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Blog

 

 

Winter Peace

Tina Hartell

Well winter showed up, finally, as we all knew it would. The El Nino-induced extended stick season (the season after the leaves have dropped but before the snow arrives) ended on December 27th with 3" of snow. It was warm up to then, including a sweatshirt-only, Christmas-day hike up Styles Peak in Peru, VT. The sweatshirt being the only orienting indicator of day.

But people around here are worried about the lack of snow, and when you live in an area with four ski mountains and countless people making their living off the industry including those involved with restaurants, hotels, retail, and snow plowing, it's ok to be worried. Although if you've been following the El Nino year science, it's not really a surprise. 

An interesting piece from Scientific American that explains how this year is different from other El Nino years www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-this-year-s-el-nino-compares-with-the-past/

Personally, Bobo and I are quietly enjoying this mild winter especially after two consecutive whopper winters that even drove the most hardened Vermonters to cry mercy. A whole extra month to split and stack another year's wood, fertilize the garden beds, and cruise the sugarbush fixing lines? Yes please!  A whole extra month of feet in anything but boots, of snow gear in the closets, of not having to use mental space to know (at all times) where the kids hats, mittens, and winter socks are? Oh yeah. And time to finish great projects like this, complete with drawbridge and reinforced birch beams.

Not surprisingly, every single farmer I spoke with during December smiled shyly, and echoed the sentiment. 

And some industrious sugar makers around the state, used our "spring-like" December to make syrup! The conditions were perfect: days in the 50s, nights in the 20s. What a run! www.themaplenews.com/story/autumn-blend/21/

People ask me all the time what the warm El Nino winter has in store for the sugaring season. We can't predict, but the thought of a good run in late February and maybe, even, doing some boiling in March, has me ready to get out and tap. 

So Happy 2016 from all of us! It's good to be here, in this year, despite it all. I went for a walk with the littles today, skirting the edge of an inhabited beaver pond, and walking swiftly on top of the three inches of hard-packed snow. We built a fire, roasted marshmallow, slid down the ice on the frozen beaver dam, built a tipi, and saw the tracks of snowshoe hare, beaver, moose, and coyote. It's afternoons like this when I breathe in Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things" and feel hope. 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Peace be to you in 2016. 
 

Friday Afternoon Cider

Tina Hartell

As anyone who lives in the area knows, this has been an extraordinary year for apple production. It started back in glorious May where there were weeks of dry, warm weather and the apple blossoms stayed on the trees longer than anyone could remember. Trees were humming with pollination. Then there was a month of rain in June which allowed the fruit to set, followed by two months of heat. A “perfect storm” of apple-ness. 

By late-September hundreds and even thousands of fruit were perched in each tree. Branches were drooping - literally breaking - with the weight. 

One medium-sized apple is approximately 95 calories of energy. If one tree has even 500 apples (low-ball estimate on the big trees for sure), then it has around 47,500 calories available to humans, turkeys, bears, coyotes, deer, squirrels, mice, blue jays, and people: what a gift! Sugar is especially needed during a time of year when everything in the area is hoping to get fat immediately. 

Two weeks ago, the Bobo’s crew went on a cider mission. It was time. First, we gathered every large container we could find and then joined forces with Skye’s sister, Carrie, who runs Quoyburray Farm in Weston. She has a number of mature apple trees. Our method was simple: drive up to a tree with the truck, climb the tree, shake the tree like a bear, collect the apples that fall on the ground, load apples into truck. We did this to four or five trees on her farm and collected, what appeared to us, to be around 30 bushels of apples. Not a bad morning’s work.

I found out that a bushel of apples weighs 42 lbs and contains approximately 84 large apples or 168 small apples. If we take the average of the two, we collected about 3800 apples or 1250 lbs. 

A few days later, we took our weighted-down truck over to the Saturday Nite Cider Company in Andover (the next town over). Saturday Nite is run by Jim and Randi Keith who aren’t yet themselves old-timers but are old enough to know how to do things right. Over the years they put together an amazing cider press that is pure Vermont: smart systems made with ingenuity, thrift, and flair. 

The cider press at Saturday Nite Cider Company

The cider press at Saturday Nite Cider Company

There, we pressed those 3800 apples into 106 gallons of delicious cider in 4.5 hours. Split between two families, this will keep us in drinking cider for a year plus extra to make into apple cider vinegar and some that will “go bad” on our counter then bottled. 

The beginning of the press where apples are sorted and washed.

The beginning of the press where apples are sorted and washed.

The apples go down the shoot into this shopper where they then travel up the conveyer belt

The apples go down the shoot into this shopper where they then travel up the conveyer belt

After traveling the conveyer belt, the apples end up in the grinder and get turned into a mash. The mash drops down onto a stainless steel table, wrapped in burlap/canvas. and put into a stack of four with wooden slats in between. Then a hydraulic pump presses a steel plate down onto the stack of mash juicing it. The juice drains through a filter into a 15 gallon holding tank.

After traveling the conveyer belt, the apples end up in the grinder and get turned into a mash. The mash drops down onto a stainless steel table, wrapped in burlap/canvas. and put into a stack of four with wooden slats in between. Then a hydraulic pump presses a steel plate down onto the stack of mash juicing it. The juice drains through a filter into a 15 gallon holding tank.

Finally a small pump transfers the cider to a canner where we bottle (and drink) it.

Finally a small pump transfers the cider to a canner where we bottle (and drink) it.

The final product!

The final product!


Year of the Radish

Tina Hartell

Every garden season I seem to get reacquainted with a vegetable. This is usually something I've eaten my whole life but suddenly find myself gorging on it while thinking that no one has ever loved this vegetable, this "discovery", as much as I do right now. It has happened with eggplant, cauliflower, snap peas, parsley, and now the radish.

