Friday, October 10, 2014

Hootenanny Story-Telling!

Here we go and I hope you have a hoot of a good time at a cozy Autumn Equinox performance of Earth-Whisperers stories. It was filmed by a pro at a wonderful community bookshop.

Let's visit the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and stories told with sound effects and vigor. Come on in and set awhile.

You'll hear (one woman!) conversations of mountain dialect and get to know the matriarch who mentored me and tucked me under her wing.

Here's a chance for international readers to appreciate the sound of the local speech pattern, and wicked sense of humor.

The videographer, Bob Keeton, is some wizard and has interspersed surprise photos and video--critters & bringing in the sheaves & sorghum molasses making--and wait till you hear the Appalachian music!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pocketful of Rosehips

What to do if there's no Vitamin C, and high stress and a cold-house winter dead ahead? There's precedent.

Great Britain normally imported its winter citrus from balmy Mediterranean countries. (And from a few greenhouse orangeries on the old estates, a very small local crop!)

Nazi Germany blockaded the Brits, sinking Merchant Marine shipping. No citrus suddenly in foggy northern islands notorious for damp and horrid winters and no central heating; what to do?

British school children, many sent to rural foster families to escape the Blitz, went into the woodlands and hedgerows to gather wild rosehips, very rich in Vitamin C and other super-nutrients.

The rosehips were de-seeded (a bit tedious but do-able) and made into delicious rose hip jam, syrup, and dried for herb tea. European groceries and pharmacies still stock these delectables.

Wild rosehips are often elongated; garden varieties are more squat and fat. In Maine, I gathered quite large ones, from fragrant Rugosa roses which withstand coastal conditions, in brisk autumns on Frenchman Bay.

One year a home-schooled boy requested a unique birthday present. Would I teach him to make the Vitamin C-rich jam from start to finish? You bet I would!

We gathered baskets of the fruit with surf crashing on pink granite ledges and sea gulls crying overhead. It took us most of the day to our end product (boy became a little scarce through the boring parts!) and our winter of rosehip/honey jam.

At my organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia years ago, I'd stand in the snow and nibble frosty wild rosehips and spit out the seeds. Deer and I browsed!

I was reminded of this wild and nutritive bounty in harsher mountains of the American Southwest.

Hiking up into the shimmering autumn gold of quaking aspens this week, I was breathing in the fragrance of conifer resin when I spied wild roses along the mountain stream.

The scarlet to crimson to wine-red thin flesh is still succulent these Indian Summer days and nippy nights; we're expecting hard frost next week. The rosehips will shrivel, darken and dry into winter but remain useful.

I sat on a horizontal fir trunk, bent in its youth by heavy snows, which stretched across the cascading brook. It seemed bonsai'd of extraneous form by generations of gardeners, not Old Man Winter!

As I nibbled the sweet-tart rose fruit, I watched a chipmunk sip water from a pool and a hawk soar above the aspens.

Gathering a few fruit here and there, coming down the trail, I never stripped a bush: leaving bounty for wildlife and to re-seed. I'll dry this small harvest and hope to collect more for a rosehip and elderberry syrup.

With winter coming on and odd rumors of pandemic and perhaps bioterra-research run amok, let's step back a moment. We may come to value Grandmother wisdom and good neighbors as wealth indeed!

Gather ye roses while ye may...

Here's a recipe for syrup using a centrifugal juicer, which I may try: no de-seeding! In the comments section, a caution, however. One experimenter wrecked his juicer.

You'll find other country recipes in 
My organic farm book of stories:

Monday, September 22, 2014

Harvest Celebration & Winter Near

Today we straddle equal day and night length. We've reached Autumnal Equinox, an ancient turn of the cycles of the year, a jubilation of harvest plenty. With ear to the north wind and eye to winter provender.

From this day forward, the nights deepen; Earth's northern axis slants away and the light of old Sol will diminish. Days shorten, until the festivals of light-renewed at Winter Solstice.

The Green Man of Keltic lore has turned russet-gold, storing the last of long day sun and warmth.

As my gesture toward dancing round an Equinox bonfire, I'll be lighting the first pinyon logs in the kiva fireplace indoors.

It's certainly not the first log fire in the neighborhood! Friends down the lane built an exquisite rental casita with sunset views and wonderful feeling of refuge and hearth.

Those fleeing 100 degree F. summers have settled astonished into Rocky Mountain evenings in the 40's and 50's and snuggled by their kiva fire. Woodsmoke fragrance swirls round the lane.

Winter squash and pumpkins are deepening in color and flavor, a bit nipped by hints of frost. Critters are gathering seeds and acorns to tide them over the lean cold months.
Ant hills are the highest I've ever seen here, which in local lore presages much snow and hard long winter. For my part, am trolling for warm woolies at rummage (jumble) sales and thrift shops to tuck into the cedar chest and to share with friends.

