Blueberries & Baby Goats... A Summer Remembered
By Paula Gottlieb Herman
Our 4th Annual Fun on the Farm Day was our biggest ever with 30 children, 29 adults, and 3 in staff (including me, Chef Paula). The participating children spanned ages 3 through 15. This year in addition to the girls, we had many older boys attending, and that always makes me happy. When I started LilChefs.com Special Events 7 years ago, I had a few dads who were not open to the idea of their sons wearing aprons in the kitchen for a cooking party. Boy, have times changed (pardon the pun)! Thank you Emeril, Bobby Flay, and Ratatouille for showing us that cooking is a life skill we all should have!
Every year, I seek out delicious blueberry treats to welcome our guests with, many of whom traveled 2 hours to be with us out in the North Fork. This year I hit the jackpot! My personal favorite was the individual blueberry cakes called YoGo. These delicate little cakes were made with Greek yogurt and are only 100 calories. My next favorite was Jessica’s Brick Oven Blueberry Lemon Bread. The pre-sliced loaf is dense and delicious, and since I add lemon zest to the blueberry jam we create, you know I love the pairing of blueberries with that little hint of citrus in the background. My third homerun was finding Snack Pack pudding appropriately titled, Blueberry Muffin. Wow, what a winner with our guests during the dessert making part of our day. More about that later…
I take great pride in creating such a beautiful event where we feature a fruit farm, a goat farm, and LilChefs. Wickham’s Fruit Farm located in Cutchogue is a bicentennial 300-acre farm owned by the family since 1661. Tom Wickham, the present owner, is the 13th generation to work this land. Catapano Dairy Farm, located in Peconic started out as a 19-goat dairy a decade ago, and can now boast about their 96 happy goats in residence. This year they even added a half dozen sheep to the farm. So, in addition to their award-winning goat cheese, they are now making cheese from sheep’s milk.
Our guests were greeted by a lovely buffet of the treats I mentioned earlier along with Blueberry Pomegranate juice from Ocean Spray plus bottled water. I always try to make their arrival special and to make the tablescape different every year. Since the first part of our event was dedicated to the blueberry, or as the Native Americans used to call it “Star Berry” or these days “Little Dynamos: since they are so packed with the goodness of Vitamin C, fiber, and anti-oxidant benefits, the tables were dressed in blue--royal blue and sky blue tablecloths. I made it my mission to find a Mylar balloon that would have some berries on it to decorate the tent with, and as luck would have it, I found one that looked like a gigantic blueberry muffin. While the muffin did have a face with a little tongue drawn on it, and was adorable, I think the excited faces of our guests as they arrived, was even more priceless.
Of the 14 families who attended our event, most of them were new to LilChefs.com. They happened upon us from features spotlighting the event from NYMetro Parents (Nassau Parent), Long Island Parent, or some of the online sites like NYMomsWorld.com, etc. But there were some families who come every year to this event, and we even had a family who had attended our 1st Fun on the Farm Day in 2009, back with their now 15-year-old son and his 6-year-old brother, who was too young to appreciate it 3 years ago. When the kids who know me run into my arms, and I get to mentally measure how much bigger they got since the last time I saw them, I really appreciate the opportunity to watch them grow up, and to see how much more they can do with me at this year’s workshop.
After our guests enjoyed the welcome treats, Gecke Wickham, gave a talk on honey bees, on the difference between a yellow jacket and a honey bee, how to find the special markings on the Queen, and a really inspirational section on looking insects, or animals, or people right in the eye, which shows you do not fear them. When you are in fear, the pheromone hormones that we give off can put us in danger. Then the kids, a few tables at a time, approached the Beehive Observation Station, and got to check out what the bees were up to. Let’s face it, without the hard work of those bees pollinating flowers, we wouldn’t be able to have the flowers on the trees turning into mouth-watering fruit.
