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From Seed to Sauce: Dreaming of Tomatoes in June

 

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At Stonebridge Farm, we plant our high summer vegetables—peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, basil, summer squash, cucumbers, and beans—as soon as the nights and the soil warm up from the winter. That’s around June 1st in our Colorado Front Range climate.

But many of those crops were started much earlier in the greenhouse. We’ve been tending them carefully for a couple months, worrying about potential disasters like the water system failing, a pest infestation, or a hungry mouse chewing through the flats. We’re always relieved to get the peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and basil into the fields. Even though we know we could still lose them (like we did the first round of tomato blossoms last year from heavy hail), at least they’re in the ground growing and have half a chance of survival if the weather cooperates. And that’s a big IF.

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Those greenhouse crops start in flats, the wooden boxes in which seeds are dropped in rows. After the seeds emerge and have at least two sets of real leaves (the first set are the cotyledons, not true leaves), the plants are “cupped up” in bigger pots with our own special soil mix. They’ll continue to grow in the greenhouse for a few more weeks while we water and foliar-feed with organic plant food. Then we’ll move them outside to the big cold frame, where they’re semi-protected as they “harden off” to the sun, wind, and nighttime temperatures in anticipation of planting in the fields.

Last Thursday morning, six of us transplanted 1000 peppers of our favorite dozen or so varieties, from sweet to really hot, with many shades in between. The peppers also vary by shape: some skinny for roasting, some large for slicing and cooking, some thin-walled and cup-shaped for stuffing, or thick-walled and juicy for eating raw in salad. After we filled the many beds of beautiful peppers, we admired our work and exchanged pepper recipes, a sign that it must be time for lunch.

John and I planted 500 eggplant the next afternoon, and the Saturday crew put in a couple hundred basil plants after the pick. (We always joke that our members get the equivalent of their share price in basil alone, given the high per pound price of basil in the grocery store. Pesto’s so easy to make and freeze, around here, it’s practically a condiment.) With all those starts in the ground, that left just 600 tomatoes for the two of us to tuck in today.

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Nothing gets as much TLC at Stonebridge Farm as tomatoes. From seeds in flats to plants in the field, we watch each step of their progress and monitor conditions to grow the strongest, healthiest plants we can. We’ve tried lots of varieties over the years and now have our open-pollinated heirloom favorites, the ones we save seed from each year to plant back our own stock. We know they’ll do well, we know our members love eating them, and we know they make wonderful sauce to freeze for our winter meals.

Today is sunny but not too hot, except at the height of the afternoon when we broke for lunch. We start planting in the morning shade, the soil still moist from last week’s watering and a little rain. John digs the holes and fills them with compost from the bucket of the red tractor. I come along next, transplanting by varieties in alphabetical order, east to west (our way of remembering what’s planted where).

Tomatoes are the fussiest of transplants. Not only are they susceptible to breaking, they also require the extra step of removing the bottom cotyledons and leaves to create more air flow around the base and mitigate the attack of soil-borne diseases.

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We plant all day, providing lots of time to discuss the latest news (the 25th anniversary of Tiananman Square; the misogynist shooting last week in California) and its connections to our lives. We talk about our families, our projects, and the books we’re reading, all topics we’ve been discussing for the last seventeen years of farming together.

Working down different rows provides moments of solitude, too. Alone with my thoughts, I dream of the tomatoes and how good they’ll taste in just a couple of months. How we’ll pick them on Saturdays for a beautiful display in the barn. How I’ll make sauce from own special “Stonebridge Blend,” which means whatever’s leftover from the Saturday pick. How I’ll combine golds and reds in tarts or salads. How I’ll select the best of each kind to save for seed next year.

This year, I dream of a new workshop I’ll be co-teaching this September 18-19 here at the farm with Allison Myers for the Center for Digital Storytelling’s Savory Stories Series. We’ll be writing and producing digital “snapshot” stories about food preservation, stories that nourish, instruct, and delight–from childhood memories of grandparents canning garden vegetables to jam-making from pick-your-own berry patches to adult mishaps with rogue pressure-cookers gone wild.

