Food and Health Archive


syllabub/sillabub

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Syllabub.  The dictionary says, “See sillabub”.  A classic English dessert of a certain era that graces the country dance tables in the novels of Jane Austen.

Earlier this summer, I re-read the last Jane Austen novel partially written by Ms. Austen and finished by a contemporary author.  Sanditon is a play on all the same social issues that grace the pages of any Austen comedy/tragedy of manners. The heroine is smart, modest and sharp-tongued; the hero dashing, witty, and enigmatic.  The location is the seaside with bracing salt breezes and healing sunshine; the pastime is collecting seaweed or admiring rather hideous boxes made of seashells.  The dessert is sillabub, and there is a large amount of text given over to the picking of the berries, the thorn-pricked and stained hands of the inimitable Charlotte, and the preparation of and delivery of the dessert to the country dance which serves as the game changer in the narrative.  In essence, Sillibub becomes a character.

At the same time I am reading Sanditon, I am reading the beautiful cookbook Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater.  While it is a lousy apple season in our orchard, all the berries are over the top.  The blueberries come in blue-black and almost bursting on the branches of the four bushes next to our greenhouse.  While mining recipes for this blueberry bounty, like the medieval Trout in Cerulean Blue Sauce (with blueberries and rosemary) that we are serving at the restaurant, I come across a blueberry fool in Slater’s book.  It’s English and I wonder if it’s related to sillabub which sends me to the old dictionary on our library table that is always open to some word we don’t know.  These days I have to use the extra large magnifying glass to even read an entry.  A sillibub is very much like a fool, and perhaps that is it’s intended role in Austen’s final saga as well, a dessert of whipped milk or cream flavored with wine or cider.  A little adaptation goes a long way.

A cup of blueberries in a sauce pot.  A tablespoon and a half of sugar.  A little water.  Simmered for five minutes so the fruit may give itself up to additional deliciousness.  1/3 of a cup of Greek-style yogurt, 1/4 and a little of a cup of thick, heavy cream, whipped with a little confectioners sugar and two splashes of a Corsican red wine, or any other light red wine sufficiently fresh and fruity to accompany the other flavors.  Mix the cooled berry sauce and the yogurt.  Fold in the winey whipped cream.  Chill for an hour.  Top with a few fresh blueberries and fresh mint.  It is both witty and enigmatic.  Blackberries or raspberries would suit well.  Serves two or four depending on how hungry you are–

–Deirdre

After The Party

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We sit down at the table. There are six of us: our friends Mark and Gina who helped the evening stay glued together, Eliza who has been the intern at the restaurant and farm for the last nine months, and her mother Trish, up for a visit. The old-wood table that Caleb built a few years ago sits in the middle of the restaurant dining room and feels the weight of all the dishes that have been prepared for own after-the-party dinner: crispy pork, a huge platter of garlic beans, shrimp in black bean sauce, tilapia roasted with lemon grass, red-cooked tofu and coconut tofu, bowls of fresh sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, rice, mint, and basil.

Tonight, Caleb cooked Vietnamese dishes, a collection of recipes from our friend Rebecca’s handmade cookbook from a time she spent in that country, a kind of food he cooks for us in the privacy of our home or at staff dinner. Tonight, he has cooked these exotic dishes not only for our dinner, but this is what we served to a restaurant packed full of guests who were here to celebrate the launch of a new collaboration between myself and our friends Eleanor and Albert Leger of Eden Ice Cider: an aperitif cider infused with herbs that we have dubbed Orleans. In this name we wanted something French-sounding to evoke old-world bar magic and something that spoke of place. Eleanor and Albert live in Orleans County in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont where they produce their silken trio of winter-made ice ciders: Eden, Northern Spy, and a Honey Crisp for Champlain Orchards.

At the table, we are only missing Eleanor and Albert. They’ve had to return home tonight, a long two hour drive, as tomorrow they have to stop fermentations, and prepare for Albert to return to teaching for the rest of the semester. They are just doing the kinds of things that winegrowers have to do all the time. We understand the demands of being cellarmaster, yet we miss them all the same.

We are a little high and a little tired, or a lot tired as I watch Caleb hit the proverbial wall after his day of cooking all this beautiful food, intricate and subtle flavors that weave in and out of the dishes and paired with the somewhat exotic notes of the Orleans in its three different guises tonight: straight-up, with prosecco and lime, and a slightly racy version of a Ramos Gin Fizz, but with the Orleans as the featured player. The tastes married with the dishes in such a way as to expand and deepen the experience of the food when you put the two together.

