Easy Pickled Beets

This is the time of year where chickens are producing eggs in abundance and the beets are ready for harvest. When I get inundated in both categories, I make a gallon of pickled eggs and beets…here are a few helpful tips for the process and my favorite recipe.

Eggs: I usually let mine age for a week or so because fresh eggs don’t peel nicely. I always used my beat up eggs with beets and my “good” eggs for deviled eggs. A friend mentioned that she heard that you should not use broken or cracked eggs as pickled eggs…I was pondering this and realized that I often have an egg break in the beet juice and it makes a nasty sludge in my beets. Probably why you shouldn’t use the beat up ones…maybe a contamination issue and definitely not pretty.

Beets: My recipe is scaled to use a 15 ounce can of store bought beets. I don’t normally buy canned beets but have found that the scale works well by using a pint of my canned beets or fresh beets. If you have never cooked fresh beets, here’s how to start. Choose beets of similar size so that they will all get done about the same time. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Small beets take about ½ an hour and larger beets longer. Test for readiness by fishing one out after ½ an hour. The skin should slide EASILY off the beet with no real effort on your part…if it doesn’t, give them a few more minutes. Sometimes when they are close, I just turn the fire off and let them sit in the boiling water for an extra ½ hour. When you are ready to peel them, just pour off the hot water and put them in a sink full of cold water and slide the skins off. It’s actually kind of fun. 🙂

My Recipe: I usually quadruple and make a gallon at a time
For each pint or 15 ounce can (save the liquid)
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp salt
(note some folks use a cinnamon stick…we have allergy issues and don’t use cinnamon)
After you heat the ingredients to boiling, carefully add the beets and bring back to a boil. Place eggs in a clean jar and spoon beets over top (or layer if you don’t want to fish to the bottom for the eggs). Pour the hot liquid over the beets/eggs…if they are not covered, add a bit of the reserved beet juice. If you are using fresh beets and come up a bit short, just swish some vinegar in the hot pan (to get any stray spices) and top of your jar with that. They will keep in the fridge for weeks.

Zucchini Spaghetti

Zucchini- the very word conjures up visions of a massive war club with tough skin, pithy flesh and a seedy middle. There are zucchini jokes and some bizarre recipes as people desperately try to figure out what to do with the influx of the enormous green summer squash. People have been victims “drive-by” zucchini drop offs while others make sure to lock their car doors on Sunday mornings to make sure they don’t end up with a seat full of zucchini while they attend services.  We are often asked, “What do you do with zucchini?”
This is the Big Oak take on zucchini:
1. Three plants is plenty!! In fact,  two well producing plants is plenty. Our theory is to plant three seeds and hope for two surviving plants. Limit your zucchini crop-unless you plan on being a zucchini outlet. I knew someone who planted an entire row each year and then was inundated by the amount of zucchini that grew-it’s okay if your row is not full.  🙂
2. Pick small. No one likes the huge seedy zucchini, one or two a season for stuffing is plenty. In fact, don’t even try to grow a big one, you’ll eventually miss a small one and find the monster the next day. Usually, 10-12 inches is a very nice size for grilling, slicing into lasagna “noodles” and using in casseroles; the seeds are small and the skin is tender. If your plants get too crazy, pick “baby” zucchini for stir fry. Keep a close eye on zucchini…they can double in size overnight.
3. Zucchini spaghetti!! Our favorite thing is a gizmo that we got as a gift last year. It makes zucchini spaghetti…it’s the perfect way to eat zucchini and save calories. In fact, I ended up BUYING  zucchini this year because I couldn’t wait for mine to produce. If you’re tired of trying to figure out what to do with extra zucchini, you should try some vegetable pasta.



I’m a slacker!!

