Saturday mornings are for sleeping in, lingering at home in your pajamas, leisurely drinking a warm cup of coffee, and then making your way to the farmer's market, right? Not so for a market farmer. My Saturdays begin when the sky is black and the birds, still fast asleep, have not even considered their morning song. I groggily get dressed and gulp down a few sips of coffee before getting behind the wheel of the truck and heading to Birmingham. I choose a fast-paced playlist, loud enough to keep me focused.
If the sky is clear, I’ll enjoy a colorful sunrise just before pulling into the designated Snow’s Bend corner of the Market at Pepper Place. Many of my fellow farmers have had to wake up much earlier and drive farther than I have. A busy market is worth it for us. In late May through July, we earn the money that will keep us going through the winter. For months now, we have worked hard growing the food, we have spent days harvesting and washing it, and hours packing, driving, and setting up before the opening bell rings.
David and I were introduced to farmer’s markets while we were interns. Our Saturday mornings then were spent at the bustling Seattle area farmer’s market we attended in Redmond, Washington. We quickly realized that we loved talking about food, sharing recipes, and trading with other vendors. Daily revelations on our plates were slowly converting us to a diet of fresh, organic produce. Once we had taken our first steps down that path, we knew that there was no turning back. We ate salads with smoked tuna piled high on top, eggplant parmesan with fresh tomatoes, perfectly prepared beets with thyme and goat cheese, and we made pancakes from scratch with fresh raspberries. Our market neighbor, Les, specialized in tomato plants, garlic, and apples. The many distinct varieties of each of these amazed us. Gravenstien apples and Korean Rocambole garlic were stand outs. Les gave us our first tomato plants and we grew them in whiskey barrels outside of our intern trailer.
setting up at the Tuscaloosa market our first year
Once we were back in Alabama and had started our own farm, we were excited to take what we had grown to the market. In Tuscaloosa, at that time, the Tuscaloosa Farmer’s Market was run by the Truck Grower’s Association. The “under-the-bridge market”, as we referred to it, was indeed under an overpass. This market was a remnant of the old, sell out of the back of your truck style market of the 1970s. Typically, there was about one customer for every 5 or 6 farmers. A new customer would arrive and all of the farmers would be watching them to see who they would buy from. It was awkward. The very first day a farmer there told me that she really just came down to “talk with my kinfolk”.
our first Pepper Place market in 2004
In mid-May of our first year, after many discouraging Saturdays at the Tuscaloosa market, The Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham opened and we were ready! That first day, we sold out of everything except for a couple of bunches of radishes and a few tomato plants. It seemed like we might actually be able to pull off this farming gig! Customers were hungry for our produce and the response in the following weeks was encouraging.
In our early years, it was only David and I, working every minute, side by side. We would break up the long Friday harvest; gathering greens and roots early in the morning and return to the field for tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, and zinnias in the late afternoon. During the hottest part of the day we would wash the greens and bunch root vegetables in our shaded packing area. Flowers were always the last thing we would pick. The air would begin to cool and dusk would settle on the farm. That is when we would crack open the cold beers for the home stretch.
One Friday in those early years, before a big farmer's market, we had completed the morning harvest and needed to return for those high dollar afternoon items. The hand-me-down suburban we were driving at the time decided it did not want to accelerate forward. It would, however, drive in reverse. We were at our cabin, which is on top of a hill, and the fields are down by the river. The road leading down is a steep and winding dirt road. David, determined as he is, decided he could drive down this road to the field backwards. I chose to walk. He did make it down, we got the harvest in, and a family member was able to lend us their truck for travel to market the next day.
There have been dead batteries at 5 am with a truck full of produce, flat tires on the interstate, and alarms not going off, but once we arrive at our market tent, there is a rush of excitement. Sharing the fruits of our labor with people that appreciate it makes it all worthwhile.
David loading for market in 2005
Packing the vehicles for market in the peak season is a skill that David mastered early on. It is a large-scale, 3-D game of Tetris, where everything must fit together perfectly. Buckets of flowers, especially the top-heavy sunflowers and cockscomb, must be packed last and secured so that as we make the bumpy, wide turn out of the gate they do not fall over. Unpacking at our booth Saturday morning is reminiscent of a clown car unloading. Instead of clowns though, it is coolers of lettuce, kale, chard, carrots, and beets; boxes of squash, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, and melons; buckets of basil and bouquets.
Farmer’s markets are like heaven to me. Being surrounded by real food and the people that produced it, everyone seems happy there. All morning long we talk about food, what we are cooking, what is being harvested for next week, how is the rain or lack thereof effecting things, how is your cat? Over our 16 years of attending farmer’s markets, David and I have watched children grow up one Saturday at a time, we have watched couples get married and grow families of their own, and we have made the strong friendships that began with a ‘Good morning’ shared over a pile of radishes or box of cucumbers.
When the market bell rings again at noon, signaling its close, there is a rush to pack up. When we push the four corners of the white market tent together, a feeling of contentment washes over us. We smile.
There is a strong camaraderie among farmers. It is a challenging occupation and one that leaves us spread far and wide with little time for socializing. Saturdays at noon we are gathered in one place and have the opportunity to catch up over a beer and lunch, if we are not already all talked out and completely exhausted. We discuss the market, how our crops are doing, our success and our struggles. Just as I feel we have the best customers; I also know that we have the best colleagues.
my favorite post-market meal
The moment I am packed back up and on the return trip to the farm, whatever energy I thought that I had, vanishes. All day long I have talked about cooking and eating and dreamed up lavish dishes to prepare that evening. However, by the time the truck is unloaded and everything put away, it is well into the afternoon and I have bottomed out. I opt for slices of fresh baguette spread with local goat cheese, topped with leaves of basil, slices of tomato, and sprinkled with salt. I wash this down with a cool glass of Rose and escape into a movie, falling asleep before 8 pm. This continues to be our Saturday after-market ritual, but our movie choices now are in the G-rated category and we have our children snuggled up with us.
Post-market 'American Gothic' circa 2006
Eight years ago, Tuscaloosa built a beautiful new facility to house the Tuscaloosa River Market and we have been there every Saturday since.
There is so much more to the farmer's market than the produce.
Come and see for yourself, and be sure you take home a tomato!
Tuscaloosa River Market
The Market at Pepper Place
I fell in love with beets in Morocco. A bowl of these gems would adorn the table at our evening meals. They were simply prepared, steamed and seasoned with salt, lemon juice, and cumin.
My love grew deeper during our farm internship in Washington, when David and I would roast them whole, peel them, then toss them with balsamic vinegar and fresh thyme. Often, we would eat them just like that, but sometimes we would add them to salad greens with goat cheese.
They were top of the list of crops we wanted to grow when we began farming on Snow's Bend.
David in our garden in 2005
As with many vegetables, some people declare that they do not like beets.
I counter with questions about when, where, and how they have eaten them in the past.
My dad was one of these people. One day when he was visiting us on the farm, we prepared a feast of farm food. He devoured the salad and then asked "What were the pink things in the salad?" I told him that he had just eaten a plate full of beets!
Chioggia beets are perfect for thinly slicing raw in salads or as addition to a crudite platter. Their concentric circles of pink and white are entrancing.
Gold beets have the mildest flavor and will not 'bleed', turning everything their shade, as the red beets do.
Personally, I relish the full flavor of the red beets and enjoy highlighting their bold color, as in this beet hummus.
Beet Red Velvet Cake with Fresh Chevre Frosting
(recipe included below)
I write a weekly newsletter for our CSA members which always includes a few recipes. It can be a challenge and I often find myself searching through the latest cookbooks for inspiration. As I was perusing beet recipes one day, I came upon Beets & Berries in On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox. The ingredients list included Beet Soil, with a separate recipe for that.
Intrigued, I looked it up. Juicing, dehydrating, a mortar and pestle...who has the time for that? Certainly not a farmer and mother of two young children. I closed the book and moved on to a simpler beet recipe.
Over the next couple of weeks I could not forget about beet soil. It sounded so different from the typical beet recipes I am accustomed to. Plus, I am a little obsessed with all things soil.
And so, one Sunday morning I woke up determined to make it. I planned on accomplishing nothing else and so it seemed obtainable.
I juiced the beets and then dehydrated the pulp. The dehydrated pulp was then ground with pistachios, salt, and sugar for a crumbly topping.
The beet juice was turned into savory-sweet molasses.
I used our own Snow's Bend strawberries, foraged for wild blackberries, and visited my secret mulberry spot (which is loaded this time of year) to garnish our plates of Beets & Berries.
