Tag Archives: harvest

Cooking restorative veggie soups against winter’s chill

For the conscientious cook, January is often a month full of surprises. Not all of those surprises are happy ones.

With the fall harvest a vague memory and the holiday leftovers finally gone, January finds us digging through the crisper drawers in our refrigerators and the corners of our pantries in search of something edible. Blackened parsnips, pockmarked squash, spongy potatoes and onions that have become little more than bags of fluid rise to the surface with frightening regularity.

So we harvest what we can, compost what we can’t and make ready various pots and kettles for bracing soups to cure the winter chill. And, in a certain sense, we’re fortunate. From both a nutritional and economic standpoint, “soup season” can be one of the most culinary rewarding times of the year.

As a cooking technique, soup-making has been traced as far back as 20,000 B.C., about the time that watertight clay vessels first came into use. Hot rocks were used to heat the water and cook the plants that eventually became part of the soup.

The word “soup” comes from the French soupe, or “broth,” and can trace its origins to even earlier times. In fact, the word “restaurant,” meaning “something restoring,” was first used in 16th-century France to refer to inexpensive, highly concentrated soup sold by street vendors as an antidote to exhaustion. Homemade soups still perform that role.

What follows are a few favorite soup recipes to warm you up, tide you over through the cold months ahead and, perhaps best of all, make good use of root vegetables and other produce you have in the house, or can purchase cheaply at any good grocery store. 

Each recipe makes multiple batches — roughly six to eight servings — which can be shared or saved for future meals.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

16 oz. (3 cans) of black beans, rinsed and drained

16 oz. (1 can) of tomatoes, chopped and drained

1 tbsp. butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 medium onions, diced

4 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground black pepper

4 cups vegetable broth (chicken broth can be substituted)

16 oz. (1 can) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)

Salt to taste

Puree beans and tomatoes in a food processor, in several batches if necessary. Melt butter in a large stockpot, then add garlic, onions, cumin, pepper and salt. Cook until onions are soft and caramelized (about 6 minutes). 

Stir in beans and tomato puree, then add broth and pumpkin mix. Stir well and let simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Rustic Potato Leek Soup

3 leeks, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

1 large onion, chopped

6 to 8 russet potatoes, well scrubbed and thinly sliced with the skin still on

3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup heavy cream

3 tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan and add onions and leeks, stirring until they are slightly browned. Add potato slices and just enough broth to cover potatoes, cooking until potatoes are tender.

Once softened, mash and stir potatoes until the desired consistency is reached. As the mash thickens, reduce heat and stir to avoid scorching the mash.

Add cream, salt and pepper, then cook 15 minutes over low heat. Remove and serve.

White Winter Minestrone Soup

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups celeriac (celery root), peeled and cubed

1 1/2 cups parsnips, peeled and cubed

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 cups lentils

15 oz. (1 can) of white beans, rinsed and drained

1 small apple, peeled and cubed

3 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup kale, chard or other green

1 cup toasted pecans

1/4 cup rosemary sprigs

1/4 lb. dried spaghetti, broken into pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in stockpot over medium heat, then add onions and minced garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn soft, translucent and are slightly browned (about 8 minutes). Stir in parsnips and celery root and cook another 5 minutes until fragrant. Add stock, apples, bay leaves, beans, cabbage and lentils and stir.

Reduce heat to medium, then cover pot and simmer 30 minutes until celery root and parsnips are tender. Stir in spaghetti and continue simmering until al dente, then salt and pepper to taste.

FDA OKs genetically engineered potato resistant to Potato Famine pathogen

A potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is as safe as any other potato on the market, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The FDA said the potato isn’t substantially different in composition or safety from other products already on the market and it doesn’t raise any issues that would require the agency to do more stringent premarket vetting.

“We’re pleased and hope that consumers recognize the benefits once it’s introduced into the marketplace next year,” Doug Cole, the company’s director of marketing and communications, said.

Before the potato is marketed to consumers, it must be cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cole said. That’s expected to happen next December. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the potato in August.

The Russet Burbank Generation 2 is the second generation of Simplot’s “Innate” brand potatoes. It includes the first version’s reduced bruising, but less of a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer.

The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait that the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.

Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot, said late blight – the cause of the Irish potato famine – remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world.

The late blight resistance comes from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.

