Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I found this visual haiku among the collection of photos I have of the farm. It gave me pause because when I took this photo months ago it felt like a striking condensation of the state of the place. We are approaching the one year anniversary of having purchased the farm and it is amazing to contrast what it feels like to be here now. It is cause for hope and gratitude. I also trust this is only the beginning.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mead - or is it Melomel?

Readers of this blog will remember the post in which our harvest of elderberries was detailed. There were three such trips, yielding a total of roughly eight pounds.

But the truth about elderberries is that they taste a bit funny. They are quite tart, with noticeable tannins, and even a little bitterness. Their flavor is so distinct that I cannot think of anything similar enough to mention. I mean, I could say they taste like black cherry, or like melon, or I could get crazy and claim to detect notes of leather or tobacco, but I would just be making things up, and I only do that when I'm tasting wine.

It had been my plan from early on in the harvest to make the elderberries into a mead. Weeks ago Alanna bought twelve pounds of honey and a pack of wine yeast for me at the Little Falls co-op, and I already had the carboys and funnels and airlocks necessary for home fermentation.

I started out attempting to keep everything as sterile as I would for brewing beer. But about half an hour into my preparations I realized that I was going to be dumping a ton of uncooked fruit and honey into the mix, and I stopped worrying about airborne particulates and other such ephemera.

Wine is fermented grape juice, beer is fermented barley sugars, cider is fermented apple juice, and mead is fermented honey. So it makes sense that the quality of the honey in large part determines the quality of the mead. The stuff I used came from a local place, and Alanna, who is much more expert at judging honey quality than I, thought it looked and smelled good.

After mixing it in with about four and a half gallons of water, I pitched the yeast to it and put it into the carboy. Then I set about sludging all the thawed out berries in. They turned the whole thing a ridiculous purple color.

I put on an airlock, and the next morning I was rewarded with a vigorous fermentation.

This is my first attempt at making mead, (or melomel, since it has fruit in it,) and I don't know what to expect. Was not pasteurizing a mistake? Will the elderberries taste crazy? Will the fermentation stick? Is 60 a good fermentation temperature? Will it really need to age a year after primary fermentation if I want it to taste decent? Only time will tell.


Thursday, September 16, 2010


I have it in my mind that a great cook once claimed that "all great recipes start with chopping onions," but a solid fifteen seconds of googling yielded no results, so maybe I imagined it. At any rate, almost all great recipes in the Alden-Brown-Rose household begin this way, and since onions theoretically keep very well, we grew a whole bunch this year. We planted about 1200, and I'm guessing that between germination failures and poor development, we harvested roughly 2/3 that number. Here they are lying on our wood pile.

In this picture the tops are still on, but I have since chopped them off. Most of them had wilted, though a number had not. I will be curious to see if this affects their keeping potential. After they have cured a bit more it will be time to put them into storage. Onions prefer cool temperatures, but they require considerably lower humidity than potatoes, cabbages, and other long-storing vegetables. So perhaps we will put them upstairs, where it is quite cool and not so damp as the basement. The winter squash, if they manage to ripen, will need lower humidity and a more moderate temperature, so perhaps they will get to stay in the living room.

This is a picture of my lovely wife holding a bouquet of onions that weren't quite big enough to cure.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Oil: the coming end of an era

"Oh my gosh. Do you know what you're wearing? Did you do that on purpose?"

These were statements made by me at lunch a day ago when I looked across the table at Edmund and saw the image on his faded t-shirt. At first Edmund smiled and denied having chosen that particularly bad looking t-shirt for any reason, but he acknowledged the obvious metaphor.

It was in effect a conceptual art or performance piece, because just seeing it across the table broke a window through my consciousness. There we were eating lunch. We were eating at a time when many other people up the Eastern seaboard were also eating. The proud tractor on Ed's shirt had shrunk in the sun. The little plasticky puzzle pieces were contracting onto themselves, tearing away from the cotton and falling off. The mammoth machine at the forefront of this model farm is fading into obsolescence as oil becomes harder to extract and less available (tractors may be the last mouths we feed, but the point remains the same- oil is not forever). But hardly anyone is talking about it. The only reason we were all eating at that moment was our indebtedness to fossil fuels. Seriously. They are the founders of the feast. We grew a good portion of what we were eating that day ourselves, but even so, the garden was plowed with a diesel powered tractor and the seeds we planted were shipped to us. It is endemic. There is hardly anything I can think of that does not arguably rely on it in some way. Fossil fuels are dense with energy and have been the arbiter of this marvelous global interconnectedness we rely on. But why are we counting on a continued stream of energy like that when it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is not reliable? A report compiled by the German military reviewing the risks inherent in the face of peak oil was just leaked and posted at The Oil Drum. I am comforted that people are taking the severity of the situation to heart and preparing for that day now, but mostly I am at a loss about what I can do. I don't know a different way yet. I don't know many people who can remember one. The last century has made us helpless in a way, but it also brought us a vast amount of knowledge that will inform our decisions in the coming challenges. We'll need the help.