For your Friday… a sampling of Fall photos from around the farm!
Ok, I’m definitely growing this gorgeous heirloom Indian corn every year now. It grew ten feet tall, produced beautifully, and the colours were stunning — turquoise, lavender, mauve, periwinkle, neon yellow, brick red… I can’t wait to grind it into cornmeal for “homegrown” corn bread!
The heirloom apples practically pose for pictures. As do these little pears…
Everything is picked by hand… we’d have it no other way!
Auntie Maryann takes the farmer’s market seriously! (Not too seriously.)
The ladies on the veranda:
The Black Arkansas apples are almost ripe… yep, must be Autumn at last.
Today we bring you two episodes of The Homestead Radio Hour, our monthly radio program on KVMR FM Nevada City. Over the past few years we’ve been honoured to talk with and interview a wide variety of guests, from farmers and beekeepers to local-food advocates and educators; but no matter what the topic, we always seem to come back to the importance of knowing where your food comes from, knowing the people who grew or raised it, knowing how it was made, and knowing how to do a little more in your own backyard.
The two episodes below are especially appropriate, I think, for Independence Day. How do we define “independence” when it comes to consumption? Are we really free if we have to rely on a mysterious, all-powerful system of corporations to decide what goes on our dinner tables? And what happens if, one day, that machinery breaks?
The first episode here — “Independence From The Food Machine” — features local author and real-food advocate Joanne Neft. She started the first Foothill Farmer’s Market in Auburn twenty-two years ago, she has written two beautiful books on how to cook with seasonal, local meats and produce, she has been a tireless advocate for our local farmers and food economy, and that’s just the beginning! Joanne is one of the most inspiring people I know in the world of food and farming, and it was such a treat to sit down with her at the historic Newcastle fruit-packing sheds and talk about the importance, and the joys, of real food. In this episode, we also visit the farmer’s market to talk to shoppers, chefs, and farmers about why they love fresh, local, and seasonal food.
The second episode here is one that I still can’t quite believe happened. We were totally knocked out to get to interview Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman, world-renowned farmer-author-activists, on the Homestead Radio Hour back in January. The whole thing came as a complete surprise — we were planning to talk about the Nevada County Farm Conference, where they were going to be featured speakers, but the last thing we expected when we arrived at the studio was to find Messrs. Salatin and Ableman waiting for us! We frantically scribbled down some notes and questions in the few minutes before the show started, but our semi-panicked frenzy was completely unnecessary; they were so down-to-earth and easy to talk with, and it was a delight just hearing the two of them take the conversation in ways we hadn’t even planned.
I hope you enjoy these two episodes at your leisure on a lovely summer afternoon, preferably with a tall glass of lemonade or a bowl of icy watermelon — the old-fashioned kind, with seeds. They’re so much sweeter that way!
The Homestead Radio Hour, Thursday July, 8th, 2010: Independence from the Food Machine
With hosts Phyllis and Julia Boorinakis-Harper
Learn how you can achieve Independence From The Food Machine! This episode features local farmers, consumers, and chefs, as well as local food advocate and Placer County Real Food Cookbook author Joanne Neft. We talk about the benefits of eating fresh, local, in-season foods and give tips on how to do it without breaking the bank. Celebrate the national treasure of small farmers and CSAs, as well your own backyard, and claim your rights to freedom of the fork!
The Homestead Radio Hour, January 2012: Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman
With hosts Phyllis and Julia Boorinakis-Harper
Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman visit the Homestead Radio Hour to talk about sustainable agriculture, “integrity food,” and the future of farming.
Joel Salatin is a full-time farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A third generation alternative farmer, he returned to the farm full-time in 1982 and continued refining and adding to his parents’ ideas. His speaking and writing reflect dirt-under-the-fingernails experience punctuated with mischievous humor. He passionately defends small farms, local food systems, and the right to opt out of the conventional food paradigm. He is the author of nine books, including The Sheer Ecstasy of Being A Lunatic Farmer and Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.
Michael Ableman is a farmer, author, and photographer and a recognized practitioner of sustainable agriculture and proponent of regional food systems. He has written several books and numerous essays and articles, and lectures extensively on food, culture, and sustainability worldwide. Michael is currently farming at the Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, home of The Center for Arts, Ecology & Agriculture.
