Friday, December 24, 2010

Making Jam

What did I do on Christmas Eve? Why make jam, of course! We rarely have time mid harvest to make preserves. But in fall and early winter, as we fill the freezers with meat, the fruit that was picked on days when the berries were soft from too much rain, or a bit rubbery after frost come out of the freezer, are thawed, and become jam.

I use two pans to get to heat early and reduce cooking time for better flavor.

I use organic sugar and organic lemons for lemon juice. Then as the fruit cooks, I wash and sterilize jars.

I follow the recipe from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook - minimum pectin so flavor is superior. And after some cooking, jarring up, a hot water bath - voila! Eight cups of fruit become six or seven jars of jam.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Judith Leaves Again

Wow! I went to a Tai Chi workshop in Chicago last weekend. My instructor, Roger had planned to go and gave me a ride, and the Taoist Tai Chi Society found me a most delightful home stay. Ken brought me to Amery and we left from Indigo Iris in Amery, and headed south.

When we arrived Saturday morning we all made name tags and one man had come all the way from New York City. He was next to me when we did our set of 108 moves, and I kept thinking his tai chi was really good. Well then I learned he was there to lead the workshop!

I did morning and afternoon workshops on Saturday and attended the Chicago branch holiday party. Since we are not big sweet eaters, I brought gingered carrots to go with the Asian food. And many people sought me out to say they were great - and I had to confess Ken, not I made them! It was so nice to visit with all the other students and teachers - very welcoming and supportive.

We decided to leave before the afternoon workshop on Sunday and the only dicey road conditions seemed to be between the Dells and Eau Claire. Good to be home and grateful Ken held down and plowed out the fort! And I have so much more to practise.

Thanks to Roger, the members of the Chicago branch, and my home stay hosts Barbara and Ray.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sprouting on your own

Ken read last winter that greens lose their nutrition quickly - spinach in eight days! This made greens traveling from warm climates even less attractive (let's see, harvest, one day to the warehouse, two days on the truck to the Midwest, another warehouse, another day on the truck to the local warehouse, another day on the truck, on to the back cooler at the co-op). We have always sprouted seeds in winter.

You need the following: a jar, a mesh top, seeds, water. Pretty simple. We use a 1 1/2 quart wide mouth canning jar, a screen Ken purchased at a co-op, radish, clover, broccoli seeds from either a seed catalog or a natural food store. Make sure they are sprouting ( no chemicals) seeds.

I use 4 T. seed per 1/12 quart jar. Soak overnight. rinse and set by the sink.

Rinse when you are in the kitchen. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, you could have delicious sprouts in a week. I use them with grated roots like carrots or celery root and add dressing. Many people add sprouts to salads. And larger sprouts like mung beans or peas or lentils are good in stir fry.

Experiment and Enjoy!

Keep the Tops!

When you have a root vegetable, you have not only the root to eat, you have a potential greens grower!

Cut a small amount of the top of the stem end of the vegetable - we cut to what Ken calls the shoulder, place it in a deep plate or shallow bowl on a self near a sunny window. After a few days you can harvest greens - or reds in the case of some beet varieties.

Last winter we experimented and really enjoyed the following: rutabagas, beets, celeriac. Some people also like carrots. Here are some beets and a rutabaga started just a couple days ago.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter CSA Newsetter

Greetings from the Garden - or should I say root cellar, cold storage, heat mat, and east windows! This week's box contains potatoes, rutabaga, celeriac, beets, carrots, daikon and black radishes, Brussels sprouts, onions, squash, parsley, and pea shoots.

Field Notes. Some years this box has fresh greens from the hoops. The early cold meant the frost came under the hoops and no greens until next spring. Although the snow was very inconvenient for many people, we are glad to have it. It will insulate the earth so the frost will not drop so deep so quickly and the cover lessens erosion of top soil. Snow tends to melt slowly enough that all the moisture sinks in instead of running off. Good news as we are still in a water deficit situation.

Ken planted micro greens inside for today's box, but they are still small - our very cloudy November set them back, but they will be larger by next month and appear in your box. We do have pea shoots - all the rage in high end restaurants.
Ken has been making pots and while on the wheel he is assessing the last season. He comes to lunch with many ideas for us to toss around. He also takes a mid day or afternoon break and checks hoopettes in garden and high tunnel in the field. He is amazed at how warm the inside of the high tunnel is. Even covered with snow, it is warmer than outside; part of this is just getting out of the wind. Ken is reading about high tunnels and making plans for next spring.

