National Celery Month

Celery is having an anniversary this month!

Root Celery Growing

In honor of four centuries of cultivation of this ultra-crispy vegetable and its sweet yet distinctive flavor, The United States is throwing a party, and the guest of honor is … The most versatile vegetable on record!

Some might say onion, but clever cooks disagree. Celery doesn’t make us shed tears, and you can’t mix chopped onions with walnuts and apples and expect people to willingly eat the result.

On the other hand, if you forget to add some cool, crunchy celery to your Waldorf salad, people might think you have lost your edge. On the other hand, if regular celery isn’t really your thing, try celeriac (also called celery root) for an even livelier flavor. This somewhat ugly and misunderstood vegetable combines the distinctive flavor of celery with the nutty goodness of kohlrabi, another underrated root vegetable.

Waldorf salad uses three ingredients readily available from Sonoran Desert farms in Southwest Arizona. In this “fertile triangle” of Arizona Farm Bureau counties (most notably Yuma), fruits, vegetables, and even nuts get an extra helping of sunlight. This helps enhance their flavor, bringing out unique flavors but never overpowering other ingredients – the way fresh, wholesome food should.

For those who don’t relish Waldorf salad, try a complex but savory Artichoke Chicken Salad (onions, but just the green ones), or a Shrimp Ceviche – refrigerator-cool but with all the spicy flavors of hot peppers, garlic and cilantro.

If you are thinking of growing your own, choose celeriac. Where celery is a long-season crop begging for regular, constant moisture, celeriac – a more intense version of celery – is all about taking what is given. In fact, celeriac’s flavor is “watered down” by too much moisture, though it does like fertile, composted soil, a full 120 days to mature, and regular watering during dry spells. The leaves, which must be removed as the bulb grows, make an even more piquant garnish to salads, meats and sides than parsley, even the though the color is a less intense green.

Celery is often touted as the dieter’s friend. Supposedly, it takes more calories to eat it than the stalks contain. This is true, but only because celery’s calories are locked up in cellulose, which humans cannot digest. If you’re truly serious about dieting, you would be better off drinking a cold glass of water. This forces your metabolism to burn calories to warm up those chilly innards.

Eating celery – and, to a greater extent, celeriac – makes sense from a nutritional standpoint, however. Celery not only delivers record amounts of vitamin and mineral-enriched fluid for good hydration, it is also rich in antioxidants that help prevent cancer and protect immune system functions.

 

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Celebrate National Pistachio Day

Pistachio: it’s a funny little snack with a nutty name and an even funnier color. Related to the cashew – whose name really does sound like a sneeze – the word pistachio sounds more like someone trying to smother a sneeze and failing.

Pistachios Snack

Pistachios are also green. Not just a little green, like ripening fruit, but the intense green of spring grass, especially when grown in cooler climates. They are, in fact, the only nut that is. Before you conclude that the color is another joke by Mother Nature, you should know that pistachios are not really nuts. They’re seeds, even though they grow on flowering trees like almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts. Furthermore, they are drupes, and that’s sort of what they do, in bunches, before harvest.

The pistachio’s coloring comes from chlorophyll, the essential ingredient that plants use to convert sunlight into the sugar compounds that provide energy for growth. Pistachios are champions at this. In fact, they are so efficient that much of the chlorophyll, and sugar, remains in the seed, making it both healthy and deliciously sweet.

Pistachios thrive in the high desert/temperate climate of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, in the southwest quarter of the state. The thin, rocky soil and scarce rainfall can produce 20-foot tall trees that yield an abundance of seeds from crimson or red flower bracts. If Arizona’s soil is actually good for them, the state’s persistent sunshine only makes them sweeter, delivering some of the most nutritious and flavorful pistachios in the United States!

One of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible (the other is an almond), the pistachio is native to ancient Persia, where a single, 700-year old tree still survives as proof of the species’ hardiness. In fact, based on archeological remains in Turkey, researchers suspect that humans were harvesting and eating pistachio nuts as far back as 7,000 B.C.!

Pistachio trees came to the United States in 1854, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, during the Great Depression, that they were planted experimentally as another possible revenue source for California’s Central Valley.

It did not take long for Arizona growers to realize the potential windfall of pistachios, which do not like humid conditions. Jim Graham, Cochise Groves, LLC, is a member of the American Pistachio Growers Organization, and farms 200 acres of pistachios.

From these 25,000 trees, Jim and his wife, Ruth, harvest enough heart-healthy nuts to satisfy their southwestern Arizona clients, offering the little greenish seeds salted and roasted in the shell, in garlic, red, and green chile flavors, or unsalted. In fact, almost any way a pistachio lover could imagine eating them.

Consumers can also buy from Fistiki Farms Arizona Pistachios, and owner/proprietor Judy Auerbach sells through both the Tucson Farmer’s Market and online.

 

 

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Friday, 27th: Yesterday was National Pistachio Day! Arizona sunshine grows some of the most nutritious and delicious pistachios in the United States! Most of our state’s pistachios are grown in southern Arizona.

Related Article:

English: Pistachios Español: Pistachos

English: Pistachios Español: Pistachos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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What Is Sweeter than Valentine’s Day? The Sweet Potato

The sweet potato is one of the most delicious roots, or tubers, available to American appetites. Shaped like an elongated potato, the sweet potato is at its best from December through March and can be found at local Arizona grocers, farmer’s markets, and growers like Crooked Sky Farms or the Sphinx Date Ranch, both located in Phoenix.

