News and blog
So what's Ploughman Cider all about? Well, in a lot of ways, I think it's the final fulfillment of what generations of sound farmland stewardship has wrought.
I think it's the most beautiful expression of what our farmland can create.
The philosophy behind it is to take what our soil, our microclimate, and our growing season throws at us. Determine what is the best on any given year and then, through fermentation, remove the sugar - allowing you to taste it's remaining properties just as they are.
It's been a long hard road getting here and the work is only beginning in terms of where we go next, but it's a good feeling to stop and appreciate our progress to this point. We hope you'll celebrate with us!
Responsibly, as always.
Welcome back, my fellow nerds! When we last spoke, we were discussing frost damage and the science behind it and the conditions that affect it. I feel like I owe you all a third and final entry on what happened this summer with the crop that survived. But before that, let's go back to a topic we introduced last year around this time of year - measuring apple maturity. If you recall from vol. I, it's common for these kinds of evaluations to start by qualitative analysis by people with color vision. I'm not so great at the color vision thing, so I'm training myself in the more quantitative methods. I referenced, in that entry, the penetrometer. In this entry, you'll see it put to use. Don't worry, it's safe to view at work!
Apple firmness, measured in pounds per square inch, is a common maturity analysis for apples destined to be processed into apple sauce, pie filling, juice, and cider. There's a minimum pressure (16 psi) fruit processors require to receive fruit as "premium" - below this measure, pressure can be limiting in terms of which products can be made with this fruit. While it's most useful for processing fruit, we're very familiar with what to expect for changes in firmness over time so it's also useful for fresh fruit analysis around here, especially when paired with spectrometer reading (see entry 1) and when you make multiple readings over time. I'm hoping to start checking for starch with iodine as also referenced in entry 1 but for now, let's see just how this instrument is used.
Once you've assembled your penetrometer, the next step is to pick some fruit! I usually start with the one that, visually, looks the "most ripe" or the one that picks the easiest - two qualitative visual cues. Then, I try to pick another fruit that "representative of the rest of the tree" or block, in some cases. This way, I can communicate to the harvest crew us how much of a spot-picking job this is going to be. Some varieties ripen more uniformly than others. The apple I'm testing in these shots is the new, syrupy sweet selection known as 'Blondie'.
Fruit in hand, we first use a knife (no farmer should be caught without one) to remove the fruit skin (above) - this is a measure of the firmness of the apple flesh. We use a hand held penetrometer - great for field tests. If you were conducting research using firmness as a metric, you'd need a bench model that insures even pressure, steady pressure, and a perfect perpendicular angle. No such needs in our case, but one thing in common with both is a defined depth of penetration to remove that variable. This close up shot shows the indented ring at which the reading is taken (right). Then, holding the apple still on a firm, sturdy surface with one hand, the plunger shown in that picture is pushed into the flesh of the apple until the plunger reaches penetrates the distance from the bottom to that line. When that line is achieved, you remove the penetrometer and take your reading. The penetrometer is designed kind of like a high/low thermometer - the needle freezes at the maximum pressure applied. So for the best reading, it's important to stop pushing after you hit that line - the apple flesh will get firmer the closer to the core you get. Below are pictures of the penetrometer in action - keep in mind, the methodology described above doesn't leave a hand free so I'm attempting to steady the apple and push the penetrometer with the same hand (huzzah). When you're trying this at home (ha!) without the camera, it's one hand on the fruit one hand applying even steady pressure at a perfect downward angle on the fruit.
Blondie at 15.5 brix (not pictured) and 18.5 psi? She's ready to go. Enjoy those apples, nerds and be sure to check back in for more nerdy detail.
It brings me great joy to introduce and guide others around the county of my birth. Anyone who knows me well is well aware of the great pride I take in the rolling hills and fruit growing community that born me and raised me here in beautiful Adams County. Like anybody's home, it's not perfect, but it's mine. And there's no where else in the world I'd rather hail from and nowhere else I'd rather live than Northern Adams County, PA. When people vacation in "Wine Country", they wanna hang out where the grapes are grown. Well, cider fans, you're gonna be where the apples are grown if you visit my hometown of Biglerville PA this coming Saturday for the first PA Cider Fest. Here's why you should attend:
- The Cider! - With a great supply of apples (4th largest apple producer in US) and a great accompanying craft beer braintrust, PA ciders have the raw product and the know how to be a dominant force in the burgeoning national cider scene. But! You don't have to take my word for it, LeVar Burton!
