Daily Catskills: 09/19/20

A morning full of dew with frost receding into the shadows after the overnight low plunges to 32F. A day of full sun with a blue lightbox sky and a lazy breeze. A high of 59F but still warm in the sun. The red leaves become a bit more prominent against all the green, but no fall explosion yet.

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Picnic Dinners at East Branch Farm, Roxbury, NY

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Picnic dinners on East Branch Farm continue until October 11th, 2020 on Friday and Sunday nights at 5.30pm ($25-30 per head). Friday is meat based; last Friday’s was Korean BBQ. Sundays are vegetarian. Go online to www.eastbranchfarms.com to reserve a picnic spot. Picnics take place on the farm on tables and chairs made from tree stumps nestled under the apple trees and around the edge of a huge field of six-feet-tall goldenrod you could get lost in. Bring your own picnic blankets for chilly autumn evenings. The farm sits in a wide valley with panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains on Route 30 in Roxbury, Upstate New York, but the spots are pretty private. You really don’t see anyone while you’re eating and with those magnificent views, you can watch the sunset while wrapped up in a blanket: perfect for romantic date night.

A previous version of this post contained the incorrect link to East Branch Farms. Apologies to subscribers who have the incorrect link in their original email.

A New Foraging Cookbook

Dina Falconi has written a color, hardback cookbook for foraged, wild food, beautifully illustrated by Wendy Hollender that makes a luscious, engaging read. Beginning this Fall, here at Upstate Dispatch you’ll see some of the recipes. For whatever ingredient is out of season, we’ll use a non-local ingredient to practice in the recipes in advance of foraging for the real thing next year. The author is based in Accord, NY, so this is a local book.

Fall might be a strange time to start, but we were somewhat distracted this Spring by Covid-19. We’ve all had a rough year and now we’re looking at a decidedly different winter in 2020. Cooking up a storm is a comforting way to make yourself feel better, warm up the house, feed family or friends, and also add some new recipes to your repertoire.

Foraging is a way to reduce your carbon footprint even further than avoiding red meat and air travel. By eating locally and seasonally, you’re saving the transportation costs of food that comes from far and wide, but learning the ropes of what grows in your local area takes study and dedication, especially if you’re mushroom hunting. Most mushrooms are not worth eating, or not worth the risk of poisoning, for example.

Dina’s book includes illustrated details of many local, wild edibles; plant habitat and growing conditions; seasonal harvest chart, and recipes for soups, desserts, condiments, beverages, dips, spreads, preserves and much more. This book is remarkable because of illustrations, and the way they are laid on on each page, that makes the information more easily remembered than any other foraging book. They are all color pencil sketches, and for each plant there are contrasting illustrations on the same page that simply makes it crystal clear to the reader. In some cases, there are cross sections of fruit that depict the seed inside. It’s just a noteworthy book for its clarity and ease of reference: a keeper. This copy’s going to get well-thumbed, dirty and handed down to the next generation.

There’s a page devoted to a “wild grilled cheese master recipe” using nettle and other raw greens and wildflowers. Because there are wild flowers still out there in these last days of summer, this recipe could be tried first, but we’ll see what’s at the farmers’ market tomorrow.

Catskills Air Network – New Catskills TV Station

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Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch! It’s been six years since the website begun and the birthday was spent filming the pilot of our local Catskills news broadcast. I’m one of the news anchors with Kent Garrett (pictured right), under my maiden name, Jenny Neal. The project is being developed for MTC Corporation, who are opening up their News Channel 10 for our weekly newscast; The MARK Project and apparently tireless producer Jessica Vecchione.

Kent Garrett and I were formerly colleagues at WIOX Radio and now we’re going to be colleagues on television.

Daily Catskills: 09/03/20

A dew-soaked morning full of mist, turning sunny for a brief while and then, in moved the clouds, light blue and creamy, like blueberry milkshake until they went all gray like dirty dishwater. Humid with a high of 75F. Dismally dull until late afternoon when the clouds dispersed into wisps until dusk.

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Daily Catskills: 08/30/20

A cool, breezy morning with scattered showers and piles of chunky, grey clouds looking like your comforter on a Sunday morning. The clouds clear to allow some afternoon sun and a high of 72F. The summer of 2020 winds to a close with some show-stopping weather.

