Tag Archives: #summer

Summer Field Moment

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I was out running yesterday and there was a cushion of sound, a papery hum, that accompanied me for a long stretch.

At first I thought it was the standard ambient noise of my run: a bit of mountain wind, shards of birdsong, maybe an underlying rush of water from the creek in the middle of the nearby forest (but only if it’s just rained). And then there’s the busy road at the lower end of our village, and the occasional plane above. It’s a familiar palette.

But this was closer, and I was pounding along and breathing heavily, so the soft crackle carpet of this sound took a while to push through to my awareness enough to make me stop and take a detour into the neighboring field.

I should have known all along. A field of rowdy insect song, full of hidden animals drunk on the heat of a summer morning.

So I thought I’d share it.

Another Harvest Moment

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Summer harvest continues in our village. How do I know?

I can hear the tractors. But even with the windows shut, I know a field of grain is being cut.

​Look at that kettle of hawks, circling, waiting for the easy pickings of field mice in the newly shorn field.

Or maybe they’re just riding the thermals on a perfect summer day.

Summer’s Begun

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I always greet this day with a bit of wistfulness. It’s the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year, and it also rings in the season of days that grow ever shorter.

It seems like a good day from which to look at the year thus far, and the rest of the year ahead.

Happy solstice!

The solstice running path.

 

Redcurrant Cordial

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The cordial. A big bottle for the fridge, a small jar for gifting (well, there were quite a few of these, most of them already given away now), and a glass for the cook.

The cordial. A big bottle for the fridge, a small jar for gifting (well, there were quite a few of these, most of them already given away now), and a glass for the cook.

I’d had a romantic vision in my mind about making redcurrant cordial, something more in keeping with the  word ‘cordial’. What I hadn’t anticipated was the 7 kilos (15 pounds) of redcurrants my single bush would yield under not very thorough picking.

The simple recipe (see below) became a more complicated logistical matter of our largest soup pot, two other large pots, stockings, and four hands. I completely failed at finding the picturesque muslin frame for draining fruit, or for that matter, finding any muslin in our rural area. Wine making tools, beekeeping equipment: no problem. Muslin and jelly frames? Forget it.

The simple notion of boiling a few redcurrants with water and straining them became a multi-step event that involved my partner in crime holding open a pair of (brand-new) knee-high stockings over a pot while I skilfully ladled large quantities of currant pulp into the waiting stockings. After two attempts and three skin burns, he stopped me.

What I didn't have, but what I will be ordering for future cordial-making. Source: Eatweeds

What I didn’t have, but what I will be ordering for future cordial-making.
Source: Eatweeds

“Where are those weird potato peeling gloves your late grandmother gave us ten years ago?” The ones we’d never used until now, still fresh in their original packing, right under the sink where we parked them in bewilderment at what we would ever need them for. Thanks, Grammy!360545351573_6 A few iterations later, the stockings were harnessed to the handles of the large soup pot, merrily straining the rest of the juices from the thousands of redcurrant seeds and bits of skin left behind. Sadly, I was too consumed in the making to document the picturesque sight of stockings filled with current pulp. Also, by that time it was almost midnight.

But the cordial is delicious – sweet, tart, full of summer flavor. Worth the effort. I made this Swedish version of the cordial from SwedishFood.com, but used a bit less sugar than called for because I like the tartness of the fruit.

Ingredients

500 g (1 lb) redcurrants, 180 g (6 oz) fine sugar, juice from 1 lemon

1. Rinse the currants, leave them on their stalks but remove any coarse stalks.

2. Put the berries in a saucepan and add 120 ml (½ cup) of water. Bring to the boil and let simmer until the berries have burst (about ten minutes, much longer if, like me, you have several kilos worth of fruit).

3. Line a sieve with muslin (or use a stand as shown above) and strain the cooked currants. I don’t actually recommend knee-high stockings as a sieve, but they work in a pinch. Wear thick gloves if you are holding open the stockings.

4. Return the juice to the saucepan and add the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove any scum from the surface with a spoon.