Mark and Gina, who’ve played this game with us before, are the kind of good friends you can call in a pinch when you are in need, and they are there in a flash. Mark has even been called out of his bed late in the evening to taxi a table of diners visiting from Holland who had walked a couple of miles into town from their inn and thought they could easily get a cab home in our small town of Woodstock. The skies had unleashed a deluge while they were dining, and there are no cabs. We were too busy at the restaurant to spare one of ourselves to drive them. Mark, donning his Brooklyn heritage and persona played the role well, willingly chauffering the visitors to the inn.

Tonight, Gina washed and washed and washed glasses and dishes and forks as they rotated from kitchen and back out to the party. She wore one of the blue and white striped smocks that Caleb found in a uniform shop in Rome next to a haberdasher for priests and nuns. It covers her sleek leopard print top and pants which no one ever gets to see as she is in front of the sinks all night. I’ve asked Mark to tend bar because the third drink is a little complicated and takes time to make, and I know how these events go—there will be other things for me to do—greet guests, dry glasses and ferry them back to the bar, check that there are enough plates and silverware on the buffet, be the expediter. Eliza is stationed at the buffet serving and talking about the dishes, and Caleb is alternately cooking and checking on guests.

Of course, I’ve created a rather complicated cocktail for Mark to wade through with many ingredients and long minutes of shaking the shaker while chatting with everyone bellied-up to the bar plus pouring the other drinks while I’m not behind the bar with him. I could have designed something simpler, but this was the right drink for the right evening, and I’ve never been one to make decisions because it makes life easier. I’m sure Mark would be able to expound on this if I let him (this is the same man who thinks it would be far more sensible to buy slews of wine glasses each week and recycle them at the end of each night rather than putting up with all the handwashing and polishing we do…), but he is the perfect choice for bartender and soldiers through my demands with style and flair.

There was a buzz, a tangible frisson, on the floor tonight as the build-up of energy slowly rose as more and more people arrived, some from around the corner, some from a couple of hours away, until the hum of conversation and laughter reached pitch. It was a party, a true celebration, excitement and expectation were as real as featured guests. But who doesn’t like to have a reason to celebrate? But even more so, I think the evening was defined by the need for celebration. We have weathered through a long and very intense winter. The larger world is in disarray, perhaps more so than usual, and the transition from winter into spring is often painful and homely in northern climes. The once beautiful snow becomes crusty and dirty losing much of its sparkle and is not much good for anything besides re-adjusting the water table—too icy for skiing, too brittle for snowshoeing, and sometimes dangerous as it melts and causes rise for flood warnings—all a constant reminder that we still have at least six weeks before things really turn around. It is hard to embrace Winter when she looks spent and rather used. But the light has changed, it is more clear, more roseate, and softens the harsh reality of mud and discomfort. Something else undefinable has shifted—Axes? Or poles? Or phases of moons or stars or tides?–which has made us buoyant.

In the dead of winter, the sun goes down at 4:30, and tonight, the light is still filtering in the windows at 7pm. All around the restaurant we’ve positioned big vases of branches, recent prunings from our plum trees and they are studded with fat green buds. With the soft light shafting through the space and candles flickering, the golden colors of the Orleans in the glasses, the bright citrus perfumes of lemon and lime, the leafy greens of mint and basil, the voices ebbing and flowing, the heat in the dining room palpable, the evening shimmers.

We hold onto that shimmer at our own dinner. It is dark outside now, and almost time to go home just like everyone else. We raise glasses and tell jokes and talk about vacations. Someone laughs with abandon. It is the Ides of March, a craziness that marks a month that comes in like a lion, and supposedly leaves like a lamb, a month of wind and temperament, but also sun and seduction. We pour Orleans into our glasses for a final good luck toast, and we pour ourselves into this melting and groaning that will eventually lead to Spring.
–Deirdre


Read the original post on fuoricitta (out of the city).

libation Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

Pruning

Friday, March 11th, 2011

I’ve waited too long to write. My memory seems to be not quite as it used to be. In the glory days of youth, I could remember faces, place names, historical dates, addresses (but somehow, never phone numbers), what I ate, drank, when, where, and why.

I’m trying to remember that sunny day last week. Ah, yes, it was Wednesday. A brutally early morning to run errands and attend appointments, then a return home to that bright sunshine as if this was the beach in southern Italy, or coastal Florida rather than an alpine enclave that comprises our farm. Sometimes that word does not want to come trippingly off my tongue: farm. I can’t ignore it anymore, we can’t ignore it anymore, this is a farm, has become a farm, is still becoming a farm. I think if I say it enough times, quickly enough, it will become like second skin, not even a second thought.

