Nesting Instinct

The days bend shorter, the dahlias put on a show (my friend Barbara and I make a pilgrimage to the Dahlia Festival each September, just to fill ourselves with the glory of the changing season),(my fingers just typed “flory,” and I almost left it there as a happy portmanteau word for the glory of flowers each autumn),

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The flory of the Swan Island Dahlia Festival

and it’s this time of year again when vegetables are rolling in from the garden at a pace faster than they can be consumed. The canners are boiling in the kitchen where the temperature is around 100 degrees, and something inside a woman wants to start putting things by for winter.

It’s apple-picking and saucing time:

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It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,

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Bread and Butter Pickles,

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Mexican style hot carrot pickles,

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and pickled eggs in a giant bottle.16aug_eggs2_cr_sm

The tomatoes in excess of any possible fresh

consumption are jarred and stored in their ranks,

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and there are still more to be eaten, so many we have tomato sores in our mouths, but we keep on adding them to salads and plates, and making tomato sandwiches and tomato gravy and fried tomatoes. And there are peppers, too, waiting for their pickling piper to show up.

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These are a pretty little pepper called Biquinho, from Brazil, and just coming ripe now. They are intended for pickling, to be used in salads. We first found them at a Brazilian restaurant in Portland where they are part of the “market table” salad bar. Pretty soon we will have to bring them into the greenhouse if they are to finish their season.

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Deeper in the garden, the frost isn’t yet on the pumpkins, but they are ready for it. Ours are Rouge vif d’Etampes. It’s a beautiful French heirloom, once common in the markets there. It deserves to be kept in gardens. It grows easily and large, is sweet inside and beautiful outside.

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I can’t stop taking pictures of them!

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The summer squash are at last beginning to fail while the winter ones are ready for taking. The one below is Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato Acorn squash. It’s much like the more familiar dark-skinned acorns (we called those Danish Squash in our house when we were kids). As we know to be the case in other things, the skin color makes no difference. The meat inside is golden and sweet.

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The hay is in the barn, so that culinary detail is taken care of.

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Pears are still hanging on, waiting for their moment. These are Comice:

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Oh, and…

murder1_cr_sm there was an unfortunate day for some chickens. They are now resting peacefully in the freezer. They are not fryers but stewing hens waiting for their day in the winter pot. Chicken butchering day is also custard dessert day for us. Old hens still have a supply of egg yolks inside, and it would be a terrible thing to waste them.

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Having a satisfied feeling about the larder now, I feel it’s time to settle in for an evening of knitting, and to finish up a nice sweater project.

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The nest is feathered and it’s time to sigh and be content.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (6)  

One Very Fine Bean

After meaning to for years, this spring I planted a patch of Fava beans in the garden.

It’s a bean with much in favor of its cultivation. A cool weather plant, it’s often used as a winter cover crop or green manure. They can also be sown in earliest spring for a summer harvest. In this, our wettest and coldest spring in decades, the Fava Beans sown in March seemed to be all happy all the time. Favas are an Old World bean, thought to have originated in North Africa or the Mediterranean region. All other beans come from Central and South America. When my New World bean seeds rotted in the ground this year (they are, at last, now in July, emerging from a third sowing), the Favas shot up early and fast. And tall!

I’m used to beans which, if they are not climbers, nestle at the level of ankles. These beans, perhaps the beans that carried Jack into the clouds, have become a breast-high jungle. (There’s a nice looking cabbage coming on, too, though with some perforations from the visitations of slugs; and I see some grass to pull.)

I’ve had Fava beans at their “horse bean” stage, that is, when they are mature and dried. They are flat and broad and pale brown. They’re known as Broad Beans in Britain where, as in much of the world, they are the common table bean. We New Worlders aren’t as savvy about this useful Old World bean.

To an eye accustomed to our usual beans, these plants are a surprise. Not only are they tall on a single stalk, the beans set upward on their stems

like erect little… hm… unlike the beans I have grown in the past.

Their leaves aren’t what I expect from a bean plant, either.  I am told the young leaves can be eaten like spinach, but we’re past the young leaf stage right now. It’s information I’ll save for next time.

They have a beautiful blossom of white and black,

which does look like a bean flower to me. They’re quite a lush and lovely plant, nearly a hedge in the vegetable garden.

Because they are rarely found fresh in the markets here, we haven’t enjoyed them in their youngster stage. But yesterday I brought in a mess of tender young pods, and we sliced them up and treated them like string beans (no strings here, by the way). Done in the sauté pan in a certain amount of butter, they cook very quickly. These are fast food, and they came out tender, sweet, and slightly nutty.

