While the afternoons are still mostly sunny and pleasant as we start the month of October, the cooler nights and foggy, drizzly mornings tell us it is truly now fall.
Here at Bella Luna, the leaves are just beginning to turn color—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 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. Recently, we were even blessed by a visit from Nonna herself, and have spent many pleasant hours in the kitchen crafting her Italian family recipe. As the tomatoes end their season, they make 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 the month of October!
What a year and what a start to the month: September’s early sunshine was promptly followed by thick smoke blanketing the region from the area wildfires. We sure hope you and yours are staying safe and well as the official start to fall approaches.
Even through the haze here at the farm, we are enjoying seeing the blue jays and squirrels dashing noisily about, competing for walnuts and hazelnuts which they hide for winter, and the honeybees busily collecting pollen and nectar, and filling their hives with honey for their winter food. In the garden, we continue the everyday ritual of harvesting fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash from the beds and hoophouse; the rainbow of colorful dahlias and perennials in the new cut flower project are thriving, boding well for next years’ plant sales and cut flowers for events.
In the next few weeks we will harvest the apples and pears, pumpkins and squash that take us into winter. The early apples will be the first ready with the crisp, tart Honeycrisp and Akane varieties; next up come the Asian pears, along with the continuing Italian plums and last of the grapes. In the gardens, the kale, cabbage and broccoli seedlings are going into the ground to overwinter (under a covering of Reemay fabric to discourage the pesky rabbits), right as the garlic and storage onions are coming out of it. Cover crops have been sown in the fallow plots along with a healthy dose of compost for turning over in the spring, enriching the soil with nutrients for when we begin to once again prepare for next years’ crops.
Though the grounds are quiet without the usual events, the kitchen continues to bustle with pickling, preserving and canning as we put away the summer bounty. September is always spent crafting big batches of Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce to carry us through the winter months. We are also putting our favorite Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne cucumbers to delicious use 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 tiny pickles crunchy and crisp.
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 Parisienne or other cornichon-style cucumbers
3 tablespoons kosher salt
12 fresh pearl onions, peeled
1 quart of white wine vinegar
Fresh tarragon sprigs
Fresh grape 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 if your water is hard.)
3. Bring the vinegar to a 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 small 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 are starting to ripen more each day, and the animals continue to seek the afternoon shade to stay cool—during the heat of the afternoons, the laying hens are often burrowed down into 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 sunshine, other more tender crops, such as the lettuces and celery, are now needing a good drink of water each day so that they continue to thrive. New green beans are coming on, and our fruit crops are proving bountiful this year, from the big, juicy blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to colorful Italian and yellow plums.
Things are certainly quieter around here without the usual summer weddings and events, but we’re using the extra time during the lingering evenings and weekends to work in the newly-expanded, one acre cut-flower garden tucked next to our orchard and hoophouse where over 1,200 dahlias and other much-loved perennials should be blooming soon – stay tuned!
We hope you are also enjoying the many blessings of this sunny season, and that you and yours continue to stay safe and well.