- The Surrounds - The same rolling hills that grow these beautiful fruits are gorgeous in the summertime - lush, green, and beautiful. The soils beneath them make our lifestyle a reality. The green splendor above them will make you eager to return a second time!
- The Food! - What's one of my favorite reasons to travel? You got it! Food culture and traditions of other areas. Ours is no different with plenty to choose from. Plus we're not all fruit all the time - we have a diverse agricultural community with excellent organic vegetables, dairy, grains, pastured livestock - it's all available. Fidler & Co Craft Kitchen, The Inn at Herr Ridge, and Sidney all source locally. Increasingly more craft beer selections in the area as well, starting with Tommy's Pizza. Mason Dixon Distillery coming soon too!
- The Arts/Music Scene - For example, I'm playing a PA Cider Fest after party at the Cider House and tasting room of my good friends Reid's Cider House starting at 7pm Saturday. In addition to making some of the best ciders and wines in the area, they support local musicians - Dave having played a good bit himself. This self promotion aside, the beautiful walls of The Pub on the square are like an art installment all to themselves - a good painter friend did the whole interior/exterior. Local spots like Ragged Edge Coffeehouse and the Blue Parrot Bistro hang local art frequently. The Bluebrick Gallery has a great selection. Great music and art at the re-launched Waldo's & Couu on the Square. Plus always tasty brews and good tunes at Battlefield Brew Works just outside of town.
- Local Spots - There's few things that feel more like home than eating at Ernie's Texas Lunch. This as local a locals spot as it gets. Breakfast, gut busters, burgers - you can't go wrong. Half Pint Creamery on the way back to Biglerville... now you're in business.
- Jumping Off Point - As much as I love where I live, I kind of like what the region has to offer as well, which makes Biglerville and Gettysburg a great home base for any number of other nearby places. If you're craving a great beer after PA Cider Fest (and Battlefield Brew Works in Gettyburg), you can travel locally to Carlisle to hit up Molly Pitcher or to Chambersburg to Roy Pitz or regionally to destination breweries like Troeg's or Pizza Boy (Al's of Hampden). There's a cool scene in Harrisburg these days for food and drink, likewise York and (especially) Lancaster. Make a weekend of it.
I could go on forever. The point is we want you to see where we hang our hat. We love Adams County and we want to share it with you. Fire some questions at me in the comments, believe me - I shortened this as much as I could!
Hey folks! We tend to get a lot of "wow, you guys wake up early to get here" when we arrive at market. And yes, thank you, we do! We appreciate your noticing same as we appreciate your coming by to support local farms in your family's diet! However, we look at getting up and going to market to meet with you guys as the "icing on the cake"! For every hour we're set up at market are TONS of man-hours working to grow, harvest, sort, and stack produce - divide it up for our different markets. That's the real work, folks. And here are a few pics of what's going down on the farm on this "typical" market prep Friday!
It was sometime in the late 1980's when Three Springs Fruit Farm had recently expanded our operation to include sour cherries. A few years later, I'd be put in charge of snack delivery to the harvest crew on the 3-wheeled ATV but this is slightly before I what I can remember. On this particular year, a large hailstorm moved in on us one hot May evening - causing horrific and widespread hail damage on one of our first few cherry crops. It was bad. Very bad. The folks who'd agreed to big our recently large and beautiful cherry crop came out to inspect the damage. There were multiple hail marks on every small, green, firm immature cherry one could find. A few days later while the family enjoyed a large hearty lunch whipped up by Nanny Wenk (boy do I miss those), the phone rings. My grandfather Donnie gets on the horn - it was the field men who inspected the cherries. They'd spoken with their bosses about what they'd seen. The rest of the family around the dinner table, in silent anticipation, leaned over their plates of hot food to hear the voice on the other end tell my grandfather that, apologetically, they wouldn't be able to buy any cherries from us that year. My grandfather paused for a moment and told the buyer "We aren't selling any cherries today". A few more awkward, civil pleasantries were exchanged, and the phone was hung up. Lunch was finished. Three Springs went about its work for the day as if nothing had happened.
