Monday, October 31, 2011

More Spooky Pumpkin!

A late email from Connor and Jason; Farmers Market customers whose gorgeous pumpkin we posted last year!  This year they've come through with an awesomely scary pumpkin!  Boooooo!

Happy Halloween!

We love to get pictures of our pumpkins, carved by our customers!  We met Alexandra through Facebook, she had seen some info on the 'Stock the Food Bank's Pantry' and posted on our Wall that she was so happy to find a great way to donate to the Food Bank.  She and her partner arrived at  Saturday's market with a very generous donation!  We had a great time with her and her partner (whose name I cannot remember, to my great chagrin); introducing them to all our different potato varieties and all  the types of squash laid out.  They actually had to leave to find a banking machine they were so enthusiastic about all the good food!  They left loaded with goodies, including two of our nice carving pumpkins.   We asked for pictures, as is our habit, but they wouldn't promise as they hadn't carved a pumpkin in years!  Well,   the proof is in the pictures and these two have talent!   Love it!

 To everyone: Have a scary, spooky and safe evening!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Pancakes..well, Hubbard Pancakes!

I've been wanting to try this recipe for pumpkin pancakes for a while.  Today was going to be the day; I intended to roast and freeze some 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin for winter use.  But, pal Deb dropped by for coffee, we were playing some cards and Farmer Man was hungry for his promised pancakes.  I did have some roasted Hubbard squash in the fridge, intending on a loaf or more muffins.  So, off I went with Hubbard squash pancakes.  Easy and simple, a batch only requires half a cup of roasted meat.  The batter was really thick and the pancakes did not really spread out on the grill.  They ended up high and fluffy!  And tasty!  And very good with our Manitoba Maple Syrup from Oakman Enterprises in Portage la Prairie!  I made the recipe 'straight up' this time, next time I will use 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin and I will probably substitute some of the flour for whole wheat or spelt flour!  Very yummy, and the squash gives an extra bit of nutrition!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goats Like Squash, Too!

Yes, our obsession with growing winter squash seems to have rubbed off on our animals.  I make part of the food the dogs eat: a big 'boil-up' of rice, ground pork or beef, oil, garlic and a vegetable.  They've had winter squash in the mixture with no objections.  The house cat has had a little spoonful of the same mixture with similar results (Blondie has been known to carefully eat around every single pea).  Chickens go absolutely nuts for the seeds of any winter squash and will peck at the flesh.  So why not goats?

 We had some of the bigger Hubbard squash damaged on a very cold night earlier in the week.  They were outside, under tarps but still developed some water-soaked spots on the skin - totally edible but not so pretty.  So, Farmer Man decided to roll a big thirty pounder into the goat pen; if nothing else they might play with it a bit.  We have, through the summer, offered the goats some summer squash and once they got the hang of it, they liked it.  Goats only have teeth on the bottom of their mouth, the top is a plate all about grinding leaves and twigs.  It seemed difficult for the goats to take a bite of a zucchini unless we broke it apart for some rough edges.  The large Hubbard proved an instant attraction; fortunately it had gotten dinged getting in place and one, Goldie of course, started to nibble.  Her interest led to the full attention of the other two goatlings and soon they were all gnawing heartily!  They love the skin, chomped through the meat and nibbled delicately at the seeds!  The nice thing is it amused them the whole afternoon, and saved us from the increasingly fruitless search for leafy twigs.  Having a stash of squash will be good for everyone this winter!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Manitoba Sweet Potato Harvest!

Harvest time for the sweet potatoes!  We've waited as long as we can, but with nights now regularly dipping below freezing, everything in the hoop house is finished.  Time for clean-up and close up!  The leaves of the sweet potatoes looked quite good until last Tuesday, when we had an overnight low of -11C (10 F).  The next morning the foliage was blackened and shrivelled.  Fingers crossed, we took the pitch fork and a bucket into the plastic house.  This started back in June, when we received cuttings, check it out here.

