As many of you are aware today is the final day for the migration of the blog. All the content has been transfered to the new one and now we are officially moved. After today we will no longer use this version of P&P to post. Everything will come exclusively from the new web address, here.
This version will remain active for another month, maybe less until we ensure everything has transfered. But again, please note that it will not feature any new content. For those you who follow P&P via social media such as twitter or facebook, there will be no interruption for you because we have already integrated the new version into those platforms. Those subscribing through wordpress or email will have to now re-sub through one of the aforementioned mediums or re-sub via email or wordpress account on the new site.
One of our focuses has been improving our search engine optimization. Now you can easily find P&P simply through using google. If that doesn’t work, the formal address is http://www.pansandperspective.com There will be a featured post later today and we will notify you of that here as a final post. Looking forward to seeing you at our new home. Thank you for your support!
This week was a beautiful orchestration of events – entrenched in food – that was probably the most rewarding to me, as a chef. I had unique experiences, practiced and enjoyed cooking so closely related to my Food Philosophy that I felt complete and at peace and made connections with people – chefs and otherwise – that I will remember for an eternity.
Our week commenced on Monday with an early trip to the hospital garden. I spent my time mulching planting beds and then transitioned to transplanting flowers. Work was swift and we returned to the farm shortly after where I did some weeding in the rhubarb patch and around fruit trees. Afterwards I mulched leaves around some of the seed saving crops to prevent future weed assaults. I then moved down to the main garden to tie up tomato vines so they wouldn’t fall over into the dirt. I had the village fire gathering to prepare for so I began to get my tools in order and tried to get ready for bed. It wasn’t that easy though. The dogs found a fawn nestled down in the woods and killed it. This became an ordeal that I was then involved in. David dressed out the carcass with my help – mostly observation, the occasional steadying of the animal too – and then butchered it. Since the kill was fresh I decided to make a quick pate out of the liver before I really went to bed. No sooner did I have the liver browning in the pan that the phone rang at quarter past nine. Hannah Breckbill a CSA farmer who was donating food to my event the following day was on the line. She asked if I wanted to help them season the ram and help put it into the pit to roast. I couldn’t decline, so I hastily finished my pate and ran out to her farm. (This experience was so complex and I plan on expanding on it in more detail this week!) Things went late into the evening and I finally got into bed about two and half hours later than expected, or desired. Nevertheless I slept well and awoke early the next day to finish my final details before leaving the house for the campground. When I arrived, I got the ovens cranking and roasted spaghetti squash. I also chopped and blanched some other vegetables while simmering a curry sauce for lunch. Around 11, the sheep that I helped season the night before arrived and I broke down what I needed for lunch. Shortly after I cooked wild and basmati rice and then began my buffet setup. Lunch went quite smoothly and then I transitioned to my dinner prep. I started with slicing cabbage for a coleslaw; I wanted to get it salted to purge some of the excess liquid even though it was for the following day. I then cooked some potatoes for breakfast, setup beans to simmer for dinner and made a corn bread for a light dessert. Someone dropped of a large supply of rhubarb which I promptly turned into a cobbler and a simple compote to go with the cornbread. I served the mutton, gravy, roasted potatoes, sauteed spinach and more rice for dinner. It was quickly devoured and I was glad I had made a few desserts. Those two were crushed in minutes and the campers left satiated and happy. Wednesday morning I arrived at camp around seven in the morning. I had initially been told breakfast was scheduled for nine, but within minutes of arrival I was informed that breakfast was at 7.30. I ran around and prepared eggs, hashbrowns, setup a granola and yoghurt bar, made a pepper onion mix and reheated beans for an added boost. I am proud to say that I managed to have it all ready by the required time. (Thanks in part to a gracious volunteer who helped keep the details in order as well as chop some vegetables.) Lunch was much easier because I had two extra hours. I cooked more potatoes, finished the cole slaw, made a rice salad from the previous days leftovers, cooked more rice – again, both kinds – and also reheated some of the leftover curry. Many people had made donations as well so I also put out ram organs, smelt, various salads and a mix of sweet items. With no rhyme or reason people ate way less than both the day and night previous so there was plenty of leftovers. I spent my afternoon cleaning and left around three. I returned home just in time for wine time where David, Ellis and I shared some of that faun pate. Two words: Holy Shit. (Again more expansion required!)
