Over the last few weeks, I have immersed myself in seed catalogs and gardening history books. While it has taken some time, I have finally narrowed down my wish list of varieties to include in The 1840 Farm Heirloom Seed Collection for 2013.
All of the seeds offered in our collection will be non-GMO, heirloom varieties. The collection will be offered for sale in our Etsy shop in the next few weeks. Each seed packet will be paired with a brief history of the variety and my family’s favorite recipe for enjoying our garden harvest at our family table.
Throughout the course of the growing season, there will be opportunities for you to share photos and news from your garden with the other members of The 1840 Farm Online Community and a few surprises in store. I can’t wait to share all of the information with you in the coming weeks!
So, cast your vote for each variety that you would be interested in growing for your family. Vote for all of them if you want every single one to make the cut. If you have a variety that you would like me to add to the list, leave me a comment. I can’t wait to see your responses!
The German Johnson Heirloom Tomato is a potato leaf variety of tomato plant with an indeterminate growing habit. It produces large, round, Beefsteak shaped fruit with bright red skin. The ripe fruit commonly show bright yellow striping along its shoulders.
The German Johnson’s flesh is pink and meaty with a delicious, old-fashioned tomato flavor. Fully ripened fruits may weigh in excess of one pound each. It is not uncommon to harvest tomatoes that tip the scale at 24 ounces or more. In fact, the big, beautiful 23 ounce specimen in the photo above was harvested in our vegetable garden this morning.
The German Johnson is one of the parent species of the Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato. For me, that is reason enough to include it in the heirloom tomato garden at 1840 Farm. One bite and I think you’ll agree that the German Johnson is a delicious slicing tomato that transforms the ordinary sandwich into an extraordinary meal.
Life here at 1840 Farm can get pretty dirty. Spring has only been here for a few weeks, yet the never-ending trail of garden soil has already started to appear in our mudroom. I’ll spend ten minutes every evening from now until winter trying to clean up the dirt before it ends up all over the rest of the house. Believe me, I don’t mind at all. Dirt on the mudroom floor means that winter has finally ended, spring is here, and summer will be sure to follow.
Summer is my favorite season. It brings with it long days spent outside working and playing. It means that we will end our days dirty from the work required to tend our extensive vegetable garden, fruit orchard, and flock of heritage chickens. We’ll eat lunch outside next to our circa 1840 barn while we listen to the cacophony of chicken sounds coming from our coop.
It won’t be long until we have tired muscles and blisters from the farm chores and unending list of construction projects. In fact, we’re hoping that a new hoophouse we’re building will extend our growing season past the 90 days that Mother Nature gives us in New England. With any luck, we’ll be dragging garden soil into the mudroom every month of the year.
Who am I kidding? I’ve got the sore muscles already and I’ve already applied bandages to blisters on my daughter’s hands. I spent yesterday using a sledgehammer to drive 30 inch rebar into the ground to stabilize our new hoophouse. Thor may be playing at a theater near you, but we’re playing Thor right here at 1840 Farm. He has a stone hammer, we’ve got a sledge. True, he has fancy superhero garb and a Norse god for a dad, but I’m not jealous. I’ve got over a hundred heirloom tomatoes seedlings getting ready for a warm spot in the hoophouse and a dad who helped me build it. Thor’s got nothing on me.
So why do we work this hard? Simple. We know that by growing and preparing our own food, we can stay connected to what we eat every day. No, we can’t produce everything that we eat, but we can try to come a little closer every year. Last year, we added chickens to the farm and now I can’t imagine buying eggs at the grocery store. In fact, we’re looking to add a few more hens to our flock just so we can make sure that we always have enough fresh eggs right outside our farmhouse door. Still, other people struggle to understand what we are doing. If only we had someone who could try to explain it to them.
Enter Mike Rowe. You know him, the man who makes learning about the Dirty Jobs that people in this country do everyday seem fun. The man behind Mike Rowe Works and all the resources that go with it. Well, he did something remarkable last week. He spoke before a Senate panel. I’m guessing that most of us wouldn’t consider speaking to the Senate as fun. I’m also guessing that after it was all said and done, we’d probably leave the Capitol feeling a little dirty. Mike seems like just the guy for this job.
Mike Rowe Testifying Before the United States Senate
Mike testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The transcript of his speech is equal parts autobiography and a call to arms. The video is even more inspiring. I can’t remember the last time I listened to someone speaking in Washington, DC who I thought was making sense. Oh, that’s right, it was last week during the Future of Food Conference. Allow me to rephrase: I don’t remember the last time a government official said something that made sense. Clearly we have the wrong people sitting on the high and mighty side of the chamber.
Mike Rowe’s speech was well delivered and in my opinion, right on the money. He eloquently described how our society has gradually downplayed the value of real work. He spoke of his grandfather and a generation that knew how to fix things even if it wasn’t their profession. I remember those days when the neighborhood mothers and fathers all had their talents and they were called upon when needed. We knew that Mr. Smith could help fix your lawn mower and that he might call up and ask if my father could help install a new light fixture or repair drywall. One mother was the best seamstress while my mother might be asked for gardening advice. Everyone had something to contribute and in the end, everyone ended up the better for it. Now we ask neighbors if they know someone who is a good electrician or handyman. We rarely even think to try to make the repair ourselves or ask someone to teach us how to do it.
One line of Mike Rowe’s testimony really stuck with me. “And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.” He’s right. We don’t encourage people to pick up a shovel or anything else that might require getting their hands dirty. We’ve chosen as a society to pretend that getting dirty isn’t a requirement of life. Along the way, I think we lost a little something. We became distant and disconnected from the work that makes our lives possible. Maybe that’s why these types of jobs are now regarded with so little value. It’s hard to value something that you chose to pretend isn’t there.
Why don’t we value hard work anymore? I’m not sure. I know that we used to. In fact, my grandparents and great grandparents all worked hard and weren’t afraid to get dirty. They spent their days tending things and making things. They knew how to fix things. They came home at the end of the day dirty with a sense of satisfaction.
I don’t know how we can return to a society that values dirty jobs like farming. I have a hard time believing that the Senate will be able to affect much change in this department. I have a distinct feeling that they are even more disconnected from the real working public than the rest of us. I certainly don’t intend to wait around for them to “help” me figure out what I can do.
I intend to do my part right here at 1840 Farm. I will happily pick up a shovel and get dirty. While I’m at it, I’ll teach my two children to do the same. I’ll encourage them to learn to fix or build something. I’ll consider it a success when they end the day with dirt under their fingernails. We’ll get dirty together and with any luck, we’ll end our days with a deep sense of satisfaction.
I’ll know that I’m doing something right when it is necessary for them to take a shower at the end of the day before I can even consider sitting at the dinner table with them. We’ll sit together as a family around our farmhouse table and eat something that we grew ourselves. We’ll connect with our food, our family, our lives, and our farm. Maybe I’ll even leave the dirt on the mudroom floor until tomorrow. After all, a little dirt never hurt anybody.
Not entirely wordless, but completely celebratory. The first cherry tomatoes of 2011 are here! Yes, they are growing in the plant window in the kitchen instead of outside in our garden. No, we don’t care.
Here we sit at 1840 Farm. It is almost the end of November. The garden has been put to bed for the winter. The leaves have been corralled into their leaf compost bins. Well, at least most of them. Summer is over and fall is holding on by a very thin thread. True, we haven’t seen a snowflake yet, but we know it’s coming. We are hovering on the edge of winter. Dusk comes far too early and the sky is as deep and dark as midnight by the time supper hits the table. It’s official. Chili season is here.
During the fall and winter, chili becomes a regular fixture on our dinner table. It’s a favorite at 1840 Farm. I cannot tell a lie: it’s also the cook’s favorite. The ingredients are easy to keep on hand, the prep is simple, and it feeds my family for at least two nights. Yes, that’s right. I take the second night off from cooking dinner. It’s no wonder I love chili season so much.
I grew up eating the ground beef variety of chili. What can I say? It was the eighties. It was the Midwest. It was all we knew. Later, the ground beef evolved into ground turkey. We felt really proud of ourselves for reducing the fat and joining the masses who were substituting ground turkey everyplace that ground beef used to be. Either way, I always enjoyed it. No matter what form it took, I looked forward to the earthiness of the beans with the bright acidity of the tomatoes. The spicy seasoning was just a bonus.
Then we moved to New England and entered our chili-free years. We no longer needed chili. We had chowda. It was a nice change. Each year when late summer became fall, we would turn to chowder to ease us into the reality that winter would soon hold us captive. As far as coping mechanisms go, it seemed like a pretty good one.
It was fitting that we had traded in chili for chowder now that we had traded in the wheat fields of Kansas for the lighthouses of New England. We felt like locals for throwing our chili bowls aside in favor of the locally harvested clams and the creamy chowder. All was well on the Eastern front. At least, until a shellfish allergy reared its ugly hives. Goodbye lobster, crab, shrimp, and even clams. Goodbye clam chowder.
It was time to reinvent our winter’s edge meal. Enter the chili. But when I said reinvent, I really meant it. By the time I went back to the stove to make chili, our food landscape had changed dramatically. We had given up ground beef. We had given up turkey. We were, for the most part, vegetarians. All bets were off. We were officially back to the drawing board.
What did we do? Amazingly, I think we ended up with a chili recipe that is delicious, perhaps even more so than any of the former varieties. No, ours doesn’t involve meat, but you could easily brown the meat of your choice with the onions and garlic and have a wonderfully hearty version of your own.
This chili packs a spicy punch which can sometimes be a little much for the kids at my dinner table. I tried serving it with the standard chili toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream. They worked to reduce the spice, but didn’t really add much to the dish. Then we decided to try our sweet corn masa as a topping. Eureka-we had found the perfect pairing. The sweet corn masa perfectly subdues the heat of the chili without diluting it or covering it up. It is a match made in chili heaven.
We gathered at our table tonight and ate this chili topped with sweet corn masa. It was cold and damp outside, but we didn’t mind. Tomorrow night, we’ll enjoy the leftovers knowing that they will be equally delicious. I’ll take the day off from making dinner. What will I do with all that free time? Maybe I’ll make that Pear Clafouti I’ve been meaning to try. I said I’d take the day off from making dinner, but I never promised to stay out of the kitchen.
1840 Farm Chili with Sweet Corn Masa Topping
serves 8 – 10
Sweet Corn Masa
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 cup water
8 ounces frozen sweet corn kernels
1 Tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In medium bowl, combine melted butter with cornmeal, sugar, sea salt, and baking powder. Stir to combine. Add milk and water, stirring until evenly moist. Add frozen corn and stir until just combined. Pour into ungreased baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.
Place covered baking dish in larger baking pan. Pour water into larger pan until it is approximately one-third full. Bake in preheated oven until batter is set, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove and allow to stand at room temperature at least 10 minutes. Drizzle honey on top of the warm masa before serving.
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 whole carrots, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 whole canned chipotle chili in adobo, minced
20 ounces water
56 ounces canned whole tomatoes
15 ounces canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned black beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 whole bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Heat large pot over medium-high heat. Add oil, onion, garlic, and carrots, and cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add oregano, cumin, chili powder, and adobo chili. Cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes. Keep yourself at arm’s distance from the pot-the vapors released from the chili once it warms up are pretty intense.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Discard bay leaf and taste for seasoning. Serve with sweet corn masa.
This just in. I harvested 17 pounds of organic, fresh produce from the 1840 Farm gardens yesterday. I feel proud. I feel victorious. I feel exhausted.
This is the time of year that the hours of labor in our gardens finally seem to make sense. That moment when the kitchen counter seems to struggle under the weight of the mother-lode of new produce every day. Trips to the store to purchase more canning jars are a regular occurrence. A serial gardener never seems to have enough of them. Never. Just ask my husband.
I’ve already confessed my deep-rooted love for the heirloom tomato. I’ve come clean about the fact that I just might need to start a support group for gardeners who don’t know when to quit when its planting time. What I haven’t told you is that I’m drowning in tomatoes.
Yesterday I picked over ten pounds of them and I left at least four pounds on the vine that seemed like they could use another day in the sun. I’ve been giving them away to anyone who sets foot on our property. Anyone. Seriously, don’t stop by unless you are prepared to leave with both arms full of tomatoes. Our neighbor stopped by the other day and complimented me on my tomato garden. He should have known better.
That being said, I’m still not suffering from tomato fatigue. I keep expecting to raise my tomato laden fork to my mouth and be less excited about the prospect of eating more tomatoes. I am happy to say that it hasn’t happened yet. I am however, struggling to find new ways to utilize my beloved fruit. So, I’m off to the cookbook shelf to see if I can find something to inspire tonight’s dinner.
Then I have to decide what to do with the four pounds of eggplant I picked.
I never understood the appeal of bruschetta. This might have something to do with the fact that I had apparently never eaten great bruschetta. I had only experienced the worst that bruschetta had to offer. Subpar bread with tasteless, out-of-season tomatoes. I was not impressed.
Fast forward a few years to me staring at a huge bowl of various tomatoes from our garden. I was drowning in them. I was running out of ways to prepare them without completely sacrificing their freshness by cooking them as if they were their canned, barely related counterparts. Enter the Internet. After spending about an hour reading recipes and information about bruschetta, I put down the computer and picked up my tomatoes. After a survey of the refrigerator and the time I had on hand, this bruschetta was born.
If you love tomato season like I do, then you will love this bruschetta. It is my favorite kind of recipe-simple to make, yet tastes like you spent hours working on it. I like to use the heirloom tomatoes we grow here at the farm. Their mix of colors and flavors give this a completely new dimension. Every time I make this, I am amazed at the depth of flavor. It never disappoints. That is, until I realize that someone else has eaten the last piece.
Summer Tomato Bruschetta
1 baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 ounces fresh heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped roughly
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 ounce parmesan cheese, shaved
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange bread slices in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in oven until lightly toasted. Remove and set aside to cool.
Combine tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside and allow to rest at least 10 minutes. Shave parmesan cheese with vegetable peeler. Set both aside.
Preheat broiler while assembling bruschetta. Rub the top of each bread slice with a peeled garlic clove. Stir tomato mixture before spooning onto bread slices. Top each slice with shaved cheese. Broil until cheese is just melted. Serve immediately.