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Sunday, August 31, 2008
Another great Saturday at market, with our tomatoes continuing to produce nicely. We dodged a bullet on Thursday night as a violent squall line swept through our area producing 80 mph winds and small hail. We received no hail and little damage other than some field sorghum blown down, but spent an urgent Thursday evening harvesting as many tomatoes and other items as we could to save them from expected hail. We picked anything even half-ripe, and those which didn't go to market have ripened on our counter and will be canned this afternoon.
Our surprise offering this week was edamame, or fresh young soybeans. Popular in Japan and China, these are gaining interest in the US as a tasty and nutritious item. These were planted in two rows of our field this spring as a test crop (we've never grown them before), and we made our first harvest for market this week. We weren't sure how they'd sell, as edamame is a bit of a trendy specialty crop and we weren't sure it had percolated down to the Midwest yet. Not to worry; we sold our initial ten pints within 1/2 hour and had people coming up to the stand eagerly for the rest of the day asking if we still had edamame.
Unfortunately, we didn't have a large quantity, as these beds were somewhat neglected this spring and the wet year overwhelmed our meager attempts to control weeds. Even choked with grass and ragweed (and having been heavily munched by deer when young), the surviving plants were loaded with far more pods than we expected and the product tastes great. If good edamame can be grown under those conditions, we can't wait to see our production in a well-maintained row next year. We'll certainly plant more and pay more attention, as we now know there's a customer base and strong interest. We should be able to bring more next week as the remaining pods mature.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Saturday: Grilled spiced goat kebabs with sweet corn and grilled veggies. Watermelon for dessert.
Sunday: Ricotta-pesto souffle (neighbor's eggs, our pasil, garlic, produce, cheese)
Monday: Eric in Columbia for a CFM meeting and ate at Uprise Bakery, Joanna ate leftovers from Sunday.
Tuesday: Eric in Columbia for an SF&C meeting and ate at Main Squeeze, Joanna made tomoto curry with rice and cornbread. Latter made with our yogurt. Come fall, cornbread will use our corn as well.
Wednesday: Tomato-okra stew (onion, garlic, spices, tomatoes, okra) over rice with cornbread.
Thursday: Basil pesto with cherry tomatoes.
Friday: Unique tabbouleh using quinoa instead of bulgur (we were out). Otherwise used parsley, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, onion (all ours).
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It's about time. This year's cool, wet weather has kept our tomatoes ripening very slowly; we've had plants loaded with green fruit for weeks. This past Monday, I was able to go to market with fresh tomatoes for the first time with a small initial harvest. We stocked four varieties of sauce tomatoes and six of slicing tomatoes, all heirlooms with unique flavors and qualities.
Sauce tomatoes (at front of stand) are drier than regular tomatoes. They look more like a pepper when cut open, meaty but not juicy. This makes them excellent for tomato sauces and thick stews, as you don't have to squeeze out or cook down lots of liquid. I think they're good for sandwiches as well, as they don't drip everywhere and get your bread soggy (though some like that). Our regular tomatoes span a range from sweet to meaty to tangy, with many different sizes.
While we're excited to have them at market, the weather has taken its toll. The weeks spent green on the plant increase their exposure to pests and other conditions, and much of our harvest was cracked, deformed, or otherwise not up to our sale quality standards. We probably brought 30% of our weekend harvest to market Monday, and I expect that ratio to stay the same for a while. The other 70% are being frozen as sauce or canned. As we finish off the original fruits and start to get fresher tomatoes ripening faster in better weather, the quality will rise and our market ratio will improve. It's a thrill to bring this wide variety of tasty heirlooms to market, and we're looking forward to Saturday's larger market.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I cut off and cubed maybe 1/2 pound of the best flank meat and placed in a bowl. Then I combined 1 Tbl coriander seed, 1 Tbl cumin seed, 1/2 Tbl caraway seed, 1/2 Tbl cinnamon ,a few cloves, a few black peppercorns, and some salt and ground them finely in our large mortar. These were mixed in with the meat, as was a thick handful of fresh mint finely chopped.
