Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Stone & Thistle Farm is not participating in spring. We are voyeurs, spying on others' spring. Every article I read from food blogs, culinary posts and magazines, rhapsodizes about the bounty of spring. Where are all of these contributors from?
It is April 1 and the ground is frozen solid; the tire tracks from the tractor have created gullies so deep and wide that pitons are needed to traverse them. There is not one sign of spring, no bobbing robins, crocuses (crocii) snow drops or peepers. The only sight reminiscent of spring are lambs and kid goats – except they are sporting ice rimmed noses from the frozen water buckets.
The food magazine Saveur's headline is, “What to Cook in April,” and features spring recipes such as asparagus lemon verbena vinaigrette, spiced, braised rhubarb and roasted lamb with rosemary. I wonder, as I look around the frozen brown pastures and dog manured gardens, April where?
Nourished Kitchen’s feature recipe is spring pizza – made with peas and lemon. We harvested our peas on June 20th last year. I planted peas three times last season. The first batch rotted, the second batch dried out and the third batch was picked clean by the guinea hens. Peas will not have a place in our garden this year.
Food Network featured a story on buying fresh spring herbs at the Union Square Farmers’ Market in NYC. The farmers in the article must be charging $20 for a sprig of thyme, to cover the costs of keeping their greenhouses heated. The article included a recipe for cold spring pea soup. Brrr. The only soup touching my lips is steaming hot and loaded with root vegetables and shredded winter chicken.
And several magazines are featuring articles and recipes for Passover and Easter on Spring lamb. For a leg of lamb to grace your Easter dinner table, it had to have been born in the fall. And I bet you the lamb at your table was born in New Zealand where it is spring in our fall. So banish the myth of spring chicken and lamb. How about a nice pork roast for Easter dinner? And brisket for Passover?
A customer from Brooklyn called and asked me to host a private lunch for a group visiting the Catskills next weekend. They requested local food – with an emphasis on the season – spring. They asked for spring chicken. It is technically, by the calendar, spring, but the first chick destined to be a roasting chicken, arrived two weeks ago. We will be slaughtering those “spring” chickens in June. Asparagus, she inquired? There was an asparagus sighting in the grocery store this week but the beautiful green and white bundles hailed from Peru. Peas, she asked? Nope. Dessert she queried – berries on clouds of egg whites. "Ah, we are getting somewhere," I answered her. We are overflowing in eggs. The hens are pushing out ten dozen a day or more. We agreed on lunch menu of bacon, feta and chevre strata made with fresh goat milk, local cheese and just gathered eggs and bacon from our rascally pigs. Baby green salad with maple vinaigrette made with greens from a local greenhouse and just tapped maple for the vinaigrette. Pates, cheese and crusty country bread. And for dessert – little pots de crème topped with cherries fetched from our canning cupboards.
The seasonal guide to food in the Catskills begins with the first sighting of ramps (wild leeks) pushing through the damp leaves in the woodlands around our farm and chives in the herb gardens.
Over the years, we've harvested ramps in mid April and often continued harvesting throughout May. Harvesting ramps is cold and muddy work but results in a fiesta of ramp pesto and butter, chive and ramp soup with goat cheese dumplings, ramp and asparagus frittata and ramp custard. I know it is wishful thinking, but during my walk along the stream today, I was on the lookout for the green tips of ramps or spotted leaves of trout lilies. Nothing resembling green poked through the dense bed of brown leaves.
Saveur, Bon Appetit, Nourished Kitchen, 12 Tomatoes: I'll check back on your articles and posts in a couple of months when your spring is in sync with my spring.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
One day it was 70 degrees and the tips of green ramps were poking through the thatch of dead brown leaves by the stream . The following day the daytime temperature was 40 degrees accompanied by snow showers and I have to dig through the hat and glove basket to find a right-handed glove. With spring comes eggs – lots of eggs – hen eggs, duck eggs and goose eggs. And frog eggs. Can you guess which is which?
