Oh Applesauce!

(this post was migrated from our old blog. Original date was 8/28/2009)

One of the big projects around our house starting in late summer and going through fall is making applesauce for our annual apple butter get-together. When my grandparents used to host the apple butter festivities, everyone would show up a day or two ahead of time and we would peal and core apples the first day and then cook the apple butter the next. As times changed the workforce began to dwindle and the rush to get the necessary applesauce together the day before changed from happy work more toward frantic activity, Jan and I got the idea that it would sure be easier if we canned applesauce ahead of time. At first we were just doing our share of the 20+ gallons the family needed, but that steadily grew to most, and then all of the sauce as we took over the responsibility for the get-together.

What started off as a way to better manage the work going into the project turned into a wonderful treat in many ways. To begin with the whole pealing and coring apples work had always been part of the fun and mystique of apple butter experience. Working on the apples at home extended the experience and helped build the excitement up ahead of time. I would always get into that Zen-like trance of doing pleasant hand-work and let my mind drift up to my grandparents hillside.

By spreading the applesauce process out  first over several weeks and now a few months, we have also greatly expanded the varieties of apples that are going into our apple butter. The family mantra with our apple butter recipe has always been at least seven kinds of apples. We took this very seriously and have had as many as 30 varieties in a batch.

One of the best parts of the canned approach has been the added bonus of the extra sauce that just won’t quite fit into the last jar but isn’t enough to justify starting a new one. The first year or two we were very diligent and worked to get as much of the sauce we made into jars as possible. We have always been big fans of applesauce though and once you have had homemade, the store-bought stuff just doesn’t do the job any more. We started having a more and more liberal approach to what wouldn’t fit into a jar until we finally just gave up and started putting up quarts of sauce for us along with the half gallons for the apple butter pot.

The last great benefit has been that we have gotten to know so many wonderful apples. When we used to buy applesauce in the store you would always have your favorite brand, but in general, applesauce was applesauce. When you take out all of the commercial sweeteners and preservatives and just have apples and a lit bit of water the taste of the individual apples really comes out. The taste palate variations are amazing. It is also fun to see the different colors from various types of apples, the different amounts of fiber, the changes in consistency between varieties and the veritable bouquet of different aromas.

If you have never made your own at home before, do yourself a favor, head down to the local orchard, get some apples and make up a batch.

Happing canning!

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As the Seasons Turn

(Originally posted August 19, 2009)

August 28, 2009Oh Applesauce!

One of the big projects around our house starting in late summer and going through fall is making applesauce for our annual apple butter get-together. When my grandparents used to host the apple butter festivities, everyone would show up a day or two ahead of time and we would peal and core apples the first day and then cook the apple butter the next. As times changed the workforce began to dwindle and the rush to get the necessary applesauce together the day before changed from happy work more toward frantic activity, Jan and I got the idea that it would sure be easier if we canned applesauce ahead of time. At first we were just doing our share of the 20+ gallons the family needed, but that steadily grew to most, and then all of the sauce as we took over the responsibility for the get-together. 

What started off as a way to better manage the work going into the project turned into a wonderful treat in many ways. To begin with the whole pealing and coring apples work had always been part of the fun and mystique of apple butter experience. Working on the apples at home extended the experience and helped build the excitement up ahead of time. I would always get into that Zen-like trance of doing pleasant hand-work and let my mind drift up to my grandparents hillside. 

By spreading the applesauce process out  first over several weeks and now a few months, we have also greatly expanded the varieties of apples that are going into our apple butter. The family mantra with our apple butter recipe has always been at least seven kinds of apples. We took this very seriously and have had as many as 30 varieties in a batch. 

One of the best parts of the canned approach has been the added bonus of the extra sauce that just won’t quite fit into the last jar but isn’t enough to justify starting a new one. The first year or two we were very diligent and worked to get as much of the sauce we made into jars as possible. We have always been big fans of applesauce though and once you have had homemade, the store-bought stuff just doesn’t do the job any more. We started having a more and more liberal approach to what wouldn’t fit into a jar until we finally just gave up and started putting up quarts of sauce for us along with the half gallons for the apple butter pot. 

The last great benefit has been that we have gotten to know so many wonderful apples. When we used to buy applesauce in the store you would always have your favorite brand, but in general, applesauce was applesauce. When you take out all of the commercial sweeteners and preservatives and just have apples and a lit bit of water the taste of the individual apples really comes out. The taste palate variations are amazing. It is also fun to see the different colors from various types of apples, the different amounts of fiber, the changes in consistency between varieties and the veritable bouquet of different aromas. 

If you have never made your own at home before, do yourself a favor, head down to the local orchard, get some apples and make up a batch. 

Happing canning! 

