Tag Archives: wedding

To brew or not to brew

We don’t pretend to be master brewers, and we don’t yet stray from recipes. Though we just buy the kits and follow the directions, the results have almost always been delicious.

Bottling beer

It’s surprisingly easy to brew beer. We found this out after Andy’s mom bought a brew kit (basically some buckets and tubing) for him and his brother-in-law. We bought a boxed kit of ingredients (True Brew makes many varieties) and gave it a try. Our first Red Ale was a success. Since then we’re made Brown Ale, California Wheat Ale and others. We enjoy good beer quite a bit, and brewing is a good way to save money.

Capping beer

We’ve also experimented with hard cider. We made some last fall and have shown much restraint in waiting until today to crack open a bottle (it’s supposed to be best if you wait a year before drinking). Sadly, it’s terrible – very sour. The cider was sour to begin with, and we just added yeast and let it sit. Oh well, maybe next time we’ll figure it out. We’ve never tried wine, but I’m sure we will some day.

In deciding whether or not to brew beer for the wedding, we considered cost, time, effort and space. From a distributor in Augusta we can get a half keg of Magic Hat for $132, Geary’s for $130 or a variety of other beers for similar prices. A half keg yields around 150 12-ounce servings. In contrast, the brew kits we buy cost around $30 each and yield 50 bottles of beer. We would need three of them to get 150 beers, which would cost $90.

Then there’s the time involved. Brewing beer doesn’t take much active time, but there’s quite a bit of waiting. First we heat up and mix together different ingredients, including malt and hops. We pour the wort into a bucket, add yeast, seal the bucket (with an airlock to let air escape) and let it ferment for about a week. Then we add sugar and seal the beer in bottles. We’ve found that the beer takes a couple of months before it tastes good.

We also realized that we’d need somewhere to store 150 beer bottles, and then we’d have to transport them. As you can probably guess, we decided not to do it.

Irish Stout for the wedding weekend

We did decide to brew beer for the wedding party events on Friday. We brewed one batch of Irish Stout and we’ll brew another batch of something different. By the wedding they should be nicely aged.

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In support of local food

I can imagine some future brides poring over wedding magazines – looking at dresses, shoes and flowers. I pore over seed catalogs – ooohing and ahhhing over heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers. Mmmmm…romanesco cauliflower, blue ballet squash, yellow sunshine watermelon…these varieties are definitely wedding-worthy.

I was asked in an interview recently why we decided to take on this project (check out the Portland Press Herald article by clicking here). Why grow and cook the food for our wedding dinner? Why take on another potentially stressful task to prepare for our special day? The question really got me thinking. Was our motivation primarily to save money, be self-sufficient, feel connected to our food source, make some sort of statement about eating locally or just serve delicious, fresh food to our guests?

The answer is a combination of all of these reasons. Andy and I feel passionately about eating fresh, locally-grown food. We love the taste of fresh food. We also try to limit our negative environmental impact, so we eat food that has required less chemicals and fossil fuels to be grown and transported to us and thus has had a lighter impact on the earth. We are appalled by the way animals are treated in factory farms.

We also value community, and we see eating locally as a way neighbors can get to know each other through mutual support. We hope to help preserve the traditional farming lifestyle of New England so children understand where their food comes from and what goes into growing it. For all of these reasons, and probably several more, we strive to eat local food grown in a humane and sustainable way. Writing this blog is, I suppose, a statement in support of small farms. We do what we can to make a positive impact on the world, but we also do what makes us happy. We hope that others will do the same.

Planting cucumbers in black plastic

It makes us happy to work on projects. We’re not the type of people who spend much time sitting around. When living in Portland, I used to run a lot. Now I garden.

It’s hard to explain why we get so much satisfaction from providing for our own needs. In the last year we’ve cut all our own firewood, smoked our own bacon and ham, brewed our own beer, boiled sap into maple syrup, canned pickles and applesauce and froze many different fruits and vegetables. Partly, we do this to save money, but it’s about more than just that. The food tastes better when we preserve it ourselves. The pile of wood keeps us active and outside while cutting and then keeps us warm all winter.

