But, as anyone who has visited the farm will attest, our world isn’t like any other! Around here, it’s the teeny tiny ones who are first bitten with wanderlust.
Carrots are an excellent choice for fresh vegetables in the early summer because they like the cold temperatures and can be planted early. Take a look at these petite beauties. What would work best in your dishes and menus?
Petite dragon carrots: named for its deep purple exterior, vigorous scrubbing or peeling will reveal a fiery dark orange interior and a bright yellow core; these are sweet tasting with an herbal finish and a satisfying crunch
Petite long carrots: yes, it makes us smile to think of a carrot being both long and petite – but it’s true; their earthy-sweet flavor just can’t be beat and their unexpected size will surprise and delight your diners
Petite white carrots: these sweet, nutty and crunchy delights feature cream-colored skin and flesh, with shorter greens and broader shoulders than other carrots
Farmer Lee remembers when “old-timers” would recommend that you plant your peas on March 17. Although it isn’t true that this date is the magical day to plant, it is true that it’s important to plant peas at just the right time. And, here’s what is mouthwateringly delicious right now: fresh snow peas.
We recommend that you try the petite mixed snow peas. Besides offering fresh pea flavor and a succulent texture – so crisp yet tender – they also look stunning on the plate. This mix can include green snow peas, purple ones, and golden ones, too. These flat, thin pods contain tiny seeds that gently bulge from the pod, indicating how it’s prime eating time. Pair them with carrots, of course, and know that they’re absolutely delicious with fresh parsley.
Life, as Farmer Lee points out, can be funny sometimes. It was the squash blossom that led The Chef’s Garden to grow produce for chefs, and we now ship these fresh and delicious blooms around the world.
What’s ironic, though, is that when Lee was young, he dreaded squash-picking time. “There were these tiny little prickers,” he remembers, “and, if you didn’t wear long sleeves and gloves when picking squash, you’d sure know it. Your arms, from wrist to elbow, would be irritated and red.”
Procrastinating with squash picking didn’t work, either. “Any heat,” he says, “and they grow like a weed. So, during the season, squash needs picked every day. It’s the vegetable version of milking cows. You just can’t skip a day. If you do, the squash gets too big and they take up too big a share of the sun’s energy.”
Thanks to all the wonderful chefs, of course, Farmer Lee’s memories of squash blossoms are nothing but good, easily overriding his childhood memories of crop picking. In fact, when he and his wife eat at restaurants that feature dishes with squash blossoms from The Chef’s Garden, he says they totally embody the farm to table concept, from seed to field to plate. “Presentation of these blossoms,” he says, “have been mind-boggling good.” Here’s how you can get squash blossoms for your own dishes and menus.
When Farmer Lee picks the first tomatoes of the season, he admits that he will “plunk that very first handful into my mouth.” And, as the juice dribbles down his chin, he shares that this experience absolutely screams summer to him. “As I smell the tomato leaves as I walk towards the vines,” he shares, “and as I smell the soil and feel the sun on my back, the experience is purely spiritual. It’s about that miracle, the miracle that happens when God gives us a seed and then it turns into such a majestic, glorious gift.”
And, oh. We’ve been meaning to give you an update. Last August, we shared the following: how we had “asked Lee to name his absolute FAVORITE tomato and he said that was easy. It was definitely a cherry tomato! Or, err, maybe an heirloom tomato . . . or a toy box tomato. Or maybe a currant tomato. Sorry, folks. We know this isn’t too helpful, but we’ll keep pressuring him.”
Our update? The last time we saw Farmer Lee, he was strolling among the crops, still rattling off the list of his favorite tomatoes. Maybe, by next year, we’ll have more details. In the meantime, here’s where you can find information about our varieties of deliciously fresh tomatoes.
As a kid, Lee didn’t necessarily like the big cucumbers. (This surprised his classmates. Why? Those who didn’t yet know how marvelous spinach can taste used to sneak their portions of spinach onto his plate and look in awe as he ate every bite.)
But, back to cucumbers. What Lee discovered that he did like – make that love – are cukes with blooms. In fact, they cause him to quote the following song lyric/movie line: you had me at hello.
“Cukes with blooms,” Farmer Lee says, “go with just about anything. They have a clean, crisp, refreshing flavor, so nice on the palate. They look beautiful on plates and mixologists love them in the glass, as well.”
He believes that increasing numbers of people are appreciating these tiny beauties as they become more interested in and intuitive about where ingredients come from. The cucumber offers up soft melon flavors and the velvety soft blossoms provide a crunchy, succulent texture. Also consider the visual appeal of these lovely cukes with blooms.
