It’s almost time!!

seedlings

Lettuce

Fiddle HeadsrhubarbThe season of farm fresh food is getting closer and closer, I can feel it in the air. Really, it’s the air that tips me off. My morning runs are starting to have the companionship of the barely rising sun. The air is crisp in the morning and warm by noon.  I can smell the best air smells of the whole year: the fresh cut grass, the blossoming trees, bushes, and flowers. I can smell the mulch and compost that’s helping it all along. The air says “The earth is growing things!! Take a deep breath and take notice!”

The farm is about five miles from my house. Not close enough to smell it but close enough to tell myself that it’s basically my backyard garden. So at this stage of the season I’m mostly dreaming and hoping about all that it will be this year. Ohhhhh I am hoping it is going to be a great peach year — I know Jeff is tending to the orchards, keeping them protected from the bugs that are always scheming. Karen has nearly perfected the covering the greens technique that has made spinach and bok choy and lettuce so beautiful and delicious. I can see in my minds eye all the baby growths in the greenhouse that will be transplanted soon. I hope there are summer squash really early and stay really late because I love them in pretty much everything.

I’m ready for salads. I’m ready for real spinach in my eggs in the morning instead of grocery store spinach. I’m ready to hang out in the barn and visit the chickens and make impulse buys of bread and cheese. I’m ready to plan my menus from the Farm’s emails and all that they promise. I’m ready to be at the farm and smell all the air that is there and full of life and energy and growth and love.

Farewell Summer, Hello Autumn

Guest post from Work Share member Kris. We love the enthusiasm she brings to the farm as well as her endless interest in “playing” with her food!

SFC_potatoes_sweet_labeledAs we say farewell to Summer favorites like corn, peppers, and tomatoes, we welcome warm and hearty vegetables into our share. Crops that have been growing strong all Summer long are now producing hefty fruits of their (our) labor! Winter squash, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, celeriac, and of course, dark leafy greens, are all making their way into the Autumn harvest and your shares. As sunlight diminishes and the air cools, we begin to desire something more satisfying than a light salad in our tummies. This is where our Autumn harvest comes in.SFC_parsnips_labeled
SFC_kale_lacinato_labeledMy favorite thing about the Autumn harvest is that many of these crops mingle well together. I encourage readers to get away from strictly following recipes, and instead experiment with your ingredients in basic cooking. For instance, try:
  • roasting your root vegetables with the winter squashes with a few garlic cloves thrown in
  • throwing everything into a crock pot to make a hearty stew.
  • wilting your leafy greens in a skillet then stirring them into spaghetti sauce or a frittata.
  • sauteing a medley of greens and squash, mix in your favorite dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, cranberries and winter squash are always good together!), and throw it all over some rice.
The possibilities are endless, and trying different combinations will keep your taste buds intrigued. Get out of your comfort zone and play with your food!
To help you along in your cooking adventures, here are some tips to make things easier:
  • Roasting: Chop up your vegetables into similar sizes. Use a flat cookie sheet with a lip (to give your vegetables onto more surface area). Roast at a fairly high temperature, around 400. Use a good high-temperature oil (extra virgin olive oil or grape seed oil). Go crazy with spices! Also, I like to add some Balsamic vinegar and/or honey, depending on the vegetables being roasted.
  • Squash: Sometimes winter squash can be a real bear when you want to make dinner quickly. You can get around this by cutting your squash in half (or quarters, depending on the size), scooping out the seeds and putting it in a microwave safe casserole dish with a little bit of water at the bottom (you want the skin side DOWN in the water). Cover with a piece of parchment paper, and cook on high for approximately 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. This speeds things along nicely when you are incorporating squash into a dish, but I wouldn’t recommend eating it straight from the microwave. You can then mash it, or fork out spaghetti squash noodles, or mix it into a warm salad. Another possibility is quickly sauteing it in some oil or butter; that will add nice texture and dimension to your squash. SFC_squash_spaghetti_labeled
  • Soups/Stews: I highly recommend a crock pot for soups and stews. There is nothing like throwing all of your ingredients into a crock pot in the morning, and then coming home from work to a fully cooked dinner. Again I would suggest chopping your vegetables into similar sizes. Don’t be shy with herbs and spices. Experiment with liquid bases–broth, water, wine, tomato sauce, vinegar, or juices, and be sure to try different combinations of each! Don’t leave out pureed soups, they can be wonderfully filling, yet exceptionally healthy if you use thickeners like beans or starches. Also, soups freeze well, so don’t be afraid to make a big batch. You’ll thank yourself later this winter!
  • Warm salads/sides: Start with a base: rice, noodles, quinoa, barley, hearty grains, or potatoes. Add vegetables: roasted, sauteed, wilted, or steamed. Pick a protein: meats, beans, nuts, seeds. Sprinkle in accents; dried fruits, herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, condiments, or sauces. Throw it all together and enjoy!
SFC_spinach_leaves_labeledSo welcome fall with open arms (and empty stomachs!);it is not the end of the growing season, but the beginning of a new harvest! Have fun, and good luck on your food journey!

