News and blog
Full-sized apples are finally falling off the trees my father planted forty years ago. For the last two months, I have collected a bucketful of immature apples from the ground every morning and fed them to my hogs and cows. Now large, tasty, crisp, fully-formed apples have arrived! So have the yellow jackets and their cousins, those I am calling super-jackets, wasps four times the size of regular bees.
Yellow jackets usually arrive midsummer and feast on sugars: outdoor picnic items, soft drinks and fruit. This year, they arrived two months late. Do I know why? No. The super-jackets arrived too. Have I ever seen these wasps before? Maybe one or two. This year, they have arrived in numbers. They burrow almost completely into the apples; the yellow jackets eat the outer layer. On some apples, there are no wasps; they swarm on others. Do I understand why? No.
I could get stung as I wrap my fingers around an apple. I choose to be careful: I pick the good apples for me, the seconds for my hogs and several as treats for the cows. This morning, I brought my camera to get pictures of these wasps. The yellow jackets seemed to sense my presence—or my shadow—and fly away. The super-jackets just kept on eating and buzzing—a buzz so loud that it puts me on edge. They seem to prefer the south side of the tree. I enter that area gingerly, observing the wasps closely.
Is life ever perfect? Maybe. For one moment occasionally. Does fear make sweetness more potent? Maybe. Perhaps tartness and sting serve as its needed contrast, just as darkness serves as contrast to light, and death to life. Does not knowing whether a moment will get more intoxicating, or whether it is finished, help us savor what is before us, what we feel inside us? Sometimes.
So it is with my cow, Buttercup. She had a heifer on April 30. We named her Daisy. In September, friends took Daisy to their farm. I did not have a fence strong enough to keep mother and daughter apart to wean her. I did not want to confine either of them. Daisy had enjoyed her mother's milk for nearly five months. The local veterinarian had said I needed to check the cow's teats: if they got hot and hard, she had mastitis and would need treatment. So every morning, I tied her to a fence, put two handfuls of grain in a bucket and milked her lightly while she ate. The calf sucked the rest of the milk. I had work in the garden.
I planned to let Buttercup go dry so I could move her to other pastures. That first morning though, I remembered how it felt to have breasts so full that they hurt. I decided to milk her to relieve her discomfort. I tied her. I fed her grain. I stooped next to her. Her udders were dripping with milk. Perhaps I milked a quart before she swung her hind leg forward. “Enough!” she conveyed.
That milk looked so frothy and rich, that the next day, I went out to milk her—this time for me. I have milked each morning since then. My neighbor looked at where I am milking her. She shook her head, concerned about my safety. She had milked a herd-full of cows. I milk one. I have a stanchion in the barn, but milking her there would change her routine so dramatically that I felt it would spook her.
So every morning, I crouch next to the cow to milk her, prepared to move quickly should she swing her leg. She gets more settled every day. The cream is nearly golden, and almost half of what I get each day. I imagine making sour cream, butter and yogurt. Today, I used the milk in mashed potatoes. I felt so complete!
Will the cow and I become more at ease with each other, or will she kick me tomorrow? I cannot know. So often fear and pleasure, sweetness and sting are bound together. I can choose them both or I can choose to walk away, but oh how I am fed when I enter the dance!
Life is for living.
My first airbnb guests came in January driving a rental car on unfamiliar country roads through a snow storm. I welcomed them with hot tea, toast and jam. We sat and visited. Mother and daughter had come on a college tour from Seattle. The daughter had applied for a scholarship to a college in Maryland. In August, she returned, accompanied by her father, to start her freshman year.
Now six weeks after school started, the mother had returned with a friend for parents weekend.She came with a plan, though I never knew who had concocted the plan, mother or daughter or both. She would visit with her daughter at college; she wanted a tour of the farm and she and her friend, a chef, would prepare a fabulous home-cooked meal for her daughter and her new friends.
She arrived on Wednesday evening exhausted. I called her on Thursday morning and urged her to visit the garden before five days of rain started. I gave them a quick tour and then dug sweet potatoes. They finished picking veggies as the first raindrops fell. That afternoon, they visited her daughter. The next day, they went to a Rummage Sale and bought large pots and pans. They bought fresh meat and cheese at a local dairy and pasta and bread at the local supermarket. They assembled ingredients.
