Topic: Harvest Hills Farm activity
Hello! My name is Bread.
I know that is a weird announcement for me...a confirmed low-carber-- but our cultures (whatever our origin) all seem to have a central focus upon ...bread.
Think about it—the centrality of bread-- a mainstay in the menu, a metaphor for sustenance, a symbol for communion.
So, when my Summer intern wanted to learn how to make jelly out the assorted berries she'd foraged. I knew we'd be pulling out the bread maker because, no matter how good the jelly is, it doesn't stand alone without its mate, bread.
My wonderful Summer Interns went forth and found the wild berry patches and collected tons of berries. So—of course-- the canning skills were called forth and jelly was made.
Our recipe borrowed from the skills of others:
Make your own Berry Jelly.
We started out with about 2 quarts of fresh mixed wild berries, cleaned according to an earlier post I have on how to clean berries. I hate seeds so, it was my job to de-seed them in the juicer (you can also use a hand-turned or electric tomato seeder.) This process will take you as long as it took the kids to pick the berries! Don't give up! The rich juice derived without any of those little seeds is worth it!!!
You now have 6 cups of fresh wild berry juice.
Pour it into a stockpot and add 4 Tbsp. Real Fruit Pectin (we used Ball's brand, low or no-sugar pectin)
Bring to a boil for 1 minute, add 4 cups of real cane sugar and boil for 5 minutes.
Do a jelly spoon test—chill a teaspoon in ice water. Take a scant teaspoon of your jelly mixture, put it on a plate. Allow it to come to room temperature—just a minute or two. Is it set enough? If so, move to canning. If not, add another 1-2 Tbsp. Pectin., boil 1 minute, repeat the test.
This recipe makes 12 half pint jars and a little over to refrigerate for tasting.
Prep your canning jars, lids, rings as directed. Get your canning pot out and start the water boiling.
Fill the jars to ¼ inch of the top. Put lid and ring on. When all are loaded, boil in canning pot for 5 minutes. The “leftover” jelly should be put in a bowl and refrigerated. It's good to use for a week if it lasts that long. The jelly that's been canned is good for a year. All of your canned jars should “pop” and that means the middle should dimple down and no air space is perceived under the lid, meaning you can't push the center of the lid and have it come back out.
OK—jelly's made and you know it's one of the best things to give as a homemade gift. But, it needs it's mate, the bread.
So, if you really want to treat someone to a very special gift, then make a loaf of bread to accompany your jelly. And the bread maker is the quickest way to do that. Your instruction book will have many recipes, but here's a clever and health-inspired recipe to start with.
Oatmeal Flaxseed Bread
1 & ¼ c water
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp butter, melted
¾ c quick cooking oats
1& ¾ tsp salt
3& ¾ c. bread flour
2 tbsp organic flaxseeds (grind these fresh in a coffee grinder)
2 Tbsp dry milk
2 tsp active dry yeast.
Prep the pan with spray oil.
Add ingredient in this order: All liquids first, then dry ingredients, and LASTLY, add the yeast in a little well in the center of the batter.
Select the “Basic” setting and a light or medium crust (if you have that option).
Push the start button.
In 3 hours, you'll have the loaf in the picture.
Now get creative. To me, it looked like a hay bale, so we wrapped hemp cord around it and packaged it together with the jelly to give to a friend who helps us making hay.
But, I think anyone would like this country-inspired Bread AND Wildberry Jelly!
More on Purslane and a Peek at Garden Progress
Last week I showed you the “before” salad and forgot to insert a picture of the salad “all jazzed up” with herbs and purslane So, to take a step back:
Before—basic tossed salad:
After—the fresh herbs- basil, cilantro and purslane are added and tossed thoroughly (40 times, remember the rules?)
I'd like to show you how that looks on the dinner plate—roast pork, quinoa with spinach and carrots, and the lovely herb, lettuce, tomato and onion salad.
Now, back to the garden check at about 6 weeks post seeding...
I mentioned that purslane might be a good “cover crop”--and why not? They seem to have taken hold around the squash plants. And, as we discussed last week, there's no reason to weed something as healthy as purslane. Notice my beautiful summer squash. And the purslane, see it growing between the squash plants?
Here are my multi varieties of kale greens and next to be written about.
Good Afternoon on this beautiful sunny (for a change) Sunday:
I am busy making Sunday dinner which is, of course, including a tossed salad. Here's a photo of the usual tossed salad most of the year—greens, maybe tomato and onion and a vinegar and oil dressing- right?? And if you're lucky the greens are varied and coming from your own garden.
But now it's the time of the year where we can also forage the garden for edible herbs to kick this salad up a notch and –below you'll see that I went to the garden and snipped some fresh herbs to chop into the salad.