Where the Goat Goes, the Turkey Goes
During the November turkey slaughter, one of the turkeys escaped. As a nod to her capricious nature, we welcomed her as a barnyard member. She likes to be petted. She makes a tut tutting noise when she is stroked, so she was named Tut. I think it is a her (I have no idea how to sex a turkey) because there is a clutch of eggs that are too big for chicken hens and too small for geese. Tut sleeps with the goats; she is particularly fond of one goat. I know this because most mornings the goat is festooned with turkey shit.
|Tut in hot pursuit of goat #176|
Ducks Know How to Have Fun
Ducks rarely swim upstream when the stream is running hard but when a human with a camera and a border collie are pursuing them, the safest place is the middle of the stream. When the stream is running strong, the ducks use it as an amusement park flume. They paddle and float downstream about a half a mile and then waddle upstream along the banks and do it all over again. A farmer friend gave us a disabled duck. Dab Dab (bet you can tell we read Dr. Doolittle) thinks it is a chicken and the rooster routinely mates with it. No chance for little chucks but I am glad Dab Dab is female and does not try to mate with the hens as the hen would look like road kill after a few matings.
Lambs, Kids and Bunnies
|Miss Long Ears |
The lambs are due to freshen on pasture any day now and the dairy does starting freshening a couple of weeks ago. The rabbit does are busting with babies. Miss Long Ears had a litter of 10. We prefer smaller litters as they grow faster. MLE consistently does a great job with large litters although most does are stressed by large litters. We are still feeding hay to the rabbits. Burdock is beginning to grow near the cages so I pinched a few leaves to feed to the nursing does. The first green nibble of the season gave them an extra bound in the bounce.
Overrun with Roosters
Rudy is one of the eight roosters on campus. They behave like gentlemen and get along well with each other and us. Usually our roosters try to lacerate us with their spurs or fight each other to the death. I found a recipe for candied cockscombs and vanilla ice cream so if we have to have rooster roundup – the recipe will be put to good use.
Farmers’ Market Customers' Questions of the Month
1. What is the difference between pâté, terrine and rillette? We sell pâté de campagne, pork terrine and pork rillette at the farmers markets. Pâté is more like a loaf made with pork liver and ground pork and diced pork. It is sliced thinly and served on toast or crusty bread with a good chutney or mustard. Terrine is chunks of pork with lots of pork fat. I call my terrine drunken pork because the pork is soaked in port, red wine and Armagnac. Terrine is chunky and is spread on crusty bread. Rillette is chunks of pork and pork fat and white wine that is slow cooked for hours until the pork pulls apart or looks shredded. Like terrine, rillette is served as a spread on dark toast, a slice of apple or crusty bread.
2. What is the difference between marmalade, chutney, conserve, jam, preserves and jelly? Marmalade is not necessarily citrus based. Citrus marmalade is made with chunks of peel and fruit. I make a sweet and smoky bacon marmalade with chunks of onions and bacon that spreads on toast or served with apples and cheese. Chutney is usually a savory condiment like a relish that is made with pieces of fruit or vegetables and spices. Conserves are a lot like jam but are made from combining fruit and sometimes raisins, nuts, and coconut. Jams are made by crushing fruit with sugar. Jams are usually thick and sweet but not as firm as jelly. Jams should be spreadable. Preserves, on the other hand, use whole small fruits or pieces of fruit in a gelled syrup. The pieces of fruit should be transparent to clear and the color should be characteristic of the fruit from which it is made. Jelly is made from fruit juice and sugar, most are cooked but there are some recipes for jellies that are refrigerated without cooking. Jellies are clear and should hold their shape yet be tender. The flavor should be a good fruit flavor with the right amount of sweetness.
Fat is not all the Same
Since I gained 10 pounds (o.k. I lied - 20 lbs) this winter, I thought it was appropriate to blog about fat. Not my fat or what makes us fat, but pig fat and why lard is a wonderful substitute and/or addition to olive oil and butter in cooking and baking. We've been rendering lard and selling it at the farmers markets. Lard from Pastured Pigs has become a staple in the home kitchens of pastry chefs and many of our foodie customers. When I started working with pig fat I learned that there are three types of fat on a pig and the fat renders differently. For the kitchen purists, leaf lard is coveted for pastry.
Types of Fat From A Hog:
Back Fat or Fatback – This is the fat that comes from the back of the animal along with its shoulder and rump. It’s literally the layer of fat directly below the skin. It’s usually sold in pieces and often with the skin still attached. Rendered back fat is great for sauteing and frying.
Belly – The pork belly. Rich soft and firm fat layered with meat. In the United States we use it mostly to cure bacon. That’s right, bacon is cured pork belly! Because of the meat intertwined with the fat it also makes a great roast.
