Monday, August 24, 2009


From first light until the sun rises over the hills to the east there's a gauzy curtain of fog in our valley. At first it obscures everything except for the most immediate trees, shrubbery and fields. There's a cozy feeling of isolation in a fog enclosed world. As the sun gets higher in the sky, the curtain retreats to mist rising from marshes and lowlands further away. Every single thing is either covered in dew or grass cuttings. I'm dodging outside work.

The potato harvest is underway. Sunday was a ball buster. To someone with a hernia that's saying a lot. The lush potato vines began to senescence or die off. Removing them is the first order of business. Without a dog the work is tedious. The puppy takes flying leaps at each vine as I toss it into a pile to be carted away by wheelbarrow to the compost pile. Sometimes she makes a somersault in mid air. She's not very coordinated. The leap ends with a thud and oof as she misses the vines and hits the turf. I make a note to purchase a Frisbee. This dog may be a world champion Frisbee flier.

Dawn comes out to the front field in her Homer straw hat. She's going to weed the third batch of carrots which are hidden to the eye. The only way to tell they are planted in the former onion patch is the "uncommon crow" markers I placed adjacent to the carrot patch. In that way I could thwart the cat from walking over my new planted carrots. He loves fresh dirt. "You want some help with the vines?" she asks. I don't hesitate with a positive reply. We cart away 8 piles of vines leaving an eighty foot bare patch of dirt with nubs of taters peeking out of the soil. The ones closest to the surface have a green skin from exposure to the sun. At the end of the day we toss a full gray plastic tub-about 50 pounds- on the compost pile. The green part of the potato is poisonous. We take no chances since we've boxed and sorted 250 pounds by sundown.

What a contrast to last year. In June of 2008 I'm washing mud off the leaves after a disastrous flood. Our total harvest was 50 pounds of pebble size potatoes. Now there's more than 50 pounds of small potatoes lying in heaps in the ditch next to the mounded potato patch. We can afford to be lavish. I rip a fingernail hand digging a tuber close to 12 inches long and nearly 2 pounds. When we get potatoes this size, I knock two together and listen to the sound. It's either a solid dense thud or, as in one case, smelly potato mucous oozes from the hollow core. Yuk. I toss it, too, in the ditch.

Favors for help with the garden can be repaid with sweet white Kennebec potatoes. My neighbor will be one recipient. He hauls rich brown compost from an old manure pile up the hill. Then he has a neighbor friend come with the tractor and scrape one of the horse corrals and dump the rich brown composted manure into a pile in a lane next to the corral. I haul six truck loads of manure in the fall, hoping for a good garden year. And it is.

Saturday Dawn cans 14 half pints of pickle relish with the last of the cucumbers. The tomatoes I'd been cooking for 9 hours become tomato sauce. I decide against catsup ( from the Malay word ke-siap which translates to "fish brine") . I'm sure there's a story how America's favorite condiment goes from fish brine to ketchup. I'll check with my bathroom reader for the curious connection. Before I head outside to mow overgrown lawn, I mix spices and herbs in a half full stainless steel, 12 quart pot. First, I toss in an unmeasured amount of fennel seed poured directly into my palm. Next, I consult the Ball Blue Book recipe for spicy tomato sauce. Measured amounts of black pepper, salt, sugar, vinegar, are combined with 6 large onions-diced, 12 garlic cloves finely chopped and simmered in olive oil. The bay leaf jar has mostly pieces of leaves. I toss in five large pieces. Dawn harvests fresh basil. Twelve leaves prove to be very little when chopped with my sakuro knife. I walk to the herb garden for more. Dawn gets a third helping before I'm satisfied. The oregano jar is empty, so Dawn goes to the oregano hanging in the summer kitchen. She pulls leaves off the vines which I grind in a coffee grinder reserved for herbs only. I want more fennel taste. This time I shake ground fennel from a jar we buy at Penzey's spice house in a north Milwaukee suburb. Time for the taste test.

I simmer elbow macaroni in the pan I'd sauteed garlic and onion. I'm too lazy to wash it and decide that the remnants will add flavor. When the macaroni is ready, I ladle fresh tomato sauce over the pasta. A cereal bowl and three pieces of string cheese makes a tasty lunch. Dawn cans 12 pints of sauce while I mow the front forty. The next batch of tomatoes will become salsa. I'll document my recipe for thick salsa.

No comments: