Friday, September 30, 2011


Windfalls come and go but neighbors are (sometimes) forever.  We've collected two foraging forays this season.  Last year, we picked up acorns by the bag-full, shelled and then processed them to make acorn gnocchi all winter long.  This fall we are quickly running out of ground frozen acorn four, and my child is begging for more acorn gnocchi, so I begin looking for "the drop".  I feel that this isn't an oak year (of course, now that we love them) but a BEECH year.  The beech trees are actually producing something in abundance for once.  I remember my husband asking last year, "what about beech nuts, where are they?".  Well this is our area.  Just watch the squirrels in your neighborhood, somehow they know what is good to eat, that year, in your yard.  We have beech nuts everywhere!  So I search the internet on what to do with them, because I'd like to deprive those nuisance squirrels of a meal and make them move to my neighbor's yard.  In reality, we have copious acres for the the wildlife to live and eat so I have no qualms about laying claim to a 20' radius of the house.

Last weekend I spent some time picking up the beech nuts.  My husband said, "don't spend 3 hrs on 'em if you find they aren't any good."  Picking them off the ground, when they are falling like this, is easy...and rewarding considering a squirrel is up top doing the hard work.  I bring them in the house and google them to know what to do next.  There's not too much information on beech nuts out there...probably because they aren't worth the time.  My time's not worth much these days, so I will try.

First, there's the outer shell that is like a bur and opens on it's own, with time.  Then, I've found once you peel out two seed casings (from the bur), that after further opening, some have seeds and some do not.  You can pry all open, if you want, and waste a ton of time.  Many have immature seeds that you cannot harvest.  And it is not predictable, based on appearance alone to differentiate between those seed casings with a seed and those without.  Instead of opening them all, you can put them into a container with water, sift off the floaters, as these will be immature, and only crack open the ones that sink.  This worked with great success, except that some of the "sinkers" will be rotten seeds.  On the whole it saved my quite a bit of effort.  The final seeds are soaking in a jar of water in the fridge to get rid of the tannins after which we will roast and eat them like expensive pine nuts.  If you have beech nuts falling in your yard, be sure to pick up the fresh green ones and process them the same day because they will rot very quickly.

The second windfall came when we walked to the corner food cart for what New Englanders call a maple creamie.  This is "soft-serve" to Midwesterners. with maple syrup added to the mix.....mmmmm.  It's nearly two miles round-trip, so a good walk for my 3-yr old and a nap in the stroller for the baby.  On the way home, I spotted two separate clusters of wild hops climbing up the power lines.  Now, this was no one's yard (in front of a business) nor was it a deliberate planting/harvest scenario since many of the hops were already post-peak and brown, I felt no guilt in my scrambling and giddiness to collect everything within reach and not totally overripe.  I walked home like we had just won the lottery.  This stuff is $4 an ounce at the homebrew store, so we definitely paid for our creamies on this particular outing.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blighted and the Light

Several weekends ago, I spent my Saturday pulling all our tomatoes out and burying them in a giant pile.  Last weekend, I killed, plucked and eviscerated our twenty remaining meat chickens.  Talk about grisly work.  For some reason, ripping the tomato plants out was more difficult a chore, psychologically, than butchering.  I certainly had more in common with the animal than the plant, so this emotion surprised me.  The only explanation I have for my reaction is that I failed the diseased tomatoes and instead of watching them continue to blacken and spread late blight to my neighbors, I felt unwillingly compelled to destroy them thus ending our tomato season.  On the other hand the chickens were healthy, thriving and happy, but their end means our freezer will feed us for another year.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Early Thanks

I'm sure that I'm not alone when I say this is my favorite time of year.  For starters, I begin to mentally let go of the garden and simply appreciate every day that it produces food.  My expectations fall away and the worry fades.  We won't break any production records this year, but it was more than enough.  And if one crop failed then another was there to fill any void.  I've put up enough food to relax and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from eating what is available one day to the next.

The evenings are crisp, leaves threaten to burst into the brilliant reds and oranges that so many travel here to appreciate.  We have a sugar maple just outside our living room bay window that is the bell-ringer every year along with the tall oaks that pound out the shortening days with their acorn percussion.

There's a batch of tomato sauce waiting on the stove top to be milled and canned.  A half bushel of apples is next in line to sauce.  Every morning I pick a quart of fall raspberries with our baby napping on my back.  The goats are, at the same time, at ease that the biting insects have subsided and anxious about the cool mornings as they've begun to come into heat.  The meat chickens are also living one day at a time.  They have grown especially fast this year and will be harvested earlier than planned.

We foraged enough wild grapes to try a first small batch of wine.  Soon our local orchard will begin to press cider, which I buy in 5 gal lots for fermentation into apple wine.  Nothing says autumn like fresh homebrew.