To Market, To Market


Two days out from the first week at the new Farmers’ Market in Caribou and I am panicked. We are deluged again with intense showers that sweep in gray veils across the western hills. I am constructing and printing brochures, putting new batteries in the calculator, cleaning out the box in which we store pens, cash box, business cards, table cloths, and hopping the sign I ordered arrives today. If not, I will be printing and laminating a makeshift one tomorrow afternoon.

good food at reasonable prices is a big part of what drives us, and we love being part of the developing local food movement …

I’ve been doing farmers’ markets on and off for more than thirty years. Kasey was an infant when I first packed the old IH Travel-all with produce from our garden and set forth to sell my wares. Even in Portland, we sold a few flowers, excess veggies to neighbors and friends, so feeding people seems to be part of who I am. Three summers ago, Kasey and I launched Goodwives Produce, a name we chose with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks as there are many days when I am sure the husbands would agree we were anything but good wives. But the name is a tip of the hat to that very cheekiness we both have, as well as to the original premise of goodwives.

The website Patches from the Past identifies such women as women of ordinary status who were called Goodwife, a term often shortened to Goody, and that was used much as we use Mrs. Today. Typically these women were expected to provide for the family by spinning, sewing, raising and preserving food, cooking and cleaning while caring for children, and perhaps raising chickens and geese. While things today are much different, women still bear a great deal of the responsibility for such chores, and in our decisions to live beyond the comforts and conveniences offered by urban life, these tasks or others very similar fall to us.

That first summer, we rose at dawn, picked produce like fiends and then packed everything into Kasey’s SUV to drive the 20 miles more or less to the market. We would set up, stay until 2 p.m. or we sold out, and then take everything down, pack it up and return home. We earned a decent amount, almost covering our expenses that year for seeds and tables, and an awning, and other necessities and it started us on our way. The next year, we passed on making the trek, and as Kasey had a new baby, I sold veggies from the farm here in Perham. It was slow going and the year that blight, which originated in seedlings purchased at big box stores, ravaged most of Aroostook County, aided in its fast spread by damp miserable weather not unlike this year’s. Because we grow organically, working our way to certification, we were especially vulnerable, but we persisted.


Last year was better. We sold bushels of beans, peas, summer squash and zucchini, and then in August, much to our delight, CORN! We sold and gave away more than we could count! We also froze 48 quarts of the lovely golden stuff, which Bruce cut from the ears and blanched and stashed in the upright freezer, one of three we have, and which made great eating all winter. The gardens bore prolifically. It was the perfect summer: just enough rain and a period of high temps that boosted the yield of everything. What we couldn’t sell or process – can or freeze – we gave to people we knew could use the extra food.

Last year's corn patch

Now entering our fourth year, we are crossing our fingers and hoping that eventually rain will give way to sun and warmth, that we can fend off the flea and striped cucumber beetles, that people will buy our produce, and come back for more. On this first day, our offerings will be slim as the weather just has not cooperated, but we feel fortunate to have anything. We will have bunches of fresh herbs: mint, chives, oregano, lemon balm, some catnip. Some beautiful little radishes, maybe some very baby beet greens from the things, some Italian lettuce, and most of all, big smiles and a real joy in seeing our customers. Being able to provide good food at reasonable prices is a big part of what drives us, and we love being part of the developing local food movement that may make the difference as transportation and production costs for food keep rising.

So if you are in the Bennett Drive are in Caribou on Saturday morning, stop by and see us, or more precisely me. Kasey has a wedding so I’ll be manning the table by myself. We may not have a lot to offer this first time out, but we will, and you can bet we raised it carefully, wisely, naturally so that we can provide you with the best from our fields for your tables. Check out the market on Facebook or by visiting Caribou Maine Chamber of Commerce and Industry  at

The good old summertime

Open for business

It’s amazing how much things can change in a short time Two weeks ago I was sitting with my old friend Bobbi in her lovely apartment, fifteen floors above midtown Atlanta, loving the time together with her and equally old friend (that’s longevity, not age) Toby. Then there was the stop for a high school graduation with Morgan and watching her and her mother, Mary, loving every minute of her success. As much as I loved the travel, coming home was sweet. With every mile closer, the tension eased from my shoulders.