“Sexy Seconds” from Vollmecke Orchards & Insomnia Kitchen

Guest blogger and longtime work share member Tracy M. gives us a peek into what goes on in Insomnia Kitchen…

Why do I call my kitchen “Insomnia Kitchen”?  Those who know me, know my brain doesn’t shut off at night, so I tend to drag myself into the kitchen to get myself doing something productive, instead of just watching TV!

farm secondsI have been working at Vollmecke Orchards for over two years now as a “Work Share Member,” which means that you basically trade “sweat equity” for your lovely CSA share.  I found Vollmecke Orchards while looking for volunteer opportunities and was thrilled to hear that this was an option.  I soon learned that the people there were absolutely fantastic people, that I immediately fell in love with!  We laugh till we cry, talk about food—eat/share all the time, and find a great sense of peace in just being there. Farmer Karen is great about hooking up the lunch table with a great “lunch melon” or gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, and sometimes will crack out some of the wonderful bread and cheese that we sell from Stoudt’s Wonderful Good Market, which is also a wonderful local brewery!!

Since we tend to have some beautiful fruits and veggies at the farm that are amazing in flavor, but just do not look so pretty, we try to have fun with our “Seconds”.  Sometimes it just takes a little extra time to cut off the bruises/scars/soft spots, but the money you can save by purchasing seconds is outstanding!!  I occasionally get sent home with “homework,” with Farmer Karen knowing she will get to taste the results at an upcoming farm lunch.  I am happy to spend time in the kitchen trying to find some new fun things for my lovingly named “test monkeys,” who all are very adventurous eaters!  We tend to walk up to each other holding something out and say “hey, eat this,” and sometimes we ask what it is, sometimes we ask afterwards!

This week I decided to try out some new recipes. For the carrot seconds, I read about a very simple cold salad that I needed to try.  The best thing about organic veggies, you really don’t need to peel them, just a good bath and scrub down will do.  I shredded the carrots, added fresh crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, fresh chopped cilantro, cumin seeds, and tossed with some honey and rice wine vinegar.

carrot seconds      carrot relish with bag

Next I went to the Squash. I have been loving a recipe for very simple zucchini pickles, which is sweet and simple, and last a month in the fridge without even canning them. They are not super crazy pickling, and more of a sweet and sour deliciousness!

ugly zukezuke pickles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then the squash needed a sweeter side!! Farmer Karen handed me a huge Zuke that shredded down perfectly, just over the 2 cups I needed to make the Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake. You may notice that I omitted the chopped nuts, and surely did not measure the chocolate chips that go on top.  Super moist cake!

zuke shredszuke cake mixzuke cake done

Next was to deal with the sad state of the beans.  We were hand sorting out the string beans, and lamenting the fact that the Mexican bean beetles had made these delicious, crisp, and otherwise amazing little beans look like crap with the stupid nibbles here and there.  I figured that I would need to find a great way to hide the “non-perfectness” of them, so I thought maybe a relish?  None of us have had such a thing that was not a salad-type recipe, so I went to the wonderful world of Google and found a recipe for Green & Yellow Bean Relish.

ugly beanschop green beansgreen bean relish beforegreen bean relish cooking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had this today for farm lunch and shared with the CSA members for a fun happy hour.  I thought it would be fun to cook up some of those “Little Smokies” hot dogs that you buy for under a buck at Amelia’s Grocery Market, popped a toothpick into them, and drizzled on the relish!!  Even Farm dog Izzy got to savor a few hotdogs from heaven!

Make sure you check out our “Seconds Section” whenever you are at the farm.  Look past the ugly, and on to the tasty!!
Cheers!  Tracy

LETTUCE!

Green Summer Crisp

Green Summer Crisp

green forest romaine

Green Forest Romaine

Nancy butterhead

Nancy Butterhead

Nevada

Nevada

Red Cherokee

Red Cherokee

Two star

Two Star

Vollmecke has an abundance of lettuce right now, but it won’t be around for much longer, so make sure to get the most of it. Although lettuce is one of those vegetables that is heavily associated with one dish (salad), don’t let that limit you. Lettuce has a lot of untapped potential. At most grocery stores, you will find “green,” “red,” and perhaps some romaine or iceberg. Here at Vollmecke Orchards, we grow many kinds that are too delicate to withstand shipping and storage, so you will only find them here. Our favorite? Nancy Butterhead!

