Spring has finally (kind of) made an appearance in Upstate New York. The Winter was cold and bitter and even snowy…but it was also long. Why is it that we spend all year complaining about the season we’re in? Winter is too cold (or too warm); Spring is too short, too rainy, too cold or non-existent all together; Summer is too hot, too wet, too dry; Fall is too short, too warm, too stormy. I’m just as guilty as the rest, I complain right along with everyone else.
To me, Spring is always about transformation and transformation is never easy or smooth. Transformation, instead, is about stormy emotions, destruction of the old, birth of the new. Muddy paths and windy nights; turmoil and chaos – that is what Spring brings. It is an unsettling of routines, souls and perspectives. It is scary and beautiful all in the same breath. It is about surrender and acceptance.
Spring in Upstate is also the time when fields are plowed and planted. It is the time when farmers emerge from their workshops rested and repaired with a curse on their lips and a prayer in their hearts, prepared for the marathon that is about to begin.
Farmers are always in a tussle with Mother Nature. Last year it was a record warm Spring and a devastating Summer drought. This year, it is the continued cold snap and flooding. We need to get seed in the ground so that it can mature in time and be ready for harvest but we also need the ground warm and dry enough to get into the fields.
For many of us who have a supporting role on farms or in farmers’ lives, planting means saying “goodbye” for a solid six (or more) weeks. I had my goodbye chat last night, planting hasn’t started, but it will in the next few days. There may be a quick call from a tractor cab here and there, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope. After seven years in the country, I’ve gotten used to the rhythm and the calendar that farm men live by. I’m not saying that I like it, I’m just used to it now.
I do not know how to express completely the pure happy that a sunshiney weekend brings. Bright and warm, full of fresh breezes. After the cold snap this past week, the long and exhausting work that made up my Monday thru Friday, the chance to sit out in the sunshine and recharge was beyond bliss.
This weekend has to go down as one of the best I’ve had in a while – but then again it could have had more to do with the company I kept than the weather we enjoyed. I spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons with a friend’s three sons – 3, 7 and 9 – three of my most favorite people in the world. We drove through fields, checked out cows, explored creeks and gravel pits on Saturday. We giggled and ate freshly baked “pumpkin” pie on Sunday. I don’t know if there is anything better than having those little boys sing out “you can’t leave yet” every time I made a move to do just that.
Below is the recipe for the “pumpkin” pie…There quote marks because I didn’t use pumpkin but sweet dumpling squash instead. I don’t know if there is a simpler thing to make. It took all of three minutes to combine everything…
Sweet dumpling squash look like decorative gourds but are too tasty to just use for decorations.
To cook the squash, take off the stems and split in two. Scoop out the seeds and set on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the squash is soft. Scoop out the meat of the squash and freeze in 1 1/2 c. servings.
Winter Squash Pie
1 1/2 c. cooked squash (sweet dumpling is best but if you use pumpkin or butternut, drain the squash before measuring and using in this recipe)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/8 t. nutmeg
1 t. vanilla
1 9-inch pie crust
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F
1. Mix all the wet ingredients fully. Stir spices in completely.
2. Pour filling into pie crust.
3. Bake for 10 min at 425 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 – 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when poked into pie.
Filed under Day to day, Food
Upstate New York shines in September and October. The air gets crisp, the sunlight becomes pale and the leaves burst with color. Cool nights signal the end of the growing season and the start of harvest. Around the state, yellowed corn stalks are chopped by tractors and packed away for the winter. Combines travel through fields of soy beans doing the same. Both crops will feed dairy cows for the next year.
The hot, dry summer has caused many farmers a great deal of worry not only in New York but across the country. Articles and news broadcasts have highlighted the concerns throughout the past few months warning about shortages and increases in food costs. Crops like corn and soy don’t germinate, grow, pollinate or produce when the rain fails to fall and the sun bakes down. For example, at my family’s farm the soy beans are about three weeks behind schedule. That means a lot of praying for the autumn weather to hold off a little while longer.
