Essex Farm Note

Week 41, 2017

The frost harvest comes like a surprise reverse holiday: a cold forecast, then a blast of work. Every tender crop still in the field must be brought in or it will be lost. There are the solanaceous plants: shiny fat eggplants, the peppers, and the last of the tomatoes, still hard and green – all heat-loving immigrants from more temperate lands. More surprising are the winter squashes and pumpkins, whose sturdy bodies and association with fall make me think they should be tougher against the cold than they are. But frost would bite into their skins, and they’d rot instead of storing well, into mid-winter.

            This year, the frost harvest was more intense than usual, because it was an amazing year for pumpkins and squash. They grew in New Field, where the pigs were pastured last year, leaving behind richly fertilized soil. The strong vines threw forth a record number of zeppelin-shaped delicatas, yellow with green stripes; crazy carnival acorn squash, with their harlequin colors; petite, deep orange sugar pie pumpkins; curvy, feminine butternuts; and the kings of the patch, the stately jack o’ lantern pumpkins, standing bright among their spent leaves.

            I joined the harvest in the afternoon, walking barefoot across the soft and rockless soil of Blockhouse Field, which is newly drained and freshly harrowed. The sun had warmed the ridges, leaving the furrows in cool shadow. The squash was growing next to the field corn, which is mature now, and beginning to dry. The stalks at the edge have been ravaged by raccoons and crows, the ears raggedly shucked by claws and beaks so their cobs hang down bare and look like they are wearing grass skirts. All hands not busy with urgent work elsewhere on the farm were hauling squash, and had been since morning. We filled our harvest bags, and emptied each bag into an apple crate. By evening every crate on the farm was full, but one row of pumpkins remained. So as the sun disappeared we filled the truck bed, and when the bed was full, we filled the back seat. The last pumpkin had to be passed through the window, in twilight, but in it went. We harvested between 15 and 20 tons. Thank you to the whole strong crew for a long exhausting day. After all that, the night turned warmer than expected, and the frost missed us.

            To celebrate the harvest, may I suggest you eat a squash this week? All the varieties are delicious this year, but delicata is a favorite for taste and convenience. The flesh is nutty, dry and sweet. The skin is edible, so no peeling. Jane likes it best roasted: cut it in half, scrape out the seeds, dot with butter, add salt and a few pieces of sage or thyme, then roast at 450 until soft, about 30 minutes. Mark’s way to cook delicata is the speediest: halve and seed it, then cut the halves into ½  inch crescents. Steam until soft, about 12 minutes, then butter and salt.

            Please welcome Courtney Coleman to the farm, and his husband Russ to the community. Courtney brings farm skills, butchering skills, and over-the-top delicious cooking skills. His kale and root vegetable stew saved me from fainting in the field yesterday. I have more welcomes to make but am out of time and space so will save them for next week. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this squash-tastic 41st week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. –K&M

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