Five Michigan Crops to Cook With this Fall

Autumn in Michigan provides amazing produce for many of our seasonal favorite recipes. From ripe apples, pears, pumpkins and many more, it’s easy to support local growers in the Great Lakes state while enjoying some delicious and healthy food. Guest blogger Christina Carson from Awesome Mitten shares five crops to consider cooking with this fall.

With the crisp air of fall making its way back into Michigan, it’s hard not to get excited about the harvest season and all it brings. While some of the summer crops are starting to fade, the fall season offers a cornucopia of amazing local produce throughout the whole state.

A lot of folks don’t know that Michigan has the second most diverse production of fruits and vegetables in the country, beaten only by the ever-prevalent agriculture system of California. This means we have a near endless variety of amazing produce to choose from while supporting our own agricultural economy and local business owners.

Here are five fall Michigan crops that excite me the most. A few are expected favorites of everyone for the fall season, but I’m also including a few lesser-known crops that I encourage you to seek out and try.

1) Apples

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

No article on Michigan’s fall crops would be complete without a mention of apples, of course. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples in the country, with an average of about 23 million bushels every year. This makes apples the largest fruit crop in Michigan. So no matter where you are in Michigan this fall, go ahead and find your way to an apple orchard – pick some apples, drink some cider and appreciate this amazing crop!

While an apple by itself may be a perfect snack, the options for cooking with apples are vast. Classic desserts like the apple pie and apple crisp should not be overlooked, but I challenge you to look past the pies and crisps this season. Put apples in your salads, roast them with carrots or stuff halved winter squash with sausage and apples before roasting for about an hour. You’ll know it’s done when the squash and apples are soft and the sausage is cooked.

2) Parsnips

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

While often overlooked, parsnips might be my favorite fall vegetable. Their sweet white tubers don’t show up until the ground has been thoroughly frosted. The frost helps them convert starch to sugar and create that joyful flavor I can’t get enough of. They may not be a favorite of most, but you’ll find them in abundance at markets and stores throughout the state once the ground freezes.

Parsnips are best slow roasted, to bring out their natural sweetness. I like to chop them into cubes or fries, before tossing with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Roast them up at 375 degrees until soft inside and browning on the outside, about an hour depending how large you’ve chopped them.

Maybe you’ll become as hooked on them as I am.

3) Winter Squash

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

Winter squash and pumpkins are surely one of the telltale signs of fall, and there is so much more to these delights than the pumpkin spice flavor. Slow cooking winter squash  in the oven for an hour or two is a great way to cozy up to the fall weather.

The varieties of squash available in Michigan are hugely diverse, especially if you buy them from a farm that enjoys growing lots of variety. While difficult to find because the seed is expensive, fairy squash is my absolute favorite. The perfectly smooth texture and sweet taste make them great for squash desserts or silky smooth pureed squash soup.

If pumpkins are more your thing, make sure to pick up some pie pumpkins and explore making your very own pumpkin puree this fall. Far tastier than the canned puree, all you have to do is halve your pumpkins and scoop out the seeds. Then set the pumpkins cut side down on a baking sheet. I like to put a little water in the sheet pan to keep them moist. Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour. Once the pumpkin’s meat is very soft, scoop it from the skin and puree!

4) Pears

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

While apples may be the celebrated fall fruit crop, Michigan grows some phenomenal pears as well.

While not  grown on a massive scale, many apple orchards dabble in pears. Two of my personal favorites are the round, apple-looking Asian pear and  the rough, brown-skinned bosc pear. !

Perfectly ripe pears are a great snack on their own, but they also shine served sliced with cheeses. Pears can also serve as a substitute in just about any apple recipe you can think of or, if you’re feeling adventurous, poached. I highly suggest you slice up some pears and make yourself a simple pear crisp. I guarantee you’ll love it.

5) Watermelon Radishes

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson.

Photo courtesy of Christina Carson

In my mind, these radishes are a bit of magic. They show up in markets when the ground gets cold and almost resemble turnips instead of an actual radish. Smooth white orbs don’t look like all that much while they’re sitting on a farmer’s market table, but once you cut into these radishes, I can promise you’ll be hooked. The centers reveal a stunning bright magenta center, like cutting into a particularly colorful watermelon.

Watermelon radishes have a bit of a bite to them, but nothing too powerful. I find them best suited as a stunning salad topper, or sliced into chip-like slices and served on a veggie platter with hummus or another veggie dip.

What is your favorite Michigan fall recipe?

774908_10100241229705605_1160233728_oAbout the Author: Christina Carson is a northern Michigan girl through and though – addicted to the Lake Michigan coastline, our incredible local food system, and the mitten’s homegrown musicians. I share my passion for beautiful, delicious and joyful food through my blog and photography business – Toot Sweet. Keep an eye out for my monthly Michigan recipes on Awesome Mitten and follow Toot Sweet on Facebook and Instagram.

Twenty Things You Might Not Have Known About Michigan Agriculture

Today is National Agriculture Day! Guest blogger Barbara Ann Siemen, known as Farm Barbie, shares 20 little known facts about freshly grown Michigan food and agriculture. 

Barbara and her family on their beet field

Barbara and her family on their sugar beet field

I’ve always been in love with Michigan. I believe it is unparalleled in its diversity of seasons, activities, and food! We are a very active family; we enjoy many things Michigan has to offer including camping, water sports, snowmobiling, and of course, food and farming! On our farm, we produce dairy, beef, corn, wheat, and sugar beets, but I’m always interested in learning more about other commodities.

Did you know Michigan farmers produce 300 different types of food and agricultural products? Michigan is also home to many national brands that you know, love, and trust. Recently, Governor Snyder proclaimed March “Food and Agriculture Month” due to Ag’s positive impact on Michigan’s economy. Check out this list which highlight some of Michigan’s lesser known areas of agriculture.

1. SugarMichigan Sugar Company is the only sugar processor in the state. It processes sugar for Pioneer, Big Chief, and more than 20 other private labels. Sugar is an important ingredient for all types of goodies, like those made at Bon Bon Bon, located in Hamtramck. Our farm grows sugar beets, which are harvested in autumn.

2. Cherries: Michigan ranks 1st in the nation for tart cherry production, and 4th for sweet cherries. Check out this website for more info on Michigan cherry wines. I like to drink a little tart cherry juice right before bedtime.

3. Milk: Michigan ranks 1st in the nation for the production of low fat ice cream mix, but Michigan dairy farmers also contribute to other products such as Hudsonville ice cream, Kraft cheese, Yoplait yogurt, Michigan Made cottage cheese, and Country Fresh sour cream.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.56.34 AM4. Beans: Michigan is 1st in the nation for production of dry black beans, cranberry beans, and small red beans and 2nd for production of all dry beans. Bush’s Beans, based in Tennessee, buys beans from Michigan!

5. Potatoes: Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of potatoes in potato chip processing. Better Made Chips, which just turned 86, are a favorite Michigan brand. We like taking a bag of chips with us on the boat, or in the camper in the summer.

6. Grapes: Michigan has over 100 commercial wineries, and ranks 1st in the nation for production of Niagara grapes and 8th for wine grape production.

7. Nursery: Nursery and perennial plants are the 2nd largest agricultural commodity group in Michigan.

8. Eggs: Michigan egg farmers supply all the eggs to McDonald’s restaurants east of the Mississippi River. Check out this video from McDonald’s. My kids take care of a small flock of laying hens, and they produce enough for us, and a few neighbors, family members, and friends.

9. Blueberries: Michigan is number 1 for production of blueberries for the entire nation and only 600 Michigan family farms do it all! That’s amazing! I like to use blueberries in this breakfast bake. Yum!

5019864379_a35c8468f5_b10. Cucumbers: Michigan ranks number 1 in the nation for production of cucumbers for pickling, and 4th for fresh market cucumbers.

11. Maple syrup: Maple syrup production is the oldest agricultural enterprise in the United States. Right now, in spring, is the time to tap trees! Battel’s Sugar Bush, which is near me, is hosting a tour and pancake breakfast as part of Michigan Maple Weekend.

12. Christmas trees: Michigan supplies 3 million Christmas trees annually to the national market. Real Christmas trees are so beautiful! I love driving past Christmas tree farms in the winter months. There are approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold each year in the U.S., according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

13. Apples: Michigan slices more apples than any other state for use in pies. Michigan also processes apples into applesauce, fresh and shelf-stable apple cider, and apple juice, such as Indian Summer juice which is made in Michigan too! My family loves a cup of fresh cider with a doughnut in autumn.

14. Wheat: Michigan wheat farmers contribute to the national market in a big way, too.  In fact, one of the top 5 counties for producing wheat is Huron, which is where I live! Wheat is used in products from Michigan brands such as Kellogg’s cereals, Aunt Millie’s breads, and Jiffy mixes.

15. Squash: Michigan is 2nd for squash and carrot production, which is good for Michigan companies such as Gerber baby foods. Squash and carrots were favorites with my kids when they were babies!

16. Tomatoes: Michigan is 9th in the nation for production of fresh market tomatoes. This is good news for me, because I love using fresh tomatoes for pico de gallo, which is an easy bbq party dish.

17. Cranberries: Cranberries are grown in Michigan too! I never knew that! Michigan has 280 acres of cranberries and they are harvested every year from September through November.

3307466046_a91c527ea6_b18. Peaches: Michigan is 8th in the nation for production of fresh market peaches. Look out, Georgia! Michigan is in the ranks.