Once the coals were nice and hot, I dropped in a large handful of dried cedar branches just before placing the skewered meat on the grill; this generated some nice, aromatic flames to sear the meat. These were cooked for 3-4 minutes a side until just blackened. The spices make a good crust protecting the tender meat, and the fresh mint gives a really nice complementary flavor. This was served with a side of grilled sweet corn along with red onions & squash that were grilled after the meat. Cold beer and a perfectly ripe market watermelon from Terri's Berries capped an excellent summer meal that took very little work.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Anyway, the goal of my new series is to give a real-life example of seasonal menus, but also to provide a forum for posting more recipes and cooking ideas on this blog. So far I've done a poor job of addressing the "food" side of this "food and farming" forum, and I want to use this to correct that. What I'll do each week is post a list of our meals, and highlight a specific recipe or dish that was especially interesting or worthwhile. While I don't believe in reproducing cookbook recipes online for copyright reasons, I'll give an approximation and a reference. Often we don't use cookbooks but just make it up ourselves, and those of course will be described in full. On to the food, for which I'll do the past two weeks to kick us off:
August, second week:
Saturday: Homemade pizzas (dough from scratch, topped with various combinations of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cheese, peppers, and basil). All produce ours, cheese home-made.
Sunday: Ricotta-tomato tart, with sides of cucumber salad and green bean salad. All produce ours, cheese home-made.
Monday: Chicken vegetable soup, including okra, tomato, garlic, squash, beans, onions. Chicken ours, butchered on Sunday, all produce ours.
Tuesday: Chicken gumbo, including okra, tomatoes, and peppers. Chicken ours, produce ours.
Wednesday: Leftover soup, with side of Greek salad (chunk-cut tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, red onion, home-made feta cheese, balsamic-oregano-garlic dressing). All produce ours.
Thursday: Leftover gumbo, Greek salad.
Friday: Penne with chopped tomatoes, basil, and home-made mozzarella. Pasta bought in bulk, produce & cheese ours.
August, third week:Saturday: Sandwiches (market bread, home-made cheese & veggies) and fresh Greek salad.
Sunday: Gazpacho (fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, onions, blended into chilled soup). All produce ours.
Monday: Penne with fresh basil pesto and Greek salad (we like Greek salad).
Tuesday: Tomato vegetable soup - sauteed onions, garlic, & paprika covered with chopped tomatoes, okra, and potatoes - the tomato juice becomes flavorful broth for soup.
Wednesday: My take on penne arrabiata (spiced tomato sauce on pasta) using tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic, basil.
Thursday: Green beans, squash, and peppers in a coconut curry sauce over rice. Coconut and curry not ours; rice grown by an independant Missouri farm.
Friday (tonight): Fresh salsa over black beans & rice. Recipe to follow in next post.
There are many folks who are deeply worried about the level of consumption, and trash generation, in the modern world. To me, it seems completely unsustainable in sorts of ways, and deeply offends my instinctive need for efficiency and conservation. On a very deep level, it just doesn't make sense to me to waste things, and I cannot put myself, mentally, in the position of people who can just throw things away without a second thought.
That being said, it's very difficult to actually visualize or understand the scale of modern consumption, and I think that's part of the barrier to changing habits. Lots of numbers are thrown out there, but what does 2 million bottles every five minutes really mean? I can't hold that image in my head.
Via The Ethicurean, artist Chris Jordan has come up with a novel, fascinating, and utterly compelling way to visually represent consumption. His work Running the Numbers is a twist on the old "make a big picture with lots of little pictures" form of art. Jordan takes a statistic, such as the "2 million bottles used every 5 minutes" quoted above, and uses those two million bottles to develop a larger patterned image of what that might look like. The website linked to above presents a long series of these images, many of them originally large-scale art installations (people are provided for scale). Scrolling down through this page absolutely riveted me, and I hope you as well.
The series generally focuses on consumption and waste, though it takes detours into more controversial territory such as Abu Ghraib. All in all, Running the Numbers is the most fascinating art installation I've seen in a long time, which means all the more coming from someone who is generally very much NOT a modern art person. Take a look, and post a comment letting me know what you think.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Meet the caterpillar of the Cecropia Moth. This fellow was found on one of our wild plum trees, a common habitat. A member of the Saturniidae family of giant moths, these can become a moth with a hand-sized wingspan. Click on the photos to enlarge, and to enjoy closeup views of the mouth and spines. Although he eats like a machine, there aren't enough of them to really be pests, so he remains in the wonderful realm of fantastic creatures. Right now he's residing on a stick in a large yogurt container, where he rapidly devours plum leaves and drops turds the size of blueberries. (I have no idea what gender this is, but "it" just doesn't do justice.)