Our next activity was a panoramic tour of this beautiful farm by tractor-pulled wagons. Each wagon holds approximately 30 people. So, we split up into 2 groups, I rode with Tom Wickham in the lead vehicle, and my husband, Michael rode in the 2nd one, enthusiastically pointing out all the different trees and the underground irrigation system along the way. Tom told us that the 3 most important things to make his fruits grow so well are great sunlight, soil, and water. He is blessed to have a bounty of each. Our ride meandered through the fields, groves, and orchards that showcased peaches, apricots, apples, walnuts, berries, etc. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, they are correct. Sorry you have to suffer through my 2,545 (yes, I counted them) words instead of having the beautiful snapshot of the farm permanently imprinted in your mind.
We got back to the welcome tent and everyone broke for lunch. That was our opportunity for Pam (our assistant) and I to set up for the jam making workshop. After a quick lunch, I gave all the kids plus a set of grandparents, pint containers to bring into the blueberry orchard. I knew these empty containers would soon contain ripe blueberries. I gave a short talk on only picking the bluest of berries, not the green ones, or the ones that had already fallen off the bush. The kids learned that the white coating on the berry is called “the bloom” and it was absolutely normal. These blueberries were not cultivated with any sprays or pesticides. They can be eaten right off the bush. I think my favorite moment of this event is when I line everybody up and escort them to the blueberry orchard along a path. On the way, I love looking back at them, seeing their enthusiasm, and realizing that this event brought us all together for a truly memorable summer day.
The families returned to the tent with their blueberries and the kids got ready to make jam. I purchased 20 additional pints of berries for them to use in our jam making recipe. The ones they picked were bagged up for their trip home. After quickly decorating their chef hats and aprons, the kids assembled into 6 teams of 5. Each child received a plastic bucket containing berries, a potato masher, and a plastic freezer jar with a lid. Each team had 1 ½ cups of pre-measured sugar, one packet of Instant Fruit Pectin by Ball, a spoon, ladle, and a wide-mouth funnel. With all of the tools of the trade, the kids picked out any green stems, and began to break up the berries with their mashers. The berries were crushed in record time. The next step was to combine all the mashed berries into the largest container, to add the sugar, and the single packet of pectin. The final step was to have me zest some lemon with a Microplane. The essential oils smelled so citrusy and good as the lemon peel dotted the top layer of the jam. Once mixed in, the jam was ready to ladle out into each of the jars leaving ½” head room.
Making Freezer Jam or Instant Jam is such a great thing to do with kids. Inside of 30 minutes, you can have fabulous homemade jam to enjoy with your family. If kept in the freezer, this jam will last up to one year. All you would need to do is to put it on the counter, let it come up to room temperature, spread, enjoy, and return it to the freezer. If you want to keep it in the fridge, it will last up to 3 weeks. But, in my house, it won’t even last that long! This year, Ball has come up with a new way to work with their Instant Pectin. They called it RealFruit Instant Pectin Flex Batch. Unlike the teams of 5 that I assembled at my jam making workshop, you can now make smaller batches of jam. For every ¾ cup of mashed fruit, add 1/3 cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of pectin. Talk about easy!!
Once the jars were filled up, our guests needed one last thing to fill them up. Pam and I set out an elaborate dessert bar featuring shortcakes, the blueberry muffin pudding, fresh blueberries, chocolate crunchies, coconut, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, and chocolate sprinkles. Guests had the option to load up their tender shortcake with the pudding and lace the dessert with whipped cream and toppings or they could assemble a parfait. Either way, the blueberry pudding, fresh berries, and all the fixin’s made for a great way to end our visit to Wickham’s.
Next stop, Catapano Dairy Farm! A quick 7-minute drive and we arrived at the dairy. The smell of goats was the first thing that I was greeted by when we got out of the car. This was going to be a very different farm experience for our guests than the fruit farm we just came from. Precious baby goats born this spring were munching on grass in their lovely pens. Wooden arks, platforms, and play areas let them romp to their heart’s delight. Children were allowed to pet them through the fence.
