Ham Chowder

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When our customers come to the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, they might think the world is filled with farmers. True, much of the land within a couple hours of Saratoga is still farmland, but the number of farmers continues to decline. Today only about two percent of the population of the entire United States is engaged in farming.

Most of us are two or three generations removed from the farm, and can only imagine what it’s like to grow up on a farm, and then to become a farmer. Dick and Peggy Ayers from Brookside Farm in Argyle live that life and have done so for over forty years. After meeting at Cobleskill College, and after Dick’s tour in the Army, they worked for other dairy farms, mostly in Washington County, then in Rhinebeck. When Dick’s father was ready to retire, they moved to his dairy farm in Whitehall, and eventually bought the farm in Argyle.

Dairy was their first venture, and then they tackled a few other ventures and adventures after they sold the dairy herd. The pastures needed grazing, and they owned hay land, so Dick came home with a few beef cattle, which Peggy calls these “little surprises,” and their grass-fed beef herd began. The animals on the farm snowballed, as they added chickens for meat and eggs and pigs for pork.

Peggy is very matter-of-fact about their chosen profession. “Farming is a hard life, but a great place to bring up kids and grandkids.” Early on, their annual summer vacations were at the Washington County Fair where their three daughters showed Holstein heifers, while Dick and Peggy still had a full slate of farm chores and projects at home. “It was fun for the kids, but Dick and I were very tired at the end of the week.”

Many of their thirteen grandchildren, willingly go to the farm to work, thinking that helping out isn’t far removed from play time. Granddaughter Katie “just loves the Market,” frequently working with Dick and Peggy and even for other vendors.

The Ayerses joined the Saratoga and Glens Falls farmers’ markets at least eight years ago and soon put their first-floor spare kitchen to work by making prepared foods to offer their customers, such as chicken pot pie, quiche and chicken liver pate.

Visitors to the Saratoga market this past Saturday were able to sample another of Peggy’s creations during the “Soup’s On Day.” This is the third year for the Market’s souper celebration and the third year Peggy has prepared this popular meal-in-a-pot (a very large pot) soup. She’s delighted to share the recipe, which she has adapted from AllRecipes.com.

 

Ingredients
Serves at least a dozen hungry friends for lunch or as a soup course at supper time, or four people as a complete meal.

All the ingredients for this soup, except for the rosemary and optional black pepper are available now at the Saratoga Springs Farmers’ Market, Division Street School, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, until the last Saturday in April.

 

8 cups of chicken stock (Purchased or made from farmers’ market stewing hens or bones left over from a Brookside Farm chicken.)

4 cups cubed Brookside Farm smoked ham (Use leftovers from a whole or half ham, or a ham steak.)

1 lb. Brookside Farm smoked bacon

1 tsp. dried rosemary

2 large onions

3 leeks

6 green onions

3 cloves garlic

6 large ‘boiling’ potatoes

1 lb. carrots

1½ cups Battenkill Valley Creamery heavy cream

 

Directions

  1. Pour the stock into a large pot (about an 8-quart pot for a full recipe) and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat.
  2. While the stock is heating, cut the ham into cubes and add it with the rosemary to the pot.
  3. Dice the bacon and fry in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and add to the pot. Drain off all but 2 to 4 tbsp. of the bacon fat.
  4. Chop the onions, leeks and green onions into a coarse dice; mince the garlic, sauté in the bacon fat until tender, and add all to the pot.
  5. While the onion family is cooking, cube the potatoes and carrots, add to the pot, and cook about 20 minutes until tender.
  6. Remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the heavy cream.
  7. Check the seasoning. The soup shouldn’t need more salt, but some freshly ground black pepper is an optional addition.