This is the seventh in a series of weekly farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.
Today: Tom turns his thoughts to fall.
The thick dusty light of late summer has cleared and the blues are setting in. You see, fall light is different. Fall fills the afternoons with bright white light, causing deep blue skies, which brings things into focus. Somehow the tilt of the earth, the refraction of the sun’s rays makes fall afternoons clearer, even crisp, with clean sharp edges.
As much as the afternoons bring clarity, the mornings become vague murky affairs where the first light of a sleepy dawn raises more questions than answers. The garden doesn’t grow as fast, the chickens lay fewer eggs, all as darkness tightens like a noose constricting the life from the remaining daylight hours.
It is the blue light of fall that makes me appreciate the smell of long-braised aromatic dishes and the warmth of the back burner radiating its heat into a room that is not yet cold enough to need the furnace, but reaps the benefits of the soft glow of a flame and a warm Dutch oven lazily bubbling away.
The teapot hisses. The Sunday Times you are finishing on Monday crumples and the ink print fingertips on the teacup are the tell-tale sign you are committing the crime of enjoying tea time. You turn off the burner and pour a second cup. The second brew is always better anyway. You need no more justification than that.
It seems as if this is the first time in months you have had time to sit and catch a breath. Holding the teacup with both hands thinking, elbows resting on the table and the newspaper now folded and off to the side, and you know a week or two of this kind of behavior will only lead to trouble. You are the kind of person who, when left to their own devices (root word there vice), will find trouble. Things like wanting to build a wood-fired oven, a still from a pressure canner, tinkering with the idea of a Native American sweat lodge replete with lava stones that won’t explode like the river stone did last year, or pumpkin catapults and, as always, good bourbon. Then this little voice in the back of your mind that sounds like Vivian, and she does this often, “Aah Dad, a little focus here,” snapping her fingers and snapping me out of a serious tangent.
No, really what happens now is I get all Mr. French, and I don’t mean the one that took care of Jody and Buffy in the 1970s TV show Family Affair, but rather I want to cook everything French. I want to move to the south of France, I want to listen to Edith Piaf I want, I want, I want, to have three hour lunches at a roadside winery and then amazing dinners in tiny little restaurants with twenty servers, which is five more than there are seats for patrons, and I want to go to the open air markets and look at sexy things, like, like, well, pork roasts.
But I won’t. Instead I will pretend, well not really, I will make wonderful French food and enjoy it right here in the beautiful heartland and I will rediscover what a joy it is to cook slow food, the feel of a fire in the fireplace and how there are still many wonderful things growing and how wonderful it is to walk from the orchard to the garden and pick pears or dig fresh turnips and potatoes for dinner, but mostly I will realize that the Billy goat I see when driving down the road with his head stuck through the fence, reaching out as far as he possibly can, eating the exact same grass that is on the inside side of the fence is telling me exactly what I already know.
Tom's Tips for Growing Fall Vegetables
1. Plant things in July and August for September and October harvest. Things like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts all can take a light frost and will thrive until the first freeze and even then you can cover them if needed. I used to always try to grow a crop of broccoli in the spring, only to have the soil temperature get too high and the broccoli bolt (meaning go to seed).
2. Carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips are great root vegetable choices to put in for fall too.
3. Here in Indiana I can leave root veggies in the ground and I cover them with hay and a tarp which keeps in the earth's heat, preventing the ground from freezing. This is a easy and good way to store veggies until you need them. It is fun to scrape back the snow, pull back the tarp and the hay, and dig veggies up mid-winter.
Braised Pork Roast with Onion Jus, Pears, Turnips and Potatoes
This recipe is based on dish that was on the series Great Chefs. I have gone back and tried to find the episode but have never been able to locate it or an actual recipe. Either way, it is a wonderful dish that can be a nice Sunday dinner and is also elegant enough that I would serve it to guests for a great gourmet dinner.
2 1/2 lb. bone-in pork butt roast, with good marbleization
4 onions, trimmed, peeled and julienned
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-7 bay leaves, depending on their size
6 sprigs thyme, tied with kitchen twine
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 cups white wine
Salt and pepper
2 or 3 Bosc pears, ripe but a firm ripe
2 or 3 turnips
2 or 3 russet potatoes
Want more life on the farm? See Tom's initiation to beekeeping (Part II): Beekeeping and Fried Chicken with Honey Ginger Sauce.