EAT WELL

Provision From Nature

Fish, Fowl, the Four-legged of Hoof and Paw: Yumm

In this area, it’s not realistic to think that you can live entirely off the land unless you are a farmer. But it is practical and reasonable to augment your pantry, freezer, and diet with nature’s bounty and New York State encourages you to do so. You can dine without fear of agribiz additives, but will consume what your meal did so do avoid toxic waste sites and runoff.

Hunting Game: The assortment of animals for which you can obtain a hunting license is still longer than those that are threatened or endangered, and some are so plentiful they are pests. The burrowing groundhog, the munching rabbit, the fleet fox, the scurrilous squirrel, the cagey coyote, the bounding deer—all are legally susceptible to the bullet, the pellet, and the arrow. So too is the ravenous brown bear, more frequent in our area lately, and so easy to shoot it is a shame to call this hunting. But given that the big fellow is so omnivorous he/she/it will help him/her/itself to bird feeders, the contents of a garage freezer, cherished beehives (bears eat the bees, too), and swat a yipping poodle into the next state, perhaps he/she/it has should have avoided the neighborhood. 

Game birds are a similar story. With the exception of pigeon shoots—raised for the gun, they are often released in such number than even a fool with a slingshot will at least wing one—grouse, pheasant, turkey, woodcock, ducks, geese, and the like offer sport enough and good eating if you have a favorite recipe augmented with dried fruit, wine or bourbon, and plenty of seasoning, and you don’t mind plucking feathers and digging out the buckshot. 

Note that you can’t shoot just anything.  “In New York State,” says the DEC, taking a hard line, “nearly all species of wildlife are protected. Most species, including endangered species, songbirds, hawks and owls, are fully protected and may not be taken. The few unprotected species [that is, plentiful and probably pests—Ed.] include porcupine, red squirrel, woodchuck, English sparrow, starling, rock pigeon, and monk parakeet. [Monk parakeet?] Unprotected species may be taken at any time without limit.” Sort of: Wholesale slaughter will be frowned upon by others, if not the DEC.

“There are ten species of furbearers that may be hunted: coyote, bobcat, raccoon, red fox, gray fox, opossum, skunk, weasel, mink, and muskrat. Mink and muskrat may only be hunted under special conditions.

You need a state hunting license, and the correct one. For example, “A hunting license is required to hunt unprotected wildlife with a bow, crossbow, or firearm.”

The implement of your death-dealing: It’s a little tricky and involves various restrictions about hours, sometimes days, weaponry (rifle, shotgun, pistol, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow, compound bow), and projectile (approved and forbidden arrows, shot sizes, bullet sizes, number of bullets in a magazine [max six]), and arcana such as whether a rifle is allowed during deer season for non-deer hunting (no, we think, but a .17 might be). 

“The only turtle species for which there is an open hunting season is the snapping turtle. You may not harvest, take, or possess any other turtle species at any time.” Nor may you “harvest, take, or possess any native snakes, lizards, or salamanders at any time.”

Let’s not leave the meat section without reference to roadkill. Chefs swear by fresh roadkill, so do gourmands of game. This is beyond our expertise but here are several trustworthy sources:

Fishing: With certain pride, New York’s DEC states, “We offer many exciting opportunities to fish with more than 7,500 lakes and ponds, 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, and hundreds of miles of coastline.” The sea coast we’ll leave to another website. 

Each year the DEC stocks around 2.3 million catchable-size brook, brown, and rainbow trout in hundreds of lakes and ponds and roughly 3,100 miles of streams. About 1,300 miles of these have 33-foot state easements that allow fishing access to the water. 

Not far from here are storied, world-famous New York trout streams such as the Beaverkill, Willowemoc Creek, the West Branch of the Ausable, the West Branch of the Delaware, the Neversink, Espopus Creek, the Upper Genessee, the Chateauguay, and many others, fed by the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and limestone springs. Some sections are strictly catch-and-release. Few of the famous riffs and holes are free of fishing pressure, however, as the sport continues to attract newcomers. 

