Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Gifting Local

Did you miss me?  Even my own mother asked recently about what happened to my blog!  The truth is simply that I've been busy, and other things took priority. This year has been even busier, if that is possible. A big part of this is that neither Dan or I have off farm jobs for the first time. It takes a lot of hard work to make this happen, and we are grateful that we have been able to pull it off since January. However, it's a bit nerve wracking heading into the winter- the farm stand is closed until Memorial Day weekend 2014, neither of us are getting a steady paycheck, or unemployment, or government money of any type. So, how do we plan on making a living? We're trying to get by with internet sales, and so far, it's working out. I find myself spending a lot of time online these days, as I'm in charge of three separate internet stores. I've built one from scratch on our farm's website, I've reopened the farm's Etsy store, and we do some selling on eBay as well. Besides shipping our jams & other canned products, I have made lots of unique jewelry, including pendants made out of old seed catalog pictures, stained glass items like sun catchers & nightlights and other fun stuff like wall hangings and wreaths. But the big sellers tend to be Dan's handiwork. I really admire the effort he has put into his blacksmithing, and some of his creations are simply amazing. The other day, he made a gorgeous pot rack which hangs from the ceiling out of an old ladder and 20 hand-forged hooks & brackets. We hung it in the kitchen so I could photograph it to list it online. Normally, I'm happy and excited when we sell things like this...but in this case I sort of hope it doesn't because I will hate to give it up!

Even though the Christmas shopping season is over, if you've got money to spend, whether it's a holiday gift or an income tax return, consider spending it locally. You probably know by now how much better food is when it's fresh, local, and produced by your neighbors; the same is true about most other things! We complain about cheap crap that comes from China; your friends & neighbors make and sell things, and while they may cost more, think of it as not only investing in quality and craftsmanship, but also investing in your country and community. Shopping small keeps money locally; money we earn from our sales is spent at the local mom & pop gas station, the feed co-op, the general store where Dan buys his metal and many more small businesses.  

 

So if you've got money burning a hole in your pocket this time of year, consider checking out our online store at http://pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com.  Or, if your holiday loot is in the form of an Etsy gift card, you can shop on over to https://www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa.

 

This year, our holidays consisted of homemade gifts, delicious food, and the true gifts of sharing time with family and friends.  We hope yours brought the same, no matter what holiday you celebrate!  

 
 

Farm to Table 2013

Once again, I took the farm on the road to Pittsburgh's Farm to Table conference.  This year's event was last weekend.  As in past years, not only did I have a table in the exhibit hall, but I was one of the featured presenters as well.  

Our table was loaded with good stuff!

 

The theme this year was "do it yourself" so I spoke on home canning.  I called it "Home Canning 101"  and put it together for folks who may have been interested in the idea of canning, but really didn't understand the process.  It's hard to believe, but not too many years ago, that was where I was at.  I didn't grow up with any relatives who put up their own food, so the process was a mystery to me.  It's intimidating when you aren't familiar with the process, and haven't seen it done, and it's easy to make discouraging mistakes.  As I shared in my talk, my husband & mother-in-law encouraged me to learn, but my first time was full of mistakes.  Betty was in Florida and told me I was free to borrow her equipment, but I didn't exactly know what I was looking for.  After the jars were processed in the boiling water, I had a devil of a time getting them out of the canner, and burnt my fingers a bit.  It was enough to really discourage me.  When Dan came home from work and I told him all about it, he asked why I didn't grab the jar lifters, too!   Having someone explain the basics and show me the necessary tools would have been a great help, so that's what I aimed to do in my presentation.  I was amazed at the attendance, for a Friday morning when lots of folks are working or at school, the room was quite full!  I really hope I took some of the scariness out of the process and that some of the attendees will try it for themselves this summer!

 As in past years, I had my vehicle fill to the brim with yummy stuff to sell.  I'm pretty sure I'm known to plenty of repeat attendees as the "Carrot Cake Jam Lady", so I had lots of that on hand, plus other jams, mustards, pickles and other goodies.  I had some new things this year, too.  I had lots of Happy Mug coffee with me, and made the whole area around the table smell amazing, since it was roasted only 2 days before the conference began!  I also brought plenty of handmade jewelry, which was well received.  People really seemed to like the items that had glass pendants I made using stained glass scraps and old seed catalogs!   ( I like to call them the "Wear Your Veggies" collection)  I also brought a vase full of peacock feathers, since they are so eye-catching.  But I had no idea they would be a big hit, or I would have brought more!  I think just about every child that came on Saturday left with one, at least until I sold out!  

Again, the conference seemed bigger than the year before.  It's truly wonderful to see more & more people really motivated to eat better, and eat local.  As Liz Kanche (one of the organizers) said to me before my presentation "Who knew, a couple years ago, that local food would be sexy?"  and I do think we're getting there.  It's a trend that gets bigger and more popular all the time.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get to the point where it wasn't just a trend, or a movement, but simply the way things are done?

 Some thanks are in order: to Liz & Erin for another great event: to everyone who attended my presentation- I hope you give canning a shot!: to everyone who stopped by our table in the exhibit hall- we appreciate your business and hope you'll come see us this summer; and finally to my mom, Robin Shea, for manning the table with me both days.  I couldn't have done it without you! 

 

And if you missed the event, or are already out of Carrot Cake Jam and need more,  our online store is always open!

 

 
 

Home Cooking

Isn't it amazing how it feels like fall the minute the schools open again? Just a night or two before our local schools started the new year, we had lows in the 40's and I'm seeing the first blushes of color in the leaves of the trees. The garden says fall is near as well. Although there are still plenty of tomatoes and peppers to pick, the corn and beans have given their last picking. Weeds have gained control of much of the rows, and instead of spending my days weeding them, we'll just till them under when we put the garden to bed for the year. It has a feeling of winding down, despite the fact that there is still more picking to do. We'll wait for the first frosts to harvest the winter squash, so until then, it's not quite the frenzied feeling when picking and prepping Saturday mornings before the stand opens. There is lots to can during the week as well, but it also feels like the downhill slide.


One part of the garden is still getting my attention though, and that's the herbs. Part of it is because they don't get as tall as lots of other plants, and would quickly be shaded out if I didn't keep up on the weeding. But mostly, I think it's because I love weeding there. Even gently brushing by the various leaves as I weed, I'm rewarded by the fragrances. My nose alone can tell if I'm caring for the thyme, the sage, the basil. The dill is blooming so strongly right now I can smell it when I pass by on the riding lawnmower, even above the motor and fresh-cut-grass smells. The herbs were the first garden plants that I really tended myself as I came to the farm, and still, they feel like the part of the garden that is mine alone. I plan it, I pick it, I decide whether to freeze or dry them or what to season with them. I like that. And most importantly, I've learned how to use them in my cooking.

Anise & Rosemary

 

I grow a decent variety of herbs, so I can pretty much season any dish I like. This year, I had success with chives, oregano, lemon balm, basil, lime basil, borage, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, anise, thyme and sage. I also planted garlic chives from seed, and they've finally gotten to the point I think I'll be cutting a few before too long. About the only thing that didn't take was the Thai basil, which isn't bad considering I plant from seed, and herbs are notoriously tricky and/or slow to come up. Ancient wisdom said that parsley had to go to the underworld and back seven times before it would sprout, it takes so long to germinate!

 

Thyme & Parsley  

Believe it or not, before I came to the farm, I wasn't much of a cook. Cooking was something that had to be done, but not because I enjoyed it. “From scratch” was something other people did, Hamburger Helper was good enough for me. My idea of seasonings ran toward garlic salt or grilling seasoning mixes. Now, I've done a complete turnaround. When bringing ham barbecue to a gathering last weekend, “I made it myself” meant not only did I cook the pork and make the sauce instead of pouring it out of a bottle, I gave the piglets their baby shots and loaded them onto the processor's trailer. I find I enjoy cooking so much more now, and the flavors are just incredible when you can walk out the kitchen door, scissors in hand, and walk back in with the flavorings. No salts, fats or preservatives, just fresh clean flavors. I like being able to say that the sage in our sausage is our own, or the cilantro in my salsa was cut just before I added it to the pot. But most of all, I just enjoy having them for myself, when I'm cooking for Dan and I. I love being able to take chances and throw things together and see what tastes I can come up with just mainly ingredients we make ourselves. And Dan is the farthest thing from a picky eater, over the last five years there have maybe been two times we decided to pass on whatever dish just didn't turn out right. Not bad, considering most of it was created on the fly, without much guidance from a recipe book!

Borage, Dill & Cilantro/Coriander

To me, being able to do that is the epitome of eating seasonally, and that is something I really strive to do, because the tastes are unbelievable. I even threatened that last night was my last night to cook, ever, because I'm not sure if the meal could be topped. I started out with the idea of making chicken alfredo, so I cooked up a breast of one of our chickens. I made the sauce from homemade chicken stock from the freezer and cream cheese. (No, that wasn't from my own cows, but even I'm allowed to cheat once in awhile!) Then I grated up some pattypan squash to add to the mix. For flavor, I put a good deal of fresh parsley and a bit of basil in my hand-cranked herb mill, and threw in some of the smoked cheddar we sell. Now it was getting some good flavor. Usually I would use garlic and a lot more basil, but I wanted a milder, creamer flavor so as not to overpower the most gourmet of my ingredients- more prized than naturally raised chicken or artisan smoked cheese- my mushrooms. Earlier, just an hour or so before, Dan and I had investigated our secret patches. I had a few chantrelles, but they still aren't coming on as strong as I expect they will after the next rain. And chantrelles retail for something like $50 per pound, and are one of the three gourmet mushrooms of western Pennsylvania that are highly sought after by chefs and cannot be grown, they must be harvested wild from the forests. We're lucky to have a good patch. The other two such forest fungi treats are morels (sadly, I have yet to pick one of those) and hen of the woods. I also found a hen last night and harvested part of that large mushroom as well. That went into the mix too. The result, served over some whole wheat pasta, was truly worthy of a five star restaurant. It likely would have cost a pretty penny at one of those places, considering the number of gourmet items that aren't always easy or possible to procure that went into it. However, I made it for (literally) the cost of some butter, cream cheese and noodles. So to me, eating seasonally means eating well, and life was sure good last night. So good I probably won't top it for awhile, but on second thought I don't think I'll give up cooking just yet. Ordering pizza in just wouldn't be as good!

 
 
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