Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Applesauce and Olives

Our late season preserving continues with making a batch of applesauce made from the apples we gathered from around the property. There are thousands of apples and we spent an hour or so last weekend collecting a nice haul. Tonight Nance borrowed my mom's Squeeze-O to grind and smush the steamed apples into sauce. Its amazing how yummy and easy it is. Nance has been the project master while Joe and I have been employed cranking the Squeeze-O. Our friend Carlene gave us some applesauce she made which in turn inspired us to give it a go.

A few nights ago we spent some time cracking green olives that were sent from California. The olive season is in the fall and you can buy them fresh and uncured and then cure them yourself, which we've done for the last couple of years. Again, Joe and I were put to work with some little wooden mallets I made just for this project, cracking each olive. Once the olives are all cracked, the bucket they are in is filled with water and then the water is changed every day or so for a week, give or take, to remove the bitter flavor. Eventually they are stored for the long term in a salt brine with olive oil.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recent Harvest

We went away last weekend and there was a frost in the forecast, so we harvested a bunch of stuff we didn't want to lose. Beyond what's shown in the photos we've got piles of onions, celariac, canned tomatoes, shallots, a bunch of herbs, potatoes, tons of basil (that is now pesto), carrots, squashes, and countless other excellent items that I can't recall at the moment.

We grew pie pumpkins for the first time this year. That's the orange/green squash-like stuff in crate on the left. The bin on the right contains our haul of sweet potatoes. We are particularly excited about the sweet potatoes since we've learned how to do a better job of keeping them warm and moist under plastic and row cover. Last year's take was okay, but nothing like what we got this year.

The garlic has been hanging to dry since early August. We took it down and cut off the stems. All told we've got about 40 pounds or so. This should last us through next spring with enough to plant this fall for next year's harvest.

Nance holding a couple of peppers.


We decided to go after some of the wild apples available all along the property line. They don't look very good, but boy, some of them are super yummy. We plan to make apple sauce with them.

A pile of sungolds. We slice these in half and then dry them in the food dehydrator. Yum.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cyrus Pringle

There's big excitement around here lately regarding the advent of locally grown and milled white flour which my brother-in-law Randy is completely excited about.

To fill you in: Randy and his wife Liza (my sister) are the owners of the Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, Vermont. It has long been a hope that there could be wheat grown locally that would meet the complex requirements needed to produce a local loaf that could meet or exceed performance expectations. Red Hen incorporates Vermont whole wheat into its breads (sourced from Gleason's Grains), but there is very little (almost none) in-state production of white flour. Three years ago, a farmer in Charlotte planted 30 acres of red winter wheat as a test plot with the intention of milling the wheat into white flour. The first two years, the wheat was tested and found to lack enough protein for bread baking (protein gives a loaf its loft) so the wheat was sold as animal feed. Borrowing a technique used by wheat growers in Quebec, in this third year the wheat was harvested early and dried under controlled conditions. In the hot and dry Kansas climate, wheat can dry on the stalk in the fields. Not so here. This third batch of wheat was tested and found to have promising results. Within a week, Randy was experimenting, using the white flour to make bread. He was heard to utter these words: "giddy with excitement." Once some of the logistics are worked out (and there are surprisingly a number of them), Red Hen plans to roll out a new loaf made from 100% VT wheat.

Stepping back slightly: there have been efforts to find or develop a variety of wheat that can do well in the short, damp growing seasons of Vermont. UVM Extension Agent Heather Darby found heritage wheat seed (in a seed bank in Washington State) and she's been working with several farmers to trail and cross breed these wheat varieties that were in significant use in Vermont 100 years ago when the state was known as the bread basket of New England.

Once we find a suitable wheat, there is the need to have the milling infrastructure available to then turn Vermont wheat into white flour. Small farm-based mills exist that do a good job of milling whole wheat flour, but to get a white flour, a large "industrial" mill is required. Fortunately, Champlain Mills, an organic mill, is located in NY on the western shore of lake Champlain. There is no in-state mill that we know of that can produce white flour in volume.

Some of the heritage wheat in the field trials was originally developed by Cyrus Pringle (no relation to the familiar Pringles chips) who was born in Charlotte, VT in the 1800's. Pringle was a botanist and wheat breeder who cross bred potatoes and apples and became notable in his field. Beyond this, Pringle was a Quaker. He was drafted into the Union army during the Civil War and refused to participate in military duties. This led to harsh treatment; he was granted a reprieve from President Lincoln.

Randy's been searching around for a suitable name for this new loaf of bread and was familiar with Cyrus Pringle from a presentation given by Heather Darby. Randy then put it out there to family and friends and a number of possiblities have surfaced: Pringle's Pride, Cyrus' Honor, Cyrus Pringle, and recently, Pringle's Progress.

Jeremy's chicken coop

The other day we had breakfast with Sally, Jeremy, Anda and Silas to celebrate Anda's birthday and just visit. It's always great to see them and if we don't get the opportunity to "recharge" by hanging out once in a while I start to notice.

Anyway, Jeremy built an excellent chicken coop that I thought I'd post a few pictures of.

It's a double decker, with the bottom open to the earth and an "upstairs" where the hens roost at night and are protected from rain and weather. Jeremy has cleverly designed a small trap door that becomes a ramp when it is opened via a string from the outside. This lets the hens travel down to the bottom area. Feeding happens on the second floor and foraging and fertilizing happen downstairs. There are access doors along the side and a cleaning and egg gathering door at the end.

I very much admire the combination of function and design happening in the triangular shape --with neither being sacrificed, as far as I can see. The coop is moved twice a day around the lawn to keep fresh foraging ground available to the chickens and fertilization (in the form of chicken poop) spread out around the yard.