Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hobby Hill Farm Blog moves to new network

Hi Everyone -
Our Blog has moved to www.hobbyhillfarm.com/blog as of 1/1/2012.  Come check us out and sign in to leave comments.  We love wordpress and look forward to the new on-line address!

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Friends from 2011

First, let me say Happy New Year!!  Here is hoping 2012 brings health, happiness and good fortune to everyone.

This post is about new friends from 2011.  This past year I had the good fortune of connecting with someone from my home state of NJ.  Her name is Ana Hotaling and she now resides in Michigan.  Not sure why I looked at her facebook profile but what I found was someone that literally lived 10 miles from me, shopped at the same stores as I and was the same age.  History showed her a different path with a husband, family and an interest in animals.  You will not find this a surprise but not only does she have a menagerie' of animals but she also loves to garden.  The sheer joy of growing your own food - who would have thought that this would be the source of so many blogs?  Now what's the best method of preserving food?  Well that is your job to decide.

I would like to introduce my friend Ana.

"The sparkling cider had been poured, Dick Clark was live on the TV, and, in the kitchen, a different kind of countdown was taking place. Thirty seconds... twenty,,, ten... done! I turned off the stove, quickly skimmed the foam out of the stainless-steel pot, and in moments had five quilted jars full of emerald-green jalapeño jelly simmering in a water bath.

The last canning for the year was complete, just moments before midnight.

Had it really been necessary, in a week filled with merry-making and manic baking, for me to add making jelly to my holiday 'to do' list? Not really. And I hadn't, really. I'd added jelly making, and preserves making, and salsa making to my December 31st tasks list. "

My name is Ana Hotaling, and I am addicted to canning.

I wasn't always this way. Canning is actually a recent affliction. Crystal-clear recollections from childhood in fact have a decidedly anti-canning slant. I remember the many containers of applesauce and apple-pear compote my mother would whip up every fall from fruit I helped harvest from our own trees. I also remember how bland and unappealing the flavor and texture of these concoctions were. I have no idea what my mother did with all of that canned fruit. I certainly didn't eat it. I do know that, one fall, when I was about 12 years old, I set out to make my own applesauce, figuring it couldn't be any worse than my mom's.

That was the first and last time I tried canning until this past fall. For decades, I went out of my way to avoid pectin and other canning-related supplies at the supermarket, the memory of that grainy apple goo still preserved in my mind, if not my cupboard. Canning was one of those homemaker skills that, like sewing, was destined to forever elude me.

Then came our community fair. As my husband, Jae, and I wandered throughout the agricultural exhibits, we came across a tiered table topped with dozens of jars, each neatly labeled, their contents glittering like a jeweler's gem tray. Cherry jam. Blueberry preserves. Grape jelly. Orange marmalade. In another section, pickles, sauces, and chutneys were displayed, while homemade wines, juices, and vinegars lined a nearby shelf. Several jars bore colorful rosettes, proof of the fair judges' favor. Many, beribboned or not, were simply beautiful to behold. And all of them seemed to say, "You too can do this!"

 Still, I hesitated to set foot in this arena again. It was Jae who gave me the final push, noting that canning would be a great way to preserve the multitude of tomatoes our garden was producing. One quick trip to our farmers' supply store, and I found myself the proud owner of a brand-new Ball(r) canning kit, a set of quart-sized mason jars, and a fat recipe book for sauces, chutneys, and basically anything that could be preserved in a can.

Tomatoes were the task at hand, however. Our garden was bursting with Brandywines, Black Krims, Big Rainbows, and other heritage toms as well as a variety of cherries and grapes. Paging through the cookbook, I found all sorts of recipes calling for tomatoes: sauces, soups, juices, relishes, salsas, pickles, and much, much more. I checked my ingredients on hand, got to work, and -- a couple of hours later -- had a half-dozen jars of pickled cherry tomatoes and curried tomato wedges. What's more, they were good. Two jars vanished that evening, and I eagerly stalked through the garden the next morning, searching for veggies to slice, spice, and preserve.

Cucumbers became bread-and-butter pickles, cabbage turned into sauerkraut, corn and bell peppers transformed into relish, and beets were soon pickling in a gorgeous purple brine. I was hooked.

I was also out of mason jars. The next run to the market added pints and half pints to my inventory as well as -- to Jae's chagrin -- produce that we hadn't grown ourselves. I didn't care if it came from our garden or not. I just wanted to expand my repertoire and see what other foodstuffs I could successfully preserve. I spent several hours placing Post-It notes on the pages of every recipe I wanted to try... minus the fruit ones. I just couldn't get past the memory of those horrid sauces and compotes from my childhood.

Fortunately, the fun I was having cooking and canning helped keep that recollection from getting the best of me. Our basement pantry shelves were soon stocked with mustard pickles, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and pickle relish; pickled green beans, pickled cauliflower, pickled peppers, and pickled onions; zesty, spicy, and chunky tomato sauces; and apricot, green tomato, and curried apple chutney. As the shelves filled, fewer and fewer savory recipes remained, and I soon found myself casting an eye at the sweeter stuff. Keeping my past in mind, I veered away from all recipes featuring apples and pears, and instead chose to pickle some plums. As the kitchen filled with the intoxicating fragrance of cinnamon and cloves, I found myself rethinking my fruit phobia. One taste of a pickled plum and the slate was wiped clean.

