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A Century Ago, My Farm Was for Sale

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vashon island fog

When My Farm Was for Sale…

My farm house was built in 1888, when Washington was a territory and a year away from statehood. Just five years prior, the Northern Pacific Railroad had been completed, linking the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest. Across the Sound, Seattle was only eight years away from being put on the map as the main embarkation port for the Yukon gold fields.

I try to imagine what life on Vashon was like at the time, a 37-square-mile wilderness in the middle of Puget Sound, an island of dense old-growth forests and a sparse number of settlers.

Oliver Scott Van Olinda (1868 – 1954) came to Vashon in 1891 and remarked on his first arrival, recalling his walk from Langill’s Landing up to Center, which is less than a mile from my farm.

“I came from the great prairies of Nebraska and, as I walked up to Center in the gathering dusk of a mid-August evening, giant fir trees towering three hundred feet above me on either side of the trail in an almost impenetrable wall and flanked by great banks of ferns, the beauty of the scene was overshadowed by the thought that such environment must harbor great hoards of bears and catamounts. I marveled at the folly of man, in thinking he could ever convert such material into a farm, a garden, or even a home. It was truly a stupendous task to contemplate.”

O.S. Van Olinda took this photograph of the road leading from the Vashon Dock to Center, in 1891.

A mere (and astounding) thirty years later (approximately 1919), the island had been mostly cleared of timber and farmland began to dominate the landscape. And it was that year, in 1919 that my farm was offered for sale. Surprisingly, a copy of the property’s sale brochure has survived, replete with telling details of farming on Vashon Island, and really, what had been accomplished in a very short time.

The following is a direct transcript of that pamphlet, which the previous owners Karin and Buzz, so kindly left with me and the house.

Within this transcript, I will highlight UPDATES with personal insights for a bit of then-versus-now perspective, based on 100 years of change (or not).


For Sale

Country Home and Farm

old vashon farmhouse 1919

VASHON ISLAND

The tool barn on the far left is the only remaining outbuilding.

PROPERTY – 32 acres, all in cultivation except about 3 acres.  About 10 acres under lease until Sept. 1, 1920, now in strawberries and producing good crops. About 7 acres in winter wheat, which usually produces 20 to 25 bushels per acre, or good wheat hay if cut early. Once acre in loganberries, which have given splendid returns per acres, on Vashon Island.

About 3 acres seeded to permanent pasture.  Balance in small mixed orchard of apples, cherries, pears, crab apples, peaches and prunes; also a few strawberries , raspberries, blackberries, currants, etc.; garden, chicken yards and buildings. All fenced and cross-fenced.

UPDATE – The property now has been whittled down to less than five acres. I’ve planted a new orchard, established a chicken yard and built a small coop, and fenced the front fields to deter the island’s hungry deer population. I’ve built a 30′ x 70′ high tunnel greenhouse and cleared a great percentage of the wild brambles once covering the property’s former pastures. 

SOIL – Sandy loam, especially suited for berries and small fruits.

BUILDINGS – Good 9-room house, including bath and sleeping porches; cement foundation, and in good repair throughout. Hot and cold water upstairs and down. Large barn, would accommodate 10 to 20 cows; good hay mow and feed bins; large fruit or storage house, milk house, hog houses, chicken houses, tool and implement sheds.

UPDATE – The house still stands proudly and with a welcoming presence that defies explanation. I’ve been working to fix her up and keep her around for another 100 years. It’s a slow, expensive, but deeply gratifying process. Most of the tall windows are original, with the exception of the south side of the house where storms yield no mercy to the exterior. The large barn collapsed decades ago, as did the substantial chicken house. There’s no trace of the other out buildings or water tower, but the tool and equipment barn still stands and thankfully enjoys a new roof and needed structural support.

EQUIPMENT – Farm is fully equipped with tools and implements, plows, harrows, grain drill, mower, disk, hay rake, wagons, everything needed which go with place.

WATER AND ELECTRICITY – Good, deep well, inexhaustible supply of splendid water, tower and 1000-gallon tank which supplies water under pressure to all parts of the house and buildings. There is also a never-failing spring for pasture use. House and buildings are all wired and electric light and power available throughout. Two H.P. electric motor pumps water, cuts hay and furnishes power for any machinery needed. Telephone with long distance service, daily mail at door.

UPDATE – The well is gone, but the house is supplied with Water District 19 water. 

SURROUNDINGS – There are a very large number of Madrona, Maple, Locust and Cedar trees about the yard, which make it very attractive and homelike. A good view of the water, Mount Rainier and the Olympics is obtained.

