If you’re wondering, “What is a brix reading?”, then we invite you to imagine a lovely field of healthy soil. The sun warms your shoulders and the scent of rich earth fills the air as you look at a crop of English peas.
It’s time to make a harvesting decision since, at The Chef’s Garden, we only harvest at the peak of freshness and flavor. We go beyond asking if the English peas are ready to be harvested, ensuring that they offer the maximum in deliciousness.
Now, Farmer Lee Jones admits that he’s not opposed to using the taste test to decide if it’s harvest time. With the taste test, he eats the peas and then makes a pronouncement. (Just to make sure, he usually eats more than a few! Better safe than sorry.)
There is, however, another way. Let’s say that the English peas look ready. For a definitive answer, though, the farm team uses a brix refractometer to ensure that the vegetable is at the peak of flavor.
The analog refractometer is shaped like a kaleidoscope. A long tube has an eyepiece on one end and the other end is cut at an angle to create a prism surface. To test English peas, experts on the farm team squish a sample, using a device that looks like a garlic smasher, and extract juices. The resulting liquid is placed on the refractometer’s prism and, through light refraction, the solids dissolved in the solution provide a reading.
“It really is a simple device,” Farmer Lee says, “and yet, it’s also quite magical.”
The more solids exist, the more the light on the refractometer bends—and this lets the farm team know if the English peas (or whatever vegetable is being tested) are prime for harvesting. “We aim for brix meter readings on peas of anywhere from twelve to sixteen,” Farmer Lee says. “Numbers continue to go up as the plant matures. At first, this adds to the sweetness—but we need to harvest the peas before they mature too much. At that point, sugars turn to starch and the sweet flavor lessens.”
Once the farm team harvests the English peas, they’re plunged into ice water to shock them and to prevent the field heat from converting the composition into more starchiness. This process is a natural way to maximize flavor, part of The Chef Garden’s regenerative farming practices to farm in harmony with Mother Nature.
Brix meter readings are valuable in other ways, including to:
- compare one variety of a pea (or carrot or beet) against another variety of the same vegetable
- assess farming practices so The Chef’s Garden can continue to maximize the way the soil is prepared for a particular crop
- evaluate the nutrient value of a crop
It’s reasonable to compare a brix refractometer to a plant thermometer because it measures the health of a crop—and here are two interesting facts:
- Healthy plants will have higher brix meter readings, and higher sugars are actually toxic to insects. If a pest eats a very healthy plant, it can die of sugar overload.
- Sometimes, the farm team will see haze, rather than straight lines, on brix readings. That’s wonderful because it indicates a tremendous amount of calcium, which is an excellent indicator of shelf life.