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Monday Record June 13, 2011

Rain. Downpours. But the intrepid Garden Club of Amherst members were undaunted. I met them for a tour of the Elsa Bakalar/Scott Prior garden. In the background you can see that the old rhododendrons in back of the house near the woodland path are still blooming. The daffodils are long gone

It’s iris season in the garden right now. The Siberians don’t mind how much rain they get.

Of course, there are other bloomers right now like these pink poppies, a verbascum – and blue irises. A whole different palette will be in bloom during the Franklin Land Trust Farm and Garden Tour on June 25 and 26.  For full information click here.

The rain was sporadic in the afternoon, but I had to finish baking and dousing the Pina Colada cake for a Hawaiian themed Gourmet Club. Delish!  Downpours continued on Sunday morning which allowed me to go out and spread some rose fertilizer knowing it would be well watered in. Two inches or more of rain!  Damp and cold, but I got finished pruning out all the winterkill on the roses, and weeded the herb bed.

Blanc Double de Coubert rugosa

Every day a new rose begins to bloom. Roses love good spring rains.

All the rain is just what the gardens needed. I could see this second planting of greens and radishes grow in front of my eyes.

Fresh picked salad with supper, topped off with the last piece of my husband’s birthday cake – and local strawberries.

Hen House #2 – Mine

Our henhouse 12-2

When we moved into our house I was thrilled that there was also a hen house in the back yard.  The building is about 30 feet long, divided into three sections. We store the feed, kept in metal garbage cans, as well as bales of shavings, in the first section. We also brood our chicks in that section when they arrive around the first of June. There is a chicken door that allows the chicks to go outdoors into a separate fenced yard when they get old enough.

Our henhouse, second section

The second section has egg boxes, waterers and feeders for the chickens. During the winter when the waterers freeze I rotate them through our house where they can thaw.

You can see that neither the exterior, nor the interior are objects of beauty.  However, the building is functional. We have used it ever since our first spring here in 1980.  You cannot really tell, but I do use the ‘deep litter’ technique.  I only clean the henhouse out once a year, in the spring. Over the summer and fall the bedding and the chicken manure build up and begin to compost. The manure and the composting  create some heat which helps keep the chickens warm in the winter. The manue and bedding also encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria that helps keep the chickens healthy, although their access to fresh air and sun are also important to their health. Everyone always comments on the rich yellow color of our eggs.

Our chickens in their yard

I throw cracked corn to the chickens outdoors every day. You can see we have a mixed flock. I have several Araucanas; they are not especially pretty, but they are great egg layers. Blue eggs!  They lay longer for us, into their second and third year.  I also have barred rocks, and New Hampshire Reds. I love having chickens because of the eggs, and because of knowing that our eggs come from happy and healthy chickens.

In case you were wondering about the third and longest section – that is not used. It is missing the end wall which was OK when we had pigs out there. Pigs only need housing for four or five months, but the space is not suitable for our hens.

I’ll be showing more hen houses built by some thoughtful people.  Don’t forget to leave comments on yesterday’s post to have a  chance at winning a copy of Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. today is my exact third blogoversary and I am celebrating the commenters who visit, and the other bloggers I have met over these past years. Please celebrate with me. This Giveaway ends Saturday at midnight, but two more books are coming through the generosity of Storey Publishing.

Real Pickles

When I met Dan Rosenberg, founder and owner of Real Pickles at the newly renovated building on Wells Street I got a shock. Looking into the bright new kitchen I understood the reality of what raw, fermented food means. There is no stove.

I have made pickles, which require no cooking, just brine, vinegar and seasoning. Then I’ve spent hours with the canning kettle to finish the preservation process.

Rosenberg has built a substantial pickle business in less than ten years using an ancient system that requires no vinegar, no stove, no canning.. For centuries, cultures all over the world have preserved food by pickling using a fermentation process. Instead of vinegar, ancient cultures learned that brining vegetables and allowing them to ferment for a few days created lactic acid which was a preservative.

