September 27, 2009
Softly falling rain today provides me with a window to write a little message. September has been full of bright, sunny, crisp days - days that have given our autumn-bearing raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and elderberries perfect weather to ripen. It's also been perfect weather for hiking up to the top of the mountain, and for putting up preserves in the kitchen.
June, July and August, unfortunately, were not as kind to fruit, as anyone living in New England this summer knows. The soft-skinned fruits like strawberries and raspberries took the hardest hits and yields were about half of what we'd hoped for. Luckily, blueberries and peaches were quite abundant and the late season blueberries and raspberries are still coming on strong.
Damson Plums were few and far between this year. We've put up half of the harvest already, and will put up the rest in November. Pears, too, are quite light. We'll probably just save them for our own use.
Blackberries were largely taken out by last winter's ice storm, but some very late-ripening fruits are coming along nicely right now. (With more than 500' of blackberries, even a poor year will yield some berries.) Elderberry yields are also down unexpectedly - the elegant bushes set many flowers, but harvest of fruits is about half of last year's. I'm not sure, but I think birds contributed to the low yields - they seem to use the bushes as avian trampoline/gymnasium equipment, especially in August. It could be that they're simply eating the berries while still green - they clearly spend lots of time in there.
Red and Black Currants were a bright spot! We had great yields of both berries once we covered the long beds with netting to thwart the birds.
Vegetables were mixed too, with garlic loving the wet weather and growing quite large. We're still getting lots of lovely peppers, both the heirloom Italian varieties corno di toro and giant marconi, and several varieties of jalapeno.
We managed to escape the light blight phytophora that hit many New England tomato growers until mid September. Nestled in a pocket of a wrinkle of fold on a mountainside, we're pretty remote from other farms and gardens and it took longer for the ubiquitous blight spores to find us. Our heirloom Anna Russians began in mid August followed by Gilberties in September and we hustled to put up Tomatoes Rustica. The spores did find us eventually, though, and we've decided that we need to withdraw the Tomatoes Rustica from our offerings. We grew tomatoes in one of our longest beds (125' )as well as in half of our oldest garden and both locations now are off limits to future tomato plantings for several years since blight spores likely remain. Luckily, Ralph created a new garden this year where we grew pumpkins and squashes so we do have a place to rotate tomatoes into, but since we're uncertain as to tomatoes' success in that new area, we feel the need to hold on to every tomato that we've put up this season. (The pumpkins and squash did great!)
In the Kitchen
We've been busy putting up preserves and mustards in anticipation of our favorite harvest shows coming up in the next two weeks. Right now, we actually have EVERYTHING on hand! Three things are worth a mention regarding availability:
Elderberries - really want to be syrup, rather than preserves. They told me again, on Thursday, as we began to prepare the 15 pounds that Elisha had just picked. We cooked, simmered and strained. We began with our preserve recipe, then adjusted back to syrup. We tweaked both recipes and added some apples and some elderberry cider vinegar...mmmm....it intensified the elderberries and helped thicken the syrup without needing a lot of sugar. We really like the flavor and may just continue to put up the elderberries this way this season. Since elderberry syrup is a wonderful way to quell a scratchy throat and help chase away viruses, it just makes sense to use the berries for this - yummy on pancakes, waffles and crepes, yummy for sore throats, yummy in hot tea and beverages..........
Damson Plums will probably be gone by the December holidays. Sorry to say that we're going to have to limit each customer to six jars only.
Black Currant Preserve is awesome - and I'm not overusing that shopworn expression. The berry that is rather uninspiring raw is transformed by cooking into something that has many, many layers of flavor. We love this new preserve and encourage anyone who loves our Damson Plum to try Black Currant. They are both rich and intense and multilayered and inspire recipes (e.g. spread on a warm, buttery tart crust, cool, and fill the tart with savory Swiss chard, cheese and egg custard, cook 'til set.
All of our four-legged friends are doing very well. I was a bit worried about my dear old Rose who seemed to becoming lame after our rigorous hikes lately (she's nearly my age now, and can't take advantage of trekking poles I use to propel myself up the mountain with nearly effortless ease). This morning though, she discovered a new tennis ball I had brought home from the park and has been flying all over the house with it. It seems like the lameness was just temporary but we may have to lower our expectations for long hikes.
Barley the enormous retriever and Auggie the kitty continue their unlikely love affair, nuzzling each other whenever one or the other comes into the room, sleeping together and even sharing toys. Auggie actually pulls Barley's rope toy out of the toy basket and cuddles up with it when he's not around. She's quite a funny cat. Last week she pulled down the weatherstripping while scratching at a door frame, startled with widened eyes, then realized that she had indeed killed a great black snake and dragged it off to the living room rug where she laid on top of it savoring her victory........!
All in all, we are pleased with the season in spite of its challenges. We have five freezers full of fruit instead of our usual six, but how can anyone really complain with five freezers full of fruit?!?!? Golden September has given us an outstanding counterweight to summer's dark skies and we look forward to October's bright blue weather.