3.31.2015

Internship Plans: Three Farm Summer

My Three Farm Summer Internship in Local Food Producers - FoyUpdate
Packing shares at Hawkin's Family Farm.  I've helped with the CSA since the fall of 2011. 

There are three family farms less than ten miles from our house: RiverRidge Farm, Hawkins Family Farm and Joy Field Farm.  Over the three years we have lived here in northwest Indiana their meat, eggs and produce have made their way into our pantry and onto our table.

They are a friendly bunch of farmers and whenever I get the chance I corner them with my pressing garden questions including but not limited to:  how they store root crops for winter, build their soil and extend the growing season. 

There are many commonalities between these farms beyond their location.  All three are family farms with strong faith, and deep ties to their community.  I have a reading list that will take me years to finish from their recommendations.

They are scholarly agrarians.  Not quite in the way the professors we hang out with are scholarly.  Professors tend to be interested in how to teach a foundation of information for their specialization.  These local food producers are seeking knowledge for practical application: How can we protect the environment through local food production?  How do we feed our community body and soul?  How does working the land put people in greater connection with nature and god?  How do we get good quality food to the people most at risk for food insecurity in our community?  

Last summer I was sitting out on Hawkin's Farm enjoying a pizza from their brick oven, hanging out with family and friends, when I saw a trio over at a neighboring picnic table.  I put together what I knew about each of them and realized two of them worked with Joyfield Farm and the other worked over at RiverRidge Farm.  I imagined them sharing gardening tales and discussing the merits of different harvesting techniques.  One of the things I miss most about working at public gardens is talking plants.  My kids are great, but their agriculture conversation could use some work.  The little group of farm girls made me smile.

RiverRidge Farm lettuce mix in covered rows spring #3farmsummer FoyUpdate
Nathan at RiverRidge Farm shows his mixed lettuce growing under row covers at his 5-acre family farm. This photo is from the first time I met him on a farm tour in March 2012.  

I didn't think about it too much at the time, but later when I saw a Help Wanted sign at one of the farm stores, I considered I could get some first hand experience too.  Somewhere along the way that evolved into maybe I could work one summer at each farm.  The more I thought about it, the more I like it.  But I also realized taking three summers to learn when I could be using that time to earn money for the other things a family needs and wants didn't seem practical. I condensed my three summers into just one. Then over the winter, I folded in the goal of feeding my family locally produced or home grown food for a whole year.   (Here's the goal setting blog post.)

In early March I drafted a letter proposing I work one day a week at each farm in exchange for food for 12-weeks over the summer.  A couple weeks later, I visited with each farm and found all of them very willing and even excited about the idea.  We talked about how they could best use me and the potential things I could learn and I put together a schedule.

It's going to happen!  It's going to be a three farm summer.  I will get to learn by doing, observing and experiencing what it takes to make a living on a diversified, organic, family farm.  Part of my plan is to share the experience here on this blog (and on social media using #3FarmSummer).  I will start working the last week of May and go through mid-August 2015.

In April, I'm going to write a little about each farm as I understand them now.  I'm curious to see how my views change as I get to know them better and gain first hand experience working on these farms.

It's going to be an exciting #3farmsummer!  

3.24.2015

Selecting Blue, Red and White Potatoes for the Home Vegetable Garden



How to select potato varieties for the home garden and how much seed potato to buy to grow enough to store for winter. From Foy Update

It happened again.  I haven’t ordered my potatoes and it is late March which means places are selling out!

Potatoes have gotten a bad reputation because they are made into processed foods like french fries and chips then packaged into crinkly bags and marketed heavily.  However, if you are cooking at home roasting, baking, grilling and boiling are all healthy ways to enjoy a potato.  There is lots of good nutrition in a potato, don't be fooled!

Buying seed potatoes online - how to select a variety and how much to buy for your home garden
The five pounds of 'Adirondack Blue' potatoes I bought from Johnny's Selected Seeds. I was excited to get them and a little apprehensive because I had never grown potatoes before.

Last year I bought five pounds of ‘Adirondack Blue’ seed potatoes.  We had a nice harvest and we ate our lovely potatoes until they ran out in the beginning of November.  This year I am determined to grow even more; two times more so we will have more for the winter.

As I work towards feeding my family locally year-round, we will be eating fewer grains and relying on winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes and sweet potatoes for the starchy components of our meals.  I estimate we eat five pounds of potatoes a week; roughly a half pound of potatoes per adult per day.  Yes, that seems like a lot of potatoes.  If I wanted to have enough to store for nine months (September through May), we would have to grow 126 pounds of potatoes (assuming we lose none to spoilage or low yields).

*** Warning Math Ahead ***

According to Ohio State Extension, "A good yield would be 150 to 175 pounds of usable potatoes from 100 feet of row" or about 1.5-1.75 pound per foot of row.   For standard size potatoes one pound of seed potatoes are needed for every ten feet of row; approximately 1/10th a pound per foot of row.  (Fingerling and specialty potatoes are usually more.)  Now I am going to do some math.  

Here's how to figure out how much potato you should grow, how much garden space you will need, and how much seed potato to buy:

How many potatoes should you grow to feed your family through the winter?  
(number of pounds potatoes eaten in a week) * 36 weeks = number of pounds you should grow
5 pounds of potatoes a week * 36 weeks = 126 pounds of potatoes 

How many feet of row should you plant of potatoes?  
(The number of pounds you should grow) / 1.625 pounds per foot of row = number of feet of row you should plant
126 pound of potatoes / 1.625 pounds per foot of row = 77 feet of row needed

How many pounds of seed potato do you need to buy?
(The number of feet of row you should plant) / 10 = number of pounds of seed potato needed
77 feet of row / 10 = 7.7 pounds of seed potatoes needed  

Where to shop for seed potatoes?  


To get the interesting and organically grown varieties, I look online.
  1.          Johnny’s Selected Seeds (JSS)
  2.          Seed Savers Exchange (SSE)
  3.          The Maine Potato Lady (MPL)
  4.          High Mowing Seeds (HMS)

Yummy breakfast: Pan fried blue potatoes, over easy egg, avocado and salsa
The 'Adirondack Blue' potatoes fried up nicely for breakfast with some avocado, egg and salsa.  #yummy

I consider my options.  I know I want a blue or red potato.  The seed companies who sell the ‘Blue Adirondack’ variety I grew last year are sold out, I consider what’s in stock (as of 2/24/2015).

Blue or Red Colored Flesh Potatoes

  • ‘Red Adirondack’ the red version of my aforementioned blue, early set and good storage (JSS)
  • ‘All Blue’ respectable yields, stores well (MPL, HMS)
  • ‘Magic Molly’ a deep blue waxy fingerling (JSS, MPL)
  • ‘Papa Caco’ Peruvian fingerling potato with pink flesh, roasting (MPL)

I would also like a good all around white potato that stores well.

Good All Around White Potatoes:

  • ‘German Butterball’ noted for its taste as well as long storage, late-season (SSE, HMS)
  • ‘Kennebeck’ good all around potato coming from a strong bread for resistance to lots of potato problems, mid-season (JSS, MPL)
  • ‘Yukon Gold’ excellent yield, great keeper, slightly dry flesh, early-season (JSS, SSE, MPL, HMS)
  • ‘Russet’ excellent flavor, long storage (there are several different varieties)
  • ‘Purple Viking’ early blue skin, white flesh variety with excellent yields (HMS, SSE)
As I make my choices, I am also looking for an early and a late season potato so that I have some available to eat in the summer through fall and then some to store for winter and hopefully into the spring. 

I will probably regret how many seed potatoes I ordered when I have to dig all the extra bed space this spring, but I am excited to try new varieties and see how storing large quantities of potatoes goes. 

Home Vegetable Garden in June - Potato Patch
Here's my little patch of potatoes from last year in early June. I had two rows each 10 feet long.


In the end, I ordered four varieties in two purchases; one from Johnny's Select Seeds and one from High Mowing Seeds:
‘Red Adirondack’ 5 pounds - The red version of my aforementioned blue, early set and good storage   
‘All Blue’ 2.5 pounds - Respectable yields, stores well 
‘German Butterball’ 2.5 pounds - noted for its taste as well as long storage, late-season  
‘Kennebeck’ 5 pounds - good all around potato, bred for resistance to lots of potato problems, mid-season
I also ordered some sweet potatoes.  I've never grown those before.  I got the only variety that was still available from Johnny's or High Mowing, one called 'Beauregard'.  

What potatoes will you be growing this year and where do you buy them?  

3.12.2015

Strawberry Lemon Marmalade - All You'll Ever Need to Know About Making Marmalade Recipe

Strawberry Lemon Marmalade - a shot of summer to get you through the cold winter

Here is a lovely taste of spring when it seems like the snow is hanging on forever!  Sweet summer strawberries meet tart lemon juice and the slightly bitter zest in this Strawberry Lemon Marmalade.

Last winter we hosted a friend who was on her way cross country.  Indiana was a nice way point.  She left a thank you jar of homemade ginger marmalade.  It was divine.  I didn't even try to convince  Junebug to try it again when she didn't like it because of the "sticks" in it.  More for me!
Then summer came around and we found ourselves in the happy position of taking care of a neighbor's strawberry patch in the middle of the strawberry harvest.  We ate as much as we could hold and I froze three big bags of berries for winter jam making.  While looking up strawberry jam recipes I came across this one for Strawberry and Meyer Lemon Marmalade.  I pinned the recipe knowing I would have to wait until December to find organic citrus because that's when Florida and California are harvesting.

Since the peel is used in marmalade and regular lemons are treated with fungicides and other chemicals to keep them looking good in the grocery store, I knew organic would taste better and be healthier.  
December rolled around and it was busy so I figured I could put off marmalade making until January.  Then in January the grocers were constantly sold out of organic lemons.  Finally in February, I found a 2-pound bag, hallelujah!  Thank you California citrus growers.  It was jam making time.

Lemon and Strawberries make a tart and sweet strawberry lemonade marmalade

I went back and reread the recipe I had pinned only to realize I needed more information.  I wanted to know more about the time and temperature which thickened the marmalade; and how much peel to soak; and how to do the cold plate test to check to see if there is enough jell happening.

First I tried my cookbooks and the only one I found a marmalade recipe in was my Ball Blue Book of Canning and it was a very brief recipe and did not answer any of my questions.  Next I did the internet search, hunting down marmalade recipes with lots of detail.  
  • This Williams Sonoma orange marmalade recipe told me more about the cold plate test.
  • This BBC Good Food orange marmalade recipe had even more information about the cold plate test as well how to know when the zest was cooked enough and descriptions of what the marmalade should look like as it cooks.
  • This Ina Garten's orange marmalade recipe included temperatures and what to do if the marmalade gets over cooked.
  • This Alton Brown's orange marmalade recipe said to use a candy or deep fry thermometer to reach the very specific 222-223 degrees F.  
  • And lastly I followed Love and Olive Oil's link to find the original recipe at Simple Bites which was a guest post by Food in Jars.  
Then I set about making my strawberry lemon marmalade.  First thing you need to know is it takes two days.

When making marmalade create a bundle of the seeds and rinds to soak in the juice.  This draws out the pectin that will help jell the preserves.

Day 1:

On day one zest the lemons and then juice them.  Then put the zest in the juice along with a bag full of any seeds and some of the leftover rinds.  You put them in a bag so you can take them out easily since they won't be in the final marmalade.  The soaking does two things:
  1. Softens the zest so the cook time is reduced
  2. Releases pectin from the rind and seeds so that a firm jell happens when you reach the magical 222-223 degrees F. 
How to zest for marmalades - use a vegetable peeler and a paring knife to make ribbons rather than a micro-plane grater.
The micro-plane grater (left) created too fine zest that did not produce the right consistency for traditional marmalade.  I found my vegetable peeler plus paring knife (right) allowed me to make nice small ribbons of zest.  If I had a zester tool I would have used that instead.  

Also, on Day One macerate the strawberries by mixing them with half the sugar and let them sit covered overnight.  I learned from Sauver that macerating does some useful things:
  • The sugar breaks down the fruit so cooking takes less time,
  • The sugar draws the water out of the strawberries making a syrup,
  • The sugar makes the pectin stronger, and
  • The longer the fruit macerates the richer and stronger the flavors become
If you want to do everything in one day, instead of letting the juice/zest and macerated strawberries sit overnight in the fridge you can do just three hours at room temperature.

Macerated strawberries and lemon juice and zest create a sweet and tart marmalade

Day 2:

The next day make and bottle the marmalade.  First, take the bag of seeds and pith out of the lemon juice and discard them into the compost.

Before cooking started here is the mixture of the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest to make Strawberry Lemon Marmalade

Then add, macerated strawberries, the remaining sugar, lemon juice and zest to a wide, heavy bottomed pot on the stove.  (A wide pot increases the surface area to speed evaporation and a heavy bottom heats evenly; in case you were wondering why that specific kind of pot.)

Cook it all together until enough water evaporates, the color darkens and it reaches the magical 222-223 degrees F.

The marmalade recipes I had open all suggested that it should only take 15-30 minutes to cook the marmalade.  Well it took me a little more than an hour.  I suspect it had something to do with the slow to heat nature of the enameled, cast-iron pot I used and the extra water in the strawberries.  Traditionally marmalade are just citrus fruit.

As my marmalade cooked, I used the Cold Plate Test and a thermometer to check progress.  Once I had a nice jell, I bottled and processed the jars in a boiling-water canner.

My only regret is that this recipe only makes four half-pints.  Here's how you can make it too: 

Strawberry Marmalade AKA Strawberry Lemonade Jam

1 pound of strawberries fresh or frozen 
2 pounds of organic lemons (9 small or 5-6 large lemons)
3 cups of sugar

 Day 1:

  1. Zest all the lemons.  You can either use a zester (not a micro-plane grater) to create small ribbons of zest.  Or use a vegetable peeler to shave off the top layer of rind and then use a sharp knife to cut the shaved peel into fine ribbons.  
  2.  Juice enough of the lemons to yield one cup.  Wrap any seeds and at least a third of the rinds into a small linen or cheese-cloth sack to create a bundle; preventing any of the rind or seeds from escaping.  
  3. In a large bowl add 1 cup lemon juice, zest, and 2 cups of water.  Then submerge the bundle with the seeds and rinds in the bowl.  Cover and let set at room temperature for 3 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.  
  4. In another large bowl, macerate the strawberries in 1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add the sugar to the strawberries and stir to coat.  Cover then allow to set for the same amount of time as the lemon juice and zest.  You do not need to chop the strawberries, let the sugar do the work for you.  

Day 2:

  1. Sanitize your canning jars and lids.  You will need 5 half-pints or the equivalent jars.  
  2. Heat a boiling-water canner to just about boiling and keep the water levels up while the marmalade cooks so you are ready to start boiling when the marmalade is ready. 
  3. Take the bundle of seeds and rinds out of the lemon juice bowl and discard them (hopefully into your compost).  In a wide, large, heavy bottomed pot combine the lemon juice, zest, macerated strawberries, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar.  
  4. Over medium heat bring the marmalade up to a simmer.  Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Stir every 5-10 minutes.  Once a simmer is reached cooking should take 40-60 minutes.  Use a thermometer to watch the temperature. As it approaches 222 degrees try the cold plate test to check the texture of your marmalade.  Also, visually the mixture will darken in color and the bubbles will become thicker and gloppier when the 222-223 degrees F is reached.  Here's what mine looked like when it was done cooking:
    Strawberry lemon marmalade cooked and ready to ladle into jars
  5. When you have the marmalade cooked, bring the water-bath canner up to a boil and fill the prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, wipe the rims of the jars with a clean cloth before putting on the sanitized lids.  Then promptly process in the water-bath canner.  If you are using half-pints, process for 10 minutes at a boil.  
  6.  Remove the jars from the canner, let set on a towel over-night to completely cool.  Check the seals.  Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated and eaten in the next 3-4 weeks.  Store your sealed marmalade in a cool, dark, dry location.  
Strawberry Lemon Marmalade AKA Strawberry Lemonade Jam - worth it

3.05.2015

The Cold Plate Test for Marmalade

A photo guide for how to do the cold Plate test for jams, jellies and marmalades from Foy Update

The cold plate test is a way for the home cook to check the consistency of jellied preserves during the cooking process.  

