Hot Pepper Jelly

I’m just as busy as a bee today! My last post mentioned that I was going to start looking for ways to preserve the myriad of peppers that have been harvested so far and will be coming in rapidly in the future. It turns out that many of my reliable sources recommend merely freezing the cut up peppers rather than going thru the blanching process with them first. This was encouraging news since I have trays of large, California Wonder Peppers that look like this. IMG_4721

They say that peppers keep in one’s refrigerator for about a week after harvest before starting to deteriorate. That says something about the peppers one buys at the grocery, doesn’t it! So, I’ll process my peppers for freezing so that they get the best use in the coming winter months, (and I’m sure you will be reading about that in the future) but in the meantime, I was struck by one of the labels of my many Heinz cider vinegar bottles which read, ‘Pepper Perfect’. IMG_4731

The partner bottle of white vinegar read, ‘Pickle Perfect’,

IMG_4732So I guess someone has a seasonal marketing goal at the Heinz Company since an older version of this same vinegar is advertising ‘Easter Egg Dyeing’ and the role that vinegar plays in that process!

Nonetheless, the label for Pepper Perfect Vinegar caught my eye and I spotted a recipe on the back side of the label for Hot Pepper Jelly. The recipe called for green peppers and jalapenos combined with other sweet and sour ingredients in order to make a type of jelly. I’ve eaten this jelly on top of cream cheese on a cracker and it is pretty tasty, but I’ve never made the jelly until today. My mother agreed that she likes this pepper jelly served as an appetizer so what better endorsement than one from your mother? I confirmed that the Heinz recipe is similar to others one can easily find so I decided to follow the instructions from the cleverly marketed Heinz people.

So, here goes. Diced green peppers with Jalapenos……IMG_4723

Add vinegar, Sure Gel and cook until it boils and this is the result.IMG_4725

Then add some sugar and honey. This honey came from my Uncle Bill who lives in South Carolina. He gave it to my mom and she has shared it with me here. I’m sure he will be glad that it has found a good use!IMG_4727

Boil the heck out of it as directedIMG_4726

and you get a mess on the stove top!IMG_4728 Sorry in advance, Joyce!

But here are the results after processing the little jars!

IMG_4729I resisted the suggestion of adding food coloring, (either green or red) to the jars since I’m a natural kind of gal. If I weren’t, I guess I wouldn’t have grey hair and wrinkles to show for all my years of experiences!

Harvest Notes for July 27

What a gorgeous day to be out harvesting. The conditions could not have been nicer…bright blue skies, white puffy clouds, no humidity, with the high temperature in the mid 70s. There was a slight breeze and I could hear the birds chattering away as well as the not so distant sound of a small, twin engine airplane tooling around for fun.

I took Farley out to the fields with me this afternoon and he immediately started to investigate far and wide. I think the neighbors must get tired of me calling for him to get back to me but he loves to wander and investigate so I’m always trying to locate the little dickens before an owl or hawk locates HIM!.  He did not find any scat or deteriorating animal remains to roll in today – despite a determined effort on his part. Thankfully, this meant he will not have to be bathed in the laundry room sink which is often the case after one of his thorough snooping expeditions. IMG_3200

I picked all sorts of goodies: various tomatoes, green peppers, hot peppers, squash, scallions and cucumbers. It was daring to be out at this time of day since the Cicada Wasps are still very active and were buzzing around me the whole time. Dave tries to wait until later in the day when they seem to settle down, but I was on a mission and brazenly advanced my objective despite their presence. The only area that spooked me was the eggplant patch where it seemed they were a bit too active for my nerve so I did not venture over there despite sagging branches laden with fruit. Here is a pic of today’s harvest which totalled 6 pounds 10.25oz. Although Dave is the keeper of the Excel Harvest Weight File, I think what I contributed yesterday and today will raise the total for the year to over 324 pounds of produce so far. Had I done any potato or eggplant harvesting, today, this number would have likely been closer to 335 or 340 pounds.

IMG_4720Unfortunately, I also came away with a tomato picking rash which is mostly on my arms – but it was worth it to get all these goodies. My next order of business is to investigate some options for preserving the peppers. We have heavy load of California Wonders as well as spicy Nacho Muchos. I’m really waiting for more of the Garden Salsas to redden in order to make more of my Sriracha sauce which was very popular last year!

Trading Places…Dave Plays Hooky While Nancy Takes the Reins

Last week, while I was out of town, Dave fended for himself and kept the farm running in my absence. This wasn’t too much of a challenge for him since he does so much of the heavy work here anyway. But yesterday he took off for Maryland to attend his cousin’s wedding which puts me in charge of the farm. I’m sure he was a little nervous about handing over all the responsibilities to me, but as luck would have it, a light rain started to fall just as I returned from dropping him at the airport. Although the rain lasted several hours, the volume was fairly insignificant so I’ll be back to watering chores this weekend. The cooler weather we enjoyed for most of last week got even cooler over night and it feels like fall! Isn’t it ironic that our high temperatures this year (today is predicted to be high of 77) are lower than the low temps from last year!?! They are talking about a record low for tonight. Again, some of our plants will enjoy the cool and others will just sit and wait for the heat to return.

After the rain ended yesterday I went out to harvest more cukes. Here is what the patch looked like after the nice rain.

IMG_4691I found many nice bees working to keep up with all of the pollinating.

IMG_4692As well as an over load of Cicada Killer Wasps. I wonder if they do any pollinating as well.

IMG_4705I brought in 5 pounds 6 3/4oz of cucumbers. I added these to a refrigerator full of cukes from the last couple of days and weighed them all in order to devise a plan for pickle making today.  There were more than 22 pounds waiting to be processed!

IMG_4710So, I got to work early this morning and made two more batches of sweet pickles using 10 pounds of produce that produced 12 more pints.

IMG_4712So far this year I’ve made 45 pints of pickles…all in the last two or so weeks and the season has barely started. Here is what my pantry pickle shelves look like after this morning’s processing. Remember, all but the bottom shelf in this photo has jars that are two deep.

IMG_4714While I was harvesting last night I found that the melons have set on and are growing cute, hairy, little fruits.

IMG_4702Here is a pic of that patch. IMG_4701

I see that I will have plenty of tomatoes to harvest this weekend to add to the bounty that is already waiting for consumption. IMG_4709

This is one of the ways that we prepare a summer dinner. I slice up a green and a yellow squash, an eggplant, some green peppers, onion and whole cherry tomatoes and drizzle this mixture with really nice olive oil, a grind of sea salt and fresh black pepper. I often will add a chicken breast or two to the center of the pile and recently have added one hot pepper, sliced, for some zing.

IMG_4686I pop this into a hot oven for 45 minutes or so, checking on it and giving it a stir a couple of times, add some balsamic vinegar towards the end and and add our fresh basil leaves when it is done. It comes out looking like this.

IMG_4687Nothing could be easier or more healthy than this. Sometimes we serve this on a starch, like rice or pasta but it is also easy to slice the roasted chicken and wrap it all up in a flour tortilla….healthy and tasty!

That said, we are experimenting with a new device this year. We did some research and purchased a special kind of juicer. This juicer is considered a slow, or cold juicer since it does the work of juicing at a slower pace and therefore keeping the heat of a faster motor away from the product. Here is the one we bought when there was a 20% off sale and free shipping.

IMG_4715Look for more posts about our experiences in the world of juicing! In the meantime, I’m off to pick blueberries which are nearly at the end of their production. Next up, I will try to figure out how to best preserve some of the other abundances that are in our prep refrigerators. I think I’m going to attempt to do something with the green peppers this afternoon, but I must harvest first.IMG_4689

Waiting for Rain, More Pickle Making and the First Peach Picking!

We have switched gears here. After endless rain in the spring and early summer, we are now anxious for some good ole rain. We had a 30% chance yesterday and got an unmeasurable sprinkle in the morning and then nothing for the rest of the day. The weather folks were predicting rain for today but we’ve had cloudy skies and some thunder – enough to make Farley anxious – and nothing but a random drop or two. I think our chances are slim for getting any precipitation after tonight and they are not predicting any additional chances for it until next weekend. Oh boy, back to watering, watering, watering!

I may start to sound like a broken record very soon, but I’m determined to keep up with the harvest that comes in the door these days. I figure if I can nibble away each day with a batch of preservation (freezing or canning for now, but I’m reading up on drying as well as vacuum packing too!) then we will appreciate the usage during the winter.

