Wish I Could Share the Smell of Ripe Melons….

Our prep kitchen, the area where we bring in our harvested produce, smells like nirvana these days. It is because we are experiencing the perfumes of the ripening melons. Ah, the aroma is delightful and distinctive!

Here are the first two cantaloupes, ripe and ready to cut up this afternoon.IMG_5133

Then cut!IMG_5134

And now sliced and ready for the refrigerator!IMG_5135

YUM! There are so many on the way and we will be inundated for the next couple of weeks. Too bad I know of no really good ways to preserve these babies other than to eat them voraciously while in season. In a way, it makes it all the more precious to have them fresh on our plates for days to come!

One note about the melon preparation that I have been following due to news in the last year or so about illness related to this particular fresh product. I wash the raw melons first. Then, after each cut with my knife, I rinse the knife under my hot water dispenser to clean the blade before each successive cut. I feel very comfortable with this process, something that I never used to feel compelled to do in years past, but started this regimen with last year’s crop of melons.IMG_5136

In other news, the concrete contractors started early but had a long day of high heat to deal with as they got ready for the new terrace steps and new sidewalk. They have not begun the driveway yet, but this was part of the plan to get the rear objectives done in advance of the driveway proper.

Here are the forms for the rear terrace steps as they became ready for a concrete pour tomorrow. Look for more pics coming soon!IMG_5128

The Big Guns Have Arrived!

Short post….just to keep everyone in the loop…our concrete contractor, Mike, who will be tearing out our existing driveway, rear sidewalks and rear steps for replacement, arrived late this afternoon with some of his equipment. Given our response to his appearance today, he probably thinks there was an unannounced ticker tape parade scheduled and he was the last to know! IMG_5108

I LOVE it when the contractors and sub contractors arrive! We are SOOOO excited!

Anyway, the heat continues along with the dry conditions and we are watering, watering but will be harvesting more melons in the days to come.  Wouldn’t you know, the green beans are gorgeous and flourishing in the last couple of days. Dave has harvested about two pounds per day with ease and they are perfect! Here is the recent harvest.IMG_5114

I have a well loved, green bean, stir fry recipe that I will share soon, since Kate and Jason will be around this weekend to share in that as well as our Roasted Cherry Tomato Pizza.

Tonight’s dinner is much the same as many others. Roasted veggies from our garden with chicken breasts to give a bit of protein.  Yum!IMG_5112

 

The Melons Have Arrived!

Last week was a busy one. The heat is on and no rain so we were busy with watering and this week looks like much of the same. I’m afraid the heat we are getting may be too late for the tomato crop to benefit but it should help to ripen up some melons.

Dave drove to Philly for a brief visit with Peter and took him this box of jarred goodies which included three types of pickles, ketchup, sriracha, pasta sauce and relish.  IMG_5073

In his two day absence, I was in charge of the farm. When he is gone, I miss him and so does Farley and the farm actually suffers. I just cannot do nearly as much as he does on a daily basis. Case in point, it is 7pm on a very hot day and he is still out doing the harvesting and moving hoses. Granted, I have my day job, but lets face it, I had all of Saturday to make an impact and I have very little to show for it!

Okay, I got a bit distracted on Saturday…I did have a ton of fun with friends who joined me here for a brunch at the farm on Saturday, to celebrate our friend, Kathy Bussmann’s, birthday. What a great time, if I don’t say so myself! There were only six of us but everyone brought something wonderful to eat and we had a grand time catching up on news and reviewing silly stories of the past episodes of our gatherings. We laughed until we cried and it was great therapy!

So that was my Saturday adventure. After the party, I went directly back to kitchen and farm duties. Knowing that Dave was arriving home mid morning on Sunday, I tried to make up for the harvesting that I was supposed to have been doing in his absence. I was thrilled to be using a special basket or ‘trug’ that my friend Linda Peace brought as a hostess gift to the party yesterday. Very clever, it is washable! Here it is as it was sweetly presented. IMG_5083

Here it is with the morning harvest. Thank you, Linda!  IMG_5084

In the meantime, I roasted 6 more eggplants with countless cherry tomatoes, onions and peppers and froze two more batches for the winter. IMG_5086

I also made another batch of Sriracha sauce. This time I took some of the pepper seeds out of the mix to make it a bit less hot. I got 4 half pints this time around and have another pound of red peppers in the fridge waiting for the next batch. The tedious part of the recipe is peeling 1.25 cups of fresh garlic cloves. After the jars were cooled and I was done for the day, I realized I made a horrible mistake when preparing the peppers.

Many recipes recommend using rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. I have been careful in the past but never had a problem until yesterday when I realized that the palms of my hands were on fire. Ugh! I had scrubbed these red peppers aggressively with my bare hands where as in the past I had just rinsed them under water. Or maybe it was handling the seeds? I didn’t have any reaction at the time I was cutting, and I do know not to put my hands to my face while working. My hands were in and out of the water all afternoon with cleaning up my mess so it wasn’t until dinner time that the impact was starting to be felt. I don’t think there is anything I can do now but wait for the pain to subside. It meant I had a sleepless night of burning palms but they are getting a bit better now. How stupid was that?

Big news…we picked the first of the water melons yesterday.IMG_5089

It tipped the scale at 13 pounds of beauty!IMG_5090

We popped it into the fridge in order to get it good and cold before cutting!

Here was today’s harvest which included the first cantaloupe as well as a lovely green bean harvest! IMG_5097

In other Farm news, we were at nearly 900 lbs of produce after yesterday’s harvest and I’m sure that will multiply quickly as soon as the melons come in. I was very pleased to have shared some eggplants with multiple willing friends this week: both Jill Stoll and Nancy Hinkson were willing takers! I hope they had success in their use for these items!

Gobsmacked Monday!

Mondays can really be a challenge in my industry. It seems that all of last weeks construction issues start out with a renewed urgency on Mondays and this Monday was no exception. I raced out of the house and ran down to a city plumbing supplier to pick up an order but found myself in quite the snarl of highway traffic. I think many area schools are starting up now and I felt the impact on the roads. Ah, those were the days. For me, when my children were young, the seasons of the year were determined by the school and sports schedules. As I drove around today, it made me realize that I’m totally outside of that schedule. In some ways, it is like missing out on Christmas Eve or something! Sigh.

After dashing around all morning with my phone glued to my ear, I caught a bit of lunch with Dave. We had decided that today was the day to unveil the first of the 2013 pickle batch and so we opened one, special, pre-refrigerated jar of sweets to sample and then added it to our sandwiches. BLAST-O-FLAVOR! The result was wonderful! Yeah! This particular jar was made with my new favorite recipe so it was a good thing it was more than just tasty since I had an investment in this version of sweet pickles already sitting on my pantry shelves! Yowser, this felt good! Since pickles have to sit for 6-8 weeks to mature, how would I have known this was a success until now?IMG_5047

With this success, I jumped back into pickle making this afternoon with renewed zest. I processed 16 more pounds of cukes into delicious pickles and made 20 pints today with the security that these will be incredibly tasty bites all year!IMG_5051

We really love our pickles but will be sharing soon since Dave will take at least a case to our son, Peter, when he travels there this weekend for a visit. Much easier to drive pickles around the country than to fly with them!

So that was not the only fun thing that happened today. My greatest gobsmacked moment came when Dave brought in the mail and told me there was a package from Amazon. I’m often on the ordering end of things but I wondered what this pkg could be since I didn’t think I was waiting for any deliveries. Low and behold, it was a fabulous cook book, sent from a Seven Oaks Farm admirer. OMG! IMG_5046

I am in love! This book is fabulous and I will recommend it to anyone who loves to cook with fresh grains and vegetables! Of course Eggplants are featured on the cover, so that just melted my heart! The photography is outstanding and the descriptions and recipes are amazing.  I think I will sleep with it under my  pillow. Many, many thanks to our dear fan of Seven Oaks!

Off I go off to figure out what to make for dinner using twenty different veggies, staring me in the face, calling out ‘Pick Me, Pick Me’ as if they are orphans, looking to be adopted! No matter, I started the oven a while ago and something will get roasted tonight!

Also, thanks to fans of the blog for all the kudos. We are really just amateurs, doing what we can. No pun!

Eggplant Nightmares, Weeding, Etc.

Last night I had nightmares. This is why. IMG_5038

Help! Yesterday Dave harvested another 13 large eggplants that weighed 11.5 pounds in total to add to what was already in the prep kitchen refrigerators. My nightmare was not due to the fact that we had all these glorious, shining, purple orbs, but that I needed to get more creative about ways to preserve them since we use them as our ‘meat’ in our winter dishes. My research says that canning eggplant is not an option. Check it out, no grocery store has jars of eggplant available, do they? They also don’t really offer it frozen, but I think I will roast some today and freeze them. If anyone is interested in some, please drop by to collect some since I’m way too busy with preserving to deliver! But I’m jumping ahead of the order of things that happened today.

First, there was a great article about the tomato industry in the NYTimes today written by Mark Bittman, one of their regular food columnist as well as a popular author on food/s. I read it aloud to Dave and would encourage you to read it if you have access to it. He wrote about the California tomato canning industry verses the ‘fresh’ tomato industry which is almost entirely based in Florida and was the subject of the book we read last year called ‘Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit’ by Barry Estabrook.

Bittman actually decided to visit a tomato processing plant as well as the farming production that provided the tomatoes to that plant, not far from Sacramento, CA. We, of course, found this fascinating on many levels since not everyone can do what we are doing on a grow your own supply basis, but we all deserve to eat better while keeping the environment cleaner, and also pay the farmers and the hourly waged workers who process these crops from the fields to us, fairly. Check it out. I would copy the contents here but I’m not sure that is kosher. If anyone wants to read this story and cannot get it, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you, which is kosher. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/not-all-industrial-food-is-evil/?ref=markbittman&_r=0

The first chore we did today was to look at the tall, dead, pine tree that had finally fallen and landed in our side yard. IMG_5034

What you can’t see from this photo is that the tree was twice as tall as what you see exposed on this side of the brush. Dave will enjoy getting the chain saw out and cutting this up. Perhaps we can stack it for firewood since it is so dead ripe that it would probably burn well.

Next, we headed out to the blueberry and strawberry patches to work on maintenance. Both areas needed some weeding and watering. I would have photographed the before and after of the row of berries I was weeding but it would be too embarrassing to post, at least the before part! There is just never enough time in the day to keep this place weed free! So, we are kind of over that and just accept that we can do only as much as we can. Three hours later we both had piles and piles of pulled weeds to show for our efforts.

My observation for the day was that I saw lots and lots of crickets and grasshoppers in my area. Perhaps they were relatively safe in the tall weeds? But it got me thinking…what do crickets do? what do they eat? are they valuable to us as farmers? A quick on-line bit of reading tells me they are omnivorous scavengers who feed on organic materials, including decaying plant material, fungi, and some seedling plants. Apparently they mate in late summer, early fall, so perhaps this has some relevance to their presence today. I was just wondering since they were certainly harmless to me as I weeded along and did not seem to be harming our plants.

I ventured over to the melon patch and saw that we have countless (since I did not even attempt to tally them) of the Burpee Ambrosia cantaloupes. Image 8

In addition to that, there are many watermelons of two varieties. The first is the Bush Sugar Babies, which are sometimes referred to as a personal serving . I’m curious as to how they will turn out since they are not something one sees in the stores. IMG_5036

The other one is the Burpee Big Tasty Hybrid which is the typical, oblong watermelon of old. IMG_5037

The pumpkins have also set on with a vengeance which is great to see but they are still relatively small. No pics, but know that that will be coming soon! My mother reminded me today of her mother making pumpkin butter, something akin to apple butter? I will address the pumpkin volume when I see it come in!

After the morning of outdoor chores, my attention changed to food preservation. I decided to attack the eggplants by roasting them with cherry tomatoes and to freeze them for future dinners. IMG_5040

I managed to use 8 large eggplants and countless cherry tomatoes to make 4 batches of roasted veggies for future meals. This is a pic of two of the batches roasting away in the prep kitchen oven.