Leaf Lard – Leaf lard is the fat from around the pig’s kidneys. This is the cleanest fat on the animal and is therefore the crème de la crème of pork fat. This is the fat that you want to make sure to render appropriately in order to have a pure white, odorless lard to use for your pastries. Leaf lard is used to make perfectly flaky pie crusts.
Warm Salad of Duck Egg, Bacon and Nuts
Recipe by Orlando Murrin
- 6 strips smoked bacon
- 3 duck eggs (or 5 large hen's eggs)
- 30 medium spears of asparagus
- 3 tablespoons hazelnuts or walnuts, toasted and crushed
FOR THE DRESSING
- 3 tbsp hazelnut oil
- 2 tbs grapeseed oil or olive oil
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tsp smooth French mustard
- Cook bacon on high for 5 mins until crisp, then snip with scissors into pieces. Set aside. Cook the eggs in boiling water for 8 mins (5 mins for hen's eggs), drain and plunge into ice water, to cool as quickly as possible.
- Make the dressing: whisk all ingredients together with seasoning. Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the base of each spear - it'll break at the tender point.
- Just before serving, put the nuts and bacon into a warm oven. Halve the eggs and season (keep the eggs warm) Bring a pan of salted water to the boil; cook the asparagus for about 5 mins, until just tender. Drain, then divide between plates. Add egg halves, sprinkle with nuts and bacon, then drizzle with dressing in a zigzag pattern.
Friday, November 23, 2012
|Morning Autumn Mist|
The Willow Ghost Maiden
A hundred years pass – still the story is told
Of a farmer’s hand – a lass not too old
Who wandered the path to the willow tree
Singing a tune, winsome and free
She paused by the shed and checked on the pigs
Stopped in the stable, unharnessed the rigs
Gave milk to the sows and counted the sheep
Fed out the hay and gave the lambs creep
Along the path she continued to walk
Avoiding the nest of the swooping hawk
The dark night rested cold and still
Except for moos on the pasture hill
Along the path she further ambled
Skirting the mud and thicket brambles
The moon rose high over a mountain sliver
The chill wind whipped – a sigh and shiver
The willow tree swayed and creaked in the flurry
She footed the path without any hurry
Where was she going and why in the dark?
Who was calling her, a ghost or a lark?
Forward she paced with the ghost tree in sight
Deep in the dark to the tree in the night
The calls of her name were urgent and wooing
Walking not knowing what she was pursuing
The owls hooted and the bats flew
The coyotes howled; her fear grew
The branches bent low and touched her cheek
The wind blew soft and seemed to speak
“Lass oh dear lass, I’ve waited long time
To sweep you up and make you mine.”
Her body was wrapped by branches twined
Tightly cocooned and firmly bind
Her screams were muffled by a paste of leaves
Her cries subsided to moans and heaves
Devoured by the willow
The trunk as her pillow
She slept – never again a sound to make
Forever cocooned and never to wake
On Halloween night the story is told
That the boughs of the tree briefly unfold
And the lass can be seen in her arbor cocoon
A ghostly shape swaying under the moon.
If you venture too close to the tree on Halloween night
You may witness the eerie maiden sight
But don’t tarry too long by the arms of the tree
Or there will be no time for you to turn and flee…..
|Apples and Pears in Wooden Bowl|
Dark comes at 4:45 p.m. The fires are lit in the wood stove and the kitchen fireplace. The soup goes on the range and the bread comes out of the oven. My favorite recipe for potato and leek soup uses a bouquet garni made with the leek leaf, thyme, pepper corns and bay leaves.
Potato and Leek Soup
Makes 1 1/2 quarts soup, or about 6 servings .
