This summer, every weekday at noon, on the nose—never 12:05 or 12:10—the sound of somebody clanging a triangle signals everybody working at the PEAS Farm to stop what they’re doing and head to the barn for lunch. “Everybody” currently includes university interns, Youth Harvest teen employees, teaching assistants (including myself), and farm staff.
That’s a lot of hard working, hungry people eating lunch at PEAS, every work day during the summer. And they eat a lot of food, especially after a morning of hand-planting a quarter acre of pumpkins, squatting for hours to hand weed ten long rows of flowers, or harvesting a dozen different vegetable varieties for a 50-person CSA pick up.
And every day, it’s the farmers themselves who cook these mighty feasts.
Part of the PEAS educational experience is learning how to cook fresh veggies in a way that produces a tasty and nutritious meal. All the interns and teen farmers get the opportunity to cook together, multiple times over the course of the summer.
There are only two official rules for cooking lunch. 1) Serve lunch on time. 2) Make enough. (There’s also an unofficial third rule: Cook something delicious!)
The cooks harvest the bulk of their ingredients straight from the farm. (Some staple ingredients—like oil, vinegar, lentils, and grains—don’t grow so well there. We purchase those elsewhere to supplement our bounty of veggies.) This means that early season lunches very much resemble peasant food—usually rice, lentils, and the ever-abundant spring greens. But as the days lengthen and the air warms, the cooks in the PEAS kitchen start to incorporate zucchini and carrots and beets—and then eggplant and beans and tomatoes—into their repertoire.
On a typical day at PEAS, the cooks congregate in the kitchen at 9:45 to plan their meal. Instead of using established recipes for lunch, they make up their own based on what’s available in the pantry and on the farm. Cooks usually start by inventorying the dry goods and scanning the fields for whatever’s ripe. After harvesting the food, the cooks turn on some tunes, set water to boil, and start cooking.
At noon, on the dot, the cooks bang on the triangle, and the rest of the farmers flock in for lunch – like a big family. Laughing and talking all the while, we fill our plates and then our bellies with a lunch that’s on time, enough, and delicious.
Here’s a recipe that resembles something we might cook at the PEAS Farm (scaled down, of course):
Lentil Dal with Greens, adapted from The Kitchn
1 1/2 cups dry red lentils (we use Timeless Seeds’s), rinsed
1-2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil (like Safflower)
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Mix of other veggies, like zucchini, carrots, or peas, chopped to bite-size
1/2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups loosely packed shredded greens, like beet greens, spinach, kale, tat soi, or rainbow chard
Salt, to taste
Place the lentils in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until creamy and tender.
While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a heavy-based pan—we like cast iron—over medium heat. Add the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes and garlic and whatever other vegetables you’ve decided to toss in, and cook for another 5 or so minutes, until the veggies soften and garlic begins to brown. Add the turmeric, ginger, and cumin, and stir. Mix in the greens and let them wilt, about 5 minutes.
Stir the veggies into the dal, and simmer for a few minutes to warm through. Season to taste with salt. Serve piping hot over rice, with a salad on the side.
This week’s post was written by Kali Orton, a Teaching Assistant at the PEAS Farm, GCH staff member, and graduate student at the University of Montana in the Environmental Studies Program. At the PEAS Farm, her job consists of three main tasks: farming, helping other people learn to farm, and making sure that everyone’s having a good time. She loves food and its ability to bring people together.