In the chapter “Putting By” from A Bushel’s Worth, I recall the treasures of my grandmother’s farm root cellar, gem-colored jars filled with the fruits and vegetables of my grandparent’s labor. Today, many people who vowed to follow more “modern” ways after watching the women of their mother’s or grandmother’s generations spend long, hot days in the kitchen canning bushels of beans, carrots, applesauce, or plums are returning to the canning skills they’d rejected in their youth. Such knowledge is experiencing a renaissance in the local food movement, with small-scale farms like ours providing the produce.

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But food preservation stories aren’t only about canning. Food preservation might mean hunting for illusive mushrooms or even composting, the ultimate in preservation that sends food nutrients back to the soil. Depression-era hoarding of cake mixes or cans of soup is food preservation for people who “can’t stand to use the last one up.” My own food preservation story involves some unusual road food ingredients and a natural disaster.

We’re not only going to write food preservation stories at this workshop—we’re going to learn how to can vegetables, too. We’ll be joined by Luther Green of Preserving Communities, a social equity company that dedicates its resources toward improving our community food system and increasing the capacity for resilience, sustainability and justice. We’ll learn how to can together, sharing stories and recipes, and then enjoy those tomatoes for lunch the next day. And around it all, we’ll write, preserving stories, as well as food.

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At five minutes to five, John and I plant the last tomato and pick up the empty pots and flats. “You drive the truck back,” John says. “I’ll drive the tractor.”

“You put the water on out here,” I suggest, “and I’ll put the water on inside.” I’m talking about water for pasta (with asparagus, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted walnuts, and chevre), before I realize that a shower is the first water I’ll turn on.

The tomatoes are planted, as are the onions, peppers, and herbs that will accompany them in the sauce we’ll create next September. The promise of more good meals has been planted, too. It’s June 2. The weather’s perfect. The farm’s off to a good start. We work, we wait, and the earth gives again. We’ve accomplished another early season’s tasks with our friends in the fields—and that’s a story worth preserving.

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Spring Spinach With the Birds

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This afternoon I’m hosting our local women’s group for an appetizer potluck and reading of A Bushel’s Worth. I’m roasting mushrooms with Greek salad stuffing, which means walking out to the garden to pick baby spinach. Our farm season opens in three weeks and the spinach will be much bigger by then. For now, I’m content with smaller leaves, but it does take longer than one would expect to fill a whole bag.

Seems like the bag stays only half-full for quite some time, but I don’t mind. I’m listening to two Western meadowlarks trilling back and forth from the giant cottonwoods along the irrigation ditch. You can listen to one of a Western Meadowlark’s songs here.

I’m originally from North Dakota, whose state bird is the Eastern Meadowlark. My grandmother often noted in her diary when she heard the first meadowlark’s call:

“Wed, April 6, 1983: We walked to the creek and found mayflowers and heard a meadowlark sing.

It took me many years to get used to the Western Meadowlark’s song with its notes ascending and descending in a different order than that of North Dakota’s state bird. But both birds share the complex musicality of their song, more lyrical than many a bird’s call.

As I listen to the meadowlarks’ duet in stereo near the spinach bed, I also hear a pair of Red Tailed Hawks shrieking high above me. I can see them, too, as they circle our west field on the other side of the ditch. But I can’t see the meadowlarks, even when I walk near the trees from which they’re clearly singing. I’m surprised not to find them with their bright yellow breasts. Today, they’re camouflaged by the new green leaves of willows and cottonwoods breaking from winter rest.

On the way back to the house with my bag of spinach, I spot a Downy Woodpecker near the knot in our old crabapple tree. No mistaking this bird’s red head and black and white body. I wish I had my camera as the bird senses my approach and flits off to a higher elm.

