December 20, 2006

The other night I decided it was time. I had grown all this miniature, ornamental popcorn, and the cute little (mostly corn earworm damaged) corncobs were in their basket in all their colorful glory. Pinks, tans, reds, yellows and blues……..but would it make popcorn? I was sure it wouldn’t. I had put off this very moment because I didn’t want to admit I had a basket full of useless corncobs. It took a few minutes to rub the kernels into a pot, about 3 corncobs did the job. Then I added a little oil, just like I remember my mother doing (I am halfway between the stovetop and the microwave popcorn generations). I put it on the fire, and I’ll be darned if in a few minutes I heard popping. I felt elated, like a little kid at Christmas……I just couldn’t believe it worked. A little more time and I had a pot of little bitty popcorns, each one about half the size of what one would be used to eating. The taste was very good, and there was even a bit of color left on the everted kernel. We added melted butter and grated parmesan cheese………..tasty. The next day I mentioned my personal victory to my coworker and CSA subscriber, Kathryn. Who proceeded to inform me that her daughters had a much easier method–they tossed the entire corncob into the microwave and let them all blow up in there while watching the show through the window. I haven’t tried that yet, but I will. When you grow your own food, the fun never stops! And I’m saving lots of seed, so that I can have a regular fleet of popcorn next year……….

December 4, 2006

Last night we visited friends for a dinner and socializing instead of the usual workdays. The meal was simple, but all of us there realized that we were eating something that isn’t to be had in this day and age. The point of this meal was to trot out (and enjoy for ourselves for a change) our own farm and ranch products.

A large slab was laid out, covered with hand-reared angus beef all cut at least 2 inches thick. The flavor and texture was better than the best prime beef I’ve ever eaten. We learned later that we were eating the chuck roast. So, a completely mediocre cut on that steer was better than the best good cut I’ve ever sampled. Then was the heritage hog, again cut two inches thick. Beautiful smoky flavor……and then the Montana trout and the split pheasants. The fruit salad was entirely grown in Arbuckle, with kiwi, persimmon, asian pear, and summer blackberries, with a few small additions from the store (somehow we’ve never figured how to grow pineapples out back).

I couldn’t help but think how 3-4 generations ago, the meal wouldn’t have been unusual. But to have a spread on the table in which the people eating actually know exactly where it all came from……it was a tasty treat, and a reminder that even though our lives are filled with hard work, we eat very well! 

December 1, 2006

Our biggest news has nothing to do with farming: Monday night we performed Handel’s "Messiah" onstage at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco with the San Francisco Sinfonietta. I remember seeing concerts there when in high school and daydreaming about what it might be like to perform in a world-class concert hall. What a dream come true! The experience of hearing your own voice both go out into the hall and bounce back at you…unforgettable. It’s been a long road. There was a time I couldn’t string 3 notes together or sing higher than a B above middle C, and something like 25 years of work has turned me into a respectable amateur soprano. It’s proof that when you work at your dreams, they can happen. So after our evening in lights, it was back to the farm……

The sun no longer gives much warmth, and the wind blows bitterly cold here–it’s not officially winter yet, but it may as well be. As I sat down to think on what to write about, I continue to realize how busy of a time we just went through. Our turkey sales are all but over, and they were basically a success. My guess is that this year, we only broke even. But that was on account of us having had no idea what we were doing. We’re grateful to the customers we had who were willing to give us a try. We know that each and every one of them had an absolutely great turkey to eat (or if not, it wasn’t for lack of love and effort on our part!). We learned so much that in hindsight, it seems blazingly obvious what things we should have done differently, or not at all. Next year there will be better organization, better tools to work with, a more ergonomic setup, and probably a different pricing system. We realized, I think, how unique we are and that we and Wind Dancer Ranch (our turkey partners) are really the only people around for hundreds of miles that offer this particular kind of product. It is possible to purchase a heritage turkey elsewhere, but not one raised and…sent into the next world… like ours are. Our customers have birds that had an incomparable quality of life all the way through. Shoot, try and even FIND a turkey to eat that hatched under it’s mother’s wings and never knew any other life than running happily amok on one farm, gorging on berries and grass and seeds and nuts, until it became dinner. I’m proud to say, we have something special to give, and we appreciate the people out there who in turn appreciate our focus. I do know that in all the discussion that followed this year’s adventure, there is one issue I won’t budge on–how many turkeys we’ll raise each year. We have our quality because our flocks are small. Each bird gets personal attention. If we were to follow some well-meant suggestion and begin raising hundreds of birds, then we’d be just like everyone else. And, that just isn’t what we ever want. We will stay small, the quality will stay at the very highest, and that’s that. Life often requires compromise, but it won’t be in Turkeyland. Winter has surprised me. I thought we would have to shut down our produce CSA program due to lack of…..produce. I couldn’t imagine what there would be to offer this time of year, with the tomatoes gone and all the summer veggies a distant memory. As it turns out, there is still a lot going on. Pomegranates, asian pears, apples, walnuts, pecans, limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, persimmons, onions…..and they are all soooooo good. The locally grown asian pears in particular are the sweetest, crispiest things I’ve ever had. Winter jobs that don’t have to do with our greenhouse or garden are rearing their ugly heads. I had to start in on the annual berry cane pruning last weekend. I just DETEST this job. Hours of bending down and yanking out canes and trying to figure which ones to cut and digging up ones that have rooted…I worked for 5 hours last Saturday and only did about 1/10 of the hedge. Admittedly, that included the demonic thorny boysenberries, but the pace is maddeningly slow. The only upside was discovering that our asparagus, for reasons known only to it, is sending up new asparagus and that it’s pretty tasty. Of course, that’s just another chore–I need to transplant our entire asparagus patch because like an idiot I planted it wayyyy to close to the berries. That was all done the first year we were here, and I didn’t know any better. Otherwise, we are currently mapping our orchard to see what and how many fruit/nut trees to plant for 2007. We have decided to stop fiddling around with a few trees here and there–we have an opportunity via our friend Drew to fully plant all open spots with trees…..and we’re going to go there. Besides, it HAS to go better than it did this year, which was a disaster for our home orchard. Time to go work on that map…..