Essex Farm Note

Week 11, 2018
Cold and snowy, just five days before the first day of spring. Temperatures are
supposed to dip into the single digits this weekend. At least the snow will help
protect the garlic, scallions, strawberries and rhubarb from the soil-heaving freeze-
thaw cycles that can be so hard on them. As for sugaring season, we have no
complaints about the weather whatsoever. The runs have been frequent and strong.
We collected so much sap this week we ran out of room around the evaporator and
had to store it temporarily in the spare bulk tank. We’ve finished and canned 75
gallons of syrup so far with another 15 gallons in the pan. The sugar content
remains a low 1%, so there is a lot of work – and a lot of firewood – in every gallon,
which is a reminder to treat the finished product like the luxury it is. We usually
keep a pot of sap boiling on the woodstove in our house this time of year, just for
fun, and as the snow came down hard early on Wednesday morning, the house was
suddenly full of a strong dark delicious caramel smell. We’d lost track of the sap, and
it had boiled right through syrup phase, and was quickly heading toward candy. Our
kids know that smell well. “Sugar on snow!” they yelled, and ran outside, barefoot, to
scoop up bowls of clean snow. Mark poured the bubbling thick syrup onto the snow
in strips that hardened into stretchy, chewy maple candy. That, plus it was a snow
day. Could it get any better when you are 7 and 10? You can make sugar on snow for
yourself, on purpose, by boiling syrup carefully until a candy thermometer reads
234 degrees. It’ll want to foam and boil over, so put a dab of butter in it, and keep a
close eye on it. When it reaches temperature, pour it in ribbons over packed snow. It
should firm up immediately. Many thanks to the whole crew, and especially Katie
Culpepper and Chris McConnell, for extra hours in the sugarbush and at the
evaporator, and to Noah and Elijah Ives who have spent long days cutting, splitting
and stacking the firewood for next year’s syrup.

We’re waiting for Juniper to calve, hoping for a heifer. She’s one of our oldest
cows, a granddaughter to Delia, our first cow ever. When Juniper was young, she got
pushed around by the other cows, had a hard time keeping a good spot at the hay
feeder in winter, and was a low producer. The next year, she got a cow bell on her
collar, which gave her a bigger presence, and she learned how to hold her own. She
has been one of our best producers ever since.

What else? The spinach is up in South greenhouse, hooray. We have a crew
working on stringing 6 strands of high tensile wire along 25,000 feet of new
fenceline. Sam Swartzentruber brought over his handy team of crossbred horses
and a bobsled to carry the wire and heavy tools over the rough terrain, which made
things go a lot easier. Sheep shearing begins Monday – a hundred ewes this year! –
plus vaccination and hoof trimming. The quality of the wool is not good enough this
year to have it made into yarn, so we are looking for a profitable use for it, if anyone
has any leads. Don’t forget to spread the word that we’re looking for 20 new
members this spring. Did you know we post this note and a picture each week at our
website? And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this chilly 11 th
week of 2018. Find us at 518-963- 4613,, or on the farm, any
day but Sunday. –Kristin & Mark Kimball


Sugar On Snow.jpeg

At Large

Essex Farm Note

Week 10, 2018

I’m far away from the farm this week, at the hospital with my father, who is fiercely fighting leukemia, so this news comes via Mark and the rest of the gang. Among other adventures, I missed some serious livestock excitement this week. Dr. Goldwasser was at the farm on Monday, giving rabies vaccine to the dry cows and heifers in the dairy herd. As he worked on one side of the barn, there was a commotion on the other side, where the beef herd is wintering. As the team was catching one of the heifers for Dr. Goldwasser, he looked up, in his slow steady way, and said, “I think you have a bigger problem now.” The gates on the beef side had been improperly latched, and had broken, and the whole beef herd was out, heading north at a run, fueled by spring fever. Someone quickly posted an alert on our WhatsApp loop and soon Mark was coming east down Blockhouse Road in a truck and another team was headed west and a third team came across the farm road. Luckily, they got to them before they reached an intersection, or town, or a neighbor’s yard, and turned them back into the high tensile fence. The fast and aggressive turnout is directly related to the memory of the three beef cows that were at large for a week last fall, then took up residency with our neighbor’s herd of dairy cows, and required five people many hours to convince to get onto a trailer back home.

            It has been a good sugaring season. We’ve got 45 gallons of syrup in the can so far and are looking forward to more good runs this week. The growing season is well under way too, despite the snow on the ground. The onions have all germinated in their flats– a whole year’s worth of onions for all of us – and are in the heated greenhouse. The spinach that was direct-seeded in the south greenhouse has not yet had the courage to emerge. The cloudy weather is keeping greenhouse temperatures low. We could use some sun to coax those seeds out of their shells.

            We have new faces on the farm to introduce. Jonas Shetler and his wife Mary arrived from Heuvelton with their two young sons, three buggy horses, and a black Percheron stud. Jonas will be working for us this year to save up money to start their own farm. It’s wonderful to have his skills and energy here. We also welcome Teddi Rogers, who is coming from Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley, and is helping out with animals, dairy and plants. It’s great to have her here. Finally, a belated welcome to Mathew Pounds who is doing a ton of work in the dairy, including many of the milkings. Joseph Beiler, our main milker, is in Australia for a month, and Ben is laid up with a sore knee, so we’re really glad that Mathew was able to step in.

            The countdown to lambing has begun. Mary Lake comes a week from Monday with her shears, her skills, and her muscles. We have a hundred ewes for her this year – a far cry from the seven sheep she sheared for us just six years ago. First lambs should hit the ground right around tax day. Finally, please help us spread the word – we’d like to add 20 new members to the farm in the next two months. Happy members are our best marketers! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this snow-stormy 10th week of 2018. Find us on insta at essexfarmcsa, or, 518-963-4613, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball


Maple Syrup

Essex Farm Note

Week 9, 2018

Spring is playing hide and seek with us here. It’s snowing now, and yet there is half a mile of spinach planted in the south greenhouse, the geese are laying enormous spring-time eggs, and all the storage onions and the scallions are in the germination chamber, coiled to sprout. We let the woodstove go out this week for the first time since December. And it was a huge week in the sugarbush. The nights were just cold enough to reset the trees and the temperatures in the daytime rose fast, so the sap flowed quickly. Despite a low level of sugar in the sap – 1.75% – we’ve made almost 30 gallons of syrup already. It is good to see Jake and Abby get into the groove of work, pulling the sap wagon through the woods multiple times a day. They were out of shape after a long winter, which is a thing some of us can relate to. Their collars need to be loosened a notch to accommodate their fat necks – also totally relatable.

            Mark says he has fielded some requests from members for ideas and recipes from our kitchen. So, here ‘tis. Fresh maple syrup has put me in mind of my favorite vehicle for it: Polenta. Polenta is a staple that tends to fall off my radar for a while then come back as to the repertoire for long stretches. Even if you are new to making it, you’ll find it really easy to make and extremely versatile to use. I like to make a large batch and then have it for different purposes throughout the week. This morning, we ate it fresh and hot with butter and maple syrup. Tonight, we’ll have it for team dinner, as a base under a rich beef heart ragout. Tomorrow, if there is any left, we’ll fry squares of it for another, different breakfast.

            There are many opinions on how to make polenta, and Italians believe in a low ratio of corn meal to water, attentive stirring, and a very long cook time. However, don’t let perfection be the enemy of good, and remember that polenta is just a different way to say cornmeal mush. You don’t need a whole afternoon to make good polenta. I use 5 parts salted water to 1 part corn meal. For normal family-sized batches, bring the water to a boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal, to avoid the dreaded lumps. Return to a very low simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened and cooked to your liking. If it’s a hasty breakfast, that might be 20 minutes, but more time is better. For a large, team dinner sized batch, I use the un-Italian slow cooker method: Butter the inside of the slow cooker. Mix 15 cups cold salted water with 3 cups corn meal. Cook on high, whisking occasionally, until it begins to thicken. Then turn to low, and cook for about 6 hours, stirring when you think of it. Any way you cook it, you can pour hot polenta into a buttered pyrex dish or a buttered hotel pan or sheet pan. When it cools, it’s sliceable, and can be fried in butter until crisp, and then drizzled with maple syrup.

            A quick note on ragout – it’s an easy stew and great for unfamiliar meats like heart or gizzard. I’ll post our old gizzard ragout recipe on the back here, but the thing to remember is that a basic ragout is a 2:2:1 ratio of stock, tomatoes and wine, and it’s hard to get wrong. And that’s the news for this stormy 9th week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613,, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. –Kristin & Mark Kimball


Chicken Heart Ragout

There are lots of delicious hearts in the freezer, and this is one of our very favorite meals. Adapted from The Joy of Cooking.


Rinse and pat dry:

            2 pounds chicken gizzards and/or hearts

Remove and discard the tough membrane connecting the two lobes of the gizzards. Cook in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned:

            2 oz pancetta or 2 slices bacon, diced

Add the giblets and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add:

            1 teaspoon dried basil

            ½ teaspoon fennel seeds

            Salt and pepper to taste

Stir well and cook for 1 minute. Stir in:     

            2 cups chicken stock

            2 cups seeded peeled chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned

            1 cup dry red wine

            1 tablespoon tomato paste

            2 bay leaves

Simmer gently, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the hearts are very tender, 1½ to 2 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more stock or water. If too watery, boil it down over high heat. Serve with hot cooked rice or pasta. Accompany with freshly grated Parmesan cheese