farms and farming

Pumpkin Time

by Caroline

the pumpkin wagon

the pumpkin wagon

It happens every year, the clamor for pumpkin treats: pie, cupcakes, pancakes, muffins. Eli, particularly, adores all things pumpkin and thinks it’s quite reasonable to expect a pumpkin pie for dessert an hour after we return from the pumpkin patch. Well, maybe so, but not with the new pumpkins, certainly. In fact, you all probably know this already but it bears repeating: you don’t want a Jack-o-lantern pumpkin for pie and really, you don’t even need pumpkin (shh!). Roast an acorn squash with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, even a knob of fresh ginger, stuck in the cavity, take out the flavorings when the squash is tender, scoop it out of the skin, puree, and then proceed with your recipe as if it were pumpkin. Really, nobody will ever know the difference.

But still, we go to the pumpkin patch every year, because what’s October without pumpkins? And when we are home from the pumpkin patch, one of our favorite quick pumpkin recipes is for muffins.

pumpkin muffins

Preheat the oven to 350.
Combine in a medium sized mixing bowl:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3 T ground flax seed meal (you can skip the flax and replace it with an extra tablespoon of butter if you like)
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t baking powder

Combine in a small bowl or measuring cup:
1/3 c water, milk or apple juice
1/2 t vanilla

In a large bowl, beat until creamy
5T unsalted butter

1 c brown sugar
1/3 c granulated sugar

and beat until combined.

Then add
2 large eggs
1 c pumpkin puree

And mix well. Now add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture. Stir just until combined. Then add, if you like, chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips (about 1/2 c each).

Bake in a muffin tin for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Eating Beans

by Caroline

Until recently, we have usually used dried beans around here mostly in craft projects: sandwiched between a stapled pair of paper plates, they make excellent tambourines; Ben’s made a mancala game with a handful of dry beans and an egg carton; and of course the possibilities with construction paper, glue, and beans are pretty endless. Except for lentils, I tend not to buy dried beans for cooking because half the family doesn’t much like them and they take a long time.

But I’m trying to get over that for several reasons. First of all, dried beans are cheaper; also, they pose no risk of chemicals leaching from the can into your food (as I just read about in Betsy Block’s The Dinner Diaries); and although they do take a while from pantry to table, most of that time they are cooking easily on their own without your attention. If you have a pressure cooker or crock pot (I do not), beans are even easier and quicker. But mostly, I am getting over my reluctance to use dried beans because my dad grows such beautiful ones for us, and Eli had such a great time picking and shelling them in Connecticut last month, and when food is presented to me with such love, I’m not going to let it gather dust in the pantry until it’s time to make a new tambourine. I’m going to make chili.

dried Jacob's Cattle beans

dried Jacob's Cattle beans

Eli shelling the beans

Eli shelling the beans

a pretty bowl of shelled beans

a pretty bowl of shelled beans

the raw and the cooked

the raw and the cooked

the very spicy chili

the very spicy chili

Chili’s the kind of thing that inspires great passion and thousands of recipes, but for me it’s always been a dump it in kind of thing, and I’m not a purist: I had some carrots that weren’t getting any fresher, so I tossed those in, and when my chili turned out to be a lot spicier than I wanted, I chopped and added several potatoes to calm it down. Fresh corn would be a great addition, too. Here’s the recipe for the chili I made, very loosely adapted from The Joy of Cooking:

First, soak your beans. There’s no need to do it overnight. Simply put them in cold water, bring them to a boil and then, with saucepan off the heat, allow them to remain in the water for 1 or 2 hours only. Drain and refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook the beans, bring them to a boil in a big pot of cold water, and then lower the heat and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Now you’re ready to make chili.

1 large onion, chopped, about 2 cups

2 large red bell peppers, chopped (I happened to have already roasted all the bell peppers I had in the house, so my chili used roasted bell peppers)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups dry beans, soaked and cooked (I used the Jacob’s Cattle beans from my dad, but a variety of different kinds would be nice; 1 1/2 c dry=roughly 5 c cooked)

2 pounds chopped fresh plum tomatoes (or if you don’t have fresh, a big 28 oz. can of tomatoes)
a couple chopped carrots and/or potatoes, if you like
1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup dry red wine (or water)
1 fresh chile (serrano, jalapeno or the like) diced, to taste

1 T dried chili powder, to taste
1 T ground cumin

Salt and pepper

In a big pot, sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in oil about 5 minutes or until soft.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, adding more liquid (wine, stock tomato juice or water) as needed.

