Ah, another tax day. Regardless of your political persuasion or tax bracket, tax day tends to sting a little. But at least we are still alive to see another one. And I guess it makes sense that tax day is in spring (can you imagine it in the dead of winter? Ugh.). The day may feel a bit black, but all you need to do is look outside and you can find a few flowers to bring some welcome color back to your life. And these flowers are free. So here is a little early “refund” from all of us here at the farm. Now go find, and enjoy, some flowers of your own…..
It’s actually been about a year and a half on the calendar since I started blogging. Within a few months, it became “we” as Carolyn started both cooking and taking photos for the blog as well. We looked at our stats the other day and WordPress tells us this will be our 365th post. I don’t think either of us really thought we would have even 100 things to blog about, but I guess we did. I also don’t think we expected to get as much out of it as we have, but it has been a great ride. And the ride will go on, but perhaps at a slightly slower pace.
So after a “year” of blogging, what did we get? We are better cooks and better gardeners. Our kids eat healthily (mostly) and well. We also mix a decent cocktail, IMHO. And we discovered a shared love of photography that will last our entire lives. Sharing a love of art with your spouse is a special thing, a true gift. And for that I am eternally grateful.
But what we are most grateful for is all of you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you. Your visits, comments and support kept this blog going and encouraged us to keep working, keep experimenting and see what we could do. We surprised, and sometimes disappointed, ourselves. Your guidance (and the occasional correction) make us much, much better cooks. Along the way we made some virtual, but very real, friends. Cooking is all about family and friends, and good cooks build friendships and connect with family for their whole lives. And there is a whole lot of living left.
We had a bunch of extra stats and blather about the site to share, but it seems too self-congratulatory. And really, who cares? Suffice it to say, if you are searching for a fennel recipe, steps on curing and smoking meat or old-school cocktails, you may end up visiting Putney Farm. And that is just fine with us. Instead of any more words here are some photo highlights….
So what makes this strawberry jam the best? Well, it is just strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, so nothing gets in the way. If you have ripe, sweet strawberries, this is the real deal. And we use a technique that makes the process much, much easier. If you like jam, but don’t like all the specialized gear and the huge tub of boiling water, we have a solution: the oven.
It turns out you can sterilize your jars and lids in the oven, You can process the jam, too. (Just make sure your oven is true to temperature, they often are NOT, use an oven thermometer to be sure). Simply place your clean jars and lids on a baking sheet and heat in a 250 degree oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove the jars from the oven when you need them. Then fill the jars with jam, leave a 1/4 inch of room, wipe the rims clean, place the lids on, seal them and put the jars back in the oven for 15 minutes. Then take the jars out of the oven and they will seal as they cool. So. Much. Easier.
The other fuss about making jam usually has to do w/ pitting and skinning fruit, or in the case of strawberries, hulling. There are specialized hulling tools, but we use strong plastic straws (flimsy won’t work here) and run them from the bottom through the center of the strawberries. It is the fastest way to hull the strawberries, and something anyone (read, your kids or guest) can
be dragoonedvolunteer to do. It’s almost fun, and you can snack on a few berries along the way.
As for the jam, we adapted the recipe (and the oven technique) from Blue Chair Fruit Company in Berkeley. Blue Chair has fine jams and marmalade, gear, classes and one of our favorite cookbooks. Worth a visit.
Before anyone even asks the question- no, we don’t grow our own frisee. And, frankly, we aren’t sure why. We could. Probably should. And Norcal has the climate to grow chicories like endive and frisee. A
very minormystery, to be sure. But we do have pretty consistent supply from some local farmers, and we make a lot of home-cured bacon, so it figures that we make Frisee Aux Lardon pretty often around here. Or, if you prefer EnglishAmerican, we make frisee salad with bacon pieces (lardon), poached eggs and a vinaigrette. (We cheat and fry our eggs, but there is a reason for that- see below).
Simple stuff, and very good stuff, at that. But like many classic French recipes (and many of the great salads) the devil is in the details. The real key here is good ingredients; local greens just out of the ground, good bacon and very fresh eggs (the yolks are less likely to break). With so few ingredients there is really nowhere to hide. But there are some easy ways to improve your salads, regardless of the recipe.
With any salad there are two things you can do to make the most of the greens. Firstly, greens start to wilt the minute they leave the ground, so a quick soak in cold water for at least 15, preferably 30, minutes will do wonders (even with firmer greens like frisee). Secondly, after washing / soaking you must thoroughly dry those greens! You want to know why that good restaurant salad is so much better than yours? They really dry their greens. Multiple spins, laid out on paper towels or cloth, etc. Why bother? Dressing sticks to dry greens, spreads evenly and isn’t diluted by extra water (wet greens make for soggy salads…yuk).
It’s hot here. Really hot. Not just “I am from Northern California and anything over 75 degrees makes me whine” hot (although it does….and I do). I mean 100 degrees and no wind hot. And it will last for a few more days. It is so hot the roses withered (mostly) and the bees spend more time at the bird bath than in the flowers. Let’s hope the tomatoes like it. Meanwhile, we are picking our fruit early and seeking shade. But there is an upside…we have peaches. Lots of peaches.
Our orchard (such as it is) has over a dozen trees and 25% of those trees are peaches. We have Red Haven, Sun Crest and Indian Free peach trees, with the Red Havens being the earliest and heartiest. The Sun Crests are the sweetest and the Indian Free have the most unusual flavor and color, but the Red Havens make up the bulk of our peaches, and we can live with that. This crop is good, with big, sweet and juicy peaches that are (mostly) nice to look at. Success. And while you might see some peaches in recipes, we mostly eat them out of hand. No embellishments needed.
Otherwise, life in the garden marches on. The blueberries are near the end (they don’t love the heat much, either). Strawberries are thriving, eggplants and zucchini are coming in fast. Carrot tops are big and bushy, hinting that we may have some good stuff growing underground. The early tomatoes are giving us a few teasers to enjoy at lunch. And the herb garden is becoming an herb forest (thicket?). Lemon verbena anyone? Anyone?
It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after being away from our garden and kitchen for almost 10 days, we can say that we are very happy to be back. What happened? We were trapped in Canada…seriously. Flooding in the Canadian Rockies trapped us in Banff for a few days. We were on a very lovely tour with family (thanks again!) and one very big night of rain washed out the roads in all directions. Happily Banff is something of a gilded cage, but we still couldn’t cook. And we start to get a bit twitchy when we can’t cook.
It turns out that usually when we travel, we still cook- we have access to kitchens when we are in Long Island, Hawaii or even the Low Country (you could argue that access to good ingredients heavily influences our travel destinations). But on this trip we were out of luck, 10 days is the longest we have gone without cooking or baking in years (decades?). But when we can’t cook we read about cooking, so I pulled out “Cooked” by Michael Pollan and dove in.
Overall it is a good book, but since we grow our own food and cook it ourselves for family, many of Pollan’s insights weren’t surprising. But like most people, we love to listen to folks who agree with us, so it was a pleasant read ;-) . In “Cooked”, Pollan gets into barbecue, braising, baking and brewing/fermenting. We are active participants in the first three, and like drinking other people’s beer (mixing is our thing, but a good beer is always welcome here at the farm). But of all the cooking in the book, one thing stood out, Pollan was making his own dashi, and we weren’t. Shameful, and something we decided to fix immediately upon our return.