Return to the Farm

Hello,

it has been ten days since any blog activity on my part. I have been in Nashville on “vacation” and upon returning I have not quite gotten back into the blogging rhythm. Nevertheless there is good stuff on the way. I say it is on the way because it is not quite here yet. This week there will be a look at our newest harvests, canning demonstrations, and perhaps even a book review! Until those blogs arrive, here is a picture of an eggplant to tide you over.

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Jamison Farm: Visiting the Sheep

Over the weekend a few of us drove out to Latrobe, PA to visit our friends at Jamison Farm. I have mentioned Jamison previously in reference to their delicious lamb. John and Sukey Jamison are our “next tent neighbors” at the Ligonier Farmer’s Market. They raise a flock of sheep and lambs on about 200 acres of rolling hills less than an hour away from us.   Here is what we saw!

Turning off the main road down a long gravel driveway, the hills of Latrobe have noticeably longer arcs than those in Indiana county. They are not as steep and seem to stretch out further than the hills at Reeger’s farm.

Sukey explained to us that there was a hole in the fence somewhere along the way. This sheep seems to have made use of this exit. Doesn’t he look guilty? Maybe that is why we say people are looking “sheepish”. I don’t mean to make a pun, but seriously, some of these guys acted pretty guilty.

Walking up from the house we found a number of sheep and lambs grazing at the top of the hill. Most were taking a break from the sun under the trees. Sukey explained that their coats are getting pretty thick and they are due for a shearing pretty soon!

For 9 months out of the year the sheep are grazing freely on the hills of Jamison Farm, and in the winter they are brought indoors. While sheep generally breed in autumn, this can lead to difficulties for a shepherd who must manage lambing along with the wintering of the flock. The cold winter months can be and extra stress upon ewes that are lambing. So John and Sukey generally delay the breeding time until the Spring is bringing warmer weather.

Jamison Farm ships world-class quality lamb to customers all around the country including a number of fine restaurants. Above is the packing and shipping barn that finishes off Jamison Farm’s fine operation. You may be wondering what happens in the steps between the pasture and the packing barn. John and Sukey process all of their own lambs in a building nearby, but not directly located on the farm. On the day we visited John was managing the processing, so Sukey (above, talking with Mary) gave us the tour!

At the end of our tour Sukey showed us their remarkable farm house. I believe it was built near the end of the 19th century. From my understanding the floor plan was common among farm houses at the time. The old farm house at Reeger’s Farm that grandmother lives in is striking similar to John and Sukey’s. The two are a mirror image of one another.

Along with selling at Ligonier Farmer’s Market and shipping, Jamison Farm also hosts a number of small events in their own home serving a delicious dinner made with, you guessed it, their very own lamb! And even for us, visitors stopping by for a short visit, Sukey made some oatmeal cookies that were great! Thanks John and Sukey!

Interested in more information? Check out http://www.jamisonfarm.com/

Jalapeño Watermelon Popsicles!

There isn’t really any way to explain this. We have this popsicle freezing box and Maggie has been trying out some wicked recipes this summer. Most recently Jalapeño Watermelon. We were hoping to use on of our watermelons, but they are not quite ready, but we did get the jalapeños from our pepper fields! I guess the best way to illustrate this treat is to show you the community taste test!

Chris enjoys a popsicle

Chelsea enjoys a popsicle. Sawyer does his baby impersonation.

Paul enjoys a popsicle

Maggie enjoys a popsicle. Way to go, Maggie!

I enjoy a popsicle. Can you see the green?

Elliot enjoys vanilla custard with Hershey’s syrup.

Carter inadvertently discovers planking.

Blackberry Jam

About three times a week, we wander through our wild blackberry patch behind the greenhouse searching for a very elusive treat. I believe there is an element of treasure hunting in such a place that is not found in more carefully maintained farming operations.

To compare, the blueberry patch is well groomed, organized in rows containing consistent varieties so that the row gets ripe all at once. When we pick blueberries it is easy to discern whether a bush is worth picking, or if we should move on to a more heavily producing row. In the blackberry patch there is no such neat order. The branches and brambles shoot out wildly in all directions. Some parts of the patch have thick, mature branches, and other parts have smaller limbs. Yet this thickly grown patch would not be so treacherous were it not for one more element:

Look beyond the inviting fruits and threatening jaggers are looming!

They go by many names. Carter calls them jaggers. Thorns. Stickers. Needles. or my personal favorite: “OUCH!!” If it were not for these, we would simply tromp through, grab the berries, and get out. But the reality is a much more ginger operation. We twist and wince and reach and duck all in a quest for the plump, sweet blackberry! There is much agony. From across the patch you hear, “Aaughgh!” Carter, when he comes to work with us, will always ask, “what?” “What do you think, Carter!?” is the common response these days. “got jagged?,” he offers.