Why ever is this bean not used here in the States? It’s nutritious, and a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and, that specialty of all beans, dietary fiber.

We have ahead of us beans at several steps toward maturity: to be used as freshly shelled ones, as dried, broad ones, and  as treat fodder for the sheep when the plants begin to fade. (They are not so good for chickens, however, for whom they can reduce egg production and enlarge livers. This is information of interest to a limited audience, I realize, but feeding the left-over plants to chickens is something I would have thought of doing. They are notably good for ruminants, though, and the sheep always line up at the garden fence when I’m working. Who says sheep are stupid? Mine know where a green treat comes from.)

I would suggest this bean is a worthy addition to any American garden where they haven’t yet grown. Admirable as a cover crop (like all beans, the tilled-in plants enrich the soil), they come happily to the table as well. My next crop will be sown in the cool days leading into winter, because in mild-winter areas like ours they will hold over in the ground for an early spring harvest. The Fava does not crave or enjoy hot weather. But it thrives in the chill and damp.

Here is Yellowcat, enjoying the feeble warmth of this summer’s beginning, with a view of Favas in the foreground.

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Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oh! Truffles!

Looka here!

Tuber gibbosum

Those lumpish little white things are Tuber gibbosum, the Oregon White Truffle. Subterranean and very special, truffles have a long history in fine cookery, medicine, and — ahem — sexual enticement. And these truffles, these particular truffles which are said to rival in flavor the costly and desirable White Italian truffles, grow here in Western Oregon, in the duff beneath fir trees. In the duff, I should expand, beneath fir trees such as grow in our own woods. The mycelia of truffles form symbiotic relationships with the roots of Douglas Firs, among other tree species. The short form of the relationship is this: the fungus, living in contact with the tree roots, creates an underground structure called a mycorrhiza. The fungus takes up certain minerals from the soil that the tree would not be able to on its own, and permits transfer of the nutrients into the tree. Good for everyone.

I confess here, I’ve been looking for these little fungi for 3 winters now, and they had me beat. I took a class called Truffles in Your Forest. I went out and scraped around under trees with a gardening fork thing. I pushed  my nose into the dirt and inhaled, hoping for that distinctive whiff of bleach and fungus that is said to betray the presence of truffles in the ground. I wondered what it would take to train a pig to find them for me. (First off, I imagined you’d have to have found some to show to the pig. But today I learned that it is the distinct smell of the truffle that attracts the pig all on its own: it reminds the sow of her beau… boar… it smells like his saliva to her. How romantic. I can see why truffles would be thought an aphrodisiac.*)

I went out today under the kind tutelage of a neighbor, to find truffles. Deborah lives a short way up the road. We met today for the first time, and only because she came across this blog one web-surfing day, and then invited me to come learn from her about truffles in the forest.  While we were rummaging around the tree roots, we chatted about sheep and poultry and common acquaintances, fleeces and eggs, heritage livestock breeds and rescue flocks. It was a charming way to spend part of an afternoon before haring off to town after a pair of insulated overalls.

Here is Deborah demonstrating truffling technique:

The Oregon Truffler

She generously showed me how and kept handing me pale nodules to put in my bag.

Along the way we saw indications that others have been working the truffle grounds, too. Truffles are clearly a favorite all around the forest. The ground beneath the trees is pocked with little excavations like this one:

Signs of other connoiseurs

The white flecks inside the hole are bits of truffle left behind by the eat-and-run lifestyle of small rodents. Careless rodents! I left no pieces of truffle behind.

So, I drove off toward town with woodland treasure on the car seat beside me. I acquired the insulated overalls and came on home to hand over my bag of booty. “You got some? You got some. I can tell, you got some!”

Wild truffles on the chopping blockI presented a handful of dirty little marbles.

What did we do with them?

Grated, slicedWe sniffed around. We grated some and tasted. Grated, it was slightly damp in feel, smelled of fungus, and was not profoundly strong. But they were tiny little nibbles. We were tentative. We sliced some, and marveled at the inner pattern of shapes and color:

A sliced white truffle

Then we cooked. That is, Richard cooked.

First course: we tried some in a cup of tomato soup. Good, but very subtle.

Then we had small omelets

Omelet with Oregon White Truffles and shallotsstuffed with truffles and shallots. That was pretty good. We felt less tentative.

Third course: Grated truffles blended into butter, over simple pasta. All the rest of them.