Seeing as we didn't own an orchard, a berry thicket, or even a grape arbor, I had to plan my canning according to what fruits were in season -- and within financial reason -- at the store. Our community fair's premium book became my primary reference, and my sons became my most willing taste testers as jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, and conserves were canned on an almost daily basis. Some things simply didn't work out. My attempt to make pineapple jelly, for example, failed miserably due to my forgetting the fruit's high sugar ratio. The burnt-caramel-coated saucepan required a full box of Brillo pads to come clean. Fresh blackberries yielded similar results, although I held onto that jar of glop, thinking I might use it as ice cream topping some day. I discovered how easy it was to make translucent, gorgeous jellies -- just use bottled, 100% fruit juice -- and I learned what a hassle it was to make marmalade (all that rind scraping was so time consuming!). My best discovery, however, was that of the conserves. A mixture of sweet, fresh fruit, chewy dried fruit, and crunchy nuts, conserves satisfied my need for flavor and texture in a way those compotes and applesauces of yore did not. I experimented more and more, adapting recipes to meet my tastebuds' wants... and those of my children as well, as they began to weigh on with requests for my apple cinnamon conserves, my ambrosia conserves (full of mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, and cherries), and my cranberry conserve (popular both at Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Which brings us right back to the holidays and my last-minute (literally!) canning. I truly hadn't planned on spending Yuletide whipping up batches of my strawberry lemonade marmalade, my pineapple-papaya salsa, or my jalapeño jelly. But, like many folks, the economy had not been kind to us, and Jae and I therefore decided to kill two birds with one stone: give our friends and relatives gifts we made ourselves, to be both frugal and self sufficient, and let everyone have a taste of the fruits of my labor (again, literally!).

At least, it was supposed to have ended up that way. Ingredients, tissue paper, and curling ribbon were purchased, little 8-ounce quilted jars just waited to be filled... and I, like countless other parents and spouses, found myself caught up in last-minute shopping, wrapping, and meal preparation. Being the thrifty soul that I am, however, I wasn't about to let all those fresh and expensive fruits and veggies go to waste. Hence I found myself, just seconds from 2012, skimming the foam off jalapeño jelly and pulling finished jars of pineapple-papayas salsa out of their simmering water bath. With the last of the jalapeño jelly sealed and bubbling away, I grabbed my glass of sparkling apple cider and joined my boys and Jae as Dick Clark counted down the final few seconds of the year.

My first job of the new year? Turn all those kiwis into jars of luscious kiwi jam.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Many People ask "What is Hobby Hill Farm? Who is Hobby Hill Farm"?

     Hobby Hill Farm is more than a horse farm, more than an on-line retail operation.  Hobby Hill Farm is a family owned business that started out as a "pleasure operation".  In 1999 we bought one quarterhorse and ended up with 6 horses by the end of 2001.   Working full time jobs can be hectic with 6 horses.  After all the chores are done that leaves a limited amount of time for riding let alone anything else.  We looked forward to the summers when we had extra daylight to ride in the evening hours, but dread the intense heat and humidity that follows. 

    Summer 2006, Hobby Hill tests water activated cooling fabrics on Horses using our in-house design aptly named Equine Koozie(Tm) and begins marketing the "Equine Koozie" in 2007. The Equine Koozie(Tm) is an evaporative cooling garment for horses without gels, crystals or beads & is non-toxic.  Fast forward to 2011 - Hobby Hill Farm is manufacturing cooling garments for Dogs and People along with the Equine Koozie(tm) and selling them worldwide. We have even done some cooling mats for chickens!!  It was never our intention to grow into a large retail operation nor did we intend to be a manufacturer of Cooling Products or Purses & Totes. 

    Things happen .. which  leads us to Summer of 2011.  The ultimate test - What can you do to reduce your footprint on society?  is your "farm operation" self sustaining? What happens when the price of food skyrockets?  Are you prepared for increases in grain for your livestock & most importantly how can you prepare your operation to be in the best possible position as prices rise?  We put that question to the ultimate test this past summer with an awesome garden, recycling of manure to compost and installing rain barrels around our barn.  To prepare for 2012 we have planted fruit trees and berry bushes, started canning on a small scale and most importantly SHARING what we have done with our farm.

    This goes to show you that you may start in one direction and end up somewhere totally different.  I am sure you can agree with me that things don't always turn out how you planned them.  If you would like to share your experience with us we would love to have you as a guest blogger.  Whether the topic is on your garden, food related or anything that you have learned along the way pertaining to the self sustaining lifestyle.  This is a journey why don't you come along for the adventure. Please feel free to comment and contact us if you would like to add to our blog. contact@hobbyhillfarm.com