Somehow maintaining this blog is always at the bottom of my list. I have good intentions and even make lists of things to blog about; but at the end of the day, I really just don’t have it in me to think too hard or do any research. Hubby chides me gently about being a slacker…he doesn’t use that exact word, but he does have a hard time with me just sitting and doing “nothing.” He thinks I should: write a book, run a Bed and Breakfast, teach seminars, produce enough food for our local Co-Op, get on a speaking circuit, go to Farmer’s Market and join a few committees.
Lest you head for the noose and get in line to string him up, I am the first to admit that he is right…I am a slacker!!
I do have a crazy life…five grown children and their spouses, 11  precious grandchildren, 9 goats, 30+ chickens, 40 raised beds, an in-home Day Care business, aging parents, plus the usual round of church and civic duties. Toss in house guests for five weekends out of six and a wedding on the sixth weekend…yes, our summer has been pretty hectic.
Being a locavore is pretty challenging too…no junk in our fridge. Everything is made from scratch which also means more dishes and more equipment to clean. The summer becomes a race to plant, harvest and preserve enough food to last for a whole year. Obviously this was a joint decision but the brunt of the picking and preserving lands on me since I technically take at least Fridays “off” for the summer.
I sense that some of you are still thinking my husband needs a good beating…some days I might hold him down for you…but seriously, no one is forcing me to do this. This is the lifestyle I choose. We all make choices about how we will spend our days and what we will feed our families and what we do with our free time.
I have become friends with two sisters…last year they decided to begin gardening. Neither of them had any previous garden experience and both have super crazy lives. Sister #1 is VERY active in the political arena, runs her own consulting company, works in a county office, delivers newspapers, is launching two daughters and has so many irons in the fire that I cannot imagine when she sleeps. Sister #2 works full-time, started a company with her husband, has four children from kindergarten to college and is in the process of having a book published!!  In spite of all that or in addition to that, they are in their second successful year of growing and preserving food. I am in awe of them…when I look at my life compared to theirs…I am a slacker!!
Anyway…here’s a blog post…I’m taking the afternoon off!!PaulaProduce

Chipotle-the tale of two versions

This video appears on you tube. It is  obviously an ad, but well done. I am always ready to encourage a corporate move away from the status quo… in this case, CAFOs, antibiotic use in agriculture, and the industrial agricultural culture.

This video appears as a rebuttal to the Chipotle original:

I don’t know enough about Chipotle to know if the original ad is truthful or not,  and I’d be curious to know if Monsanto or Tyson had a hand in the second video.

What do you think?

The cost of hay, and the cost of farm subsidies

I had an interesting conversation with our hay supplier today.

We were discussing the weather (as all farmers do.) The cold wet weather has made it difficult for some hay producers to finish their first cut. That hay is now virtually worthless.

I was fortunate. My hay supplier cut their first crop early, and I ordered early. The result is that my barn is full of some of the highest quality hay I have ever purchased.

My own pasture is suffering the effects of the weather though, so I many need some additional hay to make it through the winter this year.  I was asking my supplier about their second cut.

My supplier assured me that, because they took the first cut early, their second cut was going to be very good also. However, the price could be approaching $6.00/bale by the end of the season. Because I only need a relatively small amount to “top off” my barn, I am not overly concerned about this.

Others, however, will not be so fortunate. Many other customers did not order early. They were hoping that the price would be lower later in the season. They gambled, and they lost. They may now end up paying premium prices for hay – if they can get it.

My daughter in Illinois observed the same thing last year. The weather there also affected the hay crop, and prices for hay (and for feed in general) were very high. My daughter is a professor at a major university and a research scientist; her institution paid the market price and she did not have to worry about “running short.” Many farmers who actually make their living from the farm, on the other hand, saw their profit margins shrink as the cost of feed and diesel fuel rose.

We had a similar situation recently here on the Ridge. We have joined  the Northwest PA Growers Co-op, and we hope to become producers for the cooperative. In order to meet the co-op standards, we have to convert all of our livestock to GMO free, antibiotic free, chemical free food – something we’ve been wanting to do anyway. Of course, the naturally grown and produced food is slightly more expensive than the commercially available feeds. In order to compensate, the price of our eggs, chickens, and goats has to be adjusted accordingly. Some folks were OK with that, but we did lose a couple of customers. The small price adjustment was more than they were willing to pay for a product that already had a “premium” price tag.

In another scenario, my wife had lunch at a local restaurant, and struck up a conversation with the restaurant owner who is also an acquaintance of ours. When she found out we produced eggs, she said “Oh, I’ll buy your eggs! I’m always looking for local sources for my produce!” When she found out our eggs were $3.00 per dozen, however, she backed down. “Oh – I never pay more than $1.50 per dozen for eggs.”

My conversation with my hay supplier waxed a bit philosophical as we discussed the impact of farm subsidies on public perception. We have so heavily subsidized agriculture for so long in this country that consumers no longer have a sense of the real cost of food production – what Paula and I refer to as “the preciousness of food”.

When we work hard to produce our own food, we [correctly] value the work of our hands. We don’t waste  a quart of beans because that quart of beans represents an hour of our lives, spent in picking, washing, snapping, and preserving the end product.

Most consumers, however, do not have this sense of “the preciousness of food”. We spend millions on food, but discard 25% of what we purchase. Consumers expect, and even demand, that food be available in vast quantities, in any season, in great variety, at absurdly, unrealistically low prices.

The example of the restaurant owner previously mentioned is a case in point. Now, the restaurateur has to be able to make a profit, too, obviously. And we are not a large producer, so we cannot afford to offer volume discounts; nevertheless, this spoke to me once again about how we value agricultural products. The restaurant owner would be willing to buy our eggs – as long as we were able to match the price of the eggs she was getting from the industrial agricultural producers, who receive government subsidies and thus have an unfair competitive advantage. It’s not that the industrial producer’s costs are lower than ours – on the contrary, due to the high rates of disease, contamination, and the vast quantities of petroleum and chemicals used in their production and distribution methods, their costs are often HIGHER than ours – it’s the fact that they are subsidized by the government, and so they can sell their product “cheaper” and still make a “profit”. The government may just as well take my money and give it directly to Tyson, or Jimmy Dean, or Con-Agra – that is, in effect, what they are doing anyway via the farm subsidy system. In addition, when you are producing thousands of eggs per day, one egg does not seem particularly “precious.” (Paula and I are concerned if our production drops by a couple of eggs a day.)

The result is that most consumers have no idea what it really costs to produce an egg, or a broiler chicken, or a head of lettuce. Their sense of value is skewed, and competition in the marketplace – the physical/economical, but also the marketplace of ideas – is suppressed. That’s the “real cost” of the farm subsidy system.

What a REAL Excercise Outfit Looks Like

On The Ridge we do a lot of mowing for functional exercise and I thought you might like to see the latest in mowing attire for serious lawn maintenance. My mowing get-up consists of a ball cap to contain my hair and shade my eyes. A bug net to keep out any pesky gnats that try to bite my eyes and fly in my open mouth when I’m panting from exertion. A long sleeved dress shirt to protect my arms from sunburn and bug bites. Knee braces because our yard is uneven and I’m not as young as I used to be. Normally I spare the neighbors by wearing jeans to cover my lovely legs. High topped hikers because 5 ½ hours is a lot of walking and twisting my ankles is no fun either. Gloves to protect my hands from blisters and sunburn. It’s not the most attractive outfit but each piece serves its function well. Happy Mowing!!



A Visit with our Congressman

Glenn Thompson visits Big Oak RidgeBig Oak Ridge had the privilege of hosting U.S. Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson on June 28th. The purpose of this gathering was to give local producers a chance to discuss with GT the ramifications of the Farm Bill, the Food Safety and Modernization Act, and other farm and Locavore related topics.

We had a small gathering of local producers and sustainably minded folks who would like to become producers. The visit started with a tour of The Ridge with Kenton discussing our farming methods and the reasons why we practice a carbon based, sustainable form of farming.

Some of the issues we discussed with GT were:

Restrictions on the use of compost in the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

Restrictions on the use of manure as fertilizer in the Food Safety and Modernization Act.

The lack of enforcement of COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling).

Glenn was attentive and responsive to the concerns of the group; in fact, he offered that the biggest problem with the Food Safety and Modernization Act is that it takes regulation of farming away from the USDA, where it has traditionally been, and hands it to the FDA, who know nothing about farming. (We did not try to establish the point that we don’t care much for the USDA and the Farm Bill, either, although we did “talk around” that a bit)

Glenn did side step the question about enforcing COOL, offering a brief statement that he was concerned about the impact of this measure on Canada and Mexico. He did not elaborate on those concerns.

I am more concerned about the fact (which I recently learned) that after Rachel Carson’s landmark research on DDT, and the resulting legislation to ban this horrific poison in the United States, many countries continued to use Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs), and many third world and lesser developed countries still do. I want to know where the food in the United States comes from.

Glenn also makes no secret of the fact that he is a big believer in GMO as a means to feed the world, he supports the industrial agriculture model, and he is skeptical of the ability to produce abundance using local, natural, carbon based methods. Nevertheless, we were able to communicate the fact that it is important to safeguard family farms, small producers, and consumer rights while attempting to control the sometimes virulent diseases, pollution, and other problems endemic to industrial farming methods.

We enjoyed a lunch consisting mainly of locally grown foods. Roasted chicken, butternut squash, green beans, applesauce and pretzel salad made with fresh local berries were among the treats served that day.

I appreciated Glenn’s willingness to come and meet with us. Please continue to raise your concerns to your elected representatives, continue to fight for Food Freedom, make sure you vote at the ballot, and also vote with your dollars!

Our First Harvest Hosts Guests

DSC_0819DSC_0807We had our first Harvest Hosts guests last weekend. Shawn and Donna spent the night with us and were brave enough to park their massive motorhome along Bowman Road. We had a great dinner on the deck and enjoyed making some new friends. We hope their travels will bring them this way again some day.

The Gardens Are In!!!

Almost one month to the date after arriving home from Japan, we can safely say that the gardens are officially all planted!! This morning I finished up the  two beds in Garden #2- a bed of kidney and great northern beans plus a bed of mixed greens, more carrots and beets.
Garden #1 consists of 25 – 18 foot beds and includes: asparagus, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, peas, carrots, beets, onions, celery, spinach and lettuce. Garden #2 is 10 – 30 foot beds and includes: sweet potatoes, green beans, soup beans (kidney, northern and pinto), butternut squash, more tomatoes, carrots, beets, and greens. I also seeded an area with broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds; hoping to get a fall crop of those.
Net on the project list is additional fencing  and gates to protect our crops from critters and woodchips in the aisles to keep the weeds at bay.
Never a dull moment!
Until next time,

We’re Back!!

I realized that it has been over two months since our last blog post…time to catch up.
The beginning of April was a whirlwind of activity as we prepared for our month long trip to Japan. Falling into the category of “curveballs and monkey wrenches” was being sidelined for a week with kidney stone issues, which required some tests and a same day medical procedure three days before we flew. Fortunately, I was cleared for travel and we left April 17th for the land of the Rising Sun. After 26 hours of travel, we arrived at our daughter’s home on Yokota Air Force Base.
During our month long visit, we took the opportunity to observe local gardening practices. We would have enjoyed visiting one of these farms and talking to local farmers but our interpreter informed us that Japanese farmers were VERY protective about their land and it would be considered rude to ask one of them if you could infringe on this very private part of their lives.  So we had to be content to look from afar, guess what the crops where, and be intrigued by the interesting products and processes that they used. We did visit one open air market but never got a chance to actually visit a produce market. We visited several parks to check out the flora-beautiful!! We also got a chance to see a reproduction of a 100 year old silk worm farm-interesting! Our trip included a day trip to Mt. Fuji and a train trip to Kyoto where we met my youngest brother for  a lovely two day visit. We toured many temples and various sights of the city.
The highlight of our trip was witnessing the birth of our newest grandson, Jagger Kane. Our daughter delivered quietly at home early on April 28th. Jagger weighed a whopping 9 lbs 9 ozs and was 22 inches long. He was greeted in the morning by his siblings, Cougar, Armour and Sabre. We enjoyed spending many days with these dear little people.
We arrived back in the States on May 12th and were greeted by a solid week of rain. It certainly put a damper on our plans to launch into gardening season. We used the week to purchase supplies: peat moss, flower and vegetable plants, fruit trees and berry bushes. We ordered 10 tons of dirt, a truck load of mushroom compost and mapped out our plots.
The past two weeks have been nonstop activity from sun up to sun down…we have utilized every ounce of daylight before and after our “day jobs” to haul dirt, manure, and woodchips to build new garden beds and replenish existing ones. To date, we have Garden #1 totally refurbished and planted and Garden #2 is underway with hopes that it will be finished and planted by this weekend.
It has been a hectic, exhausting three weeks and the rest of the summer is booked  solidly… I’ll share more about that later and hopefully include some photos as soon as we have 10 minutes to sit down.
Until next time, Paula