I think we’re just gonna go ahead and declare April as Chicken Appreciation Month, or maybe Time To Get Yourself Some Darn Chickens Month! We — Phyllis and Julia, the Homestead Radio gals — are excited to be presenting the talk “Country Chicks, City Chicks – Raising Chickens in Your Backyard” at The Union’s annual Spring Home & Garden Show. The home show and talk are free. Come on by this Saturday, April 28, 3:30 to 4:30, at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, Northern Mines Building, and bring your poultry-related questions!
And, if you missed this month’s episode of The Homestead Radio Hour, you can listen to our feature on Backyard Chicken-Keeping right here — we had so many listeners call in with some great chicken questions and tales. Too much fun! Just click on the player below, or follow this link to the KVMR podcast page.
One of the nicest things about selling our fruit at the local farmer’s markets is that we get to meet and hang out with other farmers all Saturday morning. We’re all running around to keep up with customers and re-stock our produce displays and so on, but there’s always plenty of time to chat with your neighbours, and by the end of the season, we’re fast friends.
That’s how we met Jim and Ginger Armstrong, of Snowy Peaks Christmas Tree Farm in Foresthill. Nope, they’re not selling Christmas trees in August and September, when we’re at the market with pears — they also grow hydroponic strawberries and blueberries, as well as delicious New Mexico chilies, which they roast to order. When Jim fires up his gas-powered roaster and loads it with chilies, the smell is absolutely tantalizing! We always look forward to a spot next to their tent at the market, so we can bask in the aromas and chat and swap recipes with Ginger.
But this time of year, there are no chilies and berries at Snowy Peaks…. it’s all about the trees!
Clockwise from top left: A hand-painted sign greets visitors to the farm; a glimpse of Sierra snow through the firs; handmade wreaths decorate the office; the bonfire has a view of the farm and the forest beyond.
You may know that we — Phyllis and Julia — host a radio program, The Homestead Radio Hour, on KVMR FM in Nevada City. Each month, we focus on a particular topic, such as backyard chickens or beekeeping or composting, and bring in guests to discuss it with us. For our December episode, we settled on Handmade Homestead Holidays as our theme… and who better to talk to about homegrown Christmas traditions than Jim and Ginger? We’d all been wanting to take a trip up to their farm anyway, and this was the perfect occasion!
Snowy Peaks Farm is just outside of Foresthill; it’s only a half-hour’s drive from Auburn, but it feels like you’re wonderfully far away from everything. No traffic, no noise, just trees and forest and beautiful Sierra vistas. Jim and Ginger have been growing trees here for 14 years, and it’s plain to see that they love what they do — the office is painted a bright festive red and hung with wreaths, there’s a toasty bonfire glowing, and a hillside of carefully-tended firs stretches out of view. Their farm is the heart of many a family tradition; Ginger told us how they have some families, now into the third generation, who come back every year together to pick out a tree.
We had a lovely time interviewing Ginger and Jim for the show, and it was especially interesting to hear their thoughts on the “green” aspect of real Christmas trees as opposed to artificial ones. It may seem counterintuitive that cutting down a tree is the better choice for the environment, but just think about the ecological impact of manufacturing plastic trees in China and then shipping them to the US. What happens when next year’s “new and improved” model comes out? How much space will those fake trees take up in a landfill?
On the other hand, you have a deliciously fragrant, natural, biodegradable tree, grown by local people on a local farm. Jim pointed out that Christmas trees are much like any other crop; you plant, harvest and replant, taking care of the land and the soil as you do so. The money stays in the local economy, and the land is kept open, unpaved, and undeveloped.
Hydroponic blueberries grow in large pots; strawberriesand chilies grow in smaller, vertically-stacked planters.
We also got to see the hydroponically-grown blueberries and the strawberry and chili planting system, which was fascinating. The plants grow in a soilless perlite and vermiculite mixture, receiving their nutrients through the watering system. This makes it easier to control pH, which is important for blueberries, and to grow far more strawberry and pepper plants in a smaller area. It’s an impressive system, and I’d love to see it in action in the summer (when the Snowy Peaks berry farm is open as a you-pick — yum!) …I think another field trip will be in order…
You can listen to our interview with Jim and Ginger here:
Our thanks to Jim and Ginger for talking with us and showing us around their beautiful farm! You can see more of what they do, and check their seasons and hours, on their web site: www.snowypeaksfarm.com.
So many pears! This is the time of year when we pick pears, carry pears, polish pears, sort pears, pack pears, sell pears, dry pears, eat pears…. every single day. It’s a short season, though — just about a month, really — so by the time you’re feeling slightly tired of pears, it’s almost time to start missing them. And that, to me, is precisely the joy of seasonal eating: nothing gets old. And everything, every bite, is wonderful. Which brings me to today’s recipe.
