Turnips and Eggplants Take Center Stage

It would be nice to sit back and enjoy the after glow of the wedding but the farm chores we put on hold for a couple of days are demanding our fullest attention now. All the rain we had for wedding weekend gave our plants a healthy push ahead and we have spent several days catching up with weeding and securing sprawling plants. A rainy afternoon yesterday gave me the perfect opportunity to use my new dehydrator. I bought a nice one right before the wedding knowing I would need to expand my preservation skills this summer. It has 9 trays to accommodate a large amount of produce as well as a range of temperatures and a timer that starts at 2 hours and can be set for as long as 26 hours! That should give you an indication of how long it takes to dehydrate some foods.

Not everyone thinks about dehydrating turnips…you don’t often see them in the bins at places like Whole Foods where you can buy banana chips, apple chips and other assorted dried foods to snack on. I don’t really intend to snack on the turnip chips but rather it is important to me to figure out how to use them successfully over time next winter when the glut of fresh garden produce is only a fond memory. We have enjoyed eating lots of turnips out of the garden this spring but they are considered a cool season crop and they aren’t going to last too much longer in the heat of the summer. So we harvested 10 pounds yesterday and had a few additional pounds in the refrigerator to process 14 pounds all together. As usual, I compared several sources of information on how to dehydrate fruits and vegetables in general and then specifically turnips.

Just about all the produce you freeze or preserve is treated in such a way as to disable the active enzymes in the cell walls which stops the food from further degrading or breaking down after having been picked. You can do this in a variety of ways but for turnips, the options were to blanch, which means to quickly immerse in boiling water for a set number of minutes and then plunge into an ice bath or to steam blanch which I had never tried before. Since turnips are so watery to begin with and I’m an adventurous sort, I decided to try the steam blanch method. You can also dehydrate foods without blanching in order to enjoy raw or “living” foods since those are good for you to eat but you have to be careful to be extremely exact about the temperatures you use in the process. In reading about this, I’ve found that you can disable the enzymes but not entirely kill them. The enzymes in raw foods are healthy for you since they aid in the natural digestion process. You can find lots of information about this on line but I’m going to continue to eat as many raw foods while they are in season as I can and yet preserve the herbicide and pesticide free foods we grow as safely as I can for consumption in the off season.