I never expected to be a farmer. I’m not entirely sure what I expected, maybe days at the head of a classroom, and that may still come to pass, but I didn’t know that working the land would offer some of the most grueling, heartbreaking, and satisfying work I’ve ever done. I didn’t know that the work would actually feel like a second skin, almost like intuition. And that’s the strange thing, we are still so young in this work as farmers (young as in experience, not necessarily in age…) and there is still so much to learn and understand, that when this farming business feels absolutely right, it takes you a bit by surprise.

The sun is beating down, and this is one of my days to prune in the orchard. Caleb pruned all last week. I’m strapping on my snowshoes and have one pruners in my back pocket and one in my hand. The light is so bright and bouncing off the white landscape, I’m wearing sunglasses. The trees are big enough to be generous bearers of fruit and usually much taller than me. But with the two feet of snow-pack, I am that much closer to the tops. But I’ll still have to use a loppers to get at the highest points.

I’ve never pruned our trees before, other than occasionally stealing flowering branches for a bud vase or a floral arrangement in the restaurant. This is bad behavior. To prune during flowering is like tying your dog on a very short chain in a dirty yard with no shade and no water, or forgetting your child in the grocery store and driving on home without a care in the world. I realize as I look at these trees that I will have to stop that behavior. At least on our own trees. I will have to pilfer elsewhere. But that’s always been my modus operandi: Rose bushes, hydrangea, and peonies in other yards are never safe from my coveting eye, and my snappy sheers.

Somehow the real, legitimate pruning of our trees has always fallen under Caleb’s purview before this, and because his domain is already quite full, it hasn’t always been easy for him to finish the work. This year we’re serious about these apple trees, so we are sharing the work. I’m already nervous about pruning our grape vines come April, even after the patient tutelage of our friend Emanuel in Burgundy this fall, but apple trees are not the same creatures. Pruning can make or break your plant, it can be the deciding factor between a good season and a bad.

I’ve taken some time to look at our handy Little Pruning Book: an Intimate Guide to the Surer Growing of Better Fruits and Flowers by F.F. Rockwell and published in 1919. It’s been reprinted in the Small Farmer’s Journal, Fall, Vol. 33, No. 4. (There’s that word again: farm. ) Mr. Rockwell has many good things to say about the process of pruning, but he has four points he says to be sure to always keep in mind, and which I carry with me at the ready, just like the extra pruners in my back pocket:

First: always leave a clean smooth cut. Careless cutting or dull shears, leaving a ragged edge, means slow healing and increased danger—to say nothing about its being the earmark of a slovenly gardener.

Second: Cut just the right distance above the bud. If you cut close to it, it is likely to be injured. If you cut too far above it, a dead stub will be left. On small branches and twigs, cut from a quarter to less than half-an-inch above the bud. If pruning is done when plants are in active growth, however, the cut should be made close to the bud, as it will heal almost immediately.

Third: Prune above an outside bud. This will tend to keep the new growth branching outward, giving the plant an open center with plenty of space and light. While in some specific case there may be reasons for selecting an inside bud, this holds as a general rule.

Fourth: Cut close up to and parallel with the main branch, trunk or stem. In removing a branch from a tree or side shoots from shrubs or plants, the leaving of a stub, even it if is a short one, delays the healing or makes it possible for disease and germs to enter, thus providing for future trouble.

So, with a fair amount of trepidation, I start.

I take the pruning branch by branch. I step away occasionally to look at the tree as a whole with the question: is it balanced? The work goes both slowly and quickly. There is a meditative quality to the process and Time seems to be neither moving or standing still. The sun is hot and bright and feels like a balm to cold bones. The air is fresh and cold and feels like it must be full of the best oxygen. After a while, I realize I am already on the third tree and any residual fear is gone.

The snow-covered ground is littered with fallen branches to be collected in bunches. Some will come inside to be forced for blossoms in vases (old habits die hard….), others will be evaluated for suitability as cuttings, others will be left to dry as wood for cooking. (Doesn’t pork roasted over apple wood sound pretty darn good?)

The trees look airy and shaped liked lacy goblets, arms reaching out and up. When Caleb returns home, he helps me reach the tops I can’t quite get to. The sun starts to shift. It’s already three in the afternoon and we have yet to eat lunch. We decide to stop for the day and catch a bit of sun on the porch with a glass of wine, some salame, little pickles and bread. We close our eyes to the warmth on our faces and think of bees humming in blossoms in just a few months time, the the fruit ripe on the trees.

