April 15--Tax Day--except not this year. Deadlines, like most everything else this year of human device, have been postponed. Mother Nature's cycles have been a bit bumpy and unpredictable lately, but the natural world is pretty much running on schedule. Our maple operation put to bed, and the first new calf was born out in the pasture, yesterday. We're looking forward to a rainstorm of the little beasts in the next few weeks.
The family spent a chunk of time paging through garden porn seed catalogs this winter, choosing the specific varieties we wanted to buy, and placing our order. When five people are involved in deliberating the merits and demerits of vegetal varieties and spatial assignments, the order and the planting plotting become serious business!
As of today, the beds and raised beds have been prepared, and our seed packets have arrived and the first rows of peas have been planted. The starts have not arrived and will not until it's closer to the right time to plant them. Garlic bulbs have been--inserted?
I may not know the correct terms, but I do know that with a little luck and a lot of hard work, my family and I will be eating well through 2021.
For the longest time this (beginning of) winter, we waited for a snowfall, and it looked like we might be celebrating a grassy, muddy Christmas. The white stuff eventually came down in a pretty big way, and right now we've got piles of it next to the driveways, paths through the yards, and a big heap of it on the barn bridge.
For me, nothing says "clean and tidy" like a fresh snowfall--a pristine, white blanket to cover over the muddy tire ruts and the dirty slush on the roadside. Mother Nature, doing the work for us.
Indoors, we have to put in the effort, ourselves. Luckily, I like cleaning. While the acts of scrubbing, sweeping, dusting and vacuuming are not necessarily fun, they are tasks that lead to immediate gratification, which is fun. I'm also a devotee of the MariKondo method. If it doesn't bring joy or serve a necessary purpose, out it goes!* The Pandemic lockdowns and quarantines have sent many people cleaning and tidying, and organizing, talking about it online and seeking tips and inspiration. (The term "tidying" shows 1587 results on the Four County Library System's website! Netflix offers Marie Kondo's show, and a multitude of like steams.) To me and to many, clean means serene.
I am tempted to offer parallels between cleaning house and happiness to
(a) next week's Presidential inauguration, or
(b) COVID-19 vaccines becoming available, or
(c) offloading thousands of cellphone photos,
but that will wait for later.
Until then, I'll be turning off this device and turning up the volume on the Hoopla stream of Marie's "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up," the soundtrack to my afternoon of organizing my studio.
*until Ron digs it out of the trash
Our hard work since early last spring has rewarded us with pickups full of pumpkins, bushels of beans, and all manner of baskets and boxes full of potatoes, sweet corn, peas, pears, kale and spinach (never enough spinach!) and more. The very last of the family's harvest action is shown, above. Three-year-old Porter and his mom, Liz, are gathering the kidney beans that have dried on the vine. They'll be shucked and dried a little more, and stored away in the pantry for hearty winter soups to come.
The sweet corn patch...
...has been put to bed for the winter.
Thanks to my husband, Ron, we have a spacious root cellar full of squash and potatoes, and handy access to both. We'll be eating squash and potatoes all through the winter and on into spring--and I just ran across the perfect recipe that combines the nutrient power of vegetables with a YUM power that almost makes squash into a dessert!
Mashed Maple Butternut Squash with Pecans
1 3 pound-ish butternut (or other winter variety) squash
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Split the squash in two down its vertical axis. Place both sides cut-sides-down on a greased baking pan, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour, or until it's soft when poked with a finger. Let cool slightly, then scoop the soft squash out its skin, and place it in a mixing bowl.* Fold in the butter, syrup and chopped pecans. Place in a greased casserole, and sprinkle with the toasted pecans. Slip back in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Serves 8.
*The squash can be baked ahead, if desired, and stored in the refrigerator for up to several days, or frozen, for longer and thawed when needed. Like maybe at your family Halloween party...
We're awash in pumpkins and squash! This year, our carefully tended pumpkin and squash patches produced some surprises along with the expected haul of beige butternuts, green Hubbards and yellow Georgia Candyroasters. A gift of some heritage seeds added red and aqua Hubbards to the field. Some seeds that we saved from last year's squash harvest must have been those of a hybrid cross. They grew into the oddest striped irregular orb in the field.
