The Mystery of Mustard Greens

Thanks to our high tunnel, Mustard Greens are already in season at Sunny Hill Farm.  These hardy, spicy greens have a long season, as they grow in both chilly weather and heat, and they are relatively free from pests and diseases.  They are very easy to grow.  Many people seem unsure, however, about how to eat them.

(We are referring to the greens here.  The condiment “prepared mustard” is made with ground-up seeds from the mustard plant.)

Giant Red Mustard

Mustard greens have a unique spicy, radish-y flavor that diminishes only slightly when cooked.  They come in a few different varieties of shape and color.  We like to grow two types, the broad-leaved ‘Giant Red’ type, and the feathery ‘Ruby Streaks’ variety.  Giant Red is excellent both raw and for cooking, while the fronds of Ruby Streaks add heft and texture to your raw dishes.

Ruby Streaks

Mustard Greens can be enjoyed raw in salads, or sauteed, braised or boiled to cook.

To prepare them, remove the stems and layer whole in your pan or chop.

They can be sauteed in some olive or other oil, salt, garlic, onion, whatever you like for flavor.

To braise: Bring 4 cups water or stock, and 1 tsp salt to boil in a med pan or skillet with lid. Add about 1 lb mustard leaves, turning with tongs until they wilt down enough to fit in the pan.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy,  about 10 mins.  Drain and serve with butter, vinegar, whatever you like.

For an extra-yummy treat, fry about 6 slices of bacon in the pan before adding the greens and cook down and directed.

Mustard Greens with Chickpeas and Curry (from The Joy Of Cooking, 1997 ed.)

In a large skillet, heat:

2 Tbs melted butter, ghee or veg oil


2 med onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Cook, stirring over med heat until onions are softened, about 5 mins.

Stir in:

1 lg bunch (about 12 oz) prepared greens

Cook until wilted, about 15 mins.  Stir in:

1 Tbs mild curry powder

1/2 tsp both ground ginger and ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground red pepper

1/4 cup chicken or veggie stock, or water

Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer  and add:

1lb cooked chick peas

14 oz diced tomatoes with juice

1/2 tsp salt

Cook, stirring often, til greens are tender, about 15 mins.

Serve as a side dish, or over rice for dinner for two.

Mustard greens are super healthy.  They are quite high in vitamin A and have a good dose of C as well. And all greens are a terrific source of iron and calcium.

Add some color, zip and a nutritional boost to your meals by adding in some Mustard Greens.  When you fall in love with them, you’ll find them an easy addition to your garden as well! 🙂


Chive Alive!

One of the first plants to come up in the Spring is the humble little Chive.   That tasty grass-looking herb with the mild onion flavor.

This member of the Allium genus is easy to grow and is often the first success of a fledgling perennial herb garden.  It grows in a clump of tiny bulbits, which start out as white at the soil line but quickly turn green as you travel up the stem.  The bulbits send out fresh growth early each Spring, with beautiful onion-scented purple flowers soon after.  These flowers attract many pollinators, and they will soon turn pale and papery, full of angular black seeds which are easily collected or shaken out to resow.  It is easy to reproduce chives by dividing the bulbits as well, so if you have a friend growing them, they will likely be happy to share some.

This herb is well-known for its mild onion flavor that is most commonly seen with sour cream atop a baked potato.  But the Chive’s delicious flavor can add real pick-me-up to a variety of dishes, salads, and even condiments.  Chop or snip raw chives on to dishes for a fresh onion pop of flavor, or add to blended salad dressings, dips, hummus, anywhere you like a little zip.  The beautiful purple blooms are edible, too, and their unique oniony flavor makes a beautiful addition to salads, quiches, and salsas.

Chives are plentiful in the Spring, and will continue to grow after the blooms fade in May, but the growth the rest of summer is not as vigorous.  Cutting the plants back to about an inch high after the flowers drop can help.  Chives are very easy to dehydrate to use later; they can be cut long and hung to dry or placed in a dehydrator, they left whole or chopped.  They can also be cut to size of choice and frozen with water in ice cube trays.  Pop the cubes out when done and store in a zip-lock freezer bag.

