Farms and Food

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with Tim and Megan, my sister Eleanor, and Holly’s sister Constance.   Subjects below: Thanksgiving Dinner, Walk at Jonesboro Cemetery, Dinner at Copper Mine Bistro at Wintergreen Resort.  And a beautiful sunset.

















In August we took our annual summer trip to longtime friends along the Delaware shore.  We shucked and ate lots of crab, along with other delicious dishes prepared by our hosts.  I (Bob) spent an interesting afternoon exploring the local state park at Holts Landing.  Note: the spider is a “zipper spider” in the bushes outside the house.




We had a very wet spring, to which Holly and I attribute much of the success of our summer vegetable garden.  Varieties of greens (lettuce, arugula, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, kale)  flourished in the spring, and garlics, onions, several varieties of string beans, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, lima beans, basil, and tomatoes galore filled the garden in the summer, even if we’ve had to share the tomatoes with crows and rabbits (and maybe a groundhog).  Spaghetti squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe are in the works. I was more disciplined this year about succession planting, especially for beans, and that has kept us well supplied over time.  The one virtually total crop failure was snap peas, long my favorite and most prolific crop.  But this year almost none germinated, and only a handful of snap pea pods ever appeared.  I have spoken to several other growers who had a similar experience.  No one fully understands why this should be; it will be interesting to see what happens next year.  Overall, though, one of our best years in the garden.

click here for pictures of our 2017 vegetable garden

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Above: Preparing for Thanksgiving.  Tim and Megan arrived on Wednesday, and we had a Mediterranean-style fish soup (and a copious amount of wine) that evening.

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A walk on Thanksgiving morning; Megan with Lonni’s dogs, Gloria and Draco.

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Constance, Lonni and John joined us for a mid-afternoon dinner Thanksgiving day. Played the card game “Recipe” in the evening.

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The next morning, John and Tim joined me in taking “The Plunge Trail,” at Wintergreen, with great views of the Rockfish Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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And that afternoon, a hike along the Blue Ridge Railway Trail, followed by a visit to our friends Kathy and Tom (who shared his amazing collection of player pianos).

On Sunday afternoon, Holly and I checked out Wood Ridge Farm Brewery on the eastern side of Nelson County.  Situated on a functioning farm which produces all the ingredients that go into its beer, the brewery offers “dirt-to-glass beers, with all the ingredients (malts, grains, hops, yeasts, etc.) grown on site.  The brewery and tap room is rustic, with gorgeous views in all directions from the windows, porches, and decks.  I’d never had a “shandy” beer before, but we both particularly liked that one.  A nice relaxed ending to our lovely Thanksgiving weekend.

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After extensive rains before and during Hurricane Joaquim, we ventured out to check out the Tye River, which was certainly the highest I’ve seen it since moving here.  At the AT suspension bridge over the river, we were surprised and impressed to see a group of kayakers who’d come up from the Tidewater area negotiating the raging river with apparent ease.  Inside at Silver Creek orchards, we stocked up on apples.  The sun returned the next day.  We were fortunate not to have the kind of extensive flooding that occurred in South Carolina.

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In mid-July, Holly took me up to the Eastern Shore of Delaware to meet her longstanding close friends, Robert and Barbara.  We spent several days talking, eating, walking, and sunbathing and had a delightful time.  Eleanor came down in mid-August, and one place we took her to was Woodson’s Mill, the fascinating water-powered mill that produces stone-ground grits and flours.  We had a great tour from Dave Woodson.  Nic and Alison visited for dinner.

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Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in late May

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Flaming Azalea and Rhododendron along AT on The Priest

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Lunch on the deck and cooking for Thankful Thursday dinner at Grace

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Picking Strawberries at Seaman’s orchards with an incredible view

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Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in late April

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Nic and Alison came out for the weekend, and we made our first batch of beer here.  (Both Nic and Tim have made beer elsewhere with friends before.)  This beer is the double IPA which Nic once made before; when he brought samples to the extended family here, everyone agreed it was one of the best beers they’d ever had.  Hence this attempt to repeat that success.

