By late fall, most of the crops growing in Baja Arizona are cold-tolerant leafy greens and root vegetables. The first frost on most farms is usually in November, depending upon the elevation. As conditions become drier in the fall, freezing nights and very warm days are common. The extremes in temperatures can be stressful for plants and farmers. Farmers must take special care of young, tender plants. Passing a local farm this time of year you are likely to see many rows shrouded in long sheets of white material to protect the crops below. As day length becomes noticeably shorter, plants also begin to grow more slowly or even go dormant. Luckily, our southern latitude means that even the shortest days around the winter solstice provide enough sunlight for winter crops to maintain a slow but steady growth rate.
In fall and early winter, quick-growing and pungent mustard greens tend to dominate at the market and in CSA shares. Young mustards, including many colorful Asian varieties, are often used in salad mixes where they add a mild, spicy flavor. Joe Marlow of SouthWinds Farms grows an array of mustard greens. “I really like komatsuna, also known as spinach mustard,” he says. “It has a mild flavor in the early growth stages and gets hotter and stronger later. It can be prepared many ways both raw and cooked.” Since mature mustards can be quite pungent, some folks are wary of using them to cook with. But their bite can be easily tempered by blanching them before use. To blanch your greens, bring a large pot of water to a boil and submerge greens for one minute. Cool blanched greens in an ice water bath, then squeeze to remove moisture, chop, and use in your recipe.
In addition to many greens, fall also offers an array of root vegetables as well as early citrus varieties. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are perfect for hearty meals, and young beets, radishes, and turnips can be used raw or cooked. Remember to separate your roots from their greens when you get home from the market. The leaves of beets and turnips are nutritious and delicious, so don’t discard them. Citrus season starts in November and really kicks in by late December. Many of the local varieties of kumquats and mandarin oranges won’t hold up well to shipping, so we are lucky to have them available at markets.
Baja Arizona is one of the biggest pecan growing regions in the world. Driving north or south of Tucson, huge orchards dominate the skyline. The nut harvest usually starts sometime in late November or early December. The nuts can be difficult to find at Tucson farmers’ markets, but are always available at the Food Conspiracy Co-op and at other local stores. Green Valley Pecan Company sells whole pecans, as well as pecan meal (perfect for holiday cookies), spiced pecans, and candies online and at their store in Green Valley. Cochise County also has numerous smaller orchards dotting the land. Pecans are available at both the Sierra Vista and Bisbee farmers’ markets; drive along almost any country lane in the region and inevitably you will find a little farm store or roadside stand selling pecans. The flavor of these local, fresh pecans is far better than anything you will find in the grocery store and well worth the effort and price.
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.