I tried several times in February to post to the blog but something has been up with Tripod–our server. Today I am trying again. Hopefully this time will be successful because I have a lot of stuff to share!
First, recent stuff! We are striving to find balance in the greenhouse. It has been very cold at night (thirties) but the strong March sun means the daytime greenhouse temps are high. Even with supplemental heat, the cold was too much for our poor little pepper starts. However, the ladybugs have been happy with the warm days and are doing their part to organically and sustainably keep aphids out of the transplants. Thank you dearest bugs!
Oh shoot–tripod is still weird! I can’t upload the great ladybug pic. Back to tech support!
This article resonated with me because it fits my understanding of sustainable agriculture–living within the natural cycles of life.http://foodtank.com/news/2014/01/sustainable-agriculture-often-debated-rarely-understood
It’s been a great month! We have accomplished a lot: fence-building, working on kitchen 2 and the river place, and weeding and mulching in preparation for springtime growth. But what has been really great is that we have had opportunities to meet some wonderful members of the community of North Florida farmers.First, there are Lisa and Walker–owners of Sweet Lil Wee Farms. We attended their open house and found in them two kindred spirits–two people who have had other life options but are choosing the life of a farmer and understand the challenges of farming. We look forward to sharing our experiences and learning from them.
Then, there is Debbie Driggers of Delta Shamrock Farms. She bought Wester, our littlest bull, because she breeds mini-minis. She was looking for a mini-bull for her little herd of Dexters and mini-Herefords and Wester was perfect. We were relieved to not have to butcher him–though that still leaves Easter–a last bull calf from this year for us to butcher.
Meeting fellow farmers like these–folks who understand the joys and pain of farming–is such a powerful blessing. We are very thankful for them.
As I mentioned, I am taking an online course in molecular gastronomy. It is a Harvard University class (so now can I say I “attended” Harvard?!) It has given me an opportunity to wrestle with my Chemistry demon (left over from high school chemistry class which was NOT a friend of mine!) I am hoping to improve the texture of my breads which due to the high concentration of whole grains and fiber are not as light as I would like.
So, why the blog entry? Well, this week we are working on “modernist” cooking–better cooking through chemistry. I would say this is the antithesis of what we stand for at Lacefield Farms if it were not for the fact that in the class they mention that baking powder is a human/chemically engineered product–a product I have obliviously used for years! I haven’t gotten very far into it yet but the “previews” indicate the instructor will argue that these manufactured ingredients are healthier than using sugar. We will see. Stay tuned for more.
Well, it has happened again–I’ve gone over a month without blogging! So, I give up. It will happen when it happens. Sorry Eric!My latest adventure is a free online cooking class hosted by Harvard University as part of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC.) I’m really enjoying it. The class is called “Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.” There is a lot of math in it (which I am loving) and also a lot of chemistry (not loving so much.) This is only my first week but I am learning a lot.
The picture you see is me checking the calibration of my stove. We did this by putting a 1/2 Tablespoon of sugar in our preheated ovens (set at 350) and then checking the sugar after 15 minutes. If it hadn’t melted, we were supposed to raise the temp 10 degrees (or, in the case of my analog stove, 25 degrees) and check again after 15 minutes. We were to repeat this process until the sugar melted. Since sugar always melts at 366 degrees, it should melt in a properly calibrated stove between 360 and 370 (or 350 and 375.) I am happy to report my old, beat-up, worn-out stove did just fine. The fancy new one in the processing room however…
I had previously taken a solar energy class but I couldn’t handle the technical aspects–it was pretty hardcore. If you haven’t taken a free online class, check out MOOC-List for a lot of great stuff. I’m thinking I’ll try a literature class next. 🙂
Our friend Eric has told me he routinely reads our blog but he gives me a hard time about the amount of time that passes between posts. So, I made a promise to myself that this month I would try to post more often. Nearly every day I have had an idea for a posting–thoughts on the webworm caterpillars defoliating our trees (who knew this American native is a European invasive!), the epiphany that happened as I was destroying a paper wasp nest (THEY FEED CATERPILLARS TO THEIR YOUNG!!), the pineapples
that are ripening in the greenhouse (if the webworm caterpillars don’t eat them first!!), the nature of cattle, fences, the subtle changes in the weather (have you been feeling those fall breezes?)–there is always something to write about. This is partly because many of the jobs on a farm lend themselves to meditations on life–weeding, or working on fences, or starting seeds in the greenhouse, or walking back from the pasture. Having something to think about is not the problem. So, what is? I don’t know–remembering to actually do the posting?! :-)Today I remembered so here’s my latest entry–for Eric. (Hi Eric!)
We didn’t have much of a pear crop this year because we had a cold snap after most of the pear trees had just blossomed. Only the late bloomers (like the Kieffers and Orients) had a yield and it was not a big one. However, Deb and Khrys’s tree is next to their house so that warmth followed by the intermittent rains means they have a LOT of pears. When they offered to share their bounty, we jumped at the chance.
When we got home, the work began–deciding what to do with them!! We need to conserve freezer space because come fall, we will have chicken and beef to put in it. I thought about canning them but neither of us like canned foods. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the canning is done by a corporation or a family member. My grandmother and mother both canned and while I loved the spiced peaches, I don’t like the “dead” taste that seems to come from the high heat required of canning. It is as if all the energy has been destroyed. So, what to do with these pears.