After a period of bitter cold, the weather was sunny and mild, and the chickens came by periodically to check on what was going on.  This remains a very difficult period for me, and so this exercise was a pleasant, though temporary, diversion…

click here for more pictures (with explanatory captions)


Actually, Saturday was just the beginning.  Our Grace Brewers Guild made a batch of English Brown Ale on Sunday afternoon.  So that’s 100 bottles of beer on the wall for the weekend!

Everybody around here agrees it has been a very strange summer.  Rain, generally in short supply this time of year, has been almost continuous, with downpours just about every day, frequently for many hours on end.  I asked a long-time resident a few nights ago if she could recall a previous summer like this, and she answered: “1969.”  That of course was the year that Hurricane Camille devastated an already-soggy Nelson County, with estimates of the rainfall in a single night varying from 27 to 46 inches.  By contrast, our 5.5 inches later that night seems like nothing, but it was enough to cause substantial flooding, power outages, and flattened cornfields in the area.

In mid-June I pulled around 95 garlic bulbs, grown from individual cloves planted last fall.  This year I grew almost entirely softneck garlic.  In some ways I prefer hardnecks, with their garlic scapes and (perhaps) more complex taste, but they don’t store well for more than a few months.  The harvest looks good so far; the bulbs are curing on screens in our (former) kennel outbuilding.

Seed potatoes were planted in mid-March and so far I’ve harvested 35 pounds of Yukon Golds and 36 pounds of Red Pontiacs.  We’re already enjoying them.  Kennebecs, a late season variety, are still growing and will be dug up later in the summer.

We’ve harvested quite a few bush and pole beans, but after two weeks or so, the dreaded Mexican bean beetle (and especially its larval form) went to work on both, in addition to our other legumes.  By now they have pretty much decimated all our string bean plants, as well as the lima bean plants as well.  Dry beans and cowpeas are also suffering from the onslaught, although I’m hopeful they will survive ok.  There seems to be a general consensus that the been beetle infestation is particularly severe this year because of the combination of a mild winter and a wet spring and summer.  (In contrast, I have not seen a single Colorado Potato Beetle this year.)

Currently we’re getting a steady flow of cucumbers and summer squash, although when the sun really returns that will be more likely be a tidal wave.  Tomatoes, whose development has been held up by the wet and cloudy weather, are finally beginning to ripen, as also our (still-green) peppers.  Lots of butternut and acorn squash are coming along, as well as sweet potatoes (a new crop this year).   It adds up to a mixed score card, but overall the garden is doing pretty well.  If only we could get a bit more sun….

We’re also benefitting from nearby farms and farm markets.  We’ve picked strawberries and blueberries at Seaman’s Orchard, with its gorgeous view of the mountains in both Nelson and Amherst Counties.   Our favorite peach, Sugar May, came into season recently at Saunders Brothers, and Monika canned six quarts.  The fresh flavor holds up amazingly well.

While Monika and I were in Maryland last weekend, mice apparently found my peanuts curing on screens in the kennel and devoured a substantial proportion of them.  But about three-quarters remained with no or limited damage, and so today I roasted them in the oven.  I shelled the damaged ones and left the rest in their shells.  You spread them on baking sheets and put them in a 350 degree oven: 20 minutes for peanuts in their shells and 25 minutes for shelled peanuts.  (This may seem counter-intuitive, but the air in the shells heats up and cooks them faster.)  It’s important to let the peanuts cool completely before eating–only then do they become crisp and exhibit their full roasted flavor.  They were yummy!

To make peanut butter, I put one cup of shelled peanuts and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a food processor.  While processing, I added about two tablespoons of  vegetable oil and about a tablespoon of honey.  The result was  the most tasty peanut butter we’ve ever had!

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