But first I had to prepare my turnips just so. Our turnips are so tasty and fresh that we normally don’t need to even peel them. (They don’t look anything like the ones you see in the grocery that have been waxed to control the moisture content.) But my instructions all advised to peel them since the skin, when dehydrating will have a concentrated flavor and can turn bitter, so I took my carrot peeler and gave them a once over before slicing them. It is very important to slice foods the same thickness when dehydrating so that the drying time is consistent. I was trying for 3/8 inch slices. IMG_6404 After getting several turnips sliced up, I put them in batches into the upper section of my largest steamer with about an inch of boiling water in the pot below and put a lid on it and steamed them for exactly 3 minutes.IMG_6405 I then dumped the turnips into a waiting ice water bath to cool them down quickly. IMG_6407And then drained them in a colander before laying them out on the trays of the dehydrator. IMG_6408It took several hours to repeat this with all the turnips I had on hand but it was quite satisfying to get all nine trays loaded with turnips and ready to dry. IMG_6412The recommended time for drying turnips varied between sources. One book said 8-10 hours and another one had a slightly higher temperature for the first hour and then a shorter drying time. I was ever so thankful that the dehydrator I purchased operated on a timer since after all the work I put into this, I didn’t really want to be hanging around at midnight to shut off the machine! I checked on them before bed and they weren’t completely dry yet so it was with great joy this morning that I found them nicely dried out and cooled. IMG_6430Here is what 14 pounds (nine trays worth) of dehydrated turnips looks like now. IMG_6431I happily packaged them up in a zip lock bag and labeled them for storage in my dark pantry. They weighed  a total of 12 oz which means they lost about 90% of their weight (remember I peeled them and cut off their stems too). This is an effect way to store food! Next winter I will rehydrate these in soups and stews. IMG_6432While the turnips were dehydrating I started preparing for the first eggplant Parmesan dinner of the season! As many of you know, we froze a lot of eggplants last year using my favorite recipe for this dish. It bears repeating here since it is outrageously good when eaten fresh or frozen and reheated. In fact, we found ourselves loving these eggplant slices eaten on buns as veggie burgers last winter. Here is the eggplant patch. IMG_6419With lots of fruits hiding under the large green leaves, waiting patiently to be picked. IMG_6415These were the two pounds of Burpee Black Beauty eggplants that volunteered for last night’s meal. IMG_6413I simply wash and slice them up and sprinkle them with kosher salt and let them sit for 45 minutes, weighted down in a colander in order to draw out some of the moisture.  IMG_6421I then dry the slices on paper towels and wipe off the excess salt in the process. IMG_6422Then they take turns getting dipped into a peppery flour mixture, followed by an egg bath and finally get coated with a bread crumb and Parmesan cheese coating. IMG_6423This I do also in batches but here are the patties waiting to be cooked. IMG_6424The key to this recipe is that they are not fried, but rather baked in a small amount of oil. I have sheet pans heating up in the oven during the prep time and when ready to bake, I pull out the pans, add a small amount of oil to each and then the patties. These bake for a total of 30 minutes in a 425 degree oven, while I switch positions every 10 minutes. They come out looking like this. IMG_6428We ate as many of them as we could and froze the rest! Yummy! Today I’m off with Helen to work the bees while Jurgen is in Germany on business. We should find that the bees are working hard to replace all the honey that was extracted several weeks ago…455 pounds in total! I’ll hope to have a bee report soon! Happy one week anniversary, Kate and Jason!

‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ A Seven Oaks Wedding Story

As many readers know, we have been preparing to host our daughter’s wedding at the farm ever since Kate and Jason got engaged in May of 2013. We all agreed it would be fun to have the ceremony and the reception here since we assumed we could accommodate their guests with an outdoor ceremony and dinner and dancing under a large tent. We had little projects around the property both indoors and out during the last year to get ready for the big day while still accomplishing the daily tasks that go along with getting the fields planted and the berries and orchard properly maintained. The photos below are the ones captured by various iPhones before the professionals came on board to take the real pics. I spent the entire weekend feeling a bit chaotic and constantly looking for my phone or my reading glasses and purposely did not want to post advance pics before the event to spoil the surprise so here are a few images that will give the first glimpse of the weekend from our perspective.

Reality set in the Saturday before the wedding when Kate was scheduled to arrive here to help with the last minute wedding prep. While waiting for her flight to arrive, I harvested 6.875 pounds of peas. IMG_6323It is a good thing I had a task to concentrate on since her flight endured an emergency landing in Phoenix where the plane was greeted by firetrucks and ambulances after having dumped all of their fuel before landing. Scary! But all ended well as Kate arrived safe and sound several hours later. Bride, check.

