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It’s guava season

Guava (Guayaba in Spanish)guavas

– is a delightfully fragrant fruit, revered and hated throughout the world. I love its smell and taste so much I can’t imagine hating it, though I know some folks don’t like their smell.

Here in South Florida, commercial plantings are typically of big-fruited Asian varieties, harvested and eaten green. At this stage, they are crunchy like an apple, without much aroma, and often eaten with salt and a sprinkle of hot pepper – much like a green mango. However, there are many other varieties, and a few growers grow them for ripe eating. There are some closely-guarded groves with old-fashioned types, considered to have the most flavor. Many years ago, guavas escaped into the wild – thus they are classified as invasive and not recommended for planting here. Not that there’s much wild left here…

Wild guavas exhibit a lot of variability. They could be small or large-fruited, oval, round or even pear-shaped, with creamy white, yellow, orange, pink or red interior, and they vary from subacid to sweet in flavor.

No matter what kind of guava you grow, though, in South Florida we have a terrible problem with fruit flies. Often, by the time the fruit ripens, they are completely infested with squirming larva that hatch in the center pulp and eat their way out.Ripening is what triggers the hatching.  Many growers spray pesticides, and also bag the fruit in a cloth or plastic bag to prevent the fly from laying eggs in the fruit. When you see a field full of “bag trees” – think guavas!

Guavas can produce multiple crops throughout the year, with a heavy crop in late summer and often a light crop around December. It’s guava season now, and it’s time to take advantage of the bounty.

What to make with the windfall? First, harvest them just before they start to turn soft and yellow. This will minimize the hatching and development of fruit fly larva inside the fruit. The eggs will still be there, and maybe some young ‘uns, but as I like to say, “it’s 33% protein”. When harvested early, they’re confined to the seedy pulp, which can still be processed to make jam, guava butter, juice, and other delicious things. Why can you do this? because the seeds are so hard you’ll end up straining the seeds out, along with the buggies, leaving delicious pulp. But if you’re a die-hard vegan, stay away, because there will always be some tiny eggs slipping through and even some tiny larva, all completely harmless. Squeamish? get over it, and you’ll enjoy much deliciousness.

My favorite way to deal with guavas is to make “Cascos de Guayaba” with the shells, and guava butter with the pulp. They’re both very easy to make. Sometimes I get inspired and make guava leather with the pulp (heavenly, with some cinnamon and hot pepper). You can also make juice with the strained pulp.

Cascos de Guayaba  aka Guava Shells guava-shells

(and bonus pulp for other recipes)

  • Wash a bunch of guavas (as many as you’d like to use).
  • Remove any left-over sepals sticking out from the end of the fruit and lightly trim off the rough end.
  • Cut each guava in half. Using a spoon, remove the inside seedy pulp, taking care not to dig into the shells. (Set the seedy pulp aside for guava marmalade, guava butter, or even juice.)
  • In a deep saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. The amount of sugar you use depends on how sweet and thick you want the end result. You can make a light syrup or a heavy syrup, to taste. Add a stick of cinnamon, and (optional) 3 or 4 pieces of star anise. Also optional: the juice of 1 lemon or lime, and a very small pinch of salt.
  • When the syrup is boiling, cook the guava shells in batches. Don’t overfilll the pan, so you don’t damage the shells as they cook. The longer they cook, the softer and darker they will get. Again, this is to taste, so play until you like the results.
  • Carefully remove the cooked shells from the boiling syrup and put them in a bowl or a jar. Repeat, until you’ve finished cooking all the guavas. Pour the syrup over the cooked shells, and cool.
  • Serve chilled, with a dollop of cream cheese (the traditional Cuban way), drizzled with some of the syrup. Save the extra syrup to use on pancakes or angel-food cake, or use as a deliciously-flavored sweetener.

What to do with the seedy pulp you saved?

