Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Geese, Guests and Goodness Gracious


Duck Duck Goose
June in Driveway Puddle
Mallory the Mallard
Did you know that a group of ducks is called a badelynge, bunch, brace, flock, paddling, raft or team? It is also called a dover of ducks.   I like the last best.  We have a dover of Muscovy ducks taking over the farm.   A brood hatched last year and it looks like there will be more if we don’t curtail their population explosion.  I found a clutch of eggs last week.  The sensible thing to do is to destroy the nest.  The softie in me can’t do it.  So in a few days, if my calculations are right, we will once again be overtaken with ducks.    The farm has one mallard duck named Mallory who has been hanging out with the goose June. June’s mate was hit by a snowplow last winter and it's been difficult finding a male goose.  Last week we bought a male goose.  June ignored him and he ran away.  She preferred the mallard to the male goose.  June has been fickle lately, preferring our livestock guardian dog Smith as company, so I bought another duck for the mallard. The duck Emmaline (who looks like an Indian Runner but smaller) won’t have anything to do with the mallard so she lives in the pasture with the Pekin ducks and the broiler chickens.  The Pekins are scheduled for slaughter this week which will leave Emma without duck pals.  Perhaps we should keep one Pekin as her companion?  I am spending too much time meddling in poultry partnerships.

June and Smith
Muscovy sitting on eggs
Clutch of Duck Eggs in Tree Hollow

Good Guests; Ghastly Guests
Our schedule is so hectic that we seldom get a chance to get off the farm and see the world.  We are fortunate because the bed and breakfast, farm stay and Fable bring the world to us.  We’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from varied backgrounds, cultures, religions. Most guests have been interesting, fun and a joy to host.  And then there is the occasional “guest from hell.” Sometimes a guest is irritable, demanding and unpleasant and even when we bend over backwards to please them, nothing makes them happy. Recently we had a new kind of guest from hell.  They didn’t want to have anything to do with the farm, left breakfast untouched and drove away without saying goodbye. In a follow up conversation, I was lambasted with complaints about the farm, room and food, in particular, they wanted bacon for breakfast and I served them sausage because we were out of bacon until the next pig is slaughtered.  He advised that I should have bought bacon from the supermarket in anticipation that a guest would want bacon and put it in the freezer.  When I explained that the food we serve is grown and raised on the farm and I was not going to serve factory animal crap to my guests, his response was that we should serve what the guests want not what we want.  I didn’t say, but I wanted to say, “You are the wrong type of guests for us.”  I am so used to guests and customers who really care about the food they eat and where it comes from that I forget that there is a huge population that doesn’t give a hoot about what they eat.  And as crazy as it seems, they don’t associate bacon with a pig.   So the guest from hell was a learning lesson for us.   We attract guests who are interested in the farm, care about their food and how it is raised and care about their health. How do we vet and discourage the guest who eats Ding Dongs and thinks bacon comes from Price Chopper?

Sometimes guests leave behind socks, sweaters or books but this is the best leave behind: a message written on the Farmhand Cabin chalkboard. 

Frank, Silvia and Max's Good Guest Message


This handsome boy will service the ewes this fall.  The breed we use for a ram is different every year.  We look for a ram that will produce good meat quality lambs and he fits all the criteria.  Looking forward to his offspring next year.

Roy the Ram

Tom wrote an article about farmers markets in The New Franklin Register this month. The subject is that farmers markets are good for the customers but not necessarily for farmers. 

Page 6 T he New Franklin Register Summer 2014
By Tom and Denise Warren
We have been selling
our grass-fed meats
and eggs for twenty years
at three regional farmers’
markets. During that time,
especially over the past
three years, there has been
an explosion of interest in
buying local foods, mostly
due to a new awareness of
the importance of knowing
how our food is raised, harvested
and sold.
Ten years ago, there
were three farmers’ markets
in our region: Cooperstown,
Pakatakan and
Oneonta. These centralized
markets attracted customers
from several surrounding
counties and provided
strong, consistent revenue
for the participating farmers.
Today, every town
and hamlet is determined
to host a farmers’ market.
In Delaware and Otsego
counties, there are currently
twenty-one. In fact,
the number of farmers’
markets in New York has
increased from 235 in 2000
to 521 as of August 2012,
according to the New York
State Department of Agriculture
and Markets.
The good news is that
there is growing interest in
local foods, and it is handy
for the customer to have
“round the bend” access to
farm fresh food.
But maybe not such
good news for the farmers.
The number of customers
in our region who seek
farm-fresh food at farmers’
markets is growing, but
slowly, and the number of
markets is outpacing the
customer base. The relatively
small number of dedicated
customers is now
divided between a larger
and growing number of
farmers’ markets.
New York City is home
to 148 farmers’ markets.
That’s about 56,000 people
for every market. In Delaware
and Otsego counties,
there are 5,200 people for
every farmers’ market.
While there is no direct
data to support this theory,
we believe that a greater
percentage of people in
New York City shop year
round at farmers’ markets
than do locally.
A great benefit of small
town farmers’ markets is
that a market creates a
community, a space for
people to gather and socialize.
It creates an opportunity
for added income
for small-scale or part-time
farmers. But can this scattering
of farmers’ markets
support the full time farmer,
and will these markets
survive as more participating
farmers realize that he/
she is not getting a reasonable
return on his/her investment
of time and money?
Small farmers’ markets
tend to host only a handful
of farmer-vendors, while
larger, centralized markets
can support twenty to thirty
There is also an environmental
cost. If a farmer
travels twenty or thirty
miles to a market to sell just
$200 to $300 of product, it

becomes a carbon intensive
An informal survey
conducted at the farmers’
markets in which we participate
indicates that vendors
have to sell at twice
as many markets as they
did five years ago, just to
maintain the same level of
revenue. And vendors’ expenses
are high, including
transportation, labor, market
fees, market materials
and signage. All the while,
the farmers’ incomes are
So, while the growing
number of farmers’ markets
may be good for communities
and customers, it may
not be best for farmers.

