Fruit Butters

Fruit Butters

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Red Picking Bag

As I was cleaning our Apple Shed in preparation for opening our U-pick apple business, I looked up and saw a lone red picking bag hanging off a harness hook. It's such a simple symbol of this exhausting, busy, fun and satisfying time of year my family has known for the last 38 years. My parents started offering U-pick apples in 1971. My dad recalls his grandmother, who lived in the farmhouse at the time, being doubtful that people would want to drive to the farm and pay to pick their own apples! But this was the start of agritourism and for the first few years we ran our apple business out of the garage, customers picking McIntosh and Cortlands into their own bushels and half bushels.
When we expanded the apple orchard and planted some of the newer varieties of dwarf trees (easier for picking), Dad purchased the first red picking bags for customers to fill and carry through the trees to weigh out at our Apple Shed. Those bags have carried a lot of fruit by a lot of families. Straps are tattered, bottoms are worn, and there is a trick to opening the bottom of the bag to carefully lower the apples onto the scale. Once unloaded, they are hung back up on the hooks for the next family to use, many times with a discussion of who is going to carry it. Of course the kids start out to the orchard with it easily slung over their shoulder, and the adults end up hauling it back.
Somehow those old-fashioned, simply designed red picking bags make the whole experience more fun and hold many memories for my family and others.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

As easy as pie...

Well not really, but I’m working on it. As we create our prepared foods line at our store, Farmers & Artisans, I decided we needed to start making pies. I spent my high school years watching my mom bake pies for a restaurant – apple, of course, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, lemon meringue to name a few. She’d stack them in picnic baskets on wooden racks my dad made for her and transported them in the back of our big old station wagon. Mom used Grandma’s lard crust recipe that we swore and still do, makes the most flavorful flakiest crust. Ironically, we only occasionally had pie for dessert at the farm. My dad used to say the only way he could get a piece of pie was to go to the restaurant and buy a slice.

I decided I was going to carry on the family lard crust pie making tradition and sell them in the store. How hard could it be? Well, like everything else it’s all about simple, quality ingredients and good technique. The ingredient part is easy – we grow most of the fruit or get what we don’t have from other local farmers. We render the lard (aka cooking down the pig’s fat) in our large ovens at the store. I’m using flour milled in the Finger Lakes and organic spices, oatmeal and butter. Mom helped me with the crust mixing and edging techniques, and has passed down her favorite recipes. I’m using a dough roller at the store. That takes some practice. Sometimes I feel like Lucille Ball in the candy factory.

I have four pies now - apple, apple-elderberry, Concord grape, and cherry with almond crumb topping. Strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb are next on the list as soon as I can get our delicious local berries in June. I feel this small sense of accomplishment every time I cut my wheat design in the top crust. My grandmother would be proud.

Easy…no way… but so worth the effort.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Fresh Start

Happy New Year! I can’t say that I’m a festive New Year’s person. I enjoy more the idea of a fresh start on a new year, a new season, a new project or motivation to finish old ones. I just closed out 2009 with a great holiday with my family who all travel in from out of town. The snowy Sunday afternoon I’ve been dreaming about is here. Finally a chance to sit down with a mug of hot chocolate (a homemade Christmas gift from my niece Liz) and regroup looking forward and planning for the year ahead.

In agriculture, the new year is an opportunity to get caught up on bookwork, be thankful for the good things from the previous year and hope that the not so good things don’t repeat. I’ve realized what I love about agriculture is its seasonality… putting everything to bed for the winter after a busy summer and fall, and looking forward to getting everything back out in the spring. The cyclical nature of the farm is comforting to me and never boring. Fresh starts are part of the whole cycle.