UPDATE – The large trees remain, though some of the ancient madronas have fallen to earth like old soldiers with bad knees and brittle bones. The Black Locust trees and giant maple have few rivals on the island in regard to stature. I love them like members of the family. The enviable view has been swallowed up by forest.

LOCATION – One-quarter mile south of Beall Greenhouses (largest in the northwest; five acres under glass), Vashon Island; 1 1/2 miles from Vashon dock, 1 1/2 miles from Vashon Bank, bank, post office, stores, churches; high and grade schools in easy reach and transportation free; 2 miles from ferry dock, where ferry to Des Moines makes six round trips daily, giving automobile service to Seattle and Tacoma over splendid paved and gravel roads. Also good boat service to both Seattle and Tacoma direct. This will soon be added to by installation of ferry service direct to Seattle and Kitsap County from north end of island, all of which gives most excellent transportation facilities.Vashon Island strawberry patch 1919

UPDATE – The Beall Greenhouses remain but are in complete disrepair and now overgrown with brambles, weeds and trees. The site and sights are surreal, like a monumental greenhouse ghost town consumed by nature, ignored by man. All the ferry routes mentioned are currently in operation, with the exception of the Vashon – Des Moines run.  

The Beall Greenhouses when fully operational. My place is just south of the tree-lined creek at the top left on the photo.

VASHON ISLAND – Lies between Seattle and Tacoma, giving unsurpassed markets for all products. The island has always been notd for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.

The island has always been noted for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.

UPDATE – Farming and self-sufficiency no longer play major roles in Vashon’s economy, instead the island is intrinsically tied to wealth and well-being of Seattle and Tacoma. Still stunningly rural, Vashon’s growth is also tied to water resources and unincorporated King County zoning regulations. That and the inconvenience (for some) of a ferry commute, make Vashon a rarified place. Small farms are making a resurgence and finding ways to earn income, from the farm-to-table culture to the making of local cheese, cider, wine and specialty products for customers interested in locally-source and delicious food. In my case, I grow flowers and fruits, teach classes, and host visitors at my farm’s Airbnb: Little Gemma, oh yes, and I write a blog. 

UTILITY – This place can be utilized for general farming, dairy, or hogs, but is more particularly suited for berries, small fruits and chickens, or as a country home place. Also it has good possibilities for cutting into small tracts later on, as its location and view is good, and will prove a good investment from any standpoint. As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound. Pure salt water air, picturesque view, strategic location, fine roads and excellent transportation, with freedom from tramps and shifting and shiftless population make it an ideal home spot.

UPDATE – The only animals I keep are some cheeky chickens and an even cheekier bulldog. Berries are still the star performers for me, from loganberries, to raspberries to tayberries. The sandy loam soil suits their natures and habits well. In the orchard, my heirloom apples shine a little brighter each year, both in presence and taste. I built a large greenhouse to extend the season for growing mammoth and exceptional dahlias, zinnias, marigolds, and scented geranium for the floral trade and summer weddings. 

I delight in knowing the farm once had territorial and Puget Sound views. A century later, reforestation has screened my Mt. Rainier view to the South and the Olympic Mountains to the west. I could not agree more with the following line, and I am happy to report it stands true a century after written, “As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound.”

Thankfully, some things never change.

PRICE – $16,500.00; terms can be arranged, or might accept properly located live property of lesser value as part payment.

SEE PROPERTY

Call on or address owner at 201 Boston Block, Seattle or on premises. Ferry leaves Des Moines 7:55. 9:45, 11:30, 2:55 week days, and 8:30, 11:30, 3:00 Sundays. Stage to Des Moines leaves from First and Union Streets.

W. S. DANNER, Owner,

201 Boston Block, Seattle, or Vashon, Wash.

Tall Clover Farm

Originally known as the Danner Place and then Callaway Corner, the seventies manifested a new name, The Peach Palace, thanks to a jarring, and later beloved paint color that has now faded to a laid-back beige. Notoriety also came in the common knowledge that The Peach Palace was a party house, once occupied by members of Vashon’s most popular and notorious rock band, the Doily Brothers. Fifty years later and I would bet you dollars to donuts that I could walk in any direction with a gardening spade and dig up a beer bottle. 

The name Tall Clover Farm is my own invention, one that manifested itself through quirks, coincidences and conversation (but that’s a story for another day).

Buddy would send his love, but he’s a little preoccupied with that beautiful view.

