Friday, September 11, 2009

Fall Is Coming to Our Farm

Though it may technically still be Summer, it feels like Fall at Appleton Farms. We’ve had pleasant, breezy days with temperatures in the 60’s most of the last week, and jackets are now generally worn in the early mornings and evenings. I get the feeling that this is held by most of my fellow farmhands to be the nicest time of year to be out in the fields. We have left (probably) the heat of the Summer behind, yet the ground still gently holds the residual warmth of the sun, and it is just plain nice to be outside. Though there is tons still to do, and much that we should do that we will not find the time for, the crazy-busy period of plowing/seeding/planting/weeding/harvesting is over. We are still doing some weeding, and some end-of-season tractor work and plenty of various jobs here and there, but the bulk of our time now is spent harvesting, which of course is a pleasure and the end result we all seek (well…cooking and eating I guess, really). We can also now see the end of the season, and a well-deserved period of semi-dormancy where we can catch up on whatever personal projects and hobbies we might have ignored over the Spring and Summer.

I’ll tell you what really makes it feel like Fall, however, and that’s the winter squash that we have just begun to harvest. On Wednesday we harvested a few beds of a pumpkin variety called New England Pie, which as you might guess is highly recommended for pumpkin pie. Yesterday we harvested a couple beds of a smaller variety called Carnivale, a beautiful pumpkin of pixilated orange, green and cream that I am told is also quite delicious and sweet. The winter squashes are generally harvested en masse when the bulk of the crop has reached full size, but then are cured in the barn for a period of time, during which their skin hardens, they change to their final colors (pumpkins often go from green to orange) and much of the starch in their flesh is converted to sugar. Mmmmm.

Winter squash is an important crop for us, as it provides a lot of nutritious, tasty farm bounty that stores well for weeks or even months, thus extending the season of eating off of the farm well into the winter (carrots and other root crops like parsnips, turnips and celeriac also store well for quite a while). I love winter squash for its delicious flesh like anybody else, but I really really love it for two other reasons: toasted pumpkin (or squash) seeds, and the absolutely beautiful and stunning variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colors that they come in. Regarding the toasted seeds, my favorite salty snack of all time, I’ll share my recipe (which I’ve shared before) a little late, once we start digging into the properly cured and ripe fruits. As to their beauty, I’ve attached a poor picture of a couple of mutant Carnivales. I now wish I had grabbed a ‘normal’ one for reference; squash varieties intermix very easily with each other (I want to read more about this – I’m guessing that they are dependent on pollinators and if a flower is pollinated with pollen from a separate variety you get a genetic mixture of the two), but I thought these two were particularly interesting to look at.

We will, of course, be harvesting a lot of other varieties as the season progresses, including Blue Hubbard, my favorite of the last few years, popular varieties like Acorn and Butternut, as well as plenty others (spaghetti, buttercup. Delicata, Kubocha are some other names that come to mind – I want to try them all; we’ll see). Blue Hubbard is an interesting one: all the winter squashes are susceptible to ravaging by cucumber beetles (they are related to cucumbers) and Blue Hubbard are particularly attractive to these insects, so we plant them in a border around the entire field of winter squash as a ‘trap crop’, hoping that they’ll fall into the Blue Hubbards and enjoy their time so much there that they never move on to the rest of the field. Hopefully, however, we’ll have a few that survived the onslaught. Their seeds, in particular, are big and juicy.

Adios for now; I hope that everybody is doing well.

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