Found this little guy in a patch of dark rich soil that had accumulated at the corner of the woodshed, in theory from years of sawdust and leaf mold and right in the spot where the badger knocked over the grill last summer. Maybe that was the tipping point. Ash and leaf and earth and dirt and dust become soil. It takes a while for the hard clay of this ground to turn into the kind of fertile anything that will encourage growth beyond wild asters, but, like most things, with the right combination of work and the fortune of circumstance small wonders can spring forth. Can you call it luck? I’m not sure what is more miraculous, that a tiny patch of delicate clover sprung from the nothing of a cool and shady previously inhospitable corner of my world, or that I noticed the little shoots yesterday in the midst of my big-doing-striding-purposefully-around the domain rehanging a broken clothesline and picking up the wreckage of winter… and that the tiny majesty stopped me in my tracks and I turned around to bend over the patch and take in its sweet small gentleness, and among them, there was this: a tiny four leafed clover. Good things are happening and good things are going to keep happening.
This picture doesn’t even begin to do my dear friend Jay’s meadow justice. His new house (which feels ancient and lived in and almost smoky with tangible good vibes even though they just moved in) is bermed into a hillside and the sloping greens on all sides are simply filled to bursting with wild baby’s breath, black eyed susan’s, zinnias, cosmos, feathery coreopsis, plain little daisies, queen anne’s lace, wild yarrow, sunflowers, branching asters, and the whole thing is chock full of bees. He planted it all, wide strides and a linen bag of seeds at his hip, feeding a rain of possibility across the fall-dark naked earth in last year’s chill, and now it’s this. To me it feels like magic, but he’s the kind of man who makes you see that magic like this beauty is just intention with a touch of wonder. After our last visit, just as we were leaving, his sun-kissed bride ran out of the house with one of her precious jars and a pair of Japanese shears in hand and said you must take flowers with you, take as many as you can. These are my kind of people, in every possible way.
This weekend we plucked 26 perfectly ripe tomatoes from the garden… and this cucumber that looks exactly like Slimer from Ghostbusters.
Slimer image from here.
Finally, some Flowers
This is the year of the rookie garden. Someday I will have my mother’s hands and my grandfather’s understanding of what plants need to go where (or at least maybe my other grandfather’s brilliant knack for just hiring someone to do it right), but in the meantime, I’m just playing fast and loose with seeds and starts and trials and errors and sun and shade and just trying to appreciate the loveliness of small successes as I make a (totally delicious) dinner involving 4 peas and 3 radishes. In all of this vegetable garden planning and hand wringing and dirt moving and cucumber roadtripping, I forgot about flowers. So, in some went. Two packets of impulse-purchase dollar-store wildflowers and the entirety of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix (for the bees) sown. Look at these seeds! Strange curlicues, barbed instruments of war, tiny drinking gourds, beach balls, tomatillos, snailshells, armaments, and toboggans. Go forth little seeds, go forth and bloom.
These are Mulberries. I have no idea how I hadn’t heard of them until just this spring. I mean, I knew a Mulberry Tree was a kind of tree that existed and that there was something vaguely to do with silkworms liking them, but that was it. I had NO IDEA that literally EVERYWHERE there are big beautiful Mulberry Trees growing with millions of dark, juicy, sweet, totally edible, totally delicious berries on them just ripe for the picking. I have a bunch of trees growing wild at my house, Sweetheart and I stopped for lunch at a roadside stand and there was a Mulberry Tree in the parking lot (dessert!), even on our block in Brooklyn, right by the bus stop, there are low hanging branches of this sweet fruit (and a bunch of bamboozled people waiting for the bus looking at me funny as I stop en route to the subway every morning to pick+shove a handful of the sticky sweet berries in my mouth). The Mulberry itself tastes most like a blackberry (almost I-dentical, actually), but bigger and juicier than the wild blackberries that are just starting to green up on the thorny embankments around here. So much sweet bounty, just growing for the taking? I say: FREE PIE! When the boys were down visiting from New York, Tony had specifically asked for a pie, so Seth and I took a ladder and a bowl out to the back yard and spent 20 minutes in the tree canopy, picking classically: a berry for the bowl, a berry for me, a berry for the pie, a berry for the pie-hole. We filled our bowl and baked her up. Deee-licious.
This recipe was pretty inexact, which is usually not how I roll with baking, but with a berry pie, (apparently) it doesn’t really matter.
-One large bowl freshly picked Mulberries, enough to fill a tarte pan
-1/4 c. sugar
-2 tbs. flour
-2 piecrusts (I cheated and used pre-made)
-1 egg white
Preheat oven to 400
Toss Mulberries in sugar and flour
Line tarte pan with one pie crust, cutting off any excess, fill with berries
Cut a design into your top crust (or lattice it, or cut a slit… do what you feel! I cut stars)
Dot the top of the filling with as many pats of butter as you are comfortable with
Layer the top crust on top and crimp the edges (again, cutting off any excess)
Lightly whip egg white and brush crust with it
Bake for 15 minutes at 400, reduce head to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown
If you can possibly stand it, let the pie rest until cool so the gooey berry filling will set (cutting the pie warm means the filling will be oozy, you can make your own t-chart about the detriments of oozing filling vs. the benefits of eating warm pie).
