A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Friday Nature of Exchange Dinners: April Veggies

Starting April 2, and every following Friday there will be an evening of exchange celebrating local, seasonal food through cooking, dining and conversation at Tilda’s Kitchen on Broadway in Kingston. Each week a treasure grown or produced in the Hudson Valley will be the debutant of the ball. A team of local chefs will create a four course meal (also available for take out) featuring a specific ingredient. 

The event starts at 4pm with a cooking exchange where participants get to know each other and their chef through sharing of ideas and skills. The meal exchange is from 6-8pm where you taste the fruits of your labor and others can just come to dine. From 8-10pm is the open mic. 

The festivities kick off April 2 with the celebration of the versatile sweet potato grown by the Farm Hub. The sweet potato is native to the tropical regions of South America. Not to be confused with a yam, which is a different species (yams are a monocot related to lilies and grasses typically grown in the Caribbean and Africa). Sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas) are in the morning glory family. Both the tubers and the tender green leaves are edible. Distantly related to the common white potato, both are in the order Solanales. Sweet potatoes arrived in the new world through the Columbian Exchange, yet the Polynesians brought sweet potatoes to the Cook Islands 700 years before captain James Cook ever landed on its shores. Sweet potatoes come in a variety of colors from white, to cream, yellow, orange, and purple. They can be enjoyed either sweet or savory and are highly nutritious, low in calories, high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C. 

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), the focus ingredient for Friday, April 9 is coming fresh from the fields of Farm Stock in Esopus. Spinach is in the Amaranthaceae family and is native to central and western Asia in the area formerly known as Persia. It germinates in temperatures of 45 to 75 degrees and grows best in the cooler seasons. Spinach is an annual plant that grows to about one foot tall. The leaves are ovate triangular, simple, and alternate. It comes in three varieties: savoy, dark, and crinkly leaves; flat, broad, and smooth; and semi-savoy, a hybrid variety. In the Hudson Valley we get two crops of spinach per season, in spring and fall.  

Prized for its sweet, tender leaves, both fresh or cooked, spinach made its way across Southern Europe through the 13th century. By the 1600s it was being served to the Kings and Queens of England, eventually being brought to North America. In 1806 at least three cultivars were known to be grown by American Colonists.

Locally grown spinach is the best way to get your green on. Spinach loses much of its nutritional value with storage of more than a few days. Refrigeration slows the effect for up to eight days, but it will lose most of its folate (B vitamins) and carotenoid content. For longer storage it can be blanched and frozen shortly after being harvested. It will then last up to eight months with most of the vitamins intact.

Friday, April 16 will feature butternut squash, harvested last fall. This squash has been getting sweeter and sweeter in cold storage at Insook Farm in Gardiner. The name squash comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word askutasquash meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” Originating in Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup, or honey.

Butternut squash was bred by Charles Leggett in Stow, Massachusetts in the mid-1940s. Squash easily cross pollinate, so unless you want to produce a Frankensquash of your own, you must hand pollinate and keep your cucurbit crops well separated. 
April 23 is all about sugar snap peas fresh from the fields of Seed Song Farm in Kingston. Technically a fruit, Pisum macrocarpon, or snap peas, have edible pods with full-size peas and were bred from Pisum sativum (both sweet peas with inedible pods, and snow peas—flat pods with small peas inside). They are one of the eight Neolithic founder crops (otherwise known as primary domesticates). They are the eight plants that were the origins of agriculture on our planet. These crops were domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago by early Holocene farming communities that originated in the fertile crescent region. These crops consist of flax (for oil), three cereals and four pulses—one of which is the pea.