North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Fond Food Memories

I remember a special visit when I was about 12 years old to Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum tucked between Madison and Milwaukee.  It was autumn—time for bringing in the harvest, butchering pigs, and putting the gardens to bed.  One historic home was drying strips to pumpkin into leathery, chewy snacks that could be stored all winter.  The folks at the hog butchering site were making pickled pigs feet jelly and head cheese.  Anther home was baking bread in a wood-fired oven.

At the bread-baking site, the warm, yeasty smells mingled with the scent of the fire from the stove.  The interpreter managing the hot iron beast wore a long, prairie-style dress and creamy muffin cap with knitted shawl.  She shared with us the story of the farming family that once lived in the old wooden house during the settlement days and how certain days of the week were for washing, ironing, mending, baking, etc.  This was baking day.

But then she mentioned something special.  “Memories around food are some of our strongest recollections.  You’ll remember what I said for a day, what you saw for a week, but you’ll remember the smells for the rest of your life.”

Humans, compared with dogs and other mammals, are not particularly known for their keen sense of smell.  But there are certainly many arrays of fragrances that can bring our minds to particular memories, events, or places.  This is especially true of food.

For instance—the smell of homemade stuffing.  Throughout the year, our family roasts poultry, but usually we stuff the birds with apple quarters and lemon slices.  Authentic, bread-based stuffing is a treat for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  First, there is the cubing of the bread and drying it in the oven.  Then the sausage must be browned on the stove (all spiced and sizzly).  Then comes the celery and herbs and all the rest stirred up in a big bowl.  Pull up the sleeves, grab it by the handful, and pack that beautiful turkey full to bursting.  The stuffing helps keep the turkey from drying out on the inside while roasting, and the stuffing likewise becomes infused with the essence of the turkey—turning those disparate ingredients into a bowl of steaming deliciousness.  At our holiday table, it’s common to hear, “Please pass the stuffing.”

Making gravy is an art of special talent for my grandmother.  The pan drippings from the turkey are carefully saved (in good farming tradition, nothing is thrown away!) and transferred to the biggest skillet we own.  The warm browns and golds of the steamy liquid are carefully stirred and thickened while the boiled chunks of snowy-white potatoes are pressed through the ricer and whipped into perfection with a little milk, butter, and salt.  A cloudy puff of homegrown mashed potatoes on the Thanksgiving plate with a well made in the center by your spoon (poured full, of course, with the homemade gravy) is another special treat in our home.  Coined by my sister when she was a little girl, “smashed potatoes” is one of those fabled dishes where you better take what you wanted from the bowl the first time around—or it’s likely to be gone!

And then there are the cranberries, of course.  Forget anything out of a can—making your own cranberry relish or chutney on the stove is easy.  Try cranberry and apple variants or cranberry and blueberry twists.  Add some nuts for a bit of a crunch and try using honey instead of sugar.  Cranberries are one of the few fruits actually native to Wisconsin, and this year we’ve managed to source regionally grown Certified Organic cranberries.  (We’re buying several cases, so if you haven’t procured your cranberries yet, we have extra at the shop!)  Cranberry apple pie is a favorite of the family—sweet and tart with that tangy kick, making it a great partner with ice cream or gelato.

But or course, you can’t outshine the pumpkin pie.  Someone once asked us, “how come your food tastes so good?”  Before we could reply to the question, the friend sitting at the table with the inquirer offered, “Well, you start with your own chickens that lay the eggs, then you go out to the garden to harvest the vegetables, and then you have your own pigs…”

Similarly, a good pumpkin pie must start as sugar pie pumpkins from the squash patch.  Lop ‘em in half, scoop out the seeds, place them cut-side down on a foil-liked cake pan with a bit of water and bake them until they are fork tender and the domed skins begin to wrinkle up and brown.  Pull off the skins, run the cooked flesh through a Foley Food Mill, and here is the base for your pumpkin pie.  To this add the necessary eggs, milk, sugar, flour, etc. to make that delicious custard, pour into a homemade pie shell, and bake to perfection.  I love the steamy puff of spiced pumpkinness as you open the oven to test the firmness of the custard with a butter knife.  Whip up some fresh cream once the pie has chilled, and this is the heavenly end to a perfectly delicious and memorable meal with family and friends.

