Here in New Hampshire it's a lovely, golden autumn day.
The dogs and I are celebrating by making a pumpkin woman
we can set out at the roadside with our Obama sign and peace
pumpkin. (We get so little traffic, it's all kind of silly.....)
Later, we'll take a long walk in the woods. Hunting season
begins tomorrow and lasts through to December 7 (even on
Sundays!) so we'll be taking our daily hikes in Massachusetts
for the next five weeks.
We've had a glorious season, having picked record numbers
of strawberries, peaches, blackberries, peppers, pears and
elderberries. Hard frosts and snow have put an end to our
harvesting (only the last raspberries were left) but in the
cellar, our 6 freezers are filled to the brim with all of
our fruits - every one picked at perfect peak. Thanks to
the new solar panels we installed in July, our electric bills
amount to almost nothing!
We're caught up on making our preserves and mustards (for
a minute!) and have good supplies of everything, as well
as a couple of products we'll introduce at an "Open
Kitchen" event we're having here next weekend, November
8 + 9.
Elderberries continue to delight and amaze
us. We began picking them in September and eventually put
up about 140 pounds of beautiful fruit. They pick quickly,
the real work is removing the berries from the stems. Some
days this was quite daunting, but I was helped along with
a little gin and a little jazz to keep me company as I worked
into the night. I began making our new Elderberry Syrup right
away, selling it as fast as I could make it at our farmers'
markets and harvest festivals. Barley's Elderberry Preserve,
though, required a few trials to get right.
An elderly gentleman of around 80 at the Tower Hill Autumn
Festival said it perfectly, "My mother tried to make
elderberry jelly" he laughed, "but no matter how
hard she tried, she either wound up with Elderberry Syrup
or something that was like hard chewing gum!" I learned
that lesson last year when my first batch of low-sugar, pectin
free elderberry preserves actually yielded syrup (first jars
of the batch) and something like an elderberry lozenge (last
jar of the batch). The old-timer's mother had to be making
her preserves the same way as I do, without added pectin
and without a lot of sugar, hence her difficulty. My eureka
moment came last year when I spied the baskets of my cortland
apples in the cellar and realized - add the apples to the
elders! It took a couple of batches, but I finally came up
with a ratio that worked.
This year, I ignored my pages of notes and tried to reduce
the apples to 10%, then 20% of the total fruit, but simply
made more syrup. (That's OK though, my customers bought it
all up!) I consulted cook books and on-line recipes and was
appalled to see recipes that called for incredible amounts
of sugar (nine cups sugar to six cups juice plus two boxes
pectin to make jelly; seven cups sugar to five cups juice
to make syrup!) These also called for covering the berries
with water to extract the juice. Since we make our preserves
by boiling the water off, this seems crazy to us - we add
just enough water to keep them from burning.
We finally got a batch to set up by increasing the apples
to about 25% of the total fruit, and now I'm wondering why
I resisted using the apples to begin with this year. After
all, it's much better to have our crisp, organic apples in
the jar with their friends the elderberries, rather than
a lot of sugary gel. We only use 3/4 cup of sugar to each
cup of juice too, just about half of what's needed in the
We have Elderberry
Syrup and Barley's Elderberry Preserve
on hand now and hope to have enough to last through the winter.
Elderberries are particularly good at fending off colds and
flu and shortening the duration of a respiratory infection.
A teaspoon of Elderberry Syrup is a wonderful cough syrup
and sipping Elderberry Syrup over ice helps cool a sore,
Of course, it's very tasty too! Lara used it to top a cheesecake
for Dante's birthday and serves it with his morning crepes.
Elisha gives it to her girls Juniper and Asha in their morning
oatmeal. Ralph and I enjoyed it on biscuits last week (but
I have to put a stop to that or I'll need to exercise all
day long to compensate).
I had intended to put the syrup up in the little champagne
bottles we use for fruit vinegars, but realized that I couldn't
be sure of getting a tight seal with the composite cork.
For the rest of this season, I'll continue to put it up in
our regular hexagonal jars so I can water-bath can it, and
simply hand-write the labels. I'll keep it the same price
as Barley's Elderberry Preserve too ($6.00).
