Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 4/28/10

The fact that April is nearly over is new.

Things all around us are noticeably early this year. The leaves are out two to three weeks earlier, the fiddleheads are coming fast and the blackflies are out in force.

Dandelions are starting to bloom; there are some dandy ones in the garden right now. Growing up on a farm in central Maine we had many dishes of steamed dandelions. My father would go out and get them and my mother would clean and cook them, and we'd all eat them. Mother always said cleaning them was the hard part. The best ones came from the garden just before we plowed it down or along the edges of the cornfields. Big and bushy, harvested before the blossoms opened up, and steamed with ample amounts of creamery butter and salt; can't beat that! My folks harvested, cleaned, blanched and froze dandelions for eating all winter well into their eighties; perhaps dandelions contributed to their longevity.

The key to harvesting flavorful (notice I didn't say bitter) dandelions is to get them before they blossom. The blossoms can be picked and deep fried with a batter coating much like you'd do onion rings. I think cooking them like this takes away the bitterness often associated with blooming dandelions.

You would think living out here we would have eaten fiddleheads as well as dandelions. Well, in a word, no. I never ate fiddleheads until about ten years ago. Peggy and I were at camp and went for a walk up along a nearby stream where we found a small patch of them. We picked maybe a half a pound, washed them in the stream, took them back to camp and steamed them for supper; delicious! Of course, like everything, fresh is always best. We went to camp this past Sunday and picked about two gallons of them; we'll have some freshly steamed, again with salt and butter, and we'll pickle the rest. Never heard of pickling fiddleheads? It's as easy as it gets.

Washing in clean water is just as important as picking them in unpolluted areas. We wash the fiddleheads to get all the brown papery husks off the fern heads three or four times in potable water, cook them until done (not overdone), then pack then into pint jars. Once packed we pour Italian dressing to cover the fiddleheads, screw a top on and refrigerate until we want to eat them. We've taken them ice fishing a good ten months after we processed them and they were fine. The only issue is that they take up refrigerator space until they're used, oh well. There's stuff in the fridge that isn't nearly as important as the pickled fiddleheads so I guess we can make some room.

On the farm this week, we are working in the greenhouses "bumping up" seedlings and doing some field work as well. This year finds us working the fields about two to three weeks earlier than normal, but it will give us a chance to get ahead a bit in case something happens. We could get 3 weeks of rain, so it's better to get some field prep done well ahead of schedule. Most of the fields have been plowed and many have been fertilized, so now we move on to making beds and laying plastic.

The wildlife report this week includes a couple of pairs of Canada geese hanging out at the irrigation pond, lots of swallows using the bird houses I put out and a large yellow spotted salamander. I went home for lunch today and I spotted a large (6") yellow spotted salamander near the compost pile. He looked pretty cold and wasn't moving, but was still alive, so I moved him into a covered area of the compost pile. As it rained this morning he was probably headed to the pond to breed but was surprised at the cold temps. Probably another case of "it feels like spring but the calendar says it's still April." Spotted salamanders are quite common but seldom seen during the day as they are nocturnal hunters and hide under logs and in leaves during the days.

Until next week, Brian

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