Kate, Dave and I made lengthy, daily to-do lists in order to accomplish lots of the last minute tasks. The tent flooring arrived and reality set in. IMG_6325Tuesday the tent company began the laborious building of the tents. First, a level (okay, not quite) spot for the flooring and carpet to be laid.  IMG_6331Then the framing began. IMG_6333Followed by large winches to raise the metal roof and install the legs. It was a fascinating process on a very hot day!IMG_6368The results were spectacular, mostly because unlike other tents we have been under at other weddings, this one did not leak! Tent, check!photo 5Jason arrived Wednesday. Groom, check. Peter arrived Thursday morning. Brother and groomsman, check. IMG_6337Hotel welcome packages were a last minute detail that required a bunch of coordination from a team of family members plus valued friend Lucy who was on call for days. We assembled packages of local edibles and wrapped them all, tied ribbons, made labels and figured out which ones went to which hotels and made deliveries so that our guests would be greeted with a special treat! IMG_6396With these packages delivered all around town, we moved on to other tasks. Wedding rehearsal followed by dinner on Friday night arrived before we could blink. It was interesting to watch the out of town groups try to adjust to the heat and humidity as we walked thru the paces of the next day’s ceremony at the rehearsal. Thankfully, the dinner that night, hosted by the Ward family, was at a quaint boutique hotel in Clayton that had an interior courtyard all set up for the small family dinner. image Wonderful toasts were offered and gifts for the bridal party were exchanged moments before a deluge of rain sent us all scattering for cover and indoors to continue with the dinner and celebration. photo 2Saturday morning dawned bright and glorious. We hosted a simple bridal luncheon with a champagne toast in advance of the hair and make up session for the bridal party. IMG_6350The groomsmen luncheon followed since we were keeping the groups separate in the house that day but I don’t have pics of their lunch. I know they were glued to the World Cup which was on in the background that day for what seemed like hours! The bridesmaids wore their monogrammed robes for hair and make up sessions in our bedroom. photo 14Then it was time for Kate to get dressed. photo 1YES! The dress fit perfectly!photo 3And all of the bridesmaids were gorgeous too! photo 6Kate and I were ready to get the show on the road!IMG_6356

In the meantime, the tables were being set in the tent while both the tent and the house were filled with flowers from our dear Ken Meisner, who did such a fabulous job of representing the farm with a variety of gorgeous flowers peppered with delicate herbs and even cabbages in the arrangements.

photo 8photo 7The paperie was a collection of work that started nearly a year in advance under my direction but with the help of pen and ink artist and architect, Tom Moore, and graphic designer, Kathy Waldemer.  For some, the program fans  (upper left) that were so kindly distributed by my nephew, Jack, was their first clue that the map on the back showed the numbering of the seven oaks on the property! The pickle bar pins were special souvenirs that I hope everyone took home as one remembrance of a fun evening!IMG_6389 Guests found their table assignments waiting for them, laid out in the front foyer. “Please ‘Bee’ Seated at Table X!”10509698_756908771630_1026645488392024726_nThey were served a Strawberry Hibiscus Iced Tea along with the special cocktail napkins that were monogrammed “S” for Sauerhoff and “W” for Ward. IMG_6383

Before we knew it, there was music all around. The piano player in the living room and acoustic guitar on the terrace as tea was being passed in anticipation of the ceremony to begin. The flower girl, Abby, (daughter of the best man) sowed the seeds of love.IMG_0010_2She was followed by Jason’s nephew, Zander, who, with lots of encouragement from the crowd, diligently watered in the the seeds! IMG_0015Here we are walking side by side with Kate down the aisle made by the natural allee of European Hornbeans that we had planted 3 years prior. photo 13She found Jason waiting at the end of the walk and they exchanged vows, guided by the officiant, my sister Julie, and after readings from my brother, Tim Luehrman, and Kate’s former coach, Fran Vandermeer. Before we knew it, the rings were in place and the happy couple was married! We now present Mr. and Mrs. Ward! IMG_0042We made it through the ceremony and formal photos with rumblings from above. The skies darkened and the wind began to blow so the caterers decided to quickly move the cocktails indoors. This meant that the pickle tasting bar (several varieties available to sample), along with the pickle cake (in lieu of a wedding cake) quickly moved indoors! If you have never seen a pickle cake, it is, of course, a tower of all sorts of Seven Oaks pickles and the pickle tasting bar included an assortment of items to taste and compare! 10377239_756911366430_9007242569178867825_n(1)We barely made it out to the tent for dinner and dancing before the rain hit! Dave and I welcomed our guests holding a pitch fork and straw hat while the band played the theme song from the old TV program Green Acres. http://youtu.be/Mbk81X6WHA4

Despite the downpours we enjoyed a wonderful dinner, with dessert encompassing tastes of Seven Oaks berries in the form of a strawberry tart and a lemon-blueberry torte. The evening continued with dancing but with none of the splish-splashing of Gene Kelly’s famous “Singin’ in the Rain.” Merriment ensued, with the golf cart ferrying guests between the tent and the house the rest of the evening until the shuttles escorted our guests away, taking a ‘Honey, Bee Mine’ cookie on their way home!  IMG_6400Thanks go to all our supportive friends and family who jumped in at all times to help make this event a success!


