Thursday, June 24, 2021

That Time Of Year

It's the time of year when the seed-starting trays are stacked haphazardly beside the sink in the greenhouse, bags of seed starting mix are nearly empty and the trusty old avocado green watering pitcher, just perfect to reach around the plants in their peat pots, is relegated back the to top shelf.

a ridiculous plastic relic from the 1970s
 perfect for the job I ask it to do every spring

It's the time of year when an early visit to the high tunnel is rewarded with the sight of morning light coloring the plants with its own special palette of green, from the deepness of pepper plants to the hairy squash plants. The brave rows of milky green cabbage plants are newcomers to the tunnel, struggling to acclimate in their new space. Alaskan Nasturtium seeds, scattered about here and there in the squash patches as a bug deterrent, have thrust their mottled leaves through the soil and will soon bloom in bright colorful profusion.

It's the time of year when the bird egg beans send out their tendrils and begin to climb up the long length of trellis.

 Of course, those early morning visits are not all rewarding as I see the trails left by a legion of slugs marauding in the night and spot pillbugs (roly polies) scurrying for cover.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

It's Cool!

There was frost on the chicken coop one morning last week. Though the tomatoes and peppers escaped damage, some of the summer squash leaves bravely rising from the confines of a raised bed, were nipped. Up on higher ground in the orchard, the apples and pears shivered but rallied, especially after the rains of the past couple of days.

Local historian Robert R. Lyman's writes of a particularly cold year in his  "History of Roulet, Pa."

"A snowstorm on 4 June 1859, was followed by a killing freeze. All growing crops were destroyed – even the onions and the leaves on the trees. Fields of clover, nearly ready for hay, wilted and fell before the bright sun. Ice froze an inch thick. Burrel Lyman's orchard made history by maturing the one and only apple in Potter County. On the night of the big freeze, a mother robin had covered it in her nest. All  this reminded the old timers of the year 1816 which was so cold that all through the east it was known as the year of 'eighteen hundred and froze to death.' "

We'll be keeping a watch on the chicken coop overnight tonight as the jolly weatherman on Buffalo's Channel 2 just announced that there will be temperatures in the 30s tonight. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Early Rose Potato

It won't be long until it's time to plant potatoes in Potter County. We'd already ordered our seed potatoes when I read about this superlative spud described here by my grandfather, W.D. Fish in 1961:

"Early Rose potatoes – They were favorites when this old timer was a small boy, maybe more than sixty years ago.

When those old time spuds were cooked the skins cracked loose and they mashed dry and mealy, with a flavor –

They ain't no such potatoes today.

True, the yield of 100 bushels to the acre was a big crop, but it was a quality crop.

Today anything less than 400 bushels per acre is almost a crop failure, but who can eat the stuff!

The darned things are like trying to mash a mess of salve. Why, those Early Rose potatoes smiled at you – and as the skins cracked, they even laughed.

Wonderful food, appetizing, flavorful, nourishing and a delight to the sense of taste."

The internet pointed me to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity where I found information about the Early Rose:

After its introduction by Albert Bresee in 1861, the Early Rose potato gained widespread popularity. By 1868, the potato was widely sold by B.K. Bliss and Sons of New York for $1 per pound. The Early Rose was prized for its resistance to blight, common pests, and its superior taste. It was one of the first commercially successful potatoes and contributed to the massive growth of the potato farming industry during the late 19th century. During the colonization of New England, potatoes sustained the people and were highly valued as a food source.

Like many heirloom plants, the Early Rose was relegated to obscurity by the production of cheaper, easier to grow potatoes like the Yukon Gold and Russet. The commercial viability of the Early Rose was diminished by the necessity of cool weather climates, which are not always present across North America. As the potato industry grew, taste was valued less than other attributes such as efficiency, low cost, uniform shape, durability in long distance shipment, long shelf life and ease of processing. These factors were valued over the rich flavor profile of the Early Rose and contributed to the diminishing nutritional value of the potato.

Heirloom potatoes are divided into two main textures, floury and starchy. The Early Rose falls into the starchy texture category. The taste of the potato is rich in consistency with a light potato flavor. The potato is considered a more balanced version of other red all-purpose varieties. It’s a good choice for all types of cuisine including salad, dumplings, soup, and sweet baked goods. The Early Rose is a great compliment to many other vegetables and can be mashed, roasted, boiled and included in casseroles.

The Maine Potato Lady, a source of organic seed potatoes, lists Early Rose and describes it as one of the founding potato varieties in this country. "Early maturing oval tubers have smooth red skin and white flesh, great for everything from steaming to baking. A true heirloom. "

Eureka! Ready to order and then ... "Not Available At This Time."

