Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eat Your Greens

A while back my friend Meghann posted this as her facebook status:

"Someday, I'm sure my children will be shocked to find out not every Mom put Kale in everything."

It made me giggle because, as a CSA farmer, the question I most frequently receive from members is "What do I do with all of this kale?" or chard, mizuna, arugula, escarole, sorrel, or whichever green things are being tucked into the shares that particular week. I have a hard time not responding with this simple statement: Eat it.

Chard growing in the morning light.
CSA fields tend to be a bit messier than home gardens,
but we still manage to grow the good stuff!

That isn't meant to be flippant. It's just that, well, that's what I do with it. In my house we munch on raw greens just because they're there, make them into salads, and add them to at least half of the dinners we cook. In fact, my family and I like greens so much that I get kind of sad when winter comes and the greens stop growing. So, not only do I eat my greens, I dry kale and chard so that I can eat even more of them later.

I know that the kale chip, oiled and seasoned kale dried for snacking, is pretty hot right now, and those are good, but I am talking about simply drying greens so that they can be added to dishes during the off season.

It is an easy process, and now is the time of year to do it. 

 I use an electric dehydrator, though you could just as easily use your stove or a solar dehydrator. We use what we have - even if it isn't the most efficient option. A solar dehydrator is certainly on our wish list...

Cut or tear the greens into small pieces and lay them out on the dehydrator tray. Space them evenly, so that they are not touching.

Dry them overnight on the lowest setting. When they are done they will look pretty much they same as they did when you started, just a little duller and more velvety, and they will be crisp.

Well dried Kale.

Crisp Rainbow Chard.

Pack the dried greens into jars, close the jars tightly, and the greens will keep all winter long.

Dried kale, ready for a season of storage.
Now that you have dried your greens, you may be left with that lingering question. "What do I do with all of this (dried) kale?" Once again, my answer is simple: Eat it.

The recipe below is almost as easy as the drying itself. It makes a hearty breakfast, a satisfying lunch, or a comforting low key dinner. It really just depends on how you look at things. You can also throw a handful of the dried greens into many of your standard dishes. I suggest starting with spaghetti sauce. Once you see how tasty that is, go from there. Be extremely creative.

This can also be made with one or two leaves of fresh kale or chard cut into bite sized pieces.

Oatmeal with Dried Greens, Chicken Stock, and Root Vegetables

  • One cup steel cut oats 
  • One cup thinly cut root vegetables - I used carrots for this version because our neighbor had dropped a bunch off for us (look how huge!). Celeriac and parsnips are also divine here.
  • 1/2 cup crumbled dried kale or chard, plus more for serving
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock -  Vegetable stock or water works too if you want to go vegetarian.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring the stock or water to a boil in a small saucepan.
  2. Stir in all of the other ingredients.
  3. Turn the heat down to simmer, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is fully cooked. Cooking time will vary depending on the oats and your personal texture preferences. 
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Spoon the oatmeal into serving bowls and top with additional crumbled dried greens.

It may not be that photogenic, but it is highly tasty and oh so comforting.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Does Your Garlic Grow?

Fall is the season to put garlic in the ground. This year we planted about 500 cloves of garlic, half hardneck and half softneck, plus a test bed of some new (to us) overwintering alliums called potato onions. These are, of course, for harvest during the 2011 season.

The hardneck garlic.
A hot and colorful variety called music.

The softneck garlic.
Mellower than the hardneck and braidable,
this variety is called New York white.

We've been growing out the softneck garlic for three years now, giving some heads to CSA members and replanting the rest. We hope to harvest enough in 2011 to make a few garlic braids because who doesn't love edible art? About 100 of the hardnecks are from heads we grew this season. We wanted to try the variety out before we made a big investment in it. After tasting it we're convinced it's worth some of our money, land, time, and muscle to grow more. It's hot and mega garlicky and we've decided to make it our main variety for the CSA.     

Those things in the bag are potato onions.
Each one will grow into a cluster of small to medium onions
that will keep for several months.

The potato onions are something altogether new to us. We love things that can be planted in the fall because fall planting means less spring insanity. Spring is crunch time for us. We are so busy with bed prep and seed planting and CSA payment collecting and tomato transplanting and chick rearing and lamb purchasing and (I could keep going here...) that we have been known to forget to breath. So, we're crossing our fingers that the potato onions do well and allow us to eliminate something from the spring to do list. There is one sure thing about farm life. We will never run out of new things to try.

Our favorite new things this year are our tractor and manure spreader. They don't look so new but they're new to us and truly life changing. My husband was able to create an acre of new growing space by plowing in his spare time and spreading manure without using a wheelbarrow is, to put it simply, revolutionary. The only thing missing is the callouses.
The Tractor. A 1948 Ford 8N.
Michigan girls love their Fords!

A current sampling of our soil inputs.
This is composted horse manure from
the local animal shelter.

The Spreader. Full of composted manure and ready to roll.
Compost is the lifeblood of a small farm. We are always on the lookout for organic materials to add to our fields. Our plan this year is to create a few windrows of hay and fish guts before the snow falls. We'll see how the skunks like that!

Look at that compost fly!
Once the compost is down the bed must be readied for planting. We rake to make sure that the manure is spread evenly and there are no large chunks in the growing area.

Smoothing the bed.
Keeping things straight.

After all of that prep, it is finally time to get down to some planting.



We lay the cloves out in a grid pattern, six inches apart in every direction, then poke them under the soil and compost so that the growing tip is about an inch below the surface.