I know you'll recognize the parsley, cilantro and basil...but did you wonder about the herb in the lower left corner? Here's a closer view...
It's purslane, not specifically cultivated in a nice row in the garden, but growing among it's friends and between the blocks in the garden dividers—some might refer to it as a weed, but I'm starting to consider it a cover crop!
It goes by the name of PURSLANE!
Oddly, though it grows like a weed, we don't begin to appreciate that it's probably the most nutritious herb out in our garden.
Below are a couple of references for your reading. (Now get out there are reconsider your viewpoint. Pick and USE this so-called weed if you're lucky enough to find it growing in your yard!)
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Is it a weed or a wonderful taste treat? Purslane is cursed and curried all at the same time. For most of us, it comes as an unwelcome guest. Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is probably in your garden right now but not because you invited it to dinner.
Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. Many cultures embrace purslane as a food.
Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. They look like baby jade plants. The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. It is closely related to Rose Moss, Portulaca grandiflora, grown as a "not so weedy" ornamental. Check out U of I's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification website for some great pictures of purslane.
Purslane is an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. You may find that fact either depressing or exciting.
If you are trying to control purslane the number one rule is don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. Again depressing or exciting. Running a tiller through purslane is called purslane multiplication.
Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poorest arid soils. A rock driveway is nirvana to purslane. It's succulent characteristic makes it very drought tolerant. Purslane prefers the fine textured soils of seedbeds as in vegetable gardens or open soil areas in paths. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep. Tilling brings seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane. Purslane seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may again help to control it. Since it germinates in high soil temperatures also means it doesn't appear until June when preemergent herbicides may have lost their effectiveness.
Now if you are in the "if you can't beat 'em than eat 'em" category, you won't go hungry this year. There are plenty of purslane plants out there and I'm sure your neighbors would love to share theirs with you. If you are a connoisseur, you can also purchase purslane seeds for the cultivated forms for better flavor and easier harvesting. They tend to grow more upright than the wild types.
With purslane aficionados the preference is in eating fresh young plants, and especially young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Use purslane in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye. Purslane can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried or pureed. It tends to get a bit slimy if overcooked. It can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Seeds are also edible.
Before grazing in your yard be sure to wash the purslane thoroughly and make sure it is free of any pesticides. As with any new food, don't over indulge. For recipes go to http://www.prairielandcsa.org/recipes/purslane.html .
Here's another excellent article on purslane and nutritional value.
Have a great time re-considering your attitude towards this so-called weed!
Have you ever taken a moment to walk 10 feet into your garden after a rain and just stop and look around? Not up into the sky miles away--but directly at the objects in front of you.
Observe the impact of nature in those several seconds of transition from the end of a thunderous downpour through the silent, frozen state before the flowers unfold and straighten again...
And before the coleus unfurl and fly their colorful flag-leaves?
And notice how the firm baby pears look so determined in position along with their much larger leaf partners...
And how the baby apples almost smile through their freshly washed faces...
But look especially closely after a thunderous downpour and you'll see something nature might have wanted you to miss...especially if you're a potential predator!!!
Against the brick wall, there is a fledgling bird who was unceremoniously ejected from its nest and down into origins of the Boston ivy vines. I propped a couple of pear tree branches that had also gotten blown down, over the area--to conceal the bird from the next batch of potential predators who would be out of the house behind me--the four dogs. I don't fear the Shepherds who have no interest in little birds, but I have two Yorkies, one of whom would probably bring me this little birdie back as his version of a present!
With the weather we've been having this Summer, you'll likely have the opportunity in the next few days to have a thunderous downpour...Nature is inviting you to look right in front of your nose and right under your feet. Next time, don't look at the sky to see the next batch of weather, but just within a ten foot range to share a different viewpoint.
All my readers know how enamored I am with the slow cooker (aka crockpot) so it might shock you to know that I have never cooked a whole chicken in one before this past week...then I did it twice.
I think I didn't believe that you could put a chicken in the crockpot, whole and without any additional sauces or liquid and have it turn out juicy and moist.
My first experiment was cautious. I spray-oiled my crockpot and smeared barbeque sauce on the chicken, put it on "Low" and actually left the house. The next time I looked at the chicken it was fully cooked at 8 hours and sitting in about 2 inches of natural juices.
My second experiment was going as liquid-free as possible. In my first experiment, I did use barbeque sauce. The second experiment--simply an herbal rub blend. And the chicken was a free range chicken from a friend's farm so I knew there was no added juices hidden under the skin or injected into the flesh.
Here's a picture of the chicken going into the crockpot with just a herb rub.
And here is the chicken 8 hours later, in its natural juices that extruded from the whole chicken.