Pasta with truffle butter

And that was really good. The aroma of the truffles traveled upstream from the tongue into the nose and hung around in the sinuses for a while. The taste on the tongue lingered, sent little sensory delights all down the throat. The next forkful awaited, fragrant, nutty, fungal, slightly musky, slightly… bleachy. This was the flavor we had read of. This, not subtle at all, was the gold ring of mushroom collecting.

We ate them all. They’re gone. We carefully set aside the remains of the truffled butter and will have it at breakfast with scrambled eggs.

What a day! What a treat! One more thing off the Bucket List!

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*About the aphrodisiac: Look up the aphrodisiacal properties of truffles and you will find results like, “The evidence is unclear…” and, “There is no scientific verification of this.” But, every wonderful, mysterious and rare ingredient has its secrets. If we knew for sure, wouldn’t it lose some of its attraction?

Here is the science, as taken from Wikipedia:

Androstenol is a sex pheromone, possessing a musk-like odor. It is found in large quantities in boar saliva, but also in smaller quantities in human sweat glands. It is analogous to sex hormones yet has minimal or no androgenic activity. Androstenol is secreted by the adrenal gland into systemic circulation in humans: Systemic effects have not been well studied.

Androstenol, or a chemical derivative, is found in truffles, and is offered as an explanation for how pigs locate them deep in the ground.

Both isomers have a weak, characteristic odor; however alpha-androstenol is often associated with a sandalwood-like aroma due to residual solvents (alkyl acetates).

androstenol

So, go have fun.

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Treasure in the Woods

Well, now, that’s enough of that citizen activist stuff. Too many hours in Town.

Yesterday I spent some time wetting my feet in the rainy woods, looking for a small reward. It’s mushroom time in the little hidden places. Last week I found a couple of nice messes of Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus)The Shaggy Mane mushroom

in my Usual Places (that’s a specific as a mushroom hunter ever gets). You have to be quick with Shaggy Manes. They appear, white and frilly, and almost immediately start to decay. You can see that the one on the right in this picture is darkening at the bottom. It won’t be delectable for long.  As it melts, releasing its spores on the way, it turns a watery, black ink color. Its other name, the one my mother used when I was a child, is “Inky Cap.” You take them when you see them, hurry home, and do them up in the sauté pan with a bit of butter. They don’t need much else. Serve them on buttered many-grain toast and you will launch into low-earth orbit.

Shaggy Manes favor grassy areas and open leaf litter places so, on my way to town in the afternoon I turned out at a little cemetery enclosed by woods. It was raining. It didn’t matter how high I stepped, my feet were wet through by the time I had crossed half of the low rise to the markers. I was scouting the margins for those white pillars, and not seeing any. Of course, most of the time a mushroom seeker does not see any. It’s like fishing, though. The worst afternoon mushrooming is better than the best afternoon doing much else. The air was fragrant with fallen leaves, rotting fruit, and woodsmoke from nearby farm houses. I detected a whiff of the many, many fungi pushing their way into secret, damp places. Rain pattered through the last leaves of maples. The fronds of Douglas Fir brushed each other in the breeze, making the soft sound of spirits shifting underneath. I love the afternoon light in the fall, how certain colors blaze in the grey of a drizzled day.

From the other side of the fence, a certain near-incandescent flash of gold caught my eye. A scatter of butter on the woods floor. From 50 feet away, I knew what they were: The Pacific ChanterelleCantharellus formosus, the Golden Chanterelle. One’s heart leaps to find a new patch of desired edibles. It’s pleasure made of a combination of recognition, sudden joy, and guilt.

Guilt, you ask?

Well, the mushrooms are always on the other side of the fence, you know.

That’s why we wear a coat, so we have something to throw over the top wire of a barbed fence.

Let me say now, if you choose to trespass in the chase, it’s an unspoken rule (of course it’s unspoken, given the circumstance!) that you come and go without trace. You do not hurt fences. You do not mess up the woods with your coming and going. If you get hurt, it’s your own thing; you weren’t supposed to be there anyway. You never open gates. You are swift and silent.

So, you toss your coat over the fence wire, step into the forbidden ground, pull your plastic bag from your pocket, and unsheath your mushroom knife. You move, bent low to the forest floor, among the mushrooms, slicing stems and stuffing bodies into the bag. You do not take time to count. You notice the bag is heavy now but, like a card player, you don’t count while you’re sittin’ at the table. You recite poetry in your head:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here…

And you remind yourself that it is always possible to ask for forgiveness. In fact, it might be a good idea, in a Karmic sense, to ask for it even if you don’t get caught.

