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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Commemorating the Season

Thursday was a day filled with food, family, and friends. For me, Thanksgiving has always been a celebration of food.

During the days leading up to the big feast I search for all the ingredients both in my field, at neighboring farms, local grocery stores, and the farmers market. Every time I thought I had everything I needed I realized something was missing, so back to the store I went. With a kitchen stuffed with seasonal ingredients plus some avocados for a little guacamole, we were ready. We spent all Thursday preparing food for the big feast. It was all hands on deck with everyone lending their various skills to help make a delicious meal.

It is a family tradition to start the day with mimosas, ceviche, and guacamole.

As a farmer I look at Thanksgiving as a commemoration of the year’s bounty both in food and in friendship. Sitting together at a long table passing bowls and platters overflowing with deliciousness, we reminisce about the last time we all got together as a family. Chatter quickly fills the room that is already bursting with delectable food, amusing people, and love.

My dad and I at the pre-Thanksgiving farmers market

Fall Abundance

I have been harvesting bushels and bushels of pumpkins and gourds. At the farmers’ market you will see the tables in my booth overflowing with these classic autumn symbols.

But what you won’t see much of is winter squash. I was only able to have a modest harvest because I let the weeds take over those rows in the field. The winter squash plants were too small and the weeds grew too tall blocking the sunlight. On the farm you have to prioritize tasks and when the winter squash needed to be weeded the cherry tomatoes needed to be harvested and taken to market, it was a tough decision but those sweet tomatoes won. So the winter squash was on its own to fend off the weeds.

In other farm news, I have finally gotten all the popcorn harvested and now I’m busy shucking it all. With a half an acre worth of popcorn shucking takes many hours. Since I’m pretty obsessed with heirloom corn, removing each husk is like unwrapping a gift, it’s a surprise to see what colorful pattern the kernels will be in. I hope to have it shelled and ready for market by early November.

Smoke Signals popcorn

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.

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.

Cleaning Up For the Season

After a bit of a dry spell, the rains are back. In December this hauls any fieldwork and sends this farmer inside to stay dry.

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But there is plenty of farm work to do like organizing everything in the barn, cleaning up the greenhouse, doing various paperwork, and even taking sometime to read a good book. After a busy growing season it’s nice to have less pressing work, so you can catch up on all the tasks that you’ve been putting off.

My tools and supplies are in a huge disarray. Empty tomato boxes are piled here and there, green pint baskets hide in every corner, and I’m still looking for pruners I misplaced this spring. The last time I stepped into the greenhouse was in the early fall when I took out the last of the seedlings, but those growing trays don’t put themselves away. My desk is looking pretty good but there is still stray receipts and invoices that I need to be added to Quickbooks. As much as I’m ready for a full on break from the farm, there is still work to be done before this farmer can call it quits for the season.  

Oh Drip Tape

I’ve been doing a lot of mowing and removing a lot of irrigation. This is the early winter work involved in putting the field to bed for the season.  It’s typically this time of year that I realize there is something I dislike more than weeding and that is pulling out drip tape that has been covered and smothered with weeds.

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Drip irrigation is a very efficient way to water your crops, efficient in the sense of water usage not in the sense of labor. Every spring you must lay it all out and at the end of the season you have to remove it all. This amounts to thousands and thousands of feet of drip tape. Year after year I close out my season with the same activity of wrestling with the drip tape to get it out of the field. It is like resistance training with all the pulling and the following day my shoulders and arms are sore from this intense work out. After the irrigation is out of the way I mow down the weeds.

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With the recent rains the weeds are growing so fast I need to mow myself a path to just walk out to the field. I find myself making many excuses to mow, just to delay the annoying work of drip tape removal.

Finally Heirloom Popcorn

The long wait for local popcorn and beans is over, this week I visited a fellow farmer to use his thrasher.

The truck packed tight with all the popcorn and beans

The truck packed tight with all the popcorn and beans

This was a speedy way for me to shell all the popcorn and dried beans that I had harvested at the end of the summer. This year I grew Pennsylvania Dutch Butter popcorn and Dakota Black popcorn. For dried beans I grew Silver Cloud, Jacob’s Cattle, Saturday Night Special, Calypso, and California Black-eye peas.

Dakota Black being shelled

Dakota Black being shelled

I’ve been missing my farm grown popcorn as I like eat popcorn year round. I think of it as its own food group. Heirloom popcorn has a nutty flavor but any topping is a great choice. I’m a big fan of rosemary, garlic, olive oil and nutritional yeast. Though some days I just add salt. I tend to like my popcorn with savory toppings but I’ve been working on perfecting a maple syrup version of kettle corn. My favorite way to make my popcorn is over the stove top but the heirloom popcorn will pop in an air-popper or even in the microwave.

PA Dutch Butter after being shelled

PA Dutch Butter after being shelled

Popcorn kernels are non perishable and will last an incredibly long time when store in an airtight container like a mason jar. The heirloom popcorn will be available for sale at the Sonoma farmers’ market until Christmas or online, shipping anywhere within the Untied States. During these cold grey post-election days few things are as comforting as a big bowl of popcorn shared with those you love.

Time Change

It is hard to get work done at the farm with these shorter autumn days but as a farmer you have to work with the rhythm of the seasons. The summer, with its long days is chanting you on, to work-work-work, with what seems like endless hours of sunlight. But as we come into November we have just over 10 hours of sunlight each day and the sun doesn’t even show up until 7:30am.

Morning drive to the field

Morning drive to the field

It might still seem like enough time, but now when it’s not raining the field is covered with a thick heavy dew. The field is so wet I have to be dressed as if it is raining, with a raincoat and boots as any fieldwork gets me soaking wet.

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So I’m looking forward to the upcoming time change with the clocks falling back an hour which will give my field some time to dry out before I need to get to work. I know some people don’t like the change because of the early evening darkness but as a farmer I’m more productive in the morning. Plus the moving of the clocks doesn’t change the fact that we will still have the same amount of sunlight just at a different time. We are actually moving back to standard time, so now your sundials will be displaying the correct time.