Next day, mother, daughter and friend, visited and cooked for the evening meal—a feast of homemade meatballs and pasta, fresh, dressed salad, green beans with almonds, small succulent squash and a quince and pear crumble with heavy cream. (The mother had brought the quince in her suitcase rather than let the fruit rot on the tree in her back yard.)
When I arrived, the students were seated in a circle conversing. They had come from near and far to attend the honors program. They had known each other six weeks, and had already had various adventures together. I asked them their names and introduced the farm to them. The twelve of us moved to the dining room table. The meal was served; I sang a blessing; the conversation began.
“Do you have any cows,” One young man asked. “I miss my cows.” He was used to milking 65 cows daily I have two Jerseys, I answered, and added, “Cows are such warm, earthy animals.” “I want to see your cows!” he nearly moaned. “Do you have any ducks?” another asked. I do have one duck, I responded, an Indian Runner. His grandfather raised mallard ducks on the Eastern Shore. I told a story about the difference between ducks and chickens.
These two had felt at home as they traveled along country roads to get to the farm. Another student, a young man from Chicago, shared his uneasiness midst fields of corn. The country boys scoffed. “You probably wouldn't be too comfortable on the streets of Chicago,” I admonished. They agreed.
As the women prepared dessert, I opened a bottle of the farm's elder flower champagne and offered a toast to the students. After dinner, I invited them to walk into a corn field. All but one accepted!
We went into the night. Rain had fallen throughout the day; water dripped off the trees. It was so dark and close that I could not see my hand in front of my face,. “Feel the path with your feet!” I counseled. They followed me to the top of the hill and into the rows of corn. We stood silently and listened, moist darkness all around. On the way back, they moved as a cohesive whole.
The mother shared later that she had wanted to get to know her daughter's friends since her daughter was in college all way way across the country. She had succeeded magnificently! Indeed it had been a night of rich sharing all around! There are so many ways to connect on a farm!
Digesting the Season...
“Without...insight into the interconnections and interactions of nature, it is really almost impossible to engage in an enterprise like farming, which is so closely bound up with nature,”he asserted. He described the intimate relationships between the earth, moon, sun, stars, the elements, the soil, the animals and plants. He said it was essential for the farmer to develop a personal relationship with his farm—to truly participate in nature.
It is similar to parenting a child or being in deep relationship with a partner. One considers what to say, when to speak, when to remain silent, how to move, when to walk away, when to engage--even how to carry oneself.
Think of the word, “consumer,”a word often used to describe Americans. Ingest is one of its synonyms, and its root word is “take.” Cancer consumes. Digest, on the other hand, is defined as to separate and absorb. The digestive system has three different processes: ingestion, digestion and absorption. We can ingest great food, ideas, and experiences, but unless we digest and absorb what we take in, and then use our energy to give back, we have not completed the natural cycle of nature.
For many years, Rule #1 on the farm has been: “The farmer must be standing at the end of the day.” Now I wonder, what is under standing? Sub stance. Steiner's lectures on Agriculture share how how to bring spirit into sub stance—so that the ground of our being supports understanding.
I offer this as food for thought and will send another e-mail about programs we are offering at the farm this fall.
Sally Voris, White Rose Farm
In Touch with Apples, Portrait One
When I first came to the farm. I barely tended the apple trees that my father planted 40 years ago. I strung a hammock between their trunks and guests swung happily there.
Last year, a guest noticed the apple trees. He grew up in Germany. Now he lived in a suburb of Washington, DC. He hungered to pick apples fresh from a tree as he had done as a child. We pulled out a ladder and he climbed and picked. “These are the best apples I have ever tasted!” he exclaimed. He sliced the apples into thin wedges and placed them into oatmeal pancakes as they cooked. We feasted! He carried a basket of apples home to feed his family.
I had looked at the trees and felt guilty and inadequate: the apples were gnarled and rotted easily. I did not want to use chemicals, but I did not know what else I could do. I did prune the trees hard one year with my neighbor. This man simply cut out the bad parts and focused on the taste—these apples were crisp, juicy, dense and flavorful.
On a cool day in March, he came with his family to help me prune the trees. We spent hours trimming branches so that sunlight could filter into the tree. The trees filled with blossom. Small apples formed on the tree. Instead of letting them rot on the ground, I picked the immature apples and fed them to the hogs by the bucketful. In early September, full-sized apples hit the ground with a solid thump. I began picking the good ones to eat and continued to give the seconds to the hogs.
This man and his wife came around the fall equinox to perform a puppet show. Both skilled musicians, they are attentive to details of pitch and presentation. The next morning, he carefully sliced the apples into wedges just before we ladled the pancake batter into the griddle so that the apples would not turn brownish. We feasted! Again, he picked apples to take home. Russian immigrants had come to see the puppet show. They too marveled, “In three years in this country, we have never tasted a better apple!”
What kind of apples are they? My father left no record. Perhaps an apple expert could tell me. I do know these massive trees—some 30 feet tall and wide with trunks nearly twenty inches in diameter--came from strong root stock. They were planted in a good location with a vision for the future. I have used biodynamic practices to restore health to the farm.
The trees get fresh air and plenty of sunshine. Bees buzz in the blossoms in the springtime; birds flit in the trees in the summer. We harvest apples in the fall. We eat applesauce all winter and spread ashes from the wood stove around the trees the next spring. It is full cycle, full circle living. What is a wart or two?
In Touch with Apples, Portrait Two
My neighbor and I went for a drive in the country in early September. We went to an orchard and bought apples and grapes. I noticed three people sitting on benches in the back of the barn, cutting leaves from short, straight branches. They worked with ease and familiarity with very sharp knives. I went to them immediately and asked what they were doing. Perhaps they looked up for a minute--their hands kept working. We are stripping cherries, one said, getting them ready to bud graft.
“Oh, I have always wanted to learn to do that!” I responded. “Can I come watch?”
“Sure.” was their immediate response. They described how they spent their days on their knees bud-grafting trees when they were younger, clearly glad not to be doing it now.
The next morning, I got to the orchard at 7:00 am. I followed the foreman in my truck along back roads near Gettysburg. We stopped in a field. Before us stretched thousands of trees—--a thousand to each row, perhaps 500 rows, with a label at the end of each row noting the root stock that had been planted this spring.
The foreman exchanged a brief good morning with six migrant workers. Then two of those workers took bundles of the stripped branches out of the foreman's truck. They took the bud sticks to the field and began walking down a row. They expertly picked up a branch, cut the buds out of it, held those buds in one hand, while they cut two notches in the root stock of each small seedling. Then they slipped a bud into each notch. Two other men followed each lead man and tied the bud into the root stock with plastic tape.
On a good day this crew can do 5,000 trees, the foreman said. He explained that the root stock had come from Washington state where the stock had been seeded. Next spring the crew will cut the root stock off above the stronger bud and cut the plastic tape off of the tree. The trees will become nursery stock, and they will sell more than 100,000 trees a year.
The foreman showed me how to cut the bud off of the stripped branch, how to make the cut in the root stock, how to slip the bud into the cut and how to wrap the bud with tape. He let me practice and gave me a partial roll of budding tape. He offered to sell me root stock so I could start my own trees come spring. He told me to take cuttings from the mature apples next -August to bud graft new trees from my father's old trees.
Perhaps I will invite my German friend and the Russians to help me. Will we be able to carry my father's legacy forward? I do not know......
In Touch with Apples, Portrait Three
“In planting on orchard with maiden fruit trees...it is essential to plant those trees with a total vision in the life of the orchard, both the stock and the scion...and that for the well-being of those trees, it is essential they begin in the nursery soil of the Earth...that in the beginning, they must know Mother Earth as a child when born.” Alan Chadwick
I pondered this world-class gardener's portrait of an orchard. I had never thought of a tree as a child that was born, though I had watched my father plant and tend some fifteen fruit trees in our back yard. He pruned them every winter and sprayed them every spring. We made cider in the fall. He fermented cider for the winter. He planted his orchard with care and vision. I had inherited trees that he planted nearly half a century ago.
As I stood in the field on Gettysburg, looking at rows of root stock planted from slips that had been seeded in Washington state, then shipped across the country to be planted on a hillside in Pennsylvania, I understood more deeply what Chadwick had said. The migrant workers moved down those rows quickly and efficiently because they are paid by the piece.
Where was the sense of connection with a vision of life and nature's bounty? Chadwick passionately expressed a love of nature and her bounty and a commitment to honor her laws.
Where was the touch that honored life itself? The life in the trees as they were born, the life of the migrant workers, the life of the orchardist who tends and sells the trees, the life of the homeowner and dare I say the consumer who eats the apples? Does love make a difference?
