Sunday, July 30, 2006

Garden Eggs

Once upon a time Wenonah was attending a conference down in Southern France in a town called Avignon and she forced me to fly across the ocean and spend a week with her there.

And while Wenonah was at her conference I spent a lot of time walking around the town reading the guide book and learned, much to my surprise, that about 600 years ago several Popes had taken up residency in the town.

Now, while my working knowledge of the succession of various Popes, and what Wikapedia refers to as the Great Schism is somewhat sketchy I could see that at some time in the past the city's rulers felt somewhat insecure vis-a-vie its neighbors.

While on one side the city is protected by the Rhone and the other sits up on an impressive cliff even today, there are miles and miles of massive stone walls surrounding the old city.

And up at the top, at the highest point of the city there's a fortified castle that has recently been gutted and turned into a modern conference center.

But what I wanted to talk about, the reason I even bring up Avignon, is that down below the castle, actually on a back street.

There is a nice, quite little restaurant with half a dozen tables.

And one night we were having dinner there. A dinner with numerous courses and a bottle, or was that two, of local wine when, while we were trying to decide on which desert with the most chocolate in it, the chef came out and asked us how we liked the aubergine.

(while we had ordered different entrées they both had eggplant as an ingredient).

And we told him the meal was wonderful, we were very happy with it. And then I asked, being a farmer and all and interested in such things, "What variety of eggplant do you use?"

And he hit the roof.

"Eggplant?" he hissed. Turning up his nose. "What is this eggplant?"

I told him that's what we called aubergine back in the states. "In the US, people call aubergine eggplant."


I started to tell him I didn't know but he wasn't really interested in my reply.

"Eggplant is a very ugly word, don't you think? Why would anyone call aubergine something so ugly?"

And he kept on, getting himself very upset that people from the US could so insult such a tasty, versatile vegetable with such an ugly name.

Eventually, after he got over, or at least accepted, to a degree, that Americans could be so crude, he went on to praise aubergine and highlight the many different ways it could be used and cooked and prepared.

The only reason I mention this is because several nights ago I was reading a British paper on the internet, trying to get the British take on Bush and Blair's recent open mic session when I noticed an article about aubergine.

A nice article with several recipes but I noticed that not once in the entire article is the fruit referred to as 'eggplant'.

Repeatedly, the author call eggplant, aubergine.

And you know, maybe we're alone here. Last summer a friend from Guinea was visiting the farm. That night we had a dish with eggplant and he asked what was in the meal and we told him.


And he said, "back home we don't call it eggplant. We call it garden eggs."

So there.

So for all of you out there who don't make a regular habit of eating garden eggs look at the Independent article. I think it gives a fresh look at a fruit (or is that a vegetable) that most Americans only think of as something you put in Eggplant parmesan.

and since we are growing half a dozen different type of eggplant this year (Thai, Italian, Japanese, Asian, American) and because this year it looks like we're going to have a large egg plant crop its time to pull out the cook books and reconsider the garden eggs.

(I had a shareholder recently tell me she wasn't really interested in eggplant because, "I had eggplant parmesan when I was a kid and it wasn't very good.')

Other farm news:

Tomatoes. The tomato flood gates are about to open. We should be getting more and more tomatoes for the next month or so (I hope).

Sweet corn. Not next week, but the week after.

Okra. yes we intend to have okra this year. We were just late getting it in to the ground and don't expect any until late August.

Rain and watering. We almost had a water disaster. As you remember, first it stopped raining for two weeks, then, when I started irrigating, my pump broke so I couldn't irrigate.

All the while, the ground is getting drier and drier and the repair shop was getting slower and slower so I went to check on the pump and stood over the repairman's shoulder until he got it fixed.

And then, when I got home and hooked the pump up and moved the gun sprinkler in place, it starts raining. And Tuesday night it dropped over 9/10ths of an inch out here on the farm.

So we're OK again.

We need an inch of rain each and every week. With rain and vegetables it doesn't matter that we got ten inches a month ago.

With rain it's what have you done for me lately.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

National Berry Week!

Here we are, its just about that time of year for my proposed national holiday to be celebrated.

Let's hear it for....National Berry Week!

For all of the new members out there, this is something I push every year about his time.

A national holiday, a whole week off from work (with pay) so everyone can take off and head out to the woods to pick berries.

And this is an especially good year for wild berries.

We've been picking berries for the past week. Wine berries. Black Berries, even wild Blue berries and huckleberries.