Mount Katahdin was an old friend as I sped north on 95 toward the Canadian border. I was smug and full of plans for my summer off. Three days later things tipped upside down.

My mother, now almost 85, had some sort of attack as I discussed town politics in the cool of our garage. I managed to catch her before she collapsed n the cement floor, and because she refused to let me call an ambulance, I made the normally 20-minute trip to the hospital in ten. Three days of tests and TLC at the hands of the great nurses and doctors at Cary. However, there is a lesion. Some small insidious dark ring in her brain grows palely on the CAT scan films. His The future holds a trip to Bangor for further tests and a conclusive determination on what it is. We’ll make an event of it, as Bangor is three and a half hours away and offers the temptation of shopping and good restaurants. Perhaps extra time doing that will take the onus off our reason for going.

Then on Monday, Bailey, my boon companion of the past 12 years, had a seizure. We rushed him to the vet, who gently confirmed the seizure, checked Bailey over for general wellness, and gave us the options. We decided to wait and see, rather than acting precipitously, although each moment feels like holding one’s breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Bailey is 13 now, still the funny, loveable Chicken Little dog I rescued from a puppy mill so many years ago. His future is cast, and my heart aches at the thought of not having his velvet ears to rub.


Yet life goes on. After weeks of cold rainy weather, we’ve finally gotten enough sun and heat so that vegetables are leaping up from the ground. Although Bruce jokes about it, I really believe that had I stopped long enough, I could have heard the corn grow! It’s shot up four inches in the last two days and is almost big enough to mulch. Peas are stretching their tendrils as well, and nearby, jewel red and deep purple radishes nestle in their blanket of last year’s oat straw.

The days are busy: basil to plant, lawn (almost two acres) to mow, a second crop of beans to start, tiny leeks to be tucked gently into deep trenches, and potatoes to hill and mulch. We have picked what may be the last of the rhubarb and tucked most of it into the freezer for winter pies and crisps, and along the roadsides, the first strawberry vendors have dropped their tailgates and hung out their red-lettered signs. My mouth waters when I drive buy. Strawberry festivals and strawberry shortcake socials blossom in every small town, and everyone knows nothing is better than fresh berries, home-baked biscuits and REAL whipped cream piled in mountains onto of it all. These events are always sell-outs!

We do not grow strawberries. I am allergic. Even the making of jam has now been taken over by Kasey, and so it is she who picks and hulls and jams and freezes this luscious fruit for the winter. I love strawberries; they don’t like me. But that doesn’t mean we ignore them. Nothing is better than a strawberry rhubarb pie for Thanksgiving, and my grandsons love strawberry preserves on toast and pancakes and muffins and just on a spoon. Nonna’s special strawberry jam they call it, even though now it is my mother and Kasey and sometimes Aunt Sara who stir the ruby preserves, fill the glass jars, and dole out the fruits of the labor.

Today, however, I will make an exception. It is Bruce’s birthday and I will take Benadryl and don rubber gloves to put together a strawberry rhubarb pie which he loves. Strawberries from the vendors, rhubarb from the garden will make it perfect. There will be chicken on the grill with potato salad and a tossed salad with new lettuce and tiny radishes from the garden, and maybe blueberry ginger mojitos, ( which we caught in the Allstar Grillfest on Food Network. Blueberries and mint come right from our efforts, and will be the perfect way to celebrate 61 years well lived.

Happy birthday, babe, and many more! 

Bruce, Emerson and the beloved old Ford tractor


Graduation Day: Of men and mills

Graduation was today, and for a chilly northern Maine day, it was darn good. Two years ago, I agreed to teach an incoming class of about 30 former mill workers.  They had all been laid off by Fraser after the economy economic debacle of 2008. Life as they knew it, had known it for their whole lives, had ended.