–Deirdre

Read the original article on fuoricitta (out of the city).

libation Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

Gorgeous Disgorgement

Monday, January 31st, 2011

We have only a case of bottles left of our first cider from two seasons ago.  They have been patiently waiting, or rather they have been doing what they need to do, and I have been not-so-patiently waiting for the time when we can disgorge them.   The number of bottles has dwindled over the last year and a quarter as they have been victims of my trials and errors.  First, I had hoped to create a sparkling cider in what is known as the ancient method where the second fermentation does not get disgorged before going to market.  This seemed rather easier and had a traditional beauty and insouciance to it.  This can be very tricky though for the unsuspecting  taster who might find an ancient method wine in a wine shop.  Either the bottles will be stored right side up or on their sides and the yeast deposits from the second fermentation will be incorporated into the fluid bubbles of the wine for a more natural beer-like experience (not necessarily a bad thing if the deposits are in minimal proportion), or the bottles must be carefully stored upside down and the unsuspecting taster will perform the final disgorgement.

There is one producer I know who does this.  He is from Slovenia—Ales Kristancic of Movia–and makes a remarkable sparkling wine from pinot noir–Puro–that arrives here in the United States in a special cardboard box that keeps it upside down.  It is expensive and not for the faint of heart.  In winemaking books, you are often instructed to wear goggles and a heavy jacket at the time of disgorgement, for protection.  This can give you pause.

Our friend Eric who owns Vintages: Adventures in Wine in Concord, Massachusetts showed us the bottle of the Movia on a visit there a couple of years ago when we went down into his cellar to pick a case of interesting and unusual wines.  When I saw the Movia box, and heard Eric’s words of caution, I had to have it.  This would be a wine experience that would truly connect me to the winegrower.  I would be a participant, essentially, in the finishing of the wine.  It is a rather terrific notion if you believe wine connects you to the people with whom you are sharing it, to the dishes with which you drink it, to the landscape that raised it, to the person who tended both the growth of the fruit, and the fermentation and elevage of the wine itself.  It’s a kind of beautiful QED.

We had the wine at Thanksgiving, disgorging the bottle outside the house into a field already covered in snow.  We lost about the a third of the wine, but so relished the minerality of the perlage with just a kiss of blackberry fruit, and of course a faintly yeasty persistence that makes you think of freshly baking bread in a tiny warm bakery on a quiet street corner in early morning mid-winter.  Wine can lead to such kinds of places.

I loved the idea of making our ciders in a similar fashion and engaging its drinkers in the same ritual.

We began by picking an assortment of our Liberty apples here on the farm along with our wild pippins.  We added heaps of Empires from Caleb’s parents’ grand and old apple tree that offers up bushels of fruit each year.  Before we had a proper cantina, the cider of that year fermented with its own wild yeasts rather zealously in a cool corner of the living room, popping its airlock off and foaming at the mouth as it were.  It continued to ferment on its lees for a couple of months, and finally it settled down by the holidays and went into that quiet period of deep winter.  I kept it on its fine lees.  In early March, we went to go visit a friend’s family farm where they make old-style cider just for themselves, a tradition handed down from father to son to father to son.  We tasted incredible three year old ciders that had been aged in whiskey or ginger barrels.  Kermit, the grandfather, had told us that the longer cider stays in the barrel the better.  And that it doesn’t start to show its true self until after three years, and gets really good at six years.  He also told us that the cider works twice a year in the barrel, fermenting again in the spring and in the fall.

Sure enough, on the spring equinox our cider started to ferment again.   Tides, shifts in season and sky, do actually have an effect on the living organism that is wine.   Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Mid-summer, I decided to start the second fermentation in bottle.  I too wanted to go old-school, so just added a simple syrup of natural sugar.  We stirred, bottled, and corked with mushroom caps and the traditional cages.  About a month later, our friends from Burgundy were visiting and we were tasting each other’s wine, and  I brought out a bottle of the cider to try.  The flavors were well coalesced, but the sparkle was somewhat disappointing.  It still tasted like a base wine.  In consultation with another friend who has a vineyard about fifteen minutes from us and who’s experimented a lot with sparkling wines, I decided to add another dosage to my bottles.  This time with a little neutral yeast.  The sparkle had increased a little more from the sugar by the day I opened all the bottles and recombined them in a large demijohn in order to add the yeast, but because this was my first time making sparkling cider, I really wanted it to sparkle, and I wanted to explore all the possibilities of production.  All along, I left some of the lees from the initial fermentation in the cider.  Depth of flavor and all that.  I would be making this for real in another year.

We riddled the bottles three times a week, and I left them on their sides.  We began to open bottles every few months, to see how the cider would develop.  It developed.  It definitely had sparkle now.  Perhaps too much.  I should have been more patient with my initial dosage of sugar.  But now I had bottles with a thick carpet of lees at the bottom that would churn up with the mousse whenever we opened one.  This wasn’t quite the experience I was looking for, so that’s when we decided to disgorge.