Have any of you ever made mulberry pie? mulberry jam? I’d love any stories or recipes since I feel like I just discovered this AND it’s supremely old fashioned (my favorite combo).
Living Things Everywhere
There are living things covering pretty much every surface of the house right now. I used to make it a priority to always have fresh flowers at the Brooklyn brownstone but, with the exception of when I smuggled bundles of fresh apple blossoms from our newly-discovered tree up there last time I went, or when I felt like celebrating something big by dropping some coin at the Chelsea Flower Market for lilacs or anemones, Brooklyn flowers usually means whatever-is-cheapest-at-the-bodega-on-the-way-home-from-work. Slim pickins’. Lots of daisies, the occasional lily, gorgeous hydrangeas that die immediately. Always lovely, never bountiful. But, ah, bounty! Right now we have these beautiful, delicate pink roses that Jeff, chimneysweep and green-thumb extraordinare, brought us yesterday when he came to ready the woodstove for next season and make sure no birds would build their nests in the chimney in the meantime. We have fig cuttings Miss Ravenel brought me from her french fig tree in rooting medium on the windowseat, hoping they’ll take root and we’ll have figs next year. There are peonies blooming on the coffee table (and I stole one for my bedside) courtesy of Abby and Catherine, who came by to get our bride ready last Saturday. There are peonies in the bud at the kitchen sink, brought by my mama. There is a low slung bowl of languorous thyme, trimmed from an unruly transplant. A clear bottle on the kitchen counter with Brookie’s rosemary, a pint glass of mint plucked from by the stairs for juleps. Bud vases of lysianthus and spirea dot the sideboard and on top of the piano, and there are pink trumpet azaleas brought in from the garden to amend the last gasp of sweet Meags’ parrot tulips. It’s a serious bounty, and to be surrounded by such love and beauty is a rare thing indeed.
Seeds don’t care where they grow
These little guys are in. Transplanted in their New York Times paper-starter pots alongside many direct sown seeds they are the only little greenies showing yet in the garden. Boston Pickling cucumbers, Lemon cucumbers (which grow round and yellow), old fashioned White Wonders (which grow fast and white), classic slicing Ashleys, and one solo vine of Costata Romanesca summer squash. While we’ve been waiting and tending and watching and fussing over these precious little heirloom seedlings, we’ve also apparently been forgetting to turn the compost (whoopsie embarrassing). It seems that given half a chance, some cucumber seeds, composted leftovers from last month’s cucumber sandwiches, have sprouted over in the compost bin. Are these little guys from Brooklyn? Hardscrabble seeds flourishing, finding a place to put down roots amongst the Chemex paper coffee grounds and banana peels (and seriously digging the reclaimed-wood-shipping-pallet decor of the compost bin). Brooklyn Cukes indeed. A testament to the power of compost and that maybe we shouldn’t be so precious with our little plants. If they want to grow, they will grow. Can we keep ’em?
When I was little, not little-little, but, tomboy little, 8 or 9 maybe, around this time every year, as soon as it started to get warm enough outside, I’d start going around barefoot. Little by little, short bursts to get the mail, into the backyard (carefully avoiding the deep bed of prickers fallen around the holly trees), across the driveway, ours smooth black asphalt, working up to our dear neighbors ohmygod EXPOSED AGGREGATE the ultimate bane of bare feet. The first liberation of winter white little toes, carpet-soft heretofore be-slippered paws that had been swaddled in socks and winter boots for months. I called it “getting my summer feet”, my 8 year old notion that if I started getting the bottom of my feet prepped in April, by the time June rolled around I’d have leathery indian feet, ready to go in the woods, play kickball on pavement, traverse hot sands, climb seaside and riverdeep rocks, go clamming, and repel splinters and blackberry thorns with ease. Today is the first day it’s been warm enough to go outside barefoot, and as I stepped outside to water our newly transplanted bulbs and yet to sprout seedlings, I thought: Ouch. It’s been YEARS since I’ve let my feet loose from their high-heeled-and-pedicured-city-street-subway-stair-walking duties. YEARS since I had summer feet. And then I thought: YES! The countrification of these feet begin today! Summer feet: 20 years later, now with hot pink nail polish.
With the cold frames comes the (very very very) exciting discussions of what we will be growing in the garden this coming season. Talks of my Mama shelling peas with her grandmother on her porch, thinking about the tiny harvests we’d pull from our Brooklyn backyard, remembering this past summer, heading out to the country on a whim, stopping at Jay’s en route to pull potatoes, get dirty, and jump in the pool. I snapped this picture of his garden map then, as if knowing I’d need as much far off moral support as I could get. Per usual, the more maps you have the better. And hopefully we can have something like this going on too…
On the docket today: building cold frames with Maman, who is bringing up some extra windows for the purpose. For those of you who, unlike me, haven’t been fiendishly googling them for the past two weeks, a cold frame is like a miniature greenhouse, slanted into the sun. They’re good for incubating seeds, rooting clippings, and (perhaps most exciting?) allowing tender lettuces to be grown steps from the back door long after the first frosts come fall. Getting ready for spring!
drawing (and excellent instructions!) from here