Monday, June 29, 2009


A gooseberry is like a sweeter bit of rhubarb with a firm grape-like texture.

In April I wrote a blog called "The Currant Bush" about a plant in our yard that I was certain was a red currant. Well, it wasn't but it made for a good parable at the time. It turned out to be a "snowball" bush and I'm quite certain it got weed-whacked in a recent go round by two eager boys and a husband. But at the time, when spring was just beginning, it made for an interesting musing. [Moral of the story: don't count your red currants before they're ripe and for heaven's sake, don't go away for two weeks and leave your husband in charge of grounds and gardens! Furthermore, a man or boy with a weed-whacker is a dangerous thing.]

Picking gooseberries on our 13th wedding anniversary is awfully domesticated, don't you think? You have to be mindful of the thorns, however.

Four men and a gooseberry bush! [This more than made up for any over-zealous weed-whacking while I was away...but not quite for the foot high crab grass in our vegetable patch!]

Anna joins in to help ~ (I love that Henry grabbed the Adirondack chair)

Last summer in late June when my husband brought down our first load from New Hampshire, he also happened by the farm of two people who would become great friends of ours, Melvin and Anna. Temple noticed the new round barn on their property, saw Melvin in his field and stopped to visit. Temple has always wanted to build a round barn and was intrigued by Melvin's. They became fast friends–and Melvin built and supervised our hen house and other outbuildings last winter–and while Temple was here for a bit, he brought them over to our ridge. Anna said, "You have a gooseberry bush by your door!" I hadn't noticed its green fruits emerging before we returned in late May for our last summer in New Hampshire.

The rosy ones are only just a bit sweeter–the mix of the less ripe green and more ripe pink gooseberries adds good color and flavor.

One night when I called Kentucky to check on things, Temple announced that Anna had picked a turkey roaster full and would be making pies. Of course, I hadn't met either of them yet myself but was truly delighted that they were making themselves at home in my kitchen and in my bookshelves. Anna made gooseberry pies to freeze for our homecoming in August and the most luscious gooseberry jam, and still had plenty leftover for her family. I have loved gooseberries since I lived in England for a year: gooseberries with custard, gooseberry fool, gooseberry crumble. In New Hampshire it is illegal to grow them–or its cousin the red currant–because they harbor the white pine blister rust. So apart from those custardy English desserts, I had never seen one fresh. Imagine how excited I was to have a bush right outside our back door!

In his short story, "Gooseberries," Anton Chekhov writes of the dream of man who wanted a farm with a gooseberry patch. Like his play, The Cherry Orchard, it is a pastoral fable of sorts, set around the idea of farm and home and place:
Nikolay, sitting in his government office, dreamed of how he would eat his own cabbages, which would fill the whole yard with such a savory smell, take his meals on the green grass, sleep in the sun, sit for whole hours on the seat by the gate gazing at the fields and the forest. Gardening books and the agricultural hints in calendars were his delight, his favorite spiritual sustenance; he enjoyed reading newspapers, too, but the only things he read in them were the advertisements of so many acres of arable land and a grass meadow with farm-houses and buildings, a river, a garden, a mill and millponds, for sale. And his imagination pictured the garden-paths, flowers and fruit, starling cotes, the carp in the pond, and all that sort of thing, you know. These imaginary pictures were of different kinds according to the advertisements which he came across, but for some reason in every one of them he had always to have gooseberries. He could not imagine a homestead, he could not picture an idyllic nook, without gooseberries.

'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say. 'You sit on the veranda and you drink tea, while your ducks swim on the pond, there is a delicious smell everywhere, and . . . and the gooseberries are growing.'

He used to draw a map of his property, and in every map there were the same things -- (a) house for the family, (b) servants' quarters, (c) kitchen-garden, (d) gooseberry-bushes. He lived parsimoniously, was frugal in food and drink, his clothes were beyond description; he looked like a beggar, but kept on saving and putting money in the bank. He grew fearfully avaricious. I did not like to look at him, and I used to give him something and send him presents for Christmas and Easter, but he used to save that too. Once a man is absorbed by an idea there is no doing anything with him.
from 'Gooseberries' by Anton Chekhov

Anna picked a tussy-mussy of "Victoria Blue" salvia for me from my flower pots. She said it will dry and hold its color.

Eli holds some of the fruits of our labor–five of us picked the bush clean in a half hour and got several gallons worth of gooseberries. Anna and Melvin brought a gallon home, too.

Tomorrow morning after breakfast we will pick the stems and small beards, layer them on cookie sheets, freeze them and then roll them like frozen grapes into 2-quart freezer bags. There they will be until I have the inclination to make pies and jam. You have to love the merits of a big chest freezer!

Reddy Fox

We just had a visitor! When I was getting the double-wide ready for occupancy in the fall of 2007 in advance of our stuff, a local woman named Sue was helping me with windows. She announced one clear hot fall day, a lot like this one in late June, "Catherine, I think you have a visitor." I was expecting someone to be coming up the driveway but it was a woodland creature (I've now forgotten exactly what) in our side yard. Here in Kentucky, visitors are welcomed, whether from the woods or down the road a piece.

Today I was just catching up with correspondence when I saw something out of my office window. Thinking it one of the puppies, I looked up. Instead I saw a small red fox, not much bigger than a young cat. I suspect it is a young fox but am not certain. He was sunning himself for a bit and I was able to quietly get a camera next to me and shoot some photos through the windows (I cropped them so they did not get very big in the enlargements, hence how small on this blog posting).

I recalled my favorite children's stories as a child from Old Mother West Wind and other classics by Thornton W. Burgess. Here is a story of Reddy Fox, Johnny Chuck and the Merry Little Breezes. Here on the ridge those are dancing today, too, alongside the Green Meadow. This was one of my grandmother's favorite childhood books and she passed along her copy to me when I was a young girl. I still have it, torn-away binding and all. There are many others in the series and recently I learned that my friend Linda likes to get them for her grandson, Hunter.

And off went Reddy Fox, back into the woods.

I'd rather be doing anything on this gorgeous hot summer day (no humidity!), but laundry, puttering and computer work after three weeks of being away and visiting family. We're also having friends for our anniversary dinner tonight (lucky 13!) so house focus is essential today, as well as some writing business. At least my office window provides a panorama of the knob field to the northwest and the edge of the woods. I should probably go check my chickens now, just in case.

And tomorrow, the garden!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lucy's Pantry

Lucy's practical pantry is an extension of her kitchen where she enjoys more counter space and good eastern light. In true New England farmhouse fashion, it was built on the northeast corner of the ell where it is cool in summer and like a natural ice box in winter.

One thing I'd like to do more regularly on my blog is to feature more pantries and kitchens. As you can imagine, if you have your own copy of The Pantry (or even if you don't!), it was impossible to feature all of the pantry photos and pantry quotes I might have liked to have done. I still photograph pantries when I can or write down pantry-related quotes in books I am reading or old magazine articles I come across. One thing is for certain: pantries have always been well-loved, much used, practical spaces. Some people, like Lucy Davison, have never done without one.

I met Lucy several years ago when driving around Henniker, New Hampshire with my husband and boys. He saw his old friend Shirley (or "Shirl"), Lucy's husband, out haying across from the old Quaker meetinghouse, and we stopped to visit. That winter, while I was still researching and writing The Pantry, we had them to dinner and I spoke with her about pantries and kitchens and food (three of my favorite topics). Lucy was a former school teacher before she married Shirley in her late 30s. Since the 1970s they have shared an old New England farmhouse together, complete with an ell kitchen, a well-used pantry, and an old wood-burning Glendale cook stove that she uses most of the year. She reminds me, in her practical self-reliance, of my Old Order Mennonite friends and others in Kentucky who have always put up food from their sustenance gardens.

Lucy has many old-fashioned cottage garden flowers: the rampant valerian (or "Garden Heliotrope"), blue lupine and, over on the east side of the kitchen, the largest bed of "Golden Glow," in the rudbeckia family, that I've seen before. It blooms later in the summer (and I brought a clump to Kentucky from my own New Hampshire garden).

Lucy cans and freezes throughout the summer from her prolific garden and prides herself on not having to go to the store too often (they also have chickens for meat and eggs and raise a few cows for beef–they also used to have dairy cows). They more or less live in their kitchen, as they are in the photograph (taken on my recent trip to New Hampshire), and from windows on either side, to the east and west, they can see who is driving by or who is coming to their door.

In The Pantry in "The Farmhouse Pantry" chapter I wrote about Lucy's pantry (but did not include photographs because of space and design limitations):
For several decades, Lucy Davison has put up the bounty from the garden at the New England farm she shares with her husband, Shirley, 87. Their farmhouse has a long, narrow pantry with shelves and a large workspace in front of a sunny window. "I love a pantry," Lucy says. "I do my baking preparations in there because we entertain in the kitchen–you just leave the bread and the old milk cup and dirty bowls. You can take off your apron and close the door." Their kitchen has a reliable Glendale stove where she does her extensive canning: tomatoes, pickles, all kinds of jams and jellies.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rooster in the hen house!

Stew, the Barred Plymouth Rock rooster, struts his stuff

I suspected as much. A few weeks after I got our batch of hens back in late March, one of the Barred Plymouth Rock chickens was acting especially precocious and doing things like standing on the chicken waterer and coming up to me when the others wouldn't. He seemed more alert, too, and watchful. He also seemed a bit bigger and its head was different than the others of its type. Must be a rooster, I hoped.

Sure enough, his comb started to emerge about a month ago, he soon grew much bigger than the rest and he remains the most watchful and gregarious of the bunch. So far no mean streak but his mighty rooster-ness was proclaimed the other day with a pitiful sort of warbly, adolescent "cock a doodle do-eruhhhh." I'm sure his voice will improve with time as he is only three months old. He has also begun to crow when let out in the mornings and that's a good sign of things to come.

What's up? Stew, the rooster, and a barred rock hen converse in the coop.

There is often the odd rooster thrown into the chicks as they aren't always sexed accurately (who ever is?). I was secretly hoping for a rooster. I intend to keep him and will hope that he can behave himself and not get too feisty with his girls or with us. Otherwise, he might just be living up to his name: Stew is a contender right now but I'm still thinking about it. Any ideas?

The hens and their main man are very happy with their hen yard and enjoy lots of treats such as strawberry hulls, melon rinds, old bread and even piles of weeds. At night, just at dusk, they saunter back into their house on their own and begin their roosting by crowding onto the built-in roost and spilling over onto window sills and any open areas where they can perch. Their nesting boxes are filled with shavings and await their first eggs, probably by the end of summer.

The hen house and yard was constructed over the former perennial garden (sorry, Miss Lillian). Fortunately, there are still a few perennials around the hen house that I have been able to retain.

I do want to free-range them but we are trying to figure out how to reconcile three obviously intent hunting dogs with roaming chickens. As my garden is too pitiful having left it for two weeks (and now full of crab grass), I am considering cooping them up in there during the days and having them eat the weeds, seeds, seedlings and all. Then I could start over with a midsummer/fall garden, get ready fertilizer, have the weeds eradicated (and everything else) without the use of chemical spray, and try not to cry for the tomatoes that might have been.

Cornish X birds are bred to eat, sleep and drink–and they are messy birds. I won't miss them and will be thankful for a full freezer this winter.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the coop, we have twenty-five fat Cornish X birds that, while only a month old, are about the same size as the 3-month old hens. In the mix is an errant "exotic," a freebie from Murray McMurray, and you can see how he pales in size to the giant and mighty meat birds. He looks like an Araucana but I'm not certain yet as he is smaller than the others were at that age (and it, too, has an emergent comb). If we want to integrate he or she successfully with the other side of the coop (those that will live to lay eggs or strut their stuff), he has to be added at night so they don't get too alarmed. I will likely wait until he is a bit bigger. For the time being he is cooped up with the meat birds and three ducks who clearly would not have survived long on our pond with three puppies and a large snapping turtle in its depths (we've already lost three so in they went to live with the chickens–for now: our eldest boy is pondering Peking Duck).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Home again, home again...