We thought a winter disgorgement would be elegant and easy.  All that snow and cold weather seemed to beckon for something so festive, and a good use of the season.  I had inverted all the bottles at the holidays to get the lees into the necks.  The date for disgorging in January kept getting pushed back due to other necessities, until this past week.  After a brutal cold snap, we had some milder weather.  Out went what was left of the bottles, necks down into snow.  Two to three hours, they say, for partial freezing of the necks at 21-25 degrees Farenheit.  We waited.  We waited some more.

So here’s the thing.  Snow is an insulator.  That’s why we’re so happy we have it burying our vines during all this cold weather.  The snow stayed at a consistent 31 degrees.  No freezing of the necks.  And no disgorgement.  We went to work at the restaurant, knowing that it was going to get colder out that night.  We thought we’d return to disgorge at around one in the morning.  Again, elegant and easy.  A good story.

Arriving home, it was indeed colder.  About 15 degrees.  Perfect! we thought.  And even more perfect when our handy little digital thermometer read 23 degrees in the snow.  However, the bottoms, so gallantly sticking up in the air, were partially frozen, and the necks were not.   Caleb had the brilliant idea of shoveling snow on top of all the bottles to keep them protected from the further freezing until we could look at this situation square in the eye the next morning.

The next day, the snow was still just the right temperature.  There was still ice in the base of the bottles, so we uncovered them to let the sun warm them a bit.  We decided to disgorge.

We dressed in heavy coats and thick glasses.  Caleb valiantly managed the popping of the corks and trying to hold as much of the cider in the bottles after the yeast had shot out of the bottles.  I took over with settling the bottles and setting them up inside to warm a little before topping up and corking.  Again, I think my overzealousness with the yeast has resulted in a less successful integration of the co2 in the bottle.  The nose of the cider was apply, yeasty, spicy, and the taste on the palate the same.  We let the bottles come to a warmer temperature in the house, all lined up on the dining table, and topped the bottles up with itself rather than a sugar liqueur that many Champagne houses employ.  We like the dry element of the cider.  But I worry a bit about the absence of fruit.  Is it there or not there?  The taste an aroma of apples is fleeting.

Re-corked, and re-caged, the bottles will age for at least another two months.  My hope is that the yeastiness will meld into the cider in a pleasing way, rather than a “look-at-me” kind of way.  One of the wines I made from the same year also had that yeasty, nuttiness at the finish for the longest time.  Until Christmas this year, and it has clearly been the best wine I have made to date.  It just needed time.

So this initial foray into the world of sparkling ciders also needs time.  There are only 8 bottles left, so I will have to choose carefully the tasting occasions.  We will go back to the drawing board.  Read and talk to other growers producing sparkling wines.  What will I do with the ciders that are gently still fermenting in the cantina as we speak?  I await the arrival of several ciders and poires(pear ciders) to taste from the imitable Eric Bordelet.  One of my mentors  had recently told me about Eric’s ciders, and that his poire Granit was one of the greatest fermented beverages on earth.  I await their arrival, and practice patience.

–Deirdre

Read the original post on fuoricitta (out of the city).

libation Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

The End is the Beginning

Monday, December 13th, 2010

It’s the end of our vacation.  Last day before the realities of running the restaurant during the holiday and winter season.  Tomorrow and the next several days will be full of reservations, returning phone calls, waxing the dining room floor, painting the bathroom, making a soup, preparing ravioli, stocking wine.

But today is Sunday, my favorite day of the week because Sunday lunch is my favorite meal.  Since we’ve been away for three weeks, we are still doing laundry and cleaning house.  This morning is moving things around in the living room, storing china, and polishing furniture.  With the fire warming the house all day, the air is full of the perfume of lemon and beeswax.

Sunday is meant for slow cooking, and we have a pork roast, almost two pounds,  which gets well-salted , that I prepare with a clove of garlic, two cloves, a soup spoon full of black peppercorns, a good dousing of olive oil, one onion sliced in rounds, a particularly ugly but sweet carrot from the garden also sliced in rounds, a healthy portion of parsley, and thyme still on the stem, and since I don’t have any bay, a clutch of oregano.  Added to it all is about two cups of red wine.  Into the oven it goes until its medium rare and rosy, just like we like it.  There’s a sauce made from a roux to finish the dish made with a little less than a third of a cup of melted butter, a soup spoon of flour, and a good ladle-full of the pork juices, but I get distracted by the phone ringing, and my sauce breaks and cannot be remedied, so I scrap it.

There are potatoes I cook our favorite way too—a la La Tourelle, in the manner of one of our favorite bistrot in Paris.  Sliced into rounds, about half a pencil thick, and then halved again and arranged in a layered fan like a tart in a cast iron skillet, olive oil, salt and pepper, low heat, and a lid cooked for twenty or so minutes until they are cooked through and slightly crispy in the skin edges.

We toss a radicchio salad with olive oil and lemon, and there’s till that half wheel of Bayley Hazen Blue from the cave up north.   To finish, I make a pear flan because pears are what we have.  Into a buttered baking dish, I place the cut and quartered pears, and pour over them a mixture of 1 egg, 1 cup milk, a half cup of sugar, a half cup of flour, and a third of a cup of melted butter, beaten with a  hand mixer.

We eat late, at four o’clock, feeling like this is really more “tea” in the British sense of the word.  A bottle of Madiran from the south west of France is a perfect pair for the pork.  We break after the salad and cheese for a short walk around the meadow before the sun completely sets.  We don’t like these early dark  hours, but take hope from the fact there are only a few weeks left to go before the days start to get incrementally  longer.  The flan is just finished when we return and we drink a coffee while we wait for it to cool.  We think about this week’s new menu, the roast pork recipe looking like a likely candidate, look at cookbooks, and notes from our travels, we read novels, one of us takes a nap.  We think about another glass of wine, or a pot of tea.  We relish our last free Sunday for awhile.

–Deirdre

Read the original post on fuoricitta (out of the city).

libation Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

Vendanges, Vendemmia, Harvest

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

The tail edges of a tropical storm are decidedly un-tropical as the wind buffets the house and barn and a fine sleet falls, or is this hail? Could it even be snow? Luckily, the rainy weather this past November happened well beyond harvest. This year we picked grapes on September 18th, and apples mid-October. Last year, the grape harvest didn’t happen until mid-October, and the apples, well, we were in the middle of November when we pressed. Given the current climactic patterns for the last month, we are glad that the season was early. Of course, the question is–will this be the way it will be? Or just an anomaly?

A friend who works for a vineyard in California writes that they were able to blog, twitter, and facebook (I still can’t believe these are verbs…) during their harvest and how thrilling it was to get people far away involved in the process. Maybe next year we will be able to write simultaneously. We settle for writing about harvest now, almost two months after the fact, and just like the tail end of this storm, we are even at the tail end of the harvest cantina work. This was our first official la garagista harvest, the first harvest with almost a thousand pounds of grapes. In the past, we’ve worked with 50 pounds of each variety, so the jump to a thousand was quite steep. And to think, we had been hoping for two thousand pounds. Since our season here in Vermont was so hot and dry, the yield was lower, and the grower we worked with outside of the small town of Vergennes out near Lake Champlain had to lower our take in order to satisfy his commitments to all his winemakers. Sometimes things actually do happen for a reason.

The actual processing of the grapes went beautifully—a lovely surprise as we really didn’t know what we were in for. We picked our grapes on a Saturday morning, working until well after lunch, and then did a full night’s work at the restaurant. We took that following Monday through Wednesday, our usual farm days, to get the harvest in. Thanks to our intrepid volunteers: Eliza, Zanna, JT, Rebecca, Erle, Michael, Todd, Mark, and Gina—Caleb and myself were able to hand de-stem, sort, and crush in three days. We began on a very cool morning with the white La Crescent which went through our tiny press on its first outing. We broke for lunch, a simple pasta made of sausage and tomatoes and finished with a beautiful apple tart that Rebecca made at the restaurant for us to bring home. The work started up again after lunch. White grapes can be reluctant with their juice, and between the new press and handling white grapes for the first time, it took a long time.

As evening fell, there were glasses of wine and hearty cookies to keep us warm in the wine garden where we were doing the sorting and pressing during the day, and when it got too dark, we moved the operation inside to the barn. We broke for dinner inside at about ten-thirty that night having de-stemmed, sorted, and pressed four hundred pounds of white grapes.

The same happened the next day, but with the red grapes. We spent all day de-stemming and sorting. In the early evening, when we moved into the barn, the must sitting at the bottom of the white wine demijohns rose to the surface with a whoosh at the same time the full moon rose, the wild fermentation beginning all on its own. Uncanny, how the natural world behaves. Later, Caleb prepared roast chicken that he served in the barn in a steaming black skillet. There were salume, cheeses, and roast potatoes. And of course, bottles of wine to keep us warm and up the the task of the work.

It was the next day that we crushed the red grapes by feet in our half wooden barrels. This was surprisingly quick, the red grapes being far more happy than the white grapes to relinquish juice. We scooped the juice and must into the big vat, and a couple of smaller ones too, and here they sat foaming and fermenting for three weeks before going into thick glass demijohns for the next part of their journey.