“There are 4,000 species of potatoes,” Baker said. “There is an immense library to help us improve this great food. By introducing these potato genes we can bring sustainability and consumer benefits.”

The company has been selling its first generation of Innate potatoes to consumers, selling out its 2014 crop and currently selling the 2015 crop of about 2,000 acres.

Cole said those potatoes were mostly grown in Idaho and Wisconsin, and are being sold in supermarkets across the nation.

But one of the company’s oldest business partners – McDonald’s – has rejected using any of Simplot’s genetically engineered potatoes.

Illinois issues medical marijuana licenses

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner awarded licenses this week to dozens of medical marijuana businesses across the state after conducting an internal review that found flaws in the never-completed license award process under former Gov. Pat Quinn.

Letters to 18 winning cultivation centers and 52 retail shops were sent out, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover told The Associated Press. In eight districts, Rauner delayed the licenses for further review, leaving those jurisdictions awaiting word on which companies will be able to join what could be a $36 million industry in 2016.

“I believe the right companies were rewarded,” said Tim McGraw, CEO of ACE Revolution Cannabis, which won licenses to build marijuana-growing facilities in the Illinois cities of Delavan and Barry. “We’re excited to get to work to bring safe medicine to the patients of Illinois.”

Letters sent to the cultivation center winners from the Department of Agriculture inform them of a number of conditions. Businesses will need to pay a license fee, for example, and they’ll be subject to ongoing oversight during the startup process.

The license awards follow many weeks of uncertainty after the Quinn administration failed to meet its own deadline of issuing the permits by the end of 2014. The Democrat announced the morning of Rauner’s inauguration that he would leave the issue for the Republican to decide. 

The Associated Press reported last week, based on documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, that Quinn’s office was scrambling to decide whether to issue licenses on the eve of him leaving office. The Rauner administration launched its review of the process almost immediately.

Medical patients had been pushing Quinn to issue the licenses. Rauner’s action this week means that Illinois’ first legal marijuana crop could be harvested this year. It’s not immediately clear how long it will be before patients will have access to the first legal cannabis. 

State Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who sponsored the legislation that created the pilot program, praised Rauner for issuing the licenses. He said although the Republican governor inherited a program with several problems and has indicated he is not a big fan of medical cannabis, his office managed to carefully review the process and issue licenses with only three weeks of delay. 

“Gov. Rauner deserves a lot of credit here,” Lang said. “It’s great for patients.”

Rauner’s general counsel, Jason Barclay, released a statement Monday listing problems in the Quinn process that had created “a risk of substantial and costly litigation” to the state.

Barclay said that the teams reviewing the applications imposed arbitrary cut-offs in scores “that were not expressly contemplated or provided by law that effectively eliminated certain applicants from consideration.”

He said the state agencies involved conducted a character and fitness review of the applicants only after the blind scoring process had been completed. That character and fitness review resulted in several applicants being disqualified “without clear procedures and standards for disqualification and without offering the prospective applicants an opportunity to respond to the information that was relied upon to make the disqualification decisions.”

Finally, the Rauner administration faulted Quinn for deciding “to award no more than one cultivation center license to applicants who were the high point scorers in more than one district.”

Barclay said the review was shared with Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which also reviewed the findings. Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, wouldn’t elaborate.

One dispensary applicant still under review in two districts, Health Central LLC, had hired former Quinn chief of staff Jack Lavin to lobby for medical marijuana licenses. 

Matthew Hortenstine, an attorney representing Health Central, said he’s “confident the Rauner administration will be fair-minded about this and give an adequate and proper review.” Other companies also had politically connected lobbyists, Hortenstine said.

Lang, the sponsor, said he’s believed from the beginning that the process would result in litigation, and that a lawsuit was likely regardless of how Rauner handled it. 

Lang said he spoke with some patients after hearing the news. “They are thrilled and ready to go,” he said.

Quinn made no decisions because he “felt the process was incomplete,” Quinn spokesman George Sweeney said in an email Monday. “He refused to rush the licenses out the door and instead left the licensing decisions to the next administration, as was done with many contracting decisions at other state agencies.”

Material released last week by Rauner’s administration “was preliminary and never approved” by Quinn, Sweeney said.

