I think that this post should be called The Lazy Gardener Gets the Kale.
So for some unknown reason, I didn’t harvest my kale last fall. Don’t ask me why because I don’t have a valid reason. Or any reason for that matter. So I guess the glaring answer is laziness…
Anyhow, we had such a mild winter that the kale survived. I didn’t even have to cover it. Again with the laziness. Sheesh!
I’ve been planting away this spring and decided to finally pull up the spindly looking kale and actually eat it. It’s Tuscan kale, or lacinato kale, which is very tender. And just to keep the whole lazy streak going, I did the simplest (and very delicious) preparation, which is to sauté it in olive oil with garlic. It was worth the wait!
Sunday was a beautiful Mother’s Day. I woke up to bacon pancakes and this beautiful card from Lindsay.
After breakfast, Lindsay and I went into Manhattan to take a sewing class at City Quilter on how to make stuffies. We were asked to bring a couple of drawings, which we would then turn into stuffed felt creatures.
Lindsay made these two drawings:
After a few hours, she made them (with very little help from me) into these:
That evening Neil took us out to The Farm on Adderly, which specializes in seasonal, local and wild edibles. It was delicious!
If a reader hadn’t asked, I might have forgotten to post about my little apple tree. In the early spring I posted about trying to pollinate my Sundance apple tree. I pruned branches from another tree and put the branches near my flowering tree in the hopes that the bees would do the cross-pollinating. You can read about the process here. The good news is that it worked and I had 5 apples growing on my tree. I don’t have any experience with dwarf apple trees, so I don’t know if this is a decent number for the first year of fruit. I also wasn’t familiar with this variety of apple, so wasn’t sure how it would look when the fruit was ripe. This apple is one of the 5 from my tree. The fruit is sweet and crisp and delicious. I’ve always dreamed of having a small home orchard, and although 5 apples is a laughably small amount, it is a beginning.
This week was the first week of our CSA or farm share. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s also known as subscription farming.
In the winter, you buy a share of a farm and in return, you get a share of the produce. What’s great for the farmer, is that the payments come all at once (and are predictable), so they can purchase equipment, seeds and supplies for the next growing season. You and the farmer share the risk of a bad year, or the bounty of an excellent growing year.
What I like is that you get to relearn how to eat with the seasons. The beginning of the season has lots of greens. We got lettuce, oregano, leeks, sunchokes, and lots and lots of strawberries. I wish I could describe how aromatic and delicious these strawberries are. Everything is picked when it’s ripe because it doesn’t have to travel thousands of miles. Can you remember the insides of strawberries being red instead of white?
If you live in New York and are interested in participating in a CSA (for next season), click here to find one. We kind of got in through the back door with ours. It has a really long waiting list, but they offer a winter share with frozen fruits and veggies. Somehow participating in the winter share got us in and past the people lined up for just the regular summer share. Shh, don’t tell anyone.
Yesterday I brought our chickens to my daughter’s school for their Earth Day celebration. We were representing backyard chickens. This is one of many school visits we’ve done with them, so they are seasoned pros. We have a dog crate, which is the perfect size for an afternoon. Many factory hens live their entire lives in cages many times smaller than this, but that’s another discussion.
Last year I picked ivy from our garden for the kids to feed them. With the winter being so long, we don’t have ivy leaves yet, so I bought a tub of spinach leaves. The kids had a blast feeding the hens and the piggy little girls wolfed down almost every leaf presented to them.
There was another table with worm composting, and towards the end of the day, kids were bringing worms over to feed our girls. They wolfed those down as well, enjoying the change from spinach. They even ate the feed I brought them. It was really kind of amazing how much they ate in those 2 hours.
By 5pm, they were tired and ready to get home. I was afraid Lulu was having a mini nervous breakdown because she was continuously making a noise I had never heard before. Kind of like a donkey bray with a hiccup at the end. But this morning she’s good as new and even laid an egg. It’s probably so rich with beta-carotene from all yesterday’s spinach!
Happy Earth Day to everyone. How are you celebrating?
While we were up in the Berkshires, we went to visit Gould Farm to see their maple sugar operation. My in-laws recently met a man named Steve who oversees the maple sugaring there. Gould farm is a pretty amazing place. It is a residential, therapeutic community dedicated to helping adults with mental illness. You can read more about them here.
The evaporator that we saw is powered by a wood fire. From the enormous woodpile behind the sugar shack, it was clear that a lot of wood is needed for the process.
The sap is poured into the far end of the evaporator and works its way through channels. What you can’t see, is that the underside of these channels are shaped a bit like an accordion, so a very large surface area gets heated by the fire. The tree sap ranges from about 2% to 5% sugar and when it’s finished it’s about 67% sugar. We were treated to maple tea, which is the sap that has cooked for quite a bit, but is still in the back half of the evaporator. It is sweet, but still thin like tea. As an extra treat, Steve brought fresh cream from their cows to add to it, which made it taste like ice cream.