They ranged in age from late twenties to late fifties, and most had not been in a classroom since they either dropped out or graduated from high school. Only two were women, and all were terrified. Most would rather have poked their eyes out than be in school, but the TAA program had promised to pay for college and books, pay them to go, and even provide gas money to get them there. With months of no paychecks looming before them, they took the deal.

It wasn’t an easy proposition for any of us. Their skill levels and attitudes were dramatically different, so it wasn’t a matter of simply assigning readings and writings; it was more a matter of helping them to see their lives as different, and more importantly within their control. We stumbled through the first few weeks, circling around each other like dogs just before they begin to fight. There was some snarling, some whimpering, some whining, some growling on both their part and mine, but things started to come together.

They wrote essays, often in shaky pencil because they couldn’t figure out how to make a computer work. I sent the essays back to them marked up in my signature purple pen; often it looked like a winery had exploded on the pages. They threatened to quit, go back to the mill, anything, but have to sit in a classroom. I begged, pleaded cajoled, bribed them with homemade cookies, and kept them reading and writing. We talked about tough issues from the essays we were reading: class in America, a concept they’d never considered; homelessness among college students; a young boy’s furor at his drunken and disturbed father. And slowly, slowly thing started to come together.

At the time, I was dealing with my weird Chiari malformation (the object of another blog later), and it was affecting my life. When I had to travel to Boston to specialists, tmy students  pressed me for details when I returned, and no suitor I had ever had was as solicitous as they were in their concern for my health. We chugged along. With each paper they wrote, there was less purple on the pages and more confidence in their wry grins. A few even began to arrive early for class or stay late afterwards to ask questions, seek my advice.

 They wrote me essays about their worst education experience, and their best. They wrote about how to calibrate one of the stud machines at the mill and how to grow giant pumpkins. A rhythm and pattern began to develop in our group, and they laughed more, ribbed each other with vague references to inside jokes. Their confidence built.  Then the mill began offering them their jobs back.

Several thought seriously about it; one even took Fraser up on the offer. I worried about them like a mother hen, and one afternoon I marched into the room, kicked off my shoes, pulled a chair up to the very front of the room and plunked myself down. I glared at them all.

“We’ve got to talk about this,” I said.

They shifted uncomfortably, went squinty-eyed trying to avoid my gaze. I wouldn’t budge and they knew it, so we talked.

Mill work was good money before 2008. Most of these men and women had homes with mortgages, a couple ATVs, maybe a boat, at least one snow sled, and usually a brand new pickup. After the layoff, as money grew tight, they sold off one toy after another. They were more worried about keeping the mortgage paid, food on the table. Unemployment doesn’t pay much. The temptation to go back to familiar work and what seemed like easy money was great. I wasn’t going to let them go without a fight.

For three class days we discussed their options. They argued they could pay bills, and I acknowledged they were probably right. I countered that they could be laid off again, and they acknowledged I was probably right. Back and forth we went. I’d lie awake at night trying to think of ways to convince them to get new training, new knowledge, new thinking, and then it hit me.

On the next class day I walked in calmly, but instead of pulling my chair out and settling in for another debate, I started writing on the white board: If you could tell Fraser one thing, what would it be? The room was silent. They exchanged furtive glances, and then one brave soul asked, “Does it matter?” Of course it mattered, I told them. It mattered because they shouldn’t just be tossed aside when the mill was done with them and then be expected to limp back when the mill whistled. Of course it mattered because they were discovering that they are good at and good for something other than simply running a sawmill or a stud machine or driving a truck.

“But they’ll never know what it’s like, what it feels like to be us,” one said. “Fraser just doesn’t care.”

There it was. That was the ache that marked their days now: the pain of being unnecessary, and no one at the mill seemingly aware of the struggle they had faced and continued to face. And so, their next assignment was to write a letter to the mill to tell the supervisors, managers, and owners everything they had felt and gone through since the day they got their pink slips.

For almost two weeks, they wrote and rewrote, revised and polished until each of them had a letter they were proud of. For once, the grade that didn’t seem quite so significant. By writing the letter, they had purged the demons of failure, of being taken for granted. They had closure, and I left it up to them whether they would ever mail those letters. I don’t know what they decided.