This chicken was moist and delicious--and the huge bonus I got was this amazing chicken stock--not broth--but true roasted chicken stock. Notice how little is fat in this picture of a container of the juices, after refrigeration.
Finally, after eating the chicken for dinner one day, I easily removed the remaining pieces of chicken from the bones and reserved to cook with some onions, mushrooms, a bit of stock and cream and some pieces of asparagus --then toss into oat bran pasta and top with a little Parmesan-- A chicken in every crockpot indeed!
I know I risk criticism by starting blogs with--"it's been really busy around here" more than once a year. But it seems to be a repeating theme.
Below is a picture of "Orange Tag 102"--a 3 year old Black Angus cow who had one successful pregnancy last year and just delivered her latest calf...literally about 2 hours before this picture was taken
We're just about done calving. Free range animals give birth in their pastures. And, we don't ever interfere with the natural process unless there's a problem. Instead we "round" on the herd multiple times a day looking for any behavior changes or problems with calves.
For instance, when we checked on the herd this morning, we saw Orange Tag 102 grazing away from the rest of the herd. She was several acres away from the rest of the cattle, eating contentedly and, as we would find out, waiting for the impending birth. So we inspected her closely, noted distended udders and returned a couple of hours later to find her with calf born, and placenta pending. We left her privately and returned an hour later to photograph Mama and Baby--the picture you see above. Though again--since everything was fine--we stayed back far enough to not create any anxiety in the mother with her newborn. Everything was fine so there was no need to interfere. We'll re-check the cow and calf pair again in a couple of hours.
On another one of our inspections a couple of weeks earlier, my husband noted that another calf was not gaining weight as anticipated. A call to the vet ensued, the calf and mother were examined and it was determined that the mother was not producing enough milk for the baby. That baby is now in our barn as a "bottle calf" which we will feed until she's ready for weaning and will re-enter the herd.
Cute thing, isn't she? Thankfully it's a girl, so we CAN get attached because she will be with us for her whole life. Another bottle calf we had a few years ago was also a female and is in the herd. Little Ma, as we called her, really can't be distinguished from her cohort group of (now) cows.
Other great news on the farm: we have two amazing summer interns working and learning with us this Summer!
Nguyen is an Animal Sciences major and Jack is a Crop Sciences/Agribusiness major, both are University of Illinois College of Agriculture students. Our cattle, chickens, vineyard, garden and hayfields are going to be spoiled with their attention!
It has been busy around this Farm the past two weeks--but the garden is finally planted and the new calves are being born on schedule.
Last night after spending the entire previous day-- several hours-- non-stop planting transplants and seeds and diligently watering them all in, we stopped for about 10 minutes to watch the amazing full moon rise No, I didn't get a photo, a slow motion video would've been more interesting. It was a great conclusion to weeks of prep work by the tractor and my husband and then both of us finally planting everything.
So, the cattle are busy eating THEIR greens.
But, MY greens are still twinkles in my eyes. I had to resort to the fresh market for a package of kale. And, I'm so glad I did. I found this great recipe that I am sharing below "Sweet and Savory Kale".
If you'll recall in my last post, I mentioned that certain people should not eat raw food, because no matter how well it is washed, it is not sterile, so there are still organisms on the surfaces. For those with weakened immune systems or low white blood cell counts, they shouldn't take the chance of getting infections from raw foods. But EVERYONE can eat this cooked kale recipe, because the food is heated through, above the so-called "temperature danger zone" (41-135 degrees F) where bacteria multiply best. Because it's a cooked food, you should refrigerate leftovers promptly and then re-heat leftovers (this "previously heated food") to 165 degrees.
Wow! Lots of food safety rules but worth the read--keep everything safe for everyone!
Sweet and Savory Kale
(Nature's Greens Recipe)
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped (I used a red onion)
3 large clove soft garlic, minced
Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onion and garlic, until soft.
2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1&1/4 cups of chicken broth
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add:
12 cups of washed and chopped kale leaves (1 lb bag of pre-prepped kale greens)
Stir in the greens and cook until the kale leaves are wilted.
Add: 1/3 cup dried cranberries, stir and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, at least 10 minutes.
(The recipe also calls for ¼ cup sliced almonds sprinkled on top but I omitted this, favoring the cooked greens right at this point.)
Doesn't this look good???
About those baby greens...
We all know how nutritious and appealing those dark green, colorful baby greens, lettuces and herbs are in a salad, don't we? And, of course, how pretty they are in edible gardens, raised beds, and container plantings. Most everyone who plants a garden will plant an assortment of greens and lettuce.
Today's post is a reminder of how to best harvest and then prepare those raw greens.
This container of triple-washed, properly refrigerated organic baby mixed greens is safer eaten directly from its carton than if you were to wash it again in your kitchen sink!
