We've had such lovely Indian summer weather lately! It's a refreshing change from the rain we've had for too long this fall. It has truly been an extreme growing season- either far too much rain, or not nearly enough. We were so excited to have the earliest-ever hay made this year- we had it dry and in the barn on June 1. The second cutting was looking great as of late August, but with rain in the forecast and falling every day or every other day, we had to wait. We needed 4 or 5 days of clear weather for the ground to dry, then cut and rake the hay, then load it up and get it into the barn. That clear weather finally arrived on Wednesday, and Dan cut the entire hay field. That is a massive undertaking for us and the horses, as we usually cut the field in 2-3 sections. This time, however, we didn't foresee any other possible time to get it in, plus delaying the cutting had allowed weeds to take over in places. We thought it best to cut the whole field, and even if we didn't use what was cut, it would at least mow the weeds away so part of the field wouldn't start out with a weed problem next year.
After cutting hay, we were fortunate that Dan and his brother spotted a rotary hay rake for sale nearby. They were able to bring it home Thursday. While by no means new, it's new to us and in much better condition than the one we would have been using. After greasing up the moving parts, Dan put it to good use on Friday and it worked great. Yesterday, the hay had finally dried and Dan and I were able to bring 3 large wagon loads into the barn, the equivalent of about half of the hay field. Although I love watching my Steeler football games, it was too pretty of a day to be inside and too important a job to skip out on. (I did have the game on the solar powered radio and my Hines Ward sparkly jersey on while driving the hay wagon and walking down the hay loads. I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person in the country that combines things like that- Steeler football and making hay with turn of the century methods & equipment.)
Making hay is the most important thing we do each year, even more important than spring planting. Hay is the staple that gets our livestock through the winter. It's what keeps our cattle growing and healthy through the winter, it feeds the sheep and goats and provides food & bedding for the pigs, and fuels our horses all winter & early spring, so they in turn can provide the pulling power to clean the barn or plow the fields. So seeing the mow fill up with hay is always a beautiful sight! It's always exciting to get hay into the barn without it getting rained upon. Dan finished up the final load alone on Sunday, and let me go off to do another important job, making dinner. Haymaking is hungry work!
By the time he came in, I already had a tasty potato salad (with our heirloom Mountain Rose potatoes and bacon) done, as well as a no-bake cheesecake type dessert I make with homemade blueberry butter and caramel. For the main course, I had T-bones from our grass-fed beef. Dan also talked me into making it surf-and-turf by cooking up some shrimp to go with it. Seafood is one thing we don't raise, but we do grow and process so much of our own stuff I don't feel bad about treating ourselves to some good seafood every so often, and this seemed like a perfect excuse! So as the shrimp were defrosting, I quickly headed outside to my secret chantrelle patch to see if I could scare up some late season mushrooms. Sadly, any I found were too old to be much good to eat, so I turned around and headed back to the house. On the way out of the woods, I spotted another kind of mushroom. It turned out to be an oyster mushroom, also very prized for eating. So I made shrimp with wild mushrooms, sauteed with a bit of garlic and my own champagne vinegar, making a wonderful sauce. I even had some curly parsley on the counter to dress up the plate, it really looked like a meal from some sort of 5-star restaurant. It's been crazy busy around here lately, so much of my cooking has been quick stuff, it was good to make a really nice meal. And I do get really excited when I can make something great by using a lot of what I've made here. Anymore I can just throw things together and it turns out great, I really don't follow a lot of recipes, unless I'm canning, and then consistency is very important.
Today, Dan and I along with Matt, got another 2 loads in the barn. Some of the hay is weedy, so Dan is out raking it to the edge of the field where it can smother some of the weeds along the fencerow. It doesn't really have enough edible stuff in places to make it worth the work of bringing it in. Then he'll rake the rest of the field once more, collecting all the bits that escaped the fork into one big row. We'll put that up, and that will be the end of the 2011 hay season. Ironically enough, although the first cutting was the earliest-ever, this will be the latest into the fall that we've ever successfully put up hay!