Fresh New Year

Essex Farm Note

Week 1, 2015

We canned the last of the 2014 syrup this week. Good thing sugar season is only 8 weeks away.

We canned the last bit of sweetness from the old year.

Welcome, welcome, fresh new year. The girls are sleeping over with friends tonight and Mark and I have a romantic evening planned, just the two of us and a pile of seed catalogues. The 2015 growing season will never be as perfect as it is right now, when it all fits, neat and beautiful, in the imagination. I expect the summer will be more colorful than usual. One of our new farmers, Kirsten Liebl, comes to us from the famed Chanticleer gardens in Pennsylvania. She knows flowers. When she was considering working here, one of the conditions of her tenure came in the form of a list of seeds that she handed to Mark. Required: helichrysum, gomphrina, ammi majus. The fact that Mark didn’t even insist that the flowers be edible means he really wanted her to be here.

New Year cleanup included an overhaul of the walk-in freezer this week. Lindsey and Sabrina spent long days making lard – which Mark has dubbed North Country Olive Oil – from the frozen fatback we had stored up. I am reading the Little House series with the girls (again), and watching Sabrina stir and stir the melting bits of lard reminded me of this passage from Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder:

All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings. She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavor johnny-cake later.

We do have the craklings in the share today, members, but when it comes to cracklings, remember what Ma says:

Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could have only a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.

And big girls too. I know from experience.

We have some lovely uncured pork hocks from the freezer in the share today too. I admit to taking more than my fair share of hocks in the past. They are my favorite cut for pozole, which I make, using our own field corn for the hominy, in enormous multi-gallon batches for the freezer. I’ll post my recipe one of these days.

I took a video of Pancake and Mary playing in the front yard this week. The crazy thing is not that Mary likes playing with Pancake, but that Pancake invites Mary to play exactly like a puppy would. It is cute and they have a good time rolling around together but I also find it slightly disturbing, in the way of the uncanny valley. I guess I expect small pigs to act like small pigs and when they don’t it is just weird. I’m eager for the most recent litter of pigs to be weaned so that Pancake can go learn piggish ways. My friend Heather suggested putting one piglet in the greenhouse with Pancake, so he can start off easy. Good idea.

And now the short news. We canned the last of the 2014 maple syrup this week. Good thing sugar season is only 8 weeks away. Mark spent a wet and muddy time figuring out that the frost free hydrant near the butcher shop had rusted through deep underground, and after only ten years. It’s fixed now, finally. The whole gang slaughtered a big batch of chickens yesterday — our second to last bunch, and by far the latest in the year we’ve ever done them. Chicken slaughter is probably not anyone’s favorite job on the farm, and it is even less fun when the temperatures are below freezing. They began in the morning and cleanup wasn’t finished until after 7pm. Thank you, sturdy farmers. On the good side, the pond is frozen thick and smooth again and perfect for skating, as long as the snow holds off. We are expecting some roller coaster temperatures this week, with a low near zero tonight, and highs around 50 on Sunday. I think we’re ready to take whatever comes, as long as the roads are clear enough for school on Monday. Neither I nor the kids could take another day of winter break. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this first, best week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Pigs enjoying the spent butternut squash. Some people say that squash seeds help control internal parasites. If so, these pigs will have extremely clean insides.

Mom, this hay looks good enough to eat. Could I taste it?

Mom, this hay looks good enough to eat.


Experiential learning is a powerful thing.

Experiential learning is a powerful thing.


Hens are snug and cozy in the East Barn for the winter. They are laying well, about 25 dozen per day.

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