So, I had lots of cucumbers staring me in the face this morning despite the fact that I used 8 pounds in pickles just yesterday! This morning I dug out the recipe we really enjoyed from last year’s sweet pickling. This recipe called for 4 quarts of pickling cucumbers so I weighed up 5 pounds and sliced them and then measured them in a 2 quart container (X 2)  in order to try to get a handle on how many pounds would equal that which was called for in the recipe. It seemed that 5 lbs was just right for a 4 quart measurement. This recipe also called for sliced onions and green peppers the last of which also came from our fields. (We have onions, but not enough volume to add to this recipe or else we wouldn’t have enough for salads, etc.)

This recipe used a cold brining process where one is instructed to add pickling salt and crushed ice to the freshly sliced fruits and let sit for 3 hours to brine, which I did. This reminds me of making ice cream, where the process of adding salt to the ice makes the outcome even colder and that was what was happening to my marinating pickles today.

IMG_4662While they sat for 3 hours, I did some knitting. More on that later. Here are the slices in the salt and ice. I also read up on things that can go wrong with ones pickles in a way that makes them still edible but not so pretty. It is good to know these things. Heads up for darkened pickles which means you have too much iron in your water. Also, shriveled pickles mean that you’ve plunged your cucumbers into a solution of salt, vinegar or sugar that is too strong for them to absorb in one session. This was interesting to note since I was using a two stage process of brining today…the first 3 hours in salt and ice before the sugar and vinegar part which came later. Thank goodness for the internet!

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After they sat in the brine, I drained them and added them to a large pot on the stove that contained a hot mixture of the typical sweet pickle ingredients: sugar, cider vinegar, turmeric, mustard seed, and celery seed. The turmeric gives the pickles that wonderful yellow/orange color that we expect to see in a sweet pickle jar; that was one item missing in the sweet pickles I made up yesterday. I brought this mixture to a boil and filled the house with the aroma of PICKLES, which brought Dave out to the kitchen in admiration. If he didn’t love pickles on his daily sandwiches so much, I’m not sure I’d make quite so many jars!

IMG_4664The recipe said it would make 8 pints but I only got 7 from this one. Hmmm, not a problem, but I greedily wish I had one more jar! I popped them into the boiling water bath for 5 minutes and they came out just lovely. The sound of the popping of the lids is just music to my ears and these all popped within moments of coming out of their bath.

IMG_4665So, during the three hour break in the action, I worked on one of my projects from the knitting conference. I had taken a class from a great instructor and we were supposed to produce a Fair Isle, Steeked,  Wristlet during our class as a learning project. I produced one during the class but was not 100% satisfied with it so since we had enough materials to make a ‘pair’, I decided to knit the other one this morning while I waited for the pickles to brine. What is a Wristlet? Well, I guess some people have cold wrists and wear them both for warmth and also for a fashion statement? He is my wristlet before adding the buttons.

IMG_4659I also worked on a couple of other knitted project swatches for my program requirements but did not produce satisfying results on them yet. The final year of the Master Hand Knitting program is challenging and it will be something that I’ll be focusing on during the upcoming winter months when the farm is less demanding.

I was about to publish this post when we went out to the fields to do the day’s harvesting. We found lots of goodies out there but most importantly, we decided to bring in the few peaches that we had in the orchard this year. We had been instructed to reduce the stress on the young orchard trees by eliminating much of their fruit in the first couple of years but it has been pretty tempting to allow a few, select fruit to ripen here and there. So, here was what I brought in this afternoon for the 2013 peach crop.

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Of course, while out in the field, I could not help but snap another pic. This was of Dave standing next to one of our European Hornbeam trees that were planted two years ago in the allee as a signature of the property.

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We think they have grown leaps and bounds since the initial planting on a very, very, cold, wet day in early March of 2011.  This is what we did that day as far as clearing out the old horse paddocks and planting the new, young trees.  This is what they started out looking like:

Image 11

And this is what we are expecting them to look like in the future:

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Beauty and Bounty Galore

This is the modest harvest for one summer day at Seven Oaks Farm. It does not include fruits and herbs!