If you have a macerating juicer (the kind with an Archimedean screw (it looks like a long corkscrew), it works great to separate the pulp from the seeds before cooking. Dump the seeds – they are really hard, and do NOT soften in cooking. If you don’t have one of these handy devices, don’t despair.
  • Cook the pulp (with or without the seeds) in enough water to encourage the pulp to separate from the seeds. If making guava butter or leather, don’t add a ton of water, or you’ll be stirring it for hours while all that extra water evaporates.
  • When it’s sufficiently soft, strain the seeds out and save the pulp. I like to extract every last scrap of pulp, so I will often pour a bit of water through the strainer and scrape the strainer to get more of the goodies. Be careful, though – too much scraping and you might push some seeds through.
  • Sweeten to taste (you need less than you think, because as the water evaporates it will concentrate the sweetening power). If you feel the need, look up an apple butter or a jam recipe to get an idea of amount of sugar to use per cup of pulp. I always cut it to half of what the recipes say, but that’s me – I don’t like super sickly sweet jams.
  • Add a bit of lime juice (optional). If have a lot of syrup left over from the guava shells, you can use it in place of some of the water and sugar.
  • You don’t need pectin with guava, as they have their own.
  • Cook slowly, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Start with a medium heat, then lower the temperature as it thickens, so it doesn’t burp in your face.
  • For apple butter, you need it thick enough that it will spread on a slice of toast without being runny. You can keep going, and make jam or marmalade. In that case, use a thermometer, or use the “sheet test” – scoop up a spoonful and slowly let it drip off the side of the spoon. If it comes off in a curtain or a sheet instead of pouring off in drips, it’s ready. Pour it into a jar, cap, let cool and refrigerate. If you want to keep it shelf-stable, then run it in a canner (canner).

Fruit leather

If you want to make fruit leather, you’ll need a dehydrator, with silicone trays or sheets. Cook it to the butter stage, then spread it out on the trays – not too thick, as it will run off the edges. Dehydrate at 115 – 130, rotating trays if necessary, until it’s leathery. Roll them off the sheets, cut the rolls into 2″ sections and wrap indivirually in wax paper. Store in a ziploc bag. To prevent spoilage due to our high humidity, I like to keep my dried fruit in the refrigerator. It lasts indefinitely that way.

Juice

For guava juice or nectar, it’s best to have a macerating juicer, so you don’t have to deal with the seeds. You can also use a blender, adding water first. Pulse a few times. Don’t blend too long, or you will break up the seeds into tiny shards that will make your juice “sandy”. Strain the liquid, using a wooden spoon to stir the glob inside the strainer. Pour more water into the strainer to help extract more of the pulp from the seeds. Repeat a few times. Throw out the seeds.
Add more water to the pulp and sugar to taste, or sweeten with some of the syrup from the guava shells you made earlier. Chill and drink. Stir before serving.
Enjoy!
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Farm Day! our annual open house – everyone’s invited

Farm Day 2014

Tomato Madness – peak of the season

Heirloom tomatoes at season's peak

Heirloom tomatoes at season’s peak

With names like Podland Pink, Gold Medal, Black Cherry, Opalka, Green Grape, Zelta Gaelis, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Lime Green Salad, Cherokee Purple, Homestead 24, Chocolate Stripes….my mouth waters when I gaze upon these beauties. It’s peak of season for these old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes. We have over 60 varieties planted out on the farm – many of our tried and true favorites, and always a few new ones to explore.

Come to our booth at the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers market tomorrow (9-3). Buy yourself an assortment. Enjoy the amazing variety of colors, sizes, shapes and flavors. Take note of which ones you’d like to grow for yourself next fall. We’ll be selling the starts in October at our second annual GrowFest! event at the Redland Fruit & Spice Park.

In the meantime, munch upon these yummy jewels now, because pretty soon they’ll be done for the season.

See you at the market!

…around the farm the past few weeks

Preparing the rows for planting – after we form the beds with the tractor, we add fertilizer and level off the tops. If our soil was a couple of inches deeper, the bedder attachment would have done this for us – it almost does it in some of the deeper soil areas (6″-8″ mounded). Pretty good for our “shallow, Krome gravelly soils”, as the USGS labels them.

IMG_5486Here I’m documenting what’s being planted in the rows. This is good farming practice, and is required recordkeeping for organic certification. Why? These kinds of records allow the farmer to keep track of what’s planted where, so s/he can maintain a rotation plan for the crops, helping to keep crop-specific pests and diseases minimized, and prevent excessive soil nutrient depletion.
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The baby Lacinato Kale plants are coming right along, with their drip irrigation delivering water right to the root zone of the plant, where it is needed.

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These D’Avignon French Breakfast radishes are popping out of the ground, ready to be harvested. Yummy!

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Just a few weeks later, here’s those kale plants last week, nearly ready for first harvest as bunches. Look for some at the market on Sunday, and soon in the CSA shares.

IMG_5955farm pictures courtesy of Marian Wertlka-RedlandRambles.com

 

Proud to announce: Rachel’s Eggs ranked 4th by Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute recently updated their Organic Egg Scorecard. Our certified organic Rachel’s Eggs have been ranked 4th among over 120 farms across the nation, with 2160 of a possible 2200 points and a “5-egg” rating (2001-2200): “Exemplary”—Beyond Organic!

Here’s the link to their latest report; http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/

click here to see OUR scorecard, with 100 points in 19 of 22 categories!

Our assortment of heritage breed hens rotate around our farm’s avocado grove in their chicken tractors, a bottomless pen designed to keep them safe from predators. They’re moved at least twice a week to fresh pasture, where they scratch around for goodies. They’re supplemented with certified organic, soy-free, non-GMO feed. During the wintertime, our eggs are snapped up as add-on egg shares by our CSA members, with a waiting list. Between mid-April and October, when the CSA isn’t operating, anyone can purchase our eggs though our ‘summer offers’ program.

Our other local organic egg producer, PNS Farms, who we mentored a few years back, has a 5 rating as well, with 2120 points out of 2200. Our CSA members also enjoy their eggs.

Missed GrowFest! 2012? Here’s a second chance to get your seedlings…

seedlings

What: Heirloom tomato (and other) seedlings for sale, and a few other goodies plus Rachel’s eggs, smoked eggs, Fruits of Summer dried fruit mix, honey, the new book Field to Feast, feed for your plants…

When:  THIS Saturday, November 3rd

Hours: 10am-2pm

Where: at the farm  (note the farm is not normally open to the public, so if you miss out, please don’t come another day-your next chance will be Dec 2nd when we return to Pinecrest Gardens market)

Directions to the farm: go West on Bauer Drive (SW 264th St) to Redland Road (187th Ave). CONTINUE on Bauer Drive across the intersection, for 1/3 mile.  Look for the flags and signs. Watch for a 7′ coral rock pyramid on your left (driver’s) side. You’re here! You’ll see our farm sign hanging on the fence. Park along the swale, and enter by the West gate, on the gravel driveway. Proceed all the way to the big metal building at the rear. (don’t bother asking for the address-you won’t get here with it-trust me-just follow the directions above. For you GPS addicts, look for zip code 33031-1787, and FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ABOVE!

See you there!

…aaaand, we’re BACK!

After a dormancy approaching 2 years (really? really!! time flies!), I realized it’s time to crank up this blog again – just in time for the new season.  We didn’t REALLY fall off the face of the earth. We’ve continued to send out emails, and have been active on Facebook, with some Tweeting thrown in from time to time, but I know that a number of our fans don’t “do” Facebook, not everyone is on our email list, and many don’t appreciate being bombarded with constant emails. So, I’m brushing off the rust, oiling the gears…ready to blog it!

Lots of things have happened in the intervening months. It’s the cycle of  life on a farm – preparing, planting crops, weeding, harvesting, selling, delivering, removing, recharging, then starting all over again. And in between each one, there’s weeding, dealing with unexpected stuff – sometimes good, sometimes not – more weeding, and in the summer, mowing and mowing and mowing – oh, and weeding! Then somewhere in the mix, throw in a crop of baby chicks to replenish the flock, after decimation by coyote and feral dogs… yep, life on the farm is NEVER boring.

Bee Heaven Farm collage

Last year on the farm

We saw new markets start, and others die out. The Homestead Market at Losner Park and the Overtown Market on 10th Street did not return in 2011-2012, and were sorely missed. But the slightly less hectic pace let us concentrate on the Pinecrest Gardens Green Market, where we had a great season. We’ll be back in Pinecrest in December.

Last year we started using Farmigo’s  CSA software system. We’ve fully automated our CSA enrollment process and are now able to offer more flexibility with share options and payment plans. In the summertime, when the CSA isn’t running and we don’t sell at the farmers market, we’ve always had a prepaid system (open to anyone) to order seasonal summer items – mainly tropical fruit. We implemented Farmigo’s webstore functions for this, and expanded our summer pickup locations to include the Upper Eastside Market, where our more northerly customers could pick up their orders without having to schlep down to Joanna’s Marketplace in the Dadeland area or to the farm in Redland. That’s worked out really well!

Our CSA options expanded last year, with the discovery of locally-grown Sem-Chi certified organic rice right in the Clewiston area barely 100 miles from the farm, and the debut of local salt farmers Midge & Tom with their Florida Keys Sea Salt. As more local organic (or pesticide-free) producers come online, we continue to develop additional stability and more variety in the shares.  We’re always looking for new crops, too. We have an amazing opportunity in South Florida to explore tropical food crops not available in the rest of mainland USA, and we’re all about that! Of course, Mother Nature always has the last word.

…see you around!


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