Preserving

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Even though the garden is nowhere near what it should be right now I have spent the majority of the day putting up what has been taken out of it.  I had a large basket of tomatoes ripen on the counter that I wanted taken care of before the fruit flies were out of control.  I picked more to ripen this morning but have a feeling piccalilli is in my future (not that I mind, I haven’t made it in a few years).

I canned what few green beans I have harvested this year.  The yellows should be coming in mid-week.  They’re a month behind – mind you I had to plant them 3 times this year due to cold weather.  You can’t always go by the calendar when it comes to gardening.

I also dug some potatoes and it would appear that this will be one of my best years ever for those.

With the spoils of the garden waiting on the counter I decided to make a five mile meal.  Shepherd’s Pie made with fresh dug potatoes, newly pulled onions, fresh corn, newly cured garlic and beef grown in Heath by our good friend Russell. Now I know Shepherd’s Pie is sometimes considered a lowly meal but is a favorite of some of my family members and making it with ingredients this fresh takes it to heights never achieved with corn coming out of a can.  It’s five miles to the corn stand, hence the name.

I also made backyard sauce and canned that as well.  Everything grown here – even the herbs.  Heaven.

There’s something about the feeling you get knowing you have grown everything you are eating.  There’s a sense of pride and a feeling of security that grows a little each year.  I can also send food home with family and friends and know they’ll eat and enjoy not only something good, healthy and local but also made with love.

 

 

 

 

Abundance

140611 Blackberries

I walk the perimeter of the back forty a couple of times a day with the dogs.  It’s far enough away from any distractions to make the walk enjoyable for me as well as them.  One of our dogs, now elderly, is hard of hearing with bad eyesight and tends to wander in the road.  There are usually only a handful of cars that pass the house on any given day but this way I don’t have to worry and he can spend quality time sniffing whatever dogs with dementia sniff.

I’m constantly amazed at the things that grow back there.  Blackberries in abundance.  I never really get to harvest many of them because there are also birds in abundance – fruit is a big food source for them and I take whatever is leftover.

140611 Blueberries

Blueberries are everywhere around the edges of the mowing.  There is one large bush in the open that I net every year and it gives me a good supply of berries to freeze.  There is nothing like those wild blueberries in muffins on a cold, snowy morning in January I have to tell you.  There are bushes all over but this particular bush I reserve for myself.  It sometimes seems as if the birds are waiting when I go down to pick them thinking they’ll just help themselves while I pick.  It’s a quiet interlude I look forward to every summer just to spend time in birdsong.

140611 Pears (1)

Then there is the pear tree.  The lone survivor of a number of plantings on a long ago Father’s Day.  This tree has come into its own in the past few years.  It’s spectacular in bloom and there have been years where I thought all of the branches would break under the weight of the fruit.  This, of all the “free” food that surrounds me, stresses me the most.  There is SO much of it. Pears are picky about when they are harvested and ripened and the frost freeze cycle of the end of season can mess you up in the timing of it all.  Did I mention there is SO much of it?  The past few years there have been enough pears to fill the bucket of the tractor three times over.  That’s a LOT of pears folks.  I can them, I eat them, I give a lot away.  I even used them as place markers on my Thanksgiving table with over 40 guests.  There is not enough creativity in the world to deal with this kind of harvest.  Hmmmm, pear cider . . .

Being surrounded by the bounty of nature (and perhaps the forethought of many now gone) is really a wonderful thing.  In the past couple of years that is how I’ve begun to think about the food I grow.  There is always the huge vegetable garden but I planted asparagus last year knowing full well that I would not be eating any of it until the third year.  The glory in it is the bed can be good for over thirty years.  It’s nice to know that someone will be eating that lovely vegetable in 2040 because I planted it.  To me THAT is food security even if it’s only for three weeks out of the year.

Garden Dreaming

The Weeds Are WinningThis is the time of year when the grand garden dreams begin.  It has been bitter cold out and I’m sad to say the only outdoor adventures I have had in the past month is taking the dogs out twice a day. The snowshoes are waiting in the shed for another good snowstorm.

