A Family Tradition-The Berrien County Youth Fair

I cannot even remember the first time I went to the local fair.  I know I was young, very young – holding on to my Mom and Dad’s hands.  Looking at so much. Trying to take it all in.  So many animals, exhibits, sites and sounds.  It was fantastic!  When I was really young I loved the animals.  As I got older it was the fair food and carnival rides.  My Dad loved to go by the farm equipment.  My Mom loved the commercial buildings where Amway, Watkins, and Avon had booths.  My Grandmother (Mom’s mom) loved to just look at all the animals and make comment on how well they were treated.

We only were able to go one evening during the week as it was hard to get away from the farm.  Usually a Friday or Saturday night after the last semi of tomatoes were loaded.  We always traveled with another farm family.  At least I had someone to ride the rides with.  As I got older and was able to drive I would enter “still” exhibits, like art work, sewing or baked goods.

Fast forward to when my husband and I were married.  His family were/are equipment dealers– at that time Massey Ferguson tractors.  They would set up at the fair.  And when the boys came along we would spend the entire week there. We would do the farm during the day (mostly green beans to harvest) and then later in the afternoon head to the fair.

When the boys turned 5 they were able to enter animals and exhibits.  Mathew, our oldest, started with meat chickens and then a year later meat chickens and pen of two hogs.  Then our son Marc, also did the same.  At that time we even brought our geese and ducks.  Even brought a small wading pool for them to swim in.  It was great fun for the boys.  It was very, very long days for 5 and 6 year olds.  They would have to be there early to feed, water and clean their animals: help clean the barn; show their animals; help others and somehow do it again the next day with the other animals they showed.  Then the big day was auction day.  Same chores but now to find a buyer and show the hogs and meat chickens again.

When Mary came along, the boys were around 9 and 10.  Same work and excitement as above, but then baby Mary had to be watched and pulled in a wagon all day long!  It was still fun as she remembers some of the accounts when the “brothers” were having fun or in trouble with mom.  And guess what, when she was 5 she started exhibiting.  There was no way holding her back!  The fair starts next week, August 11th and runs until the 16th.  We cannot wait!

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So Many Plums to Choose From

There are two major types of plums: European plums and Japanese plums.
The most common European plums (scientific name Prunus domestica L.) are elongated, blue types, but other colors are available as well. In the USA, European plums are eaten fresh, as fresh slices in salads and desserts, and processed as puree for baby food, baking, dried fruit, and fermented as alcoholic beverages, depending on the varieties. The trees are more upright in growth. Trimming is more extensive then the Japanese plums
Japanese plums (scientific name Prunus salicina Lindl. and hybrids) are primarily used as fresh market plums. Japanese plums range from round to heart shaped, and are a range of colors and tend to be larger than European plums. These trees generally grow more outward and have different requirements for trimming then the European plums.

European cultivars that we raise and approximate harvest dates:
 Vibrant – The first European plum to be harvested, the Vibrant is a beautiful plum with a violet-blue skin and amber flesh. It is a medium to large-sized fruit with good firmness and sweetness with a medium acid content for a nice balanced flavor.
 Vanette – The Vanette is a large, purple-blue, freestone plum. It has good sugar/acid ratio that accounts for excellent taste. . Most years ripens in the third week of August. It is very good dual – purpose plum and is one of the best fresh market plums. It is an excellent all-around plum. It’s great for cooking, canning and fresh eating.
 Castleton – The fruit of the Castleton is medium-sized, dark blue, oblong, and freestone. It has a sweet to mildly acidic taste. It is very good dual purpose plum; suitable for fresh and cooking/preserving. A known favorite when it comes to home canning, it makes an excellent burgundy jam. You can find them at the end of August to the first part of September.
 Stanley – The Stanley is the go-to for European plums. It is medium to large fruit with dark blue skin and yellow-green flesh. It can be identified by its distinct neck. It has a great taste.
 Long John – The fruit of the Long John is large and has an interesting shape: it is quite long and bit “flattened”. The skin is dark maroon, almost black, and covered with the waxy bloom, which gives it nice blue color. The flesh is orange, firm and pleasantly tart. It is freestone and it ripens with the Stanley at the first of September, but is larger and better quality.
 Empress – The Empress is a well-known European plum variety. It has large, elliptical, symmetrical fruit of very good quality. The skin is purple and covered with heavy waxy bloom. The flesh is greenish-yellow and it is semi-cling. The Empress is a very nice late-season choice.

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Enjoy Our Berries All Winter Long!

332715_10150284160973181_5063595_oFreezing fruit is a great way to save berries for winter use and can be a quick and painless process!! The easiest fruits to freeze are blueberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries. Sweet and Tart cherries are also great from the freezer but both do need to be pitted in advance. Peaches can also be frozen but are a bit more time consuming; however, think of all the benefits!


Blueberries, Raspberries (black and red), & Blackberries:
Simply wash and dry berries. Then lay berries out evenly on a cookie
sheet. Place cookie sheet in the freezer so that berries freeze
individually. (Doing this prevents berries from freezing together
so that accurate measurements can be removed easily from the 
freezer!)Keep in the freezer for about a half hour. Remove berries 
and bag them! 

Sweet Cherries and Tart Cherries: 
Start by pitting the cherries! Next wash and dry cherries. Place the 
cherries on a cookie sheet and put in freezer for a half hour. 
Remove from the freezer and bag!

Peaches: 
Peaches need to be washed, peeled, sliced and pitted before freezing.
It is best to use ripe firm peaches. A good way to peel peaches is 
to either use a traditional potato peeler or dip peaches in boiling
water briefly so skin can easily slip off. After the peaches are 
peeled, slice peaches in 1/4 inch slices (thinner slices may be 
preferred). Dip slices in 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of lemon
juice to stop peaches from browning. Place peaches on cookie sheet 
and allow to freeze in the freezer for a half hour. Remove cookie 
sheet and bag up the peaches! Now you can enjoy sweet peaches all 
year long!! 

Frozen Fruit is the KEYWORD this week. Mention the KEYWORD at 
market and receive a $1 off your purchase!! 


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Drunken Cherries!!

36484_403538003180_5120271_nAs sweet cherries come to the end in the upcoming weeks, have you considered something for your winter enjoyment? How about Homemade Cherry Brandy using our delicious sweet cherries?!

This recipe requires firm sweet cherries and a bit of patience but it is well worth the wait!


You will need:

2 1/4 lbs of sweet cherries -- Not pitted
4 1/4 cups of your most preferred Vodka
1/2 - 3/4 cups of sugar depending on personal taste preference
Jars to store your beverage in! 

Directions:
1. Rinse cherries well
2. Layer the cherries with sugar
3. Pour over the alcohol and close the jar
4. Put in a dark place at room temperature and shake every day
for a week.
5. (Here's where the patience comes in) Forget about the cherries
until Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah! 

Cherries is the KEYWORD this week! Mention our KEYWORD at market 
and receive a $1 off your purchase!
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The Buzz on Honey: Episode 1

We are coming to the end of our fall honey! Our fall honey that is usually lighter in color is on its way out due to the tremendous amount of rain we have had on the farm. We did not gather honey during this time as we like to let the bees use their honey for their own nutrition during these rainy times since they cannot get out an forage. But don’t you fret! With 32 hives of bees we will still have plenty of honey! What to expect for the upcoming weeks: A darker honey with a more hardy flavor. This flavor is from the spring and early summer flowers!

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Two More Weeks for Strawberries & Rhubarb!!

Hello all!

We only have about 10-15 more days of picking for both Strawberries and Rhubarb! Pick these up while you can and try one of our great Strawberry and Rhubarb recipes!!

Here is one of our absolute favorites:

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Crisp Topping

  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • Dash salt
  • 6 tbsp. Butter, softened
  • ¾ cup rolled oats

Filling

  • 2 pint strawberries
  • 3 cups rhubarb slices 1/3
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. Cornstarch

Crisp topping:  in large bowl mix all ingredients except butter and oats to mix thoroughly.  With pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mix in oats; set aside.

Filling:  In another bowl mix 4 cups of the strawberries (reserving remaining strawberries), the rhubarb, sugar and cornstarch to blend well.  Spoon into shallow 2 quart baking dish.  Cover evenly with topping.

Heat oven to 400. Bake for about 40 minutes until filling is bubbly and topping is lightly browned.  Cool slightly. Serve warm and top with reserved strawberries.

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Pullet Eggs? WHERE or WHERE are they?

All hens begin with pullet eggs.  But why don’t you see them at local grocery stores? Well here is the scoop.

Pullet eggs are from chickens who are just getting the hang of laying eggs.  These hens are around 20 to 26 weeks in age.  These eggs are noticeably smaller than regular eggs and can even occasionally be quite tiny.   Some small eggs do come from miniature hens (bantams), but likely the ones you would find at the farmers’ markets are pullet eggs.  Whereas bantams always lay small eggs.

In 2011, U.S. egg farmers produced 79 billion table eggs from a laying flock of 282 million birds.(Congressional Research Service).  This is a commercial value and does not reflect local and farmer’s market eggs.  But this is a tremendously large amount of eggs and each of these hens initially produced pullet eggs. Then where are they as they never are at grocery stores? All commercial pullet eggs go to processors to make powered eggs and or other means that turn up in processed foods.

Pullet eggs from your local farm are delicious and are often snatched up by pastry chefs-in-the-know for their richness. Some say that the yolks are bigger, or that they are almost all yolk.  But they are proportional with yolk/white just as large or other sizes are.

If you do purchase pullet eggs just note that if you are baking you will need to measure the pullet eggs.  Most recipes call for large eggs which are approximately 1/4 cup.  Therefore you will need to measure the pullet eggs to equal 1/4 cup.

Keep in mind that after hens lay for a while they no longer produce pullet eggs.  They gradually work up to medium, large and extra large.  With most hens producing large. So if you want to try pullet eggs NOW is the time.

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Different Peaches

From a genetic standpoint, peaches are classified by flesh texture as either melting, non-melting or stony hard.  Melting flesh peaches become softer as they ripen and will actually “melt in your mouth” when they are fully mature.  Most people prefer this type for fresh eating out of hand.  Non-melting flesh peaches remain firm in texture when fully mature and never become melting.  The texture of these has been referred to as “rubbery” or “chewy”.  Non-melting flesh peaches typify most peaches that are used for commercial canning.  Some “freestone, melting” types are canned but they represent a very small proportion of canned peaches.  The stony hard flesh type is very firm, even crispy when fully ripe.

Most of the peaches on our farm are melting flesh.  There are both freestone and cling of this classification.  Currently around Labor Day we have both non-melting(cling) and melting.  [But keep in mind that this years harvests have ALL been 2 weeks early]  Our favorite family peach is a non-melting Amber Jam and the Baby Gold.  The Amber Jam variety froze this year where we are currently picking the Baby Golds.  Great tasting!  Great tasting!  We hope you stop by and ask for a taste of the Baby Gold.

 

Michigan State University’s article on melting and non-melting follows.  Keep in mind that MSU Experimental Stations are geared up for the canning industry -that we (state) once had! They only have been working on categorizing market (fresh) peaches for the last 10 years or so.

Melting flesh peaches (left). Melting flesh peaches have flesh that become soft over time when canned. They tend to have ragged edges when sliced during processing.   Melting flesh types can be clingstone or freestone. (The pits of freestone peaches are easy to separate from the flesh).

Non-melting peaches (right). Non-melting peaches remain firm after canning. They are selected to have Vulcan cling peachorange flesh color with no red, and a distinctive taste a little like apricots. Most commercial canned peaches are non-melting types. Non-melting types are less subject to bruising during harvest than other peaches. All non-melting types are clingstone, meaning the flesh adheres to the pit when ripe. There are many intermediate types between melting and non-melting types. Peach breeders have been utilizing a genetic characteristic called stony hard. Fruit with a stony hard gene are very slow to soften or even crunchy.

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Honey and the GREAT Demand

There has been too too too much dryness this year! This is a picture of Red Clover.  It was taken three weeks ago.  This patch happens to be next to a bee hive.  This and other flowers around dried up.  The bees were not able to collect nectar and pollen.  I have been forced to leave the honey in the hives to allow the bees “their own groceries” to live off.

 

As you can see today, July 26, s012, one lone flower has emerged.  This is the same grouping of plants as above, just after  a few shots of rain. As a botanist, I can tell you that all plants even under severe stress will try and produce a flower-seed.  NATURE IS GREAT!  I am sure the bees are happy.

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Red Raspberries: Fall? Spring? What’s Up

Red Raspberries

Fall? Spring?  What’s Up

I know a lot of people have either a raspberry shrub or two or they remember raspberries when they were younger.  I thought I would take this blog post to explain the difference between June Bearing or summer red raspberries and Ever Bearing red raspberries.  Most of the United States are used to the June Bearing varieties – those that ripen late spring or early summer.   (Not including the super market ones that come all year from all over the world!)

The summer or June-bearing type that produces an abundance of fruit on second-year canes (floricanes) within a relatively short period in early spring to mid-summer are the ones which have a strong raspberry flavor and wonderful aroma.  They are somewhat sweet.  If you need berries for the winter, I recommend these varieties for freezing.  The varieties that I raise are:

  • Boyne – sweet and the earliest to harvest
  • Prelude – super flavor and next to harvest with good yields
  • Killarney – best aroma and flavor
  • Lauren – large berry with excellent flavor
  • Nova – firm and bright red berry with strong flavor
  • Encore – good flavor large berry
  • Octavia – first year for raising these. Not sure on flavor. Latest floricane for season. This berry bridges the floricane season with the primacane ones.

On a normal year Octavia would be harvested late July and early August.  Of course with every harvest earlier this year I have only a guess of the berry season. Also when I choose varieties not only do I look at the final consumer enjoyment but I am concerned with all of the agricultural characteristics also. Growth habits, winter hardiness, disease resistance and adaptability in the Midwest climate are just a few.

The second type double – or “ever” -bearing plants (primocanes) are harvested in the late summer and fall, as well as the summer crop on second-year canes.  I actually mow these plants down in spring so as to force a late summer or fall harvest.  If this is not done these plants will have fruit all summer with only a small harvest at a time.  The entire yield when mowed is greater then having them bear all summer.  These berries are definitely sweeter then the June bearing varieties.  But they tend not to be that super “I AM A RASPBERRY” flavor that you get from the June ones. They are also larger than the June ones.  The varieties that I raise are:

  • Autumn Britton – large and good flavor
  • Caroline – good flavor and large
  • Heritage – Heirloom variety, good flavor, color and size
  • Jaclyn – dark red sweet berries
  • Polana – large flavorful berries

Watch for the next blog on peach varieties!

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