Tag Archives: autumn

Glean: A Fall Food Journey

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We gleaned the last of the peppers last week before John pulled the tomato and peppers stakes to till the fields. Putting the beds to rest marks the end of another Stonebridge season, one lengthened by unusually warm fall weather this year. But what’s “usual” about weather anymore? The first hard frost fell just before Halloween and after the last Saturday pick for our CSA members. We’ve given tomatoes on the final Saturday before, but always green tomatoes ripened in the greenhouse, not from vines in the field.

I traveled a bit this fall, teaching, lecturing, and reading from my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography. Each time I left the farm, I missed another turn toward fall, returning to trees more golden than just days before. On my return, we slowly emptied the fields of their crops, until only hardy greens like kale and spinach and roots like carrots and rutabagas remained in the warmth of the autumn sun.

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When I travel, I always pay attention to food, searching for meals that offer something delicious and new. I want to experience food in a way I haven’t before. Sometimes, I research restaurants before I go; other times, I depend on serendipity to draw me toward a grand discovery. I traveled this way for decades before I realized that food is one of the markers by which I create, appreciate, and remember my journeys.

Here’s a few memorable meals from the last few weeks in Oregon, Colorado, and Utah:

My sister traveled with me to Oregon this year. Our first meal was from one of the fun food carts that circle an entire city block. Here’s a photo story of my grilled veggie and cheese sandwich–and a local resident sharing the last of it with his flock of friends.

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And here’s an exquisite fig tart with chai tea. You can see how much I enjoyed it.

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On the Oregon coast, my sister and I collaborated on sautéed zucchini & cabbage tacos with fresh salsa and avocado, along with corn on the cob bought just that morning by my mother-in-law at a local farmer’s market. We visited other farmer’s markets along the coast, finding gorgeous Asian pears, gluten-free bread and cookies, and locally caught and canned tuna.

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On our trip back to Portland, we stopped at our favorite farm in the valley, where we bought hazelnuts to take home.

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Back in Portland, we dined at Prasad, a vegan restaurant in the revitalized Pearl district. I loved the fresh spinach and cilantro topping our “Brahma Bowl” of garam masala veggies and quinoa; the color of the “Rising” beet/carrot/apple/ginger juice; and, of course, the vegan peanut butter cookie!

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I don’t have any food pics for Golden, site of Women Writing the West’s 20th anniversary conference, but I particularly enjoyed the roasted and stacked mushrooms, red peppers, and squash with teriyaki marinade. Ordering vegetarian at a conference is always interesting—if not risky—but this dish was colorful and tasty, too.

Of great loss to Golden is the closing of Golden Natural Foods. After 30-some years of business, the shop is closing its doors. I’m glad I got to visit one last time.

In Salt Lake City, I spoke and read at a Slow Food event as part of Utah’s Book Festival. With a mission of “good, clean, and fair food for everyone,” it’s no surprise Slow Food members throw a great potluck! My only disappointment was being too busy to eat more of it. Highlights were the beautiful roasted beet soup donated by Urban Pioneer Foods; beet cashew butter on delicious crusty bread; arugula, cabbage, and orange salad braided on a plate rather than tossed in a bowl; and zucchini-packed bar cookies as one of many wholesome desserts.

Paying attention to food on my journeys–especially dishes that highlight local cuisines and produce—helps me learn about a region’s people, cultures, and history. Searching out “food hubs” like Portland’s carts, small-town farmer’s markets, and Slow Food gatherings teaches me how local folks create both food traditions and innovations, two sides of the same impulse toward re-centering delicious, safe, and nutritious food in our lives.

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Back at Stonebridge, we ate the last of the gleaned jimmie nardellos, stuffed with Manchego cheese and roasted in the oven for a half or so at 375º. My very last bite paired browned salty cheese with softened sweet red pepper, the finale to an amazing 23rd season.

Soon we’ll dig the last of the leeks, carrots, and other roots for our Thanksgiving shares, to accompany butternut squash, pie pumpkin, onions, garlic, and potatoes. After the fields are cleared, we’ll eat from the greenhouse, barn, and freezer. As we say farewell to this year’s abundance of fresh vegetables, we’ll give thanks for another season on the land.

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We have other good-byes to make soon—losses that aren’t as easy as the tilling of fields. As the season draws toward its inevitable end, we’re reminded to glean what we can, while we can, from experiences, relationships, and connections with each other and the earth. Perhaps farming helps us understand that bounty and loss travel together, leading by turn on this journey called life.

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My Knitting Needles Are Calling

We finished the farm season in the barn last Saturday giving Thanksgiving shares to the dozen members who signed up for them: carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, winter radishes, leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, rosemary & parsley, a butternut squash and a pie pumpkin, plus a bag of greens just because we still had them under row cover in the garden. The parsnips were two-feet long, making digging them without breaking a challenge. I wish I had a picture of John and Peter popping parsnips out of the ground with a baling twine lasso and the post puller, sort of like extracting a tooth—or giving birth; we weren’t sure which image seemed more apt.