The bag was heavy. The bag was beautiful. Here are its contents.

The bag

When I arrived home with the fruits of my trespass, I was not unwelcome. I was pretty wet, and a little cold. But I warmed later, when we had a dinner of rabbit slow-cooked with dried plums and figs in Marsala, and a side dish of Chanterelle with garlic in a little cream…

It was only the deer were going to eat them anyway.

Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Hot Weather, Ripe Apples

It’s my opinion that temperatures in the F 90s are way more summery than is enjoyable. When I can taste the salt on my lips, it’s too warm.

However, there are some things well-suited to late summer heat, and one of them is the late summer apple.

The Gravensteins are ripe again. Since I haven’t found an Early Transparent tree for the orchard collection, these are the first to come ripe for us. Last year I wrote an encomium on the Gravenstein apple. It was the first year we’d had a real harvest off the tree, and I was thrilled with it. This year, again, we have a good yield. At least something in the garden is doing well.

Most summers we make plenty of applesauce for the larder, and a good bottling of cider as well. But this year, given the shortage of storage space in our arrangements, we thought it might be best to dry the apples. It’s been a few years since we dried some, and it’s time to renew the stock. They make good snacks and lunch fruits. They reconstitute into breakfast fruit. And, of course, into desserts. In any case, the weather right now is in perfect harmony with the Gravenstein crop, so here am I:

setting out apple slices to dry. I am somewhat surrounded by the construction site, so things are not as picturesque as they might be. But the studio, built of steel arches, is a marvelous reflector. The racks are set on the south side, and the apple slices are drying fast enough they were leathery within a couple of hours. Now, that’s solar energy at work.

So last year, my apple panegyric was on the old Gravenstein. This year I will nod to the Hewes Crab.

The Hewes crab apple

The Hewes crab apple

These days we have become so accustomed to the very few apple varieties that appear in the markets, only home orchardists really get to enjoy the pleasures of old, favorite apples. As with so many of our vegetables and fruits, commercial cultivation of apples demands uniformity of size, color and flavor. Besides, only apples capable of withstanding the rigors of large-scale picking and shipping operations can make it into the mainstream of grocery marketing. As a result, so many classic flavors have been lost to the common palate that few folks these days realize the value of, for instance, a crab apple.

Note well: a crab apple is not the same as a crabbed apple. Merriam-Webster would have us know the verb, to crab, this way:

Main Entry: 5crab
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): crabbed; crab·bing
Etymology: Middle English crabben, probably back-formation from crabbed
Date: 1662
transitive verb 1 : to make sullen : sour <old age has crabbed his nature> 2 : to complain about peevishly 3: spoil , ruin intransitive verb : carp , grouse <always crabs about the weather>
crab·ber noun
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As applied to an apple, that would be one of those small, puckery apples from an old tree aging into retirement.
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A crab apple, on the other hand, is a small, strongly-flavored apple, tart, sweet, tannic, usually intended for cooking, pickling, or, best of all, cidering.
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Back When… that is, back when European folks were first putting down roots on this continent, the greatest number of trees in a New World orchard were grown from seed, not from graft as is more common today. Apple seedlings (or pippins) are notoriously variable. When you grow a new tree from a graft, by taking a cutting of the old tree and placing it into the wood of the new rootstock, you get a new tree above the graft that is just like the old one. It is genetically the same tree. It’s, if you like, a clone of the old one. More on the value and mystery of that in a minute. When, however, you grow an apple tree from the seeds of the fruit, you get all kinds of results. Some are good. Some are not so good. They vary from their parent in size, texture, scent, shape, flavor, fruit color, hardness, keepability, cookability, disease resistance, and vigor. Seedling orchards are the source of all the apple varieties we might treasure today, varieties with outstanding names like Ashmead’s Kernal, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Kentucky Limbertwig, Bloody Ploughman, Burr Knot, and Foxwhelp. But few of those make it into the Safeway franchise, and today can be found only in backyards and small collections.
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Henry Thoreau mourned the loss of seedling cider orchards and expressed his taste for apples “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.” He thought little of the “selected lists of pomological gentlemen” whose “‘Favorites’ and ‘Nonsuches’ and ‘Seek-no-farthers’ commonly turn out very tame and forgettable. They are eaten with comparatively little zest, and have no real tang nor smack to them.
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Yeah. That’s where I am.
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But to get back to Back When, the apple back then was most likely to be used in cider. Certainly it was eaten as whole or cooked fruit, but its usual destination was the cider glass. And I do not mean, when I say this, a beverage like that jug of apple juice on the shelf at the supermarket. I mean a cider made of all the varieties in the orchard, blended in the crusher, each cider no doubt irreproducable, each cider rich in tannins, fruit flavors, sweets and sours… and that cider mostly not taken fresh when it was most properly called juice, but let to ferment and held into the winter until it was ready to drink, all heady and fizzy and — it’ll give you a lift, a real cider will.
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And this is where varieties like the little Hewes crab shine. The Hewes is an old variety, also called the Virginia crab apple, known to have been grown in the cider orchards of the colonists.