Golden Autumn Pear Preserve
We picked the first two bushels of pears in late September
when a heavy storm threatened. We stored them carefully in
crates in the cellar, each pear nested in its own coffee
filter so it didn't touch its neighbors. I had intended to
make an unsweetened pear butter, but overwhelmed by markets
and shows, elderberries, peppers and raspberries, I didn't
get to them for a couple of weeks. By the time I did, they
were too soft to use.
Last weekend we picked more pears, but didn't dare wait
for them to soften some (but not too much!) so went right
to work making a pear preserve by the same technique as our
very popular Dancing Bear Peach Preserve. Interestingly,
the pears released lots of juice into the sugar which created
a syrup in which the pear chunks floated. We cooked them
until the pear chunks turned a lovely golden color, just
short of carmelization. It tastes sweeter to us than any
of our other preserves - I guess partly because pears are
so sweet to begin with. Elisha agreed that it's about as
sweet as maple syrup, and took along a jar to top her hearty
multigrain pancakes for supper that night. I imagine we'll
be out of this almost immediately, so if you're interested,
send me an email now and I'll set one aside for you.
Rosie's Red Currant and Black Currant Preserves
OK, these aren't really ready yet....but I do intend to
make both next week so we'll have them for our open house
next weekend. I've made Rosie's Red Currant for enough years
that I don't expect any difficulties in getting a soft-set.
The Black Currants will be a new challenge, but since currants
are loaded with their own natural pectin and since Black
Currant is a fairly conventional preserve, I'm not anticipating
any trouble. Therefore, I predict that these will be available
for sale by November 8. Since both of these were harvested
during our very rainy July, yields were fairly low. I predict
that I'll be out of both by year's end, so if Rosie's Red
Currant is one of your favorites, or if you've been waiting
for our new Black Currant Preserve, you better get a word
to me now.
Notes from the Pantry
We're well stocked with preserves (raspberry, blueberry,
strawberry, blackberry, peach, Damson plum, seedless raspberry
and seedless blackberry) and mustards (farmhouse garlic,
raspberry maple, strawberry honey, lavender honey and chile
pepper) right now. Gardens in a Bottle Herbal Vinegars are
getting low - we've already sold out of French Tarragon.
I expect we'll have enough through the holiday season. We
have raspberry and blackberry vinegars put up and more bottles
Tomatoes Rustica and JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa are both
fine for now but will probably be out of stock by early 2009.
Since our raspberry yield was down a couple hundred pints,
we'll use most of what we have for preserves and vinegar,
hopefully taking us through to next year's harvest. This
decision was aided by the fact that Dancing Bear Tom's onions
suffered in the rain in July as well and are unlikely to
hold up in storage past December. (We use Tom's onions in
making JazzBerry Salsa.) Those same rains also contributed
to an abbreviated tomato harvest. Although the plants were
vigorous and set well, the relentless rain took its toll.
We got plenty of tomatoes for our own needs, and made enough
Tomatoes Rustica for the harvest/holiday season.
Notes from the Gardens
The winter rye is up in the old strawberry bed, adding an
unearthly vibrant green hue to the autumnal palette of golds,
reds and rusts.
As always, we celebrate Halloween - closing the old season
and beginning the new year - by planting the best and largest
cloves of garlic in their beds. We do this with gratitude
to the powers that be for this year's wonderful harvest and
hope that the magic continues to summer 2009! Looking ahead
I'm wrapping this up on November 1 and getting ready to take
the dogs down to the Winchester Town Common to hold signs
for Barack Obama. I'm so excited and nervous about this election,
I practically can't stand it. After the last 8 years of pain
and misery, it will be great to have a president we can be
proud of again. Here in New Hampshire, we have a chance to
elect a new senator, Jeanne Shaheen and return a democratic
P.S. Rosie reminds me that without her vigilance, chipmunks,
squirrels, bunnies and mice would steal all our produce, and
she's right. We couldn't do it without her! Barley,
on the other hand, is happy to sit on the chaise lounge and
watch her (and he's the only one who gets to sit down.....)