Now all that remains in the barn are the onions and squash for delivery to community Thanksgiving boxes this week and extra roots and onions in the insulated cool room for our winter meals. It feels good to be done in the barn, knowing that all the vegetables are awaiting wintry meals and holiday celebrations.

As we talked with friends in the barn on Saturday, rain started to fall, turning to snow throughout the afternoon. The day before, the remaining fall foliage still blazed brilliantly against the foothills, but this snow brought down the leaves and now the trees are bare. Funny how much colder the world feels without that autumn gold.

We’ve got the woodstove going in the house and I pulled the first heavy sweater out of my closet yesterday. Now begins a quieter time at the farm. Our winter plans include replacing, with the help of the utility company, a decades-old power pole (who knew we actually owned that thing, but on a farm, we do) and renovating the granary we trucked down the highway last spring. And we’ll be writing, working on projects already begun, taking them a step further into the world.

Now that the clocks have fallen back, the evenings feel longer, or at least longer to fill. John made the first round of root soup with dumplings on Saturday night and we’ll soon get the pressure cooker going with the dry beans we finished shelling last week. With greens from the bluehouse, squashes stored in the closet, canned goods in the pantry, roots from the barn, and tomatoes in the freezer, we’ll eat well all winter.

Now, as my friend Barb reminded me, my knitting needles are calling. Knitters know how hard it is to throw away those little bits and leftover skeins of yarn. I’m just about done with an ipad sweater from one such skein, a bulky Icelandic yarn, now cabled to “cozy” my ipad. I made one last year for my laptop and get lots of appreciative comments when I take it for service to the Apple store.

That’s what leftover bits of time are good for too, the hour before bed in the dark evening when I have to unplug or the half hour while the dinner cooks and I need to get off my feet. A little bit of quiet, a slightly slower pace, and less driving anywhere unless we really have to go. We’re looking forward to these days of winter work and rest while the world keeps spinning around us.

 

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11-11-11

Last Friday was 11-11-11. Did you notice anything different about the day or mark it in any way? I’m not sure why I was so conscious of the repetitive date this year. We’ve already had 1-1-01, 2-2-02, 3-3-03, etc. and I didn’t pay any attention to those. I did take a little notice of 10-10-10 last year but mainly because since my first year of college, I’ve tracked the weather on 10-10–but that’s another story.

Somehow, 11-11-11 this year caught my imagination more than those earlier dates and I planned the day in celebration of what seemed an auspicious occasion. I had brunch with a dear friend at a little café while a Veteran’s Day parade marched to peppy school bands, making a loop around two blocks of the downtown area. I had to park several blocks from the café because of the parade route but I enjoyed my walk to the car, noticing the few leaves that still clothed the trees.

In the afternoon, I picked rosemary bundles for our Thanksgiving share pick-up the next day. Our rosemary bush is taking over the greenhouse and needed a little pruning. By the time I finished, my hands were dark with rosemary pitch and the bush wasn’t much tamer, but the bundles brought deep green to the roots, squash, & alliums we’d give in the share. We’ve got rosemary plants rooting in the greenhouse too for a plant sale in May; I decided I’d bring a few in the house now for some pre-holiday evergreen cheer.

Later in the afternoon I picked fall spinach for our pasta dinner with this summer’s sundried tomatoes and shallots in cream. Unlike the bright sun the day before, the sunlight was diffuse all day, like fall had finally settled in. The day had passed slowly, more grazing than galloping toward the darkening sunset. I re-kindled a fire in the woodstove and John brought home organic wine (no sulfites to give me a headache) and French bread for our candlelight dinner.

Why did 11-11-11 mean so much to me? Perhaps it’s something to do with being 52, having turned the corner on one career and choosing to slow my pace of life. I’m more conscious of how I use my time now because I know I haven’t got all the time in the world. Marking an unusual date I’ll never see again in my lifetime–triple pairs of the same prime number!–reminds me to pay attention to what I’m doing, to think about how I spend each day, especially those over which I have some control. I’m already thinking about how to spend next year’s 12-12-12, the last time I’ll ever be able to celebrate such a date again. If nothing else on 11-11-11, I enjoyed the enjoying of it.

 

 

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End of Season

At Stonebridge Farm, the season starts with spinach and ends with . . . donuts. On-a-string, that is. The mini powdered sugar kind that provides little nutritional value; the kind I’m embarrassed to buy at the convenience store the week before Halloween. They’re not organic. They’re not whole grain. They’re full of processed sugar, but they’re the essential ingredient to our end-of-season party on the last Saturday of October every year.