As soon as the weather begins to cool ever so slightly, it’s time to make my favourite brandied pear bread pudding — simple and cozy and delicious, the kind of recipe where every ingredient shines in its own right. Needless to say, it starts with good ingredients: a dense, crusty loaf of country-style French bread, or a rich challah; perfectly ripe pears; whole milk and fresh eggs for the custard; and, if you are lucky enough to have some in your pantry, pear brandy. We’ll get to the recipe in a moment, but first, about that brandy….
We always get a kick out of bringing one of these pears-in-a-bottle to the farmer’s market and setting it somewhere on our table. It never fails to set people to talking — and to tossing around all kinds of wild speculations on just how that pear got in there. “Did you light a match in the bottle, like with an egg?” “I know, you put a pear seed inside!” Of course, the real explanation is quite simple…. any guesses?
Growing a pear in a bottle (shhhh, it’s a secret!) is amusing enough on its own, but the real fun starts when the pear is ripe, and you fill up the bottle with brandy. The sugars and flavour of the fruit infuse the alcohol; we let the bottles sit for a good 6 months before opening them. Pear brandy makes a lovely after-dinner drink, and it’s a sublime baking ingredient. You can make a just-as-good, if not quite so spectacular, version by setting a ripe pear in a mason jar and topping it off with brandy. For this recipe, you can use regular brandy if you don’t have pear brandy ready-made, or even omit the brandy altogether. It lends a subtle and compelling warmth to the pudding, and the smell as it bakes is absolutely divine. I highly recommend the leftovers (should there be any) for breakfast!
Julia’s B-H Ranch Pear Bread Pudding
• 6 to 8 Bartlett pears (I like a mixture of firm-ripe and soft-ripe)
• 8 to 10 slices firm country-style French bread or challah
• 1 3/4 c milk (I use whole milk)
• 3 large eggs, beaten
• 2/3 c sugar, or a little less if you like it less sweet
• 1/4 c pear brandy (see note above)
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp nutmeg
• 1/4 c butter, melted and cooled a bit
• 1/4 c chopped walnuts (optional)
…and a deep 9″ square baking dish.
Preheat oven to 350°. Peel, core, quarter, and slice the pears into bite-size pieces. Slice the crusts off the bread and cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Put the pears and bread into a large bowl and toss to mix.
Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, brandy, vanilla, and spices in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the butter. Pour this over the bread and pears in the other bowl, gently stir/fold to coat everything evenly, and let stand for 20-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn the mixture after 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to over-mix; you want the bread pieces to remain as intact as possible.
Pile bread mixture into a buttered baking dish (it will be very full; press gently to make it all fit.) If you like, sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top. Bake in a water bath at 350° for about an hour, or until set. (Check with a toothpick or the point of a knife.)
(To make a water bath: set the baking dish inside a larger baking dish, making sure there is room on all sides. Set the nested dishes on the oven rack and carefully pour boiling water into the outside dish, so that it fills one-half to two-thirds of the way up the inner pudding dish. If you fill it too high, boiling water may splash into your pudding, so don’t get too close to the rim of the inner dish. See the photo below if any of that sounds confusing… and don’t skip this step, as the water bath will keep the custard from curdling as it bakes. )
You may need to tent the pudding with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly — if so, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking so the top gets nicely crisp. Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream (with an additional dash of pear brandy mixed in, if you like) or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!
We’ve spent the last few days extracting and bottling our honey harvest — all 300 pounds of it! Here’s how we get it out of the comb and into the jar…
First: getting ready. The labels are stamped, the extractor set up, the supers of honey stacked and ready to go. Ahh, everything looks so nice and neat and non-sticky… but that won’t last for long!
We begin by “uncapping” the combs, so the honey can run out. To do this, you use a heated knife to slice through the wax covers that seal the cells. The knife needs to be just hot enough to cut easily through the wax, but not to burn the honey.
An uncapped comb of luminous blackberry honey, ready to extract:
Next, the frames of comb and honey go into the extractor, which works kind of like a washing machine on the “spin” cycle. This extractor can hold four frames of honey at once, and is powered by elbow grease!
As the basket spins, the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force; then it collects in the bottom of the tank, where it runs out into a bowl or bucket. With this extractor, you spin the honey out of one side of the comb, turn the frames, and then repeat for the other side. Multiply that by 10 frames per super, 14 supers total… whew!
When the honey comes out of the extractor, it’s full of bits of wax from the uncapped combs. We pour it through a stainless-steel mesh small enough to catch the wax flecks, but nowhere near so fine as to filter out the tiny grains of pollen in the honey — the good stuff!
It takes a good day’s work to get through all those frames… and the honey-extracting process does seem to attract an audience! Family and friends drift in until the little honey house is cozily crowded.
And, finally, into the jar it goes. Ready for the farmer’s market!
You can see all the action in this swell video Mikail made of the day’s work:
(We’ll be at the Foothill Farmer’s Markets in the next week or so — or drop us a note if you’d like to pick up a jar!)
Have you been to the farmer’s market lately? Cherries, raspberries, lettuce, the earliest peaches… it’s a feast for the senses! And among all those springtime delights, you may spot these giant, bulbous green pods:
What are they? Favas! Or Koukiá, as we call them in Greek. A remarkable-yet-remarkably-underappreciated bean. They are very easy to grow, they’re one of the first springtime vegetables, and they’re delicious — and yet, it does take some searching to find fava beans. I’ve seen them a few times in the grocery store (usually in very small quantity), but by and large, if you want to get your hands on some of these tasty legumes, you’ll have to grow them yourself or go to the farmer’s market. Life is hard, huh?
And as much as I love, love, love the farmer’s market — our local markets are fantastic — I’m all for the backyard plot on this one! Not only are favas simple to grow, they also have lovely sweetpea-scented flowers and, being a legume, they’re great for the soil. You can even grow them (or their cousin, bell bean) as a cover crop; just be sure to cut and compost or till them in before they start to bloom for the highest nutrient level.
See, they’re just such happy-looking plants! We plant the seeds in the fall, usually November or thereabouts, when the rains begin but it isn’t yet too chilly out. They grow all winter long, getting taller and taller — by harvest time, the topmost leaves (which, incidentally, are edible and tasty when young) are brushing my shoulders. We plant them in a block and fence the plot on all sides with chicken wire, about two feet high; it keeps hungry critters like rabbits away from the young sprouts, and when the plants get taller, it provides just enough support to keep them from falling over. Which they absolutely will, if you let them.
They’re also abundant producers. Our fava patch this year was about 6 by 8 feet, and we ended up with a tremendous harvest — I’m guessing 20 to 25 gallons of beans in the shell. Of course, there is one catch with fava beans: they’re mostly shell! The beans themselves are wrapped in a tough, spongy-textured pod, and it can take quite a lot of time to shell them if you don’t have help… so, like many things of this nature, it’s really best as a communal activity! Round up a few friends and make some lemonade — you’ll find it’s quite pleasant work that way.
Here they are, ready to shell. That’s just a small fraction of the crop! (And, yes, that bucket does say “for FOOD” on it, to distinguish it form the many other buckets for dirt, fertilizer, etc around here.) There are a handful of tricks for getting the beans out of the pod; I usually snap off one end, “unzip” the little strings along the sides, and then pop the shell open along its length. Everyone has their own technique:
Once you have the bean out of the pod, flick off that little “cap” on the end:
Annnnd, the final bean-to-shell ratio. Take heart — those empty pods will do wonders for your compost pile!
Now, I’ll let you in on a secret. Most fava-bean recipes will tell you to take the shelled beans, dip them in boiling water, and then shell them again, removing the peel that surrounds each individual bean. By the time you do this, you’ll be wondering why you even started in the first place — a bushel of beans will result in a handful! But the Greeks know that this is silly: why, after you’ve gone to all the work of growing those beans, should you throw most of your harvest away? Stew them up with some lamb and tomato, or blanch and freeze them ’til Summer to add to eggplant, zucchini, okra, and tomato with some dill — as long as you pick the beans while they’re tender, there is no reason you have to peel and toss that inner shell. You might want to for certain dishes, but it’s by no means a necessity! (An interesting bit ofkoukiá history here.)
Ragout of fresh favas with artichokes from Bob Roan and Teri Ueki, with our own dried tomatoes and spanakorizo (rice with spinach, Greek-style) …. mmm-mmm!
Every person's guide to do-it-yourself sustainability, backyard farming and urban homesteading, hosted by Phyllis and Julia Boorinakis Harper. Learn how you can create a fresh, local, and rewarding lifestyle right in your own backyard — listen live on KVMR 89.5 FM, third Fridays of each month at 12 noon, or visit the podcast archives here!