I tasted the apples from that orchard. They looked perfect, but they had no oomph! Our modern agricultural system—our entire culture--pays little attention to sub stance—what is beneath our feet. We are not deeply fed, nor can we feed others. Rudolf Steiner in his lectures on Agriculture affirmed that “we must approach everything in farming with the conviction that in order for the whole thing to work, we need to pour life ..into everything around us.”
How much more is an apple than a production number in an orchard? Didn't Eve pick an apple in the Garden of Eden? Didn't Sir Isaac Newton recognize the law of gravity after an apple fell? How do we recognize and nourish the sacred? How do we get back to the garden?
By connecting. By touching the earth and touching other living beings. The German touched me when he helped me see the apple tree in its glory; the Russians were touched by finding a tasty apple in America; the orchardist touched me when he taught me how to bud. Now I can plant trees and teach and touch others. One step, one touch at a time, we can find our way back to the garden. Won't you join me?
Just a week ago, I don't think I would have described my life as “Just Peachy.” I had gotten so worried about my finances, the future and the state of the world, that I lost sight of the moment: perfectly ripe peaches were dropping off of my late peach tree. (I have three trees: an early, a mid and a late season.)
The early peaches ripened just as the Japanese beetle population exploded after the rains in June. Some peaches dropped to the ground and rotted quickly. The peaches on the tree were filled with insects. The farmhand and I went to the tree. Beetles whirred past our faces as we touched the fruit. Was it hornets, bees or wasps that burrowed holes in the fruit to suck its nectar? We shook the tree trunk to get the fruit to drop rather than wrapping our hands around those peaches. Each moment carried the potential for sweetness and pain. We picked anyway.
Now the late peaches drop onto the still ground. They are the best peaches I have ever grown: juicy, sweet, and plentiful. I bring them into the kitchen, slice them and make wonderful concoctions—peach and elderberry jam, peach conserve with cantaloupe, peach chutney, fresh peaches with yogurt, frozen peaches, a peach and arugula salad with raspberry vinaigrette, and peach fizz, a fermented drink using dried elder flower blossoms. I have been in peach heaven!
A ripe peach has the color of an August sunset. Plucked from the tree and eaten fresh, it fills one with the languid, sweet ease of late summer. Peaches, says world-class gardener Alan Chadwick, will never ripen if they are picked too early. One must wait until the acid begins to turn to sugar. Last weekend, a mother watched her young son climb the ladder to pick his own fruit. “A fresh peach is like a kiss, “I say to her. “One must wait for the right timing.” Then one is filled with such deliciousness! Other guests plucked and ate the fruit as juice ran down their faces. It was a perfect moment.
This season, perfect moments have been punctuated by periods of chaotic weather and unusual animal behavior. The normal rhythms have been slightly off kilter. Why are the peaches from this tree nearly perfect while the others rotted so badly? Why are there no insects around the peaches? Perhaps the bees on the property had died, I thought, but just this week, I heard bee buzz in the blooming buckwheat. Perhaps the bees and wasps are feasting elsewhere. Why are there fewer butterflies in my garden? I have fewer flowers. Is it that simple, or is there some larger energy shift at work?
How do I weave these details into a larger coherent whole? I can't: I can't get my mind around them—the rhythms are off, the connections missed--so I have begun focusing on the details that I can manage. I am preparing meals for an elderly friend. He has diabetes and weak kidneys. Doctors and dietitians have given him lists of foods to eat and to avoid. He cannot eat this; he cannot eat that, he recites to me. Yesterday, I put bright blue borage blossoms on the chunks of soft orange cantaloupe I had prepared. Borage, some say, brings joy.
Where is joy, love and caring in your lists, I ask? In the food from the store? Where is joy, love and caring in my own life, I ask myself? Another friend describes how delicious it is to care for herself—to attend to the small details—to wash the dishes with mindfulness. She is immersing herself in those fine details and enjoying life.
Several nights ago, the farmhand and I ate peaches with yogurt, elderberry syrup and some chocolate shavings. It was a sumptuous, simple feast. It was just peachy, I realized later.
Now peach season is ending; pear season is beginning. May I en-joy it! And may you too delight in the small details!
For the last five years of her husband's life, my neighbor sat next to him reading as he dozed in his recliner. He had been a feisty, skilled farmer. Now he barely spoke. The last Christmas he was alive, she made him his favorite cake: fresh apple cake with black walnuts. He ate one piece. Perhaps she knew on some level that he was dying. That January, he had heart surgery. He died 16 days later.