Karen Catapano, the co-owner of the dairy (with her husband Michael) gave us a short talk about the dairy’s beginnings. She and her doctor husband bought the goat dairy 10 years earlier. It was in a different location in Mattituck, came complete with 19 goats, and a major learning curve. After they got the hang of goat milking, her husband entered a national contest for goat cheese, and much to her amazement, they won! And if you are lucky enough, as we were, to sample the wide assortment of goat cheese, you will love it, too!
Our second activity was to learn how to milk a goat by hand. They brought out 2 milking station platforms. In recent years, we only had one station and one goat named “Sugar.” This year “Sugar” and a companion were kind enough to allow children and adults the rare opportunity to milk them. We divided into 2 groups, learned to trap the udder in our hand by making a ring with our thumb and index finger, and then with the rest of our fingers, squeeze the teet until the white milk streamed out. It was such a fun experience seeing the kids milking the goats as well as some of the parents. Purell was then supplied by the dairy so that we would have clean hands for the cheese tasting.
We were treated to 2 different kinds of goat cheese spread on crackers—Chevre & Dried Cranberries and Chevre (plain). The texture of the Chevre which means “goat cheese” is so creamy and delicious. Little Gracie, age 6, who comes to all of our events, asked me when the goat fudge was going to be put out, since she knows the drill. With Karen Catapano right next to us, I told her to ask the source. There was no way she would deny this little angelic girl in a sun dress the opportunity to sample fudge. Within minutes a tray of chocolate goat fudge with peanut butter was brought out, already cut up into small squares, with little wooden forks for easy pick up. Wow, was that good! And I thought I liked Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, but these tasted much better. Since they are so rich, you really only need a very small sampling to get your taste buds interested.
At 4:00 PM sharp, we watched a mechanical goat milking operation. A dozen goats were brought into the indoor goat milking station, given alfalfa to eat in pails, and they had hoses attached to the same udders we just milked by hand. Within seconds the goat milk could be seen in the clear hoses. While to us, that seemed like a lot of milk, the reality is that it would take 10 goats to give the same amount of milk as one single cow.
One of my favorite moments at the goat dairy is shopping for goat cheese delicacies with my niece, Naomi, who is 12. She attends this event every year, and she is such a good example of a kid willing to try new things. She has an amazing palate. This year I bought Mango and Habanero Goat Cheese. I hear that the fruitiness of the mango calms down the zing from the hot pepper. Last year I tried the Red Pepper Jelly Goat Cheese, absolutely loved it, but wanted something new to taste. Naomi also touted me on the Gouda which she always buys. So, with our bags filled with goat cheese and goat fudge, we said goodbye to Catapano Dairy Farm for another year.
Since we spent more than $30 in the shop, they were giving away large cucumbers or zucchinis. My husband, Michael selected 2 gigantic cucumbers, and chose them because they were nice and straight and dark green. Now I have to figure out what to do with them. I’ll probably make my cucumber and onion salad with one. Maybe I’ll make some gazpacho with the other. I tried a new strawberry gazpacho recipe for July 4th, but I think I’ll switch back to the more known tomato version. It wasn’t a winner with the kids at the barbecue we went to. These cucumbers will certainly come in handy!
With our day out in the North Fork winding down, I also said my goodbyes to our wonderful guest families, wishing them a good summer, and made a shameless plug to have them join us next month at our Kids & Rigs Sailing Adventure on August 10th and 12th out in Pt. Jefferson. Kids 3-14 will learn how to sail the 80’ schooner, will get to touch sea creatures on board, and make message in a bottle necklaces and sea life cupcakes.
One of the moms said, “Thank you so much. You have just made my summer complete. Now I have 2 fun things to do with my kids!” I am thrilled to be able to offer these summer events when the families are relaxed, playful, and in vacation mode. I just hope that one day I hear that when asked by their teachers upon their return to school in September, kids say that our events were among the highlights of their summer. I know, speaking personally, they will be among mine!