Sweet Corn

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2017

Harvesting sweet corn is one of my favorite jobs. There’s the satisfaction of the blue harvest bag slung over one shoulder, getting heavier and heavier with every step and with each ear that goes into it. There are the brilliant black and yellow garden spiders, the size of a silver dollar, who sling their orderly webs on the sturdy scaffolding of the stalks. Best, though, are the rows themselves, which are like hallways with tall green living walls, exuding oxygen. When I was a girl I liked to gallop my horse down rows of mature corn, ducking behind her neck to avoid getting cut by the papery leaves zipping past. Those broad, powerful green leaves are so good at drawing in the energy of the sun, and transforming it into starch, into sugar. To me, sweet corn is the taste that means the end of summer is in sight. It is all the energy that has hit the ground since spring in a ingeniously wrapped package. I like sweet corn any way that a person can dish it up, from raw in the field to charred on a grill. I never boil it, but steam, and always in great quantities, so that there are two categories: the fresh on the cob corn that’s eaten hot with butter and salt; and the next-day corn, which is a different animal entirely. That one, I like best cut off the cob, reheated in a skillet with a little butter, then spritzed with lime (or vinegar), seasoned with salt and pepper, and topped with a giant handful of cilantro, some chopped green onion, diced tomatoes, and maybe some hot peppers, either pickled or fresh. I believe that any way you cook it, sweet corn plus some new potatoes is a meal. If you want to get fancy you can grill some sausages and throw together a green salad, but really the corn and the potatoes are all you need. This time of year, simple is good, and you can’t do any better than letting food speak for itself.

            We got some hay in this week, bringing the total for the year to 920 large round bales of middling quality. Now we are looking for the next dry window, to start the second cut, which is higher in protein and available nutrients; haymaking has been such a challenge this year, and the second cut will probably be reserved this winter for the lactating dairy cows, who need it the most.   

            Meanwhile, there are two large projects happening simultaneously, in different areas of the farm. In the northwestern corner, the 300’ compost barn is going up. So far, the topsoilhas been removed, and the concrete has been poured. It is the biggest structure we have built here, by far.

            Further east, along Blockhouse Road, the Barns are finishing installation of another 35 acres of drainage. It’s hard for me to watch without thinking of the money going into the ground along with the perforated pipe, but it’s comforting to see the quality of the soil it’s going into.

            We are looking for workers, volunteer or hired, for this coming week, during which a lot of our regular team will be away on vacation. If you’re interested, text Mark at 518-570-6399. I promise it won’t be dull. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this busy 33rd 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.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball 

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linger, languor

Essex Farm Note

Week 32, 2017

There’s a heaviness to mid-August that seems to arrive on the air and spread to everything: the fattening fruit of the tomatoes, the full moon, the heavy pods of weed seeds, the thick-bodied insects upon which the hens are feasting. The heaviness feels seductive and a little dangerous. Linger, languor. Stay in this part of the season too long and our eyelids would grow heavy, our wills weak. Always, right about now, I begin to feel eager for light air and cool breezes, the first chill nights of fall. Walking through heavy grass with Mark yesterday, he reminded me that frost is only six weeks away. Six weeks! And between now and then there will be so much good food to eat. The sweet corn’s kernels are beginning to plump. I expect we’ll have some in the share next week, or the week after for sure, and then it should be an all-you-can-eat corn fest, with plenty for the freezer if we can keep up with picking. Cucumbers are coming in from the field now, and we planted more in the greenhouse this week, along with some supplementary late tomatoes, in case the early plants succumb to blight. We have hot peppers available this week, with some sweet ones getting very close. I’ve been loving the little purple striped cherry tomatoes – a new variety for us this year – and we had our first good harvest of large slicers this week. Meanwhile, some of the big storage crops are coming in. Isabelle and her team got all the yellow onions harvested yesterday and into the hot dry loft of the east barn to cure. The garlic came in last week, and is also drying. The summer carrots are all in now, too, and the fall carrots are beginning to size up.

