"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

May 27, 2014

Strawberry Girl

Did you ever read Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski? She wrote and illustrated many books of middle grade historical fiction about children and their lives in various parts of the country. This book was about a girl in Florida and her family––"Crackers," a term for early settlers and now more associated with a derogatory name for poor white people––who moved there to farm strawberries. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1946. I loved reading Lenski's many books, and still have them, and delighted in her unsentimental depictions of other lifestyles––her illustrations were always fine and engaging, too. Whenever I read this book, just as when I'd read Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal, I wanted to eat those sweet berries right then. 

May is strawberry season in Kentucky and this year there were some beauties. After a late spring, the first berries were huge and Wilson's Cedar Point Farm on nearby Tick Ridge announced on Facebook that it only took seven minutes to pick a gallon basket full! Despite their size, they were sweet and juicy. Before the weekend we bought ten gallons and put all but one into the freezer (for enjoying fresh). I got 20 quart bags full (and about 2 gallons of hulls: I don't actually hull them, I just carefully remove the tops with my trusty serrated paring knife, as close to the leaves as I can get: usually I give them to my chickens but we are chicken-less right now). And I'd say we easily ate about half a gallon in the car on the way home.

A huge bowl full of fresh local strawberries: note that this bowl is about three feet wide! 
Ready for the freezer with two quarts to slather with whipped cream and Angel food cake.

I love to sit on our porch at the farm cottage and "put up" produce or prepare to can, especially in the cooler weather that we were enjoying before the weekend: just like I remember a New England summer, hot in the sun but not too humid and with a light breeze. I can work there and see what's going on, who is coming and going, and the west porch stays fairly cool until the sun comes around in the afternoon. My husband and I like to joke that in Hancock, NH we also had an east porch and a west porch but on a much grander scale.

At this point we wouldn't trade this farm, and it's more ramshackle porches, for the world. It's a centering feeling to be here and what is remarkable is how well-sited the house was when it was built over one hundred years ago. The breezes come down over the knob and wrap around it, and through the open doors and windows on all sides. It is always much cooler than the doublewide that is in a bowl where no air stirs: instead it goes right over (which is, admittedly, a good thing in tornado weather). [Sometimes we do have to air-condition during the day but usually at night I just throw the windows open and fans on in all but the most humid weather.]

My trusty French serrated paring knife.
OK, so it's also color-coordinated!

I'm currently macerating some berries for jam––a two-day recipe––and I will post on that in the next few days. Son Henry especially enjoys strawberry jam and I like to make enough extra to tuck away for Christmas gifts, too. It is always spring in a jar.

By chance we discovered another nursery over in western Casey County the other day: I've been scrounging around for plants since returning from Colorado. If you don't get them before Mother's Day in Kentucky, or even by late April, they can be few and far between (unless you like a lot of wave petunias and marigolds). [Next year I am determined to grow my own favorite heirloom annuals from seed!] Anyway, the Amish-Mennonite family who operate their farm-based nursery will have blueberries in a few weeks––entirely organic––and I ordered about 20 pounds of those (affordable and pre-picked by them). Fortunately, they will be easier to freeze. On the way home I will stop and see my friend Diana at her produce farm (where her specialty is heirloom tomatoes) and perhaps share a nice gin & tonic on her porch.

You come back when you're ready!


May 26, 2014

The Open Road and Home Again

The beautiful prairie of eastern Kansas where the only vertical punctuations
on the horizon of clouds and land are churches, grain silos and windmills.