“The liquor flows from the pumice as water from a sponge,” wrote Philadelphia farmer Henry Wynkoop in 1814, of the Hewe’s crab.

When a seedling variety showed itself to hold special promise, it was grown on in the orchard through grafted trees. The little Hewes crab came to the orchard of Thomas Jefferson in this way, and he thought enough of it to keep it as a favorite in the cider orchard.

And so, in my own little orchard, there grows a Hewes crab apple that came to me as a grafted sample of the trees of Thomas Jefferson. I’m not sure how to express this, but imagine if you can that when I place my hand on the bark of my Hewes tree, it is the same tree that grew under the eyes of Thomas Jefferson. His glance might have fallen upon my tree. When I slice into one of those Hewes apples, the aroma that rises is the same one that filled the orchards of the American colonists. And when we crush our apples into golden juice and raise the glass to our lips, that mix of scents and flavors and darkening color is like, but not like — since every year’s cider is unique — that cider that calmed the thirst of those first orchardists on the North American continent.

OK — maybe that’s enough of that. I’m weary from a too-hot weekend when we moved the greenhouse out of the way of the construction site and dug up and moved plants to be saved (what unfortunate weather it is for that!), and maybe I’m overwhelmed by the possible connection to spirits (spirits of more than one kind) of another time. But it’s true, the historical continuity of the cells in a grafted plant is unarguable. Given careful husbandry, those varieties are immortal. There is no reason for us to lose them. If we value the opinions of our ancestors, there is every reason to keep them.

I give you:

the Hewes crab.
Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 10:11 pm  Comments (7)  

Eggs and Eggs

First fruits have arrived.

As I have complained already, the vegetable garden is more or less… a failure, this year. The combination of ill weather and the new septic system have conspired against the whole idea of production. Down in the garden, we have a couple of hard, green Early Girl tomatoes on the vine, about 3 infant zucchini (imagine if you can, a summer when the zucchini are scarce!), and the stubs of bean plants left behind by the rabbits. It’s not looking good for subsistence gardening. It’s fortunate we have markets.

But, unexpectedly, my stop-gap garden, the one in pots at the studio door, is doing quite well.

The cucumbers are looking good, the Swiss chard is coming on, we’ve had lettuce and radishes, and here are the eggplants. Eggplants have to be one of the loveliest of vegetable garden plants. They’re fit to be ornamentals.

Even in the best of seasons, it’s a challenge to mature full-sized eggplants here. But we can grow the smaller, short-season variety Ichiban,

and we had our first rewards this week. If we want a Moussaka, I go to the market for big, black-skinned eggplants. The little Ichibans are terrific for stir-fry dinners, though. Never mind all that business about peeling, salting to leach the bitterness, rinsing, squeezing out, and patting dry. Just slice these little guys into dollars (well, quarter-dollars maybe, given their size), and toss them into the mix. You want them to be thoroughly cooked, but they really require nothing more special than the other ingredients in the pan.

Now, isn’t that pretty? It was nice on the palate, too!

But wait! There’s more!

We have new eggs, too. Real eggs, not vegetable ones. The young Barred Plymouth Rock hens have started to lay. (The Ameraucanas seem to be a little slower to mature.)

When a hen first lays eggs, they come out quite small, as befits her young anatomy.

Soon enough, they will size up.

…That may be a small exaggeration of scale.

The view below shows a first egg and one from a hen who has been laying for merely a week.

Thank you, ladies.

So, odd season that it is, we won’t go hungry out here. But it looks like slim pickin’s overall. This is the kind of year in which, in earlier times, farmers starved.

Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 11:41 am  Comments (8)  

Exploding Vegetables, Canned Sheep, and Rose Petal Delight

This week we have a miscellany of treasures.

