Thursday, 30 September 2010

Smoky Paprika Tomato Soup

Tomato season is winding down, but there are still some available. The smoky paprika and pepper flavours add a rich, autumnal touch to this soup, and it's getting cool enough that soups are starting to be welcome. This soup is quite intense in flavour, and some sour cream or yogurt would help make it a little more mellow.

I used 10 large field tomatoes to get 8 cups of diced tomatoes.

Note: Oops, I had a nagging feeling when I posted this that something was missing. There was. I have fixed it.

8 servings
30 minutes prep time

Mix the Spices:
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon salt

Mix in a small bowl and set aside.

Make the Soup:
8 cups peeled, diced tomatoes
2 medium onions
1 or 2 sweet red frying peppers (optional)
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Blanch the tomatoes by dropping them into a pot of boiling water for one minute, then transfer them to a sink full of cold water. Peel them and remove the cores, then dice them coarsely.

Peel and chop the onions. Cored, deseed and chop the peppers if using. Red Shepherd, Jimmy Nardello or other sweet red frying pepper would be most appropriate. However, the soup is very good without them as well. Peel and chop the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and peppers, and sauté over medium-high heat for several minutes, stirring regularly, until they are soft. Sprinkle the flour and spice mixture over and mix in well. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring frequently and scraping up the flour as it sticks to the pan and browns. The mixture should be dark, but not burnt. Add the garlic and cook it into the mixture for about a minute, until fragrant.

Add as many tomatoes to the pan as will easily fit. Blend well with the onion and spice mixture, scraping the pan to make sure there is none left sticking to it. Cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. If you cannot get all the tomatoes in the pan, put the rest of them into a soup pot and bring them to a boil. Simmer them as the rest of the soup cooks in the frying pan.

Blend the soup, including all the tomatoes, in a blender or food processor until very smooth with the vinegar and sugar. Reheat and serve. Very good with a bit of yogurt or sour cream.

Last year at this time I made Lancashire Hot Pot.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

This is a lovely fall and winter dessert. It has all the flavour of pumpkin pie but it's less work (no crust) and I have to say I really love bread pudding. It's not a very sweet pudding; we ate it for dessert but we also ate the leftovers for breakfast. If you wanted to, you could add a bit more sugar or, better, just drizzle a little maple syrup over the top when you serve it.

This is fine with canned pumpkin, but it's always better to prepare and freeze some pumpkin in the fall to have over the winter yourself. Use a good cooking pumpkin, not the Connecticut Field Pumpkins now mainly sold for halloween decorations. They are bland and stringy.

I was a bit amazed - not shocked, unfortunately - to discover that 85% of the canned pumpkin sold in the United States comes from one farm. They had a crop failure last year, and the U.S. has been struggling with a pumpkin shortage all year. This years harvest is fine, and they're in the pumpkin again, but there's yet another reason to support local farmers.

8 to 10 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
8 cups diced stale sandwich bread, whole wheat or white
½ cup dried cranberries

2 cups cooked pumpkin purée
3 extra-large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup maple syrup
2 ½ cups whole milk or light cream

Slice the loaf of bread and tear up or cube the slices, and mix them in a large lasagne pan (9" x 13") with the dried cranberries.

Beat the eggs into the pumpkin, one at a time. Mix in the spices, salt and vanilla. Mix in the maple syrup and the milk or cream.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the pumpkin custard mixture into the bread and cranberries. Let sit for 10 minutes, then stir again. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until firm and slightly puffed.

Serve warm or cold. Good plain, with whipped cream, ice cream or a little drizzle of maple syrup.

Last year at this time I made Korean Vegetable Pancakes and Plum Torte.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Visit to Alpaca Acres

Our last visit of the day was to Alpaca Acres, home of Ann & Dan Clayburn. They were the one farm not producing food, although they did say that alpaca meat can be eaten. Theirs, as almost all in North America, are sold as pets and breeding stock, along with fibre products. Currently they have 22 huacaya alpacas on the farm.

The set up is the usual one with alpacas - the males are kept apart from the females and babies, to maintain the calm good temper for which alpacas are known.

Alpacas have a very long gestation period - just a couple of weeks shy of a year. The babies (crias) are nursed for six months. They weigh about 15 to 20 pounds at birth. As adults, the females will weigh 150 to 180 pounds; males may get up to as much as 200 pounds. Babies are always born in the day time.

