San Marzano Redorta GreenI’ve grown a LOT of different paste tomatoes over the years. When I was in Colorado, they were always short season determinates. When I first moved to southeast Washington, I tried all of those same varieties here since I still had the seeds. Nothing spectacular came of it.  Last year, I tried Amish Paste (for the third and last time), Federle and Martino’s Roma. I had bad problems with blossom end rot and wasn’t impressed with any of them.

The point of paste tomatoes, for me, is a meatier fruit that is better for canning. But paste tomatoes are often small, making all that dipping in hot water and peeling seemingly endless. And flavor wise, they are often just so so. So, in my search for the best paste tomato, I have been looking for the following three things 1) not prone to blossom end rot 2) good sized and 3) decent flavor. After last year’s disappointments, I had pretty much just decided to can the more watery heirlooms and not worry about it anymore. But I thought I’d give a few new pastes one last shot this year.

So I did some google searches and GardenWeb searches for the “best” paste tomato. This year I trialed three new varieties. San Marzano Redorta (from Seeds of Italy – based on many recommendations), Rudgers (from Fedco Seeds in Maine) and Mr. Fumarole (also from Fedco). Rutgers was the tomato used by Hunts and Heinz for many years for their products (it’s a canner and a slicer). San Marzanos are the famous tomato of Italy that you can buy in cans from fancy imported food stores. The Mr. Fumarole was supposed to be resistant to blossom end rot. I started them from seed in early March and planted them out mid May. Two plants of each variety were planted. Everyone received a nice handful of organic fertilizer in their planting hole, and they were all on a drip tape system, where they received a deep watering every three days. Below are the results. These were all picked on the same day, after we’d had a rain earlier in the week. All were tasted plain. The cards with names below are 4 x 6 inches, so you can get an idea of fruit size.

Mr. Fumarole. Not a huge fruit, but true to its claim, very little blossom end rot. Most fruit split from the recent rain. The plant itself was leggy and sprawling, with few leaves to cover the fruit. Flavor was fruity and complex, but just odd. Both my husband and I’s least favorite.

Mr. Fumarole

Rutgers. Not a huge fruit, but very uniform in size, no splitting from the rain, and no blossom end rot. A nice bushy plant. Flavor was simple and bland, which, when you think about it, is just what you’d want in a fruit used in ketchup and other sauces that needed to be consistent from batch to batch. Our #3 out of 4 ranking for flavor.

Rutgers

Surprisingly, I got two completely different types of fruit off of my two Redorta plants. One was much more round than the other. Tomatoes are generally self fertile, but sometimes a bee can force its way into a flower and change the outcome. Clearly I managed to grow an outlier that had been crossed with another variety. Size was somewhat variable and there was a little bit of green shoulders from the sun/heat. The fruit was quite large, with a little bit of lobbing at the top, but no spits. Generally a lovely meaty fruit. This was #2 in ranking for flavor. We found it to be a firm fruit but lightly sweet.

San Marzano Redorta Fat

True to its reputation, the correct conformation of Redorta turned out to be our favorite in flavor. The plants were bushy, the fruit somewhat variable in size, but generally much larger than the Fumarole. There were a few with blossom end rot, but nothing like the huge numbers I had last year from several varieties. Very little splitting from the rain. This won the taste test, being both meaty and sweet.

San Marzano Redorta Normal

I’ve saved seed from both varieties of the Redorta. I would grow them both again. Hooray for finally finding a paste tomato worth the time and effort to peel!

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where tomato season is slowing down. Tomato pollen isn’t viable at temperatures over about 95 degrees, and our month of crazy hot weather pretty much put a stop to fruit set. We’ll see if we manage to get a few more ripe ones now that the temperatures have come down, before we get our first frost.

Calamity Jane

Terrible picture with my phone as she wouldn’t let me get close. Calamity Jane in garden.

So I knew Jane (our half wild half domestic turkey named after Calamity Jane) was sitting on a bunch of eggs under the Chinese Cabbage out in the garden. Just about the time I was thinking I needed to check the date to see when she was likely to hatch them, I heard peeping! She only managed to hatch out 5 (out of about 15 eggs) but given the 100+ degree heat in the last month, she did OK. They hatched around August 7th. I’ve left her and the babies out in the garden, away from the rest of the flock. I put out food and water for them, and hope that they all eat squash bugs until there are none left! She’s down to four as of yesterday. It’s not unusual for them to lose a few in the first few weeks. I often think they quite literally lose them as they wander through the tall grass, while the little ones try to keep up. Read the rest of this entry »

MarketTomatoeswatermarkI’ve probably told this story before, but when my husband and I were moving from Durango Colorado to Walla Walla Washington, he asked me, “what do you want to grow more of, now that you have a longer growing season”? And my answer was “tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes”! Can you ever have too many home-grown tomatoes? Well, come mid August, it might seem like it. Read the rest of this entry »

DSC07811watermarkI’ve done several blog posts on sourdough. This one is about how I got my starter to “start”, back in August 2010. This one is a follow up with a ton of recipes, written two years later. I’ve gotten a bit out of the habit of baking regularly (too busy, and trying to lose a few pounds by cutting out bread products, among other things), and my starter had been languishing in the back of the refrigerator for many months. I decided I needed to get it out and work with it again, before it perished. Read the rest of this entry »

DSC07829watermarkGosh its hot. We’ve had a weird heat spell that has been in the high 90’s to over 100 degrees for the last week or so. Trying to keep everything watered and reasonably cool has been a serious challenge. We have a mister we’ve put into the quonset hut where the rabbits are. Rabbits can handle cold. The heat, not so much. So every day I put frozen water bottles in their cages and make sure the mister and fan is on. I did lose one young one to heat exhaustion, when the chickens or turkeys landed on the handle of the frost free hydrant and turned off the water. A nice 5+ lb 12 week old rabbit. It had only been dead a short time, so I did what I do in these situations, when I know the cause and the approximate time of death. I cleaned it, and we had rabbit and salsa verde tacos for dinner. Does that make me a bad person? Or just practical?


 

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Maggie, with her new baby, who we are calling Bitsy.

On Tuesday I looked out at the neighbor’s yard to check on the sheep. We have a temporary electric fence up over there, and they are enjoying HIS pasture for a few weeks, which is awesome. We had just put up a shade structure the night before, and I was checking to see if they were using it, and I see a young lamb. And I think, dang, that lamb sure looks small. Our youngest lamb was born in May, and is pretty good sized. And then I notice the umbilical cord still hanging down. Dang.

Maggie, who gave birth to a lamb on December 28th, had had another baby. Which means she was bred about February 14th (happy Valentines day!) when her little one was only about 6 weeks old. This is NOT how this is supposed to happen. They are supposed to wait until their babies are 4 months or so to rebreed. Guess no one gave Maggie the memo. So we have a new baby ewe lamb, who was kicking up her heals in the field when she was less than 48 hours old. Now that we’ve had a heads up, we suspect that at least one other ewe is pregnant, based on her size. We pulled the rams out in April. We’ll see what we get. Good grief.

So, a little death, a little life, another day on the farm.

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This one is probably a goner.

DSC07828watermarkMeanwhile, I’ve been having an epic battle with squash bugs out in the garden. Squash bug adults overwinter in the soil. I knew I had a bunch at the end of last year, but was hoping that our cold winter had killed the buggers. No such luck. I started to notice some of my squash plants wilting and dying, and then I noticed the bugs. No spray, conventional or organic, really works well on these buggers. The best you can do is to pick off the adults and throw them into a container of soapy water, and remove the eggs from the leaves with duct tape (which really does work, and is super gratifying). So, every other day, that’s what I’ve been doing. If you get the plants good and wet, the bugs climb up high to dry themselves and get out of the water and are pretty easy to find. The first day, I must have picked off over 100, many of them in compromised mating positions. They spray a noxious stink when scared. They were unhappy. I was unhappy. It was just disgusting all around. But each day I’ve found less, and today I only found 3. I’m hoping that I’ve managed to break the cycle, though I’ve lost some plants.
Despite the heat, flowers are blooming, tomatoes are ripening, bees are buzzing, and life continues on.

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Guess who’s sitting on 17 eggs under the Chinese Cabbage that has gone to seed. I figure if they hatch, maybe they will eat squash bugs. I can always relocate them if necessary. So few hatched in the spring that I’m not holding my breath, but Calamity Jane seems determined.

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Borage. The bees LOVE it.

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This is an annual coreopsis, native to the midwest, also called Tickseed or Dyers Coreopsis. I love it and grow some every year from saved seed. I just think it is gorgeous and cheery and wonderful.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014,  where the temperature is only supposed to get to 90 on Saturday, and we’re doing our best to stay hydrated and avoid heat stroke. Oh look, I’m like every other farmer, I’m complaining about the weather, laugh out loud.

June is kind the last hurrah for our yard. We inherited someone elses’ landscaping, and most of the plants bloom in April and May. We have a ton of daffodils and bleeding hearts and other early beauties, but by July, our yard looks kind of overcooked and sad. So we’ve been slowly editing the landscape, taking out plants here and there and adding in new ones. It’s definitely a work in progress. But my husband in particular is pretty darned good at putting great combinations together. And then, of course, there is the random volunteer that steals the show as well. In June, things look pretty darned good.

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Golden Marguerite (a tender perennial that also reseeds prolifically and attracts beneficial insects to your garden) and yarrow.

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I’m a fan of relatively simple shrub roses that smell fantastic, as opposed to the fussy hybrid tea roses that take all kinds of attention and often don’t smell that good. I’d have to dig to find the name for this one, purchased from Fedco Trees a few years ago, but it definitely fits the bill. Hardy, beautiful, smells fantastic, and you can use the rose hips too!