Thursday I was scheduled to do some catering with Ruth, she was in charge of feeding people for the actual event. I arrived a little early for my shift and was stunned by the sheer number of people and the activity in the kitchen. I started by helping out with dishes and once they were caught up I was put on mixing a chili lime slaw. Then I portioned soup between the five warmers and added in some corn as well. A couple more people rolled in to help and then I sliced cornbread for lunch. As I was finishing we began setting up the lunch buffet. The menu was pozole, cornbread, molasses butter and chili lime slaw. We spent the next hour managing the buffet and refilling items before moving onto the next segment. Ruth only had me work the morning afternoon shift so I returned back to Pepperfield. David and I left for town to plant basil at the hospital garden and then returned back to the farm to repeat the same process. Birte returned from a day in town with a friend, Christie, and we spent a long evening with great food, wine and conversation. The sky opened up late in the night and continued to rain through the morning. I left the house early to make it back to the campground. The vast crowd of 300 was now all huddled under the main pavillion making the numbers seem even larger. I squeezed my way into the kitchen and began by chopping potatoes. As I completed that task I dropped them into water and portioned more soup among warmers. As each batch of potatoes were done I put them in the soup warmers. Ruth, TJ – the other chef, and I took turns going around tasting each soup and seasoning them. Afterwards I shredded cabbage for coleslaw for the following day and then began lunch buffet setup; we offered mulligatawny soup, hummus, whole wheat bread and quinoa salad. Again, I only worked the afternoon segment and I returned home early. Ellis and I went to town to complete some errands and then spent about an hour at the library. We then drove out to a small town called Sattre, the kind of town that if you blink as you pass through the town square you miss it. We went out to a prairie and valley that had been placed in conservation for a self guided tour. We returned home after a quick walk about and were surprised to see Jane and her husband Guy – professors from Luther College, acquaintances I have made before – as well as Christie over for dinner. In stunning Pepperfield elegance we put out a spread of various hors d’oeuvres, pate included, and enjoyed wine, brought by our guests, and a fantastic meal late into the evening. I wrapped everything up with a pear sorbet, something I have come to love because of its simplicity but also deliciousness.
Saturday I awoke to the surprise of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I was, by no means a fan, but it was both shocking and disappointing because I know how many people’s lives he touched and I appreciated his work. I started my day by helping cook lentils for lunch. I then spent much of the afternoon preparing potatoes, celery and peppers for various preparations later in the day. Afterwards I processed carrots, onions and celery for a fried rice mix to be used later. Ruth wanted some extra help so I stayed for dinner and helped by roasting vegetables and seasoning the mix. With the help of a few others we setup our dinner buffet and just scraped by with food. Ruth had crafted a menu of red beans, rice, coleslaw, roasted vegetables and a rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream. It felt like the guests were getting hungrier each day. I stayed for another couple hours to help clean and then departed and went straight to bed. Sunday was an easy day, Ruth and I started lunch by reheating leftovers. Our only addition to lunch was fried rice. Ruth did a couple of batches as demo and then was called out to complete some tasks and make announcements. I took over as we were slammed by people for lunch. The hunger had only increased and we ended up heating up many more leftovers on the fly to feed everyone. It was the first time in nearly four months that I felt the pressure (not stress) of being in a restaurant kitchen; it was surreal, I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. Lunch went later than usual and as people began to leave the event we started our cleanup. Ruth and I worked late into the evening and completed most of the breakdown by six. I went back to Pepperfield where I spent the evening unwinding and reflecting on this awesome week.
The fawn pate, village fire – and its eclectic mix of people – and my time with Ruth all had many different details worth sharing. Please check back this week to see some of these fleshed out in greater detail. Click here to see what you missed this week!