As that semester came to a close, I made up certificates for all of them,  noting some charming little quirk, or a unique interest, or a newly discovered skill, and on the last day I bought pizza for everyone and gave them their certificates. They were delighted, just like kids getting a gold star.  Then I went home and cried. I was worried that the mill would persist and that some would be tempted to return.

But I underestimated them. They’d had a taste of success, had decided they weren’t as dumb as people had always told them they were, and that they weren’t going anywhere until they had their new degrees.

That happened today. When I walked into the Forum in Presque Isle, they were all milling around nervously, joking with each other. It was the first time I’d seen them all together in two years, and a lump rose in my throat. They’d made it. I helped them get into their robes, put on their stoles and honors braids, attach the tassels to their caps. I hugged them all, and wiped my eyes with the tissues I’d tucked into my sleeve, and clapped my hands sore when they marched across the stage to get their degrees.

Parsnips and oil

I did something last night that’s uncharacteristic of me; I wrote to Maine’s federal legislators. That’s right, I sent carefully considered and carefully worded emails to Senators Snowe and Collins, and to Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud. I wrote about my concern over the rising fuel and oil prices and its impact on the common people who don’t have the disposable dollars to invest in commodity and futures trading. I’ m not sure what I expected and I didn’t ask for a reply, but Sen. Collins and Rep. Pingree both let me know they had received my communication. Sen. Snowe sent me a good response, explaining her position and initiatives to address runaway energy costs, which was nice of her, but I can’t help but feel my concerns, although likely similar to those of thousands of people across Maine and many more thousands across the country are just a few more drops in a seemingly bottomless bucket.

Ever wonder what our elected officials think of us engaging in exercising our right to let them know how we feel about their actions? I do, and often. When I was in the news business, I often found out how they felt about what I thought, and occasionally, the stories and articles I wrote had an impact that resulted in positive change. Now I’m not so sure that the people are ever heard amidst the clamor of multinational corporations and lobbyists advancing their own causes. But I thought it might be worth the effort, and today when I drove into Presque Isle to pick up my gown for graduation tomorrow, I felt the rightness of my decision.

In Caribou, about ten miles north of Presque Isle, which is Aroostook’s biggest city, the gas prices still hovered around $4.20 a gallon, but at one station in Presque Isle, they had somehow miraculously dropped from the high on $4.21 a gallon on Wednesday when I was last in town to $4.11 a gallon. While I should have been delighted, it made me wonder just how much of what we spend on petroleum-based energy actually has to do with supply and demand or production levels, and how much has to do with simple greed. That’s not to imply that I think the gas station owners are price gouging. Rather, I think that those people with the cash to gamble see oil as a sort of roulette table. Put enough cash on the table and eventually the number’s going to come up.

That’s fine if you’ve got money to burn, but what about those who don’t? What about seniors who have to decide whether to buy food, prescriptions, or oil to heat their homes. What about the students at the college where I teach who were laid off almost three years ago because of risky behavior by big financial investment firms and banks? Some of them have struggled to come up with the money for gas to drive to school to attend classes to acquire the skills that they need to try to find a new job to support their families. Who is looking out for them, and why do they have to b held hostage to the greed of others. Money is nice to have, don’t get me wrong, but is it right for others to profit extravagantly on the backs of others? I think not. Maybe what we should all do is take a minute and send messages to our federal officials letting them know that bad behavior, that benefiting from someone else’s misery is just not acceptable.

When we moved here to the wilds of Aroostook, we made the decision to live more deliberately. We grow about 60 percent of our own food, and what we can’t grow we try to buy locally. All told, almost 80 percent of that food comes from within five miles of our home. And by buying locally, we eat healthier and we support others who are trying to eke out a living. We also cut wood from our land and burn it for heat so we have a buffer from rising prices, and we drive a Prius and a small pickup truck, not one of those big, chest-thumping gas guzzlers, but just enough for hauling straw and other thing we need for the farm and our life. It would be nice if everyone saw their life through this kind of lens.

However, that’s not the American way, or at least we don’t seem to believe it is the American way, and so seniors may continue to go cold or hungry, and students may not be able to get to school, and parents may not be able to feed their families. Seems a little feudal to me, but as one commentator for WCSH in Portland used to say, that’s our opinion; we welcome yours. I’m going out to dig parsnips.

I love parsnips! They come out of the ground each spring, chilled from wintering over and so sweet they are almost beyond describing. Dig them early, though, before they start putting out new roots because once the grab on to the soil after a long winter sleeping, they are nearly impossible to pull out!.

One of my favorite ways to eat them is roasted with carrots. We’ve not taken to wintering carrots over yet, so they are a bit flaccid, verging on heading south. Maybe next year we’ll leave a crop in so that both the carrots and parsnips are crisp and cold and sweet.  We buy Harris Model seed, which is available from Sustainable Seed, from whence this picture comes.

We buy Harris Model seed, which is available from Sustainable Seed, from whence this picture comes.

Roasted Parsnips and Carrots

1 pound of parsnips, peeled and quartered then cut to 2 ½ – 3 inch lengths

1 pound carrots, prepared the same as for the parsnips.

5 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup low-sodium chicken stock (for vegetarian or vegan, use vegetable broth)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

4 teaspoons drained, bottled horseradish (Bruce makes his own each fall from the horseradish bed out back)

1/2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 garlic clove, minced.


While you’re peeling and cutting and chopping and mincing the veggies, pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Put the carrots and parsnips in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper and toss until well coated. Now pour the whole shebang into a large roasting pan, with sides no more than 2 inches high. Add the broth, cover with aluminum foil and roast, stirring once or twice, until the carrots and parsnips are tender and the stock has evaporated or been absorbed, 20-45 minutes (depending on how tender the parsnips are to begin with). Check often so they don’t get too mushy.

Meanwhile, combine the softened butter with the horseradish, parsley, and garlic and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the roasted veggies to a serving dish and toss with horseradish butter and serve.

Yummy! I love this  with roasted lamb or ham!

Serves 6.

Harriers and Hawks

The rain has at last let up and Bruce actually got SG-1 rototilled today in preparation for planting. A third of the way in a twenty-foot long row of lettuce planted last year and wintered under plastic glows almost neon green against the brown soil, and at the back edge, shy rhubard pokes its head hesitantly through the layer of mulch.

We have seen no sign of asparagus yet, and we are anxious as we have waited the requisite three years for this favorite of springtime vegetables. Parsnips are coming snowy white and sweet from the edge of SG-3 where they have wintered well under a thick blanker of oat straw raised in The Valley.  The broccoli, cauliflower, brussels, and borccolini went to the cold frame this afternoon to harden off before they take up residence in the garden, and tomatoes and peppers huff and stretch impatiently to the sunlight beyond the window on the eat side of the kitchen.

School is done, at long last, and this morning was to be my first day to sleep in. Hannah had other plans. She woke us with her high thin whine,pleading to go out,  shortly after 5:30. Dawn rosed the eastern sky beyond the fuzzy poplars and the spiked spruce. To the west a stubborn ledge of steely clouds drifted slowly north. And then there were moose on the lawn, a big bull coming from the southwest, and a matronly cow from the northwest, each intent of the tender tips of our young birches. Bruce and I rushed out doors, hands clapping, the belt of my pale blue bathrobe flapping behind me in the cool dawn. They looked at us with mild disdain, and then as we advanced with determined stride, turned tail and ran crashing back into the red stick and young popples, and disappeared.

