On Monday I attended a winter vegetable workshop presented by the Cornell Cooperative Extension vegetable expert, Robert Hadad and hosted by national seed breeder, Bejo Seeds in Geneva, NY. I wasn’t sure what to expect as this year’s event was incorporating a local chef panel and tasting portion which was non-existent from last year’s workshop. I arrived late (mostly due to the fact I didn’t realize just how far Geneva is from Buffalo) but got there just in time for the winter garden “field walk” and cold storage tour.
While outside, I learned a thing or two about winter vegetable gardens. First off, winter gardens are a commitment. Most vegetables you would grow this time of year have a growing season length of 120-150 days, which is much longer than anything we grow during the summer & fall seasons. Second, you have to be attentive. While most winter garden vegetables can freeze without any long term damage being done to the overall taste or quality of the vegetable there are certain ones that shouldn’t freeze at all. Such as, brussels sprouts and rutabaga can freeze but turnips cannot. You also have to be mindful of “critters”, you know, those pesky field rodents that enjoy burroughing tunnels through your turnips and nibble on the nobs of your brussels sprouts. I always thought hay was a good protector of vegetable plants in the winter months, keeps moisture in and keeps frigid temps at bay. But I also learned that hay can provide the perfect camouflage for voles and other small rodents to feast away on your hard-earned crop. Jan, from Bejo Seeds, suggested using mounds of loose soil in place of hay to cover certain crops such as parsnips and carrots.
I decided I had had enough of the wind whipping my face upon this beautiful hilltop, and went inside to view the cold storage facility. Upon entering the building, I saw this spectacular display of winter veggies (see pic above). The key to cold storage is keeping the temp 1-2 degrees above freezing and to make sure there is enough humidity in the air. The easiest way to do this is to keep the storage full. The other suggestion is to use an oversized evaporator to help maintain optimal humidity levels.
Robert Hadad then did a comprehensive presentation on “Handling after the Harvest” which provided practical information on what to do with your vegetables after you have picked them from the garden and before you put them into storage. He talked about “curing” vegetables before putting them into storage – a process which “heals” vegetables from the harvesting process. This process usually requires higher-than-normal storage temps and humidity and can take up to several days to complete. The idea is to increase the storage & shelf-life of your produce. There are different curing temps & humidity levels for different types of vegetables. You go to the Cornell Cooperative Extension website for more information about this. Once the vegetable is cured, it is ready for long-term storage. Cool, moderate temps and med-high humidity are key. For more info on the best way to keep your winter vegetables long term, you can email Robert Hadad, vegetable expert, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The chef portion of the workshop was next. Four chefs from the Rochester area provided a yummy winter vegetable tasting which included a delicious cabbage-bacon soup by Executive Chef Chris Brandt from Tastings, the new restaurant in the super Wegmans on Monroe Avenue in Rochester. In true Wegmans fashion, Chef Brandt handed out recipe cards to all of the participants so we, too, can go home and recreate this mouthwatering soup.
Savoy Cabbage-Bacon Soup
1 lb Bacon, chopped
2 cups, Onion, diced small
1 stick of butter
1 cup of flour
3 quarts of milk
18 quarts of Savoy Cabbage, chopped small enough to fit onto a spoon
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons Thyme, fresh, chopped
1/8 teaspoon White pepper, fresh ground
Render the bacon in a dry pan, until it is starting to become crispy. Add the butter and onions and sweat until they are translucent. Work the flour in with a whisk. Add the milk in three stages working it into a smooth consistency each time before adding more milk (this is to avoid lumps), bring to a simmer for five minutes. Add the Savoy Cabbage, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and finish with fresh thyme, check seasoning and adjust if needed.
Garnish suggestions; Savoy Cabbage, sliced very thin and stored in ice water, to keep it very crisp. Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and Riesling vinegar.
The day concluded with a chef panel discussion and local lunch incorporating winter vegetables prepared by Chef Scott Snyder from Madderlake Cafe in Geneva. This year’s workshop was so well-attended, they’ve decided to add a summer vegetable workshop to the roster. Stay tuned for details…..and bon appetit! ~LT