While the days can still be sunny and warm as we start the month of October, the cooler nights and misty mornings tell us it is truly now fall.
Here at Bella Luna, the leaves are just beginning to turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange, and the local wildlife are beginning to stash provisions like crazy: Squirrels are busy darting to and fro, carrying off acorns, walnuts and chestnuts—some as big as their heads—to bury for food during the winter months. The blue jays are also busy squabbling with one another, battling the squirrels and each other for hazelnuts.
With the last of the late blueberries and grapes behind us, the apple and pear harvest has officially begun—the sweet, aromatic Macoun and crunchy, mildly-tart Liberty are the first apples to ripen in our orchard, with the Asian and European pears right behind them. We admit to snatching a few, fragrant and crunchy, right off the tree while walking past to do chores in the barn or garden, with the donkey enjoying an apple here and there as well! Soon, we will press and enjoy our first batch of fresh cider, and start cooking up homemade batches of applesauce and apple butter in the farm kitchen.
In addition to days spent tending our clients’ gardens for our landscape design firm Parterre, at home we are pulling the last of the heirloom tomatoes out of the hoophouse, which are destined for more batches of our Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce, making way for fall plantings of kale, cabbage and chard to overwinter for early spring harvest. These hardy crops always renew our excitement for fall—foraging for mushrooms in the woods, or enjoying the distinct flavors of autumn over a cozy supper.
We hope you are well and also enjoying this most lovely start to October!
Fall is in the air! Here at Bella Luna Luna Farms we are enjoying the best that September has to offer with dewy mornings, cool evenings and mostly sunny days:
As the summery weather lingers, we continue to enjoy seeing the blue jays flitting about after hazelnuts and abundant flowers in bloom, as well as the everyday ritual of plucking fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash from the gardens. This sunny season continues to keep us busy with weddings and special events hosted here at the farm, and then out and about working on our clients’ gardens for our landscape design firm, Parterre.
But, even as we are no hurry to say goodbye to summer, it is always a balm to look ahead to the cornucopia of the fall harvest: In the next few weeks we will see the apples and pears, squash and pumpkins, hardy kales and cabbages, that take us into the next season each year. The early apples will be the first ready with the crisp, tart Honeycrisp and Akane varieties; next up come the Asian pears, and the last of the grapes. In the gardens, the kale, cabbage and broccoli seedlings are going into the ground to overwinter, right as the fresh garlic and storage onions like our favorite flat Italian Cipollinis are coming out of it. Cover crops have been sown in the fallow plots to plow under in the spring and help enrich the soil.
The kitchen continues to bustle with pickling, preserving and canning as we put away the summer bounty. September is always busy spent crafting big batches of Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce to carry us through the winter months. We are also putting our favorite Mathilde cucumbers to delicious use this fall in small-batches of our signature French-style cornichons. Made using a traditional recipe (which we’ve shared with you below!), each jar is packed with a Grapehouse grape leaf during pickling to keep these snacking pickles crunchy and crisp.
From our family to yours, happy September!
These crisp pickles are incredibly fresh-tasting thanks to the addition of pearl onions, peppercorns and even a fresh grapevine leaf.
Makes about 4 pints of pickles
2 pounds garden-fresh Mathilde or other cornichon-style cucumbers
3 tablespoons pure coarse sea salt or kosher salt
12 fresh pearl onions, peeled
1 quart of white wine vinegar
Fresh tarragon sprigs
Fresh grapevine leaves
1. Gently wash and rub the spines off the cucumbers. (They should only be 1-2 inches long.) Place cucumbers in a colander and toss with the salt. Leave to drain for about 4 hours, then rinse and drain.
2. Sterilize a potful of pint or half-pint jars and their lids by placing them upside down in a pot of water, covering and boiling for 10 minutes. (Add a splash of vinegar is your water is hard.)
3. Bring the vinegar to vigorous simmer or low boil in a medium stockpot.
4. Without touching the inside of the jars, remove each jar from the water with a pair of tongs and flip it over on a clean work surface. Place ½-1 teaspoons peppercorns, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds and a large sprig of tarragon in each jar. Add a fresh washed grape leaf if available. Add 2-3 pearl onions and cucumbers to within ¾-inch of the top of the jar. Cover with hot vinegar.
5. Wipe the rim of each jar and screw on the lid tightly, removing the lids from the water with the tongs. Wipe off any excessive moisture from the outside of the jars, then store in a cool, dark place for at least one month before eating.
As we head into the dog days of August, the heat-loving crops continue to ripen more each day, and the animals continue to seek the sometimes elusive shade to stay cool—during the middle of the day the chickens are often burrowed in the cool dirt of their enclosure and the girls can be spotted lounging under the canopy of trees in their pasture.
As much as the sun-ripened peppers and tomatoes are loving the recent heat wave, other more tender crops, such as the lettuces and greens, are now needing a good drink of water each day so that they continue to thrive. Our fruit crops are proving especially bountiful this year, from the big, juicy blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to colorful red and yellow plums.
As busy as we are around Bella Luna this time of year—both tending crops and hosting events such as weddings and special dinners—we also spend quite a bit of time in other people’s gardens, too, through our landscape design firm, Parterre. We conceptualize and install tranquil, natural gardens and outdoor living spaces all around the Puget Sound, as well as care for them using organic, low-impact gardening techniques. With its long daylight hours, this abundant season keeps us bustling between projects.
During the lingering evenings, we are busy preserving all the gorgeous summer delicacies. In addition to fruit preserves, our “jam sessions” also include pickling cucumbers and canning beets, as well as making small batches of our Nonna Pat’s famous tomato sauce with vine-ripened tomatoes plucked fresh from the garden. In all, we have stowed away a thousand jars so far, sure to be beautiful reminders of this glorious, sun-kissed summer during the cold winter months that will arrive all too soon.
It’s July and high summer is in full swing at the farm!
The bold and beautiful tiger lilies that grow near the house have just begun to bloom, and during lazy afternoons, the goats are often spotted resting and ruminating in the shady pasture to get a break from the sun on warmer days. (They keep this up until the cooler evening hours when things start to look a little livelier out there.)
Summer morning chores continue in the gardens, where we marvel at the growth of the beans, peas, and cucumbers that climb their trellises by inches each day. We are eagerly anticipating the first crop of fresh, juicy raspberries just now starting to ripen. Some of these tart-sweet berries will be destined for a summer fruit crisp or for snacking, but a good portion are always set aside to use in our favorite fresh raspberry jam. (Learn more about our signature recipe here!)
Afternoons are often spent working away from the farm in clients’ gardens for our landscape design and gardening firm, Parterre; or prepping for upcoming weddings and events to be held here at the farm this summer. The honey bees are also loving the pleasant afternoons and buzz busily amongst the many varieties of blossoms, working hard collecting pollen and nectar; the blackberry flowers are a special favorite for them, being one of the honeybee’s main food sources here in the Pacific Northwest.
We hope you are enjoying this sunny season as much as we are!