5. Pour the hot liquid through a funnel into a sterilised bottle. (Sterilise by washing and then placing in an oven at 120°C (240°F, gas 1) for 5 minutes.)

6. Cool.

We’ll be mostly drinking the cordial mixed with sparkling water, champagne or prosecco (at a ratio of about 1:8) but it can be used in salad dressings, poured over ice cream, frozen, or added to hot water for a refreshing hot drink.

Green & Red Bounty, Unfurling

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A zucchini froth blossom.

A zucchini froth blossom.

A few shots from the garden as it grows. I don’t have much of a green thumb when it comes to the kitchen garden, but watching each vegetable flower and then grow round has been a pleasure.DSC02283

The first tomato.

A long vine with tiny potimarrons, my favorite pumpkin for autumn soups and pies.DSC02287

The tiny tendrils that seem to grow and grasp for a secure hold before my eyes.DSC02289The gooseberry is weighted down with fruit – it’s from the old garden, one of the only soft fruit bushes we kept through the most recent renovation because it just seemed so happy in its spot. I haven’t yet decided what to do with all the fruit. Jam? Jelly? A gooseberry cordial? The most undemanding, reliably productive plant in the entire garden.DSC02290The cherry tree, which was barren last year, bears the best crop we’ve ever had. Too sweet to preserve, we’ll just have to pick and eat as many as we can and give the rest away. DSC02294

Ditto for the grapevine.DSC02303

And the mirabelle plums.DSC02297

What’s left is for the birds.

Nothing like sharing the bounty.

Seasonal Spiral

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Summer doesn’t officially end in the Northern Hemisphere until September 22 this year.

But as it is my official back-to-work day after a very long summer, I thought I’d put this Jim Denevan beach spiral up to remind myself that the tide that washes away also brings renewal and a fresh start.

Lazy Afternoon

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It’s a lazy afternoon here – the rains have stopped (for now); it’s hot, but not too hot, a fluffy cloud kind of day to not do very much.

Here are a few shots from the farm right next door on a lazy August afternoon.

Phlox Photo: PK Read

Phlox
Photo: PK Read

This wall, the outer wall of a woodshed, is in a dormant state right now and looks like it’s just a place to hang wire – but during the harvest season, it is filled with shelves of squash, pumpkins, piles of string for binding together various vines.

Barn wall Photo: PK Read

Barn wall
Photo: PK Read

Out in the orchard, sheep were dozing against one of the woodpiles.

Sleepy sheep Photo: PK Read

Sleepy sheep
Photo: PK Read

Other sheep from the flock saw me from across the orchard and came running, hoping for a few chunks of old bread.

Eager sheep Photo: PK Read

Eager sheep
Photo: PK Read

I obliged. Who could say ‘no’ to those sheep eyes?

Begging sheep Photo: PK Read

Begging sheep
Photo: PK Read

Have a good weekend!

 

 

Hidden Treasure

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Wild blackberries, the kind that stain my fingers for days after a long picking session, that leave me with scratches on my legs and arms from wading through large hidden patches, the ones that allow for long, lazy conversations with fellow seekers and which reward effort with the nirvana of a fresh blackberry pie and later, much later when summer is gone and tans are faded, fill my mouth with the sweet purple ink memories written on those days  in the form of blackberry jam – wild blackberries rank among my favorite of all fruits.

A hidden blackberry patch. Photo: PK Read

A hidden blackberry patch
Photo: PK Read

This hasn’t been a year for stone fruits, but I have hope for the blackberries. I went and checked on a couple of patches yesterday. I was relieved to find that this one, which hasn’t really brought forth much of interest over the past couple of seasons, is in bloom and is doing well. It’s nestled between two fields – one a cow pasture, the other a neglected orchard – a triangular bit of forgotten hedgerow that’s invisible from the small country road that passes it, and uninviting to those who do notice it. Perfect for picking. Fingers crossed, this place will be a treasure trove in about 4-5 weeks.

