While the real-life King family gets ready for a Christmas celebration of crab legs and a gift exchange, the television King family will be tackling a new harvest season, baking pies and overhauling a clunker for a demolition derby during tonight's season premiere of "Farm Kings" at 9 p.m. on Great American Country (GAC).
Truth is, the Kings will take a break tonight from holiday prep and making wreaths for their farm market. They don't see episodes of "Farm Kings" any earlier than the rest of the viewing audience, so they'll be sitting down in front of the TV.
"I heard the first episode is really funny," mom Lisa King divulged -- and we're betting it has something to do with that clunker.
But the hilarity doesn't end there: The second episode, airing Dec. 26, reportedly features Ms. King getting booted off the premises of a local deli when she sets up a mobile smoker to cook Freedom Farms pulled pork.
She and her 10 children, ranging from late elementary school age to young adults, have operated Freedom Farms in Valencia for six years. This is their third season of being on reality TV.
The microphones and cameras are less daunting than they used to be. Ms. King said she thinks this season will be largely about getting to know some of the individual personalities of the family members because they're coming out of their shells more and more.
They're also growing more famous. They've had fans stop by the market for autographs, and people sometimes tell them things like, "We have a garden and chickens now because of your show," she said.
But while TV might make their jobs look easy in some ways, the family also has had its share of struggles, from drought to difficulties with building up their customer base.
But there are happy times, too, and viewers will see some of them this season, including the preparations for the wedding of the lone daughter, Elizabeth ("Bitty"). She'll be married in May in her mom's garden. A caterer will prepare the food, but he'll use Freedom Farms chickens as well as corn and green beans that the family froze over the summer.
The third season kicks off, paradoxically, right at the time that the farm market is getting ready to close. The market has Christmas trees, wreaths and local artwork, including pottery, hand-knit scarves and other gift items, available for purchase through Christmas Eve. But after that, the farm market will close until May.
The family also owns and operates two other nearby businesses, a cafe and donut shop. Ms. King's homemade soups are especially popular in the cafe at this time of the year.
And they're always dreaming up something new. Ms. King wrote a cookbook that came out about three months ago, "Recipes from Lisa's Kitchen," which sells on the family's website, freedomfarmspa.com. The farm started a community-supported-agriculture subscription program last summer and will expand it next summer. They put in an underground greenhouse that they'll get up and running in the spring; see upcoming shows for an explanation of what that's all about. And Ms. King is thinking of organizing a series of canning classes in the market or cafe next summer.
But right now, it's time for her to think about Christmas, which for her family means thousands of white lights, crab legs that Ms. King cooks out on the porch over propane heaters, fresh bruschetta, hummus and farm-grown squash. On Thanksgiving each year, the family draws names for the Christmas gift exchange, and she said they give practical gifts.
"I'll probably give my person a pair of work overalls," she said.
Meanwhile, she hopes the Pittsburgh viewing audience will continue to grow in this new television season.
"We want to raise awareness of American farms and buying local," she said.
Pennsylvania Farm Show: Speaking of buying local, there's no better place to learn about Pennsylvania agriculture, where you can see 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits. There's plenty of food, including famous milkshakes that mark 60 years this year, and for the first time, they say, bacon. Jan. 4-11 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. www.farmshow.state.pa.us.
Italian Prosciutto Making class: Learn to make real Italian prosciutto in a three-session course meeting in January, March and November 2014. The first session is from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 11 at the American Italian Club in Aliquippa. Cost is $70, or $100 for two people wishing to share a ham. To request enrollment, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Enrollment required by Jan. 3.
Winter Wonderland at Bakery Square: Photos with Santa, last-minute shopping at pop-up holiday mini-marketplace, music, kids' crafts, sweets and treats, spiked hot cocoa for the adults. 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, at Bakery Square in East Liberty; stick around from 4 to 5 p.m. for Happy Hour with Santa.
Two local businesses have been named finalists for the 2014 Good Food Awards for craft food products that are both flavorful and socially/environmentally responsible.
The companies are Crested Duck Charcuterie for Moroccan Lamb Coppa and Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries for Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka.
Winners will be announced next month in San Francisco.
Farm Kings' pumpkin pie cake for a crowd
Though not in Lisa King's cookbook, this recipe is one of her family's favorites, and it makes a nice holiday presentation. The recipe came to us in a standard commercial baker's format, using weights instead of cup measurements. We translated it for home use and also reduced the amount of butter in the crumb topping.
-- Rebecca Sodergren
For the crust
2 boxes (about 15 ounces each) yellow cake mix, divided
1½ sticks butter, melted
2 medium eggs
Spray 3 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray
Measure 2¼ cups cake mix and place in a bowl for later use.
Mix melted butter, eggs and remaining cake mix in a large bowl. Divide mixture equally between the 3 pans and use fingers to press mixture evenly across bottoms of pans.
For the filling
2½ cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
6 medium eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Mix together the filling items for 2 minutes and pour into pans over the crust mixture.
For the crumb topping
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
Reserved cake mix
2/3 cup chopped nuts
Place sugar, butter and reserved cake mix in medium bowl. Using pastry blender, cut butter into cake mix and sugar until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle mixture over each cake to form crumb topping.
Bake cake at 325 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes. Top with whipped cream if desired. Makes 3 9-inch cakes.
-- Lisa King