Be well, and thanks for visiting…

bulldog sitting on a table
Speaking of good views…

Bachelor’s Jam: More About the Bachelor, Less About the Jam

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A bachelor and his “jam”

Growing up in the South, I harbor many colorful recollections, though sometimes I fear my imagination may have muddied the archival waters and created my own Glass Menagerie meets Fried Green Tomatoes meets Forrest Gump. It’s a reflective pastiche I have little inclination to correct.

As a nosey little nipper in Montgomery, Alabama, I remember the time a neighbor lady pronounced the status of a man she seemed deeply intrigued by. As she leaned in, drawing her cardigan tighter over her shoulders, she arched a barely discernable eyebrow, and feigned propriety to her friend by whispering with an inflection more deliberate than her own natural cadence, “Well you do know he’s a baaaaaaaaaaaa-chlar?”  There was more “baa” in that first syllable then in the wane of a lost lamb. I knew by the way she said it, something was up. Maybe he was a criminal, or spy, or who knows what, but something extraordinary for sure. Not the first time I had heard the term, but certainly the first time I had heard it used with such indulgent disfavor.

As a married Air Force fighter pilot, my Dad was beyond reproach, a family man and a tough act to follow. He loved structure, rules and integrity. Every once in awhile I would hear my parents talking about the wild antics of the bachelors in the squadron. Even as a schoolkid, I could tell, those said bachelors were all about fun. Most of them had sports cars; we drove a station wagon. Most of them drank a lot; my Dad never touched the stuff.

And so with that memory, I bring you an extraordinary jam named after the extraordinary rogues, rakes and rascals it was no likely named for; ah yes, say hello to Bachelor’s Jam. Now, as I pointed out in the title, this recipe is more about the bachelor and less about the jam, for it is a boozy concoction worthy of the brazen brotherhood who thwart convention on many a southern cul de sac.

Not quite a pot of gold, but certainly a worthy elixir.

Bachelor’s jam is also known as Old Officer’s Jam, or Rumtopf, which is German for rum pot. And leave it to the French to provide a name as appealing as the drink: Confiture de Vieux Garçon.

Most recipes call for rum as the main, uh, preservative, but I prefer to use brandy. The choice is yours, experiment using your favorite liquor, just stick with high-proof libations like rum or brandy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So what is Bachelor’s Jam? The jarred liquid gem is liquor-infused, sugar-soaked fruit cordial, plain and simple. What makes it exceptional is how and what you choose to prepare. For the most part, Bachelor’s Jam is meant to capture the best of orchard fruit at its peak. As fruits and berries become available, you add them to a crock of brandy (or rum) with sugar. And you continue to add more fruit, spirits and sugar as the harvest dates progress and until the vessel is full and topped with a lid for gentle aging and maceration.

Sweet sips of summer on an autumn day

So let’s say you start your Bachelor’s Jam in May by placing a layer of sweetened strawberries in the crock. After covering the fruit with brandy, cover the jar and wait until the next seasonal sweetiepie is ripe and ready to join the crock. Next up raspberries, and then cherries and then plums, and so on. You’ll end up with a delicious visual record of summer’s bounty and two offerings: a very drinkable sippable liqueur of sorts and a fruit compote that packs a punch.  And there is an actual recipe, simple and to the point, here it is:

Bachelor’s Jam | Rumtopf | Confiture de Vieux Garçon

Meal type Beverage
Bachelor's Jam (aka Officer's Jam, aka Rumtopf, aka Confiture de Vieux Garcon) is a wonderful layered mix of summer fruits, soaking up a blend o sugar and brandy (or rum). Makes for a delicious cordial.

Ingredients

  • Brandy or Rum
  • Seasonal fruit as it ripens
  • Sugar
  • Patience

Note

I'd stay away from some fruits that may overpower the mix making things bitter, sour, or overly diluted, such as gooseberries, rhubarb and melons, respectively.

