Local peaches and plums from Harvey Hoover's expert orchard.
One of my favorite books from early childhood was an illustrated edition of Eugene Field's Victorian-era poem, The Sugar-Plum Tree. Another book in the same format and by the same author was a bedtime favorite, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, which also featured The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. [Readers of The Pantry might also note that I included a quote from Field on the very last page of the book, one of my favorite descriptions of why I love a pantry.] If we were entirely unpacked–one day!–I would be able to locate the book in an ideal world and photograph some of its lovely, memorable images. Perhaps you, too, have favorite childhood picture books that you'd look at for hours on end, before you could even read? What I loved about the book, especially, is that it made me crave fruits and berries, not candy or sweets (OK, well, I could have eaten the chocolate cat and gingerbread dog on many occasions!).
In our on-line book group over at Cupcake Chronicles, we've been reading food-related books this summer, starting with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She describes, in good detail and with recipes, her family's food journey in one year to eat more locally and sustainably from their Appalachian farmstead and environs. It is an admirable idea and involved her husband and daughter, too. As a mother and chief cook, I imagine it would have to involve the whole family, as it should.
Reading this book has made me think more about eating red, delicious strawberries in season and trying to buy, as much as possible, fruits and vegetables in season (and canning and freezing them for winter). It is a feat only possible with sacrifice and one I'd like to at least attempt. [Now I can better appreciate why citrus fruits were so precious to the early colonists and later pioneers.] We already shop locally for–and are starting to raise–most of our foods. My goal is to go to a big grocery store once a month, if necessary. [Another reason to have a pantry and root cellar! Sometime I will share our root cellar woes...]
We live near Casey County where there are abundant produce markets and auctions and even farmers who will often sell things right out of their patch. As of mid-July the summer squash, cukes, corn, beans, new potatoes, onions and tomatoes are in, as well as local peaches and plums. Lettuce and peas are May events here (into early June, if you're lucky, because of the heat that kicks in).
The strawberries are long gone, the local blueberries are dwindling but the wild blackberries, bring 'em! (We've found a thicket of them near one of our fields and will be heading there soon.) And soon there will be cantaloupe (or "mush melon" as they call it here, an altered version for "musk melon") and watermelon–lots and lots of watermelon! Summer apples are also starting to come in as well as local peaches and plums.
Last week I was even surprised to find rhubarb still at the local produce market at South Fork. I chopped it up, like celery, and threw it into quart bags in our freezer for winter pies, cobblers, maybe some jam or chutney, when or if I'm inspired. [While I was away in June, my friend Anna did the same thing for us–and for herself–with some rhubarb we had ordered from a local farmer.] In the meantime, I'm pleased that the clumps of rhubarb I dug from my old New Hampshire garden last year–offspring several times over of the rhubarb at the Gray Goose Farm where I grew up–is doing well in their pots in the shade, waiting for me to figure out where to put them! Now, that's patient rhubarb.
Last Friday, which seems to be working out for me for produce runs, I got a craving for something to munch late afternoon. A friend of mine had a daughter out selling blueberries for $2.00 a pint. I don't know if they were local but I bought one and munched it down. Delicious and way better than grabbing a peach cream-filled donut at Sunny Valley Bulk Foods! I also went to 501 Produce, more off the path for us, where I bought three quarts of blueberries for our freezer. The week before I had bought twelve pints of blueberries at the produce auction for $3.00 each. A bit high but I wanted them. Our own bushes, twelve of them, are five-year old transplants and have just started to bear this summer. We managed to get a gallon or so.
My own first Kentucky garden is still pathetic. Here is the object lesson: if you are fortunate to go away for two weeks by yourself, in early June when the garden is just starting to crank, don't expect your husband to tend your garden amidst everything else! In other words, mulch, mulch, mulch before you leave and no "crab, crab, crab" upon return, even though your garden is choked in crab grass. I've managed to unearth the pepper and tomato plants from their crab grass prisons and I got the cabbage and broccoli in too late for them to head (now it is too hot). Our plan is to let the chickens "have at" the garden as soon as tomatoes are done. Then we'll till it up and try some fall or late summer crops. After that, lots and lots of chicken house compost that can percolate for the winter. The nice thing about gardening is that there is always another season.
Meanwhile, as always, anything in a container or pot or window box–like most of my flowers and porch plants–is thriving. Maybe that is just the way I should garden, especially with the abundance of local produce almost at our doorstep. At least that's what my husband thinks: grow berry bushes and fruit trees and leave the rest to Casey and Pulaski County farmers. But if I'm anything, it's both stubborn and determined.
I've included two pages of another version of the poem, from a beloved set of childhood classics that I found years ago in a bookshop when my daughter was little, The Bookhouse, edited by Olive Beaupré Miller. It comes in a rainbow of volumes and progresses in reading readiness and ability. My grandmother had a set for her children when they were young and I used to spend long hours reading them on summer days at the Gray Goose Farm. The illustrations are the best and typical of the 1920s and 30s in children's literature. Some publisher would do well to reprint them (and they would be great for homeschoolers, too–they can still be found, on occasion, in used bookshops). In case the print is too fine for your eyes, here is the written poem. Now, doesn't it make you want to eat fruit?
However, as my now 21-year old daughter used to love to repeat when I read this poem to her, "HURRAH for that chocolate cat!"
The Sugar-Plum Tree
by Eugene Field
Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
'Tis a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollipop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;
The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
(As those who have tasted it say)
That good little children have only to eat
Of that fruit to be happy next day.
When you've got to the tree, you would have a hard time
To capture the fruit which I sing;
The tree is so tall that no person could climb
To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!
But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
And a gingerbread dog prowls below---
And this is the way you contrive to get at
Those sugar-plums tempting you so:
You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
And he barks with such terrible zest
That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
As her swelling proportions attest.
And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
From this leafy limb unto that,
And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground---
Hurrah for that chocolate cat!
There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains
As much as your apron can hold!
So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
And I 'll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.