Spring has been slow to arrive this year. We transplanted 10,000 onion and leek starts last Saturday, a week later than the previous two years. The next day, a wet spring snow watered in the grass-like shoots. We love our alliums at this farm, depending on them all season and even through the long winter. In three weeks, we’ll harvest walking Egyptian onions for our members, followed by green garlic, garlic scapes, early garlic, and green onions, until the full-sized garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots are ready mid-summer.

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Today, I’ll use the last of the stored shallots in the mushrooms I’m stuffing. You can find the recipe here on our website. I’m looking forward to sharing A Bushel’s Worth with women in our community tonight. I joked that I’m going to read the romantic parts, but, in fact, I’ve decided I will. John and I met in the spring; on our first farm date, we made our first salad together from newborn herbs and greens. Seems fitting to share that memory on this sparkling spring day.

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If you can’t join us tonight, you can view a farm reading of A Bushel’s Worth here, along with great music from Joe Kuckla and Alex Johnstone. Happy spring!

 

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Midwinter Cuisine: Let the Squash Simmer!

 

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I’m busy getting ready for our yoga and lifewriting women’s winter respite tomorrow, but I want to share a link to a fun article that includes our farm by food writer Cindy Sutter in the Boulder Daily Camera. John and I had to chuckle at Cindy’s mid-winter weariness for squash and roots. We’d probably feel the same way if we didn’t have fresh arugula in our greenhouse for salads and sandwiches and delicious Winterbor kale under row cover out in the field (when it’s not covered with snow) for stir-fries and soups. Those greens add a lot to our winter cuisine.

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We also make our “sundried” (dehydrated) tomatoes a regular part of our diet. Now that the chickens are laying again (they take some time off for the shortest winter days), we’re back to sundried tomato omelettes with herbs (even fresh rosemary from the greenhouse) and chevre. It’s true that our winter meals are less varied than meals the rest of the year, but that’s part of the way we simplify our lives in these darker, colder days.

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Even in the midst of winter, we’re thinking about spring here at Stonebridge. The onions are poking up in the greenhouse flats and the seed order has arrived.

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At last Saturday’s ditch meeting, we were assured that we’d have water by May 1st, if not before. The St Vrain river will be re-connected to our irrigation ditch (with our annual ditch fees going up 200% for the next 27 years!). The snowpack is heavy, which any other year would be great news. This year, spring run-off in the damaged river channel worries all of us, but we are happy to have snow levels up again. We know some Boulder County farmers are facing much more difficult situations following the flood. We can’t help but be grateful that our farm fared as well as it did. Farming is a tenuous undertaking in any year, but farmers are a hopeful lot. As I said at the end of the Camera article, farming is forgiving because you get to start over every season.

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If you’ve still got winter squash in your pantry, here’s the recipe for the soup I’m making today for our respite tomorrow. I know it’s not as authentically Thai as it could be, but it’s still wonderful and warming and very adaptable, perfect for a nourishing January meal. And your house will smell amazing while it’s simmering!

Thai Butternut Soup

I put my sliced lemongrass rounds in two large mesh tea balls and immerse those with the squash as it simmers. That way, I don’t have to strain the soup. I didn’t want to strain it because that’s a hassle and I don’t want to lose any squash texture. I also put my lime zest in a mesh ball. I use a Stonebridge blended chili powder to taste. You could use whole Serrano chilis instead, removing before pureeing. An immersion blender works like a dream for this soup. You could also transfer in batches to a food processor or blender.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 Tbl olive oil
3 pounds butternut squash (1 very large squash or 2 medium), peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
. To peel, slice in rounds first and then, laying the rounds flat on the chopping board, slice the skin off the edge of each piece by moving the knife around the round.
1 cup dry white wine
10 cups vegetable broth (2.5 32-oz boxes of an organic brand, perhaps more depending on desired thickness)
2 stalks lemongrass, coarsely sliced or chopped (see note above)
Zest of one lime
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (I use two large limes, room temp and squeezed in my 1940s juicer)
1/4 cup fish sauce
3/4 tsp salt
 or to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1/2 tsp hot pepper powder or to taste

Cook the onion, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add the squash pieces and wine; boil, uncovered, until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the broth and simmer, covered with a little venting, until squash is tender, about 45 minutes. (Here’s when I immerse my tea balls of lemongrass and zest so they simmer with the squash, removing them when the squash is tender).