Spring planting – the big push to get all of the transplants into the ground – has now come to an end. We are still doing various tasks to finish out this period but the majority of the work is done.
Monday brought a collection of people to breakfast. We had our bed and breakfast guests, two women and two children, Peter, David’s acquaintance, and even Jim, “the syrup guy”, conversation was lively as we all gathered around the table at different intervals and the morning was off to a fantastic start. I spent the day at the hospital garden with the crew. Most of my time was spent setting up planting beds for future transplants. But, David and I did manage to get both summer squash and cucumbers into the ground before we left. Still plagued by early summer heat, we took an extended lunch where I spent time corresponding with some people via email. My upcoming weeks have me involved in a few catering events so I have been planning menus, managing logistics and getting ingredients sourced from local farmers. Later, I continued the bed setup, this time at Pepperfield, while David tilled. I also helped set up some isolation beds for David’s seed crop of peppers placed near the main house. Ellis and I put together dinner from various leftovers and shared it with all in the warm evening heat. The following day I started late. There were errands to run in town and Ellis, David and Birte went separate ways to complete these various tasks. I spent this part of my morning reading. When the team returned, I worked in our garden here doing more bed setups. The heat was brutal and between the sweat pouring off my brow and the humidity that lingered it felt as if I was in a perpetual shower. I did transplants of cucumbers, melons and summer squash before a much needed lunch break. Afterwards I spent the afternoon with Birte transplanting summer and winter onions as well as leeks. We worked well into the afternoon and retired to another round of leftovers in order to clean out the fridge.
Wednesday morning was very wet. There was a solid rain the previous night and the ground was well soaked. David and I cut covers for the rutabagas and turnips as pest protection before moving into the hoop house. Our first task was to clean it up so we would have more room for the next round of plants. Afterwards, I spent the late morning with David and Birte transplanting flowers, tobaccos and basil into larger flats, the final stage before they get put into the ground. We called it an early day and we all spent the time enjoying the cloudy cool weather. I took this opportunity to go to the library in town to acquire a library card as well as pilfer some wifi. When I returned to the farm I made Tom Yum soup for dinner, a dish I thoroughly enjoy, and it was some of the best I had ever tasted. (No bias of course.) Thursday was spent at the hospital garden, I was tasked with transplanting marigolds along the paths for the edible landscape. I wasn’t the only one though, we brought the full team and completed our tasks in under and hour. We returned back to the farm and I worked in the upper vineyard while David dusted the grapes for a fungus. I was tasked with mowing the vineyard that had grass nearly a foot tall. I am embarrassed to say, but I feel it is my obligation to report, that I burned my stomach when I lifted the mower back into the truck. Sweaty, burned and somewhat defeated I returned home to make dinner, a vegetable lasagna, in the style of the one David made the last few times. I was pretty impressed although it could have used some more seasoning.
Friday started early with some manure hauling for squashes. Shortly after we went to the hospital garden for some flower transplants and more mulching. David and I went alone since it was a small task and we finished up our time there with a planting of winter squash. David was satisfied with what we had accomplished so he told me I was off for the rest of the day and I took a lengthy nap. Saturday I awoke early for some shopping at the co-op for one of the catering events I have on my itinerary. The farmers market was happening right next door so I browsed some of the items for sale. I did purchase some fudge which was surprisingly excellent. The recipe listed on the package said it had cheese in it, when I asked the purveyor what kind of cheese he told me it was a soft cheese his wife made. We didn’t have anything on our list for the day so I spent the mid morning reading and writing. After lunch David and I covered some of the plants in the garden just like we did the root vegetables for pest control. David and I attended a music event at Luther College that was fairly interesting. The Norwegian-American Association of Singers presented, by a group of over 200 men, a few soloists, a pianist and a small scale orchestra, a show of classic Norwegian folk songs and some American choral arrangements as well. Sunday was spent mostly in leisure. We got started around 11, much later than usual, in the garden. David and I covered the rest of the susceptible plants and in the midst of this, I collected some rocks to help hold our covers down. Then I moved on to weeding some of the beds we had planted early on in the spring, the mulch had already begun to deteriorate and some weeds had found their way to the surface. We had a late lunch that slowly transformed into a leisurely evening. I went to town to catch a matinee showing of the new Star Wars movie and returned home later for some reading before bed.
Hundreds of years ago the colonizers spread across America and put down roots, both literally and figuratively. Agriculture was their life: crucial to their survival but also demanding nothing short of total participation.
I have been contemplating this topic for nearly a week. It manifested during the days following this post. I began to realize the amount of work – labor, effort and sheer strength – required to produce an acre of food; it was astounding. Fertilizing with compost, tilling, weed management and pest control had the potential to impose upon each second of a farmer’s life. In colonial times, I’m certain it did. Even with families of six to eight children the work was perpetually incomplete. Over time, the advent of agricultural technology helped eliminate the need for so many physical bodies by replacing them with mechanical ones instead. My purpose of coming to pepperfield was to learn where food came from, but after this last week it has evolved slightly. My understanding of food is one of a conventional sense where, even organic, products are mass-produced with massive tractors and combines. Each task completed in mere seconds by robotic behemoths rather than the the hands of a person. My real purpose had more depth than that; sure I came to see where food comes from, but the honest truth is that how we grow food at Pepperfield is not really the way. We have simplified processes and sacrificed time to create something that transcends conventional agriculture. But we too make sacrifices and compromises, although very different.
Farming in the time of the settlers involved many more hands. Each tasked with completing a fragment of the puzzle to create a larger, beautiful picture. Horse and plows tore through the Earth to loosen the soil before manure – collected from the farm itself – was placed on the land by hand. It was then turned into the soil with a spading fork by a person. Rows were furrowed and trenches were dug with hand tools, not machinery, before seeds were sown piece by piece with delicate care. The ground was moved over the seeds to give them a new home and a potential for life. Water used for irrigation was pumped from wells by cranks that required a human’s touch. Once everything was in place the same eyes and hands watched and waited vigilantly to combat both weeds and pests. No Round-Up, no electric fencing, just dedication and a desire to survive.
At Pepperfield we form a team, albeit smaller than our pioneering counterparts, to reach the same goals. Our horse – aptly named Troybuilt – is a bright red roto-tiller that turns the task of preparing ground from a day’s work to a few short hours. Our three goats and dozen chickens produce our manure for compost and fertilization but we still haul in more from a neighboring farm. Again our red horse turns this “black gold” back into the Earth where it sits as a vein of nitrogen and other essential nutrients. With shocking authenticity to the settlers, we still furrow our rows with hoes and dig seed trenches by hand. We walk the rows hand sowing seeds with the same delicate care that these heirlooms received so many years ago. The trenches are filled and seeds are covered in the same manner before being watered. This time though, our electric pump draws the water from the well through hundreds of feet of hoses strung across the garden. Electric fences are set, organic pesticides of various powdered plant matter are dusted on crops and we too watch almost as diligently as our colonial counterparts for the first sign of life, weeds or seedlings; each strip is carefully purged of weeds as they surface by hand or hoe.
The modern systems eliminate the need for many children or a team of farmers. Tractors pulling massive disks can loosen acres of soil in mere minutes. Petro-fertilizers are spread far over the required amounts as yield insurance; a faster, simpler and cheaper process that allows the step turning fertilizer into the Earth to be skipped entirely. Seeding apparatuses are dragged behind the same tractors planting hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds in a single pass, no furrowing required. Irrigation is made simpler by rolling sprinklers that create a cascade of water down onto these seeds. As they spring to life, petro-chemicals are sprayed – although not always if the GMO seeds have genes that repel potential pests – and weeding is managed much to the same effect.
Over the last 8 weeks, I have grown, just like the plants, at Pepperfield. My understanding of agricultural systems increases each day and I am beginning to identify the various input substitutions that are made on many different levels. Each day brings new surprises and thoughts to contemplate. The environment promotes this physical and mental expansion and offers living examples of natural processes. At Pepperfield we practice food production as close to its original roots as possible, still considering needs to maintain an efficient but low impact system. I believe that it is one of the reasons I enjoy Pepperfield so much. It isn’t preaching or practicing unrealistic methods to achieve a goal. But rather managing tools and techniques to create a wholesome product. These practices promote a key element for a prosperous future, in farming or life: Learn the complexity of a system and manage and manipulate it with compromises and sacrifice to reach a personally satisfying result.
Anything not expressly forbidden in the universe is compulsory.
If it can go wrong, it will.
This was by far the most unproductive week, although maybe one of my earlier weeks of residence in the snow was comparable. The week commenced with more rain hindering us all from getting anything done. I spent the day indoors cleaning different parts of the house, browsing the internet and reading. Tuesday began to look optimistic; operative word: began. David and I started at the hospital garden with transplants. We had already established the beds earlier in the previous week so the work was easy going. We returned to the farm for a lunch break and then dove right back into more planting. This is when Magnifying the Magnificence of the Mundane occurred. The TL;DR is that during the first few minutes of work the roto-tiller stop functioning. Undeterred we persevered on and I turned the ground by hand with a spading fork. Deepest respects extended to all homesteaders of the earlier generations that did this, it is quite difficult. Once I got the ground turned, a 30 minute project that normally takes two minutes, I mulched the bed and transplanted eggplants and peppers. I really was farming. On our way back to the house, I took a brief detour and planted some amaryllis bulbs and mulched them as well. We shared a dinner of pizza, crafted by Chef Ellis, with David’s daughter and son-in-law, over discussions about their upcoming wedding party. The following day I helped David move the goats into one of the neighboring pastures. David wanted them to graze some of the forage before we mowed it down. I made the transition back to the garden where I did some more earth turning before mulching it with leaves. Afterwards David and I transplanted calendulas into this soft ground for both decoration and consumption later in the season. I continue to putter around in this back garden with weed management and some soil excavation as well. After a long day I retired to the kitchen and made some cornbread and did some knife sharpening.
I have to make a quick aside about this. For nearly three years I have struggled to maintain sharp tools. In school I was a knife skills tutor and have knives that were razor sharp; they could take the hair off my arms. But over time, for one reason or another, which I still haven’t determined, I failed to get my tools even remotely close to that edge. After some feedback from a neighbor of David’s who is an avid knife fanatic I have managed to bring my edges back to razor sharpness. Thursday, still awaiting a repaired tiller, David and I spent our morning moving all of the tropical plants from inside the house to the deck. It was like moving furniture with odd angles because each tree had a different shape and fitting them through each doorway, some large, but most small, required a different kind of patience and poise. We went back to the hospital garden because we still had a few beds left that we could plant in and I spent my time mulching them before moving on to turning a row of earth. Friday was the day that we expected to get the tiller back so we started with light tasks to fill the morning. Moving with the theme of the week, our truck had a flat tire, mounted securely with rusted bolts. Just another hindrance to our spring planting. I moved some pallets out of the way of the mower to provide easier access to some of the grounds. Afterwards I rabbit-proofed the walk-in gate for the squash patch with some guidance from Ellis. I have to say I was pretty proud of my handiwork. With the assistance of AAA we managed to get the tire off and made a trip to town to find a replacement. On our way we stopped at the hospital garden and I turned some more earth. At this point the tiller was so close to complete I could almost feel – I know my body sure felt it. I made corn pudding that night for our meal and we took off for an musical showcase at Luther College. It was a commencement concert for the graduating class and it feature both symphonic orchestra and choral pieces. Oh yeah, still no tiller.
