Monthly ArchiveMarch 2008
Local Farmers 30 Mar 2008 06:59 pm
This is the first of a planned series of posts about the farmers at the Brooklyn Greenmarkets. This post profiles Wilklow Orchards and its proprietor Fred Wilklow. Wilklow operates stands at the Borough Hall, Grand Army Plaza, and Fort Greene markets in Brooklyn, and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal market in Manhattan. Many thanks to Fred and his family for showing me around their beautiful farm, and for helping me kick off this project!
My first visit to Wilklow Orchards was on March 20th, the first day of spring. The air was cool and the sky was covered over with low wintery gray clouds, but a warm early spring sun showed through from time to time. It was the very beginnings of the growing season in the Hudson Valley, the perfect day for my first visit to a greenmarket farm.
I arrived at the farm at around 8:30, pretty early by the standards of my midtown office job. I found a crew already hard at work making cider, and I guessed they’d been at it for couple of hours already since they’d already filled the entire bucket of a front loader with apple pumice, squeezed bark dry from the cider presses. Fred Wilklow emerged and shook my hand; before he could show me around he’d need a minute to deal with an oil delivery. He suggested I start my visit by hiking up through the apple and pear orchards which sloped up behind the cider house, where I’d find a good spot to look out over the whole farm.
The orchards were surrounded by tall fencing, put up to keep deer from the nibbling buds and new shoots off of the apple trees. I squeezed through a gap in the fence, crossed a small brook, and climbed the path that led up between the rows of trees. The branches were still bare, but buds were beginning to swell at their tips. Nearly silver-tipped, as Fred described them, soon they’d be green-tipped, and soon after the branches will be covered in green leaves and fragrant white blossoms. Spring pruning had just been completed, and in the lanes between the trees the cut branches were gathered into neat rows on the brown grass. They’d soon go through the brush chopper, at the moment in the toolshed getting a new set of teeth, which will grind even thick branches fine enough to just be left on the ground, to feed down into the soil beneath the trees just they were cut from.
At the top of the ridge where the apple orchards came to an end I took in the view over the farm. Straight below me was the cider house, in a cluster of barns and sheds and greenhouses, the noise from the cider press now swallowed up in the larger overall quiet stillness. I could see the building Fred had called the dirt cellar, an ancient, earth covered shed still used for cold storage, though it’s so old he had no idea when it was built. To the right along the the stream was the main farmhouse, the bakery, and another much larger greenhouse. The Wilklows plan someday to consolidate the greenhouses into a more practical layout, the current arrangement having grown up over time as the farm and its business expanded. It’s one of a long list of projects, large and small, in a continual effort to improve the farm’s efficiency.
Behind me rose Illinois Mountain, Wilklow property on this side as far as its summit, though the only crops found there are ramps, the sought-after wild leeks that Fred began to forage for each spring after his Greenmarket customers started asking about them. On its far side are the Wilklow peach and plum orchards, in fields that get sunlight more than an hour earlier, which makes them often a full l0 degrees warmer. I wouldn’t get to visit them today, nor would I yet see the berry and vegetable fields near New Paltz, in flatter ground better suited for raising vegetables than the hilly, rocky soil of Pancake Hollow.
Along with cider making, today’s tasks included tending the seedlings in the greenhouses. Becky & Jennie, Fred’s daughters, were transplanting the tiny plants (cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, to name only a very few) from their seed beds into flats. In a few weeks they’ll be found at the greenmarket, sold as starters for container gardens on Brooklyn patios and Manhattan fire escapes. The seedlings for the vegetable beds, the plants that will eventually produce the eggplants, peppers, and heirloom tomatoes for the greenmarket tables (and for my dinner table), were just beginning to grow in the larger greenhouse I’d seen from the orchards.
Until the seedlings get big enough to survive the trip to Brooklyn, Fred’s stand in the greenmarket will be filled with the last of fall’s apples, varieties that hold up well in cold storage and remain crisp and juicy and sweet over the winter months, along with cider and baked goods and jam from the farm’s kitchen. Already though, the first of the Spring’s harvest has begun to appear as well: there are pussywillows for sale, that Fred and his crew harvested alongside the brook, and soon they’ll be joined by lilac blossoms cut from the hundreds of bushes that grow near the pond behind the farmhouse. Then sugar snap peas will appear and start off the parade of food that will continue through the berries, peaches, greenbeans, corn, and tomatoes of summer to the apples and pumpkins of autumn.
read part 2 of this post here
NYC Greenmarkets 12 Mar 2008 11:07 pm
Maybe the “freezing things” post should appear in summer, at the moment when I’m stuffing my farmer’s market booty into Ziplocks for long term storage. But it’s now, in the dark days of winter, when the dark earthy flavors of parsnips & turnips & potatoes are all that’s to be had in the greenmarket produce bins, that the work put in to putting food by pays off. That I now can have the bright & sweet flavors of summer, teleported to me as if by magic across fall and winter and into the late winter days of March, is a delight bordering on the miraculous, well worth small labor it took to pack these foods away.