I relate that image to my work on the farm this year: I am attending to the health of a loved one: the farm. I focus on keeping its rhythms going in the midst of chaotic weather. I remember how my father's vital signs became erratic as he approached death with Alzheimer's disease. Finally, he could no longer regulate his own temperature. He died the next morning.
Imagine the farm as a living organism, said Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture. The farmer brings the farm to life and orchestrates how animals and plants work together in harmony.
When I came to the farm eleven years ago, the land had been rented for years. I worked hard to improve the soil. I fixed fences, repaired buildings, planted trees, flowers and herbs. I tended animals. I sold produce, meat and eggs. I kept the words, beauty, bounty and balance as touchstones for my work. Two years ago, the farm's energy changed; it began to feel whole, to have its own unique presence, its own soul. Visitors felt it; I did too. Now this farm is one in a world-wide network of biodynamic farms that promotes a connection between forces of Heaven and Earth as erratic weather buffets the world.
This year, we have had sudden, strong strong storms, driving rain, and circling tornado-style winds. May was dry and hot; June the rainiest month on record. Storms came unexpectedly; predicted storms dissipated before they arrived.
In his book, Climate: Soul of the Earth, Dennis Klocek notes that the Greeks found the concepts of wind, breath, soul, air, vapor and vital principle all had an underlying commonality—they were all related. During the Middle Ages, he writes, the human soul was known as the “air body.” Likewise, the air, or atmosphere, was considered the soul body of the Earth. World-class gardener Alan Chadwick spoke of the importance of air to maintain health in humans and plants.
I check the weather channel often. In June, the forecasters predicted one severe storm after another. They did not reference the soul of the Earth, nor have I heard anyone connect weather as an expression of the Earth's soul with our own soul development. As I have worked in my garden this year, I have wondered: could they be related? What is the essential commonality?
“Nature...surely takes our breath away; old breath, stale breath, leaving us full of fresh Air. Life is curved, moves in swirls. Wind and Water borne. We are children of Earth's Weather, ”writes Skye louise ann Taylor in her book, A Monk in the Beehive.
Perhaps we now can take some response ability for the soul of the Earth. I now tending the garden and the animals to maintain the farm's dynamic life force. I am working harder and getting less produce, but what is more important than the underlying rhythm of life itself? What are we without wind, breath, soul, air, vapor and vitality? Other farmers are using hydroponics, greenhouses and hoop houses to grow food under controlled conditions. They are growing food that feeds us physically. I now know that our souls are nourished when we grow and eat food that has a vital connection with the flow of energy into and out of the Earth.
Are we connecting with the life force that sustains the natural world? What can we do to right the imbalances that we have created in our culture and in our world? We must find our own soulful answers. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting with some aspect of Nature every day—a bird, a tree, a flower, vital food.
As we do our own soul's work, we may restore our climate: the soul of the Earth.
What a roller coaster ride this summer's weather has been!
This year, we are focused on teaching people skills to engage and involve their heads, hands and hearts in restoring health to the land , the natural world and each other. We want to empower people to move from consumer to creator--to learn skills to be more engaged with and aware of nature and her processes.
Educational Programs: We have scheduled programs for Saturday and Sunday evenings, with the farm open to the public until dark both of those evenings. Each week, we will focus on different plants and different homesteading skills.
Into the Wild: On Saturday, July 11 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Jake Riley, a recent addition to the farm, will lead a tour focused on native plants and herbs. Then he will demonstrate how to make St.John's Wort oil. See the Calendar for more details.
A Taste of the Farm: On Sunday, July 12, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Sally Voris will lead a tour of the garden, giving people a chance to pick samples of produce and to taste, touch, smell and feel various plants in the garden. This Sunday, she will demonstrate how to make a refreshing and nutritious fruit tonics using whey and fresh fruit, and then how to make a simple berry conserve. See the Calendar for more details.
Family Day: This weekend, we will also host our first family day of the summer on Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All are welcome. We have plenty of green beans, Swiss Chard, kale and beets to pick as well as red raspberries, and potatoes to dig. We have a host of farm animals--cows, geese, chickens, hogs, a dog, a cat and some very cute kittens. There is no charge to attend. The food will be for sale at reasonable prices.
Sacred Women's Circle: My friend, Gwen Marable, continues to lead a seasonal women's circle. Our next circle will be held on Saturday, August 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. All women in our larger circle are welcome. (RSVP.) We ask you to bring simple food for lunch and we suggest a donation of $25 for this work. Click here for more information.
