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