Berries were the easiest: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, each in their turn as they hit their peak of flavor and abundance over the summer months. Patted dry after a quick wash, they’re spread in a single layer onto a baking sheet (so they’ll remain individual berries, rather than becoming a giant berry clump), then covered in plastic wrap and set in the freezer. In the morning they’re solid as pebbles, and they get poured into a giant-sized ziplock bag with whatever berries went in the week before; I didn’t bother to batch or measure these out, or to separate the blue from the black from the rasp. In the end I was quite happy with my pillow-sized mixed bag of multicolored iced-berry nuggets. They would’ve worked great in muffins or pancakes, but I’m pretty sure that all of them went, handful by frozen handful, into my morning breakfast cereal, turning the milk purple as they thawed and extending my tart summer berry fix of all the way to December.
For some, an additional minimal bit of processing was needed. The blackberries were quartered to keep them in line with their smaller blueberry and raspberry cousins. The strawberries were hulled, and some were halved or quartered, although for some reason that I can no longer fathom, I left an entire batch of them whole, and I now have a quart bag’s worth of rock-hard, walnut-sized strawberries that I have no idea what to do with. Will they endure a spin in the blender?
Maybe I had some plan for those much-larger-than-bite-sized strawberries when I bagged them in June, but now months later that plan is lost to me. Most of the time when I freeze things I communicate much better with my future self about exactly what is in that bag, how much of it there is, and when it went into the freezer, writing these coordinates with a sharpie onto the ziplock’s white patch. Maybe this was unnecessary for the sweetcorn, which to this day has kept its unmistakable sunshine-yellow color and has never dulled into the unrecognizable frozen-substance color that food usually takes on in the freezer, but I marked each bag anyway if only to distinguish between the 1/2 cup and one-cup portions. Freezing the corn was more involved than the simpler-than-simple berries, but not by much. The corn was shucked, blanched for a minute or two in boiling water, then cut off the cob into big golden mounds. These were scooped up into half-cup and one-cup portions and placed into the marked ziplocks (nota bene: always label the bags first – if you’re as clumsy as me you’ll invariably poke through the bag with your sharpie if you try to write on it after it’s filled). The filled bags were rolled up and stacked onto baking sheets and in the morning, frozen into neat logs, they went into the freezer drawer, from which they emerge from time to time to get added to refried beans, chili (a la Alan Harding), cornbread, or to simply sit dressed with butter and salt alongside a slice of meatloaf, sweet & bright & tender like no canned niblets can ever be.
In the great August tide of greenmarket produce, there’s a swarm of only-in-summer, can’t-get-this-in-the-supermarket flavors, but to me perhaps the iconic, totemic taste of summer is found in tomatoes. I pine all year long for the juicy tart-sweet taste of tomatoes in summer, and to try and have that taste in Winter, I stowed away two quart-sized bags of frozen, whole roma tomatoes. To prepare them for the freezer I blanched them just enough for the skins to slip off — a step that my brother, an inveterate food-freezer, deems unnecessary. He says the skins will slip off easily from the frozen whole tomatoes once they’re thawed; however I took the extra of blanching & peeling for the sake of out-of-the-bag ease when the day comes for them to be turned into sauce. I plan to drop them frozen into a saucepan and cook them down into a marinara or Bolognese sauce — I’m expecting they’ll disintegrate nicely in the pot after their months in a frozen state, and I look forwarding to savoring the as much of the flavor of summer sun as they’ve managed to keep. I’ve been procrastinating this dish though, since I expect it to take up all of my frozen Romas, leaving me to wait until August before I can taste their kind again.
The effort to stash away these treats was minimal, but it made me feel I’d tapped into an ages-old tradition of preserving summer foods of summer for use in winter (yea ok the home freezer is a new twist on the tradition, but the spirit is the same, right?) I like how it lets me sidestep the supermarket, giving my an option beyond the giant food distribution chains that brings me raspberries from Chile or Florida, food bred for travel, not for flavor. My freezer lets me have food grown close to home by a farmer I’ve met, even in winter when nothing grows here.