Memphis Backyard Farmer

Memphis’ Second Annual Farm To Table Conference
January 20, 2012, 4:28 am
Filed under: Cooking, Memphis, Policy, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , ,

In case you haven’t heard, Memphis’s second Farm To Table Conference is happening Monday, February 6 from 8 – 5 at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. Last year’s conference was great. I met lots of folks from all over the Memphis/Shelby County area involved with everything from growing to selling to cooking – even making policy.

For more details, check out this link on Facebook.

Me, Oh My, Can You Say Pie?
January 20, 2012, 4:20 am
Filed under: Cooking, Gardening | Tags: , , ,

In my last post I told you about my excellent luck in scoring some free winter squashes, and I promised to give you a few recipes for making use. So here’s me making good on my promise.

Let’s start with pie.

First of all, let me say that this is not my recipe for pumpkin pie. In fact, I’m technically not giving you a recipe, I’m expanding and expounding on’s pumpkin pie, which you can find here. I was particularly jazzed about this mixture after I found that it called for a cup of honey, which we try to feature in our cooking whenever possible.

I wanted to say a few things about preparing your pumpkin for pie. There are a few tips at the top of the Allrecipe article about cooking pumpkin, but in my experience, you can do a bit more to make your pumpkin ready for pie.

First of all, make sure it’s done. I split my pumpkin in half, clean the seeds out, and place it face down on a cookie sheet. Allrecipes says to oil it – good idea. Be sure that you cook the heck out of it. Use a fork and test both the outside flesh, which is always a bit tougher, and the inside meat. Both should be squishy. I’ve cooked a lot of spaghetti squash, and when it’s done, it’s incredibly tender. If you have to use any effort to scrape the shells, then it’s not done. Your pumpkin should have the same feel, all the way through. If there’s any give when you puncture it with your fork, let it cook some more.

Second – and this is more important if you’re cooking pie, rather than soup – strain your pumpkin. After you’ve spooned the meat from the shell and let it cool, blend it so that it’s uniform and smooth. But before you call it “done”, use a wire strainer to strain off extra liquid. Some pumpkins still have a lot of moisture to them, and it tends to separate when you cook the pie. It’s heartbreaking to pull a soggy pie out of the oven when you’ve poured so much effort into that homemade, from scratch crust. If you don’t drain the extra liquid, you’ll end up with a pie swimming in pumpkin juice. It’s still great, mind you, but it doesn’t have that firm texture that pumpkin pie should have.

Third, there’ one characteristic spice in pumpkin pie around my house, and that’s nutmeg. There is no nutmeg in this recipe, therefore it cannot actually be called pumpkin pie. Add some.

And, last, as good as this is, throw in a bit more cinnamon, closer to 3/4 or 1 teaspoon.

Sweet Cucurbits!
January 4, 2012, 7:26 am
Filed under: Cooking, Gardening | Tags: , ,

It’s not that I’m weird, I’m just cheap. But two of the most exciting events for me over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays was scoring a free pumpkin and a free acorn squash. It amazes me how these fantastic winter squashes have become mere decorations, with people throwing them out once they’ve outlasted their seasonal aesthetic value. I received the pumpkin from a friend when she tore down her Halloween party, and the acorn squash was found on the side of the road, having rolled off a float during the town Christmas parade.

Okay, so maybe I’m a little weird.

I love winter squashes because they’re so much sweeter than their summer cousins, and because their shelf-life is so long. With proper care, they’ll keep all winter long. And even though I scored mine for free, you can pick up most squash for a few bucks, and get several meals out of them. From my medium pumpkin, we made two pumpkin pies, two pots of pumpkin soup, and roasted the pumpkin seeds for a snack. The smaller acorn squash made a baked squash casserole and a baked sweet-potato / squash dish that was better than any baked sweet potatoes I’ve ever had. Heck, if you can feed my bunch (two adults, three teens, and two pre-teens) on just a few bucks, then I’m sold.

Over the next few posts I’m going to give you a few recipes we used to prepare our squashes. But to prepare you, a little education. Here’s a great video (albeit a little long) from “Your Produce Guy” about these garden beauties.

December Hive Update
January 3, 2012, 4:38 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping | Tags: , ,

To say it’s been a weird winter in Memphis so far would be an understatement. Last week we had consistent days over 60 degrees, and the week before was solid 50’s. Today it’s 43 degrees, and we’re expecting it to dip down in the 20’s.

Since the temp was so high on Friday (65), I decided it was a great excuse to go visit all the hives. Bees will become active when the temp is in the 50’s, and my bees in the back yard were licking up some combs (I extracted some honey the week before). I don’t like to go into the hives in winter unless I have a good warm day. If you open a hive on a cold day, you risk breaking the cluster – where heat is generated – and risk killing a large number of bees. So Friday was perfect.

What I found was mostly good news. I left plenty of honey stores on the hives this fall and, surprisingly, they were still quite full. I say surprisingly since the bees have been so active. It’s a novelty to see bees out flying in the winter. It’s nice, and I enjoy watching them. But the truth is, it’s also dangerous. The bees are out looking for forage, and at this time of year there’s little to offer (although my leatherleaf mahonias are providing a little food due to the unseasonably warm temps). And since there isn’t much to eat, they’ll turn to the one food source they have – honey stores. So I really thought that they would have eaten more of their summer surplus. I brought sugar syrup along to supplement, but only had to feed one hive.

Which leads me to another subject. I’ve said before that I like to use Russian bees. They don’t produce as much as Italians, but they overwinter well, and because they’re hygenic, they have proven – in my apiaries – to resist mite infestation. And true to form, these hives are strong. I also started a hive using a queen from Wolf Creek Apiaries this year. Their bees are small-cell bees, and are “mutts” – crosses of feral bees from middle-Tennessee, Russians, Italians, and Carnolians. This hive was strong as well. My Italians, however, were performing as expected: poorly. Honestly, I never thought they’d make it through last winter, but they did. I’d take bets that they won’t make it through this winter. The cluster was extremely small, with little honey left, and they had a smell that’s characteristic of a sick hive. I fed them and pulled the empty honey super off the hive to allow less room for the invasion of critters, and to give the bees less area to heat. But I’m betting that by the time I check a gain in January these gals will be dead. I’m a little sad – they were good honey producers this summer. But I’ve never had good luck with Italians.

That’s this month’s hive update. How are YOUR hives faring so far?