As was alluded to in this regrettable FB post (see right), Donnie's wisdom on that day remains a bit of a mantra here at 3Springs HQ. In the previous blog entry about frost damage, I laid out all the data we have, as growers, to estimate what damage is anticipated at various stages of growth under various conditions. Now, closer to the midway point of the growing season, we're able to ascertain the effects of all of those variables on the crop that we have right now (which, of course, we cannot sell... ok, a few exceptions). Anyhow! Here's what we learned about what survived, to be followed immediately but what may or may not be growing today, having survived thus far.
So, again, a lot was said previously in the other blog - let's focus on two pivotal circumstances that got us to where we are now. The first, is that bit I wrote about how multiple cold events can increase bud hardiness. In other words, the more often the fruiting buds are jolted with a blast of cool air, the better their ability to defend against the next blast. By memory, we had at least three nights of 28F or lower leading up to an overnight low temp of 19F on Monday morning April 10th. Without question, this physiological characteristic of fruit trees prevented our losses from being more catastrophic. Trees are survivors, baby! They can put up with a lot! And certainly, had we gone directly from seasonal temperatures to 19F overnight without those "hardening" events of the weeks before, the prognosis would not be so cheery. The second circumstance is the vary conditions that have made my home of Adams County a fruit haven for it's long 100 year history. The pictoresque hillsides of Adams County are dotted with fruit trees for more reasons than aesthetic qualities alone - the drainage of the coldest air down these hills, away from our fruiting buds, has yet again prevented more catastrophic crop losses to its growers. We are nothing if not the grateful stewards of this great farmland we've landed on and I'm ever more appreciative of my ancestors ability to pick out this part of PA to call home all those years ago. We continue to benefit from their instincts and intuition.
So while all crops were damaged, very little was completely eliminated in the bad weather. As Donnie Wenk would rightly point out, there's little to be gained in quantifying things now when we cannot sell any of it today, but things are uneasy but not dire at 3Springs HQ, I'm happy to report.
Now... will these little, "frostbiten" fruit grow? Well, again, the weather has done us no favors. Cloudy, rainy conditions have persisted for the better part of 3 weeks now and we've witnessed in past years, first hand, in the case of otherwise full and healthy non-frost stricken fruit (especially peaches) succumbing to premature abscission (falling off the tree) due to the lack of heat and sun. Shady Growth, my little miss, is no good. Like many species of sharks that need to swim constantly to bring oxygen-rich water to their gills, growing fruits need sunlight. When they lack such sunlight... bad things. As always, stay tuned, folks!
And in case you'd wondered, a few weeks later when Donnie Wenk did have fruit to sell, that buyer bought every cherry that Three Springs would sell them. The fruits grew around those hail marks.
And Three Springs went about their work for the day as if nothing had happened.
Headhouse Farmers Market is about to kick off it's tenth year, making this year's opening day at little extra special. One of the special reasons to celebrate this year is our friend Tenaya Darlington, Madam Fromage herself, is throwing an "Homage to Fromage" event at Twisted Tail. She'll be chatting about her new book, Cocktail Hour, making drinks (naturally) and noshing killer cheese which is also unlikely to come as much surprise. For what it's worth, you'll have some 3Springs Cameo and our collab Food in Jars Tomato Jam on that cheese board as well.
What's more, there's music. Specifically, Chuck Darwin & The Knuckle Draggers music. Well... the other fellas can't make it, but I'll be there. Yes, it's true. Some folks have been privy to my passion for music making - this will be your chance to hear me play some tunes. Original tunes, fun obscure covers, your request - I'll make it festival, fun and light and we'll all have a good time ringing in the 10th year of Headhouse Farmers Market! Aint it Funny How Times Slips Away?
I'm humbled and honored to have a seat at the table for Food Tank Summit 2016. The problems with our nation's food system are numerous and well-documented. We all have a role to play in our actions and our advocacy - from eaters (everyone), to aggregators (Chesapeake Farm to Table, South Central PA Food Hub), to farmers like us and everyone in between. Food Tank is the leading think tank organization moving the conversation forward in the hopes of "Building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters". I've been chosen to speak on a panel with George Naylor of the National Family Farm Coalition (and farmer), Regina Beidler of Organic Valley - Beidler Family Farm, Sheperd Ogden - The Cook's Garden, and Paul Willis of the Niman Ranch Pork Company. Should be a great discussion! Tune in next Thursday 4/21/16 at 3:45 for the web stream at this link!
Consistently, when I need food inspiration and great ideas, I can look no further than you guys - our customers and friends at market. Such was the occasion this fall when I ran into Courtney and Kate at Headhouse in October.
They came in raving about a recipe they’d found in the New York Times Food section - a Trinidadian recipe called Trini Chana and Aloo. They’d used one of our ‘Moruga’ Trinidad Scorpion chilies (how apropos?). They raved about the heat, the flavor, and the pungency. I had to look it up and replicate this recipe.
But here’s the rub - I’ve never cooked with these super hot peppers. I know what you’re thinking but the truth is, hard to believe I know, it’s a lot of hard work growing all this stuff and sorting it for market. For the most part, I have cooked with everything we have and at the least I’ve learned HOW to cook with this particular ingredient.
Enter Josh - pepperhead, scovillifile, and purveyor of the seeds that grew these super hots. He’s looking to do fermented hot sauce on a commercial scale (coming to a store near you, hopefully) and wanted to have a local supply before he found us at Headhouse. He’s the master of high spice chilies and he’d told me all about these beasts.
So! This recipe is super fun and so is preparing it - INCLUDING the super hot chilies. Here are some tips if you’ve yet to take the plunge. In applications such as this warming Trini curry, you’ll be SO glad you did. Added bonus, your whole house will have this sweet aroma long after the meal is finished. I tried to take pictures to document the proceedings. The first shot, left, was all that was left by the time I made it the first time. The second shot, right, was so pleasing to the smell that I'd hogged down quite a few bites before I remembered a picture.
SUPER HOT PEPPER RULES FOR BEGINNERS!
- Start off small. I was cooking for me AND my girlfriend Amanda, who has a much lower heat tolerance. I chose the chocolate ghost chili - half the heat of the Moruga Scorpion. I used about a third of one pepper for this recipe.
- Use gloves. This is a must! Food grade latex is good but even plastic bags will work, so long as they aren’t broken! Don’t remove the gloves and toss them until you’ve thrown away all the seeds and stems etc. Then wash hands right after just to be safe. I was intimated at first - I had no reason to be. Wear the gloves and you’re fine.
- Have a backup plan! In respect of Amanda’s lower spice threshold, make a cooling yogurt sauce in case my first hot pepper dish got out of hand, heat wise. Luckily, this one didn’t but the yogurt sauce was tasty and cooling just the same. I just used complimentary flavors, mixing lime juice, cilantro, and turmeric into greek yogurt.
In the end, I was incredibly satisfied with the food, incredibly happy to have conquered my fears of cooking with these peppers, and eager to make it again - it wouldn’t have been the same without it! We made it again without it, just so find out. It’s one of my new favorite vegetarian recipes to make at the house and it’ll likely be in the rotation for a very long time. Thanks Courtney, Kate, and Josh!
We agriculture types all got into this with our eyes wide open - well aware of the risks. We are forever at the mercy of our environment. Never more so than this spring. Let's get nerdy with the perilous effects of cold temperatures on bud growth, bud development, and bud mortality (knock on wood).
First, let's go over crop specific data. We'll follow up with some caveats and other considerations. Please keep in mind this data is about 25 years old but we don't have any reason to believe that it's outdated.