Perhaps these reminiscences of flavors and fragrances have brought back a few food memories for you as well.  And if your mouth is watering for a seasonal treat, here is a recipe you might enjoy giving a whirl.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

2/3 cup shortening or 1 cup vegetable oil

2 2/3 cup sugar

4 large eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree

2/3 cup water

3 1/3 cups flour

½ tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together the shortening or oil and sugar.  Beat in the eggs, pumpkin, and water.  Add the remaining ingredients through vanilla and stir to blend.  Fold in nuts and chocolate chips.  Spoon the batter into two lightly greased 9x5-inch loaf pans.  Bake for one hour or until cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool.  You can even drizzle icing or serve with cream cheese, if desired.

***

This week, take a moment to share a food memory or recipe with someone special.  As we all run around shopping for the ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal, please take the time to choose local and organic.  It’s a special way to say “thank you” to your farmer this season.  Enjoy the smells.  Enjoy the flavors.  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 www.northstarhomestead.com

 

 
 

The Truth about Food Miles

A farmer asks a small child, “Where does milk come from?”  The child responds, honestly enough, “From the store.”

It’s hard to blame the child, who has probably never stepped foot into a dairy barn or seen the milk from an ample udder stream into the pail all frothy and warm.  But the question of where food comes from is still just as relevant to the learning of that child as it is for each of us today.  That educational process can be both enlightening and disturbing.

In the child’s perception, the movement of milk is from the grocery store to Mom’s refrigerator.  But before it reached the grocery store, it spend time with a distributor, which received the product from the processing facility, which pasteurized, homogenized, and bottled the milk that was shipped in from a variety of dairy farms.  All of this moving around of food from one place to another tallies up to what is called “food miles.”

On our farm, it could be called “food yards” because very little has to travel far from field to kitchen to plate, but this is an exceptional situation.  Tropical fruits, out-of-season vegetables, or farm-raised meats might be shipped in from Chile, New Zealand, or China.  Sometimes local growers find that their market is in a distant city rather than in their hometown.  At other times, companies find that fewer regulations make it more economical to fly American grown apples to South Africa to be waxed and then fly them back to be sold at American supermarkets.  Economics drives these decisions—cheaper labor, subsidized fossil fuels, and even subsidized agricultural practices swaying decisions. 

A study published through www.postcarbon.org cites statistics illustrating that 15% of US energy is spent on feeding Americans, which includes growing, shipping, displaying, and preparing.  Pair this with the fact that nearly 50% of all the food that is grown in this country is wasted, and the environmental impact is quite disconcerting.   Most of the wasted food comes from the methods of mass-production.  Not everything matured in the field at the same time, so part of the crop was lost during mechanized harvesting.  Not all the tomatoes or apples were the same size, so they did not crate up evenly and were discarded.  Produce rotted during shipment or in a warehouse.  Half of the lettuce had to be thrown away by the restaurant because it was too old or unfit to serve.  I know because I have received those frantic calls from chefs when the box of green beans from their commercial purveyor arrives white and fuzzy.

Processed foods or foods with a high fat or high sugar content are the greatest offenders in the food mile problem.  A recent study in Sweden quoted on www.thedailygreen.org traced the components of a traditional Swedish breakfast—apple, bread, butter, cheese, coffee, cream, orange juice, and sugar.  When combining all the miles traveled by each breakfast component, it was startling for the researchers to discover that this breakfast had trekked 24,901 miles, approximately the circumference of the earth!

In America, the traditional quote for food miles (be it for a steak, a tomato, or a cake) is 1,500 miles.  This is in accordance with a study conducted in Chicago.  More recently, the study was similarly repeated and found that the number had jumped to 2,500 miles.  This figure is for an individual product, not even a whole meal!  The trip from the grocery store to your home is but one small piece of your food’s story.  Find yourself a local farmer and cut out most of those miles—the farmer and the environment will thank you!