Directions

Step 1
Use a large crock or preserving jar with lid to hold and store Bachelor's Jam.
Step 2
In a separate bowl, add seasonal fruit and sugar in a ratio of 2:1, e.g., 1 cup of fruit for every half cup of sugar. Let it rest overnight.
Step 3
Gently mix the the fruit and sugar slurry until combined and add to the crock one layer at a time. Pour in enough brandy or rum to keep the liquid one inch above the fruit. You may need to add a weight like a small plate to keep the fruit from floating up to the surface.
Step 4
Cover with lid and set in a dark place until the next fruit type becomes available.
Step 5
Say you started with 2 cups of strawberries than two weeks later raspberries are in season. Just repeat Step 3 using raspberries, and continue in the following weeks to add more fruit, say cherries, as they become available.
Step 6
Always add more brandy or rum to cover the sugared fruit.
Step 7
Add more sugared fruit and liquor in the weeks to come until you reach the top of the jar.
Step 8
If using a clear glass jar, cover it with paper bag to keep light out. The longer you let the "jam" sit, the better it will be. Wait at least three months before using.
Step 9
Sip the liquid like a cordial and use the booze-infused fruit as a compote, or ice cream topping, or in cakes, breads, or with cheeses and roasted meats.

I would also like to point out that the fruit does not retain its vibrant color, but loses structure slowly takes on the predominant hue of the darkest fruit. The spirited drink is delicious, and while not much to look at, the stewed fruit is just that — stewed. Drink too much and you’ll soon be sharing the same condition.

Yes, it has been know to put a smile on my face.
Buddy never touches the stuff; he feels the wood stove pretty much offers the same effect.

My Greenhouse as Concert Hall

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Not much to report on the farm this morning. The fall breeze is wending its way through every leaf and fern frond. Buddy paces the porch in search of the stingiest slice of sunshine. And I’m trying to prep the place for seven months of droplets, drizzle and downpours.

My greenhouse remains woefully optimistic, gloating over the fact that its tenants are protected until the first severe frost. Dahlias respond to cooler nights, blooming like the finale of a fireworks show, one last blast of color and exuberance before the show ends for the season.

Over the last several weeks, a flush of operatic songbirds have coopted my greenhouse as their performance hall. Every day is an ovation when song sparrows provide the curtain call. I thought you might enjoy shutting out some worldly noise, and letting in a simple song of joy.

Tall Clover Farm Photos du Jour

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roasted pepper chopping board
“Some Like It Hot!”

I am basically a crow with a camera. My photography isn’t planned or staged, unless it’s instructional or to provide an example, but for the most part I stumble upon the object or moment, and then the kitchen timer goes off in my head, and I hear an encouraging inner voice assert, “Wow, that would make a great photo.” Yep, that is my complicated, painstaking process, alright.

I love photography and I’m fortunate enough to enjoy the friendship and to witness the skill of some seriously wonderful photographers on the island. Their images never fail to delight or intrigue or deliver awe and wonder in a moment captured through their eye and lens. Some lean toward the humanity of portraiture, others to the grandeur of Mother Nature, and still others to the magic of everyday. Take a look at their dreamy portfolios in the links below:

This month I have a photography show hanging at our island’s beloved Cafe Luna, where I feature my favorite subjects and images befitting the bright, in-your-face colors and dazzlers of summer—no broody pics here as we’ve got eleven other months for that. As for subject matter, well…

  • If it’s a pie, I baked it.
  • If it’s a flower, I grew it.
  • If it’s a bulldog, I loved it.

Here’s a sampling of photos from my show. May they bring a smile or a little sunshine to your day, at least before autumn leads us in another direction.

Tall Clover Farm Photos

English bulldog's bottom
“Do these markings make my butt look big?”
English bulldog's bottom
“Last one in is a rotten egg.”

 

“Some folks are like pies; crusty on the outside, gooey on the inside.”

 

basket of peaches
“All My Peaches in One Basket”

 

fresh pie dough
“Blank Canvas”

 

lattice top pie crust
“My Crust Runneth Over…”

 

madrona roses
“Summer Dream”

 

Compassion Rose
“Compassion at the Garden Gate”

 

napping bulldog on porch
“Naps are essential”

No Algorithm for Beauty

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Ageless Beauty. Fragment of a Queen’s Face (Egypt), The Met Collection (image, public domain)

Of the many distractions that cross my path or are delivered to my inbox (courtesy of the great worldwide interwebs), one actually caught my attention enough for me to respond with a simple click and a curious eye. Pinterest had thoughtfully sent me an unsolicited email with the subject line, “We found some new Pins for your Cult of Beauty board.

Beauty in a garden gate…

Now for those of you not familiar with Pinterest, the online bulletin board allows you to categorize and save images and links to various online resources, all in one place, online. For example, if I see a righteous recipe and keen photo for a pumpkin pie, I can save it by ‘pinning’ it to my Favorite Recipes page on my Pinterest board. Any time I wish to check out the recipes I’ve saved, I can easily return to that page and retrieve said recipe.

