Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chapter 20: Tiemann's Memoir/Blueberries

Following Chapter 20, and Tiemann's memoirs of summer gardening, its all about blueberry season in Cavendish and how you can help the Cavendish Historical Society by picking the best organic blueberries in Vt.

 For the prelude and links to all of the chapters go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

We had kept the calf thru the winter, planning to have “baby beef” the next fall. He was turned into the pasture with the other animals and was doing nicely. I also invested in a piglet to be fed on skim milk and later, on cull apples and corn, For him we fixed up the low shed, which had sheltered the old water trough before I built a new one. To hold this active little creature required a substantial board fence, and his rather small yard had to be kept clean and as dry as possible both for his health and to avoid objectionable odors. On the loose a pig probably would be as clean as any animal-not considering a plastering of mud, as they do enjoy wallowing - but when confined he will, if he can, clam­ber into his feed trough, and roll in any much available. So he needed a good deal of care. In the fall we planned to put him in an unfinished section of the chicken coop until it became cold enough to butcher, probably around Thanksgiving. Two sections of the chicken shed now wore-in use. The outside was partly unfinished as I worked at it off-and-on, using roofing felt under shingles. The protective material over the wire screening had proved excellent.

I started to plow a new garden spot in the north-east mowing, turning over about half of its three acres. This was not near enough to the house to be really convenient, but it was dry, and following a good dressing of barnyard manure and ground limestone it proved quite fertile.

The difficulties here (along with the inevitable witch grass) were elm tree roots. The north boundary wall was lined with fine old trees, and as I got over toward them 1 began to have. trouble. No one would have believed how far those tough roots could extend, just below the surface,  except my neighbor: who stood and laughed at me as they kept tripping the plow and I cussed. I had to leave a good deal wider border than I had planned. Yet I had the last laugh, as this land grew very fine sweet-corn.

The newly-broken ground (it should have been done the previous fall so the sod could rot) I left for a time while I barrowed hay-seed into the area of the large. mowing where feed-crops had been the year before. A bit above this (the field had an easterly slope) I put in an acre of field- corn. “You can buy mixed grain cheaper than you can raise it” was the general opinion. Not quite convinced, I put in half an acre of oats north of the barn-yard. But this was the last time I planted small grains except as a nurse crop (mixed with hay-seed, the heavier growth protects the tender new grass and provides stouter hay the first year,) Cows unquestionably do better on a balanced ration such as the commercial feed companies provide. And I had no further need for oats as in the course of the summer I sold Dan and did not replace him.

This came about unexpectedly. A man from Reading Stopped by one day and asked if I would sell my horse. At first I said no but upon thinking it over it seemed perhaps a good idea. The hay was\in and for the rest of the year Dan would be pretty much a boarder with little to do. Without him there would be more hay to sell or trade for labor. As he grew older standing around in the pasture would do him no good, and the cows would have better grazing. So I first made a deal with the second-mortgage hold­er (as that mortgage included the live-stock) to pay something on account; and having agreed on a price which suited both the buyer and myself the sale was made. I missed the old fellow when he was gone but we were better off. We never again kept a horse.

Speaking of pasture, this always was a weak spot in our farming (and the same applied to many places.) A pasture needs to be kept up. If grazed year after year with little or no attention as ours had been, brush and scrub trees encroach and nutritious grasses are replaced by light “June grass” and weeds except where animal droppings have supplied fertility.

The Windy Hill pasture area was about half woods, useful chiefly as a retreat on hot days and young growth was damaged by being cropped when better feed was lacking, Being anxious to have our present cows produce and also to build up the herd, I made an effort to improve matters by top dressing with chemical fertilizers and ground limestone. This helped somewhat but was not sufficient. The soil was hard and should have been turned over and had organic matter added and then been seeded. As I found with other endeavors, half-measures never are satisfactory.

This particular spring my greatest interest was to have a good kitchen garden. I pulled out a great number of severed elm roots, Then the sods fortunately were dry enough so that they broke up easily under the disc harrow, and after repeating the operation a couple of times I had a sat­isfactory bed. Then it was a bit late\for peas, which should go in as soon as the ground can be worked,- preferably early April altho this seldom is possible in this country of long winters. Succession plantings made weekly apace out the crop. Being late, I got in only two plantings, The same applied to spinach, which, when it comes fresh from the garden, the family always has enjoyed. Then the seedlings started in February in flats indoors could be set out, beginning with cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower which are hardy, Tomatoes, peppers, and egg-plant don’t stand frost and so usually have to wait until Decoration Day [Memorial Day]. Meantime I could put in the various root crops and lettuce; and toward the end of the month beans and corn (“when the maple leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear”.) A few pumpkins planted with the corn took no extra space and were nice to have (the children liked to have big ones for Halloween) altho they prevented clean cultivation when they began to “run.” And finally some varieties of squash; cucumbers; melons; and citron. Several were experimental and we did not try again. Both watermelons and muskmelons were doubtful as to maturity and thereafter unless the planting season was un­usually early we skipped them, The same applied to eggplant. Citron and chard no one liked well enough to repeat. Some varieties of tomatoes we liked better than others, and also squash. This is all a matter of family taste.

Being city people we first put in pea beans for drying and shelling, then one of Isabel’s friends suggested Maine Yellow-eyes, a larger bean, and tastier, so this became our standard, “Sojer” (soldier) beans are another local favorite but did not appeal to us, - That year I also put in pota­toes, We did not depend upon them as a staple of diet as did most Vermont­ers and we came to the conclusion that the small quantity we needed could be purchased as cheaply as they could be grown, not to mention the labor of planting and cultivating and spraying and digging with a chance of losing at least part of the crop to blight.

Then we set out our first red raspberries,» two short rows in one corner of the garden. The canes as received from the nursery were flourishing and the children couldn’t understand why they had to be pruned back, nor why - after a long summer of weeding - berries should not be picked the first year. 

Later on, however, the fine fruit made up for the trouble and was one of our most successful crops. Any kind of mulch between the rows, even old burlap bags or sawdust; helped to control the weeds; the greatest labor was at season’s end when all old canes had died and had to be cut out, and the rows well weeded and fertilized. Raspberries are hardy and subject to few troubles, They are readily salable, some­times people coming to pick their own at a reduced price or “on halves.” The birds are a nuisance and steal a lot of berries, and in a very dry season all the creatures come to help themselves to the nice juicy fruit, At such a time the deer are specially addicted to the new green tips, which results in stunted growth the following year.

Our friends next door favored strawberries, and of course they are very good indeed; but when I had observed the labor and the uncertainties in­volved I concluded they were not for us. Later I was argued into trying a few but after a couple of seasons I knew I had been right the first time. Yet some people make good money from them.

In one way or another the summer went very fast and before we knew it time for harvest had come. Most things, were productive that year. We sold sweet-corn in addition to having all we could eat and the sixty-four pints that Isabel “put up.” There were plenty of blackberries and a good apple crop. Yet despite a long season we got very few ripe tomatoes and perhaps a dozen squash.

By hanging up the green tomatoes on the vines under shelter we hoped they would ripen but they only tended to spoil. We had green tomato pickle practically running out of our ears. -I was tempted to leave the field-corn out just too long and it was frosted, when the temperature went below freezing one night, But those things we took in stride.

Interior work never did seem to end, - there always was painting or plastering or something else waiting for a rainy day. The kids helped at clearing brush from along the walls in the mowing. An in the hope of getting a little bit ahead, I chopped and stacked wood when not altogether too weary.

In mid-autumn we had a nice windfall when an elderly cousin gave up housekeeping and sent us a truck-load of much-needed furniture. Some pieces were immediately usable; others required repair. But “beggars can not be choosers” and we were delighted with everything,-the more because much of it had been in the family for a long time. Nicest perhaps was an Empire-style sofa, which Isabel proceeded to recover wile I repaired some of the chairs. It gave the house a new aspect.

Blueberries for Cavendish: As the Tiemanns picked blueberries; Mrs. Tiemann turned them into a variety of delicious summer treats, as well as canned some for winter use.  We are fortunate that CHS board member Bruce McEnaney, better known on Facebook as Bruce’s Berries, has the best blueberries in Vermont (100% organic) and they’re ripe for the picking. If you get there quick enough, there are even red raspberries.

As Bruce notes, The picking procedure is the same as last year...scale on the porch...honor system...blah, blah, blah. Half of the proceeds will go to the Cavendish Historical Society to supplement the funds that the good citizens of Cavendish voted to give the Society. The money will go into a fund to repair and paint the former Cavendish Baptist Church that is now the museum. Pick delicious, healthy, never any sprays (except water) blueberries and help refurbish one of the towns beautiful buildings. And remember Bruce's Berries are the freshest and tastiest because YOU PICK THEM YOURSELVES!!!

So now that you have lots of this delicious goodness, what can you do with them? Below are options to consider, most of which Mrs. Tiemann would have tried-except for the freezing.

Freezing: These need to be dry. Basically take Bruce’s Berries-no worries about pesticides and place in re sealable plastic bags or suitable freezer containers and put in the freezer. Some people like to do a single layer on a cookie sheet, freeze and then place in freezer containers. Best to use these prior to six months. Be sure to purchase enough to get you through the winter. 

Drying Blueberries in the Oven: Don’t know as Mrs. Tiemann would have done this, but it’s very simple. Think lower, slower temperature-closer to 135-for a chewier texture. Don’t go above 200 or it will cook instead of dehydrate. Put the berries on a single baking sheet and pop them in the oven. 135 degrees for 10 hours or 6-8 hours at 200. Check more frequently at the higher temps.

Recipes for Summer Eating: So if you want something more than blueberries and cream, try one of the following:
• Blueberry Recipes from Vermont Weathervane: Blueberry Irish Bread sounds yummy 
• Grilled Quail with Blueberries:  Combines two wonderfully locally grown products, Cavendish Game Birds and Bruce’s Berries.
• Honey Sweetened Blueberry Jam:  Don’t forget the Honey Fest (Golden Stage Inn, Proctorsville) takes place on Sept. 12.

• Blueberry Jam from the makers of Ball Jars 

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