So what to do with this abundance? Here are a few ideas:
  • Make WRAPS! Instead of a tortilla, use a giant lettuce leaf! Much healthier, and adds some crunch. Try these lettuce wraps, based on the delicious ones served at P.F. Changs.
  • Juice it! Combine it with some strong fruits in your next juice or smoothie. Because lettuce has a subtle flavor, it won’t make your juice taste like liquid lettuce. This is a great way to stay hydrated!
  • Shred it and add to dips! Lettuce is especially good with Mexican themed dips, like seven layer or enchilada dip.
  • Put it on a sandwich! This seems obvious, but I know I sometimes forget about adding lettuce to sandwiches. Great way to eat your vegetables without overwhelming the meal.
  • Grill it! Yes, grill it!! Marinate in some Italian dressing and throw a whole head on the grill. Excellent BBQ/picnic side! Here is a Grilled Caesar Salad recipe. If it sounds like a lot of work, just substitute your favorite dressing for Casar dressing.
  • Make Soup! I know it sounds odd, but a fresh spring lettuce soup is actually quite delicious.
  • PRESERVE IT! You can actually freeze lettuce. We don’t recommend this for all of your lettuce, but don’t let it rot in the fridge just because you can’t eat it fast enough. If you feel like your lettuce is getting close to the end of it’s life, follow these instructions and save it for later (keep in mind the texture may be compromised).
To make sure your lettuce lasts as long as possible, you will want to store it correctly (click here to see how to store other veggies).  We recommend washing lettuce right before you eat it in order to maximize shelf life. But if you do want to give it a quick rinse, dry it THOROUGHLY before storing in a loose plastic bag. OR you can put taller head lettuce in an upright pitcher with a little bit of water (like so: picture). Both options will help your lettuce stay tasty and fresh longer.
Do you have any interesting or unique recipe ideas? Lettuce know!

Hail Storm Missed the Farm…Whew

We saw the ominous dark storm clouds looming off to the North last Thursday evening, hours after we finished planting 100s of cucumber and squash seedlings. The weather seemed unstable and we had an eye to the sky. We watched as the wind picked up and the clouds released some rain over us, but thankfully no hail.

We later heard Chester Springs, Exton and West Chester all suffered a considerable amount of damage due to a heavy hail storm. This is every farmer’s worst nightmare, and one we were very thankful to avoid! Hail can absolutely devastate vegetable plantings and fruit trees alike. We have a lot of seedlings in the ground and plenty more lined up on the transplant wagon. All is okay for now, and we will certainly be keeping our fingers crossed in the coming days and weeks that these crazy storms continue to avoid us!

How Has Weather Affected the Farm?

… and your food?

Like many folks in the Northeast, we got walloped by a huge ice storm early in February, and like many, we lost a lot of trees. A number of our elderly peach trees broke under the weight of the ice, but it was the white pines bordering the neighborhood to the East that took the biggest hit. Two large evergreens in front of our tenant houses also were badly damaged and will need to be removed. To date, we have spent several weeks cleaning up all the damage, with many limbs still stacked in big piles awaiting chipping. All of this needs to be cleaned up before the grass grows too high, making the job even tougher. This has given us a lot of added work to do in our already busy Springtime rush. I know many people in our area are experiencing the same thing–we just might have more than the average homeowner.

All the snow we had this Winter also kept us from getting to some of the outdoor projects we had planned on tackling in our “off season”. It did not, however, keep us from pruning the apple orchard–this was just a lot more effort, having to hike through the snow to get there!

The cold temperatures and Winter snow blanket have led to a delayed Spring this year–which appears to be two to three weeks behind what we think of as “normal” in our area.  In addition to the lateness of the season, we had almost 6 inches of rain that saturated already wet soil. Some plantings were washed out by this rain, and will have to be sown again. We have thousands of seedlings that have been transplanted to the fields between rain storms. The greenhouses are still stuffed full of plants waiting their turn to head out into the great outdoors. We are really hoping that this week will be sunny, and that the fields will dry enough to do the many essential early season farm tasks that will set the stage for the next wave of planting. Come on sunshine!

Because Mother Nature has been a little rough on us these past few months, we have decided to move the start date of the CSA season back a week, to the second week of June. This will allow our crops to mature just a little more before we start sending them out to you and your families. We are disappointed, as we expect some of you to be as well, however, we think the wait will be worth it once we are rewarded with the beautiful, delicious, fresh produce of Spring.