Chives have a cousin called Garlic Chives.  They are very similar in flavor and habit, except the leaves on Garlic Chives are a bit flat, and the flowers are white instead, and the blooms a bit more spread out on the stem.  They appear almost like the shower of fireworks.  And yes, the flavor is a bit more toward garlic.

If you already have Chives, they are likely growing and close to blooming by now.  If not, now is the time to find some and put some in your herb garden.  They also grow well in a pot on your windowsill.  Either way, chives are a great herb for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike, easy to grow and so many ways to use.  A great way to sneak a little “fresh vegetable” into your everyday dishes.

Planning Ahead to Go Local for the New Year

As we make our New Year’s Resolutions, one good one to keep in mind is that of producing or keeping more of your own food.  Now is the perfect time to plan for the coming growing season.  While it would be great  to provide all our own food for the year, taking on this entire task alone is unrealistic.  Many a well-meaning family has tried, only to become overwhelmed and give up.   In today’s world, it is very unlikely that one would be able to provide all your own food, but one can certainly provide a number of key items for your family, and put a bit of a dent in your grocery bill.  The secret is using baby steps. Master one project at a time, try adding something new after your first successes.

Winter is traditionally a time of planning and dreaming about the summer garden.  Seed catalogues have arrived, and the chilly days and slower pace are perfect for sitting and musing about warmer days to come.  But it is also the time when your family is eating the foods that you’re going to want to put up for yourself.  Now is the time to pay attention and take note of what you are eating and buying at the grocery or market.  Local, seasonal eating takes practice, and working with what you are already doing is going to make the transition much easier.  Keep lists or a notebook if you need to, or keep  you grocery receipts.  See what veggies you are buying, which canned goods, which meats you eat the most often.  These are the foods to concentrate on when planning to provide your own.

And be honest with yourself:  One of the first canning projects many people undertake is cucumber pickles or relish.  Yummy as this is, it’s not really going to mean much to your family if they really don’t eat them anyway.  Find yourself eating more salsa instead? Marinara sauce?  Go for these items when canning instead.  Certainly, eating local and seasonal means learning how to eat what’s available and keep it interesting, but again, successes with your staple items will inspire you and your family to expand your palate and diet.

 How do you use fruit?  Do you  enjoy bread and jam, or chunky fruit with your oatmeal or yogurt?  Do you want whole strawberries for your Christmas cheesecake? Or do you enjoy strawberry sauce over ice cream?  Or both?  Keep these things in mind when planning how you can best prepare these items when preserving for yourself.

When you’re shopping at the store, stop and notice all the different ways foods are presented for you  to buy:  You’ll find items fresh, frozen, canned, dried.  How do you use these foods?

Once you’ve figured out which foods you use the most and want to try to provide for yourself or preserve for winter use, it’s time to come up with a realistic plan.  Again, using baby steps, figure out which foods you want to grow, which you should start buying in bulk to save money, and which you should purchase in bulk locally and put up for the winter.

Break it up into two groups:  What you can grow, what you can buy in bulk to can or freeze  to put up yourself.

Consider what you have available in terms of space to grow, freezer and pantry space.  If you have adequate space to grow some food, you can put some energy into that.  If you have freezer and pantry space, consider focusing on preserving foods you use often, and look for ways to save money by using your freezer.

Keep in mind that freezers are vulnerable to power outages, though these usually occur during winter months when the cold weather gives you an advantage.

Try to keep your freezer is in a cooler space (ours are outside our home.  My second choice for placement within the house is my pantry, which is off my unheated porch just a hair warmer than outside).  They come in many shapes and sizes, and often can be found rather in expensive in the classifieds.