Hedgerow flowers Photo: PK Read

Hedgerow flowers
Photo: PK Read

Two of my best hedgerow patches – long, rangy stands of trees, brambles and bushes that stood between fallow fields – have been lost to housing developments over the past two years, and I fear that will be the fate of most of them. The fields and the hedgerows are all under tidy suburban lawns and charmingly names streets now.

Blackberry blossoms Photo: PK Read

Blackberry blossoms
Photo: PK Read

Another patch, one that looks inviting and proffers all its goods openly, as if it’s some free market stand, is actually a place I never use. I run by it every day, watch the berries ripen, watch them get fat, then watch as the bushes get picked clean by passers-by and birds. It’s a nice hedgerow, right out there in the open, but I wouldn’t pick from it. Why?

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don't look very healthy. Photo: PK Read

Golf course hedgerow. Buckets of berries here, but the trees along the golf course don’t look very healthy.
Photo: PK Read

It’s in the rough of a golf course, and I also see how they regularly spray pesticides all along the perimeter.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

Still, the bench on the other side of this hedgerow offers a good place to stretch, and sometimes to sit, to look out over Lake Geneva, and to dream of pies and jams to come.

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago Photo: PK Read

Blackberry jam fixings from a couple of years ago
Photo: PK Read

Another favorite is a Blackberry Bellini – fresh wild blackberry sludge with champagne or sparkling wine. Not bad, not bad at all.

Blackberry Bellini
4 cups fresh blackberries
sprig of mint
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 bottle champagne, prosecco, or a bubbly, non-sweet cider for the non-alcoholic version
Mash the blackberries, mint, lemon juice, and sugar until the mixture is sludgy and juicy. Strain the pulp through a sieve (I like a bit of actual pulp in my drink, so I don’t use a fine sieve – just enough to keep out the seeds). Divide blackberry mixture evenly among serving glasses. Add the bubbly and stir just a bit – the juice will color the sparkling wine, the pulp will sink down to the bottom to be enjoyed at the very end. Spear or float a blackberry for garnish.

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels Photo: PK Read

Kitschy hedgerow pinwheels
Photo: PK Read

Plein Soleil

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I was listening to a local radio station show on gardening and all the topics they discussed had to do with the awful weather we’ve had in the Lake Geneva region over the past few months. How to salvage trees and plants from the recent hail storm; the damage done to local greenhouses (one didn’t have a single pane of glass left intact); the lack of cherries this year due to a freezing spring and too much rain.

In our own garden, none of our fruit trees (cherry, apple, plum) will be producing much this year, and the reliably abundant grape vine is almost bare. The only exception is our red currant bush, which I will be harvesting over the next couple of days and putting up as jam.

This red currant bush is a holdover from the old garden - it used to be lost in a patch of scraggy raspberry canes. When we laid down on a stone path and raised bed, we left the currant bush where it was. This is its first year on its own. It looks happy. Photo: PK Read

This red currant bush is a holdover from the old garden. It used to be lost in a patch of scraggy raspberry canes planted long ago by previous owners. When we laid down on a stone path and put in raised beds, we left the currant bush where it was. This is its first year on its own. It looks happy.
Photo: PK Read

We are finally, finally in full summer mode and I thought I’d put up a few images that contrast my running path during this last freezing spring and yesterday.

This is a crossroads where I can either head back home or loop around for another round 2-mile round.  Photo: PK Read

This is a crossroads where I can either head back home or loop around for another round 2-mile round. A bit dangerous with all the ice.
Photo: PK Read

The same spot in summer. And yes, this time I went for a another round. Photo: PK Read

The same spot in summer. And yes, this time I went for a another round.
Photo: PK Read

Then there are the fields. Winter planting always strikes me as an ode to hope and optimism in the coming of spring even as the days grow ever shorter.

A winter-planted field, thrashed by wild boar. Photo: PK Read

A winter-planted field, thrashed by wild boar.
Photo: PK Read

The same field, ready for harvest. Photo: PK Read

The same field, ready for harvest.
Photo: PK Read

Finally, the fountain that is one of my running touchstones. It’s at the top of a steep hill that marks the halfway mark of my regular round – passing it means the rest of the run is homeward bound.

