Ramble On

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Farms on the 2012 Page County Grown Tour

Last year I put together a short post about the Page County Grown Farm Tour, and included a few blurbs about the farms that were on the tour.  Thought I’d do the same thing this year – starting with the two farms that weren’t on last year’s tour.

You know, Page County Grown is a great thing for our area…here’s a reminder of the vision statement:  “Page County Grown is thriving family farms driving local food economies and promoting healthy communities where quality farming is a valued heritage and a staple for growth.”

Now about the farms!  First the two newbies:

·          Raise it Right Farm:  This is a 10-acre farmstead in northern Page County.  The family of four started with a small backyard garden, added laying hens and honey bees…progressing to livestock – sheep and goats.  They’re raising much of the food they need to get by, and often have extra.  The enterprise has grown this year and they are raising pastured broilers along with everything else.
·          Survivor Farm:  This is another small farm, located near Lake Arrowhead in Luray.  The family hopes to raise all the fruits and vegetables needed to survive – right on their farm.  The farm is currently growing tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, asparagus, blackberries, and raspberries.  Their products are available in the CSA shares at Public House Produce, and at the Luray-Page Farmers Market.

These PCG members were on last year’s tour.  I am looking forward to seeing them again!

·          Khimaira Farm (9am only): A working dairy and meat goat farm, focused on sustainable agricultural practices.  The family’s home is located just outside of Luray and dates from the Civil War era.  Khimaira is also a popular wedding destination in the Shenandoah Valley.
·          Skyline Premium Meats (10am only):  This farm, located just south of Luray on Business 340, emphasizes humane management and safe handling practices to ensure a consistently high quality product.  Skyline Premium’s approach specifies that no hormones, steroids or other chemical alterations are used; because of this, the beef has earned designation as “A Virginia’s Finest Product.”  
·          Wisteria Farm and Vineyard:  Wisteria is a local vineyard located near Stanley; it is also a working farm with a colorful flock of Romney sheep and free-ranging chickens.   Wisteria’s current wine offerings include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Traminette, Seyval, Merlot, and Norton, as well as a semi-sweet rose blend – Velvet, and a dessert wine – Sweet Daisy.
·          Public House Produce:  This is a family owned and operated farm located about one mile north of Luray.  The farm’s produce is available at the Luray-Page Farmers Market and via their CSA.  Over 80 varieties of fresh produce are offered, along with pasture based, heritage chicken and fresh farm eggs.  Public House’s goal is high quality produce and poultry from a local source you can trust.
·          Paw Paw’s Honey:  This visit also takes place at Public House Produce.  Paw Paw’s Honey is a blend of what is naturally available to the bees in Page County, so there are slight variations in taste and color from bottle to bottle – but the honey is always sweet and good.  Paw Paw’s also raises and sells queen bees and beeswax.

The Page County Grown website is at www.pagecountygrown.com for more information about the farmers and other members. And click the 2011 Farm Tour Label for photo highlights of last year's tour!

Page County Grown Farm Tour 2012

I’m late to mention this year’s Page County Grown Farm Tour which will be held on August 4.  Tickets for the tour are already on sale at the Chamber and from PCG members.  The event will run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – tickets are $10 in advance and $15 day of, while there is a special price of $15 for families in advance and $20 day of.

Just like last year, there will also be a dinner featuring locally grown food, accompanied by wine from Page County’s own Wisteria Farm and Vineyard – reservations for that event are going fast and need to be made by calling the Mimslyn directly.

There are a couple of new farms on the list this year and some who have opened their doors again for this second annual event:
  • Khimaira Farm
  • Skyline Premium Meats
  •  Survivor Farm (new for 2012)
  •   Raise It Right Farm (new for 2012)
  • Public House Produce
  • Paw Paw’s Honey

Due to scheduled events at Khimaira, their open house is scheduled for 9 am and because of operational scheduling Skyline Premium Meats will be at 10 am.  Times at the others are not scheduled so farm tourists can drop by at their leisure.

I will work on getting some write-ups about the farms together so I can post them next week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Apples, Etc.

The height of summer, this weekend was one where we enjoyed watching all kinds of wildlife from the brick terrace at Hawksbill Cabin. The apple tree was dropping fruit all around, and the berries on the sweet gum tree must have been ripe, so we had plenty of birds and squirrels, along with this very brave doe who ventured up into the yard despite us being visible nearby up on the terrace.

I didn't expect to have any apples this year.  The tree is rangy after decades of neglect; it's still in bad shape after the snowpocalypse winter two years ago when we lost one of the twin trunks.  I've intended to get it pruned for a few years now, and we simply haven't found somebody to take care of this for us - we want to be sure the tree will survive a hard pruning so that we will have fruit again soon after.