After we devoured this bright and refreshing main course, we moved on to a richer one; vanilla ice cream drizzled with beet molasses and topped with a sprinkling of beet soil. It was incredible and unlike anything I have eaten before.
CSA members will be finding beets in their boxes with some regularity now and they will be available at farmer's markets every Saturday morning for several weeks.
To the beet, y'all!
Beet Red Velvet Cake with Fresh Chevre Frosting
From Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield
Makes a 2-layer, 9-inch cake
3 medium beets, tops and taproots removed
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
¾ cup buttermilk
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sifted cake flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
Fresh Chevre Frosting (recipe below)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets and place on a sheet of parchment. Fold the parchment around the beets. Place the parchment on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap the foil tightly around the parchment to make a packet. Bake until the tip of a knife slides easily into the largest beet. Cool until the beets can be handled, then peel.
Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment, and butter the parchment. Set aside.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place the beets in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove the beet mixture from the processor and measure out 1 cup. Reserve any remaining chopped beets for another use. Return the measured 1 cup beets to the food processor. Add the buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla, and process until smooth.
Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 12 tablespoons butter until soft. Slowly add the sugar, and beat until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. After each addition, stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. After each addition, beat for 10 seconds, and then scrape the bowl. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, smoothing the tops. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack.
To assemble, place a serving platter upside down on top of one of the pans. While holding the pan and the plate, invert the pan, allowing the cake to drop out onto the plate. Lift off the pan, and peel away the parchment.
Put 1 cup Fresh Chevre Frosting on the center of the cake. Using a flat spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the top. Invert the second cake onto a plate, remove the parchment, then invert again onto a flat plate. Carefully ease the second cake, flat side down, centered on top of the frosted layer. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Serve immediately or store covered at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
Fresh Chevre Frosting
Enough for one 2-layer cake
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces creamy goat cheese (chevre), room temperature
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until soft. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla, and continue beating until creamy. With the motor running on low, add pieces of the cream cheese one at a time. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, add pieces of goat cheese, and beat until creamy. Store at room temperature until ready to frost the cake layers.
The following recipes are all from the cookbook On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox.
Beets & Berries
10 small beets, greens removed and reserved for another use
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2/3 cup red quinoa
3 tablespoons chopped fresh spearmint leaves
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
1 cup mixed berries
1 medium avocado
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons Beet Soil (recipe follows)
A handful of each; whole mulberries, halved strawberries, and halved blackberries, to garnish
Make the roasted beets
Follow the instructions for roasting and peeling beets on page 40. Cut the peeled beets into whatever size and shape you like and toss them with the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt to taste. Set the beets aside to cool until plating.
Make the red quinoa
Rinse the quinoa under cold running water. In a pot, combine the quinoa and 1 1/3 cups cool water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until all the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, fluff the quinoa with a fork, and toss it with the 2 teaspoons of the olive oil, the mint, lemon zest and juice, and salt to taste. Cool the quinoa to room temperature or cooler before serving.
In a bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, season lightly with salt, and mash them up with a fork until the oil and the juices combine. Right before serving, halve and pit the avocado, then scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl. Add the olive oil, salt to taste, and a healthy dose of black pepper. Mash it with a fork until well combined.
To serve, either portion onto 4 individual plates or bowls or onto 1 large platter and serve family-style. Lay a dollop of the avocado first, and follow with some quinoa. Arrange the beets over the avocado and quinoa, then spoon the berry mixture on top. Garnish with beet soil and finish with the fresh berries.
Makes about 1 ½ cups
“These dehydrated beet solids can be ground in a food processor, but I prefer the texture you get from a mortar and pestle. The addition of olive oil changes the color from reddish maroon to a brown, and the green bits of pulverized pistachio make it really look like soil. In addition to the Beets & Berries, beet soil is also great sprinkled over ice cream that’s been drizzled with Beet Molasses (recipe follows).”
3.5 ounces shelled pistachios, toasted
4 ounces dehydrated red beet pulp (dehydrated at 135 degrees for 12 hours or overnight)
2 ounces granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Grind the toasted pistachios in a mortar and pestle until it looks somewhat like dirt with bits of minerals mixed in. The result should not be a uniform powder, but, rather chunks of various sizes. Set aside.