Rosenberg follows that process, fermenting organic vegetables in big blue food grade plastic barrels, then puts them in glass jars. The filled jars are stored in the new cooler until time to ship them out to the 300 stores in the northeast selling Real Pickles.

How did a New Jersey boy, growing up in Morristown, and attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island end up in Greenfield making pickles?

Rosenberg majored in geology at Brown. He said his interest in environmental issues led him to think about our food system.

His interest in contra dancing, led him to Greenfield, “a mecca for contra dancers. There is no place like it in the world!” Rosenberg said.

While in town for contra dances he learned about Upinngil Farm and spent one summer working for Cliff Hatch who now grows cucumbers for him. That same summer he attended a workshop on pickling at the annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) meeting in Amherst. That was the beginning of his interest in naturally fermented pickles that have health benefits, as well as good flavor.

While he worked at other farms, and later as a manager at Iggy’s Bread in Boston he kept making pickles at home. It was while at Iggy’s, gaining business experience, that he got the idea for Real Pickles.

Rosenberg and his partner Addie Rose Holland moved to Montague in 2001, tending a big garden that supplied herbs for Real Pickles for five years before the farms took over. The Community Development  Corporation (CDC) provided the commercial kitchen necessary for the business until last year.

Last March, with the help of. Greenfield Savings Bank who gave them the mortgage, as well as financing help from the CDC and Equity Trust, Real Pickles bought a 12,000 square foot building on Wells Street, across from the CDC. Grants from the USDA and rebates from the utility company helped fund the substantial renovation. Rosenberg said, “It was exciting to see this 100 year old industrial building reveal its heavy timber post and beam construction.”

Rosenberg and his crew moved into the new energy efficient building last July, the same week the cucumber harvest arrived to be processed.  “It was a little nuts around here, but we made it happen. Fortunately we only had to move across the street.,” Rosenberg said.

Real Pickles has a staff of ten (including Rosenberg), who work year round, although the work schedule fluctuates with the seasons. During the busiest seasons part-time people are added. During the 2009 harvest  the crew processed 120,000 pounds of local organic produce in the new certified kitchen.

Rosenberg explained that Real Pickles is a certified food facility with permits from the Greenfield Department of Health and the State Division of Food and Drug, as well as registered with the federal FDA.. They receive periodic inspections from every level.

Rosenberg is committed to supporting a local healthy food supply which supports local farmers and a local economy. To do this he has to be a good businessman. “We do major sales forecasting, looking ahead nearly two years, because we have to work with our growers. They need to know how much to plant and we need to have enough pickles to get us into the second fall when new pickles will be available for sale.”

Of course there are inevitable crop failures or shortfalls. “Every year since we’ve started, we’ve run a tiny bit short of cucumber pickles. Last year Dave Chamutka in Whately said he hadn’t had such a bad year in 35 years of growing cucumbers. “It is really hard to find organic pickling cucumbers in the northeast. If we can’t find them, we just make less product,” Rosenberg said.

We have enjoyed Real Pickles at our house, and I like knowing that there are health benefits. Eating Real Pickles has similar advantages to eating yogurt. All those good bacteria working in our gut. Full information can be found on the website.

I’m not ready to emulate Rosenberg and have saurkraut and hot sauce with my eggs every morning, but my husband is always ready for sauerkraut and kimchi at lunch and supper.  I’m especially fond of the ginger carrots. Real Pickles are available at Foster’s, Green Fields Market and Hager’s Farm Stand.

Like Rosenberg I am happy to be able to eat locally in every season.


We may be buried in snow, but the Annual Spring Bulb Show  at Smith College opens on March 6 and runs until Sunday, March 21. Over 5000 bulbs of every variety will be in glorious bloom at the Lyman Plant House, open from 10 am to 4 pm every day.

Between the Rows    February 27, 2010

A Valentine Radish

Beauty Heart Radish

It seemed only appropriate to serve Beauty Heart radish at our Valentine’s dinner.

We were introduced to the beautiful pinky red radishes when we were living in Beijing where it is very popular. Members of my Women of China work unit brought some pickled Xin  Li Mei radish to a picnic outing. They called it Beauty Heart which I much prefer to Red Meat, as it is sometimes  called in seed catalogs. It is also called Watermelon radish for its ‘large’ size, green skin and red interior.

I have not been successful in growing Beauty Heart radish. I think my growing season is too short and cool. My book, Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for Garden and Kitchen by Joy Larkcom, says that it needs several months of warm weather, beginning when temperatures are reliably above 60 degrees. They are ready for harvest in about 80 days. She makes the point that growing them in an unheated hoop house provides ideal conditions. That explains why the Beauty Hearts I bought at Winterfare from  Red Fire Farm are so beautiful and delicious.  And why the ones I have tried to grow are such failures.

I originally thought these radishes were really turnips because of the size. I was wrong. I also thought the roses carved of vegetables on banquet tables were dyed turnips, but no, the petals are carved from Beauty Heart radishes, and as good to eat as they are a pretty decoration.

Sprouted Wheat Bread

Sprouted wheat bread

Bread is the staff of life. I love making bread in general, especially in winter when the oven helps warm the house, but in preparation for my sprouting workshop at the Northampton Winterfare on Saturday, Jan. 9, I decided to make sprouted wheat whole wheat bread. I got a good recipe from the Sprout People website, and the result is delicious.

The recipe made two loaves. One, the prettier one, went into the freezer so I can bring it with me to the workshop. I sliced into the other loaf to test it and make sure it was workshop worthy.  It is!  I sat down with a strong cup of tea and bread slathered with butter and a friend’s homemade blackberry jam. Hard to say which was crunchier, the spouted wheat or the blackberry jam, but so delicious – and nutritious.  Did you know that when a seed sprouts the amount of vitamins and protein and fiber increase in an amazing way!
Sprouted Wheat on FoodistaSprouted Wheat

Christmas Trees – of a sort

When we woke early on Christmas morning we immediately lit our Christmas tree, but we also admired the majestic yellow birch out in our field. This is the most notable tree in our landscape; it still shows the damage wrought by last year’s historic December ice storm.

It would be pressing a point to say that I did any gardening over the holiday weekend, but I did devote some time, energy and nerves to prepare another type of Christmas tree . . .

I began with a genoise jelly roll. It turned out beautifully, if I do say so.

Then I dusted  the jelly roll with confectioners sugar and rolled it up with waxed paper – while it was still warm. I got that tip from Martha Stewart last week.  While it cooled I made some chocolate butter cream and prepared three meringue mushrooms. The mushrooms were made in two pieces. The cap and stems were attached with the help of a little butter cream.  Making the butter cream look like tree bark is fun.

The finishing touch with spun sugar cobwebs. Caramelizing sugar so that it can be ‘spun’ isn’t hard, but you have to keep a close watch on that very hot sugar.

The Christmas log is all done!  Christmas with three trees – one in the field, one laden with lights and ornaments, and one on the table. We are still celebrating.

Apple Harvest

These apples may not be the most beautiful, but they are pretty sound inside which means I spent the afternoon peeling, chopping and boiling them down to make 5 quarts of apple butter, a delicacy I only discovered last year.

Two quarts have already been passed along to my oldest daughter and her family. They like apple butter on black pumpernickel bread, we like it on French toast.  There is hardly any way to use apples that is not delicious, in sauce, in stuffings, in chutney, in ‘mincemeat’, in oven pancakes, in pies, cakes and cookies. Oh, and you can eat them right out of hand.

Meet Me at the Roundhouse!

