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Foodstuff: Down on the Farm

A very close-up view of where our food comes from

Katherine Roberts
Foodstuff
Dozens of eggs were gathered from the hen house at Rock Bottom Ranch on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

I am always all in on anything edible from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ Rock Bottom Ranch. My kitchen is perpetually stocked with their eggs and I discovered I don’t hate beets at one of their Burlap Dinners. Anyone who knows me knows I love an adventure, but I’m not exactly the ranching type.

So how hard could it be to get my hands dirty (literally) and explore what we eat and how it’s sourced? I was determined to find out at one of the recently launched Ranch programs all about food and farming.

“Winter Vegetable Tastings” offer families the chance to learn what winter crops grow at the ranch. For a $5 donation, you can harvest and sample a winter veggie yourself. Additionally, “Egg Collection Fridays,” which kicked off Feb. 18, includes one dozen eggs to take home for a $10 registration fee.



I started with the low-hanging fruit (so to speak), beginning my journalistic journey focused on vegetables. My green rubber boots sloshed through the melted snow as I walked up the driveway to meet Phebe Meyers, community programs senior manager, leading the tour. Teamed with a small group of mothers and several 2- to 4-year-olds, it is the perfect family activity. Childless and taking notes, I seemed like an insane creep lurking in the background. Phebe and the families kindly pretended not to notice.

We learned that we’d harvest “Candy Carrots” planted in one of several indoor garden spaces on the property. There are an astounding 10,000 carrots in the Rock Bottom Ranch hoop house, grown from seeds planted in late August. The carrots stop growing just after Thanksgiving (while daylight lasts 10 hours or less), and hang out beneath the soil until all are harvested in the spring. The buildup of sugar required during this period makes the carrots incredibly sweet (hence, the “Candy” moniker). We each plucked two from the raised beds, double washed them in water, and munched them on the spot. Carrots sell for $6 per bag (approximately one pound, while supplies last). Vegetables vary week to week; visitors might get carrots, spinach, or kale, depending on what’s ready to harvest.




I had such fun getting in touch with my inner gardener, I threw my boots back on and returned the following week to gather eggs with more small children. This time our excursion was led by Kitty Winograd, Rock Bottom Ranch community programs coordinator. She told us about the breeds in the hen house, and how each bird lays different colored eggs, resulting in the beautiful browns, pinks, greens, blues and whites typical in each dozen. One of the children asked what was inside the green eggs, and another responded, simply and with intense enthusiasm: “Goop!”

Families learn how to properly put an egg in a carton to protect it after collecting from the hen house at Rock Bottom Ranch on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

We walked to the hen house, baskets in hand. Prior to opening the doors, Kitty mentioned the facility has approximately 400 chickens, and if anyone felt overstimulated, they were welcome to step outside. I scoffed. I live for this stuff! How terrifying can chickens be?

Dozens of eggs were gathered from the hen house at Rock Bottom Ranch on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Then, suddenly, all 400 chickens seemingly descended, pecking the snow from my boots. We dove in, down on our hands and knees as feathers flew through the air and the hens clucked loudly, eyeing us with skepticism.

“I’ve never done this before!” I shrieked to the toddler beside me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to tell anyone this, as it was likely apparent the moment I walked on to the property. I mustered the courage to reach beneath a chicken, and pulled out…

A golf ball.

I did not sign up to have my eyes pecked out by flocks of murderous hens under the guise of delicious farm-to-table foods to squat there like an idiot clutching… A. Golf. Ball. Was this a prank? Hilarious “Green Acres” hijinks to send up the lady who, five years ago, was strutting through life in a major metropolitan area in four-inch stilettos, and now found herself shin-deep in real-life angry birds?

Fun fact: turns out the golf balls are placed to teach young chickens where to lay. I sheepishly returned the ball to the laying box, and managed to muster the composure achieved by my fellow gatherers (who are, again, preschoolers).

All told, we collected around 100 eggs (the daily average), then sorted and labeled them in our own cartons to take home. Unwashed, they will last up to three months. If desired, gently wash them in warm water just before using.

Local Katherine Roberts holds up her dozen eggs after collecting from the hen house at Rock Bottom Ranch on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

These products are so fresh and delicious, I advise happily eating the carrots as a snack and simply frying the egg in butter, but if you’re looking for a light meal that’s easy to riff on, try quiche and salad.

Focus here on ingredient ratios, and you can’t go wrong:

“NO-RECIPE” QUICHE AND SALAD

Serves 4

Quiche*:

1 frozen deep-dish pie crust**

4-5 eggs

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup milk

8oz. cheese, diced into ¼ inch cubes

Other fillings (approximately 1 cup)

Salt and pepper

Salad***:

5oz. baby arugula

½ cup carrot shavings

½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano shavings

Dressing****:

1 lemon

½T yellow mustard

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, salt and pepper to taste.

Add cheese and other fillings to pre-baked pie crust.

Pour egg mixture into crust.

Bake on bottom rack, 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean (if the edges of the crust start to brown, cover with foil).

While the quiche bakes, combine salad ingredients in another large bowl.

To make dressing, whisk together lemon juice, oil, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad, making sure not to over-dress (leftover dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container). Toss just before serving.

COOK’S NOTES:

*Egg dishes love leftovers. Use any cheese you like (I prefer cheddar and Swiss), as well as any cooked vegetables or meats (sautéed spinach, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, roasted broccoli, asparagus, diced bell peppers, diced ham, etc.). I pre-cook the vegetables, otherwise they release too much liquid in the quiche.

**I hate baking, so I buy crust. Pre-bake according to package directions, let cool before filling.

***Use any greens and vegetables you want. Sometimes I add ½ cup chopped nuts for crunch and/or sliced fruit or pomegranate seeds for sweetness.

****Any good homemade dressing really only needs one part acid to two parts oil, a squeeze of mustard to emulsify and seasoning to taste. Experiment with vinegars and different mustards. You’ll never buy a bottle again.

In summary, while I haven’t entirely given up my sky-high heels, and farm living may not be the life for me, I loved every second of these programs, would definitely do them again, and can’t recommend them enough.

IF YOU GO …


Dozens of eggs were gathered from the hen house at Rock Bottom Ranch on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

What: Winter Vegetable Tastings

Where: Rock Bottom Ranch

When: March 11 & 25; 10:30 a.m.

How much: $5 donation

Registration and more info: aspennature.org

*

What: Egg Collection Fridays

When: Every other Friday, March 4-April 29

Where: Rock Bottom Ranch

How much: $10

Registration and more info: aspennature.org


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