Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Season of Too Much to Do

The title could apply to any of our non-snow-covered seasons, I know, but seems particularly apt this time of year.  So much so, my mind just stalled in looking for a place to start the list.  Well, the garden, of course, is reaching a crescendo which, were a garden a symphony, would resound of swelling, urgent strings, pounding timpanis, wildly bugling bassoons, capped off by a thunderous cymbal clap, signifying a kitchen counter covered with green and half-ripe tomatoes, fading into October.  My Saint Paul garden early in the year was a disgrace, an embarrassment, with carrots and even beans (beans, dear lord!) that wouldn't germinate or grow, lettuce that didn't thrive, reluctant leeks.  I told myself, well, radishes and turnip greens are my favorite vegetables, anyway....

The trick, as it turns out, was to ignore it.  I maintained a basic sort of order out there with the occasional frantic weeding, and focused on how wonderfully the tomatoes were doing in my tiny Bide-A-Wee garden, thriving in honest-to-god full sun.  And I enjoyed the wild harvests from ramps, cress, nettles and other wild greens, on into black cap raspberries, July chanterelles, August blackberries.  Watched the progress of the Bide-A-Wee apples, anticipated cidering time.

Cucumber and pole bean mountains.

In the interim, nature did what nature does, and found a way.  In early August something came over my pole beans, cucumbers, leeks, and kale.  Eruption would seem to describe it pretty well.  What was looking to be a very paltry harvest became, seemingly overnight, more than I would handle.  I made cornichons, bread & butters, sour dills.  I found many uses for romano beans--including an excellent bean-on-bean salad with flageolets and romanos, red onion, hen of the woods, loads of olive oil and some cider vinegar.  I hope to make that again while the hens are around, and will attempt to codify it into a recipe then.

Romano pole beans, good at any size.

Around mid-summer a squash or pumpkin vine sprouted in the compost, and grew timidly for about a month.  This is a typical occurence here, and always a nice surprise when free food emerges from the "trash."  This year's model is a sort of white pumpkin, and is now growing with alarming prodigiosity--seems like it extends its reach by a couple of feet a day, and is branching out in many directions.  I recall I picked up the parent pumpkin at a Wisconsin roadside honor stand last fall.  We admired its decorative qualities a little too long, and it rotted before we got a chance to taste it.  We'll be able to remedy that omission this year, looks like.

In a summer when I feel as if I've done little to no preserving, I take a mental inventory and realize that I've made all those cucumber pickles, plus an impromptu corn relish, pickled ramps and milkweed buds, blackberry runny jam, tomato sauce; and I've frozen corn (kernels sliced from the cob, fresh) and turnip greens and red kale (briefly blanched, packed into sandwich bags).  I've also kept that crock stocked with mixed vegetables, using up garden surplus and the remains of market purchases before they become compost-worthy.

Suyo long is my favorite cucumber variety for Chinese or western salads, and bread & butter pickles--much less seedy than most slicers.

Oh yeah, and then there's the apples....  Our apples, right now, are both a delight and a terror.  A delight because it has been a wonderful year for them, and our splendidly diverse half-wild orchard is producing abundantly.  It has been great fun to taste our way from tree to tree and week to week, as the apples progressed from "sour, astringent, spit-it-out," to "now that has interesting flavors (though you still spit it out)", to chewable, eatable, and finally, absolutely delightful. 

Now, the terror:  This year our apples seem especially prone to falling off the tree either just as they ripen or even slightly before they are ripe.  We missed a weekend at Bide-A-Wee for a lovely trip to the South Shore of Lake Superior, and when I came out to the land the Wednesday following, I found that several hugely laden trees had dropped most of their apples in the time we'd been away.  I commenced frenzied picking of anything left on those trees, and an assessment of the state of ripeness of the other trees.  Another brief absence from the land, just a couple of days, and more trees had dropped most of their fruit.  Panic.  We'd waited two years for a decent apple crop, since last year's was beyond meager, an off year in the biennial fruiting cycle worsened greatly by a late-May frost that followed a very warm April which had the trees flowering early.

I think we're going to be okay.  We've salvaged enough to fill a carboy or two with cider to ferment, and to freeze a few gallons for fresh cider--that's our morning "orange juice" these days.  It's just an odd, perplexing, and unhappy phenomenon, this premature dropping of the apples.  In past years we've picked apples well into October, I have photos of apples with snow on them, I really do, like, look here:

October 11, 2009

A few trees aren't nearly ripe, and are holding their fruit.  Even one heavy cropping tree can provide almost more apples than you know what to do with.  And then, there's always next year, or the year after.  By that time we hope to be living in the country full time, our attention not so scattered.  That's the other complication here, the back-and-forth life.  I treasure every day we spend at Bide-A-Wee, and the effort required to prep for the weekend there, and to close up for the return to the city, is entirely worth it.  But I've come to realize that between the coming and going procedures and the travel itself, it takes a whole day out of the week.  And there are only seven days in a week, you know.  You probably knew that.  I'm only just starting to realize it....

So the season of too much to do can also be the season of too much to think about, which may be even more taxing.  I find I've been suffering a bit of blog fatigue lately, not because I can't think of anything to say, or don't have finds and dishes and photos I want to share, but precisely because there's just too much of all that. 
The wild black cherries are excellent this year.

I want to do the dry-fried green beans, the corn spoonbread, the ode to the blackberry, an exploration of black cherries.  Then the hen of the woods come in, fishing season has just three weeks left, those apples aren't going to press themselves.  And one of these days those Trout Caviar books are going to arrive (hey, where are those Trout Caviar books?), and with them a lot more delightful complications.

I hope you're finding better ways to simplify in the season of too much to do than I am.  The list gets shorter with concerted effort, then it grows again.  Today I've got bank, library, laundry, pick the garden, water the garden, unload the apples brought home yesterday, return emails, pack a few things and the dogs, and head back to Bide-A-Wee to set up for a full day of apple picking tomorrow.  As the evening comes on with its cool and quiet, and I build a fire to sit by with a wee dram of scotch, I won't feel much burdened.  The fact that the lawn needs mowing, wood needs hauling, the woodstove needs painting...oh, why did I have to bring that up?  No, really, it'll be okay.  It's good to be busy; the efforts will bring their rewards.

Garden & griffon, Annabel, to be precise.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Gretchen said...

Since last year was a light year for the biennially bearing apples, the cause of all the drops you saw this year may have been overbearing. If a tree is bearing more apples than it can support, it drops them -- even as late as immediately prior to harvest. You can prevent these pre-harvest drops from occurring by thinning your apples in June.

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Gretchen: Thanks for those thoughts. There were indeed a lot of apples on most of our trees, and bigger ones this year than in the past. I knew about thinning to increase average apple size, but wasn't aware that overbearing might cause drops. We'll pay more attention to that next year and beyond--though many of our trees are VERY BIG! and won't be easy to thin effectively.

Best~ Brett