Can she bake a cherry pie?

Strawberry season is here, but getting out to a berry patch to pick is another issue. Cherries, on the other hand, are just a short walk from here. This morning I picked two pies’ worth, and this afternoon, they became two pies.

Wheaties calls itself the Breakfast of Champions, but I would argue that title should go to cherry pie a la mode with a cortado. To call that the Breakfast of the Half-fast doesn’t do it justice.

I had a great adventure last week. I did the Wednesday Night Bike Ride with a friend. Spine-tingling adventure already, eh? Riding next to someone with whom I don’t live! Then he suggested we go out to dinner. I hadn’t been in a restaurant since February 23, 2020. You might ask why I remember that specifically. That’s not the point, so I won’t answer. If you really must know, ask in the comments.

My first reaction was a bit of trepidation. Then I wondered what the point of being vaccinated is if I don’t change my behaviors. So we went to a restaurant where we could eat outside. The nearest other patron was 10 feet away. I figured tequila and lime are both anti-viral [ed. note: requires citation] so I drank a Margarita to be safe. A little salt on the rim was to replace lost electrolytes. I drank tequila and ate tacos in a public setting and lived to tell about it.

I rode a new route through familiar territory. Some roads I hadn’t seen, some others in different directions or different sections. Contour farming and intercropping make for great contrasts. I believe I found a new ride to add to the list of favorites. (The new-for-2021 Mt Vernon route, for those from around here, offered four options from 13 to 42 miles and was called the “Get Lost Ride”. We ended up getting lost and making our own route by combining a couple of them when we made a wrong turn and didn’t want to backtrack. That leaves another valley to explore another time.)

Follow the yellow brick road.

Knee-high by the 4th of July is what they say for corn around here. Even with the drought, this is well past the knee, and this is not the tallest corn we saw. Is it new hybrids, GMOs, overuse of fertilizer?

The weather was perfect. Cool and cloudy with a few drops of rain to add suspense. It was windy but, for some reason, seemed to be a tailwind most of the time. (Like having more than one favorite ride, I consider more than one kind of weather perfect for riding. I might have once said there is no such thing as bad weather for riding, just not the right clothes.)

Don’t tell anyone

That I live in the most beautiful place in the United States to ride a bike. They’ll all want to move here.

Sweeping downhills that are like carving linked Telemark turns in fresh powder; steep climbs through wooded hills that shade you from the hot sun; ridge top vistas that go on for miles; shaded creek side valleys; the golden light of late afternoon casting long shadows. The word “green” doesn’t do justice to the array of colors: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, mixed grasses, oaks, maples – a panorama of color, all of which we call “green”.

The names of the town roads tell us what we’ll see – “Enchanted Valley”, “Table Bluff” (a hill so steep it’s like falling off a table – unless you’re going up), “Far View”. Or they tell us the history – “Old Settlers Road”, “Indian Trail”. Or specifically white people’s history, with the names of the first Europeans who lived where this road leads, or the first settlement in the area. These are roads that no one drives on unless they live here.

The area west of here is known as the Driftless Area because during the several ice ages in which this part of the world was covered by glaciers, every glacier missed that area. Instead of gently rolling hills and broad valleys, there are steep hills and deep ravines, becoming more rugged as you approach the Mississippi River.

A phone camera photo doesn’t do it justice. A GoPro camera so you can see what I see might do it. But video doesn’t show you what I feel – the sheer joy, the shit-eating grin, the conversation with old friends that has to pause if a car comes by, or when we get separated on a hill, picked up minutes later like there was no pause.

When you wave to the driver of a pickup truck, he waves back. The trucks here belong to real farmers who use them for real work, not poseurs whose trucks are for show and never get dirty.

We pass a small herd of cattle – Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, not a Holstein among them – lounging in the sun as we climb a hill that we will descend at the end of the day, careful not to smile too broadly and get bugs in our teeth.

The temperature is in the 70s, no wind, dew point around 50 so no humidity, the sun is shining – the world is perfect.

But maybe where you live and ride is the most beautiful place, too…

Why I’m not a farmer

I received these two photos from my CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) farm in the last two weeks. (Photos courtesy of Tipi Produce.)

On the left is a strawberry plant in bloom, coated in ice. On the right is a fresh strawberry from the same patch. On the night of May 29-30, they irrigated the strawberry field to protect it from frost. (For those unfamiliar with this, in the process of changing state from a liquid to a solid, water gives up a lot of heat. This heat is transferred to the plants and protects them from freezing. In the morning, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, they irrigate to melt the ice.)

A week later they irrigated the same strawberries to protect them from 90 degree (32 Celsius) heat. And, by the way, we are in the midst of a drought and a week plus of 90 degree heat.

For all of that work we got a handful of strawberries this week, though more should be coming in the next week or two. If my rhubarb hangs on, we could have strawberry-rhubarb pie next week. The only thing better than rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie. And the only thing better than strawberry-rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.

I have been with this farm since they began their CSA adventure. That’s not the whole truth. I have been with this farm since 1975 when I was the produce buyer for the Willy St Co-op, a member-owned grocery store (now three stores) since 1974. (We opened in the fall of ’74, after the growing season.) Back then, there was no organic certification system. We collected affidavits from farmers, in which they would attest to their growing methods. And I would pay surprise visits to farms to verify this.

But back to why I am not a farmer. Besides the fact that the hours are long and the pay is low, there is the chance that that irrigation trick would have failed, and there would be no 2021 strawberry crop. How many crops can one lose before one loses the farm? I’ll take a paycheck.

If a little frost isn’t bad enough, consider the summer of 2018, when fields were underwater. Or the year before that, when corn leaves looked like spears. It was so dry that the plants adapted to try to cut their evaporative losses. As consumers, we want our food. We don’t care about the weather. And we don’t want to hear any excuses when the price goes up due to weather.

For those unfamiliar with CSA, the concept is that a group of member/consumers invest in a farm at the beginning of the season. Our investment helps the farmer to buy seed and meet other preparation expenses during the time of year when there is no income. In turn, we get a share of the crop when it comes in. If there are no strawberries, we get no strawberries. If there are a ton of peppers (as there were last year) we get a ton of peppers. Right now I am seeing a lot of greens, including the biggest head of red leaf lettuce I have ever seen. It is a way for city slickers to feel some involvement – a sense of ownership and responsibility – a connection to the land and an understanding of the food system beyond the notion that food simply appears: whether on the table if you’re young enough, in the refrigerator if you’re a little older, or in the store if you do the shopping.

We take our food for granted. We get mad if it doesn’t look perfect and then we expect it to be grown without pesticides or fertilizer and still look perfect. We expect a food to appear any time of year, even if it is only ripe in another hemisphere at the time. Somehow the notion of “carbon neutral” goes out the window. If I want peaches in January (in North America), by golly, I’m gonna get peaches in January, even if they come from Chile or Argentina.

And we are obsessed with “bigger is better”. I find the need to put quotation marks around the word strawberry when I refer to berries imported from California. The strawberry is not meant to have a long shelf life. It is not supposed to survive shipping thousands of miles. A strawberry is not supposed to be too big to fit in your mouth, and it is certainly not supposed to be hollow if you slice through it. (The berry in the picture above is on the large end of the spectrum, if you ask me.) A strawberry is meant to be eaten now, or chilled quickly and eaten soon. A strawberry should melt in your mouth, not crunch when you bite into it, like an apple.

Now that’s a strawberry!
And it demands to be eaten now.
It lasted a few seconds after the picture.