Kraut, Melons, Cauliflower and Pickles

The farm and the farm kitchen are both busy around the clock this time of year. My efforts are almost entirely spent indoors at this juncture while Dave is trying to keep ahead of things in the fields. It is a nice division of labor, but I feel pretty lucky to be in the air conditioning (it is now really hot and humid!) while working over hot stoves and ovens during the day…an advantage I know my farming ancestors didn’t have. I also spend a huge amount of time cleaning up the mess I make…both dishwashers run each day and often more than once in addition to the pile of pots and pans I wash by hand. Here is a shout out to my friend Jill whose mother knitted some dish cloths for me as a kind gesture in return for some veggies. They are quite special since they also represent my kitchen colors and are so useful! Thanks for the clean up help, Jill! IMG_6702So why is it so busy? Ask the fruit flies…by the way, are they a protein? They are certainly annoying us in all our spaces right now! UGH! Perhaps one reason is because we have already far surpassed the 2013 harvest in terms of pounds of produce (yes, if you didn’t know it before this, take note, we weigh everything and record each item’s weight each day) and it is significant to also note that the last harvest recorded for 2013 was on December 28th and it was 2 pounds worth of cool season items including carrots, kale, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, lettuce and radishes.

As of this morning, we have harvested 1710 pounds of fruits and vegetables vs. 1654 for all of last year! Of course, if December is our cut off date, we have more than 4 more months of harvesting to do, so watch out! You might ask, “Did we plant more crops or were they just more productive?” The answer is mixed and may need some analysis from Dave but I would like to give some credit to the bees and their help with pollination. We put in the same number of tomato plants as last year but used slightly different varieties and already have (at 462lbs) more than 120 pounds over last year with the season not finished yet. I would venture to say that with the unusual cool temps the last month or so, this hasn’t been a spectacular summer for tomatoes, so go figure!  We eat fresh tomatoes morning, noon and night and give them to friends and family but I also process them by roasting, freezing and canning in a variety of forms which are currently represented by 94 pint jars in the pantry as well as dozens of dried and frozen bags of red fruits that will keep us thru the winter!

There are several new items to report on this year. One is the sauerkraut from our cabbages which was in progress the last time I posted. The brined cabbage fermented for nearly 5 weeks in one of the big crocks until it was time to pull the plug and process it. As per the instructions from the UMN website, I put all the kraut in a large pot with its brine and brought it to a boil and cooked it before loading it into jars for processing. I put these into 8 wide mouth pint jars and hope this will satisfy our need for sauerkraut for the year!   IMG_6710The melons are also coming in now and they look wonderful but we do not anticipate the numbers we had from last year. The fruits are smaller so far but taste simply wonderful. I started cutting up the cantaloupes today and have many watermelons as well.  The fruity smell of ripe melons has invaded the kitchen in the last couple of days. IMG_6734But that wonderful aroma was king for a short time…until we harvested the cauliflower this morning and started to process it. Cauliflower is actually a cool season vegetable, normally demanding about a 60 degree growing environment, but it has thrived this summer so far in our fields until now…when the current heat prompted us to get them out of the fields pronto. Darn, we should have done a better job of tying up the outer leaves over the heads to keep them from the sun, but once you do this you have to keep the water from the tops in order to keep the rot away. So, we do not have perfectly bleached, white heads but they are still nicely formed and look pretty good. We harvested over 37 pounds of them this morning and I got to work processing them right away. (Why wait…that is what you get with grocery store items that have been waiting around forever!) One practically needs a machete to harvest this plant since the stem that supports the head is about 2 inches in diameter and is about as sturdy as a copper pipe. I took a razor sharp knife that Kate gave me when I went out to harvest and needed it the rest of the day while whittling away the outer core from the heads as I processed.  IMG_6738First stop was a good soaking in the galvanized tub.  My research said this is helpful to get the insects to crawl out of the nooks and crannies. Oh, boy, did they ever start to crawl out! Ugh, but that is what you get when you don’t use pesticides!IMG_6732The best way to keep cauliflower is to use it immediately or to freeze it and so that was my focus today. After several soakings in the tub outdoors, I brought it into the prep kitchen sink and put it into a salt solution to brine. No need to really brine this veggie, but again, the books said this helps to get the inner critters out! It seemed to work.IMG_6735 I then cut it up into pieces and blanched it in batches. After blanching, it goes into an ice water bath and then onto towels to dry before storing in the freezer in zip lock bags. This is about 1/4 of the 37 pound harvest since I ran out of ice and will have to resume the processing later today and again tomorrow! My question after all this is done, how much cauliflower do we need for next year?IMG_6736Call me the pickle lady, but I’m still pursuing new ways to make good pickle recipes. I think I have a pretty wonderful sweet pickle recipe already in hand since everyone’s remarks about it have been more than positive, but I recently decided to try the fermented sweet pickle recipe that I found while researching the sauerkraut, etc. This process has been a royal pain in the A. I hope it produces something undeniably wonderful since it has caused me days and days of crazy, sticky work which I DO  NOT think my smart ancestors would have tolerated! This is how it has been going….

I started with 12 pounds of cukes and put them in the 3 gallon crock with a little bit of prep…i.e. washing and cutting the blossom end off. Then I had added the recommended boiling brine solution and then changed it out every other day for several days. After this, I’ve followed the process of adding a boiling vinegar/sugar syrup solution and exchanging it every day which has been the real challenge. To be a bit more clear, the first day of the vinegar sugar routine, you simply boil the ingredients along with a spice package (here is my pickling spices which I added to a mesh bag).IMG_6714Here is the sticky mess boiling away on the stove top before adding it to the sliced cukes. IMG_6719 The part of this that is a pain is that the cukes are extracted each day from the syrup and rinsed while the syrup is RE-BOILED, along with the spice bag and some additional sugar before being reunited in the crock. Think of this as a boiling hot, sticky mess and you will understand why I’m not too happy to deal with this recipe as this process is repeated for 7 of the 14 days. This recipe better produce some superior sweet pickles! I’ll let you know soon!

In the meantime, we are enjoying the other fermented crock pickles and I started a second batch of those in order to use some of the 300+ pounds of cukes! These are pleasing to nosh on next to our lunch sandwiches. IMG_6701 I wish I had some news to report on the bees, but this is a quiet time for them…and thankfully for us. There is not much interaction at this time of year since they do their thing on an independent basis but Jurgen and I will get back to supervising them this weekend.

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