Wisconsin ranks No. 8 in number of farmers markets

There are few better places to buy summer vegetables, fresh cheese curds and homemade baked goods than Wisconsin, which has the eighth-most farmers markets of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer has put the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison in the spotlight. The market held on the square surrounding the state Capitol is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, meaning all of the roughly 160 vendors must grow or make their own products. They can’t sell items purchased from others.

The market serves as an example “of how farmers markets can be a huge success for the local economy and the farmers and consumers,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA has grown from about 3,700 a decade ago to 8,268 this year. In Wisconsin, the number of markets has grown from 170 to 295 in that time.

Here are a few other things to know about farmers markets and the USDA’s efforts to promote sales of locally produced food:


Alonzo describes farmers markets as “the face of agriculture,” with 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide selling directly to consumers.

“I think the best part is that these farmers markets help local economies because the food is produced, it’s processed, it’s distributed and it’s sold there, and so it stays in the local economy and the money stays there, leading to what we believe is strong economic development and job creation,” she said.


Alonzo has been in Wisconsin in part to promote the USDA’s online National Farmers Market Directory, which consumers can use to find markets near them. The agency plans to launch a similar directory of community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs next year.

CSAs typically provide weekly deliveries of produce and other products, such as eggs or honey, to people who buy season-long subscriptions.

“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” Alonzo said. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them, and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to … a wide variety of fresh, local food.”

More than 12,000 farms nationwide offered CSAs last year, she said.


The next big thing in the local food movement is likely to be the growth of food hubs, where farmers who can’t make deliveries or aren’t interested in marketing can bring food to be packaged and sold. The number of food hubs nationwide has doubled since 2009 to more than 300.

The USDA is working to put together a directory of them as well.

“We’re really excited about these new business models,” Alonzo said. She added, “I think it’s a win-win. It’s a win for the farmers, it’s a win for the food hub and it’s a win for consumers because … it makes a lot of sense.”

On the Web …

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Tomayto, tomahto: Either way it’s a nutritious summer treat

Let’s make one thing clear. A tomato, despite its uses, is botanically a fruit — specifically an ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant.

However, a tomato has far less sugar than any other fruit, making it less suitable for all those tasty usages to which fruit is put. Yes, there are green tomato pies, but would you ever dollop chopped tomato over vanilla ice cream? 

Still, tomato — or “tomahto,” if you prefer the British pronunciation — is one of the botanical and culinary joys of late summer. Our garden is ready to burst with this year’s heirloom varieties, and we can’t wait to get them on our plates.

We’re waiting patiently for our Big Rainbow heirloom beefsteak variety, its yellow flesh mottled with red, to be sliced and served drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil as a succulent appetizer. Our Lemon Boys will be quartered and chunked into salads, adding their delightful flavor and colorful contrast to succulent Bibb lettuce and peppery arugula.

As to the remaining heirloom cultivars — Chocolate Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Black Krim — their colors and flavor variations will also delight us. Our garden also is home to cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, and both black and pimento peppers; but it’s clear that our rubyfruit jungle of tomato varieties will always be the anchor tenant.

Tomatoes, like potatoes, originated in South America’s Andes Mountains. The plant takes its name from the Nahuatl word tomatotl, and records show that by 500 B.C. tomatoes were being cultivated in Mexico. 

Although European colonists first thought tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, to be poisonous, conquistador Hernán Cortés was recorded to have taken some small yellow tomatoes to Europe in 1521. There is also evidence that Christopher Columbus may have introduced tomatoes to Spain as early as 1499.

Tomatoes are considered among the world’s healthiest foods. They’re an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, vitamins C and K, and a host of minerals and other nutrients. 

Our dish of sliced Big Rainbow tomatoes is, in fact, one of the healthier serving options, because olive oil helps increase the body’s absorbance of lycopene, a naturally occurring compound that has been linked to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and age-related eye disorders. Add a little oregano, some buffalo mozzarella cheese and dashes of pepper and sea salt and you have an insalata Caprese, one of the most popular summer salads.

Tomatoes offer nutrition and flavor without a lot of calories: A cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains only 32.

Tomatoes are delightful both raw and cooked. Here are several tasty ways to use your summer harvest.

For more tomato recipes, visit

Watermelon-peach salsa and tomatoes

If you like your summer dishes sweet and hot and your tomatoes raw, this salsa may be just the thing to get your taste buds tingling. You’ll need:


½ cup hot pepper jelly

1 tbsp. lime zest

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 cups seeded and diced fresh watermelon 

1 cup peeled and diced fresh peaches 

1 cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup chopped fresh chives

3 cups baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs


Whisk together pepper jelly, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl, then stir in watermelon, peaches, basil and chives. Season halved baby tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and spoon into cocktail glasses. Top with salsa and garnish with basil sprigs.

