Month: June 2018

Cool off with homemade ice pops this summer!

Ice pops are the perfect remedy against the blazing summer heat. These cold treats have always been a favorite but it is easy to be disappointed with the added ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup, sugar and artificial coloring. What happened to just a simple fruit pop?

You’re in luck! Homemade pops are cold, colorful and easy to make at home using seasonal ingredients found at the farmers’ market. Making your own ice pops gives you the freedom to try new flavors while loading up on healthy ingredients, such as whole fruit and plain yogurt.

To start, you will need to gather a few supplies in your kitchen. You will need a blender or food processor to puree the ingredients. For the ice pop mold, you can use items around your house, such as small yogurt containers, ice cube trays or paper cups. You can also spend less than $10 and purchase plastic molds that can be reused.

The most difficult step of making an ice pop is choosing what ingredients to include. We challenge you to stay seasonal and pick up fresh fruit from the Durham Farmers’ Market, such as watermelon, peaches, raspberries and blueberries. Vegetables also make tasty additions to ice pops so do not be afraid to experiment.

Once you picked your ingredients, slice the fruit or vegetable and remove any seeds. Use your blender to achieve the ideal texture for your ice pop. If you prefer smooth textures, blend the ingredients until they are fully pureed. If you like chunks of fruit, blend for just a few seconds. Experiment and find what works best for you.

If you want to add a sweetener to your ice pop, use a liquid sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup or agave. However, be sure to taste test the mixture before adding a sweetener because the fruit is often sweet enough so no added sugar is necessary.

Once you have your desired texture and sweetness, you are ready to fill your ice pop molds. Remember that liquids expand when frozen so fill your mold only three-quarters of the way to avoid a mess. If you are using homemade molds, let the ice pop freeze for at least 45 minutes before inserting a wooden popsicle stick.

There are countless ways to make an ice pop. Use leftover fruit or purchase seasonal fruit at the farmers’ market. You can taste your combination before you place it in the ice pop mold and decide if you need to add any last-minute ingredients. Have fun and be creative!

Below are a few ice pop recipes to help you cool off this summer:

Peach & Ginger Ice Pops
(Makes 6-8 ice pops)

  1. Purchase 4 peaches and a small piece of ginger root (about 2 oz.). Cut the peaches into bite-sized pieces, with or without skin. Peel the ginger and cut into small pieces. Place the peaches and ginger in the blender and mix to desired consistency. If you prefer a more creamy texture, add 1/2 cup of yogurt or milk.
  2. Pour the mixture into the ice pop mold.
  3. Let freeze for 3-4 hours. When ready to serve, run the ice pop mold under warm water for 3-5 seconds to loosen before removing. Enjoy!

Watermelon Ice Pops
(Makes 10 ice pops)

  1. Purchase a small watermelon and cut into small pieces, removing all seeds. Place in the blender and mix until pureed.
  2. Pour the mixture into the ice pop mold.
  3. Let freeze for 3-4 hours. When ready to serve, run the ice pop mold under warm water for 3-5 seconds to loosen before removing. Enjoy!

