Newsletter – 17 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Chard, Cilantro, Black currants,
Garlic, Lettuce, Onions
Sugar snap peas, Squash, Turnips

I know a guy who by the age of ten was certain he wanted to study birds. 40 something years on he is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale and still as passionate about birds as an avid ten-year-old. He showed us around the collection once, pulling various rare and exotic specimens–passenger pigeons, an ivory billed woodpecker, a cassowary–out of drawers, his enthusiasm so infectious that after an hour of looking at dead birds, and with no previous inclination to do so, we all wanted to take up ornithology too.

It is unusual to meet someone like Rick who loves his work that much. Mosts of us get deflected from our enthusiasms at some point, and usually long before we start our working lives. I know plenty of people who like their jobs fine, even some who claim to enjoy them most of the time. But hardly anyone who is so deeply and joyfully engaged with what he does that he cannot help but show it, and those around him cannot help but feel it.

I envy Rick that. It must be wonderful to head off to your job every morning thinking, gosh, today’s going to be great. I don’t know if he actually sings as he walks jauntily through New Haven on his way to his office in the Peabody Museum. But I like to imagine that at the very least he hums quietly.

And yet I bet even Rick encounters all sorts of minor annoyances in the course of a work day. No matter what you do or how much you enjoy it, they are almost impossible to avoid. It is just one more of those things they don’t tell you about when you are a kid: the prevalence of annoyances.

I bought a power mister from another farmer this winter. It is great for putting fungicide on tomatoes because it covers all the leaves of even dense plants quite thoroughly, which you need to do to make fungicide work. And you want fungicide (we have four different organic ones we rotate through so the diseases don’t get used to them) to work, especially when late blight is around. It has been found in two counties already, so it could easily spread. If it comes here that would quite likely do in all our tomatoes and potatoes.

When I bought the mister it started up right away. And when I used it this spring it started. And when Sean used it last week to spray the greenhouse tomatoes it started. And when he went to spray the field tomatoes immediately after that it did not. Annoyance number one. We let it sit for a while and I tried starting it. The pull cord snapped. Annoyance number 2. Yesterday I tried to fix it, which seems like an easy task. Just put on a new piece of cord. The housing is held on by three bolts. Three, as it turned out after I had tried a number of wrenches and sockets, 10mm bolts. Anyone care to guess what wrench I could not find? Number 3. Getting to the cord only required removing 11 small, greasy parts, including two ridiculously tiny snap rings. 4. Have you ever encountered the recoil spring on a small engine? You really don’t want it to uncoil. Half an hour of cursing. 5. Or tried to reinstall two ridiculously tiny, greasy snap rings. 6. That seemed like the moment to switch to another task. So I put the cultivators on the Allis Chalmers G and headed out to the carrot patch. Well, half way out to the carrot patch. Then the engine quit. An hour and a half of work resulting in a still broken mister and a dead tractor.

Not that every hour and a half on the farm goes like that. Annoyances often seem to come in clusters. There may be some kind of mutual attraction, a sort of annoyance gravity that causes them to cluster in certain spots. I just had the misfortune to wandered into a little annoyance galaxy. And to be fair, annoyances tend to arise whenever I try to fix engines. Tools and repair played a minor role in my upbringing. We spent our time clustered around reference books, not engines. I can find Bulgaria on a map. Changing spark plugs tests the limits of my mechanical ability.

I really out to learn how to fix things, maybe even learn how to weld. Or hire a skilled valet who would take care of the grocery shopping, fold my laundry and tend to the machinery.

That or switch to a job involving fewer different sorts of occupations. Farming requires that you do a lot of not necessarily related things. The more things you do, the more chances for annoyances to find you. And when they do you are less likely to be equipped to fend them off. Or that is what I tell myself. I may be making excuses for my incompetence. Other farmers probably own snap ring pliers.

And anyway, who am I kidding. Farming is full of annoyances mostly because life is full of annoyances, no matter what you do. You can spend your days weeding carrots or happily contemplating the evolution of feathers, and either way little things will go wrong. I am pretty sure the universe is not designed to make our lives easy. Otherwise, string would not tie itself in knots.


Vegetable Notes: We tend to use chard as the backup green. It keeps producing all season, so it is generally their waiting for us if we need it. But that also means we don’t feel the same urgency to use it that we do with other greens that decline quickly after reaching their peak. Consequently, we don’t often get around to handing out chard. Plus some years the bugs and diseases and deer get to it, and we cannot hand it out even if we want to. But so far the chard has had a good year. In fact, it looks so nice I felt we should hand it out no matter what. Plus, it tastes nice too, and you can treat it as two vegetables if you want. You can just cook the leaves and stems together (the stems add so good texture). I steam them in salted water, squeeze out as much water as possible, and them chop and saute the chard with garlic and hot pepper. It is good on its own, even better with pasta or on pizza. but you can also use them stems separately. Italians make chard stem gratin. I have also had tasty chard stem confit–diced stem cooked long and slow slow in a lot of oil with garlic and salt.

Speaking of cooking long and slow, do not do that to the snap peas. Please. Far better to eat them raw than to overcook them. And by overcook I mean steam them more than about two and a half minutes. They should still have some snap when they are done. I am sure you can add them to all sorts of dishes, but why bother? Just sprinkle on a little salt and eat them straight.

You can add black currants to all sorts of dishes, savory as well as sweet. I usually add them to anything–summer pudding, pie–I am making with mixed berries. They are excellent (cooked down with a little water and sugar until syrupy) on the bottom of a creme brule or over ice cream or on pancakes. I also use them in red wine sauces and stews. And because they have a lot of pectin they are useful (and tasty) in all sorts of jams and jellies. And you can pick out the stems, freeze them on a tray and keep them in a bag in the freezer for months to put in whatever you want long after their season has ended.