I was recently in Colorado for a few weeks to see our daughter and then we drove back across the wide prairie so she could spend some time here at the farm between ski and summer seasons (and before starting a great new job). It's been such a good stretch of time together. While Addie ended the season with her job I was productive during the day in her cozy condo: I sent a children's book to a publisher (on spec), got an article assignment for Early Homes (from Active Interest Media which also publishes Old-House Journal and other magazines) and reviewed my manuscript for The 1950s American Kitchen for Shire Books in England which was submitted to my editor in April. [I also have a new book-related blog, The 1950s American Kitchen]

Yet despite my occasional love of the open road, there is something so comforting about being home on the farm with my husband and all three of our children and our many animals and pets. As a mother it is immensely reassuring to have your chicks all safely back in the nest for a bit. I feel centered and as if we are an impermeable unit tucked into the hills and haven of our farm. When the world seems like a challenging place, as it often is, the rhythms of our days here seem to be a small contribution to a larger wholeness or sanity. There are struggles, yes, but I have reached at midlife, at long last, a kind of Zen-like contentment with where we are and in what we are doing.

I'd never spent so much time in the high mountains before: 9,600' altitude took
some adjustment but I was fine after four days. Didn't sleep much, however.
This is the Continental Divide at over 13,000 feet just south of Breckenridge.
It snowed on Mother's Day: over a foot from Zephyr in the Colorado Rockies!
Addie and I made carrot soup and Mexican food and caught up on Bravo television shows.

Silly Mother's Day "selfies."
A view of our farm looking east from the top of the Pennywinkle Field
(named years ago by the former owner for the snail-like shells found in the nearby creek).

Eli getting ready to ted the hay fields. He designed the work shirt that he is wearing.

The Pennywinkle Field with Eli tedding.
Henry finishes the mowing of the first hay on the farm (more down the road to do yet!).
Temple with a new baby lamb and Alice, our rescue deer (she was one of triplet fauns
that her mother abandoned last summer in a hay field after leaving with the other two).
[NOTE: this is before Temple was shorn for the summer!]
"Sheep and lambs may safely graze..." [for now]. Eli bought ten pregnant hair sheep (no wool to shear) and most have had their lambs. Trying not to get too attached as the babies will be in our freezer this winter. [We love lamb meat.]
Henry with the brand-new baler: we decided to do our own baling rather than hire it out.
Edgar surveys his domain (and his new harem of yearling heifers).
My husband Temple and Edgar, our beloved bull, who he found and rescued from the mud on their shared December birthday in 2011. The view is looking southeast towards the farm and above one of our many natural springs.
Loading hay to be wrapped.
Henry counts bales.
The great county wrapper guy cometh! The view of our farm is from part-way up our knob field and looking southeast.

The boys and my husband are done with first haying––and before the next stretch of rain––and that's always a good feeling. I'm catching up on the gardening in this coolish May weather after being away for several weeks during prime garden time (and our very late spring pushed everything back a bit). School has been out for the summer for over a week. Sports are done.

Storms can rage or equipment can break down, someone you love can be hurt or in need, you might not get a job "off farm," when needed, but always there are things for which to be so grateful. There are the green rolling hills, the proximity of good neighbors and friends (but not too close by: we can't see another house from our farm but we know there are neighbors just over the hill and down the lane), the breezes coming over the knob, the chortle of bird song all day, and the long stretch of summer ahead. It is like heaven on Earth and we are so blessed to be here. No matter what is happening in our lives, I seem to always be a "glass half full" kind of person. There is always another way to look at any circumstance or even sorrow. And while I was in Colorado when I thought of home, I thought of Kentucky. It has taken six years to say that but it is true. Now each day feels like a gift, every moment a song.

We are almost all back in the cottage––with recently repaired plumbing after our January 6th pipe burst (where we fortunately had the doublewide to return for a few months)––and DSL is now fully operational! No longer do I have to trek to the nearest town to blog or email (not that I did a lot of blogging in the past eighteen months but I have missed it). I've learned how to manage without ready access to the Internet here and need to continue to pretend that it isn't here for much of the day when I really should be doing other things around the house and farm. But it is handy for being in quick touch with friends, family, and my editors.

We are home. As I wrote under my blog heading, above, Wendell Berry said it best:
"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here."
If you are still out there, dear reader, in blog land, you come back when you're ready!