Week 5, 2023|Kristin Kimball|February 3, 2023

The windchill is -22 out there at the moment and is forecast to drop to -40 overnight. The animals I’m most worried about right now are the farmers! The other living things are tucked into shelter, or soon will be. Extra feed rations do a lot to keep animals comfortable in the cold. All animals increase metabolism to stay warm in cold conditions, and ruminants generate heat in a special way, via rumination. Get this: 1 milliliter of rumen contents is estimated to contain up to 50 BILLION bacteria, yeasts, protozoa and fungi. It’s alive in there! As all those little creatures are eating, metabolizing, and dying, they give off energy in the form of heat while breaking down plant cellulose into nutrients their hosts can use. Isn’t that beautiful? Members, we are not ruminants. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you to bundle to the max for pickup today. The cold will bottom out tonight and tomorrow. We don’t have anyone monitoring the pavilion on Saturdays or Sundays and for simplicity we prefer people to come Friday if possible, but when conditions are this extreme, do what you need to do!

The weather has me in the mood for cozy food, like soups, stews and dishes that lean heavily on the comforting pillow that is a potato. We made a huge spanish tortilla de patatas this week. All you need is potatoes, egg, onion, olive oil, salt and technique, and the work is fairly minimal for the reward, especially if you have a kid to peel and slice the potatoes for you. There’s a good recipe to get you started at Serious Eats. Because I’m a chicken, and also because I’m working with a cast-iron skillet the size of a manhole cover (everything at our house is done on farm scale), I choose not to do the mid-cook flip, which is what gives the tortilla its characteristic puck-like shape. Instead, I cook it on the stovetop until it’s beginning to set, then finish it in the oven at 375 degrees (don’t overcook) and then turn it out of the skillet onto a serving platter. In any case, you won’t be disappointed.

On the soup front, I have been drawing from my stash of whole frozen tomatoes in the chest freezer as a base for tomato soup and also tomato sauces. If you didn’t freeze tomatoes this summer I don’t want to make you jealous but I do wish to inspire you for next summer. Tomatoes are one of only a handful of foods you can freeze without blanching. As long as you have freezer space it’s the most efficient way to store them. I use gallon ziplock bags (which you can reuse for other things at least once or twice) and toss the tomatoes directly into a pot on the stove from the freezer, with a little water in the bottom. Once the tomatoes are soft, run them through a food mill to remove skins and seeds, then proceed to make your tomato-based dreams come true.

The bulk tank that chills our milk needed repairs this week. Thanks to our member Mark Bimonte for the save. And special shout out to Harmony and Catherine in the milkhouse for cooling the milk the old fashioned way: in our low-tech can coolers that circulate cold well water through the milk cans. We used those can coolers for the first decade or so of our farm, and they still work! The bulk tank is easier, though, so we’re happy to have it up and running again. We are expecting another calf in the dairy herd this week, which will help with milk production.

Mark and I are off to speak at the NOFA New Hampshire conference in Manchester next weekend. We’re looking forward to it and hope some of you can join us. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this really cold 5th week of 2023. Find us at 518-570-6399, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball