Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Blustery Day

We had the maple tree cabled just in time. For the second weekend in a row, we had rain and strong gusty winds, with a power outage lasting several hours. All over town there's evidence of downed limbs and trees, but our beloved maple is still intact.

Today's outage on our street was caused by an old maple tree on the next street over. The tree lost a big limb, which came down atop the power lines and knocked down a pole. I was in the middle of making a caramelized pear tart. I had finished cooking the pear filling, but had yet to make the crust, and then bake the tart. I was making it to take to dinner with our friends Karen and Bill.

My gas range still performs fine without electricity, but the oven has an electronic temperature control and ignition, so no baking without electricity. With the power out, I left the tart to cool and internally rubbed my hands gleefully in the realization I might as well read, as the vacuum cleaner was not working either. I puttered about and never did settle in to read before the power came back on, a few minutes after 4 o'clock. I was able to make a crust and bake the tart, which came out of the oven just 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for Karen's house.

We made a quick stop on the way to buy some lottery tickets for them; we were already lucky to be invited to dinner, where Karen was making her famous pressed sandwiches, so we decided we should pass on the luck.

The sandwiches were, as always, fabulous (ham and bacon with honey mustard, red onion, portabello mushrooms, muenster and avocado spread, wow), and we enjoyed a good evening of cards and laughter as the wind howled and the rain drummed on the roof.


This fabulous dessert makes the end of summer and the arrival of pear season more bearable. It is easy, delicious and looks exceptionally glamorous.

4 large firm-ripe Bosc pears (2 lb total) *
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pastry dough

Peel and halve pears, then core (a spoon or melon baller works well for this). Heat butter in a 9- to 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet with wide parts at rim of skillet. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and cook, undisturbed, until sugar turns a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on pears, skillets, and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet. (This part can be done early in the day.)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and trim to a 9 1/2- to 10 1/2-inch round. Arrange pastry over caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears inside rim of skillet. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on rack 5 minutes.

Invert a rimmed serving plate (slightly larger than skillet) over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert tart onto plate. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.

*You can also substitute with tart apples, such as Pippins or Granny Smiths
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
11 medium-size Pippin apples (about 4 3/4 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored
Place the apples on their sides, as close together as possible. Follow the directions for the pear dish.


Butter really does make the best pie crusts. The secret is keeping the dough cold and working it as little as possible.

Makes one 8” – 10” double crust pie.

2 1/2 c flour
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, grated
1/4 – 1/2 c ice water (fill a cup with water & add a few ice cubes; the colder the water the better)

Grate butter into food processor bowl. Add flour, sugar, and salt; blend in processor, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms. 1/4 c water. Using on/off turns, blend just until moist clumps form, adding more water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; divide in half and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate at least 1 hour. If you can, chill the piecrust after rolling out and before baking.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Finally, A Plan

I'm a native Mainer, and have lived most of my life in Maine, outside of my college years. What's more, I have lived in several distinct regions of the state --Western Maine, Moosehead, Aroostook County, Central Maine, and now in the Mid-Coast area. The minute I left Maine, I began to miss it, and only after leaving did I really realize what a wonderful place it is, and how lucky I had been to grow up here. The Maine I love, however, is changing, and not every change is for the better.

In the last 15 years, well over 800,000 acres (think Rhode Island) have been converted from farm or forest land to housing or other development. Fields I remember from my youth are growing houses instead of corn, and ugly strip malls are mushrooming up to provide take out pizza and gasoline sales to the owners of the houses. We Mainers are an independent, hardworking and resolute lot, but this is enough to take the wind out of us. We are independent; therefore, if someone decides to sell their farm to a developer, well, that's their right.

But. All those new homeowners, all wanting more school buses to transport the kids to school, and better roads, then snowplowing, and trash service, and so on. All those services cost more in taxes, and well, all those houses built last year are spoiling what all the folks who built houses here the year before came here for, from New Jersey and Massachusetts and points south.

Last Friday, I went to the GrowSmart Maine Summit to hear about some new ideas for Maine's future. GrowSmart Maine has a plan to address these issues and more. Working with the Brookings Institute, GrowSmart Maine commissioned a study and (more importantly) a follow-up plan: Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places. The report looked at Maine's population, economy and development patterns and came up with strategies for economic development, government /tax streamlining, and planned development that just might help Maine keep our economy growing, yet prevent us from doing so and looking like Newark at the end.

I read the report, I listened to the speakers, I looked around this weekend, and I have thought about the changes I'm seeing in Maine, and the changes I want to see. I am convinced. I think the plan is a sound one, and I am on board. We need to control our growth and make sure we keep Maine the way we love it. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I urge all Mainers to check out the report. It is available for free online as a PDF file, or you can order it for $10. Friends and neighbors can borrow my copy.
Even if you don't agree in the end with all the recommendations, I suspect you'll find some enlightening information about the way Maine is growing and changing. Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Magnificent Maple

I've written before about our lovely backyard Sugar Maple. I suspect the tree is as old as the house (1881) or close to it. I spreads across the center of the backyard, shading the large deck and providing lots of leaves to gather and compost for leaf mold. It is one of the features about the house and lot Dan and I both fell in love with when we first saw the house.

It is a typical old Maine Sugar Maple, with several trunks growing close together. It had received little pruning early in its life, but nonetheless, is a gorgeous shade-giving, loved part of our back yard. We had reluctantly decided to remove one center trunk of the tree which was dead and rotting. Although I loved the habitat it provided for the woodpeckers, we were afraid the rot would spread and damage the rest of the tree.

Yesterday, our local tree guru came and pruned some dead limbs and cabled our beloved maple
. Jon McKenney and the crew of McKenney Tree arrived early in the morning, and promptly got to work. I took a few photos, which due to the size of the tree and my need to stay at a safe distance, don't show much.

I had to leave for work, but upon my return home, I was pleased to see, the tree looks great. If anything, removing the dead trunk gave the tree a more graceful shape, and the c
able supporting the two main trunks is barely visible now with few remaining leaves; in the summer it will be all but invisible.

Although chipping the branches was an option, we elected to keep the wood, we'll use it in our woodstove in the barn and think grateful thoughts of the tree. The trimmed wood was neatly piled to one side, and there were hardly any gouges in the lawn from falling limbs. I was really
impressed with McKenney and his crew. I hope the cabling helps our beloved tree thrive for many more years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

Thanks Michael Pollan for this depressing view of our nations vegetable supply chain, from the Sunday New York Times, The Vegetable-Industrial Complex.

Yet more reasons to buy locally, or grow your own! A work pal and I have been speculating about putting together a group to buy locally raised meat, time to kick that effort into high gear.

Chutney, anyone?

With the apples left over from our apple tasting party, I decided to make chutney. There's nothing better on a cold February day than a grilled cheese and chutney sandwich, with dilly beans on the side --yum.

Gingered Pear-Apple Chutney
3 lbs peeled, cored, and diced firm-ripe pears and apples (+/- 7 c)
1 lb brown sugar
2 c cider vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 c golden raisins
1/2 c candied ginger, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves
2 t mustard seed

Combine brown sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the pears and remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens (+/- 1 hour).

Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

For this batch, I used a mix of Clapp's Favorite pears, Newtown Pippins, Stayman's Winesap and Wolf River apples. In a few days I'll taste and file a report. It sure smelled wonderful!

Monday, October 16, 2006

And the winners are....

At our apple tasting party on Sunday, we had 8 tasters with discriminating palates and varied apple likes and dislikes; we tasted 9 apple varieties:
  • Pumpkin Sweet
  • Winesap
  • Connell Red
  • Newtown Pippin
  • Spencer
  • Rome
  • Stayman's Winesap
  • Honeycrisp
  • Snow (Fameuse)
We generally agreed on these -- Pumpkin Sweet was all good looks and nothing special under the skin, Newtown Pippin inherited none of its famous cousin Cox's goodness, Stayman's Winesap could be consumed if desperate, Winesap was good but with an astringent finish, Rome was all sweetness up front but with no staying power. On biting into a Fameuse or Snow apple, we agreed there was a lively sweetness, but it faded to nothing in moments, and the flesh was soft -- this could be becasue it isn't a good keeper, so it may be worth seeking out next fall. Our three favorites: Spencer, Connell Red, and Honeycrisp, with Spencer the clear favorite and the group split over Honeycrisp and Connell Red.

Still to be tasted: Northern Spy, Cox's Orange Pippin, Gravenstein, Spitzenburg, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, and Wealthy. And any others that look interesting the next time I'm at the orchard.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Backyard Orchard

It was another beautiful fall day today, although a cold one after a hard frost last night. We continue to ready the vegetable garden for winter, today pulling the tomato plants and the last of the lettuce and greens. The chickens were very busy, on red alert for worms as we pulled the plants out of the ground. They've done a great job of cleaning up, although I feel bad about the vast number of worms they are eating. (And WHY won't they eat slugs! We've got boatloads of slugs, they'd never go hungry!)

We worked on the blueberry hedge today, turning over the second half and adding 40 lbs. of gypsum, to help lighten the clay soil, and a mix of Espoma Holly-Tone fertilizer for acid loving plants, and Garden sulpher, to acidify the soil a bit --
currently the pH is 6.5, and blueberries need a pH of 4.5 to 5.0 for best performance. The completed hedge will be 4'x25' and hold 16 highbush blueberry plants. We currently have 7 in place, 2 each of Patriot and Blueray, and 3 unknown varities that came with the house.

We also worked a bit on a new bed we are planning for the spring as part of our continuing efforts at lawn reduction. This bed will run from the freestanding deck to the driveway, along the western border of the lot. Last week we added three hollies and an oakleaf hydrangea to the back border of the bed. Today we mulched with a thick layer of cardboard, and put some sandy soil (left from an earlier project) atop the cardboard to weight it down. I'll add a thick layer of mulch hay and some Fertrell organic fertilizer soon --we hope to pick up some mulch hay Sunday morning.

The other very satisfying project we are working on is preparing for more fruit trees in the backyard. I have a Stella sweet cherry and a Montmorency sour cherry, planted 4 years ago. They flowered wanly this spring, but clearly resented the cold wet spring, and I got no fruit from either tree. Today we plotted the planting sites for an additional 7 trees, a mix of peaches, apples, and plums. I'll add a pear tree next to our existing unknown variety of pear in a different area.

Now the hard part-- how to pick just 2 or three of each fruit?!! We'll get started on the apple question Sunday with a tasting party in the afternoon. We be tasting 7 varieties, Pumpkin Sweet, Winesap, Wolf River, Connell Red, Newtown Pippin, Spencer, Rome, Stayman's Winesap, and Honeycrisp from Pleasant Pond Orchard. Check back later for the complete report.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The FEDCO Wishbook

When I was a kid, I remember poring over the Sears wishbook in the weeks before Christmas. These days, my wishbook is the FEDCO Tree catalogue, and it arrived in the mail last Friday.

Who could resist this text?
Black Oxford Apple Winter. Unknown parentage. Paris, Oxford County, ME, about 1790. This outstanding apple, a favorite long ago around much of Maine, has been making a huge comeback in the last 20 years. Our best seller. Medium-sized round fruit, deep purple with a blackish bloom. From a distance you might think you’d discovered a huge plum tree. A 200-year-old Black Oxford tree still grows in Hallowell, and still bears large crops. Excellent pies, superb late cider. Leave the skins on for a delightful pink sauce. Best eating late December to March. They seem to get sweeter and sweeter as the months go by. Good cooking until early summer. Some insect and disease resistance. Becoming less rare every year! Blooms late. Z4-5. ME Grown.

The problem, of course, is that I cannot. I want one of everything. So over the winter, as I warm my feet by the woodstove, I will thumb through the catalogue again and again, and sort out what I can't live without, and what I can.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Drip, drip, drip

As we were eating breakfast this morning, Dan asked, "Did you turn the heat on?"

"No, why?" I replied, dreamily looking out the window into the sunny back yard, planning my day over my coffee.

"Do you hear that clicking noise?" he said. As I listened, Dan leaped to his feet and ran into the dining room. "It's dripping!" he shouted, running up the stairs to our bedroom. "The bathroom is leaking!" It was just 8:30 a.m.

Sure enough, in the bath off our bedroom, the hot water pipe under the sink had split, (no, we don't know why) and while
we made coffee and toasted bread, it soaked the rag rug on the floor, and seeped through the bathroom floorboards and drywall ceiling of the dining room below.

Our lovely dining room now has a large hole in the ceiling where we pulled away the drywall to let the water out, and the water to the bathroom sink is shut off until we repair the leak. It's a good
thing I hadn't gotten around to putting the new package of t.p. away under the sink.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Holly Hedge

Today was a gorgeous fall day, with clear skies, no wind to speak of, and mild temperatures after a cold night. We went yard saleing in Brunswick this morning, hoping to come home with one of two bandsaws advertised in the yard sale classifieds, but alas, the saws were sold before we arrived. I did find some baguette pans, and we found a nice 6 lb. sledgehammer which will be very useful.

On the way home we stopped at Skillins where we bought 80 lbs. of gypsum to add to the vegetable garden to help lighten our heavy soil, and some Holly Tone organic fertilizer for our acid-loving plants. While we were there, we took a gander at the trees and shrubs, all on sale. I found an oakleaf hydrangea cv. Alice, which I snapped up at 30% off. It has large roughly oak-shaped leaves, and in the fall, turns a gorgeous deep red.

I was hoping to find some holly bushes for the gap between the arborvitae and the lilac hedges. We saw some Blue Princess and Blue Prince holly bushes, but they just didn't speak to me. Then I saw three Castle Spire female hollies, covered with berries. Where the Blue Princess spread to 6-8 feet wide, 8-10 feet high, and had glossy dark blue- green leaves, the Castle Spire holly is narrower, only 3-4 ft wide, and up to 10 feet high, with shiny dark green leaves.

At that size, thy seemed just the ticket for filling the gap, and they two were 30% off. We bought all three, knowing that we will need to add
another male holly. As we set them in place, we decided we need two more, a male and a fourth female, to fill out the hedge and form a nice backdrop for the garden bed we have planned in front of them. We planted the hollies and the hydrangea after lunch, amending the soil with compost and some Holly Tone fertilizer, watering them well, and mulching with a thick layer of cardboard. We will wrap each plant in floating row cover fabric to protect them from the wind, cover the cardboard with hay and compost, and by spring, the grass will be dead, the worms abundant, and I hope, our new plants will be very happy. And I'm happy too, after all, when your best friend is named Holly, you certainly should have her in your yard!

Hard Frost

We had our first hard frost last night. When I came downstairs this morning, and checked the thermometer on the barn, it read 35˚F, brrr. The leaves were coated with rime, and on the squash, already beginning to droop. I hope we can still harvest the 2-3 remaining baby squashes for dinner tonight.

We brought in some of our planters last night, the rosemary topiaries, the hens and chicks, the parsley, and covered the scented geraniums with old tablecloths. Over the weekend, we'll have to cut them back and prepare them to come inside for the winter.

The temperature in the kitchen this morning was a nippy 57˚F, so I turned the furnace on for the first time this fall. We don't have the storm windows on yet, so we'll need to take care of that little chore as well this weekend.

We still have leeks and cauliflower in the garden, and sproutless Brussels sprout plants which I suspect won't be providing sprouts this year. The leeks and cauliflower will last a bit longer -- we'll eat the cauliflower, and store the leeks for use through the early fall.