This year, a snowstorm preceded our last pick, dropping 12” of heavy wet snow and broken branches everywhere. Stonebridge always has at least one mucky fall pick; this year’s waited until the very end but made the most of its procrastination. Much of the foot-high snow had melted by Saturday morning but the ground was too muddy to harvest the rootiest vegetables like carrots and beets, so we settled for pulling up leeks and turnips to give for the final share.

Luckily, John had the foresight to harvest chard before the storm and protect it in the barn in trugs of water. Weeks ago, we had harvested plentiful garlic, onions, and squashes; on that last Saturday, they round out the share. Not a bad last pick and one that will extend a few weeks in storage. We park the bikes and trailers for the last time by the barn, another harvest morning and another successful season finished together.

A shorter harvest meant less delay in donut-on-a-string. Our young farm friend built us a “donut dangler” as a school project a few years ago; it hangs in the center of the greenhouse, a long board with five clips from which threaded donuts can be dangled just above a child’s nose (and an adult’s hairline).

The kids (and later, the even more competitive adults) line up, hands behind their backs, until John gives each donut a sly swing and yells “Go!” Jumping and standing on tippy toes with tongues out and smiles flashing, the children’s determination brings laughter from parents and farm members familiar with the limits of children’s concentration.

The kids play until each one has bitten the donut off the string, sometimes with a little re-adjustment downward from John. Donut won, they carve pumpkins and wander the party with powdered sugar faces, a little Halloween “trick” from the farmers.

Now the snow’s melted, the air is softly breezy, and a second storm is on the way. Our 20th season is over, except for a final pick-up of Thanksgiving shares in two weeks. I’m still drying apples and a few tomatoes picked green and ripened in the house. I’ll make our favorite tomato tart (see recipe below) this week with some of those house-ripened fruits, our last taste of fresh tomatoes until next summer.

One season is ending; another is beginning. Stopping and starting overlap again. We’ll miss our friends’ stalwart company in the gardens, but we’ll meet again after resting—and sleeping late a few Saturday mornings.

For John, winter will bring trees to prune and wood to chop and an ending to a magnificent teaching career, leaving more time for new adventures. For me, winter will mean waiting for news of projects finished and the initiation of others. And while we work and rest in the winter cold, we’ll plan next year’s gardens and re-arrange our lives in anticipation of the 21st season to come.  

Stonebridge Tomato Tart

I make this with tomatoes picked green and ripened indoors. They’re a little less juicy so make a nice, firm tart. This tart is really rich, so will serve 4 alongside a fall salad.

Preheat Oven to 375.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
6 oz Chevre or feta or any soft, crumbly cheese
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 Tablespoons cold (or frozen) butter, cut in pieces.
1/2 cup very cold water
2 large or 4 medium firm, shelf-ripened tomatoes (Using gold and red tomatoes is prettier)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon (or rosemary or thyme)

Grate 3/4 cup of Gruyere cheese in cuisinart. Remove and save for filling.

Make crust:
In Cuisinart, place 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pulse. Place 6 Tablespoons cold (or frozen) butter, cut in pieces, into flour mix. Pulse until pea-sized. With machine running, slowly pour 1/2 cup very cold water through feed tube until the dough forms a ball. Shut off machine (you may not use the full 1/2 cup). Form into disk and chill in freezer until filling is prepared.

Slice 2 large or 4 medium firm tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.

In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon of dried basil, and 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon (or whatever herbs you have).

In a 10” diameter ungreased tart or quiche pan, pat dough out by hand to cover bottom and form a short (1/2 inch) crust up the side. Crimp.

Place grated Gruyere on top of crust.

Arrange tomato slices (alternating colors) in concentric circles on top of Gruyere.

Drizzle olive oil mix over top.

Cover entire tart with 6 oz crumbled Chevre or feta cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before slicing into 8 pieces. 

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No Frost Yet

“How are you?”

“Doing great! We haven’t had a frost yet!”

“Oh. Uh huh. That’s nice.” Acquaintances nod at my nutty weather report. No frost yet—whatever.

No hard frost as of October 21 may not sound like much to non-farmers or non-gardeners but it’s momentous to those of us on Colorado’s Front Range who work outside in the soil.

In fact, we’ve been working joyously in t-shirts this week, doing things we usually do in jackets. I spread compost around the base of the roses to help get them through a predicted dry winter and John tilled compost into the fields in preparation for fall-planting shallots and garlic. A few of my roses are still blooming and I even picked a bouquet of zinnias for a friend’s birthday dinner.

Early last week our county extension agent sent around a frost warning, so we harvested all that we could to give our CSA members last Saturday–except some smaller peppers just in case it didn’t frost.

And it didn’t.

But that’s okay. The tomatoes and eggplant had pretty much given up with the colder nights and we were ready to pull the stakes and store the twine for next year. John picked the last few of the lonely cucumbers, melons, and summer squash a couple days ago and then tilled the vines into the field.