Dan shows us one of babies. Their wool is extremely long, thick and soft. It contains no lanolin, so it is non-allergenic. Some people use alpacas as herd protectors with sheep, but they are not generally as good at the job as llamas.

The alpacas graze 8 acres of grass in the summer and are fed hay in the winter, along with mineral supplemented pellets. Their manure is rich and does not need to be composted before being used. I was impressed that the alpacas choose a communal toilet spot, and use no other. They are friendly, sociable animals - Alpaca Acres won't sell single animals unless there are already other alpacas at their new home - and they are very tough and problem free. Vet visits are a rarity.

Some of the ribbons won by Alpaca Acres alpacas at shows and fairs are displayed in the garage along with unspun wool, spun yarn, and finished yarn products, mostly crochet although they also sell some socks made in Peru from a mixture of alpaca and synthetic fibres.

Piles of yarn, rovings and finished garments for sale.

Little amigurumi sit in a suitcase waiting to find a home.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Visit to Erbcroft Farms

Our next stop was Erbcroft Farms, home of sheep, chickens, ducks, horses and pygmy goats. There was some mention of a llama I'm pretty sure, but we didn't see one. The sheep are fairly mixed breeding; Suffolk cross and North Country Cheviot predominating.

Erbcroft Farms has been in the family for 4 generations, but until Tim & Luann took it over it was a cash crop farm. They still grow those, but the animals have become a very important part of the farm.

Chickens roam the yard, supplementing their diet with bugs and seeds.

Two 9-day old lambs who's mother is unable to nurse them are thriving on milk from a local dairy sheep farm. The milk is in a tub outfitted with "nipples" so that the lambs can nurse when they like; a simple thing but it makes taking care of lambs that need to be hand-raised so much easier because like other babies, they need to nurse often and with no regard to anyone else's convenience.

Two kinds of ducks, Rouen and Muscovy, hang out at the creek.

When called, the sheep came thundering up to the fence. The Erbs have about 120 ewes now; eventually they would like to double the number.

Lamb can be ordered as a freezer order from the farm, or purchased at the Mitchell Farmers Market as lamb sausage. We had some samples of the sausage, with it flavoured with Luann Erbs own blend of herbs - very delicate and tasty!

It's a sad fact that there is little point in shearing the sheep if it can be avoided. The last time they sheared their sheep they paid $500 and received $189 for the wool; that's .02 cents per pound. There just isn't much of a market for wool any more.

One of the Erb children collects eggs from the chicken pen as one of the farm tourers watches.

The poultry are all trained to return to the barn at night for safety.

There are also some very charming pygmy goats on the farm.

Finally we went into the barn where the pregnant ewes are being watched. Our timing was amazing; we arrived just in time to see 2 newly born lambs still being licked clean and thinking about standing up. Unfortunately I don't have a picture as my camera chose THAT MOMENT to run out of batteries. It was definitely one of the highlights of the tour though!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Visit to Soiled Reputation Farm

Whew! We're not even half-way through our day. Fortunately, it's time for some food. We all gather in the garden of Soiled Reputation, where we enjoy a brown-bag lunch of ham sandwiches or veggie wraps, local apples and decadent little squares with chocolate chips and caramel, washed down with Wellesley apple cider.

While we're having a little pause here, let me say "Thanks!" to our guides, Drea and Tania, and our driver, Warren. Well done guys; it was a great day. At $25 per person for a day that lasted from 10 am to 5 pm and included lunch, it was also a screaming bargain. If you think you are going to be anywhere near Stratford for the Savour Stratford festival next year you should definitely plan to make the tour.

The garden was lovely, still full of spectacular flowering plants. I made sure to get the name of that towering cloud of yellow daisies to the right and above my head (yes; a rare sighting of the shy and elusive Ferdzy*): it's silphium terebinthinaceum, but you can call it Prairie Dock if you prefer, and you might.

Soiled Reputation is the farm of Antony John and Tina VandenHeuvel. They raise organic vegetables, especially greens, which are sold at farmers markets, to restaurants and through CSA shares. They grow over 50 vegetables in all. Antony was the eponymous star of the Manic Organic television series. He also paints, acts and creates music in his spare time. (He has spare time?!)

There are several greenhouses on the farm, but they have just recently been planted with late fall and winter crops, so there was little to see there besides beautifully raked and leveled earth.