Puree the squash mixture well with an immersion blender or in food processor. Return to pot and blend/stir in lemon grass & lime zest (still in strainers, if using) lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder or chilis, and salt and pepper. If you’d like it a little thinner, add some more veggie broth.

Simmer 20 minutes with the lid slightly open.

Season with salt, hot pepper powder, and regular ground pepper to taste. Freezes well.

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Stuff Your Peppers for a Snow Day

The sun’s out today but we won’t be working in the fields. They’re still blanketed in this week’s super snow, giving me time to post about one of our favorite winter meals, Stonebridge Stuffed Peppers, which we made for last night’s dinner. (While they were baking, the sky turned an amazing shade of blue.)

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The first blue sky we’d seen in days, brilliant blue right before twilight, framing the evergreen and apple trees by the guesthouse, a former chickenhouse.

I wrote about this recipe a year and a half ago because Women Thrive Worldwide, an organization that promotes women’s opportunities and rights in developing countries, included it in their $2 a Day recipe campaign to highlight the fact that millions of people live on very little income—2.5 million on less than $1 a day.  You can view the recipe here on their website or with more pictures here on mine.

The only thing I’d add now is to put ¼ inch of water in the bottom of the pan to help the peppers steam as they bake, especially if you’re making them without some kind of salsa or marinara on top.

We grow our own peppers and the vegetables we use to stuff them. We make a lot of our own cheese. If we didn’t, this recipe would cost more than $2 to make in this country, but it is still a very low cost, healthy meal that can be prepared quickly, is filling, and tastes great the next day too.

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A poblano pepper on the vine. We trellis these peppers because the vines grow four feet high and are filled with peppers.

Stonebridge Stuffed Peppers also takes advantage of how easy it is to freeze peppers, the wonder vegetable of what we call “high summer”—August and September and even into October until the first frost on Colorado’s Front Range. We use poblanos but any pepper with a filling-sized cavity, sweet or hot, will do. To freeze peppers, you can either core them and freeze them whole as shells for winter stuffing or core and slice them to freeze for sautéing in stir fries or sauces. No blanching required. You don’t even need to thaw them before using. Just pull the shells out of their freezer bags and fill. How easy is that?

What also makes stuffed peppers remarkable is that you can fill them with whatever you have on hand. Really. Our filling is usually a quartet of whatever cooked grains/grated or sliced raw veggies/cheese/nuts we have in the fridge and pantry.

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Baskets of poblanos in the barn

If you’ve got the ingredients ready to go, it only takes a few minutes to put this dish together. I’d already cooked the quinoa at lunch, so I threw the ingredients together while John walked out to the bluehouse to get spinach.  Talk about easy. It’s the equivalent of the 1950s casserole but, with its fresh ingredients, much more healthful. I hope you’ll try them! And then let us know: What do you stuff in your peppers?

Note: For people in the Boulder area, Stonebridge is hosting the monthly Mile High food swap this Sunday. You can see a video of last fall’s Stonebridge swap here. We’d love to have you join us so sign up here!

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Our 21st Season Opens and the Greens are Glowing

May 12th was the first pick-up of our 21st CSA season and the biggest opening pick we’ve ever had. With April’s warm weather, many of the crops that normally aren’t ready until a few weeks later were already big enough for harvesting. We knew the fall-planted spinach was ready because we’d been picking it for ourselves for a couple weeks and it was starting to show signs of bolting, which happens when the weather gets warmer and the plant senses that it better go to seed because its days are numbered.  We were also expecting to pick radishes, turnips, and green garlic for opening day, as well as lettuces from the rebuilt bluehouse, two beautiful, big heads per share. Still, we thought the pick wouldn’t take very long and we’d have some extra time for weeding before the subscribers showed up at 11 AM to start the season.

