Not only sourdough, but so many other things I’m grateful for today. However, sourdough was a good way to wrap up yesterday and begin today.
I started these sourdough cinnamon buns yesterday afternoon, making the dough from starter that Ruth gave me many years ago. I’m grateful for the gift of this ‘mother’ that has kept on giving for these many years, just as the friendship has. I’m grateful for friends who can go a year without speaking and pick up right where we left off. I’m grateful for this fermenting dough starter that Ruth shared with me, and I’ve kept alive in my refrigerator for… how many years? And grateful that I’ve been able to share it with other kitchens in the valley.
The dough was super sticky, and I added a lot of flour on the board as I pressed it out to the right size rectangle…
I let them rise overnight in the mudroom, which cooled down to around 60 degrees F. Then I brought them into the house and put them in the sun to warm up for a couple of hours before baking. They came out so light and fluffy, and doubled in size before I put them in the oven.
While they were rising, Stellar and I walked to the canyon rim. He was having a good morning. The cottonwoods nourished by the seep are starting to turn yellow, though it’s hard to see in this picture. Soon enough! I’m grateful that the Best Boy Ever has made it to another autumn!
I’m grateful for the work, the reading, and the correspondence that filled my day between breakfast and homesteading in the afternoon. I’m grateful even in receipt of unfortunate news from a dear friend, because he chose to deliver it to me himself, in a heart-touching phone call, rather than let it catch me by surprise on social media. I’m grateful for our adventures together through the years, our lasting connection, our special photographic bond; grateful that our friendship transcends the mundane challenges of space and time.
And then it was time to can a round of tomato sauce. Using a mix of Amish Paste and Pizzutello fruits, I roasted them just enough to loosen the skins so I could pinch them off, then mashed the tomatoes into sauce in the Dutch oven, with dried herbs and garlic granules.
Finally, at ten p.m., I hung up my apron and sat down to rest, listening to those gratifying pops, one lid… two… three, four… five… … … and finally six. Six sealed jars of garden fresh tomato sauce put up. The tip of the iceberg, with so much more to ripen in the next several weeks. I’m grateful, as always, for the rare and precious opportunity to experience joyful adventures in food: garden to table, fridge to oven, stovetop to pantry.
One of my best friends this summer has been the peach tree.
With James and the Giant Peach entrained early in life, there has always been something special to me about peaches, and this tree itself holds such meaning. Maybe that story is also why I love bugs and all other living creatures. That story, and “Are You My Mother?”
One of the first fruit trees I planted here, over the graves of a dog and a cat, I planted in memory of a woman I loved, Daryl Ann. She died of breast cancer twelve years ago, and lives in my heart for all time. So it’s a special tree, the peach tree.
It took a few years before it made more than a few peaches, and even since has only produced a bounty of peaches once before. This year, against the freeze odds, it made so many! I thinned, as I’ve been taught to do, a few weeks after the tree itself shed almost half its first flush of tiny green fruits. I’ve paid particular attention to it since then, nurturing with extra food and water, watching the growth and ripening of fruits closely, monitoring it daily for the past month in order to catch the most peaches as ripe as possible before the birds get them all.
On cold snowy days in spring, hot sunny days in summer, the oppressive smoky days of high fire season, cooler ripening days, I’ve spent time with the peach tree, dusting early for aphids before they could cripple early leaves, thinning, communing, watering, weeding around, photographing; generally keeping company with the peach tree, hanging out with and appreciating it.
A month of smoke from wildfires
and finally, ripening!
Cocktails with the peach tree before first harvest
This summer’s first peach harvest, about a third of what was on the tree. I watched and waited every day, until after a big wind I saw a couple of peaches on the ground. That evening I picked every peach that would let go easily.
Plenty of peaches left, growing brighter every day.
The August Manhattan includes a dash of peach bitters in addition to the regular Angostura and the secret ingredient, and is garnished with chunks of fresh peach.
We made a peach pie with the last frozen peaches from two years ago, in anticipation of a fresh harvest. Thawed slightly sitting out, or 20 seconds or so in the microwave, the peels slip off easily and flesh pops right off the pit. Thanks, cuz, for taking pictures!
Silicone mat (thanks, neighbor!) makes crust rolling easy.
The second harvest from the tree, a bowl to share and a bowl to keep.
And STILL peaches ripening on the tree, irresistible after a light rain. Altogether I picked three big bowls, and a few in between, always only pulling those that gave up easily.
An early sign that I’d better get the last of them off the tree…
… and after birds, just a picked-clean pit. I did leave a couple of dozen on purpose for the birds, including one with a perfect view from the patio, so I could catch someone in the act.
Last peaches, gifts for birds, glowing in the August sunset.
… the best part of the August Manhattan.
The peach tree finally at rest after a fruitful season.
Mindfulness teaches us to be with all things as they arise, and let them pass through us in the moment, and move on. May I remember to be with both despair and joy as they come, and let them play on through.
The fruit trees are generous this summer, and none more so than the apricot. Throughout the valley, peaches, pears, apples, all ripen extravagantly. A banner cherry harvest for the commercial orchards, and I’ve enough in the freezer for three pies thanks to Ellie and her prolific sour cherries, tiny shiny scarlet globes best pitted with a simple squeeze between fingers and gentle tug on the stem, too small for the pitter. No one has seen a fruit year like this for a very long time. Everyone is grateful.
