What’s On The Docket For Today?

Mid-August and that means spending at least part of the day in the kitchen preserving the bounty. Green beans are frozen and also pickled. A big pot of broccoli soup and kettles of tomatoes simmering. Pesto. Lots and lots of pesto. Sweet pickles, sour pickles, mustard pickles. Probably some relish, too. Yesterday some fresh cabbage slaw and later in the month, a crock of kraut will be made.
Beets roasted for tonight’s dinner ( along with a chicken in the oven) and sprinkled with blue cheese. Dessert? How about homemade ginger biscuits with peaches and blueberries? Ice cream? Yes!

Then, this afternoon, along with tending the nursery, we’ll keep working on our latest construction project…the new outhouse! We had a long conversation with my cousin Barbara and cousin Ronnie during dinner last night about furnishing the outhouse with one seat or two. They have a two seater, who goes in there together? I don’t know. Apparently, a traditional two-seater outhouse has two different size holes. One for big bottoms and one for smaller. Well, that makes sense, we wouldn’t want any little folks falling through! Cousin Barbara has made her own privy into quite the luxury palace…fancy curtains, a linoleum floor, and art work hung on the wall. I can imagine all of her guests lining up outside the outhouse happy to “do their business’ in such fine surroundings. I bet there’s probably some good reading material in there too. Our outhouse is still taking shape, but I’ll glean some inspiration from cousin Barbara and be thinking about ways to make our own “one holer” a pleasant place to sit for a spell. If you want to read up on some outhouse facts, go here, http://cottagelife.com/environment/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-outhouses

High Summer

There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!

Easter


This beautiful warm Easter day here at Fernwwod? I’ll make yeast rolls, roast the lamb, saute the asparagus, and I’ll assemble a salad. Oh, and also roast the turnip and the potatoes with plenty of garlic. Dessert will show up with guests. And in between pot stirring and dough kneading?, I’ll go out and scan every inch of the gardens for beauties like these ( which we have propagated in the greenhouse). Happy, happy day to everyone!

Anemonella thalictroides

The Great Harvest

Picture 3528Now is when the vegetable harvest floods the kitchen. Buckets, baskets, and wooden crates filled to the brim with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and more. Let’s not even mention the cucumbers. Or the squash…. you know how that goes. We’ve been trying to harvest all the squash before it grows to its potential baseball bat length. This can happen overnight, as you know. ‘Sunburst’ patty pan squash grow like berries on a bush, you pick them one day and the next there are just as many. Our favorite way to prepare these cute little Cucurbita are to first throw them into a pot of boiling water, cook until just tender, then take them out to drain and dry off a bit. Then scoop out a small hole on the top side of the squash, discard seeds if you want to, and fill the hole with something yummy….like a bit of the roasted tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, and eggplant that’s been in the oven all morning. Top this with a little goat cheese ( we like Appleton Creamery’s ‘Chipotle lime’) and put under the broiler for a minute. A great little presentation, I must say.
Hope everyone’s gardens are doing well despite the lack of water ( here in the North East). Happy harvest to all!Picture 3533

Flowers!

Picture 3353Picture 3359Picture 3341Fernwood is known for its shade-loving perennials. People will often make a special trip to find some of the native and woodland plants we grow. After all, we are ‘Maine’s Shadiest Nursery’. On any given day, a customer may visit the nursery and go home with a gold edged crinkled leaf hosta, a Lobelia cardinalis, and maybe a trillium or two (for an example). We have rows and rows of carefully selected plants to choose from for shade and woodland. Years of work has gone into the selecting and propagation of the plants we grow.
But, I must say, if you look across the nursery towards the vegetable gardens and areas with more open space, you’ll a see a swath of sun-loving non-natives…poppies galore, an army of foxglove, oodles of borage, chamomile, and calendula, patches of delphiniums and dahlias, roses and peonies, not to mention the dill and cilantro and fennel…all of which make their home quite happily right along side the vegetables. Why not? It’s flower love out there! It’s a bouquet picking bonanza! Every day I go and clip a few bunches, large and small, so each room in the house gets their own cheery and often fragrant arrangement. I’ll finish this post by just saying this…..” all these flowers bring me (shade and no shade) so MUCH joy!!! Picture 3397Picture 3365Picture 3399

Peppers , Lots Of Peppers!

Picture 1655What’s coming in from the gardens at the moment? Lots and lots of peppers! Having a bounty of fresh sweet red, yellow, and green peppers is a treat. A large sweet red pepper can get pricey at the market.They are coming out of the garden in buckets , along with tomatoes, beets, cabbage, beans, and eggplant. We’re ignoring the squash. Roasting peppers over a charcoal fire is our favorite way to eat them. Everyone in the house loves the addition of roasted peppers on their burgers and in their sandwiches. We will freeze some, freshly chopped and frozen, as well as roasted and then frozen. The consistency of course is nothing like fresh, but the preserved peppers will be added to soups and dishes where they are not intended to be a main ingredient. We have canned roasted peppers. Being low acidity, they need to be processed in a pressure cooker. I’ll leave you with these instructions for canning or freezing peppers (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8004.pdf). It is important to follow careful steps with canning, especially with vegetables that you aren’t going to pickle and are considered low acidity. Picture 1657
Oh, and what’s our favorite salad at the moment? The easiest cucumber salad that is quite divine ( yep, buckets of cucumbers, too).
Slice cucumbers quite thin, ( maybe 4 medium cukes)
Add about 2 tbls. minced fresh ginger ( or more if you’d like)
season with a ‘ seasoned’ rice vinegar
Let this sit for an hour or two in the fridge…….quite yummy, and lovely on sandwiches!