Larger ponds and lakes that aren’t full of weeds, lilies, or foreign invaders such as milfoil or the especially pernicious zebra mussels—they severe the food chain at the bottom—often make for wonderful fishing, and the state’s fish and game officers enthusiastically stock many of  them annually with bass and trout and perhaps other tasty fish they are trying out. 

Fishing in any body of New York water unless you own it requires a state license. If you fish a lot in different waters, the best deal is probably the Empire Pass, good for a year and currently $80 online.  Short-terms passes are widely available at outdoor-gear shops and country stores.

Foraging: Frugivores and herbivores happy to do their own foraging will find many wild treats in New York fields and forests in season, for example various berries, fungi, and tree fruit, the latter possibly survivors of a farm’s erstwhile orchard. Likewise vegetables and herbs, but here let us refer you to Euell Theophilus Gibbons and his acolytes, as willy-nilly snacking in nature is likely to get you poisoned or, far less often, inexpediently high.

For more information, the Department of Environmental Conservation is the reliable source in New York State for all things natural.

The magnificent rainbow trout, a great gamefish and excellent eating.

RICH STALZER

RICH STALZER

Edible Chicken Of The Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), are easy to catch in our parts.  No hunting license required, but get permission before foraging for mushrooms on private land.

Preserving Fruits and Vegetables for a Cold and Distant Day

For much of modern history humans have, out of necessity, learned to preserve food. Fish was smoked, salted, and dried and meat much the same. Barley and other grains were fermented into beer, providing much need carbohydrates for hard physical labor. Grapes, apples, and plums were also “preserved” by turning the fruits into wines, cider, and brandies.

Today, in our world, many foods are preserved for us and available at any time of year, yet the preserving of what’s grown can be a rewarding part of being a gardener. And there’s nothing like a midwinter repast of your warm-weather harvest to lift your spirits. 

Some simple ways to preserve what we grow are freezing and drying.  Canning requires more care as the dangerous bacteria clostridium botulinum can thrive inside of closed jars if canning is not done very carefully. Ingesting the tiniest amount of the botulinum toxin released by the bacteria can damage nerves and without the proper antitoxin may be fatal. But science will keep you safe.

Drying fruits is quite simple. Begin with:

Fruit of your choice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water

The only special equipment you need is a cheesecloth.

Remove oven racks and preheat oven to 145ºF.

Prepare the fruit by washing thoroughly and slicing into uniform pieces. Remove any seeds, pits, or stems. It’s a good idea to cut small fruits like berries or grapes in half, and larger fruits like apples or peaches into quarter-inch rings or fancier slices.

Mix lemon and water together. Then dip fruit slices into this mixture. The acid in the lemons helps preserve the natural color of the fruit.

Cover the removed oven racks with cheesecloth. Lay fruit in a single layer onto the covered oven racks. 

Place fruit racks into the oven and leave the oven door slightly ajar to let steam escape while drying the fruit. Important!

Bake fruit anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, and make sure to rotate racks while baking. Fruit will look dry and/or leathery when done. Granulated sugar can be added for a special holiday treat.

Transfer finished fruit to an airtight container or bag, and store in a cool, dry place.

If you’d rather not use oven heat, try this edifying source for dehydrating fruits and vegetables in the open air, at Penn State:

Canning is more complicated and can be dangerous, so if you’re inclined to try this method, there are lots of books, people to talk to, and internet sites that can guide even a novice through the process. And important step is sterilizing the canning jars and tops, and cooking the food to more than 185 degrees F. for at least five minutes to destroy any toxin. You’ll want to enjoy thinking about the various seasonings and methods. Here is a good starter site.

Drying herbs is just about the easiest way to preserve fresh flavorings. It works best for herbs and spices, onion flowers such as chives, and tops of certain flowers like chamomile, echinacea, calendula, and bee balm. This is also a great way to save flower blooms for potpourri. With air-drying, the flavors and aromas stay clean and true. Do so in bundles, which will take longer, or spread out over racks. On a rack herbs leave less chance that they will rot or acquire mold. Here find three ways of drying herbs that will work for flowers, herbs with big leaves such as basil, also raspberry and blackberry leaves.

