Sunday, November 27, 2011

The MNFC & Us

These short dark days are the perfect time to reflect on this past summer. It was a season of great ups and downs. Torrential rains,rain damaged plants and some tomato disease, made it feel like it was going to be a really poor year, but with great lettuce, shallot, red pepper and broccoli crops, it ended up being a pretty average one, which, really, was a feat in itself.

This summer marked our 31st year selling produce to the Middlebury Natural Foods Coop. We work closely with them, meeting in the winter to talk with Kira, the produce manager, about what she wants us to grow for them. It's a wonderful relationship . The coop takes great pride in promoting local growers, and we in turn work to give them produce that shines in their display case.

Kira ( produce manager) Judith & Katherine are part of the amazing produce staff

Sandy & Judith checking in our produce delivery

The produce always looks like a cornucopia

In addition to produce the coop also sells huge amounts of our cheeses.
Annapourna & Karen keep the cheese case looking beautiful

We are so fortunate to be able to sell most of our veggies and cheese to such an amazing store.... here's to year 32! And now it's time to focus on the winter part of the farm...cows!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eggplant In Winter

Most of the vegetables we 'put up' for the winter are straight forward in their preparations. Peas and corn are blanched, then frozen. Onions, carrots, potatoes and shallots are stored in the basement. Tomatoes are canned whole or pureed. Eggplant however, has always been savored as a purely fresh summer delicacy. We had tried freezing, pickling, but nothing we tried seemed to be worth the effort. That is, until we discovered a fabulous way to freeze breaded and cooked eggplant slices. They are crunchy and creamy, and make the best eggplant parmesan you can imagine. Here's the recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

Eggplant Parmesan

2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 " rounds
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
4 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Orb Weaver Cave aged cheese ( or, Parmesan )
1 cup white flour
4 large eggs
8 tablespoons olive oil

1. Toss half of the eggplant slices with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large bowl until combined; transfer salted eggplant to a large colander set in your sink. Repeat with remaining eggplant and salt, placing it on top of first batch, or in a second colander

Arrange eggplant slices on a triple layer of paper towels, cover with more paper towels. Press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.

2. While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack and heat oven to 425º.

3. Put Panko bread crumbs in a pie plate and stir in 1 cup cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, set aside.
Combine flour and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large zipper-lock bag, shake to combine
Beat eggs in a second pie plate.

4. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour, and shake to coat eggplant

Remove slices, shaking off excess flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with the panko mixture

Set breaded slices on wire rack set over a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant

5. Carefully remove preheated baking sheets from oven. Put 3 tablespoons oil on each sheet, tilting to coat pan evenly. Place half breaded eggplant on each sheet in a single layer, bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating sheets after 10 minutes and flipping eggplant slices with spatula after 20 minutes.

6. Let cool on wire racks. Put in a zip lock freezer bag.. don't forget to write the date on the bag!. In the dark days of winter take out as many slices as you'd like, layer with tomato sauce and cheese, and bake until bubbly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer On The Farm

Luckily for gardeners, plants are incredibly resilient, and the will to thrive so strong, that, for the most part, they are able to ride out the ebbs and flows of weather. With the summer well under way, the tomatoes in particular have had quite the ride. Our garden follows a 3 year rotation, and this year they are in our heaviest soil. The pounding rains in May and June turned their soil into cement, and they really were struggling to live. But with lot's of care, and cultivation to aerate the soil most are coming along.

Spurred on by my friend, Catlin, I've been foliar feeding tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and melons with a seaweed/fish mixture every 2 weeks. I use a 4 gallon back pack sprayer ( 6 loads the other morning). As he says, it's best to put it on "when the birds are singing", in other words, in the early morning, or the end of the day. And really, it's a beautiful way to start the day. The sun is just rising, the birds are re-claiming their territories for the day, and all is peaceful. The plants seem to be loving all the extra TLC. The leaves are green and healthy, and the plants are loaded with fruit.