I was in North Portland earlier in the week, far from my usual haunts, on a trip to Kaiser Permanente where I am part of a clinical trial. By good luck my appointment fell on Wednesday afternoon and I stopped at the pretty little Farmers’ Market Kaiser sponsors once a week by providing space for vendors and car parkers. It’s part of their “Live Long and Thrive” campaign, and a nod to the growing movement in favor of local produce.

Food at an open-air market almost sells itself. You have to be insensate not to be persuaded by the colors and scents. And, especially, let me share this display:

Carrots!

Carrots!

Why, they are practically erupting, those carrots.

Consider these nestled onions, turnips and beets:

Onions and turnips and beets, oh my!

Onions and turnips and beets, oh my!

See those tiny white turnips over there between the onions and the beets? Pulled from the ground when they are scarcely bigger than radishes, they are the tenderest, sweetest turnips you will ever eat. Cut off the greens but do not throw them away! Slice the turnips, at most in half, and cook them briefly in a skillet with a half inch of water on the boil. I mean briefly! These are babies, and babies cook fast. Pay no attention to how long the cookbook says to cook them. Poke them with a fork and find them still just firm and they are ready. Serve them steaming with some butter. They’ll melt on your tongue. Next to some carrots for color, they will melt your eyeballs, too.

You can prepare the greens as well, and serve them for the next evening’s supper. Again, disregard the Joy of Cooking instruction that would have you cook them 20 minutes (!), pour off the water (!), and cook them another 10 minutes, upon which you will have a pot of green mush appealing only to Popeye. Why do they always tell you to discard the cooking water, laden as it is with color, vitamins and flavor? What better stock for a quick soup than the cooking water from vegetables? Pshaw! Shame! Oh, but I was preparing turnip greens: take up your skillet again, put in a little water and a bit of butter, lay in the washed greens, and cook them almost as your would a stir-fry, except you don’t really need to stir them. That quickly, though. Five minutes. Maybe seven. They are done and tender. Maybe add a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top.

This is fast food, people! It would take you longer to defrost the Skinny Cuisine dinner in a box.

Next, by special request, I’ve retrieved a photo from the farm archives wherein are portrayed the wages of sin.

Perl was one of our first sheep, a small old ewe with what is called a “lilac” fleece, meaning her dark spots were grey not black. Her pale spots faded almost completely in the sun. She was primitive in type, had a quite sparse and greasy fleece, was instinctual in behavior, and was the matron of the flock during her tenure. Covetousness and gluttony were Perl’s faults of nature. One year we housed the young pullets in one of the lambing pens in the sheep shed. It seemed a good way to get the growing young hens out of the basement, along with their dust and smell. We lined the pen with chicken wire to keep them in and the sheep out. It worked for a while. But Perl was a smart sheep. I want no disparaging remarks about the stupidity of sheep. Jacob sheep are not your usual sheep of popular tale. They are wily and intelligent and highly likely to figure out a way to get what they desire.

Perl desired the grain of the young chickens. One day she succeeded in opening the gate to the pen where they were housed, and must have gone right to work on the chicken feeder. But, lacking a beak, she didn’t eat from the bottom of the feeder the way hens do. She ate from the top. She probably lifted the whole feeder with her head then, and the wire carry-handle of the can slipped neatly over her two horns, and she was trapped. In the afternoon I went out to feed sheep, and found the flock standing on one side of the paddock regarding Perl with distant care, and Perl herself:

Perl in a can

Perl in a can

“I don’t want the cheese. I just want out of the trap.”

And last, a nice pleasure of the season: We have an old rambling rose, the best of its kind, which is to say unnamed, unruly, and divinely scented. It grew in the garden of my old house in Portland where it did battle with the fence and, in time, might have won if the new owners of the place had not taken the fence down altogether. I think the rose is gone now, too. But we dug up a goodly chunk of the root back then and brought it with us to the farm. Neither half of the ramble seemed to notice the surgery and the rose now grows right up through the nearby crab apple tree in front of the house here. Early summer brings the best air from this old bloom, and the flowers though they come but once in a season are profuse. I pluck whole fully opened heads willy-nilly as high as I can reach, and set the petals to dry. As the flower diminishes, the perfume remains. One year we made rosary beads from them, a messy but so-aromatic undertaking. We nearly swooned by the time we finished with that one. One year we made scented bath and body oil. It seemed such a simple, ancient thing to do, with a result so lasting and pleasant. This year, dried rose petal sachets, I think. Christmas presents, maybe?

“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses,” wrote the poet James Oppenheim.

Published in: on July 4, 2008 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment