My spirit vegetable is a beet. Like the ruby root veggie, you either love me or hate me. I’m earthy and the rich hues of color I prefer to paint the world with can sometimes leave a big ol’ stain. I can be my own worst critic. Most days, I love the fact that I am colorful. It’s the days when I second guess, that I find the garden most healing. It’s out there that I can truly lose myself if only for just a few moments.
One of my spirit animals is Pastry Chef and Master Gardner, Alisa Huntsman. She and I are somewhat like Lucy and Ethel, only our lines are a bit blurred when it comes to who the straight one is going to be. Alisa was born and raised in New Jersey where she couldn’t find much of a patch of dirt to sink her toes . I, on the other hand, once got hit in the head by a rotten tomato Mamma was throwing out of the garden. Don’t worry, it wasn’t child abuse. Mamma’s “alone time” in the garden got interrupted by a country girl on her tricycle. For a split second, Mamma didn’t even know I was around.
At any rate, Alisa recently moved to Virginia. (I still have her Scobie in the fridge. It looks a bit like a weird fetus creature.) The environmental differences vary for us two peas-in-a-long-distance-pod. So, we have decided to share our experiences with you this summer. Please head on over to her blog, Will Garden For Cake for the Virginia end of things.
These days you can find a muddy pair of Tevas by our back door. Really, I don’t know why I even bother. Most days I just go on out there barefoot. Dew-covered clover feels like walking on a cool carpet of velvet in the mornings. But after a long afternoon of planting, my feet are filthy. Pank will run the hose out, so that I can wash off or else there’s a trail of muddy footprints all over the house. The cold water running over my itchy, skeeter-bitten ankles is just the best.
Last Saturday morning, we planted the last portion of our summer garden. There’s everything from cowpeas and limas to okra and jelly fruit seeds that have laid just below the surface of our Nashville plot. For good measure, I started another batch of peppers indoors. This was just before heading out on a much-needed road trip with my two loves- Pank and Emma. We packed up the Baja, loaded Emma (our 16-year-old four-legged daughter) and headed to Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Grown was certainly an inspiration worth talking about. Stay tuned for that story in upcoming weeks.
Writing these thoughts as Pank steers the Baja down that long stretch of I-40 back to the house, we are both anxious to see what has sprouted from the rains that came last week. Middle Tennessee experienced 18 straight days of no rain to think of- that’s 432 hours of dust. Seeds were surfacing. Sets were drying out. Irrigation and mulch can only help tide over a young garden thirsty for a fresh rain. Pank and I spent many happy hours watching dirt grow. It’s honestly my favorite time of day. It’s when we reconnect from a long day of adult responsibilities. We share a glass of wine, pick a few berries and pull a few weeds. And then, we wait.
The lesson of patience is one I constantly revisit. If there is one place this virtue is critical, it’s the garden. The bunnies ate the tops of my beets and radishes last month, damn it. Luckily, there was time to plant another row or two, in hopes that our “owl”crow would deter our little friend. But what a difference a week can make. We got back to the house and sprouts abound.
…it is truly a good day!
I have committed to making country wines out of seasonal fruits this summer, as described by Sandor Katz in his James Beard Award-Winning book- The Art of Fermentation. It was Strawberry Fest at the Nashville Farmers’ Market last weekend and I couldn’t resist. Troy Smiley of Smiley Hollow hooked me up with 8 pints of Tennessee Strawberries. When I told him what I was making and that I was going to attempt to capture the wild yeasts, he said, “Hey, the worst thing that could happen is that you have a big batch of strawberry vinegar.” Somehow, our regional road trip slipped my mind. In the words of Sandor, “Stir, Stir, Stir,” and that is exactly what my sweet neighbor, Ruthie, did for me. If all goes well, we will be splitting a batch of “Sweet Patience” with Ruthie. Or else, y’all are all getting “Very Berry Vinegar” for Christmas.
Sweet Patience Strawberry Wine
8 pints washed and hulled strawberries
3 gallons distilled water
Juice of 2 lemons
8lbs raw sugar
Using a potato masher or even the end of a sterilized wine bottle, mash the berries into a pulp in a stainless or earthen crock (avoid plastic or aluminum.) bring the water to a simmer and add it with the lemon juice to the strawberry pulp. Quickly stir for about 2 minutes. Cover with a clean, linen cloth. Let rest in a cool, dark place. Stir each day for 7 days. Strain the mixture through a doubled layer of cheesecloth into a large vessel. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour back into crock and once again stir daily for 7 days. Pour into sterilized, glass carboy with fermentation lock and let rest in a cool, dark place for 3 months. The bubbling should have subsided by now. Bottle and cork your summer wine with sterilized equipment and age for up to a year before drinking “Sweet Patience.”