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Northern Catskills Essentials

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You can now order one of the Catskills’ best beauty products by phone or email from Northern Catskills Essentials and it’s worth it for the $4 delivery charge anywhere in New York State. This $7 soap is made by hand in Stamford, Upstate New York – just north of the Catskills State Park and it’s a gorgeous product. Reasonably priced in stylish packaging, the soap makes a superb gift in addition to the company’s creams and lotions. It’s beautifully light with a smooth creamy lather that doesn’t dry out the skin, which is a miracle as far as soap is concerned. The scents made with natural essential oils are robust, but not overwhelming. Finally, the packaging is sustainable paper and with each bar, you’ll be throwing out one less plastic bottle of shower gel. Treat yourself and you’ll never use another soap again.

Wild Tea: Goldenrod

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The wild goldenrod is in bloom and makes a tasty and healthful tea. It grows by rhizome and you’ll usually find whole fields of it. They are tall rods, about three to six feet high with hand-sized draping clusters of many tiny vivid yellow blossoms at the top of the rods. Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.

Put fresh blossoms into a mason jar of hot water (not boiling) to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes like a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of honey.

Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.

The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.

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Bee Wild & Free

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The last year has been quite an extraordinary one, maybe even the most extraordinary year of my life and quite an incredible experience. The upshot is that I quarantined alone on this hill for over three months without any human contact. I had split up with my husband last August and our farm lay abandoned as I considered my options: go back home to England? Move back to New York City? I tried both, then along came Covid-19.

We had made a mess of beekeeping too. Someone suggested that we smear honey on the outside of the hive, for some reason that I can’t remember, and the bees just kept getting robbed until they absconded for good.

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Blueberry Fruit Cake

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We had an extraordinary year for apples in 2017 and one of the guests on my radio show at the time gave me a fabulous recipe for a Heritage Apple Fruit Cake that is my one go-to cake. This is turning out to be a poor year for apples on our farm, so I’m using blueberries because I have so many of them. I’ve also modified this recipe even further because I like my cake really moist, chewy and fruity, so I bake it in a flatter pan, for less time and I’m using an extra half-cup of fruit. The special thing about this cake is that all the fruit sinks to the bottom and you get half-fruit, half-cake pudding with a slightly crispy topping that is really delicious. Needless to say, if you need to have your cake thoroughly cooked all the way through extend your cooking time to 40 minutes.

Fruit Cake

1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar, plus one tablespoon for sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
2.5 cups blueberries

Soften the butter and whip it together with the sugar, vanilla, almond extract. Add the two eggs and beat them in. Mix the whole mixture well. Sift the flour and baking powder and add it into the butter/sugar mix gradually. Mix until you have a batter. The batter will be very stiff. Once you have a smooth batter, gently fold the blueberries into the batter but do so very gently – trying not to smash the fruit. You will end up smashing the fruit, but just try not to. Put the mixture into a square, flat, greased cake tin (9x9x2 inches). Flatten it into the pan gently and sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of sugar. Bake on 350 degrees for 30 minutes. (Or if you need your batter thoroughly cooked all the way through, do 40 minutes).

Daily Catskills: 08/04/20

Torrential rain all day until 5pm, (3.7 inches by 4.30pm), tornado watch and a high of 69F. Stormy. Two hours before dusk, the clouds roll away across the sky like curtains opening on stage to reveal a sunny sky like nothing happened, but we’re still all soaking wet and cursing.

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Farming: Potatoes

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I’m writing a book, so the farm has gone “holistic” for the last week or two and I’m producing a great deal of seeds. Even some of the purslane has blossomed yellow flowers. I’m allowing the asparagus to grow wild, so that the roots will benefit for next year’s season. I also let the Adirondack Red spuds linger too long in the kitchen and they wrinkled up, went moldy and sprouted. The good news is that they smell weird, so the chipmunks won’t go near them. I received a farming pro-tip: throw them in the bed and cover them with straw. Keep the straw wet. I’ve no idea why. It took five minutes in the scorching 90F weather today, so I felt a small accomplishment. We’ll see what happens.

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