Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks


When Marian & I decided to become farmers, it was with a nod toward self sufficiency. Sure, we wanted to bring our food to market and feed our friends and neighbors, but really, it was to be able to go to the pantry and open a jar of tomatoes, open the freezer and get a bag of frozen peas or corn, or walk into the cheese room and get a wheel of cheese.
Yesterday when the weatherman said there would be polar high pressure directly overhead, we knew it was now or never for the spinach ravioli. Always the final feather in our garden preserving cap, we got to work. And here it is, a list of all the veggies and fruits we put up this season;
1. 27 bags of frozen sweet peas. The peas are shelled, blanched for 90 seconds, drained and 2 cups g0 into each bag. The perfect amount for pasta & peas.
2. blueberries, we freeze about 35 pounds. They are so easy to process. Just put into bags ( no need to wash ), freeze and take out as needed. We love them put frozen in our morning granola.
3.Sweet corn. 37 two cup bags , They are blanched on the cob, then the kernels are removed, and put into 2 cup bags. 2 bags make 1 pot of corn chowder
4. Peaches. Bought by the bushel, canned in a simple syrup, we put up 35 quarts. We break them out in late winter to perk up the granola, it's like having the returning sun in a cereal bowl.
5. Tomatoes. I have already written about how we put them up. This year we canned 45 quarts of whole tomatoes, 10 quarts of puree, and 5 quarts of dried tomatoes.
6. Salsa. We made one batch this year, 18 pints. We use a variety of peppers, all fire roasted.
7. Tomato jam. one batch , 7 pints
8. Tomato sauce frozen in pints for a quick pizza, 11 pints
9. Cross cut pickles. Bread and butter type, 7 quarts
10. Pickled beets 7 pints
11. frozen red peppers, 2 bags regular, and 2 bags of roasted red peppers
12. roasted and dried or frozen hot peppers.
13. Battered eggplant slices , 5 bags frozen. Another perfect quick dinner. Just take them out of the freezer, layer with tomato sauce, and cheese and bake.
14. Chard. 6 bags frozen. Chard is picked, wilted in a pot, rinsed with cold water, chopped, and put into 1 pound bags
15. spinach, frozen like the chard. 13 one pound packages.
16. Onions and shallots, enough to get us through till next summer. They winter in boxes in our cold cellar.
17. Potatoes, also enough to get us through. They also are fine in boxes, and will last until spring.
18. Carrots, preserved by being layered with maple leaves in containers. 3 15 gallon barrels will last through spring , the dogs go through 4 separate boxes (really)
19. Puff ball mushrooms, dried and stored in jars
20. Strawberry & Raspberry Jam
21. And our finale, spinach raviolis, 12 dozen.

So, the garden of 2010 is put to bed. Tomorrow the seed catalogs start arriving, and on it will go. The winter will find us in the barn milking our cows, making cheese and butter, and all things bovine.
A wonderful Thanksgiving to you.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Summer Reflections


It's a rainy, cold November day, and I find myself thinking about the summer, and all the wonders that went along with it. We were not sure how this summer was going to turn out. Marian was scheduled for hip surgery on June 1st, and we, who usually work the garden along with one helper realized we needed more help than usual. But, as luck would have it, everything turned out more wonderful than we ever could have imagined. To begin, our wonderful friend and long time worker, Lauren, came back after 2 years away. She is the kind of help that you might imagine, but could never believe existed. The kind of person who is aware of everything around her, knowing , like us, what needs to be done next, and after that too. I have watched her rototill, picking weeds in the rows as she went. Or, realizing the leeks hadn't been tilled, stop and hill them on her way to something else. Truly, an amazing woman.

Lauren, Marjorie & Marian

Then along came Mary and Kate. I never could have believed that we'd find such wonderful, dedicated workers. They usually worked on different days, but when they did overlap, they chatted away like old friends. We consider ourselves blessed to have worked with such fabulous, hardworking, delightful women, and even though they are new friends, I feel like they will be friends for life.

Kate, Marian, Marjorie & Mary
Zuri & Utani ( our dogs)

In the peppers


We also needed extra help unloading hay this summer, and I know I did a piece on the hay unloading, but here, again, is our wonderful hay crew



Marjorie, Matthew, Elias, Bruce & Dean


So, as it turned out, Marian healed wonderfully, we met wonderful people to work with, enriching our lives is so many ways. And the garden grew and thrived after being showered with so much love.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Last Crops Of The Season


I love these fall days. These days when just the last gasps of leaves remain. The showy Maples are mostly over by now, but the hills still have trails of yellow from the Aspens and Birches, and the bronze of the Oaks are striking. The geese are winging it south, as are the songbirds of summer. And the dogs, who love to laze in the summer sun now are content to spend their days in the house.
The garden is mostly over too. We still have carrots and potatoes to harvest for storage.The spinach is covered for extra warmth so it can get a bit bigger.