I've pickled them, marinated them, fermented them, added them to every salad, and eaten them raw dipped in dressing or humus. They're absolutely perfect. In the newly-found space in the garden, I've planted rows of French Breakfast and Daikon for a fall crop. 

Aside from these rows of radishes and fall crops of spinach, kale, chard etc, the garden is winding down. The potatoes are dug, dry beans shelled, tomato sauce gurgling on the stove, and freezer is filling quickly. There's a sense of order now that wasn't so true in the heat of July. 

As with any year, there were some great successes and some terrific failures. The 2015 bang-up successes include potatoes, squash (both summer and winter), raspberries, onions. The confusing and disappointing failures were cauliflower, artichokes, eggplant, and green cabbage. Everything else did okay: there was enough. What caused these failures? I suspect some combination of browsing by voles, aphids, too-early planting, and now lack of water. There is always something that goes awry each year despite all your hopes and effort. It's part of why I love and respect the garden: it's always as it should be, even through the failures. And it gives me the gift of being surrounded by such calm, peaceful, and tasty perfection.

And here's the reason you should never, ever leave your garden in August. 

Oh, Zucchini!

SPRING RESOLUTIONS

Tina Hartell

Spring is always horribly abrupt season in Vermont, even when – like this year – May is leisurely and warm.

In many parts of the country, April or even March is the transformative month. I look in wonder at Instagram pictures around the country of flowering trees and gardens in early April when outside my window there’s still 2’ of snow on the ground. It truly feels like I’m looking at pictures of another planet. But then comes May, the last of the snow melts in about 48 hours, and everything that is alive seems to go into hyperdrive to catch up. Up high, the maple, poplar, and ash bloom their strange and familiar flowers. Down low, I watch with excitement as the coltsfoot blooms along the side of the road. Then in yards, the crocuses and hyacinth bloom followed closely by daffodils The flowering trees hit: forsythia, apples, cherries, lilac. Tulips succeed the daffodils. In the woods the ephemerals march through their comforting succession: trout lilies, trillium, wild oats, spring beauties, and jack in the pulpit.

Suddenly it’s all gone as though it never happened.

Spring is over in three weeks.

And I’m standing there saying, ”No wait..I missed it…again.”

My forever spring resolution is to be greedy. I resolve to no more be a lazy flower picker, assuring myself that there will be plenty more later. I resolve to pick in abundance, to gather frantically and fill my house with color and fragrance, and new life. I resolve to lie under a flowering tree. I resolve to wade in the thick, loud ephemeral rivers of snowmelt before they dry up by early summer. I resolve to be outside at night to listen to the wood frogs and peepers sing their mating calls. I resolve to take it all for myself. Because after six months of winter, there are resolutions to be made.


A GOOD YEAR

Tina Hartell

Bobo is really happy with how the 2015 season turned out. So are we. He came by the other day to see how clean up was going (slowly) and tasted some of the syrup. “Good year,” was all he said. Here are some stats from the season:

Number of gallons of maple syrup made: 790 gallons

Number of boils: 19 boils

Date of first boil: March 12

Date of last boil: April 17

Number of boils in April: 15

Gallons of sap collected and boiled: approximately 41,000 gallons

Average sugar content of sap: 1.48%. It went as high as 2% in the middle of the season and as low as 0.7% at the beginning and the end.

Cords of wood burned:8

While we finished off the rest of the sap in the pans and cleaned the pans, we still have taps to remove. I have to say that I’m looking forward to getting back into the woods without snow and with an eye for spring ephemerals. Bobo will be up there too.

DON’T LET YOUR MONDAY RUIN YOUR SUNDAY

Tina Hartell

There are as many different sugarhouses and operations as there as sugar makers. Everyone has a different scale, number of taps, evaporator set up, technology use, and aesthetic/culture at their spot. On a recent visit to Bobo’s, our friend Sugar Bob quipped that all sugarhouses are the same.”There’s always a bunch of people standing around talking and drinking and one person – looking nervous – checking levels and reading thermometers,” How true. So when Sugar Bob had his “skunk boil” Sunday afternoon, we decided to go and let someone else be the person reading the thermometers.

We had had our skunk boil on Friday and had closed shop. Skunk boils involve murky sap, uncooperative equipment, and an earthy smell that invades your nostrils telling you sugaring season is officially over. While Sugar Bob’s operation is less than ten miles from ours, he uses buckets and has some cold northern bushes that give out decent sap late season. So he was still in the game.

Sunday was as gorgeous as could be. Even this late in the season, sugarhouses are community. Bouncing down muddy roads, people gather to celebrate spring.

Sugar Bob makes great syrup but his signature signature is an incredible Smoked Maple Syrup. While you may not want to put it on your pancakes, it is our go-to item for any bbq sauce, marinade, special sauce, or secret ingredient in stews/soups. Check it out and purchase some here http://sugarbobsfinestkind.com/

Sugar Bob's sugarhouse with disco ball

Sugar Bob's sugarhouse with disco ball

Merchandise rack

Merchandise rack

Potluck Table

Potluck Table

Syrup pans at Sugar Bob's

Syrup pans at Sugar Bob's

Rule #3 A promise made in the sugarhouse does not need to be kept.

Rule #3 A promise made in the sugarhouse does not need to be kept.

Tanks and buckets

Tanks and buckets

Uncle Harry making tea

Uncle Harry making tea

Sugar Bob and crew

Sugar Bob and crew

“Don’t let your Monday ruin your Sunday.” – Shawna Batogowsi