November 25, 2014
Harvest Blessings and Warm Thanksgiving Greetings from the calm before the storm!
We're getting ready for the predicted foot of snow and hoping the forecasts are wrong. Today is warm, and a fine time to make sure that the wood boxes are full and that the tractor is well charged and up to the task of snow removal. Abbey helps by offering her ball for us to throw every minute or so and Barley is enjoying the activity, seeming to sniff the snow in anticipation. Tomorrow, while the snow falls, we'll roast the turkey and bake butternut squash and pumpkin pie in the wood cook stove then bring them over the river and through the woods to Mum's on Thanksgiving...at least, that's the plan.
It's been a bountiful year here, which, in reflection, I remember mostly as a blur of hands and berries. I've felt like The White Rabbit, constantly running behind, even though the spring came so very slowly after the cold, snowy, old-fashioned winter.
The first fruits of summer, our strawberries, were largely non-existent. Picking from a three year old bed would have meant low yields even without the harsh winter, but the low temperatures took a toll in spite of heavy mulch and snow. Ah, but we did put in a beautiful brand new bed, so 2015 should bring many, many beauties!
Red Currants and Black Currants followed and, much to our surprise, yielded quite nicely.
Summer-bearing Raspberries, Killarneys and Taylors produced lovely berries and the weather of high summer was far less hot and humid than usual, making picking these jewels quite pleasant.
Likewise our Blackberries, lovingly named Teddy Berries after our beloved Newfie, produced beautiful big berries over a long season which was really a surprise given the winter. Since these guys require personal protective equipment for picking (e.g. long sleeves, canvas, hat), the cooler temperatures really helped when the fruit needed picking. We always find bird's nests in the blackberry rows....that's OK, we're glad to share.
Blueberries, which had taken a break in 2013, were back this summer. Like the currants, these berries need to be netted from the birds who will eat every one before it even has a chance to ripen.
Peaches, like the strawberries, took a hit from the hard winter. We had had a spectacular season in 2013 so I had expected low yields anyway. The funny thing is that since the peaches were sparse on the trees, they sized up to be much larger than usual for us, prompting Ralph to quip, "they look like someone else grew them..."
Elderberries bore beautifully and there were a couple of days in September that I completely filled by teasing the tiny fruits from their stems. If you wait until all the berries in an umbel are completely ripe, the birds will have eaten the lion's share. I found the secret to gathering the berries before the birds is to pick the whole umbels into a paper bag when about 1/3 - 1/2 of the berries are ripe, then keeping them all together in the bag. In a day or two, they will all be ripe and ready to use. Unlike syrups made from elderberry tea, we make our Elderberry Syrup using our freshly-frozen elderberries simmered in the smallest amount of water in the kettle to keep them from burning while they simmer. After a couple of hours we strain them through a jelly bag, then measure, add sugar, and boil again until it forms a syrup. Then, we fill the jars, affix the lids, and can them in a boiling water bath so that they are shelf-stable until opened. My point being - our Elderberry Syrup is FULL of ELDERBERRIES, and TASTY and shelf-stable! So if you love it for fighting off colds and flu, for sipping in tea, for drizzling on French toast or crepes, ENJOY it while we have it!!! It's full of Elderberry goodness! In the spring, we took cuttings from the elders and rooted them, planting out another three rows in the lower field by the beaver pond. They seem to love it here and we couldn't be happier.
Damson Plums held on in spite of attacks from porcupines early in the season and the spread of black knot, an unsightly fungus that weakens the trees. Like the peaches, many fruits were lost to winter's cold, but Damsons are hardier than a modern plum and most of the trees had a moderate fruit set. Also like the peaches, these Damsons were larger than usual, more the size of the tip of Ralph's thumb than mine....still pretty puny compared to the modern goliaths...but oh so much more intense!
Autumn Raspberries wrapped up the season with a bang. These Carolines are so very beautiful and flavorful and just kept coming during a harvest season that saw nearly no rain, just golden day after golden day, bringing us berry after berry after berry of sweet deliciousness.
Garlic was amazing this year and we've already put up dozens of gallons into vinegar for mustard and still are joyfully wondering what to do with all the rest of it.... Tarragon and Lavender were plentiful as always to flavor our mustards, and we also grew lots of basils, thymes, sage, dill, fennel, calendula, rosemary, nasturtiums for our kitchen and simply for the beauty they bring. We had fun interplanting herbs, flowers and vegetables.
We grew more diverse vegetables again this year and fewer tomatoes and peppers (although we still have plenty of chili peppers for Chili Pepper Mustard, and we put up a few dozen jars of Mad Hatter's Pepper Preserve). Since I don't go off to farmers' markets in the summer any more, I'm really enjoying putting in vegetables for fun right here. This year we trialed kale varieties, Swiss chard, carrots, beets, Dutch peas and English peas, leeks and perennial onions, various squashes and cukes, greens and more. And in spite of cutting way back on our tomato planting, we still put up five dozen quarts of tomato sauce, which is just enough...
As if fine weather bringing fine berries wasn't blessing enough, we are also blessed and grateful that Elisha was here to help us plant, care for and pick most of the fruits, herbs and vegetables. Some days her daughters Asha and Juniper came to help, and lately she's been bringing young pup Moki for extra fun. We're grateful for Kyle's help too. Whether mowing, trimming, picking fruit, pruning, or helping Ralph with a building project, Kyle was great to have around, always working carefully and dependably, with a smile on his face and with a reverence and respect for the fruit and land.
As of this one brief shining moment, everything is in stock! We have preserves, mustards, and even a few vinegars (Blenda d'Italia, French Tarragon, Raspberry and Blackberry). We try to do a lot of preserve-making in December (the weather is ideal and the warmth and aroma are a delightful bonus) but it's a good idea to reserve your favorites because anything can happen!
A Note About Holiday Ordering
We can send orders - gift boxed or not - all over the country via USPS Priority Mail. We already have a file begun with holiday orders and are glad to take orders for shipping at a later date if you want to insure that we have your chosen favorites.
Farmers' Market of Keene
I love this market, held every Saturday from 10-2 at The Colony Mill Marketplace in Keene, right by the beloved Toadstool Bookstore. The fine farmers of the Monadnock Region bring milk, beef, pork, lamb, eggs, vegetables, maple syrup, and goat-milk lotions and soaps; artisan bakers bring breads and pastries; cheesemakers offer cow's and goat's milk cheeses; and crafters bring jewelry, furniture and wood-worked items. Also at The Mill, Elm City Brewery, Unbridled Chocolates, Millyard Antiques and several hip stores (and the aforementioned beloved Toadstool Bookstore!) make it a great destination.
We had a scare with Barley last month but after lots of care and attention, he's doing better today. We're grateful for every day he can get up and enjoy himself. Abbey the clown makes us laugh at least 100 times a day. We're grateful too that my Mum sprang back from a bad fall in June to her feisty self today - a month shy of her 93rd birthday. And we're grateful that we're still rolling along with the great wheel from season to season. These days of low light make me feel deeply rooted and ready to go dormant with the trees. Writing this, it's nice to remember days filled with fruit - days that felt they'd never end - and realize that if they were all like that, we'd collapse from exhaustion. So we'll cuddle up to the fire, sip some hot tea with elderberry syrup, and succumb to the call of sleep. Oh, but not until I throw the ball for Abbey another hundred times.....
Blessings Friends! Wishing you some comfy cozy cuddling time during this Thanksgiving harvest season and through to the holidays and new year beyond. We're grateful to you for all your support and love!