We have had hawk adventures this week, too. The harrier, snowy white with black wing tips and nearly as large as a bald eagle, has swooped over the field in lazy parabolas for days now. The back field is home to mice and voles, and easy hunting for the deadly silent harrier. We welcome the help with pest control. But there have been others two, a few kestrels, a red-tail, and another we have not yet been able to identify. Yesterday Bruce glanced out the bedroom window beyond the garden at what he though must well be a woodchuck. Thinking to dispatch it, he ran for the 22, but when he hit the back yard the woodchuck had turned sideways, and turned out to be a large dark hawk, apparently enjoying the rewards of a hunt. Bruce was so astonished he didn’t even get a good look And then last night  just before dark, he was in the garage when there was a tremendous thump on the southeast corner. Expecting that a bird of some sort had flown into the garage, Bruce went out just in time to see a small hawk rising from the lawn with a seemingly unconscious starling  clutched in its talons. All we can surmise is that the hawk chased the starling into the garage and then carried it off for supper. This hunting and swooping and carrying off may seem harsh, but it is part of the pattern of life here, and often has more predictability than the actions of humans.

Generally, our world is rich with new life. A den of new coyotes yipped and whined at the fulling moon, the vernal pools resonant with frogs, and sometimes if it is very still we can hear a mother bear hoot for her cub. Life moves on, and we revel in its simplicity.

April Rain and Pea Soup Fog

Although we’re not used to spring coming early here on the edge of the north Maine woods, April certainly fooled us this year, dropping seven-and-a-half inches of slippery heavy wet snow. For a short time, it was welcome as it covered the ragged, mud-stained snow banks along our dirt roads, but then the reality hit us. Melting slush and oozing mud made driving tough for a few days, but we pulled through, keeping ourselves busy with last minute orders from seed companies and nurseries.

While most of our orders have been placed and arrived from Fedco, High Mowing, and Southern Exposure, there is always the last minute oops of forgotten items and a few add-ons that caught our eye as we finished the layouts of the garden plots for this year. We found heirloom organic Golden Bantam corn and organic Roma tomatoes at Sandhill Preservation, and also decided to order wild plums from St. Lawrence Nursery. Golden Bantam was my childhood favorite, especially during the year or so we lived in the Berkshires. A few miles down Route 8 from us, near Winsted, Connecticut, an enterprising farmer planted acres of this terrific corn, and my father oft stopped to pick up a dozen ears for supper on his way home. This lovely little ear has fallen out of favor, giving way to more disease and pest resistant and higher-yielding hybrids, but seeing the seed made my mouth water in anticipation of plump summer ears dripping with butter. There’s absolutely nothing quite as terrific as just-picked corn rushed up to the kitchen just before supper, and while we often grill a few ears every summer, the old plunged-into-boiling water method is still my favorite. I can hardly wait!

Roma tomatoes are another jewel we almost lost to horticultural improvement. WE grew these for years in our small urban garden, and then suddenly organic seed was hard to find. It was nice to discover them again. These toothsome paste tomatoes pair well with the Italian San Marzanos (available through Seeds of Italy) to make terrific basil and roasted garlic spaghetti sauces that we can each fall. The two varieties create just the right consistency and taste to satisfy our winter appetites. My friend Marie, who lives in Georgia where tomatoes grow easily, luxuriating in the steady heat of southern summers, said that she refused to share any more than a bite or two of the jar we sent her with her family!

The wild plums are an add-on to this year’s plans, but descriptions in the St. Lawrence catalog promise they will grow into a thicket and produce enough plums for eating, the birds, and neighborhood children, which means the grandkids! I also love plum jam, and as an added benefit, these wild shrubs have lovely blossoms to entice native bees to the rest of the garden. They’ll also make a nice windbreak along the western edge of one of our largest garden plots, which will help protect the perennial herbs I am starting there from the fall and winter winds that blow down out of Canada. We opted for the plums this year rather than cherries, which we had been considering, only because we have a spot all ready for the seedling bushes, and the cherries, substantially larger, would take more labor and time to get in to a proper home. They can wait for another year as we buy them from Sam Blackstone at Circle B, who has also supplied us with blueberry bushes.