1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 to 1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. Using a sharp knife, halve the white part of the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to rid the leek of any sand. Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes, salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful. Remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Alternately, if you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot.) Stir in the creme fraiche and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately, with some of the snipped chives sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup.
|Lambs at the Kitchen Window Door|
Meat pub pies, hand pies, pate de campagne, chicken liver mousse pate and a plethora of other Fable’s Table goodies make it to the farmers market every Friday through Sunday. Cider, apples, squash, onions and leeks are the centerpieces of autumn foods. I was making shepherd’s pie one afternoon and discovered the lambs staring accusingly at me through the kitchen door window. I was so unnerved by their persistent presence at the door that I shooed them away from the back yard. The lambs gamboled to the back pasture and I returned to chopping the lamb shoulder for the shepherd’s pies.
|Mangalitsa and Tamworth Berkshire Sows with their Piglets|
|Mangalitsa piglet and Tamworth Berkshire Cross Piglet|
With the help of amazing volunteer crews, most of whom were working for their turkey, we slaughtered 250 turkeys over two days. We were fortunate to work in mild 50 degree weather. When the sun starting going down, we worked fast and furiously. By dark, the temperatures dropped so fast that the entrails and feathers were freezing to the work tables. Customers came to the farm Tuesday and Wednesday for their turkeys. Some years the turkeys are big so customers are gracious to take turkeys bigger than desired and reconciled to leftovers and turkey soup and turkey tacos. This year the turkeys were smaller than usual so some customers were disappointed that there would be slim pickings in the leftover department. Thank you to all our customers who accepted turkeys smaller than they wanted. Hopefully they were small but tasty. Next year we hope the turkey sizes will be “just right” .
|The Round Up|
|The Scald and Pluck|
|The Fine Tuning|
|The Finished Turkey|
|The Chill Tank|
|The Parts Chill Tank|
Friday, August 10, 2012
During our 20 years of farming we have never experienced drought like conditions. This summer we have had days of unrelenting sun and 90 degree days. Is that me, the hot weather queen complaining? Then two touchdowns of tornadoes in Binghamton and Sidney to add to the weird weather mix. We depend on water from the streams and ponds to water our livestock. The water is too low to pump so we have been tapping into our well. Our family does not use a lot of water (shower once a week, never wash the car or water the lawns) so I don’t think we have made a serious dent in our well. The herb and vegetable gardens were watered for the first time this summer. I hate watering. A waste of time to stand with hose in hand when there are so many other tasks to be toiled. So I resolved to buy a sprinkler and had to go to three stores before I found one. There is a run on fans and sprinklers. As soon as the stores are restocked it will rain. And it did. The neighborhood wedding tempted the rain gods and just before the “I do”, it did. Rained. Rained. Rained. It’s good to see puddles again. The ducks love puddles, the dogs use puddles as water bowls. We use puddles to clean our boots and dirty feet. Last night the rain came down in heavy sheets; lightening broke the sky and thunder rocked the earth. Within minutes the puddles were lakes and the streets streams. The only creatures enjoying the storm were the ducks.
|Susannah waiting for the storm to pass|
|Ty running from the Storm|
Pie and Pig Shit
|Have a piece of pie?|
While buying peaches at the farmers market, Mr. Heller asked if I wanted a peck or a bushel. I can tell you the difference in weight between a whole carcass versus prime cuts but vegetable and fruit quantities are murky territory. One peck = roughly 2 gallons or 25 medium peaches and one bushel = four pecks or roughly 100 medium peaches
For cooking, I buy by sight or by piece. I know that I needed about 50 peaches to make the peach BBQ sauce so I bought 2 pecks and toted them home in a flat. But a flat of peaches is different than a flat of blueberries and strawberries. There are 8 quarts or 12 lbs of strawberries in a flat. A customer at our farmers market planned on lamb burgers for a cookout and needed 25 lbs of ground lamb. We explained to her that there are only three pounds of trim for ground lamb in one lamb which typically has a hot weight or carcass weight or hanging weight (all mean almost the same thing) of 40 lbs. So unless she found someone willing to slaughter an old ewe and grind the whole animal into chopped meat or ground, she should start collecting ground lamb now for an October cookout. Did you know that London Broil is not a cut of meat but rather a method of cooking? Over time in the U.S. the term London Broil became synonymous with flank steak or any cut of meat from the round. Since the cut is usually tough, it has to be marinated. So when a customer asks us for London Broil and we hand them the package stamped top round, unless they ask, we withhold the history lesson. And the term did not originate in Britain where the term London Broil probably means a Londoner who got sunburned on the beaches of the Algarve in Portugal.
|Prepaid Pig for The Eat Restaurant|
Farm to Table. Or Only When We Are Able.
