Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Grape Jelly

Sunday evening, I decided to pick over the rest of the grapevines and see what I could do with what was left. I'd already given out a few pounds of grapes to the CSA—nice bunches of the blue Mars slipskin grapes, which performed much better than the Canadice, though the Canadice are sweeter and have a tender skin.

Looking at the vines sporting some black rot and devastated by Japanese beetles, there didn't seem to be all that much there to work with. But by the time I was done harvesting every last bunch, I had a bushel basket full of grapes, which once stripped from their stems and hand selected, yielded more than 16 pounds of grapes. That's about as specific as I can be because my scale maxes out at 16 lbs. and I didn't jump on the bathroom scale to approximate any closer.

Here is the aftermath. I, of course, forgot to take pictures while in the midst of jelly making and CSA delivery day—silly me. Yesterday was pretty much a dawn to dusk work day between the two, and I didn't get to the pickles that I wanted to put up. (That'll be today's project, and I'll be trying the horseradish green trick to keep them crunchy.)

Because both varieties of grape that I used were seedless, I opted not to skin them as so many recipes call for. Instead, I put the whole grapes into my Vitamix and whirred them into a fine pulp, reserving, I hope, so much of the nutrition found in those grape skins. I skimmed much foam off the surface of the boiling liquid, but I didn't let it stand over night to remove any crystals, nor did I strain the liquid; so, we'll see if that affects the product at all. I also choose not to use pectin recipes, so this particular jelly may be a bit thin, but that seems to be the way everyone here prefers it. All told, I made 28 half pint jars of grape jelly. Not bad for a few two year old vines! We may have enough jams/ jellies to get through the winter after all...then again, probably not the way we go through it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Putting Up

As I've said, there have been times with the CSA when I've felt like I'm barely treading water—keeping up with the plantings, the harvesting, the weeding; dealing with drought, disease, and crop failure. Much of this has meant that our own harvests have been smaller and sometimes sacrificed altogether, resulting in less food preservation than I would have liked. Of course, the season's not yet over by a long shot, yet I'm already writing it off because our September looks to be very busy.

I have managed to make jam—though not nearly as much raspberry jam as I would have liked. And I made some pickles, and I've finally begun drying some grape tomatoes. I've probably dehydrated about 15 lbs or so, and I'd like to get even more because we use these all throughout the winter. I've only made one batch of paste, as my first round of paste tomatoes all suffered from blossom end rot, which is totally annoying, although all the animals—even the dogs—have been enjoying those as well as many of the split tomatoes caused by the recent big rains.

The beans are still in a holding pattern, so whether I'll get to pressure can this year remains to be seen, but our neighbors who bequeathed me all their canning jars have also kindly lent me their pressure canner for as long as I'd like to use it, as they now spend most of their weekends at a mountain home in West Virginia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

This week's CSA Share

The drought is finally breaking, and we've gotten a couple inches of much-needed rain over the past week and a half. The pastures are greening up again, thank goodness, which is good for our rotations. It looks, too, like our beans are perking up and the onions are finally beginning to grow. Stuff that I planted weeks and weeks ago is beginning to poke through the moist soil, and as long as it doesn't wash my seeds away, this rain should be really good for those fall seeds I put in recently.

We've held our own with the CSA shares, though some weeks have felt barely better than treading water. I tallied up last night, and so far in the season we've offered members about 38 different products and 82 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. That feels respectable to me, and no that doesn't include the sunflowers because Jim said they're not edible. I may have to tweak that if I offer folks some seeds from the edible stand. These numbers don't include planned/ planted fall crops that haven't been delivered yet, so our end of the year numbers will hopefully be bumped up a bit.

In this week's share:
  • Costata zucchini
  • 2 yellow squash
  • Waltham’s butternut squash
  • 1 pt. sungold tomatoes
  • 1 lb. green zebra specialty tomato
  • Brandywine heirloom slicing tomato
  • German red strawberry tomato
  • Bright Lights swiss chard
  • Carrots chantenay/ oxheart
  • green pepper
  • Serrano hot pepper
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • chives
  • thyme
  • citrus thyme
  • basil
  • tarragon
  • rosemary
  • flat leaf parsley
  • calendula
  • blue borage
  • Mars grapes
  • 3 sunfolowers\
  • mini banana muffins

Monday, August 13, 2007

Messin' with Bacon

Woody—who is supremely adorable in my opinion not only because he liked my virtual cooking but also because he has an incredibly amazing daughter whom he obviously adores and because he sports a post about his wife that's about as endearing as they come—blogged recently about aging hippies, animal rights, and messing with bacon. Couldn't resist crafting a response.