An upside to all the wet weather we've had has been wonderful chanterelles mushrooms. Coming upon them in the woods is always a thrill. There is nothing that looks like them so they can't be confused with anything poisonous. We've been enjoying them tossed with fresh homemade pasta, seasoned with fresh parsley, basil, and a bit of our butter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Pleasures Of The Dairy

I love how our farm is divided into 2 distinct seasons. In the winter, all activity takes place around the barn, cheese room, and cave, where it's all about the cow, and all things bovine. It's a wonderful routine. Our cows calve in November, and, since we don't ship fluid milk ( like most farmers do), we go right to cheesemaking. Even after making cheese for more than 30 years, I always find the process thrilling. To be able to take such a wonderful yet perishable product like milk and turn it into cheese never ceases to amaze.

But, it's more than just about the cheese. It's the caring for the cows, the wonderful smells and sounds of the barn. It's our great community of friends and neighbors who stop by when they know we are in the barn doing chores to visit, and buy fresh, creamy milk right from the bulk tank. It's also the kids who come here and get to taste what real milk tastes like, to pet the calves, and to help feed the cows, to watch milking and learn where their milk comes from.

Before we leave the world of cheese, and move on to the vegetable season of the farm, I wanted to share one of my favorite treats from this past winter. It's a wonderful recipe for cheese crackers from the lovely new cookbook ' around my french table' by Dorie Greenspan (and edited by my friend Rux Martin) . I use a mixture of Orb Weaver cave and regular waxed cheese, but feel free to use a nice Gruyere, or any cheese to your liking.

Cheese Crackers:

8 Tablespoons ( 1 stick) cold butter cut into small pieces
1/4 pound grated cheese, about 1 cup ( I use 1/2 cave aged, and 1/2 farmhouse )
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white flour

Put butter, cheese, salt, hot and ground peppers in a food processor and pulse until the mixture makes small curds

add the flour and pulse until mixed and curds form again ( can take up to 1 minute)

Turn onto work surface, shape into 2 logs, and wrap in saran, Chill for at least an hour

Preheat oven to 350º
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Cut chilled logs into 1/4" discs
Place on baking sheet, and bake until golden, 20-25 minutes.
Cool on rack

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Even though it's still too wet to get planting in the garden, spring is slowly creeping in. I walk around the yard greeting the returning flowers, the budding trees, hearing the birds, the spring peepers. Over the winter I forget the sounds, the smells, the beauty of it all.

Here is a lovely poem by Timothy J. Nolan

Long Winter

So much I've forgotten
the grass
the birds
the close insects
the shoot- the drip-
the spray of the sprinkler
freckles- strawberries
the heat of the Sun
the impossible
the flush of your face
so much
the high noon
the high grass
the patio ice cubes
the barbeque
the buzz of them-
the insects
the weeds-the dear
weeds-that grow
like alien life forms-
all Dr. Suessy and odd-
here we go again--
we are turning around
again-this will all
happen over again
and again- it will

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting On Spring

Perhaps we keep a record of the day's weather to divine some sort of a pattern over the years, some sort of trend to fill in the blanks, to let us know what's coming next. But really, there is none. One year April is warm and sunny following a bitterly cold winter, sometimes it's snowy after a winter with no real snow. This year's April is cold, rainy and raw after having many huge snow storms, but not terribly cold.

The shoveling never ended this past winter

Much as we'd like to find one, there never seems to be a rule we can hold on to. So perhaps we keep a record of the days and years to remember the day's in Aprils past when it was 70º, and the day's, like this year when it's in the 40's. No matter. The grass, and the daffodils, and the buds on the lilacs tells me that it will be spring.