The rest of the garden we let go -- there were a few small yellow pear tomatoes remaining on the vine, which we left to the chickens. Iris cleverly developed a method for harvesting the tomatoes beyond her reach. Climbing onto a stack of three bricks left next to the raised bed, she leaped straight up into the air and pecked at the tomatoes until they fell from the vine. She unwillingly shared a few with her sisters, but she certainly enjoyed plenty herself.

The girls were rather subdued for a few days after Daisy's death, but seem to be returning to their former high spirits, bolting out of the coop in the morning when I open the door, raucously demanding their customary handful of scratch. They are doing a great job of cleaning up in the garden. Once we pull the remaining dead plants, I am sure they will clean up the remaining bugs, larvae, and I hope, some of the weed seeds quite nicely as well as stirring up the top layer of soil and adding some fertilizer.

I am looking forward to putting the vegetable garden to bed, and starting work on the new garden design. We plan to create raised beds in a U shape, following the perimeter of the garden fence. We'll dig out a path around the beds, adding that soil to the beds to raise them a bit. The center section of the U will be reserved for herbs, and the outside section will hold the remaining vegetables, with the climbing veggies strategically placed next to the fence. We are going to adopt more of a "square foot" bed plan, with intensely planted beds and narrow pathways between them for access. I need to draw up the plan on graph paper to get a to-scale sense of how it will work, but my back of an envelope calculations indicate it will work just fine.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Great Sadness

Yesterday, our chicken Daisy died.

We noticed on Sunday afternoon she was not feeling well; she was standing in the vegetable garden, feathers all fluffed, and sleeping. We brought her in the shed, and put her in a plastic bin with shavings, and did some research. We think she had an impacted crop, possibly from eating some apple peels I gave the chickens on Friday evening. According to one chicken website, long strands of grass or apple peels can become impacted in the crop. Some chickens are able to recover on their own. We got yogurt, one remedy we read about, but to no avail.

I feel very bad about it, especially as I was the one who gave the girls the apple peels. Poor Daisy, I can only hope she didn't have too much pain or suffer much.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fall's Final Days in the Vegetable Garden

Saturday, we began the process of putting the vegetable garden to bed. We have yet to have a frost, but we've had two pretty cold nights, cold enough to nip some of the leaves of the tomato, bean and squash plants. We picked a heap of beans a few weeks ago, freezing some and putting up two batches of dilly beans, one of my favorites. After Friday night's brush with frost, it was time to pick the remaining beans, dig the potatoes, and harvest any other remaining vegetables.

We also decided that with the end of the garden, it was time to let the chickens have the run of the vegetable garden, and to re-seed their run with grass and let it rest.

First, we harvested all the Swiss Chard -- that could have stayed for a while longer, but was in the way of the alternate door of Henbogle coop. It was gorgeous, one of the garden successes this year. We grew the Rainbow Lights variety, and it really is beautiful, with a nice, mild flavor.

With the chard gone, we let the chickens in the garden. They were ecstatic, exploring under the bean tepees, patrolling the remaining cauliflower for any errant bugs, and when I dug the potatoes -- well, they were right there eating
any bug that came to light. I had all I could do to avoid digging up a chicken.

Entertaining the girls was the best part of the potato harvest this year. I planted 4 types of potatoes, Finn, Carola, Rose Gold, and LaRatte. The Finns and Carolas were a total washout, the very rainy June just turned them into mush. I planted the Rose Gold and LaRatte later, and we did harvest some, but not many, sigh. We harvested enough for 4-5 meals. It was just too wet for them to thrive, although the tops looked good. Our new garden plan will include lots of clay-breaking soil amendments this fall, and raised beds in an attempt to keep the feet dry of our vegetables.

We had a good crop of green peppers, unfortunately all ready now, rather than 1-2 a week beginning a month ago. Still, we'll eat them and enjoy. And the beans, oh, the beans,
We picked a huge basketfull, and if the plants don't get hit again with a frost, we may get more still. We had a huge feast Saturday night, with scallops from the freezer (to make room), beans and freshly dug potatoes. MMMMMMM!