Kale and White Bean Soup

Speaking of kale soup (we were speaking of kale soup, weren’t we?), here’s the recipe I’ve mentioned before (from HERE).

Quick Kale and White Bean Soup

Prep time:  20 minutes
Makes:  4 servings
1 bunch kale, stems removed
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional, for serving, optional
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 (15.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, optional
Finely grated Parmesan cheese, for serving, optional
1.  Lay some of the kale leaves one on top of the other to make a small stack.  Roll them up into a cigar and slice crosswise into strips.  Repeat with remaining kale.
2.  In a large pot heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the beans, kale, chicken or vegetable stock, red pepper flakes, and black pepper to taste.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the kale is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
3.  Using a potato masher or wooden spoon, mash the beans slightly in the pot and serve.  For a richer flavor, continue to simmer until the soup thickens and becomes more stew-like.  Divide into serving bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese, if any.

 

I can vouch for the yumminess of this. This year our white beans were a fail so we substituted October beans and the result was equally delicious.

The Freezers are Full

Yesterday I brought home the pork from the last four pigs we took to the processor. Once again our freezers are full.

IMG_9245

We’re pleased to be able to offer our community the highest-quality pork available, from animals raised humanely and naturally, on pasture. Our pigs live rich happy lives. They’re allowed to do the things pigs love to do, like wallow in the mud and eat clover and acorns. We supplement their natural foraging with chemical-free veggies from our gardens and a Virginia-grown GMO-free feed. In turn they reward us with delicious healthy pork.

We raised seven feeder pigs this year. We grew three of them to approximately 250 pounds and from them we got chops and roasts, along with bacon, sausage, tenderloin and ribs. (We always get the neck bones too–but those are for me). The last four we had processed into whole-hog sausage, after growing them to about 400 pounds each. Their sausage contains the shoulders and hams and is especially delicious. We also got more tenderloins, bacon and ribs.

It costs a lot of money to raise hogs and get them to market. We paid the processor over $1200 yesterday and our feed costs were over $100/week for much of the year. We have to front all that before we ever see anything in sales. Of course that’s peanuts at the industrial scale, but real money for small farmers. We should recapture our costs and a modest profit by the end of next year (we don’t factor in labor or capital expense in those calculations), but the upfront expense and the time required to get to market is one of the reasons I think small farms like ours tend to prefer raising meat chickens to pigs.

Once the pigs were gone we opened their pasture up to the goats, who are enjoying lots of forage there. I didn’t mow that pasture all year and with the great weather we’ve been having, it is lush with the kind of “browse” that goats love. We haven’t had to feed any hay yet this year.

In the spring we’ll get some feeder pigs and start the process all over again. Although I do enjoy having pigs on the farm, it’s nice to have a break from the daily routine of feeding them.

Now we just need to concentrate on emptying the freezers.

Waiting

Our last two pregnant does are taking their time. I’ve been expecting to find new kids in the pasture every day for the last few weeks, but instead the wait continues.

Meanwhile the lot born back in November continue to grow.

IMG_9157

The adult is Donna, one of the mamas were waiting on. These aren’t her kids. She’s just photobombing.

IMG_9159

I had to pull this little rascal, back on November 9. Look at him now, growing his horns.

IMG_8756

Here he was on his birthday, a few minutes after being born.

One days soon the wait is going to be over. New Year babies perhaps?

 

Kale

We grow a lot of kale here. Because we consider ourselves homesteaders first and foremost, we don’t grow anything we don’t like ourselves. Fortunately, we love kale and so do our customers. It has become an important part of both our homesteading and our farm operation.

Kale is a cool weather crop, so we grow it in the spring and fall. In the spring we have a garden dedicated to brassicas, and kale shares the space with broccoli, cabbage and collards. In the fall we dedicate one garden to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and another garden entirely to collards and kale.

We enjoy our spring kale and are usually able to get a good crop in, but as the weather warms and the flea beetles and harlequin bugs arrive, growing it becomes challenging. The fall is a much better time for kale. Like all cooking greens, kale tastes best after it has been kissed by frost. And there are few bugs and weeds to worry about. But that doesn’t mean we’re without challenges in the fall.

IMG_9216.JPG

A deer has been munching on this plant. Not nice.

We grow 3 types of kale: Siberian, Red Russian and Tuscan (aka Lacinato aka dinosaur).

IMG_9220.JPG

Siberian

IMG_9218.JPG

Red Russian

IMG_9217.JPG

Dinosaur

Here kale can be started in flats and transplanted, or it can be direct-seeded. We usually do some of both.

In the spring kale is one of the things we plant as soon as the gardens can be worked. That depends upon when the ground dries out and the dates can vary wildly from year to year. I aim to plant in early March, but sometimes it doesn’t happen till April.

The weather is more reliable in late summer so we can plan on planting in mid-August. Kale is a winter-hearty plant, so unless we have an unusually cold winter, we can pick it until deep in the winter, overwinter it, then resume picking it when springs rejuvenates it. Assuming, of course, that the deer don’t eat it first.

Kale is a versatile vegetable in the kitchen and it shows up in lots of different foods for us. Two simple ways to enjoy it are braised and in a kale-bean soup.

