Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest. One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat. Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem. There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.
Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy. You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous. Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.
Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots. I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.
My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size. You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.
Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner. A turkey fryer set up works well. You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time. Then the cleaning when they are cooked. Plunge them into cool water to cool them. Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside. Rinse well.
Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab. Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked. We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).
We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab. Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot. This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese. Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato. We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!
After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound. Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.
Crab season is upon us. It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.
It has been a while since I wrote, but winter can be a busy time. The wind blows and the branches fall and cleanup has to happen. The critters in the woods come out and attack the chickens and measures need to be taken to make the chickens more secure. I lost two of my hens to a Cooper’s hawk.
It snowed twice this past week here in the maritime Northwest, an almost unheard of event for late March. It wasn’t traffic-stopping snow, but snow none the less.
The woodshed was almost empty as the weather has been colder than usual with more fuel needed for the woodstove, so I have been working on a new batch of wood, splitting and hauling. But we ARE keeping warm.
It is also time to do all the tax stuff since the two of us have businesses that require complicated tax forms.
Gee isn’t winter fun? Well it is, and I am just giving excuses for not writing. We do have a new customer for our card business and we have been preparing a new line of cards as well. I had three dog portrait commissions in recent weeks too. That is always exciting.
Right now the wind is blowing like mad outside (22 mph) and the temp is in the low 40s. I just started the stove and will put on breakfast shortly. Winter is also the time for comfort food and last night I made one of our favorites, ravioli.
We have always made our own pasta and, in more recent times, even have a hand-crank machine to roll and cut the dough. I made large sheets and cut out round ravioli with the device I mentioned an earlier blog.
Last night, however, the ravioli was a real surprise, even for me who can usually anticipate how it will taste. I took a bite and was truly amazed at the wonderful flavor. I made homemade ricotta to which I added homemade marinated sundried tomatoes, pesto, toasted almond meal and porcini mushroom powder plus a whole egg. Wrapped this up in the pasta. For the sauce, I opened a can of homemade marinara that I made last fall and added homemade cubed lonzino (a Portuguese version of prosciutto). Sprinkled it all with parm. Served it with a Whidbey Island Winery Sangiovese. The first bite’s flavor just burst in my mouth. I was totally surprised. I made this last time without the almonds and porcini, but they made all the difference. Luckily I made enough so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. What luxury.
I know it sounds like a long complicated process, but having made the lonzino, marinara, pesto, marinated sundried tomatoes last summer at different times, I had all these items on hand. The ricotta only takes about ten minutes to make and is half the price of the store bought (I use the whey for bread making or soup stock). There are benefits to planning ahead.
I took a couple of photos, one of the ravioli airing before boiling and one of them finished in the bowl, but, oops, I had eaten a lot before I remembered to take the photo. It was soooooo good!
Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island. The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall. This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey. This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road. I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.
The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion. It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit. I have talked about growing there in former blogs. The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm. I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden. The farm is ten acres of very secluded land. About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing. We have farmed here for about seventeen years. It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.
We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard. Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords. About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle. If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck. He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.
The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers. Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area. They had their own grange in the community as well.
In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay. The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned. We bought it in 1988. The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down. A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here. He didn’t know what happened to them. When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.
There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar. The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks. They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls. The outsides had shiplap siding. Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out. Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well. The same was true of the boards on the floor. The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.
It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned. We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened. We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land. It is never easy work. Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work. I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries. They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.
Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it. The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.
Hundred Year Old Apple Trees
The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata
Here is the recipe.
Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)
Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft
Finely chopped onion
Goat cheese (chevre)
Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in
Red and yellow peppers chopped
Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)
I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over
Topped with shredded romano cheese
And bake until set. Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.
I know, I didn’t give any measurements. It is just great to do it by feel and sight. You can add lots of goodies or a few. Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be. Just have fun.
It is late October and I just looked out into the very dark evening after a somewhat mixed day and I see the crescent moon through the trees. It is a peaceful sight. There is also no wind. It isn’t warm, but it is peaceful. I have just gone out and gotten wood for the fire to keep us warm through the night.
I guess that we can say, officially, that we are headed to winter. That is the thing about living in the maritime northwest. Winter is usually at least two months before and after the winter solstice. Why does winter start then? We have our coldest, wettest weather before AND after that date. I never could understand why winter officially started on the 21st of December. We are long in the throes of winter by then.
I have just finished doing all the tomatoes I am going to do this year. We have been hauling home buckets of them from our farm for processing. I have made zillions of bottles of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato pickle relish (both red and green), marinara and more. I had two large buckets left to finish today and I am hoping this is the last of it. They do look beautiful sitting on the shelves in the root cellar. We had thirty-eight plants at the farm and another nine here in the greenhouse. They stopped blooming a month ago, and then we just hoped that some ripen, which they did in abundance.
Most of the preserving is finished. The old apple trees, over a hundred years old, are just about ready to pick. They are good keepers if I pick them while they are still in the starch. Seldom do you find apples in the store “in the starch.” If all the starch has turned to sugar, then the apples will start to deteriorate. If they are in the starch, then they have a while to reach their full ripeness. We pick them and they taste wonderful all the way until May. I find that most of the ones I see in the store are already on the pithy side. Many times, here in the northwest, they dump last year’s cold storage apples on us which lack flavor and are already mushy. I love the ones we pick because they are so crisp and crunchy.
