Monday, October 1, 2012

Put your pickle pants on!

So we had this incredible drought all year, and then the remnants of hurricane I..saac?  Isaac, right?  Well, hurricane whomever comes through and BAM--what comes back?  The gherkins!  Not only did they come back, but it was the comeback of a century.  Move over, everything else ever.  These things went from these shriveled, burnt, crispy looking plants into a gorgeous green carpet that was positively exploding with fruit! Seriously, we would pick about halfway up the row and then get tuckered out because there were just dozens and dozens of pounds on them.

You can probably guess where this is going.

Our CSA has been inundated with these little dudes the past month or so--although we've taken it easy on you lately, but no more!  This week, our canning shares received ten pounds each of the little spiky watermelons, and our normal CSA can expect a healthy dose as well!  And what to do with all the darn things?  Pickles, duh!

There are a ton of pickle recipes.  A ton.  Something for everyone!  I prefer dill, Farmer Brown prefers bread and butter, and I tried my hand at (what else) sweet gherkins this year, which smelled just AMAZING although they took a considerable amount of time.  You can legitimately can them or make refrigerator pickles.  They're so easy to can that you might as well commit to an afternoon of it and waterbath them to increase their storage time to up to a year.  What can beat a jar of crispy, delicious pickles to fight off the winter blahs in January?

Well, here are some of my favourite pickle recipes.  What are yours?

Classic Dill Pickles

3 lbs small pickling cucumbers
2 c white vinegar
2 c water
2 tbsp pickling salt (this is important; for crystal clear brine, use ONLY special pickling salt!)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
4 large heads of fresh dill or 2 tbsp dried--or a handful of fresh
4 small cloves garlic
2 tsp mustard seeds

Cut a thin slice from the ends of cucumbers--they ooze a chemical that can make bitter, soggy cukes.

Combine vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan (also important; you want non-reactive metal) and bring to a boil.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Place 1 head fresh dill (or dried, or fresh dill greens, or 1 1/2 tsp dill seed), 1 clove garlic, and 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds into each jar.  Pack cucumbers into jars and pour boiling brine over, filling to 1/2" of rim.  Process for 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quarts.

Makes 4 pints.

Old-fashioned Bread and Butter Pickles

4 lb small pickling cucumbers
4 small onions, thinly sliced
1 sweet green pepper, thinly sliced into strips
1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced into strips
2 tbsp pickling salt
4 c cider vinegar
3 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Cut a thin slice from the ends of cucumbers and cut into medium thick slices, about 1/4".   Place cucumbers, onions and peppers in a non-reactive container, sprinkle with salt and let sit for 3 hours; drain.  Rinse twice and drain thoroughly.

Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric and cloves in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add vegetables and return to a boil for 30 seconds or until cukes are no longer bright green.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Remove vegetables from liquid with a slotted spoon and pack into jars.  Pour liquid over vegetables to within 1/2" of rim.  Process 10 minutes for pint jars or 15 for quarts.

Makes 6 pint jars.

Refrigerator Pickles--for any kind of pickle-able vegetable! 

 Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar. Use whatever veg you’ll eat (or put into a martini): cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, garlic, etc. Weight of your starting produce will vary depending on what you’re pickling. Eyeball it at the market, and if you end up with too little veg, just use a smaller jar (or make more brine to account for extra space in the jar).

Add spices, fresh or dried directly to the jar. For a quart jar, use anywhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp of whole dried spices like peppercorns, fennel, cumin, coriander, dill, cloves, or whatever sounds delicious to you.

Combine 1 c any kind of vinegar, 1 c filtered water and 1 tbsp pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

You can add sugar if you like a sweet pickle, but the above is a standard tart pickle recipe. Try starting with 1 tsp sugar; be sure to taste the brine to see if you like it.

Pour your just-boiled brine over the vegetables in the jar.  Wipe any vinegar spills from the rim with a clean towel or a paper towel and put on the lid. Any lid is fine here since you’re not shelf-sealing the jar, reuse your already used two-piece lids or recycle those single-piece screw lids that once capped salsa, tomato sauce or peanut butter.

Now for the hard part. Hide the jar in the back of the fridge for at least a week. Two weeks is better, and three weeks is best. Your pickles will only continue to become more deliciously infused. But if you break into them early, I won’t tell. They’ll keep what seems like forever, but if you have pickle experiments in there from more than 6 months back it’s probably time to do a fridge inventory.

This makes enough brine for one quart of pickles; increase accordingly.

Pickle away, kids.  Pickle away!

Monday, September 17, 2012

If you haven't noticed, it's tomato season.

I don't know about you guys, but the time of the season has finally rolled around to where I am EYEBALL DEEP in tomatoes.  ALL tomatoes!  Slicers, romas, cherries, plums, pears!  Rainbows of tomatoes.  Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.  And let's be honest here--there's only so much you can do with them, right?  WRONG-O!  Here's a list of my favourite ways to preserve tomatoes!

1.  Sauce - Basil, chunky, smooth, all-purpose--the variations go on and on!  I've included my favourite all-purpose sauce after the list.
2.  Dehydrated - Think sun-dried--stick them in some olive oil a day or two before you're using them, and they turn into this AMAZING tomato crack candy!  Plus, you get delicious, flavored olive oil too!  You can't can this though, so freeze them or put them in a sealed container for future use.
3.  Paste - It's really not that hard--just skin them, puree them, and cook it down in a crockpot until it's the consistency you like.  It smells heavenly, tastes amazing, and is awesome to have on hand.
4.  Roasted - Cut your romas in half, place them cut side up on a parchment lined tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and roast them at 200-250* for several hours until thin, crackly and delicious!  Freeze those babies for all-winter use!
5.  Tomato Jam - Sounds gross, but it is seriously delicious.  Seriously.  Delicious.
6.  Ketchup - I was put off by ketchup-making because I thought it would be hard, but it is SO EASY.  Like, throw-it-in-a-crockpot-or-stock-pot-and-walk-away easy.  It tastes more "grown-up" than a bottle of Heinz, but it is an amazing difference (amazing--must be a trend!).
7.  Stewed - Sometimes, you just need a jar of plain old stewed tomatoes.  This one kind of sucks though, because if you want to can it, you need a pressure canner (which freaks my freak still).  They're easy-peasy to freeze, although consistency can be iffy.
8.  Salsa - Where would this favorite appetizer be without tomatoes?  Check out recipes that include end of the season produce such as zucchinis and red peppers!

I bet I left some ways off.  But you get the gist!  Sooo many ways to preserve tomatoes--and there are a billion different flavours you can incorporate into each!

Since sauce is such a crowd pleaser, here's my favorite recipe for all-purpose seasoned tomato sauce.  It's for a small batch, but doubles--even triples--nicely.  Make sure you only prepare enough that you can can at one time, otherwise you jeopardize the quality of the sauce by overcooking.

Seasoned Tomato Sauce

6 lbs ripe tomatoes, skinned and pureed--romas work great for a nice, thick sauce
1c chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano OR 1 tsp dried
1 tsp sugar
1.2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar OR lemon juice
1/2 tsp pickling salt

Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, sugar, pepper and bay leaves in a large, heavy stainless steel or enamel stockpot (it's ultra important to not use aluminum when canning--it reacts to the acid in food).  Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/4 hours or until very thick.  Add vinegar and salt.

For canning:  Remove hot jars from canner and ladle hot sauce into jars with 1/2" headspace.  Process for 35 minutes for half pints and pint jars.

This recipe makes about seven-ish cups, depending on how thick you boil it down to.

This sauce is awesome on pizzas, in stews, on pastas, in soups and in casseroles.  Throw in some other herbs, and you can alter it to the dish you're making!

Hope you all have a blast canning tomatoes and other produce this season!  Leave a comment with your favorite way to preserve tomatoes!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

the end of july; the continuation of a drought

Hi all.  Sorry about the lack of posts again.  You see, we've hardly had time for the dear internet with the extreme lack of water.  Basically, our day is: get up, get coffee, head out.  Move chickens, feed and water chickens, open coop.  Water pigs, check polyhouse.  Turn on water.  Begin weeding.  Weed all day.  Lunch.  Refill chicken waterers.  Continue weeding.  Continue watering.  Weed and water until dark.  Close chickens, check hogs.  Dinner.  Shower.  Bed.  Repeat.

See?  Busy, busy, busy.

I have been working on a new project here and there (when I have a moment).  What's the project, you say?  A database of everything we grow, complete with pictures, information and recipes.  I know!  It's taking a LOT of work--and I missed a lot of spring crops, so I'll have to get them in the fall.  Hopefully, I'll have time to get it up and running through the fall and into the winter--post-season.  Post-season, I have time for projects.  Usually.  Except for last year!

Like I said, we've been watering, watering, watering.  Our second planting of squash, cukes, tomatoes and peppers are sitting in the polyhouse, along with winter squash, because what's the point of planting them?  They aren't going to do anything without water.  We ought to have our fall crop started also, but again, no water.  Last year was a terrible season, but we didn't know it was coming.  This year is looking to close on a sour note.