And we're about 1/4 done with selling fall Broccoli. The Middlebury Coop sells all of our crop. It's amazing that they can sell almost 500 pounds a week. It comes at a time when most of the fresh produce comes from warmer climes, and it's always a great source of pride to us that we are still harvesting big beautiful heads during these short days.

Each head is cut, and trimmed in the garden


Then driven down to the sinks where they are washed and put into boxes for market.

A lovely way to end a growing season. And in the next 2 weeks, we'll be getting ready for cows and calves and cheese.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tomatoes Galore


One of the reasons I never resort to buying tomatoes out of season is that we put up tomatoes so many different ways that I only crave fresh tomatoes straight from the garden and never from the store First we take care of the canned whole tomatoes, putting up around 50 quarts, since they are the most versatile. Then, after they are done, we move on to purees for sauces and soups. And then it's on to dried tomatoes for tapenades, stews, and eating out of hand. The only things left will be salsa, and that will happen later this week, and freezing quarts of fresh tomato sauce with lots of fresh basil, parsley and garlic for pizza, which will happen just before the frost.

To make puree, we have a wonderful gadget called a ' Roma Sauce Strainer'. Tomatoes are put through a hopper, a handle is turned that turns an auger, and the puree flows into a pot, the seeds and skin into a separate bowl for composting.







The puree is boiled for a few hours till it thickens a bit, then ladled into hot sterilized jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.


Drying tomatoes is done in a food dehydrator. The tomates are cut into thick pieces, sprinkled with salt




and put into the dehydrator for around 24 hours.






While they are drying the house is filled with the wonderful warm aroma of tomatoes.


Having the larder filled with all the different type of preserved tomatoes is more than just an incredible feeling of food security, it's the culmination of a summer well spent. A year that started in March with the seeding of tomatoes in the greenhouse when the cold wind whipped around, planting them out of doors in the long days of May, rejoicing with the first cherry tomato in July, and the few short summer months to relish the full sized tomatoes warm from the vine. And now, we can look forward to a winter of glorious dining!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Canning Tomatoes




Summer is the time to can tomatoes, winter the time to savor the smells and tastes of our bounty. Opening up a jar of canned tomatoes always bring to mind the title of my friend Andrea Chessman's book Summer In A Jar. And indeed it is. It is like tumbling back into those hot and humid days of summer. The days of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. When what was for dinner meant a trip to the garden. But now is the time for making sure we have enough put by to get us through the long winter. Canning is a wonderful summer activity. We put up enough whole tomatoes and puree so that we never have to by any store bought tomatoes. Let us just eat fresh field grown tomatoes when they are in season, when the hot days of summer are still with us, that way during the winter months we can be content to go to the pantry when we crave tomatoes and not to the store!
Here's how we can whole tomatoes.

We start with 25 to 30 pounds of plum tomatoes




The tomatoes are blanched for 1 minute 45 seconds so we can remove their skins.





Then they are put into cold water to cool them down, and to make them easier to handle.


As they are peeled they are put in a pot large enough to hold them all.


The pot of peeled tomatoes is heated,





put into sterilized jars









A lid and ring are put on and hand tightened





And put into a boiling water bath for 25 minutes






25 Pounds of tomatoes will yield about 7 quarts .



And, into the pantry they go.











Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Wonderful Pea






When I think of vegetables I would have a hard time doing without, the pea is one of the first ones I think of. Whether picked young, shelled, and eaten for dinner that night,or frozen for winter dining, they make a most satisfying meal. And, there is nothing like sitting in the cool shade on a hot summer day shelling peas! We freeze bags and bags of them... enough so we can have pasta and peas most weeks throughout the winter. The real secret to peas is that they have to be in their prime... before the sugary pea taste turns to starch. Once a pea is too big, it is almost inedible.

Freezing peas couldn't be easier... blanch the shelled peas for 90 seconds, and drain in a colander. After they've drained for a bit, freeze them in quart freezer bags ... we freeze in 2 cup amounts, just the right amount for pasta and peas for 2. Remember to label bags with the amount and the year, bags tend to get lost in our freezer.

When peas are fresh, we love to make a fresh pea soup with butter dumplings. Sauteing lettuce is a wonderful addition, the slight bitterness of the lettuce perfectly offsets the sweet of the peas. And the bright green soup makes me think of spring, and how amazing growth, and life, and the power of the seed is.



FRESH PEA SOUP
4 cups freshly shelled peas
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 head Boston lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup cream
salt & pepper to taste

Boil peas in a soup pot with 2 quarts water, for about 30 minutes.
In a separate frying pan, saute chopped onion 5 minutes. Add lettuce and saute till wilted.
Add onion/lettuce mixture to the peas and cook for 10 minutes.
Puree the soup in a blender, about 2 cups at a time and return to soup pot.
Add wine, cream, and season to taste.
Add the cooked dumplings ( recipe follows).
Serve hot, or cold. If you serve it cold, a dollop of Greek Yogurt stirred in to each bowl upon serving is delightful.