Posted by raymond.wickline at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (0) 

August 21, 2009Our special potato children There is a story with the picture of the potato below. For the last two years we have grown Caribe potatoes. The have been one of our prettiest potatoes, and they are heavenly mashed. This year we increased our potato crop significantly, and worried about most of them. One of the few we had confidence in was the Caribes. With all of that being said, we had quite a surprise when we started digging them up this month. From what we can figure out there were two major factors that contributed to their unique look: we added nearly the recommendation of organic fertilizer and we had an overabundance of rain right after planting. Our guess is that they were overwhelmed by the favorable conditions and just started growing so fast that the outside of the potatoes couldn’t keep up and they split. The good news is that this happened early in their growing cycle and all of the splits healed up well. The insides are still as wonderful as ever too. 

 So now our special children need homes. Please try to look past the cover and appreciate the book within! Adoptions can be arranged at a discount, so don’t be shy! 

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August 19, 2009As the seasons turnOne of the great things about moving out to the farm has been the opportunity it provides to become more in tune with the natural world around us. As a native Floridian, I am still greatly fascinated by the seasons (we only had two in the sunshine state, hot and hotterJ). It has been a treat to start get to know the progression of the year in our little corner of western/central Maryland.

Late summer in particular has some really fascinating signs that I am beginning to really get in touch with. One of the big ones is what I like to call our late summer armada. Around the start of August, various swallows seem to be finishing with their child rearing duties for the season and start to turn their minds to fattening up for the fall migration. When we head out to mow the fields, we are always accompanied by an air wing of at least a dozen barn and tree swallows with the occasional purple martin thrown in for good measure. The entire time we are out mowing, the circle around the tractor, zip back and forth in front of us and even come so close that you end up ducking out of their way to avoid a collision. It is a really great show. 

At the same time that this starts one of my other favorite summer shows is coming to a close. By early August most of the lightning bugs are gone for the year. I will spend the next 3 seasons missing their faerie light illumination. Their place in the insect kingdom is taken by the cicadas who really start tuning up their daytime song. 

Late summer is also the time for our attention to turn to apples. With apple butter coming at the end of October, if we don’t start canning applesauce now the battle will be well and truly lost. Our usual start comes with the Summer Rambos and Ginger Golds. This year we were very pleased that it started nearly a month early with the first Transparents from our very own orchard. It won’t be to many more years before we can starting putting up gallons of Transparent, Carolina Red June and Pristine to take some of the pressure off of the early August harvest. 

Now is also the time for the last big push to plant veggies for this year. Certainly we will be planting garlic and onions in another month, but those treasures will hibernate through the winter before we see them again in the spring. Now is the time for turnip, radish, late spinach and collard green. These will see us through the winter to come. 

Well, enough time on the computer, there are chores that need done, fall we be on us before we know it. 

May the blessings of the season be upon you. 

Blue Faerie Farm

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The things you can find in a potato patch

(originall posted July 20, 2009)

Saturday afternoon I was mowing down a few rows of potatoes to get them ready to be dug. There were a few weeds in with the potatoes. Well, OK, there were actually lots of weeds in with the potatoes. We are battling Johnson grass and it seems like you can turn your back for five minutes and suddenly your nicely set rows are covered in a four foot deep blanket of mess.

So anyway, me and Momma J (our trusty John Deere) are running through the rows with the brush hog when suddenly up pops a fawn. We have had two that have been showing up on a semi regular basis, but I was pretty sure they were bedding down in the neighbor’s corn. This little guy spooks and runs around for a minute or two before figuring a way out through the brush row. Aside from feeling bad that I had enough weeds to hide a small deer in, I don’t really pay this too much attention.

Later that evening, I am walking out through the field with mom and dad and here is a fawn again. I am not sure if this is the same one or not. We tried to shoo it out of the field, but instead of running away, it runs right at us. We realize we are between the fawn and the potato patch, so I guess this is the same one heading back to where it had been bedded down. It gets within five feet of us before veering off. We get it out of there after a little bit of work, getting back to within almost arms reach of it a couple of times before we can get it to move, and it heads straight for the apple orchard. This is where we really don’t want deer to be hanging around or feeling at home, so we chase it out of there and finally get it headed on its way.

While we are headed back over to the bean field which is where we were going in the first place, what do we see but another fawn standing there about where the first had been. I am guessing that this was the sibling of the first one. It however is somewhat smarter than its twin and heads straight out when we get close. We continue on with what we were doing only to be interrupted a few minutes later by who I can only guess was momma deer. Thankfully she spooked out fairly easily.

Deer are a continuing problem for us, but we usually don’t have quite this level of face to face contact with them. We have some new anti deer stuff this year that has worked very well, but it is at a height that is appropriate for adult deer, and the kids just run right under it without ever slowing down.  Thankfully they have not done any serious damage yet, but we are going to have to strengthen our defenses after this series of run-ins. The full anti-deer hedge rows are still a few years from being effective and we haven’t even established anything near a full perimeter. I have never been a hunter by trade, but I have the feeling that many a freezer full of venison is in our future. 

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Planting Squash and Ruminating

(originally posted 6/5/2009)

We found a break in the rain Wednesday long enough to work on the backlog of planting. I was putting in some Ronde de Nice zucchini and some yellow crookneck and working as fast as I could with the storm clouds coming over the mountains. In the back of my mind I was grumbling slightly as squash is one of the very few things our trusty Earthway seeder is confounded by so I was having to put the seeds in the furrow by hand. It is amazing how fast something can become indispensable. It was only two years ago that we did ALL of our planting by hand.

One of the reasons that I like working on the farm so much is the opportunity to clear your mind. Usually what happens with me after a little while is things just start free associating and I have peace of mind to examine how they seem to want to fit together. So as I am out there hand planting zucchini and watching the storm approach over South Mountain I keep looking at the neighbor’s cornfield that is dead in my line of site. He is a really good guy from all accounts, but we definitely are traveling different roads with regard to farming. While we are growing organically for market he puts in one or two conventional commodity crops and does the rest of his land in hay.

It occurred to me how deep those differences are to the way we go about things.  As a market grower, we put in 10 or 12 vegetable crops on our modest few acres. With each of those types of vegetables we have at least two, and in most cases nearer to half a dozen varieties. Further for many of these we are doing successive plantings throughout the season. As a result planting in 300 row feet at a time of something with the Earthway seems like the cutting edge of modernization and luxury. We are finding ourselves either trying to focus on the planting and getting behind in the weeding or weeding with no time to harvest or trying to spend our time going to market but not putting anything in the ground. Then there is the whole pest and nutrient management aspect of trying to keep all of the different needs identified, sorted out and met. Our plans are to find somewhere between 2 and 6 main vegetable crops to have to supplement the orchard production and just focusing on those. I think of some of the other growers that we go to market with who try the “grocery store on wheels” approach of having a full gamut of vegetables, and I shudder at the thought of trying to manage 20 or 30 uniquely different crops at the same time.

Then I watch my neighbor with his commodity corn field. He went out on the tractor and ran the disc through one afternoon. Went back out a while later and ran a planter through that put down the seed, fertilizer and weed control all in one pass. He likely will have someone come through and put down a spray in a few weeks and then they will be out with a combine at the end of the season. All in all, less than 10 hours in the field to get from empty field to harvest.

Some of the differences are inherent in the whole organic vs. conventional issue. Most of the rest come from market vs commodity. On the one hand, I very much appreciate the diversity of what we are doing. I believe in the organic path we have chosen. I am a strong advocate of growing for the local market. At the same time, there is an economy in my neighbor’s methods that put him in a completely different league.

I never claimed that the thoughts I had out in the field ended up with nice neat conclusions. Nor do they necessarily always even make an argument all by themselves. What I do realize is that a lot of what folks are paying for at their local market is the labor that goes into the current style of market growing here in central Maryland. What I wonder is how I can find economies of time and motion that will translate into better prices for my customers so that we don’t place ourselves strictly into a luxury category instead of providing a competitive price for a broader group of consumers. It will be fun to see if these field ruminations can lead us to a path to grow better and smarter and provide good honest healthy food to a well balanced audience.

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Remembering Memorial Day

(Originally posted May 26, 2009)

Hope everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend. Ours was good, although they haven’t been the same for us since my Grandmother passed a few years ago. We always used to go to her place in Southeastern West Virginia for a family reunion over Memorial Day Weekend. It wasn’t anything fancy, just whoever from the family and friends that could be there sitting around telling stories, remembering things passed. We usually ended up going over to the local Baptist Church Homecoming potluck supper on the lawn. For a church with a congregation of 20, they put on a spread that always attracted at least 50 folks.

It was my grandparents that got me interested in farming in the first place. When I was a kid, we would spend a week of vacation up there every year. When I was 4 or 5 they bought 40 acres or so up in the mountains near all of the old family homesteads. Early on we would camp out and spend the days clearing the field and grubbing stumps. Later on, they would always have a HUGE (well for a kid from the city anyway) vegetable garden. We would plant, pull weeds, dig potatos and enjoy whatever was in season.

To this day I remember my grandad refusing to pick corn until the water was boiling. From the first ear the came off the stalk, it was a breakneck race to get them in the water. If you dropped an ear on the way back to the house, you just left it, cause there just wasn’t time to stop and pick it up! I also remember the first time we loaded up a whole mess of fresh harvest that we had toiled all day to gather and put it into the car. I couldn’t understand why we were going to give all of those wonderful vegetables away after we worked so hard to pick them, but it didn’t take too many years for me to understand after repeated trips to older family and friends who couldn’t manage to do for themselves any more.

Thinking back on the stories, the laughter, the lessons learned brings a smile to my face every time. I guess if Memorial Day is all about remembering, ours really was pretty good.

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