Finally, I should mention that Dave shared some produce totals with me this afternoon before heading out to harvest today’s bounty. He hands me a document entitled “Farm Report” just about every morning which summarizes where our numbers stand. This, he does, I think because he has a numbers brain but it is helpful for our analysis of the desirable vs. not so much in the veggie harvest. I should figure out a way to add a harvest weight widget to this blog, but don’t have the time to do that right now. But here are the totals from yesterday:

Total weight of 2013 harvest as of 8/17/13 was 764.141 pounds. Yesterday’s harvest was 30.578 pounds. The top 5 producers according to weight, were Cukes (all three varieties), at 221 lbs, Tomatoes (all 4 varieties) at 160 lbs, Strawberries (two varieties) at 159 lbs., Potatoes (two varieties)  at 74 lbs and Eggplant (one variety) at 73 lbs.

For tonight’s repast, I created a combo of eggplant, green pepper, onion and cherry tomatoes along with some spices to roast for a ‘sauce’ I plan to serve over noodles. Here is what it looked like before popping in to roast it. IMG_5042

One key ingredient is freshly ground pepper. Here is my source (Penzey’s)  and my tool for grinding. IMG_5043

Bon Appetite!

Another Day on the Farm

Another delightful day on the farm! The weather today made it easier to conduct some chores in the field which would have not been so fun if it had been 95, 100 or 108 degrees as was the case last year.

Today was not unlike our spring and fall mornings when we wake up to refreshing outdoor temps, open the front and back doors on both sides of the house and enjoy the cool cross breeze and the fresh air for several hours in the morning. IMG_5032

Dave typically makes a big pot of coffee for us to enjoy while reading the papers (he, the STL Post Dispatch and me, the NYTimes) and listening to the news and weather report. We planned our day together over a nice breakfast which I typically try to make extra special on the weekends for Farmer Dave. IMG_5012Don’t think that I’m on the same rations list he is…far from it!

Today’s list presented us with some perennial chores as well as the continued task of ‘Putting Things By’ in the kitchen. The weather prediction is crazy – low temps in the mid 50s, and highs in the low 80s, followed by a spike to nearly 90 degrees expected towards the end of the week! If temps don’t change here soon, we will be living in the high rent district of a resort town!

So, after his lovely breakfast, Dave went out to work on the continuation of the strawberry patch renovation. Do remember that strawberries are nearly like weeds. They are so prolific that you actually have to cut them away every so often to control the growth of the patch. You may remember that in an earlier post I recorded a couple of weeks ago, we aggressively mowed the patch down as the initial step the yearly renovation. The second step occurred today and that was to re-establish order in the patch by tilling the area back into a row-like orderliness. The best part of the work done today, was that our old Mantis brand tiller, which we use for smaller areas such as this, did not hesitate to start up and worked like a champ thru this chore. Here is Dave working the tiller. IMG_5019

Here are the results. Image 2

Next we will water and lightly feed/fertilize the patch and then it will be put to bed for the season with high hopes of a wonderful and plentiful harvest next year.

While Dave was working on this project, I weeded the most obvious offenders in the strawberry patch. I can’t seem to keep these nasty offenders off the property! Who ever designed nut grass? Without any herbicides, we can only try to do our best to control it; my number 1 nemesis!  IMG_4826

I then turned my attention to picking the last (or nearly so) of the blueberries. I can’t believe how long these fruits have continued to produce but our schedule for ripening of these 5 varieties of blueberries is from Mid July thru September 1st so I should not be surprised to continue to find fruit on these canes.  Although there was less than a pound to pick today, there is no way I would leave any of these berries for the birds or other critters to consume. While in the patch, I saw several tree frogs, grass hoppers as well as what looks like an untimely death of a feathered creature inside the blueberry netting. The best image was of Farley, who chose to join me in one of the rows where I was picking and indulge in his version of sunbathing. IMG_4835

While these activities were on going, both Dave and I had our phone timers set to scuttle about to change hoses (that were watering trees) as well as stirring (the contents of the stove top indoors). I began the day by processing 16 pounds of tomatoes this morning for another round of ketchup since this is something I can process in a water bath while I wait for my new pressure cooker to arrive. I won’t bore you with the process but I started with these lovely tomatoes IMG_5013and ended up with the miracle of 9 half pints of ketchup. IMG_5031