The Longest Day…the Summer Solstice of Course!

It’s here, it’s here! The big wedding day has finally fawned dawned! Here is what we found on the south side of the front wall yesterday. IMG_1259Apparently its mother thinks I have time to baby sit this future orchard snacking fellow! It reminded me of the conflict in The Yearling, the 1938 novel written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I felt it would be a very bad omen to have any harm come to this little one, so we left him alone until his mother came back to claim him, something I will remember when he is 5 times as big as he is now! Apparently there is a good reason for her to leave a youngster like this alone for several hours a day but I don’t have time to explain about that theory but it does have to do with our coyote population.

We have lots and lots to do and I’m off and running! I’m sure it will be a Berry Happy Day! (Peter and I picked over 11 pounds of these lovely giants yesterday, bringing our two days of picking to just over 20 pounds YTD.) IMG_6345Stay tuned for some wedding pictures after the fun is over. I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises with premature photos of the event!


Extraction, Honey, Extraction!

Today I learned a bit more about the world of beekeeping – honey extraction – which is a driving force behind the efforts of many beekeepers. Most beekeepers sell their honey and also make the beeswax into products which they sell as well. As I said in the previous post, Jurgen pulled honey supers from many of his hives last week. He took home a total of 15 honey supers, each of which had ten frames of honey combs inside, most of which were fully loaded with capped honey. So far, I have not read a whole lot about the honey extraction business so lots of what I learned today was new.

Jurgen has learned some of his honey extraction methods by getting key information from the beekeepers who are most successful at this stage of the game. He said that some of this information was not easy to come by and so although I was all ears today as he was giving out information, I will keep my report of his methods generalized here so that the success of his honey production is a bit private.

So, after pulling the supers several days ago, he kept them in a space where he was able to regulate the conditions of the air so as to have the optimal density or viscosity before extracting his honey. When they were ready to extract, he and Helen set up stations at their house today to proceed with the honey extraction.

First the frames of honey comb need to have the thin wax covering removed. We do this with a tool that resembles a hair pick but they make these specific to this task. Like all things, you can buy a variety of tools for this purpose and they had two that did a nice job of it and one that did an even better job. I’m always attracted to the more ergonomic tools and will plan to buy carefully when it comes time for me to purchase this item for myself. Here is one of their daughters working with one of the tools on a frame of honeycomb. IMG_6299After the bees fill the combs with honey, they cap it with a thin layer of wax to keep it ready for their dining purposes later in the season. Beekeepers make sure that they encourage the bees to make much more honey than they will need in the future by giving them the necessary space to make the honey. We even make it easier for them by providing some empty combs when we have it available so that all they have to do is fill the combs with honey rather than build the combs first. The comb un-capping tool has narrowly spaced, sharp, picks that slide in a thin fashion under the wax cap and we pull that wax away leaving the combs of honey exposed. The tines of the picks are angled so that you don’t dig into the existing comb and damage it since it is valuable for future use by your bees. The wax that is pulled away is virgin wax and prized by beekeepers for things other than just candles since it is pure enough to make cosmetics, creams and other skin care items not unlike those sold by Burt’s Bees. Here is the tool as it is used to pick away the wax. It is a very tedious, sticky job to do! You can see the excess wax is scraped into the tray below and it has an additional tray below that filtering any excess honey out of the scraped wax.IMG_6301

