Our First Hunterdon County 4H Fair

We’ve lived in Hunterdon County for three summers now and one of our favorite things to do as summer draws to a close is to visit the Hunterdon County 4H Fair.  We love ogling all the animals (and imagining what our lives would be like if they were part of our family): the snuggly alpacas, the massive milking cows, the newborn baby cows, the fluffy sheep, the majestic horses and the adorable goats.  With a year of chicken keeping under our belts, we knew a thing or two as we walked the poultry aisle admiring all the roosters and exotic breeds.

This year was a new adventure for us because it was the first time ever that we entered some of our produce and flowers.  I looked up the requirements on a whim last weekend and when I saw how easy it was to enter we decided to give it our best shot and enter anything that looked good.

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Gourds were hand picked (and gummed) by Violet!

We ended up entering a total of fifteen fruits, veggies and flowers.  I thought that we would at least take home one ribbon, but when I saw that nearly two hundred exhibitors had already entered as I was checking in, I wasn’t so sure!

 

Judging began promptly at 3pm the Tuesday before the fair opens and exhibitors could return that night after 7pm to see if they won.  We were really pushing it with Violet’s bedtime but I couldn’t contain my excitement and I just had to see if we won anything!  We were surprised and so excited to find out that we won 10 ribbons!!!

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1st place for biggest sunflower head!!!

 

  • Nebraska Wedding 3rd Place
  • Wapsipinicon Peach 1st Place
  • Mortgage Lifter 3rd Place
  • Rutgers 250 2nd Place
  • Wee Be Little 2nd Place
  • Jack Be Little 1st Place
  • Kale 2nd Place
  • Largest Sunflower Head 1st Place
  • Tallest Sunflower 3rd Place
  • Largest Squash 2nd Place

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While I don’t hope to compete for first place in the tallest sunflower, (you would need a flatbed trailer to deliver this year’s winner!), I do hope to enter a few more categories next year and this may influence what we decide to grow next year.  If you would like to taste our award winning tomatoes, visit our farm stand on Route 519 in Rosemont!!

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News from the Coop at Pretty Bird Farm

We have a rooster!  Or at least two!  (Please don’t let there be more than two). Our Blue Ameracauna has been looking a little suspicious for the past few weeks. It’s nearly twice the size (at 4 months) of some of our older girls from last year!  I kept telling myself it must just be a big breed… it would crow if it was a rooster… and it hasn’t crowed yet – until it did!  Clear as day, cock-a-doodle-roo!  Now that I look at them I think at least two of our four Blue Ameracuanas are roosters.  (so much for 90% accuracy with sexing day old chicks!)  The few blue eggs we get will be extra special now!

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These two Ameracauna are the same age.  The rooster on the left is much larger than the hen on the right.  See the subtle difference in tail feathers?  This rooster’s tail is going to be majestic when he’s full grown!

After doing a little research and consulting my friends from the Hunterdon County Backyard Chickens Facebook Group, we have decided to keep our two roosters – as long as they play nice.  Apparently there is such a thing as ‘gentle roosters’ that don’t fight and don’t beat up the ladies.  As long as these two behave themselves, they can stay.  And John came up with names for them so now they are pets!  The lighter blue rooster above is Stonewall Jackson and the darker blue below is General Sherman.  Wish us luck!

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Is this a gentle face?

And, in case you were wondering, there is no difference in the taste or appearance of a fertilized egg versus a non-fertilized egg.  As long as the eggs are collected daily, they will remain just that – just eggs.  If we want to expand our flock one day all we have to do is let fertilized eggs incubate for 21 days!

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Everyone else is minding their own business, but the roosters are keen to my plans!

If you would like to learn more about fertilized eggs, The Chicken Chick (one of my favorite chicken resources) wrote a great blog post on it: Facts and Myths about Fertile Eggs.

I was hoping to catch a rooster crowing by the time I posted this but he didn’t cooperate.  So here is a flashback to our little Violet checking out the chickens instead:

This kid loves #chickens! #prettybirdfarm #hunterdoncounty #delawaretwp #chickenchat #farmerviolet

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Ball Field Day 2016

If you know us personally, then you know Pretty Bird Farm is not our full time gig (just yet!).  John and I both have full time day jobs.  John sells grape juice for David Bowler Wine and I work for Ball Horticultural, the industry leader in plant breeding and distribution.  Ball develops new plants and sells the seeds or cuttings to the greenhouses that grow for the garden centers you buy your plants from.