There was a surprise in the pumpkin patch as well. GIANT pumpkins. The kind that people grow for competition. (Who planted those seeds, and where did they come from!?) These were pumpkins that we had to roll out of the field and up ramp boards into the truck to then roll off of the truck to the roadside stand. Ron had to post a "Call this phone number for help in loading" sign on the stand. Liz had personalized some of both giant and "normal" pumpkins by scratching names and motivational words into the immature fruits. As they grew and matured, the scratches became scars, and the resulting personalized pumpkins became unique and charming fall decoration fodder.
Roadside Stand in the Pandemic Era
We've done a little upgrade to our corn stand this year. The new stand is pretty tiny, but it can hold a few dozen ears of corn at a time. We try to restock with fresh corn (and zucchini, cucumbers, etc.) several times during the day, to ensure that only the freshest vegetables are available.
Also available: the pump jug of New York State's Finest, a product that many of us have become very familiar with by this point in the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020. A shot of this sanitizer on your hands before vegetable shopping helps keep the produce germ free.
We've been setting some of Riverdale Farm & Forest's pure maple syrup out for purchase this summer, and I'd like to point out that it's not just for pancakes! In the last seven days, I believe that I've used maple syrup in my coffee and tea, in the oil and vinegar based salad dressing, and as a basting base for salmon and steak. Later today, I'm planning to bake with it.
Here's my favorite muffin recipe, a modification of a pumpkin bread recipe. The muffins are moist and sweet and delicious. I urge you to give it a try!
(makes 2 dozen, or 12 giant muffins)
Stir together dry ingredients and set them aside:
3 1/3 Cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. (or more, if you will) cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
Blend together, in a separate bowl:
1 Cup oil of preference
2 Cups of pureed squash (butternut, candy roaster, Hubbard, or, hey--pumpkin)
1 Cup sugar
1 Cup maple syrup
Mix everything together and toss in any desired tidbits (chocolate chips--the white ones are especially good here) or nuts, raisins. Bake in greased muffin tins for 20-ish minutes at 350 degrees.
The river that runs along the length of Riverdale Farm plays a big part in our lives. A quick plunge into the water in the middle of a sweltering day. An end-of-afternoon visit with crackers and cheese and some liquid refreshment. A cast line to make an attempt on that monster trout that just has to be cruising the bank.
The farm sits on the West Bank of the Delaware River, a fork through the Catskill Mountains that joins with it's sister fork, predictably called the East Branch, at Hancock, NY. Under normal weather conditions, the "Binnekill" runs parallel to the river, but since we're suffering for rain at the moment, it's dry except for pockets of water here and there. Those pockets make great spots for little fishermen to drop the minnow trap. Our little fishermen check their minnow trap alot.
Lilacs. They're beautiful, and their light, fresh scent serves as a signal that spring is on the way. Technically, I suppose I should say summer is on the way, but in this Catskill Mountain valley, seasons are a little behind. Lilacs spread by sending shoots up from their roots, and these shoots are fairly easy to dig up and transplant to wherever a new bush is desired. We've got a new little shoot coming up in the middle of our flower garden (where it's not actually desired) and that baby will be relocating in the fall!
Due to this propensity to root-sprout, and the ease of which they can be transplanted, lilacs are the perfect flowering bush to share with your friends. "Historical" case in point: the number of great, big lilac bushes you see along rural roads. Lilacs abundantly shared between neighbors, and still thriving long after the man-made home and barn structures have disappeared.
The next time you see a couple of large lilac bushes in what appears to be an empty field, take a moment. Peer through the overgrown grasses. Maybe you'll see the stone ruins of an old foundation, the wooden skeleton that was once a home. Roadside lilacs invite us to take a glimpse into the forgotten past.
The black cloud of Covid-19 has made the spring of 2020 one for the record books. It's changed the way we live and today, it's making a huge alteration in the way we celebrate. Our extended family on the farm consists of four generations who live in three separate abodes, and we'll gather in the yard (lawn chairs six feet apart) behind one of those abodes this morning for our pastor's prerecorded worship service. Later, we'll have our separate Easter dinners in front of ZOOM-ed in Virginia family members.
Happy Easter to you and yours, and here's hoping that you've found a creative way to celebrate!
pictured above, the first two new members of the herd--Minnow and...X-Box? 5 year-old Wyatt is our designated calf namer this year!
Here we go! Snowstorm #1 motivated us to get tapping before Snowstorm #2 hit two days later! Gideon and I finished tapping the trees we can get to yesterday. Running well today...sap runs through the tubing to our tanks to be collected with the truck and brought to our saphouse. Should have enough sap later tonight to start boiling!