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. http://howdyyall.com
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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chanterelles, Butter & Garlic!

photo: m4.i.pbase.com

It's August and rains have been grand in the Rocky mountains. Chanterelles are popping up in outrageous abundance in shady forests by cascading streams.

Now, my field botany professor firmly put the fear of wild mushrooms in me. Most must be tested in the lab via spore print before any certainty of safety.

His mycology prof had taken the family on a jolly outing and they ate campfire champignons, or so he thought. The whole family died of mushroom poisoning. A very nasty way to go.

My professor said to stick with weird-looking fluted chanterelles and morels which don't impersonate anything else.

As an example, my organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains was rich in delectable puffball mushrooms. I NEVER sauteed one in butter without first slicing it in half: An immature death's angel will show its hidden mushroom form, in longitudinal section.

I hope you get my drift. Chanterelles are available in better groceries and farmers markets now and restaurants, gathered by knowledgeable wildcrafters. Enjoy them.

I have just engulfed a supper of golden chanterelles and, yes, I have wildcrafted them many times in Europe and Maine, where some are black in color, but these were gathered by my fave local farmer.

He had to drive fifteen miles north, then hike TEN miles up into high mountain meadows, Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Beautiful fragrant country, but it exceeded my current zeal. I willingly paid his price of $15/pound, cleaned. (They are a pain to clean, being full of evergreen needles and leaf mold as a rule.)

I came straight home, munching baby carrots and sungold cherry tomatoes. Here's what you do:

First dry-saute the chanterelles in a skillet to let any moisture puddle out, then add a pat of butter and pressed garlic. I used three smashed and minced cloves of garlic to 1/4 pound chanterelles.

Gently saute till garlic loses its raw smell; add thyme, about 1 tsp. fresh or 1/2 tsp dried, fresh-ground black pepper, a little Himalayan sea salt.

I ate them tucked into an omelet; with a side of peeled and sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; a small glass of spiced red wine

For more kitchen craft and good eating, see:

  Wayfaring Traveler,
Organic Farm Stories & Recipes

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Planetary Neighbor

I overslept, an almost-never since farm days, but lingered for what-next! in a dream...

A Tiffany lamp hangs low above the table, augmented by the soft glow of beeswax candles, very like companionable evenings at the farm, though this table is round.

Friends are enjoying postprandial mugs of tea when a stranger settles into the empty chair.

"Do we know you? Have you eaten? Have a cup of tea."

"I'm a neighbor."

"Oh. Would you care for honey in your tea?"

"I thought you should know that men with AK-47's are prowling around the house, watching."

"Do they seem friendly?... No? Are you sure you're from around here?"

"I'm a planetary neighbor."

"Well, that explains it. What do they want?"

"Obedience, which may not be pleasant. They especially are on the alert for independent thought, which seems to be frowned upon."

At this point a little boy of three or four pads in wearing sleepy-time Dr. Denhams (footed onesie pyjamas.) Conversation continues around the table. The stranger notes the boy with interest, who telepaths the question:

Are you from Sirius?


The boy raises the crook of his arm where a stuffed bear is nestled and looks brightly at the man.

Ah, Ursa. So you can find your way home.

The boy smiles beatifically and toddles back into the shadows away from the table.

The stranger come-to-table asks if anyone saw the boy.

"What boy?" they ask, though one woman looks down into her tea.

"You heard him, didn't you?"

"Uh, he asked if you were from Sirius..."

Be not inhospitable to strangers, 
lest they be angels in disguise...

 So, Horatio, I once dreamed an organic farm, and then I  lived it:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Ghost Story & a UFO

"A UFO? No! You're kidding, in the Blue Ridge Mountains?"

"You bet: no street lights, no sidewalks to roll up. Country folk go to bed early and on nights of howling wind, things can get eerie. One late evening when my mom was visiting, she went out to watch the stars and just about croaked: A something or other, flat-ish and circular, was hovering over my neighbor's hilltop, three colors of lights pulsing around the rim!"

"How could you stand it by your lonesome? You don't mean a woman alone, doing a three-ring-circus organic farm?"

"Well, that's how it worked out, and I wouldn't trade anything for having known that life: heirloom fruit trees and honeybees, a pantry to dream on; black bear and Teddy Bear the elkhound, cattle and goats and baa-baa sheep, flowers and deep woods and sweet cool mornings in the back of the beyond... I lost my heart to the beauty of the mountains and an Earth-Whisperer dream."

"What else?"

"Well, if you like a good story, here's a sneak preview..."

Woman, armed and dangerous 

A ghost goes bump in the night

At the lip of the cornucopia

Creek baptism in a thunderstorm

Making old-timey molasses

Gardening tips, wild herbs, elixirs

Green-manure winter rye, or Roundup spray-it-dead?

Bridal crowns

Blue Danube Waltz

Matriarch mentor & true-blue friends

"Curl up with a cuppa and read-aloud kind of stories."

  Wayfaring Traveler,
Organic Farm Stories & Recipes

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Community & a Recipe


Before the Statue of Liberty distorted into a dominatrix birthing armored vehicles and drones, teachers were a respected profession.

Teachers taught history, civics, great literature, social skills and moral compass. They readied the next generation for adult participation in the American dream, the land of the free.