I finished freezing the green beans two months ago. The pumpkins I grew this year are the kind that have hulless seeds. I will scrape them out of the pumpkins and clean them and roast them for pepitas for winter. This is the first time I have grown these, so I have no experience with this. Folks tell me that the pumpkin itself is not very tasty. We will see, and if not then the chickens will benefit from their flesh.
We did have a bumper crop of peppers this year. Mostly varieties of sweet peppers. The hot peppers don’t get very hot in our climate as it is generally to cool for those flavors to fully develop. I used a lot of them in the marinara. We did make poppers. I make them by cutting the small peppers in half lengthwise and filling with chorizo and covering with cheese (jack or mozz, but gooey cheese) and then baking in the oven until bubbly. Boy, are these good. You can serve them as appetizers, but we make a meal of them we have so many.
I am truly proud of myself this year as I actually had three gorgeous eggplant. I have harvested two and will go get the last this weekend. I made mousaka with one of them. Homemade ricotta, fresh tomato sauce, garden peppers, a real homegrown treat.
Well, I have ranted enough about the bounty we experienced this season. I need to go damper the wood kitchen range where the tomato sauce bubbled away all day and is now safely cooling in the pressure cooker until morning.
I feel like I accomplished a reasonable harvest this year. Yes, it is peaceful and I am enjoying watching that crescent moon. Now we can bed down for winter.
Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation. It looks like it was a great success. Go to https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.
We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables. We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill. We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves. The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat. The leeks are wonderful too. We will have those fresh all winter.
The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter. They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them. Gave quite a few away too. We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people. Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big. I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget. They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies. I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.
Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up. Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m. Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day. All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.
I am on my way out to chop firewood again. With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm. Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it. It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.
Last summer was unusual for our area of Western Washington. In June we had warm sunny days which brought the garden on early and with vigor. This year is a more typical year. As I have mentioned in past wordpress blogs, we can have grey weather three out of four 4th of Julys. This year seems to be holding up this percentage.
We had glorious sunny weather in May and hopes that the garden would be the verdant, abundant scene it was last year. We have collected 4000 gallons of water from the shed roof this past winter to water it as this is our only water source at the farm. I started all my little plants early, expecting that it would be a hot summer due to the warm spring. I held them over longer in the greenhouse so as to not shock them with the cold outside.
When I was a kid and a Brownie and Girl Scout, I went to camp the first week after school was out. IT ALWAYS RAINED. For me camping is about cool, damp weather. It always seemed that we would have glorious, sunny, warm days for the last few weeks of school making us all itchy to get out to vacation. The last day of school, an early release day, it would rain and continue to rain until after the Fourth of July.
This year is no exception, being right on that schedule and reminding me of my youthful days at “summer” camp. They felt more like winter, but I was away from home on an adventure and it didn’t matter that it drizzled the whole time.
Now it matters that it drizzles the whole time. We fight slugs, leaf rot, slow and retarded growth due to the weather in the high 40’s and low 50’s. Tomatoes are not fond of this scenario. I planted thirty plants with great expectations. My husband, being the more practical, planted his dozen in the greenhouse and they have lots of tomatoes set, some the size of large lemons. Beautiful. We will have tomatoes this year, but probably from the greenhouse, not the garden.
The cabbages, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts are doing fine. They will grow in the winter here in our temperate climate, Western Washington being the largest cabbage seed producer in the U. S. Even my squash plants are trying to bloom, but often when the weather is cool, the flowers fail to be fertile. The leeks are getting tall and thick-waisted which is good.
I have planted the corn three times and still have terrible germination. Next year my husband says we should switch to another variety as this one is so poor, but I just love the sweetness, flavor and keeping ability of this variety. We finally started some in the greenhouse and it was only 50% viable. Not going to be much corn this year. I usually put up 200 ears, cut off the cobs and packaged three ears of cut corn per package for dinners, which is just right for the two of us.
Beets I have planted twice, but now they seem to be coming up. I learned a secret for our area some years ago. Before tilling, we always put seaweed, which we collected at the local boat ramp, on the soil in the beet row. Now you have to have a permit to collect it. It is an endorsement on the state fishing licenses. I have another remedy. What the beets need is boron which is in the kelp and seaweed. I use Borax powder from the laundry section of the grocery. Just a little tiny bit, not too much or they won’t be happy. It makes for an abundance of beets. We like to eat them just boiled with a little lemon juice and butter, pickled with some cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, or my new favorite, with credits to Rustica Café and Wine Bar in Oak Harbor, roasted beet hummus. If you have just finished a jar of pickled beets, don’t throw out the juice. Hard boil eggs, peel, and put them in the pickled beet juice for about three days. Then proceed as you usually do to make deviled eggs. As an artist, these bright magenta eggs are a visual delight.
Well, I guess I have strayed far enough afield from the weather, but I hope that you have a glorious 4th of July, rain or shine. Lots of deviled eggs, potato salad, fried or BBQ’s chicken and watermelon and apple pie. Of course the apples were preserved last year and the eggs are from my chickens, the potatoes are from a neighbor’s garden. The rest I had to fill in from the grocery. Too bad.
Dutch bucket tomatoes grown hydroponically in our greenhouse.