Like every project I have I start with truly unrealistic plans and then pare them down as the time grows shorter.  The list of seeds is pretty long this year with the hope that the spring weather will be decent and my plants will get a better start.  I plan to start everything at home rather than buying starts anywhere, including my onions.  In years past I just bought onion sets but last year I was unable to get Walla Wallas and was disappointed, this year I won’t leave it to chance.

There has been so much in the news lately about GMOs that I’ve decided this is the only way to go for me.  I can’t source anything anymore, you just have no idea where anything comes from and can’t trust what you’re told for the most part.  I never thought I would have to work so hard at knowing where my food came from.

I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that always had a large vegetable garden. We canned, froze or otherwise put by most of the food we ate.  We always grew our own beef, had chickens for a spell and raised a couple of pigs one time.  Having my food source close to me is nothing new but now there seems to be more of an urgency to it.  I thought it was just me being a little paranoid but having talked to a couple of medical professionals who are seeing more cancers in much younger people I’m thinking I’m not being over cautious.  When someone tells me they know of a 26 year old with breast cancer my first thought is their diet.  We have had decades now where our protein sources are laced with hormones and antibiotics all in the name of increasing production.  The same goes for our GMO crops.  Corn is in everything – every thing.  Even if you are trying to do right by your family if you are not reading labels (and reading into them) you simply don’t know what you are getting anymore.

So the grand plan is to plant a large variety in quantities that will get me through to the next harvest. Things that will keep in a root cellar, are good canned or dehydrated. In reading over the long seed list it would seem that my experiment for this growing season will be Dinosaur Kale and a savoyed cabbage.  Spinach will be in the mix as well.  I’ve grown it before but haven’t in a few years so it made the list.  The garlic and asparagus are in the ground both of them are experiments in themselves albeit really long term ones.

This weekend I will spend some time sitting by the wood stove, drinking coffee,  plotting out my garden space and ticking off the seed list to see what stays and what goes.  I will also do a viability test on some of the seed I have just to see what I really need.  I’ll try to sprout some of my popcorn as well because that was one experiment that worked particularly well.

A Year in Review

CranesJanuary was spent trying to finish my thousand cranes – a resolution I make every year and never quite finish.  I figure a couple more years and they will be done.  I do recommend this to any and everyone.  It’s simple to do and is one of the most meditative things I have ever done.

130227(5)The weather was wintry and exquisitely beautiful.  Each and every storm left behind a landscape that screamed to be walked through on snowshoes and photographed.  The quiet that goes along with weather is restorative and I always look forward to a snowstorms aftermath.

corned-beef-cabbageSt. Patrick’s Day will be one of the most important days of the calendar year to me now, not because I’m Irish but because it was the day I talked to Scott for the first time.  Given up for adoption in 1972 I had come to regard this moment as something that may never happen.  I had left information on a website and through a convoluted chain of events was contacted through an intermediary.  The rest of this year has been spent with each of us getting to know our new family members, a blessing in so, so many ways.

130407 Sugar (3)Sugaring this year was amazing although the snow was rather deep in the beginning.  A lot of work gathering those buckets without the aid of snowshoes.  It makes up for it when we boil and smell that hot maple goodness wafting through the sugar house.

IMG_20130511_104220Spring came in its normal time this year, no hot spells or odd cold snaps and the pear tree was happy.

130609 Throw (2)I made my first overshot throw in wool and discovered a passion for weaving that far and away exceeds any other handwork I have ever done.  My grandfather had wanted me to weave I think, I have a faint recollection of receiving a small, plastic kids loom when I was very young but without someone to teach me.  This has been a special journey with a connection to just about every member of my family.

131225 (4)Every morning the weather cooperates this is what I look at as I drink my first cup of coffee.  There is nothing like walking out the door in your pajamas and sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking your land.  Day to day the view is different, each having its own beauty.  I feel very, very blessed to have this be such a big part of my life.  It’s grounding.