Grilled tomatoes with basil vinaigrette

Many foods are grillable, but few fare as well as tomatoes. Here’s how to make the most of those lovely little orbs over red-hot coals. You’ll need:


3 yellow tomatoes

3 red tomatoes 

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

2 tsps. white balsamic vinegar

2 tbsps. chopped fresh basil

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs


Cut tomatoes in half and thread onto skewers, alternating colors. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat (300 degrees to 350 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning skewers often. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar and basil and drizzle over kabobs. Garnish, if desired.

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Second Harvest braces for holiday season

Business in Dan Stein’s world has never been better. His market has diversified to include people of all ages and socioeconomic groups. Demand for his services has increased about 83 percent over the past several years.

Unfortunately, growth is not a good thing in Stein’s business. He’s the president and CEO of Madison-based Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. Stein is particularly concerned about the coming holiday season, which constitutes both the best and worst of times for those who are hungry.

“The holiday season represents both sides of the coin when it comes to hunger,” Stein says. “On one side, the season is positive for fundraising because people are in a giving spirit. On the other side, children who rely on free or reduced-cost meals at school have less access because schools close for the holidays. Heating bills also are higher, which leaves less money for food.” 

But children aren’t the only ones who suffer from “food insecurity,” a phrase that refers to a reduced availability of nutrition, either through lack of supply or the inability to pay for it. These days people of all ages and multiple social strata are finding themselves in that group, and many turn to Second Harvest as social and economic challenges continue to tax their resources.

“Young and old, employed and unemployed, homeless and not homeless, single people and whole families – there is no typical profile when it comes to people struggling with hunger,” Stein says.

Second Harvest, one of 200 food banks affiliated with the Chicago-based Feeding America network, isn’t the state’s only outlet. Other affiliates include the Milwaukee-based Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin and Feed My People Food Bank, based in Eau Claire. The goal of each organization is to work with different agencies, providers and partners to get food to those who need it, Stein says. 

According to Feeding America’s 2010 Hunger Study, the network is annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children, a figure that has increased 50 percent over the past five years. The demand for food has increased 46 percent overall since 2006, when food banks in the network fed 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.

Among those served, 36 percent of households have at least one person working, and more than one-third report having to choose between food and other basic necessities, such as rent, utilities and medical care.

“The 16 counties we serve represent a variety of large, medium and small communities, each with its own set of challenges,” Stein says. “The Hunger Study showed that over 141,000 unique individuals are served by Second Harvest Foodbank and its partner agencies each year. In many cases the services we support are not just one-time instances – they are needed frequently throughout the year.”

Fortunately, the Madison community has a strong commitment to ending hunger and supports Second Harvest’s goals year around, Stein says. Donations come as financial contributions and foodstuffs, as well donations of volunteer time and in-kind contributions, such as media support. Second Harvest continually looks for new and innovative partnerships to leverage the country’s food supply on behalf of those who need it.

An innovative partnership still in its infancy is the Field to Food Bank program. Working through a contact from UW-Madison, the food bank made arrangements with a Wisconsin grower, a canning and processing company, and a trucking company to make available nearly 200,000 cans of carrots to those who need them, Stein says. 

The grower set aside five out of his 1,400 acres of carrots slated for Del Monte and donated their output to Second Harvest. A local trucking company donated a significant portion of the costs to transport the vegetables from the field to the processing plant and from the plant either directly to Second Harvest’s partner agencies or its Madison warehouse. Finally, the food bank worked with Del Monte and the can supplier to drastically reduce processing costs and the cost of the cans.

Those efforts resulted in a large amount of nutritious canned carrots with a long shelf life available to people in need.

Having access to enough of the right kinds of food is essential to proper child development, not only from a physical perspective, but also a mental and learning perspective. It’s been proven that children who get enough nutritious food to eat are more successful in school, Stein says. 

“Every dollar counts and every pound of food counts,” he says. “Until we have completely ended hunger in southwestern Wisconsin we will not have achieved our goal.”

To learn more about Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and to donate food, money and resources, go to www.secondharvestmadison.org.