Read the rest of this entry »

DSC07720watermarkIf you’ve been following along for some time now, and have a good memory, you may recall that one of my many other job incarnations, back 15 years ago now, was bird field research. This went on for several years, but it started in the mountains of Arizona, about an hour out of Flagstaff. I (along with about 20 other people) was tasked with “nest searching”. This meant watching birds, figuring out where their nests were, and keeping track of said nest to document success or failure. One of the 26 birds nests we were searching for was the House Wren. I came to love this little bird over the course of the season. Tiny. Boisterous. Nesting opportunistically wherever they could find space. Males and females impossible to tell apart. Read the rest of this entry »

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Soaps and toiletries side. First market of the year in May.

Well, June is turning out to be a busy month. I started with the Downtown Walla Walla Farmers market on Saturdays in May. Then on the 4th of June I added the Milton-Freewater afternoon market on Wednesdays and the twilight market on 2nd Street in Walla Walla on Thursdays. Sales have been great. But doing three markets a week is a lot harder than doing two. Especially when my booth at the Walla Walla Thursday market was on the sunny side of the street, on heated black asphalt until the sun dips behind the buildings at about 6:00 pm. Read the rest of this entry »

DSC07654watermarkBoulder Colorado had a lot to do with my eating habits. I moved there in 1990, at the age of 24. I was ready for a change. I was ready for the mountains. I was ready to no longer deal with Bay Area traffic. I was ready to start exploring who I wanted to become, rather than who I had been, growing up in California.

Boulder has one of the best outdoor “malls” in the country. They blocked off several city blocks on Pearl Street downtown and turned the area into a “walking mall”. But its mostly local shops and restaurants, not Hot Topic and Forever 21. One of the mainstays of the Pearl Street Mall is Falafel King, a tiny little restaurant selling fresh fried falafel in a pita with all the fixings. Of course, when I moved there, I had no idea what a falafel was. But I knew I wanted to eat healthier, and I wanted to try new things. So I tried my first falafel. And I was hooked. I ate a LOT of falafel sandwiches when I lived in Boulder. It was tasty, healthy, vegetarian, inexpensive and satisfying.

For those who are uninitiated, falafels are deep fried balls of ground chick peas (and/or fava beans) with additional herbs and spices thrown in. Popular all over the Middle East, they are a common street food from Israel to Egypt. I just call them yummy.

DSC07656watermarkThen I moved. To Montana, to southern Arizona, to Durango Colorado. And falafels were hard to come by. So I resorted to boxed falafel mixes, or buying a mix in bulk. But most mixes contain wheat,  soy, and other fillers I wasn’t all that interested in. And most importantly, they just weren’t all that tasty. So I pretty much stopped eating falafel. And then, a few years ago, it occurred to me to research how to make falafel myself. And it turns out, its just not all that complicated.

DSC07660watermarkAfter researching many “authentic” an not so authentic recipes, I discovered they all shared some common ingredients, and after that, customizing them was up to the cook. Here’s a base recipe to get you started.

Falafel From Scratch

  • 1 cup (1/2 lb) dried chick peas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp tahini (ground sesame paste). Not all recipes include this, but I like it as a binder and flavoring.
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1 small egg or 1/4 cup all purpose flour or bread crumbs (optional binders – I don’t find them necessary – you might)

Soak chick peas in water overnight, or up to 24 hours. Rinse. Place chick peas and remaining ingredients into a food processor and process for several minutes until finely ground, scraping down the sides several times. Mix can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Yes, you read that right, the chick peas are not cooked before being ground. Trust me on this. You can use cooked canned chick peas in a pinch, but its just not the same.

DSC07662watermarkHeat a few tablespoons of oil of your choice (peanut, coconut, canola) until good and hot (about 350 degrees) over medium high heat. A cast iron skillet is nice here, but not mandatory. Place tablespoon sized patties in the hot oil, smooshing a bit so they are more the shape of a patty rather than a ball. I use a small disher for this, which makes portioning easier. Wet hands makes handling the dough easier. Fry in hot oil until golden brown on one side, then carefully flip over and fry on other side (2-3 minutes per side). Add more oil as necessary. Fry in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot on warmed pita or on a salad with tzatziki sauce (yogurt cucumber dill sauce) and feta cheese. You can also deep fry these, but I don’t own a deep fryer, and never deep fry anything, as I never know how to dispose of the used oil afterwords. It just seems like such a waste.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where we can buy chick peas grown in the inland Northwest. How’s that for a local staple!

 

DSC07612watermarkI’ve been making some version of this curry for a very long time. The original recipe came from the October 1995 issue of Vegetarian Times. It was the first place winner for reader submitted recipes that year. Times have changed. The original recipe called for steaming the sweet potatoes, only using 1 cup out of a can of coconut milk, but adding 3/4 cup of water, didn’t include onion, and had no added salt. Read the rest of this entry »

Jennifer Kleffner

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