Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Manhattan Project Sauce

At the Collierville Farmers's Market today, we were talking to a patron about our shared love of spicy food. The hot peppers aren't in yet, but in preparation for the season here is the official recipe for Manhattan Project Hot Sauce. Like its namesake, the effects of this sauce are difficult to predict, and the ingredients themselves are potentially dangerous*.

Manhattan Project Hot Sauce

"...now I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds."

Prep time: 1 hour or less. Yields enough hot sauce for most needs.

1 lb assorted red hot peppers: cayenne, jalapeño, habañero, etc.
1 quart apple cider vinegar
1 head garlic
2 tablespoons sea salt

Safety equipment (optional, but recommended):
1 pair long rubber gloves
1 long sleeved shirt
1 pair safety glasses
1 dust mask or respirator

Additional equipment needed:
Food processor or heavy-duty blender
Sharp knife
Cutting board
Fine sieve or food mill
Wooden spoon
Large empty bottle (as from a fifth of alcohol)
2 large nonreactive (ceramic or stainless) bowls
One shot of whiskey/other alcohol

Make sure you are working in a clean kitchen, that your sink is empty, and that you have clean counter space. Evacuate children, pets, and pepper-sensitive individuals from the area. Cover all porous surfaces with plastic wrap, and put away all ready-to-eat items such as fruit. Use the toilet and wash hands thoroughly. Put on all personal protective equipment (PPE).

Wash peppers thoroughly. Cut the stems from all the peppers. Do NOT remove seeds. Working in batches, add the peppers to the food processor along with enough cider vinegar to cover, a portion of the garlic (peeled and crushed), and a portion of the sea salt. Blend until thoroughly liquefied, then pour mixture into one of the large bowls. Repeat process until all peppers, garlic, salt, and vinegar are used. Do not inhale vapors. Do not touch your eyes.

Ladle the mixture into the sieve or food mill in small batches and strain into the second bowl. If using a sieve, use a wooden spoon to push as much of the mixture as possible through along with the juice. You will be left with two mixtures: one liquid, one mostly seeds and pepper skin.

Add the shot of alcohol to the empty liquor bottle, cap, and shake thoroughly. Then dispose of the alcohol as you see fit. Using the funnel and ladle, fill the bottle completely with the fresh Manhattan Project liquid. Beware of possible splashes. Do not attempt to pour directly from the bowl. Cap and store away from direct sunlight. This mixture should keep for at least a year. Use in any recipe that calls for hot sauce.

The seed and skin residue is usable as a relish and in certain Chthonian religious rites. Do not touch, inhale, or taunt the residue. Do not look directly at the residue unless you are within a hyperbolic chamber--and even then, remain wary.

IMPORTANT: After capping the bottle, clean up any spills, wash the exterior of the bottle, and decontaminate the area with a household cleaner or a mixture of 1 quart of water and the juice of one lemon. Dispose of PPE and wash hands thoroughly. After cleaning your hands, taste your fingertips to check for pepper residue. Use your creation responsibly.

*We dismiss concerns that a large enough batch of this sauce may set the upper atmosphere on fire.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fresh Garlic!

Our garlic is grown with love
(not pesticides and inorganic fertilizers).

You can eat this garlic fresh (uncured) but once you cut open a head it won't last long—so use it soon!

Alternately, you can cure the garlic by hanging it in a dry, shady location for several weeks. If you do that, it should last well into the fall (unless you eat it first!)

Ideas for eating:

-Chop it and use it in salsa.

-Cut off the green top, wrap it entirely in foil, bake it for 1 hour at 350 degrees; then mix it with butter and spread it on your favorite bread.

-Rub cloves on toasted rounds of bread, then top with chopped fresh tomato, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Have other ideas for eating garlic? Post a comment on our weblog: oakhillfarms.blogspot.com

Head: the whole garlic bulb.

Clove: one of the individual bulblets making up the head.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sustainably grown, not Organic

The Organic movement has taken off, and is becoming big business. Organic certification means that there is some guarantee that what you are buying is not contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals or excess antibiotics. Organic products are now available at all the standard Big Box stores--often produced by a small number of huge agricultural firms. The expense of organic certification is high enough that many small growers find it to be prohibitive.

We like the term 'sustainably grown.' We grow our vegetables without artificial chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. We also recycle nutrients--from the garden to the pigs, chickens, and compost bin back to the garden. And, we look at the garden (and the rest of the farm) as an ecosystem where the depth of the food web is important. Sustainable growing also means ethically grown, so our chickens and pigs get fresh air and pasture, not boxes and cages. Where we can, we work with hoes and hand tools instead of gas-powered equipment to cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases.

There are also other certification programs, notably Certified Naturally Grown, that we may pursue in the future. For now, we are sticking with methods that will ensure that this land is productive for another 175 years.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Water, water, everywhere

Nearly twenty years ago, Oak Hill had running water in several outlying barns--one of which is now the chicken house. Earlier today, I started a quest to get the water up and running again. After some diligent digging, I found the place where the water had been shut off. The pipe had been cut and both ends plugged. Easy enough! I would just hook the two ends back together again. A trip to the local Home Depot for fittings and hose clamps later, this turned out to be a lot of work for myself and my dad, who had come up to check my progress. Finally, the work was done and we turned on the valve. Yes! there is water in the chicken house! But, the water pressure is now decreased dramatically throughout the system. There is a leak somewhere, and with pipes running in many different places the only sure-fire way of finding it is to let it leak overnight and go hunting for the puddle in the morning.

Meanwhile, the garden us up and growing: onions, potatoes, peas, lettuce, and broccoli raab are first out of the gate. The spinach has germinated is starting to poke through the surface. The corn is in. By this weekend, we should be mostly planted. Now all we need is rain!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rain day

Planting continues here at Oak Hill Farms. The vegetable patch is just over 5000 square feet, and just over half of that space is now seed-ready. Since this area has been pasture/hay land for the past several decades, removing the sod and weeds is the biggest current project. We started in the fall by running a disc over the land, breaking the sod and killing some weeds. This spring we repeated the process with the disc, a chisel plow, and a device called a "soil surgeon" that is sort of like a harrow. At this point, enough plants are in the ground that any further turning, smoothing, and de-weeding needs to be done by hand. This has the added benefits of using no diesel fuel (directly, at least) and providing exercise. By next year, we hope to be able to do the majority of the work by hand. Minimizing the tilling process helps to keep underground mycelial networks intact, which is good since fungi contribute to soil organic matter, plant nutrient uptake, and the soil food web.

For now, the broccoli raab and arugula are both up; peas, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, onions, ans other early veggies are in the ground. Last night and today there has been a slow, soaking rain, with sunshine and warm weather predicted for mid-week. We are enjoying a day of rest while we can.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bugs are good!

Long-time gardeners here are skeptical about the ability to grow tomatoes without chemicals. Take one family member, who will remain nameless here. Let's call him Bob. Bob plans on following his usual routine of using Sevin dust regularly to eliminate tomato hornworms. Sevin is a wide-range insecticide that kills many different pests, as well as beneficial insects. Bob jokes that our organic approach will help his garden--since the pests will all come to us to avoid his treated plants.

Our two biggest insect concerns for the year are tomato hornworms and squash beetles. Since our vegetable patch was a hay field until this year, the number of overwintering pests should be relatively low. We are also planting an assortment of flowering plants around the vegetable garden--specifically to attract certain pests and their natural predators. If push comes to shove, we can use selective pesticides like Bt to (Bacillus thuringiensis) to address specific issues. Success will be measured not just by our harvest, but by the diversity of the ecosystem we build--so having a few pest species around is not actually a bad thing. If that seems counterintuitive, I recommend watching the following video. It is about fish, but also about the failings of our current agricultural system:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A word on permaculture

We aren't organic growers. That isn't because we don't appreciate organically grown food, but because the process of becoming a certified organic farm is lengthy and expensive. We may be certified one day, but for now we are focusing on growing plants without inputs of industrial fertilizers or artificial chemical insecticides. Our approach draws heavily on permaculture, which literally means "permanent agriculture" (or permanent culture) and focuses on sustainability.

Permaculture relies on observing, following, and emulating natural ecological processes. For example, rather than spraying to kill pests, we encourage populations of predatory insects that keep pests in check. One key to this system is recycling organic matter and nutrients. This is a big change from what has become traditional agriculture in these parts of the country. Part of our work is in building biodiversity--not just by growing heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of vegetables, but also by planting and encouraging native vegetation, even where we aren't actively harvesting. It's a long road, and one we are just starting to walk.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Veggies for 2010

Here is a partial list of the veggies on tap for this year:

Arugula (Roquette)
Basil (Genovese)
Beans, bush 'Magpie'
Beans, bush 'Blue Lake'
Beets, gold 'Yellow Intermediate Mangel'
Beets, red Bull's Blood
Broccoli Calabrese
Broccoli raab (Sessantina Grossa)
Cabbage, Chinese 'China Choy'
Carrots 'Nectar'
Carrots 'Sc. Keeper'
Celery 'Red Stalk'
Corn, Broom
Corn, Pop 'Dakota Black'
Corn, Sweet 'Stowells'
Cucumbers 'North Pickling'
Dill 'Mammoth'
Gourds, Dipper
Gourds, Birdhouse
Leeks 'King Richard'
Lettuce 'Nevada'
Lettuce, Blackseed sim.
Muskmelon 'Edens Gem'
Peas, Purple Hull
Peas, snap 'Sugar Sprint'
Peppers, Hot Habanero
Peppers, Hot Jalapeno
Peppers, Hot 'Joe's Long'
Peppers, Hot Ancho
Peppers, Sweet 'Wonderbell'
Potatoes, blue 'All Blue'
Potatoes, red 'Red Sangre'
Pumpkins 'Small Sugar'
Pumpkins 'Howden'
Pumpkins 'Jack-o-Lite'
Shallot 'Ed's Red'
Spinach 'Viroflay'
Squash, summer 'Bennings Green'
Squash, summer Bush Zucchini
Squash, summer Yellow Crookneck
Squash, winter Hopi Orange
Squash, winter Green Hubbard
Squash, winter Spaghetti
Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'
Tomatillos 'De Milpa'
Tomatoes 'Arkansas Traveller'
Tomatoes 'Mortgage Lifter'
Tomatoes 'Brandywine'
Tomatoes 'Matt's Cherry'
Tomatoes 'Amish Paste'
Watermelon 'S. Dakota'
Watermelon 'Verona'