One Pinterest board I’ve created is called “Cult of Beauty” and if you’re wondering how the heck I came up with that name, well, I can tell you it wasn’t my idea. I was inspired by a touring art show, that I wanted to see so badly in San Francisco, but unfortunately my farm cards played a close-to-home hand in requiring me to stay put during the time of the show, which by the way was called The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant Garde.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco website describe the show in this way:

The iconoclastic belief in that art’s sole purpose is to be beautiful on its own formal terms stood in direct opposition to Victorian society’s commitment to art’s role as moral educator. Aestheticism is now recognized as the wellspring for both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. The Cult of Beauty showcases the entirety of the Aesthetic Movement’s output, celebrating the startling beauty and variety of creations by such artists and designers as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler, Edward Burne-Jones, E. W. Godwin, William Morris and Christopher Dresser.

If I may paraphrase, the show was about pretty things. And I like pretty things, I marvel at what the human eye, hand and mind can create. And my standard for a beauty is wholly personal, and wonderfully transitory, based in context, mood, moment and attachment to the heart and mind.

Beauty in adornment (Bee, honeycomb and honey jewel by Ilgiz Fazulzianov)

When I see something exceptionally beautiful online, something so moving that I wish to revisit it, I pin the image to my Pinterest board: Cult of Beauty. This visual curiosity shop of treasures (to me) is all over the board, crossing media, artists, cultures, purposes, intents and movements. So when Pinterest thought their algorithm could systematically ‘help’ me pick new images, my interest was piqued. Could some formulaic code figure out what I thought was beautiful based on my viewing patterns and subjective past choices? I think not, but I wanted to look anyway. Yes, they got me this time. This chump clicked on the email link to see what they thought, I thought, was beautiful and worthy of my board.

Beauty in a book cover

As a page, fraught with incongruous images appeared, I smiled. While they were okay, and I guess attractive enough, the cherry-picked posts were not (in my humble opinion) aesthetically worthy of my cache of “Cult of Beauty” images. Sure they offered paintings, and prints and statues, and objects of curious design, but none so moved me as to save it to my board. I tilted back my head and cackled like a villain in a kid’s cartoon, “Bwah-ha-ha, you didn’t win this time online masters!”

Beauty in the everyday: Perfectly ripe peaches on my counter.

In this day of complete and utter invasion of privacy when I wonder who is keeping track of my keystrokes and online whereabouts, buying patterns, and reading choices, I sit smug in my kitchen nook typing that at least there is no algorithm for beauty, that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and as fleeting as beauty itself.

One small win for Tom-kind. One large victory for our human hearts and souls.

Beauty’s visage (Ingres, Face of John the Baptist)
Beauty in the eye of the beholder… (Hiroshi Yoshida, El Capitan)

Nectarine Apricot Ginger Jam: Spicing Things Up!

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nectarine ginger jam jars
This recipe yields about seven half pints of gloriously good fruity goo!

Tommy’s jam kitchen is a jammin’ this summer, and with a fresh box of Washington State stone fruit beaming before me (courtesy of my friends at Sweet Preservation), the time is nigh to come up with something a little different for my pantry shelf and unrepentant sweet tooth. My canning codex of choice is Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber—287 pages of delectable, seasonal preserve recipes. Ms. Ferber’s recipes are simple and well-suited to my methods of making jam, which favors overnight maceration, while excluding commercial pectin as a thickener.

nectarine ginger jam mix
The fruit and sugar macerate overnight to firm the fruit and draw out the juices.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m not against using commercial pectin, I just find I get really mixed results. Sometimes the jam resembles fruit leather, or a jar-sized jello shot, or a fruity chew for Buddy. I’m just not a fan of commercial pectin consistency when I’m behind the jam pan.

nectarine jam simmering

I found my timely recipe for nectarine apricot ginger jam on page 58, where the key ingredients all just happened to be within arm’s reach: apricots, nectarines and candied ginger. It also called for fresh ginger, which I did not have, so I left it out of the recipe this time. If you’d like a little more punch and heat, add the fresh ginger.

nectarine apricot ginger jam
Nice combo that brings the heat of summer to my biscuit no matter what the season.

How to Make Nectarine Apricot Ginger Jam

Nectarine Apricot Ginger Jam

Ingredients

  • 1.5lb Nectarines
  • 1.5lb Apricots
  • 1/2 cup Candied Ginger (finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon Fresh Ginger (grated (and optional to add heat))
  • 5 Whole Cloves
  • 4 cups Sugar
  • 1 lemon (juice from one lemon)

Note

Adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures

Directions

Step 1
Rinse fruit, remove pits, cut into bite-size chunks
Step 2
Add all ingredients to stainless or ceramic bowl, stir gently to combine. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap and leave to macerate overnight.
Step 3
Next day, add fruit mixture to nonreactive pan. I like large open stainless saute pans or low stock pots for better evaporation.
Step 4
Bring mixture to a simmer and stir, and continue stirring until things start to thicken up usually about 20 minutes. Low heat is best so as not to scorch the sugars in the mix. Shut off heat and stir a little longer to cool down. Evaporation will create a thicker jam.
Step 5
Wait a good 6-8 hours, remove whole cloves, and reheat the mixture up slowly until it simmers for 5-10 minutes and then add to sterilized jars and process in a water bath for ten minutes.

Now, onto my box of peaches!

Related Links:

Sweet Cherry Pickles: Flavorful Tickles

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Five pints of sweet cherry pickles: jewels in a jar.

I must confess, I get a very big kick out of an official moniker bestowed  upon me each year, or at least for as long as the Washington State Fruit Commission sees fit to honor my love of preservation. I am a “Canbassador,” an emissary for preserving the flavor and beauty of the season one cherry, peach, apricot and plum at a time. (Hey, hold the snickers, and show a little respect, please.)

Pucker up my esteemed home canners! This black cherry recipe is quite the tongue tickler with a richness only a black cherry could yield, and a finish that’s both sweet and tart.

While I don’t have to wear a satin chest sash, top hat or tails, I prefer to wear my love of Washington state fruit on my sleeve. And that my friends, is second nature. For the most part, I receive a box of Washington state cherries, with a request, “Show us what you can do with these!” Well, the first order of business is to eat a two-pound bag in one sitting, the second is to pore over some vintage cookbooks for some worthy preserving recipes. 

This year I wanted to share an easy-to-make-recipe, that’s old school pickling preservation with a new twist (or stem as the case may be) using fresh cherries for the pickling fruit.

With hand as lid, shake the jars to move the fresh cherries down in the jar before adding liquid.

The full recipe is coming up, but essentially you jar up some fresh cherries, pour a spicy little concoction of vinegar, sugar and water over the cherries, seal the tops, pop the jars into a water bath to simmer, remove and let rest for several weeks before eating to engage the flavors and complete the pickling process. And as sure as Bob’s your uncle, you’ll have some tasty tongue ticklers for your next soiree, meal or snack.

Buddy is bored, not particularly interested in the piquant notes of pickling.

Check out the Washington State Fruit Commission’s SWEET PRESERVATION site for more recipes and tips for saving the flavors of summer. Cherries are here, peaches on deck!

Sweet Cherry Pickles

Ingredients

  • 2lb sweet cherries (whole, stemmed, unpitted)
  • 3 cups white or cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice berries
  • 6 sticks cinnamon

Directions

Step 1
Place all ingredients except cherries into a saucepan, and bring to low simmer. (Your kitchen will spell pretty dreamy at this point).
Step 2
Stir occasionally and simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from heat.
Step 3
Using gentle pressure, fill 5 pint jars with fresh whole, unpitted cherries and shake with hand as a cover to move the cherries further down in the jar.
Step 4
Pour heated solution over cherries using strainer and leave about half inch of air space in the jar. Add lid, seal and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.
Step 5
Let them sit in the pantry for a couple weeks to reach full flavor, then refrigerate after opening.

To Karin With Love

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Karin’s portrait, painted by mutual friend Pam Ingalls

When I first met Karin, she was not in the room. I stood in her kitchen with my realtor, getting to know the woman and her family merely by the furnishings of the listed farmhouse —the missives and magnets on the fridge door, the art on the walls, the joy in each beloved photograph, and the welcoming comfort of each room. She had me the minute I crossed the threshold, and spied an enameled plaque below the window, which read, “ENTREE DES ARTISTES.” Later I’d learn, Karin viewed each of us as an artist, whether we did or not.

Karin’s kind of welcome sign…

As I walked through the house, I envisioned the comings and goings of this lived-in and well-loved house, known on the island as the Peach Palace due to the unlikely color of its clapboards. On the north wall of the living room, opposite the fireplace, hung a large black and white photo of Karin holding hands with her young son Andrew, spinning in circles in a courtyard yard in Italy. Karin looked as if she had stepped out of the pages of an E.M.Forster novel with Andrew as her dapper muse.

Karin in my kitchen, Karin in my heart: A love note to Karen from her husband, Buzz.

