This is the eighth in a series of weekly farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.
Today: Tom goes stir-crazy, preps for winter, and makes butternut squash posole.
Saturday Night Fever
It is rare that things work out as I plan. It is the nature of things after all. Like this year, for example, early in the growing season the radishes, peas and turnips didn't germinate. I have never not had them come up, but the spring rains hit at the wrong time and flooded them out.
We also had the Great Chicken Massacre of 2011, where not only did a raccoon get his fried chicken on but so did a coyote. While I don’t like it in the least, it happens and I have learned not to worry about these things all too much -- after all, it's not like I can’t go to the grocery. Thank goodness my very survival doesn't depend solely on what I raise or grow.
Unfortunately though, this was the least of it.
My wife calls it man-o-pause. It is when I bring everything to a halt, drop everything I am doing, no matter how important, and decide I need to organize for days. I am grouchy while I do it and it is everyone else who has brought on this trauma to my world because I am certain I am the only one who puts things back in their rightful place.
The problem is this isn’t a once in a lifetime event, but rather a once a year occurrence. Fortunately it isn’t a monthly man-struation either but it still drives Amy and the girls crazy.
I get crazy. I do things that I wouldn’t normally do, but it's not like I am hitting anyone broadside in their gullet in a fit of hormonal discombobulance. Instead it starts with me tearing up sometimes at stupid things like the cooking scenes in the Adam Sandler movie Spanglish. This is just a crack in the emotional iceberg though.
It usually happens early on a Saturday night, when I sort of get that old childhood warm and fuzzy feeling for the in-between hour, as I call it. It was when my parents hadn’t left yet to go out on the town but there is nothing good on TV so I would watch really bad TV shows like Rick Dees' Solid Gold or Hee Haw because there was nothing else for a twelve-year-old to do. Thing is these days the memory of these dated and horrible shows are etched weirdly in my memory with some bizarre eccentric fascination for days gone by.
But now it is that weird Saturday witching hour but I am an adult. I am standing at the cutting board, Amy is reading and the girls are playing and I am thinking about these shows (warm and fuzzy forever connected to them) and listening to the radio, making pizza for family night and just about any song that comes on, say, some lame ass John Denver or Abba song and I just can’t help but well up and get all sappy. I turn and wipe my eyes hoping no one sees me or I pretend to cut an onion but onions are not an ingredient in anything I am cooking. Through all this, and all the while, I am thinking how lucky I am and how great life is and how I damn sure didn’t think I could ever be this happy.
This, though, is just the manic fever of happiness and not the disease. It is just the foreshadow. No, the disease becomes full blown on Sunday morning when I wake up and my giddy buzz is sapless and gone and I decide today is the day to reorganize the pantry, get the house in shape and bark out orders damn it, get some testosterone back.
It is the day I find the dried hominy corn I bought that I thought I could rehydrate easily only to find the only way to rehydrate it is with culinary lime and it is a five hour process just to make the lime in which to slack the corn. (I am not even sure this stuff is squirrel feed. Why did I buy this again?)
It is the day I drag the trash can into the pantry and, while the girls stand in the doorway curiously watching a daddy they rarely see, their other daddy, their arms straight to their sides, with a look of utter disbelief in their sweet little eyes as I pitch the candy that is way too old to have a place on my shelf and I see Vivian mouthing, “the horror, the horror”, as if I was Brando in Apocalypse Now and she was gonna sacrifice me like a sacred cow if I don’t stop the insanity.
But I can't. I will organize not only until Amy, Viv and Lynn can’t find anything but till I can’t either. The thing is it really isn’t about organization but more a mental cleansing of some sort, a taking stock for winter or like taking a squeegee to a window pane and watching as, with one swipe, a year's worth of gunk disappears and you can see clearly now.
Tom's Tips on Prepping for Winter
1. I am not a big canner. I can a few things like bread & butter pickles, pickled beets and occasionally some relish or chutney, but for me it took a long time to
figure out what we would eat and what we wouldn’t. In other words, I stopped over-canning. Learn from your past and don’t be afraid to throw things you aren’t eating into the trash. I mean really, if it is marked 2009 and you haven’t eaten it, you aren’t going to.
2. I do store a lot of produce that are long storage items, like garlic. Soft neck varieties store better than hard neck and all garlic needs to be planted in the fall (now
in colder areas up north) for the next year's harvest. I store onions but not if they bloomed. I air cure both garlic and onions on my screened-in porch before bringing them into the house for winter. You need to cure them so the paper skins form between the garlic cloves and for the onions it builds the papery skin which helps to protect the onion.
3. Butternut and other squash should be allowed to fully mature on the vine in order for the skins to become thickened and tough. After picking I then let butternut squash sit out side on the screened-in porch, shaded, for two weeks to cure them before bringing them in and storing them in the basement. The curing here is done to build sweetness.
4. I store beets, carrots and cabbage in a fridge dedicated to being a root cellar until I eventually put in a root cellar.
Butternut Squash and Hominy Posole with Green Tomato Pico de Gallo
For the pico de gallo:
2 green tomatoes, small dice, about 1 cup
1/3 cup red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 garlic clove, peeled, trimmed and minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
For the posole:
1 onion, peeled, trimmed and small dice
1 poblano pepper, seed, cored and small dice
3 garlic cloves, peeled, trimmed and minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons coarsely ground Mexican oregano
3 tablespoons red chile paste (directions to follow)
15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cup butternut squash, cubed into 1/2 pieces
1 1/2 cup canned white hominy
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Want more life on the farm? See Tom's meditation on fall: On Growing Roots and Braised Pork Roast