Place the beet pulp in a mortar and pestle or grind in a food processor (a blender will make it much too fine) and process until it is fairly broken down. There should not be any big pieces of beet pulp. A lot of the pulp will turn into a powder, which is fine.
Transfer the pulp to a bowl and fold in the ground pistachios, sugar, and salt. Using your hands (wear gloves if you do not want it to stain your hands), mix the ingredients thoroughly. (You want to use your hands to make sure that there are no clumps, which would throw off the ratio.) Slowly, and in stages, gradually add the olive oil and work it into the mixture. Use less than you need to start, as you can always add more, but removing it is difficult. Work it into your palms and between your fingers. You want it to crumble without getting clumpy; it should be the texture of healthy soil. The color will change from purple burgundy to a dark color of dirt. Keep agitating it with your fingers, so that the oil is evenly dispersed. You need to add enough oil so that the beet soil is not powdery and tastes luxurious, sweet, and nutty. Just don’t add too much oil, which will give you a texture like wet sand. (If you do add too much oil, lay the soil between layers of paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Repeat the process until enough of the excess oil has been absorbed, but try to avoid this, as it is a long and annoying process.) Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.
Makes 1 cup
“It is a good thing to have on hand in place of things like pomegranate molasses or a reduced balsamico. It’s also great as a cassis replacement in a Kir Royale.”
1 quart red beet juice, finely strained
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup rice vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the beet juice, sugar, vinegar, and salt and bring to a slow simmer over medium heat. Cook, maintaining a bare simmer, until the liquid is reduced by 75 to 80 percent of its original volume, about 4 hours. As the liquid reduces, brush down the inside of the pot with a pastry brush.
To test for doneness, drizzle a little of the molasses on a plate and let it cool. It should have the consistency of aged balsamic vinegar. Once the molasses is ready, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve and allow it to come down to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 months.
*you can halve this recipe if you like
The roots of this friendship run back to 1997 when David and Mauricio Papapietro, owner of Brick and Tin, met in college at Sewanee.
In 2004, when David and I returned to Alabama following our internship in Washington state and set out to begin our farming career in earnest, Mauricio was beginning his career as a chef. We have attended each other’s weddings and watched our families grow together.
When he opened Brick and Tin, we already had a great relationship.
Mauricio has been to the farm several times over the years. On Sunday, he was joined by his family and the crew from Brick and Tin.
As we walked the fields and shared a picnic by the river, we talked about farming and how we can continue to cultivate this already strong partnership.
It is clear that Mauricio and everyone at Brick and Tin care deeply about sourcing the best quality produce and are committed to supporting local farms.
We had a blast and hope they will come back again soon!
In the meantime, I highly recommend you visit them at one of their two locations; in downtown Birmingham and Mountain Brook.
I recently made this for a sunset picnic on the farm. The original recipe calls for 4 individual pot pies baked in bowls, but it worked well as in large pie pan and was easier to take on the go. At home, the individual bowls are best.
Half was eaten right away and the other half the following evening. After enjoying it for dinner two nights in a row, I still wanted more!
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Serves 4 to 6
“The crust and stews can be made up to 24 hours in advance, and need only to be baked to come to the table;…”
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons sour cream or whole Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
¼ cup ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 to 3 small celery stalks or 1 large, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch of chard, stalks chopped to ¼-inch and leaves chiffonaded
3 ½ tablespoons butter
3 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 ¼ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from one and a third 15.5-ounce cans
In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt.
Add the butter and, using a pastry blender, cut it up and into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles.
Keep breaking up the bits of butter until the texture is like uncooked couscous. In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine it with the butter-flour mixture.
Using a flexible spatula, stir the wet and the dry together until a craggy dough forms. If needed, get your hands into the bowl to knead it a few times into one big ball.
Pat it into a flattish ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Heat a large, wide saucepan over medium-heat and brown the bacon. Drain on paper towels and chop when cool.
Leave the heat on and the renderings in the pan. Add onions, carrot, celery, chard stalks, red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and begin to take on color, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more.
Add the greens and cook until wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Season with the additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Transfer all of the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the back, and set aside.
Wipe out the large saucepan; don’t worry if any bits remain stuck to the bottom. Then melt the butter in the saucepan over medium-low heat.
Add the flour, and stir with a whisk until combined.
Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time, until it begins to take on a little color.
Whisk in the broth, one ladleful at a time, mixing completely between additions. Once you’ve added one-third of the broth, you can begin to add the rest more quickly, two or three ladlefuls at a time, at this point you can scrape up any bits that were stuck to the bottom – they’ll add great flavor.
Once all of the broth is added, stirring the whole time, bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is thickened and graveylike, about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Stir the white beans and reserved vegetables into the sauce.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Assemble and cook pot pies
Pour filling into a deep-dish pie pan and place on a baking sheet.
Roll out the dough so that it will cover your pan with an overhang, or about 1 inch wider in diameter than your pan.
Whisk the egg was and brush it lightly around the top rim of your bowls (to keep the lid glued on; nobody likes losing their lid!) and drape the pastry over, pressing gently to adhere it.
Brush the lid with egg wash, then cut decorative vents in each to help steam escape.
Bake until crust is lightly bronzed and filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Typically, when I prepare vegetables, I want my children to eat them. Not the case with these. I want them all to myself!
Chard Cakes with Sorrel Sauce
from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as a starter
“You don’t necessarily have to make the sauce as the cakes work perfectly well accompanied with just a wedge of lemon. Still, if you choose to make it (and I can’t recommend it enough) you’ll be able to keep it in the fridge for a day or two and serve it with a million other things – roasted root vegetables, hearty lentils, red meat, and oil fish."
3 cups sorrel leaves, washed
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 ¼ lbs Rainbow chard
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz kashkaval cheese (sub. Pecorino or Parmagiano), coarsely grated
6 tbsp dried white breadcrumbs
¼ tsp salt
Half-and-half vegetable oil and olive oil for frying
To make the sauce. Place all the ingredients in a food processor or a blender and blitz to a fine bright-green sauce. Taste and adjust the amount of salt. Keep in the fridge until needed.
Cut the stalks from the green chard leaves. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the stalks and simmer for 4 minutes. Then add the leaves, stir and continue simmering for 3 minutes. Drain the chard and allow to cool down slightly. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water out of the chard as possible. You need to use both hands and be quite forceful to do this. Next, chop the leaves and stalks roughly and put in a mixing bowl.
In a small pan fry the pine nuts in the tablespoon of olive oil for 1 minute, or until light brown (watch out; they darken in seconds). Add the nuts and oil to the chard, followed by the cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, and some pepper. If the mix is very soft and sticky you might need to add more crumbs.
Pour enough frying oil into a frying pan to come ¼ inch up the sides. Shape the chard mix into eight patties that are roughly 2 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch thick. Fry them for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Transfer onto paper towels to absorb the oil. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the sauce on the side.
My typical commute to work involves dropping a kid, or three, off at school and beginning my half-hour drive to the farm. I relish that time with my coffee and thoughts, transitioning from mother to farmer. In the winter and spring we often see the river rise. This can add layers to our commute.
Last Wednesday I found a tree laying across the dirt road on my way in. I was forced to go around, meaning back to the highway and in through Coker.
Once I was finally through the yellow gate and onto the farm property, I found the river in the road. On this day, I was able to walk the rest of the way to the garden.
On Thursday, the river has risen higher. We are grateful that the garden is spared and only the roads and lower fields we do not use are under water, but we are forced to add a canoe to our commute.
Because there are two farmer’s markets on Saturday and Friday the water will be even higher, we decide it is best to go ahead and harvest for them. Totes are filled with bunches of collards, kale, chard, and carrots, along with heads of lettuce and pounds of salad, arugula, and spinach. The tractor with a trailer is able to drive a good bit of the way back.
It requires three canoe trips to move the harvest from one spot on the farm to the other side of the high water. On trip number two I spot a group of large, bright white birds gliding along the water covering the field. It turns out to be white pelicans. They are breath-taking and we forget about the work for a moment and revel in the beauty of nature that surrounds us.
It continues to rain every night, so there is really no hope for driving to the garden for a while. On Friday David, JC, and Victoria travel in the canoe and I follow later in a kayak. Although this is inconvenient, I do not mind the forced peace in a world of constant noise and information. It is absolutely quiet, with an occasional hoot from an owl and the soft rhythm of the paddle. The pelicans are still there, drifting regally.