Missives from a Market Farmer: Legumes—More on Beans

Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor

The botanical family of all beans is the Fabaceae or Leguminosae and includes peas, beans, and lentils. It is a large family with over 700 genera and includes trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. There are Old World and New World beans. The New World is the western hemisphere made up of North and South America. The Old World is in the Eastern Hemisphere (Europe, Africa, and Asia.) Old world beans are in the genus Vigna and new world beans in Phaseolus. Vigna includes favas and lentils. They were eaten by the ancients, found in Egyptian tombs, and dug up from the remnants of ancient fires in Tibet. The world’s most popular bean recipe mentioned in the first missive on legumes is made from fava beans.
The common bean is Phaseolus vulgaris. It is currently the most popular eating bean for both fresh and dried beans. It includes kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and navy beans, as well as, familiar fresh bean varieties such as great northern, flageolet, haricots vert, cannellini, borlotti, Jacob’s Cattle, Kentucky wonder, Blue Lake and so on. When we eat fresh beans we are eating the hulls and immature seeds; dried beans are the mature seeds. Seed Savers Exchange lists some 4000 cultivars of beans.
Like many people in the news today, Phaseolus came from Mesoamerica—an area which encompasses the current countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Columbus brought new world beans to Europe when he returned from his second voyage. These Mesoamerican migrants were welcomed, and Phaseolus vulgaris quickly spread over the entire world. As noted on the website, Republic of Beans, sixteenth century Europeans were part of the Age of Discovery. They “fanned out over earth spreading exotic foods. Hardy New World legumes soon became a popular crop in Europe because” they were easy to grow and store and had excellent nutritional value. They were a primary food for sailors with one variety ended up being called the Navy bean, which you can buy canned in most grocery stores. 
Beans come in a variety of colors, some of which are almost jewel-like. If you can get a print copy of the April 23 2018, New Yorker, you can see a wonderful illustration of such these diverse colors. (You can also read this at; but the illustration is not as good as in the print version.)
         Because beans, in nature, are spread by the shell popping open and propelling seeds across the soil, it is unusual for there to be so many colors because these colors do not serve to attract mates, birds, or insects to spread the bean’s offspring. Rather, we humans are responsible for this diversity. We gather, carefully clean, dry, preserve, and replant these beans in new places. Left to its own devices Phaseolus would soon become more uniform. This is true of all cultivars; humans are the bean’s agent; we ensure that various types of beans grow, prosper, and maintain their place on the world-stage.
I am not sure how this relates to the current situation with human Mesoamericans. But for the fact that the organic certification inspector is coming to my farm this week, I might come up with a theory. But, for now, you are on your own to figure this out.
In fitting with world-wide trips beans have made, I have included a recipe for Sichuan Green Beans. Sichuan is a providence of China and is known for its cuisine which features garlic and hot spices. Their dishes often have fanciful names such as, Kung Pao chicken and Ants Climbing a Tree. This one does not.

Missives from a Market Farmer: Legumes—Fresh Beans

Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor
Legumes are extremely important to farming and food production because they have a symbiotic relationship with a type of bacteria, Rhizobia. Rhizobia colonize plant roots, pull nitrogen from the air, and convert it into a type of ammonia that plants can use. The plant then makes amino acids which are combined into proteins.
Legumes are used by farmers to enrich the soil. The major plant nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Phosphorus and potassium are part of the mineral content of the soil and are relatively stable in comparison to nitrogen. Newly tilled soils and forest floors (a planting surface created by the ancient slash and burn method of farming) have plenty of nitrogen. After a field has been farmed for a few years, the nitrogen is depleted. Early on, farmers discovered ways to increase the soil’s nitrogen content. These included 1)planting in river valleys subject periodic flooding which deposits rich soil in the flood plain, 2) adding combinations of manure and plant debris (what we now call compost), and 3) planting and tilling in legumes prior to grain and other crops. Use of legumes to enrich soil was known by ancient Greeks and Romans, with surviving Greek texts from 400 BC mentioning such use. However, the actual chemistry of the nitrogen fixing process was not discovered until the 1880s.
Worldwide, legumes provide about 10 percent of the protein consumed by humans; however, unlike protein from animals, legumes do not provide a “complete protein” in that they do not contain ALL the amino acids we need to make our bodily proteins. Again, long before scientists knew about elements, amino acids, and proteins, we had learned to eat legumes with a grain—corn, rice, or wheat—to promoted health and growth.
There is a multitude of healthy legume/grain combinations.  For example, I spent a significant part of my youth eating pinto beans that were simmered for hours on the stove and served with fresh-baked cornbread. This was a particularly prevalent meal on the days immediately prior to my dad getting his Saturday paycheck. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, published by Oxford University Press, Ful Medames or Ful Mudammes is the “single most famous bean dish” in the world. It originated in Egypt as a breakfast dish of long-simmered fava beans served warm pita bread.
Beans. Beans are described as a remainder category in the Oxford Companion on Food, namely, as “Any legume whose seeds and pods are eaten and which is not classified as a pea or lentil.” This seems like an odd definition me. What about peanuts? But maybe those Oxford University Press folks had heard the song Goober Peas, and think of the peanut as a pea.
But back to beans.
The majority of beans are used in their dried form. When a bean dries, its pod or hull becomes thin and papery allowing easy removal of the seeds. They can them be cleaned and stored nearly indefinitely. Harold McGee who authored the famous text, On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen, speculates that people initially consumed green or fresh beans. Dried beans are not easy to digest, and he believes consumption of dried beans came after cooking was invented. Supporting his theory is the observation that breeders did not develop new varieties of  fresh beans until recently.
Initially, green beans were climbing varieties and were native to Central America and the Andes. Within the past 200 years, breeders have developed cultivars with tender shells and special colors (yellow and purple), that grow in bushes, and that are string-less—without the fibrous strip that holds the two halves of the shell together. Seed catalogues still sell varieties with strings, and many people still refer to all fresh beans as string beans.
Currently, most of the beans available in the Durham Farmers Market are fresh beans. When I was young, all beans were cooked until limp and with “seasoning,” a fatty, cut of pork called fat-back, or with bacon. Now it is more popular to lightly cook or steam beans and to served them with butter, olive oil, and possibly lemon.