Although it does not approach our record harvest last year of over 100 pounds in a single day, this group of veggies weighed in at 15 pounds and was so shiny and gorgeous that I just had to post it! We are hearing thunder now and with storms predicted, we are hoping for the best in terms of watering and temperature relief!

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Pickles, Pickles Pickles!!!

I got home last night from Indianapolis (where I was attending my first TKGA knitting conference) to find that Dave had a refrigerator full of produce (with the exception of the tomato harvest which he had plenty of but also which should never be refrigerated!) that he had harvested while I was away. We have been anticipating that the harvesting would get serious and it finally has started to come in!

Dave was ready to cook up a wonderful dinner for me when I got home but despite being tired from knitting all week (huh, tired from sitting and knitting?), I jumped in and contributed with my end of the cooking chores. Dave grilled some chicken breasts on the Big Green Egg, while I had garden goodies cooking on the stove top…green beans, summer squash, and Yukon Gold potatoes with basil from our herb garden as an accent. Yum!

IMG_4633Although we are finally in the throes of summer – with the typical heat and watering demands – at least there are results which now show up in the amount of produce we are pulling in. For instance, Dave picked over 12 pounds of pickling cucumbers in the three days (among other items) while I was away and I am determined to keep up with the volume and make plenty of pickles this year. I thought I had made an over abundance of them last year but I guess we eat a lot of pickles since we seemed to have plowed thru them!

Last year I made three types of pickles: sweet cucumber, sweet zucchini and kosher dills plus lots of sweet pickle relish which was made using cucumbers. This year we knew to plant the type of cucumbers that are preferred for their pickling qualities so we selected the ‘Burpee Pickler’ for this purpose. They are described as “black-spined, medium green, warted fruits” that mature at 3-4 inches. We also planted the Burpee Supremo Hybrid (which have a similar size for pickling) as well as the Burpee Bush Champion which are larger and would be used more for slicing on salads.

This morning I made two batches of sweet pickles using 4 pounds in each batch. Here is what one, 4 pound batch looked like before slicing.

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My only complaint in the processing is that cucumbers have tiny little spines on them that can be embed themselves like a splinter in your hand or fingers if you are not careful. Ugh, I got pricked by one this morning. The cost of doing business with cucumbers, I guess. Here they are all sliced up.

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I decided to try a new recipe called ‘Sweet Pickle Chips’ from a book I got for Christmas entitled “Putting Food By”.  This recipe has a very simple and quick brining process on the stove top. I cooked the slices in a brine, which was made up of vinegar, pickling salt, sugar and mustard seeds, until they had turned from bright green to a dull green and drained them.

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Then I ‘hot packed’ the sliced pickles into their sterilized pints and then topped with a hot syrup that I had simmering on the stove top.

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The syrup was made with sugar, vinegar, whole allspice and celery seed. I then capped the the jars and popped them into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

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Viola…pickles! I think I cooked the first batch of syrup a little too long but the second batch was just right. I used an entirely different sweet pickle recipe last year and will employ that one tomorrow so I’ll be able to get a good comparison when the eating period begins!

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In addition to the fun of making pickles, when I arrived home, the package I had ordered was waiting for me. It may seem crazy, but I now order Coleman’s Dry Mustard in volume which is a great price advantage since I can get 3, one pound containers for not a whole lot more than what it would cost to get 3 four ounce containers that one can buy at the grocery! Since I need to make mustard again, look for that process in the next post! Call me a girl of German heritage when vinegar is a common ingredient in almost everything I make!

BTW, I popped up unexpectedly on the blog of a well known yarn producer recently. Here is the link:

http://blog.harrisville.com/harrsivlle-designs-highland-pattern-inspiration/

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Nancy Plays Hooky from the Farm and Dave has Anniversary Alone

This post should really be one of those that they have in the comics section when the cartoonist is on vacation and the child writes the comic strip for him/her. Those are always pretty cute but they are usually done in a chicken scratch font. This is as close as I can come to that…italics. Also, if that were the case, Dave would be writing this post and it would be carefully edited and constructed with no flourish at the end of each sentence and there would be no quibbling about the exact size or weight of any measurements since it would be scientifically produced in an excel file with a bar chart to compare the statistics of this year vs. last year, etc., etc.,… snore. It would be the most understated and modest of reads that you might just as well go to a scientific magazine to look up the size of Saturn’s moons. 

That is not to say that Dave is not a comedic genius with apt skills at entertaining. But, he would blog or ‘draw’ in a slightly different way than I have done here, which, in the end, makes this truly my blog.

So, I’m playing hooky from the farm – as well as my day job – right now. Although I have not yet mentioned here anything about one of my other passions, most of my dear readers know that I am also crazy about everything in the knitting world. I somehow managed to sneak away to a knitting conference in nearby Indianapolis, Indiana. (Not so nearby as I thought, since I-70 had constant construction between STL and IND, the 4 hour drive took 5.5 hours at a crawl of 45mph! Color me exasperated by the time I arrived at 10pm last night!)

Coincidentally, it was this the very same block of time last year that I was scheduled to go to Germany on a knitting adventure with my friend from Baltimore, Abby Rammelkamp, until that trip went awry. 

Well, it was one year ago today that Dave started having horrible pain and was admitted to the hospital with an acute case of kidney stones. Poor guy, it was not much fun! So I forfeited the knitting trip to Germany and stayed home to help get him well. I think Abby may have forgiven me by now but Dave was glad to have me be here for both him and the farm chores.

He and I have both had this on our minds as I scampered out of town late yesterday afternoon to attend another knitting conference. Although it was not 105 degrees (or whatever the temps were last year at this date) and we are not approaching the single day record harvest last year of over 100 pounds of produce, (thanks to friends Joan and Joyce who helped me bring in that harvest on that very hot day!) Dave was pleased to report that he harvested the first 4 pounds of the pickling cucumbers today and he sent me this pic.

Image 6I’m sitting in a very nice hotel room in Indy at the end of a long day of knitting classes in the hotel conference rooms. I have to say that although I was surrounded by wonderful fellow knitters today (while continuing to explore my Master Hand Knitting program) I couldn’t help but look out the window every so often to see what the weather was doing outside. This was probably the first day I have spent entirely indoors for a very long time! And, one of the first days I have without any pics to show for it. I guess I should have taken some knitting pictures! Since I am here for two more days, perhaps I’ll manage that tomorrow.

Thanks Dave for sending the harvest update!
Shout out to our son, Peter! Happy Birthday! XOXO from MOM!

Reprising Our Favorite Pizza…and the Return of the Cicada Killer Wasps!

As the weather starts to cooperate with some sunny, warm weather -finally!- we are starting to see things turn around in the fields. We actually turned on the sprinklers the last couple of days in order to water! Dave had to buy another sprinkler head since we do seem to wear them out after the aggressive watering of the last two years. It seems the ones that fail will still spout water but they quit oscillating and tend to have other leaking issues that new rubber gaskets don’t seem to fix. So Dave added one, upgraded, ‘turbo’ sprinkler to the mix today. We also decided to re-install some of our soaker hoses from 2012 in the blueberries beds.

Here are the Roma Tomato plants just laden with fruit and waiting to ripen!

IMG_4602I picked blueberries again yesterday and would say that only one variety still has much to offer for the summer crop but I’m not surprised since we are coming up on a month of harvesting and have had reasonable results on such young plants. We lifted all the nets and mowed the perimeters yesterday and I weeded one of the five sections as well. We think our netting seems to be doing the trick, but I observed a bird yesterday as he was trying desperately to find a way into the netted areas.

First, he scouted from above by landing on all of the  5 foot tall posts which the netting is resting on. He seemed to be ‘casing’ the joint! Then he hopped down to the ground level and looked for a way in from that vantage point. I watched as he methodically hopped around the perimeter of one bed and even went back to a couple of possible spots to see if he could gain entrance under the net. In a man vs. bird moment, I wondered who would win but alas I found that he managed a way in! I guess I didn’t do the best job of re-securing the netting after I had picked? Of course I charged out to the patch in attack mode but the problem lies more in the getting ‘out’ than the getting ‘in’ since he started to panic at my arrival and flew at the sides of the netting. He struggled and got entangled from time to time since the netting is really easy to get caught up on. (I’ve stopped wearing clothes with exposed buttons when I’m out there for this same reason and am reminded of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and ole Mr. McGregor, every time I do get caught on a button.)  So, with my help, the bird eventually escaped but not without a good lesson on the consequences of trying to get into my blueberry patch! He was not the only curiosity seeker tho. I found this lovely dragon fly inside the net as well.

IMG_4279While I’m on the subject of insects, (before talking of pizza making!) the Cicada Killer Wasps, Sphecius speciosus, have also returned. I had never heard of these flying insects until we experienced them here the last two years. The idea that they kill Cicadas is interesting…a part of the cycle of nature…but with a name that has ‘wasp’ in the title, we were a bit put off at first. In the end, there is little downside of the presence of these insects to us since the cicadas do more damage to our trees than the wasps do to our fields.

These very large wasps burrow into loose soil (our plowed fields) and deposit their larvae in the burrows. They provide food for their larvae to eat as they develop, by stinging (the females have the stinger – the males lack one – wouldn’t ya know!) and paralyzing cicadas which they then take, as captives, down into their burrow as a food source for their larvae to feed on.  Here is a pic of this transaction.

Cicada Killer Wasps

We are not particularly harmed by these wasps but they are a bit unnerving due to their size. Dave just came in from the field in the late afternoon and said they were not currently active but they were abundant during the heat of the day.  Here is a pic from the internet showing some scale.

Hope you didn’t read this right before dinner!

Ah, dinner….

We are delighted to be preparing our favorite ‘summer’ pizza tonight for the first time since last year. (Our ‘winter’ or ‘off season’ pizza uses our home canned tomato sauce for the base instead of the fresh cherries.) The key ingredient for the summer pizza is our fresh, roasted, cherry tomatoes. We find the home grown kind to provide the best flavor. The pizza we make with our cherries is not original to me so I will share it here. We have tinkered with the recipe over the last two years and I would encourage you to do the same. For instance, I use my own version of pizza dough and prefer it to the one given. We will often add a stray topping or two but I would recommend trying the basic recipe first, before getting too inventive.

Here is the link to the recipe. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roman-Style-Pizza-with-Roasted-Cherry-Tomatoes-365180

And here are some photos showing how simple it is to make. You cannot really ‘ruin’ home made pizza and once you get the hang of it, you will find it is practically easier (and always better!) than ordering it when out. If you are so inclined, you should certainly try putting the base on the outdoor grill for a change up, but we like it in the oven as well. Home grown ingredients make it all the more special but just about anyone with a back yard can plant cherry tomatoes and basil!

First you make your dough and set it aside to rise. I make mine in my Cuisinart and let it sit on my bread board under a glass bowl to rise. Your dough doesn’t require a timer….it can be made in the morning and sit all day or mixed together a bit later. I like to let it rise at least two hours, but the current thought is the longer is better. While the dough is rising, you can roast your cherry tomatoes. I put them in a very hot oven with just a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. They look like this when done. Unctuous!

IMG_2676Then I roll out the dough and put it on one of our circular pizza pans. Rolling out the pizza dough doesn’t require any skills, oils or cornmeal on the bottom. I roll my dough and put it directly on the pan and it never sticks.

IMG_2672Okay, so then, I smear the surface of the dough with a really nice olive oil. Use a special one if you want some added flavor but it is not necessary. Then, add fresh, minced garlic! In my opinion, use plenty and spread it generously on top of the oil!

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Then, layer your fresh, grated, Parmesan cheese, then the roasted tomatoes (including any juice from roasting) and top, lightly with some more cheese. I’ve used many varieties, including feta, mozzarella, etc.

IMG_2677This is best left alone without too many other ingredients so that the crust can bake and not be too heavy, but don’t let me stop you from experimenting. I slide this pie into a very hot, 500 degree oven (hotter if you have the capability) on the bottom most rack and cook it for 10 minutes or a bit more. After it comes out of the oven, I have at the ready some of our basil leaves to sprinkle on top.
IMG_2678Serve with generous amounts of extra, grated Parmesan cheese and of course lots of fresh ground pepper!

 

Hankerings for 2013 Tomatoes and Seven Oaks Farm Granola

The weather this summer continues to be a polar opposite from last year. We started this week with some heat and humidity but we ended up with temps that were extraordinarily cool for a Saint Louis style July. While our bodies were more comfortable, our heat loving plants were slower to ripen and thrive. Most folks aren’t complaining and neither are we, but we are just a bit surprised. Even the Japanese Beetles, a scourge in these parts in recent years, haven’t been as bad, (in my opinion not b/c of the cool temps this year but b/c the ravaging heat last year kept their reproductive cycle to a minimum) although I caught them eating voraciously in my blueberry patch this week! Look closely and you can see the nasty critters and the damage they do to the leaves!

IMG_4574So it was with much fanfare that the arrival of the first tomatoes of the season was a major highlight in our agricultural lives so far this year.

IMG_4593That is due in part to the fact that we had not eaten any fresh tomatoes since our supply ran out last fall. This dearth of our tomato consumption was rather self inflicted after being introduced last year to a significant book entitled,  Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruitby Barry Estabrook.

IMG_2837After reading this book, the thought of buying and eating any commercially grown tomatoes again was just too much of a negative concept. I will not go into details, but know that if you read this, you also might be hesitant to purchase any tomatoes in the future that are not locally grown in season. So buyer -or reader – beware! But, we were lucky enough to have filled our pantry and freezer with jars and jars and bags and bags of a variety of tomato products from the 2012 season from our own fields. We ate heartily all last summer using tomatoes at every meal. We had BLTs for breakfast, tomato salads at lunch, and used a myriad of  tomatoes for dinners – roasted in pizzas, pastas, sauces and the like. We used tomatoes to make ketchup, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, and pizza sauce. We canned them and froze them and then ate them all winter long.

This last week we opened our last jar of pasta sauce from the 2012 season and married it with some of our veggies from this current harvest for a delightful dinner. How pathetic is it to picture the last, emptied jar!?!

IMG_4571But the mild, rainy weather this season has us off to a slow start for our tomatoes which means they are therefore all the more dear to us! We are ready for some tomato growing temps!

After a winter of enjoying our fresh tomato and pasta sauces, I started to experiment again with making my own pasta. As a child, I watched my mother make her own noodles which she did by hand so I emulated that process recently and think I found some satisfaction in this. I used a recipe book from my library, Beard on Pasta, by no other than James Beard and I mixed up a simple pasta dough for a family dinner. I then rolled it and cut it by hand even tho I have been in possession of a Marcato Atlas 150 for the last 25 years!

Here are my noodles drying a bit while waiting to be boiled up!

IMG_4125I do think I’ll pull out my hand cranked Marcato Atlas in the winter months to come when opening some sauce.

marcato_atlas-150_altamentecerto02I have since purchased a pasta drying rack so that I can hang the fresh pasta to dry. Before I had this, I improvised by hanging noodles on wooden spoons suspended between glass pitchers. I know I took a pic of this balancing act but have not been able to find it to post here.

IMG_4344Not to focus too much on the starch area, but in contrast to last year’s harvest, we have begun to enjoy the potato harvest already.

IMG_4576 As reported earlier, we planted Yukon Gold and Pontiac Red potato starts this year and have enjoyed just a few of the Yukons so far. Dave likes to cook a few for a real man’s breakfast which he serves with a touch of Pickapeppa alongside toast with strawberry jam. Go figure!

ImageYou saw the tag line for the Seven Oaks Farm Granola, so I’m sure you are curious about that. I’ve been making my home made granola for years. I guess you could say that people started to get attached to it since I’ve been giving it as a gift for the last 30 plus years and it is pretty tasty. In addition to stirring up some granola, I often send along some of my homemade mustard. Not everyone thinks to make mustard, but it is relatively easy and it just makes a perfect pairing with some bread, cheese and turkey. Here are jars of the granola and mustard, waiting to be sent off.

IMG_3757I can’t help but end the day with the view of the thriving petunia pots on the terrace, framing the allee!  As the sun goes down on another day at the farm, they seem to say, Adieu! And so do I.

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Strawberry Renovation and Other Thoughts on Farming

We had a great weekend to work outdoors. The weather was unusually mild and best of all, it was dry enough to work in the fields. I was thinking about this today as I was weeding. Why is it that we now call ourselves farmers vs. gardeners which used to be our tag? The best thing that I can come up with is that we are now using heavy equipment to work our two vegetable fields, measuring 35′ X 75′, (not to mention the size of the orchard or the berry patches!) whereas the garden at our old house was at most a very productive 10′ by 30′.

The weather conditions restrict the tractor use unlike the same conditions a home gardener would face. So, case in point, my friend Joan recently sent me pics of the lovely cucumbers she had already picked from her home garden. They were gorgeous! We, however, were unable to get into our fields to plow and till the soil due to all the rain, so our cukes are well behind hers. We have blossoms and fruit set on but we are a couple of weeks short of picking that item and many others as well that fell into that same category. But, the last couple of days of dry weather has really helped our crops. There may be a point in time when we might install a smaller, kitchen garden for this contingency and other items that are not plow-able such as asparagus, rhubarb, etc., but for now, there is no time for this installation since it would be one more area to weed!

Back to the farmer vs. gardener analysis, we don’t fit into the farm operation category either when it comes to weeds. We are not using herbicide controls (or pesticides) of any kinds and it shows. We are basically sod busters who cleared the grass from large plots and plowed, tilled and planted. We have to constantly weed these areas since the grass and other unwelcome greenery is sometimes stronger than our plants! Kate calls the weeds ‘water hijackers’ and she is right. They take water and nutrients from the soil but some plants are not as weed friendly as others. Real farmers are not weeding with a hoe and trowel every day…but we are when we can!

Plants with surface roots tend to not do well when faced with invasive weeds and strawberries fall into this category. So this weekend we worked on the recommended ‘strawberry renovation’ process that is done directly after the harvest ends. This was not because the patch was overly weedy, but because the runners on the berries will choke out the patch unless you mow it down and remove some of the growth. So, our reading on this subject recommended mowing the patch with the mower at its highest blade level and collecting, if possible, all the clippings to discard to ward off disease, which we did. After spending the last season carefully tip toeing thru my dear strawberry patch, it was nearly traumatic to watch Dave push the hand mower thru it yesterday!

IMG_4553But, we know the patch will be better for it next year. So after mowing it down, making sure to leave the crown of the plants in tact, we will then re-create ‘aisles’ by taking our tiller thru and removing bunches of plants. If there are any readers who would like some free strawberry starts, this would be the time to show up at our door and start digging! I’m sooo serious! Strawberries are the easiest plants to grow if you have a sunny spot that is well drained, you cannot miss!

Other weeding this weekend was in the pepper, melon and cuke patches. They now look pretty good!

IMG_4563We have peppers of all sorts to pick including the hot, red jalapenos that I use in the Sriacha sauce.

IMG_4546The eggplants are now fruiting as well.

IMG_4545I also picked nearly another pound of blueberries yesterday and made netting repairs. I do so feel like a fisherman (woman) when I do this since the nets are expensive and yet take a bruising with the elements. The wind this past year whipped them around and stressed the nets but I also think when a bird finds an access point inside the netting – but is trapped and can’t find a way to get out – they peck at the net in such a way to create a hole. When I make repairs, I “sew” the net back together to prevent future intruders thru the holes. I actually use a heavy gauge thread (buttonhole thread) and one of my large eyed needles to make the repair in the field. I tried to take a couple of pics of this but it was difficult to get the focus on the netting since it is so small. Since you can’t see it, imagine me standing in the field in ungodly temps, with chiggers attacking my poor, old body, sewing up the netting seams! At one point yesterday, my needle dropped from the stitching thread and disappeared into the ground! The term “a needle in a haystack” was never more crystallized than at that moment! I wonder what my Hand Knitting Masters’ Program would think about my handiwork?!? (More on this subject this winter when I have time to knit again!)

IMG_4540Best of all was last night’s dinner which will reappear on the menu as a left over tonight. I made a pizza using the last jar of tomato sauce from the 2012 harvest, but included our current harvest of green peppers, cherry tomatoes and basil. Yum!

IMG_4557While eating some leftover pizza for tonight’s dinner, we will add our fresh green beans and a lettuce salad from our garden.  One last thought….as I write about the events of our day/s here at the farm, I’m reminded that my father started writing his own version of a blog. He called it “Tales of Long Ago” and wrote about many episodes of his life, growing up on the family farm in Lexington, Missouri. He wrote them using his computer skills and ‘published’ them by printing and mailing them to his grandchildren. Each edition was a delightful chapter and peek into his life as a younger man. I hope my dad would appreciate my mission here to communicate with family and friends what is currently happening at Seven Oaks Farm and know that he would have enjoyed the read!