Here in sunny Arizona, our warm winters allow many farms to produce year-round. Some farms located in areas that rarely freeze need little protection from infrequent cold snaps. Other farms, located at higher elevations or in river valleys that are more prone to freezing, must use individual row covers or greenhouses to protect crops.
On many farms, winter is a bountiful time. Delicate leaf and root crops that can’t take the summer heat thrive in our mild winters. Winter planting usually begins in September; this year, the unusual rains we received had a varied effect on regional farms, delaying winter planting for some because fields were too soggy to work, while farms that received less rain were able to benefit from the early September rains and plant in mild weather.
At the farmers’ market, look for quick-growing and heat-tolerant greens like arugula and mustard greens, followed by a wide variety of other salad and cooking greens as weather continues to cool. Radishes and baby turnips and beets will proceed bigger, full grown varieties. Tender greens like lettuce and spinach and heartier greens like kale and collards all have a milder and sweeter flavor in the winter months. The same goes for root crops, which can become bitter or spicy during hot weather but have a sweet, mild flavor in cool weather. Take advantage of their wintertime sweetness and use them raw or cooked.
Head to AJ’s or Whole Foods for Sunizona hothouse grown tomatoes. The greenhouses on the farm are heated by firing sustainably produced wood pellets made on site to keep the tomatoes plants warm.
For fruit, there will still be plenty of apples available at local markets; citrus will likely appear at the end of December.
Look for plenty of winter squash of all shapes and sizes. These vegetables are storage crops and most actually get sweeter with age. They grow over the long hot days of summer and are harvested in fall. Large, hard skinned squash can last for several months. Small squash such as the acorn squash and oblong multicolored delicata should be stored in the refrigerator if you don’t plan on using them within a week or so. Larger squash can be kept on display on a kitchen table or entry way as long as they are out of direct sunlight. If you don’t see a particular variety at the farmers’ market, ask around to see if anyone has them in storage at their farm. These are heavy items that take up a lot of space and most farmers will pack only enough for that day’s market.
This super simple recipe is the starting point for a number of different dishes. Heated with broth or coconut milk it is the base of many delicious soups. It can be tossed with pasta or stirred into risotto for an easy vegan cheese alternative. Spread onto pizza it is delicious, especially with arugula and parmesan cheese. It is also an excellent filling for ravioli, lasagna, empanadas, enchiladasÖ If you start any of these recipes with the pre-made puree you can get a cheap, easy, and nutritious meal on the table in no time.
Preheat oven to 375. Lay squash, cut side down, over the heads of garlic on a well oiled baking sheet. Bake about 1 hour, until tender. Let cool, then scoop flesh out of the skin. Using a serrated knife, cut the top off of the roasted garlic. Squeeze each clove lightly to remove from skin. In batches, puree squash and garlic together with a pinch of salt in a food processor or blender. For a sweet puree to use in baked goods, use cinnamon sticks and ginger in place of the garlic, and discard spices before pureeing.
Each variety of squash has a different texture and sugar level, but they can be used interchangeably in most recipes (except for Spaghetti squash). Bodie from Big Skye Bakery likes to use the super sweet Cinderella pumpkins from Big ëD’ Farm in his delicious pumpkin pies; find them at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park.
When baking, to achieve the same consistency as canned pumpkin, drain the cooked flesh in a colander set over a bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. You can also cook it down on the stovetop, stirring often, to reduce the moisture. <
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSAv
Tohono O’Odham H:al winter squash has been grown for generations. This locally adapted squash doesn’t flower until the monsoons start so is often planted a little later than other winter squash and the crop arrives at the market about a month behind other varieties. The San Xavier Co-op Farm has a good crop coming in this year, available mainly at the Santa Cruzy Valley Thursday farmers’ market. This squash comes in a variety of shapes and colors, but most are large with very tough skin. To avoid knife mishaps large, hard squash, like the O’odham H:al, can be baked whole (just pierce the skin once or twice with the tip of a paring knife). If the whole pumpkin or squash won’t fit into your oven, lay out newspapers over concrete and crack the squash open by dropping on the ground.
The farmers over at Sleeping Frog Farm are experimenting with a new curly kale variety from High Mower Seed Company. They aren’t the only ones experimenting. After a global seed shortage began earlier this year, due in part to increased demand as the vegetable spiked in popularity, many farmers are seeking new seed sources and varities. Afraid you will miss your green smoothies, kale chips, and salads? Give other hearty winter greens, like collards and chard, a chance!