Category Archives: From the garden

Local food happy dance

Zucchini picture courtesy of MorgueFile

Zucchini picture courtesy of MorgueFile

In high summer, serving a nearly 100% upstate NY meal was pretty easy.

Easy, that is, provided I shopped at Farmers Markets and farmstands instead of at the grocery store.  I will say that my little local grocery store has begun to carry quite a few organic brands, and has made an effort to carry some local produce.  Last summer, I asked an employee at our wonderful Rochester supermarket chain, Wegmans, how I could identify local produce sold in the store, and he could find only corn and cherry tomatoes for me.  Which is a start, but the paucity of the offerings seemed silly, considering that local farms were brimful of summer squash, herbs, new potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and so on.

But I have discovered two wonderful Farmers Markets near me.  The Rush Farmers Market, on Thursday afternoons, usually has 5-8 vendors with booths set up.  I’ve purchased lovely fruit & veggies, baked goods, and flowers.  The berries and peaches this week were wonderful.  The Brighton Farmers Market is a much larger affair, offering fruit & veggies, organic landscape plants, herbs & herbal preparations (courtesy of Honeoye Falls’ own Lavender Moon,) honey, granola, baked goods, cheese, and pasture-fed poultry and meat.   There are often musicians playing, and there’s a porta-potty!  (This is VERY important when visiting right after breakfast, or if you intend to sample the fair trade coffee.)

Tonight’s dinner featured these local foods:

  • ham
  • sauteed zucchini, green beans, garlic, onion, and pattypan squash
  • oven-roasted potatoes
  • blueberries & peaches

The zucchini & green beans were from my own garden.  The ham was from Aberdeen Hill Farms, which offers meat from pasture-fed animals.  (This is what my family calls “happy” ham.)  The only non-local ingredients were salt, pepper, and olive oil.   And it wall all YUM!

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Garden update

I decided to become a more serious gardener & a better manager of my home this year.  (All plans were derailed when my school district’s library department actually got a site visit for the NSLMPY award (which we won…go, Bulldogs!) and I discoverd the joys of Twitter.  Excuses, excuses.)  But now that’s it’s summer, I have time to revisit those plans.

Our garden is a manageable size for a family with two adults working full time and two teenagers with many interests & activities.  We have four raised beds this year, and a 10 x 15 foot area in the middle of the lawn turned over to pumpkins and six hand-me-down heirloom tomato plants.  The raised beds make weeding much easier, though I will admit that last year the lovely warm wood of the sides of the bed attracted hornets, which nested under the veggies and seriously deterred me from weeding.

I’ve already started a list of “things I will do better next year.”

  • I will NOT plant 3 cilantro plants, because it takes over the bed.
  • I will plant the dill somewhere else in the yard, because it’s huuuuuge!
  • 4 eggplant plants is too many for a house in which I am the only really enthusiastic eggplant eater.
  • Walnut trees + tomatoes = wilt.  I had no idea why our tomatoes always seem to give up the ghost about the first week in August, and now I know.  I will have to consider the solution–maybe growing all my tomatoes in containers, instead of in the ground?
  • I will not go completely insane when ordering seeds from Seed Savers.  (But all the pictures are so PRETTY!  Picking just one kind of bean can’t be done; it’s like eating only one potato chip.)
  • I will keep weeding.

On the “home manager” front, I really want to  make sure I don’t waste food.  I read a marvelous book just recently called What the World Eats, by writer Faith D’Alusio and photographer Peter Menzel.  They share the revolting statistic that families in the US waste about 14% of the food we buy.  One of my goals this year is wasting less, by composting, buying what we’ll eat right away, and making sure leftovers are eaten.

Good goals.  Now let’s see if I can do it!

The Great Pumpkin

A few years ago, my mother gave me a recipe for a pumpkin dessert–pumpkin ice cream, I think–and I remember being amused that it started out with directions on how to cook the pumpkin.  I mentally classed this activity as being among those things only earnest Martha Stewart-types attempted, like making hand-embroidered gift tags or mining your own salt.

We had a stunningly unsuccessful squash crop in the garden this year.  A couple of years ago, we had about 36 pumpkins, and lots of zucchini and spaghetti squash.  Last year, the entire crop died in the space of about two weeks from powdery mildew.  This year, though I saw lots of blossoms, we got exactly two zucchini and three small pumpkins.  Oh, and we had two spaghetti squash, which Gene ran over with the lawn tractor.  Oops.

We bought 5 enormous pumpkins at a farm stand down in Allegany County, on our way home from Friendship.  The girls carved two, and I roasted some very tasty pumpkin seeds.  The other pumpkins sat there, looking at me accusingly whenever I went through the door, so yesterday, I finally decided to try cooking one of the little ones. First, though, I had to figure out what to do with this mysterious vegetable. When we carve pumpkins for Halloween, the taste treat I anticipate is the seeds, roasted and seasoned, not the pumpkin itself.  I can figure this out, I thought, after all, I am an information professional!  I went in search of reference material.

The first cookbook I went to told me to “treat a pumpkin like a winter squash.” This was singularly unhelpful, as my experience of winter squash involves eating what my daughter turns into pie, and what other people serve me at Thanksgiving.  This type of squash apparently grows in 15-ounce cans or rectangular 10-ounce boxes.   I tried two more cookbooks, which told me how to make pumpkin bread (from canned pumpkin) and how to make pumpkin soup (“puree some cooked pumpkin.”)

I headed to the laptop and the Web, where the mystery was solved.  It turned out to be very simple. The cooked pumpkin was a lovely yellow-orange color, lighter than canned pumpkin, and made divinely moist pumpkin bread.  (Mary:  “Gee, Mama, look–one of the loaves didn’t come out of the pan very neatly.  There’s a chunk out of the bottom.  WHAT a pity!  We’ll have to eat it.”  Rachel:  “Yeah, what a shame.”)  I remember that Mma Ramotswe, in the series by Alexander McCall Smith, likes to cook pumpkin for her family.  I wonder how ladies in Botswana prepare pumpkin?

Cooking a pumpkin: Wash the pumpkin.  Cut off the top, scoop out the guts (save the seeds for roasting,) and hack the pumpkin into pieces about the size of your hand.  Put them in a baking pan, and pour in about 3 cups of water.  Cover with lid, or failing that, aluminum foil.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until the pumpkin is tender enough to be easily piered by a fork.  Carefully take it out of the oven (the water will be boiling!)  When it’s cool enough to handle, scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the tough skin.   Then you can mash it up or puree it, and–holy cow–you can use it just like canned pumpkin!!!!

Next:  mining my own salt.