Falling
Happy mama.

Happy mama.

The days are getting shorter and the pigs are getting bigger.  I'm starting to get that feeling like I had around this time last year - like it's war out there, trying to keep all these pigs fed (and contained), and each day I'm not sure that we're definitely winning.  We had our first litter of the fall/winter farrowing season yesterday. One of our spotted sows, Boots, popped out 12 healthy piglet and handled it like a champ.  In fact, she got up to have breakfast between piglet 4 and piglet 5.  The cows are still grazing on fall pastures.  The spring's calves are chunky little beefers, and they're looking pretty snazzy in their fresh winter coats.  What a difference from last year, when the pastures were all burned up by drought and we had already been feeding hay for 2 months.  Most of the produce is out of the garden, with just a handful (ok, maybe several hundred pounds... so a big handful) of beets and carrots and rutabagas left to bring in.  Now it's just a matter of finding somewhere to put everything. 

We'll have more animals on the farm this winter than ever before - 15 cows, 10 sows, one boar, and anywhere between 50 and 90 weaned pigs.  There's still a lot to do to get ready, but we're making progress.  Winter quarters are all set for gestating and farrowing sows.  The hoophouse is up and should have plastic on it tomorrow - this structure is 12 feet wide and 72 feet long, and will provide shelter for the swarm of growing pigs we'll have at any given time in the coming months. After the plastic is on, it's just a bit of fencing here and a gate or two there, and then it's time to move the critters into their winter home.  Thankfully the weather has been pleasant.  Well, except for last week which brought us 10 inches of rain (5 of which came in a few hours overnight), gusting wind, downed trees, and 2 days with no power. 

Part of the joy of farming is living intimately with the seasons, knowing fully the joys and hardships each has to offer.  The buzzing acceleration of spring, full of hope and anticipation.  The hustle and bustle of summer, brimming with life and opportunity.  The downhill falling feeling of autumn, a drawing inward, a turn toward introspection from summer's ebullience. The shared suffering of winter, love's warmth and tenderness starkly illuminated against the cold dark. Each in it's turn, successes celebrated and failures taken in stride, a life lived closely with weather and soil.  We're falling now, but soon enough we'll be settled in for winter, staying warm by the wood stove, dreaming of spring once again.

Jeff Backer
Pork and pickles
Coming soon(ish) to a Smoked Chili and Pumpkin sausage near you.

Coming soon(ish) to a Smoked Chili and Pumpkin sausage near you.

Things are really cranking around here, on the farm and in the kitchen.  The fall cabbages and winter squash look amazing.  Maybe a little too amazing.  Walking down the row of Late Flat Dutch cabbages is both thrilling and terrifying, with many of the 150 plants carrying 8-lb heads the diameter of dinner plates.  The Korean cabbages are equally intimidating - I picked 85 lbs for kimchi this week and barely made a dent.  The 10 lbs of Chinese radishes I picked for the same was farcical.  The Long Island Cheese pumpkins are almost universally massive, and the late warm weather is letting the late-planted crop develop fully.  I'm beginning to eye every empty corner of the house as a potential pumpkin depot.  The tomato plants are still thriving and continuing to ripen their fruit.  Same with the peppers, both sweet and hot.  The smoker has been going non-stop for the last couple of weeks, drying load after load of tomatoes and sweet peppers, soon to be loaded up with chilis.  The unicorn that came to me in a dream and whispered "Make your own smoked paprika, and you will have the most magical Spanish-style chorizo...." is seeing her prophecy fulfilled.  And then there's the onions. And the Gilfeathers (<- definitely worth a read).  And the potatoes.  And the carrots.  And the beets.  Such bounty!  Such good fortune brought forth from the soil!  Such a panicked look on Dave's face!  Dave has been working like a beaver at Niagara Falls to make good use of it all, and our first ferments are all jarred up and ready to go.  Look for Dill Pickles, Chipotle Kraut, and traditional Kimchi at the markets, with lots more to come throughout the fall and winter.

