Watermelon Radishes

“Just sign in over there and I’ll start putting your share together,” said the young woman behind the table.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at the local college picking up my winter farm share.  Yes, it’s winter.  No, not much grows around here in winter.  But the local farms got together and saved some of their earlier harvests – either by freezing or putting in root cellars – and then sold “shares” to the public.  So once a month from Dec – March, I go pick up my goodies.

As I filled up my green reusable shopping bag, she said,”And be sure to check out what our other vendors are selling – especially the watermelon radishes.”

“Watermelon radishes?” I asked.  “What are those?”

“Oh – they’re delicious!  You can go try them at the table over there.”  I looked over to see a heavily bearded man in flannel standing behind a table.  Lined up on the table in front of him were open plastic containers, the contents of which I couldn’t see from where I was standing.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll take a look.”

The guy looked like he belonged in Vermont, not one hundred miles north of New York City.  “Hello,” I said cheerfully.  He nodded in reply, looking a little shy.  I recognized the name of his farm as the one where this months carrots came from.  “Oh – so you’re the one who grew the carrots I just got,” I said, trying to make conversation.  “No,” he said.  “I didn’t grow them.  They just stored them in my root cellar.”  “Oh,” I said.  “Is this your root cellar here?”   I pointed to an open magazine facing me on the table.  The picture showed what looked like a basement with a dirt floor and raised sandboxes all over the room.  “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m the only one locally with a commercial root cellar.  We store the carrots in the sand you see there.”  Now I was talking his language.  He proceeded to tell me about the other vegetables he stored in the root cellar.

“And what are these?” I asked, pointing to white orbs the size of beets sitting in a square plastic container on the table.  “Watermelon radishes,” he replied.  “You can try a slice if you’d like.”  My childhood fear of foreign foods reared its ugly head.  Stalling, I asked, “Why do they call them watermelon radishes?” hoping he’d say they tasted like watermelons.  “Because they’re red on the inside and have a whitish/green rind on the outside.”

Remembering I’m now an adult who should try new things, I took a slice and popped it in my mouth.  Wow.  “They’ve got a little kick!” I said.  He shrugged.  “They’re a little peppery people say,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?” I asked.  “I just grate them and eat them like a salad.”  “Do you peel them first?”  “No – just wash ’em and shred ’em.”  I noticed his lunch of wild grains and figured he wasn’t one to doctor with his food too much.  “Ok.  I’ll take some.”

It was only as I was driving home that I realized I didn’t own a grater.  Having moved ten times in ten years, it had gotten lost along the way.  I knew not to fear.  While at mom and dad’s house in the coming week, I mentioned my lack of this kitchen utensil that, in the past year, I’d never needed.  “Oh – I’m sure I’ve got an extra one,” my mother said. I was sure she did.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’d found success in checking with mom and dad before running out to a store.

At home with my new acquisition – a plastic green tupperware shredder circa 1975 – I googled “watermelon radishes.”  It was just like he said – people pretty much just shred them up.  But I did find a dijon vinaigrette recipe for a dressing.  I had all the ingredients, and so put it together and poured some over my shredded radishes.  It was delicious!

And then tonight, while looking around on the web for other local markets in my area, I happened upon a farm with a cafe that serves breads made with their own flour – they grow and mill the grains themselves!  In fact, every ingredient in every dish they serve is local.  I read an article about the place and it’s owner.  His favorite dish?  Shredded watermelon radishes with salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar.  And I can say, from personal experience, he’s right.  It’s delicious:)

How an interest grows…

I can’t recall when I first became interested in trying to reduce my environmental impact.  I was a child of the 80’s which is when I first recall learning the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  Only recently did I read something where the author mentioned we focus a lot on the “recycle” part, but not so much on the reduction and reusing parts.  How true!

As a Renaissance Soul (as described in Margaret Lobenstine’s book of the same title – see earlier posts), I’ve mentioned before how I find things nearly every day that interest me that I want to pursue – some soon, some later, some just percolate until the time is right.  This environmental consciousness is one of those that has grown over time.

On Sunday, I spent my entire morning in bed reading (an absolutely glorious way to spend a morning, in my opinion).  The book that kept my attention for five nearly continuous hours was “No Impact Man.”  Colin Beaven is a writer in NYC who attempts to live his life in such a way that he has no impact whatsoever on the environment.  He starts by going through his garbage to see what’s in there.  What does he find?  Lots of packaging – for food mostly.  So he stops buying things in packaging.  This means no take-out.  He discovers the Union Square Farmers Market, starts to carry his own glass mason jar for coffee.  I’m not doing the book justice – it’s fascinating.  He eventually shuts the circuit breaker on his apartment and goes without electricity.  Did I mention he has a wife and a toddler doing this project with him as well? (Which brings a lot of humor to the story).

I’ve done little things for a while, but am inspired to do a lot more.  I reuse plastic shopping bags as my garbage bags.  Then, I bought a reusable bag (or inherited a couple) and now my goal is not to get any plastic bags at all.  I have yet to go through the supply I have on hand, but that’s my goal – use what I have, and collect no more.  Do you know when I go to the corner store just to buy milk, they ask me if I want it in a bag?  Seriously?  To carry one half-gallon container of milk?

My bigger transition is to local food.  I haven’t gone full force yet, but I read that we could save a lot of energy if we all had just one meal a week from locally grown food.  So I’m starting there.  This would be easier if I had a garden and knew anything at all about canning, but in due time I’m sure I’ll do both.  (In fact, looking over my mothers’ shoulder the other day while she was flipping through the orange Betty Crocker cookbook, she found an entire section on canning…)

For now, from March to October I shop at the local farmers market (with my reusable bags).  I’m also a fan of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture).  That’s where you pay money up front to a farm, and each week you go there and pick up from them a share of whatever’s in season.  Forget super market organic – this is the real deal.  Most farms are not “certified” organic as the process is too long and expensive to become certified.  But if you ask, they’ll be happy to tell you their practices – which are usually just as good if not better than those with the label.  Speaking of which, when at the supermarket, where do you find that “certified organic” label?  Yup, on the plastic packaging.  Go figure.

This winter, I took advantage of a “Winter Share”.  The local farms froze some of their summer bounty, and once a month I go pick it up.  This past Saturday I got my first share: green beans, summer squash, tri-color peppers, edamame, diced tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and fresh pea shoots.  No, I had no idea what to do with pea shoots.  Thankfully, when I picked them up I was asked, “Do you know what to do with these?”  “No idea,” I said.   She explained that they’re great in salads (though I thought this funny as salad greens are not really in season right now), great on sandwiches, and you can also just cook them up in a little oil.  I pulled some out and munched – they taste just like peas (imagine that!).  And last night I experimented – did you know there’s a web site just about pea shoots?  (peashoots.com)  I did the Italian thing – fried up some garlic in olive oil – then added an asian flare with some ginger, then tossed them in.  Not too bad.  The garlic was local, but the oil and ginger were not.  I’m working on it though.

And this is the fun of CSA’s.  You get foods that you wouldn’t normally buy because you don’t know what to do with them.  In this case, though, you have a farmer right there that has at least one if not five ideas of how to use your mysterious new produce.

I cooked up the peppers with some pork I bought from a farmer that lives just three miles from me.  Then, with the friend who had graciously accepted my dinner invitation, I savored some fresh blueberries for dessert.

Anyway, if you’re looking to start reducing your impact, I hope you’ve got some ideas:)  Check back for more….