Potatoes

The wedding garden is also an experiment that we hope to learn from in planning future gardens. We are planning to start our own small, diversified farm in the near future, and we will need to do the same sort of planning that went into this garden, just on a larger scale. I’m keeping meticulous records (in this sense I truly am my mother’s daughter). For every crop, we’re keeping track of how much we planted, how much space it took up and how many pounds of product we get out of it. Keeping track of what it all costs will also help us plan future, larger gardens.

Bags of rocks to weigh down row cover -- using the resources we have

Money is also a factor in our decision. As both of us are the type to choose low paying jobs because we enjoy them, neither of us has ever had a lot of money. We are trying to keep our wedding expenses low so we can use our hard-earned savings for farm start-up expenses. Our most recent wedding budget has us spending somewhere between $6,000-7,000 total, with somewhere around $1,500 of that being for food. We were joking that few wedding budgets include things like chicken feed and potting soil. Our budget numbers are still very rough, though, and they could be way off. Check back later for an updated budget.

It helps in taking on this task that we don’t feel like we’re entering this endeavor as total beginners. Though we haven’t done it commercially, we aren’t brand new to farming. My parents moved to Maine as part of the back to the land movement, joining other city folk searching for a more meaningful lifestyle close to the land. As a child, I learned about growing food, raising chickens and preserving food. Andy grew up in the country too. He had his own garden as a child.

As adults, we’ve each spent two seasons working for other farmers. Last summer we spent the summer together working at Dandelion Spring Farm, just to make sure we still wanted to farm together before we bought land. Despite the relentless rain, we had a great summer. During summers when we haven’t worked on farms, we’ve usually had gardens in our yards or at community gardens. Our wedding garden will be the largest either of us has planted on our own.

Guest post: Blooms prolifically, tolerates dry weather

The following post was written by my mother, Jane Davis. With my father, she is growing the decorations for the wedding.

When Julia asked me if I would like to grow flowers for her wedding I was delighted. To share in the preparations for my daughter’s celebration of love and commitment to Andy is a joy. So I thought about the date of September 25, which is during the harvest season and right around the date of our usual first frost.

Harvest time is a time of plenty, when all our hard work in the garden and the benevolence of mother nature bring us a bounty of fruits, vegetables and flowers. We have been eating well from the garden all summer, but now is the time to put away foods that will sustain us over the winter. Many of our flowers are past their bloom time, and others will fade with the frost. But our memories of them remain.

We will not be content with memories for wedding decorations, however, so I have decided to grow decorative gourds and flowers called everlastings. The gourds come in a variety of fanciful shapes, with stripes, spots and bumps of gold and green. If handled gently and cured properly they will last for a very long time. The flower varieties include   globe amaranth, statice and strawflowers.  Let’s consider the description of globe amaranth from the Fedco catalog – “Easily grown in any soil, likes sun, blooms prolifically. Tolerates dry weather and some frost”.

Such is my wish for Julia and Andy’s life together. May they handle one another gently, as if harvesting gourds, and see their love last for a very long time. May their marriage grow easily in any soil, tolerate dry weather and some frost, bloom prolifically, and be everlasting.

Guest post: Hybrid vigor

The following post was written by my father, Stan Davis. He and my mother, Jane, are growing the decorations for the wedding. It was my parents who first introduced me to the joys of being outdoors and watching things grow. I will be forever grateful.

My parents, Stan and Jane

Today I planted Sunflowers for the wedding. Sunflowers need three things: a place where the deer (who love the leaves) can’t get at the growing plants; a place where they won’t shade the rest of the vegetables; and fertile soil. Given those things, they are the reliable giants of the garden. The traditional oilseed sunflowers grow huge flowers on thick stalks eight feet high. The stems are so massive that people on the dry western prairies are said to have cut and dried them to burn for winter heat.

The sunflowers I planted today are hybrids designed to be good cut flowers – “pollenless” varieties which can sit in a vase on a table without shedding large amounts of yellow pollen all over everything. I planted “Sunrich,” with a black central disk and yellow petals; “Firecracker,” described in typical sensuous seed catalog language as growing “red and gold bi-colored, pollenless flowers, with a velvet dark brown central disk;” and “Sonja,” described in this way: “golden-orange blooms with dark centres are striking when compared to the yellow shades of most sunflowers. The medium sized 10 cm diameter blooms on strong stems make Sonja durable in the garden and long lived in the vase.”