Because we are hauling in baskets of these……Picture 1648
And cooking up gallons of this…….Picture 1647
We thought it may be helpful to go back and repost an old entry on how we do it……. ( click the highlighted ‘old entry’ to go back to that very post. Hope your tomatoes are ripening!

Squash Soup

Picture 388Checking the status of the vegetables we store for the winter is a weekly task. How are the onions holding up? Are the beets still staying firm? We go through the stored boxes of vegetables looking for any that may have gotten soft or are beginning to spoil. We check the potatoes, turnip, beets and garlic. We turn over each winter squash looking for brown or soft spots that may indicate its limited shelf life. By doing this weekly, we can often make use of a vegetable before it has really turned. This week I brought down some butternut squash that had a couple of tiny blemishes. Not rotten or soft, but having a potential of heading in that direction. So, let’s throw them into the mix of this week’s menu before they’re lost. Waste not want not, a good old saying. Squash soup is probably one of the easiest soups to make. No formal recipe needed, and it’s a good ‘ stick to your ribs’ kind of soup. And…… extra special served with some homemade biscuits.
Here’s how we make ours: ( although we are never opposed to changing things up and throwing in new ingredients).
First, I roast or bake the squash. This is the most timing saving way for me to have the flesh cooked without having to peel the squash. Cut the squash in half, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, maybe a little smear of butter and maple syrup, and place face ( flesh) down on a cookie sheep. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until very soft. This will depend on the size of the squash. Take out and let cool a bit so you can comfortably scoop the cooked flesh from the skin.
In a large pot saute some chopped onions and a clove of garlic with 3 or 4 TBLS. of butter. Cook until soft and translucent. Add your cooked squash along with some chicken stock. The amount of chicken stock is determined by how thick or thin you want your soup. You may be adding some cream or whole milk towards the end if you want a richer soup, so keep this in mind when adding liquid. From here, you can add the herbs or spices you think may pair well with squash. Thyme is nice. A bit of ground ginger goes well. We often add a pinch of cayenne pepper and a small bit of tamari. Smoked paprika would be yummy. On a cold night this makes a satisfying meal…….along with those biscuits I mentioned, of course. As we rummage through our squash supply, I’ll keep you posted on all the other ways we use them in recipes. Enjoy!

BFL Skeins Still Available

DSC04995DSC05001There are still plenty of hand dyed Blue Face Leicester skeins of yarn available. Visit the nursery while we’re still open ( the end of September and then by chance or appointment thru October) if you’d like some soft and lustrous wool to knit with. You can also contact us, if you are coming just to purchase yarn. I have been knitting almost daily and so glad to be back at it. Outdoor work continues. We love being in the nursery at this time of year. Of course some of the native plants are going dormant, or have already, but the cool autumn days are a delight to work in, and we enjoy tending to the plants that remain. The hostas still look great, and many late blooming natives continue to put on a show. The vegetable gardens are getting a dose of sheep manure and compost, the beds turned over for next year. But, in the hoop house, things are just at their early beginnings……a new crop of spinach is coming along, mixed greens and lettuces are close to the picking stage, and another bunch of radish are close to being harvested. At the other end of the hoop house, there are still a few tomatoe plants producing and peppers that are waiting to turn red. Still, more food! In the evenings, after the chores for the day are complete, knitting and some spinning become my ‘after hours’ activity.DSC05019

A Sea of Sweet and Hot Red Peppers

Once again, we find ourselves hauling in baskets of sweet and hot peppers. Our favorite way to prepare them, aside from eating peppers fresh or in salads, is to roast them and preserve them in the refrigerator drenched in olive oil. We love using the roasted peppers in sandwiches, on pizza or in quiche, in sauce, or simply adding them to any dish that we think can benefit from the intense roasted flavor.

For storing I prefer not to can the peppers using the traditional pressure canning process. Instead, after roasting the peppers whole on the outdoor grill until the outer skins are blackened, I place them in a brown paper bag and close it tightly. This creates steam in the bag and makes peeling the skins off a much simpler task. After this, it’s easy to slice the peppers down the middle and scoop out the seeds.

At this point I put about two tablespoons of vinegar in the bottom of a quart jar and then fill it halfway with olive oil and add the peppers. This I store in the refrigerator and preserve them for up to a month. Of course, they hardly ever last that long in our house because we eat them all up!

I do the hot peppers this way as well but also dry most of our hot peppers for winter use or grinding to make a chili powder.

The varieties that we typically grow and the ones I find best lend themselves to roasting are Jimmy Nardello, Snapper, Semisweet Cubinellas, and King of the North. For hots, we love Joe’s Long Cayenne, Hot Portugal, Krimson Lee, and Red Rockets.

Once again, always follow specific directions and safety instructions for canning any of your produce.

I’d love to hear your ideas!