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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmFebruary 2, 2011

Happy Groundhog's Day! This is the day that earth-centered cultures celebrated as "Candlemas" - the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. Today much of the northeast and midwest are buried under snow and here in New Hampshire the fruiting bushes are disappearing. Blueberries taller than me reveal only their tippy tops, and the trunks and scaffold limbs of the trees in the orchard are buried, making it look like a hillside of hedgehogs.

I hope the Vernal Equinox comes as quickly as the Winter Solstice departed. It seems like just last week when we celebrated by wassailing all the fruits and orchard trees, making a golden-orange butternut-maple pie symbolizing the invincible sun, and brought in a spruce we'd planted 20+ years ago to decorate.

Across the calendar from Candlemas is "Lammas" on August 1 - feast of the loaves celebrating grain harvest. It's my favorite cross-quarter day because here we celebrate our harvest of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, currants and peaches, all of which are coming in around then. Last summer - with the unusually early season - we picked tomatoes and peppers that day too.

In spite of a challenging growing season, our harvest/ holiday season was very busy. As always we are glad to be able to share 20% of our holiday income with our favorite animal rescue organizations. As the old year passed, we sent $500 each to our local Monadnock Humane Society and Kitty Angels. Smaller sums of $100-200 went to Pioneer Valley (MA) Humane Society, Windham County (VT) Humane Society, Fast Friends Greyhound Rescue (NH) and Second Chance Fund for Animal Rescue (MA). All of these organizations work so hard to provide a good life for rescued animals - they are our heroes!

January is supposed to be my sleepy month (I like to go into dormancy, like my fruit), but we were so completely sold out after the holidays that we've been cooking almost every day. I never complain, though! Just opening a bag of berries and inhaling the aroma as I pour them into the kettle to thaw brings me right back to summer. While I cook the fruit and stir the kettle as it simmers, all the layers of flavor come up and dance before my face, steam filling the kitchen and spreading throughout the house to help fight winter's chill.

We put up the last blackberries of summer this week - just 48 jars - and don't know when we'll see them again. Blackberries (cultivated varieties, not the wild ones) don't like temperatures much below 0 and we saw nearly negative 20 last week. We're hoping that the fact that they were buried in nearly three feet of snow and the tops of the canes were encrusted with ice might have protected them. (In this Ralph and I have switched hats and he's the cockeyed optimist and I'm the one with the worried brow.)

In The Pantry

We're also running out of Elderberry Syrup, with enough berries in the freezer to make just another 40 jars or so. We're out of Raspberry Maple Mustard (should have some again by mid-March) and Strawberry Honey Mustard (not until July at the earliest). Rosie's Red Currant Preserve is also low and won't be back until some time in July. We just made JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa (couldn't imagine going to Greenfield Winter Market this weekend without it!) and it will go fast. Although we still have a pretty good stash of raspberries, we're out of sweet Italian peppers so this is the last JazzBerry we'll have until late August. Likewise, Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve ("Pleasantly Zippy") is low, although we harvested a ton of chile peppers so we'll have the "Hot" variety for awhile. Herbal & Fruit vinegars are all low and since I won't be picking herbs again any time soon, I can only put up Queen of Hearts Raspberry Vinegar until summer. (I will be offering it in the petite champagne size (187 ml) as well as the 375 ml size though, having finally found tiny barcaps for the champagne bottles.)

Markets and Shows

The Greenfield (MA) Winter Farmers' Market is this coming weekend, February 5, at Greenfield High School from 10-2. This event brings an amazing array of local foods, proving that you can eat very well by eating locally all year 'round, even in frozen New England. I'm especially looking forward to Coyote Hill Farm's greens, Sidehill Farm yogurt, Red Fire Farm's vegetables (last year these amazing farmers offered a whole wall of vegetables - both storage crops and fresh greens), cheese from Chase Hill Farm, apples and cider from Clarkdale and Apex Orchards and locally grown organic grains and breads made from them from Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains and Wheatberry Bakery.

The Keene (NH) Winter Farmers' Markets continue on February 19, March 12, and April 16 at beautiful Stonewall Farm in Keene from noon to 4:00. This market offers a great selection of meats including beef, pork, and chicken (and soon duck!), as well as eggs, milk, cheese, and vegetables. The farm also has lovely trails for snow shoeing and skiing, friendly animals and other offerings for family fun.

Comfy Cozy in our Snowy Abode

The animals are all hunkered down while Ralph is out on the tractor trying to figure out where to move the snow.... There's been so much snow this winter that I haven't been able to make it up to the top of the mountain (my little legs rebel; even with snowshoes it's too steep and too deep to be fun). I have been skiing and snowshoeing right here at the farm though, skiing laps up and down the rows of fruits and through the orchard. I also tromp around the perimeter of the farm in my snowshoes, packing a trail so the dogs can patrol the property and keep it safe from the rabbits and deer. (Rabbits love the way three feet of snow offers easy access to delicate fruiting tips.) The solar panels need to be cleaned of snow so I pack down a trail to them too, as well as the poor greenhouse, in danger of disappearing altogether.

Rosie and Barley usually follow me out through the heritage raspberries to the old logging road and a little waterfall, then we come back and do a lap around the perimeter of the farm. They make their one lap, then watch in bafflement as I cover the same area over and over again. During the summer they love to sit on the chaise lounge chairs and watch us work, especially when the girls come and we go up and down the berry rows, again and again. They think we're pretty crazy, but get it when the baskets and baskets of fruits come into the kitchen. This time of year, though, they just think I've completely lost my mind. From the gardens closest to the house they follow me with their eyes, watching from the south side as I trek that way, moving to the west as I move over there, northside, eastside and around again as I circle around them.

Auggie the fluffy kitty has a circle game she plays too. It's called "Don't let the 150 pound fluffy dog on the bed!" Even though she adores him and wants him to join her, she loves scampering to precisely the site he has chosen to land upon and blocking him. He goes around to the other side - she's there! and again! and again! until Ralph or I pick up Auggie and hold her until he can make the leap. She's beside him in an instant, snuggling in for a cozy cuddle. (Rosie has never let a cat deter her from anything - still can't figure out what the varmint is doing in the house...)

Peace, Love and Pie

As if he didn't already do enough, Ralph added another passion to life which makes mine all the better - he's fallen in love with baking pies in our century-old wood cookstove. I love this old stove more than I can express and have been cooking on it since 1975. Ralph has always appreciated it for cooking steaks over the wood fire or pancakes on the soapstone griddle, but I've always been the pie-person until now. Butternut-maple, apple cinnamon, blueberry.....Something very special happens to fruit in a buttery crust when it's cooked in a wood-fired cast iron oven that defies description. It's sublime, it's sumptuous, it's sensuous.....Suffice it to say that I'm a very happy girl and hey, I don't care if we have supper - let's just have pie!

Happy New Year! Happy Candlemas! Celebrate! Light some candles! Eat some pie!

Love,

Patti (and Ralph!)

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