Today, we made the executive decision to take a few weeks off from the farmer's market (in Alton, which has been doing grand).  We just don't have enough produce to justify the drive down anymore.  A big thanks to all our customers down there--we'll be back in the fall!

Meanwhile, back on the farm--

Squash, cucumbers and melons are fried.  The cucumber beetles have really taken a toll on everything.  Bacterial wilt is starting to spread in the squash, and what plants aren't eaten up by the beetles have been fried by the sun.  Our second planting is close to going in the ground, and hopefully they will resist bug pressure and be able to cope with the heat long enough to get established and produce well for us.  Fall crops should probably be sown this week (but I can't promise anything with this bazillion degree weather).

Alrighty, folks.  I have a house to clean and chickens to round up.  Ta-ta!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The First Pick-up; or, The Longest Day of the Year

Can you guys BELIEVE it?!  Our first pick-up for 2012 is April 24.  APRIL 24!  Good golly.  This time last year, I swear, we were just getting things into the ground--mainly because of 14 inches of rain over about two days that completely waterlogged the field.  And here we are, with a ginormous harvest for our first pick-up.  Just awesome!

So, let's get to the numbers--


Pak Choi - 23 lbs
Komatsuna - 4 lbs
Tatsoi - 5 lbs
Radishes - 9.5 lbs
Mustard - 7.5 lbs
Spinach - 14 lbs (!)
Lettuce Micro Mix - 8lbs
Arugula - 5 lbs
Collards - 19 lbs

GRAND TOTAL - 96 lbs

Jeeeeeeeeesh!  Almost a one hundred pound harvest--ON APRIL 24.  This all broke down to about ten pounds of produce for the each of you.  Gee willikins!

Now, I know I promised you some recipes, but I am BEAT.  We got up and started picking by 6:30 this morning (did we mention that we pick all of your shares the morning of pick-ups?  Find THAT in a grocery store!), worked through the day, ended shares at 7, cleaned up for about an hour, went out to grab a quick eat, came home and showered and then I sat down to write this.  Boy am I BUSHED.  So, I'm going to wait til the morning to post recipes.  In the mean while, just know that, basically, a green is a green is a green--they are all delicious in salads, nothing in your share HAS to be cooked to be great, but you can't fail with a wilted greens salad or by throwing them in a pasta with a simple sauce.  Mm-mm!

So, kids--I'll be back tomorrow with recipes, fingers crossed!

Happy eating!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 CSA Update--wow, is it great out or what?!

Hi all!  Can you believe we're on the eve of April, and it's supposed to be hovering around 90* the next few days?!  Jeesh!  Where has the spring gone? 

We want to welcome all our new folks to our CSA this year--good to have you all!  We're looking forward to getting to know everyone.

This fabulous (slash-ridiculous-weird-unnerving) weather has put us WAY ahead of schedule.  In fact, I checked our records and this time last year we were just starting seeds about two weeks ago.  Currently, we're looking at possibly starting up pick-ups in 40-45 days--wowsers!  Talk about an early season!

Keith and I have been extremely busy the past two or three weeks getting things in the ground.  We have about a half acre full of spring vegetables--and when I say full, I mean FULL.  Ready for the list?  Here we go--

Collard greens
Turnip greens
Mustard greens
White onions
Red onions
Yellow onions
Pak Choi
Radishes x3
Peas x2
Parsnips x2
Swiss chard x2
Lettuces x5
Beets x3
Cabbage x3
Broccoli x2
Cauliflower x2
Asian cabbage
Broccoli raab x2
Potatoes x2
Green beans

.. And probably some other things, but seriously, I'm exhausted and seriously, it's a miracle that I'm even typing!  You get the gist--there is a LOT of food in the ground!  If you're keeping track, that's just shy of 50 varieties in the ground.  Whoa buddy.  After last year's crap weather and the Feast of the Mice, we took no chances and over-planted (knock on wood).  There are still a few dozen spring crops to get in the ground, and Monday we're starting all the summer goodness (tomatoes, squash, cukes .. mm-mm)!

If you aren't on our Facebook, you've missed out a few updates.  We have a twenty-tree orchard planted, which won't be harvested for a few years yet but when it is, oh boy!  We also just planted a sixty-tree strong windbreak, which also won't be helpful for a few years but we're mighty excited to have it!