Well, this year I have been doing a TON of dehydrating. I’ve done tomatoes (which I then used in breads, crackers, and soups), blueberries (a quart of blueberries shrinks down to less than a cup!), grapes, figs (dehydrating changes them from something John won’t eat to something he enjoys–and it’s a LOT less work than making fig newtons!), and our small crop of apples and pears. So, my first thought was to dehydrate these pears as well. Then Deb mentioned fruit leather . She also loaned me some trays to make it easier, suggested adding nuts (for protein), recommended keeping the mixture as dry as possible (to dehydrate quicker), and showed me how she removes the pear from the core rather than the core from the pear (HUGE timesaver!!) So, I was on a mission!
Well, I LOVE the fruit leather!! It tastes a bit like a really healthy gummy bear. I made up several recipes. For all of them, I first cooked the pears. (These are, after all, good ole Florida sand pears!) Besides, I wanted to keep the skins of these beautiful organic pears for the fiber and nutrients. Cooking makes the skins softer and more enjoyable to eat.
I knew I wanted a little bit of sugar, but not much, so for one batch I blended in some of Marie’s famous Mayhaw jelly. Although I admit it doesn’t look that great before it is dried (it’s the up-chuck looking goo on the right side of the picture) but when it is dry, the colors and the taste become more concentrated. YUM!!
I also made a batch with my berry jam (see earlier post) and a batch with herbs from the garden (cardamom leaves, holy basil) and some ginger. There were still some cooked pears left over so I put them in some canning jars in the fridge. I didn’t process them but we can get them eaten in the next few days. We love fruit in the morning with our fresh eggs and home-made bread.
Now, I am nearly done with the day–just waiting on the current batch of bread and cinnamon rolls to do their final rise before I put them in the oven. As I sit here, it finally occurs to me why I don’t get around to doing more of these posts–I’m tired! But Eric, you are worth it. 🙂
Do you have those synchronous moments when seemingly random events collide? That happened to me recently with the idea of invasives.First, week before last we were busy battling centipede grass. It has invaded some of our pastures. This is a problem because it stays short–too short for the cattle to eat it. Therefore, a pasture can be full of grass and yet the cows go hungry. Ironically, we intentionally introduced this plant onto the farm because of its tolerance for low Ph and poor soils. We would love to have this grass in our front yard because it saves energy since it does not need to be mowed regularly–something we do with the Bahia because of my allergies. So, we rented a sodcutter, cut the centipede sod in the pasture, cut the bahia sod in the front yard, and switched. Now we will see what happens.
Next, one night last week I saw a sweet big-eyed tree frog in the fig tree eating my figs. I let it be–it was truly beautiful. The next day I searched the internet to identify it. Turns out it was a Cuban tree frog–an invasive. Turns out there is a professor who has his research assistants working on projects to do away with this cuban invader. (Check out the instructions on how to gas the little bugger: http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/cuban_treefrog_inFL.shtml )
Finally, with my mom I attended a presentation on native plants. As part of the display there was a book called “Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives.” I’ve been reading that book and it is changing the way I think about invasives because it makes a strong argument that invasives are natural and are very useful to our soil and our earth.
Actually, my thinking about invasives initially was challenged when Boots and I attempted to make a garden for the Administrative Offices of the park. The park administrator at that time wanted us to use only native plants. This led us to a conundrum–how far do you go back in a plant’s history to determine if it is native?! Even corn–that quintessential native plant food–has only been a native for 8000 years! So, where do you draw the line? We ended up dropping the project because we were unable to decide what qualified as native!
My thinking was also challenged when I found out that the “invasive” African bees (killer bees) are much stronger than the European bees (that ironically we call “native”) and so are able to withstand hive collapse.
And then there are the cowbirds which do such a great job of eating the hornflies off our cows and cleaning the grasshoppers out of our fields. The story is that these immigrants came over from Africa on the backs of a hurricane.
So, this is what was on my mind yesterday when John and I were watching a video on hay-less winter grazing. It is a recording of a gentleman in Crescent City, FL who is grazing his 200 head of cattle year-round. He a native of Mexico and is using many of the things that have been working for him on his ranch there. One of his strategies is to plant Mimosa and Honey Locust in his fields. Both are considered invasives but both are legumes which means as “nitrogen-fixers” they are medicine for the soil. (More information: http://farmprogress.com/story-valuable-silvopasture-has-edible-trees-14-98044 )
Although I have relatives who moved to this continent in the 1600’s, many people would consider me an invasive. Just today I was called a Yankee and told that “GD Yankees are the ones who won’t go home.” I guess that means I am most definitely an invasive. Perhaps that is what makes me so tolerant of my fellow invasives on our farm.
Our ideas about food have become a bit skewed and off. For example, we have been trained to believe perfection translates into flavor. We often seek the best looking and biggest fruits and vegetables because we think they will be the tastiest and healthiest. We overlook the small and blemished because we believe them to be inferior–in food and in life. By doing so, we are missing out.
One of the challenges we have is finding ways to preserve the goodness of fresh foods so we can enjoy them in the off seasons. We freeze, can, and dry fruits and vegetables. I also make preserves. The problem is that while I love jams and preserves, I don’t like all that sugar. However, without sugar, you get syrup.
So, I tried something suggested by Diane, my nephew’s fiance. Diane gave me some Chia seeds and suggested I use them as a thickener. I only knew Chia as the “hair” on a chia pet so I was surprised when she recommended them but I am very happy with the results. Here is what I did.
I cooked 3 cups of fresh blackberries in their own juice for 5 minutes (long enough to incorporate 3 T of Mexican cane sugar) and then put the mix through a Foley foodmill to remove some of the seeds. Next, I added 3 T of Chia seeds. This yielded a full pint of jam with just enough extra to eat now! As you can see in the picture, the extra jam looks wonderful on a piece of homemade bread. It also tastes great because the Chia adds bulk without overwhelming the flavor of the berries in the way that sugar does. Thanks Diane!
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