Saturday started early again with the goats. They are animals of habit and even though we had made this small pilgrimage each day for the last few, they were still giving us trouble. Luckily after only a few minutes of herding – and cursing – we managed to get things under control. I spent the early part of the morning cleaning for the bed and breakfast guests. I then moved to to reading and checking emails while we waited for a new update on the tiller. But it wasn’t long until we were operational. About an hour later David returned with our machine and we began in the garden. Currently we are in a record breaking hot spell with temperatures in the high 90’s, with a humidity percentage to match. I set up piles of manure and spread them into rows as he tilled it under. Seeing this happen in a fraction of the time and an exertion of my energy just as low I was ecstatic. Birte came down to help and together we all transplanted lettuces, Asian mustard greens and more peppers. I did a few more rows afterwards for future squash transplants and finished up with some watering before retiring from the heat. One of David’s acquaintances, Peter, stopped by to camp out for a few nights. He brought wine and some snacks and we spent a leisurely evening together. I made stir fry with some of our odds and ends and the conversation continued through dinner late into the evening. Sunday morning we ate breakfast with our guests. I spent some time talking with Peter about some of his hobbies and he did a celestial chart reading for me as well. Back in the swing of things I spent the morning setting up more planting beds in the garden before jumping on transplanting. We had an extended lunch to dodge more of the oppressive heat. Shortly after David and I went to Highlandville to plant a garden for one of David’s old neighbors. We got back about an hour later and I prepared a dinner of pulled pork, baked beans and some other fixings as well. Again the conversation went deep into the night and I ended my day moving a bale of hay from the goat barn to the hoop house before going to bed.
The crisp air lightly brushes against my skin. Rays of the afternoon sun beam down with glorious intensity bathing me in a contrast of deep warmth. Each step through the lawn is met by the gentle rustle of grass under foot, almost like a broom running across an old wood floor. With each step creatures, beautiful and unique in design, bellow forth to escape the oncoming assault to their once serene resting place. I reach the old worn wooden gate, paint peeling from its many days standing watch over the bounty housed just behind. It creaks gently as it is pushed open, moaning from arthritis in its hinges. The timid robin flutters away, each wingbeat reverberating through the air to create a soft rumbling. Welcome to the garden.
Intricate plots of seedlings push forth from the Earth, woven amongst patches of dirt and weeds, delicately swaying in the breeze, creating a surreal quilt surpassing the second dimension. I slowly walk across the grass paths, savoring each step among the culmination of our work. The grass abruptly transitions to earth which gently depresses as I waltz across the tilled ground towards my objective. I pull my yellow leather gloves from my back pocket and little bursts of dust and dirt liberate themselves from the mass of their caked-on brothern. As I split my hands into them the crust continues to crack resembling the ground to my left that offers the beans a chance at life. I grab the black tarp and gently pull it off the pile. Some of it disintegrates in my hands into black ribbons. A myriad of organisms come to life as the sun pierces into the once darkness. Prehistoric insects scuttle across the compost into crevices and earthworms writhe, like oiled spaghetti in a dish, before descending into the mass of decay.
I grab my manure fork, my senior by countless years, rust encasing each tine creating a brilliant gradient of rich brown tones before fading into a brilliant sheen at each tip. A quick thrust into the compost produces fleeing arachnids and a cacophony of crackling branches. Each matted scoop permits a resounding thud as it slowly fills the wheelbarrow. Again, again, and again. The air looms with the aroma of old leaves, rich earth and the slightest hint of fungus. I spear the fork back into the earth; it juts out like a piece of giant silverware in a chunk of chocolate cake. I tilt the wheelbarrow forward as it releases a quiet grown, vocalizing my sentiments as well. I push the load across the lawn with little resistance to its final resting place. I tip the wheelbarrow forward, rocks clatter against the metal and the compost scrapes out onto the ground. A collection of neat nodes of compost create an invisible line. I spread it in rows, new beds for the future. In the distance David pulls the cord to bring the tiller to life. A quick snap pierces the air proceeded by a flurry of colorful commentary. I look up from my work to see David scolding the tiller as if it were a misbehaved child. The simple task of setting up planting beds had no been brought to a screeching halt in only 15 minutes.