High Summer Feast: We will hold our traditional feast to honor Lammas, the feast of the first fruits, on Saturday, August 1. This year, we are keeping it simple. We invite you to come and help us prepare an amazing feast from the fresh food in the garden. Storyteller Walter Jones, Jr. will regale us with story and song. $15/person. Children under 12 free.
Wonderful produce! Our produce was recently evaluated by a consultant. It now has the highest nutritive value--this is produce that feeds body, mind and spirit. We encourage you to try it--and if you know of people who have need for such quality--perhaps they are facing serious health concerns or are pregnant, please mention our food to them. We still have room in our CSA and we deliver to Westminster on Wednesday afternoons.
Farm membership: Join the farm as a member (much as you would join the Y) and become part of our larger community. click here for more information.
Thanks and happy summer!
Sally Voris, White Rose Farm
A group of four women came to the farm for the first time for our full moon gathering last Wednesday. One had grown up on a dairy farm; another had been introduced to canning and gardening by her mother-in-law. Another asked about snakes and poison ivy; the fourth openly professed to be a “City Girl.” We sat on the front porch, visited and ate a light meal. I shared a story about raspberry picking and invited them to come to the raspberry patch to pick their own berries.
We were all dressed casually for a stroll through the garden. I had on sandals, nice capri pants and a knit top. I was escorting them slowly to the red raspberry patch when I heard a hog grunting. I looked to my left and saw a hog trotting through the garden. Eight days earlier, this hog had run into the woods behind the barn.
My dog, a border collie with herding instincts, was about 10 feet in front of me. If I could catch the dog before he caught sight of the hog, I thought. Then the dog saw the hog.He took off after him. The hog ran for the hedgerow. I ran after them, leaving the women behind.
We ran—the three of us, the dog, the hog and me—through a hedgerow filled with waist-high poison ivy, and halfway across a field of soybeans. I maneuvered to stay between the hog and the woods and the hog and the dog. Soon, we all stopped: the hog, the dog and me. So there I was, easily some 500 yards from my barn, a tired hog in front of me, a border collie at my side. What could I do? I called to my neighbor--her house was clearly in view—but she did not answer.
I picked up the little hog--was it forty or fifty pounds--held him in my arms like a baby and began walking across the field. I yelled at the dog and pushed him away with my leg. Did I have the strength to carry the hog back to the barn? I hoped so! I carried him back through the hedgerow, managed to open the pigpen door with one hand, put the hog in a stall in the pen, and returned to the women.
The women stood wide-eyed, mouths agape. “You've got blood on your shirt!” one exclaimed. Blood on my shirt, mud on my good shoes, poison ivy all over my legs, and a hog in the barn.
I walked back to the women and again became a hostess. I showed them where the black raspberries were hiding. I led them to the gooseberries, the black and red currants. We returned to the porch. I shared how the hog had gotten away a week earlier. My helper had begun moving the hogs. Suddenly, the clouds got dark; strong gusts of wind blew. The hogs got excited. When one hog left the pen, my dog chased him down, and tore into his back. The hog got away and ran for the woods, through waist-high poison ivy. We let him go, unable to catch him. We assumed that the foxes would eat the wounded hog.
The women sat silent as I finished the story. Then they prepared to go home. I changed my clothes and called a friend to help care for the hog. “You are balanced and your farm is balanced,” said the woman who had grown up on the farm. “I just hope you have strength to manage.”
As they left, my friend arrived. We headed to the pig pen to care for the hog. His wound, now a week old and untreated,was deep and crawling with maggots. We wrapped him in wet towels to bring down his high fever.
When I returned to the farmhouse close to midnight, silvery moonlight bathed the garden. It had been an eventful evening. Later, I described the events to my neighbor, “That's farming!” she responded. Indeed, that is farming!
This year, the mulberries are plentiful and sweet—and without the musky overtone that I found distasteful in years past. Paul Pitchford, in his book, Healing with Whole Foods, describes mulberries as fruit that were once “highly regarded as a general tonic for the whole system.” He writes that they build the yin fluids and blood, moisten the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract, strengthen the liver and kidneys. and treat wind conditions including vertigo and paralysis.