Freezing: Some vegetables and fruits are easy to freeze and need little preparation, while others require a quick blanching first. Some are best when the rind, skin, or seeds are removed. The best ones to freeze are those that don’t get soggy! Mushrooms, cucumbers, and lettuce contain too much water and don’t survive thawing intact. This article about freezing is thorough and easy to follow.

Finally, there is the root cellar. Many 18th and 19th century homes have one. The floor is typically dirt and the temperature stays above freezing but well below that of the heated floors. It keeps a wide range of produce fresh for many weeks or months: apples, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, beets, onions, winter squash, and various nuts, as well as canned fruits and vegetables, wine, and cider.

The richest joy of gardening may be to bring a friend on a winter’s day a jar of your own canned tomatoes, a box of frozen raspberries, or a small bottle of crushed and dried parsley. it’s a gift of concentrated sunshine. Potpourri freshens any closed room. If growing grapes becomes your thing, a bottle of homemade wine will never be turned down

iStock

iStock

Once you master the science of safe canning, your garden’s flavors can be yours year-round.

Support Local Farmers and the Vendors Who Buy from Them

Our food system is starting to come full circle, and it’s about time.

Since World War II, Americans have increasingly relied on Big Ag and the food-processing industry for their food. There have been giant strides in productivity and automation. Consumers have more food choices than ever before. But with that, food has moved farther away from its sources—the land, the barn, the pasture, the lake and river. It has gained all sorts of lab-tweaked ingredients to assure good “mouth feel,” the right sweetness and umami, pleasing color, quantities of manufactured vitamins and minerals, and long shelf life.

There was a backlash, starting with the natural-food, back-to-nature movement in the 1960s,  but locally raised food for local kitchens didn’t keep pace until recently—often was not even grown except as a farm-stand sideline.  

Fortunately, positive food trends are underway. Small farmers have returned to the fields and are growing more fresh foods every year. Consumers are responding, rewarding farmers at green markets in cities and towns and clamoring for more. Restaurants are adding farm-to-table menu items. New restaurants tend to be predominantly local- and fresh-sourced. (One local chef flies twice-weekly to Cape Cod for fish, oysters, and clams. That’s fresh-sourced.)  Even supermarkets have started to feature local fruits and produce. And subscribing to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm shares is becoming standard practice for many local households, which gives farmers income they can plan on.

This area of New York has been farm country since the 18th century. Its excellent growing conditions and soils have produced many generations of successful farmers. With the fading of the local dairy industry in the last quarter century, farmers and landowners have tried everything from Belted Galloway cattle to exotic salad greens. Much of the machinery-farmed land continues in production, growing field corn, hay, grains, and cover crops. But the move toward small-scale sustainable agriculture is taking hold In this area, the farm Moody Hill was a pioneer in the late 1980s, growing organic vegetables using compost from a complementary business that took in cow and horse manure from local farms and food waste from the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, also branding and bagging it for sale in garden centers. The company now includes a commercial-scale composting operation, a thousand-acre organic farm, a year-round store, restaurant and prepared-food business, and an educational branch.

The future offers solid promise in this direction, especially at the scale of family farms and of local farming groups that pool resources, share distributors to towns and cities, and support local farmers’ markets. The Amish might have something to teach in this regard, as might other models. A meld of age-old community-farming practices, 21st century aids and tools, and government encouragement seems a viable small-farm strategy.

What’s needed is sustainable farming practices, which start with treating the soil as a renewable resource but not with chemical fertilizers: with organic matter and tilth, crop rotation to minimize insects and disease, and cover crops mixed in to restore minerals. Some historic small farms have been practicing sustainability without knowing the term; others, encouraged by county ag advisors, are making the transition without difficulty. After all, it is agribusiness that’s addicted to the spiral of monoculture—fertilizer—insecticides—government price support—consequence-free pollution. We need a huge shift in perspective, starting with a change in allocation of state and federal money from agribusiness stock appreciation to healthy food and food security for all. A good starting point, suggested Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists and food authority Mark Bittman, to change the name of the $145 billion department that oversees all this, Agriculture, to the Department of Food and Well-being.