19. Honey: Michigan honey bees are busy little bees! Check out this resource, to find local honey.

20. Farmer’s Markets: Michigan is 4th in the nation for farmer’s markets, supplying fresh farmer products to Michiganders every week. Port Austin is a huge farmer’s market in the Thumb, where I live. The market is very busy in the summer months!

As you can see, there’s so much to love about Michigan! Whether it is the seasons, a multitude of outdoor activities, or the vast array of agricultural products, I believe Pure Michigan is the finest in the nation! I could go on and on about Michigan and food, but to find out more for yourself, visit MichiganAgriculture.com. While you’re online, check out my family’s favorite breakfast recipe: Farm Barbie’s Waffles of Pancakes. Don’t forget to serve them up with Pure Michigan maple syrup!

Which Michigan grown products are your favorites? Learn more about Michigan agriculture in the video below.

FB Profile picBarbara Ann Siemen, known as Farm Barbie, is a city girl turned country chick, thanks to falling in love with a farmer. She’s a stay at home mom and professional farmer’s wife. She’s also an amateur photographer, chef, and fashionista and an aspiring children’s book author. Check out her blog.

 

Celebrate National Asparagus Month with These Fun Facts and Events

Did you know that May is National Asparagus Month? Today, guest blogger Nicole Heslip from Michigan Farm Radio Network shares some fun facts, events and a simple, delicious recipe to help us celebrate asparagus season in Pure Michigan. 

For other ways to celebrate Michigan agriculture, visit michigan.org to help you plan a visit to a U-pick farm, orchard or farm market near you.

Asparagus3It’s nutritious, flavorful, and one of Michigan’s first signs of spring. Michigan asparagus is the state’s first green vegetable harvested each year, and this year, it’s fashionably late. A typical Michigan asparagus harvest begins in mid April, but in the wake of our long, cold winter and cooler spring, that’s not the case this year. After a near-three-week delay in the growing season, asparagus stalks are finally making their way to a farm stand or produce isle near you! 

Nestled on Michigan’s west coast, the majority of Michigan asparagus is grown in Oceana County, the Asparagus Capitol of the World! Hart, Michigan is home to the National Asparagus Festival, set for June 6-8th this year, and our very own Asparagus Queen. Travel down the coast near South Haven, and you’ve stepped foot in the second-largest producing area of the state. There are about 10,000 acres in Michigan producing asparagus, mostly between these two regions.

Harvest is typically a six to seven week season, with May in the center of it all. In fact, May celebrates Michigan Asparagus Month! Unlike crops like corn that can be picked, combined or chopped just once, all asparagus in Michigan is hand harvested. Throughout the season, asparagus will continue generating new growth, which means harvesters could make 25 to 35 trips across each field to harvest the complete crop. Import competition and labor shortages have dropped acreage in Washington state from 32,000 acres down to less than 6,000. As a result, Michigan moved up in the ranks as the 2nd largest producer of asparagus in the nation, producing just less than 21 million pounds.

ApsaragusThis year’s harvest is expected to be in full swing around the middle of May and through June. Despite the late start, the crop can have a successful year, as long as Mother Nature cooperates and farmers find a workforce for harvesting. Our fresh-picked asparagus will be marketed one of three ways. It can be processed as asparagus cuts or whole spears, or it will be sold on the fresh market.

Coming to farm markets and produce sections near you, with only a two month harvest window, be sure to stock up and enjoy fresh Michigan asparagus this May.

Once you’ve made a visit to your local U-pick farm or farm market, keep the Michigan asparagus celebration going with this delicious recipe from Michigan Ag Council:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 5.25.48 PMHerb Frittata with Michigan Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Servings : 4
Time : 15 minutes

Ingredients:

6-8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces (May also roast. steam or sauté asparagus)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used some dried dill weed from my last year’s garden)
3/8 teaspoon salt
A pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces soft goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)

Directions

Combine asparagus and 1/4 cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl; cover and microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water; drain. Combine chives, dill, salt, pepper,nutmeg and eggs in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.
Preheat broiler to high.
Heat a small ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat.
Add asparagus and egg mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes or until eggs are partially set, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese.
Place pan under broiler. Broil 2 minutes or until eggs are set and top is lightly browned.
Remove pan from oven. Run a spatula around edge and under frittata to loosen from pan; slide frittata onto a plate or cutting board. Cut into 4 wedges.

Have you been to a Michigan farm market? Where did you go?

Nicole_Heslip_headshotNicole Heslip is an Agri-News Reporter for the Michigan Farm Radio Network, bringing the latest market updates and agricultural news to more than 250,000 listeners across Michigan. She also currently serves on the communications workgroup for the Michigan Agricultural and Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).  Nicole grew up as a dairy farmer’s daughter in Allegan County, where her family today milks more than 2,200 cows and operates a custom farming business.