Last year there was a storm during apple blossom season, so none of the fruit set.  This year, there didn't appear to be many blossoms, and I thought we'd lost the crop again - but there's plenty.

We're only seeing the one deer so far.  The heard that moves through the hollow is larger than this - last year Tessie and I watched five of them up in the yard one day, eating acorns.  The does usually have twins and there are usually a couple of families milling about.  From time to time we'll see the buck, but he usually stays hidden down in the brush near Beaver Run.

As for the other wildlife, we had our usually share of varmints - squirrels and hedgehogs, including one particularly clumsy squirrel who fell with a loud "plop" thirty feet or so out of one of the trees onto the road.  There were the usual jays and cardinals, and now that the weeds have gone to seed there are goldfinches in their bright plumage.

But the biggest delight of all were the pileated woodpeckers.  We know they're out there, and I catch them in flight passing the yard quite often.  But this weekend, they were after the berries on the sweet gum tree.  I was surprised to see three of them in the tree at once - I've always thought we only had a pair of them nearby.

They must be doing well back there in the hollow.  After all, between the acorns, apples, and other fruit and nut trees around, there is plenty for all the animals to eat. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Pork Diaries: The Half Rack

It was with much trepidation last weekend that I reached into the freezer and pulled out my first half rack of ribs.  There is so much lore about cooking this particular cut of meat - so many approaches to the task and so many recipes - that I was very worried about my effort living up to all the hype.

Adding to the pressure is our local BBQ place, Rocklands, where Mary and I have been enjoying meals of ribs for more than 15 years.  As a matter of fact, when I decided I would use a sauce on the ribs, theirs is the one I chose.

In the end, just as with the pulled pork effort, there really wasn't much that could go wrong.  If you're careful about the heat and you live by the "low and slow" rule - they'll probably come out fine.

After the ribs were thawed, there were two key prep steps that I took.  The first was to prepare the ribs by cutting the skirt off (we cooked this on the grill with simple seasonings and had it a couple of days later, after the ribs were gone), and stripping off the shiny membrane that covers the "inside" of the rack.  The second step was putting together a rub for the meat, which I did based on what we have in the spice rack and on some refinement to what we had enjoyed on the pulled pork.  I let the meat sit with the rub on it for three hours this time - I like to think that added to the flavor.

Next I stoked the Big Unit.  I have been using hickory exclusively for smoking the meats out there, and this was no exception.  At first, the heat in the Big Unit gets up to around 300 degrees, but since I am using indirect heat I figure this is just searing whatever cut I am cooking that day.  I start with the smoke immediately and continue that for the first hour to hour and a half as the heat adjusts downward to around 225.  So far that approach has paid off with a fine red layer that permeates the meat when it is finally done.

I cooked the ribs for about 2.5 hours,  They weren't at a "fall off the bone" state, which was fine by me, but they were definitely done, and besides, my charcoal had burned out.  I haven't quite mastered the charcoal recharging process - I'll have to keep practicing that.

With about 15 minutes to go, I slathered on the sauce and moved the half rack over to the gas side.  There I lit the left and right burners, turning them to medium, and kept the center burner off.  The ribs rested there between the two heated burners while they soaked in the Rocklands sauce.

In the end, Mary and I were very happy with the results of this recipe.  We paired them with another go at the curried summer squash soup I had made before and some fresh cucumbers, all from the truck patch. (Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are all coming soon, by the way, but not ready yet.)

There is a photo above of the final product.  They were - tasty.  I can't wait to try this one again.

FYI, here's a link to Rocklands, our local BBQ place in Alexandria:  http://www.rocklands.com/

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Home raising pigs

Happened to catch this article in the Washington Post today.  I will try and keep an eye out for the updates when they come in...


By the way, here's a little video of the pigs David raised at the farm last year - when they were puppies.

Friday, July 13, 2012

One More Thing about Pie

Pie - at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

It was the highlight of each visit last year to stop by the little kitchen at the auction for some pie.  To be honest, that was one of the strongest memories that I wanted to share with Mary about the place.  So once we’d seen everything I knew to show her, we walked on back there to check out what was on the menu for the day.

There were four choices:
·         Peanut butter
·         Apple
·         Blueberry
·         Oatmeal Pecan

I was surprised there was no peach.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Only surprised.

Mary picked the blueberry and I had oatmeal pecan (which had become a favorite of mine after last year).  (Peach is also a favorite).

There was a kind of informal voting on Facebook after I uploaded the menu photo.  My friend Brian, out in San Francisco, where they have no pie, apparently, suggested having one each of the fruit pies.  I’m guessing about the lack of pies there because he dissed the oatmeal pecan. 

