Coming off a wet week of some much-need rain as we start the month of October, those aforementioned drippy days, plus the cooler nights and brisk mornings, are indeed telling us it truly is 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.
In addition to the time spent tending our clients’ gardens for our landscape design firm Parterre, we are also hosting a few fall weddings and other gatherings, like the two farm dinners we hosted this past weekend in partnership with Conjure Catering and also Chef Tomas Litrenta. Keep an eye out for more special event announcements soon, including more details on our November 18th butter- and cheese-making class with renowned cheesemaker, Meghan McKenna.
Originally from the Midwest, Meghan started out as a cheesemonger for Metropolitan Market in Seattle and while there, developed the very popular hand-stretched mozzarella program. She later worked at Mountain Lodge Farm as their cheesemaker and more recently as a cheesemaker at Cherry Valley Dairy. And, in the most exciting news yet, we are thrilled to announce that she will be joining us this week as a cheesemaker here in our on-farm creamery, Bellsong Creamery! Our handmade cheeses will be crafted with cow’s milk sourced from local third generation Groeneveld Farm, and we cannot wait to share our new cheeses and butters with you in the months to come.
In between events here at home, we are harvesting apples and pears from the orchards, and pulling the last of the heirloom tomatoes out of the hoophouse, which are destined for more batches of our Nonna Pat’s marinara. As the tomatoes end their season, they make way for fall plantings of kale, cabbage and Swiss chard to overwinter for early spring harvest. These hardy crops always renew our excitement for fall and its distinct pleasures—like foraging for mushrooms in the woods or enjoying the distinct flavors of autumn over a warm and cozy supper.
We hope you are also enjoying the start of fall and the harvest season as it gets underway!
Fall is in the air! Here at Bella Luna we are enjoying the best that September has to offer with dewy mornings, cooler evenings and yet still warm and sunny afternoons. We sure hope you and yours are well as the kids head back to school, the late-season produce comes off the vine in the gardens, and the official start to fall approaches.
We are enjoying the antics of the blue jays and squirrels dashing noisily about, competing for the chestnuts and hazelnuts that they are beginning to hide away for later, and the honeybees are busily collecting pollen and nectar, and filling their hives with honey for their winter sustenance.
In the next few weeks we will harvest the apples and pears in the orchard. The crisp, tart Honeycrisp and Akane varieties will be the first to be plucked; next up come the Asian pears, along with the continuing Italian plums and last of the grapes. In the garden, we continue the everyday ritual of harvesting fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash from the beds and hoophouse. The Lacinato kale, cabbage and Purple Sprouting 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 will be 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 once again begin to prepare for next years’ crops.
We’ve been kept busy with summer with weddings and other special events, and the kitchen continues to bustle even on non-event days with pickling, preserving and canning as we put away the summer’s bounty. September is always spent crafting big batches of Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce to carry us through the winter months and 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 the traditional recipe that 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.
We hope you enjoy both the recipe below for those very pickles—and this most pleasant start to September!
These crisp pickles are incredibly fresh-tasting thanks to the addition of pearl onions, peppercorns and even a fresh grape leaf.
Makes about 4 pints of pickles
2 pounds garden-fresh Parisienne or other cornichon-style tiny cucumbers
3 tablespoons kosher salt
12 fresh pearl onions, peeled
1 quart of champagne or 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. 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 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 sunshine, 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. With the nice sunny weather, our fruit crops are proving to be bountiful, from the big, juicy blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to colorful red and yellow plums.
As busy as it is around Bella Luna this time of year—both with tending crops, caring for animals and hosting the special events we hold so dear—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” will 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, a favorite and versatile accompaniment for many different meals which lasts us until next summer when we start the process all over again!
We hope that your summer has been filled with memorable moments and delicious meals with family and friends as we look forward to the warm days and glorious summer evenings yet to come. Cheers to the continuing summer ahead!