My next recipe is going to be how to make a gorgeous strawberry lemon marmalade.  I had never made a marmalade; and never made a jellied preserve without powdered pectin. All the recipes I came across were incomplete for a first time maker.  I did quite a bit of research to make sure I knew what I was doing. 

There were between 6-10 browser tabs open as I waded through each step.  In hopes of saving future makers all that work I am writing up very detailed steps, so if this is also your first time making marmalade or non-powdered pectin recipe, you'll have a clearer path.  Anyone can do it, if they have all the information!  

The marmalade recipe is coming up later this week.  First, here is how to do the cold plate test.  

To make sure the marmalade had jelled properly I used the Cold Plate Test - a way to test the texture of a preserve while it is cooking before it is cooled and jarred.   

To do the cold plate test:

    1. Place four clean china or Pyrex type plates in your freezer when you start cooking the preserve.  
    2. As your preserve darkens and the bubbles get gloppy, or it reaches 222-223 degrees F,   take a plate out of the freezer and drop a teaspoon of the hot marmalade on to the cold plate held flat.  
    3. Let it set 30 seconds then tip the plate.  The marmalade should run just bit and if you push your finger through it, it should wrinkle.  Hooray!  It's cooked perfectly and it's time to pour it into jars and process.    
    If it is Runny: If the marmalade runs off the plate there is still too much water in your mixture.   Let it cook for another 2-3 minutes then repeat step 3.    
    If it Doesn't Move: If the marmalade sets up hard, gets super tough and won't move at all, too much water has evaporated.  Add a quarter cup of water to your mixture and then repeat step 3.

    I documented what my marmalade looked like as I cooked it and the cold plate tests I did.  It took me three tests before my marmalade was ready to bottle.  


    How to do the Cold Plate Test for Jellies, Jams and Marmalades - a photo guide from Foy Update

    And I did indeed get a lovely spreadable texture for my marmalade.  

    How to do the cold plate test using this Strawberry Lemonade Marmalade as an example from Foy Update

    I love it when my recipes turn out just the way I was hoping.  


