Friday, September 21, 2012

Use it or Lose it - Homegrown Pears

Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs.

Have you heard this expression before? Apparently, it is an old English adage that eludes to the decades-long wait you could expect between planting and harvesting fruits from a pear or walnut tree. Although advances in grafting techniques and selective breeding have nearly done away with this agonizing wait, in generations past, you might reasonably expect to wait up to 20 years for your first harvest, which made planting a slow-growing fruit tree an act of implicit optimism.

Whoever planted our pear and apple trees, however long ago, thank you. They've brought us, our critters and assorted visiting wildlife much delight and sustenance.

I don't know what we did right, in fact, I don't know if we had anything to do with it at all, but this year, our little orchard really outdid itself. For the first time since we've lived here, the pear tree had an honest-to-goodness crop, about 20 pounds of fruit.

Twenty pounds may not seem like all that much, and in farming terms, it really isn't. But, keep in mind that all twenty highly-perishable pounds come ripe at the same time, and you find yourself with a 5 day window, give or take, in which to use up your bounty or lose it to the compost heap.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days before starting in on my pears in earnest, and just last night, finally used the last of them up. Here's how I used them-

Pear Fruit Leather (I did not add any sugar, as it was totally unnecessary, and I used my little dehydrator instead of my oven. Otherwise, my process was the same.)

Pear Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Nectarine Upside-Down Cake by Full Circle)
My modifications are noted by *

-10 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-4 cups pears, peeled and halved, with stem and blossom ends trimmed off, and cores removed*
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour**
-1 1/2 tsps baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract***
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 4 tablespoons of butter in a cake pan or oven-proof casserole dish, and melt in oven. When melted, sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Arrange pears in one even layer in bottom of pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, followed by extract. Begin adding flour mixture in small amounts, alternating with additions of the plain yogurt. Mix well between each addition. The result should be a very thick, pasty batter.

Pour over pears and level with a spatula. Bake until cake is dark golden brown, and passes the toothpick test, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife gently around the sides before carefully inverting the pan onto a serving plate. Delicious while still warm or served cooled the next day. :)

*I use a melon baller for this
**I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour, because I like the lightness and silkiness that cake flour brings.
***I used pure almond extract instead. Pears & Almonds=Peas & Carrots ;)

Pear Upside-Down Cake, fresh from the oven

Besides making leather and cake, we also ate some pears fresh and gave some away. I'd wanted to hold back a few to make Martha Stewart's Pear Frangipane Tart, but had neither almonds nor rum to hand, so it'll have to wait for another day, or another year, depending on whether or not I somehow come into some more pears before next Fall.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We are here.

When our family moved to our little farm just two years ago, we had a laundry list of things that we'd hoped to accomplish. We wanted to own livestock beyond backyard chickens, we wanted an epic kitchen garden, a towering orchard, and honestly, just to simplify our lives, clear away the clutter and return our focus to the tasks and pastimes that nourish us, emotionally and physically.

We moved forward in our progression toward "real" farm life - we built a herd of happy dairy goats, expanded our flock of laying hens, and harvested as much produce from our own land as our clumsy attempts at gardening would allow. But our true benchmark for success, our pie-in-the-sky daydream was to raise and harvest enough to feed ourselves - well.

It seemed like a pretty far-fetched idea, considering where we started and the road blocks that we've come up against, but somewhere along the way, by trickle and drop, we made it here.

This shocking arrival of providence dawned on me last week as I was sitting down to dinner. We had a pork roast, raised by my husband's Aunt & Uncle, our Greek salad was made from tomatoes and cucumbers grown by my friends Lisa and Jen, respectively, and we drank our fresh juiced blackberry-apple cider. When it occurred to me that this food was all produced by people we know and love, an immense feeling of lightness and happiness flooded over me. We didn't get here alone, but, we are here.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This is our little wood pile, cut from a massive chunk of an apple tree that fell during this past Winter's ice storms.

As much of a bummer as it was to lose such a large piece of our biggest apple tree, I can't help but smile when I see this log's little heart, and know that it was in there the whole time, and it was only on account of losing that limb to the ice storm that we were ever able to see it.

Even during the rough patches, life is good. :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Knitting Pattern: Climbing Vines Dishcloth

I've been knitting like a fiend lately, stockpiling inventory for my bazaars and farm stand, as well as for Christmas gifts. This is a little dishcloth pattern that I improvised, which I call Climbing Vines, as it reminds me of the fields of tall and narrow hops vines that we passed on our drive through Eastern Washington. It is a breeze to knit up, and the finished cloth looks pretty sharp, if I do say so myself!

What you'll need:

*Cotton, linen or hemp yarn, about 60-70 yards (I use Sugar & Cream kitchen cotton most often, because the price point keeps my costs reasonable.)
*Pair of size 8 straight needles, or a single size 8 circular needle.
*Scissors & Crochet hook for finishing

Cast on 36 stitches

Rows 1-3: Knit
Row 4: Knit 3, *P1, K3* to last 4 sts, K4
Row 5: Knit 2, P across to last 2 sts, K2
Row 6: Knit 4, *P1, K3* to last 3 sts, K3
Row 7: Repeat row 5
Repeat rows 4-7 until piece measures your desired length, minus 3 rows.
Last 3 rows: Starting on wrong side, knit all sts.
Bind off loosely and tuck in ends.

Finito! :)

Over Analysis Paralysis - Pears

These lovelies have me stymied.

We have 20 pounds of these mystery variety pears, which for a week after picking, sat in a cool back room to finish ripening and are now spot-on, perfect. The clock is ticking on these babies, and I'm stumped about how to best use them.

We have TONS of jam already, but then again, I do give a lot of it away. Hard cider sounds delicious, buy I feel like that isn't fully capitalizing on these pears' potential. Chutney? Pear sauce, a la applesauce? HELP!

I know of one way that we'll definitely be eating them - I just made a fresh batch of chevre last night. :)

For my chevre how-to, check out my post on Today's Handmade.