Sweet potato in kitchen.

But do not confuse sweet potatoes with yams, advises Kelly M. Young, assistant horticulturalist at the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County.

The difference isn’t really even a difference. As in the case of daffodils (all jonquils are daffodils but not all daffodils are jonquils), all yams are sweet potatoes, but not all sweet potatoes are yams.

Yams, strictly speaking, are monocots; sweet potatoes are dicots. Both are flowering plants, but monocots typically have three-petalled flowers, or multiples of three. Dicots have four or five. The Chinese yam, for example – the one most commonly grown in the United States – has a frond of white, three-petalled flowers growing on each side of a central stalk. The typical sweet potato generally has a five-segment flower (the petals are not distinct from one another) in white or pink with a purple center.

In fact, many Americans have never tasted a real yam, which has a brownish skin, white flesh, and high starch content (like a real potato), but very little beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that “signals” vitamin A content and gives some sweet potatoes their golden-orange coloring.

Sweet potatoes also come in shades from white to purple, including brown and rust, and in many countries people also eat the leaves, which are fan-shaped and reportedly more nutritious than the root, or tuber. Check with your local Arizona grower, or through Fill Your Plate, to determine if these greens are available at a nearby market or produce stand.

The white yam arrived in America very early. The sweet potato came later. Shippers and sellers took to calling the sweet, yellow root “yam”, after the African name for it; nyami. In time, the US Department of Agriculture ruled that orange-fleshed sweet potatoes would always be called just that, to distinguish them from the white, purple, or rust-colored tubers.

Fortunately, American food shoppers are unlikely to encounter real yams, which are considered a delicacy and usually sold only in exclusive food stores. This is because yams have a very long growing season, which cannot be found even in the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, California, and Mexico, where both desert and dry tropical climates prevail.

At their best from December to March in Arizona fields, you can also find recipes for sweet potatoes on Fill Your Plate, a food resource for Arizona shoppers. You can bake them or oven-fry them, and each recipe includes local farmers and vendors that supply the needed ingredients.

Don’t shy away from them just because they are sweet! These tubers have only 114 calories per cup, and 23 net grams of carbohydrates. Subtract from that the 377 percent of vitamin A adults and growing children require to maintain vision (especially night vision), produce red blood cells, and resist infectious diseases, and you have a powerhouse food with a pleasantly sweet taste.

For the elderly, the specific carotenoids in sweet potatoes – the xanthophylls lutein and zeaxanthin – offer an even more specific incentive; they can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, especially that associated with type 2 diabetes!

 

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Savvy Arizona Gardeners Start with Straw

Bales, that is. The straw bale garden is one method guaranteed to get around problems like rocky, infertile soil, Bermuda grass, limited water supplies, and old age.

Straw Bales On A Trailer

 

To create your easy-care garden, bales of straw need to be located on an east-west access where they will get about six hours of sunlight. It also helps to place them where they will look like an essential part of the landscaping rather than an add-on. If you can’t decide, ask the advice of a professional landscaper or, at the very least, someone whose landscape looks professionally organized.

Just be sure you don’t end up with hay – especially Bermuda grass hay – instead of straw. Straw is golden (literally and figuratively). Hay is green, and because it is essentially wild grasses and flowers, contains millions of seeds that gardeners do not want in their plantings. You should also avoid barley straw, say experts at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

Straw, the stalks left after cereal grains like wheat, oats, and rye are harvested, contains almost no seeds. Up to 1993, farmers would burn it in the field and till the residue under to fertilize the soil. With new ‘clean air’ regulations, almost half of an estimated 30 million tons of this waste product is left over each year, even after use as animal feed and bedding, mulch and compost, paper manufacture, and biofuels, for example.

That’s a lot of waste, and gardeners who practice straw bale gardening are not only improving the habitat of their peppers and peas, but also reducing the waste stream. At an estimated $7.50 per bale or less, for about 80 pounds of straw, it is one of the most economical methods of gardening – especially when Arizona gardeners consider the cost (and complexities) of getting water. (Alfalfa straw runs about $25 per bale, but is not worth the extra cost, say our experts).

A 2-bale layer, each made up of 6 bales of ‘2-string’ straw, will provide a garden that is about 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 18 inches high. This is a comfortable working height for gardeners who find it difficult to get down on their knees to cultivate soil, pull weeds, or pick fresh veggies.

A ‘3-string’ garden, using the same number of bales, will be 4 feet wide, almost 3 feet high, and 8 feet long. Since either configuration is too wide to tend from a single side, both bale types make excellent choices, depending only on the size of the garden wanted.

Leveling the site is important, as is placing the bales. Try to make sure the top layer of the straw bale is cut side up. The opposite side has folded-over straw, which prevents water from penetrating.

When you have your bales assembled, add the sides. These, of reused (but not rusted) metal siding, boards behind utility posts, or any rigid retainer, prevent the bales from collapsing as they disintegrate. If the metal is beginning to deteriorate, paint with a metal paint and coat with rubberized roof paint, even on the inside. Also, make sure the retaining posts are sunk at least 12 inches into the ground.

 

 

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