Gray days pass slowly, and although today is warmer, the world is awash in water from a fine drizzle, and the woods across the road are shrouded in fog as thick as the pea soup bubbling on the stove. Old-timers claim fog melts the snow, and it has proven true again; the snow banks are shrinking, the driveway nearly bare, but the dampness keeps us inside hugging the fire and dreaming of seedlings yet to sprout. By the end of this week, the folding tables will be set up in front of every available window, and plastic trays full of peat pots will be lining them. We have so much planting to do to meet both our needs and the demands of a slowly growing core of customers who drive to our out-of the-way location to be our fresh produce. This year promises to be a busier one as we should see our first significant crop of raspberries, which will likely draw in new customers and potentially expand our market. Everyone loves berries!

Some friends laugh at the foolishness of our farming venture, but playing in the dirt makes both of us happy, and it’s nice to know we have a buffer from ever-rising food prices, and the security of knowing what has not been sprayed on our food, which, to some degree, nourishes three familie, throughout our long winters. There’s comfort in the pea soup simmering on the stove, and the steamy goodness fills the house, a cozy defense against the steadily increasing rain outside. We make our pea soup from peas we grew last summer and dried. In early winter, Bruce shells and cleans the hard peas, some green, some yellow, and we store them in glass jars for good eating all winter.

My pea soup is old-fashioned, flavored with leftovers from a baked ham or ham hocks, and slow cooked,  rich with root vegetables – carrots, potatoes, onions we also grew. Because we use regular peas, it requires a bit more processing than if we grew peas just for soup, but we love the mix of flavors and the security of knowing we raised most of this meal ourselves, as with so many others we eat.  Making pea soup this way takes patience and time, but is well worth the effort.

Old-fashioned Pea Soup

2 c. dried green or yellow split peas                                         2-3 lbs. ham hocks or leftover ham

A large carrot, peeled and halved                                             3 small potatoes, scrubbed or peeled

1 large onion, cut in half                                              6 c. water

Put the ham or hocks, carrot, onion, and potatoes in a large kettle with the water, Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer an hour and a half.

Drain off and save the broth. Set aside ham and cooked vegetables. Return broth to kettle and bring to a boil. Pour in dried peas. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cut meat from ham hocks or dice up left over ham. Set aside.

When peas have cooked until they are swollen, gently pour peas and broth into a food processor, a little at a time if necessary. Add reserved cooked onion, potatoes and carrot to peas and broth. Lightly process mixture and return to kettle. Add diced up ham and stir to mix in. Cover and bring to simmer and cook until hot. Great served with whole grain crackers or crusty bread.  

Supper will be toasted English muffin bread and soup, and we are blessed and nourished by the knowledge that we have control over our life here at the edge of the North Maine woods.

High spirits

Salmon Lake Brook Bog

The cusp of late winter/early spring with a light downy snow falling outside creates strange things. Bruce has turned vinter. Several gallons of new chokecherry wine, sweet with sugar, spicy with raisins, has begun fermenting in the back hall. We picked the cherries last fall, 15 pounds of them from along the road and the fieled lanes around the farm. Five pounds went to jelly in the late days of September; the other ten have spent the winter in the freezer awaiting their fate in the wine barrel.
We are scrambling to ressurect and wash the bottles we have gathered over the winter from dinners with friends, quiet conversations by the fire, Wednesday evenings with the writer’s group. Once the chokecherries have turned themselves from bitter fruit to spiritous liquors, they will be cycled into carboys, sealed with fermenation locks and left to brew before being siphoned into bottles and laid into cradles to develop character.
The wine making began when we started setting up peat pots in plastic trays, tamping tomato and squash seeds, peppers and pumpkins, brussels and broccoli into starting soil for this year’s garden.With the promise of such bounty from the back field, we are anxious to empty the freezers, so we’ll make blackberry wine, blackberry cordial, and blackberry jelly from the  almost 80 pounds of berries a New Hampshire friend picked, bagged and brought to use in coolers during the heat wave of last August, and then begin the process again with the blueberries frosen then too.

We are drunk with the possibilities of imbibing in the fruits of our own labors. Bruce is even mumbling that perhaps we will gather dandelions too and turn those into a beautiful pale gold wine, and I have vissions of pounds of elderberries combined with Concord grapes to make elder-grape.

Now the search begins for bottles.