So, in light of these alarming statistics, I tried my own food mile experiment, focusing on local.  Try it and see what you discover!  Be empowered to know where your food comes from.  In the meantime, you’ll enjoy this delicious recipe.

French Bistro Frisee Salad

1 head frisee endive (from our aquaponics greenhouse, 1/100th of a mile)

2 Tbs. olive oil (4,300 miles from Italy to New York distributor, then another 1,430 miles)

2 tsp. red wine vinegar (Same Italy number as above, plus 1,400 miles from New Jersey plant)

1 shallot (from our garden, 1/10th of a mile)

½ to 1 tsp. Dijon mustard (at least 2,330 miles from California distributer, miles for individual sub ingredients unknown)

Salt and Pepper (620 miles from the packing company)

2 slices bacon (from our pigs, to the butcher and back, 75 miles)

2 to 4 farm fresh eggs, one per person (from our chickens, 1/10th of a mile)

Tear or cut endive into bite-sized pieces.  In a small bowl, mix oil, vinegar, shallot, and mustard.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Set dressing aside.  Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy (about 5 minutes).  Set aside on paper towel to cool.

Simmer a medium-sized pot or deep skillet of water to poach the eggs.  A tiny scoash of vinegar helps hold the egg together.  Crack eggs into simmering water (don’t let it get to a rolling boil) and poach until desired doneness.  Meanwhile, toss endive in dressing until evenly coated.  Plate up endive, crumble bacon over it, and top with poached eggs.  Serve immediately.

***

For the food mile calculation, the bulk of ingredients were sourced locally (frisee endive, shallot, bacon, and eggs), with a total of 75.21 miles, most of which went to the butcher for the pig.  Considering that this makes approximately 99% of the dish, this is an exciting achievement!  For this category, the average food mile for each item is 18.8.

Consider these same items purchased from the grocery store in town (20 miles away from my home, so that will add 80 miles to the figure).  The eggs could be from a caged egg factory in Nebraska (509 miles), the pigs from a confinement feeding operation in Iowa (340 miles), the endive from a mono-cropped farm in California (2,165 miles), and the shallots from a field in Ohio (863 miles).  That comes to a total of 3,957 miles for the meal or 989.25 miles per item.  That is one exhausted endive!  By choosing local, I saved 3,881.79 food miles.  The average tractor-trailer uses a gallon of fuel every 5 to 7 miles, so theoretically that would be the equivalent of 647 gallons of diesel.

The tricky part comes with the remaining 1% of the meal.  For the accent items (olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard), my score was around 14,380 miles—a good portion of which went to Italian imports.  Understandably, it would take quite a few batches of this recipe to use a full bottle of red wine vinegar or a package of pepper, compared with a whole head of endive or a third of a carton of eggs.  While it is unlikely I’ll be growing my own olives on the farm, this meal is still significantly greener than the Swedish breakfast. 

Even though my food mile count is not perfect, I am choosing to make a difference by eating foods close to home.  As we all learn more about our environmental impact and make changes in our daily habits towards smaller carbon footprints, together we can begin meaningful change on a greater scale.  Vote with your fork.  Vote local.  See you down on the farm sometime.

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

 
 

A Good Pot of Soup

There is something to be said for the practice of using every part of the animal.  Native American tribes found value in pelts, bones, sinew, or feathers, as well as meat.  Historically, farmers have also been thrifty with harvested livestock—especially in the days when most small-scale husbandmen (and women) were primarily self sufficient.  A good way to extend this respectful and resourceful tradition lies right at our fingertips—in the kitchen.

I remember being horrified as a child to learn that some of my friends’ parents never saved the carcass of a roasted chicken.  Throw it all in the garbage!  No!  It seemed so wasteful.  Why not save it all and make soup!

Perhaps you already know the age-old story “Stone Soup,” but it is worth retelling this time of year.  A soldier coming home from war finds that no-one will give him food, under the excuse that everyone here is poor and has no food to spare.  Interestingly, this does not seem to surprise the fellow, who proceeds to build a goodly fire beneath a large pot in the middle of town.  He fills the cauldron with water and begins to heat it.  Curious, the townsfolk gather around the fire, wondering what the old soldier has in mind.  As they gossip and quibble behind his back, they see the fellow reach deep into his pockets and pull out a well-polished stone.

“What are you doing?” the village people ask him.

“I am going to make soup,” the soldier replies.  “This magic stone will help us.  Since no-one in this village has any food in their homes, we will make soup from a stone.” 

He ceremoniously places the stone into the water and makes a great show of smelling the steam from the pot.  “Already, the soup is beginning!” the soldier remarks.  “Now, if only we had some carrots…”

“We have carrots in our house!” a little village girl cries in excitement.

“Then bring us some,” the fellow replies, reassuringly, and the girls rushes off towards home.  In a moment, she returns with a hearty handful, scrubbed and ready.  These are added to the boiling pot and thoughtfully stirred.

“Ah yes,” says the soldier.  “Now, if only there were a few potatoes…”  And so on it goes as the villagers forget their differences and their poverty, and bit by bit the pot is filled with vegetables, pork bones, savory herbs and many wonderful things.  Then a feast is shared with all the villagers and everyone is warmed and glad.

When the soldier prepares to depart, the villagers ask if they might keep the magical stone that made such wonderful soup.  “Of course,” the soldier smiles.  “But you don’t need it anymore.  The magic is inside all of your to give and to share.  This is but an ordinary stone from the side of the road,” and he chuckles happily as we continues on his way home.

Today, the chicken (or turkey) carcass, with all the little scraps of meat and flavorful bones, or the remnants of a boned pork roast can serve as that magical stone to your own homemade soup.  There is nothing quite like a kitchen full of family, chopping onions and celery, carrots and potatoes for a sumptuous pot of soup, especially as the days grow chilly and chase us from the out-of-doors.

If this is your first time preparing a soup entirely from scratch (and are consciously trying to resist tossing the remnants of the beast into the rubbish bin), fear not.  The best place to start is with a good old-fashioned crock pot.  It would be hard to think of a traditionally-minded farm kitchen without one!  Break the carcass into manageable pieces and stuff them into the crock pot, including any uneaten wings or legs, but especially be sure to save the back and neck.  Add enough water to fill approximately two-thirds of the pot, then set it on low overnight. 

In the morning, turn off the crock pot and let it cool until the chicken is a temperature that is comfortable to handle.  Next comes the part our dogs love best.  With the waste basket handy, use a slotted spoon to remove all the chicken parts and place them into a separate bowl.  Then, with patience, use your fingers to separate bones from meat, returning any of the latter to the crock pot with the broth.  Discard the bones; they’ve already worked their magic.

This is where our two dogs come in when we make soup at home.  As soon as the lid from the crock pot is lifted, they materialize from any corner of the house—sitting patiently and staring with their enormous dark eyes, hoping for a bit of skin or a wayward tidbit to fall on the floor.  (No cooked bones for the dogs, though, because bones become brittle after heating and can splinter easily).  Even the house pets look forward to soup-making day on the farm!

Now you are ready to turn that meaty, infused broth into a beautiful homemade soup.  Here is a recipe we recently used at Farmstead Creamery & Café you can try:

Herbed Chicken and Barley Soup

2 hearty quarts of broth with chicken

1 Tbs. olive oil

2 stalks celery, chopped

Half a medium onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 leek, chopped (can substitute shallot or more onion)

½ cup pearl barley

Coarse black pepper, to taste

1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (1 tsp. dried)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (5 tsp. dried)

2 Tbs. chopped fresh sweet marjoram (2 tsp. dried)

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté onions, celery, and leeks until soft.  Add carrots and herbs and continue to sauté.  Add remaining ingredients (chicken, broth, and barley) and return to a simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley is finished.  Serve steaming hot with your favorite bread or salad.  A little snow on the ground makes it all taste even better.