There are egg-laying chickens enjoy the lovely fall weather in a pen by the barn. They are also the clean-up crew for unsaleable vegetables.

A little further along we were introduced to Jesus (Hey-soos) the burro. We were warned that he bites, but he restrained himself in exchange for skritches between the ears. I thought he was very sweet, actually.

Row covers protect late crops from flea-beetles. They also let in most of the light and all of the water. Something we want to get and use in our garden next year, for sure.

Rows of lettuce in the field. Soiled Reputation is an 80 acre farm, of which 40 are certified organic. They are blessed with excellent soil and an excellent location. The soil is Perth County clay-loan, a rich and beautifully balanced and very workable soil. The location is just sufficiently far east of Lake Huron to catch much of the rain created by weather patterns moving over it. (As someone who had 2.25 inches of rain spread over 3 months this summer I am filled with envy.)

On average, Soiled Reputation produces about 400 pounds of salad greens a week throughout the growing season.

Twenty acres are devoted to growing vegetables. Soiled Reputations fields are large and rambling. Partly this is because about a third of them are under alfalfa at any time. Alfalfa is a legume and like all legumes fixes nitrogen, a key nutrient for vegetables. Alfalfa fixes up to 140 pounds of nitrogen per acre, compared to 40 to 50 from peas. In November the alfalfa is ploughed under and the decaying leaves add organic matter to the soil over the winter. Even on top of all this, Antony adds a ton of turkey compost and homemade compost to each acre. He's taking a lot out of the soil too though; by careful planning he can get up to 4 crops out of each space in a summer; a typical cycle might be peas, lettuce, beans, and finally turnips.

Rows of succulent leeks still stand out in the fields. The bluer the leek, the better it will withstand cold. Antony lets the weeds grow up around some of them; this slows their growth down and delays the need to harvest them, thus extending the season.

Antony shows us a beautiful green Romanesco cauliflower, famous for its' fractal pattern of florets. He talked about how it reminded him that everything is linked in chains of similarity; and how is farm is one of a set of micro environments that link Canada to Costa Rica and allow the rich diversity of migrating birds that we have to exist. (Antony is an avid birder.)

Carrots, in a rainbow of colours (it's a little hard to see but these are purple and yellow). The soil at Soiled Reputation is rich in calcium, which is vital in producing sweetness in vegetables. These were very good carrots, I must say. One trick he has for growing them is to plant them, then set up a mini-greenhouse (a pane of glass, really) over a small section. Once he sees signs of germination there, he knows the rest of the carrot seeds will not be far behind. He uses a propane flame weeder to go over the rest of the bed, and so the carrots germinate without competition. You know what Mr. Ferdzy wants to get now. I understand you can get them at Lee Valley.

And on that note, it's on to the next farm.

*Mr. Ferdzy kindly took the pictures on this trip, so that I could concentrate on taking notes. A big thank you to him, too.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A Visit to Perth Pork Products

Back to the tour. The next stop was at Perth Pork Products, home of the de Martines family and a whole bunch of very interesting pigs. The de Martines were busy this day, so the tour was given by Linda Walton, who is a friend and neighbour along with one of their daughters. This is a typical farm of the area, dating from the 1850's. The de Martines came from Holland and bought it in 1979. A few years back, during one of the low-price crises that afflict pork farmers with depressing regularity, they were in danger of losing the farm. They decided on a new course. Ingrid took an off-farm job, and they started raising Tamworth pigs. This is an old and hardy British breed; the resemblance to wild boars is noticable, although they are consistently redder in colour as well as larger. More recently, they have added Berkshire pigs to the mix, and they still raise commodity pigs (that's what you get at the supermarket) in the barn.

They also have wild boars, which look remarkably like the ones in the Asterix books. So they should, I guess! They live outdoors all year round. They have plastic calf hutches surrounded by bales of straw, which the pigs can burrow into to keep warm and to provide shelter for their babies when they have them.

The babies are really, really cute, having reddish stripes. All the pigs wagged their tails as they ate, which was really funny to watch but I'm afraid all they were doing was keeping the flies off.

The de Martines collect vegetable scraps from the local farmers markets and restaurants as a treat for the pigs. Their main diet is corn, barley and soymeal. The manure from the pigs is used to fertilize the fields, however the farm is not organic as they have no reliable supply of organic feeds available. In addition to the vegetable scraps they get black walnuts and other nuts grown on the farm as a treat when they are available. They were given some when we were there, and we could hear them crunching away as they ate them, shells and all.

Next we headed out to the shelter/pen where the Tamworth sows live, along with Todd, the boar. These are their breeding stock. As soon as we came along they all trotted out to see us. These were once a common pig in Ontario, and their long lean sides produce lots of bacon. However, the white commodity pigs, while not nearly so hardy, are ready in 6 to 7 months. The Tamworths will not be ready for 9 months to almost a year.

It takes a 1 1/2 years to 2 years before the wild boars are ready to market; the same with the "Iron-Age" pigs.

One of the de Martines daughters poses with the pigs.

Happy as a pig in mud...

After we saw the Tamworth sows we continued on past their shelter a good distance.

There, we found the pasture for what Perth Pork markets as "Iron-age" pigs. These are a cross between the wild boars and the Tamworth pigs. They look a lot like the wild boars, but in a range of colours between the grey of the wild boars and the red of the Tamworths. They started raising these when they could not get a Tamworth boar. They do have one now, but still produce the "Iron-age" pigs, which combine the slightly gamey, finer grained and more solid meat of the wild boar with a little more fat.

They too were happy to be fed a box of vegetable scraps from the market, although I was amused to see that they all sniffed at then rejected a lemon. The large grey pig in the middle right side of the picture is the boar, Prince.

There is a viewing room where the commodity pigs in the barn can be seen roaming about inside.

And finally, there is a small shop on the farm where frozen pork or smoked proscuito hams, schinkenspeck and bacon can be purchased. Orders can also be made online.

A piece of schinkenspeck and a proscuito ham from the fridge.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Not Done Gardening Yet!

We interrupt this Stratford Farm Tour series to talk about what's going on in our garden. These photos were taken at the end of last week, and already they have cast off from the dock of the present and are sailing into the past.

This bag contained our saved garlic, garlic bulbils and shallots, which we planted. We still have to plant the garlic and shallots acquired in Stratford - where, we don't know exactly. But somewhere.

Mr. Ferdzy breaks up the heads before planting. Being the obsessive-compulsive type that he is, each row must be be carefully lined up with a measuring tape. Fortunately he does not insist that exact measurements take place in the other direction, or he'd be on his own with the planting.

The cukes have been over for quite a while, so I pulled out the tomato cages which had supported them. As you can see though, there's still some life in the garden.

Almost as soon as this photo was taken, the corn was pulled out. The bed of early corn was already pretty empty, and the bed of mid-season and late corn was essentially over, especially after some small animal - squirrels? - pulled off all of the ripe corn and ate it, or at least pulled it apart and strewed it over the lawn. *Sigh* next year, I think the corn will have to have it's very own, personal electric fence. You'll note we still plan to plant corn. That's because what little corn we did get was SO SUPERB. We're going to keep trying until we get it right.

There's still a couple of melons in the garden, but they too are winding down and will be pulled shortly.

The tomatoes are an impenetrable jungle still, but they too are slowing down. I did pull another bushel out of them though, and there are more green ones coming along than I have any hope of dealing with. I expect to get a good few more ripe ones too.

That newly cleaned and manured bed had potatoes in it. Now that they've been harvested, we have planted a bunch of carrot and radish seed in it. We will see what happens... Mr. Ferdzy is hoping for a very late crop of carrots this year; I think he is rather overly optimistic. But we'll see! Who knows?

The zucchini are taking at least a week to produce what they used to produce in a day. I don't think it's the powdery mildew with which they are afflicted; I think it's the colder nights and shorter days. The peppers and eggplants aren't doing anything much either.

Here are the two former corn beds with the corn pulled. The one in the back has had the cleaning and manuring job done; the one in the front still needs it. We were a little amazed to realize how much larger the beds were supposed to be versus how large they actually were by the end of the season. Grass is probably the worst weed there is! We will definitely need to continue chipping away with edging the beds.

These two beds have been replanted as well, with lettuce, spinach (lots of spinach) and some quick cold weather brassicas (kale, tatsoi, arugula). They will no doubt need to be finished off under hoop houses, but we are expecting 2 days of rain which should get them off to a good start. Our 3 month drought seems to be over, thank goodness.