2nd Avenue Bakery, Turners Falls

2nd Avenue Bakery, Turners Falls

Replicas of The Roundhouse, built in 1899 were everywhere at this year’s Franklin County Fair which celebrated its 161st anniversary.  This edible version was a prize in the raffle supporting a major renovation of the roundhouse. It is a beautiful icon of the Fair which has shown off the handiwork and skills of farmers  and residents of the county for 110 years. Nowadays there is a midway with games and rides, but for me, the heart of the Fair is the Roundhouse, the cattle and sheep barns, the Youth Building – and the fundraising booths set up by various civic institutions to sell raffle tickets or sell pie or hot dogs.

I don’t can much anymore, but I think there is nothing more beautiful than a pantry full of home canned jams, jellies, pickles, fruits and vegetables.

Joanne Glier's quilt

Joanne Glier

And where do all the fruits and veggies in those jars come from?  From the labor and skill of gardeners like the one in this quilt made by Joanne Glier.  I don’t look quite so picturesque when I’m working in my garden, but when I look at this quilt I think about the ways I am connected to women, and men, in their gardens, and even when one of them puts aside the spade and rake to sit and puts artistic and needle skills to work.

Some gardeners just want to have fun!  They couldn’t even get these giant pumpkins into The Roundhouse. Earlier this year I got lots of advice about growing giant pumpkins.

Energy Efficient House Model

Energy Efficient House Model

There is a lot of history at the Fair, and proof that timeless skills endure. But there is also proof that we are looking forward.  This handsome model of an energy efficient house is the work of a 12 year old. The energy saving technologies are all documented in the accompanying paper.

At the same time, traditional skills are being passed down to the young generation who are learning care and patience, as in this prize winning quilt in the Youth Building.  Last week I attended the first meeting of the season of the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club where the display was of needlework projects, historic and current.  We got to hear stories about  girls working with their grandmothers. learning to knit and quilt, all the while maintaining strong family and community connections.

The Franklin Count Fair celebrated its 110th anniversary. Closer to home we celebrated another anniversary.

The Heath Gourmet Club celebrated its anniversary. 28 years of serving ourselves.  I tried to get an official portrait, but the crowd was already on their way to the dining room at Paul and Wendy’s and weren’t willing to waste much more time.  Pulled Pork, heirloom tomatoes with Sheila’s goat mozzerella, and Cowboy Salad were waiting. Two desserts. Heavenly lemon meringue pie and pound cake with local berries. The theme this time was generally ‘favorite summer dishes.’

A Final Harvest

The sun was shining when I went out to the garden, but temperatures were in the teens. It was past time to pick the last Brussels sprouts. I like to serve these, freshly picked, at Thanksgiving, but this year we will have them tonight, and give thanks for as long a season as we have had.

All Praise the Potato

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving feats I cannot imagine one table that will include potatoes. In my family we always have mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes.

We don’t often think about the value of the potato; it is so basic to our diet. Many think of meat and potatoes as the beginning of any menu, but it was not always so.

The potato originated in Peru 4,000 or 7,000 or possibly even 14,000 years ago. The Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century brought the potato back to Spain and it spread throughout Europe. It was not much appreciated and was usually fed to the pigs. Or to really poor people.

Antoine Augustine Parmentier, a French pharmacist who spent several years as a prisoner during the Seven Years War surviving on potatoes realized that the potato contained all the important nutrients to sustain life. He then sought a way to bring it into the kitchens of all.

He prevailed upon King Louis XVI to give him 50 acres of wasteland outside Paris to plant potatoes. Knowing the potatoes’ poor reputation he used a little psychology on the local people. He planted the potatoes and set up 24 hour guards. The local peasants assumed that guards would only be protecting a valuable crop. When, by design, the guards were given a night off, many of the potato plants were stolen and so spread from one garden to another.

Today, French restaurants and cookbooks offer many versions of Pommes de Terre Parmentier, really just cubed potatoes sautéed in butter and oil or goose fat until crispy brown outside and mealy inside. Hmmm. Something of a resemblance to our own beloved French fries.

The potatoes pictured above are from the local Donovan Farm, which grows all kinds of potatoes for all kinds of uses. All praise to the potato!