Consumers and the planet have much to thank today’s sustainable farmers for, but there is much more to do to bring our farming and food-growing full circle, back to the land.

Use your favorite search engine to learn about these food resources. Many of the farms offer products online. Before visiting a farm, it is best to call ahead.

Feeding yearling calves at Whippoorwill Farm on Salmon Kill Road, Salisbury, CT.

The hives of Dennis and Juliette of Remsburger Honey & Maple, Pleasant Valley.

FARMER’S MARKETS

Amenia Farmer’s Market, Amenia
City of Hudson Farmer’s Market, Hudson
Copake-Hillsdale Farmer’s Market, Hillsdale
Milan Farmer’s Market, Red Hook
Millerton Farmer’s Market, Millerton
Pine Plains Farmers Market, Pine Plains
Philmont Farmer’s Market, Philmont

CSA FARM SHARES

Adamah CSA, Falls Village, CT
Common Hands Farm, Hudson
Empire Farm, Copake
Full Circus Farm, Pine Plains
Hawk Dance Farm, Hillsdale
Herondale Farm, Ancramdale
Maitri Farm, Amenia
Moon In The Pond Farm and Farm Education, Inc. Sheffield, MA
Olde Forge Farms, Wassaic
Otero Family Farm, Stanfordville
Rocksteady Farm & Flowers, Millerton
Sisters Hill Farm, Standfordville
Wassaic Community Farm, Wassaic

FAMILY FARMS

Arch Bridge Farm, Ghent
Brookby Farm Store & Dairy, Dover Plains
Cagneys Way Farm, Stanfordville
Chaseholm Farm, Pine Plains
Copper Star Alpaca Farm, Millerton
Cowberry Crossing Farm, Claverack
Cream Hill Veal, West Cornwall, CT
Daisy Hill Farm, Millerton
Darlin’ Doe Farm, Germantown
Dashing Star Farm, Millerton
Dirty Dog Farm, Germantown
Double Decker Farm, Hillsdale
Edible Sunshine, Philmont
Elk Ravine Farm, Amenia
Field Apothecary & Herb Farm, Germantown
Flowering Heart, Philmont
Great Song Farm, Red Hook
Green Owl Garlic, Rhinebeck
Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent
Hearty Roots Community Farm, Germantown
JSK Cattle Company, Millbrook
Katchkie Farm, Kinderoook
Kerley Homestead Farm, Red Hook
Letterbox Farm Collective, Hudson
Lilly Moore Farm, Pleasant Valley
Lineage Farm, Hudson
Marshmeadow Farm, Germantown
Mead Orchards, Tivoli
Meili Farm, Amenia

MX Morningstar Farm, Hudson
Nannick Farms, Red Hook
New York Beef Company, Poughkeepsie
Northwind Farms, Tivoli
Perry Hill Farm, Millbrook
Pigasso Farms, Copake
Point of View Farm, Standfordville
Remsburger Honey & Maple, Pleasant Valley
Red Fern Farm, Clermont
Rocky Fresh, Hudson
Samascott Orchards, Kinderhook
Roxbury Farm, Kinderhook
Second Chance Farm, Rhinebeck
Silamar Farm, Millerton
Slow Fox Farm, Rhinebeck
Smokey Hollow Farm, Ghent
Sol Flower Farm, Millerton
Starling Yards, Red Hook
Ten Barn Farm, Ghent
Ten Mile River Poultry, Wingdale
Threshold Farm, Philmont
Thunderhill Farm, Stanfordville
Turtle Tree Seed, Copake
VIDA Farm, Ghent
Walbridge Farm Market, Millbrook
Whippoorwill Farm, Salisbury, CT
Wild Hive Grain Project, Clinton Corners
Willow Brook Farm, Millerton
Zfarms, Dover Plains

SOURCE: localharvest.org
If these lists contain an error or have omitted a farm, please let us know.