The term farm to table has become so ubiquitous over the past few years that we changed Fable’s name, which was originally a combination of Farm to Table. We changed the name to Farm + Table = Fable. While we encourage and applaud chefs' desire to put local food on their menus, I think the thin smattering of local food items on their menus is a knee jerk reaction and half-hearted attempt to appease consumer demand and ride the new local food and farm to table trend. In their defense, buying local food is time consuming and expensive and it is much easier to go the Sysco route. So how can farmers make it easier for chefs to get and keep local food on the menu? Farms and restaurants should partner. If the chef makes a financial commitment to the farmer in the winter for what he wants the farmer to grow for him in spring, summer and fall, then the chef is guaranteed a consistent supply. We work with one or two restaurants that purchase lambs or goats before they are born (kind of like a CSA) and we guarantee them lambs from May to October. We welcome farm visits from the chefs’ teams. The visits strengthen our relationship and is educational for us and them.
|Whites on the Clothesline|
|Red Sky at Night - Farmers Delight|
Our friends and customers ask us often what we do for fun. Farming is fun. Not everyday day in and day out but every day has a tidbit of fun. It's fun to watch the new piglets wrestle. It's fun to jump from rock to rock from one end of the stream to the other. It's fun to eat breakfast in the pouring rain. Hosting bed and breakfast guests can be fun. Picking beans is fun (for the first hour). Giving farm tours is fun. Parties are fun. We throw spur of the moment pot like picnic parties for fun. Rules are that you can only bring what is in your refrigerator already made. Some assembly is permitted. For example, corn, tomatoes, black beans can be assembled to make salad. Shane participated in the West Kortright Centre's Shakespeare production of The Tempest. The three-week program is a highlight of his summer. It was an amazing performance of talented actors and incredibly talented and dedicated professional directors and technical staff. Susannah has more fun farming than anyone I know. She is the first one up and out the door to do morning chores. She has fun making sausage and coming up with the sausage names. The last sausages she made were the Martin Mull and Gore Vidal. Can you guess how they got their names? Katey is at Welwyn Stable in Rhinebeck this summer and showed her project horse Joe at HITS this month and placed remarkably high in level I, II and III. She is having super fun.She returns to Delaware Valley College in a couple of weeks Cooking is fun for me (especially when I get paid.) I cooked dinner for 32 people at the Hanford Mill Museum's Dinner at the Mill in July. What does Tom do for fun? He plays tennis once in a while. He goes to NYC Union Square Market every Friday and then on to Larchmont (Westchester) every Saturday. He gets to stay in an airconditioned hotel and watch TV and sleep diagonally on a king size bed. That has to be fun. He enjoys the opportunity to meet new people and to reconnect with city life. If you are near Union Square on Fridays, stop by and see how much fun Tom is having. He may ask you to man the table while he takes a break.
|Tony is Superdog!|
|Kate at HITS with Joe|
A Blueberry Boom
So many blueberries this season. I've made and canned pickled honey bourbon blueberry sauce for pork, dozens of jars of blueberry bacon BBQ sauce. Susannah just made blueberry sausage. She named it the Violet Beauregarde. Blueberry pies are stacked in the freezer. Blueberry crisp in the fridge. The garden is also brimming over with cucumbers. So here is my favorite recipe that uses both.
Cucumber, Blueberry and Feta Salad
3 large cucumbers peeled and sliced into 1″ half circles
2 cups fresh blueberries rinsed and drained
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
3 Tbs fresh mint finely chopped
1/2 cup white balsamic vinagrette dressing
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh blueberries rinsed and drained
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
3 Tbs fresh mint finely chopped
1/2 cup white balsamic vinagrette dressing
salt and pepper to taste
Gently toss together the cucumbers, blueberries, feta and mint. Add dressing and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste if you desire. Serve chilled. I make my own dressing by doing a 3:1 ratio of White Balsamic vinegar to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you do not have white balsamic vinegar available, you can also use white wine vinegar. This can be partially prepared a day in advance. When I prepare in advance, I mix the cucumbers, blueberries and mint, but reserve the feta and dressing until just before serving, otherwise the feta absorbs all of the dressing and becomes soggy.
There are only three more of Fable's Saturday night dinners for the season. So if you are planning on dining with us this season, please note the following dates: August 18th (the menu is posted on our website www.stoneandthistlefarm.com), September 8 and October 6. Farm tour and brunch dates are August 26, September 2, September 16 and October 7. Fable is open all year for private parties of 16 persons or more.
Hope to see you soon.
Tom, Denise, Shane and Susannah