Though we've had a bit of a gap in production in the meat department, things are also going well on that side of things.  The cows are just about finished grazing the 4 acres of Japanese millet and forage soybeans planted in June into last years pig pasture, and we've got enough amazing clover and grass pasture to get us at least to the beginning of November.  No more beef to harvest this year, but the three Beltie steers are packing on the pounds and should be looking good late next spring.  The 75 grower pigs are doing their thing (growing!) and doing a fine job at rooting up the ratty weedy old pasture so we can pull the stones out and plant soil-building cover crops.  We do have quite a bit of pork coming back from the butcher this week, which means we can start the process of restocking our sausage inventory.  Dave made Maple Breakfast and Sweet Italian this week and  Moroccan Quince, Bratwurst, Hot Italian, and Thai (!!) are scheduled for this coming week.  As for salami, we've got two big batches of Sweet Soppressata and Finocchiona that just finished - look for them at the markets this weekend.  We're still not totally flush with meat to process, but things will look better later this fall and into the winter - starting late November, we have pigs to slaughter almost every week right through the beginning of March. 

In other news... the future is now.  In addition to AI (which is currently doing the bidding of autocrats and naive tech billionaires and not-so-naive tech billionaires but will almost inevitably be working for itself sooner than we expect) taking over our politics and shaping our social interactions and cultural identities, you can now order your SCF CSA share online!  With a credit card!  Ah, technology.  Pros and cons, folks, pros and cons.  You still have a couple of days to order shares at a discount to pick up this winter, so go ahead and do it now!

Jeff Backer
Dinner plans
Clockwise from top left: Napa cabbage salad, roasted fingerling potatoes with stuff, chorizo verde.

Clockwise from top left: Napa cabbage salad, roasted fingerling potatoes with stuff, chorizo verde.

"What do you do with this?"  This is a question we field at the farmers' markets with some regularity.  Well, when it comes to the sausages, many of them stand on their own, and our typical response goes something like, "Just cook 'em and eat 'em, with some greens and roasted potatoes to make a square meal."  The picture above represents a pretty standard dinner at Short Creek.  Simple and delicious, made with all fresh produce from our own vegetable garden. We don't bring veg to the markets, but our veggie-focused comrades will have everything you need.  The only thing that takes a minute here is the roasted potatoes, but it's very little prep time and mostly drinking-beer-waiting-for-them-to-be-done time.  In my experience.

Napa cabbage salad.  This one's pretty complicated, folks.  Slice some Napa cabbage, thinner on the stem end and a bit thicker on the leaf end.  Grate one clove of garlic on a microplane.  Slice one onion very thin.  Toss cabbage, onion, and garlic with soy sauce, sesame oil, and some vinegar.  Add more salt and/or vinegar to taste.  Add other stuff (a little fresh chili? cilantro?) as you wish - you are the master of your own destiny, at least in cabbage salad related matters.  Make this right after you get the potatoes in the oven so it can marinate a bit while the potatoes are roasting. 

Roasted potatoes.  We like fingerlings or Yukon Gold (or similar) for roasting.  Slice potatoes into wedges (if using Yukons), or in half or in oblique rounds (if using fingerlings).  Liberally grease a baking sheet with lard or bacon fat (fine, you can use olive oil if you want) and arrange the potatoes in a single layer.  Salt liberally.  Seriously, more salt, don't mess around - it's hard to over-season potatoes.  Now here's the trick - cover with foil (or just use a second baking sheet) and roast in a hot oven (450F).  The salt draws some moisture from the potatoes, so you're effectively steaming them in this first step.  After 20 - 30 minutes, remove the cover and continue roasting until golden brown and crispy, perhaps another 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes - this makes them easier to get off the sheet (a sharp flexible spatula like a fish spatula is helpful, too).  If you used enough fat, you shouldn't really have problems with sticking.  Salt to taste and you're done.  If you want to mix things up a little, you can do like I did in the picture above.  Toss those hot potatoes with some thinly sliced onion, lots of fresh parsley, a wee bit of olive oil and a few drops of vinegar, and some grated Parmesan.  Or whatever strikes your fancy.