Before I left New Hampshire, my mother brought me a glorious bunch of pink peonies from her newly-established garden. They were just starting to open on my last day and I hated to leave them (so I took a photo, of course).

Back Sunday to "my boys," visiting relatives, laundry, a weedy garden, a gooseberry bush that needs picking, a second cutting of hay in a glorious stretch of hot and dry weather ahead (finally!), growing chickens (even an errant rooster–hurray!), a pack of growing puppies and other pets, warm hot SUN! I'm loving every minute of being home just as I loved every minute and mile of my recent trek to New England and Ohio. I realized where home is now and that–as well as the reconnections with family and friends and beloved former homeplaces on my trip back to New England via Ohio–was well worth the price of admission.

On the way to New York (and eventually Ohio), I stopped to see my daughter again in Vermont. First I paid a pilgrimage to Walker Farm in Dummerston in hopes of getting a few six-packs of tall verbena (verbena bonariensis). They were out, alas, but I did get a six-pack of cleome, the most gorgeous quart of New England strawberries yet–for freeway snacking–and a bunch of flowers and a birthday cake for my daughter (as I never did make one!), some seeds for a fall garden here (it is now officially too hot for lettuces in Kentucky).

I didn't get to the New York Thruway until about 5pm as my daughter and I had a good few hour visit together. But that's OK, I still made it to Batavia by 9pm (between Rochester and Buffalo). The Thruway is a road I've traveled so many times I almost know what's around each bend in it–it has truly been the cord that bound us to New England from Ohio as a child and now as an adult in a new land. (It is also my preferable route to New England from Kentucky and is about the same as the mileage through West Virginia and Pennsylvania, etc.) It is an easily traversable highway and one I can just get on and GO. My drive to Ohio was an easy four hours the next morning.

Our former post-war home in West Akron from 1961-1974–still the same on the outside except my mother's wonderful gardening efforts are long gone, the fence in the back is no longer, but the Japanese maple out front is huge and as old as I am (a few years shy of 50).

In Akron I went to the annual meeting of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, which was rather uneventful in light of recent events there this year, and did a book signing of The Pantry. Afterwards, I had a great catch-up dinner with a cousin who is lively, intelligent and as opinionated as I am so that was refreshing and fun. The next day I sauntered down to Ohio's Amish country in Holmes County and did a bit of antiquing (more in another blog soon). I also did a few requisite drive-bys my old home and visited the family plot at an Akron cemetery where my paternal grandparents, great-grandparents and father are buried.

Cathy DeLong and Andy January confer before their Saturday radio program.

Saturday, I had a radio interview on WAKR's "Your Beautiful Home" with Andy January and Catherine DeLong. I was there for the hour, along with some call-in interviews, and it was a lot of fun. We also gave away a signed copy of The Pantry to a nice woman named Janet in Fairlawn (thank you, Janet, if you are reading this). Andy is a co-owner of January Paint & Wallpaper in Akron and a long-time friend of our family. I always knew he'd find his niche as the Johnny Carson of the paint and wallpaper world. He is like Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey character in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life: he has stayed in Akron with his family business all of his life, weathering hard times on occasion. He also has a wry Midwestern humor, genuine likability and is a gifted story teller.

A quick stop at The Bookseller, Inc.–a used and rare bookstore in nearby Wallhaven that my cousin recommended–as well as West Point Market (where I only bought a July issue of Gourmet and two spring rolls–self-imposed restraint and frugality, after too many vacation book and antique purchases, as well as the logistics of cold transport back to Kentucky, kicked in big time so I just enjoyed browsing the aisles), and I was on my way (and oh, yes, a "stop" at the Medina Antique Mall right at I-71 which would bring me to Kentucky...but more on that later, too!).

I returned "happy to see the barn, happy to enter it..." ** [Carolyn Chute, The Beans of Egypt Maine] but also glad to have left my often self-imposed reclusion for a little while. It will be sustaining and has been reinvigorating, as well as a bit of pause, reflection and illumination. Just what a vacation should be.