Next year I'll start earlier on the trail of the smiling potato.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Maple Memories

It's been a long time since anyone's made maple syrup here at Metzger Heritage Farm. Arthur carries long-ago memories of tapping the trees in the sugar bush and boiling the sap down in big flat pans on an arch that stood in the field behind the little house. This tumble of fire bricks and pipe is all that's left these days.

Many of the old ways were familiar to my grandfather, W.D. Fish, who grew up in nearby Allegany County, N.Y. and shared a heritage of country ways. His words captured the imagination of thousands of readers of his weekly "Golly" column in The Potter Enterprise.

"Wonder if any one who reads this column can remember boiling maple sap in a big cast iron kettle!
The sap was caught in wooden buckets. There were no bucket covers. Millers by scores would drop into the buckets. When rains came, water would run down over the bark of the tree and into the container. Straining the sap removed the millers but it could not take the color from the rain absorbed from the bark of the trees.
The first deposited its share of foreign matter in the boiling along with ashes from the fire.
The result was maple syrup of the black-strap variety and the sugar of a very dark mahogany color.
There are people to this day who think maple suyrup and sugar must be dark in color to be genuine.
The black strap syrup of those days may have lacked much in the cleanliness of manufacture but --
How good it was!
It was wonderful, too when the salted cucumbers were brought up from the barrel in the cellar, freshened from the brine and sweetened with that fine black maple sugar. It added color and flavor.
Those who have never eaten pickles sweetened with good old black maple syrup have missed a real treat.
Golly wishes he might have a good big stone jar of 'em right now to whet his jaded appetite."

first day of spring 2021 on Crandall Hill


Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Short Month

sparkling snow, bluebird skies


Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Old Ways Help The New Ways Come

There are moments of my early years on Metzger Heritage Farm that are crystal clear in memory. There was the time everyone pitched in to dig deep trenches out by the rhubarb to plant asparagus. Being new to the family and anxious to please Arthur Metzger Sr. who supervised from his seat on the Wheelhorse tractor, I was so very conscious of placing those long straggly white roots just right. 

Arthur Sr. was behind many additions to the farm in the 1970s including the Garden Way cider press which he put together in the shop.

Apples were gathered from the ancient Northern Spy trees and what we now call the 1950s orchard with its Golden and Red Delicious dwarf apple trees. We all took our turns turning the crank to grind the apples. Such glorious sweetness poured from the little hole on the bottom of the tray into the waiting graniteware kettle on the grass!

Though he wasn't given the gift to watch his grandchildren turning that crank, we've dragged the old Garden Way cider press out of the shop nearly every fall, sometimes hosting a cider pressing party for friends, always pressing a couple of gallons for family and once pressing cider with a slew of kids and their families from the Austin School. That year cider sales helped finance the annual legendary trip to Pittsburgh for Mr. Metzger and his students. 

Joey & Kate Metzger with "Auntie Snip"

Joey keeping close watch on the process

Aucotts: Mike, Louise and Gabe
Arthur & Anne Acker(?) on the left

Zach Pucci, Paul Heimel, Joey Metzger, Blair Heimel, Maggie Acker

Steve Heimel, Paul Heimel with Paul J. on his shoulders,
Kate Metzger, Chris Heimel, Joey Metzger & Arthur Metzger

Zach Pucci on his way to the cider press

Paul Heimel, Kate Metzger & Zach Pucci

Sabrina & Rachel Newton (Jorge in back)

These days, our cider production is a small commercial operation and the apples head a bit north to Canisteo, N.Y. to be pressed in a gigantic press to yield their juices.

But the old Garden Way press waits in the shop for the time when the next generation of family and friends will turn the crank and savor that first taste!

Friday, October 16, 2020

How Do You Like Them Apples?


Have you visited our farm stand on Crandall Hill? We came up with the plan to use our garage in what we all call "the horse barn" as a way to offer our USDA Certified Organic apples (and cider when we have it) for sale right here on the farm.

Apples are conveniently bagged so you can grab and go. We offer selections of apple varieties you may recognize and many more you might want to add to your list of favorites. We also accept the FMNP and WIC checks and have $6 bags available. 

King of Tompkins County is a large, smooth-skinned yellow apple with orange-red blush.  It's coarse, crisp, aromatic and tender. Many people bite into one and immediately say it tastes exactly as they remember a great apple tasting when they were a child.

Pixie Crunch is a dessert apple, extremely crisp and juicy. It's described as rich, spicy and full flavored. I describe them as delicious!

Where else can you find apples with names such as Freedom ... Enterprise .. Liberty ... Wolf River ...Florina Querina ... Crimson Topaz ... Crimson Gold ...  Scarlett O'Hara ... Red Free ... Sundance.

In addition to our bagged apples, we can also put together boxes of what we call "seconds" perfect for applesauce, apple butter, and pies. Cost is $20. Preorder and we'll have them ready for you.