Sunday, August 22, 2010

Loving Local: Tougas Farm

It's the MA Loving Local Blogathon week! (Find more MA localvore bloggers at In Our Grandmother's Kitchens and Loving Local). This blogathon is to raise money for Massachusetts Farmers Markets during the official Massachusetts Farmer's Market Week, so please consider donating here.

This Loving Local Blogathon week for Farmer's Market week is pretty exciting. I'm a total localvore (although I've been known to buy Chilean grapes sometimes when I really, really, really want some grapes). I started trying to buy mostly local food when I became acquainted with local farmers, and I wanted to support people in my area- mostly for the same reason I'd go to a mom & pop store instead of Walmart. It makes sense to get food from your own area, grown in the same soil you walk on, with the same air you breathe, and the same water that soaks you when you forget your umbrella. Plus, isn't it nice to have a tomato that didn't have to travel for 2 days by truck, and a melon that doesn't have its own carbon footprint? And raspberries that don't go moldy after one day in your fridge?

For all newcomers, my husband and I have lived in MA for a little over a year, and before that we lived on the border of NH and VT, in a rural area full of localvores and local farms. Almost all the produce at our grocery store was local, and they provided info on the farms everything came from. We got pretty spoiled.

Now that we're in Worcester, local food is harder to come by, and the farmer's markets near us are very small (compared to the massive event-of-the-week market we used to visit every Saturday) and held at less convenient times, but we participate in the Many Hands Organic Farm CSA. This is our first time with a CSA, and it's great fun. I'm the main cook in our household, and while I'll eat almost anything (except potatoes and green bell pepper), I've found there are many veggies I've never really thought about. I've had to quickly learn about new veggies, to eat them up before they go bad!

Today I'm excited to tell you about our morning of peach and raspberry picking at Tougas Family Farm, in Northboro. I'd seen the signs on the highway, but I'd never been there. 2 weeks ago, I decided I needed to pick some fresh fruit (at the beginning of my jam-making frenzy), and Tougas Farm came up in a google search.

Tougas is really nice and has a picking conditions page, so if you're obsessed (like me), you can monitor the fruit picking conditions daily until the day you go. I originally planned to pick peaches, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, but we ended up only picking peaches and raspberries (this is good- I could barely handle this load as it was!).

We started with the peaches. It's $28 for up to 5 people to pick a 1/2 bushel of peaches. ($18 for up to 3 people to pick a peck). This works out to about $1.17/lb, compared to the New Jersey peaches that were on special at Shaw's for 79 cents/lb that week, but let me tell you, I would have paid $3/lb for the Tougas peaches. They were The Best peaches I'd ever had. Whether they were fresh from the tree, or stored in my fridge, they were incredibly sweet and flavorful, super juicy, and just smelled like a real peach. I did buy the cheap Shaw's peaches, and I ended up making them into chili-peach jam- they weren't worth eating on their own, and definitely needed extra flavors added into their jam.

We picked Elberta peaches. As we approached the rows of trees, all you could smell was peach. So exciting!
We picked (I did most of the picking, Clint was in charge of holding the box) and picked and picked...

... and ended up with a very full box of beautiful peaches. I think it took us about 20 minutes to fill this box, even including photography time.
Tougas is very helpful, and likes to tell you how to care for your fruit:
(they also have these great info and recipe booklets to take).

Next, we drove over to the main part of the farm, briefly visited the barnyard animals, had a couple cider donuts ($4.75 for 6, go buy them right now), and walked across the street to the raspberry field.

Raspberries were on special, $3.99/lb for 7 lbs or more. We picked 8.7lbs, a flat-full.
There were bees- this was troublesome for me (not allergic, just terrified), but they were indeed more interested in the fruit than in me.

Raspberry picking was more tedious than peach picking, and I think we were at it for about 1.5 hours. It was hot, and I'd worn jeans to protect my legs from the prickers (my arms were very, very scratched by the end- but it was totally worth it!). We were very smart and brought spf 50, but I should have brought a hat as well. Despite being tedious (hence the lack of photos!), raspberry-picking was pretty exciting- there were big bunches of raspberries hiding under leaves, so it was kind of like a treasure hunt.

When we got home, I divvied up the ripe from less ripe peaches, like the sign recommended. We ended up with 59 peaches (plus the one I bruised when I picked it, and therefore ate immediately).

I made peach gazpacho, and we grilled some peaches with a brown sugar-rum-cinnamon glaze to have with dinner (DELISH. I did a warm-peach-happy dance).

I ate 2-3 peaches a day all week, either whole or cut up with some yogurt. I gave away 18 peaches to my parents, turned another 18 into my Great Grandmother's famous jam (oh, success, I'm so excited about that), and I currently have 9 left that I plan to use for peach pate de fruit. I think I'm brave enough for that.

And we did lose 2 peaches to mold. I checked the box every day for ripeness, but I didn't check one of the corners. Fortunately, it was only two of the peaches, and the remaining 9 are in the fridge and should be used within the next 2-3 days.

What about the raspberries?

I used 3.5lbs to make jam. (raspberries, 2.5cups sugar, splash of lemon juice, a package of low-sugar pectin, all boiled together and then jarred. It's good, but a little seedy, maybe I should have strained it at some point.)

I froze 2.5lbs to use this winter, when grocery store raspberries will cost about as much as gold (and be about as tasty).

I kept 1lb in the fridge, spread out in a single layer on a paper towel-lined dish. (Even 7 days after picking them, they were all still in great condition- this is why you should buy local produce. Grocery store raspberries would have been a huge mess of mold by now)

We ate about a pound that afternoon (I'm not kidding, we ate nearly one whole green container).

And I made raspberry cobbler!

Biscuit topping:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup AP flour
2t baking powder
1/2t salt
1T sugar
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup cream (I meant to use fat free 1/2&1/2, but I accidentally pulled out the light cream container instead)

In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients. Add in the butter and pulse til mixture resembles coarse meal. With the food processor running, pour in the cream in a steady stream, stop when it just comes together.

Fruit filling:
6 cups raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
2T cornstarch

Toss together, transfer to 8x8 baking dish.
Form biscuit dough into 9 balls, line up on top of berries. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.


Unknown said...

We love Tougas. We go often. We did a lot of blueberry picking and produced muffins and jam. We want to get more raspberries before they are gone but we are running out of time! Looking forward to some apples again this year too. I'm toying around with trying a CSA next year. I've wanted to for years but it's intimidating to me. I'd hate to waste anything.

Tinky said...

The cobbler looks amazing. For Erin: if you go to a CSA like ours, where you pick up your own stuff, you can always not take something you know you won't be able to use. I have a small family so this is helpful!
Tinky for Loving Local