For all of the toil and pain, I consider blackberries one of my favorite foods to harvest. They are also one of my favorite to eat! Below is a look into the canning process of some jam that Mary, Maggie, and Brittany (Maggie’s friend) made. I will admit here for everyone that I helped none at all. Yet here are the pictures.

They heated up these lids. I am not exactly sure what that means.

This is kind of a funny sight. I imagine these jams are just hanging out in a hot tub, talking about the weather.

 

The Last Blueberry Cobbler

We have had a good blueberry season. It was my first blueberry season, at that, and I can say I have enjoyed it in many ways. First, I love picking blueberries. It is a very soothing task and allows lots of thinking room. I have written at least one good song in my head while picking blueberries. Second, blueberries are delicious. I don’t think anything quite compares to the way a handful of berries tastes right off the branch. They aren’t cold from the fridge or soggy like store-bought berries. They are crisp and refreshing.

Third, there is blueberry cobbler. We have made quite a number of cobblers this season and every time we do I say, “Aw, man, I should have documented that.” We have made black and blue cobbler (with blackberries too) and blueberry-peach cobblers. We have done a bit of variation on the recipe and here at the end, I feel I can do OK making cobbler. Last week we picked our last blueberries. The season is almost finished and it isn’t cost effective for us to pick the few remaining berries, which are rather small. So before the berries were gone for the year I decided to make one last cobbler just for you, reader! Check it out!

The stage is set!

Spices!

The dough

The first and second layers!

This unidentifiable mix is what we call the glaze. Translation: sugar and cornstarch to make the top of this cobbler CRISPY!

I sift the glaze

The final step, which I still don’t understand, is to mysteriously pour boiling water on top of the whole thing! Don’t ask me why, but it works!

Say goodbye to a mushy mystery!

Say hello to crispy cobbler!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oats

My knowledge of grain crops is limited. Of the steps involved in growing, harvesting, and processing grains I know very little. But this week I got a glimpse of part of this process. Already I have shared about my combine ride. After the oats were harvested with the combine, they were poured into the container shown below to dry out. The pipe coming out from the oats is presumably a dehumidifier of sorts. Even in dry weather a field of oats is bound to hold moisture. And when much of this field is condensed into a smaller area, this moisture is bound to be more substantial. So before much else happens the oats must be aerated.

The oats being aerated!

I was disappointed to find I could not simply pop this handful of oats into my mouth. Each grain is still covered by a thin shell. Shelling oats by hand, I was able to eat about 3 in a minute. While the sample was hardly enough to taste, I did recognize a characteristic “oatsy” flavor for a brief moment.

Combine Harvesting

Bill Reeger, Mary’s brother who manages the grains side of the farm, grows a field of oats every season. It isn’t a cash crop for us; we use the stalks for straw and the seed is sown on our fields in the late fall as a cover crop for the winter. A number of times this week I had written to friends telling about the golden oat field behind our house. When I arrived in May it was only a few feet tall and green. Now is had turned color and if you had asked me I wouldn’t have had any idea if it was ready to harvest. Lo and behold, this week I was working in the market when I looked out the window and saw a new sight!

Bill was making passes across the field and back in his combine, harvesting the oats. From what I could tell he was only going to have to make about 6 passes so I ran out to see if I could ride along before he was done. Bill obligingly let me take the passenger seat, which makes for a great blog!

I climbed this ladder/walkway up to the cabin.

Here is the view from inside the combine.

As we rode along Bill explained to me a bit about the process at hand. I will relay knowledge to you that is quite new to me. The machine we were riding in is called a combine because it performs two functions: cutting the stalks and separating the grain from the stalks. It combines these two tasks which, before the development of the combine, were done by separate machines. The combine is essential for harvesting corn, wheat, soybeans, and oats on a large scale.

The wheel piece on the front of the combine has wheels on either side that  follow the counter of the field so the grain is cut on an even plain. Once the wheel cuts the oats it pulls them into the combine. This is where my explanation gets fuzzy but I’ll do my best. Inside the belly of the machine there is a barrel-like chamber where the grain is separated from the stalk. There is some kind of apparatus within the chamber that separates the grain. This apparatus can be adjusted depending on the type of grain being separated. The setting will be different for wheat than for oats and different still for soybeans. After the oats are separated the chaff is released out the back of the combine through a chute and onto the field. From there it can be collected for straw or left to return to the soil. The grain is stored right behind the driver’s cabin.

You can see the oats through the back window.

Here is Bill, master of the combine.

The field after the harvest.

Here is Bill checking on the oats he just harvested.