This week the kids will taste Jicama and Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit.

Jicama is a vegetable that I have only recently experienced myself. I remember seeing them at the grocery store, but the boring, light brown exterior deterred me from being curious enough to try it. Jicama are best when they are crisp, so look for firm, heavy roots. Smaller roots tend to be sweeter, but they loose moister faster than larger roots. Was the root with a vegetable brush before peeling to reduce any “dirt” flavor. Jicama is crunchy and light when sliced or cubed into a salad. It can be cut into sticks for dipping as part of a vegetable tray. Jicama can be parboiled for 1-2 minutes and then fried or baked as an alternative to more starch-heavy potato. Be sure to dry the jicama well after it comes out of the salted, boiling water.

Texas Ruby Red Grapefruits are one of my favorite varieties of grapefruit. They are large, red-fleshed with a delicious flavor that is the perfect balance of sweet, tangy and bitter. YUMMY!!!! They are available year round, but are best in the late fall to early spring. Like jicama, Texas Ruby Red Grapefruits are great in salads and their flavors and textures would compliment each other well. These large grapefruits are easily juiced or sliced in half and spooned out. They can be difficult to peel. I prefer mine cut in half with a small sprinkle of salt to round out its flavor profile.

This week the theme is orange, familiar and sweet with baby carrots and citrines.

Carrots have a fascinating history of cultivation. Like most things that humans like to eat, we have transformed it over the years into something larger, sweeter and more to our liking.  Carrots are very high in Carotene, a vitamin A compound, and are a good source of Vitamin K, fiber and natural sugar. Carrots several hundred years ago were more starchy and less sweet than today’s typical orange carrot. What most American’s think of as baby carrots are actually larger carrots that have been trimmed and peeled into the snack size portions we love. While processing does limit the shelf life, baby carrots are a solution to using “ugly” or broken carrots for the fresh vegetable market. The byproducts of the cutting and peeling of baby carrots are used to make carrot juices, carrot shreds for processed foods and animal foods.

Citrines are the other half of this orange, sweet duo and they are also great for snacks. They are easy to peel and travel well in a purse or lunch sack. Citrines are a great addition to a salad or can be squeezed into a glass of water for a citrus flavor without the calories or artificial flavorings of other beverages. Like most citrus, these are in season year round, but have peek production in the late fall months.

This week, the kids will get to try 3 things: Stokes purple sweet potato,  purple cauliflower and a bonus of Fuyu variety persimmons.

The stokes variety is sweet potato is very unusual and is grown exclusively for freida’s. Their website has lots of interesting information, recipes and where you can purchase this unusual vegetable.

Persimmons are a delicious fruit that is best when it is almost over-ripe. There is a very narrow window of peak freshness for this fruit. Most often, stores have under-ripe fruits. Purchase firm fruits several weeks in advance, place them in a paper bag and place them somewhere in your house to ripen. They will be the sweetest once they are very soft to the touch. They will need to be cooked or eaten within a day or two, once they are ripe.

Purple cauliflower is like a lot of the other colored varieties of cauliflower that we have tried. It tastes like the white stuff, but it has slightly different vitamin profile due to the increase in pigmentation. Almost all the color will fade when cooked, especially if it is boiled or heavily steamed. If you want to preserve the color, gently cook it with a high roast for a short period of time, a short steam or a quick stir fry.

This week the kids will be trying kumquats and dates.

Kumquats are often very tart and slightly bitter when you first bite into them, but as you chew them they get sweeter and sweeter. I have found that describing it to kids as being like cry baby gum or war heads candy is a good analogy. It is painfully tart at first, but you chew through that tart burst and the sweet surprise is very worth it. You eat the entire kumquat, peel and all. Kumquats are so great fresh, that I have rarely had enough of them to cook with. I did use them chopped up into a mango salsa with mango, onion, chili and kumquat bits instead of lime juice. It was delicious over a grilled or baked fish fillet. Kumquats would also make excellent marmalade. Finely chop whole kumquats and substitute for the orange in your favorite recipe.

Dates are something that people relate to holiday baked goods and forget about the rest of the year. Dates are very sweet, almost like caramel bites. Dates can be chopped and added to cereal, oatmeal, cookies, cakes and other sweet baked goods. Dates can also be used in savory dishes where an accent of sweetness brings a nice contrast. Try a ham glaze of date puree, clove, cinnamon and allspice. Dates are a great substitute for more processed forms of sweetness. I have used pureed dates to make energy bars or in place of honey or sugar in recipes. It is more dense that sugar, so you might need to modify recipes to reflect that. No one will guess where the delicious caramel sweetness came from.

By Judy Halterman  20150904_074229 (1280x720)

As the cold weather appr20150817_081331 (1280x720)oached the school garden at Yerington Elementary School, it was time to say good bye to the beautiful vegetable plants and winterize the garden. Over the course of the growing season, the garden produced around 525 pounds of fresh veggies that ended up on families tables that were in need, and also in the school cafeteria for the students to taste. The Kindergarteners and First Graders helped to plant the inside of the Hoop-House with green beans, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, beets, swiss chard, potatoes, watermelon, and red onions. Several boys and girls came down from the Boys and Girls club, twice a week during the summer months to help out with more plumbing, planting, harvesting, and weeding in both the hoop-house and outside growing area. Outside20150902_092445 (1280x720)20150821_064257 (1280x720) the kids planted winter squash, corn, more green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, sunflowers that produced seeds, and of course, pumpkins. We even planted several pollinating wild flowers along the perimeter of the gardens to attract our bees.

Speaking of bees, we got to experience cross-pollination. There was a big zucchini-watermelon looking veggie/fruit. The bee had pollinated the watermelon, and then found its way to the zucchini, or so we thought! It turned out to be a pumpkin!!! The children and the extension office were in awe. The children learned where their food comes20150825_105322 (1280x720)20150904_074713_001 (1280x720) from by interacting in the school gardens. Some were very well educated before they came into the gardens by growing veggies with their families. It was refreshing to see these students explain things to their classmates. Yep, I wouldn’t have changed a thing!! Well…… maybe one thing! We had an intruder move into the hoop house underneath the tomato plants. Mr. Gopher was causing all kinds of tunnels to collapse! By the end of the growing season he had vanished!! Not sure what happened to him, and by the same token, didn’t ask! The students helped to harvest everything inside the hoop house. Next it was time to rototill and plant the fall ground cover crop to help enrich the soil for next year’s crops, and then close the doors for the winter.20151007_153656 (1280x720)20151105_125911 (1280x720)