by Abbey Daniel
So you have may noticed that last week brought with it our first real dose of summer weather. And wow, was Mother Nature anything but nonchalant about her sudden change in the seasons. On Monday and Tuesday this novel warmth was exciting and rare, the first chance to wear tank tops, bathe myself in sunscreen, and get a healthy dose of Vitamin D into my system. The end of Tuesday (and two days of mid-80s highs) brought with it a delightful dip into the pond on the property. The pond is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots on the farm. Spring fed and peaceful, the word gratifying hardly does it justice. The top foot of water heats up all day long from the bright, intense sun and so is warm and pleasant, while the water below, untouched by the sun’s rays, stays refreshingly chilled.
By Wednesday, we were starting to feel the oppressive nature of the heat, and by Friday, with highs in the 90s, we observed its ability to fog our minds a bit. Even the task of seeding, normally very relaxing and easy on the body, became a tiring, grinding undertaking—I tried to keep my eyes from drooping in the thick, muggy air, and to maintain a degree of alertness and focus to place tiny basil seeds into their wells.
As a relatively new farmer, I often like to ponder and reflect on how farming allows me to be much more keenly aware of the natural world, and in particular, its effect on me. As a student on the research scientist path before entering the farming world, I spent the majority of my time indoors. Therefore, the winter season was cold but not inhibitive because I spent my hours in heated libraries and dorm rooms. The humid Ohio summers, although certainly sweatier than anything I had ever experienced in the New Mexico arid desert, was still spent in long pants and a sweatshirt in the lab because constant cold forced air was required to remove potentially toxic fumes from the workspaces. It wasn’t until I began farming that I came to fully realize the manner in which the biting cold in the winter and early spring can bring frozen tears to your eyes, or how the hot summer air so wet you suspect you could cut it with a knife feels like it adds 20 pounds to your daily movements. However, I have also come to appreciate fervidly the changing of the seasons. The beginning of the new season brings an end to the aspects I dislike of the previous, and gives me approximately nine months to once again crave just the season I may have come to tire of.
And so, being present in this frame of mind, I see how the oppressive hot of last week in turn brought on the full swing of strawberry season, the true kick off to summer time and a most tasty interval on the farm. I celebrated our delicious new crop by making a strawberry-rhubarb crumble-top pie (recipe at the end). I highly suggest making one, as it is relatively quick and easy, and the tartness of the rhubarb blends scrumptiously with the sweetness of the strawberries! Topped with some vanilla ice cream or simply eaten plain, you’re in for a treat; I sure was!
As the day drew to a close we pruned and strung up cucumbers in the tunnels. We discovered an exciting surprise: the cucumber plants have started producing fruit! Still in the their small stages, we have some time yet before they will be big enough to harvest. It was then, seeing the cucumber tendrils making delicate curling patterns at the top of each plant, that I had a surprising gratitude for the dreaded, taxing, humid heat of the Eastern Pennsylvania summers. I was able to appreciate how the heat brought to me bright red, sweet strawberries, the simple grace of cucumber tendrils, and blissful post-work swims in a cool spring fed pond.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble Pie
Adapted from Land O’ Lakes Crumb Top Rhubarb Pie: http://www.landolakes.com/recipe/17417/crumb-top-rhubarb-pie
1 cup flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup cold water
3-4 TBSP cold butter
1 ¼ cup sugar (part brown part granulated)
⅓ cup flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup chopped strawberries
½ cup flour
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup cold butter
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Crust: store bought or make it yourself;
For homemade crust:
Combine 1 cup flour and salt in bowl; cut in 1/3 cup cold butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened.
Shape dough into ball; flatten slightly. Roll out on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters. Place dough into 9-inch pie pan; unfold, pressing firmly against bottom and sides. Trim crust to 1/2 inch from edge of pan. Crimp or flute edge. Set aside.
Combine all filling ingredients except rhubarb and strawberries in bowl. Add rhubarb and strawberries; toss until well coated. Spoon into prepared crust. Set aside.
Combine flour and sugar in bowl; cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle mixture over rhubarb. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip aluminum foil. Bake 50-60 minutes or until topping is golden brown and filling bubbles around edges. Remove aluminum foil during last 10 minutes, if desired.