With luck we’ll continue to enjoy fresh kale all winter, then, with more luck, in a little over 2 months we’ll begin planting more.

Uncle Sam’s House

As recently as 60-70 years ago there were a half dozen families or more living on this farm, other than my own. My family owned the farm and lived in the house that is now our “farmstay” house. The other families were tenant farmers, living in smaller houses scattered around the farm.

Tobacco farming is very labor intensive. Nowadays tobacco farmers grow hundreds of acres of tobacco, using seasonal workers from Mexico to do the labor. But in the past most tobacco farmers were tenant farmers, who grew their crops on “shares.” The owner of the farm would provide a house, land, seeds, draft animals, implements, etc. in exchange for a percentage of the crop grow by the tenants (who are sometimes referred to as “share croppers”). I wonder if that model is something we should consider again, as a way to make entry into farming easier for young people, but that will have to be a topic for another day.

Only a few of the old tenant houses on our farm are still standing.  One of them is in the woods about a hundred yards from our house.

IMG_9194

IMG_9197.JPG

Rock chimney and hand-hewn logs

IMG_9199

A dog trot connects the old log house to a more recent addition.

IMG_9200

You can still tell the interior was whitewashed

IMG_9205.JPG

There was a big porch here, but it has collapsed.

IMG_9208.JPG

The foundation has seen better days

There was still a family living in the house when I was a boy, but they were the one of the last of the tenant families left on the farm, and they hadn’t been here long. Before them the house had been occupied by another family for a long time. Our families were very close, like kin folk of sorts. Even though I never met them, I felt like I knew “Uncle Sam” and “Aunt Elnora” (titles of affection and respect, rather than consanguinity), as my father spoke of them often.

I regret that the house has deteriorated so badly. I doubt it will be standing much longer.

IMG_9210

IMG_9207

This year at the farmers market a man stopped at our booth, looked at the name of our farm, studied me a few moments then asked where our farm was located. I suspected immediately who it was, and I was right–my father’s dear boyhood friend who grew up in that house. I enjoyed several long conversations with him over the summer. I even brought in an old photo of he and my father playing together as boys, which he enjoyed seeing. It was great hearing stories from his childhood.

The place doesn’t look like much today, but it’s an important part of our story here.

Christmas Oysters

When I was growing up we went to my grandparents’ house every year on Christmas morning. Along with the usual farm breakfast feast, there would be fried oysters and oyster stew. It was the only day of the year we had oysters. They were a Christmas morning, once-a-year treat.

I’ve long wondered about the origin of that food tradition. Why do Southerners have fried oysters on Christmas day, even when they’re not otherwise part of the food culture?

Some say the custom came to America with Irish Catholic immigrants. Not being permitted to eat meat on Christmas Eve (but with seafood permissible) the Irish substituted oysters instead.

But given that Catholics were are as rare as hen’s teeth in this part of the world, that explanation seemed unsatisfactory to me.

Recently I discovered an answer that makes more sense. It seems that beginning in the late 19th century, railroads would ship oysters and oranges from the east coast into the interior of the country as Christmas-time treats, causing oysters to become associated with Christmas, along with oranges and Brazil nuts.

Whatever the reason, I always looked forward to fried oysters on Christmas morning, a culinary tradition that is now disappearing here.

Knowing my fondness for Christmas oysters, but not having any actual oysters on hand, yesterday Cherie treated us to a locavore version of the old favorite. We had Po Boy sandwiches made from “faux oyster” cauliflower. These are unbelievably delicious (I know what you’re thinking, I was skeptical too) and the taste and texture really do remind you of fried oysters. Honestly, they’re so good I think I’d choose a cauliflower “oyster” Po Boy over the real thing.

IMG_9223

 

IMG_9224

Of course there’s a lot more to look forward to on Christmas Day than just oysters. We enjoyed my mother’s amazing Southern home-cooking–homemade biscuits, fried pork chops, fried apples, string beans, vegetable soup, chocolate pie–as well as cake and ice cream at our granddaughter’s birthday party (she was a Christmas baby).

Beautiful weather, lots of family time and good food. It was a very merry Christmas.

IMG_9227

IMG_9234

Peppers

IMG_8205

Continuing to think about next years gardens (because that’s what you do in the winter)….

We always dedicate one garden to tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. And we always end up with too many peppers.

I’ve already decided that we won’t plant any hot peppers next year. We’ve grown a lot of them over the years–jalapenos, cayennes, haberneros, hot bananas, etc. Hot pepper plants may be the most prolific thing in the garden. Last year I scaled way back on them, only planting 8 jalapenos and 8 cayennes, and still ended up with more than we could handle. We’ve got enough hot sauce and pepper flakes to last a lifetime. So no hot peppers in 2016.

We’ll grow some sweet bell peppers, but I’m going to cut back on those too. Once they start coming in strong you can hardly give them away at the market. We eat a lot of them when they’re fresh and I dice them up and freeze them. Cherie makes an amazing bell pepper soup that she freezes (very nice on wintry days). But I reckon we can get all the peppers we need with half the plants we’ve been putting out.

To fill the space being vacated by the pepper reduction, my plan for now is to grow more Asian eggplant.

Oh, and by the way…

Merry Christmas!