130817 Heath Fair (3)The end of summer brings with it the fairs.  I took full advantage this year.  Heath Fair is one of my favorites with something for everyone.  I also had some validation with winning a blue ribbon for my weaving.

130818 Wood (4)Wood, wood, wood, we cut and split a lot of wood.  It’s best when it’s like this – family all gathered to make it all go quicker and easier.  It’s also more fun.  Everyone pitched in and Chester thought is was awesome.

130818 Percys PointChester started swimming this summer.  He is a very hot dog when the weather is warm but loves playing fetch more than anything.  This was the perfect solution.  He was a bit of a panic swimmer the first day but after that he looked forward to coming to this spot each and every day we were in Rowe, sometimes twice a day.  He is an amazing animal.

130915 (2)My garden had its issues this year but my popcorn, the experiment of the year was a complete success.  There is no better feeling than finding out there is something new you can grow that’s beautiful and functional.

130904 (1)I went to Belfast, Maine to Fiber College this year and spent quality time with old and new friends and ate lobster every day.  It was a fiber weekend for some but for me it was more about photography.  I need to be alone to do my best work and I came away with images that were everything I wanted them to be.  It was also a time to reminisce about childhood, we spent many summers up this way while I was growing up and I hadn’t been here in a good 30 years.

Red Tree

This autumn the foliage was more beautiful than I had seen it in years.  So many of my friends shared exquisite images of scenes right out their front doors that were breathtaking. Photography slows me down and forces me to look at the details.  The photograph above of the red tree was taken almost at dark.  I drove by it in the center of town, said wow to myself and kept driving.  By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I turned around to capture this.  In my head I initially said “Oh, just take it tomorrow” but a few hundred feet down the road I realized that it wouldn’t be there.  Those are the best photographs, the ones that catch that fleeting moment.

131114 SunsetThis fall I saw some of the most amazing sunsets ever.  Enfield never looked so good under these vibrant skies.  This particular evening it seemed that everyone I knew posted a photograph from a different place.  It was like the sky made everyone stop whatever they were doing to watch.  It’s comforting to know that the people I love were all looking at the sky at almost the same time and then sending what they saw to others.

131129 Bonfire (2)Thanksgiving weekend was about family, our immediate family.  What is usually a crowd was just Bill, me and the two girls, our nuclear family.  It was the first time in so many years that it was just us and it was wonderful.  It’s probably the most difficult thing to experience – the loss of your children to adulthood.  The best time of our lives was raising our girls and they have both turned into amazing, remarkable women.  It was good to have the opportunity to have them all to ourselves.  For a treat Bill built an amazing bonfire to share with them and a couple of their cousins.

131225 (3)Christmas has come and gone, although the remnants are still in the house.  A few decorations will return to their boxes in a week or so and life will begin its new cycle.  There aren’t any resolutions this year for me other than to absorb the gifts around me.  The time seems to go by so fast each year it leaves me breathless.  I will spend the winter months planning the garden, weaving and cooking for the people I love.  I will follow in the rhythm of the seasons and work the way I do for each year.  It may seem a little dull but planning my life around what’s growing or the weather is the most comfortable way for me to live at this moment in time, you just roll with it.  I take every moment spent with the people I love and savor it like a fine wine.  Those times of love and laughter are what sustains me through any other trials that come along.  The simplicity of it is all I need.

 

Remains of the Day

131201 TurkeyThe Thanksgiving holiday ends when the soup is done.  That’s the way I look at it anyway.  Saturday afternoon, after guests had had their fill of all things turkey I removed the meat from the bones and made stock in a very large pot.  I strained the broth and put the pan in the shed to cool overnight. The temperature hadn’t been above 25 degrees so it’s as good as any refrigerator.

