Purple Top Strap Leaf Turnip Photos

Purple Top Strap Leaf is the 2nd of the four turnips I’m growing out for the Seed Savers Exchange M-GEN trial.

Once again, this is a turnip that Google won’t help you find seed for.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but the quick Google search found some unhappy Alaskian researchers who found the turnips large, but pithy.  The ones I sliced open for photos looked okay so hopefully, it’s an extreme north thing!

Here are the sliced roots:


Here are the turnip greens:


Here are the roots and leaves, fresh from the ground:


The Milan Early Red Top Turnips tasted fantastic — sweet, bright and without a hint of sulfur.    These turnips look pretty conventional to me, but hopefully, they will taste better than the standard supermarket turnip.  At the very least, they are fresh!  As this variety produces a lot of greens, I bought some ham hocks to cook the greens with.  Stay tuned to see how they taste!







Milan Early Red Top Turnip Photos

Now that the frost has come, it’s time to make stew.  With all the turnips I did for the 2014 Seed Savers Exchange M-GEN turnip trial, it’s time to harvest those turnips, take some photos, then cook them in stews and eat them!

Since I never had it before, I decided to try the Milan Early Red Top Turnip first.   It appears to be so rare that I couldn’t get a commercial seed source on Google.  You’ll have to join Seed Savers Exchange to access this seed!

Here’s what the greens look like:


Here are the roots:


Here are the turnips fresh from the ground:


There are still plenty of Milan Early Red Top turnips in the ground.  If you want to purchase them or the Gold Ball Turnips which I planted just for fun and try these rare, but tasty varieties, just drop me a line!









Poblanos to Ancho Powder

I am not much of a hot pepper person.  Yes, the shapes and colors are lots of fun, but taste is often sacrificed for HOT!!!! which I don’t particularly enjoy.

The exception for me is when poblanos (the fresh stage of these peppers) are transformed into ancho’s (the dry state of this specific pepper), then ground into powder.  The result is smoky, sweet and just a bit hot — a complex flavoring that I enjoy adding throughout the winter to whatever I’m cooking.

The pablanos we grew this year looked like this:


Every year, I say I’m going to make chile rellenos from our poblanos, but the season gets away from me and I have yet to do so.

Every year, I do strip the plants of both red and green poblanos, put them in the dehydrator (When my supermarket dehydrator died, I saved up for an Excaliber dehydrator  [link here] and it has been worth the expense.), then whirl the dried pieces in the blender to make a course powder that I put in glass jars and use throughout the winter.

This year’s harvest is pictured here:


Many hot peppers aren’t harvested until they are at their ripe color, but poblanos are valued at both the red and green stage, so the resulting powder contains both colors.  The plants are so prolific that even when a decent number are red, even more green peppers are being produced.

If you haven’t tried fresh poblanos or dried anchos, they are both worth your time and culinary efforts.  Contact me if you’d like to try some from Hill Creek Farm!









Harvesting and Hulling Black Walnuts, Revisited

Since my first post about black walnut harvesting, I’ve learned a lot.

First and most important, I was wrong to store the whole nuts in the wire racks.  The hulls should come off immediately as when they decompose, the hull juices seep into the nuts and make them even more strong-tasting than they already are.

There are many, many websites that talk about how to remove hulls from black walnuts.  Most of the “professional” sites (no one can make a living from black walnuts, but some people have professional-level experience!) sneer at the old-fashioned way of running over the nuts with your car.  ” Too inefficient” they say (if they are dedicated) or “too dangerous” (if they are cautious).  Both agree that you have pieces of hull and walnuts flying everywhere and it’s a bother to pick them all up — or can be embarrassing if the walnuts and/or wet, slimy hulls hit someone.

The most accepted method is what I call “The Booted Foot.”  Mochachino, the barn cat, is supervising me as I execute this procedure:


I have a box of walnuts on the right, put six of them on the driveway macadam, then put my work-booted foot over each one and press into the macadam.  The hulls slip off and then I toss the hulls into the box on the left and walnuts into the bucket beyond the box.

We used this method during a Tuesday Night Potluck and Weeding Session and it worked well even with Tina and Sue wearing sneakers.  About 10% of the walnuts wouldn’t press out fromt the sneakers and I had to re-press with my sturdy work boot, but we managed to hull all the nuts in a reasonable amount of time.

You do want to wear gloves when hulling black walnuts; however, no matter what type of glove I wore, my thumbs were dyed brown from the nuts.  A friend suggested putting Vasoline on my thumbs and then wearing the gloves which I may try in the future.

The Web is divided about composting the hulls — some say that if the composting is done completely, the juglone from the black walnut which inhibits the growth of other plants, will be broken down and gone, while others say to simply put the hulls somewhere to break down where they won’t interfere with beloved plants.  I used them to fill in some sunken areas around the farm, away from crops I care about.