Saturday and Sunday David goes out alone. Our greenhouse is on the other side of the water and must be watered. He also places some row cover for protection as the temperature falls.
Monday I kayak again. I am beginning to get use to this. When I come through the woods and enter into the open space of the fields, startled ducks fly off in pairs. The pelicans are gone.
By Wednesday we hope to be able to drive to the garden again.
That will be nice. And if it doesn’t flood again until next winter, that would be nice, too.
Enjoy the good (tasting) things in life; such as freshly prepared meals, enjoyed around your table with family and friends
Go on food adventures! Try new foods and find produce not available in grocery stores. Don’t worry…each week we include recipes in our newsletter using ingredients in your box
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a sample newsletter.
Attend special CSA events!
CLEAN FOOD - we let our kids eat straight from the source with the comfort of knowing that it is as clean as it gets!
Snow's Bend is the only 16 year and counting Certified Organic CSA in Alabama. All of the produce you will receive is grown by us on our farm.
(who are these kids?)
Local, and not just the food. Both David and I were born and raised in Tuscaloosa and we are raising our children here. We are committed to you and we are committed to this community.
Join us, won't you:
Lately, spring starts with a sneeze for me. My first hint was the pollen sheen on the surface of the water in our dunk tank full of freshly harvested kale. I saw that and knew that spring was fast approaching.
This year it comes the first week of February, following a week of polar vortex in the Midwest and our coldest temperatures thus far this winter.
Yesterday felt much like a spring day, as I sat on the tractor looking at the electric green grass pulsing with life and the multitude of yellow flowers of over-wintered brassicas in the first stages of seed formation. As is typical of an early spring day, we were trying to cram in as much soil work as possible before a predicted overnight rain. David even direct seeded the first beds of 2019!
I was able to stay later than usual, or allowed myself to, pushing the limits of preschool and extended day hours. I couldn’t deny myself. The best part of a day on the farm is when the sun begins to fall just a bit lower in the sky and you can already feel the pride of accomplishment but just want to feel it a little bit more. Walking across the farm I see wildflowers (read ‘weeds’) beginning to bloom in purples, pinks, and whites mingled with the greenest of green grass that you only see in spring. The ability to spend our days walking through that, as opposed to fluorescent lighted hallways, is one of a multitude of reasons we continue persisting through the evolving challenges we face each year as a small farm.
This pie is worth every second you put into making it! Each vegetable is paired with its own seasonings then layered and wrapped in a butter and thyme flavored crust. A feast for your eyes, body, and soul. It is just the kind of dish you serve to people you love during the holiday season.
Goodwill Rainbow Pie
From A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
Serves 8 to 10
“It may seem like there’s a lot to do, but everything can happen at once – all the roasting can be done while you make the leeks and greens.”
7 ounces Lancashire or white cheddar cheese
1 organic or free-range egg, beaten, or soy milk for brushing
FOR THE PASTRY
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
A small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked and very finely chopped
13 tablespoons butter or vegetable shortening
Up to 1 generous cup ice-cold water
FOR THE SWEET POTATOES
3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
A little butter or olive oil
A good few grating of fresh nutmeg
FOR THE BEETS
5 medium beets, peeled and cut into rough cubes
Splash of red wine vinegar
2 sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves picked
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE TURNIPS
5 to 6 turnips, peeled and cut into little fingers
A couple of sprigs of fresh sage, leaves picked
Zest of 1 unwaxed orange
1 tablespoon honey
FOR THE LEEKS
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 good-sized leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
FOR THE GREENS
1 bunch of chard, stalks removed, roughly shredded
Grated zest and juice of ½ an unwaxed lemon
1 red chile, finely chopped
First make the pastry. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl and add the chopped thyme. Cut the butter or shortening into small bits and rub these into the dry ingredients until you have a breadcrumb-like mix. Add the water and knead until you have a smooth dough, but don’t overwork it. You could also use a food processor: pulse to breadcrumbs, then add the water and pulse until it just comes together. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and chill while you make everything else.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roast the sweet potatoes for 1 hour until soft. Meanwhile, prepare the beets and turnips.
Place the beets into a roasting pan with a splash of olive oil and the vinegar, add the marjoram or oregano, and season. Cover with foil and roast alongside the sweet potatoes for 1 hour, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes.