**COMPLETE QUOTE from the novel: "'Well, I know a good barn when I see one,' he says and moves towards it. He moves like a workhorse, happy to see the barn, happy to enter it, the huge back and shoulders passing out of the white light of outdoors into the cavity of darkness, swinging his arms."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Cathedral of the Pines

Last December a brutal ice storm hit the Monadnock region and other parts of New Hampshire. A ridge in Rindge where the Cathedral of the Pines is located, as well as where my mother now lives, was particularly hard hit. Ironically, the Hurricane of '38 left a devastating blow to the local woodlands, too, when it barreled up the Connecticut River from Long Island Sound. That damage is what helped lead to the eventual creation of the Cathedral of the Pines, a non-demoninational outdoor cathedral for all people to worship. The Sloane family, who owned a farm on the site and adjacent pine woods, were impressed by the views that opened to Mount Monadnock after the storm. When their son Sandy was killed in World War II they wanted to make a memorial to him as well as an outdoor chapel. In 1946 the stone altar was created and the first services were held.

Mount Monadnock rises to the west behind the main altar.

The Cathedral is also a war memorial for all veterans and those who lost their lives serving our country. The Women' Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in 1967 and features four bronze panels of women protecting or serving their home, hearth and country. Designed by Norman Rockwell, the panels were created by his son Peter and bear both of their initials. My favorite has always been the pioneer woman, at left, defending her cabin.

1946 was the same year that my grandparents bought their farm a few miles down the road in Jaffrey. The Cathedral has always been integral to our summers and life here. We would snowshoe amidst the pines in winter, pick blueberries in summer, and ride our horses below on the old abandoned roads that helped link the Cathedral with our farm–and still do thanks to Annett State Forest and the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests. In the mid-70s our friend Bill Keep was director and he and his wife Jane, and family, brought new life and spirit to the place. [It was also where I had my first summer job, apart from babysitting, in the gift shop in 1977–I was disappointed that it was closed as I was hoping for a balsam pillow and some post cards.]

The tree of life, inside of the open structure of the bell tower, bears this passage from the Book of Revelations [22:1-2]: "On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” When the wind was just right, we could always hear the bell tower carillon wafting down Sherwin Hill to the farm.

My grandparents, both Cathedral incorporators and trustees, are buried in the small Trustees plot to the left of the altar as are my aunt and uncle. It was good to visit them all again as I don't think I'd been to the Cathedral since my aunt's burial twelve years ago. Hard to believe, but then again, one often has to be a tourist in their own land to see the local sites.

The Cathedral as it looked before the 2008 Ice Storm [from Cathedral of the Pines website]

The main Cathedral sanctuary as it appears in June 2009, post ice storm.

What was truly astonishing, however, was the change of landscape. With the tall pines destroyed and removed, the cathedral is now an open space framed by pines. There was something lovely about being outdoors for a service or event–like the Easter sunrise service, weddings or our high school baccalaureate–and hearing the breeze blow through the pines and the scratchy speakers echoing it back. Now they were able to install an in-ground sound system while relandscaping the chapel area. It is a dramatic change but the Cathedral has certainly made the best of a difficult situation that was out of their control. And yet, like a church that has been destroyed or damaged by fire, the essence of the Cathedral, that special spirit that it has always had, still pervades the pines and this tranquil hilltop eyrie.

Apart from a guide in the main building, I had the place to myself and I was selfishly glad of that. The sun came out for the first time in days after a lingering rainy front passed, at last, this morning. The June afternoon was glorious: blue skies, fleecy clouds, rather cool.

On June 6, I arrived in New Hampshire on a beautiful early summer day and drove past the Cathedral to see my mother for the first time in ten months. Tomorrow I leave for a few days in Ohio–for more family homages–and then Kentucky. This has been a special trip of reconnection and remembrance and, while I am ready to go back to my "new" home again and see my boys and husband, I will hold New Hampshire–and my mother and daughter and friends–close in my heart until I return.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Jaunt to Royalston

Royalston, Massachusetts is not exactly on the beaten track and I believe the residents like it that way. I've been to many New England towns, villages, cities and crossroads and there are few places more intriguing than Royalston. My friend Linda, who has lived in New Hampshire for over thirty years, had never been so I thought it would be fun to take her there.