Fable has been full with Saturday night dinners, Sunday brunches and private dinners and breakfasts.  Thank you so much for filling our kitchen with your praise, laughter and good companionship. We are having fun seeing familiar faces and meeting new people.  


It's strawberry season and we can't get enough. We are making strawberry margarita jam, strawberry balsamic jam, strawberry scones, strawberry short cake.... At Fable's dinner last week, we made Sorrel Strawberry Sorbet. Amazing.
Sorrel-Strawberry Sorbet

Makes 1 quart.
For super-smooth sorbet, churn this recipe in an ice cream maker. For a treat just as refreshing but studded with icy crystals, simply stick the mixture in your freezer. Freeze this sorbet in ice pop forms instead for children.

1 quart fresh (or frozen) strawberries, hulled
2/3 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped sorrel

In a mixing bowl, stir together the strawberries and sugar. Cover and set aside for an hour. Purée strawberries with their juices and the sorrel in a blender, then press the mixture through a sieve to remove seeds and large pieces of sorrel. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for an hour. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Or pop the mixture into a shallow, freezer-safe pan and freeze it. Scrape with a fork to break up ice crystals every half-hour to an hour until it is fully frozen, about 4 to 6 hours

Looking forward to seeing you at the farmers markets, farm store, at Fable for dinner or brunch or enjoying your summer out and about the countryside.
Tom, Denise, Shane

The White Cedar Bee Tree

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May Oh My

Busy as Bees

Kortright Creek
May is the busiest month of the year. In preparation for the arrival of interns, farm stay guests, Fable guests and the start of farmers markets and the “season”, we are in a, cleaning, repairing, dismantling, planning, organizing and building frenzy. 

The bees emerged from the white cedar tree on the first warm day. After a long, harsh winter we were happy to witness their mad forays from the hive to seek out the sparse pollen offerings of daffodils and dandelions.  Spring is two weeks off schedule. The bees are hungry and the livestock are anxious to be out on pasture with grass. And we want to stop buying and feeding hay. The first sign of spring: the serviceberry tree is blooming. 
Spring in Action

The farm crew has been busy with hammer and nails. The little things: the rotting bird house is rebuilt and remounted on the big maple, the herb garden is now sporting a fence to keep the dogs from peeing on my herbs, the horse barn is festooned with pigeon and owl nets.  The big things:  a greenhouse and mega roost for the new laying hens, brooder boxes for the broiler chicks, portable wooden poultry feeders and watering racks. This year we are doubling egg and chicken production so we needed more cost and time efficient methods for raising them.   Major progress has been made on the Creamery including electricity and insulation installation.
Hen greenhouse with watering stand, roost and electric fence

The roost

Brooder Box

Brooder Boxes in Horse Barn
Tom has also been busy with the chainsaw, axe and wood splitter. We ran out of firewood this year so he decided to get a jump on winter in spring.  When I commented that our neighbor had a huge pile of firewood cut too, he cuttingly remarked that his cord wood pile was much bigger. Hmmm.  Firewood rivalry?
Pile of Wood

New arrivals this month.  The dairy goats are done kidding but the ewes are still popping out lambs, lambs, lambs, including a bottle lamb, Prince, a lovely Merino/Shetland.

New to the dairy herd is a gang of Nubians. I swore off Nubians years ago because they are exceptionally vocal.  These regal ladies are not noisy; the Guinea hens make much more of a racket.
Ears to You!
Grass at Last!

Double Ducks
Broiler chicken chicks and Pekin ducks arrive via the postal service every week.  At 7:50 a.m. the East Meredith postmistress calls to announce the chicks' arrival.  Imagine the sound of 500 chicks chirping in a 12 by 12 foot space.  We do our best to get to the post office before the community arrives to pick up their mail and engage in neighborhood gossip.
Chicks in Hand

Just Foraged Ramps
The heralds of spring are ramps and stinging nettles.  We spend Thursdays and Fridays in the woods digging ramps for the farmers' markets. A thick carpet of ramps grows in the woods near our pastures. Although there are ramps as far as the eye can see, we dig judiciously as to ensure a crop next year. The unsold ramps are transformed into ramp pesto, ramp butter and pickled ramps for sale at the farmers' markets. Pickled ramps make great garnishes for martinis.  The stinging nettles have taken up residence creekside and along the stone walls.   We will be carefully plucking them with tongs and sending them to the markets next week end. Stinging nettles lose their sting when they are ground into pesto or steamed.  We eat nettles like spinach or as a sauce over pasta or in lasagna.
Stinging Nettles

Ramp pesto
10 fresh ramps washed and roots clipped
1/2 cup olive oil
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ cup walnuts
dash of fresh lemon
salt and pepper

Fable=farm+table opens for the season on Saturday May 24th.  This season we are serving dinner every Saturday night through October and brunch every Sunday until Columbus Day. New this year is Simple Fare – three-course dinners for $35 on select Saturdays and event dinners such as May 24: The Picnic; June 24: The Summer Solstice: July 5: The American BBQ; August 30th: The Family Farm. Come at 5:30 and pitch in with farm chores. Family Style Dinner; October 11: The Discovery. Taste Local with a Global Twist. 

We look forward to seeing you at the farm or at the farmers markets.  Next month: Interns and Farmers Markets.
Spring Bouquet

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spying on Spring

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.
Last season's ramps

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.  
Smith one of our livestock guardian dogs, enjoying the frozen mud