I returned home to Pennsylvania to find that fall had arrived in my absence. There's a lovely nip in the air, and the tulip poplar is already shedding its leaves. I suspect our hot dry summer will mean a less impressive fall color show for the leaf peepers.
My dad and I had a great time on our trip. On the way up to Maine we stopped at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. I had no idea the old curmudgeon was so well-to-do, nor that a good deal of his money was his wife's. Whenever we made pit stops along the way, I scouted for oak trees, since it's acorn foraging time. Though we could eat them, I'm gathering them for the laying hens, since they're highly caloric and the hens love them so. I'm not up on my oak species, but there are some great acorns to be had in New England - far more impressive specimens than the oak in our backyard provides. I picked up about four pounds of acorns in very little time. A few of them were even from the Mark Twain House grounds. My father wondered whether they would improve my chickens' vocabulary.
We pitched in at my aunt and uncle's house, helping to clean out, paint, and re-organize their garage. It was quite a project. But we got good meals out of it. All my family cook pretty well, and eat heartily. I tried to finagle my aunt into letting me take the huge ceramic crock that was cluttering up her garage off her hands for a few bucks. She's no fool though, so I didn't get very far with that proposition. However, my other aunt said, "Oh, I have one of those on my back patio. Do you want it?" I didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth of course, but I told her I'd want it for making sauerkraut, and asked if it had any cracks in it. She said it didn't, and that she'd bring it to me at Thanksgiving. Pretty sweet!
My aunt and uncle are north of Portland, but since we had to pass by the city anyway, it was completely reasonable that we stop in for a browse at Rabelais bookstore. I love books and browsing at independent bookstores. Make it a small independent bookstore that's devoted entirely to food, and I'll travel for hours to get there (at least occasionally). This time I came away with Canning for a New Generation. I can't wait to try the recipe for brandied sweet cherries...Perhaps next year our sweet cherry will bear.
The other highlights of my trip to Maine were my tours of Wyvern Heath and Henbogle, two locations I got to know through the blogosphere before I ever laid eyes on them. Wendy and her family welcomed my father and me to their quarter-acre homestead on our way to visit our family. It was great to see their rampaging hubbard squash vine, the mixed poultry flock and a batch of tiny rabbit kits. The homestead felt very welcoming. Then Wendy had us inside for a cup of tea and incredibly decadent slices of chocolate cake. On Saturday morning I was able to slip away from the family and visit Ali and her husband, Dan. Henbogle was equally welcoming, and it was a treat to see the hoop house and the rest of their garden. I was able to suss out how big our planned hoop house is going to be by standing in the middle of Ali's and ignoring everything behind me. Our hoop house is gonna be small, but it'll fit what space we've got. One reaction I had in common to both Wendy's and Ali's layer flocks is that my Red Star hens have really boring appearances. Their Americaunas and barred rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and even the Black Stars put my girls to shame when it comes to looks. We may have to change up the poultry next time around.
It was a real pleasure to see these other gardens and homesteads. They were both different in many details from my own backyard, but they both felt home-like to me. I don't think it's just because I'd seen pictures of these places before. I guess there's something about small parcels of land being used for food production that feels right to me. My only regret is that both visits were short. I felt that conversation could have stretched on for hours at either location.
I came away with largess from both Wendy and Ali. A small pumpkin from Wendy's garden as consolation for my failed winter squash crop this year, plus the seeds to grow that variety next year. I was really impressed by seeing this variety, which almost seemed like a bush pumpkin, if there were such a thing. Low-sprawl pumpkins are welcome in my garden anytime. And from Ali a luscious pair of half pints of homemade jam - strawberry-balsamic-black pepper, and blackberry-lime. As soon as we polish off the jar of jam in the fridge, I'm cracking one of these open.
All in all, it was a great trip with Dad, carbon footprint misgivings notwithstanding. But it's nice to be back home too. I'm working on my ancho chili powder post and should have it up in a day or two.