Digging Potatoes

by Caroline

heading into my Dad's garden

heading into my Dad's garden

My kids are having the typical city kid experience of farming: they visit farmer’s markets regularly; they have both visited local farms and gotten to plant and pick vegetables. But they are lucky in that every summer, we visit my parents and the boys get dirty in my dad’s big vegetable garden.

We like to go in late August, to take full advantage of the garden’s variety, but this year our trip was timed with the Mets/Giants baseball schedule in mind so went a bit earlier. The East Coast’s cool, rainy summer delayed things in the garden, so although there were berries (especially fat, juicy blackberries) we didn’t experience last year’s bountiful berry harvest. No, this year was really about potatoes, and the boys are still talking about digging potatoes.

Digging potatoes is magical, no doubt about it. Above ground, you see a fairly scrawny plant. It gives no hint of what it’s producing below the surface of the soil. You push-pull the plant away and start scraping in the dirt with your hands — no shovel required.


In Connecticut (the only place, come to think of it, that I have dug potatoes) it’s easy to mistake potatoes for rocks (and vice versa), and the purple ones my Dad likes to grow are particularly hard to spot. It’s almost more about feeling your way to them with your fingers. And then, suddenly, there’s one!


and another!


The boys especially like finding the tiny, half-a-bite potatoes I called vitamins when I was little, so now they do, too.

We dug a hill of purple potatoes, and then a hill of reds, and soon enough we had plenty for the evening’s potato salad.


The potatoes are really prettier before they’re cooked into salad, so I didn’t photograph that. But here is one more gorgeous potato, dug by my boys from my dad’s garden:


We’re back home again now, eating potatoes from the farmer’s market. They come into the house a lot cleaner than the ones we bring in from my dad’s garden, and they taste pretty good, but they’ll never be as much fun as potatoes we dig up ourselves.

Really Urban Farming

by Lisa

Who needs a house, or even a yard, or even a few pots when you have a truck? This one parks in front of my friend’s home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where they let him use their water.


He’s got lettuce, arugula, squash, basil, nasturtiums, tomatoes…all ready to go from truck to table…


Life is a bowl of…

by Lisa

All of a sudden, it seems,  the stone fruit is in the market. We have peaches, plums, apricots–and big, sloping piles of bright red cherries.  The cherry season is short, and very sweet. And while we have a cherry pitter, and sometimes use it (ice cream, tarts, once in a red wine reduction for lamb), the cherries rarely last long enough to make it into something as complicated as a recipe.

I’m all about simple, these days, and letting my children experience food in its whole, pure state, so when the cherries come home on Sunday I pour them into a big glass bowl and set them in the middle of our home’s Command Central (aka the Kitchen Table) with a small bowl of water for rinsing and a smaller bowl for pits.  We have an open floor plan, so all day long the kids & their friends & Kory and I pick, dip, & eat.    On Memorial Day they were ravaged before, during, and after dinner as the kids carried the three bowls back and forth from appetizer to dinner to dessert table.

They’re  a snack, of course, but because we eat only what’s in season at our local market things like cherries feel like a rare treat.  This is one of the great things about eating locally and seasonally. On the one hand, things taste the way they should–& impeccably fresh–but it’s also exciting every time something new shows up.  And yes, they are expensive. At $5-7/lb they cost us. But I think it’s worth it to have such an excellent snack to binge on for a few days, and in the long run, that $7 is teaching the kids about many, many things besides how great cherries taste.  And it’s keeping them healthy.  With seasonal eating, we appreciate each crop all the more, we look forward to each new harvest, and we really do celebrate every mouthful.  Even Ella and Finn know that they’re getting something special.


The cherries, on the other hand, are lucky if they see Tuesday morning.