Put the turnips into a roasting dish with the sage, orange zest, honey, and a drizzle of olive oil, mix to coat, then cover with foil. Roast with the other vegetables for 45 minutes, until golden, removing the foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes. When all the vegetables are cooked, remove from the oven and turn the temperature down to 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, cook the leeks. Heat the butter or oil in a large nonstick frying pan. Add the leeks and thyme and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, until sweet and softened, then set aside.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan, add the greens, and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until just wilted. Season, then add the lemon zest and chili. Set aside.
Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mash with a pat of butter or 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a good grating of nutmeg. Adjust the seasoning for all the vegetable mixtures, if needed.
Take your pastry from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes. Then roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick and use it to line an 8-inch spring form pan, leaving the excess hanging over the edges.
Now it’s time to start layering the pie. Start with all the leeks, then a grating of Lancashire or cheddar cheese, then the beets, the greens, and another layer of cheese, then the turnips, and finally the sweet potato mash.
Finish by bringing the excess pastry over the top of the sweet potatoes, twisting the ends, and laying them on top in a haphazard fashion – the little rough bits of pastry will crisp up and look beautiful. The pastry may not cover the whole top, but a little vivid orange sweet potato poking through is okay. Brush with the beaten egg or some soy milk.
Bake the pie on the bottom rack of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and place in the middle of the table.
An iconic summer food. The mascot of farmer’s markets. The pride of home gardeners. It is time to talk about tomatoes. They are just beginning to ripen in Alabama and we’ll soon be tasting a rainbow of varieties; Red Zebra, Valencia, Persimmon, Sungold, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Cherokee Purple, Indigo Blue Beauty, and many more.
The term ‘vine-ripened’ alludes to the fact that tomatoes are vines. Indeed they are, if left to their own devices. Our job as farmers is to attempt to tame these vines so that they will produce larger fruit for a longer period of time and also so that we can find the darn things!
Before a single plant is tucked into the soil, the trellising system must be in place.
Our system is created by unrolling field fence and attaching it to T-posts that have been hammered into the ground every 10 feet. The field fence gives us something to tie the tomato branches to and train them to grow straight up. The T-posts have the added benefit of offering the blackbirds a place to perch above us and whistle their opinions as we work.
Pruning tomatoes, like many repetitive jobs on the farm, can be meditative for me. I can look at a tomato plant and see only the suckers, as I work my way up the plant methodically pinching them off. A “sucker” begins to grow In-between each branch and the main stem. The term sucker refers to these additional branches that will sap energy the plant should be putting towards producing fruit and put it towards growing more branches and vining out. Pruning also allows for more airflow which helps reduce the possibility of disease.
At the end of one of these sessions my thumb and fingers will have a thick layer of a hard, scaly, black substance attached to them. “Tomato tar”, as some people call it, begins as a yellow powder that sticks to your skin when you touch a tomato plant or brush up against one. It is actually essential oils emitted from the glandular trichomes, or tiny hairs, on the stem and leaves of tomato plants. The oils are thought to defend the plant from pests and infections, and also to reduce evaporation. Each plant has many suckers and our farm has thousands of tomato plants. As I pinch the suckers off one by one, a little bit of that yellow powder rubs off each time, turning green and building up to eventually create a thick, dark, second layer of skin. Later, at home, I’ll have to use a pumice stone to scrape this alligator-like skin off. After a few weeks of this there will be cracks in my skin on these fingers, a mark of pride for any farmer. I imagine these oils contribute to the unique smell of tomato plants.
Gazing upon freshly trellised and pruned tomatoes is satisfying. The plants stand straight and tall, there is plenty of room to walk through the rows, and most importantly, they look happy. It looks like hedgerows, tall and thick, despite all of our pruning, so that the large green leaves fill all of the space. When I enter a plot with row after row of tomatoes it is like entering the secret garden that I’ve long for ever since I was a child. I'm at home.
, Each week we begin to trellis and prune and by the end of the week it is time to start again at the beginning. One of our staff members asked when we might be done with that job and I answered “never”. He laughed and replied with “when the tomatoes are gone”? I said yes and we went back to work, because when we have that first juicy bite and everyone that follows throughout the summer, it will be worth every minute.
Happy and Healthy Eating!
NEWS FROM THE BEND
From planting time to the growing and harvesting seasons,