There are various ways to know when the maple syrup is finished. You can use a hydrometer, a candy thermometer (it’s ready at about 7 degrees F above the temp of boiling water), or you can do a visual check. The syrup sheets off the ladle in a manner similar to making jam. It is something you can do at home, but we were warned that with the amount of steam that is produced, many homes have lost their wallpaper during the process.
The final syrup was temporarily put in large containers, to be bottled and ready for sale in a couple of weeks. We are definitely going back to get a bottle!
The sugar house
Vast amounts of wood needed to make maple syrup
Stoking the fire
Steve in front of the evaporator
The syrup moves through channels
Drinking maple tea
Testing the consistency of the syrup
The syrup goes through a double filter when it’s finished
Here’s a short video that shows The Windowfarms Project. I think it’s a great idea, and is especially suited for school classrooms. They have kits especially designed for schools, but the biggest hurdle is funding. A kit for elementary schools sells for just under $300.
When you are interested in foraging, you really have to pay attention to the seasons. If you read about ramps in the winter, you are going to have to wait until spring to find them. Shopping at grocery stores seems to have made us forget that certain things grow at certain times of year. At least locally, that is. I had read about making acorn flour a while ago, but it wasn’t acorn season. I forgot all about it until I saw Stephanie mention it in her blog. I was going up to the Berkshires for the weekend and it was the right time of year for acorns.
We went on a hike and I brought a backpack along to gather nuts. I had no idea how many I would need, so I summoned my inner squirrel and kept gathering and filling my bag. When we got home, I weighed the nuts I had found and had 8lbs. After pulling off the tops and discarding the ones that had worm holes in them I had 6lbs. I read in a couple of places that you place the acorns in water and the ones that float aren’t viable. I tried that and almost all of mine floated. I decided to check inside and see what they looked like. Some were bad, but most were good, so I decided to skip that theory.
Now comes the gross part…grubs! Many of the acorns had grubs. The fat, white, wiggly things totally grossed me out, so I decided to bake the acorns at 170 degrees F to kill them. A dead grub is still gross, but a wiggling one is much worse.
After discarding the acorns that were discolored or had grubs in them I think I was down to about 2-3 lbs. Acorns are full of tannins, so you have to soak them for several days to remove the bitterness. I tried soaking them when they were chopped, but thought that the water wasn’t getting to the inside of the acorn meat. I ran them through a meat grinder to chop them smaller.
bad acorns with grubs
acorns ready to chop
finished acorn flour
Directions for how to make acorn flour:
Gather a ridiculous amount of acorns
Discard any that have obvious problems (squirrel bites or worm holes)
Bake acorns at 170F for 1 hour to kill grubs
Shell acorns tossing out any that are discolored or have grubs. It is pretty obvious which ones are good and which ones aren’t
Grind acorns in a food processor, or a meat grinder
Wrap in several layers of cheesecloth and soak in water. You will need to do this for several days, until the meat isn’t bitter.
Lay the acorn flour on a pan and either dry in the sun, or in the oven on the lowest setting. Make sure it’s completely dry or it will mold.
I will post some recipes within the next few days.
This morning we had nothing in the house to eat for breakfast, so we picked up bagels and went to our local playground. This playground/park hosts a farmer’s market every Sunday, so we popped by to see what they had to offer.
One of the vendors was Grazin’ Angus Acres, which raises animals for meat and eggs. They had a certification of Animal Welfare Approved. I was wondering what that was compared to Certified Humane. I found this description on the WSPA (World Society For the Protection of Animals) website:
Are all humane food certification programs the same in terms of animal welfare requirements?
No. While the Certified Humane and American Humane Certified programs are similar, significant differences exist between these and the Animal Welfare Approved program operated by the Animal Welfare Institute. The concept of certifying animal foods as being humanely raised is relatively new and not all animal welfare scientists agree on what standards are appropriate. In addition, the administrators of humane food programs differ on the question of whether the programs should allow participation by producers that raise animals under both humane and factory-farming systems (referred to as “dual operations”). Certified Humane and American Humane Certified allow dual operations, while Animal Welfare Approved only certifies products from family farms.
Many products sold as humane are produced by companies that confine a majority of their animals under factory conditions. These companies can typically offer their humane products for less than they could otherwise because the products are subsidized by the intensive portion of their operation. Eventually small family farmers who run 100% humane operations could be driven out of business.
Okay, so Animal Welfare Approved sounds a bit better than Certified Humane. Live and learn.
Since watching Fowl Play, I haven’t eaten any meat. I just haven’t had the stomach for it. I even ordered carryout from a vegan restaurant last night. Which was delicious. Tonight we are going in the other direction and eating hamburgers from Grazin’ Angus Acres. It is grass fed and finished, local, no hormones or antibiotics and has the Animal Welfare seal of approval. It’s been a gorgeous day and a dinner outdoors will be a nice way to end the weekend.