Happy autumn! It seems like fall arrived all at once in Wisconsin. A delicious chill is in the air and the harvest moon has been rising heavy and deep orange over our field. In our area we’re already starting to see the a few leaves turning color and the first frost is undoubtedly just around the corner.
For us, the impending cold weather means that we’re hurrying to get work done on our new house. Progress is a bit slow when one of us is entertaining a busy toddler at all times, but we’re slowly making improvements to the outside of our old farmhouse. Our new roof is finally complete and we’re relieved to have our peace and quiet back. During the height of the roofing chaos I actually took our son and ran away to my mom’s for a few days. It’s a good thing we didn’t wait to replace the roof because the roofers discovered a big hole when they removed the old shingles! We’re very pleased with the way the metal shingles look on the house.
The roofers had to remove some of the upper shutters, so Frank took the opportunity to repaint them. Black and white is a bit austere for our taste, so we chose a cheerful blue. Here are before and after photos from when the roofers first began:
We’re keeping ourselves busy, to say the least. Over the past two weeks I’ve harvested a huge quantity of crisp, tangy and very juicy (although somewhat buggy) apples. We have four mature apple trees, and two of them are superb in flavor. I don’t even know what variety they are. I’ve made applesauce, apple juice, dried apple rings, frozen apple pieces, and ready-made frozen apple pie filling. Frank is doing his best to finish repainting peeling areas on the house and garage before winter comes, but we may have to save some for spring. We’re already putting in a few plants, including a cherry tree, a honeycrisp apple tree, three blueberry bushes, and some native perennials, purchased from a nearby nursery called Second Nature.
When we’re not busy working, we try to sit back and take in the tranquility of our surroundings and the beauty of the ever-changing sky. One advantage (maybe the only advantage) of having a toddler that wakes up at 5:30 am is that we get to see some gorgeous sunrises!
The weather at our new home has taken us somewhat by surprise. Here, just off the edge of the great plains, the wind always seems to be blowing and weather systems roll in with startling force and speed. It can be fun to watch from the safety of the porch. Rainclouds have actually dominated the sky for the last several weeks. Within the past week alone there have been two 500 year floods in our area (a flood so high that it has only a 0.2% chance of occurring during any given year), washing away a nearby home and resulting in two fatalities. Just days after we bought our seedlings, the majority of the inventory at the nursery was washed away. After the floods in West Virginia this summer this will be the second time this year our near neighbors fell victim to catastrophic flooding. We’re simultaneously saddened by the losses of our neighbors and grateful that our house is on high ground. I fear we’ll start to see a violent pendulum of weather extremes becoming the new normal in the coming years.
From the photo above you can get an idea of our current predicament: corn. We’re anxiously awaiting harvest time and the end of the lease on our fields, in the hopes of planting a cover crop of winter rye and red clover. Our fields have been in a consistent corn and soybean rotation for years, and now it’s time to give the soil a chance to recover.
Planting cover crops has a number of advantages for our plan to stop the cycle of herbicide application and weed regrowth. If we can get cover crops started this fall, they’ll start growing rapidly in the early spring and take over before the weeds have a chance to get established. Their roots will hold onto the topsoil and prevent it from washing away in the spring rains, a valuable service here on the ridge where we have the potential to become major contributors of runoff to the valleys and streams below. Next year as the rye and clover begin to grow they’ll act as natural fertilizers by adding organic matter to the soil. The red clover, like all legumes, is a nitrogen fixer, which means it will take nitrogen out of the air and, with the help of beneficial microbes, convert it to a form that is useable by plants.
Starting cover crops now would give us a great jump-start on our goal of rehabbing the soil and switching to organic methods, but depending on when the corn is harvested, there may be enough time. According to our trusty UW Agriculture Extension agent, we need about two weeks between planting and the first frost for the seeds to germinate and get established, or they won’t survive and we’ll have wasted our time and money. To further complicate things, it won’t stop raining! Rain will delay harvesting of the corn, which needs to be dry for storage. If we can’t get seeds in this fall, we’ll just have to wait until spring to plant cover crops.
Despite the inclement weather, growers are busy harvesting and the tables at the local farmers market are laden with the fruits of early autumn. Now is the time to enjoy the big, juicy heirloom tomatoes that are thankfully becoming more popular and easier to find. Some grocery chains even stock local heirloom tomatoes this time of year. One of my favorite ways to use tomatoes is on top of this creamy, flaky-crusted Goat Cheese and Tomato Pie.
This is a beautiful way to use fresh, handmade goat cheese if you’re lucky enough to get it, but goat cheese from the store will work well, too. Make sure to check whether your cheese is salted so you can adjust the salt level in your pie. This summer we got some super-fresh goat cheese from our friends at Cardinal Island Farms in Fayetteville, WV.
This recipe calls for sorrel, an ingredient that you may not see everywhere. Sorrel is a tender, easy-to-grow leafy green with a tart, astringent flavor. Because of its strong tangy flavor, sorrel benefits from being paired with something creamy like eggs or cheese. If you don’t have sorrel on hand, you can replace it in this recipe with spinach (either fresh or frozen) and a little lemon juice.
You can use any pie crust you choose, but I highly recommend trying my Whole Wheat Lard and Butter Pie Crust.
Once your crust if finished, the filling is simple. Sautée some onions and add your greens and nutmeg. When the crust comes out of the oven, spread the sautéed mixture into the bottom.
Make a custard by whisking together eggs, milk, salt and pepper.
Add crumbled up goat cheese, pour the custard into the pie shell and top with slices of tomato. Whenever I make a pie I usually overfill my pie shell and end up with a horrible mess in the bottom of my oven. I recommend putting your pie plate on top of a baking sheet to catch any overflow. You’ll be happy you did! Make sure to cover the edge of your pie crust so it doesn’t get too dark during baking.
Once your pie is baked, remove it from the oven and give it a jiggle to make sure the center of the custard has solidified, or insert a knife into the center. If it comes out clean, the pie is done. Allow it to cool for a few minutes before serving.
I like to pair this recipe with a fresh mixed green salad dressed with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette.
Goat Cheese and Tomato Pie
- 1 tablespoon butter or oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 3 cups chopped fresh sorrel leaves (can substitute spinach and 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 5 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups milk or milk substitute
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (use more salt if goat cheese is unsalted)
- pinch of black pepper
- 4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled or cut into small chunks
- 5-6 tomato slices
- 1 pre-baked pie shell (see Whole Wheat Lard and Butter Pie Crust)
- Sautee the onion in butter over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add sorrel and nutmeg and sautée 1-2 minutes more. If using spinach instead of sorrel, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Stir in crumbled goat cheese.
- Spread the onion and sorrel mixture into a pre-baked pie shell and pour in the egg mixture. Arrange tomato slices on top.
- Cover the edge of the crust with foil or a crust protector and place the pie plate on a baking sheet to prevent spillage. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the filling is fully set in the center.