Sausage.  Well, this one's easy - we're going with pan-roasted.  If you don't have one already, get yourself a decent digital instant-read probe-type thermometer.  Re-printed from the very well-regarded "How to Cook Sausage" flyer, a classic by the inimitable David Viola:  Preheat the oven to 200°F. Heat an ovenproof frying pan, slicked with oil, over medium heat. Cook sausage three minutes, flip, and cook another two minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven until sausages reach 140°F, roughly eight to ten minutes more.  We usually slice each link into five pieces before serving, but let them rest for a few minutes first.

Jeff Backer
More summer please
Pig pasture with cover crop growing.

Pig pasture with cover crop growing.

First, it's business time. 

1.  Having taken a fresh look at the winter slaughter schedule, and then a fresh look at the size of our freezer, we've decided to extend the discount CSA pricing until Ocober 1.  By joining the CSA early, you help us not only by taking some pressure off our storage capacity, but also by helping to finance the enormous costs of feeding and processing 60+ pigs through the fall and winter.  Check out the website for more info and to sign up.

2.  We will be doing the delivery to Grafton this Monday, Labor Day, between noon and 3pm.  Our hope is that the early pickup will give you time to come get your groceries at Potter Hill with plenty of time to prep for an afternoon BBQ. Sausages and ground beef will thaw easily (and safely) in less than an hour in a large bowl of cool water. Incidentally, the weather looks lousy on Sunday, but great on Monday!

Ok, moving on to more important things - namely, me griping about the weather.  Seriously, what the hell happened to summer? There's been a definite feeling of fall in the air the last couple of cool nights, and the forecast indicates more to come.  I do love fall, and I'll admit the weather has been pleasant in and of itself, but I can't say I'm ready just yet. With the tomato and pepper plants loaded up with fruit and a lot of ripening left to do on the squash vines, we're gonna need some more hot days and warm nights, please. There's no evidence in the forecast to support my hunch, but after the spring we had (remember April??) I'm betting on a long mild autumn with nothing but sunny warm days (but not too hot) and beautiful crisp nights (but no frost) until well into October. Ah, farm fantasies.

Back to reality, things really are cruising along here on the farm.  The last sow farrowed about 10 days ago, and so our spring/summer farrowing rotation is complete, with a total of 81 pigs born and raised to weaning-age since the middle of May. That's 8.1 piglets weaned from each of our 10 sows, if you're keeping score.  And if you're not, we certainly are.  With most of the sows actually being first-litter gilts, these are good results. Good, but not great - we aim to wean 10 piglets per sow on average and with little variation.  The sows are getting re-bred right after weaning (in theory), so that puts us on track for winter farrowing starting in November and continuing right through the middle of January (in theory), which in turn puts us on track to harvest starting in early May 2018 (...in theory).  Talk about planning ahead!  And, speaking of planning ahead, I suppose it's about time to nail down our winter farrowing setup..... erm, nope.  Not yet.  I need a couple of weeks to just exist, thank you very much.

As you know, SCF is a farm-to-kitchen operation, and things are cranking in the kitchen, too.  Though we've been coping with a tight pork inventory this summer as we transition to doing all of our own pig breeding, there's been enough produce coming out of the garden lately to make sure that Dave has his hands full.  Dill pickles, pickled beets, smoked chili sauerkraut, lacto-ketchup, and kimchi are all in the works, and you should start seeing some of this stuff at markets soon with more to come throughout the fall.

Thank you all for contributing to our pork shortage this summer.  We're thrilled to be struggling to keep up with demand in our second season on the farm, and your continued support means the world to us.  We understand that schedules get crazy as kids head back to school and the days get shorter, but don't forget that the farmers' markets are still in full swing.  In fact, September through early October is the most bountiful time on many New England farms, as summer crops taper off and fall crops take their place.

See you at the markets this weekend!

Jeff Backer
Gray day garden tour
Jeff Backer