For those of you who don’t know, I am spending my fall in a few different states out west. My adventure officially started last Wednesday, September 9th, when my plane took off from Boston. My first stop is Colorado, and I started with doing volunteer work through the program WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) where WWOOFers work on and learn the functions of the farm, both in the field and at farmer’s markets – something I have been wanting to do for some time now. I was looking forward to doing all of these things involved in the program of course, but let’s be honest, I was the most excited about all of the unlimited fresh food I would be eating.
I had always wondered what my first dinner would be when I arrived in Colorado. That Wednesday morning in Boston I had packed some Maine picked apples (yes, from my and my Dad’s 44 pound picking spree) and a bag of my homemade granola. I almost never travel without these two things if I can help it (peanut butter and jelly’s also make their appearances) and had enjoyed these two things throughout my afternoon. Once the farm coordinator, Beki, picked me up and showed me around the area, we went back to her house to have some dinner. She took out her royal blue, trusty le crusset dutch oven pot out of the fridge and explained to me that the day before she had baked a ham and still had the bones, liquid, and some meat left. ‘How about a soup?’ she suggested. I was on board to say the least.
After she sliced off and diced the remaining pieces of meat, she put the pot on a simmer. Then came the vegetable fest. She stood at her cutting board and kept pulling out vegetable after vegetable out of a bag next to her, all freshly harvested from the farm. It was like a magician’s hat from farm-fresh heaven; you never knew what she was going to pull out next. First came purple majesty potatoes – one of my new favorite things on the planet - followed by bright red tomatoes, then onions and garlic, plus pinto beans and lentils were added to the pot. She diced a good looking yellow summer squash and left it on the cutting board. ‘Did you want to add those too?’ I asked, assuming she forgot the last veggie addition. She explained she likes to save them for the end so they don’t get overcooked. I recognized some strategic cooking going on here and I liked it. The house filled with that wonderful, hearty, soup-simmering-on-a-stove smell, and we were ready to ladle.
After a quick 60 seconds of stirring around the final addition of summer squash, we tore off fresh leaves of kale and put them on the bottom of our bowls. I had always put kale in my soups during the simmering process since I always had the idea that they needed some time to soften and cook. Now I know there is no such need - the heat of the broth alone cooked the kale perfectly. The leaves instantly turned a bright green and any raw taste did not linger at all. Instead of having every vegetable being that same sort of cooked/simmered texture and heat, there were now different levels of both, with the more cooked root veggies and legumes, slightly cooked squash, and essentially blanched kale. Beki had baked the ham with a honey glaze, so the soup broth had a nice sweetness in the background that toned down the saltiness of the ham nicely. With a few turns of crack pepper and some broken crackers, I had my first bite. I fell in love instantly. How could you not? It was a pot full of love for goodness sake. Every vegetable had such a distinctive flavor, but still melded so well together. I was especially impressed with the purple majesty potatoes – they had an earthiness and depth of flavor to them that I have never tasted before in any other potato.
The first bowlful was gone before I knew it, and the second one was created without hesitation. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal after a day of travel, let alone as a welcoming dinner to a very new place and experience. I could only imagine what other concoctions could be made with such ingredients. And yes, that’s what I thought about as I fell asleep that night on a very full and happy stomach.