This year, I have picked quarts of them. I have made a mulberry punch and a mulberry tonic. Both delicious. A friend stopped by for a visit. She is making mulberry tapioca (using mulberries instead of cherries) to make a fruit dessert.
Here are my recipes for the punch and the tonic. (Please note that they are recipes from one homesteader, not a professional chef. The recipes have not been tested in a professional test kitchen--they are simply my sharing something that I have found delicious.):
1 quart freshly-picked mulberries (best picked mid morning, firm and sweet)
1 quart water
½ cup sugar ( prefer raw sugar.)
1 sprig peppermint
Wash the mulberries, put in glass or stainless steel saucepan, add water to cover half the berries. Simmer gently until berries soften—5 minutes or so. Mash the berries and strain the juice. Reserve the berries. In the meantime, heat one quart of water and ½ cup sugar to a boil (until the sugar dissolves in the water.) Take off of heat and add one sprig of peppermint. Let cool. Blend the juice with the sugar water, chill and serve.
My friend, Jon Lusby, taught me how to make fruit tonics one summer. He has now created Fermentation Creation and is selling fermentation kits at www.fermentationcreation.com.
Take the berries that were left from the mulberry punch recipe. Place them in the bottom of a clean half-gallon jar (Jon's kit work great!) Add ½ cup of sugar, ½ cup of whey (made from raw milk or good yogurt), and water to fill the jar almost to the top. Put on a lid with an airlock. Let sit 24 hours.
Strain the fruit out and bottle the liquid in Grolsch bottles. I had my first tonic after two days and it was delicious. After two weeks or so. It develops a slight effervescence. Again, it is delicious and nutritious.
For the last several weeks, I have gathered rose petals just after dawn. Then I make rose water using a recipe from Rose Recipes from Olden Times by Eleanor Sinclair Rodhe. One gathers the roses with dew on them, boils the petals and then lets the water sit in the sun “tyll it be readde.” I am learning so much about the delicate dance of life—and death—connection and release--through this process.
The recipe assumes ones knows roses--probably common knowledge in 1550 when the recipe was recorded. Those roses bloomed once in June with an intense fragrance that one does not find in the modern hybrid roses. As a young girl, I escaped from the battles and conflicts of the neighborhood boys and found myself under the large white rose in my neighbor's back yard. I was transported on the scent of the rose to a serene place of beauty. Perhaps that experience initiated my love of fragrant, old-fashioned roses. When I came to the farm, I began planting roses—many of them from Roses of Yesterday and Today. I now have roses in such profusion that I can make gallons of rose water.
The recipe also assumes one knows how to gather rose petals. An advisor suggested that I let the roses release their petals to me rather than taking them from the plant forcefully. It has become my morning meditation. Day is just dawning; birdsong fills the air. The rising sun often tinges feather-like clouds with shades of soft pastels. I approach each rose, noticing its fragrance, its color, its health, the form of the plant and its blossoms.
All roses seem to release their petals as the blossom fades, though each rose has its own distinctive pattern. I scan each plant for spent blossoms, put my fingers around the petals and gently pull. Sometimes, the petals release; sometimes not. Sometimes, I give another pull and they release; sometimes not. Sometimes, I pull and tear the petals, though that feels like a taking. More often now, I simply release the rose that is not ready to give and move on to the next rose. A clean release opens and fills me: I meet the rose and it gives me its gift.
Some roses seem capricious; some might say mysterious: one day they release their blossoms, the next day, they hold. Does it relate to the stars? The moon? A connection with their roots or some other unseen force? I do not know. At my best, I enter the present moment and allow that moment to unfold. It is an exquisite, intimate dance, as is so much of life—and death.
Yesterday, I made bouquets for a neighbor's wife. After eight years of suffering with Alzheimer's disease, she has stopped eating. She has stopped drinking. Her toes are turning blue; her body, long stiff, is becoming limp and loose. Perhaps for these long years, she and her devoted husband have clung to each other. Now, soon, there will be release. May it come cleanly, opening and filling the moment.
Flowers are teaching me to cultivate awareness and a sense of beauty. It is the gift I choose to give to my community, to my son, and to all of our grandchildren. My uncle loved the words to the classic hymn, “In the Garden.” Its words speak of intimate connection: “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses, And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
How many of us take time to smell or gather roses? To know roses? To know each other? To cultivate awareness with nature? With God? That work is calling me. The sun is just rising, rose season is almost over and I must grab my basket and head for the garden. May you too find time for beauty as you start your day!