But, despite all these concerns, autumn brings a renewed energy to the countryside. Pumpkin stands open, apple pies bake and cider doughnuts are enjoyed with renewed pleasure. Autumn is pure pleasure and farmers know how to share the experience with their neighbors. Many County Farm Bureaus across the state are hosting events that introduce families to farm life. Montgomery and Fulton County Farm Bureaus held Sundae on the Farm events in September. These events welcomed nearly 5,000 people to working farms in the counties for a day of educational tours, displays, crafts and wagon rides. Herkimer County will be hosting a similar event on October 6th in the town of Maheim.
We all know that the pleasure that is autumn won’t last very long – maybe that’s why so many of us spend all the time we can soaking in the season. Soon, crisp will turn to cold and pale sunshine will be in short supply. Our attention will turn inward, focusing on our homes and our hearths and the plan-making that is winter’s rest. But, while the spectacle of autumn is still in full swing, I encourage you to head to a local farm event, a corn maze, or other local event that celebrates all the wonders agriculture can offer not only at this time of year, but year round.
That’s all I’ve got to say. Actually, it’s not…
Romancing (or being romanced) by a farmer has a rhythm all its own. I’ve spoken about it in the past. There’s the Farmers’ Dating Calendar and some other random thoughts on what’s in store (at least from my perspective) when you date a farmer. These two posts alone make up most of my weekly readership and it amazes me. But I’ll admit that no matter how many times I read them, these posts are still true and act as reminders when I get a little pissy that my date has to be cancelled because of hay.
Well, guess what ladies? September is here and there is a break (I hope) in the non-stop marathon that is field work. Maybe, maaaybe, I can get a little lovin’. Fair is in seven days, fair weekend is in eleven (not like I’m counting). I seriously don’t care if I have to sit alongside a Jersey heifer in the cow barn as long as I get to spend some time with a particular cutie…on a date that has been made and cancelled repeatedly since June. (Sorry but several dinners with my folks is not a date.)
However, there is something to be said about this whole adventure. First, we have really had to take our time. No jumping into things here…No sir-ee. Slow and steady and surprisingly sweet. Second, every time he’s had to cancel I get something fresh and delicious out of the deal. Berries, cucumbers, next up are tomatoes and peppers. Last night my Mom and I were processing tomatoes and I realized that though this particular farmer is pretty darn good-looking, the thing I find really hot is that he can feed me all year long.
Yup. You want to get lucky? All this girl needs are some fresh veggies in the freezer and canned in the cupboard. Does that make me easy? Maybe, but well fed.
This summer will go down in the record books as one of the hottest and driest on record. We’ve been lucky in New York. The worry of drought damage hasn’t disappeared, but the summer storms have finally hit parched fields. In my farm family at least, people are breathing a little easier. And while analysts and economists predict a rise in food costs come fall, I’m currently focused on savoring the taste of summer for as long as possible – well into winter.
Summertime is the peak for New York vegetables and right now farms are ripe with edible possibilities. My family owns and operates a dairy farm. This means that the fields are full of corn and soybeans, both crops intended solely for the animals we keep and care for. Our garden is pretty pathetic too, thanks to a fertilizer mishap by my father. What it doesn’t mean though is that we can’t reap the bounty of fresh veggies summer offers.
Anyone can easily enjoy the delicious harvest New York farmers provide. Local farm stands, farmers’ markets and produce auctions are great resources for produce – either a few ears of sweet corn for diner or a few bushels of beans to pickle, can or freeze. My father and mother spend Saturday or Sunday afternoons doing the latter. Freezing farm fresh veggies is an economical, convenient and amazingly delicious endeavor. One afternoon’s labor and $25 or so provides green beans as a side dish for nearly a year. And don’t get me started on the corn which tastes just as sweet and summery in January as it does right off the cob in July.
Taking the time to preserve local produce connects the consumer to the farmer who raised the fruit and veggies. It continues the heritage of agriculture that has shaped New York State and ensures local agriculture continues in our communities. Most importantly though, it brings a smile to your face in the middle of winter as you savor the taste of summer.