BUTTER DUMPLINGS

6 Tbs soft butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
pinch cayenne pepper

mix the flour with the salt and cayenne .
cream the butter in a deep bowl, and beat in the eggs. ( the eggs wont quite mix with the butter.. they will when you add the flour) Add the flour and milk alternately, beating after each addition until all the flour and milk are incorporated. The mixture will be smooth and creamy but fairly stiff.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and drop the dough in by teaspoonfuls. Boil the dumplings, covered for 15 minutes, and transfer them with a slotted spoon to the soup.

We've been making this soup for years.. It originally came from The Vegetarian Epicure Book 2 by Anna Thomas. (1978).






Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Many Hands




Up until this past weekend there hadn't been any good haying weather. With rain every few days, there wasn't enough time to get it dry in the 3 or 4 days needed. Then last Thursday the weather broke. Hot and dry, every farmer took to their tractor and began mowing fields. All through out our valley, there was the sound of tractors. Then the rhythmic sound of the baler as the loose hay is made into bales. We don't make hay, but have been buying it from the same family for probably 15 years. When it's time to unload the baled hay, that's when the camaraderie begins.We have a steady group of wonderful friends we can call. This time it was Bruce Baldwin, and his sons Elias and Ethan, and as an extra bonus, this weekend my wonderful brother Matthew was visiting. It's a hot and heavy job, but is also such a great time.
Dean unloads the wagons by putting it on a hay elevator, and we are inside the barn stacking it.
This time we got 3 loads, about 600 bales. Later this summer we'll get another 1,200 and that will be enough to get us through.











Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April's Fools




This time last week we were working in the warm April sun setting out lettuce plants.



The spring was moving right along, even a few weeks ahead of itself. Looking at the daffodils, tulips, and even the redbud buds, I kept wondering if all springs are this glorious, this vibrant, this alive.

On Saturday as I seeded peas, swiss chard and spinach, I was overcome by the mystery of it all. The living soil, the power of the seed. So much faith in that one seed. To germinate, and then to grow and then to feed us and even create new seeds for next year. Well, I think you can understand how awed I was.
This week, a whole new week. Lots of heavy wet snow, and lost power. Cows back in the barn. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn't March, but late April.


Yet, I am still awed by the mystery of it all. I picture all those lettuce plants under a cozy insulating blanket of snow. And know that as it melts and warms again, the green will be more vibrant, the colors more lush.Farmers call these late season snow storms ' poor (wo)men's' fertilizer. By this weekend, we'll be back at it. Setting out onions and shallots. And on it goes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Farm To School Program #2

This winter I am taking part in a 'farmer to school correspondence program'. 4 times during the winter months I write to a school and tell the kids what's going on here at the farm. This year I am working with the Red Cedar School, in nearby Bristol. For my January letter I wrote about cheesemaking. I know I already posted this, but some how some of came through with code in it, so I'm re posting.

January 2010

Hi Red Cedar Students,

In my December letter to you I promised my next letter would talk about winter on the farm, and how we make cheese.

During the summer time, most of our days are spent out of doors working in the garden. The cows are not being milked, and so are 'out to pasture'. Grazing, lolling around, and never seeing the inside of the barn.

Winter, however, is the flip side of summer. The cows live in the barn. They go outside for exercise just about every day, but night will find them all cozy in the barn. In the summer they graze for their food, in the winter, we bring hay to them.

Our days are spent milking the cows, taking care of them, and making cheese. Great care is taken to make sure we make the best tasting milk we can, because if the milk doesn't taste good, neither will the cheese. So, the hay we feed them is green, and full of clover and different grasses ( did you know that what a cow eats and even smells goes right into the taste of the milk?). They are milked twice a day, in the morning and evening.



After milking, the warm milk is stored in a 'bulk tank' where the milk is cooled, and stored until it's time to make cheese



Cheese is made every Monday and Thursday. On cheese day we pump the milk from the barn to the vat in the cheese house.




There the milk is warmed to 90ยบ, and a special cheese culture is added. This culture helps to acidify milk. Next, rennet is added to change the milk from a liquid to a firm mass, called 'curd'. I can tell when the curd has formed by testing it.


Then, the cheese is cut into small pieces with special curd knives.



The reason we cut the curds is because milk is 85% water, and we want to get as much of the water out as possible leaving us with a product that is mostly protein.

Here is a picture of me cutting the curd.



After the curds are cut, we have curds ( the solid part) and whey (the liquid).



The curds and whey are stirred for about an hour while the temperature slowly rises.

The whey is then drained, and we stir the curds by hand, getting out as much whey as possible.



And then, the curds are put into molds.



The cheeses are weighed so that they are all the same size.

They spend the night in the press, where even more whey is removed.



The next day they are taken out of the molds and put in the cooler.

After a week of being turned daily, they are waxed.



And then go back to the cooler, where they age for about 8 months.



Then, its off to market with them !!

So, that is our winter life in a nutshell. Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions you can think of, whether it be about the cows, the cheese, or anything else!