Another benefit we find to farming is the sheer amount of time we spend outdoors in varied habitats, giving us the opportunity to run across rare but fascinating things like this. As the title of this post suggests, I'm hoping to make this a regular feature; I have a nice backlog of good fauna photos to draw from.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Part of the decision for us is the principle of self-sufficiency. I like to know that, if nothing else, I've provided for my household. Every bit of food I grow, produce, and preserve is something I don't have to buy or search for at the whims of larger factors such as world markets, contamination scares, or weather. Part of the decision relates to being serious cooks and foodies. We're very selective about our food and cooking, and like so many people, find that the very best ingredients are those you grow yourself and have absolute control over. While there are certainly products out there that other folks produce better (we can't compete with the truly excellent cheese from nearby Goatsbeard Farm), there's a real value to doing something yourself. It is an almost religious principle for us that we use little to no processed products; just about everything is made from scratch in our household, even mustard, and we're working to cultivate more and more raw materials like dried beans, grains, dent corn, and spices. There's also the practical benefit that grocery shopping becomes less urgent or necessary. We always have a wide variety of food available; at any given time, even in winter, we could be shut off from the world and be able to eat comfortably, diversely, and healthily for weeks if not months. Finally, I feel that being so intimately involved with our food makes us better farmers and salespeople.
The downside, of course, is that our strong focus on homesteading interferes with our business. For example, managing dairy goats and poultry for our own use takes a significant amount of time each day and week that could otherwise be spent growing more produce for market (and income). Even if those choices save us money over purchasing dairy, eggs, and meat, they do interfere with market production, and we do actually have to earn SOME profit down the road. I don't expect the day to return when I can send in a basket of potatoes and a few chickens to the tax collector. Every time I can or freeze fruit, vegetables, broth, meat, and so on, that's time I'm not earning money. As a specific example, starting the dairy goats this spring resulted in my not having the time to properly fence, prepare, and maintain our larger field, where we'd intended to grow a wide variety of drying beans. That crop failed, costing us money and time we'd prefer to have back. So learning to balance the demands of our do-it-ourselves principles and the realities of profitable market farming is an ongoing process for us.
So why am I writing about this now? I spent part of a rainy afternoon going through our chest freezer, emptying it out for a light defrosting, and cataloguing its contents. During the busy summer, we tend to just throw things in there without writing them down, so it was utterly chaotic and unrecorded. I wanted to know what we'd put up so far, so we'd know what we still needed. It's a thrill to read through the long, diverse list of food available to us this winter, knowing its quality and source, and the income we won't need to spend on it. Here's the list (all amounts in quarts):
Strawberry ice: 3
Cherry pie filling: 3
Blueberry sauce: 2
Winter squash: 4
Beet greens: 1
Tat Soi: 3
Green beans: 7
Chicken broth: 6
Goat broth: 2
Veggie broth: 3
Zucchini soup: 2
Ricotta cheese: 2
This does not include the tomatoes, pickles, sauces, and more that we'll be canning, the rounds of cheese aging in the basement, the jams and preserves already canned, the goats and chickens yet to be butchered for winter meat, and the fall vegetables just now starting to grow. It also doesn't include the next month's worth of additions to the list above, especially okra, corn, beans, and broth. But perhaps you get the idea. Being a homestead farm, for us, means respecting and living the self-sufficiency and independance that traditional American farms valued; my great-grandparents would recognize exactly what we're doing here. And no matter what happens in the economy or the world, we have a stable base from which to support ourselves.
The event itself was a smashing success. A core group of volunteers worked all day Saturday (and for weeks in advance) to set up an event that would interest, enthrall, and excite the community about the possibilities. Relying on conceptual architectural plans, we laid out the future footprint of the market structure using farmers' market tents, strung together with lights. Thirteen local chefs prepared food samples sourced entirely from local market farmers, which were presented under a large tent along with local wines and beers.