Each year, the last Friday in July has been reserved for Ball Field Day, where Ball opens their West Chicago facility to their customers and other industry professionals for a day of education and touring the Gardens at Ball.  Visitors spend the day in seminars, with product experts, tasting tomatoes and gaining inspiration.

Imagine working for a company with nine acres of display gardens right outside of your office window!  It is a good thing I work from my home office in NJ and they are out in West Chicago, Illinois.  I don’t know how I would get any work done if I had that tempting me to walk around every day!

The following collection of photos is just a quick glimpse of the beauty that is The Gardens at Ball.  I didn’t take that many pictures this year because it rained half the day and technically, I was working. Here are a few of my favorite views as well as a few plants on my wishlist for next year.  Please excuse my rainy day camera skills, these were all taken with my cell phone:

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Every Garden needs a Skyframe!

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I love seeing flowers mixed in in the veggie garden!

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Who knew the flowers on Okra were this pretty!  This is Baby Bubba, a new compact Okra for small spaces.  These are only about knee high and growing a ton of fruit!

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On my wishlist for next year: Rudbeckia Autumn Colors

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Also on next year’s wishlist: Jolt Dianthus.  This would make a beautiful cut flower and the smell is divine!

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These may not look impressive in late July, but the Brazelberries line of compact blueberries and thornless raspberries are awesome!  They are neat and tidy for small spaces and yield a ton of fruit (in June)!  We planted Pink Icing in our garden this year.

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Even in the rain, the Wave Petunias tunnel is breathtaking!

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In the trial beds, new varieties are planted alongside the old standards so you can compare new colors, habits, flower sizes or disease tolerances.

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Have you ever seen Angelonia this color?  No, because it’s brand new from Ball Flora Plant!

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This is probably my favorite new introduction from Burpee Home Gardens.  Cupcake Squash is a hybrid cross between Zucchini and Patty Pan.  The fruit is shaped like a Patty Pan but has the thin edible skin of a Zucchini!  As soon as these ripen I will be blogging how we eat them-it is such a fun squash for stuffing!  There are only 3 plants in this gigantic mound!   Garden Model: Mike Annes

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Check out this three sided vertical garden planted by Ball Floral Plant!

And finally, this is the front entrance to the Ball Horticultural corporate offices in West Chicago, IL.  Every time I visit I am blown away at how beautiful it is!  What if all Corporate Offices planted flowers instead of lawns?

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And that concludes my favorite photos from Ball Field Day 2016.  You would not believe how many plants and beautiful spaces I didn’t take pictures of.  For more pictures from Ball Field Day, see what my colleagues shared by searching for the keyword #ballfieldday on Twitter and Instagram.  Tiffany

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Tomato Everything

It’s August in New Jersey, and if you aren’t eating three square meals of tomatoes a day you are doing something wrong.  Okay, I’m exaggerating. However, as high season for tomatoes is upon us and we are picking daily.  And natural, we are eating them at least one meal per day.  We sell our prettiest tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with a split or cracked one, they just need to be eaten sooner.  And with that, here is a recap of our weekend of tomatoes.

Tomato Sandwiches

Nothing says Summer in Jersey like a sandwich with warm tomatoes picked just off the vine.  Make it a balanced meal with a few dollops of pesto or ricotta – or both!

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Pineapple Heirloom Tomato, Fulper Family Farmstead Ricotta & Last Year’s Frozen Pesto

Tomato Sauce

In celebration of our beautiful Violet coming into our lives we are calling this year’s batch, Violet’s Blend.  And because she graces us with the occasional nap to give us time to preserve summer’s bounties, our first twelve pints of tomato sauce are under our belts!

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It's that time of year! #tomatosauce #prettybirdfarm #tomatoes #whatsfordinner #harvest #gardenchat #instafood #foodie

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While I would by no means consider myself an expert canner, we have been preserving tomatoes for about a decade now.  I think tomatoes are the easiest thing to preserve and they are one of the most gratifying things to open up in the dead of winter.  In case you were wondering how easy it is, this is how we preserve our tomatoes in a hot water bath:

  1. Peel tomatoes. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the skins in your sauce, they won’t hurt you, I just prefer my sauce without the curled up skins.  We have a food mill that cranks the meat of the tomato out quick, but you can also skin them the old fashioned way by dropping them in a pot of boiling water for a minute, and then dropping them in a bowl of ice cold water-the skins peel off super easy.
  2. We cooked down a big pot of peeled tomatoes for about an hour to thicken them up and evaporate off some of the water. You can skip this step too if you don’t mind watery sauce-you can always thicken it up when you use it down the road.
  3. Sterilize your jars. Boil clean Ball Jars for about 20 minutes.  Rings and seals I just dip in the boiling water as I am closing up the jars-you are not supposed to boil the seals because this could damage them and prevent them from sealing correctly.
  4. Fill the sterilized jars with your tomato sauce! Make sure to leave a ½ inch of head space at the top to give them room to expand during the sealing process.  Fill them too much and they might burst.  Each pint gets a teaspoon of lemon juice to guarantee they are acidic enough to prevent spoiling.  *Make sure your sauce and your jars are approximately the same temperature when filling.  You don’t want to put cold sauce into hot jars-this could crack them.
  5. Screw on clean lids and boil for 40 minutes. *Note this time works for us at sea level, if you are at a higher elevation I would check with a Ball Canning Guide for processing times.

Two good websites I would recommend you consult when canning are: www.pickyourown.org and www.freshpreserving.com.

Tomato Jam

Yes you can make tomato Jam!  It is great on crusty bread and I like to use it as a substitute for ketchup.  We made tomato jam a few years ago and we just ran out.  I roughly followed this recipe http://pickyourown.org/tomatopreserves.htm with a few changes.  They said the spices were optional, so I substituted what I had on hand: smoked paprika, cayenne pepper & ginger.  And I skipped the pectin.  I think it gives more of a store bought jelly appearance and I didn’t think it was necessary.  The jam came out great and I will definitely make another batch later this season.

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Tomato Pizza

I am really enjoying this habit we are getting back into of a weekly pizza night.  Of course John does all the work, and all I have to do is agree to it, so it really is the perfect meal!  Check out this beautiful pie he created with our Black Krim, Pineapple, Nebraska Wedding and Wapsipinicon Peach Heirlooms!  This time we topped it with a mix of barrel Feta from the Stockton Market and a few dollops of Fulper Farm’s Ricotta:

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For more info on how to make your own pizza, check out this recipe: strawberry pizza

Tomato Pie

And in case you missed one of our greatest creations, click here for tomato pie!

Have a great week! Tiffany, John & Violet

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What’s for Dinner: Stuffed Acorn Squash

My friend Stacey made this beautiful stuffed Cupcake Squash last week:

 

And anyone that saw it was literally drooling over the picture!  While our cupcakes are not ripe just yet, as soon as I saw these two beautiful white acorn squash in the garden yesterday, I knew we too were destined for stuffed squash!

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White Acorn Squash

We cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, basted it with olive oil, and roasted it cut side up in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350F until the flesh was nice and tender.

 

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No garden or kitchen refuse goes to waste in our house and our chickens were over the moon excited about their first squash seeds of the season!

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What do our chickens eat?  Only the healthiest table scraps (no carbs 🙂 ), organic chicken feed, & organically grown bugs and weeds!

For the stuffing: a mix of quinoa, a chopped Black Krim tomato, local New Jersey sweet corn, minced rosemary and basil, and a pinch of salt-topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella. And then the squash goes  back into the oven until the mozz is a beautiful melty mess!  Optional: once the mozzarella is melted, turn on the broiler for about 20 seconds to give it a nice roasted mozzarella finish (don’t take your eyes off it, it will toast up quick!).

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Tomato: Black Krim, Hand Model: John

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Violet joined us via baby monitor.  In the decanter: Bandol – Tour du Bon 2010

It’s our first time growing this squash that we acquired from a seed exchange hosted by our friends from the Rosemont Café.  So far I like the compact habit and the stark white color of the fruit makes them easy to spot in our very green squash/melon patch.  After this meal, I cannot wait for more!

If you haven’t had enough of this beautiful acorn squash yet, click here for an adorable video of our Violet inspecting our first squash harvest:

 

 

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Rainbow Tomato Pie

Although we did make it out to the garden early for some tomato picking and cut flower arranging, the rain kept us inside for most of the day today.  Things sure do jump when we get a few days of thunderstorms sprinkled in between the sunny days.  And sometimes with all that growth you get cracked tomatoes, which calls for immediate consumption!

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Fresh cut flowers for our farm stand!

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A few of our favorite heirloom tomatoes: Mortgage Lifter, Nebraska Wedding, Black Krim, Wapsipinicon Peach, Pineapple

I’ve seen a few tomato pie recipes floating around on social media, but when I went hunting for recipes I decided to make my own without mayo, lard or shortening.  Here’s the how-to:

Hot Water Crust (Yes, this is a nod to The Great British Baking Show! If you haven’t seen it set, your DVR now!)

