Preserving Autumn's Kentucky Gold

There are several things that I associate with the coming of fall in Henderson:  The steam rolling off of a huge burgoo pot, my grandparent’s foraging for pecans in their yard and green tomato ketchup.   Though these days, you better watch yourself if you identify it as Mamaw’s recipe; Nana takes offense.  According to her, she has made green tomato ketchup more than Mammaw.
So this fall, as I am enjoying an unexpected autumn in my hometown I decided I wanted to stock up on some of Nana’s green tomato ketchup and if I’m lucky some pecans.
On Sunday, PopPop and I went to my cousin Wil’s farm and harvested about a bushel of green tomatoes that were still on the vine.  Then yesterday I arrived at Nana and PopPop’s house ready for a day full of grinding, pickling and canning.  
I was greeted by PopPop, sitting in his foldable camping chair on the side of the house- a virtual sentinel standing guard- with a gun no-less, should his arch-rival, the squirrel, poke his head around the edge of a branch.  You see, PopPop, has spent the majority of the past two months sitting in this spot with his pellet gun waiting to knock off any squirrel that dare take any of his prized pecans.
While the rest of their grandchildren and great grandchildren are playing video games, chatting on facebook or running around doing errands, Nana and PopPop are content at spending their days in their side yard, searching for their version of Kentucky gold: the pecan.  One Sunday after dinner we all went out to see how many pecans had fallen.  With childlike glee Nana would scream, “oh here’s one,” followed by giddy laughter and sheer delight.  The pecans kept falling one after another.  We could hear their kerplunk as they hit the moist ground.  The afternoon turned into a scavenger hunt:  who can find the most pecans on the ground.  I think our final count was around 200.  The running total as of yesterday is about six gallons.
On days when I run out of job hunting things to do or just want a glass of milk and a slice of cake I go over to Nana and PopPop’s to check in and see how many pecans they have collected each day.  The other day I went over and received a much needed lesson in the techniques used to extract the pecan from their shell.  First, you crack it with a nut cracking device, then you pick, with surgical precision, out the nut from the shell.  I can’t help wonder if PopPop’s precise skill at pecan hulling is honed by his clock repair acumen or vice-versa. Either way, when it comes to making sure a perfect pecan is extracted  PopPop is a great teacher.
As PopPop stands guard of our fall bounty of pecans, I go into the kitchen and find Nana already hard at work.  I told her to wait and I would help.  But this woman does not know how to slow down and has probably worked her whole life, nary with a break to breath.  
Her arthritic swollen hands have already washed cored and cut up about a half bushel of green tomatoes.  And don’t start to think for a minute that she didn’t let me know how much work all this was.  She repeatedly tells me, “last time PopPop and I did this we swore we would never do it again!”  Alas,  I guess being a grandson has it’s perks.  She knows I love her green tomato ketchup and I eagerly want to learn how she makes it every year so I can carry on the tradition.  I take a roasting pan full of green tomatoes out to the deck and start the long process of grinding about 3 gallons of green tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cabbage.
Next, we wait 4 hours, watch Nana’s favorite afternoon TV show, Let’s Make a Deal, and then start prepping the mason jars for processing.
At first Nana, scoffs at my suggestion that we have to first sterilize the jars in boiling water.  Then after we fill all the jars with the green tomato ketchup she thinks I’m crazy for saying we have to put them in a water bath.  What do I know, I just moved back from the city and all I have to go by is Ball’s Blue guide to canning. 
Nana said, “I have never, put them in a hot bath and it always turned out just fine.”  I guess, growing up in a germ phobic world has taken it’s tole on me.  I explain why I think we need to put them in a water bath and Nana relents.  She admits, “My mom always canned everything under the sun,  but I never paid attention.”  She continues, “I have always been a tom-boy and never wanted to be in the kitchen when we were canning.  All I did was wash the jars, since my hands were so small.”
Let’s just say I won the war on the boiling water bath and taught Nana something as we listened to the tops of the Mason jars pop, indicating the water bath had done it’s job and properly sealed the jars.
By the end of the day we had a nice batch (21 pint jars full) of green tomato ketchup, family stories and a garage full of pecans.  I can’t wait for a bowl of white beans, a dollop of green tomato ketchup and corn bread (made from Mammaw’s cast iron mold that creates little corn cobs).  Oh, and for dessert Nana’s famous Pecan Pie.

While Nana and PopPop think their pecans are Kentucky gold, I think my opportunity to learn Nana’s recipe for green tomato ketchup and hear her old stories is my own version of Kentucky gold.


Eat More Kale

Now that I am a vegetable farmer I have lots of great veggies at my disposal.  The frustrating part of this picture is that this organic farmer is so busy, harvesting, weeding, seeding and driving to market that I never have time to cook for myself. (the sole reason I became interested in farming)  Sadly,  instead of cooking the vegetables that I have spent so much time growing, lately Sheetz (our local gas station) has been my place of dining.  Sounds like the start to a joke... two organic farmers pull up to the drive in window at kentucky fried chicken/taco bell.... what do they order?  A.  Factory raised, antibody pumped chicken and chemically sprayed vegetable burritos.  UGH!

Well,  this past Saturday,  after market and one of the most grueling weeks so far I had the chance to have dinner with some other young farmers in the area.  I finally put my raw kale salad, that I had been telling people at market about, to the test .  Nothing like blind endorsement!  It is simple, seasonal and tasty.

Chiffonade (cut into thin ribbons) tender Tuscano Kale.  Toss with a mustard vinegrette (dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, and olive oil)  toss in some fresh sweet cherries, and toasted almonds and a stinky telagio inspired cheese from your local dairy.  Whoala, an organic farmer actually finds time to eat what he grew!

Another one of my favorite ways to cook kale is Tuscan Kale and Cannellini beans.

Saute diced spring onions, rosemary and red pepper flakes till onions are limp.  Add a little white wine.  Cook till jammy.  Next add kale that has been ripped off its stem.  Cook till it is cooked down.  Add cannalenni beans.  Finish off with grated parmesean cheese and crumbled bacon.


Making Pie

This past week I took a vacation from the farm.  I drove 6 hours to another farm: that of my best friend- Malea in Tiffin Ohio.  I had just finished a marathon of 5 and a half weeks as a camp counselor at the farm where I work and she had just arrived in Ohio after 1 and a half years in the peace corps in Rwanda.  I was so excited to see her and her family.

Even though I was on a vacation from the farm I found that I really could not escape the farm. I continually found myself in conversations about farming with her dad, Sunrise co-op board members and with her grandmother.  I thouroughly enjoyed these conversations.  I learned something about their methods of farming and was able to share some of my newly found knowledge about my experiences farming.  I really enjoyed learning about Malea's family dairy, playing around her dad's HUGE tractors, and finally learning how to make pie crust with lard.  Now that I am back on the farm (where we raise Pigs) I am so excited about making lard and PIE!

Malea's grandmother started her narration of the pie baking lesson by reminding Malea that when she was a little girl she would sit at the table across from the kitchen and watch her make pie.  Grandma Hoepf also told me that one of Malea's first words was pie!

How to male a lard Pie crust and Elderberry and rhubarb pies. (for 1 and pies)

1) measure 1 &1/2 Cup flour
2) measure a little less that 1/2 cup of lard

Mix by hand and pour in ice water till desired consistency

Divide into three balls

Meanwhile prepare the elderberry filling:

1) mix 4 cups elderberries with 1/4 cup water and heat on stovetop
2) Add 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon flour, and one teaspoon lemon-aid concentrate.

Next you roll out the pie crust.  Grandma Hoepf is using a rolling pin that was given to her as a wedding present 61 years ago. 

You want to continually flour the surface and the rolling pin to make sure the dough does not stick and want to get the dough as round as possible.

At this point Grandma Hoepf intergected that the last time she made a rhubarb pie and sent it with Malea's dad, it was placed in the back seat behind the driver.  Apparently someone slammed on the brakes and the pie ended up in the carpet underneath the driver's seat.

Also, Grandma Hoepf talked about how she made 7 pies for Malea's parent's wedding rehersal dinner.  She said "We was milking the cows then and couldn't leave the cows so I sent them to the reception."

After rolling out the dough, Grandma Hoepf fluted the edges of the pie crust rolling it over itself.  then for the elderberry one she added the filling, top crust with vent holes, sprinkled with sugar, and pinched the edges of the crust. and baked at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.

Next we made the rhubarb filling:

1) mix one egg 1 cup sugar 3 cups rhubarb and 3 tablespoons flour with 1 tablespoon vanilla
Grandma hoepf then expressed her recent frustration when she went to kroger and bought what was labled butter, but turned out to be butter light. "i got butter, it said butter on the package, but it was light butter.  So I took it back."
2) make the crumble topping by mixing 1/2 stick of butter 3/4 cup sugar(1/2 white 1/2 brown) and 4 tablespoons flour)

Mix it by hand and crumble on top

Cook at 425 for 15 minutes then lower to 350 and cook till brown (around 30 minutes


Wild About Fermentation

My current love affair is with a little bacteria called lactobacilli. He is everything you look for when seeking out love and especially when seeking out a love affair! He is wild, He is loyal and predictable, persistent, prolific, and easy to find. He is the lover that is found just about anywhere- especially on vegetables that grow close to the ground. And if you really want to get him excited add a little salt brine. That really gets his juices going.

Like all love affairs there is a story behind my current love of lactobacilli. We met on a hot summer day. Shawna, from Mountain View Farm, was at the market that I manage. She brought a jar full of her homemade Kimchee. She offered me a sample: it was love at first bite. I knew that I was destined for a hot and heavy relationship with this prehistoric bacteria as soon as I crunched on the tasty fermented cabbage spiced with a heavy dose of hot peppers and ginger. Wide eyed, I went home with a huge nappa cabbage, bunch of carrots and a daikon radish ready to pickle up my new favorite boyfriend.

Shawna told me to look at Sandor Katz's book Wild Fermentation. Sandor has also found himself caught up in the love affair with fermentation though he has taken it to a whole different level: he identifies as a fermentation fetishist. Maybe my relationship with Lactobacilli is on its way to fetishists status but right now we are in the honeymoon phase.

Lactobacilli is nature's way of preserving summer's harvest and requires no special equipment, no boiling and doesn't risk one dying of botulism if things are not canned correctly. The brine that vegetable are placed in helps the lactobacilli reproduce and the lactobacilli destroys any toxins in the vegetables and breaks down some of the cellular structure of the veggies, causing them to be more digestible. Additionally, after fermentation our bodies can absorb the nutrients in the vegetable better. Like any good boyfriend, he breaks you down and gets under your skin. Not to mention the salty lick of your lips after a good make out session.

So after my encounter with the hot sexy lactobacilli at the market I went home and decided I wanted him all to myself. I started my first batch of lacto-fermented kimchee. A kitchen that smelled of sweet rotting cabbage and two weeks later I had a nice batch of kimchee. Though, I must say the initial attraction had worn off a little bit at this point. The stench of my apartment and later my entire fridge of fermenting cabbage turned me off my new batch of Kimchee. I could not stomach eating it. Again like any relationship our love affair needed a small breather.

Several months and many open fridge doors revealing the stench of love later my friend Adam tried to bring Lactobacilli and I back into a meaningful relationship. Adam stormed in my apartment and demanded to know where the kimchee was. I warned him but he proceeded to eat half a jar. At that point. I decided maybe I had dumped lactobacilli too quickly. So the next day when I was eating an after market omelet I decided to add a little kimchee as a side condiment. Again, making up after a fight is always the best part. I realized i had dumped lactobacilli too quickly and was ready for full on lactobacilli love.

Now I have several batches of lactobacilli ferments going in my kitchen. I just can't get enough of lactobacilli's wild love. I have a great batch of sauerkraut, sour beets and ginger beer.

I have a feeling this love affair will only get better with time. Long and slow time.

Here is how to find your hiding lactobacilli boyfriend:


Slice 5 lbs of Cabbage toss with sea salt and crunch in your hands. This releases the water.

Tightly pack in either a crock or a large mason jar. As you mash the cabbage down it will release its juices. You want the cabbage to eventually be covered in the salty brine.

Every day tamp down the cabbage and make sure it is covered by the brine. After a week or two on the counter start tasting to see if it has your preferred tang. When your preferred tang is reached put it in the fridge. After 3-4 weeks. Then serve with sausages, in a potato and white bean soup or as a condiment to any meal.


Slice A head of Nappa cabbage, thinly slice carrots, and daikon radishes. Toss with sea salt and crunch in your hands

Tamp down in a crock until water is released and brine covers the cabbage.

Once the mixture is fermented enough, after several weeks, drain the brine and mix with grated ginger, crush red pepper, and garlic.

Sour Beets

grate 5 lbs of beets

Toss with sea salt and pack tightly in a crock. Let brine cover top of beets.

Sit and wait till tangy and tasty then transfer to fridge.


Farm Inspired Meals.

As I write this I am sitting at Mountain View Farm in Purcellville VA. Right across the Shenadoah River from Historic Harpers Ferry. Mountainview is run by Shawna And Attilla and they come to the market I manage in DC- the 14&U Farmers Market. Through out the market season they bring in great naturally grown produce to my neighborhood in DC. Their farm is a part of an environmental center. It consists of 900 acres of wooded land and includes pasture and the market garden.

Shawna and Attila also raised goat, have a few sheep 2 pigs and are also waiting on their heiffer to calve so they can have milk. I might be lucky and get to have my first experience helping a cow give birth.

As I am out here everything inspires me to cook.

For breakfast, I had an omllette (from the chickens that used to be here until they met their fate by a local mink) filled with black beans and salsa that Shawna made from the summer's tomato and green pepper crop. I also had local bacon on the side.

Then for lunch, I made one of my favorite soups. Saute bacon in olive oil, add garlic, onion, carrot and celery. Saute till soft and then add tomato paste. Then add chicken stock and cubed potatoes (from the farm) Simmer until potatoes are soft. Then add cannelloni beans and ditalini pasta. Finally, I grated Keswisk Creamery's Carrock cheese ( it is very similar to Parmesan). For dessert I made a pear (from the Dupont market) upside down cake.

Then before it is my dinner time I did the rounds up at the pasture and gave the goats their water and grain. Threw kitchen scraps to the pigs and gave the Heifer with child a special grain mix. After they eat then its time for my dinner.

Now it is dinner time. I am roasting cubed blue magic Hubbard squash tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. I'll later mix it with some extra black beans. The main dish is a Grass fed T-bone steak.

YUM! I love life on the farm!


Farm sitting

I am taking a winter vacation and going to farmsit at Mountain View Farm. Mountain view comes to the market I manage and grows great greens and produce. They also raise beautiful goats, chickens and have a pregnant heifer.

I am looking forward to a week away from the city in the foothills of the blue ridge mountains. While on the farm I'll be feeding the animals, hiking, and cooking up lots of farm inspired meals.

RIght now I am packing up some of my buys from the market this week:

Mushrooms: portobella, oyster, and crimini
Buffalo chorizo
buffalo summer sausage
Blue magic hubbard squash
fresh mozerella
keswick cheese

And my friend Sandy of Painted Hand Farm will be visiting mid week and will bring her delicious goat, veal and grass-fed beef and a duck from Pecan Medow.

I am looking forward to a week on the farm, the train ride to harpers ferry and a week of food and friends and farm animals.

A Box of Sweet Potatoes

At the end of the market that I manage last November I stocked up on lots of storable produce. I stocked up on kabucha squash blue magic hubbards and bought a 25 pound box of sweet potatoes. I am slowly working my way through 25 pounds. Blue Magic Hubbard Squash and black bean burritos, sweet potato pizza and a favorite of friends: sweet potato fries. But one of my favorites is baked sweet potato with butter and Keswick Creamery fresh bovre with garlic and oregano (Their take on fresh goat cheese- chevre). Also, a great breakfast is steel cut oats with baked sweet potato stirred in.

Blue Magic Hubbard Squash and Black Bean Burritos

Before Christmas, I was invited to a vegan baby Jesus Burrito Party. I racked my brain on how to prepare a burrito filling that wasn't the same old black bean filling. So I came up with this. Also, after looking through mexican cookbooks I was pleasantly surprised that I approrprately selected a traditional Mexican vegetable: squash.

First, I cut up the squash into small 1/2 inch cubes, tossed with olive oil, ground cumin, and cayenne. Roasted in 400 Degree oven till the edges are a bit caramalized

Next, heat up on stove top olive oil, saute onions, add crushed red pepper flakes, add black beans.

Finally, toss squash cubes with beans. Stuff your tortilla for a delicious burritto.

Sweet potato fries

Julien sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch matchsticks. Toss with olive oil, cajun seasoning and salt. Roast at 400 degrees till perfect

Baked sweet potato: two ways

This preperation of the sweet potato is very simple and so delicious!

1. Wrap potato in aluminum foil poke with fork in several locations, bake in 400 degree oven till insides are mushy, cut open, add fresh raw butter and a scoop of keswick creamery garlic and oregano bouvre.

2. Saute steel cut oats in butter, add water, bring to boil till al dente (what I love about steel cut oats is the all dente bite and the nutty smell as I simmer the oats) meanwhile bake a sweet potato in oven. When oats are done, add raisins, brown sugar and scoop the potato into the oats. YUM!

Lazy Day: Easy Soup: Delicious

I got home from work late last week and, honestly, my kitchen at best resembled foothills of mountains of dirty dishes. I was starving and didn't feel like mountaintop removal mining before eating. Simple was in order.

I made a delicious potato leek soup roughly following Julia Child's recipe.

Lightly saute leeks in butter, add cut up potatoes, add chicken stock. Simmer till the potatoes are soft. Once soft, puree with immersion blender, add salt, pepper, butter and creme fresh.

I also sauteed some spicy italian sausage balls and dropped them in.

This meal was so delicious and so simple and quick!


Celery Root & Apple Soup

I first had this soup a couple years ago at lunch during restaurant week at Zola Next to the spy museum in Washington DC. At the time the soup was so simple and delicious that I wanted to recreate it at home for myself. I have tweaked the recipe over the years but last night I think it was the best I have ever made. It is a light and simple soup that taste delicious!

1) saute half an onion and one large garlic clove in olive oil (or butter). Add cubes of celery root, 2 apples and several small potatoes. Saute until onions are translucent and vegetables are browning on the sides.

2) Add stock: Vegetable or chicken. Raise heat to boil.

3) Simmer until vegetables start to fall apart.

4) Meanwhile, in a saute pan saute mixture of mushrooms in butter till crispy, add a little apple cider to deglaze pan.

4) Blend to a silky consistency with immersion blender.

5) Add butter, small amount of maple syrup and a tad of apple cider.

6) Serve with a dollop of creme fresh and topped with mushrooms.