Monday, September 29, 2008

The Halloween Barn

Our barn looks like a corn field, upside down. The stalks are hung on every available nail hammered into the cross beams for the hayloft. Not sure why there are so many nails, but I suspect I am not the first one to dry crops here. The stalk bunches block the light downstairs and any manageable path to the stalls. It's kind of a pain. In the end, it looks more like we are planning a Halloween party than putting away grain for the winter.

While this is the most recent attempt, we have tried to dry our corn for the past three years with little success. The first year I pulled off the ears and shucked them all, setting them on drying racks in the barn. What the rats didn't eat, the mildew destroyed. The next year, I tried drying the ears with the husk on and ended up with black corn again, irritated with the hours it had taken to pick the corn and lay it in rows.

Last year, we brought trays of shucked corn into our house, thinking some heat might do the trick. It worked, after a fashion, but our neighbors laughed at us for the racks of corn stacked in the living room when we hosted them for dinners. I don't know what is so funny. I've seen Karen's guest room, the bed absolutely covered with tomatoes she is encouraging to ripen.

The corn dried after a fashion, but wasn't nearly as pretty as midwest corn that dries in the field and ends up in the 50 lb bags I continue to buy from the feed store, double in price from a year ago. Also, the mice liked having food so available in our house and it doesn't appear from the mess they made that our cats ever caught on.

I hope this year we will be more successful, for success' sake as well as cost savings. However, we have one more problem to solve that we never even considered. Tater has perfected his giraffe pose by practicing on the apples in our orchard. The first day our corn was hung to dry he reached through the window above the manger and grab down stalks of corn by the bunch. By the time I came out to feed, there was corn everywhere. So, the horse loves fresh corn! He also figured out one night how to open the only unlocked door into the barn and let himself in for a feast. I'm still not sure how he did this. Thankfully the horse has a constitution of steel or we might have been calling the vet.

Suffice it to say, we have about a third less corn than we cut from the garden, but the drying process is currently proceeding unhindered by dampness or horses. I think Tater has moved his interests back to the apple crop and, while the nights are getting colder, the sunshine adds warmth and light to the barn, which I will relish until the rains come for good. We still look like a Halloween barn and pretty soon, once our pumpkins have served their purpose near the front door, the animals will enjoy a feast of pumpkin flesh...and then it really will be a Halloween party!

Photo: Pretty self-explanatory!

Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Fruit Galore and it's only September

I may have complained about Fred eating my zucchini but he is only one peacock and this farm has a lot of fruits and vegetables growing on it, most years anyway. My friend, Nancy and her husband have a phrase for this, "the burden of abundance". I guess you have to know where we are coming from, alliteration be damned! Even this girl can't kill all the plants.

So, September has become our Google month for the harvest we bring in. How many ways can figs be processed when there are so many figs on the tree that even the dogs graze the bottom branches? If you have over 300 pounds of Italian prunes, how many dried prunes will this make and is it awful to send prunes in Christmas packages to all your friends and relatives? With 10 gallons of apple cider still in the freezer from last year, how long will it take to drink before we need to press for this year, and why isn't it all gone already?

So far, we have canned pickles and tomatoes, but nowhere near all. We have roasted our first chiles and kept some for fresh, freezing the rest for the dead of winter. We have made salsa from all the cherry tomatoes and plan to make enough to last until next summer. We made Kim Chee out of the cabbage because Greg wasn't sure he wanted gallons of sauerkraut. We will have to see whether this was a good idea after it has aged a month or so. Annie has made about 40 jars of fig jam, and I think she will soon be moving on to plum jam, because I wasn't kidding about the 300+ pounds. This weekend will be full of corn and more tomatoes and cucumbers, more chiles...and plums for prunes, plums for compote, and, if I could figure out how to freeze it well, plum galette.

Karen gave me the best recipe for plum galette. It isn't that hard but it pays to look at the directions and do a little math on the prep time before jumping right in, the way I did...with a deadline. Okay, so I had to cut corners, but it worked out anyway.

First you make a pate brisee which is the French way of saying a pastry with lots of butter. This is supposed to chill in the fridge for an hour at least, but from personal experience, a half hour was sufficient. Then you make a fine powder of brown sugar, corn starch, and ground Hazelnuts; except here I didn't have any Hazelnuts so I used Pine nuts and these were fine.

You roll out the dough, cut it in a rectangle, spread the bottom with the brown sugar mixture and cover this with rows of sliced plums. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and fold up the corners of the pastry around your creation to hold the juices in. Did I mention this is made on a flat cookie sheet?

Oops, here you are supposed to put the whole thing back in the fridge for another half hour to chill. I gave it 15 minutes. Before popping in the oven, you brush an egg over the pastry, then bake for about 40 minutes at a high temperature. After removing the browned and bubbly galette from the oven, it is supposed to cool before you brush it with warm plum jam. We didn't have plum jam so we used, you guessed it, fig! We also were out of time so we didn't let the galette cool to room temperature. This didn't seem to make a difference. The galette was a success both in presentation and taste.

Poor Greg, we saved him the last slice; however, I see many more galettes in the future, maybe even with the correct timing and ingredients...or not. I also see Greg's idea of distilling fruit as happening sooner than he might have planned. Plum brandy sounds good if we can come up with a recipe. Guess it's time to get back on Google! What did farmers ever do before the Internet...oh, yeah, they wrote all those recipes. Happy harvest to all!

Photo: Plums and pears fill the carport

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 Scottie Jones

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