A local fountain in spring, still covered in winter algae. Actually, the fountain is drained over winter, and only allowed to fill following the spring thaw - but we had approximately three spring thaws this year. Photo: PK Read

The  fountain in spring, still covered in winter algae. Actually, the fountain is drained over winter, and only allowed to fill following the spring thaw – but we had approximately three spring thaws this year.
Photo: PK Read

The summer fountain, clean and flowing. Photo: PK Read

The summer fountain, clean and flowing.
Photo: PK Read

For the first time, a pair of northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) has taken up nearby residence. At least, that’s what I think they are. While there are always many hawks, large and small, that circle around and scout the fields, this is the first year I’ve had a pair regularly sweep within an arm’s length of my office window before swooping up over our garden. Big birds, their forms fill my window and I can hear their wings cut the warm air of this summer that took its time arriving.

Not the actual birds that fly past my window, but the same kind. And this is pretty much what I see for a brief moment, once or twice a day. Photo: birdskorea.org

And while it’s neither French nor pastoral, this remains one of my summer song perennials.

No love for the mosquito

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Photo: Matt Burard-Lucas

Photo: Matt Burard-Lucas

The first mosquito of the year drifted into an open window yesterday. There’s still snow on the ground, but at least one mosquito was ready for spring. Or would have been, if I hadn’t done what I always do with mosquitoes. Flies, wasps, even the massive guêpes, the local hornets as big as my thumb – all get a pass from me. If they wander into the house, I shoo them out the window. Ditto for spiders, which get trapped and removed in my humane spider trap. Not so for mosquitoes.

No one has any love for the mosquito. At worst, they are reliable bearers of disease, at the best they are a nuisance; they make summer nights noisy with their high-pitched whines and summer days uncomfortable with their bites and itches. Much of environmental and conservation study goes into the life forms we consider valuable, unique and indispensable. But what of the unloved mosquito, the ubiquitous creature we would like to see eradicated?

The magazine Nature  published an 2010 article in which several mosquito experts said that, while mosquitoes provide massive amounts of feeding potential in a number of environments, there’s nothing they provide that couldn’t be provided by other insects, and with much less nuisance. Mosquitoes carry malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus and West Nile virus, to name a few.

There are 3,500 species of mosquito, of which only approximately 200 attack humans. Present on almost every continent and in every ecosystem, they have been evolving with their surroundings for an estimated 100 million years. In some areas, they form swarms thick enough to asphyxiate animals. Mosquitoes have adapted to the abbreviated summers of the far north by breeding in vast numbers.

A recent article in the New York Times looks at the ethics of the many disease-related research projects which focus on the mosquito. From genetically modified forms of diseases being inserted into the mosquito food supply to breeding wingless forms of female mosquito, many methods are being investigated that would stop the spread of disease. But if even the simplest method – the lowly mosquito net – has prompted species adaptation (some species now feed earlier, before humans have gone to bed under a net), what adaptations will other interventions prompt?

A group of bright teenagers had the idea that if diseases could be delivered via mosquito, why not vaccines as well? Finalists in the 2012 Google Science Fair, they are now working together with a pharmaceutical company to bioengineer mosquitoes that would carry a West Nile virus vaccine.

As the NYT article says, “What is its ecological niche anyway? One entomologist (has said) that we don’t even have a great understanding of mosquitoes’ place in our ecosystem, because we have focused our efforts on killing them rather than observing them.

We spend so much time working against extinction of so many creatures and plants. I personally feel that the main thing mosquitoes do well is act as efficient delivery vehicles for some very smart and adaptable viruses, and I would never argue against the eradication of those viruses. Still, when it comes to wiping out the hated mosquito itself, a part of me agrees with the words written by the great ecologist Aldo Leopold:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Having said that, I still won’t be using my humane bug trap when a mosquito wanders into my house.