I intend no mockery of our current dilemmas; I have been mentored by a few great teachers. I honor the profession.

I entered this thought-meander in the WartMort parking lot. I had gone for jugs of distilled water, but stopped to talk to two men in camouflage uniforms, short billed caps by a big armored truck.

They were National Guardsmen standing in the high elevation sun to collect donated school supplies for local kids. School starts next week.

The facts on the ground are these: as the US Govt has launched vicious misadventures abroad and invested in hollow point bullets at home, bridges are crumbling; schools and teachers go underfunded.

Teachers, a generally salt-of-the-earth demographic, have been buying school supplies for their students out of their own meager salaries.

Enter the National Guardsmen. I came out with pencils, crayons, scissors, colored paper, school paste, and notebooks. The woman behind me handed over three school book backpacks; a man brought out calculators.

I have hope for us despite our repellent leadership when I see community taking quiet action for its own.

In the last week, there's been a huge fundraising effort to help the local food banks. Jobs are scarce; rent comes due, then eviction, and families find themselves living in tents and cars.

People close to the land and its signs are opining early winter: Aspens are growing pale as prelude to their autumn gold; berries are setting fruit and it seems early; mornings are cool with a nip to the air.

Much buried offal may hit the fan this fall. While generally hopeful long-term, I also watched short-term bad manners while in town. The bad manners of feeling exceptional.

It's been raining with spectacular afternoon thunder-boomers and lightning, a high desert alleluia. It's also a time of tourists fleeing sweltering heat for non-air-conditioned adventures in the mountains.

Tourists who've paid good money to be here, and the weather is not perfect for their holiday. Sufficient grounds for shoving and pushing and a little road rage.

Traffic was very slow near the Plaza. Traffic lights changed and changed again. People began leaning on horns and flooring their accelerators when an opening appeared. A nice moment to be still and not enter the fray.

Hollyhocks are in bloom and lovely flower beds thanks to the local garden ladies; the mountains festooned with  cumulus cloud, a beautiful morning. I sat back to see what was going on.

A Sheriff's big 4x4 and lights cleared the path for a funeral cortège. Am antediluvian enough to remember when men wore fedoras. A man would take off his hat and hold it over his heart, out of respect for the passing.

Now we have many families and generations without fathers; our young folks are often not guided and mentored by a trustworthy grown man, father or grandfather.

As soon as the Priest, and hearse and a few cars of the funeral procession had passed, vehicles held up at the four-way stop began lunging into the intersection to be first out of the gate and on with their vacations.

Recipe with organic ingredients:
Cream of Spinach Soup

4 medium potatoes with skins
3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch washed tender spinach
1 pat of butter
dash of white pepper
Himalayan salt to taste
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
splash of milk if it agrees with you

Chop the spuds; smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a chopping knife; discard papery garlic skins. Dump potatoes and garlic into one of those fold-like-a-flower stainless steamers with ~1 pint water in a pot with tight fitting lid, non-aluminum. Bring to boil; reduce to simmer; cook ~20-25 minutes till spuds are tender.

In a blender, put washed spinach with stems, butter and spices. Dump hot potatoes, garlic and cooking water on top. Add a small splash of milk or almond milk if desired. Blend till creamy-green; add a little more liquid if necessary.

Serve hot in mugs or bowls, topped with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt, or finely minced parsley and chives. Serves 2-4 depending on mug/bowl size. Lovely with a grilled cheese sandwich, or tamari/ginger stir-fried veggies with tofu (or breast of chicken.)

My Blue Ridge Mountain organic farm book is out; it's evocative and useful, with recipes and kitchen remedies, including anti-viral. Hope you enjoy it:

Wayfaring Traveler,
Organic Farm Stories & Recipes
Thanks for cheering on a writer's work!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bureaucratic Façades

I broke the trans-Atlantic Icelandic trip in Manhattan, peeling myself out of the crammed aluminum sardine tin. Horrid flight, but affordable. I'd been with friends in the Alps.

A curious stop-over: I was to visit a Catholic nun at her wee nunnery in the big city (shocking night cacophony from the streets and glaring light.) A Quaker friend in the Blue Ridge Mountains had brought her to meet me at my organic farm.

Both NYC nun and Blue Ridge Quaker (in the non-farming months of winter) were active at the UN. And in the amazing synchronicity of minds alight, the nun and I had remained in contact. She got me into a Security Council session.

I was intrigued with the simultaneous translators, but felt sick-at-heart at the labyrinth of slime trails through the building. The place seemed a den of back-stabbing and hidden agendas; the smooth mask of deceit.

I left before the nun was done with her day's peace work, God help her, and was standing across the street from the UN building, pondering the energies there.

Did not realize tears were streaming down my cheeks till a short brown man with kind eyes asked me what was wrong. It's startling to me even now, that I told him.

Turns out he was one of the multilingual translators from across the way.

"Would you speak to my wife? This would interest her very much. Will you have tea with us?"

His lovely, saftig wife met us close by and we went to a Middle Eastern restaurant for baklava and sweet mint tea. We talked about the difficulty of Realpolitik being disjunct from common humanity and decency.

"Where are you from?" I asked the man. His eyes glistened. He looked away; cleared his throat and turned to me.

"I have no home. We lost our ancestral home. I'm Palestinian."

Gaza Smoke Art