Garden

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Right now our chicken field is the stuff of green dreams. I haven’t gotten out there to show you photos yet, partially because I tend to shoot out there to pick some supper fixings and shoot back in before the munchkins start getting restless.

I can walk down rows of kale and turnips and sweet potatoes and choose what it is that suits my fancy. There is also a lone collard plant, a holdover from the summer garden that we are hoping to save seeds from. If it survives summer here, we’re anxious to keep that line going. Frankly, if it grows we’ll learn to eat it in this place which is no respecter of seasons.

And so, having endeavored to grow our own food five years ago now, and having multiplied the mouths to feed faster than the crops to harvest; we talk of counting calories. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, winter squash, milk, eggs, meat. Help us, oh Lord, to grow the calories we need to feed the precious mouths we’ve been given so that we might separate unto you more and more.

Because I know deep in my bones, after five years of failing and seeing only His hand in the successes, that if we are to really, truly grow enough food it will not be because of the work of our own hands. Or maybe I haven’t learned this lesson at all; maybe I need it over and over again. But that is not for me to decide.

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We have been given a field of greens this season, so I’ve been trying to find new ways to feed them to the family. Turnip greens are especially pungent and a fast cook such as this will not mellow its fervor. What does, however, is pungent garlic, spicy red pepper flakes, and tangy lemon.

The children don’t love eating dishes like this, I’ll just be honest. But greens are an underrated currency in the traditional foods dialogue, I think, and so I get them into the little ones however I can. These Calico Mustard Greens and Beans are a good one and the Southern Style Braised Greens is another favorite, but bacon is still a ways off for us.

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Italian-Style Mess O’ Greens

Serves 4-6, depending on your zeal for greens

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons lard, tallow, or coconut oil
  • ~3 large bunches of turnip, kale, collard, or sweet potato greens
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 lemon, divided

Directions

Heat the fat in a large 12″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Tear the greens into the pan, stirring occasionally to wilt them down, until all fit into the pan. Cook for five minutes or until the greens are wilted down.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir to cook two minutes more. Remove from the heat and season with salt and the juice of half a lemon.

Serve with lemon wedges and a smile, for those who need a little reassuring that these are, in fact, delicious.

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It has been just lovely these past few weeks. The temperatures have looked more like 90 than 100 and in August in Texas this northern girl is grateful for it. When it cools down like this and get rain, we plant and plant. Mostly it’s brassicas and roots going into the ground for the fall garden, but I like to throw in some lettuce and herbs as well.

These little guys won’t be ready for a couple of months, however, so I am turning to our favorite hot weather salad and cooking greens – sweet potato leaves!

Right now our sweet potato bed is a big ol’ tangled mess of the greenest, lushest leaves thanks to the rains we had recently. So I pick a few off of every plant to spread out the harvest. When it is cooler and wetter like this there is no detectable bitter flavor whatsoever. It just tastes, well, green and full of life.

Sweet Potato Leaf Nutrition

According to the University of Arkansas, sweet potato leaves are comparable to spinach:

“Depending on varieties and growing conditions, sweet potato leaves are comparable to spinach in nutrient content. The average mineral and vitamin content in a recently developed cultivar, Suioh, is 117 mg calcium, 1.8 mg iron, 3.5 mg carotene, 7.2 mg vitamin C, 1.6 mg vitamin E and 0.56 mg vitamin K/100 g fresh weight of leaves. Levels of iron, calcium and carotene rank among the top, as compared with other major vegetables.”

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Use of Sweet Potato Leaves

We use sweet potato leaves both in cooked dishes and raw salads, depending on their flavor

When sweet potato greens are a bit more bitter, either due to a plant stressor or due to the stage at which they are at, we like to cook with them. Cooking sweet potato leaves results in a green somewhere between cooked spinach and cooked collard greens.

When they are lush and sweet, as they are right now, I primarily use them as a salad green. They can be mixed with other greens, or used on their own as in the salad recipe below.

In either case, harvest sweet potato greens sparingly from individual plants so that the roots will continue to form. When we have a big bed such as this, I simply walk around the perimeter and snip off leaves here and there, being sure to pick from every plant so as not to stress any single plant.

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Sweet Potato Green Salad with Tomato and Onion

Ingredients

  • 6 packed cups sweet potato leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup homemade vinaigrette

Directions

Chop the sweet potato leaves finely. I find kitchen shears an efficient way to do this. Combine with the tomatoes and onion and toss with homemade vinaigrette or salad dressing of choice.

Serve as a side salad or top with protein or cooked, fermented grains for a main dish.