Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday Musings

Sunday morning again. It took me almost a whole week from the last time I posted to get back here again. Guess I was busier this week than I thought.

I am sitting here at the 'puter typing this entry, listing to The Farmer play his guitar. Earlier this morning, the two of us were discussing some of the changes we are going to be making at the Farm next year. Some of the changes are little tweaks to our system, but some of them are major! Farming is a daunting proposition when growing conditions are good. This year has been the biggest challenge we have faced since we started growing the majority of our food, 7 years ago.

Our first order of business around here is to put in a well. We dry farm, as I have mentioned in previous entries, for several reasons, not the least of which is the cost of putting in a well and irrigation system. This year has been a killer for us and we can no longer look to our typical climate/rainfall for what we need. Production this year has been about 1/4 as much as we usually have and, of course, that hits directly in the pocketbook.

There have been more than a few unusual circumstances this year,including extreme drought conditions, extremes of heat and cold, insect populations at times of the year (brought on by the drought, heat, etc.) when they should have been gone. We usually don't see flea beetles past June but we still have them in the garden now and it is October.

The crazy spring weather this year effectively wiped out our strawberry crop which cost us thousands of potential dollars. This was the first year for this field of plants to produce because we moved our strawberry plot to its new permanent location. Because the plants were young and newly planted (in the fall of 2006), they simply couldn't stand up to the stress of the meteorological roller coaster of February, March and April, 2007.

Strawberries are perennials and will establish themselves over a season, put out runners with new "baby" plants that root eventually and when the runner dies, there is a new plant. This produces a mass or "matted" patch in about 2 seasons. In the very cold temps of winter, strawberry plants go dormant and when it warms up in the spring they burst into life, bloom and produce berries like crazy and then the plants just spend the rest of the year growing and putting down strong roots and making runners (baby plants). That means that next year, even if we have another bout of weird temps, the plants will have enough reserve to bloom again later in the season because they have followed their natural life cycle more closely that the forced cycle method that many growers use.

Today is also a "preservation" day for me. I have almost a bushel of pears that have been donated from some wonderfully generous folks who have pear trees. The pears are not organic but they haven't been sprayed with anything (not necessary). I also have some mountain apples that we got from the "Apple Man".

The Apple Man is from up in Sparta, NC, just north of us and brings down truck loads of apples from the orchards in his community. He has a group of regular customers in our community and comes by every couple of weeks during apple harvest seasons. He sells all kinds of apples, like Rusty Coats, Stayman Winesaps, Jonah Golds, Red Delicious, etc. Usually his visits stretch over several months with all kinds of apples. This year he came once and won't be back....said there are not apples in the orchards he usually sells from. This year he only had one variety.

Now back to my preservation. I decided since I got the apple peeler/corer out anyway, I would make pear honey and apple butter. Making fruit butters my way is an all day event. I don't use added sugar so the fruit has to cook and cook and cook and cook....about 8-10 hours to get it right. And it has to be stirred a lot, too. After you spend hours peeling and prepping the fruit, you sure don't want to scorch and ruin it, so you plan on hanging around the house all day on preservation day.

I will be making pear honey, which is like a "butter" but because of the texture and water content of pears, they will never cook down thick enough to call the result a butter. Butters are supposed to be smooth and pears stay grainy, no matter how much you cook and puree. Pear honey can be made any number of ways, but my favorite is just pure pears with a little ginger.

When you make butters, if the fruits are ripe and sweet, you don't need to add sugar. The sugars in the fruit are quite enough. I think this is a superior product to sugary jams and jellies but there are some fruits you can't make butter out of, because they will never thicken properly on their own. Another reason people make jams and jellies instead of butters is because it takes about twice as much fruit. Citrus fruits, for example. But I have made butters out of strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, apples, blueberries and in combination with bananas or as mixed fruits. We use them in winter on toast, English muffins or my favorite, over whole grain griddlecakes.

On the other hand, apples cook down into a smooth, creamy buttery consistency even with no sugar added. I make mine several ways, sometimes spiced with cinnamon, mace, cardamom and nutmeg or plain. This time I am going to make some with cranberries and ginger.

Got to go get to peeling now. I'll take a taste for you and let you know how it turns out!