Here is quick and easy pickle. Though it isn’t processed, or sealed tight to keep in the cupboard till winter, it will keep in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a month or so.
3 large cucumbers (sliced paper thin)
1 t. salt
¼ c. sugar
1/8 c. water
¼ c. distilled white vinegar
½ t. celery seed
¼ t. paprika
½ medium onion (sliced thin)
- In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers and salt. Mix well and set aside for 30 minutes.
- In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir until everything is incorporated.
- After 30 minutes have passed, squeeze the cucumbers to remove most of the liquid. Add the squeezed cucumbers to the brine mixture. Mix thoroughly. Let sit in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- After the mixture has had time to marinate, remove (with a slotted spoon) the cucumbers and onions and fill canning jars tightly, pressing down often with the back of a spoon. Pour the remaining brine over the cucumber mixture in the jars, filling the jars with liquid up to ¼ inch from the top.
- Place sterilized lids on top of the jars and seal.
Pickles can be kept in refrigerator for up to one month. I also pickle green beans using this quick and easy recipe.
Something tells me that this week is going to be a wonderfully delicious dinner week. Tonight I had peas with mint a simple version of this recipe of chicken and peas, but instead of chicken I used rice. So amazingly yummy with a glass (or two) of white wine – well, I’m one very happy girl.
So back to yesterday’s simple and easy meal. Last night was the recipe for the perfect pita. Tonight is the next step, parsley pesto. Yes, I have posted this recipe at least twice but the fact is that this essential condiment is in my fridge at all times. It adds a depth of deliciousness that makes even plain pasta a heavenly meal. Thus, once again, I present one of my favorite things in the world.
1 bunch parsley leaves (reserved from the stock recipe)
1 clove garlic
1 – 2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Combine everything in a food processor until completely chopped and relatively smooth. Put in air-tight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks. I prefer my pesto a little on the dry side, if you would like it more liquid than add another tablespoon or two of olive oil.
Unbelievably delicious? Grill some chorizo sausage. Split down the middle and place on a fresh baguette or roll. Slather the pesto on top and enjoy.
I went to a church wedding yesterday. Another one of my “little” cousins got married in a big Catholic church. I felt the way I always feel when I’m in a church – a bit confined. To me (and I’ll admit I’m not exactly religious) God isn’t found in a great big building with a priest telling you when to sit or when to stand or what to say after him – God is found in the small places and quiet moments. I would rather curl up in my wicker rocker on the front porch of the farmhouse with a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning and watch everything that is the farm on a summer day.
There are yellow finches lined up in various groups all along the telephone wires that dip low as they travel through the midsection of the front field. By nine these bright yellow dots will be replaced by sparrows or red-winged black birds. When it rains the sparrows like to sit along the wire and feel the drops of water roll down their backs.
Over the years a family of robins have pried away a piece of the siding along the porch’s roof-line. Every year they come back to make their next and raise their babies and head off to somewhere else when all their work is done. But their work isn’t complete yet. I just saw one fly back and squeeze through the hole with some breakfast.
I can hear my brother taking a break from morning chores. He’s sitting on the steps that lead up to the milk house and is playing with the puppy. In a few minutes his voice will carry through the sunshine and breeze as he herds the cows out of the barn and up the hill to an awaiting pasture for the day. Cows are by nature a curious sort with a keen instinct for the newest, tastiest weeds wherever they may roam. This trait runs counter to pretty much any task at hand. The other night I heard my brother yell “C’mon! Why is this so difficult? You come up and down the same path twice a day!” I went around the house and found half of the cows stopped along the back path munching on the hedgerows.
Life on the farm isn’t easy – my family fights battles throughout the day that I am lucky enough not to have to face like broken equipment, curious cows, looming grain bills and the marathon that is planting, haying and all that comes with summer. But, life on the farm is beautiful and wonderous. And when you stop at the top of the hill and the cows are secure in the pasture or you take a left out of the barn and stroll around the equipment shed or you sit on the steps of the milk house for a moment and look out to see and feel and experience the moment…well, that fills your soul with grace.