Radishes come with a bit of mystery because no one knows, exactly, when first people realized the value in domesticating these nutritious and delicious forms of spicy goodness. They’ve been mentioned in writing, according to VegetableFacts.net, for about 2,300 years, with Ancient Greeks and Romans already differentiating among small versus large, round versus long, and mild versus sharp. When Europeans came over to the Americas, one of their first vegetable transplants was the radish.
Although we love to eat radishes raw, or with a bit of butter and salt, we also admit to being intrigued by a radish recipe in Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide by Elizabeth Schneider. It’s on page 400: Double Radish and Carrot Slaw. It incorporates daikon radishes, carrots and either radish sprouts or watercress. Schneider calls this a “refreshing salad, crunchy and forceful,” a “pungent combination.” We encourage you to look at the entire recipe and create your own unique version.
Whether you need a little bit of spice in a dish – or a whole lotta spice – fresh radishes are an excellent choice. Crunchy, succulent and peppery when raw, they provide a delightfully creamy texture and a milder essence of flavor when cooked.
Cilantro, Farmer Lee points out, can be kind of persnickety to grow, especially when it’s time for summer’s full sun. So, although you might typically think of greenhouses as a place to keep crops warm during the cold winter months, The Chef’s Garden also uses them to shade cilantro and keep the plants in a cooler environment. This is something that micro cilantro particularly needs.
“This is such a great product, though,” Lee explains, “that it’s worth all we need to do. It goes so well with so many dishes and is a favorite of so many chefs. Although you might, at first, think of cilantro in connection with Spanish or Mexican dishes, this plant is so diverse that it adds a complementary touch to numerous other dishes and cuisines.”
And, since we have our copy of Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide out, here is what Schneider has to say. “Was there culinary life,” she asks, “in the United States before cilantro?” She also points out how coriander, the dried seeds of the cilantro plant, has “played a role in good food since ancient Egyptian times or perhaps even earlier . . . Throughout recorded history the seeds’ unusual fragrance – at once sweet, musky, herbaceous – has been part of liqueurs, confections, pickled fruits and vegetables, soups, and stews.”
At The Chef’s Garden, you can get freshly picked cilantro as well as citrus coriander.
Farmer Lee must be feeling mighty nostalgic today. When we asked him how the sorrel was doing, he started talking about standing beneath an apple tree as a child, anxious to taste the first fruit of the season. Sometimes, he was so anxious that he bit into one so green that his eyes watered and his mouth puckered. Shortly after that, though, these apples were tangy yet sweet, perfect to eat – and that, he said, that is what sorrel reminds him of.
“Food is at its most special,” he says, “when it evokes memories, and our sorrel reminds me of that moment by the apple tree, of that first delicious bite of the season and its contrast of sourness and sweetness.”
Just like with tomatoes, it’s hard for Lee to pick just one sorrel. But, the ones he mentioned in our most recent conversation included plum lucky sorrel (mildly sour, slightly nutty), rainbow lucky sorrel (sweet intro with a tart finish) and the mixed lucky sorrel.
Here is our in-depth look at the soaring interest in sorrel.
Nothing says summer like enjoying freshly made iced tea – and mint is made to complement its flavors. When you add just a little bit to the tea while it’s still warm, the oils in the plant break down, adding delicious layers of flavor, and the leaves look beautiful floating on top. What makes this experience even better: the many varieties of fresh mint grown at The Chef’s Garden. The experience you’ll get when you use orange mint, for example, or pineapple mint is quite different from when you select chocolate mint for your tea. You can also order a mint sampler to experiment with the many incarnations of this lovely herb.
As a bonus, Medical News Today recently published an article about the numerous health benefits of mint, calling it a “tender herb” with “gentle stems.”
Lee decided to go a different route with number ten. Rather than listing a specific vegetable, herb or edible flower, he wants to give a shout-out to all the amazing chefs who include seasonal vegetables as a choice on their menus. “I applaud the increasing number of people around the world,” he says, “who continue to grow in their appreciation of consuming what nature produces during a season. We can never outsmart Mother Nature, and we know better than to even try. That’s why our mission has been, and will continue to be, to grow vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature.”
You can find the availability of our summer crops here and here is our summer menu planner.
At The Chef’s Garden, we’re hyper-sensitive to seasonality, and we’re here to provide you with the perfect way to keep your menus fresh. This includes still providing annual summer favorites while introducing new varieties for you and your guests to marvel at and enjoy. It is my hope that you will continue to support the people and places that stand for something important. This includes people who tend the land following the model of small sustainable farming.
We continue to be so grateful for your belief in us and for your support. We promise to do every single thing we can to continue to keep your confidence.
Stay healthy, my friends! Happy Summer.