We also screened a new documentary on local farms & food, called "Tableland", which had never before been shown in the Midwest. Rough estimates are that over 2,000 folks showed up that evening, and lines for food stretched across the lawn for the entire night. The weather was perfect, and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset:
All in all, everyone involved was thrilled with the event, the turnout, and the community excitement it generated. Now, of course, the real work is to continue developing that interest into active fundraising. The price of construction materials continues to skyrocket, and the longer our effort takes, the higher our price tag goes.
The need is so strong, however. For the last month, the market has been so crowded with vendors that we (and others) have actually been sharing tent space with other farms in an effort to fit everyone in. Our market manager is making heroic efforts to include all the members that want to sell while offering fair locations for them, but we've just thoroughly outgrown the space we're in. I suspect it hurts the business of vendors who have to be tucked away on the fringes of the market, and it makes it harder for customers to navigate the chaotic crowds of shoppers. And, of course, a single morning of bad weather can mean big losses for farmers when people don't want to walk through wind, rain, or brutal sun to shop. We need this structure, and I hope the successful kickoff event helps moves everyone in the right direction.
Read more about the Columbia Farmers Market Pavilion, and donate online.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Since this spring, when we acquired our first dairy goats, we've been making a variety of fresh cheeses. It's an absolutely fascinating process, and yields a wide variety of useful products. Actually, we started making cheese ante-goat, using fresh cow milk from a small Missouri dairy, but the regular and "free" supply from the goats has boosted our production and capabilities to a new level. About once a week I devote a morning to making cheese (I'm writing this as several batches are in progress)
So far, we've been making mostly ricotta, mozzarella, feta, and cheddar. The first two are used fresh in pizzas, calzones, and baking, though we're testing how well ritotta freezes. The feta is an all-around general use cheese, crumbled on salads or spread on bread. Cheddar is cheddar, my single favorite cheese, and needs no introduction.
Having the goats makes the learning process far better, as we're more likely to experiment and less likely to worry about waste or mistakes. I tend to do feta in 1-gallon batches and cheddar in 2-gallon batches; if we were purchasing all that milk, it would be an expensive hobby. When we're getting a gallon a day from the goats for "free", it becomes a natural part of the process much like canning or freezing excess produce. Here's a quick look at the process:
UPDATED PARAGRAPH: Ricotta is fairly straightforward; we can make a fresh batch and use it that day. It just involves heating milk, adding starter & rennet, letting curds form, and draining them. Mozzarella, Joanna informs me, is more difficult (I had initially claimed it was easy as well, but she makes these two, so I'm hardly qualified to judge).
Feta is a bit more complicated, involving holding the milk at specific temperatures, cutting & draining curd, and so on. It takes maybe 6-8 hours to do a batch, during which I can be doing other tasks. If I want a softer, spreadable feta, I drain the curds through cheesecloth. If I want a harder, crumbly feta, I drain them briefly before pressing them like a hard cheese.
Cheddar is pretty similar to feta, though it involves holding the milk at multiple temperatures for set periods of time, and thus takes more attention. Once the curds are cut, salted, and drained, they are pressed at various pressures (20, 30, and 50lb) for lengths of time up to 12 hours. Then, of course, it has to be aged. This alone makes cheddar far more challenging, as I don't get feedback on my methods for at least a month. All the other cheeses, you'll know that night if you screwed up. Cheddar is a long learning process.
So far we've opened up two 2lb rounds, one raw-milk cheddar and one pasteurized milk cheddar. Both have been rustic but good, with a nice sharp flavor. My goal is to put up a large set of rounds for the winter, when we can open them at our leisure and sample the results. Now that the first two have tasted good, I feel better about putting all this work in.
Many people who've tried our cheese have asked if we sell it. No. By law we're forbidden to sell any dairy products, including milk, without a certified kitchen and commercially certified dairy barn. We don't have the time, resources, or knowledge to attempt to meet the same standards as a large dairy, and so we have to stay at the hobby level. I have another long post in me somewhere about the absurdity of food & ag laws that make it almost impossible for small farms to produce and sell dairy products in local markets, but that's another day. In the meantime we do it for ourselves, and give it away to friends and neighbors who enjoy the product and look forward to the day the government will let them pay for it.