North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Jack in the Lantern

It is true that art can be found almost anywhere and that almost anything can become art.  The unsuspecting pumpkin is a suitable example.  Nestled in the garden like renegade bits of the sun, they lie like orange treasure amidst the winter squashes and withering autumn vines.  A plant of the American Continents, its appearance in late October festivities is much later than bats, goblins, or black cats.  But Halloween is somehow not truly complete without lighted Jack-O-Lanterns on the front porch.

Now, Jack gets around—whether climbing bean stocks to stealing golden harps or outwitting giants—he’s a common figure in northern European folklore.  An everyday sort of fellow who bumbles into outrageous adventures, Jack reminds us that the unexpected can be just around the corner.

Discovering the unexpected has been part of the “Master Pumpkin Carving Classes” families have been enjoying this week at our farm.  While the parents or grandparents might have originally seen the event as something fun for the kids without any mess in the house, they quickly find out that pumpkin carving can go far beyond variations on Jack’s faces.

Just like a piece of stone can be a corner of a building or a magnificent sculpture, the pumpkin as a medium offers great possibilities for illuminated imagery.  The face might be Dracula, with fangs and glowing eyes.  Or it might be a witch with floppy hat and warty chin.  Go beyond faces, and the possibilities grow quite exciting.  You can make spiders, birds, cats, or any number of scenes.  With a few tips for designing and executing patterns, the world of Jack-O-Lantern possibilities ignites.  Working out our ideas on scratch paper first, we then draw the designs directly on the face of the pumpkins before carving.

Imagine a table, covered in black plastic for easy cleanup, with a big bowl in the middle.  Kids, parents, and grandparents are all busy sawing out the lids on round, orange squashes and scooping out the stringy, seedy insides.  Everyone is sticky to the elbow, laughing and talking.

“I’m pulling out its guts!” a seven-year-old boy exclaims.  “Ooh, or…maybe this is its brains.  My poor pumpkin is dying, AHHHHHH!”

“It’s not dying,” I explain.  “It’s entering a new phase in its life.”  As we scoop and carve, we put all the seeds, pulp, and pieces into the bowl, which are saved for the chickens.  Chickens love the seeds—gobbling them up like tasty little bugs—then run around with the strings like treasure and peck at the carving remnants.  It’s a great source of oils and sugars as the season turns cold, and pumpkin guts turned into eggs is great agrarian recycling of one project’s waste into another project’s product.

Pumpkins are a fruit and therefore have a finite life span, making Jack-O-Lanterns a transient form of art.  We enjoy them for maybe a week and then, their magic spent, it is time for the pig pen or the compost pile.  The humus is returned to the garden to perhaps someday grow another pumpkin. 

In a way, transiency can make something more special, and it mimics much of the aesthetic elements of farming.  A well-laid-out and kindly tended garden can both produce delicious food for the family and be a pleasing part of the surroundings.  But in the end, the frosts will come, and the garden will be finished until the following spring, when a new layout will take its place.

There are a couple tricks, however, for getting your Jack-O-Lantern to last just a little bit longer that I’ll share with you.  When carving, either plan a star-shaped lid that can be set cock-eyed when lit or cut a smoke hole in the back of a circle-shaped lid.  Allowing space for the smoke to escape out the top helps keep the pumpkin from “cooking” on the inside when lit.  After carving, rub all the cut edges with Vaseline, which helps to seal in the moisture and slow the dehydration (withering) process.  Finally, when your creation is not lighting the front porch, wrap it in cellophane and keep it in the refrigerator.  Do not leave it outside if the temperatures are freezing—exposure to frost damages pumpkins. 

There still is time to enjoy a pumpkin carving class at our farm, if you wish, though calling ahead to schedule a time is always best.  Maybe you’ve already been finding the hidden Jack in your pumpkins, amidst the gleeful giggles of creative youngsters.  But if you haven’t yet had your fill of old-fashioned Halloween delights, here’s an event you might not want to miss.

Halloween Night Harvest Dinner and Concert

When:  Friday, October 31st, starting at 6:00 p.m.

Where:  Farmstead Creamery & Café, at North Star Homestead Farms

What:  Join us for the first of our 2013-14 Harvest Dinner and Concert Series!  Prepare to enter a magical world of stories and song from hilarious to spooky with performers Laura Berlage and Tom Draughon.  A beautiful three-course dinner will showcase our pasture raised roast pork, with side dishes from the bounties of autumn’s garden.  We’ll top it all off with a special apple treat. 

You’re welcome to come in costume, if you like!  Reservations are required.  Food allergies are accommodated.  $40 per person or $220 for season tickets.  You can view the full Harvest Dinner and Concert Series poster on our website at to learn more.

Wishing for you the joys of finding the unexpected around the corner, lit by the golden glow of Jack in the Lantern.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453


It's Pumpkin Time

The golden-orange orbs with gnarly, spiny caps are coming!  Soon they shall appear on porches, stair steps, decks, and sidewalks.  They come short and plump, tall and curious, or just plain round and ribbed—ready for autumnal festivities.

Europeans, however, were not introduced to pumpkins (or winter squash, tomatoes, potatoes, maize, sunflower seeds, and several other foods) until their arrival on the American continents.  While some of these crops were adopted readily, like corn, others were given a more hesitant welcome.  Pumpkins, for instance, were mistrusted by recent immigrant farmers well into the 1800’s, who deemed them fit for feeding pigs but not for humans.

My grandfather remembers raising pumpkins for the hogs down on his family’s farm in central Illinois.  When it was planting time, his dad would throw pumpkin seeds in the horse-drawn corn seeder amongst the yellow kernels.  Those pumpkin vines would crawl around amidst the corn stalks, and just before harvesting time, it was Grandpa’s job to wade through the dry cornfield and throw ripe pumpkins on the hay wagon to save up for winter hog feed.  The family, however, enjoyed their good old-fashioned pumpkin pie as well.

A lady once told me of an incident when she gave a pumpkin to a neighbor friend who had recently moved out to the country.  She offered the vegetable as a gift, telling the neighbor that it could be made into pumpkin pie.  The newcomer was delighted, saying how much she loved an autumn treat, but the pleasure turned awry when the gardener received a worried phone call.

“Ma’am, I think there is something wrong with the pumpkin you gave me.”

“Oh, what’s the matter?”

“Well, when I cut it open, it’s all stringy inside, and there are seeds.”

The neighbor had never fixed a pumpkin before and had supposed that the inside would naturally look like what comes from a can…time for a lesson in homestead cooking.

But pumpkins can be more than pie, bread, or other treats.  The tradition of carving vegetables dates to ancient times in Celtic countries, where the material of choice was large turnips set with small candles inside.  The glowing ghoulish faces added spark to the festivities that marked the coming of the dark time of the year.

If you have ever made a valiant attempt to carve out a turnip, however, you will know that a pumpkin is a breeze in comparison.  Saw around the stem in an arch big enough to fit your fist into, pull it off, scoop around with a sturdy spoon, hoist out the stringy center with seeds (that can be roasted, yum!), and what remains is a fragrant cavern surrounded by thick, sturdy flesh.

I love carving pumpkins.  Traditional faces still are fun, but even better is letting the imagination run free by carving dragons, headless horsemen, puppy dog faces, or arched-back cats.  Almost any idea can be carved into a pumpkin, with the holes acting like the pieces of stained glass in a window—it is a play between light and substance, form and sculpture. 

Curious to learn more about pumpkin carving?  I’ll be hosting a Master Class on October 27th at Farmstead Creamery & Café.  Give us a shout if you think that getting elbow-deep in pumpkin fun is your kind of adventure!  There will likely be some pumpkin treats at hand as well.

Pumpkins (or punkins, if you want to use a rural accent) have a way of getting around.  Perhaps this is because our pigs get to enjoy some of them, but invariably by midsummer, pumpkin vines are sprouting from unnoticed corners of the garden, out of the compost pile, or vining their way past the beehives.  Kelli, a former intern and farm groupie who often accompanies me at the farmer’s market, showed me a picture of a pumpkin vine growing in the middle of her driveway!

“I tried to hurl the half-rotten thing across the yard to the woods, but I missed.  It went splut right there, and this spring it decided to grow!”

With all this discussion of pumpkins, how about fixing some for supper!  Here is a recipe we shared with our CSA members and have been fixing at the Café.  A real pie pumpkin (like the variety Sugar Pie) will cook up much better than any carving kind.

Pie Pumpkin and Potato Gnocchi

(said “nockey,” these are little dumplings originally from Italy)

1 pie pumpkin (recipe takes 1 cup finished pumpkin)

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 tsp salt                     

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1 3/4 cup flour            

Sage leaves and butter

Prepare and bake pie pumpkin as you would any winter squash (cut in half, seeds removed, face down in a pan of water baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour). 

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring potatoes and enough water to cover to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are very tender.  Drain well. 

In a bowl using a potato masher, mash potatoes until very smooth.  Add 1 cup pumpkin, salt, nutmeg, and mash until blended.  Using a spoon, stir in flour until the dough almost holds together.  With your hands, gently press dough into a ball.  Divide in half. 

On a floured surface with floured hands, gently knead each ball into a smooth, soft dough.  Divide each into 6 pieces.  Roll each piece into a rope about 3/4 inch thick in diameter.  Cut rope crosswise into 1-inch pieces (gnocchi).  Place gnocchi in a lightly floured pan.  Repeat until all the dough is gnocchi. 

In a saucepan, over high heat, bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Transfer gnocchi individually (using 1/3 of them per batch) to the boiling water.  As soon as they float, carefully remove with a slotted spoon.  Blot spoon with paper towel and place gnocchi on a platter.  Repeat.  Serve with melted butter infused with chopped sage.

Pumpkins are a wonderful way to add a bit of autumnal festiveness to your home or celebrations.  They won’t take up space in your closet; they are 100% compostable, gluten free, and vegan!   And if you happen to be looking for one more commendable aspect to a pumpkin, there just might be a hungry hog out there somewhere who would be willing to call it supper.  See you down at the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.

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