Potato Harvest

Bucket of La Ratte and mixed basket

Bucket of La Ratte and mixed basket

I dug up the potatoes yesterday and today. So, so many potatoes! I managed to weigh the big bucket loads, and I can conservatively say I got 70-75 lbs of potatoes this year. big old redUnfortunately, a lot of them are giant red potatoes. I bought the seed potatoes for those at the local hardware store. It might have been good to dig them early (I waited until the vines died back), but my FB potato group says that inconsistent watering or a sudden deluge could cause them to grow really big. It doesn’t affect the taste, but they won’t keep long in the basement. The La Ratte were again a big winner. I just love these fingerling potatoes. I have a full 40 pounds of them. That also makes me feel good from an economic perspective. These easily go for $5/lb so I have about $200 worth of La Ratte potatoes. I spend the most on those seed potatoes, so I like it when they pay off.

Elmer's Blue

Elmer’s Blue

The best thing, though, were the two containers of Elmer’s Blue potatoes. These are blue fingerlings with dark blue/purple flesh. They are dark purple, almost black, on the outside. Once they’re cleaned up, they’ll look gorgeous. I planted four tiny seed potatoes and harvested 4 lbs! Many of them arcups rose potatoese quite good sized, too. They did the best of any variety I planted in bags. I could have left them even longer, but we might get a frost tonight, and the vines were all lying down, though mostly still with good, live leaves on the vines. I don’t know that it matters. If we do the economics on these, they pay for all four experimental potato varieties I bought. I probably got another pound or two total of the other varieties. OLIVE OIL-1We’re finishing a ten-day visit by Steve’s daughter Catherine and her partner Homer. It is always great to have them around. Homer knows me well, and brought me a large can of Frankies restaurant olive oil. We also cooked together, doing a Greek throw down and a Mexican taco extravaganza. We put a good dent in the poblanos with rajas tacos. We served them alongside “Gringo Tacos,” by which I learned he means what I call tacos: basically a taco bar with chicken, tortillas, cheese, avocado, the tomatillo salsa and sour cream. photo-15Greek night featured local lamb skewers, tzatziki, pita, and a great Greek salad with many tomatoes, cucumber, semi-ripe feher ozon peppers, red onion (purcgreek saladhased), and feta in brine. Amazing even though we forgot the olives! Nothing like house guests who know how to cook and love to eat– right at the heart of garden season!

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Moving into Fall

pantry 2014And just like that, I’m calling an end to the canning. I just can’t do it anymore. The pantry is full (four jars of tomatoes cooling before filling that last row), and if I’m so moved, I can still dehydrate and/or freeze tomatoes. I’ve started stringing the paprika peppers. There are herbs to dry and maybe even some roasted peppers in oil in my future. But the canner is going away. Enough is enough.

I feel the strong pull of fall, which is a completely different thing in terms of the garden and even the kitchen. First, I dug up some potatoes, although they’re not dying back as quickly as I’d like. And I picked off a few rows on a stalk of Brussel’s sprouts. And then, I tried to get a few of the parsnips that have been growing for six full months in the garden.

photo-7photo-10Those puppies are gorgeous– big and thick– my first success with full-grown parsnips, but some of them had a taproot that grew right through the bottom of the raised beds and into the ground. They do not come out like carrots, which sometimes need a bit of loosening of the soil before they’ll release, or leeks, which sometimes need a little chopping through the roots before you can pull them free. These guys had to be dug around and then pulled out hard, sometimes breaking off at the bottom. The word “taproot” suits them. I cut off a foot of root on some of these.

I also did my first phase of rhubarb eradication today, which involved wrestling with roots. I’ve moved a small piece, but the other root was like that creature from Alien. I am sure I did not get it all. I hope to get it out of the asparagus bed next year.

When you’re digging things out of the ground, you can’t help but think it’s time for roasting!! Time to cut up a bunch of these hard vegetables and the rest of the garlic and onions and put them in a pan for an hour until they soften up and release all their flavors.

delicataI’ll be using a lot of delicata squash. And maybe the oddly colored Tahitian squash. And maybe, like if I suddenly have to feed thirty people, the 19-pound, 24-inch “Cool Old Squash” or one of its three cousins, which certainly add up to another 30 pounds or so when put together… If I’m lucky, about 10 butternut squash out there will ripen fully before the first frost. If not… uh… we’ll manage somehow! Yes, I have over 100 pounds of winter squash.

I figure, from the jars of tomatoes and the jars of dried beans (4 quarts!) and a brief once-over of the rest of things, including the prolific pepper plants, that I’ve averaged about 150-175% of usual yield this year. That’s not at all scientific, of course. The cucumbers weren’t good. Asparagus and spinach bolted (though I have spinach for fall coming in). All I know is, I think 15 beds are quite enough. And I will be unveiling a new part of the operation coming to the farm in October.  Next year is going to be interesting.

giant squash

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Kraut

produceEvery day I’m harvesting produce, and it’s still kind of alarming to see all of it in the pails on the counter or out on the ledge by the kitchen door. Every day I try to do something that counts as preserving, though I’m not canning more than every other day.

canningYesterday was a canning day, though the tomatoes on the counter are not all ripe. So I turned the last bucket of tomatillos into Rick Bayless’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (seriously good, and I’m loving using the broiler instead of the grill). I will probably switch to the broiler for my roasted chipotle salsa in the future, unless it is too hot to turn on the oven.

I also made three containers of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian red pepper sauce with the abundance of Jimmy Nardello peppers, which will go in the freezer. Later in the day I whipped up three half-pints of peach vanilla bean jam, which I dutifully cooked down until it was properly jammy. I’m kind of getting more patient these days with the recipes. I just give myself over to the process– it’s a canning day.

But the big thing of the week was the sauerkraut. You may remember that it is the year of ferment and that I put some cabbage and salt and nothing else in my vegetable master three weeks ago. It looked so beautiful when I first had it set up…

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Most recipes say to start tasting the stuff after two weeks and leave it fermenting up to a month.

sketchy krautI gotta tell you, this stuff looked sketchy within two days. And as things progressed, it looked more and more dubious– downright dangerous. I considered dumping it several times. When in the grocery store or co-op, I looked at jars of organic kraut and tried to remember the color, so as to compare it with my own jar of rotting– I mean fermenting– cabbage.

But I also kept opening it, and it didn’t seem like mold was forming, and it also didn’t at any time smell bad.

kraut in bowlYesterday marked three weeks, so I decided it was time. It was time to take a risk and taste the stuff. I will tell you that I skimmed off the top layer and just threw it away, but in retrospect I don’t think that was necessary. I mean, look at that gorgeous stuff! I also was surprised that little bits that looked brown in the jar were actually upon inspection a beautiful dark green.

jarred krautThis stuff is delicious. And I don’t actually like sauerkraut so much. Tangy, and Steve’s daughter Catherine said, “It tastes like beer.” Real sauerkraut taste but also so crunchy and fresh! Zing!

And no signs of intestinal distress from anyone who tried it! So now, in the fridge, I’ve got kraut. And I’ve started some Fermented Moroccan Carrots in a jar…

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Red River Valley

wheat field Fisher NDI have been driving around North Dakota the last few days. It is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while. North Dakota was one of three remaining states of the contiguous 48 that I had not been to (only Idaho and Rhode Island left!) and it’s only three hours away. But there isn’t much reason to go to North Dakota, I’ve found.

cemetery mountain ndLast winter I heard a story that I have been working on in my head, and sometimes on paper, ever since. It is a story about a guy who delivers burial vaults and does funerals in small cemeteries all over northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, about a 150 mile radius of Grand Forks.

The Red River Valley is somewhat mythic territory. The Red River runs north and in the spring, when the ice melts and the river starts flowing up to Canada, where the ice has not melted, it tends to back up and flood. The kids get out of school to help sandbag in Grand Forks and Fargo.

downtown walhallaThey’re far enough east not to feel the effects of the booming fracking industry, which has brought wealth and destruction and a lot of degradation to not just the land but also quality of life for the people of western North Dakota. On the radio, the story is that the state has a lot of money– and why isn’t it lowering taxes and also putting the money into education and infrastructure? Especially education.

In Fargo and in Grand Forks, I saw groups of young men, college and high school age, running through the streets. They were wearing shorts and sometimes shirts, sometimes not. Cross country season is upon us, and they were running right through downtown Fargo and along the edge of the UND campus in Grand Forks. There is nothing more optimistic and encouraging than a group of young men out for a run.

Once out of the two cities, I didn’t see many people at all. I saw a lot of trucks. I saw FedEx and UPS in really far off places. I saw combines in the wheat fields and a surprising number of crop dusters. One went right over my head, very “North by Northwest.”

sunflower field grasston ndThe wheat fields are gorgeous this time of year, and so are the sunflower fields. Otherwise it is all sugar beet and soybean fields, one after another. The crop dusters are spraying the beans so they will die and can be harvested (I know). About every ten miles, there is a grain elevator and a town of 200-400 people. About every thirty miles there is a town of 600 or more, with a gas station and grocery store and a beautiful old cinema. And at least two churches, Lutheran and Catholic.

walhalla martyrs 1857Along the road or at the edge of each town, there is a field set aside and rimmed with trees that serves as a cemetery. Sometimes they’re gated but most of the time not. The gravestones go back to the late 19th century.

