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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmOctober 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!!!

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 pectin-added recipes.

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, scratchy throat.

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 aging.

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 congressional delegation.


Patti (and Ralph!)

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.....)



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