Friday, October 10, 2014

Free Range Friday ~ World Markets and Calabaza Soup

The only pure white wild chicken I've ever seen on Culebra
When I was living on St. Croix I managed a fruit and vegetable market for awhile. Most of the produce came from a market in Miami, who got it from all sorts of places around the country and around the world. There was one section reserved for local produce - it was my favorite part.

I explored a lot of sites to find out what was going on with fruits and veg around the world, to try to keep the market as seasonal as possible (I could, but I won't bore you with how many weird steps and screw ups can happen getting containers from Miami to St. Croix with fragile and quickly perishable foodstuffs, suffice to say, it's amazing our food isn't three times as expensive).

One of those sites I still keep an eye on, just because it's interesting to me (though it might be boring to you; if so, you know where the click button is!). The news in Fresh Plaza reflects so many aspects I don't usually think about before biting into a fruit or vegetable; how politics influence growers, what is happening seasonally year to year due to weather and new crops being created through hybridization.

This is one example from the newsletter this month from Fresh Plaza:

Polish apple growers focus on Far and Middle East

The Russian ban on European goods has made it tough for Polish apple exporters. The of those exporters, Elpa Fruit, will look to weather the tough situation by diverting some of the fruit that was destined for the Russian market to the Far East. 
“It will be a difficult year with a lot of challenges,” said Michal Grodzki, manager for Elpa Fruit. “It will be very difficult for Polish growers who sent their apples to Russia, and I'm especially worried for smaller growers, for whom bankruptcy is a very real possibility.” About 60 to 70 percent of the apples grown in Poland go to Russia and Belarus during normal years, so a huge part of this year's crop will need to go elsewhere. The domestic market only takes five percent of production, so it's not likely it can absorb much of what used to go to Russia. Western Europe has plenty of fruit of its own, so the competition there doesn't make that market a realistic option. But the Far and Middle East and North Africa are good options. 

“Most Polish companies will focus on markets where they've already sent fruit,” said Grodzki. “You're always trying to find new markets, but we've already exported to the Netherlands, France, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Egypt,Tunisia and Scandinavia around 20% while 10% of our production to the domestic market.” 

Serbia, Romania, Kuwait, India and China are all examples of new markets that could take additional fruit in the future, but the difficulty of securing new contacts and building an export program in a new territory means most exporters will focus on the Middle East.

“There are a lot of possibilities, but it's not easy to establish a new market. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to find and work with new customers,” explained Grodzki. “So at the moment the main targets are the Emirates and Egypt, because they know our apples.” He noted that consumers in that region are familiar with their varieties and prefer red apples, like Royal Gala, Gloucester, Red Jonaprince, Golden Delicious and Ida Red varieties. Those apples are favored because consumers there know those varieties through their dealings with Western European brokers. But introducing new varieties may be an option, as consumers in the region simply aren't aware of most other varieties.
Without Russia as an export destination, there's more competition for the markets available. As a result, prices this year have been 40 to 50 percent lower than in previous years. It's a grim market, at the moment, but one which Polish growers are doing everything they can to weather.

“Russia is such a huge market, so I don't think we'll be able to switch all of the fruit we sent there to other markets – I wish it were possible, but it's probably not,” said Grodzki. “I just hope that the situation gets better in a few months.”

Here on Culebra, there are staple vegetables and fruits that once were new to me. There are still some that I have never cooked, mainly root vegetables unusual to me but common locally, what we called in the Virgin Islands 'ground provisions' for obvious reasons. Once the weather gets cooler, it will be time to ask some ladies for recipes and put some of the unknowns into the known category. It's about time. 

An outdoor market near Rincon Puerto Rico, shows some root vegetables and native tuberous roots: yautias, malanga, ñames... besides calabaza (pumkin) .
Photo credit: Ed Hoppe

Here's a simple recipe using the common calabaza, or Caribbean pumpkin, because Halloween is on its way! You can also roast the seeds and salt them for snacks. 

Calabaza Soup (modified from A Caribbean Garden)

3-4 lbs calabaza pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 cup chopped sweet potato (remember, Caribbean yams aren't the same as what Americans call yams - interchangeable with sweet potatoes - the Caribbean yam is white in flesh and nuttier in taste. You can find out more about the difference here. Both are delicious but very different)
1-2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry
4 tbs olive oil 
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced hot pepper or to taste 
1 chopped seasoning pepper 
1 or 2 leaves of racao (Puerto Rican cilantro) minced
1 or 2 leaves of Caribbean oregano, Cuban oregano or Spanish thyme (more info here)
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
Salt and black pepper to taste

Add olive oil to pot, put in onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Stir in garlic and remaining herbs and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add pumpkin and sauté for 5 minutes, turning constantly. Add broth, water and sherry and simmer, covered, 20-30 minutes until pumpkin pieces are tender.

Let soup cool a bit and then purée soup in batches in a blender, transferring to a bowl. Return soup to pot and reheat. This can be a thick soup and can be thinned to desired consistency with a little more broth. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. 

Buen provecho!!

Have a fresh festival of a Friday. Do something fearlessly.

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