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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmFebruary 6, 2009

We've been busy putting up preserves for this weekend's back-to-back winter farmers' markets in Greenfield and Amherst, and never quite got back to the newsletter I began a week ago. Here it is!

January 30, 2009

Happy New Year!

And, even more importantly, Happy New Era!!!!!

It's a breathtakingly beautiful, sunny, snow-covered January day here in New Hampshire. Yesterday's storm deposited another foot of snow over our frozen landscape. Evergreen boughs droop with the weight of the snow and the orchard sparkles. The snow banks are so high that only the top of the fence is revealed.

When I last wrote, the repercussions from December 11th's ice storm weren't yet apparent. Ralph had just finished taping the shattered window of the minivan when the power went off, plunging us into darkness. Ever the optimist, I loaded the van for the Amherst Holiday Market scheduled for the next day, and merrily made applesauce, soup and chocolate pudding by candlelight on the woodstove. I had a great show that couldn't be beat, but came home on Saturday night to find that the electricity was still out, but even worse, Ralph sick with a toothache. By the time we could get him to a dentist on Monday, he looked like a cartoon character with a face so swollen nothing could be done for him until antibiotics had a chance to work - a couple of weeks. And still no power.

We're pretty self-sufficient and fairly adept at living a 19th-century lifestyle. When the storm was predicted, we made sure we had plenty of wood for the three woodstoves and filled three huge canning kettles with water. (When you live in the country, no electricity doesn't just mean no lights or heat, it means no running water. It's amazing how many times a day you wash your hands - you don't realize it until you can't) Our biggest worry was for the five freezers filled with fruit in the cellar. Luckily, we have a small portable generator that Ralph managed to get going (we used soapstone heated on the woodstove to warm it up). The generator could run one or two freezers at a time, then Ralph would switch to a couple of the others. I kept track of how long each ran with the diligence I use to keep track of watering the garden beds during a summer drought. Fortunately, we keep thermometers in the freezers and could be sure that everything stayed well frozen. We even consolidated five freezers into four by flashlight on about the fourth day.

Phone service was intermittent, and of course the computer was out, although I realize now that I could probably have run it on the generator. Sorry to everyone who couldn't get through to place a holiday order, or who I dissuaded from ordering. Although I took some orders early on, as the time wore on I had to decline. I had expected to be able to put up small batches of preserves just about every day that week while still filling orders, and since the Amherst market had gone so well, I was low or out of everything. Although I could cook, I couldn't put up preserves or mustard without water to wash and sterilize the jars.

We were lucky to have neighbors and friends who brought us water and offered baths. We were also lucky that most of Winchester was not powerless - just here on Burt Hill and a couple of other hilltops - so we could go to town for gasoline and batteries, etc. We feel extraordinarily lucky that our electricity returned late on December 19th after a week without it. Whole towns to the east of us were much worse hit and went for as long as two weeks without electricity - right up to Christmas.

For us, really, the worst part was Ralph's toothache. All the chores that come with winter - like moving snow and splitting wood - are no fun at all when your face hurts - actually, they're only fun for a certain kind of person to begin with...Add to that the fun of hauling water from the frigid streams and pulling the cord on the frozen old generator.....

On the morning of the winter solstice it was snowing once again when Ralph and the dogs trudged through the field to our treeline and cut a fir tree. He hauled it in and set it up and we decorated it, then celebrated with a butternut maple pie - because it's an orange circle, like the sun.

And things have been getting even better ever since! We've had lots more pies, and time to read books, and time to heal our worn bodies, and time to showshoe up and down the mountain. Slowly and surely we've been emptying the freezer and refilling the pantry, turning frozen fruit into preserves, heating with jam.

As the old year wore to a close, we celebrated by sending 20% of our November and December sales to our favorite animal rescue agencies, the Monadnock Humane Society, the Pioneer Valley Humane Society of Western Massachusetts, the Windham County Humane Society of Vermont and Kitty Angels. We're so grateful to the people who take care of all the animals until they find their true homes.

Our own dogs get the credit for dragging me through the snow and up to the top of the mountain even when the mercury dips below zero. They love these hikes so much that the snow and cold don't deter them in the least. Barley loves to forge the path and Rose brings up the rear. We have to blaze our own trail up to the top, then pick up snowmobile trails over the ridge. Occasionally we meet snowmobilers - I've taught the dogs to run deep into the woods when we hear them - we hunker down and pretend to be rocks...In 24 years of hiking and snowshoeing over the mountain, I've encountered others on foot only twice, but snowmobilers almost every weekend.

Auggie the fluffy kitty owns the spots closest to the woodstoves and never ventures out this time of year. They all cuddle to keep us warm at night.

We've been having fun making desserts this season. We've added to our web site recipes for the Butternut Maple Pie we made for the solstice, and another for Blackberry Shortcake we made to celebrate President Obama's inauguration. (President Obama - doesn't that sound GREAT!!!)


Patti (and Ralph!)



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