I also cut up another 4 pounds of gorgeous green peppers which I froze for future use this winter. Easy peasy! Again, faced with an over abundance of Black Beauties, AKA eggplants, I made another double batch of egg plant parm patties and froze them for the future winter use. IMG_5030

As always, I managed to create a huge mess of dirty pots and pans which required several sessions of clean up and dishwasher cycles. This constant mound of dirty pots made me think of my friend, Mike, aka Mule, who brews his own beer in his kitchen. Surely, Mule makes a mess as large as I regularly do? I think we may be on the same page since anyone who makes his own beer/ale, must feel much the same as I do about making my own ketchup! IMG_5027

I am reprising last night’s pizza for our dinner tonight. Yum! IMG_5011

Dave is measuring up tonight’s harvest which indicates that I have a full plate of processing for tomorrow!  IMG_5033

Condiment Corner at Seven Oaks

My last post was a sad note about a jar of tomato pasta sauce that had failed me and was put into the refrigerator for more immediate use. If I could fit in the fridge, this is the hat I’d be wearing!

IMG_4994At that point in time I had the next batch of tomatoes cooking away on the stove top and had written a teaser about whether it would be pasta sauce or ketchup since I had not decided what direction to go. Well, I was wrong about that. I had forgotten that my favorite ketchup recipe starts off with some onions in the initial processing of the tomatoes which I had not included in that batch. So, after consulting my recipes, while that batch of milled tomatoes were simmering down on the stove top, I decided to roast some veggies to add to the sauce and make it into a hearty pasta sauce.

I chopped up some eggplants, green peppers, onions and roasted them on high heat in the oven.

IMG_4951After the sauce had reduced considerably, I added these roasted veggies and cooked it all a bit more before ladling into jars and processing with my pressure cooker into 5.5 pints. IMG_4938

Not sure if I’ve glossed over this, but just to be clear, there are two ways to hot process foods in glass jars.  One is pressure cooking which requires special equipment and the other is a hot water bath which just requires enough depth of a pot to submerge a jar of contents in water with at least an inch of water over the top while it boils. The acidity levels of each fruit or vegetable helps to decide which process is safest to use for the best outcome. There are charts and charts of times, sizes of jars and pounds of pressure to read and follow. I never really trust my memory and so I consult the charts and directions each time I work up a batch.

Although I followed all of the directions I had used in previous years for pressure processing the above mentioned batch of pasta sauce, I found a tinge of pink in the water of the cooker when I finished. This was disturbing to me. It suggests that one or more of the jars had their contents forced out (thru heat/pressure) over the seal and into the water. But, all of the jar lids popped down properly as normal so one would think this was okay but it still bothered me.

I’ve done some more research and have read conflicting comments about this result. Some say it is fine, others say it is cause for concern. For safety sake, I will place these jars in the refrigerator and watch them carefully.  My newest concern is that I would like to have a better way to regulate my wonderful BlueStar range which features the greatest BTUs available to the residential market – 22,000; enough to practically melt an aluminum pot if one is not careful! The pressure cooking/canning instructions indicate adjusting the heat to keep the pounds of pressure at a certain level for a set number of minutes. With my model of pressure cooker, the only way I can monitor the correct pressure, is to look at the steam value and evaluate the steam emerging from it and then listen to the rocking of the weight that sits on top of that valve and time the length of my observations with accordance to the recommended cooking times for each jar size and its contents. This has worked pretty well in the past but lately I’m a but frustrated by less than perfect results.

I spent some time on line recently reading about this and realized that I would feel much better with a pressure cooker that had a readable gauge on it to better calculate the pressure necessary (in other words how much heat) to exert on my jars when cooked with my Goliath of a stove top. I’m now in love with the All American Canner Company and their products! http://www.allamericancanner.com/  This is what I ordered.