Naturally, the garden isn't dry enough to plant in, however yesterday, during a rare semi sunny (but cold) day, I was able to till an area for the first 1,500 lettuce plants. Although I'll have to re-till after it dries out from today's cold rain, just getting in the dirt was a hopeful sign. I am so ready. The phrase chomping at the bit comes to mind. I am that horse, waiting to get to work. To ready the soil, to plant, and to harvest.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Hopes

When I check the thermometer every morning and see temperatures down in the teens, it's hard to believe that it is indeed spring. But, on the way down to the barn, as the day is just dawning, I hear a Cardinal singing, and although the ground is still frozen, there is the faint smell of earth in the wind. Along the south wall of the cheeseroom the sun hits hard and strong, there are crocuses, tiny irises, and small star anemones in full bloom. The greenhouse is full of new growth. We've started lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, shallots, and various herbs. This weekend we start the first flowers, Asters, Acroclinium, Asclepias, Strawflowers, Verbena, Salpiglossis, Statice, Snapdragons and Salvia, to name a few.

Along with the lengthening days, and the promise of warmer weather, my Dad's birthday always ushers in spring for me. Perhaps it is because he was born on the 20th of March, his outlook on life has always been so optimistic. The idea that no matter the weather, all will work out, the days will get longer, the weather will improve. It's that attitude, I think, that helps me through the dark days of winter. I call it channeling my inner Dad.

Me and my Dad

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Tribute

Marjorie & Marian 1980

Marian & I met in 1976. How is that two city kids had the audacity to imagine a life as farmers?But we did, and we set out to learn all we could about gardening, preserving food,
and all things bovine. I worked on a small dairy near where we lived in Western Mass., and then took a 2 year dairy science program at the Stockbridge School Of Agriculture. We knew nothing about cows. Didn't know what they ate, how they were cared for, how they were milked, if they bit... literally nothing. But I settled right into the dairy life. The rhythm of the dairy is a lot like a cow chewing her cud. It's slow, contented, and methodical, it's repetition soothing. Even the magic of making cheese can not be hurried.

So it was that we found ourselves in 1980 managing a large herd of cows in north central Vermont. It wasn't a good fit. We were in way over our heads, and knew it from day one. However, we did amass a raft of knowledge. We were like sponges, so eager to learn...cow care, and feeding, and milking, and learning to back up a tractor with a 2 wheel manure spreader hitched to it.

It was on Valentine's day, 1981 that we went for a job interview at Mad Maggie Farm, the farm that would become Orb Weaver Farm. Although it was mid February, it had been quite warm and the low fields to the east had a green blush to them. We were hired. I to milk the cows on their main farm some 5 miles away, and Marian to take care of the heifers in the barn here. The job included the rather ramshackled farmhouse, and the use of some hay land to the north of the house to develop our market gardens.

A Valentine's day doesn't pass by with out a soulful toast to the years gone by. And here we are, 30 years of toasting a special day in the same place!

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3, 2011

I sleep under a sky light. So, when the alarm went off at 5:30 on this first Monday of the new year, I opened my eyes, and looked up to see what was going on out there. Since it's winter, and it was clear, the sky light was filled with the big dipper. A sure sign that it was, in fact, still winter. In the early spring, the big dipper still fills the window, but at 10:00 p.m. That's how I can tell the seasons are progressing.

Mondays we hit the floor running. It's a cheese making day, so I sanitize the cheese making equipment while Marian feeds the cows. We then pump the milk from the bulk tank in the milk room of the barn to the cheese house. After it's pumped, I wash the bulk tank for the morning's milking ( a bulk tank chills the warm cow's milk to 36º. ) while Marian gets ready to milk. Back in the cheeseroom I start warming the milk to begin the cheese making process. All this by 7:00 a.m. It's really all a series of well choreographed steps. We've done it so many times that I barely need to think about what comes next. The beauty of muscle memory. She tends to the cows, I to the cheese. Around 11:00 she'll come into the cheeseroom where we'll work the curds, salt them, pack them into molds, and then wash everything that can be washed. In our small cheese room, we never bump into each other, we know where to move.
And so goes the pattern of our life, our work, our farm. Really, it is all a dance, and knowing the next move is the secret.

Happy 2011