Sunday morning I skimmed the fat and heated the stock.  This is where we come to the rest of the ingredients.  Everything that was leftover from Thanksgiving went into the pot.  Mashed potatoes, squash, rutabaga, gravy, it all went in.  Using this as the base for your turkey soup gives it the most wonderful flavor and thickens it to the perfect consistency.  Last but not least comes the leftover bird – and this was one wonderful bird from Diemand Turkey Farm in Wendell, MA.  I didn’t add any starch because I wanted to keep my options open since it was such a huge amount.

The soup was simmered for about an hour and then the canner came out.  I had to can two rounds because the canner will only do 14 pints at a time.  All in all I canned 24 pints.  I do pints because many times it’s just one person (or two) opening a jar.  If there are more people open more jars.  It’s so satisfying to see the fruits of your labor sitting on the counter cooling.  Then dream about the soup’s possibilities – turkey barley, turkey rice and I’m thinking dumplings would be a great winter meal.

The biggest treat is tasting this when Thanksgiving Day is a distant memory because this is really Thanksgiving Dinner in a jar – yum!

 

Thanksgiving

671124 Thanksgiving (2)“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It has always been about family for us.  My extended family is small and widespread but as a child the excitement would build over the weeks before the holiday arrived.  Family gathered at Fort Pelham Farm for food and all of the festivities of the season.  My aunts, uncles and grandparents on both sides would arrive one after another in the days before Thursday, our 3 cousins as well.  There was laughter, food, more laughter.  My mother loved this holiday and having her siblings with us.

We would rise early on Thanksgiving day to the smell of Bell’s Seasoning, onions and butter.  My mother had risen at her usual ungodly hour and had everything well in hand.  My aunt would always bring dates stuffed with walnuts and rolled in sugar.  I remember there being a lot of nuts consumed on that day (the only other time we had them was at Christmas or when visiting my mother’s father).  We would consume savory and sweet with the Macy’s parade in the background.

An hour or so before dinner was served everyone changed into their Sunday best.  It was the one meal a year when we “dressed for dinner”.  It seems a little odd to me now but I’m glad we did it.

It is all so long ago and far away now.  Most of those players are gone but having had those gatherings every year of my childhood really instilled in me the importance of giving thanks for family and friends.  I try to be thankful every day but this day focuses on it.

This year we are having the smallest gathering I can remember.  It will be my two daughters, one boyfriend, Bill and I.  It seems to be a pattern with many of our friends and family – I think for us it’s about being home.  We have given up the long distance travelling.  Not so much for getting there but the long ride home.

The bird is in the oven, I started my day with Bell’s Seasoning, onions and butter.  There are vegetables to be cooked, gravy to be made.  The sticky buns are ready to be warmed.  Our meals are always the same, they have been for me for well over 50 years.  I asked the girls what they absolutely had to have for dinner and am making everything we always have for 5 people.  It wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving without the same things we have every year.  There will just be a lot of leftovers – never a bad thing.

Today I am thankful that we have good, local food available to us – some grown right here.  I am thankful I will be spending the weekend with 2 of my children who I see less than I’d like to.  I’m thankful that we are in a huge old house with a cranking woodstove.  I’m thankful for the quiet, the snow and the birds that are gracing my feeder.

I am most thankful for the people in my life.  I’m thankful I have a new piece of my family returned.  I’m so thankful (and miss terribly) the people that are now gone – they made me who I am and made my life richer.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends that read this blog regularly.  Surround yourself with the people that are the most important to you, breathe it in, make it part of that collective memory that sustains you.

Waste Not, Want Not

131102 StockI’ve been buying or roasting a chicken a week for the past 3 weeks.  What started out as an easy meal actually turned into 3 plus meals, each meal probably costing about $1.00 per person or less.

The first meal is roast chicken with sides, I usually eat squash, carrots or green beans with it.  Maybe a mashed potato as well.  The second meal might be black beans and rice with chicken added.  The third meal this week was a lunch of chicken salad.  The fourth iteration is my favorite- I make and can stock.  All of these meals are for two, not a family of 5 but the reality is if you know how to cook you can stretch your food dollar quite a ways.