My own die-hard carnivore honey, who found hunting while I was busy touching the Earth, had the good-graciousness to put up with my vegetarian explorations for nearly a year and a half. During this mid-life crisis of finding myself sans meat, I subjected the patient man to fake sausage. Really. And, being a sport, he ate it and declared it not to be bad. (Yes, he'll prolly be upset with me for publishing this psycho looking photo of him after processing his first chicken on a very hot day.)

But after a year and a half of patience and moving me onto the land I'd been nudging him about for years, he finally ran out of said patience. He confided in me with a bit of a pout in his voice that dinners weren't very much fun anymore—yes, he hit below the belt there, considering our mutual love of good food and good wine had played a huge role in our relationship.

And so after much soul-searching, I began to eat meat again—meat that was humanely and ethically raised either by us or by someone we know and respect. We had again arrived at gastronomical nirvana in our relationship because, as we all know, slow food just tastes better. But, I still wasn't done messing with the poor man's bacon.

After we butchered our first two feeder hogs, Runt and Grunt, I decided to try my hand at salt curing bacon in order to avoid the city cure injection offered by the butcher. Somehow, raising meat naturally only to inject it with chemicals didn't make a whole lot of sense. After 10 days in the fridge covered in salt, the bacon cured just fine, but boy, oh boy, was it salty! We soaked it for a couple of hours before vacuum sealing it and putting it in the freezer, which helped a lot. Still, it ain't your average Oscar Meyer.

My honey's a quietly supportive guy—not ostentatiously supportive as I might at times fantasize about, but supportive nonetheless in the way he continually puts up with me messin' with his bacon. For that—shown in his willingness to eat a Bacon, Chard and Tomato sandwich and declare it delicious—I love him dearly.

Farm to Table, first installment

It's been a while since I've done a "Farm to Table" installment, so here's a catch up post. There are several photos I need to get from Jim's camera, which I'll post as a second installment.

We didn't get in on One Local Summer in time to participate, mostly because I was hemming and hawing about participating because our efforts have been focused on zero mile meals rather than 100 mile meals. We eat local every night of the week, much of it produced right here on our own farm. We buy our beef from a farm 13.5 miles down the road, which is our only meat we don't produce for ourselves at this point, though that may change down the road if I get that Jersey I've been wanting.

Non-local staples: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, pepper, flour, grains and most cheeses—all my goat cheese is home produced, which is why we use it so often. I buy King Arthur flour, which is arguably regional, but have yet to find an available local source. I make nearly all of our bread products from scratch and plan to start making our pasta as well as soon as I get my birthday present—a deluxe hand crank pasta maker. So, I figure making from scratch makes them kinda, sorta local.

Zero Mile Meals:

Grilled pork tenderloin, Caesar salad, herbed focaccia bread.

Green zebra and summer squash salsa with balsamic vinaigrette, served as a side to a rotisserie chicken.

Bacon, tomato and chard on homemade bread with homegrown pickles.

Rotini with sauteed sungold tomatoes, garlic, basil pesto and goat cheese.

15 mile meals:

Beef shish kebab, rotini with roasted sweet olive tomatoes, basil and garlic goat cheese, and herbed focaccia bread.

Grilled beef short ribs and sweet corn, sauteed sweet olive tomato and summer squash medley with goat cheese.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

This week's CSA Share

Since several folks asked about a single share, I pulled one together for a photo this week. Here's the share listing on the board and below is what the actual share looks like. The muskmelon looks funny because it's wrapped in saran wrap, which is reflecting the flash. This week we finally got some rain, which unfortunately cracked several of the tomatoes, so this week in addition to their slicing tomato, folks were free to take some cracked fruit as well.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Peaches and Pickles

We got one perfect peach from our peach tree this year—not bad for the tree's second year, considering we really weren't expecting anything. Our blueberry bushes also produced pretty well this year, and we're currently harvesting both Mars and Canadice grapes from 2 year old vines. Our apples, pears, and plum trees offered no fruit this year, so we'll look forward to next. But our fig tree has set fruit again this year, and we're hopeful that it may get large enough and ripen to eat, considering all this heat we've been having.

Our cucumbers have finally started producing, though the pickling cukes more than the slicing cukes. I made 8 jars of garlic dill pickles this weekend, using cukes, dill and garlic that we grew ourselves. I chose to spear mine rather than pickle them whole, and Jim and I are looking forward to trying them. Overall, our cucurbits are doing pretty well down in the market garden, despite our lack of rain. The beans, however, have been a dismal failure, and several seem to be suffering from clover yellow vein virus best I can tell. I'll be pulling those plants this weekend, and crossing my fingers for the subsequent plantings. Sometimes I think the biggest farming challenge is just keeping one's spirits up and focusing on the successes rather than throwing hands in the air and giving it all up for lost.