This is our second year trying to grow this 'impossible' crop but we hoped that this year, with the protection and extra heat of the high tunnel, and the extra care extended to the surrounding tomatoes, we'd fare a little better than last year!  Certainly, the foliage was much better this year, more lush, longer vines.  First couple of plants proved less than exciting:  three or four tubers about the size of Farmer Man's thumb.  Then, things started to get better: Four or five under each plant with one of a size comparable to what might be available in the stores!  Total harvest of seven pounds, with three tubers weighing in at a pound or a little less!  Waaaaay better than last years' harvest!  We started with a dozen cuttings, and lost one plant shortly after transplant.  Not bad!  The biggest, most unfortunately, we broke so we have to eat it - we'll let you know how it tastes.

Questions abound now: we should probably eat some, especially those that we broke or dinged.  Will we be able to save little ones for replanting or will they perish through the winter?  Should I take some root cuttings now to pot up?  Should we not eat the one perfect large one and save it for replanting?  Was this really worth it, seeing how we paid more for the cuttings than it would cost to buy three decent-sized sweet potatoes?  If we can save our own seed potatoes, does that make it more worthwhile?  And if we'd received the cuttings earlier (or had our own seed to plant early) would we get a better harvest?  And how the heck should we cook what may be our one and only feast of home-grown sweet potato?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Chicks Have Started Laying!

There's always a wee thrill when you find the first egg from a chicken!  We've been waiting since the beginning of June for the Black Sex Links and the Ameraucanas to start laying.  We had thought they would start laying at the end of September, like the Browns and Leghorns a few years ago.  We had to wait a few weeks longer, but they've started!  Problem is, they don't seem even slightly interested in the nesting boxes in their coop - the first egg was found on top of a straw bale in the barn, in a little depression.  The second and third were found underneath the nesting boxes. The problem is that we've allowed these birds to free-range, so it is possible that they will lay under trees or, well, anywhere.  Added to the list of daily chores: having a little tour around with a flashlight to check under trees and bushes in the areas they tend to frequent!

So far, no little blue or green eggs from the Ameraucanas, just brown eggs from the Sex Links!  I can hardly wait to find a little pastel egg.  And these are definitely the eggs of young hens, which are often called pullets.  The eggs are about half the size of regular eggs, but still perfect and tasty with some of the brightest yolks we've seen.  In the last few days, we've gotten two each day, so that number should go up quickly - if we're finding all the eggs!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Preserving Butternut Squash!

We've had a good harvest of butternut squash this year, which I love!  It's not a squash that stores particularly well because it is a bit thin skinned.  In our root cellar, it will be one of the first to break down, get moldy and grow soft.  It can still be used if the skin is moldy - just clean well and peel, but it will get soft quite quickly, too.  We don't want to feast now, and then have none, so we want to preserve some.

Winter squash cannot be safely water-bath canned because it doesn't have the correct acid level and it is too dense to heat up enough to reliably kill bacteria.  It can be pickled, but that's not what we're looking for.  I haven't found any recipes for a jam or butter that could be canned, but filling it with sugar is not we want, either.  So, yesterday I was freezing it!  Quite a simple process, really.  I oven-roasted a whole bunch of butternut, halved and with seeds and membrane removed.  Once I could easily pierce the skin with a fork, it was done!  I scrapped out the cooked meat into a large bowl.  I've noticed this year's butternut has a high water content, so I put scoopfuls in a strainer and let moisture drip out.  Quite an amazing amount: about a quarter cup of liquid for two cups of cooked meat!  I then portioned it into freezer bags and froze!  I've done the bags in one cup portions because we've really been enjoying these muffins with different winter squash.  Now I'm ready for muffins, soups and many other things all winter long!  Hmmm, maybe I need some muffins now!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talking Potatoes and Squash in Hartney!

The Hartney Horticultural Society invited us back this year for a fall vegetable talk.  We'd done a squash night last year that was great fun!  This year, we thought to focus on potatoes and baking with winter squash.  We've got quite a unique collection of potato varieties: twenty eight kinds!  Figuring that everyone has had a basic red, white and baking potato we took five of our more unique and rare varieties.  Monday afternoon we steamed up German Butterball (like Yukon Gold, but yummier), Russian Blue the all purple potato, Alaska Sweetheart which is all red potato (yes, skin and flesh is pink/red), one of our favorite fingerlings Linzertans Delicatese and the rare fingerling Pink Fir Apple.   We also baked a butternut squash and Hubbard.  The evening was hosted at the delightful Red Door Cafe in Hartney, so we had access to a kitchen.