The other widely endorsed manner of hulling black walnuts is to put them in a cement mixer with water and a handful or so of grit and let it rip!  I am SO haunting Craigslist next year if this year’s crop of black walnuts is worth spending the cash for my own “home-sized” cement mixer!  The best of the articles I read on harvesting/hulling black walnuts (and includes the proper ratios for the cement mixer method!) is here:

The other advantage of the Cement Mixer Method is that the walnuts are nicely washed and hulled with this method.  Most sites recommend washing the remaining walnuts in a wire basket with a power washer to remove sticky hull pieces and remaining juices.   The rinse water is brown, brown, brown with juglone, so do this in a spot you aren’t picky about what does (or in this cause, doesn’t) grow there.

Next, the walnuts are laid to dry in a protected (so the squirrels don’t find them!), but airy place for a month to six weeks.  This gives you time to find a vise to crack them (no kidding — Frank wanted a vise and it took us trips to several stores to find a sturdy one!) because everyone agrees that not only will a regular nut-cracker not crack a black walnut, but black walnut crackers listed for sale on OTHER websites won’t do the job either!

Right now, I’m still at the harvest, hull and cure stage.  Check back in 6 weeks when the Tuesday Night Potluck and Weeding Crew tries to actually crack the black walnuts and extract the nuts so that we can all have black walnut cookies for Christmas!





Black Walnut Harvesting

Like many farms in Pennsylvania, we have many black walnut trees that grew up on their own.

You don’t have to have a farm to have harvestable black walnuts.  As a child growing up in Pittsburgh, my mother would harvest nuts from trees in the neighborhood.

Personally, I like English Walnuts and find Black Walnuts too strong and astringent.  Mom, however, loved black walnuts, as does my brother.  They would get together and harvest the nuts, then put them in their favorite white cake recipe, Texas Sheet Cake, and eat the whole thing themselves.  I’m obviously missing a gene here — not only do I not like black walnuts, I’m not too fond of Texas Sheet Cake, either.  My brother loves Texas Sheet Cake so much, he had Mom make it for his wedding, but the community garden didn’t have black walnuts, so his guests were spared the “nut addition.”

Whatever.  Like many PA farmers, I was inclined to “live and let live” on the black walnuts and pretty much just ignore them.  But a “find your local farm” listing asked me to check off if I had them (which I do) and I’ve actually received calls from that listing!  Then one of my Tuesday NIght Weeding friends had a Christmas Cookie recipe that takes black walnuts.  Then, my brother did me a professional favor.

So, now I’m out there picking the black walnuts up from off the ground as pictured:


The husks need to dry before we can shell them, so I’m storing them in racks left over from the garlic harvest:


This isn’t the only season for black walnuts.  While the mature walnuts are prized (by some!) in baked goods, the immature walnuts are used in Italy and France to make liquors.  You can find the recipes here and here.  The blogsphere raves about how good these liquors are and I do enjoy making liquors, so maybe I’ll try them out next year and blog about it.

If you’re interested in mature black walnuts for baking and/or immature black walnuts for liquor making, we have plenty!  You are welcome (e-mail me first!) to come and harvest what you can use, then simply make a donation to Hill Creek Farm.





Processing Garlic with Friend and English Shepherd

Garlic in Southeastern Pennsylvania is traditionally planted on Columbus Day, so I needed to get my seed stock processed and ready.
It was supposed to rain today, so it seemed like a good day to work on the Place command with Luke, the English Shepherd, and spend some time with my friend Denise, who also enjoys cooking with plenty of garlic.
When we restored the barn, we made sure it had plenty of ventilation so that the garlic, which is harvested on the stalk, could “dry down” with an abundance of air flow.  Denise is cutting the stalks and roots from the bulbs; Luke is practicing his Place on the blue blanket.
We plant over a dozen varieties of garlic and are working on building up our seed stock.  Hopefully, next year, we’ll have enough both to plant and to sell!




My cousin Ed wanted to learn to make jam, but our Sparkle Supreme strawberry bed was new to us, so the season came and went (deliciously, I might add!) before we had a chance to “jam it up.”

So, when a friend asked if we could use 25 pounds of Concord grapes,  we leapt at the next chance to teach Ed the fine art of jam-making.

First, you need a good recipe.  Epicurious rarely steers me wrong, but when I saw that “100% would make this recipe again,” I knew we had a winner.

Next — and this is crucial — you need a preserving pan.  Mine is pictured here:


This pan was purchased as part of a set by Frank’s aunt in 1954 at Wanamaker’s as a wedding present for Frank’s mother.  It has a lid, but I’ve never used it.

Preserving pans are wide and shallow with heavy bottoms so that as much water evaporates from the jam/jelly/preserves as possible.  It is MUCH easier (and faster) to get your jam to jell if you use a preserving pan than a regular saucepan.  If you decide you like to make jam/jelly/preserves, invest in a preserving pan — it’s worth having.