Still Planting.
The final step is to tuck the garlic in for the long winter. It's not unlikely that this garlic will be covered in two or three feet of snow come January, but it needs the insulation of hay during the early winter. The hay will also help keep weeds down, hold in moisture, and give the worms a nice place to live next spring.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The most frustrating thing about farming

I've been really into taking pictures of things in pots lately. It must be all of the canning I am doing. It is the season for preserving the harvest.

The last pan of 2010 tomatoes - about to be sauced
Living seasonally is one of the most romantic things about farming. The time of year dictates our activities as farmers in a way that just doesn't happen much in modern life. It is one of the many things that I truly love about farming.

And also the thing that I most hate.

Living seasonally doesn't just mean that my life is tied to my environment, that I can live my respect for nature, and that I get to eat really well. Though, happily, those things are true. It means that I only get one go at things each year. One shot. So, as an optimistic 30 year old, living seasonally means I will only have - at most - 50 to 60 more tries at this.

My husband and I are constantly thinking about ways to make our farm better. He creates files about cultivation methods. I obsess over the best variety of shell bean to grow in our area. We both ponder sources for soil inputs, marketing methods, and the best way to grow a lot of tasty tomatoes. Each year we make a plan. We try to get it right. Of course there are always failures, big and small. We always end up with a big list of things to do differently next year.

50 tries probably sounds like a lot, but it isn't. Imagine that you only get 50 tries to get your life's passion right. A chef might cook the same dish, a pitcher practice the same pitch, a singer sing the same song countless times, until those actions are as natural as breathing.  A farmer only gets to live each season once, and there are only so many seasons in a lifetime.

Which is why it is such a pain in the butt when, as a farmer, you screw something up. Like I did last night. Actually, I suppose this screw up was more in my role as farmer's wife rather than as farmer because it was a failure in the kitchen and not the field, but I have plenty of both.

I had been saving the last of the blueberries we picked this year in our freezer to make a batch of blueberry basil jam, something I sell at the local farmers' market, just for us. Then I had a brilliant idea for something new to try with the blueberries, blueberry green tomato relish. It started out nicely...(more pictures of things in pots here)

Looks pretty...

Tastes good too.

And then it experienced a melt down. Literally. I went in the living room to hang out with my daughter while the pot simmered on the stove to allow the tomatoes to soften. A few minutes later, my husband called from the kitchen "This stuff is really boiling in here." We had a little chat about it. He stirred, turned down the heat, we called it good. When I returned, the blueberries and chunks of onion were disintegrated and, though the flavor of the relish was pretty good, it wasn't a relish. It had turned into a sort of thin blueberry ketchup with strangely large hunks of, nicely softened, green tomato throughout.

It wasn't a catastrophic failure, but I'm not sure how I'll use
up six pints of it.

I can think of a number of ways that this recipe went wrong. I used a bit too much vinegar, the wrong blueberry/tomato ratio, chopped the onions too fine and the tomatoes too large, and I obviously over cooked it. Plus I just realized that I should have added some fresh ginger. I'm sure that I could make another, better, batch of it right now. But I can't. I have to wait through the seasons before I can get my hands on more blueberries and green tomatoes.

My daughter, helping me photograph green tomatoes for the anticipated version of this post in which the relish turned out perfectly and we all lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spiced Root Vegetable Conserve

I like to create flavor combinations that raise eyebrows until they are tasted - and the taster's face mellows into a soft and satisfied grin. Honestly though, I didn't think that I was doing that with this conserve. This combination of flavors seemed like a no brainer to me. Sweet/tart apples and dried cherries, earthy carrots and parsnips, buttery pecans, and a healthy dose of warm spices. All the goodness of autumn in one place. Sort of like carrot cake in a jar without the need for cream cheese frosting.

So I was surprised when I placed the nicely labeled jars on the Wintergreen Farm table at the Ontonagon County Harvest Festival and they were greeted with more than a few pairs of raised eyebrows. Still, those brave enough to taste the contents did find themselves grinning in satisfaction.

Try it yourself and see what happens.

Spiced Root Vegetable Conserve

Makes about five 8 ounce jars.
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • about 1/4 of a nutmeg nut
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar - I use "evaporated cane juice" and I do think it's tastier, plus it's fair trade and organic
  • 1 pound carrots, cut into uniform small dice
  • 1/4 pound parsnips, cut into uniform small dice
  • 3 medium tart apples, peeled and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  1. Place the spices in a small spice bag and crush them lightly with a mortar and pestle or rolling pin.
  2. In a medium sized, heavy bottomed sauce pan bring the water, sugar, and spices (still in the spice bag) to a simmer.
  3. Add the carrots and parsnips to the syrup and simmer until they are just tender.
  4. Add the apples and continue to simmer until the apples are beginning to turn translucent at the edges.
  5. Stir in the pecans and cherries and remove the pan from the heat.
  6. Remove the spice bag, ladle the conserve into jars that have been prepared for canning.  Be sure to stir well as you fill the jars because the cherries tend to sink to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Seal and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. 

My daughter taking a break from her toys to taste some finished conserve. She smiled just after this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ontonagon County Harvest Festival

The festival was all about pumpkins.  Pumpkin heads, pumpkin catapults, and even pumpkin bowling.

Luckily the Upper Peninsula summer was uncharacteristically long and warm this year, allowing for a lot of great squash to grow big and ripen.

Our Neighbor Ryan's Harvest

Algomah Acre's 87 Pounder (and my birthday shoe!).  Their biggest was 110 pounds.

 The Wintergreen Farm contributions included:

Make your own Caramel Apples

Hay rides through the fall leaves

And the world's cutest little unicorn!

The First Annual Ontonagon County Harvest Festival was a beautiful day and a wonderful way to welcome fall. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen!