Food and Health Archive


Mid-Summer

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

What happened to spring?  What happened to early summer?  What happened to best intentions and organized schedules and having time for everything?  What happened to remembering a tryst in Paris?  What happened to recording the inspirations found in a walled garden in Burgundy?  What happened to writing about the nest of large turkey eggs, finally abandoned?  What happened to the story of our first garden party the day after a storm?  What happened to documenting the flora I find in the vineyard—the English plantain, the Bishop’s Weed, the wild primrose?  What happened to a photograph of the first chicken-of-the-woods?  Or the the photograph of the day we planted so many new vines?  What happened to the daily record of the Riesling, or the Blaufrankisch—The French Blue–growing so fast it’s as if they move toward the sun in front of your own eyes?   What happened to the firecrackers on the 4th of July?  What happened to the length of the day?  What happened to Time?

Nature happened.  Work happened.  Setting out china and glassware on a table happened.  Cooking two, three, four dishes for six hundred and forty guests happened.  Exhaustion happened.  To be followed again by Nature, Work, and China and Glassware, Cooking.

Today, on July 14, Bastille Day in France, is the first day here in Vermont that I am sitting in my office at the end of the garden path , an office constructed out of an old potting shed, that once housed  lambs to keep them from the coyotes, the building and livestock the last remnants of a subsistence farm that had long ago retired.  The day has been thick with humidity, steamy even, and the afternoon brought torrential rains forcing Eliza, our apprentice at the restaurant and here on the farm, to run in from her work in the vineyard and Caleb and me from cleaning out the office and preparing it to act as a second guestroom for a string of house guests coming at the end of July and through-out August.  The rain has finally stopped, and so I have I, to sit for a minute and collect my thoughts from over the last sixty days.

We are well into the season.  The small cherry tomatoes have already started to come in as have the raspberries.  We have been rich with red radishes and the white are growing steadily all the time.  The lettuces, radicchio, escarole, chicory have produced non-stop, and our native chamomile has just flowered.  The poppies who have been their bright, oriental selves, are now a bit faded in the heat more towards paper-thin orange, yet they still are blooming.  Almost every day, there is a new tisane to concoct with which to spray the vines to keep them safe from mites, mildews, fungus, insects.  Chamomile.  Yarrow.  Stinging nettle.  Horse Tail.  The leaves look beautiful and glossy, though as surely as they did last year, and the year before, and the year before that, the Japanese beetles arrived again on the 4th of July, slowly replicating their number.  They have always brought out my mean-spiritedness, and I drown them warm soapy water only to plan a collection of them to burn with wood, then sprinkle the perimeters of the rose garden and vineyard in hope that the old witches’ tale will prove true, and no creature will cross the boundaries of it’s own effigy….

Does this slightly cooler, and mercurial evening, sun in—sun out—clouds now wisping across the sky—herald a more temperate pace to the clock?  Will the second act of this summer elongate itself allowing a moment of respite, a drink of tea, a gaze outward?  For there will be more birthday parties, and wine tasting celebrations, summer house guests, and dinner invitations.  There will be more wild mushrooms to cook, and the zucchini will start their inexorable march to the dinner table.  There will be a new rose garden to plant, a fence to build, autumn seeds to sew.  The three young swallows in the barn have just begun to fly, and the two black cats stalk around the edges of the garden.   Chipping sparrows bathe in the remains of rain, a dog barks in the distance.  The cicadas, or locusts—I am never sure which– have started to buzz and smoke from the neighbor’s fire floats on the foggy tendrils of air.  I step out of the old lamb house, weeding claw and bucket in hand to make my way to the vineyard for a few more hours of work before then end of the day.  The flock of mourning doves residing among the vines light into the air, cooing and flapping.

Deirdre Heekin, along with her husband Caleb Barber, is the author of Libation, A Bitter Alchemy; and In Late Winter We Ate Pears, A Year of Hunger and Love. Both are available in our bookstore.

Degustation!

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Having friends in Normandy is kind of like finding a hundred, unexpected dollars in your wallet. We have friends in Normandy–Denise and Hughes and their two rapscallions Josephine and Georges. We went with our good friend Meg for a visit a week ago (was it only a week ago?) on the Friday train just in time for apero in the back garden. Kir Royale, olives, and chips. Some of us couldn’t stop eating the chips. Denise is from Australia and Hughes is French and grew up in the village in which they live. Denise coordinates a film festival (she’s worked in film for a long time) and Hughes is an artist. He can paint anything. Trompe l’oeil, portrait, landscape, abstract, surreal. You name it. He can paint it. They own a really beautiful, really old house with a walled garden. A really high wall. Ancient espaliered pear trees, flowering, thick-trunked wisteria, a hedge. Some roses and lilacs. If we didn’t love them so much….

