To Be in Clover
By Jennifer Muck-Dietrich
“The sweetness of life lies in usefulness, like honey deep in the heart of a clover bloom.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
Trifolium pratense (red clover), Trifolium repens (white clover), and Trifolium incarnatum (crimson clover), all belong to the legume family, along with peas and beans, and can be mistaken for wood sorrels, which are in the Oxalidaceae family. Both have three green leaves and look like a clover, but the obvious difference is that wood sorrel has heart shaped leaves, while the true clover has rounded leaves. They also have very different flowers—wood sorrel has five petaled, bell shaped flowers that can be yellow, pink, or white depending on the species. Clovers produce a large flower head (relative to the size of the plant) loaded with tiny individual flowers. These flowers can be white, light pink, yellow, or red. Both of these plants are edible, but have very different qualities.
March is the month where you will see different species of Oxalis in garden centers. You can find them with burgundy leaves and pink flowers, or big green leaves with white flowers. They make a lovely house plant for St. Patrick’s Day. To propagate Oxalis you just have to dig around the in the soil to find the little bulblets that they grow from. A unique trait of Oxalis is that its leaves and flowers fold up and close in the evening, then reopen in the morning. Wood sorrel, which is considered a weed, grows in almost any conditions, tolerates drought, wet, full sun, shade, even highly acidic soil. It is one of the most delightful weeds you will find. Wood sorrel contains oxalic acid, which gives it a sour, citrus flavor making it ideal for eating freshly picked, added to salads, put in a smoothie, or added to soups.
More than 300 species of clover exist, most of which are native to the Northern Hemisphere (there are a few in Africa and South America). All clover fixes nitrogen in soil, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizer, and it also attracts pollinators. When planted along with other grains—such as rye—clover makes for a terrific green manure. It can be plowed under or left to grow on fields to naturally increase the nitrogen and outcompete the weeds for next year’s plantings.
Clover is extensively cultivated as a fodder crop, but if ingested in large quantities, causes sterility in livestock. The reason for this is that clover contains isoflavones, plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects on the body. Humans use this trait to their advantage. For centuries women have been drinking red clover tea and taking red clover supplements to treat symptoms of menopause. Red clover helps to cool hot flashes, breast pain, mastalgia, and premenstrual syndrome. It has been researched and shown to help with treating whooping cough, asthma, and bronchitis, and as a diuretic. As a salve, it is a treatment for skin cancer, sores, burns, eczema, and psoriasis. The flowers and leaves of the clover are used fresh or dried for tea, made into a supplement or can be smoked like tobacco. Red clover contains calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Use caution when taking red clover supplements if you are already taking hormone replacement medication and always talk to your doctor before using any herbal supplements or remedies.
An interesting fact about red clover is that it is predominantly pollinated by long-tongued bumblebees, as the tongues of honeybees are too short to reach the nectar in this species—unless the nectar levels are especially high. There have been efforts to breed red clover with short florets that will allow a wider range of visitors.
The most spectacular of clovers is the crimson clover. It’s name incarnatum means blood red. Having originated in the Mediterranean region, crimson clover does not tolerate cold, so in our area it is best planted in early spring as a warm season annual. Crimson plants have dark green, hairy clover leaves, and grow to a height of 1-3 feet . The brilliant crimson flowers make beautiful cut flowers as well as a fantastic green manure and fodder for livestock. Honeybees love this clover for it’s nectar and in turn, provide the farmer with a higher rate of seed production.
Our most common clover is the white clover. It grows close to the ground and makes a living mulch, which can withstand foot traffic and lawn mowing. It is a vigorous, herbaceous perennial that easily self seeds and can grow in full shade to full sun. Clover spreads by creeping along the ground and rooting from the leaf nodes. The pompom-like white flowers attract bumblebees and honeybees. White clover honey is the most popular variety of honey; it is light in color, mild in flavor, and the most versatile. The name “trefoil” refers to the three leaves, which are also referred to as a shamrock, a symbol of Ireland. St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, said the shamrock is a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. The name shamrock comes from the Irish word “seamrog” meaning young clover.
It is believed that there is a one in 10,000 chance of finding a four leaf clover—if you are lucky!
Red Clover Fritters
Pick red clover flowers at their peak when the blooms are vibrant, soft, and fluffy. Collect into a colander and shake to release any little insects that might be hiding in between the florets.
1/2 Cup organic whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup organic cornmeal, finely ground
1 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Cup milk of your choice (cow, nut, grain)
1 Tbsp white clover honey
Oil for frying—coconut or sunflower are best
In a medium bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients, add the egg and milk to make the batter. Dip whole clover into the batter and drop into hot frying oil. Fry until golden. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Drizzle with honey and serve!
Crimson Clover Microgreen salad
Tongore Brook Farms in Stone Ridge is growing organic crimson clover microgreens all year ‘round. Look for the packages in the produce section of most local grocery stores.
Toss the entire package (or as many as you want) into a big metal mixing bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat all the greens and serve. Crunchy and delicious!
This fabulous traditional Greek dessert looks challenging, but is actually quite simple—just time consuming.
1 Cup water
1 Cup granulated sugar (feel free to experiment with other sweeteners)
1 Cup white clover honey
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Strip fresh, organic orange peel
1/2 Pound toasted walnuts
1/2 Pound shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 Cup melted, unsalted butter
16-ounce package of phyllo dough, thawed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan, combine all the syrup ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Place walnuts, pistachios, cinnamon, and cloves in a nut chopper or a food processor. Pulse on high until the nuts are medium coarsely chopped (not too fine, not too big).
Brush a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with melted butter and place one layer of phyllo dough at the bottom. Evenly brush the phyllo with melted butter and add another layer of phyllo, brush with more butter (being sure to cover the entire sheet including edges). Continue this until you have layered seven sheets of phyllo.
Gently spread one-third of the nut mixture over the phyllo. Repeat the process of layering the phyllo and butter but this time just use five sheets. Repeat this two more times layering and buttering on top of the nut mixture. The last layer, finish off with seven layers of phyllo. Brush the top sheet with melted butter as well.
Using a sharp knife, trim away any ragged pieces of phyllo that are sticking up. Cut the baklava into 12 even squares, and then cut them into triangles (you should have 24). Place the pan in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes.
As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven, remove the cinnamon stick and orange peel from the syrup and slowly pour it over the hot baklava. Be sure to pour it evenly making sure all the edges and cracks are covered. Allow it sit at room temperature for at least four hours (it’s best if it sits overnight). Cover loosely with foil and store at room temperature. Opa!
Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from; butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean?
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from 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.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425
Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.