Early fall is a scramble for farmers, vineyards and winemakers, especially this year when the weather has been hot and dry for most of the summer with very few cool days to slow things down. Many crops that would normally be harvested in succession over weeks or months are ripening all at once, multiplying the workload and making the days long. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has even found a theme song appropriate to the situation in which he finds himself.
The hillside wineries were aglow Monday evening as we made our way back from Elmira. They were scrambling to bring in and de-stem their grapes. We were bitten by the frenzy as well. Our freezers were full with no room for the autumn fruits such as prune, damson and grape, so we had to shift some fruit to Sweet Creek's big freezer.
Unsure as to how much rain we would see, we harvested a large amount Wednesday, and Thursday we were filling the freezers with plums and grapes. It took six of us about six hours to pit and de-stem the fruit. This year, the fruit is coming on very fast, and there is no room for a leisurely process. The Veepie grapes and damsons were at their very best and we are looking forward to tasting the preserves. We have only a few cases of preserves left, so it was good to fill the freezers for our kitchen time [at Sweet Creek] in late October.
Dutch bullet beans.
Likewise, with the dry beans, almost half have been harvested and cleaned. We will have Borlotti Gaston and Purgatorios at market this week, along with chickpeas. Next week, we will have zolfinos and Dutch bullets. Although they mature and dry in the field, we always leave them on screen for a few days until they click brightly when we run our fingers through the tray. At that point, we feel secure bagging them.
We will bring favas, popcorn, cornmeal, frikeh and hulless barley. We also have a luxuriant patch of dill, as well as tomatoes and tomatillos.
We are also picking prunes for the market, including Pozegaca which is a famous Balkan prune used for slatko and slivovitz. The flavor is sharp and clean. The last of the mirabelles are coming in as well. Edward Bunyard's description of Coe's Golden Drop in The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) is unmatched: "At its best, it is a dull yellow green with strong frecklings of crimson, and at its ripest it is drunk rather than eaten; the skin is rather tough but between this and the stone floats an ineffable nectar." We will have just a few, another small bonus granted to us with an early harvest.
Coe's Golden Drop.
Friday we pulled the onions and they are curing in the sun for winter storage. Soon the corn will be dry as well.
The partnership of Jackie Cain and the late Roy Kral remains an inspiration to us. They approached their craft with confidence and creativity, and on their own terms. Their music was of a kind, built on character rather than formula. Cain died Monday [The New York Times obit.]. If you get a chance, take a moment reach out into a cloud and listen to her. Maybe Sondheim's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues," summing up what one of us was suffering last week.
Plum/prune photos by Anthony Boutard.