Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back from Road Trip

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.


cottage garden farmer said...

Autumn's sneaking up on me too, can hardly beleive summer is over. I'm wondering how you feed acorns to hens, do you grind them up somehow, or do you just have chickens with pneumatic beaks over there!?

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Oh, I could have shown you a treasure of acorns right near me! (southwest of Hartford) Let me know if you pass through this way again!

Sightseeing and visiting with friends, sounds like it was a terrific vacation!

Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful post! I really enjoyed the visit and wish we could have had longer to chat... and wish you could see how our latest home improvement is shaping up.

I haven't tried the ancho powder yet, but will soon -- it is chili season. And believe it or not, I set the pear/elderberry jam down somewhere and haven't been able to find it sense! The last time I did something like this, it was 2 weeks before I found my peppermill in the freezer.

It is feeling fallish here, too, but I'm hoping for some warmer days this weekend. Thanks again for the visit, I really enjoyed it.

meemsnyc said...

I didn't know that chickens loved acorns. We have a whole yard full! I rather give them to chickens than our yard squirrels. Actually, a lot of the acorns fall in our garden and start little seedlings everywhere! So annoying! That canning book looks so awesome! I'll have to save up for it!

Wendy said...

I didn't know you were collecting acorns. Had it not been raining, we could have taken a walk back through the woods near my house and you could have had gallons and gallons without ever leaving the path :).

I am so happy that you were able to visit, and it was truly a pleasure to meet you and your father. And THANK YOU for the chili powder. We tasted a bit, and oh, my happy taste buds ;).

By the way, I can hardly wait to see what those pumpkins look like in your garden. You should have grabbed a hubbard squash, too. I think I'm going to have WAY more than I know what to do with this year ;).

Kate said...

TCGF, ha ha! Thanks for the laugh. No, our hens are not equipped with pneumatic beaks. I have to crush the acorns for them. I did that each day last winter (until they ran out) by crushing a couple handfuls of acorns with a hand sledge in a burlap bag. The burlap gave out though, so this year I'm going to try repurposing some old jeans into a denim bag. I think the denim will hold up much better.

4 bushel farmgal, it sure seemed that whichever oak was dropping those acorns was might prolific up your way. I don't think I've run across that exact oak down here. But I'll definitely keep a lookout, because those were great acorns.

Ali, I do stuff like that all the time. I will watch your laundry room project and others from afar. I know just what you mean about renovations/repairs of old homes. Effort and expense just to get it looking like it always has (or should have). Thanks again for letting me visit!

meemsnyc, I'll do another post on acorns for chickens sometime later this year. I save them until the cold weather sets in, and then give them as supplemental feed just when they need the extra calories to stay warm.

Wendy, the acorn collection was sort of opportunistic, but I couldn't pass them up once I saw their quality. Those I find around here tend to be smaller, often cracked, or nibbled by squirrels, or showing weevil holes. Who knew there was such regional variation in acorn quality. Glad you like the ancho powder; sorry it wasn't a larger portion. I hope you can find a recipe that uses just that amount. Oh, and the container is re-usable ;) Will definitely try these pumpkins next year. We're going to miss them as winter staples this year. But here's hoping for next year. Thanks again for letting us come see your place - and for the half cake.

Hazel said...

I've been thinking about feeding acorns to chickens since I read one of your old posts about it.
We'd considered it before, but mainly because DS (aged 9) had heard that eating lots of acorns can turn yolks green and he wanted to try it... I think in reality it's a slight greenish tinge, but in his head, it's full on Dr Seuss!

I've read in a few places that acorns are toxic to chickens, but some poultry sites imply anything wild is risky. I figure they won't eat something poisonous to them if it's presented in recognisable form, so DS may get his green eggs this winter with or without ham!

Glad you had such a good trip.

Kate said...

Hazel, I must confess that I've never heard anything about acorns either being toxic for chickens, nor having alterative properties for the yolks. I'm pretty skeptical about the toxicity claim primarily because they are obviously non-toxic for pigs and humans. Spanish hogs are fattened primarily on acorns, and the California Ohlone Indians relied on acorns as one of their staple crops. It's true something can be safe for one species and deadly for another, but such foods are rare. Aside from that I have direct experience in feeding my hens acorns, who obviously relish them, without incident. The portions were a minor part of their diet, but they were given daily for a month or more. So I wouldn't worry about that at all.

Please do post if you manage to come up with green eggs! That would be something to see.

City Sister said...

I always feel fall coming early when visiting up in Maine...Here in (south west)PA it seems to come at least 5-6 weeks later. My sister is always jealous when I tell her the forsythia is blooming in March...and her's won't until June.