  • 6 tbsp butter-this mixes way easier if the butter is room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp milk
  • 1/8 cup boiling water
  • 1 & 1/4 cups flour

For the Filling

  • Tomatoes-about 4 medium sized tomatoes (In this pie: 1 Mortgage Lifter, 1 Black Krim, 1 Nebraska Wedding, 1 Pineapple, 2 Wapsipinicon Peach)
  • A handful of fresh basil
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • ½ lb mozzarella
  • A few dollops of ricotta

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Directions:

Make the crust: Mix butter, salt, milk and boiling water in a large bowl.  Go ahead and use the food processor if your butter is cold.  Once that is all together, mix in the flour until it all comes together in a soft, smooth dough.  Press the dough into your 9” pie dish.  There is quite a bit of butter in the crust, but I lightly buttered the pie dish as well-just in case!

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John and Violet clowning around while I prepped dinner!

Preheat the oven to 400F

Slice your tomatoes and let them drain while the oven is preheating.  Arrange your tomatoes in a pretty layer with sliced mozzarella, tucking in bits of minced garlic, dollops of ricotta, and basil leaves as you make your way around the pie. Season with salt and pepper.

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Bake for about an hour or until the crust is golden brown and the tomatoes and mozzarella bubble and bind together.  Cooking time may vary due to moisture content in the tomatoes and cheese.  Let pie set and cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.

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I’d love to tell you that this pie feeds a lot of people, but the two of us just ate the entire thing.  And it was wonderful.

Pair with a rosé from Provence or a minerally Chablis. Stay away from wines that are overly ripe, as the more forward new world flavors often (but not always) clash with the tomatoes.

Enjoy! Tiffany & John
 

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What’s for Dinner: Strawberry Pizza

Last year we installed a huge strawberry garden, 800 plants or so in a 1,600 square foot space.  And then I got pregnant with Violet and found myself unable to help with any of the farm maintenance.  Our strawberry patch became overrun with waist high weeds and most of our plants didn’t make it over the winter.

I think it’s important to try everything 3 times before thoroughly giving up, so this spring we replanted 90% of the patch.  It is now a medley of varieties we picked up from a few different garden centers.  Some are June bearing, some are ever bearing, which means we are still picking berries right now!

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This is us planting strawberries in May.  Shhhh!  The baby is sleeping!

Food & Wine Magazine posted this strawberry tart last week: https://www.instagram.com/p/BH7Wpchhao-/ which inspired us to make Strawberry Pizza for dinner at Pretty Bird Farm.  It was my idea, but really John did all the work, since he’s the one that has mastered the perfect pizza crust.

Strawberry Pizza

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Ingredients:

For the Toppings

For the Crust

  • Antimo 00 flour
  • a few pinches of sugar, salt, and a splash of water
  • 1 package dry yeast: I also think it is worth mentioning, that when you buy packaged yeast, make sure the ingredients just say yeast!  I don’t know who came up with the idea to add artificial flavors to packaged yeast, but it just isn’t necessary.  Good thing John reads food labels!

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 500+ Degrees F

The Crust: John has never written down the recipe for the dough and it comes out a bit different each time he puts it together, but here is a rough idea how he does it:  First, mix a packet of yeast, a pinch or two of sugar, salt and water.  Let the mixture double or so in size. Then slowly mix in the flour – a bit at a time until the newly formed ball of dough is elastic and moist but no longer wet.  Allow the dough to rise and when you are ready to make the pizza, remove from the bowl and work it with a bit of flour on the pizza board. Be sure not to add too much flour or it will dry out. Roll or press out the dough into the shape of a pizza. The dough at Pretty Bird Farm isn’t an exact science, so take your time. Making a good dough takes plenty of practice and the good news is that even if it isn’t perfect, it should be delicious.

Toppings:  Cut the green tops off the strawberries and chop them up a bit.  Sauté about ¾ of the arugula in olive oil. Crumble or roughly chop up the cheese into small chunks.

Assembly:  Roll out the dough on a floured pizza board and slide it onto a preheated pizza stone.  Cook until the crust barely sets and then take it back out of the oven.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the crust and spread it out with a basting brush. Spread the toppings evenly over the crust: sautéed arugula, chopped strawberries, cheese chunks.  Top with the rest of the fresh arugula and cook until you see the crust start to brown and/or bubble – and make sure the cheese melts!  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar glaze (and I like to add salt and hot pepper) before serving!

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Optional: Enjoy with a cold glass of sparkling wine!

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Bon Appetit!
Tiffany & John

 

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