There is nothing quite like a good pot of chicken soup to remind one of the comforts of home, especially when the practice connects us with methods our grandmothers, or great-grandmothers knew quite well.  Here’s to a steaming bowl, beautiful snows, and fond memories.  See you down on the farm sometime.

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

 
 

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.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 

Eating Well to Outwit Cancer

Cancer has touched every family.  With annual runs and walks, we remember those we have lost to this disease, those who are currently struggling, and those who have overcome the obstacles and stand with us as survivors.  The looming threat of cancer is not an easy or comfortable topic for many of us, in part due to a sense of powerlessness in the face of this scourge.  But what if there was something we could do, every day, to help outwit the wily beast of cancer?  And what if that something was as close as the nearest garden, farm, or market?

Drs. Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras have recently released an enlightening and illustrative book Foods to Fight Cancer, which offers a roadmap that all of us can follow to improve our odds against contracting or suffering from cancer.  Based on the latest scientific studies, the authors describe the biochemistry behind their suggestions—all of which are based on the right choice of foods.  Decades of research have shown intricate links between diet and at least one third of all types of cancer, which offers hope that proactive food choices can greatly impact personal health with respect to this disease.

We have all heard that “you are what you eat.”  Cancer cells occur naturally in the body, but usually the immune system destroys these mutant cells before they can cause damage.  Making smart eating choices, Beliveau and Gingras say, is the best way to augment and enhance this natural protection and suppression of cancer cell growth. 

As early as the philosopher Hippocrates (460 to 377 BC), who proclaimed “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!,” healthy diet choices have been a central part of whole-person health.  But the authors of Foods to Fight Cancer note that “The human diet evolved over thousands of years to include the foods most beneficial to our health, but in recent times we have favored a diet that excludes many of these essential foods.  Returning to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other important foods is essential to preventing cancer” (43).

The lamentable aspects of the modern Western diet are directly linked with an overabundance of fast, cheap, fatty, and starchy foods currently in the market and on nearly every street corner.  They are easy to access, easy to eat, require no food preparation, and cost relatively little (at the counter a least…has anyone priced out the cost of cancer lately?).  Making healthy diet choices for cancer prevention requires attention and effort, at least at the beginning of one’s initiative.  Once making and keeping these choices becomes part of daily life, the little things like chopping vegetables or picking berries offer their own simple joys.

Here are some great foods (as illustrated in the book) to help your body fight off cancer that you can choose to eat this week, right now.

Vegetables

Brassica Family: cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, bok choy, cauliflower.

Lily Family:  onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions.

Solanaceae Family:  tomatoes, peppers, eggplants.

Fruits

Citrus:  oranges, grapefruits, clementines, pommelos, lemons, limes.

Berries:  strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, dewberries, and so much more!

To Add to Dinner

Omega-3:  fish, pasture-raised eggs (naturally higher in Omega-3!), olive oil, nuts, flax seed.

Spice Cabinet:  tumeric—it’s amazing to discover this Indian spice!

Soy:  even if you’re not into tofu, roasted soybeans are a delicious snack.

To Drink

Vino:  red wine, in moderation.

Green Tea:  look for Matcha, Sencha, and Gyokuro varieties.

For Desert

Chocolate:  go for the dark, rather than the milk.

To learn more about the finer points of selecting and whether or not to cook many of these foods to release or retain their essential cancer-fighting properties, Foods to Fight Cancer offers both scientific and very accessible guidelines and helpful ideas to get you started.  Choosing fresh, local foods also unlocks greater health benefits than products which have endured the stress of being shipped long distances.

I know that living and working on the family farm has improved my own health and diet since we moved to the area in 2000.  We were pretty healthy eaters already, but working the land by hand, tending animals and plants, and preparing meals together has given me a deep appreciation for the cycles of nourishment that surround us.  Still, there are some foods that often require a cultivated relationship—crops like kale, eggplant, or kohlrabi.  A new member to our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share program) may find herself stumped in the face of a novel vegetable.  How do I fix mache?  Google searches are often a great way to explore recipes for preparing foods that are new to you.