If you don’t have an extra freezer, plan to dehydrate or can your foods.  Canning really is optimal, because the foods are safe from power outages.  You will of course still need storage space, for the jars both full and empty, but we Americans are accustomed to accumulation, and this for once is for a very useful cause.  If you don’t have a collection of  jars, put the word out with your friends that you are looking, and keep an eye on the classifieds, often people will sell their entire collections at once.  Canning kettles are fairly inexpensive, and a good one will last you for years.  And they come in different sizes, depending on how much space you have on your stove top.

A small dehydrator will not cost you    much and can really help with saving    summer bounty.  Kids love dried apples and peaches, and many other fruits and veggies dry well to be used later on.  And you can save  a ton of money drying your own herbs.  Fo’ schizzle.

Think about this for your meats, too.  Often you can get a discount if you buy in bulk.  Sometimes you need to find the right supplier, not all smaller operations can afford a substantial discount.  Or you may be able to buy whole or half animals, this is usually cheaper than the retail prices even with discount.

A family of six can easily take down at least two pigs a year, and it is so awfully handy to have it all in the freezer, rather than running to the store every week!  Buying a whole pig twice a year is a real money-saver.  Look into doing this with whatever meats your family enjoys.

Buying fruits like apples, peaches, pears and plums and canning or freezing for the winter is great for both better product and saving money. These can be used all year for so many things, and again so handy to have your own stash.

Berries freeze well alone or can be made into jam.  Jam can be used for cooking in a variety of ways, it’s becoming a real staple condiment in a true Foodista’s kitchen (sorry, Guys!  If you’re going to do it, you’re still a Foodista.  There is no ‘Foodistus’).

Think  pragmatically when planning what to grow.  Balance how much you consume with how much you can effectively grow.  Tomatoes are great, but they can be a lot of work and take up space, and if you need to can 50-100 jars, trying to grow that many if you have limited space may be impractical.  Buy those in bulk at market instead.  Grow for yourself instead things like salad greens and herbs, which can be pricey at market but fairly easy to grow.

When growing lettuces, ask around and make sure you get good varieties that do not bolt or get bitter easily.  Do not plant Black-Seeded Simpson.  Keep replanting every two weeks starting in early spring until it starts getting hot in June. Plant herbs in spring and keep cutting and drying your leaves so they keep growing back all summer. Bring them indoors if you want in the Fall.

Other items to grow that use less space and yield well are summer squashes, green beans, beets chard, collard and other greens, and scallions.  Onions can work out well, too, if you have the time (or a good trick) to keep them weeded.  Again, it all depends on how much room and fertility you have.  But in general, plan to buy-in and put up other veggies like sweet corn, winter squashes, melons, cukes, peppers, eggplants, etc. These items take more attention and space to grow, and might not be the best choice for beginners who are also trying to put up their own food.

Some of your pantry staples can be gotten in bulk, as well.  Check around and see if your community has a co-operative buying club or similar venture.  Flour, sugar, pasta, dried beans, rice, etc. are also handy to have in storage.  But do take caution, and keep your pantry items well-sealed against grain moths and moisture, both of which will ruin your foods.  Again, planning is important when taking on the responsibility of storing your own food, and it must be kept healthy and safe.

Do take this seriously:  It will do you no good to go through all the trouble of collecting  food all summer if it is tainted in storage.  This means diligence.

Make sure your freezers are running properly.  And plugged in.  Make sure your children do not leave the doors open.

Your pantry must be cool, dark and dry, but shouldn’t freeze.  Dehydrated items must stay dry until use.  Canning jar lids should always be double-checked for a tight seal before opening to use, and get in the habit of sniffing each and every jar before you serve.  But these things re just that– habits.  You’ll get used to doing these things, and they will become second-nature. Every little bit takes you one step closer to food independence.

That’s enough for now. Next few posts we’ll talk about different ways you can procure your own food in different living situations.  Whether you live in an apartment in town, in a house in suburbia or out in the sticks, there are different things you can do to get more of your own food locally and in season.  So stay tuned and start planning!

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