Pinecone Meadow Farm has a stand of black walnut trees in the "way back." I view my plot in three parts. In the front are the maple trees. In the back is the back yard and the vegetable garden. In the way back is essentially tundra. No, I should rephrase. That's the meadow part of Pinecone Meadow. It's suffered from benign neglect, but at some point a forward-thinking farmer decided to plant a row of black walnut trees.
I learned that black walnuts engage in an interesting form of chemical warfare by sending toxins through their roots that kill other plants, including tomatoes. Since I harvested about a hundred pounds of tomatoes this season, I'm guessing they were planted far enough away. All clear for now.
And black walnuts also are a delicious food, with a bit more of a forward flavor that regular walnuts. And now I know why they're so pricey at the store. Because it's all but impossible to get the bloody things open. My cousins Vicki and Sue harvested some, staining their fingers along the way. And months later I still have shelled nuts calling out to be enjoyed. I envision a walnut tart lovingly removed from the oven, an embellishment for my signature granola, spiced and caramelized for little hostess gifts.
Instead, they sit in their bowl, impervious to hammers and plyers and any other tool I can think to try. Now I've resolved to send my request to the universe so that someone can help me enjoy them at last. OK, universe, your turn.
Woodchucks have flexible spines and can shimmy under a garden gate to decimate every Brussels sprout and broccoli plant in sight. Woodchucks are surprisingly uninterested in tomatoes. Why they love cruciferous vegetables is anyone’s guess.
A Brush Hog is a machine that can clear a lawn that hasn’t been mowed in years (for a small fee).
Friends and family can be cajoled into painting an old house with the promise of food and campfires.
Beware of smushy outdoor cats who are brought inside to be lovingly treated for fleas and ticks and intestinal parasites, plus pricey visits to the kitty ophthalmologist to treat what might be a raccoon scratch to the cornea. Said cats can be surprisingly ungrateful and head for the hills at the earliest opportunity.
Manhattan Beach Creamery makes exceptional pistachio ice cream, making it worth the trip to visit your cousin in southern California.
You can go home again. I visited Toronto twice in 2007 after being away for many years. La Salumeria, my favorite Italian deli still serves amazing prosciutto and provolone sandwiches. The new owners now drizzle with truffle oil. Some things can be improved on.
As we celebrate the harvest, and our nation's official feasting holiday, I am giving particular thanks to the men of southwest Michigan who helped me get my garden in shape for a first bumper crop of tomatoes (although the other results were spotty at best).
For lawn guy Rick and his brush hog who cleared the plot. Then he came back with a total of six cubic yards of compost to help enrich the soil.
For neighbor farmer Al, who drove his tractor up the road to rototil the garden, then contributed his leftover tomato plants for above-mentioned bumper crop. The Sungolds, Romas and various beefsteaks found their way into salads first, then later sauces and oven-dried splendor.
For master carpenter Kurt, who built a gorgeous lattice fence too keep out hungry critters, and unearthed countless rocks from the foundation of a long-gone barn. I learned the hard way that you also need a barrier at the base of the gate, or else insistent critters will shimmy underneath.
For brother-in-law Mark, who laid down the wood chips and helped set a gracious setting for my bumper crop of tomatoes
Why do I blog? Aside from peer pressure (and because people keep asking me), I thought it would be a great way to document the flow of the seasons. This first almost-year has nearly gotten away from me. In February 2007 I closed on my 3½ acres in southwest Michigan, and the three feet of snow in the driveway prevented me from taking posession for another week or so. Then the race was on to get it into shape, and right about now I've decided that a little contemplation is in order. So this year I installed a vegetable garden, remodeled two bathrooms, recruited people to paint and tote and roast marshmallows. And generated a really long list of future projects.
So here's a view of the corn crib, which will someday be a gazebo for contemplation . . . and the cocktail station for parties.
Over the course of a single day, three people asked me for my blog address.Hmmm.Note to self:start a blog.I had been thinking about it for some time, but having a deep-seated fear of commitment I was reluctant to start something I might not stick with. Between writing, cooking and basking in the glow of a place I call Pine Cone Meadow Farm, not to mention keeping my day job happy, I didn’t want to add one more thing.
But the time has come. This past year I bought the little weekend farm, enlisted friends and family to paint most of the rooms, recruited my neighbor to put his carpentry skills to good use on bathrooms and shed, and carved out time to make friends with chefs and growers, who helped make Pine Cone Meadow a desirable food stopover, even if I made people work for their supper.
I feel like I’m starting this blog mid-adventure, but I know there will always be lots to eat and drink (and plant and harvest). So I’ll talk about my infatuation with food and farmers, and maybe keep my head straight about my ever-growing to-do list.