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Turkey Tracks: The Common Ground Fair 2010

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Turkey Tracks:  October 10, 2010

The Common Ground Fair 2010

I’m a bit behind on blog entries.  It’s been busy at Hillside House this fall.  But, we attended the Maine Organic Growers’ and Farmers’ Association (MOFGA) Fair, called The Common Ground Fair, on Saturday, September 25th.  As always, this fair is a highlight of our year.  The Common Ground Fair celebrates rural living, and we so enjoy spending at least one day a year formally doing just that kind of celebrating.

This year, my first cousin, Martha Louise Bryan Epton, aka Teeny, and her partner Lori Soles, embarked on a road trip from Georgia.  I was delighted that they came to see us and that they took our word about the fair and came with us–since they had so many wonderful things to see in Maine in a short period of time.  (They have assured me that they will be back, and we hope so!)  I was 11 years old when Teeny was born, so I have known her, literally, her whole life.

Here they are:  Teeny is on the left; Lori on the right.

The fair abounds with educational speakers, farm animals of all kinds, informational tents and demonstrations of all kinds, products for sale [solar panels, heating products, food, farm implements, fiber of all kinds (wool, angora from rabbits, sweetgrass, yarn), crafts, etc]), and delicious organic food to eat and drink.  It’s impossible to cover everything in one day, but we do our best.  Here are Indian baskets for sale:


We always try to see the sheep dog demonstration.  It’s John’s favorite I think.  Each year the sheep herder pits children against the sheep dogs to see which group can move and hold sheep, goats, and ducks the fastest.  This year it was really hot, the sheep and goats  were tired and hot, and the children won!  They couldn’t get the ducks into the circle of cones, however.  In any case, the audience was suitably impressed!  And I somehow do not seem to have a good picture of the dogs working.


I always go to the chicken house first.  Here is a shot of a little boy taking a good look at a bantam rooster and his mate who were somehow on the floor.  Most of the demonstration chickens are in eye-level cages.  The rooster was crowing like crazy, and the little boy was fascinated.  He was sitting in a sea of adult legs as the chicken house is a big draw for everyone.  It’s fun to see how many different kinds of chickens there are.


We saw jumping mules.  (I love mules.)   There’s a man who brings 10 mules to the fair ever year, and he harnesses them all up in beautiful harness, and has them pull something–a wagon, I think.  It’s quite something.  He says getting a mule is like eating potato chips:  you cannot have just one.  They live to be very old you know–30 to 50 years.   They don’t get a running start to jump.  They stand in front of the stake and just…jump!  This big boy with the glossy black coat–a beautiful creature–didn’t like this event.  He took one look at didn’t see the point, which is a very mule-like thing to do.  They are very, very smart.  The smaller mules went jumping over, and one of those won. 


And paired oxen teams.  Here are some good boys:

Here are other pairs of beautiful animals.  These horses are giving anyone who wants one a ride around the fair.  The blondes are, I think, work horse from Scandinavia.  I need to refresh on the name.  Maybe they are Haflingers?  A few years back we saw one of this type being really agitated in his stall because his partner was working and he was not.  When you watch these working animals, especially the horses, you begin to see that they love to do reasonable work.



And, here is a gorgeous merino ram from Rivercroft Farm in Starks, Maine.  They cover the sheep with burlap coats to keep the wool from being disturbed.  This boy won all sorts of prizes and is now the farm’s primary breeder.  Joe Miller showed us how he trims the wool from around the ram’s eyes so he can see well–which he must do as another of the rams might butt him and hurt him if he cannot see.  The horns are quite spectacular, aren’t they?

We saw people gathered together and singing for fun.  We recognized many of the songs used in the movie Cold Mountain, which, of course, are songs people used to sing together for fun in places like church.  It was really fun to hear the harmonizing and the quick beats and chants.

The stone masons are always at the fair.  Here they are demonstrating how to cut granite into blocks.  Once small holes are drilled and metal pegs are inserted, the mason has only to gently tap on the tops of the pegs in rotation for the stone to–amazingly–break apart in a clean line.  Drilling the holes takes time and really good drill bits.  The masons were also demonstrating how to build stone walls with an arched opening, outdoor ovens, and sculpture tools and work in progress. 

The wood workers also had all kinds of demonstrations, to include how to debark felled timber and how to cut it into planks by hand.  Boat builders were also demonstrating how to build sailing boats and canoes.

I love, too, the whimsey at the fair.  Here’s what I mean:

Grinning shovels (a welder demonstration) and awesome birdhouses!  

I’m always powerfully interested in what is growing at MOFGA and how they are growing it.  Each year the hoop houses get more interesting.  Here is a traditional hoop house–which, with inside row covers, allows for 4-season growing in the cold Maine climate.  The pioneer of this method is Eliot Coleman, who lives further north than we do–on the Blue Hill peninsula. 


Here is a “giraffe” hoop house that fascinated me.  It does not take up much space–a prime consideration for me with my tiny growing space, it’s easy to assemble, and it allows 4 paste tomato plants to fully ripen fruit.  We had a great tomato season this year, but even so, I brought in about 50 pounds of green paste tomatoes that just did not have enough time and warmth.  Here’s a solution. 

And, finally, the best for last:

Many, many varieties of fall pumpkins and squash–aren’t the white pumpkins interesting?

And, GREENS!  Collards and different types of kale:


Written by louisaenright

October 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Turkey Tracks: Cream of Tomato Soup

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Turkey Tracks:  September 29, 2010

Cream of Tomato Soup

Late blight hit our tomatoes over the weekend.  I went out Sunday to harvest and realized that the long row of plants were all infected.  If you didn’t know, last year infected  tomato plants from nurseries grown down south and shipped north–mostly by the big box stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart–wiped out the tomato harvest in New England.  Maine was no exception.  And, late blight also infects potatoes.  The spores from infected plants travel on air currents for as long a distance as forty miles. 

Given the fact that it rained here every day last summer for all of June, July, and the first of August last summer, my tomato plants did not grow and did get the blight.  I was able to harvest my potatoes, but the plants did have signs of the disease.  I carefully bagged all the plants and hoped for the best for this year.  We did not have a really cold winter, so I crossed my fingers.  Mostly, I think I got away with it as we’ve had a bumper crop of tomatoes before last Sunday–though many on the plants were still really green.  I think I need a small hoop house for the tomatoes.  I saw this one at the Common Ground Fair this year.  It’s called a giraffe hoop house, and it does not take up much space:


My potato plants seemed ok, though the harvest was light.  It’s been dry here this summer, and I was afraid to water too much as our well might go dry.  The tomatoes, as I’ve written, have been glorious!  I cannot complain.  But, I’ve spent a lot of time putting up sauce, and now I’m out of freezer space–especially since we just got our annual lamb for the freezer.  Thus, I started looking at other ways to use tomatoes.  And, voila!  I fell upon cream of tomato soup.  It’s dead easy and amazingly delicious!  I’ve combined recipes from several sources, so basically, I think it’s just mine.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Three or four pounds of ripe tomatoes–skinned, which is basically simple.  Just dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds or so, transfer them to cold water.  Use some ice if you have extra.  Take out the core with a small, sharp paring knife, slip off the skin, and drop the tomato into your pot.

Add 5 to 6 tablespoons of organic butter and some salt

Heat the whole mass, covered, until the tomatoes break down.  Cook, covered, for at least an hour.  Two is better.  There should be lots of liquid, but keep an eye on the pot so the liquid does not cook off.

Next, you have a choice.  I mix it up with a hand blender, which is an essential tool in my kitchen.  You could also put the hot soup into a blender and risk burning yourself.  You could mix it with a hand mixer.  You could strain it.  With the hand blender, I’m not straining out the seeds, but I don’t seem to notice them after I’ve used it. 

Next, you had heavy cream to the hot soup.  I am lucky to have local, organic raw cream.  Adding more dilutes the tomato taste, but makes the soup creamy.  Find the balance you like, season with additional salt if you like.

Eat and enjoy.  It’s beyond delicious if you’ve got good tomatoes! 


When we were done ripping out and bagging diseased plants on Sunday, we had two big boxes full of green tomatoes and beginning to ripen tomatoes.  We threw out the tomatoes that obviously were going to get late blight spots while ripening.   (Yukko!)  We wrapped the big Brandywines in newspaper and put them into a dark, cool closet.  We put the tomatoes that were tinged with color in the kitchen windows.  And, I cut up the green, hard paste tomatoes and put them into the dehydrator.  We’re going to have “dried green tomatoes” AND “fried green tomatoes.”  I plan to try adding them to soups and stews.  And, I’m going to try to reconstitute them and roast them with winter vegetables.  They should add a nice zing.

Roasting Green Tomatoes

One of my favorite food combos and recipes  in the fall is roasting green tomatoes cut into chunks, with dense sweet squash (like a buttercup) or sweet potatoes, with newly harvested small potatoes (like red or gold)   small, whole onions.   I toss them with olive oil, salt, and generous amounts of rosemary and/or thyme.  I’m pretty sure this combo comes from Anna Thomas’s THE VEGETARIAN EPICURE.  It doesn’t hurt to parboil the potatoes.  Roasting at 350 for about 45 minutes is about right.

Try it!  You’ll like it.     

I still have a pile of ripening tomatoes on the counter to process.  And, all the tomatoes in the kitchen windows, assuming they ripen without being ruined by late blight spots.  So, I’m not done with tomatoes yet. 

FEDCO sent our fall garlic yesterday–the planting of which is the last task in the garden.  Though the cold frame is loaded with seedlings just emerging.  And, oh yes, I have to clean this year’s garlic which is presently drying in the top of the garage.