Canner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mean time, I started to process some cucumbers into some sweet pickle relish from the same recipe I used with success last year.  It calls for 6 pounds of diced cucumbers as well as onion, green and red peppers.IMG_4967

I got all of this together in a large container and then put it thru an initial cold brining….ice and pickling salt over several hours, and then drained it and added more ice to sit some more. IMG_4970

I boiled a mixture of sugar/vinegar/spices and added the diced veggies to that. IMG_4981

I let this “marinate” for 24-36 hours. Some of the spices were bagged or contained so they could contribute their flavor but be removed from the result. IMG_4979

This resulted in 17 half pints of beautiful, sweet, pickle relish.IMG_5006

Yesterday morning (at 8am) I started on a double batch of ketchup using 16 pounds of dead ripe tomatoes. IMG_4982

These are a precious commodity this year since the cool weather is keeping down the production. With this cool trend continuing for so long, I’m worried the plants may get tricked into thinking it is fall already! As I mentioned, when making ketchup, you cook the tomatoes with diced onion for enhanced flavor. IMG_4986

Although this smells really good when cooking, the combination of spices and vinegar smells even better! I boiled up a pot of broken cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, celery seed and vinegar and let it sit while the rest of the process was on going. IMG_4987

Of course after the tomato/onion combo cooked for the appropriate time, I milled out the skins and seeds and set the results on the stove top to cook down to half the volume which takes hours and hours. Thanks go to Dave and Joyce who helped stir the pot a bit during the long day when I had to run to my job sites! IMG_4992

I then strained the spiced mixture and added it to the tomato sauce. IMG_4993

This then cooks down for several more hours until one has a thick, deep, red sauce, or KETCHUP! IMG_4995

I carefully popped this precious gold into half pints before cooking them in a water bath. You do the math…that is 2 pounds of tomatoes per half pint of ketchup! IMG_4996

Out popped 8 little shinny jars, 12 hours later at 8pm! IMG_4998

We adore our little red jars of ketchup, but we also have a great affinity (Nancy more than Dave!) for the peppery hot red sauce that I started making last year, called Sriracha. Those of you who read my non-blog previously will be familiar with the process but I’ll repeat it here.

I start out with a pound of our hot red peppers.IMG_5001

We have two varieties of them this year. One is called Mucho Nacho, the other is called Garden Salsa. They both are green before they turn red. From what I’ve read, by the time they turn red the heat intensity is a bit less. I wash, stem and slice them. IMG_5004

And then I turn my attention to peeling a cup full of fresh garlic. This takes time since there are many, many cloves that make up a cup of garlic! IMG_4999

I then blanch the garlic cloves twice by covering them with cold water and bringing them to a boil on the stove top. As soon as they come to a boil, I plunge them into ice water and repeat this process. IMG_5002

After the second time thru, I drain the cooled cloves and slice them very thinly and add them to the sliced red peppers.IMG_5005

To this mix, I add white wine vinegar and bring it to a boil and let it boil for 3 minutes. I then take it off the heat and add Light Agave Nectar (mildly sweet – like a mellow honey) and kosher salt and allow it to sit for an hour in order to allow the flavors to seep and cool. IMG_5007

I then put the mixture into the Cuisinart with the metal blade to chop it all finely but it could probably also go into a blender. After this, put it back into its pan and bring it to a boil. IMG_5008

I boil it for 15 minutes or more until it has reduced and thickened. I add a bit of soy sauce and then thicken it all some more with a cornstarch/water mixture before putting the hot mess into jars and processing it in a water bath. After all that work, I ended up with 3 precious half pints of Sriracha! IMG_5009

I’m now looking for a hot green pepper sauce recipe since I have quite a few of those as well. As I search on line, I see a lot of references to Denver cooks and perhaps, my sister Julie will know of some recipes.

Dave is still out working on the daily harvest but his numbers from the past day or two have put us over 700 pounds of produce for the year so far. Although the weather has been enjoyable, we are wishing we had some warmer days to ripen the melons in our patch. We hope that a slower ripening time will not ill affect their flavor. Many people tell me that farmers complain about the weather no matter what it is! We seem to be in this category despite the delight that others are cheering about with this mild summer.

I’m off to the kitchen to roast some cherry tomatoes for our lovely pizza dinner tonight but had to share  one last photo. A friend who worked with Dave at AB for years, Carolyn Wolf, has been coming to the farm lately to visit and check out our progress so, we have shared some of our veggies with her over the last couple of weeks. Today she dropped by with this lovely pie…cherry…from a wonderful, small, local baker by the name of Sugaree. She claims she did not know that cherry was Dave’s favorite, but she obviously chose well! Image 3