The weather was perfect. Just warm enough to have drinks outside while the light was fading, then cold enough to come inside to sit by a roaring fire while Denise prepared a delicious paella. The red wine went down easy. Did anyone keep count of the bottles? We finished dinner with tarte au citron and pears poached in wine. Then we had Hughes’ father’s calvados, followed by two bottles of after-dinner stuff that we had made and brought: Caleb’s nocino and a wild blueberry liqueur I made inspired by a French perfume. There were a lot of glasses on the table.

While Caleb has a fascination with choucroute garnie, I have a fascination with things apple, things like sparkling hard cider and calvados. I’m trying to learn how to make Normand-style cidre and calvados, the old way. Having friends in Normandy whose father makes calva is like finding a second hundred, unexpected dollars in your wallet. So, with so much good fortune, we woke in the morning to ride our bikes (because one should ride bikes in Normandy–the roads are perfect, well, almost perfect, as in perfectly flat) to Hughes’ parents house for a formal degustation.



Colette and Roger are gems. They sparkle with such good cheer and hospitality. We sit down to the table with bottles of local Normand cidre and poire, and of course the calva. Colette has made delectable hors d’ouevres for us to have with our tastes: toasts with rillettes, tiny, shaped goat cheeses, and petite lasagne. I am delighted there are more chips just like the kind my grandmother used to serve for similar occasions. We have also brought some of my liqueur as a gift. Roger is keen to try it with the poire like a kir. We have never had poire, or perry in English, which is a pear cider. It is elegant, lighter than the apple cider, and dryer in taste. Sublime. Caleb is hooked, so we begin thinking of who we know back at home who has pear trees (ours are too small to bear fruit yet). We decide the jointly made kir–the poire and my wild blueberry liqueur–is rather fine and would make a very nice aperatif at the restaurant. Roger’s calvados, which we have sampled over the years, is at least thirty years old, and once again on this tasting is full of smooth and happy fire. Suddenly, there are many glasses on the table. Delicate, etched glasses for different styles of drink. Coupes for kirs and bubbles, and very small cordial glasses traditional to drinking calva during a meal. Colette tells us that it was always taken after the first main plate and before the second (think pork and fish) to help settle the meal.

Other decanters of calvados come out, some with gigantic pears in them. Roger tells us how the calva is made and how the cider is made. I am furiously taking notes. He brings out these incredible old-fashioned glass hydrometers that you used to buy at the apothecary to make sure your cidre and calva had enough alcohol in them, that you weren’t being cheated by your local, favorite farmer. We could have sat there all day, but because we had lunch to eat, and a train to catch, we adjourned to the cellar to see the barrels, and then had a quick lesson about the old stone apple presses. In our imaginations, or perhaps through the gauzy view of calva, we can just see the old work-horse turning the wheel, and pitchers of sweet cider ready for fermentation.

–Deirdre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, Off the Road

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Originally posted on the fuoricitta blog.

We have been traveling for the last two weeks plus a few days. In France. It’s been good. We started out in Aveyron, staying in a hamlet the size of four houses called La Lavande not too far from Villefranche de Rouerge. While the volcano in Iceland was trying to settle itself,we stayed put until we needed to pack up the car, lock up the house we had rented, and drive to Burgundy for my stage at the L’Ecole du Vins et des Terroirs. The stage was in French and focused on the soil and plant life in the natural vineyard. Really, it was an intensive on how to change the way you think. Needless to say, I am still sorting through new vocabulary, new information, new thoughts, new philosophies and I sense this will all take a long time to filter.

Now, we are in Paris, one of our favorite and most frequented cities. We have a dear friend with an apartment here and somehow, we seem to end up on her doorstep at the end of every April. This will be the 5th year in a row that we’ve spent Caleb’s birthday here which is today. Not only have we been overwhelmed by the last two weeks of tasting and thinking, we are now confronted with the one big taste that is Paris. We are a bit stupid with the same awe we feel every time we visit here.

We will try to both back-track and to move foreward now that we have a connection to the wider world. But it’s sometimes hard to go back in time while you are still being distracted by so many bright shiny things in front of you….

So hang on. Here we go–