In Walhalla (pop 996 on 1 square mile of hilly land), less than 10 miles from the Canadian border, there are a few cafes,  several churches and a history museum. There are two cemeteries. The first is hilly and full of trees, predominantly protestant and including the graves of the Walhalla Martyrs, missionaries killed by Indians in the 1850s. If you continue up to the top of the hill you find St. Boniface cemetery, dotted with statues of Mary and fully exposed to the sun.

sugar beet field

sugar beet field

While I was in the Lutheran cemetery on the edge of Fisher, ND, population 432 on 780 acres, three men in their twenties drove up with a box and a shovel. Three brothers, no doubt. They walked over in single file to one of the graves. One of them dug a hole, put the box in it, and covered it up. They stood around a bit, to formalize the moment.

When I interviewed my friend’s brother, who does the burials, I asked him about stories. He said they’re all “sad stories about young people.” Car accidents, drugs, suicides, accidental shootings. Last week a toddler on the reservation run over by her father’s car.

combine wheat near fisher

I suppose people will think it is morbid of me, driving around looking at cemeteries, taking photos. I am interested in communities, religion, life and death. I’m interested in ways of life coming to an end. I’m interested in America. In this particular part of the country, there are large farms, thanks to the invention of anhydrous ammonia, fertilizer, made even more profitable by hybrids and pesticides. Along the road you see the big operations: Johnson’s Farm, Narloch’s Farm. Family names, but big business. The American Crystal Sugar plant in Crookston, a truly desperate place, has signs all over looking for workers for the sugar beet harvest. The sugar plant workers were out on strike for 20 months between 2011-2013, finally signing a contract that resembled the initial ones, with fewer benefits. I can’t help but think I was there at the absolute best time of year.

cavalier cinemaI will make another trip sometime, to see the place in a different weather. I have to say, it was a great two days, even though I saw almost nothing and talked to almost no one way out in the middle of nowhere, USA.

 

 

granary train ardoch nd

sunflower with bee

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The Season

august counterIt’s been a strange season in the garden. No two years have been alike, it’s true, but this season has been like a series of mini-explosions. I think I can still stand by my statement that it’s the best season I’ve had. I had peas, but I didn’t have cauliflower. Still, who cares about cauliflower? I’d much rather have peas!

I’ve also clearly learned some things, which masks the success/failure equation in the garden. The arrival of produce hasn’t overwhelmed me as much as in past years. I kind of know what to do with it, and so am able to shift from one thing to another.

Yes, there are fruit flies on my counter, and I wish the tomatoes would get ripe at the same time so I could go ahead and do a big bunch of canning, instead of a few jars here and there.

I’ve been surprised already by some large leeks. By the quality of the garlic. By the peppers, which look fantastic and hang heavily on their healthy stems despite the lack of hot weather.

But my refrigerator is not stuffed to the gills. I am not opening drawers wondering what I have to eat NOW to save it from the compost pile. I have a bucket of damp sand and carrots in the cool garage. I have a pail of potatoes. And the onions are small but working great in the canning recipes.

rabbit fenceStill, this is the year that the animals arrived. Some very good ones– there are frogs in the garden! Some bad ones. I’ve seen rabbits, voles, field mice and 13-striped ground squirrels at various times in the raised beds.  We killed the gophers, but they gave us a run for our money. I finally relented and today put up some rabbit fencing around two beds just to get some fall lettuce, spinach, radishes and beets. (We’ll be stapling it to the sides of the beds tomorrow.)

beans in jarsThere are lots of beneficial insects, including bees everywhere doing their pollinating duty. But there have also been cucumber beetles, which slowed or did in some things. After the collapse of the cucumber trellis and what looked like it would be a banner year there, squash bugs and powdery mildew set in and I was lucky to get enough to make the pickles for Christmas. And though I’ve been “sharing” the bean plants with critters, they have moved from the vines to the bean pods themselves.

The bean pods, which are legion, aren’t drying in this cool, misty weather, but also look to be molding and some have been chewed open just enough to ruin the beans. So I’m starting to harvest them once they’ve plumped the pods but before they’ve dried out.

august mealSTILL… let’s make no mistake. We’ve been eating like kings all summer. I mean for real. Even the saddest tomato plants in the world are producing these fantastic jeune flamme orange tomatoes and gorgeous saladette red tomatoes. I have enough salsa now, too, for Christmas. With a little hot, dry weather, I’ll get my usual 10 quarts, or more, of canned tomatoes. And I’ve already got 1 quart and 1 pint of those shell beans, as much as I harvested in total last year, and I’m about 1/4 the way into the harvest…

Which is to say, it’s been a kick ass summer. Despite the critters and my total loss of control of the weed situation in the bean/potato bed, and the cool, damp weather.

I think I’m getting the hang of it.

sad tomato plants

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Daily Harvests

1502899_10203743642145314_8491411570701596963_oI’m thinking next year I might do a little photo project and during June-October take photos of what I harvest every day. Or, you know, maybe just for August and September. Because every day I fill as many pails as I take out to the garden. My counter is covered with produce.10518701_10203750313552095_529257481961673295_n

People ask me if I spend a lot of time in the garden, ore more often they ask how much time I spend in they garden. I really don’t spend more than 3-5 hours/week out there at any time except the spring when I’m getting things set up. But I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen. A lot of time.

10583069_10203743644225366_1076494706471512664_oOf course, I bring it upon myself. I want to do something with these veggies. I want to save them, sure, but I also want to treat them well in my dinners. I read a lot of online recipes, and until recently I was on FB groups for gardeners, CSA subscribers and food preservers. I also get recipes in my e-mail inbox. I’ve hopped off a couple of the groups because, well, I just can’t take it anymore!

I’ve got enough on my hands right here in the kitchen.

And, of course, I’ve got this year of ferment going on. So last night I harvested two of my four cabbages and began my first ever sauerkraut. I’m so excited.

photo-10All you do is chop up the cabbage, mix in a few teaspoons of salt, mix it with your hands until there’s enough liquid to cover the cabbage, then put it into a crock or, in my case, my handy gallon size Fermented Vegetable Master (which is much cheaper than a crock kit and has the great airlock to eliminate airborne bacteria getting into the crock). I will leave it on the counter to ferment for 14-30 days (I’ll start tasting after 14 days) and then it goes in the fridge in jars. Even though my cabbages aren’t napa style, I’m thinking I’ll use the other two for kimchi after this ferment is done.

 

photo-8

photo-6All I can say is, I’m so happy when tomato season comes. Oh, sure, they fill the counters and I have to start figuring out the salsa production and canning.

But also, they make for super easy dinners. It’s the official beginning of pasta season, where a few tomatoes, garlic, onion and a pepper in a pan make a delicious sauce, topped with basil and parmesan.

photo-11

 

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Simple Pleasures

10557336_10203702978208741_1218976641574570394_nI’m thinking about seriously curtailing my social media participation. It is making me anxious. It has always made me anxious, but I realize it feeds certain kinds of pressure… particularly my competitive nature when it comes to the garden and food.

I’m having seven women over to my house on Saturday. I’m already mad at the prairie for not maintaining it’s peak glory into mid-August. Why can’t they be coming when it’s all purple cone flowers and bergamot and rudbeckia and lead plant and and and?? Will they really just get to see some droopy yellow coneflowers and the incoming goldenrod?

IMG_8583And what about my pantry? The pickles aren’t ready! There’s only the single jar of salsa? Will I be OK if I start making the sauces on Friday afternoon?

The cucumbers seem to be slowing down… and the beans. Will I have enough for the salads I have planned? The dill is dying– will there be enough?

We are talking about 7 people here. Completely non-judgy, happy-to-be-here women. You do realize that I host Easter for 24-30, right? And in fact, even when it is just Steve’s daughters and the farm families, 10497515_10203725569213502_2968719847431240719_oit is 12 people… Why am I freaking out?

 

 

I am blaming this self-imposed pressure on our glorious meal last night. Truly the apex of the summer cooking. I had some poblano peppers, beauties, that I wanted to stuff and grill. I ended up putting a little dab of goat cheese in each one and grilling them until blistered. Over the top I put a mixture of local sweet corn, rice, garlic, shallot, and local ground lamb. I used the rest of the pound of lamb to make lamb burgers a la kofta from the Jerusalem cookbook. With shallot, garlic, red pepper, herbs… Over the top of both of these things I put a smittenkitchn.com salsa verde made of garden herbs and lemon juice with the addition of two tomatillos.

I know. I’ve lost my mind. It was Monday night. Steve stumbled in from work in a daze and ate this stuff. I worked hard on this dish, and it did not disappoint. For good measure, and because some tomatoes were really about to go over the edge, I made a caprese salad. Seriously. Losing my mind.

Tonight, I pulled it all back. Somewhat sullen, I just went out to the garden to see what was there. I hauled in some more beans, and took advantage of “testing” some of the plumped shell beans, including some nicely developing scarlet runner beans. I cut up the various pole beans, simmered them in water with the shell beans. Then added the kernels from the remaining corn from last night. Oh, and a few small tomatoes. Blistered another poblano and chopped that up, too. And made a simple vinaigrette of balsamic, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice. Poured it over the so-called salad.

And OMG, it was delicious. I didn’t bother to take a photo because it didn’t really count in the pantheon of garden dishes.

And so I decided not to sweat the August gathering on Saturday. Whatever we have in the garden, I will make it. And it will be sooooo good.

I’m pretty sure there’s going to be stuff in the garden on Saturday.

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