Yesterday afternoon I walked out to the big field to see what was left. Along the bank of the irrigation ditch, I startled a redtail hawk from the limb of a cottonwood. It flew before me over the tops of the trees. Two weeks ago I surprised a great-horned owl from a similar spot but it flew in front and then around me, close enough that I could see the spots on its breast as it spread its wings perpendicular to the ground. I’d never been that close to such a large flying owl before and it took a while for my heart to settle down. The redtail wasn’t quite as dramatic but thrilled me nonetheless.

So what’s left? I found the peppers still ripening on the plants; we can pick them to give this Saturday or next, which will be the last pick-up of the season. A few small round eggplant are still hanging. Maybe they’ll be big enough for one more ratatouille before the first frost really hits. I found one large Mennonite tomato going red and a few pastes that we’d missed in our previous gleanings. That’s it. I picked some peppermint on my way into the house to make the last watermelon/cucumber salad of the season.

But first frost isn’t just about harvesting plants. At Stonebridge Farm we take our first frost predictions seriously. Around the beginning of September, we start the frost pool for bartering members to pick their first frost dates. Whoever wins garners bragging rights and the title of Frost Queen or King, as well as the largest jack o’ lantern to carve at our end-of-season party on the last Saturday of October.

The frost pool’s pretty competitive out here but the best part is that the winning date is so unpredictable. Who would have thought in September that those daring folks who chose October 24th or 25th would have any chance of winning? Usually the rule is closest date without going over wins, but with no frost predicted until the beginning of next week, the winner this time might be the latest prediction.

We have elaborate rules for what “first frost” means: not just a little nip, but blackened basil and zinnias. This year the frost is so late that we’ve harvested almost all the basil plants already, leaving just a few on which to base the official decision. The zinnias I didn’t pick are pretty faded but we’ll leave them in the field until the frost hits as a back-up to the basil indicator.

Timing’s essential too. Since frost usually comes early in the morning, we date the first frost on the day of the morning we find the blackened basil and zinnias rather than the day of the night before.

Predictions are fun, but most of all, we anticipate first frost because it means our season is almost over. We may still harvest roots and greens that can grow in the cold, but the riot of the harvest is finished—the tomatoes, peppers, basil, eggplant, and squash are a fait accompli. We will have to wait nearly another year for those warm weather crops to ripen again.

A couple days ago, John and I decided to celebrate this long fall by ending the workday early to sit on the patio of a local restaurant, enjoying the late afternoon sun. We were the only people sitting outside, which we found odd on such a glorious day, and, even stranger, the servers were putting away the patio furniture and umbrellas while we toasted the autumn foliage. Soon we were the only table on the patio and we joked that we were the last people to sit outside this year. In this seemingly perennial fall, it’s hard for us to stay inside.

Today we finished the last of the big fall chores: planting 14 beds of garlic for our members next season. With our expert Thursday crew, we cracked the garlic bulbs we’d saved from this year’s crop to plant back the cloves for the next. We started the morning in jackets but soon were in shirt-sleeves as the sun warmed our backs. We don’t always get to plant garlic in sunshine so we welcomed the chance to savor a few more rays before they’re gone.

No frost yet.

But we know it’s coming.

 

 

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Unrooted

No frost yet, which means I’ve lost the first frost pool again. I always pick September 30th and I almost always lose—which is exactly what I want.

Autumn is stunning this year, with no frost yet in sight. Last year’s freeze was October 3rd and we lost bushels of unripened peppers. This year, they’re already turning red and orange and yellow in the field and we have a frost phone tree for calling reinforcements to bring them in when the temperature suddenly drops.

John and I picked tomatoes and peppers this morning to give us a head start on tomorrow’s barn prep because we have so much in the fields still to harvest. I brought some of the scratch and dent vegetables into the house to make batches of salsa for the freezer. With poblanos, gold Brandywines, garlic, white onion, and fresh cilantro, it will taste like summertime when we thaw it this winter.

I needed a little more cilantro, so I took my camera and my clippers out to the garden. Walking back to the herbs, my eye caught Long’s Peak, Mt. Meeker, and Steamboat Mountain to the west. I’ve been writing about place lately and how rooted I am to the Front Range and to this farm, but today I was struck by the sense of “unrootedness,” not for me, but for others close to me who are making a change of place.

I think that’s good. When the place you find yourself is not the place you want to be, it’s okay to move on. If we are to be rooted, we need to find the right place for those roots to take hold, a place that nurtures who we are and who we want to be.

A couple years ago I made a digital story about a time my daughter and I moved on, so I’m posting it here as a reminder—especially to those in transit—that sometimes before you can say hello, you have to say good-bye.

Watch “Bricks”:

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