Friday, August 10, 2012

And it's August

Storm Coming
Puddles and Ponderings
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
Gutter Puddle

Ty running from the Storm

Pie and Pig Shit
Blueberry Pie
Have a piece of pie?
When we are invited to a friend’s house for dinner, I always ask what I should bring. Most often the reply is “dessert”. My favorite dessert is homemade ice cream, especially salted caramel ice cream made with raw cow milk and fresh cream. We just picked a flat of blueberries and picked up a couple of pecks of peaches at the Delhi Farmers market so I made blueberry pie and peach pie. The secret to fruit pies is jam. I add a dollop of spiced blueberry jam to the blueberry pie and coat the bottom of the crust of the peach pie with bourbon peach jam. Blind baking the crust is essential. Easy as pie! On the way to dinner, the smell of the hot pies wafted and mingled with my least favorite aroma. “Who has pig shit on them?” I shouted from the driver’s seat. At least two of three family farmers replied, “Could be me.” “Shoes off at the door when we get to the Frames.” Interesting smell combo- pie and pig shit. Aah farm life.

Pick a Peck of Peaches - Farmers Market Lingo
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

We often get calls from chefs at top NYC restaurants looking for 25 lbs or more of grass-fed tenderloin. When I explain that there are only 4 pounds of tenderloin in an 800 lb cow, they feel pretty silly asking for one cut out of six cows. There are 2.3 lbs of skirt steak and 2.3 lbs of flank steak in the same cow. Because a lot of restaurants traditionally dial Sysco for their meat selections and a lot of chefs don’t have the meat knowledge or cutting skills, we always look for opportunities to educate. Did you know that meat cutting classes were only recently reintroduced at the CIA?

Food and Farm Sites with no Farm in Sight
In the past year, we have been contacted by nubile entrepreneurs who have launched websites to connect farm products to customers. Except for one or two who are owned or managed by people who understand food and farming, most of the sites are run by twenty-something foodies who don’t know the difference between a rib or riblet and have never heard of rillette, confit or other meat goodies. And they are clueless about seasonality of food, inventory control, shipping and distribution. The only thing they have going for them is decent marketing and a snazzy website. I decline their offers to sell our products because we prefer to sell directly to consumers at the farmers markets and our farm store. We want to shake the hand of the person who cooks and eats our food. We enjoy face to face discussions about recipes, cuts of meat and sharing educational tidbits such as getting the tenderloin from the pig or loin chops but not both unless it is a mutant pig. Imagine adding the following scenario to our full farming plate. A site administrator from FarmGoods (fictional) contacts us on Wednesday and asks what we have available that week. We have to go through the inventory in our farm store and then send the list to the site manager. On Thursday a customer orders a leg of lamb through FarmGoods for twice as much as they could buy it at a farmers market. Sometimes the cost includes shipping, sometimes the price is by the piece, sometimes it is by the pound. FarmGoods contacts us on Monday and asks us to ship the frozen leg overnight on Wednesday. We go through our farm store inventory and search for legs of lamb. But since Monday we have been to five farmers markets and the legs of lamb were sold. We can’t hold on to inventory with an expectation that the product will be sold via FarmGoods. So what if we do have a leg of lamb? We need to use special shipping packages - an insulated box with dry ice. We don’t have overnight shipping service in East Meredith so we have to drive the frozen leg 20 minutes to the Oneonta post office. The leg of lamb costs $30 and the packaging materials and shipping is $45. I just added two hours of inventory, packaging and shipping labor to growing and selling the lamb and Fed Ex still makes more money than I do. And then what if the frozen leg gets lost enroute and arrives unfrozen and unfit to eat? Who takes the hit? You get the picture. While we applaud entrepreneurs, we think that food site managers need some education. They need to learn meat cuts, the seasons in which meat is available. Ideally they need to spend some time on the farm docking lamb tails, castrating rams and dealing with livestock mauled by coyotes and neighbor dogs. Perhaps then they’ve earned the credentials to sell my leg of lamb. If they pick it up at the farmers market and ship it themselves of course!

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
Farm and Family Fun
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
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, 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