But when we got to the field early Saturday morning and took the row cover off the other garden greens, we discovered that they were ready to pick as well. The bok choi and totsoi especially don’t like warmer weather, which is why it does better in the fall here on the Front Range. We plant it in the spring anyway, just in case the weather is cool, but with April’s high temperatures, those greens were raring to go.

So as the bartering members thinned and harvested pounds and pounds of urgent greens, the bikers rode full trugs into the barn for two of us to weigh as we tried to figure out where it all could go. The lettuces alone filled the shelves of the cool room and we had twice as much spinach as would fit the large bins we’d planned. With the trugs coming in as fast as we could weigh them, we couldn’t believe this was opening day.

When a few members showed up a little before 11 AM, eager for the first of the season’s vegetables, we had to ask them to take a short walk while we finished getting the barn ready for its 21st season. But at the stroke of 11, everything was ready to go. Each type of vegetable was weighed or counted, labeled, and displayed in the barn under the big chalkboards that declare how much of each a subscriber should take.

As we gathered the new members outside the barn for a farm tour and barn talk, we apologized for giving so many greens on opening day. It hadn’t been our intention to overwhelm people with first greens, but the weather had trumped our plans. Besides the beautiful spinach and lettuce, people would weigh and bag greens with which they were probably less familiar, like spicy greens, bok choy, and totsoi. Graciously, everyone assured us that lots of greens on opening day was fine, but I did notice that we had more of the unfamiliar veggies left at the end of the day than the old stand-bys.

That’s okay. The chickens were happy with the leftovers and we’ll slowly educate our members about these other nutritious and delicious greens through our recipe email list and tips in the barn. Eating seasonally takes some getting used to and we’re patient with that change. We don’t want our members to feel guilty for not eating every last leaf. Share with friends, we say, or bring us your compost and we’ll put it back into the soil.

Last Saturday, the greens weren’t quite so urgent, giving members a chance to catch up with the haul the week before. We still gave spinaches and lettuces but we added only bok choy, now bigger with more substance to its toothsome stems. We hope people will adjust to this versatile vegetable, which can be used in similar ways to celery in stir-fries or salads. We like it steamed with sesame peanut sauce, as in the recipe below.

Despite the rush to get everything in that morning, we were glad to offer such bounty on opening day. As a share-the-harvest farm, we want people to know that we don’t base what they get on the market value of the food but instead share what the garden has to offer each week. In the early part of the season, that means quite a few greens–including the best spinach anyone has ever eaten–but don’t worry: the brassicas are on their way!

Sesame Peanut or Cashew Sauce

This sauce is great over steamed vegetables but can also be stirred into rice with raw, slivered veggies and baked in an oiled 9×13 pan, covered with foil, for 45 minutes at 375.

In food processor or blender, mix the following:

1 cup natural, unsweetened peanut or cashew butter, smooth or chunky

¼ cup rice vinegar

6 Tbl honey

2 tsp sesame oil

½ cup water

½ cup tamari or soy sauce

1 Tbl fresh ginger grated or 1 tsp dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp thai basil, dried

A few shakes of hot pepper flakes to taste

Warm gently in sauce pan until heated through and drizzle over steamed vegetables.

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The Pumpkin’s in the Oven–Let Thanksgiving Begin!

I just put my pumpkin and butternut squash in the oven to bake, signaling the beginning of preparations for the Thanksgiving meal. But not really. Those vegetables were planted last spring, tended all summer and harvested this fall. They’ve been stored in the closet of our coldest bedroom until today. Now they’ve been halved or quartered, seeds scooped out for the chickens, and are roasting in the oven at 350 for a good one and a half to two hours, until the flesh is soft enough to spoon into bowls for the pumpkin pies I’ll make on Wednesday and the squash pear soup I’ll put in the crockpot early Thanksgiving morning.

I love this meal and I do love having Thanksgiving with family and friends in our Sunflower Community Meal. But I have to admit, it can be a lot of work, especially Thanksgiving morning when we’re up before dawn to get the turkey in the oven—something I, as a vegetarian, don’t even eat!

So why do I do it? Of course, spending the day at home on the farm with people I care about is a big reason—the biggest one, I’m sure. But I have to admit, I do love the food, especially my traditional Thanksgiving recipes (some of which you can read here from last year’s Thanksgiving blog).

And I don’t make the meal by myself. Everyone who comes brings something delicious, like my brother-in-law’s pumpkin bread, one sister’s blue corn muffins and another’s gingerbread cookies, my mother’s cranberry relish and pecan pie, and our British friends’ amazing trifle.

But beyond a wonderful day with family and friends, it’s possible I host Thanksgiving because I can’t imagine pie from canned pumpkin. I’m sure it tastes just great, but I made a commitment to pie from scratch a long time ago and I can’t go back now. Just for this pie, we grow heirloom Winter Luxury pie pumpkins with sweet, thick flesh. They’re beautiful in the field, like gemstones of the autumn. Once the vines die back, we bring the pumpkins into the barn to await the end of October for our CSA members to share.

Besides the joy of growing them, I like getting pumpkins and squash out of the bedroom closet, chopping them in pieces and scooping out the seeds for the chickens. I like the way those vegetables feel in my hands, I like their fall colors, and I love how easily they go from raw to cooked. I always marvel that people long ago decided squash was something that could be eaten and even made into a pie, at one time considered more a meal than a dessert.

And now pumpkin pie marks the Thanksgiving holiday, along with other goodies. Maybe the turkey holds that spot for meat eaters, but for me, it’s the pie. I even eat it for breakfast the morning after the Thursday feast.  Here’s my recipe, adapted a long time ago from the back of the Libby’s can.

Stonebridge Homemade Pumpkin Pie

A day or two before you’ll make the pies: Preheat oven to 350. Cut your pumpkin in half; scoop out the seeds and a little of the stringy pulp right under the seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet with edges and pour a little water into the bottom for a bit of steam. Bake for 1 ½-2 hours, until a knife inserted in the outside skin pierces quite easily, like softened butter. Cool a bit and scoop out the cooked flesh into a bowl; cover and chill until you’re ready to make the pies. If the flesh seems quite watery, you can cook it down on the stovetop in a pan until it’s firmer. It really depends on the pumpkin—which is why homemade is more work but more delicious than canned.

Old Fashioned Crust

This makes three crusts but since I can only bake two pies at a time, I freeze one-third of the dough for pie some other day. Making it in a food processor saves time but if you like, cut in the pastry with two knives.

3 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups cold butter (2 ½ sticks)
½ cup cold water
1 beaten egg
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Pulse flour and salt in the food processor until combined. Add the butter in ¼ inch slices and pulse until the size of peas.

In small bowl, combine water, egg, and vinegar. With processor running, slowly drizzle the liquid mixture through the feed tube just until the dough forms a ball; stop the machine so you don’t overprocess the dough. You may not need all the liquid before the ball forms. Divide into three equal portions and chill at least an hour (or overnight) in the fridge in a covered bowl. You’ll need two of these portions for two pumpkin pies so freeze the other or make a pecan pie too.

To assemble two pies:

Roll out two crusts and place in two pie plates. Prick the bottom with a fork and crimp the edge with your left index finger between your right index and middle fingers.

Preheat oven to 425.

Pumpkin Filling:
In food processor bowl, mix
3 eggs
3 cups pumpkin
1 cup turbinado or cane sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ginger
3/8 teaspoon cloves
3/8 teaspoon allspice
1 1/3 cans evaporated milk (1/3 can is ½ cup)

Blend well. Pour half the mixture into each of the two pie crusts.

Place the pies in the oven and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and cook for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean (or push it gently with your finger to feel if it’s set).

Cool well before eating. Whip some cream and serve! Each pie makes 8 large or 12 small slices.

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Still Winter Granola

Those of you who don’t live along Colorado’s Front Range of the Rockies would probably be surprised at the vicissitudes of our winter weather. Last weekend felt like spring with sunshine and highs in the 60s. Now it’s bleak winter again: highs in the teens today and ten below zero tonight with just enough icy snow falling to make the roads slippery and dangerous.

