Rookie Farmers Seek Assistance

Warm Applesauce Sundaes with 5-Spice Shortbread Leaves 

Wanted: Rookie farmers seek assistance with pruning, organic pest control, weeding, harvesting, and most importantly turning all this stuff into something. No help required with planting and growing, as everything we stick into the dirt seems to thrive without much more from us. Hours flexible. Pay comes in the form of edible foodstuffs and a satisfying connection to the land.

This painting had been in My Baby's family since he was a boy. It captured his imagination, and as a pre-teen he promised himself that he would someday live in a beautiful place like that. The painting now hangs over a fireplace which is in a house nestled on property that is, indeed, a beautiful place like that.  

Our place.

After years of searching (his realtor had two babies during his property hunt) My Baby found this dream property only a year before we met 4 1/2 years ago.  (Lucky for him, I tease, because my house-hunting criteria includes being within one hour from an international airport, being within 10 minutes of a full-service grocery store, and lots of closets, which this property doesn't quite meet!) Nearly five acres of property; a mere postage stamp surrounded by hundreds of acres of fertile Southern Willamette Valley farm and ranch lands, tucked into the base of the Coburg foothills. Trouble is, while we possess myriad skills, abilities, talents and gifts, neither of us had any gardening experience, much less the charge of five whole workable acres.

 Our property came with:
  • Orchard
    • 3 apple trees
    • 2 pear trees
    • 1 Asian pear tree
    • 3 plum trees
      • yellow plums
      • red plums
      • Italian prune plums
    • 2 fig trees
    • 2 cherry trees (still babies, we planted those)
  • Berries
    • strawberries (too many plants to count)
      • early season
      • everbearing
    • 4 Marionberry canes
    • 18 blueberry bushes
  • Garden
    • conservatively 700 square feet
  • Pasture
    • 3 useable acres
The two of us can't begin to consume all this food alone or capitalize on the potential of this land. I'm sure there are formulas which exist that could calculate it precisely, but let's just say this property could feed a lot of people. The apple trees alone produced, in my best estimation, four times my weight in wonderful apples. Apart from coffee beans, sugar cane and cinnamon, we could be nearly self-sufficient. If only we knew how and had the time!

Here's What 30 Pounds of Tomatoes Look Like, and There's More Where They Came From

Like many of you, our time isn't laid out neatly and abundantly for us. I work full time, staying most of the week away from home, and have long commutes. My Baby has come out of his early retirement to a very busy consulting practice, and travels to see me during the week when he can. It is a challenge to gather up all the fruit when it decides it's ready, much less to use it or organize the sharing of it all.

This year we made a hero's attempt to preserve more of our harvest. We purchased a food dehydrator which was billed as having endless capacity and magical qualities, and we dried rack after rack of fresh figs. We dried rack after rack of Italian plums. I cooked up 30 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes in huge pots full of sauce. Etc., etc. To very dismal result.

 Only a Representational Smattering of the Load of 2011 Apples

I went to the pantry for the dried figs the other day, and my heart sunk. The entire sealed bag had molded. The prunes, same thing. The tomato sauce never even made it to the canning jars, because after a day's work over the stove, it just tasted terrible.

Before you grow too sad at this tale, friends and neighbors, near and far, I've thought of a solution!

Come get it!! Next year, I'll post what is ripe and available. Load your kids, your dogs, your horses, cows, (there's room!) sacks and boxes and drive on out for a Saturday. If you feel like grabbing a pruner, pulling a few weeds or spreading some compost, all the better, but not required. Collect up all the goodies you can, and take them away. Chances are there will be a pot of something good on the stove to share while you are here to keep you fortified.

This is one of my favorite autumn desserts. Don't let the humble nature fool you... this is a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. While I expect you to riff on the types of nuts you use, the spices in the shortbread, and your own choices for sweetening your applesauce, please try it just like this once! At the risk of sounding un-American, this is better than apple pie!
Warm Applesauce Sundaes with 5-Spice Shortbread Leaves 
Homemade Applesauce (recipe below)
Toasted whole almonds
5-Spice Shortbread (recipe below)
Your favorite vanilla ice cream
Homemade Applesauce
Peel, core and coarsely chop as many apples as you want and put them in a lidded saucepan. Add just a little water to get the steam going, about a Tablespoon for a small pan or 2 Tablespoons for a large pan. Set over medium-low heat. Stir every 5 minutes or so until the apple have broken down to your textural liking, about 15 minutes for a small pan of chunky sauce or 30 minutes for a large pan of smooth sauce. If you like a sweeter sauce, you may add honey, agave syrup, brown or white sugar or maple syrup to sweeten to you liking, depending on your apples. If you will be freezing the sauce in freezer bags, it is wise to add the juice of half a lemon to prevent browning, or 1/4 teaspoon powdered citric acid at the beginning. Set the applesauce aside until time to compose your sundae, then gently rewarm over low heat.

5-Spice Shortbread
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/3 cup +  Tablespoon white sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/4 teaspoons 5-spice powder

Preheat over to 325 degrees. Mix flour and 5-spice powder in small bowl. Set aside.

In stand mixer, beat butter until pliable. Add sugar and salt and mix in. Add yolk and vanilla extract, and mix with paddle just until thoroughly combined. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing on low speed until flour is thoroughly incorporated. Crumbs will be large and hold together well when pinched. The whole process takes only a matter of minutes.

On a sheet of wax paper, press the dough together in a 3/4" tall square, about 7 " x 7". Cover loosely and place in freezer for about 10 minutes to chill thoroughly.  Remove from freezer and cover with another sheet of wax paper. (Rolling chilled dough between wax paper eliminates the need to add more flour for rolling, resulting in more tender cookies.) Roll out until about 1/3" thick. Cut with cutters. Place entire sheet of cut cookies, without removing from the wax paper sheet, on a baking sheet and place in freezer again for about 10 minutes. Remove once again from the freezer, and peel well-chilled cut dough from wax paper. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until just beginning to take on a light tan color and feel fairly firm to the touch. Cool completely on baking sheet.
If you turn 40 pounds of apples from our place into apple butter and wanted to share a pint or two, that would be nice, and would be about all the two of us could eat in a year. If your canned tomatoes taste better than mine, we'd love to try a jar! Or not. No strings are attached to this idea. This idea isn't meant as a commercial enterprise, but one of time and resource sharing. If there are certain vegetable varieties you'd like to see planted, we could probably even accommodate those garden requests. We just don't want to see what we've been given go to waste.

 Back Porch Swarm
August 30, 2011

And if any of you have the slightest idea how to harvest the honey that is currently being manufactured under my back porch by these busy bees, that would be fantastic!

What do you think of this idea? Could it work? Is it mutual? Is it fun? Is it useful? Would you come?


  1. Sounds like a great idea to handle the bounty of your property, next year! I would love to have a place like yours, but like you, I would be overwhelmed with all it would entail. Fingers crossed!

  2. Hi Pam,
    I wish I lived near your place..I live in North Carolina. I love farming and apple picking etc. Yes, I must make some applesauce! My mom always use to make it and I have made it for years! It is a personal favorite of mine!
    Hey, I do have a friend who lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Is this any where near you. I will send her your article. She is a single mom with a son and living on a limited income. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes! What is your full time job?
    Denise Carlin

  3. If only I lied near you! I would be SO happy to take you up on it! Good luck finding takers...

  4. lived - that was supposed to say lived near you...

  5. I'm guessing from the marionberry reference that you're on the west coast? That's sad if it's true because I'm on the east coast. I'd be there in a heartbeat otherwise.

    Another thing to consider is having a bloggers' "harvest party" sometime during the summer. While people can come get what they want, they can also can and preserve with you, showing you their tried-and-true methods and recipes while helping you keep some of that amazing produce. Just an idea.

    I do wish I lived closer.

  6. Find the closest farmers market and sell it there! Or send it ALL to me. LOL.

  7. Just say the word and I will be there with my entourage of helpful food pickers! I love this idea, and not just because I live close enough to make it happen. My request: sugar pumpkins! I just can't get enough of them and we don't have the space to grow many ourselves.

  8. What a great idea, Pam! I'll bet that a food pantry or homeless shelter near your office would be thrilled to get the extra produce. I know here in Indy we're encouraged to give our surplus to either. I'll try and dig out the tomato sauce recipe we used - which we loved and which is in a huge stack of recipes to be scanned in. Kate @kateiscooking

  9. Wow! Can't believe you the farmer. More power to you. When I was growing up, my dad, your grandfather had a 20x30 ft garden in the back yard. Good things grew there. Do you have your grandparents chilli sauce recipe? If not, I may have it. As you may remember, it was the best. Juanita

  10. If I lived next door we'd have no problem consuming all of it, or turning it into tasty stuff to trade!

    Wine, perhaps?


  11. I will TOTALLY come take extra produce off your hands next year! And so sad about slaving over tomato sauce that didn't taste good. I hate it when that kind of thing happens. I had a couple canning projects turn out badly this year. So many hours of work for such crappy results! Sigh. It happens, I suppose. But your applesauce sounds fantastic! I love your honesty, thanks for sharing. :)

  12. Your place sounds beautiful. It's funny when you have the courage to dream, often those dreams become reality - and in this case your "baby's" dream came true.

    Love that shortbread recipe - especially like that it has some egg in it.

  13. I live in Portland and would love to come down and help harvest. My city garden produced almost nothing this year, worms at the apples, fruit flys ate the raspberries. I did get some cherries but not enough to dry or freeze. The persimmons are starting to get ripe, those are great dried.
    Home Orchard Society in Oregon is a wonderful resource Here are some beekeepers in Oregon, there's often a fight over collecting wild honeybees.


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