Farmer Man gave a little info on growing potatoes and different kinds.  We warmed up our five kinds and served out tastes one by one, just plain so that people could really experience the flavor.  German Butterball and the Pink Fir Apple seemed the favorites of the evening!  Next, we talked a bit about winter squash and baking with it.  We served up a taste of butternut and Hubbard plain, simply roasted.  Then, we offered a taste of a loaf made with Kabocha Japanese pumpkin, and Claris from the Red Door offered tastes of pie and cheesecake made with Boston Marrow, a relative of Hubbard that we had gotten to her earlier in the week.  I think everyone had a chance to try something they'd never eaten before, which we love!  And, we shared with everyone just how easy it is to bake with real pumpkins, or hubbards, or butternuts......

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meet Doodles!

Doodles and the very hairy Grizzly Bear cuddling
on Farmer Man's lap.
Farmer Man had put his foot down a few years ago:  No more pets.  There was hardly any room in the bed for him between the little doggies and the cats.  But then, we lost Peanuts.  And then, he met Doodles.  Doodles is one of the barn kittens.  From the outset she was friendly, curious and would follow Farmer Man in that galloping, unsteady way that kittens have.  He described her as 'doodling around' the barn.  As the weather has taken a chilly turn the last few weeks, Farmer Man would appear, doing light chores, with the kitten stuffed in the front of his vest.  She would try to follow when he took the dogs for a walk and would end up tucked into his jacket, getting a full tour of the farm.  As we started to try to find the kittens home, to my surprise Farmer Man said that Doodles wasn't available.

Two nights ago, Doodles became a house cat.  Farmer Man brought her into the house and set her down to explore.  It was just kind of assumed she wouldn't be going back out to the barn.  It's a delicate situation with a small pack of doggies and one rather surly house cat, Blondie.  I got the pet carrier and set it up with an old towel for bedding, a small, plastic sandwich box for kitty litter and a small bowl for water.  We showed her to all the dogs and told them to be nice; growling or baring teeth received a correction.  We kept a close eye on her as she wandered and explored; it was all so exciting that she quickly settled in for a nap on Farmer Man's shoulder.

The good thing is the Grizzly Bear seems to have taken to her.  We still supervise every minute, but he really seems to be fascinated in a good way.  He's even given her a few 'kisses' and let her curl up on his back this morning.  If Doodles has been down and wandering, we just look for Grizzly, who seems to never be far behind.  He wants to play, but we admonish him to be gentle because he's so much bigger.  We're hoping they end up good friends.  The rest of the doggies are stand-offish and so far Blondie the cat seems to be afraid of the kitten!  Teddy Bear seems rather put off so far; poor girl started out as an only child and now has to share the attention with a number of other 'friends'!

At bedtime, Doodles is secured in the pet carrier.  When we left Saturday morning to do the Farmers Market, Doodles was secured in the pet carrier.  That will be the way, for a while.  There are hazards in any house, although ours is pretty pet safe!  We also can't completely trust the doggies and Blondie - these are animals and remain unpredictable.  And Doodles is just sooo small right now - and too nice for this crowd!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kittens Meet the Chickens!

The kittens are scampering in the protection of the greenhouse!
Yesterday, Farmer Man was out working in the back yard on a little patio he's constructing and Little Mama decided a walk was in order.  She's quite bold what with the doggies around, but I guess she assumes Farmer Man and I will protect her.  The kittens and the free-ranging chicks found each other quite interesting.  We actually intervened at one point because we thought the chicks were going to start pecking at the kittens!  The June chicks are almost full grown at this point; quite a contrast in size!  A great adventure for the little kittens, I just hope they don't start free-ranging themselves yet because it's a dangerous world out there!  Anybody looking to add a kitten to their home?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stocking Samaritan House's Pantry!

Marla and daughter Sonia working through the chill!

Farmer Man trying to hide!
We decided on a new venture for this October: a Farmers Market to benefit our local Food Bank, run by Samaritan House.  Our friends, and farmers market mentors, Menno and Evelyn Isaac had suggested we invite Samaritan House to come at the end of markets we organized.  Any produce unsold would be put to good use by the Food Bank, and we loved the idea!  Over the six years we've been organizing markets here in Brandon we've come to know Marla and Marcia, the driving forces at Samaritan House, quite well and we have sooooo much respect for what they do in the community.  A few years ago, we instituted a sponsorship for CSA shares for Samaritan House clients and it's been quite successful!  It's been a joy to share the veggies with them: so enthusiastic, so appreciative, so interested in sharing cooking and preserving tips!

Our friends at the local businesses Stream 'n' Wood and Lady of the Lake have been interested in a farmers market for a while, so it seemed like a natural to try it out at these side-by-side businesses with a great, visible location!  Today was our second Saturday, and even though it was blustery and chilly, we had a great day!  Both businesses jumped on board with nice bonuses for people who brought something for the Food Bank and we offered a discount of 10% at our table.  It was a good vibe - drop something off for the Food Bank, get your coupons, shop at the Market, shop at the Stream, lunch at the Cafe!  Word's getting out and we had a better turn-out today, with more donations for the Food Bank!  Marla is keeping track of donations, and we'll give you a total at the end of the month!  Meantime, if you're in Brandon on a Saturday in the next three weeks, come on out!  Bring an item (or items!) for the Food Bank, get a deal on great local produce, get a deal at Stream 'n' Wood and make time to take advantage of a deal that day on lunch at the Cafe at Lady of the Lake!  And don't forget: if you've had a great year in your veggie garden, Samaritan House will happily take any excess for their families!  Hope to see you there; stop by and say hi Saturdays in October from 10:00 AM until Noon!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baking With Real Pumpkins!

Cutting through the pumpkin

They're done!

Squeezing out moisture

Mmmm, fresh muffins!
'Tis the season for winter squash, including pumpkins!  Baking with real pumpkins is easier than most people think.  And so yummy!  And good for you with all the nutrition of fresh food and without worries about additives in canned pumpkin or strange chemicals in the lining of cans!

I highly recommend you find yourself some of the small pie pumpkins.  You can bake with the larger pumpkins sold for Halloween carving, but the flesh of those has more water, is more 'stringy' and has less flavor.  Pie pumpkins, such as 'Sugar Pie' or 'Conneticut Pie' have been bred for smooth texture and flavor. I always need a little help cutting through winter squash, so I embed the knife and then tap it gently through with a small hammer.  You begin by cooking the pumpkin by roasting or boiling.  I cut the pumpkins in half, removed the seed pocket, placed them face down on a greased cookie sheet and baked at 350 C for about forty minutes, until I could easily pierce the skin with a fork.  Once cooled, I scrapped out the flesh and you have the fresh equivalent of canned pumpkin!  At this point, you can freeze some of the flesh for baking or soups later.

I decided on muffins, using this recipe from Foodmomiac, which also has great instructions for using real pumpkin.  First thing is to squeeze the pumpkin meat to remove excess water.  When you're baking with pumpkin do not skip this - it will really improve your product and is crucial if you want to make great pumpkin pie!  It's not necessary if you're making soup or stew.  I wrapped mine in cheesecloth and twisted to squeeze out the moisture - I never cease to be surprised at how much comes out of even a 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin!  You could also press it into a sieve. Add spices, flour and the rest of the ingredients, mix and bake.  It really is that easy!  If you want to make a superlative pie, it really helps to put the pumpkin meat through a food mill, food processor or blend with a mixer/hand blender to get the ultimate smooth texture!  Here's super instructions for making a pumpkin pie from scratch from '', along with links to lots of other great recipes like pumpkin loaf, cookies and muffins.  And don't forget to roast the seeds for snacking!  Once you've cooked your pumpkin, you can use any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin, you just need to add the spices that would already be in a can of pumpkin pie filling: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, all-spice.  Some people like a touch of vanilla; you can really customize your spices!  I freeze my pumpkin without spices and without squeezing so that I can use it for whatever I want when it thaws out.  Just in case you're ready and roarin' to go, here's a link to Saveur Magazine and all things pumpkin, from ice cream to ravioli to soup to cake!  Are you ready to give fresh pumpkin a try?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Butternut Apple Curry Soup and a Farm Open House!

What a fabulous day Sunday was!  Our first ever Farm Tour and Open House, and Squash Sale!  Thank you so much to everyone who came out!  It was so nice to have CSA members and Farmers Market regulars out for a tour, answer questions, show them where all their food came from.  We had a beautiful day, perhaps a wee bit windier than we might have liked, but sunny and warm for October on the Prairies! The 'stars' of the afternoon were definitely the kittens in the barn, with the goats a close second!  The dogs were lapping up the attention and the chickens were... well, chickens: bobbing and weaving and staying out from under foot but hanging around to see if anybody had treats.

I must confess I didn't get a single picture of the day - just totally spaced out on that front (bad blogger, bad blogger).  I have asked a few guests if they have any to share and I'll get them up on the Aagaard Farms Facebook page.  But, we did get a few pictures as we were preparing the night before.  We served a butternut squash, apple, curry soup and roasted pieces of Kabocha and Butter cup squash.  The soup was quite a hit and here's the details for everybody that was asking!

The recipe for the soup came from the late Ken Kostick's book 'Ken's Soup Crazy' - an awesome book (which can be had for a very good price on Amazon Canada from some of the re-sellers right now)!   We've had this book for a long time, and have made this soup before.  Butternut squash is one of the most popular winter squashes, partly due to great flavor and texture but also because of it's small seed pocket and large serving of 'meat'.  We chose a big eight pounder - we wanted to make sure we had plenty and we'd happily freeze some leftover soup!  Farmer Man cut the butternut in half, tough even for him.  To get through a large squash or a thick-skinned one like Hubbard, we get the knife embedded and then tap it through the squash with a hammer.  Farmer Man actually reached for the rolling pin, but I made him put it back as I don't really want dents in my rolling pin, thank you very much!

Once cut, it's easy to remove the seed pocket and then Farmer Man peeled the squash.  This one was nice an ripe, so not much rind.  The butternut was then chopped in cubes.  Goodland apples from our young tree were next, much easier to peel and cut!  We're happy to say that a lot of the ingredients came from the farm: squash, apples, basil and onions were all ours.  Everything goes in a pot with the spices.  At this point we had a bit of an emergency: we realized we didn't have enough curry powder for the large batch we'd decided on.  We probably didn't have enough yogurt, either.  So, at 10:40 PM, Farmer Man went racing into town and got to the grocery store just before closing.  A little excitement for our Saturday night!  Unfortunately, when he got home and returned to his task, he realized we didn't have enough vegetable stock but it was too late to do anything about that.  He proceeded to make a large pot with what he had.  We did have the good fortune of good pal Deb offering to come help clean and prepare Sunday morning, so she was able to bring us the extra stock we needed early Sunday morning to get the second batch going.

Chopped squash, chopped apples, chopped onion, basil, cinnamon, curry, pepper, stock and apple juice are brought to a boil, then simmered fifteen minutes or until the squash softens up. Use a stick blender to puree in the pot, add yogurt and serve!  We were serving from a crock pot on low and found the soup separated a bit, so next time we wouldn't add the yogurt until transferring to the serving dish.  We've made this soup before with Hubbard Squash, equally good!

The recipe, straight from Ken Kostick's book:  2 cups chopped, peeled squash, 1 apple peeled, cored and chopped, 1 small onion chopped, 2 tbsp mild curry powder, 1/2 tsp dried basil, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 6 cups low-fat vegetable stock, 1 cup apple juice, 1 cup non-fat yogurt (we used plain Greek yogurt).  We quadrupled this recipe, without any loss of flavor, the original recipe officially served eight.  According to the book, this is a low calorie soup with less than one gram of fat per serving.  And yummy - what more could you ask for!