Saturday, October 17, 2009

Winter in Fall

This past week has been freezing on the farm --literally! Tuesday night the temp hit a low of 27 degrees. There was ice on Betty Blue's (my car) windshield. I had to carve a little hole out of the ice to see just enough to get myself to work somewhat safely, although I'm being very liberal with the use of the word "safe". I learned later on from the upstate guys that I could have easily just let the car warm up for ten minutes. I woke up early Thursday morning to find snow covering everything. It was a gorgeous sight to see houses, trees, the entire landscape covered in a serene powder of white, the kind of snow that's light enough where you can see individual snowflakes and that packs perfect for awesome snowballs. I still can't believe there's snow in mid October! It has been a very freaky weather year. It's also been a busy week preparing for the freezing temperatures, as everything that can come out of the ground, must. The field hands have been harvesting furiously, and in the shed we've been moving crates of food around trying desperately to find a home for everything. In fact, we just got an additional trailer to fit all the winter storage veggies. We are packed to the gills with celery, celeriac, onions, potatoes and winter squashes of multiple varieties, beans, green tomatoes, and beets, carrots, turnips, brussel sprouts, and cabbage galore. The carrots are especially sweet and delicious as the cold weather forces them to gather all the energy they can (for plants that means sugar!)

One thing for certain is that the storage veggies sure are heavy! Moving crates of root veggies, cabbage and potatoes around provides an incredible workout. Forget the gym folks, the farm will buff you out! I will be returning stronger in many ways than one. Watch out NYC.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can it

The end of tomatoes is near. Despite the tomato blight that destroyed much of the tomato crop early in the season throughout the Northeast, we were fortunate enough to have had a good tomato crop on the farm this year. Not the best but considering the awful weather, we were very lucky to have any tomatoes at all.

The best way to preserve the flavor of fresh tomatoes is to can them. On the farm we tossed away criminal amounts of tomatoes since fresh tomatoes, especially heirloom varieties, do not have a long shelf life, and they are very easily bruised or damaged. I had very little time to can this season but I did manage to save a few crates of badly damaged tomatoes from the compost and now have some jars of wonderful bursts of summer for a cold winter day.

Heirloom tomatoes are especially wonderful to can since the flavor is so intense and the thin skin makes peeling unnecessary. I usually roast the tomatoes to release the liquid since tomatoes are mostly liquid. I cut up the tomatoes in big chunks and throw them into the oven for about half an hour or until plenty of liquid is released. The roasting also intensifies the flavor and adds another layer of depth. I scoop out the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place them in a jar, follow basic canning directions and voila, summer in a jar. The remaining liquid could also be canned and used in soups, braising, cooking rice dishes or simply drinking. The color of the heirlooms are also wonderful. I canned orange, yellow, red, and striped varieties that look so enticing, it will take some will power not to crack those jars right away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Food

Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Fresh Sage
Cook the beans slowly in fresh mashed tomatoes. Simmer until the beans are done and season to taste. Add a bit of olive oil and sage and cook a little while longer. Simple and satisfying in cool weather. I had this with a crunchy baguette and aged sheep's milk cheese, produced locally of course.

Broccoli with Peppers
I like my broccoli with a bite, not raw but with texture and some crunch still intact. I've met enough folks throughout my life who said they hated broccoli as a kid because it was always overcooked and mushy, only to rediscover the beauty of broccoli later in life. If you are a parent, please do not ruin broccoli for your kids by boiling it to death or any other such hideous preparation for this wonderful food. My mom always blanches broccoli before putting it in a stir fry but I'm lazy and sometimes just throw it into the wok. Okay so it takes a bit longer to cook, but it still comes out really good. I seasoned this dish with soy sauce and some sliced chilis and garlic, finished with a touch of toasted sesame oil. I made an arrowroot slurry to thicken the sauce a bit. If I had some sesame seeds, I'd toast 'em and throw them on top.

Pickled Jalapenos
I can't get enough of my pickles, in case you haven't noticed. These were the most unusual chilis. I first took a bite of the tip and they were sweet, which was disappointing. Then I took another bite, and at first there was a bit of sweetness and then the heat nearly burned my face off. These jalapenos are no joke! It was a shame to see them shrivel up and go to waste so I pickled them in brine and some garlic. Well, that was quite a few weeks ago and when I recently revisited them, they were hot as ever with wonderful flavor but the chilis were very mushy. I have learned my lesson never to make fermented pickles with old veggies. I had to toss away many pickles with veggies I tried to salvage only to learn weeks later that they turned into mush. Well, all is not lost necessarily with these chilis since I have decided to try yet another experiment and turn this jar of pickles into a tasty fermented burn your ass hot sauce. I will report later on the results.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gifts from the Underground

I'm a beautiful flower in the summer, a tasty food in the fall and a permaculturist's dream. What am I? A sunchoke aka Jerusalum Artichoke! Sunchokes are a native of the US and is a species of the sunflower producing an edible tuber beneath the stalk. This was the first crop of the sunchoke on the farm and they are the biggest sunchokes I have ever seen, huge knobby clusters gorgeousness. Sunchokes can be eaten raw, but in my opinion, are sweeter and more delicious cooked. They are a perennial although they need to be kept under control since they are prone to spread and will take over if given the space and opportunity. I haven't had a lot of experience cooking with sunchokes but this recipe was pretty yum.
Sunchoke Fritters
Chop celery and onion very fine. Grate the sunchoke and mix together with salt, pepper and some flour to bind. Heat oil and brown on each side. My first batch was done with medium to low heat and it took a while to brown. My impatience got the better of me and the second batch I turned it up a bit and also didn't add as much oil. The first batch was much better as the slow cooking allowed the super sweetness to be released, not only from the sunchoke but the onion and celery as well. The oil also creates a crispy edge. Very tasty indeed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall Reflections

It is getting very chilly on the farm these days. The first hard frost is expected this weekend so the field workers are trying their best to get all the delicate veggies out of the field. The fall veggies are looking gorgeous with many variety of winter squashes, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and other brassica. Root veggies are abundant and there's been a whole lot of washing going on since everything that comes out of the ground is caked in dirt.

CSA will end in just a few weeks and I'm gearing up for the end of the season. I will not tell a lie, I cannot wait for the season to be over!! I'm done with the super long hours, long trips back and forth to and from the city, not sleeping in my own home and eating meals late and alone, with no wine to boot! It's been an interesting season with many unexpected challenges. I feel this has been a growing season for myself as well. I've learned a great deal about myself and how much I can handle, and I feel like I've faced all the challenges with maturity and surprising patience I didn't know I had in me! We all go through periods in life where we experience spurts of growth and this has certainly been one for me personally. Professionally, the time I've spent on the farm has also given me the opportunity to experience the other side of the food chain and has made me realize just how screwed up our food system is and how very tough it is to produce food for a huge population. It has certainly made me even more aware of the enormous problems we will be facing in the near future around our food supply if significant changes are not made to our current food system.

I'm looking forward to November when I will return to the city from the farm and hope to spend some time reflecting and writing more about these food systems issues we face and possibly come up with some viable and realistic solutions.