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.


  1. Great thoughts! (and Hi from the PNW) I had a similar experience with some pumpkin soup the other night... "Really, 1t of ground pepper? Really??" I should have know better....

    Yea, I get the "50 season's" thing. Kind of like the 1000 marbles (most people get about 1000 Saturdays in their life to choose to spend how they want). Kind of an annual redemption story, isn't it?

  2. Yikes, only 1000 Saturdays. I wonder if selling at the Farmers' Market counts as spending it how I want...