Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Family Jewels

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that we treasure old things here- heirloom plant varieties, heritage livestock breeds, antique farm implements, traditional ways of working the land.  As a general rule, I'm happier with vintage anything than brand-new.   There is a wonderful feeling in bringing home something old and putting it back into real use, in rescuing it from oblivion.

 I also love to cook, and collect cookbooks to the point where Dan thinks it may be a problem.  Used, new, cooking magazines, I love them all.  But with these, too, I have a special place for the old stuff as well.  So many of our modern recipes call for pre-packaged, pre-chopped, pre-wrapped, pre-cooked whatever, so we can eat in 30 minutes or less. But convenience and REAL food seldom go hand-in-hand, so it's wonderful to have recipes that utilize whole foods and emphasize using the whole thing (like making soup from the carcass the day after your roast chicken dinner).  

This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents cooked, and since I have a pantry that is stocked more like it's out of the 1910's than the 2010's, these are the recipes I often treasure most.  And, like so many other things, I think our family recipes, our personal food traditions, are too often being lost as well.  So I am always extremely grateful when such treasures find their way to me.  Last summer, an older gentleman who lives nearby offered me his wife's recipe for bread & butter pickles.  This was something I had already hoped to add to the farm stand lineup, so I was very excited.  I was touched, however, when he handed me not a copy, but a yellowed piece of notebook paper written in his deceased wife's hand.  I was honored when, after giving him a jar in thanks, he reported that they tasted just the same, except mine were sliced a bit thinner.  

This past month, my grandmother passed away just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday.  At the viewing, we were blessed with baked goods from friends & family.   The next morning, I had the most  delicious zucchini bread I have ever tasted.  Turns out, it was baked (with love, of course!) by my grandmother's older sister.  Aunt Kay is 96, still lives alone in a multi-story home, and still does the polka in her living room when it comes on the radio on Sundays "as long as no one moves my furniture"! So I asked this incredible lady if she would share the recipe with me.  I was very excited when, a week or so later, a small, handwritten envelope appeared in my mailbox.  Inside was her recipe, hand written, of course.  She had dated it and signed "Good Luck and enjoy! Aunt Kay."

 It is now tucked safely in my recipe box, and I'm anxiously awaiting the summer day when I've got zucchini on hand and see if I can make it taste as good as she does.  These things are truly heirlooms, like family jewels, to be treasured and passed on.  I encourage everyone to ask their relatives for the secrets to treasured family flavors;  too often, our elders are only too willing to share, but no one asks, and that is how jewels get lost forever.


Tastes of Winter

It's been a cold and snowy new far we haven't had a day without being under a winter advisory or warning of some sort.  Currently, we have about 18 inches of snow here.  A lot more has fallen, but it's been fluffy snow that compacts, so while the white stuff keeps falling, and the cars need to be cleaned off every morning, it's not too deep, which is a good thing!

Since it's not nice outside, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen on these cold winter nights.  The hardest part of learning to eat seasonally is picturing what winter dinners will look one wants to eat boiled potatoes and turnips all winter, so how to you stay seasonal and love what you're eating?  My first suggestion would be to buy a freezer!  I have lots of dinner choices since we have frozen beef, pork, lamb and chicken in the freezer.  Corn and green peppers freeze well and aren't hard to process at all, so we can still enjoy those as well.  Of course, we have squash, onions and potatoes which keep well in a cool, dark place like our basement.  The chickens are also laying reasonably well, providing us with fresh eggs.  Combine that with the things I canned over the summer and we can eat well all winter long.

Earlier this week, I came home from work and defrosted some pork chops.  After browning them in a pan with some olive oil and butter, I put them in an oven proof dish.  Then I caramelized an onion in the same pan and topped the chops with the onion, a dab of butter on each, and some herbs I'd dried from my garden (I used thyme and sage this time, but this recipe adapts well to whatever herbs you prefer/have on hand).  I put it in the oven at 350, covered with foil.  Since I had some room in the oven, I added a kabocha squash, seeded and halved, cut side down on a baking sheet as well.  In about an hour, I pulled it all from the oven and had a simple, but seasonal and delicious meal! 

The next night I made a half leg of lamb.  I slow cooked it in a crock pot all day with water & cooking sherry, garlic, onion and rosemary. I did cheat a bit on this one and also added some fresh ginger root which was store bought, but I love the taste it adds! A side of pasta completed a very filling meal.

Last night I made enchiladas with our ground beef, my homemade salsa, and the raw milk cheese we sold at the stand this year.  I only have a few blocks of cheese left, and I'm sure going to miss it when it's gone! Although we grind our own cornmeal, I haven't yet tried to make my own tortillas, so those came from the store too.  Besides, I am back to work full time now and I don't always have the time or energy to make everything from scratch every night.

So, no matter where you live, it is possible to eat seasonally, and eat well! And for those of you starting out, don't feel bad if everything isn't completely homemade or local...we all start somewhere, and the first step is being aware of our food choices and learning to recognize what seasonal looks like.   Just one or two local, seasonal items added to your everyday cooking does make a difference! 

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