Week of July 23rd/ Week of July 30th

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It has been a harvesting, pickling and jamming rush these past couple of weeks, hence the silence here. Pictured above is the strawberry infused vinegar, ready for straining and bottling, made some weeks ago, and the cherry bounce, ready for infusing. We used an even split of rainier and bing cherries to make the bounce; I find that the bing cherries often have a somewhat medicinal quality that I dislike, but the rainier cherries won’t leech much color into the bourbon. We went with buffalo trace, having considered both bulleit and makers mark. Price point ultimately won out; however, if I was to make more I think I’d go with the bulleit, given the higher content of rye used in the mash.

I’d had hopes of course, of harvesting the cherries from the orchard at Reed to make the bounce, but alas, they produced even more poorly than they usually do. Such is the gamble of foraged food. Likewise, I was excited to try my hand at making mulberry aigre-doux, after stumbling upon a recipe. Aigre-doux are preserves in the French and Italian tradition, and as the name suggests, are bittersweet— usually a mix of alcohol, sugar and vinegar, neither fully jam nor fully pickle, with the fruit most often left intact. Anyway, given the large amount of jams and jellies and pickles that are rapidly filling the crates in the basement right now, some sort of middle ground seemed worthwhile to explore, and perhaps a useful condiment down the road for cheese plates, if we ever manage to get around to making our own cheese. I have this vision in my head of being able to proffer up a board (dark stained hardwood, obviously) of homemade cheese, meat I butchered and cured myself, cornichons I pickled, and condiments I preserved to the ultimate end of having an amazed and enthralled eating audience that applauds my culinary mastery.

So, foodie pretensions and silly need for validation via captive audience with empty stomachs being foremost in my head, I was excited to find the mulberry tree chock full of fruit. I left it unpicked for a few days while I wrapped up other projects, then bought my wine, bought my vinegar, and proceeded to wind my way through the canyon to pick the fruit. I gathered what I needed, hopeful and excited enough to ignore the fruit flies that were suddenly everywhere around the tree (damned drosophila!), poised perfectly upon my rickety commandeered ladder to pick only the finest of fruits the tree had to offer. No sodden, half-rotten fruits were destined for my preserves, heaven forbid! Mulberries, for those lacking certainty, are like long, purple raspberries or blackberries, only much sweeter, with edible stems, and they grow on trees. So I picked my fruit, all three quarts of it, and returned home with my treasure. Some time later, with jars sterilized, I opened the wine for the brine, and began packing fruit into jars, only to cover the first one with the simmering brine and instantly have a dozen fly larvae (or, in more common parlance, “fucking maggots”) float to the top of the jar. I tried valiantly, I really did. I skimmed out as many as I could, muttered some words to myself about “beggars not being choosers” and “organic food means bugs” and all that, recalled past summers of happily slicing rotten chunks out of peaches at three in the morning post midnight dumpster-raid, and rapidly gave up. I am, it turns out, at a stage of life where I am uninterested in stubbornly eating maggots to prove a point about the viability of foraged food.

Needless to say, I rather crankily drank the rest of the wine, and plotted both revenge on the flies and future developments in the land of aigre-doux and mostarda.

So there have been ups and downs in this whole thing of late. In better news, the fall and overwinter plantings are getting wrapped up soon, the first tomatoes are coming in, and the cucumbers have been insanely productive. Other harvesting forays into the blueberry patch and various blackberry patches have yielded no maggots that I’ve seen. Then again, I’ve decided to stop looking. Presumably, they’re a high acid food.

What else transpires? All of the garlic is cleared, the last of the cabbage will come out this weekend, the sunflowers are exploding, some of the hops will be harvestable soon and I have high hopes for beans in the next week or two. The corn has done the usual thing for anything planted in the bed it’s in— the five row feet in each row closest to the driveway are significantly stunted. It’s not surprising at this point, but I had hoped for better this year, after a full season of cover cropping, heavy additions of manure and compost, and a good start. No luck though— soil tests haven’t turned anything up, so my best guess at this point is that the roots are hitting a gravel bed for the roadway deeper than I can till, and the plants are stunting out. Or, a secret warren (?) of moles is devouring the roots below the surface.

Other than that, the usual challenges for this time of year appear— powdery mildew in the cucurbits, aphids on the brassicas, moles/gophers/rats in the beets, carrots and potatoes. Everything flourishes, even what you’d rather didn’t (looking at you, fruit flies).

Challenges and occasional failures aside, though, I feel good about where things are. To take home a bunch of flowers every other day is a good thing, and to have tomatoes coming on alongside a whole garden full of other produce, as well as the entire green space of Reed, much of which is more or less forageable, is doubly good. It is wealth, really and truly. Finding a way to exist somewhat in the old way, in the peasant economy of sufficiency agriculture, small scale husbandry and foraging, is an easy way to achieve food security. A chunk of land plus a commons, plus the knowledge, skill and time to draw from those spaces and preserve out of them, is a better insurance policy than any I know of. It’s the only insurance policy many of us have.

That’s hokey, maybe. I don’t know; I know I feel lucky to have this and to be able to do this, still. It is a huge amount of work, but on the other hand, it’s August, and I have a pig in a freezer, a garden full of produce where the tomatoes are just starting out, and a commons with berries, wild greens, tree fruit and guardians who are (usually) happy to allow respectful use. It’s hard times, out there in the world. It’s hard times here too, for a lot of us. But this is how we get by; this is a weapon. Skill, knowledge, a piece of land and a lasting community commitment to use it wisely.

Harvesting these weeks: kale, chard, cabbage, leeks, carrots, beets, radishes, green tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries, plums, mulberries.

I’m starting to look forward to fall, to dark beer and apples and fennel, to chanterelles and slaughter time and putting up work until another winter passes, mostly. Two more months of summer, maybe, and then the return of the rain and the mud. Until then, expect an excited post about tomatoes in the next couple of weeks, and then a month of complaining…

 

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