David was quick to correct him on this – agreeing with me, by the way, but then I did learn about this auction thing from him.  David added that he had been out to the auction on Tuesday (I think with his first lot of tomatoes), and he had chosen cherry pie that day.  I also had a chili dog – David did too.

Well, the pie experience was a good one.  I remembered seeing a roadside place that had pies for sale on the way in – and Mary and I stopped off on the way back to pick up this awesome peach pie.

I do hope I can make time to get back to the auction from time to time.  It’s a great experience, and a good reminder of where our food comes from.  I can’t stroll through a grocery store anymore without connecting the dots from the produce section back to the farms through auctions like these, held regionally throughout Virginia and across the country. It’s worth a half day field trip for everybody to check one out.

By the way, the website for the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction is www.svproduceaution.com

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Small and Odd Lots at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

After we moved on from the large lot sales, I took Mary through the cross-packing area, where the pallets from the auction are broken down into buyers’ orders so they can be loaded onto trucks for hauling off to Wegmans, Whole Foods, or where ever they’re bound (which may also be the DC Central Kitchen – donations are made here).  

Just on the other side of this area is where the small lots are auctioned.

There is a sort of organization to this area, but I never got the hang of it.  I usually just helped unload whatever David had for sale that day, and moved the goods to where ever I was told.  By the way, that was mostly tomatoes last year - David is the Tomato King.

So, during this visit, we just kind of walked through at random to check out what was for sale. 

I’ve got a few highlight photos here – blackberries, peaches, an interesting kind of summer squash, sweet corn, and raw honey.  On a typical day, you might see cantaloupes, apples, herbs in packs or pots, and even flowers, either cut or in hanging baskets. 

There was still a lot of activity going on in this area – loading and unloading, and buyers walking through to check out the offerings, so we didn’t stay long. 

There was pie waiting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Big Lots at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

Large lots of field fresh green beans.
After enjoying a walk around the auction, Mary and I headed over to the canopy area where the farmers drive through with the large lots at auction.  There are two observation areas to each side of the drive through, and then a central area with the auctioneer’s desk and the buyers’ observation area.  Mary and I stood to the side there to watch a couple of lots come through – green beans, cantaloupes, and potatoes. 

There was a quite a crowd of observers on hand Friday, maybe that’s typical for the Friday auction, since it comes at the end of the week.  There were quite a few father-and-son pairings on the tractors, and several school children in the observation areas.    

The father-son team in the foreground brought red potatoes.

We stuck around for about a quarter of the sales, six wagons in all, and there were plenty more waiting outside for their turn.  

Here the father-son team's potatoes getting sold.
Early season tomatoes.
A quick look at the sale sheet from the Tuesday auction suggests what we might have seen if we had stuck around (just the top eight here in terms of how many lots were sold):
·         1,145 dozen ears of Sweet Corn (ave. price $2.19)
·         500 boxes of tomatoes, including large, medium, and small, and heirlooms (ranging from $4.42-$17.00)
·         240 half bushels of summer squash (yellow and zucchini) (ave. price $4.32)
·         300 bags of potatoes ($1.68-$19.00 – high price was red potatoes)
·         300 bags of onions ($3.76)
·         250 half bushels of peaches ($12.95)
·         173 half bushels of cucumbers ($5.25)
·         138 half bushels of green beans ($8.53)

I’m not sure how the bulk sales would be represented here – noting the big crates of green beans we saw being sold and the fact that the quantities being reported were half bushels.  That will be an auction mystery for next time, I guess.

Until yesterday, I’d forgotten that I had made a 20-second video of some tomatoes being sold in the large lot area.  You can find that in this post:  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Return to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction

One of the highlights of the “agribusiness internship” I signed up for last year was our weekly trips to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction down in Dayton, VA.  I think I’ll pause a minute right here to say thanks again to David at Public House Produce for introducing me to this affair – I enjoyed the experience so much I made a point of taking Mary with me to check it out during our extended July 4th weekend.

Between the heat wave and the fact that it is still early in the summer produce season, I didn’t quite know what to expect to see at the market – or what quantities to expect.  No need to fear, though – there was plenty of produce, both bulk sellers in the drive through section as well as in the small lots area.  While attendance wasn’t what I’d experienced last year in August, there was plenty to make for a great experience.

Even though I only went four times last year, since I was left to my own devices while David attended to business I did manage to establish some auction routines for myself, so I’m going to organize the posts about the auction around that concept.  This “through Cabin Jim’s eyes” approach means there won’t be any photos of delicious produce today, sadly, but I hope that I don’t disappoint with the ones I will put up tomorrow and the next day.

