What grows well here in Vermont? A family of fruit called Ribes, plus aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), sea buckthorn, elderberries, apples of course, but my mother started planting fruit in the gardens around the house with a focus on the Ribes genus, which includes currants (red, white, pink and black) and gooseberries as well some gooseberry-currant crosses like Jostaberry.Read More
I've started waking close to 5, just after Amy finishes grinding the coffee and the kettle has reached temp. I take the stairs into the kitchen slowly, using the hand rail more than I usually do. I'm useless to start. Maybe I wash out my mug from yesterday or I hug Amy from behind as she pours water onto the ground beans, circling the stream of water around the expressive volcano of freshly ground coffee blooming in a white paper basket. It's intensely cold downstairs and fresh out of bed, I'm a nurse log of warmth for Amy who's lost the residual heat of the blankets after her trip outside to warm the car. Today, I'm working on a quiche recipe for this week's Friday Mornings at Tandem, the regular pop up I'm doing with my friend Brooke at the production kitchen for V Smiley Preserves. While I decide which orange in our refrigerator's fruit and nut box--Cara Cara, Clementine or Minneola--to eat, Amy asks if she needs to pick up eggs after her workday. The truck broke down last week so one car (and whoever is driving it) is in charge of the day's errands.
Amy leaves the house and half a teapot of coffee on the cutting board at about 5:30 and drives north to Winooski for work. She'll return later in the morning with a dozen eggs and a desire for an early afternoon nap dozed into from the program breaks on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. "Talk about about the present state of troop levels in Afghanistan...tell us about, talk about".
Meanwhile, I've re-climbed the stairs and propped up the pillows in my bed so that I can sit up and type on this keyboard. I order coffee beans for Friday morning and message a friend (who's doing me favor by letting me send milk deliveries to their kitchen) to expect dairy this afternoon and I'll be by later to pick up the cream. Later on today, I'll start a gallon of yogurt so that it's ready in time Friday's pop up. But mostly this morning, my goal is to make some decisions about fruit trees. I've been polling the local growers like Omar and Nathan on their favorite mail order nurseries. I know that later on this year, fruit trees at the local nursery (where I work) will go on clearance and I'll be able to haul home a few more thick stemmed and well branched fruit trees, but the selection will be limited.
I love plums and their elegance as a preserve, the luxurious texture of their flesh and skin fattened with honey and lemon. The elegance lies in their simplicity where flavors range wildly across variety, across place, across grower; the same variety grown in the same soil type but cared for by two different orchardists can yield two very different fruits. This part is not ideal. Part of the problem is that the market locally for plums is uncertain. Everyone wants peaches. A good peach season in Vermont can mean a farmer does get to go on vacation in February. But who wants plums? Here in the northeast, stone tree fruit (cherries, plums, peaches, etc) is so precious and precarious (will the blossoms open on a warm day that's followed by a frost that night, will it be pouring spring rain and the bees don't come out to pollinate or will a freak hail storm in July pummel the skin, or will the first killing frost hold out until the last week of September allowing the late European varieties to yield) that as a collective customer, we'll sort of take anything. Tiny plums with no flavor? amazing, I'll take a 100 lbs. Peaches with more pit than flesh, a miracle, I'll take 8 boxes! Scarcity makes it tough to read a market. Is an orchardist selling out of plums because they grow great plums or simply because they have plums and no else does?
V Smiley Preserves' line of flavors relies heavily upon plums. They do all kinds of work in the preserves. They can be a stand alone, showstopping fruit. The Damson plum is the ultimate example. Then plums serve as a backdrop to other stars like blackcurrants or strawberries, fruit that can be pricey either because it's difficult to pick or process or in the case of late season strawberries, precious (as compared to the glut of June bearing berries) and therefore expensive. And I like the staining quality of red and purple plums. The light colored preserves are beautiful (Peach Tomato or Apricot Jam) but they stress me out. Honey and my low sweetening approach to preserving means color in the jar can change quickly, especially if the jars are stored in sunlight on a shop shelf. But purple and red preserves stay beautiful.
In 3 or so years, the plum situation here in Addison County should start to improve and steady out. Even in just our county, the same spring season can put the squeeze on one tree fruit farmer and leave another with loaded trees so I figure if Amy and I plant some trees in the right place, Omar has his, Nathan has his and the bigger orchards continue on, between all of us and however we come through the spring and summer, there will be more plums, maybe even enough plums.
I had never been up here. It's the westward view of the Smiley farm. Squint and you can see our cement barn in the valley. The white bark sycamores hint at water, but mostly the New Haven River, which parallels the barn's eastward side, is obscured.
We came up here for a reason! A good portion of the farm's forest stands across the New Haven River. There's a cornfield across the river too, which receives yearly visits from wild turkeys feasting on leftover corn kernels. Several years back, some logging was done in the woods that edge the cornfield. Decks of hardwood logs were left to be hauled across the river later, but my mother has worried that the logs have deteriorated beyond the point of use. My mother, Amy and I went to check in on the quality of the logs today.
I love how snow makes movement more legible, from the deer, bear and rabbit tracks to the tire impressions of last summer's tractor work still imprinted onto the field.
But those decks of logs were not so decked. Rather, pairs of trees with root balls attached had been pulled to the side of the logging road and these pairs followed most of the length of the zig zagging road. But nothing as condensed and organized as a log deck, which dissapointed my mother but answered the question of whether we would be pulling firewood from across the river. Not worth it.
Mostly today was about having a lovely walk in the woods, woods that long ago were pastures. That barbed wire doesn't lie.
It's so easy for me to stay wrapped up on the computer or between the pages of some book rather than getting outside. Amy calls me an indoor kitty. What got me outside today on this walk with Amy and my mother was the idea of getting this alternative viewpoint on the farm. I wanted to see what the farmhouse looked like from across the river when I've spent so many breakfasts and dinners staring across the river to the cornfield and woods.