    2.26.2015

    Batch Cooking Italian Meatballs for Multiple Meals - Recipe

    Meatballs Recipe from FoyJoy.com
    I promised you meatballs.  The kind of meatballs that kids and adults love equally. The kind that freeze well.  The kind that can be made as a quintuple batch.  Why would you want meatballs that were all of these things?  Because some days you want a tasty, quick toddler lunch or a fast family meal; because some days there are not enough hours in the day.
    I am working on developing recipes that create multiple meals worth of food.  I have never understood folks who don't like leftovers.  Maybe they just don't have recipes that reheat well?  Then this recipe would be revolutionary - meatballs reheat well - for the record.
    I love to cook and I would gladly make a homemade meal every night, but as I work on getting this blog up and running, and look into an expanding the vegetable garden, and possibly working in other people's gardens I realize having an arsenal of big batch recipes will be important to my peace of mind and the health of my family
    Several nights this week I made big batch recipes and then didn't have to cook dinner the next day.  It was strange, but it was nice to do fewer dishes.  I'm not sure what I did with my extra time.  I do know I did not work on this website's design, sorry.
    I tried a couple recipes that while they did make a quantity of food were nothing special and won't bare repeating.  I did make these meatballs.    This is one of my few recipes that I knew would scale and freeze well.  You should try it.  You will wash fewer dishes.  You will be thankful.
    Meatball Recipe Page Cooks Illustrated
    The recipe comes from my trusty Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe (c)2004.
    When I was going through my Grandma's recipes I loved her hand written notes, they gave a context to the recipes.  Since then I have started:
    • dating when I try a recipe,
    • any changes/additions and
    • if there were any special occasions or people who enjoyed the dish.
    I highly encourage you to do the same.  I enjoy seeing my notes and find them useful;  And maybe future generations will too.
    The first time I made this meatball recipe was three years ago, as you can see by my notes, after Jeff told me he preferred meatballs to meat sauce.  I think most people do, but meat sauce is just so frackin' easy.  Then I found a way to make meatballs just as easy, batch 'em!
    There was a time when I could not get JuneBug to eat meat when she was about 12-18 months old.  She would only eat ground meat. I think it had something to do with meat being hard for her small jaw to chew. I found having meatballs in the freezer to be fantastic as quick toddler meals.
    Now up until yesterday I had never done five pounds of meatballs in one go before, but I had tripled this recipe with great success before so I figured it would work.
    This is what a quintuple batch of meat mixture looks like:
    Meat for the Meatballs 800
    This is everything but the buttermilk and bread mixture.   I generally make all our bread.  That's another recipe that I should write up! It worked out fabulously since I we had fresh bread to make meatball sandwiches for dinner!
    By the way, the mash of buttermilk and bread is called a panade and keeps the meatballs moist and tender.  This is especially important when you are using lean beef, like from a grass-fed cow.  How's that for a cooking tip?
    Weighing Meatballs 800
    It is important to form meatballs that are all the same size so they cook evenly.  Is the scale over kill?  Maybe, but I am not good at eyeballing and this works for me.  I make small one-ounce sized meatballs.
    Also, I have a remote camera shutter and now I can be in the photo too.  Nifty.
    Check Temperature of Meatballs
    After the meatballs baked, I used a thermometer to check and make sure they are cooked to a safe temperature.  Ground meat should be cooked to 165 degrees F.
    I do acknowledge that it is tastier to pan fry the meatballs.  However, pan frying 85 meatballs is not a time saving endeavor and I found it hard to get an even temperature on all the balls.  And since some of these are getting frozen, and the crunchy bits from the skillet that make pan fried superior wouldn't stay crunchy once frozen or refrigerated, I figure the oven is the way to go.  I looked up several recipes for baked meatballs to determine a temperature and cook time and with a few trials: 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes works out nicely.
    After letting the seven dozen meatballs cool, I froze most and put some of them in the fridge.  They are ready and waiting for when I don't have time to cook.
    This summer I put up some of my favorite Barbara Kingsolver's Family Secret Spaghetti Sauce.  It has tiny amount of lemon zest and cinnamon which give it a light fruity flavor that is a perfect compliment to salty, garlicky, tender meatballs.
    Meatballs Frozen with Jar of Sauce
    Future meals!  These are all the meatballs that were left after eating them for two dinners.  Hopefully, this is many lunches and another dinner.
    Since some of you won't want to make a quintuple batch I wrote up the regular sized recipe and then included the big 5x batch in parentheses.  The instructions remain the same for both.
    Italian Meatballs - Regular sized recipe (Big Batch) 
    2 slices (10 slices) of sandwich bread torn into small pieces
    1/2 cup (2 1/2 cups) buttermilk
    1 pound (5 pounds) ground beef
    1/4 pound (1 pound) ground pork
    1/4 cup (1 1/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
    2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) minced fresh parsley leaves
    1 large (5) egg yolk
    1 (5) small garlic clove, minced
    1/2 (2 1/2 teaspoons) teaspoon salt
    1/4 (1 1/4 teaspoons) teaspoon ground black pepper
    1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
    2. Tear the bread into small pieces about the size of a penny or smaller. In a small bowl combine the torn bread and the butter milk.  Use a fork to mash it all together and make a thick paste.  Set aside.
    3. In a large bowl (or a very large bowl if making the quintuple batch) add the pork, beef, Parmesan, parsley, yolks, garlic salt and pepper.  Add the buttermilk paste and use your hands to mix it all together.  Then shape into 1-ounce balls, a kitchen scale makes it easy to keep the size consistent.  If you do not have a scale, aim for a touch smaller than a golf ball.
    4. Place the meat balls on a rimmed cookie sheet.  You can place them fairly close together as they won't expand while baking.
    5. Bake for 15 minutes.  Check to make sure they have reached 145 degrees, if not put them back in the oven and check again in 3-5 minutes.  You can also check by cutting a ball open and looking for any pinkness, you don't want any pinkness.  You want a well done ball.  If you can't get them all done in one go, put the meat mixture into a dish with a cover and refrigerate for up to two days.
    Enjoy immediately with the pasta and sauce of your choice or as a meatball sandwich.  We've enjoyed these with basil pesto and tomato sauce.  The toddler likes hers plain because she is a toddler.
    To freeze, wait until the meatballs are room temperature before packing and freezing.  If you want to make sure they don't become one lump, you can freeze them on a clean cookie sheet first and then transfer them into a bag.  They will last months sealed in the freezer.