I wasn’t just kidding about the unseasonable heat we experienced during strawberry season this year. I can now point to the verified stats that have been tabulated and reveal that we just experienced the hottest May on record in Saint Louis. Of course, as you can also see by the graphic below, I also wasn’t exaggerating about how long it took for Spring to arrive as it represented the 4th coldest April on record!
I somehow find a degree of satisfaction in knowing that I wasn’t just whining about the weather for months on end. We also have been way too dry…that is until today when we had quite a healthy batch of rain storms with wind and hail to boot. Although we really, really needed the rain, I would have been gratified by something on the gentler side. I was so pleased with some of my potted plants…Until the first round of storms hit and ravished them…Ugh!I’m hoping a bit of trimming will allow plantings such as this to rebound but we have not made a thorough inspection of the orchard yet so I’m hoping all our fruits are still in tact.
The good news is that the 2018 strawberry season is just about over with a harvest to date of just under 275 pounds of berries, which by the way is another Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard record. I’m sure there will be some stragglers to bring in yet but I’m already looking forward to the ripening blueberries as I can pick these for the most part without squatting or kneeling! But back to the strawberries for a minute. Do remember that we do not use any pesticides or herbicides in our fields. This forces us to work hard on the more indelicate subject of insects laying eggs where I would prefer that they not – especially knowing that there are good insects as I mentioned in the last post and then there are some that are less desirable. Take for example, this beautiful strawberry that has a ‘clutch’ of eggs neatly waiting to hatch and ultimately take sustenance from the berry. Not only does this ruin the berry but many bugs proliferate at a speed which I need to control. My research tells me that these eggs were most likely from a stink bug. Maybe you can recognize this little menace as I can show it at various life stages and attest to its presence in the patch as I squish them whenever I get a chance and eradicate their eggs as well. Not much to do other than to be diligent about eliminating both the bug and eggs whenever spotted but the early heat made this a problem in the berries this year in a way I have not seen previously.
I think I also teased in the last post about the strawberry freezing I had planned to do in addition to the jam making and I was able to accomplish this on two fronts. First, we love having the larger, whole berries in the freezer for our winter breakfasts so it is pretty easy to accomplish this by washing and hulling them in batches and letting them dry (point side up) on terry towels. I love the red “kiss” spot that represent the footprint of the previous batch!I then load them in one layer (so as not to stick) onto sheet pans and into the freezer to fully harden before putting them into gallon freezer bags for long term storage. The other type of freezing I do is to make the Strawberry Slushy that Dave’s grandmother, ‘Patch’, used to make. Each summer when the Sauerhoff family visited Salisbury, Maryland for a week of vacation, Patch would serve her sugar macerated, frozen strawberry slush at dessert time. I can attest – since I joined the family when she was still serving this – there is nothing else quite like it when one has the advantage of truly vine ripened berries at hand. It is actually rather simple so I’ll share my version of the recipe since Patch never quite gave me her proportions.
Wash and hull enough ripe berries to make 16 cups mashed berries (measure mashed and not whole) and place in a very large bowl. Add sugar to taste (3-4 cups is pretty tasty) and let macerate in the freezer, stirring every hour or so. Once the berries and the sugar are incorporated, freeze in individual containers, leaving enough room for expansion before adding lids. This delight is stored in the freezer all year long and we bring it out, just as Patch did, for family dinners to serve in a slushy state (thaw in fridge during dinner is just about right) over pound cake, shortcake or ice cream. I was sneaky enough to have samples ready for our CSA customers to taste and this has been a steady seller for us already this summer. I must admit, I’ve made 70 pint containers so far with plans to do more. I’ve also already made 96 jars of strawberry jam which is a big hit as well.
Strawberries are not the only big red berry gathering attention here at the farm. We are delighted that the two cherry trees that have resided in the farm ‘infirmary’ for several years are finally being productive. These trees were originally planted in the stone fruit side of the orchard along with the peaches, nectarines and plums but were attacked by the deer and damaged to the point that we were told they were hopeless. We couldn’t quite put them into the trash even though their young trunks were severely scraped and their limbs gnawed and mangled. They landed in a protected bed up against the house and continued to grow a bit each year with some tender fostering. So, we were thrilled with the abundance of blossoms in the spring which, thanks to the bees, are now cherries this year! Even though the trees are over 12 feet tall, we managed to surround them with the old strawberry patch netting to protect them from the birds and will look forward to a cherry harvest for the very first time!Speaking of other fruit trees, we are also amused by the re-emergence of the banana tree that we added to the back terrace bed last year. Some may remember that another beekeeper gave me this dormant “bulb” last year which I dutifully planted and watched grow all summer. The big challenge was to dig up this tropical plant (along with all my elephant ears) and store them over the winter. Much to my surprise, I found them to be viable after wintering in the barn and re-planted all this spring and watched anxiously to see if they would green up and come alive. It has been particularly humorous to watch the banana tree slowly come out of dormancy. First planted…One week later, it’s alive but looks like a cigar…Then it looked like it was waving a white flag of surrender…And now, with small baby bananas emerging at its side, it is certainly here to stay this summer!In addition to the other seasonal items that we been harvesting and selling to our customers, the garlic scapes are just about my very favorite. As you may recall, we started raising our own garlic a couple of years ago and the joy I get from harvesting the flower stalk or ‘scape’ nearly surpasses the fondness I have for fresh garlic bulbs, perhaps due to the fleeting nature of the once-a-year presence in our home. Our two varieties of hard neck garlic plantings put out noticeably different shaped scapes this year…one is straight and the other curly. I think I have introduced some of our Saturday customers to the delight of adding scapes to their favorite recipes and I encourage them to experiment and share. This is one that I made last weekend using a NYTimes recipe found here which we shared with the Ward family with a good degree of success. Here is the dish ready to go into the oven. Note I kept the scapes whole until after the first round of cooking. Does this chicken dish remind anyone of the new chick integration into the flock? Well, all has gone well on that front and I’m actually pretty proud that we have managed to get the two groups, young and old, to share the same space with no major issues so far. Here they are enjoying a bit of play time recently.
Big news today was that perhaps the storm scared the little ones but I went out and found them ensconced indoors and lounging on the roosts of the big girls. It will be interesting to see what happens when night falls to see if they all will share this space or whether the pullets go back to their mini coop roosts for the night. In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the assortment of beautiful eggs that the original girls provide for us each day. The bees have been quite busy as well since they have had days and days without rain to sock away their honey stores. We are nearly ready for the first harvest of spring honey we but decided to give them a few more days to finish capping before we steal their goodies.
We continue to be amused by the Ward Boys…3 year old Coulter and 3 month old Willie. Here is a photo of them both (aged 3 months) wearing the same outfit and posing in the same chair…twins or just brothers…?But I must say I’ve been more amused by the serious vehicle renovation that their dad, Jason, accomplished recently. He spotted this ‘vintage’ tractor style vehicle at the Burroughs Potpourri sale in April and with a price tag of $1, which he couldn’t resist, knowing Coulter would enjoy riding around on it. But, Jason had designs on how to renew this nugget and make it special. Ignoring the eye rolling from Kate, he took it apart and did a fabulous job with his painting skills, making sure to make it dark blue – Coulter’s favorite color. Admirable, right? But he wasn’t done yet! The next thing we knew, the following weekend he and Coulter had a “project” they were working on…they built a little wagon (also painted blue) with a ‘treasure’ box for Coulter to pull behind as he goes along collecting all the things little boys find interesting and necessary to bring home! This was a lovely outcome…as was our day of rain, made perfect by a rainbow!