Everyone is rolling in apricots. Neighbors are having a cookout to lure people to take away theirs. Suzi is generously drying the first round from my tree, and I’ve just picked the third. As many remain on the tree as I’ve already harvested. I’m staying just ahead of the birds; they peck the very ripest and every few days I pick what’s almost perfect and finish ripening on the counter. I get lucky and find some at their peak unpecked.
The more I pick the more I see I never saw before. Fred tried to warn me: Don’t be greedy, he said, and encouraged me weeks ago to thin them to a fist width apart. I couldn’t do it. I did thin them some, a couple of times, as I did with the peaches both before and after he gave me a hands-on lesson. Eight or ten peaches on a limb this size, he said. Maybe I should go thin them again, if the apricots are any indication. Which, of course, they are. I’m so grateful for his pruning, his advice, his instruction.
I have three times more apricots in one wooden bowl than I’ve ever had on this tree in all its fifteen years. (When did I plant it? Fifteen? Twenty years ago? Somewhere in between? I’m grateful I can no longer remember everything. It makes interacting with people easier, but it doesn’t really help in the garden.) Fresh apricot recipes are stacking up in my recipe folder. The tortoise and the mule deer eat those that drop, or that I throw over the fence if they’re scarred or nibbled or too green, or if there’s a wasp feasting inside.
The apricot tree after the third picking… still plenty ripening for people and other animals. Never in any of my gardens through the years have I seen such bounty.
I’ve harvested three big bowls and one small one in the past week, with more to come. A generosity of apricots. And still they glow in abundance on the bright green tree, strolling grey storm clouds behind them. An uncontrollable satisfaction rises in my soul, the joy of a gardener. Because of me, the time, the water, the help tending through the years, this fruit tree thrives and gives back lavishly this summer.
Another summer tree didn’t fare so well last week, a big juniper. We had a knock-down drag out lightning storm. People were talking about it for days. It was right on top of us, some said. I felt the electricity, said others. It was SO loud! more exclaimed. At Tai Chi, Deborah said The whole sky lit up, you could see every leaf, and there was a bolt through it, and in the bolt a fireball. Twice I saw that. I saw it and thought, Did I really just see that? And then it happened again.
In twenty-four years in this valley I haven’t experienced a lightning storm quite like that. An occasional strike too close for comfort in a wide-spread or fast moving cell. Once while I was standing in my open French door lightning struck a juniper not far in front of me and knocked me back a step. But never an intense cluster for fifteen minutes right on top of the neighborhood, one hard bolt after another, sky lighting up and crashing in the same instant, over and over. The dogs pressed close on the couch where I lay watching a movie. Then it passed, and we all started to relax.
After awhile I smelled smoke. Oh no! From the tower I scanned all directions and could not see flame or flickering, but the strong smell blew on a steady wind from the south. I called dispatch and learned that a truck was on the way to a burning tree somewhere in the next block.
I couldn’t sleep for hours. I climbed the tower again and checked the air before turning in, and found it sweet and pure.
It turned out Cynthia had also smelled smoke, ventured out with a lantern toward the canyon, and found the burning tree, initiating the chain of calls that led the brave fire laddies to it. Grass was burning all around it, she said. It was scary! It could have lit the woods on fire and burned down all our houses if she hadn’t located it right away. It was scary. The volunteer fire department put it out and chopped up the tree with chainsaws to make sure the fire didn’t lie down overnight, to spring up again the next hot dry day with a breeze.
It happens sometimes that a fire lies down in a snag or a hollow and smolders for hours or days before just the right wind ignites it and literally blows it up into a sudden monster fire, like the Wake Fire outside Paonia in ’94. A guy dutifully went out that night and put out the tree, but it blew up the next morning while the whole community was downtown celebrating July 4th at the Cherry Days Festival. The fire burned 6000 acres and three homes in just two days, at that time the fastest fire on record in the state.
Or just across the mesa in ’05 when a ditch burn crept into a stump and lay down for days after the rancher thought he’d extinguished it. Ladies started arriving for a Clothes Exchange, and when I greeted them at the gate after setting up the patio, they said What’s that behind you? A thick plume of black smoke rose beyond the trees. A dozen women ate and drank and tried on each others’ cast-off clothing as a helicopter hauled water from the reservoir and the slurry plane flew overhead. We were half naked anyway and flashed our tops. The pilot dipped his wing. Ellie called to report that a half dozen more guests were turned away at the fork in the road, the mesa was closed at all roads leading in, and we might be evacuated in ten minutes. There was a scramble to load up the Mothership with pets and valuables just in case.
The day after Cynthia’s Tree burned up, a gullywasher, a real Florida frog choker my visitor called it, dumped half an inch in half an hour, with only a few thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the distance. The monsoons are upon us. That evening we went down the road for dessert. It was a relief to know the smoke that greeted us came from the fire in the metal pit that would toast our marshmallows, on a perfect cool summer night in the warm company of our million dollar neighbors.
Gourmet s’mores made with Lindt salted caramel chocolate, pre-melted in a skillet in the fire.