After the frames have been freed of their wax cappings, they go into the extractor machine. This is a nice one that holds six frames and it extracts the honey from both sides of the combs. Apparently, some extractors are designed in such a way that they only do one side at a time. This is an electric machine but you can imagine that much of this work was done by hand cranking in the past. IMG_6298After the machine whirls the frames around inside, the honey drops to the bottom and come out a spigot into a strainer before it goes into a bucket that holds the honey. IMG_6300This whole process today was exciting to watch and reminds me of the people in Vermont and other northern territories who harvest maple syrup. It is a time consuming process that has many more hours in effort in it than many people are willing to put into procuring wonderful, pure and fresh foods to eat today. Jurgen and Helen work very hard to make their honey and they have pre-sold this entire batch to Kirkwood Farmer’s Market. They will also sell the honey they extract in July to individuals if it isn’t also snapped up by the farmers’ market! Keep in mind,  9 fl. oz. of honey weighs one pound. I don’t want to quote their pricing here, but let me know if you want some since they should be flush with more honey soon!

It was very, very interesting to get to partake of this part of beekeeping today. I was covered with a stickiness that made me want to lick my fingers, hands and arms today after working at their extraction party from 10:30am until about 3pm. We sampled the honey from a sanitary, individual spoon and it was truly the best I’ve ever tasted! They were not nearly done with the extraction when I left to attend to lots of other things at the farm. Jurgen will now take the empty honey comb supers and put them back on the hives. The bees will be delighted to get a chance to clean them up and start re-filling them for the July extraction!

Green Eggs and Jam

We have had a very busy week here at the farm. We are in wedding count down mode…less than two weeks at this point…and even though wedding preparations are highest on our list of things to do, the farm demands never stop. We have produce to harvest, fields to maintain, trees to water and at the same time, the last of the seeds to plant. We are a little late with some of these last seeds but they germinate fast with the warmth of the ground so we are in good shape. The squashes and melons are all finally in with some germinating in a matter of days!

I had a deadline with the strawberries to meet since I had to deliver a certain quantity to the caterers to use for the wedding. I won’t share any more details at this point in time, but I met that deadline last Thursday and was thrilled to get that task accomplished.  So far, the strawberry crop YTD is at 122.5 pounds and this leads the way in the top of the 2014 harvest by weight. That record won’t last long as other weighty produce will soon catch up. We are approaching the last half of the strawberry season here and I can’t say that it makes me sad since I’m ready to move on from the stained fingers and long hours in the patch and kitchen that come along with picking and processing. So far I’ve frozen 15 one gallon ziplock bags of whole berries and last week I made strawberry leather for the first time. I gathered a bunch of recipe examples, read through all of them and decided which direction to go. Here is how I did it.
I washed, hulled and quartered 3 pounds of berries and put them in batches through the food processor for just a bit to get a nice puree of fruit. I then added a cup of sugar and cooked it on the stove until it came to a boil and then I simmered it until it thickened further. I put my silicone mats into my half sheets and poured this goo onto two of them like this. IMG_6247Then I spread the mixture thinly and put both sheets into a very low oven setting to dehydrate some more. This took about 8 hours total. IMG_6248When it was sufficiently dried, I put a sheet of parchment paper on top and flipped the pans upside down and pulled away the silicone mats. Viola, fruit leather, or as today’s youth would call it, fruit roll ups! IMG_6297I’m not sure I’ll make this again, but when faced with lots and lots of berries, it is always good to experiment with new methods to preserve them. On the jam side of things, I tried probably six or seven “recipes” last year while making 90+ half pints of strawberry jam. I kept careful records of how each batch was made so that we could evaluate which ones we liked the best. So, it was rather easy yesterday (during a rain break) for me to use up some of the berries waiting in the refrigerator and make the first jams of 2014. Here is how I proceeded with each batch (I made three batches). I used 3.5 pounds of washed, hulled and quartered berries that I smashed into chunks with my potato masher. IMG_6287Then I added pectin in the form of a brand called Sure Gel and added 1/2 a pat of butter (which is that blob you see in the photo) which helps to keep a foam from forming.
I cooked the mixture until it came to a rolling boil. IMG_6285  Then I added an enormous amount of sugar…5 cups…and brought the mixture back to a rolling boil again and let it boil for exactly one minute (I love my iPhone timer) and then took it off the heat and spooned off a tiny bit of the inevitable foam before ladling the hot mess into my waiting, sterilized jars. There is nothing that burns your fingers worse than boiled, sugary fruit – ouch! I quickly popped on the sterilized lids and rings and lifted the jars into the waiting hot water bath which is also boiling. I am OCD on this part since I always start adding the jars in clockwise fashion starting at 12 o’clock all the way around and then into the center. In doing so, I removed the jars in this fashion too. They are in the bath for a full 5 minutes AFTER the water returns to a boil. You can see that there is an insert in the bottom of the pot that keeps the jars from sitting on the bottom.    IMG_6286By the end of a long afternoon, I made 3 batches and wound up with 34 half pints and 2 quarter pints of beautiful jam! The front half pint jars are wide and squat and very cute…they came from Janet Lange as she was cleaning out her basement and thought of me. Thanks, Janet…look for some jam at your doorstep after the wedding! IMG_6288We continued with other chores around the farm all week. This week it looked as if the cabbage was ready to tie up. As you can see, the leaves are forming nicely…IMG_6269