Missives from a Market Farmer: Alliums and Health

Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor

I no longer believe that food is food, and that we can ignore the details of what we eat as long as we do not eat too much, have 5 servings of vegetables/fruit a day, and consume enough protein. My recent research on ancient beliefs concerning food and health and new scientific studies on the chemistry of nutrients in food tells me details matter.

The notion of certain foods having medicinal qualities is ancient. A 2015 article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology entitled “When foods become remedies in ancient Greece: The curious case of garlic and other substances” addressed the distinctions between food and medicine in a body of writings called the Hippocratic Corpus (HC), a multi-author work compiled from 500 BC to 400 B. In that time, many medicines were purgatives. Called “pharmakon” they were astringent, bitter, and foul smelling and could not be concocted by the body. Concoct roughly means to digest but includes idea of providing nourishment and supporting growth. “Trophe” was the name for nourishing substances.

Garlic was a major component of the Greek diet, however, it was also considered to have medicinal properties. It was mainly used to promote robustness after other treatments. Women who were treated for displacement of the womb with purgatives, fumigations, and manipulations were encouraged eat both raw and cooked garlic and sip a garlic broth.

Interestingly, at this time (2500 years ago) Greek physicians embraced “dietetics,” a holistic branch of medicine focusing on the interaction between diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

By the Middle-Ages, onions were prescribed as a cure for headaches, snakebites, and hair loss. The majority of the vegetable diet then consisted of beans, cabbages (this would have included greens such as kales), and onions. Knowing how onions enhance bean and green dishes, I was not surprised to learn onions were used to pay rent and as wedding gifts.

By the late Middle-Ages (13th century) herbals (the medical text books of the day) were recommending garlic, onions, and leeks—all alliums—for the elderly and to cure coughs, to kill worms, improve the flow of mother’s milk and semen, and to soften the bladder. Onions were thought to improve eyesight, but garlic was said to have the potential for damaging the eyes and brain. I especially liked the recommendation for constriction of the chest which was to use onions baked under embers served with sugar and butter, which sounds just like a delicious concoction of caramelized onions.

In the late 20th century, modern scientific research discovered and “inverse correlation between garlic consumption and progression of cardiovascular disease,” meaning it is good for your heart. Even though this discovery was made very recently via epidemiologic and clinical studies, garlic extracts are now marketed as a “traditional medicine” to reduce hypertension and high cholesterol. Such a use does not appear in ancient texts!

Ancient recommendations on food and health were based on observation. The ability to research the mode of action of chemicals in food is very recent. The molecular nature of matter was only identified in the 19th century, knowledge that has been known for less than 1-percent of our existences as humans. Not knowing about the chemistry of food resulted in the ancients making some colossal errors. They believed women had a tube in their bodies leading from the vagina to the mouth. Thus, a test of fertility for a woman consisted of “applying a washed and peeled head of garlic to the womb, and determining the next day” if it could be smelled in her breath. If so, she was fertile. We now know the bad-breath comes from an Allium’s sulfide compounds coursing through our blood, making us stink a little, but also protecting our cardiovascular system.

But don’t discount ancient knowledge. We are re-discovering the value of the ancient theory of “dietetics” as we examine the consequences of our modern sedentary life and processed food diet.

Does summer vacation exist for market vendors?

Growing up, summer vacation was always a given. Looking back on those long summer months, I probably took for granted the family trips we would take together. Now as an adult, I find myself counting down the days until vacation, looking forward to traveling and cherishing those moments to decompress and explore a new place.

But what about the farmers and market vendors who depend on those busy summer Saturdays to earn the lion’s share of their yearly income? Do they have the opportunity to steal away for a week or so and partake in the relaxation with their friends and family who may not have a farmers’ market work schedule? Impressively, many do take this time. After chatting with a few of our vendors who got away this summer, I learned that it takes a lot of effort and sacrifice to make it happen.

One vendor spoke about how difficult it can feel to leave for any extended period of time because their farm is a living thing. It requires constant attention and care to thrive, much like a child. Because of this, these farmers spend the whole season training their crew to manage the farm alone in preparation for the time they would be away.  This extra effort and foresight builds a stronger, more capable farm crew and gives the owners a needed chance to decompress. I’d say this is a win-win scenario for any business!

Our market also had a vendor who got married this summer, a few vendors who travelled far away from North Carolina to attend weddings, and many who headed straight for the mountains or coast to be with their families. These vacations are invaluable, and the Durham community who supports and shops at the market plays a huge role in making them possible.

There is so much beauty and bounty offered year-round on our vendors’ tables, and the folks standing behind those tables have worked so hard to bring it to you. Thank you for showing up and continuing to make this market strong, vibrant, and sustainable. We have loved sharing our summer with you, and are excited to soon venture into other seasons together. See you at the market!

Missives from a Market Farmer: Alliums—Onions and Light

Article Contributed by Judith Lessler, Durham Farmers’ Market Vendor

At the start of this series, I noted that garlic was a member of the genus, Allium. Other important members of Allium are onions, scallions, shallots, and green onions.

Classification of plants and animals into similar groups was practiced in a rudimentary form by the ancients. This endeavor is worthwhile because plants that are related share similar characteristics—such as, growth habits, flavor, and risk of poisoning. Children appear to naturally divide plants in to bitter, and, therefore, not edible and non-bitter or sweet. This is thought, by some, to enhance survival because bitter plants are more likely to be poisonous and have fewer calories. Growing children need lots of calories and are more robust if they avoid poisons. This their preference for sweet potatoes over arugula.

Traditionally plant morphology has formed the basis for grouping. Growth habit, flowering time, structure of flowers and seeds, presences of roots, bulbs, tubers, color, leaf structure, and so on are the basis for classification. Several of the articles on the genus allium note it is morphologically difficult resulting in changes over time in the nomenclature used to for the plants in the genus.

Nomenclature confusion also reigns in ordinary life. People are often confused as to differences among shallots, scallions, spring onions, and green onions, not to mention, plain old onions.  I will now clear this up for Durham Farmer’s Market customers. I am using the classification from Bon Appetit, an influential food and cooking magazine published by the famous mass media company, Conde’ Nast. Why? Because the differences are mainly important to chefs and cooks who are interested in the subtle differences in flavor of each.

  • Onions have bulbs and are sold without their leaves. They come in two types, sweet and storage. When picked, storage onions form a papery dry skin that allows them to be stored for 6 to 8 months in cool dry conditions. Sweet onions, for example, Vidalia onions do not form the dry skin but can be stored in for a couple of months if refrigerated.
  • Scallions and green onions are the same thing. They do not form bulbs and have long, hollow stems.
  • Spring onions look similar to scallions but are actually baby, bulbous onions harvested before they form the bulbs.
  • Shallots have multipart bulbs with separate cloves similar to those formed by garlic; however, these cloves do not have a thick membrane like that in garlic cloves.

Farmers must pay particular attention to one characteristic of onions, namely, whether they are short, long, or intermediate day onions. Short day onions start to form bulbs when the day-length reaches 10 to 12 hours and are grown in USDA zones 7 and higher (southern regions). Right now in our area the day length is fourteen hours and 30 minutes. We will max out at  fourteen hours and 36 minutes. To determine the longest day, one measures the number of seconds, and this usually occurs on June 20 or 21.

I love, love, love long days. So since, without looking at seconds are barely perceptible, without looking at a stop watch, I celebrate a nine day Approximate Summer Solstice. If you want to see the chart for day length by date, go to:

Long-day onions need at day length or at least 14 hours to form bulbs. Onions grow slowly—about 110 days from planting to harvest (3.6 months). In Durham we have 2.5 months in which the days are longer than 14 hours. In Madison WI, days are longer than 14 hours for 3.5 months.

Anyway the gist is: In NC we can only grow short and intermediate day onions. Most of the short and intermediate day onions are sweet onions. For example, intermediate day onions have variety names like Candy and Red Candy Apple. Thus, onions you buy at market are likely to be sweet onions. And, since shallots are long-day Alliums, you will never be able to buy shallots from a farmers at the DFM and you can forget about the need distinguish between shallots and scallions.