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The Commons
Food and Drink

A tale of two farms and two recipes

Diane Lischer-Goodband is a farmer, a published poet and writer, a painter, and a professional grant writer.

Originally published in The Commons issue #177 (Wednesday, November 7, 2012).


DUMMERSTON—There are two farms in my life: one, whose orchard is managed by my husband, one of the top sustainable farmers in America, and a second farm, our homestead two miles down the road.

Growing your own food, even during this past drought season, leads to eating rich during hard, economic times. But we eat at a gourmet level by growing much of our own food: chicken, lamb, pork, turkey for Thanksgiving, and Christmas goose. These humanely raised meats are combined with a myriad of vegetables and herbs from the garden.

Our modest homestead is comprised of a 200-year-old farmhouse with an Old English-style barn and vintage ’50s sugarhouse. The sugarhouse houses two dozen laying chickens, and the barn — restored last year through a Vermont Historic Preservation matching grant — houses 15 sheep, a guard llama, five geese, two guinea hens to keep the tick population at bay, and an additional 30 chickens in a coop my stepson built for me. Our three pigs live behind the house since the barn was a construction-site last year, and we haven’t moved them back to the barnyard.

Neighbors say they miss seeing the pigs in the barnyard, which stretches along a winding dirt road used by hikers, joggers, bicyclists, and horseback riders.

With only 3 1/2 acres of our own pasture, we barter with our neighbor to use his pasture by raising a pig for him and his family. His parents owned our farmhouse for over 50 years, and he is happy to see the farm continued to be used agriculturally. Plus, the bacon our pigs give him is the best eating.

After our sheep have stubbled the best clover leaving the rest for our neighbor to mow and keep in healthy pasture, we move them to another section of grazing to keep them healthy and happy.

Last year, I named our four pigs Snowbank, Lavender, Larkspur, and Lavinia; all are Berkshire pigs, black and white and dark lavender color.

This year, I only named one pig, Miss Piggy, who kept getting out and heading for the highway whenever the two boars played too rough. You have to name a pig when you are trying to coax her back home.

We know we shouldn’t name them, but our pigs are part of the family until they meet with the butcher and become part of our lives again through cooking. As a former vegetarian, this is the hardest part of farming. As one of my grandchildren used to say, “Good lives, good meat.”

* * *

It is very difficult for us to go out to dinner at a restaurant anymore. There are very few places that will satisfy our palate like our own farm-raised meat. In particular, our diet of lamb and heirloom Tamworth pork allows us to experiment with herbs and wine or spirits nearly every night.

For instance, with Hubbardston Nonesuch apples from the orchard and a dash of Calvados on pork chops from our own pigs raised on our family farm, a meal becomes a gastronomical celebration of the long hours of pruning and harvesting the apple orchard and the year of love and attention given to our pigs.

I grow a big garden for herbs, tomatoes, corn, greens, potatoes, and other vegetables to eat fresh and to preserve.

With the apple trees my husband planted here and the blue, red, and black berries, as well as gooseberries added to the currants that were already here, we seem to have almost all our food needs met at our small farm.

For milk, butter, and cream, I can walk or bicycle to my neighbor’s farm and, once there, listen to stories of calving, coyotes, and other predator mishaps.

My mother always said, “Be careful what you wish for.” I had always wanted to get back to my farming roots, after studying environmental studies in Santa Barbara, Calif., and living in Québec, Canada, during my youth.

I grew up on a small farm in Pennsylvania, where my father specialized in flowers but with vegetables, apples, cherries, and walnuts also sustaining us.

But now with two farms in my family, the farm chores in addition to my full-time job as a grant writer are sometimes more than I can handle. I just wish those tomatoes could can themselves.

My father was big believer in drinking vegetable juices, and the quart jars of juice filled our pantry in the kitchen, which my mother lovingly painted lavender. Here is a recipe that brings back memories of my mother canning tomatoes for sauce and juice, and for pouring over fried eggplant.

When asked for a recipe, my mother always said she didn’t measure. Her mother never measured when she baked pies, made Pennsylvania-style egg noodles, or canned the garden’s treasures. I had to learn by watching her and then practicing.

Diana’s homemade tomato sauce

The key to this recipe’s delicate flavor is the addition of fresh fennel and lots of garlic. I like the skins curled up in the sauce, and they give the sauce extra fiber and vitamins. But lots of folks take off the skins of their tomatoes and, certainly, you can remove the tomato skins by dipping them into scalding hot water and slipping them off.

Bring to a boil. Boil on low heat for 2 to 4 hours:

¶40 lbs. of fresh-picked, cleaned, chopped tomatoes

Keep on the heat, stirring often, until the tomatos reduce to a thick sauce. Depending on the tomato variety, the time will vary. Paste tomatoes will require less cooking because they are bred for dryness and for making thick paste. I use primarily Roma, but I like to add Pink Brandywine, Cuban Black, Italian Carmello, Yellow Boy, and different cherry tomatoes. (Walker Farms in Dummerston is my source for heirloom-variety tomatoes, and each year I try new ones.)

It makes the timing less known, but I use as many ripe tomatoes as possible. While boiling, sauté

¶ 2 bulbs (not cloves, bulbs) of garlic, which have been finely chopped

¶ 5 large carrots, finely chopped

¶ 3 bulbs of fennel finely chopped in {1/4} cup of olive oil

Cook until soft. Add to tomatoes in the last hour.

At the last hour, add:

¶ 1 bunch of parsley

¶ 1 huge handful of chives

¶ 1 bunch of basil, finely chopped

¶ Salt, pepper and dry red wine (approximately {¼} cup) to taste

You can also use whatever else you have in the garden such as eggplant, sweet peppers, onions and shallots.

Process for 10 minutes in a water bath.

Makes about 1 dozen 16 oz jars.

Disclaimer: Because I cook like my mother in the Pennsylvania Dutch way, these are guesstimates of the amounts used. I do not measure most of the time when I cook, just like my mother and her mother before her.

There may be some left over for immediate use for the night’s meal to serve on pasta, pizza crust, or fried eggplant. (See recipe below).

Diana’s mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch fried eggplant

Slice into rounds and salt lightly on both sides:

¶ 1 large eggplant

Set aside for 1 minute, then dry the eggplant with a towel.

Meanwhile, cover frying pan with cold-pressed olive oil {1/8}-inch deep. (Cast iron is the best. I still have my mother’s cast iron pan from 40 year ago, and the iron keeps the heat after you turn the burner off.)

Crack into a low bowl:

¶ 3 large eggs

and whisk lightly with a dash of milk or water.

In another low bowl or plate, mix

¶ 1–2 cups of whole-wheat flour

¶ cornmeal, if you have it

¶ 1–2 pinches dried or fresh herbs: basil, thyme, oregano, and salt

¶ Lots of fresh-ground pepper

With a fork, dip each eggplant round in the egg to coat thoroughly, then quickly dip into flour mix to coat. Place in hot oil, frying quickly on both sides until golden brown.

Place on paper bag to drain.

These rounds are best served immediately and still warm. Usually, these don’t all get to the table, because I eat the smaller rounds of the eggplant as I cook. Serve with Diana’s Homemade Tomato Sauce (warmed up) or catsup dribbled over each round. Wine suggestion: Chianti or Merlot.

Serves 2 people.


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