Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Linda's World

I spent hours and days on my knees in a particular patch of rows this spring and summer. Sweet potatoes, melons, edamame, bitter melons occupied my mind, my hands, my feet and legs. One afternoon, the farmer arrived with a grin and a twinkle in his eye. At the end of the patch row he pounded a sign with the words "Linda's World".

The sweet potatoes occupied most of my time in my world. I cut and propagated slips in May. I planted and re-planted slips in June. I ate the tender young sweet potato shoots in August and I walked the rows in September looking for signs and dreaming of tubers clusters below the ground.

On October 2nd, after lunch when the weather was warm and the soil was dry we began harvesting the sweet potatoes. First we dug the mixed slips at the south end of the east row and collected trial tubers for next years crop. Then we moved north and began to unearth and harvest again. The vines were cut back leaving a thick 5 inch stem above the soil. With each of us standing on either side of the furrow, we wedged the harvesting fork at barely an angle and together upheaved a mass of soil and sweet potatoes. This north end of the row was a mixed planting for market. Up came red, purple, white, yellow and orange bouquets of tubers. As we worked our way down the row, I looked back at the distance at the newly dug bundles which would eventually amount to tonnage.

In town, I look daily at the "camote" patch. In general the leaves at The Little Land are slow to turn. The sweet potato vines are not yet yellowing. The pole beans are still green and every day I harvest a few more. Mid summer heat delayed the flowering and now the ripening of the beans and peppers. I have only harvested one red pepper off my 5 plants. The peppers I brought back from Transylvania are beautiful in color and shape but they are not red and I wonder if they will eventually ripen in the house, drying and coloring from the ceiling. I hope so.

The 2009 baseball season has accompanied me for many harvest and preserving hours. Now, the pennant race punctuates the games with the sweet potato challenge; how to cure sweet potatoes for a week at 80-90 degrees in a house that is 65 degrees and has with closed rooms or closets.

It's October 22 and I finally harvested the sweet potatoes at The Little Land. I have wondered and fretted about them. Will they amount to anything? I try to anticipate the possible responses; disappointment, excitement, assessment, and satisfaction. When I arrive at the Little Land, it takes me an hour of filling my time with other tasks before garnering the courage to clip the vines and begin to fork the tubers free. I pull and coil the irrigation tubing. I photograph the peppers I brought back in a dirty kleenex from Romania. I dig the former squash bed and prepare it for garlic. I trim back the sweet potato vines. Feeling the soil through the ends of harvesting fork I move into the loose and moist soil. The long and proportionately large tine cuts through the soil and strikes one of the few tubers. I back off and reset the fork, lifting and shaking the soil from the small but gratifying bouquet. My heart soars.

I have about 10 pound of modest sweet potatoes in yellow and orange and white. There are a surprising number of "rat tails", the long skinny guys that seem like probable tubers had time, sun, heat and local been different. The two beds I used were a bit challenged. The first needed more sun. The second, more space. I make my notes and move on the the garlic bed. In go two rows of Brown Tempest, one row of Bogey and two rows of GxH along the south edge of the bed. The soil feels right, the clove seeds slide easily down and away from my thumb. The garlic planting takes the edge off the slight disappointment of the sweet potatoes and my renewed optimism has me dreaming, with a bit of impatience, of where I will plant them next year.


A bounty of plums

Plums, corn, shell beans, winter squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and the trailing summer vegetables have consumed my days and nights in the last few months. I remember my brother going to Novosibirsk Russia in 1996 to study migratory birds. He and his family arrived in late August just as the harvest was beginning in earnest. In the end his research lagged behind his expectations simply because the of the amount of harvesting, storage and putting by his colleagues and their families did in Russia in the fall.

I understand. One night, I pitted tens of pounds of Pozegaca plums. The Pozegaca plum is a German prune plum. It is of medium size with a slight belly perfect for cupping in your palm. It has a deep yellow to orange flesh and a thickish skin that makes a distinctive crunch when you bite through. It is both sweet and tangy with a firm flesh that cooks well without breaking down.

I sat and pitted- thank god for free stones- and began drying and freezing and soaking. Times like these I appreciate a little creativity and so it began. I filled a gallon glass jar with pozegaca halves, covered it with white wine vinegar and let it sit for a month. I strained the plums out and was left with a beautiful deep rich plum vinegar and many tart fleshy vinegared plums. Inspired, I dried them and last week, I popped them in a pot of chicken with vinegar and shallots. I doubt I'll waste them on a cake. I'll try not to eat to many out of hand. I've sketched a recipe for them to adorn pork.

This notion of using something over and again has captivated me this season. Last week I needed to pull the lovely Mirabelles out of their grappa bath and let everyone re-harmonize. Once again, the bowl of "leftover" plums were still too perfect to compost. I made a light lavender syrup and canned the plums (hot pack). Come January I'll open a jar of grappa soaked plums in lavender syrup and raise a glass of plum induced grappa. I love the idea of taking two ingredients, putting them together and then taking them apart and having two new and improved ingredients to build upon. wow.

A bowl, a glass, a stew, a tart, a cake for you.