I am wrapping up the books for last year and soon I will be ordering seeds. Contact me if there is something you want us to grow specifically for you. We have standing orders for carrots, beets, cabbage, chard, beans, and we are happy to oblige. Send me your request via email or phone.

From the Kitchen. Lots of winter favorites in this box. While I was away last weekend, Ken made venison stew with onion, rutabagas, carrots, celeriac, potatoes, and a few frozen peas. He had some ready for my return - delicious. He has also been making rutabagas au gratin - also delicious as the milk and cheese take the edge off the rutabagas. A friend was here and stayed to supper and commented on how good it was.

Peas shoots are great in salad or added last minute to stir fry or soups and stews. Sprouts and micro greens are nutritious and their mild flavor blends well with many dishes. Experiment and let me know if you have new ideas I could share on the blog.

**NOTE Amery boxes will be delivered on WEDNESDAYS in January, February, and March - same week, just one day earlier. If this presents a problem, contact us.**

Enjoy the season and we shall see you in January!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Snow

Here we are in December, and temperatures have dropped below zero, and the snow only melts a bit on sunny days. The other day when I went out to bring in some frozen laundry to dry, I snapped a couple winter at Keppers shots.

Milkweed pods


and Oscar - always ready for action!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making Pottery Begins!

Ken has started making pottery. First he had to move seeds and clean out all the garden soil. He has micro greens on the heat mat and seeds for those, but the rest of the space is now used for pottery.

Pottery is labor intensive - the clay is handled as many as thirty times from soft lump of clay to finished piece.

And while Ken does this I am catching up the bookkeeping. By next year I hope to have that on the computer - I am told it will streamline the process. Soon I will inventory seeds we have, and start to select and order seeds.

Soup Stock

Well, the soup stocks for pork and venison are done. Ken boils down the bones and after I pick the meat, we return the bones to the pot until the bones are soft so the marrow and cartilage are part of the stock. Then we strain and cool to let the fat rise so we can skim it off and add it to the pet food.

Then I pressure can the stock. I don't pressure can anything else, but we have more than gotten return on our investment.

Because stock is a low acid food, it should be canned under pressure.

This year I found some reusable canning lids that are listed as having no BPA. I tried a couple in the pressure canner to make sure they did not melt, and they worked so I will be using them on all the jars we intend to keep.

We use soup stock winter and summer. It is great to have it ready to go.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Judith on a Panel

I was invited to participate on a panel at a Farm to Cafeteria workshop sponsored by Land Stewardship on Tuesday. Pretty flattering to be asked. Of course we got snow and ice the night before, so the drive took a bit longer than usual. When I saw four tow trucks pulling out cars and two more vehicles in the ditch during the first twenty miles, I felt justified in driving a bit slower than usual.

The workshop was held in a beautiful facility - the White Bear Lake UCC Church in Mahtomedi. The first two speakers from Minnesota state agencies told us about food in cafeteria programs and their effect on local economy, health, and regulations for selling and processing food.

Then we had a panel discussion. I was one of five participants: two farmers, a food services manager for Stillwater schools, and a member of Minnesota Food Association. The presentation of differing perspectives, goals and challenge to each sector of getting local food to the cafeteria was fascinating.

The midday meal was locally sourced - squash soup and sandwiches. Conversations were lively at our table. I enjoyed people approaching me to ask more about various things I had mentioned. It felt great to have people respect and seek out my opinion and ask me to share experiences and knowledge. I learned a lot and had an enjoyable day.

As I have said since, my head even fit through the door when I got home!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Progress on the Wood Front

This is the first year we have not been whittling down the mountains of wood cut after a bad storm in 2001. And so Ken converted some leaning pottery shelves to a woodshed. We had the south section filled with three ricks, but have now gotten most of the north section filled as well. Here is a photo from yesterday. Today we got halfway up the third rick, but it is too dark to document it today.

Dogs' Winter Home

In winter we try to create a comfortable outdoor home for the dogs. They prefer to be outside where the action may be - they bark out predatory animals that would eat the poultry, they keep animals out of the garden and yard like the deer, raccoons, skunks, bear, and many more.

We have tried all sorts of insulated dog houses and hay bales seem the best - the thick walls are insulating, but breathe to let moisture out. Both dogs can cozy up together and stay out of the wind.

New Birds on the BLock

Evan made Ken an offer he couldn't refuse. Evan is moving and divesting of livestock. Ken has acquired turkeys - a heritage breed called Naragansett from Rhode Island. They have moved into the converted hog hilton with plenty of bedding and new roosts for them.

They really like wandering the compost pile - it is warm!

Hoop coop in Winter

Ken and I have been moving chickens. The chicks we acquired in August have outgrown their hoop coop, so Ken, our friend Evan, and I moved the teen spring hatched chickens from the south coop: cockerels to the hoop coop and the young pullets in with the older birds in the north coop. That meant the south coop was open for the youngsters, and they now sleep in coop, and free range during the day. The cockerels will get butchered once they are big enough - soon. But meanwhile Ken got some hay and set the hoop coop on bales so he can add plenty of bedding material for them to stay warm during the night.

During the day Ken opens up their coop - the warmer the day, the more sun they get. They hop up on the hay bales and preen in the sun. And they aren't the only ones to sit in the sun on a warm day!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Soup Stock and Lard

We still have many fall tasks - When hogs are butchered, we work to use all of the animal. First we eat fresh heart and tongue. Then Ken boils down the heads for me to pick the meat - delicious as sandwich meat or ground for meatballs, breakfast sausage, or added to stews. He then returns the bones and cartilage to the large outdoor stockpot to boil down for soup stock. He made this pot from an electric one he got from a school. He uses a fire of wood chunks.

Once the marrow and cartilage is out of the bones, he strains, through first a colander and then layers of cheesecloth. Next he chills and lets the fat rise so he can skim that off for the pet food. Then I pressure can the soup stock in pint or quart jars. We have read in several sources how healthy soup stock can be for us. In old days, people always picked the marrow from the bones and ate cartilage in pickled pigs feet, etc. Now people buy shark cartilage for health reasons!

When we pick up the meat that has been cut and frozen at the butcher's we also get bags of lard that has gone through a grinder. Ken places these in large stainless steel pots and starts the process of rendering lard. Ken melts the lard and stirs the cracklings to prevent scorching. Then he pours and strains into clean jars for later use.

The lard is clear at first, but hardens to a soft, opaque white.

I continue to stir the cracklings and then we strain those and use in a couple old recipes.

Lard is the most common cooking fat outside of the Middle East where people of some religions do not eat any pork. Pork can be raised in a healthy way and their fat can be used in baking and cooking. And after extensive reading, we are convinced that fat, like all things is good in moderation. Animals raised outside in sunlight have the right balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in their milk and fat. Animals that are out in the sunlight have high levels of "sunshine "vitamins - A, D, E in the fat as well. But animals exposed to toxins will store toxins in their fat. I am very particular about what animal fat I eat because of this. When we have cholesterol tests, our "bad" number is sometimes a bit high, but our "off the charts" good number more than compensates for an excellent ratio.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekly CSA Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden! This week's box has potatoes, sweet potatoes, daikon radishes, celery root, rutabaga, carrots, shallots, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and mixed greens, and sage.

Field notes. Snow! We are happy to see it - snow acts as a blanket; it tempers fluctuations in temperature, and slows the frost dropping down into the soil. With the unfrozen ground, the moisture is absorbed and doesn't run off. All good news for soil and future crops.

The snow and cold push us to wrap up fall tasks. Ken has finished digging roots as of yesterday, and is deciding what he can plant in the high tunnel. This is a new experimental space for Ken - he is familiar with his low hoopettes and knows what they can and can't do, but the high tunnel, although similar, is a different ecosystem for him.

The pigs went this week and Ken worked at getting the area ready for future planting - picking rocks, leveling it out, and planting rye. It all takes time.

And the seed catalogs have begun to arrive!

From the Kitchen. I think of this as the Thanksgiving box. So we have sage, a herb that shines when its flavor is sealed - like in a stuffing or baked egg dish or biscuits. I also put shallots in this box as the best stuffing we ever had was made with shallots.

And we have some huge sweet potatoes. Ken is quite proud as an experiment paid off this year for nice sweet potatoes. They can be baked or boiled or combined with white potatoes in a scalloped potato recipe. Enjoy!