As the recipe suggests, we pinched the skins off the grapes, then ground them in the food processor with a cup of sugar, then placed the gloop in the perserving pan with the skinned grapes, more sugar and lemon juice.

One of the reasons I wanted to teach Ed to make grape jam is that there is enough pectin in the grapes to jell the jam without adding pectin.  Start simple, then get complicated!

I also use a wooden paddle instead of a wooden spoon to stir the jam — it keeps the fruit mixture moving so that there is less chance of scorching or burning.



After a slow boil for 20 minutes, the grapes break down enough to release their seeds.  No one wants to break a tooth on a hard Concord grape seed, so into the food mill the fruit mixture goes.

food%20mill%20jam[1].jpgI used a Corelle cup to put the literally BOILING HOT fruit mix into the food mill and had a pryex bowl under the mill.  Don’t use anything that might melt or break — go for the pyrex and be safe!
The seeds/skins left in the food mill go to the compost pile while the jam that passed through the food mill goes back into the preserving pan (which was rinsed out to remove any seed and skin fragments).


Another slow boil until the jam is jelled (directions in the recipe) and after a hour to cool down (yes, it’s THAT HOT!), we have jam to eat!


While the recipe has instructions on how to can the jam, I figured just making refrigerator jam was enough for my cousin Ed at this point.  Right now, it’s in the frig while we munch on Peanut Butter and Concord Jam sandwiches and give out containers to those that helped us on this journey.
We had about 19 pounds of useable fruit and made about 9 pounds of Concord Grape Jam.  My cousin Ed has decided he is NOT going to kick it all and become an Artisianal Jam Maker, but we had fun and are prepared for the strawberry harvest next year!







Brinker/Carrier Bean

Last year’s Seed Savers Exchange M-GEN Program included a trial of 4 different beans to see if any of those which did well at Seed Savers Exchange headquarters at Heritage Farm in Iowa, would also do well across the country.

Of the 4 beans, my favorite was the Brinker/Carrier Bean which was donated to Seed Savers Exchange by the Brinker/Carrier family of Iowa.

The bean tastes great, is very healthy, productive and looks much like one expects a green bean to look.   If left on the vine, it produces white beans much like Great Northen Beans which store well and also taste good.

The official write-up on this bean says it is:

A pole bean with a strong twining tendency. White flowers. Green flat pods become yellow as they mature. Straight, flat pods have a thick beak. Mature pods average 5″ long by 0.5″ wide. Weak suture string. Good as snap bean and shelling (horticultural) bean.  Standard productivity. Leathery dry pods average 2-6 seeds per pod. Large, white bean; great northern type with standard flavor. Mid-season maturing.

We’ll have Brinker/Carrier green beans for purchase until frost.




Introducing. . . The Prudenettes!

Seed saving is an art, as well as a science.  Even the best of us with the easiest of vegetables sometimes make mistakes.

Pruden’s Purple is my favorite beefsteak tomato.  Even though it’s not a particularly rare tomato, I wanted to be able to save seed and add it to the farm’s rotation.  Tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to save seed from, so I asked a trusted friend for seed and planted what I was given.

Probably, I should have dumped any seedling that didn’t have a potato leaf into the compost pile.  But my curiosity got the better of me, so even though I suspected the seed had crossed, I planted the healthiest of the plants I had and waited to see what would ripen.

Half of my plants are true Pruden’s Purple beefsteak tomatoes.  The other half are. . . Prudenettes!  Pink cherry tomatoes that have a fantastic beefsteak flavor, but are far, far smaller than a Pruden’s Purple should be.

Cute and tasty as they are, the Prudenettes will only be available for this season.  The world really doesn’t need another cherry tomato (it does need more open-pollinated slicers and beefsteaks with disease resistance and heavy bearing!).  If they were awful, I’d have ripped out the plants and composted them, but having a cherry tomato in one’s rotation is always good — at the least, they can be donated to a local food bank as an “entry vegetable” to get small children to eat fresh foods.  At best (and these really are the best flavored of cherry tomatoes), they can be offered for purchase and will garnish our meals until frost.

Enjoy the 2014 Prudenettes!




Pruden’s Purple Tomato

Pruden’s Purple is my favorite beefsteak heirloom tomato.

Personally, I think it tastes better than the much-admired Brandywine (I have grown both).  In fact, I met William Woys Weaver,  when he was a guest on WHYY’s Radio Times and we got into an arguement about whether Brandywine (Will) or Pruden’s Purple (me) was the better tasting tomato.  Marty told us to “Take it off the air,” we did and we’ve been collegues ever since.

Pruden’s Purple is actually a deep pink, has fruit that weighs around a pound and is a “potato-leafed.”  The Web reports that it’s earlier than many other beefsteaks, somewhat diesease-resistant for a beefsteak and bears fruit in cooler temperatures when other tomatoes have petered out.

But most of us grow it because it tastes wonderful!  We’ll have Pruden’s Purple from now until frost, available for purchase.