Recipes for September

It’s that time of great agricultural abundance, autumn. A time when I normally have loads of pumpkins, winter squash, and I’m still eating my own farm grown tomatoes. But not this year. Since I’m on a sabbatical from farming, I have to shop for vegetables like most people. In search of the freshest seasonal produce I head to the nearest farmers’ market, which happens to be the Easton Farmers Market, an easy walk from my apartment.

Fall is such a fun time to visit the market with warm weather produce still coming in strong and cooler season delights starting to roll in. You can find almost anything you want at a September market. I grabbed some cherry tomatoes, habaneros, okra, kale, sweet potatoes, summer squash and a cucumber.

With the arrival of fall we have started to have some cooler weather … well, cool enough that I actually felt like using my oven. So with my farmers’ market bounty I whipped up a tasty side dish, Autumn Veggie Cobbler (recipe below), to go with dinner.

Even though I don’t have a farm this year, I’m still enjoying some fruits of my labor … well previous labor. Chilly weather starts me craving hearty dishes filled with the dried beans and corn that I stored from 2017. So I whipped up some black-eyed peas (recipe below) to go along with my farmers’ market findings.

 

Autumn Veggie Cobbler
Serves 4

1 TBS sunflower oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, diced (including leaves)
4 cups sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup okra, sliced
2 large kale leaves, chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, chopped (or 1 medium tomato)
½ habanero, seeds removed, minced (or ½ tsp chili flakes)
1 ½ cups vegetable stock

In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and celery; sauteing for 2 minutes or until the onions begin to brown. Stir in sweet potatoes, salt, and black pepper. After about 5 minutes or once the potatoes start to sweat add okra and kale. Cook for another 5 minutes stir occasionally so the vegetables do not stick.  Then stir in tomatoes, habanero, and stock. Bring everything to a rapid boil, then take off the heat and pour into a 8×8 baking pan and set aside.

Make drop biscuits* in a medium mixing bowl, start by combining dry ingredients

1 ¾ all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar

Then cut in ⅓ cup of butter. Once the mixture resemble peas, stir in ¾ cup of milk and ½ cup of La Croix (yup I used lime La Croix cause it’s what I had, but you could also just use plain club soda). Be mindful not to over mix, a lumpy batter is okay. Using a large spoon, drop spoonfuls of biscuit batter right on top of your vegetable mixture until you have used up all the batter.

Then bake uncovered in a preheated 450 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the biscuits are fully cooked and slightly brown on top.

*Full disclosure: I intended to make baking powder biscuits but found my cupboard lacked baking powder and baking soda pretty late into making the recipe. So I improvised with cream of tartar and a can of La Croix.

Simple Black-Eyed Peas
Serves 4

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 TBS sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups water
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
⅛ tsp chili powder
1 TBS mild hot sauce
½ tsp black pepper
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a large pot heat oil over med-high heat. Then saute onion, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes or until onions begin to brown. Next add water, black-eyed peas, tomato, oregano, salt, chili powder, hot sauce, and black pepper mixing until well combined. Cover slightly and simmer until black-eyed peas are completely tender about 1 ½ hours, adding more water if necessary to keep black-eyed peas covered.

Serve over rice and squeeze a wedge of lime over top each bowl.

 

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I Like Pumpkins Too

As a farmer your main focus tends to be getting your product out of the field and into the hands of your customers.

I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve come home from a long day of harvesting and delivering produce to find my kitchen, severely lacking vegetables. Or after a busy morning selling produce at the farmers’ market (surrounded by fellow rock star farmers and amazing food vendors) only to realize I forgot to buy a single item off my grocery list. Like many farmers I find the access to fresh local produce to be an awesome job benefit, if I can remember to access it.

When I do bring produce home to eat, it tends to be “seconds”; fruit that is misshapen, leaves that bugs have chewed on, and other aspects that generally make the items undesirable for market. Your farm business mentality is to sell everything that is sellable. Well, this fall I spotted two beautiful blue pumpkins in the field that I immediately knew I wanted all for myself. As I watched them grow I kept feeling a pang of guilt that I would not market these beauts. But by the time they were ready to harvest, all my guilt had washed away. As I hauled them into my truck I was beaming with pride knowing I had the perfect place for them by my doorstep.

Still Picking

October is here and I’m still harvesting tomatoes. The heirloom tomato plants are just barely hanging on having never really recovered from the intense heat wave from weeks ago.

But the cherry tomato plants are happy and healthy with fresh green growth and loads of fruit. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer but I look at the cheerful cherry tomato plants and think aren’t you guys tired, aren’t you ready to stop producing and go to sleep for the winter?

Well I’m obviously projecting my feelings onto vibrant tomato plants. I have been steadily picking cherry tomatoes since June and it’s been a great tomato season for me but I’m totally ready for it to end. The production on the cherry tomato plants has slowed down a bit and the fruit is much smaller than it once was, which means it takes more time to fill up the pint baskets. But since there is ripe tomatoes in the field and customers still buying them, I will keep harvesting, until the plants are finished for the season. I’m just counting the days.

Slowing Down

Each day I find myself moving slower. I’m getting up later, just leisurely drinking my coffee, taking longer to leave the house, sluggishly harvesting tomatoes, and I think I’m even walking slower.  At first I just chalked it up to being lazy and I tried to push myself to move faster and shake off the desire to procrastinate. But each day’s energy seemed to be slower too.

Sunrise over the cherry tomato rows

The sun taking its time to shine its golden light, the wind blowing a crisp air, puffy clouds parading through the sky, and a stillness from the wild critters. Then I realized the equinox is upon us and autumn is here.

Now is the time to start slowing down to take inventory of what you have and what you still need to stock up on for winter. Mid-September is an abundant time at the farm because the summer crops are still producing steadily and the fall harvest of pumpkins and gourds is in full swing. I’m doing my best to not fight my slowness, I’m trying to go with the flow and be present in the current autumnal season.

September at the farmers market

Fall is Coming

After our recent heat wave it has been nice to have some days with cool breezes and cloudy skies. But I was still caught off guard by last Thursday’s rain, well more like a heavy mist but water from the sky nevertheless.

This fall weather just seemed so out-of-place, until I remembered that it is September. Signs of autumn are popping up all around the farm; pumpkins ready to harvest, the sun’s angle creating long shadows, dead tomato plants, and shorter days.

It seems like just yesterday I was ordering seeds and making my planting schedule for the season but now I’m starting to think about removing irrigation and putting things away for the winter. Having a seasonal workload was one of the things that drew me to a life a farming. I like how your tasks have a cycle and the work ebbs and flows throughout the year. This just feels natural to me I have more energy in the summer and enjoy taking on more work; in the winter I want to slow down and get cozy reflecting on life.  So as we enjoy the last days of summer filled with tomato sandwiches, I look forward to windy fall days surrounded by pumpkins.

Racing to Harvest

Lately it seems like everyday is a race. A race to pick as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. My race day starts the night before, I load the truck with boxes, pint baskets, snacks, and water. To figure out when to wake up, I look at when tomorrow’s sunrise is, so I can plan to be out in the field as early as I can. Sunrise is getting later and later, right now it’s happening at 6:38am to be exact, that is not much time before 12 noon when it becomes too hot to pick tomatoes (cause nobody wants soft pre-cooked tomatoes). I would like to start harvesting before 6:30 am but as you can imagine harvesting in the dark is hard. So I start harvesting at sunrise and I fill the flats that each fit 12 pint baskets as fast as I can.

Sometimes I have cat supervision

This time of year with the plants aging and the heat wave happening a lot of the fruit that is hanging is split or soft, so it’s a bit like an obstacle course. Cherry tomato harvest in late summer is not as fast as earlier in the season so you really feel the time speeding by as pint baskets slowly fill.

Once the day has become too hot for picking, I go inside to start sorting the tomatoes removing damaged fruit and mixing the colors. By the time this is finished it’s time to prep for tomorrow and load the truck with supplies. It may be a race but it won’t last forever.

Enjoying the Seasons

The tomatoes are still the star of the farm, requiring my full attention most every day.

But across the field a successor is lurking in the weeds. The pumpkins are growing well, the vines are curling up the tall weed stalks and sticking out past the edges of the field. I’ve even spotted a few orange ones already. There is also gourds and winter squash keeping the pumpkins company.

It is hard to think about autumn during the hot sunny weather of August but we are less than a month away from the fall equinox. The seasons move along at a quick pace, so make sure to take time to enjoy what tasty produce is currently at the farmers’ market, take a moment to soak up the warm weather, take a minute to watch bees buzzing from flower to flower, and take a deep breath of the summer’s afternoon breeze.

Before you know it juicy tomatoes will only be a memory and we will be pulling on our rain boots and cozy sweaters.

Being Present

What can I say, I’ve just be picking tomatoes since we last spoke. It’s true my days are measured by how many flats of this tomato variety or that tomato variety I have harvested.

I shuffle through the tomato rows quietly bobbing up and down as I pick tomatoes. I sometimes listen to music but I find more enjoyment just listening to what is going on around me. The rumble of tractors in nearby vineyards. The cooing of mourning doves flying into the trees. The dull roar of the trucks going down the road. The quail signalling to each other from the bushes. The screech of the red-tail hawk soaring overhead. The rustle of leaves as a lizard runs away.

A dragonfly resting on a tomato stake

I delight in being aware of my surroundings, present in what is going on. I find that I need this time and space to get away from noise. To eliminate the digital audio distractions that fill most of my day from car radio, to my smart phone, the videos on my computer, or the movies watched at night. Just being outside, in the world unconnected is important for me.

Tomatoes and More Tomatoes

I’m at the farm almost every single day just harvesting, and harvesting and harvesting tomatoes. Big ones, small ones, red ones, yellow ones, pink ones, purple ones, and multi-colored ones. The plants are healthy and happy so they are just constantly loaded with tomatoes.

To keep myself engaged in the harvest I try to make it, a bit of a game. With cherry tomatoes depending on the size I can fill a flat which is 12 baskets in about 20 minutes. The heirloom tomatoes are so big this year that I can fill a flat which weights about 10 pounds, just from one plant. So that takes like five minutes, if I don’t get tangled in the weeds that seem to be protecting the tomatoes.

After I fill a certain amount of flats I let myself sit in the shade, drink water, and sometimes enjoy a cookie or two. When working for yourself, you occasionally have to figure out ways to trick yourself into being more productive than you actually feel like being. Even with all this harvesting I’m so excited to have an endless supply of tomatoes because that means I can eat as many tomato sandwiches as my heart desires.

Whoa Those Are Big

Thursday as I began harvesting for Friday’s farmers market my focus was on cherry tomatoes. I had my day planned out; spend the morning harvesting cherry tomatoes, box up cherry tomatoes for the wholesaler, prep cherry tomatoes for the farmers market. Then in the afternoon get the truck loaded with seedlings and drop off the cherry tomato wholesale order on the way home.

Well as I finished harvesting all the cherry tomatoes I needed for the wholesaler, I was getting ready to harvest more cherry tomatoes for the farmers market when I spotted something big and bright pink a few rows over in the sprawling vine-y jungle that is the heirloom tomato patch. I walked over thinking I had found a lone heirloom tomato ripe before the rest. But as I picked up that big beautiful pink tomato I saw that the vines were covered with ripe tomatoes. And these tomatoes are huge, most of them are a solid pound with many leaning towards two pounds.

That puppy weights 1.5 pounds

So I ditched the pint baskets for big boxes and started harvesting heirloom tomatoes. They were so big they quickly filled the boxes and I started to realize I might not have enough room in the truck for everything now that I had heirloom tomatoes in the mix. With limited truck space and time speeding by, I opted to only harvest a few cherry tomatoes for the farmers market because the heirloom tomatoes have arrived and they are large and in charge.

Tomatoes at the market