I have had people come up the driveway to buy Brussels sprouts and rutabagas as those vegetables are part of their essential Thanksgiving menu. Whatever your menu, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

First Snow

We are always glad to see snow before it gets really cold. The snow acts as a blanket and tempers the frost dropping down into the soil. It also melts slowly enough that all the moisture will soak into the soil. As nice as the autumn has been, we needed precipitation. And now the push is on to wrap up fall tasks and move into winter - seed orders, planning and soon planting.

Pigs are gone

On Wednesday the pigs became meat. We always feel a certain ambivalence. Part of us is glad to see these hungry, growing pushy animals go - more time and space after they leave. Part of us just misses their antics. The pigs themselves seem to know it is time, and Chris is fast and accurate with his rifle. Soon the locker will have the meat cut up for all the families, and they will know they are eating safe, healthy food.

Ken has picked rocks, leveled the area out and planted rye. When the snow melts, I will get a photo onto the blog.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Root Cellaring

Fall brings many activities to the farm. One is digging roots and placing them in moist sand to keep for winter. We let roots grow as long as possible, but then when temperatures drop below 20 degrees, we need to get the roots out. We have tried mulching with limited success. If mulch is placed on the roots and it gets warm they rot. If the mice and voles dig under the mulch they feast on roots all winter and it is a sad discovery in spring.

So we use the root cellar - one Ken built for his own use in 1978. We fill it for our winter boxes and our own use. Ken digs the roots and hauls buckets of sand to the back door.

Then I move an empty barrel to the back of the root cellar and start to bury roots. At this point I have the celeriac, rutabagas, and beets packed in 30 gallon barrels.

Then I realized I should post this; here is the barrel for carrots. Start with a layer of sand in the bottom. Then place a layer of carrots on top of the sand.

Continue the process to the top of the barrel. I start with the nicer, larger carrots in this barrel, but have worked up to fairly small ones. There are still a few in the field, so I will ask Ken to dig them to see if they are large and nice enough to store. Then Ken will dig the radishes and I will do those.

Why do we do this? It is pretty labor intensive. But coolers take electricity which comes from fossil fuels AND and the carrots either dry out or slime up over time. So,if the sand is kept moist and if the window is opened or shut to maintain even temperature, the roots keep very well until spring.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Weekly CSA Newsletter

Greetings from the Garden! This week's box has potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, endive, arugula, squash, daikon radishes, celeriac, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts and parsley.

Field Notes. This week we dropped to the next level of cold. The temperatures dropped to 20 a few nights ago. This signals it is time to get all the roots out of the ground and into the root cellar before there is damage. Ken has been digging and I have been burying the roots in sand. We have tried coolers and other methods, but root cellaring has worked best.

Ken also will plant garlic Thursday and Friday - later than we like, but earlier it was too warm and the ground dry and hard, then too wet. He also continues cleaning out the high tunnel - lots to do.

From the Kitchen. Rutabagas - usually we do not give you vegetables that have been cut, but we figured no one wanted an eight pound rutabaga! We have been adding rutabagas to potato cream soups and mashed potatoes. We also add rutabagas to soups and stews. There are recipes for rutabagas raw in slaw, and cut up in sticks for dips. Some people make gratins - oven baked with cream and or cheese.

Celeriac is a weird looking root, but a personal favorite. I say "the flavor of celery and the texture of a carrot - no strings!" Use raw in salad, slaw or cooked in soups or stews. Peel, cut off a chunk and put the rest back in the fridge.

Brussels sprouts are great in any cooked cabbage recipe - with cream, cheese sauce, with matchstick carrots and butter, as a last minute addition to soup. The key to Brussels sprouts is simple:don't overcook them. I usually cook 3 - 5 minutes.

Daikon are a mild radish I often add to soups, stir fry, or grate and top with soy sauce or tamari. In Japan pickled daikon are usually served with each meal to aid in digestion. The cultured vegetables like daikon or sauerkraut contain probiotics just like yogurt and kefir.

Thank you to everyone bringing leaves - future mulch and one of the components in our compost.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Carving Pumpkins

Last year a friend gave us some seeds from a large pumpkin. This year Ken planted them and we invited some friends over to carve pumpkins.

First cut out a top and scoop seeds.

Then plan a design to cut out.

Cut carefully.

Light a candle and place inside.

And now it is Jack O'Lantern time! What fun!