With the overlap of seasons ( late summer abundance into fall harvest), it never seems as though there are enough hours in the day to get everything done! I am doing the farm mama dance; harvesting, cooking, drying, preserving, stirring big vats of sauce, planting new seeds, and having fun with the kids, all to the cadence of the hiss of the canner and some good tunes in the background. We are in the midst of not only seed harvest, but also the great Capturing of Flavor. We try our best to capture summer’s sunshine, essence and flavor in mason jars, which will add spice and excitement to our hearty winter meals. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing rows of freshly canned jars of salsa, ketchup, jam, sauce, and chutney on the counter. Usually I stay up late to wait for the hiss of the canner to subside, and to gentle line up another row of steamy jars to cool on the counter before we sleep.
From sun-up to dusk, it’s a whirlwind this time of year! I am always grateful to put my feet up and knit a bit at the end of the day if I get the chance. Sometimes I go to sleep with visions of de-seeding peppers or hundreds of shiny tomatoes!
As we begin the official homeschool schedule again, it is a familiar scene to have the kids writing or drawing at the kitchen table, while I prep food for canning or shell seeds out of pepper or tomato fruit. Today we laid a blanket out for them to do schoolwork next to the field as I worked on getting our large chile harvest in. Moss came over for a closer look, as he needed some help with spelling.
Apparently, this is what I look like harvesting chiles to my sweet little 6 year old son. These are precious moments.
Look at the beautiful chiles!!!
I am totally smitten with New Mexican style green chile sauce, so I harvest lots of these chiles green. We also save lots on the plant to ripen to red for our seed harvest. The variety that we are growing is called “Numex Big Jim.” I have noticed that this variety has much variation, and looks as the the variety has not been well maintained. While harvesting today out of our 300 plants, I saw a broad spectrum of chiles, from small and thin fleshed, to large robust thick walled fruits and everything in between. This shows me that the seed steward who grew these seeds didn’t take the time to do much selection to keep the variety consistent and robust. Perhaps they wanted this spectrum of diversity? For me, I am looking for more consistent thick walled chiles that roast and peel easily. You can see in this photo, the chiles that are on the right of the pruners are ideal fruits, and the ones on the left are less desirable.
The seeds we grow on our farm are “open pollinated.” This means if properly isolated from other varieties in the same plant species, these open-pollinated varieties will produce seed that is genetically “true to type.” and will resemble the parent plant. Open-pollinated varieties allow farmers and gardeners to produce their own seed supply, and to adapt specific variety strains to their region by selecting the best plants from which to save seed each year. Living plants are dynamic, and naturally evolve due to natural or human selection. In order for varieties of crops to maintain robust populations with consistent and desirable characteristics, the population of plants needs to be guided through a selection process. Because, in reality, the selection process never stops. Either you select and shape what you desire from your plants, or they will sort and select out due to environmental conditions or mutations, and you may not be pleased with the result.
As the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative so adequately describes; “This responsive, open-pollinated breeding approach, successfully employed by farmers for millennia,is still needed today for securing a long-term healthy food system accessible to all of humanity. It is a deliberate and necessary counter to the current model that monopolizes the world’s seed supply.” Through gentle, effective and time-tested methods of crop improvement, you can shape the health and resiliency of your open pollinated variety. You can learn more about this method of crop improvement in the book I co-authored, called Breeding Organic Vegetables, which is available on our website.
Even my daughter has learned these lessons from her time spent with us out in the field. As she was helping to de-seed sweet peppers over the weekend, she picked out three fruits that she thought were different and desirable, and kept the seeds apart in 3 bags to plant for next season. She wants to see if she can select and breed a new variety! Such a bright little light she is!
One of Maizie’s choice peppers on the left.
We roasted tons of these peppers! Stocky Red Roaster is the variety. It was bred by seedsman Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. We put a bunch in the freezer for wintertime.
We also took the opportunity to make this AMAZING pepper spread. We roasted and peeled the skins off. Then we placed them in a food processor with olive oil, fresh garlic, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The pureed spread tastes like heaven. The particular sweetness of this variety makes for a stellar paste. We plan to grow this pepper often over the years to come.
In this seasonal harvest whirlwind, there are times when I feel overwhelmed. Feeling sometimes like I have too many irons in the fire. Boxes of food to be processed and put up, kids needing to be carted to lessons, articles and my book to write, spelling lessons to be looked at, seeds to thresh and winnow….endless things to keep me on my feet and bustling throughout the day…
At times like these, we all need an anchor of strength and perseverance to help us push through. As fall approaches, I always feel a strong presence of the ancestors. Thinking about my grandmother, and calling upon the wisdom of the strong lineage of women I descend from, always seems give me what I need to pull through the busy times.
One woman I always anchor to during these hard-working days is my great-great grandmother on my father’s side. Anna Jacobs David was known in our family as an workhorse. Her is a snippet about her, written by my great aunt Ella.
“Anna worked as hard as any man on the farm. She raised huge vegetable gardens every year, and always had a huge strawberry and raspberry patch, and was famous for her annual potato crop. Anna would churn butter, weave baskets, knit woolen socks and mittens, and then row a boat across the St. Lawrence River to the towns where she had a ready market for her wares. Every cent that was not absolutely needed for food and clothing went into some mysterious pocket hidden somewhere underneath her long black skirts and petticoats. After her husband’s death, Anna ran the farm and worked as hard as ever. She would walk from Snye, Quebec to her daughter Rena’s home, which was about ten miles distant, even in the winter. Anna’s frugality became even more extreme as she grew older. She would work the commercial vegetable fields in Malone, NY in the fall. This meant, getting up before dawn, riding in a covered truck thirty miles, working all day picking carrots or spinach, and getting home after dark each day. She was in her late eighties when she last worked the ‘spinach fields.’ In the Fall of 1951, Anna cooked a big meal for the men who were threshing grain on the farm. She baked 3 or 4 apple pies, and then laid down on her single cot in the kitchen. A few days later she died, just before her 88th birthday.”
What an amazing portrait of a woman. When I get to thinking that my workload is too much, I think about Anna, and her stooped over in the spinach fields. She found a way through life’s challenges. I wish I could sit and have tea with her, and trade recipes or seeds. When I need to draw on this strength from the ancestors, I often think of this quote by our beloved Thich Nhat Hanh:
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
Do you have a connection with your ancestors? What special ways do you honor them? We have an ancestor altar, upon which are foods and special things we offer to them. We have many black and white and sepia pictures of grandmothers, grandfathers, and other ancestors. This week while picking pears I found a fluffy Great Horned Owl feather stuck to one of the fruits. I hear her sound her owl-song sometimes at night. She must feast on the gophers or rodents who come to feast on the bruised and fallen fruits on the ground. I placed the feather upon the ancestor altar, on top of some fragrant mugwort. Special medicine for the heart.
As I write, the jars from my latest batch of pear sauce are cooling. The air smells sweetly of cardamom, vanilla and ginger that I used to spice the fruit. Crickets are chirping slower tonight, as the hints of fall are on the air. We were blessed with a unseasonable rain just a few days ago, and the nighttime air still smells of damp cedar and forest duff. So much gratitude for the abundance of this season and all the gifts it brings. Having an unexpected rainy day this week got me excited for all that is to come. We made a pot of soup and some home-ground cornbread. Many cozy days are headed our way, as summer makes its graceful bow.
Much love to you in the days to come, and I will remind you that LOVE IS EVERYWHERE.