Ah, summer. At our orchard upstate, summer nights are still cool enough to sleep with the windows open, and most fruits are only coming in right now. Out of the new trees we've planted in the past two years, one very ambitious Macoun (my favorite apple!) has decided to fruit, despite not having any branches yet, and we have a grand total of four cute little peaches that are taking their time ripening on the trees. We're playing the long game here, folks. BUT there is still plenty of heirloom apples, pears, wild blackberries, and other sorts of fruit to be picked and had, so there is always plenty to do and eat and cook.
Earlier, I mentioned in a post that we had planted peas and oats as a cover crop in our orchard, in hopes of crowding out some of the prolific and relentless weeds, providing food for the bees by way of pea flowers, and securing more nitrogen into the soil. What I didn't expect, stupidly so, was that the peas and oats would actually turn into, well, peas and oats.
This past week, the oats have just started to turn golden, and the peas are already too tough to eat as they dry out and seed themselves for next year. But a few weeks ago, I was able to pick a basket full and shell them languidly on the porch, as one does, and then we made this delicious hash for breakfast. The first time I made it was in a cast iron pan, is preferred, if you have one.
Fresh Pea Hash (serves 4). All measurements are approximate
- 2-4 pounds of potatoes. I used a fingerling variety but small red potatoes do well, too
- 2 cups freshly shelled peas
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 2 stalks scallion, green and white parts, sliced thinly
- 4-5 thick slices of bacon, roughly diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- (optional) pinches of cayenne or hot paprika
- lots of kosher salt
- pepper to taste
- drizzle of olive oil
First, clean and halve the potatoes. If using other varieties, cut it into the size of actual dice. The smaller it is, the quicker it will cook. Boil the potatoes in a saucepan with a generous heap of salt in it, until the potatoes are easily pierced by a fork. Remove it from the boiling water and drain.
In a cast iron or large wide pan, heat up a tiny bit of olive oil on medium high heat. Add the diced bacon and stir, until the edges begin to crisp. Add the onion and saute until the onions become translucent. Add the potatoes, garlic powder, a generous pinch of salt, and optional cayenne/paprika, and stir until they are all coated with the fat in the pan. Let this sit for a while without stirring, which lets the potatoes brown slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Once the potato edges start to brown, add the fresh peas and give it one last stir. Let this sit, again, for another 5 minutes. If using frozen peas, add the peas earlier along with the potatoes. Taste and season with more salt if necessary and some freshly ground black pepper. Turn the heat down to low to keep this warm while you fry up or poach some eggs. Top with the eggs and your favorite hot sauce, and serve up.
While we're on the subject of food...
During our initial walk around the orchard, I noticed a funny smell (like spoiled milk) coming from the back corner. The oats are so high that I thought an animal had come in and died. Upon further inspection, it was coming from one of our hives, the newly named Banana Stand (because there's always honey in the Banana Stand). The smell was so strong and so sour that I really freaked out. With our track record so far of laying workers, failed queens, and two swarms, I thought the hive had contracted some terrible disease or pest.
Apparently this is somewhat of a common amateur move for beginner beekeepers because as seasoned beekeepers (and the internet) will tell you, the smell is actually just Goldenrod nectar. It's been also described as smelling like wet, dirty gym socks.
Luckily, when we opened the hives, smell aside, they were literally busy as bees and their population had grown tremendously! Apparently, a strong nectar flow will do them some good and our Banan Stand queen (Lucille Bluth) is a prolific layer. What was cool is that the newly drawn wax in the Banana stand was mustard yellow - the exact same color as Goldenrod!
Our other hive is called the White House. They have a much bigger population and seemed have always been more temperamental than the Banana Stand. They didn't like our disturbance as much, so we opened them, inspected a few frames, and got out of there. You can tell when bees start to get angry at you when they start to headbutt you and buzz loudly, as sort of a warning. Stinging is used as an absolute last resort.
Bees not only harvest nectar from flowers, but pollen as well. They mix it with nectar and pack it into frames to store and feed to their brood. It's their primary protein source, and some beekeepers collect it to resell it so that health nuts can put it into smoothies.
In our hives, we have a mix of light wax and dark plastic frames. The bees don't like the plastic frames, they prefer wax, but the black background (above) makes it easy to spot eggs, larvae, and pollen.
Most of our time lately has been spent putting in fence posts for our new garden (!) and picking off the Japanese Beetles that have demolished my cherry trees. Farming is hard, and I have so much respect for those who do it for a living. Everything is subject to the elements and takes constant vigilance, maintenance, and care. What's amazing is that we've already started to reap a bit of the work that we've put in so far - picking peas, four delicious raspberries, and an abundance of rhubarb. The blackberries will be coming in soon, and in the fall, we'll press cider! There's so much to look forward to.