This house was purchased by the Landmark Trust USA in recent years.

Located just below Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and east of Warwick (another town that time forgot), Royalston is defined by rocky hills and chasms. Their main village is a series of mostly white buildings with green shutters, many of which are propped up in the old-fashioned style for the summer. South Royalston, four miles to the east, is where the general store is located, a bar and an old school.

There is an unselfconscious shabby chic quality to the village. Road signs are old and rusted, and likely from the middle of the 20th century, as are the street light fixtures and the utility poles. Their historic district commission–and they do have one–is clearly committed to keeping things real without making it too precious. Many homes might benefit from a coat of paint but I find this unaffected, and yet preserved, village core a refreshing pause in an often hyper-restored New England world. [For an interesting article on Royalston that appeared in the Magazine Antiques, click here.]

Many of the roads to Royalston are even more odd. It's as if the Massachusetts road crews have not been near them for a half century. For example, as soon as you cross Route 32 from Richmond into Massachusetts it is a "dodge the potholes and raised patches" proposition. Again, I sense the locals want it that way. Royalston Falls is owned by the The Trustees of Reservations and is a 200+ tract of preserved land with a 45 foot waterfall that drops into a basin (and often a swimming hole in summer). The roads in the region are thickly wooded and there is a sense that you are driving into the past and far away from the world as you know it. It is both an exhilarating and disconcerting feeling.

Before we got to Royalston we went to Sunflower's Café in Jaffrey, New Hampshire for a delicious brunch. Sunflower's has taken the old space that Aylmer's Grille used to occupy before they bought the Woodbound Inn in Rindge. It's still a great bistro-type atmosphere and it's always good to see downtown Jaffrey doing well and revitalized. After brunch we popped into Mindfull Books & Ephemera, a used bookstore on Main Street, and I always find something there that I've never seen before in book world and of course think I need. [This time a special find was an out-of-print cookbook by the incomparable Ivy Vann who, in addition to trying to develop a New Urbanist concept neighborhood on her proposed Larrabee Street in nearby Peterborough, is an amazing cook, knitter, teacher, community and church organizer, and all-around domestic goddess.]

In Richmond, we stopped at Pickering Farm, a quilt shop that had all sorts of yummy fabrics and other goodies and assorted antiques and reproductions. I enjoy fabrics but am not a sewer or quilter. I did, however, buy a transfer pattern of chickens that I can put onto linen toweling and attempt to embroider. This will keep my busy while I watch my Mennonite friends quilt on winter afternoons. And, I like vintage chickens. Linda found a square tin angel food cake pan and I was glad she beat me to it! (Sort of...)

The shop is in an old farmhouse and even the bathroom is well-appointed with charming primitives and other items. The friendly owner, Diana Gallagher, told me that she is hoping to restore her old pantry space that has been a laundry room for decades. I told her about The Pantry and she was happy to purchase it (I happened to have some in the trunk of my car and felt a bit like a peddlar man–a pantry peddler).

Mount Monadnock from Ingalls Road in Rindge, New Hampshire

After we went to Royalston and back, enjoying another country road back to Fitzwilliam again, we took Ingalls Road back to Jaffrey from Franklin Pierce University. This road is a class six road that has been discontinued for most of the way which means it isn't plowed in winter or maintained. It was once a main route to Rindge from Jaffrey. At the other end, in Jaffrey near Gilmore Pond, is the Victorian farmhouse that I used to rent long ago in another time and place when my daughter was a young girl.

On the several mile stretch, and one of the most isolated roads in the region, I literally almost ran into an old high school friend. I recognized the license plate on his SUV, we chatted for a few minutes and on we went. It was a surreal out-of-time experience. Further along, parents of an old friend were outside in their yard so we stopped and visited with them for a little while, too. What began as a drive into the past only ended in an odd drive down Memory Lane. It's been that kind of week.