When I fell in love with the house, I fell in love with Karin. For me, it was an package deal. I approached Karin and her beloved husband Buzz with my best offer and a love letter to the house. I have never been more earnest in my life and spelled out what the house would mean to me, and how I would honor its century-old legacy and weathered facade with a passion reserved for family and friends. Fortunately for me, it was also a time when anyone with a pulse and a bank account could secure a mortgage loan that today would be considered a bankruptable offense.  We came to a mutual agreement and the only working key to the house was passed on.

The Peach Palace: a shelter for all its children, past and present

A month or so later, I moved into the house, and Buzz and Karin relocated just a block away, but in truth their spirits never really left. Their indelible stamp remained and I was glad for it. Augie their cat took a more literal approach. As a regular visitor, he enjoyed dual residency between houses old and new. Buzz and Karin’s walks to retrieve him made for perfect visits and updates. Karin and I gushed about ‘our’ house, and she would often visit her former home when I was away at work, as I had invited her to do.

Karin and family enjoying Vashons First Friday Gallery Cruise
Karin and family enjoying Vashons First Friday Gallery Cruise

When I think of my house —of Karin and Buzz’s house —I’m reminded of a note from Mark Twain about his family home in Hartford, Connecticut. It seems to sum up how we felt, too:

To us our house was not unsentient matter–it had a heart and a soul and eyes to see us with, and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome—and we could not enter it unmoved.          – Letter to Joseph Twichell, quoted in Mark Twain: A Biography

Karin holds a special place in my heart, one that grows even dearer with the sad news of her passing. I have never met anyone like Karin, and she embodied love, creativity, moxie, insight and generosity. I write this from a table in the house where she raised her family, and her presence is felt everyday. Her name is painted above my kitchen door, “To Karin with love,” a beloved vestige from her days here, and a gentle and lovely reminder she will come and go as she pleases and find peace in her world with Buzz. My deepest sympathies to her family and friends far and wide.

Her nickname was little Gemma , and what a little gem she was.

Karin in the middle, one Fourth of July when all was right with the world.

A Garden Fountain That Whispers Water

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gemini Anna at the fountain
My lovely friend Anna strikes a classic Gemini pose for this cheeky Aquarian, courtesy of a little photo trickery.

As a card-carrying Aquarian (a.k.a. the water bearer), I take my garden fountain seriously, always fine-tuning and perfecting its placement and performance for both the ear and the eye. It has to look good and sound good. So after a couple clumsy substitutions and iterations, my fountain was due for an overhaul, an aesthetic upgrade that would delight me at every turn, and not require me to shield my face, cover my ears and shake my head.

My first DIY garden fountain, created at my former Seattle home from a salvaged porcelain Chinese jardiniere. I bit fancy for the backyard, but I loved it nonetheless.

A polar vortex several years ago took out my favorite fountain piece, creating hairline cracks throughout the stately vessel’s body. The first thaw quickly revealed the damage from an unrepentant hard freeze, compromising the urn into a pile of toothy shards. So I fashioned some lesser vessels over time until I could find the perfect urn to restore and celebrate the sound and presence of rippling, rushing, dancing water.

terra cotta garden fountain
When I moved, I replaced the jardiniere with a more rustic pot, and carted the jardiniere to Vashon Island.

I did find a classically-shape large vessel to crown the fountain basin, but its sheer size and weight peppered with my passing procrastination kept the behemoth on its side in the shade of a failing peach tree for over two years. If I had a nickle for every time I said, “I’ve got to get that thing running again.” I could have afforded a lesser version of the Trevi fountain.

garden urn
The garden vessel endured for several years before the big freeze took it out.
Two hollow bamboo reeds drew water gently away from the vessel, creating a most pleasing and gentle sound. The smooth flat rocks were found on my property, courtesy of a generous glacier.

 

classic garden fountain urn
New vessel, new day for water music in the garden.

I’m happy to report the big guy was installed and placed prominently in the garden by this big guy, and I wish I would have done it sooner as the sound of water is as much a part of my garden as flowers, ferns, and mossy rocks. I’m still pondering how I’ll landscape the area, refreshing it with a new planting scheme that frames the urn in an artful way. Though I must say, weeds and neglect aren’t bad looking when a fountain’s holding center court.

diy garden fountain sketch
My little DIY sketch about how the fountain works. See the video below for more detail.

I shot a little video of how my current fountain came to be, how this water-bearer of purposeful intent got a very large urn upright, steady, filled with water, and set up to sing its song with effortless regularity. Click the photo below to watch.

My DIY Fountain Video

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial and look at how I built my garden fountain. It’s a dreamy addition to the garden, especially paired with a playful bulldog, comfy hammock and happy Aquarian. Garden on friends, garden on!

Growing Peach Trees in the Pacific Northwest: It’s the Pits

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Avalon Pride peach cut in two on plate
Avalon Pride peach: good and tasty, but few and far between

Growing peach trees in the maritime Pacific Northwest is the pits. There I said it, because for thirteen long, relatively futile and fruitless years, I’ve tended almost every known peach-leaf-curl-resistant peach tree variety on the market with negligible results. The first couple of years seemed promising, but then insect borers, peach-leaf-curl disease, bark-gnawing vermin, and thatch ants with an appetite for flower buds and fruit did them (and my desire to continue) in. While I try to never say “die,” the peach trees said it for me.

Frost peach consumed by peach leaf curl disease. No fruit set.
Frost peach consumed by peach leaf curl disease. No fruit set.
Oregon Curl Free peach tree struggling to leaf out.
Oregon Curl Free peach tree struggling to leaf out.

Denial was my disingenuous playmate, always trying to convince me that next year would be different, that I just needed to give Prunus persica a chance to take root, and gain strength and disease resistance. Well, let me just say that never happened. In fact this year, Seattle’s rainiest winter on record, provided the perfect storm (so to speak) for all of my peach trees to succumb to severe and debilitating peach leaf curl disease, Taphrina deformans. 

joh
John Muir peach tree: a very poor choice for the Pacific Northwest. I’ve lost two to disease.

The only peach-leaf-curl-resistant tree I am keeping in the orchard is Nanaimo peach, because it is the only peach tree that consistently produces good-tasting peaches while remaining healthy-ish.

The Nanaimo peach tree sets fruit in wet springs unlike most other of my peach cultivars.

This year I will remove the other peach trees. It takes a lot for me to cut down a tree, especially one I planted, but every time I walk by a gnarly, suffering anemic peach tree, it’s a painful reminder that my favorite fruit is being forced to endure a slow and ugly death. And because I don’t spray chemicals on my trees, there’s little I can do…or is there?

three diseased and dying peach trees
Struggling peach trees: Charlotte, Salish Sea (Q-1-8), and Indian Free

Growing Peach Trees in the Pacific Northwest

But Wait…There’s a Happy Ending

Not one to give up when it comes to growing the fleshy nectar-drenched orb of the gods, I opted for Plan B, and planted my new peach trees under a cover – greenhouse cover that is. And because they are sheltered from the nonstop winter rains in a protective, heat-retentive tunnel, peach leaf curl no longer plays a dastardly role in the tree’s demise.

super dwarf peach tree in greenhouse
Genetic dwarf peach right at home in the greenhouse.

The results of growing peach trees under cover surprised me. My first three trees responded to added heat and dryness like Seattleites visiting Palm Springs in February: happy, happy, happy to be there.  These first trees I planted were dwarf.  I had kept them in large pots for quite some time, and they resembled robust topiaries at only five feet tall. Once released from their pots, they filled out, greened up, and produced a prodigious amount of peaches for trees their size—plus they were absolutely beautiful in bloom. As for what peach trees are now planted in my greenhouse, varieties include: Polly, Galaxy, El Dorado, Snow Queen and Baby Crawford.

snow queen nectarine leaves
Snow queen nectarine living the lush life undercover.

While not everyone has a greenhouse at their disposal, let me offer this advice.  If you want to plant a peach tree in the Pacific Northwest, plant Nanaimo for the best results and skip the rest, including Frost. If you’d like other another peach-leaf-curl-resistant variety, then I suggest you plant it under a south-facing eave where it gets added heat and protection from incessant winter rains, which cause leaf curl. You just have to make sure the roots get well-watered.

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White peaches well on their way to growing and ripening in the greenhouse.

If I didn’t have my greenhouse, I would see that every structure on my property enjoyed an espaliered peach tree or two on its south-facing wall. And again, Nanaimo peach seems to be self-fertile and can stand on its own unprotected and still produce fine peaches.

growing peaches tree nanaimo peach
Nanaimo peach: In my humble opinion, the best peach-leaf-curl-resistant variety to grow in the Pacific Northwest.

So my peach-pals, keep fighting the good fight; there is hope for growing peach trees in the Pacific Northwest, but only with proper care and consideration for variety, and if all else fails, undercover.