At this point in time I throw very little food away and chicken stock has the potential to be any number of wonderful meals.  My Saturday morning routine of late has been to throw the bird carcass in a pot with an onion, a couple of carrots and a few stalks of celery.  I cover it with 3 to 4 quarts of water, add some salt, pepper and thyme (or poultry seasoning) and let is simmer for a few hours.  I strain the broth through a colander and can it in my pressure canner – 35 minutes at 10 lbs.  It amounts to 5 or 6 pint jars when all is said and done.

Have a friend or relative with a cold or flu?  Pull out a jar and make a little soup – a delicious soup.

With the weather getting downright frigid what could be more comforting?

Waste not Want not

 

Planning that Garden Years in Advance

131013 Garlic Planting

 

Sunday morning I was able to till the soil on the south side of the garage and plant my garlic. This was pretty much my entire crop from this year. It’s a hard necked variety called Music that performed very well. When all was said and done I planted 70 bulbs. Next year we should have enough to eat for the winter and spring plus the same amount to plant the following year.

Gardening is such a long term process. You always have to think years down the line and plan, plan, plan. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” is every farmer’s adage so we plan for the unexpected as well.

My garden has begun to expand with more permanent plantings. Raspberries and asparagus are the newest members. Blueberries, rhubarb and pears have been there awhile. I still have another year before I will be eating the asparagus but once the patch comes in it will be amazing. My raspberries have had two years of not doing so well and I am beginning to think I should move them to another spot, maybe in the back forty. They will have just as much sun but the soil won’t dry out as much. It’s worth a shot, they certainly aren’t happy where they are.

Growing your own food is both wonderful and anxiety producing. You worry about your plants. You wonder if your timing is right for planting, for harvesting.  Every year is different. I used to think that once I had 10 years under my belt I would be able to relax but that is not the case. Too warm, too cold, too wet, too dry, sheesh. I keep records from year to year – garden layout, planting time, harvest time. I review it during the winter and try to plan but you never know. So all we can do is hope for the best.

Little Gifts

130913 Grapes (2)I ran out of the grape jelly I made two years ago from grapes grown on a friend’s property in Rowe.  I was lamenting the fact that she wasn’t around to ask and I didn’t want to wander around on her land without permission.  I had just come to the sad conclusion that I would have another year without it.  Yesterday, at the shop, I walked over to get some information on a car and looked up at the fence that is in between our lot and the next.  Grapes – loads of them.  I brought out a box this morning and picked away.  They are small, they are wild and they are tart.  With the amount of sugar that is used in jelly making this is the perfect fruit.

130913 Grapes (1)This is a classic case of finding food in unexpected places.  This is on a fence in a parking lot.  There is maybe a 4 foot wide span of earth in between the lots and that is where they grow.  They have been growing there for years judging by the size of the vines.  With all my whining about not having any grapes I’m surprised that Bill didn’t say anything about these.  After I said I was going to pick them today he told me that he had a customer that used to come in and pick them every year.  I guess I’m not really that surprised.  He, like me, never thinks we are going to see wild food growing anywhere down here.  It always seems so  . . . urban.  Too much asphalt and concrete.  Then again we have an old Italian body shop owner 3 doors down from us that cut a 3′ x 6′ patch out of the parking lot and grows tomatoes and peppers there every year – right up against the building.  They are spectacular but I always looked at that as the Italian gift, they seem to be able to grow tomatoes anywhere.

I think the lesson here is to open your eyes and expect the unexpected.  Then be brave enough to pick what you see and use it.

Now I’m just dreaming about those PBJs.

 

 

Mr. Photobomb

130908 Pear Tree PhotobombI just had to take a photo or two of the pear tree.  It is loaded with fruit this year and I am always amazed at how the branches bow down to the ground without breaking.  The light was harsh but it was a beautiful evening.  And guess who just happened to be in the shot.  One of many that he was in.  You’d think he was waiting to see the results.