But they will form heads more rapidly if you tie the outer leaves to encourage this growth pattern. IMG_6270

Of course we have to keep up with the mowing which I enjoy because it is such good exercise when using the push mower. I feel like the pied piper when I do this since the birds all follow me around, swooping in to get the bugs that fly up behind my path. I noted all the wonderful new bird nests while mowing since you can see the mother birds returning to their nests with their goodies. We have a new robin’s nest in one of the Trident Maples and it looks like the mother is sitting on eggs. There is also a morning dove nest in the north front oak tree and the babies are very obvious when the mother is feeding them. I tried to get a photo but the nest is so obscured that it just looks like lots of leaves. And finally, my very favorite birds, the barn swallows on the front porch finally have babies in their nest. They are only a few days old and are quite hidden still unless the parents are feeding them and then you can see lovely little beaks grabbing for food. It takes some patience to photograph them at this stage since the parents like to feed them in private as if the nest is hidden. I was thrilled to get this photo this morning. Four little mouths to feed. If you look closely, the lower left corner shows another adult leaving the nest as they take turns bringing food. IMG_1249We continue to harvest the leaf vegetables in great quantities and have found some great ways to use kale. Most recently, I’ve been making a version of a kale omelet. I chop the kale in my mini food processor. IMG_6290Then quickly steam it on the stove top in the omelet pan. I do not have many non-stick pans but this is one of them. I use a couple of drops of water to help create the steam. IMG_6291I set this aside, beat my eggs and pour into the pan to proceed like normal on a very low flame. Then when the mixture is setting up nicely I add some cheese and the kale and continue to bake some more. IMG_6294A quick flip of half the eggs on top of the other half gets us a quick breakfast of proteins. IMG_6295Just to note, until I get my chickens and my own eggs, we have been buying ours from a special guy named Ben Roberts who sells his eggs at a couple of stores around town. These eggs are noticeably better tasting. Here is his packaging. IMG_6292How many times do you find eggs with the guy’s phone number on the label?!?!  He delivers to twice weekly and the people who follow his deliveries scoop these up fast! IMG_6293And now for the bee update: Last Thursday Jurgen decided to collect the honey supers from some of the hives. I was unable to join him since I was on strawberry duty at the time but he borrowed our truck and worked with his wife to collect 10 honey supers full of combs of honey. Today he is extracting the honey from the supers and I am off now to help. I know I will have plenty of photos and a good story about this and some other bee related info when I come back from this new adventure!