When I began this entry it was mid-November and all the fermentation was finally complete, and the wines were transferred off the gross lees (the spent grape skins at the bottom of the demijohns) and into new demijohns for their elevage over the winter. Now, we have returned from three weeks of traveling abroad. The ciders, which we pressed a couple of weeks after the wine, have finished their gyrations, and we taste everything to be sure all the vessels are on track. The evolution of the flavors amaze, even at this early juncture.

Now, is the time of waiting and letting the winter days work their mysterious magic.

–Deirdre

Read the original post on fuoricitta (out of the city)

libation Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

In Rememberance Of

Monday, November 8th, 2010

First we were cooks and students of wine, then we were cooks, students of wine, and gardeners, then somehow we have become cooks, students of wine, gardeners, and farmers. While the restaurant is closed for our ritual November break, (what’s called stick season here in Vermont because all the leaves are gone and what is left are the whites, grays, and black-browns of bark and branches), the work on this farm has expanded.

The list of preparations for winter is deep like the impending snows, and holds a different urgency. New blocks in the vineyard for planting next year must be tilled over; land waiting for the following year worked over and re-seeded with an advantageous cover crop; established vines need to be lightly weeded and composted; posts for trellising must be ordered and set; the roses for the vineyard need to be planted at the head of the rows. The days of November rain confound. We are thankful the ground hasn’t frozen yet.

The new wine must be racked and settled in for the winter; the cantina rigged with heat so it can stay cellar temperature through-out the ensuing cold months; the new rose garden needs to be planted with the young Therese Bugnet starts as well as the beautiful damask Belladonna brought by our friend David just over a week ago. The old rose garden, overgrown with blue veronica, bishop’s weed, and Siberian iris needs to be cut back. The phlox, the day lilies, those mats of iris bulbs should be moved. The roses need to be mulched with nettle and fir boughs, the neighbor’s chicken manure. The green house, expanded earlier this fall, needs new beds to be made, lettuces and starts moved into their new winter home. The roof on the studio needs to be re-built, the stairs on the porch mended and stained. If Time were profligate, we would wash the windows.

Strange how we find ourselves in a season that is winding itself down, yet the work seems to wind up, almost like a last gasp, a last valiant effort to survive what is thought of as a season of loss: the dying back of the flowers, the falling of the leaves, the rotting of fruit, color leaching out of meadow and woods. But this farming thing provides an alternative perspective. Observation brings surprises. Brilliant green ferns have unfurled beneath the fallen leaves, under the canopy of those naked trees near the brook. The swiss chard and the beet greens look robust and lined with red, still in their outdoor beds. I’m pretty sure this is not a good thing, but the lilac buds have started to unfurl in that terrific spring green.

I’ve never noticed the ferns before , or the lilac buds opening in November, so I do not know if this is work as usual or if the relatively warm and rather wet days have confused these plants. Yet, I do know that this is the time of year that tricks the eye. We think of this as a dead season, the landscape around us showing us the change from one month to the next, the transition between summer and winter. But the soil itself is not hibernating; it is suddenly more alive then ever with worms and nematodes and new humus.

It is true that soon our efforts of cultivation will be over, and we will be covered in a blanket of snow for these next five months. We will be left to settle for remembering the rose garden in bloom, the apples picked from the tree, the plethora of tomatoes that went into sauce we served at that restaurant, the first harvest of grapes. And like the soil doing its hard work while there is nothing like the fullness of summer to distract, we too will be doing the work of memory which serves to sustain, sift, and stir for another season.
–Deirdre

Read the original post at fuoricitta (out of the city).

Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy, and In Late Winter We Ate Pears.

Quiet Autumn

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

A handful of warm days.  It is strange to walk out the door and feel hot.  The cluster flies have resurrected and swarm the sunny side of the house.  While we’ve also had more rain and the ground is inconsistent at best, the air is like tinder next to a sulpfherous match.    Even though the days are slowly becoming shorter, Time seems to be a bit longer.  There is still much to do, but there is not the same pressing need of things growing. The plants themselves are drowsy if not altogether sleeping now—yet there are still  a few tenacious leaves hanging on trees and those roses still bloom, though their colors are more tea-stained, browned at the edges.  Only in the green house do the small starts of lettuces and bitter greens , the carrots and herbs need to be anchored in their new beds with tilled up soil and black compost.  This will be the winter harvest for the restaurant.

It is quiet in the late afternoon sun slanting through bare maple, bare birch.  It is somehow relaxing to hear only the small finches talk, the rushing water in the brook, the sound of the hoe hitting the roots of the unwanted campion in the vineyard, the burble of voices on the radio in the green house reciting the day’s news full of sensational stories and tragedies which I am frankly glad that I unable to hear clearly.  Much better to get mud on the hands and knees , and think of the hopeful, hibernating plants and the slow inspiration of soil.