So, as I mentioned, upon arriving at the auction and after we unloaded whatever David happened to be bringing to market (mostly tomatoes - he is the tomato king, you know), I would have some time on my hands to take a look around while he went off to take care of business.  Mary and I strolled around while I pointed out the office, the posted auction rules, and while I went in to get a price sheet from the last auction, which had been Tuesday, July 3.  I pointed out the Shenandoah Valley “Virginia Grown” sign, some of the old-timers’ horse and buggy carts outside, and then the little board where you can find daily pearls of wisdom – this time, the sign read:

When there’s action in the swimming hole,
And vacation’s not a dream;
When the fisherman takes his fishing pole
And starts out for the nearest stream –
Summer days are here!

Funny thing – I still have notes from last year’s visits, so I will close today with these two:

Loving thoughts are little seeds
Let them blossom into deeds.

Summer is made of such wonderful things –
Bright golden sunshine and butterfly wings,
Fresh as the fragrance of newly mown hay,
A beautiful sunset at closing of day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Page County Grown Dinner

Last week:  Best week ever,yes?  It was brutal.  

I had the best of intentions to put up some posts about the bike races in Page County, about the fires in Shenandoah National Park and on Massanutten Mountain, and about some upcoming events, like the New Riders of the Purple Sage show in Luray, but I just wasn’t able to get them done.  There was the power outage for one thing, and the oppressive, record setting heat wave for another – good enough excuses, but still, I do try to post more often than I was able to, and have been able to even with more difficult challenges than these.

I may return to those topics, but in the meantime, we’ll press ahead.

After a short work week, Mary and I planned to head out to Hawksbill Cabin for a five-day weekend beginning with the 4th of July.  We were surprised to find that our neighbors Steve and Noelle were in town from New Mexico, and they stopped by to make some plans for dinner at the Mimslyn Inn.  We joined them for a fine “Page County Grown” themed meal – menu photos attached – and with accompaniment of wines from Wisteria Farm and Vineyard, our neighbor.  Having enjoyed the farm tour dinner last year, and after the event a few weeks back, I knew that everyone would be happy with their meals, and indeed they were. 
Mary and I followed the same choices: 
  • ·         Amuse – the Watermelon and Strawberry soup, served in demi-tasse cups
  • ·         Grilled Peach Salad – with goat cheese, arugula, and those wonderful pralines
  • ·         Grouper – the main course, obviously not caught here in the county though
  • ·         Strawberry and Blueberry Pie – for dessert

Noelle followed suit, except she opted for the chocolate pie for dessert, and Steve adventured further with the Peanut Soup, the chicken plate for his main course, and the chocolate pie for dessert.  Everybody was happy with their meals.  The dining room was around a quarter-full, probably 20 diners for our seating, and I’d say that from the looks of things, everybody enjoyed the dinner.

The wine was another high point – mostly from Wisteria, they were carefully chosen to match up with the meal selections, and Wisteria has a range of offerings that can accommodate just about any entrĂ©e.  I was glad that Velvet and the Viognier were going to accompany my choices, and then we also were able to enjoy the Steel Chardonnay with the appetizer for good measure.

I’ll close the post today with a note about the annual Page County Grown Farm Tour and dinner – these events are coming up on August 4, 2012.  I am unsure of the price just now, but tickets should be available from any of the members, or at the Chamber of Commerce.  If you are undecided, check the farm tour label at the end of this post for my posts about last year’s event.

Monday, July 2, 2012

#Derecho and aftermath

I had planned to go out to Hawksbill Cabin for the weekend – there were some chores I wanted to knock out before the holiday weekend coming up – but the big storm that came through on Friday night changed all that.  

We had some pretty serious damage in Alexandria from it, and in fact, the power is still out at the house as I write this post.  (Update: the power was restored Sunday night at approximately 9pm.) I’ve heard from a number of friends in the valley that the storm packed a punch through there – everybody survived, but there were injuries, and lots of damage. 

The storm we had is a relatively rare type called a derecho.  An article in the Washington Post defines a derecho as a fast moving line of severe straight-line winds associated with a squall of violent thunderstorms.  This one was exacerbated by the 100-degree temps across the mid-Atlantic region and stretching back through the mid-West. 

The storm actually started in the Chicago area in the middle of the day, and traveled 700 miles in 10 hours.  There were sustained winds of up to 90 miles per hour throughout the storm-impacted region, which stretched from New Jersey to North Carolina along the coast. 

Here are some photos of the damage from around the Alexandria neighborhood.  Thanks to Mickey and Candy for the report that there is no damage at Hawksbill Cabin (although I do still have those chores to do!) 

We fared okay, but without A/C – last year we bought a generator to add some security to the sump pump and refrigerators.  No lost pork, and hot coffee in the a.m.  It could have been worse.