In fact, last night when I walked up the drive to lock up the chickens for the night I couldn't help but stop, using the flashlight, to pick several handfuls of delicious wine berries from the wine berry patch just up the hill from the chickens.

And then on the way back, there are some really plump and sweet wild blackberries.

We've also been eating the wild blueberries. They're OK this year, but not great. I think the birds are eating most of them.

And, you know, my holiday proposal must be catching on because two days ago I got a visit from a government helicopter.

For about 15 minutes a helicopter with, I think, Coast Guard markings, circled the farm, over and over and over again. Spending a good bit of time (and I'm sure, our tax money), hovering right over our greenhouses.

What else could they have been doing but looking for the locations of the best berry patches. Right?

Well, this year there are plenty of berries to go around, but we picked the ones growing down by the greenhouse last Sunday. They could have asked instead of using their (our?) expensive to operate and very noisy helicopter.

And if they were looking for something else, they sure wasted a lot more of our money because there isn't anything there to look for.

Obviously, if you haven't figured it out, I'm being facetious about the visit (not the berries, I'm always serious about berries).

Two days ago we apparently got a visit from some government agency looking to see what was growing on our farm.

I feel somewhat violated.

Do they fly around that farm where the Vice President had his shotgun accident? Looking to see what's growing in the various outbuildings and bird hatcheries (I understand those birds were domestically raised).

And the careless, noisy flight over and around our farm scared my nutty turkeys, all twelve of them, causing them to take off running and gobbling and heading through the fields and down into the woods.

It took us over an hour to round them up again and get them back in their fenced in pasture. I should send whoever was flying the helicopter a bill for the extra work he caused me.

But, back to the farm news:

Grouse chicks. Well they aren't chicks any more. Last night I went out to the greenhouse to check and there was one of the longest black snakes I have seen recently. When I caught him (her?) and held her up by her head and looked at her eye to eye, she was still touching the ground. And I'm 6 feet tall. I took her out of the greenhouse and let her go in the woods. She hadn't, yet, eaten a grouse. The grouse, I carried up to the chicken pasture and deposited them in the hen house for the night. It's a cruel, cruel world out there with many things that would love to eat nice tasty little baby birds.


I woke up at 5:30 this morning and went out to change the location of the 'gun sprinkler' (that's what they call one of those sprinklers you see out in the middle of a vegetable field that shoots water a couple hundred feet around and around in a circle) when I was dismayed to have the pump that pushes the water through the pipe to the 'gun' go bang and then stop.

Something broke.

Oh well.

Before I took the pump to the shop to be repaired I switched which direction all of that water (both 2500 gallon tanks were over flowing with a night's worth of output from our spring) went. And instead of being shot from the 'gun' I had the water flow down the hill and through the half dozen smaller sprinklers that are set up in the field in front of the house.

This is where the tomatoes grow. Something like 5000 tomato plants.

And while I was setting up the sprinklers I saw that over night the tomatoes had started ripening.

This means that tomatoes should now be a regular feature in your share.

Which means that you need to read the tomato rules.

So here they are.

(this is basically an article I wrote a few years back that was subsequently reprinted in several cookbooks, half a dozen newsletters and is something I reprint this time every year.

Right now the crop is just starting to trickle in, but hopefully, if everything goes as expected, in the next couple of weeks we will have a flood of tomatoes. Early Girls, Big Boys. Big Beef, Sun Golds, Valley Girls, Mortgage Lifters, Lemon Boys, Brandywines, Romas, and another dozen varieties I can’t recall off of the top of my head.

If everything goes as planned, there will be hundreds and hundreds of ripe tomatoes each day.

This means I will not be individually handing out tomatoes. We will put them in those yellow boxes and let you pick your own.

But lets set some ground rules first, OK?

Our tomatoes are fundamentally different than those things that you see in the grocery store that are sold under the generic name ‘tomatoes’.

Corporate tomatoes, the ones that you buy in the grocery stores, are a completely different creature than what we grow.

Almost all of America’s summer tomatoes originate on huge tomato farms of hundreds, if not thousands of acres.

Most of America’s summer tomatoes are grown in the fabulously polluted San Joaquin Valley (and more recently the Eastern Shore of Virginia, making Virginia, in understand, the 4th largest producing state of summer tomatoes), and then shipped out to the rest of the country.

And how is something as delicate as a tomato transported from the corporate farm to the store without bruising?

Simple. They are picked green.

The tomato you see in the grocery store or in the salad at a restaurant was picked several weeks before you it is served to you. Piicked while it was still hard and green.