            On the animal side, it’s been a birthy week. Ursula the sow had her litter, and we’re waiting for Cori the Jersey cow to calve, any minute now. Cori’s 2015 daughter, Crayfish, just came up from the heifer pasture to join the cow herd. She is the spitting image of her dark-spotted mother and also inherited her high-strung temperament. It took five days to teach her to walk into her stanchion but now that she’s finally got it she does it at a dead run. The older batch of turkeys got a paddock of grass this week,  and the younger set has moved from their brooder in the garage to a section of the middle greenhouse. They are awkward and strange and I like their weird little personalities. Something stealthy is picking off chicks in the west barn brooder. Charlotte suspects a weasel or mink. Mozzie the Great Pyrenees is living with the hens this week. All three dogs were getting bitten terribly by flies, and Mozzie’s nose was getting the worst of it. Repellant ointment would probably work, but the dogs hate it so much they run through the fence when they see me coming with it. The shade of the chicken barn is doing Mozzie a lot of good, and he should be back with the sheep in a of couple days.

            Members, we had a skim of ice on the milk in the bulk tank this morning. We are still getting the hang of that new piece of equipment! Freezing breaks up milk’s fat molecules, so some might notice a slight change in texture (it looks chunky in hot coffee) but the taste and quality are good. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this heavy 32nd 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.                                                                                                      

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Wild Milk

Essex Farm Note

Week 31, 2017

David Asher is responsible for the mess in my kitchen. There is a pot of renneted milk that has been sitting unattended on the pantry counter for the last 24 hours. Its soft curd has sunk in a pool of pale yellow whey, and there is a skim of white mold growing over all of it. (Geotricum candidum!) On the other side of the kitchen, there’s a cloth bag of cottage cheese made simply from milk, taken warm from the cow and left on the counter for two days to clabber. It’s dripping whey now, into a bucket in the sink. The whey from that bucket is destined for the stovetop tomorrow, to be make into a tiny batch of seriously authentic ricotta. Finally, there is a jar of kefir bubbling away on top of the dishwasher, which I nip from every morning as soon as I wake up, and refresh every day with more milk, in a continuous ferment, like a Mongolian herdswoman.

            David is the author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, and came to the Hub a few weeks ago to teach a class. His premise-- that good fresh raw milk from pastured animals contains all the native cultures you need to make any cheese in the world – really blew my mind, because it’s so different from conventional methods, which rely on laboratory-grown cultures and microbial rennet. He points out that this is the same premise that rules the making of sourdough bread – the wheat carries yeast spores, the means of its own leavening, and of traditionally fermented vegetables, which carry all the bacteria they need, given the right conditions, to transform into sauerkraut, or kim chi. This made so much sense to me, and was so different from everything I though I knew about dairy, that I dove in hard. Now that I’ve tasted some of the products made from these traditional methods I’m a true believer. I fully recommend his book. The more I read and know about our gut microbiome, the more I believe that these wild, living, minimally processed, naturally fermented foods that are part of our human culinary tradition are key to good health.

            The farm roads and fields were all full of traffic this week. Ground work has begun on the big pole barn, which we’ll use to make compost. On the other side of the farm, the Barnes family is back to add drainage to the fields along Blockhouse Road. The beautiful loam soil in that section is so wet as to be unproductive in all but the very driest years (like last year), so we are looking forward to restoring it to healthy production. Meanwhile, the usual fieldwork continues. Isabelle Smith is here for two weeks, and she always brings a gust of fun along with her good hard work. The Amish girls have been a terrific addition to our summer crew. This week we had Elizabeth from the Shetler farm near Westport, as well as a rotation of Swartzentruber girls, so we had two buggies in the barnyard and two lean, fast-lined Standardbreds in the barn during the day.

            We got some hay in this week. Some of it was only rained on twice. The vegetables look gorgeous. The sweet corn should be ready for harvest in 2 or 3 weeks. Tomatoes are being hammered by crows but soon production will outpace even their shiny black appetites. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hot 31st week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, 518-963-4613, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.  –K&M