Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Angelic Cucumber Soup

We found out about Farmer John Peterson a few years ago when the Ragtag—Columbia, Missouri’s best movie theater—showed the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John and had Mr. Peterson there to talk and take questions afterward. So we were automatic fans, and bought the cookbook that night, too. (Yes, you can buy a DVD of the film using the above link, or by looking on Amazon.)

Farmer John Peterson’s story is certainly good material for a documentary—he is a fascinating, unique individual, and his successes in farming contrast sharply with the misfortunes he has endured. He is funny and philosophical. You should visit his Web site, here.

There’s a lot more to his story, but I will say that he runs Angelic Organics, one of the country’s largest CSAs—that’s “community-supported agriculture.” CSAs are where local families—shareholders—with preseason payments, help underwrite the farm and in return receive a weekly box of lovely fresh organic produce during the growing season. It’s kind of an old-fashioned idea: the nonfarmers pay for the farmer to do the farming. Directly.

Angelic Organics supplies produce to the Chicago area. There are at least six CSAs serving Central Missouri, but because Sue and I love going to the farmer’s market, we don’t subscribe (yet). . . . Also, we have Aunt Carole!

Aunt Carole is Chief Gardener out at “Touch the Earth Produce” (well, that’s what she called it once when she left us a message prior to one of her deliveries—and it’s really just her private garden, so don’t get your hopes up). She grows lots of lovely veggies in her soil in Moniteau County.

And . . . she . . . shares with us!

Each year, I feel lucky beyond all reason.

First she brought us enormous, perfect heads of leaf lettuce—oakleaf, romaine, and so on—and escarole. Next it was green beans. Or nanny beans, as she calls them.

And I do mean fresh!

Now it’s yellow squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Like last year, the cukes are abundant. Last year, I had to think: What to do with all of these? I am not exactly a big fan of cucumbers.

Well, Farmer John to the rescue.

Angelic Organics grows a huge variety of veggies, several of which go beyond the usual fare people are accustomed to cooking. So to help their subscribers to make sense, and good use, of the bountiful vegetables in their weekly boxes, the farm makes a newsletter that provides recipes and tips.

And apparently, Farmer John’s cookbook grew out of this newsletter. The recipes in the cookbook (cited below) are organized by season and by types of produce—very handy for when you suddenly have a big pile of, say, turnips that you’re not sure what to do with. Just turn to the section “Radish and Turnip Recipes.” You might be surprised at what you can do with them.

In addition to recipes, the book is augmented with little stories and comments from shareholders and the people who work at the farm, as well as from the recipe contributors. And Farmer John writes plenty about his own reflections on farming. It’s pretty inspirational.

So it’s not just a “cookbook”—flipping through the pages makes you enthused about our connections to the earth and to the miraculous foods we eat, as well as appreciative of the risks farmers take against the vicissitudes of nature and weather.

And although the book is a big cheerleading festival about vegetables and herbs, and about the organic and anthroposophical and Biodynamic principles that Farmer John practices, it is not a treatise on vegetarianism. It is much more about connecting with and celebrating the way our food grows.

So about the cucumbers: there are a lot of recipes for chilled cucumber soup out there, but this is the best I’ve found so far. The following recipe is copied from Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables, by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics, with Lesley Littlefield Freeman (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2006), p. 99.

I’ve made this recipe several times, and it’s always good; I’ll provide my comments and suggestions at the end.

Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup with Yogurt or Sour Cream

Serves 4 to 6

4 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 4 cups)
1 to 2 cups water
2 cups plain yogurt (or 1 cup plain yogurt combined with 1 cup sour cream)
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
several fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon honey
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
2 scallions, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

1. Combine the chopped cucumber, 1 cup water, yogurt, garlic, mint, dill, honey, and 1 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor. Purée the ingredients, adding more of the water until the soup is a consistency you like. Season with more salt to taste.

2. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and chill for several hours. Garnish each serving with chopped scallions.

My Comments

Seeding the cucumbers is indeed a good idea for a more pleasing, smoother consistency. But you probably don’t have to seed them (or seed all of them) if the seeds aren’t large or hard . . . or if you’re not serving it to the queen.

Water: I generally don’t add any when I make it (depends on the cukes; the ones we get from Carole are nice and juicy).

Yogurt versus sour cream: I prefer the combination of both, using one cup of each. I use light sour cream.

The dill: fresh is really much, much better.

The garnish: it could be any kind of herb, of course, or finely chopped vegetable, and not just scallions or dill. But you knew that already.

Finally: this goes really well with toasted cheddar-cheese sandwiches.

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