Changing individual habits, including food choices, seldom happen overnight.  But as we continue to learn from each other, opting for a homemade kale and sausage soup rather than the burger can become an act of empowerment rather than personal denial.  At Farmstead Creamery & Café, one of our goals is to have education be an important part of our initiative.  As we brainstorm interesting possibilities for this autumn and winter, one of our ideas has been to host a workshop (or series of workshops) focused on building greater health before and after cancer.  If such an opportunity interests you, feel free to give us a shout!

Ready to get started with some of these cancer-fighting foods?  Here is a recipe to give a few a try.

Kale Chips

1 bunch kale, deveined and torn into bite-sized pieces

Olive oil, enough to coat

Sea Salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Toss kale pieces in olive oil, salt, and pepper (to taste).  Spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Flip kale using a spatula part way through cooking.  Enjoy hot or cold!

Here’s to the best of health for you and your family!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 

 
 

In Praise of Pollinators

The hot days of summer beg of a crisp, cold slice of crimson watermelon—the sugary juices seeping between your fingers and running down your chin.  But this refreshing delight would not be possible without a good bit of help from some of our insect friends.  Now, I know that there are plenty of pesky bugs bothering us this summer, from the whining mosquitoes that lay in wait at the edge of the field to the stinging wasps that attack during the family picnic.  Still, there are many insects whom, without, we would literally be unable to survive.

In order to grow that delectable watermelon, the male and female flowers of the parent plant needed several visits (approximately one visit per seed) from a pollinating insect in order to form a fruit.  Insufficient pollination results in stunted, misshapen fruits…or no fruit at all.  In fact, one third of all the foods we eat require insect pollination.  Wild pollinators, including bumble bees, butterflies, blue orchard bees, hummingbirds, and many more, serve as excellent carriers of pollen as they search for the sweet nectar inside the flowers.  But the workhorses of agricultural pollinators are honeybees.

I learned the art and science of beekeeping from an elderly gentleman I met at the Cable Farmer’s Market.  We have shared adjacent vending positions for the last 12 years.  Now nearly ninety, Mr. Rowe works his hives with his children and grandchildren—spinning honey and stories of dismay at finding that his mother had given away his original few hives while he was serving in WWII.  Now, he has traveled the world to attend special conventions for beekeepers and helped start a regional program to mentor new upstarts in the occupation.  This same program was how I began my journey keeping bees, about 10 years ago.

It takes a unique soul to embrace the care and keeping of stinging insects.  Beautiful, intricate, and socially complex insects, yes…but stinging nonetheless.  The sweet and tangy homestead honey harvested each fall serves as compensation for any summer pricks in defense of the hive, but the real payback comes in the garden.  On our farm, the honeybees serve as the pollination task force, nearly doubling our harvest of insect-pollinated crops in the first year we kept bees.  These include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, summer and winter squashes, peppers, eggplants, green beans, peas, and even the tomatoes growing in our high tunnels (hoop house greenhouses).

Honeybees visit flowers to collect both nectar and pollen.  These two are mixed together by nurse bees to make what is commonly known as “bee bread”—an essential food for the growing larvae in the hive.  In the process of collecting these foods in the field, the worker bees stuff pollen onto the sides of their back legs until a fully loaded bee looks like she is wearing bright orange cargo pants.  During the dandelion bloom, the whole entrance of the hive will become stained a light yellow from all the pollen-laden bodies busily passing back and forth.  Flowers make extra pollen, hoping for just such a fuzzy bee visit, in which some of the pollen powder from one flower will be rubbed off onto the next.  This essential process of crop fertilization allows us to enjoy the rich bounty of fruits and vegetables that grace our tables each year.

But you need not become a beekeeper to lend a helping hand to native and honeybee pollinators.  Perhaps the best thing anyone can do is to stop spraying pesticides or herbicides that are harmful to bees.  This includes the spraying of lawns and flowers, as well as gardens and crops.  There are plenty of organic and bee-safe options available on the market today, including neem oil and insecticidal soaps, both of which are harmless to bees.  Planting flowers is another excellent option, especially native wildflowers like bee balm, columbines, and white Dutch clover.  Planting such a pollinator-friendly flower garden near your vegetable garden can encourage natural pollinators to discover your crops and lend a helping hand—well, wing.

This week, as you take time to discover and observe wild and honeybee pollinators in your area, try taking a sip from this delicious summer recipe I collected while serving as the 2006 Wisconsin Honey Queen.

Creamy Tropical Smoothie

1 cup orange juice

2 cups pineapple chunks, drained

1 banana, coarsely chopped

¼ cup milk

2 Tbs. local honey

4 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.  Serve immediately or chilled. 

With your sweet and fruity drink in hand, let us toast the efforts of all those busy pollinators this summer.  You call already start to see the fruits of their labor, and we hope to see you down at the farm sometime.  We just might have some honeycomb fresh out of the beehives.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 

Rhubarb Ruminations

The cravings start in February, on those days when the teasing inklings of spring melt the snows around the base of the maple trees.  Rhubarb.  In late March (or into April), when the first nubbins of leaves push through the mountains of compost that were heaped atop the patch last fall, the itch for a piece of fresh rhubarb pie is almost unbearable.  Sometimes, I succumb and pull out a bag of chopped ruby and emerald stems from the freezer and reach for the sugar, flour, butter, and speckled brown eggs from my clucking hens outside.

Rhubarb is the promise after the end of a long winter; an anomaly of crisp, tart stems sporting inedible leaves.  Grandparents tell of walking through Mother’s garden with a bowl of sugar in one hand and a newly pulled stem of rhubarb in the other.  Dip, crunch, dip, crunch…I can see their childish smiling faces smeared with hints of crimson and sugar crystals.  It seems like it will be forever until the first strawberries ripen.  But in this moment, the mix of tang and sweet are simply perfect.

Preparing rhubarb is part of a longstanding Northern tradition, with rhubarb and strawberry commonly wedded as jams or in desserts.  But at our farm, spring hails the beginning of the fresh fruit season, marked by Grandma’s beloved rhubarb custard pie.  Passed from mother to daughter in the German farming tradition, the crinkle-crispy top belies the richness in textures below; the tart tanginess of the ruby jewels softened by a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.  Perfect heaven for a hardworking farm girl.

For the many gardeners I encounter at the farmer’s market, growing rhubarb is either feast or famine.  For some, their patches are taking over their yards, one end of the house, or looming like forbidding jungles in their memories of visiting Grandpa’s farm in the summertime.  For others, countless attempts to establish these hearty perennials have been all for naught, much to their lingering disappointment.  Rhubarb holds its own secrets, keeping itself much to itself.  Unless it goes to seed, at which time my honeybees are quite happy to share an intimate acquaintance.

A pound of rhubarb stalks, wrapped in a colorful ribbon, makes a wonderful gift to a friend or neighbor.  Fresh foods are the best presents because they keep on giving in your memory—as they are washed, prepared, and shared with others.  Rhubarb crisp over a steaming cup of rich coffee or aromatic tea makes for great conversations and memories.  If you are one of those poor souls whose attempts at growing rhubarb have been thwarted, there may still be one last chance for a stroll through the farmer’s market or a quick stop at your local farm to snag a late-season handful of long, slender stems.  If you do happen to have some rhubarb handy, here is a lovely way to treat yourself on a warm summer’s day. 

Rhubarb Sauce

½ pound rhubarb, chopped into ¼ inch slices

A little water

Local honey

Cinnamon to taste

Nutmeg to taste

Cook down the chopped rhubarb and water in a saucepan, stirring now and then to keep from scorching.  When the rhubarb chunks are soft and making a red liquid, add the honey (the amount you choose will depend on how tart you like your sauce), along with a good dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir and cook until fairly thick though still pourable.  Serve warm on ice cream or over homemade pancakes or French toast. 

Already reaching for some rhubarb or itching to go a-picking?  Take some time this week to share your memories and ruminations on the simple joys of rhubarb, and we hope to see you down at the farm sometime.  We just might have some rhubarb custard pie fresh out of the oven.

Laura Berlage is part owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 
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