All the varieties are hybrids. Hybridizing is different from genetic engineering – you get hybrids by finding two varieties of the same flower or vegetable which each have desirable characteristics and cross-pollinating them with a paintbrush or other controlled method. Then you put a paper bag over each plant’s flowers to keep the plants from being pollinated by bees or the wind. After this low-tech procedure, the resulting seeds carry some characteristics of each parent. Often, crossing varieties that are very different leads to a strength and disease resistance called “hybrid vigor.”

Julia is a hybrid in that sense – she carries in her DNA her mother’s Welsh-English and Pennsylvania Dutch Congregational honesty, ingenuity, willingness to try new things, determination, and creativity and her father’s Eastern European Jewish adventurousness, enthusiasm, and imagination.

Planning the menu

We can’t wait to put plants and seeds in the ground, and we have started a few seedlings in Beth’s greenhouse at Dandelion Spring Farm, where we worked last summer. In the meantime, we’ve been planning the menu and trying to figure out how many pounds of each ingredient we will need. My brother gave me the “Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd” cookbook for my birthday 11 years ago, and I’ve been carting it around with me as I move, hoping to use it someday. Finally, I’m cooking for more than 25 people! I’ve always liked Moosewood recipes, as they tend to be both simple and tasty. Our favorite cookbook, however, is “The New Best Recipe.” It was put out by the people at America’s Test Kitchen, who try out many permutations of each dish to find the best recipe.

Our tentative menu (we’ll test and refine all these recipes this summer):

Appetizers:

  • Veggie sticks (carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, green peppers, etc.)
  • Hummus (we make a killer hummus)
  • Fruit (cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, etc.)
  • Bread (from a local bakery)
  • Cheese
  • Pesto (homemade)

Dinner:

  • Roast chicken (raised ourselves, more on that later)
  • Autumn gold squash soup (Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)
  • Oven fries (The New Best Recipe)
  • Cubed hubbard squash with kale (this is a dish we made up and came to love last fall)
  • Green salad
  • Caprese salad (tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and olive oil – yum!)
  • Asian cabbage slaw (Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)
  • Pickles (we’ll follow my great-grandmother’s recipe for amazing half sour kosher dill pickles)
  • Bread (from a local bakery)

Dessert:

  • Pie (we’re calling it “battle of the moms,” since we each brag about our mom’s pies)
  • Ice cream (from John’s ice cream in Liberty, Maine – best ice cream in the state)

Taking into account that the wedding will be in the end of September, our menu centers around seasonally available ingredients. We’re hoping that this year’s frost will come late so we can have freshly picked tomatoes and basil from our own garden.

We estimated amounts of each ingredient needed for 100 guests to help us map out our garden. With 100 guests, we figure we’ll need 27 pounds of butternut squash, 40 pounds of potatoes, 12 pounds of cabbage, 15 pounds of carrots and various smaller amounts of other ingredients. Given the yields from the seed catalogs, we’ve taken an additional step to estimate how many row feet of each crop we’ll need. Farming is unpredictable, so we’ll plant way more than we think we’ll need to make sure we have enough.

A local food wedding

We love to eat. We especially love to eat fresh, healthy, whole, real food. Naturally, when we started planning our wedding last fall, we agreed immediately that we wanted to celebrate by sharing a delicious meal of fresh, locally-grown ingredients with our friends and family. The catch is, we don’t have a lot of money and we have other priorities where we want to spend our money (we are currently looking for land to start our own farm). Largely due to farm subsidies to big business for growing large amounts of commodity crops like corn, healthy food is often more expensive than highly processed junk. Trying to pull off a September wedding for 100 guests on under $5,000, we couldn’t afford the kind of caterer we wanted.

We also like to do things ourselves. We love to provide for our own needs, and we like to be independent and make decisions. These desires are one of the driving forces behind our decision to go into farming together. We get a lot of joy from providing basic necessities for ourselves and others.

So we decided to grow and raise our own wedding dinner. We rented out a summer camp for the whole wedding weekend, and we’ve enlisted our wonderful friends and family to help us cook. We are lucky to have space for a garden where we live this summer (7,500 square feet to be exact) and additional fields to graze our chickens in a moveable chicken tractor.

You can follow the progress of our garden and meat chickens from ordering chicks and testing recipes to planting and harvesting ingredients to cooking and eating with friends and family. We’re so excited to embark on this process, we can’t wait until it’s time to sink our hands in the dirt. This blog will follow the whole process.