So, a lot of the development stage names are a bit jargon-y (save "full bloom") but it's easy to see by this chart, you don't wanna mess around with 28 F and lower which is exactly what we're facing here in spring 2016. A few notes - the "general" rule of thumb is you'll lose 10% of any blossoms that are open for every hour the temperature is 28 or less. There are, of course, variety specific conditions and hardiness - some varieties of any fruit are genetic predisposed to withstand cooler temperatures. Wind can give you a little bit of relief - 28 and windy is better than 28 and dead calm, such that the cold air moving has a more diminished effect. There's also some evidence that suggests that repeated blast of cold air can improve the hardiness of a bud. Translation, again - that frequent blasts of cool air while the buds are swelling in the spring time can signal a response from the plant to "raise its defenses". As you can see, plants are in every way a lot smarter than we give them credit for. However, there are certainly cold weather events that you can't recover from no matter how "prepared" a tree might make herself. Additionally, for all you physicists out there, there's a little relief to be gained from the introduction of water to a cold night. Having a bud covered in ice will insulate it from the elements. While I wouldn't advise jumping in a pond for your own preservation when low temperatures risk your own mortality, it's an attractive option for fruiting buds. This will be the case ONLY if the buds are continuously wet. The temperature of that water would be 32 degrees while the water is making ice. There's also a little heat to be gained from this phase change since liquid water solidifying to ice is an exothermic reaction, meaning it releases heat. So it's common in freeze-prone areas to have irrigation set up for frost protection. One thing I didn't know about this practice until I read up on it for this entry is the effect of dew point. When the air is dry, the irrigation water will make the temperature plunge meaning it can be more harm than good if you get the job started too late. Of course, you'll need to keep the water running until the air temperature gets over 32 or so (morning) otherwise the results would be catastrophically opposite of what you intended!
Certainly, this damage is not just limited to tree fruits. Blueberries, strawberries in addition to many other crops can be damaged by fluctuating temperatures. In a nutshell, plants are like humans - they do not like to be jostled frequently from slumber. The years in which temperatures get colder gradually in the fall and warmer gradually in the spring are the normal state of things and very comfortable for temperature fruit trees. While swings from seasonal norms between the months of December and April in the northern hemisphere are potentially damaging and, as always, ground temperature is sometimes as important as air temperature as the temperature of the soil has a huge effect on growth and acts as a heat (or cold) "sink" or battery, in a different way of thinking. The bottom line? This is no fun when we get to this point.
READ MORE in Spring Frosts, vol. II!
Greetings from sunny South Africa! It’s an international blog entry in real time! I write you from the Northern part of the Western Cape province in an agricultural town called Ceres, where farm tour will begin in the morning for me and Amanda.
It being the case that this particular outpost doesn’t offer as much to a traveler as does our next and final spot, Cape Town, I decided to share some of our travel experience with you. And, seeing as how the wifi at this particular house is free (wish), we’ll provide at least a few updates in real time before we hit Cape Town.
So first, why South Africa? The short version is Penn State research and extension plant pathologist Dr. Kari Peter, stationed at our nearby Biglerville research and extension center, had traveled here for a conference and thought it would be a great trip for us. And it certainly is - South Africa is the southern hemisphere’s leading exporter of apples, ranking 7th overall by volume.
But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that travel is a great teacher. That’s the main reason for our traveling to South Africa. Not only learning about some of the unique challenges they face in their fruit production but to be exposed to a different culture and, just generally, gain a better appreciation for both your role on the earth and your part of the earth - I learn a lot about “home” when I travel too.
I’ll certainly wade into the more murky technical waters - what we’re experiencing in the fruit orchards (AND vineyards, by golly - WOW) as we go along here. For now, a few anecdotal quips to set the scene.
The flight itinerary looked like this: Dulles > Johannesburg (18 hrs + nearly one hour for de-icing on the tarmac), Johannesburg > Cape Town (2.5 hrs plus a scrambly/quick layover) added up to almost 24hrs of transit (+7hrs time change) on the money. All this before my first jaunt down the N2 Highway on the left side of the road… at 11pm local time… we were a bit weary getting in. The flight was super cheap. The South Africa Rand - also super cheap to the delight of your humble narrator and the dismay of our hosting farms who export 75% of their produce. There are no giraffes in the apple trees - that’s a different area of Africa altogether. We’re not catching any kind of rare deleterious diseases or are we under the influence of any kind of witch doctors or any other bizarre crap people actually asked me about when I said I’m going to Africa. African Swallows are nearly always unladen and exhibit an impressive land-speed velocity, the specifics are yet, to me, unknown. And never EVER in your life could you be more “put off” by a song’s timing than when Toto’s “Africa” starts playing the moment you walk into a shopping mall in Somerset West. With sincere apologies to Toto who are a very fine band… and that Kristin Bell video too, which was kind of funny. That’s all for now, friends!