In fact, you should not risk any unintended cross-contamination to this product by putting it anywhere other than your refrigerator for continued cold storage OR directly into the salad bowl for mixing and eating.
The standards in the industry for this food product is to harvest in the coolest part of the day and immediately field cool, then cold water wash and “spin dry” --meanwhile assuring that all equipment involved is sanitized and human handlers adhere to hand-washing standards at frequent intervals.
Greens are not “sanitized” but pathogens are minimized. Techniques include mitigating field contamination (flood waters, runoff water, contaminated irrigation water, bird droppings, animals, etc) , mitigating human contamination (proper instruction and handling), rapid and continuous cooling below 41 degrees, adhering to “good agricultural practices,” and quality monitoring of practices.
But, even with great techniques, raw greens are not recommended for people who have low immune defenses such as low white blood cell counts, on chemotherapy, etc. If in doubt, double-check with your doctor and ask if they advise restrictions in eating raw foods.
How can you improve your food safety practices with baby greens and lettuce that are home-grown in the backyard garden?
Make sure that animals are kept out of contact with your garden plants.
Wash your hands and clean and sanitize your shears
Harvest in the coolest part of the day
Discard anything wilted or damaged or with physical evidence of contamination on site, don't let those bad actors contaminate your healthy leaves
Don't put your baskets or containers directly on the ground, set them on a stool or support
Immediately cool the greens in a cold water bath in your previously cleaned and sanitized kitchen sink
Spin dry in a salad spinner *
Refrigerate if not using immediately and keep them cold until use
if you are harvesting a lot of greens, then use a nylon laundry bag, put the cut leaves in the bag, immerse in your COLD water bath to cool and wash, then take the closed bag outside and spin it around your head to get out excess water—no kidding—then refrigerate the leaves.
Pathogens grow best at room temperature so we want cut greens and lettuces to be kept at refrigeration temperature, below 41 degrees (but not below freezing of course!). Remember this counts for those cut greens and lettuce leaves you are buying at a Farmers' market or produce store, too! They should be in coolers or refrigerated cases when they're sold to you and ideally, you should keep a cooler in your car for transport back to your house especially in the Summer.
Another way to reduce pathogens on your raw leaves is to dress salads with acid based dressings, think about vinegar-and-oil and lemon juice-and-oil. In general, all salads should be served immediately after dressing, or return back to refrigeration.
Now that you've harvested, cooled, washed, and refrigerated your baby greens, how about a nice salad?
Here's my salad from last night:
Baby kale, Swiss chard, spinach dressed with equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil—whisk into an emulsion and toss with the greens 40 times. Then add some toasted walnuts and goat cheese crumbles.
Finally—did you notice from this post that I gave you at least 3 great ideas for Mothers' Day?
Patio Container, pre-planted with assorted lettuce and greens
Salad greens' spinner!!!
Elegant salt and pepper grinders (the Wolfgang Puck grinders were a Christmas gift from my brother)
Limoncello- the rest of the Story
In my post on April 20, 2013, Lemons-Part 1: The Zest, I talked about making an Italian liqueur called, Limoncello. The recipe is included in that post. And I promised pictures when my final product was done.
I first had Limoncello by accident during a tour in Italy. I say “by accident” because the waiter asked our group of diners if we wanted some after dinner. Now, we were sitting with two very comical sisters from New York (we later nicknamed them the “Andiamo Sisters” because they were always up for anything). Already over-tired on day one from a transatlantic flight, it was our first group orientation dinner out. The wine with dinner had gone to our heads. We all thought he said “lemon jello”. Looking at each other quizzically, we all said “sure.” Why they served lemon jello in Italy was beyond all of us—we were soon educated to our mistake.
My sister, Kathy, reminded me that she first heard about the beverage in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” I'd forgotten about that part in the movie where Diane Lane's character falls in love with an Italian man whose family business is making “Limoncello.”
So—here is what my 50 lemons of zest peelings incubated with vodka yielded: 3.5 liters of golden, lemon-infused vodka.
Having multiplied the recipe by 3.5 times, I had to make the simple syrup in a stock pot to accommodate the volume. After it cooled to room temperature, I added the vodka. I can tell you at this point my kitchen smelled like a bar in a Summer resort just lacking the odor of tanning oil--(and I was getting loopy just from the aromatics. I turned on the exhaust fan).
I then bottled the results in sanitized glass containers (you can sanitize using detergent and the “hot wash” in your dishwasher.) The Limoncello needs to incubate another 2 weeks at room temperature. Then I will decorate and label the bottles—I plan to give away most to friends, but I'll reserve that ½ gallon one for the Summer Reunion dinner parties—remember it makes a nice cocktail diluted with seltzer water and over ice—kind of a sparkly vodka lemonade.
So, that's the rest of the story...