Our chicks will arrive Monday, and I can't wait to have that many little cutenesses running around, even though that's another 200 mouths to feed.  Our current layers are on vacation again, imagine that--in spring, the time of being up to your eyeballs in eggs, our girls take a break.  Only ours, I'll tell ya what--!  They are laying semi-regularly now, and wherever they want, which means we're doing a lot of easter egg hunting to find them.  Eggs are still available from the farm, and we also are proud to be supplying MariMann Herbs and Macon Corner Market with eggs on a regular basis.

Our last major task to prepare for the season is reclaiming the asparagus, rhubarb and herb bed, and getting it fenced in (do you know how much chickens LOVE asparagus tips?).  The excessive weed growth that we thought buried everything last year did a fabulous job in mulching it, so it isn't as bad as we were anticipating--but it's still going to be a lot of work.

Doesn't this weather pattern seem oddly familiar?  Early warmth and below average precipitation?  I know you're all excited about this fantastic weather, and so are we to an extent, but remember:  we can't grow food without water!  So next time you're basking outside in the sun, do maybe just a little rain dance for us--ask for slow, gentle soakers that will really coax things into growing!  No floods, no winds, no ridiculous storms--just gentle, steady rain!

Well, dear shareholders, I'll cut this off for now (because it's nine thirty and honestly, this is the latest I've been up in AWHILE).  Soon I'll put a post up on here with pictures (I have a billion, just haven't had time to edit them), because everything is just beautiful!  Also, we still haven't pinned down a date for our shareholders' meeting, but we'll get back to you on that stat.

See you all soon!

- Keith & Sierra

Saturday, March 24, 2012

So it begins--!

Good golly, can you believe that it's that time of year already?!  Here we are in the last throes of March, and we already have some 2,000 plants in the ground, not to mention all the crops that were direct-seeded!  Holy moly! 

This season is looking to be a good one.  We have the orchard planted, raspberries and blackberries rearing to go, the asparagus is coming back, the rhubarb is growing, a windbreak is planted and the chicks will be here before we know it (typing it all out reeeeally makes me feel like I am about to be REALLY busy!).  Almost all of our plants for the spring are planted and already germinated--weather permitting, we are in terrific shape.

We are still accepting applications for our CSA, so tell your friends!

I have a ton of pictures to upload, and once I get them all edited and ready to go, you best believe I'll have one LOADED post for you!  But until then, I'll leave you with this tiny update. :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I didn't forget about the blog, I promise!  We've been pretty busy working when we can to get ready for the winter lay-off (Keith says "pretty busy" is a VAST understatement--which is super true).  This is just a quick update and I'll try to get some recipes posted when I get a little more time!

The days are getting cloudier and cooler, and the nights are getting MUCH colder!  Our greens are suffering a little bit with the lack of sunshine to spur on good green growth, but they're still trudging along.  Our lettuce is growing slowly (mostly because of a series of mishaps that allowed the chickens to ravage it with scratching and digging), the pak choi is gone, the spinach has temporarily stalled but will grow more with this weekend's warmer weather, and even the kale and arugula has began to slow down.

Tomorrow we are being inspected to get licensed to sell our chickens to retail!  We have a handful of interested restaurants that I'm really excited about partnering with--one of which is known for extremely high-quality foods.  Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well for us!

As for the meat birds, we're not 100% on when they'll be processed, but it will be soon.  We've decided that we're shooting ourselves in the foot trying to get them to grow out in this cold weather.  The colder it gets, the more stress they're put under, and the more stress they're under leads to extreme inefficiencies in feed conversion.  They'll be small, but still delicious!  Unfortunately, due to a), my number crunching and b), higher feed costs, we will have to charge more per pound for them in order to keep our pastured poultry endeavour feasible.  Currently, we are going through 60lbs. of feed per day--or about 25$/day in feed.  You can see how the costs quickly blow up!  We're researching ways to decrease our feed costs for next spring, but it looks like they're about as low as they're going to be just because we're raising heritage breed birds and not grain-guzzling, explosive growth spurt fat machines.

 Our layers are slowing waaaay down--eight eggs a day (on a good day!) from thirty birds.  Our baby hens will start laying in mid-December, which will help a lot!  Costs for eggs will stay the same ($3.00/dozen).

We're also looking at equipment (GOF is all growed up!) that will help us increase our yields and decrease our labour next year.  The only thing that's really tying us up is how to efficiently deliver water to our entire three acres.  What a headache that will be!

See you next week (or post--whichever comes first)!

- Keith & Sierra
     (and gimpy Dexter and Oliver!)