Read the original post at fuoricitta (out of the city)

Deirdre Heekin is the author of In Late Winter We Ate Pears and Libation, A Bitter Alchemy, both available now.

Relinquish

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

I sit on the terrace under the pergola in the dying light.  It’s mid-October and we’ve already had the first snow.  I am loathe to relinquish this season, which is why I am sitting here watching the sky darken from color to black and white while the three-quarter moon is only thinly veiled by these ominous and lightly raining clouds.  The coyotes up the hill have been active.  They tune their voices, a series of scales and arias, like musicians at the piano.  It is too dark and too wet now for me to continue planting roses in the new beds.  I have come in from the rain to bring in pillows from the two wicker chairs and the outdoor settee, but I can’t quite bring myself to come inside.  The roof on the balcony above the pergola keeps me dry and I am momentarily shuttled back to the heat of summer and late night dinners spent at the long dining table here set with old china and candles.  I am reminded of another pack of wild dogs who so obligingly howled at the full Sturgeon moon back in August when we ate roast duck finished in a rose syrup I made from the old Bourbon roses in our garden.  That night began with oysters and finished with ripe, succulent peaches poached in wine.  So many long dinners had here under this pergola, and lazy lunches snuck between rigorous hours in the garden and vineyard.  What’s the point if we can’t break the day with a glass of wine and a simple dish?

But October has another kind of narrative.  After such a dry summer, we’ve been hounded by wind and rains.  We feel lucky that the grape harvest was so early.  We’ve avoided frost, and even that snow two days ago only taunted never really hitting the ground.  But I’ve noticed the past two mornings that the nasturtium leaves have started to curl and shrivel, and the campion that had started to march through the vineyard is all brown husk.  The vine leaves too have started to color or curl or fall, the green stems turning woody just like they should.  But there are roses still blooming and making buds, and the ice pansies I have planted defy the end of season looking bright and sunny in their small pots or the edge of the vegetable beds.

Tonight, as if in preparation for tall tales or rememberances of things past, the black silhouettes of the grapevines climbing up the pillars of the pergola look sufficiently derelict as if I am outside a house which has been allowed to go wild with rose bushes and vines obscuring it.  I can hear Caleb in the recently expanded green house shoveling and moving things in the dark.  I’m sure he can’t see either, but he’s covered from the rain so will keep working until the light is really impossible.  It makes it easy to pretend that the season, like this light, will linger.

Read the original post at fuoricitta (out of the city).

Deirdre Heekin is author of In Late Winter We Ate Pears and Libation, A Bitter Alchemy.

Hiatus, Before Autumn

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

The last time I wrote here it was mid-summer. It is now mid-autumn. Good intentions once again gone astray. Wishing for the magician’s trick for expanding time. Our silence here may seem like we’ve been on a hiatus or sabbatical. Would that it were so. Hands dirty, backs sore, hungry, tired, and delighted. The most hard-working summer and fall we’ve ever had—and happily we’ve fallen into bed every night.

We have been reduced to single words or short phrases–an apple falls, red clover in the vineyard, sweet buckwheat, a thousand pounds of grapes, hornets, a plate of tomatoes, a clutch of roses, dirty glasses, the scent of woodsmoke. The thought of writing a sentence is daunting. That’s another reason one or both of us have not been writing. The belief that we need to construct a complete thought has hovered and kept us away. I’ve heard it said that the great winegrowers are poets. I imagine this notion fits for everything. An efficiency and rigor of style. And while I have no pretentions to being a great winegrower, only a hardworking one who lets the grapes tell their story into wine, I am intrigued by the poet bit.

So words and phrases it is even if just to keep a record of this extraordinary season. A white butterfly lost, a dog barks incessantly, the crickets hum, blue dusk in the sky, pink-lighted clouds to the west, a house light winks across the valley, the moon rises, the moon sets, the coyotes offer frenzied song, the cats pace the house, a single light in my office, vases full of pink cosmos flaunt, a storm brews, grape-stained hands, grape-stained feet, the smell of yeast and violets, grapefruit rind, the milky tea has turned cold, one grandmother’s tea cup, another grandmother’s white linens, a wall of French green beans, a sea of sweet little carrots, sausages roasted with grapes from the pergola, the raccoon is gone, the flock of turkeys circles the vineyard, the walnut trees have lost their leaves, a hot bath, roast duck, a bowl of soup.
–Deirdre

Read the original post at fuoricitta (out of the city).

Deirdre Heekin is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy and In Late Winter We Ate Pears.