As one friend wrote this morning, it’s a good day for seed catalogs. I agree, but since we sent in our orders last week, I’m making granola instead.

I started making my own granola several years ago and couldn’t believe how many years I’d wasted buying granola. As many of you undoubtedly know, making your own granola is really easy, but even better than that, you can customize your own recipe in so many ways, why settle for less? Ingredients, sweetness, texture, and, best of all, toastedness are all under your own control. To make granola, all you need are ingredients—most of which you can buy in bulk, a large baking dish, and half an hour when you’re hanging out near the kitchen taking care of some other domestic task like balancing your checkbook, folding laundry, sending emails, or writing your blog lol.

To me, granola is SO 70s, part of the “back to the land” and “natural foods” movements that inspired me as a teenager. Unlike my memory of my first quiche, I can’t remember exactly when I first tried granola but I did make “Back to Nature” granola cookies in high school from store-bought granola (or “store-boughten,” as we say in our family).

I like making granola because it combines two kinds of activities: mindless and mindful. When I’m mixing the ingredients, I like to be mindful of the textures involved: the round flakiness of the oatmeal with the shredded flakiness of the coconut, the precise size of the walnuts chopped in my vintage chopper, and the smoothness of the honey drizzled gently into the oil and vanilla.

But once granola’s in the oven, you don’t have to think much about it, just enough to stir every five minutes or so until the end, when you better get mindful again or you can ruin the whole batch. The last few minutes are when you need vigilance to attain the perfect shade of brown and crunchy texture for your personal granola. No one can put that in a recipe—you have to discover that for yourself.

This past Christmas I gave my daughter and son-in-law—who have a beautiful new house with a perfect kitchen for cooking—my granola recipe and bulk bags of ingredients. They made their first batch right away and now can adapt the recipe to their liking.

Also last Christmas, a dear friend gave us a huge bag of homemade granola, a wonderful gift because she’d used walnuts AND almonds, honey AND maple syrup, while I always use just one nut and only honey, since we’ve got our own farm hives. It felt luxurious to eat such exuberant granola, a welcome change from our own.

So to celebrate the last day of January by warming up our kitchens as well as our palates, I’m including my Stonebridge Farm granola recipe below in the hope you’ll share your own granola recipes, favorite ingredients, and innovations.


Stonebridge Farm Granola

4 cups organic rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup coconut flakes (I use 2/3 cup shredded and 1/3 cup larger flakes)
1 cup chopped nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans
2 Tbl of seeds like sesame, ground flax (or wheat germ)
¼ cup honey (1/3-1/2 cup if you like it sweeter)
¼ cup safflower oil (or same as for honey, plus some for oiling pan)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp good ground cinnamon like Vietnamese cassia
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit like cranberries or cherries or apples

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Very lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish and mix first 4 ingredients right inside the dish. If you’re using larger coconut flakes, you may want to reserve them because they brown more rapidly than the shredded kind.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes.

Take out of oven and stir well.  (Add large coconut flakes now if you’ve reserved them.)

Bake 5 minutes, remove, and stir. Repeat. (15 minutes total).

Sprinkle cinnamon over granola and mix well.

Mix safflower oil, honey, and vanilla in a two-cup measuring container with a pouring spout and pour uniformly over granola. Mix well.

Bake 3 minutes, remove, and stir.

Now comes the mindful part. Bake another 1-3 minutes depending on your oven and how brown you want your granola. I’d suggest baking for one minute, checking and stirring, and then repeat until you’re there.

Once you’ve attained perfection, stir well, being sure the granola isn’t sticking to the dish. Cool a few more minutes and stir again. If you don’t stir a couple times initially while it’s cooling, it’ll stick to the dish.

If you like your granola chunkier, you could mix 1/8 cup honey with 1/8 cup oil and drop in spots to harden some of the granola into chunks during this cooling period.

Once cooled, add fruit and mix.

Store in gallon glass jar or container.


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