Patchwork: First wave of food reminds us of our good fortune

It’s the season of first cuttings of hay, fresh peas, garlic scapes, early broccoli and strawberries. The day lilies are blooming, the peonies winding down and the sorrel has bolted even though I have been cutting it back.
It is not only the season of “cutting back” but also “training.” There are perennial plants that spread too fast and far, (plume poppy, heliopsis and shoots of lilac to name a few). And the ubiquitous invasive goutweed (which we refer to in our family as TFW — I’ll let you figure out what that stands for). Every morning I attack one section of the gardens to remove invaders. Other plants, strong and riotous from the growing conditions this year, like the fall blooming clematis that climbs over the studio, tomatoes thrusting tall, or cucumbers climbing a trellis made by my son, need to be coaxed in the right directions and gently pruned.
Learn to make strawberry jam here
Read more Patchwork columns here
The hummingbirds are back. I see them sipping from chive blossoms, honeysuckle, nasturtiums and foxglove. Local pests, winged, stinging, digging and voracious, are back, too. My neighbor Pete has caught seven woodchucks on the other side of South Street, but I am happy to say my friend “Moby Dick, the Woodchuck” has not yet surfaced on my side of the street. I am dreading the moment he appears: There is broccoli ready for picking and the other brassicas are growing vigorously, which surely means he is circling the perimeter of the garden, calculating when to strike.
We, however, have been eating ice cream.
It’s Annette’s fault. Remember my new (gardening) friend from Botswana? She flew home last Tuesday, after a three-week visit and Monday when I asked her what she would like to eat for her last supper with us, she said, “Ice cream, homemade ice cream.” I had been experimenting with making ice cream all during her visit and she wanted more.
First we picked the berries: firm, deep red strawberries from the fields out at Douglas Orchard. A clear morning, we could see down to Lake Champlain, where we had cruised two days before on the Carillon at sunset. The air was cool. The world was green, hay scented, fresh. “Do you have strawberries in Botswana?” I wondered.
“No,” Annette replied, “some people have them in their gardens, but they are not grown on this scale,” she gestured to the hillside. She was impressed to learn that a fourth generation of the Douglas family works the land when I showed her the apple orchards, the cherry trees, the newly planted strawberry fields.
On the way home, we stopped in at Judy and Will Stevens’ Golden Russet Farm so I could show her a Vermont CSA, one of the first organic vegetable farms in the state. She and Judy talked about fruit trees, different ways to stake tomatoes and the rotation of crops. Annette has peach and paw-paw trees in her yard, some flowers and a vegetable patch. “I prefer the mini fruit trees — lots of fruit and the trees don’t take up as much room.”
Annette is a chicken farmer, so we passed by Doolittle Farm to peek at the Hammonds’ expanding flock. Then we turned up North Bingham Street to pass by more apple orchards. “The apples are in trouble in some places,” I remarked. “We had a late frost, after the trees had blossomed. And we have had hail, too.
“It looks perfect today, but in some places, there won’t be an apple crop. And last year, between the spring flooding and then the hurricane in August, well, it was a disaster.”
She nodded. “Farming is hard; you have to be so strong. There are no guarantees.”
Then she went on to describe how in Botswana, the government will give you tracts of land to farm, but there is no water and, in many places, no electricity.
We drove to Monument Farms dairy to buy the cream we needed for the ice cream, passing signs for a strawberry festival and more farms on the way. Monument Farms is a third-generation dairy farm. Millicent Rooney, part of the second generation, came out to greet Annette. She talked about the planting of the corn this year (late), how many cows they milk and how they bottle their own milk — “used to be in glass bottles, though we don’t do it that way now.”
Heading home, we passed the Duclos Thompson Farm, where I showed Annette how we buy our meat using an honor system. At this point in the visit, she had already sampled their lamb and their beef, but she hadn’t seen where it came from.
Suddenly, she exclaimed, “Kate, what do people do in cities? I mean, here it is one thing, all the hard working farmers who you can meet, the healthy food — and you can go and get it — but what do people do in cities?”
Indeed. What food is available? And where? Certainly not in some neighborhoods. In fact, not everyone in Vermont can afford the fresh food that is grown here. And while many young people are getting into diversified farming, other long-established farms are closing.
Thank you, Annette, for the reminder. In this beautiful valley, where there is huge potential in the food system for growth and good and what we have here in Addison County is very special, it is still not enough until such goodness is affordable to everyone, including the producers themselves. Our food system is in transition, trending slowly in a direction that will, I hope, ultimately become a culture change, but it is slow and far from perfect.
Onward. Much to learn. Much to be done.
Strawberry season finds me experimenting with jams and ice creams.
And this year, for some reason, I have been mixing in citrus fruits as well.
Strawberry and Orange Jam (with Annette, June 2012)
This jam is tart; I added the sour oranges because my husband finds strawberry jam too sweet and cloying.
Take 6 cups prepared strawberries (about 1-1/2 quarts) and 4 cups sugar, bring to a boil, stirring gently at first to distribute sugar. Then turn off the heat, cover and let sit overnight. In the morning, slice 3 small, tart oranges very thinly, add to mix and bring to boil over a medium-high heat, stirring, but not so ferociously as to break apart the fruit. When the syrup has thickened, skim off the foam and ladle into sterile, hot half-pint jars with 2-piece screw band lids tightly screwed on. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes and then remove jars to cool.
Strawberry–Rhubarb Ice Cream with a Hint of Orange
I don’t tend to make a custard base for my ice creams as my family finds it too rich.
Egg yolk added to the custard base tends to render ice cream smoother and it lasts better in the freezer without developing ice crystals. Our family solution: when there’s a batch of freshly churned ice cream, eat it all in one sitting! We turn the ice cream machine on just when we are sitting down to eat. That way, the ice cream is just done about the time we are ready for dessert.
Take 3/4-pound of rhubarb and dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine them with 1 cup of sugar and a tablespoon of water in a saucepan and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, until the rhubarb is tender and the juices partially evaporated.
Mash two cups of strawberries with 1/2 cup of sugar, then add to the rhubarb mixture. Zest two small sour oranges into 2 cups of heavy cream. Heat the cream till scalding, cover and turn off heat. Let cool. You can strain this cream when it is cooled, to remove the orange zest, but I leave it in for texture. Meanwhile juice the two oranges, add the juice to the fruit mixture and place the mixture in the refrigerator to chill for the afternoon. As you sit down to dinner, mix the cream into the fruit mixture and pour into ice cream machine. Twenty-five minutes later, you will have a treat that is neither sweet, nor tart, but rich and refreshing and surprisingly light.

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