Allium Green: 10.09


For love of beans

I've had a pile of bean pods sitting on the garage floor for weeks now. Ostensibly, they are drying. In reality, I'm not sure they're any more dry than they were when I pulled them off the vines. And as mice have found the apples we temporarily stored in the garage, I decided today is the day to bring in the beans (well, and the apples, too, of course). And I tossed Maizy-the-cat out in the garage to stalk mice. Hopefully our fearsome huntress will come home with her own dinner tonight.

But today is my day off. And so I felt like it was probably okay to get distracted by taking bean photos instead of shucking beans. So this is how I've spent my rainy Friday afternoon. Oh, and drinking a glass of wine too. But I didn't think that was worthy of a photo. 

 What I love about the beans - one of the many things - is how their colors are so muted now. Shades of pale green, gold, some red. It rather fits the season. Most of the leaves have blown off the trees outside my window and those same muted shades now dominate the outdoor landscape too.

Happy Friday.


Apple Days II

  Cluster of apples in Champlain Orchards.

 Glaucous bloom.

11 gallons of newly pressed apple cider
8 pounds of raw honey
3 pounds of Thompson raisins
1 peck of pears
1 cup of mulled cider
and a drizzly, dark, damp Saturday afternoon


3 glass carboys of cider sitting on our kitchen floor, ready to ferment
and pear sauce, coming soon.

Cider siphoned out of the carboy for tasting.

 Dissolving honey in warm cider.


Apple Days

I do apologize- you will get sick of apple photos by the end of this post. I can't help it, they're rich fodder for a girl with a camera. It is now well into fall and edging towards winter in my corner of the world. It is cold in the mornings- nearly always frosty now. The light is not yet here when I wake up and just shy of gone when I get home at the end of the day. It is harder to spend time outside, and hard to feel like the days are long enough for all that needs to be done.

I have been particularly busy with work this fall- lots of changes are on the horizon and transition is never easy for me. And so moments of quiet are especially dear to me. Like this Sunday when hubby and I went on a food pilgrimage, of sorts. There is an orchard a couple hours south of here, Champlain Orchards, that grows more apple varieties than anyone else. There are heirloom varieties, traditional cider varieties, apples that are huge, tiny, striped, speckled, beautiful, knobby, ugly, smooth.

We took our time driving down there- this is hard core Vermont farm country. Addison county, known for its richly productive clay soils and relatively flat fields (which means rolling hills, in this state), is a lovely New England landscape- intensively farmed, rural, pastoral. The landscape is mostly open ag land with forests around the edges. Our corner of Vermont is the opposite. A background of forest interspersed with agriculture. So it felt like we were leaving our territory.

Arriving at the orchard, we picked up a map and headed out into the rows of trees. There wasn't a lot to choose from; its a bit late in the apple season. It was cold, windy, beautiful. This orchard was nearly deserted. Set along a west-facing hill, the Adirondack mountains were clearly visible across the lake. This is what people must think of when they think of Vermont in the fall.

And so we tasted our way through this orchard, landing on snowapple, Cox's orange pippin, and liberty. A peck of apples now in our garage, for eating every day at lunch and on my ride home from work. Unhappily, apples make my stomach hurt sometimes and trying dozens of varieties that day to figure out what we wanted to take home was not exactly the thing to leave me feeling hale and hearty. But I love the idea of them so much that I mostly try to forget about that when I'm eating them and this weekend, especially, I was willing to make the sacrifice in the name of autumn.

So in these days of unsettling change, reduced day length, and cold temperatures, I'm taking color and sweetness where I can. This weekend, it was in an apple orchard in Shoreham, Vermont. I hope you're finding your own sweetness these days.


The end of a season

Mark Breen warned us this weekend: a hard freeze coming on Sunday night, followed by a whole week of cold. It made yesterday feel especially beautiful. Ralph and I spent the day scrambling around the yard, finishing all the things that we meant to get to before things started freezing. We mowed the lawn, picked beans and beets, moved firewood, took down one of the hammocks (which involved some tree climbing by me! and a skinned knee or two). It was sunny and beautiful and decidedly not warm. I wore a woolly hat and made five bean soup for dinner. It was a very, very nice end to the weekend.

And then today, I woke up and everything was covered with sparkly gray frost. And I started remembering what I don't like quite so much about fall. I searched through the mess of gloves, hats, scarves, rain pants and miscellaneous detritus on the top shelf of our hall closet to find a matching pair of gloves. Out came the ice scraper and on went the heat. There is part of me that is not sure I'm much looking forward to winter darkness and cold. It is so dark in the morning now...

I spoke to a friend today who just had a weekend of bad news. The death of an old friend of his, and the impending death of his dog combined with a waterfall of smaller bad events made for a dark Monday for him. There's something about fall that makes sad news feel even sadder. On my drive home today, I called another friend to check in about getting together later this week, and found her crying because she was about to put her dog to sleep.

I've noticed that often people are either animal people or plant people. I have always been in the plant camp, I won't deny it. But I have, without question, experienced the incredible comfort and companionship that animals can provide. A very dark time in my life was made much more bearable by the sweetness of a cat named Stripey who always seemed to know when I was feeling badly. That cat spent many an afternoon curled up with me while I tried to figure out how to makes changes I needed to make in my life. And the thought of losing our kitty, Maizy, is nearly unbearable to me. These animals can provide a calm within most any storm and I do not take that lightly. So my heart is with both of these friends of mine.

Photo credit to Ralph.
During these brilliant days of fall, the melancholy side of me can't help but think of an article I read years ago (and I can't remember where- Northern Woodlands?- if you read it, please point me to it for citation). A Vietnamese family immigrated to Vermont, not too many years after the Vietnam war. Their family had been through hell, survived more loss than I can imagine. When autumn started coming on, the father in the family looked upon the dying leaves as the most intolerable loss. The green world that had been a constant to him throughout his life was dying and it sunk this man into a terrible sadness.

The story stayed with me and I think about it when autumn takes on the edge of winter. And it reminds me that this season, much celebrated in my neck of the woods, can also mean the end of things. The last chapter in a season of green before winter slides in and turns the world gray again. It is the other side of the growth and promise of spring, the anticipation and bubbly excitement of new things coming to life. So I have spent the day thinking about sad things and wishing my friends well in bad times. Tomorrow will no doubt be a little better, but today I take a minute to note the end of the season.

Photo credit to Ralph.


Mushroom hunter

Ralph and I took a long walk on Sunday. We walked through the woods, up the hill and onto a neighboring gravel road. It is narrow and lined with sugar maple, butternut (valiantly holding out against butternut canker), red maple and a stand of balsam fir that smells like heaven when the wind is blowing just right. All those sugar maples are a vibrant, burnished, golden yellow. The afternoon sun shines through the leaves, turning them transparent and making the whole world seem dipped in gold. It's really, really beautiful.

It was a quiet walk, not a lot of talking, both of us lost in thought. I think that all that quiet made us both notice where we were walking more than we might have otherwise. This attention to our surroundings meant we both noticed the huge number and variety of mushrooms underfoot. And as soon as we started noticing a few, more and more started popping out of the background leaf litter. They were everywhere. We were both wishing we knew more about mushrooms.

When I managed a CSA farm several years ago, Ralph and I both participated in the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms. He worked with one of the farm owners to cut and haul the sugar maple, hop-hornbeam, and ash logs out of the woods, and I worked with the other farm owner to inoculate the logs with mushroom mycelium. There was just about nothing better in the world than the shiitake mushrooms when they burst like little miracles out of those logs in the springtime. And sauteed with olive oil and garlic, they were way more fresh than anything you see in the grocery store. They almost squeaked with freshness. I miss that a lot.

So I've been excited that Ralph has been getting into mushrooms lately. He came home after visiting a friend toting a handful of sawdust inoculated with wine-cap mycelium. He's cultivating them in a sawdust pile under our lone oak tree and we're hoping to see them do their mushroomy thing in the springtime. He also recently went to a mushroom talk at the University of Vermont's Horticulture Farm, led by a man who, when he's not a mushroom hunter, has a day job as a local public radio host.

When we discovered our fungus bonanza on our walk, Ralph picked some of the more common mushrooms and saved them. He took some photos and sent them to the aforementioned mushroom hunter, and low and behold, they're edible, even palatable. The mushrooms pictured here are Armillaria mushrooms, commonly called honey fungus, and they were everywhere. You couldn't walk without stepping on them. It was amazing to see all that food, there on the forest floor. It was another little miracle.

Ralph went back today to look for them again and they were mostly past their prime. Peaked in two days. It's a fleeting season, apparently. Just to keep things exciting, there is another species of mushroom that apparently closely mimics the Armillaria and of course, this mimic has the charming quality of being deadly to people who eat it. That's what you have to love about mushrooms. Amazing little organisms that could potentially kill you or add a lovely earthy note to your dinner plate. I won't pretend I'm not every-so-slightly relieved that they were past their peak when he went back. The last time Ralph brought home wild mushrooms, I was on the edge of my seat, just waiting to melt into a little puddle of poisoned death on the floor during dinner. I fool myself into thinking I played this off coolly. Now, don't get me wrong, he does his homework. The last mushroom was a morel and he was very clear about the ID. But it was thrilling in a mostly safe kind of way nonetheless.

Photos in this post courtesy of Ralph.


Gray skies in the garden

The skies are gray today and it was not-quite raining when I went out to the garden to pick some of the dry beans I've been anticipating all summer. I planted them a little late, so we're pushing it for ripening right now. But they're slowly doing their thing and soon we'll be eating those borlotti, cranberry, and Christmas lima beans.  Here are some garden images from the day including:


the ever-bountiful Swiss chard, 

the sort-of-sad bean plants, lettuce bed, and cover crop in the foreground,


a basket full of the aforementioned beans topped by the last of the eggplant, maturing lettuce in the background

and finally, botlotti beans in the upper right, cranberry beans in the lower left with a couple of Christmas limas thrown in, discarded shells in the background.

Happy Saturday.