The rummage sale I helped set up funds one of the local Food Pantries, thronged by hundreds and hundreds of hungry people each week. Our, gotta-have-it-next-new-thing, priorities may enter cold months of refiner's fire.

If heat should fail, sweaters and a hot water bottle at the feet become appropriate response, and long normal for those unaccustomed to central heat. Many of us may be blind-sided by harsh conditions this northern winter.

Food of course comes to mind and what if there's no power? What about sauerkraut?!!

In northern Europe, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and the areas settled by those immigrants to the New World, there's a tradition of fermenting vegetables to serve fresh, through the winter.

Jars can be kept in the fridge, assuming electricity, or crocks down cellar.

Right now I have a crock of stinky kimchee burbling on the porch. Amazing stuff, like winter's antibiotic. For a pretty good kimchee recipe, see "Kitchen Probiotics" right sidebar at

As to sauerkraut in its many variations, cabbage is a good source of Vitamin C.

Until Capt. Cook loaded kegs of sauerkraut on board his sailing vessels, it was not possible to cross vast empty oceans. The limes gave out, and the "Limey" crew fell to scurvy, a Vitamin C deficiency disease, first losing their teeth, then dying.

But the crew refused to get near the kegs of sauerkraut! Until Capt. Cook, no fool, said it would be reserved for the officers only (who weren't thrilled about it either.)

Eventually all ate a daily kraut ration and Capt. Cook made it to New Zealand and Australia with a living crew, small comfort perhaps to the Maori and Aborigines.

My CSA this week included a beautiful five pound (~2.5 kilo) cabbage. Next up, a batch of sauerkraut with a bit of apple and caraway seed.

Small doings in momentous times, and first hearth fire tonight. Happy Autumn Equinox to us all (and Vernal Equinox to friends Downunder.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Grape Harvest & Rich History

We're nearing Autumn Equinox and celebration of harvest in Northern Hemisphere wine countries. The gnarled and trellised vines begin turning tawny-gold, heavy with fruit.

I helped once with cutting Riesling grape bunches above the Mosel River, on slopes steep and shale-y. South-facing, the mountainside had been terraced for grapes by the Romans in their incursions into Germania, ultimately an over-reach of empire.

But the ancient slopes still bear fragrant highly complex grapes, which I was soon to learn were stunningly heavy as I filled my conical basket! A mountain goat terrain: all the pickers wore sturdy hiking boots.

All along the coasts of early America, before asphalt and monoculture, wild berries grew in forest clearings and grapes twined up trees.

Greenland Vikings in their dragon-prowed long ships, centuries before Columbus, sailed the North Atlantic to the New World shores. Stunned by the bounty of grapes, they named the new territory, Vinland.

The wildings still do grow, and certainly did on my organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains: hardy, intensely fragrant slip-skins called fox grapes. I filled bushel baskets reaching up into alders along the creek bottoms and made many gallons of juice each autumn.

The hardy native grapes did a curtsy to fine wines in the nineteenth century! France nearly lost its vineyards to a devastating root disease. An American horticulturalist rode to the rescue, as it were:

In July 1883, the French Minister of Agriculture, Pierre Viala, arrived in Denison, Texas to confer the Chevalier du Mérite Agricole (The French Legion of Honor) to Thomas V Munson for his work is saving the wine industry in France.

In the late 1870s and early 1880, vineyards in France were being wiped out by the root lice disease Phylloxera. Munson traveled 50,000 miles in research of a grape plant that was resistant to the disease. When he began his research at Denison he struck pay dirt. Thousands of root stock were sent to France, and a massive plant grafting program implemented.

Three years later, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France honoring American Friendship, would be dedicated in New York harbor.
This year, in the Rocky mountains, I thanked the farmer who had brought me Concord grapes, one of the old woodland varieties, slip-skin and aromatic.

At the weekend farmers market, the grower and I settled on a wholesale price for the grapes he'd tended at lower elevation down the wild river canyon. I was buying a flat  for nectar-like jam, around 5 kilos or 11 pounds.

My farmer friend and I sat on an adobe wall in the shade of a cottonwood. As we listened to a cellist play a Bach Suite, he told me what he was getting retail for small baskets of grapes.

Now, I've farmed and respect the labor involved in bringing crops to harvest. I was appalled that he'd undercut himself on my purchase. How could I set this right?

As it happened, he was keen about my new organic farm book, Earth-Whisperers; I offered him a signed copy to balance things out. Well, he was tickled, but then felt uncomfortable that I'd given too much!

He went quiet. Rummaging for jute string he tied up a bunch of French thyme and set it on the grapes and grinned at me.

We both felt blest: fair value and good feeling. Very different from the predator-paradigm, as we create community, all of us, a planetary-community of hope and change. And integrity.

I'll be reading stories aloud from Earth-Whisperers shortly, and a videographer will film it. I'll post the youtube when ready. Hope you enjoy it. For the many international readers, I've written the regional Appalachian dialect as it sounds, phonetically. I'll read some aloud, so you have the feel of it! It's a hoot.