These green, unbruisable rock hard tomatoes were ripped off the plants, hauled out of the field, thrown into a large open tractor trailer, driven into a warehouse, and treated with a gas (the gas makes them turn red).

Then, the red, rock hard, 'tomato' is boxed and shipped out across the country.

And why, you might ask, do these large corporate tomato companies treat their tomatoes this way? Why don't they just let them ripen on the vine?

The answer is simple -tomatoes picked green are firmer, less juicy, more capable of bouncing around in a box for thousands of miles.

And once these picked green, gas treated, hard tomatoes get to the store they can withstand being pick up by the customer and squeezed.

It takes an awful lot to make a corporate tomato go squish.

Corporate tomatoes have what home grown tomatoes don’t have. They have ‘shelf life’.

Fresh, picked that morning , vine ripened tomatoes are completely different animals than their distant corporate relatives.

They are full of water.


During that week or two longer the homegrown tomato spends on the vine several things happen.

First, they ripen. The fruit walls become more tender.

The fruit absorbs more water.

A vine ripened tomato becomes more delicately full of flavor. (this sure sounds like ad copy but its not just verbage, its true).

Additionally, while they have more flavor they are more delicate. They lack something the corporate tomato has.

They don't have shelf life.

If they are given a squeeze, unlike the ones in the grocery store, if they are given a squeeze, they go squish.

Squish, as in, tomato juice.

And if you put homegrown tomatoes in a box and ship them half way around the world what comes out at the other end is tomato mess, not tomatoes.

This lesson took me a number of years to learn.

Every year I would just put out our tomatoes like I do the rest of the vegetables, and let people pick through them looking for 'that one' they wanted to make their own.

Each day, as I drove home, 20-25% of the tomatoes I had picked in the morning, would be sitting in the back of the van, all squished up.


I thought, at the time, this was just the price of doing business. ‘Tomatoes’, I thought. ‘just don’t travel well. You need to pick more to account for the short shelf life.’

Then, one year, because we were having a poor tomato crop, instead of just putting the tomatoes out for people to pick through, I gave the tomatoes out.

And I learned something.

Instead of losing one out of four tomatoes to 'transportation' I lost only 1 or maybe 2 our of a hundred.

In other words, it wasn't the transportation that was causing the tomatoes to squish.

I found out what was damaging all of those perfectly good tomatoes.

People were picking them up, giving them a little squeeze, just like they would do to a corporate tomato in the grocery store.

But, unlike the corporate tomato, ours would go squish.

Local, homegrown tomatoes, are a completely different creature than those corporate vegetables. They are full of juice. They can’t handle being squeezed.

When you squeeze them you make tomato juice.

So, to make the story shorter, when you are picking out your tomatoes, just look at them, only touch the tomatoes you are going to put in your bag. And if, by chance, you don’t particularly like that tomato after picking it up, put it in your bag anyway, and take another one.

But don’t squeeze the tomatoes.

And that’s my tomato lecture for the season.

Leigh Hauter

Thursday, July 06, 2006

keeping warm

I woke up last night with something staring me in the face.

It must have been two am and I had fallen asleep on the sofa.

And when I opened my eyes, there it was, staring at me.

Actually, there were two of them, perched on my chest and looking rather intend.

It made me think of the time I rode a bike, alone, across Utah, from Colorado to Nevada, traveling on only dirt roads.

And that night in early May when it had turned cold and my sleeping bag wasn't warm enough. And the wind was blowing.

I moved my sleeping bag under a little overhang somewhere near the Maze. Maybe it was the mouth of a shallow cave.

And woke up in the middle of the night when something had crawled into my sleeping bag with me and was sleeping (I dreamed?) on my chest.

I don't know if I was dreaming or not, I don't think I was, but I know there was something there.

And all of a sudden I was yelling and swatting at whatever it was and out of the sleeping bag and banging my head on the rocks just a few feet above my head and then sliding out into the desert, bag and all.

And standing there with the desert stars all around me and trying to catch my breath.

What had it been?

I was sure it had been a pack rat. A little desert rodent had climbed into my sleeping bag with me and snuggled up to be warm.

Or had I dreamed it all?

Picking up my sleeping bag, I peered back into the space.

I had noticed when I'd picked the spot that there were signs of something living further back in the outcropping. I remembered going to sleep casually thinking that maybe a pack rat was living back further in and thinking that with my sleeping bag zipped up tight I wasn't going to be bothered.

And climbing in there because I had been so cold (the wind was still blowing).

Had I just been dreaming and imagined it all.

That's how I felt when I woke up the other night. Only...

Only when I woke up I didn't swat at the creatures on my chest.

And they were still there.

Two of the baby grouse. Sometime after I had fallen asleep they had flown up on the sofa and had nestled down, right there on my chest.

I rubbed my eyes. Picked them up and carried them over to the corner to their heat lamp and newspaper bed. 

It was time to pick up my book from where it had fallen on the floor, turn off the stereo, and go up the stairs to bed.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


The first question people ask is, “how did you make out with all that rain? How are our vegetables doing?”

And my answer is, “I don’t know, yet.”

I mean our fields drain pretty well. We’re up here in the rocks on the side of a mountain and only one field, the highest field up on the hill side, has an awful lot of clay. All the other’s drain pretty well.

But 8, almost 9 inches of rain in a week is still a lot of rain. How much snow would that have been? (a lot).

Wenonah says the last time this valley got that much rain was back in 1972 with Hurricane Agnes. She says, back then, the road to the farm washed away. That her father had to park his truck over two miles away and walk over the mountain to get home.

(and now that I think about it, that must have been the source of ‘the great road fight’ that I've always heard about, where the guy -- now long gone --- who lived the furthest back in the valley, rebuilt the road with his own design and money before asking any of the other people that lived in the valley -- back then I think there were 5 homes -- to pay their share of the cost.

I’m sure you can imagine the politics of maintaining several miles of road without any sort of agreement. And I can imagine what the four other homeowners said to someone asking for money to pay for a road that they had no part in designing and building, even if they did travel on it).

But back to the rain.

We seem to be fine. The damage, if any, to the crops are not the obvious sorts. The kind with vegetables swimming in a pool of water or seeds washing down the hill side.

We had more of the ‘cauliflower turning purple’ variety of damage (the cauliflower variety we’re growing, when stressed with too much water, gets a purple tinge to it. No difference in the taste, though.

And a number of the squash plants couldn’t take all that water and stopped producing.

And the weeds sure started growing with all that wholesome rain water.

But besides that, I think we’re doing OK.

It is putting us behind schedule in planting fall and late summer crops. We have several thousand seedlings that need to go in the ground now, especially the watermelon, but the ground’s too wet to work. Hopefully it will dry up some over the weekend.

On another note, as you’ve no doubt noticed, the seasons are changing. The solstice has passed. The days are now getting shorter. Instead of all those greens we were getting just two weeks ago the summer vegetables are ripening up.

Eggplant and cucumbers have started appearing in the shares. I saw a number of hot peppers out there (and on a less robust growing season you would probably already be getting some in your share) even the tomatillos are starting to ripen.

Usually, though, you see the first ripe tomato by the 4th of July but while there are a lot of tomatoes out there on very healthy plants, no ripe ones yet.

Maybe the rain slowed down the tomatoes from turning ripe. That makes sense. Not very much sunlight for a week while it rained. Hopefully we’ll see a ripe tomato or two in the next week.

Other farm news.

Bird news. Remember those chicks from several weeks back? People have asked about them. “Did you ever find out what they are?”

The answer. “Well, not really’.

They haven’t told us what they are. But I suspect they are baby grouse. I would put a picture up on our webpage but I don’t have much extra web space (any suggestions on a good host which offers a reasonable amount of space?) One of the chicks died over a week ago but the other three are running around our large flagstone floored room. (well, sort of flying as much as running) and doing what birds seem to do a lot of. Making a mess.

Up until the ‘making a mess everywhere’ started, Wenonah seemed to want to treat them as baby humans (a week ago she would tell me when I wanted to put them outside: ‘no, I didn’t want to be them put out where a cat or snake could eat them.’)

But now that they are making a mess of her house she is more amicable to my suggestions that they be let out in the yard, at least in the daytime.

I imagine in a week or so they will be actually using their wings enough to move more than four or five feet at a time and will be able to escape obvious predators on their own.

Wenonah suggested that we put them up in the chicken yard where the electric fence would keep away the predators.

I’m against the idea. The fence might keep them safe from predators but they wouldn’t be safe from the chickens.

I don’t know if they would survive the ‘pecking order’ rites of the chicken yard.

If we put the baby grouse up in the chicken pasture every passing hen or rooster would feel it was its obligation to take a peck at them, just to teach the baby grouse its ranking in the barn yard world order.

What other species act like that?