Sunday, August 9, 2009

Week ending 8/9/09 - Weather Extremes, Antiques, Pesto! and Blight....

This week began where the last one left off - the weather was cool and damp and sullen with threatening skies that failed to deliver. We had rare glimpses of the full moon, its brightness backlighting the scudding clouds. Lunacy was rampant with coyotes howling in the night, three ATV accidents and two suicides in our small town. The rains held off on Tuesday evening as we attended Somerset's Community Night Out, but Wednesday's newspaper reported that police had been kept busy all night with drunks and domestic disturbances. By Wednesday the weather was still cool and damp and the nighttime temperatures were in the low 50's with dense fog, just downright cold for early August even by our mountain standards. By Thursday the weather had begun to normalize a bit and we had a great dinner at the Somerset Lion's Club's annual picnic.

On Friday morning we decided that the basil just had to be picked as the plants were beginning to blossom. More worrisome however, was that they were suddenly being devoured by Japanese beetles. So we picked our six basil bushes almost completely clean of fragrant leaves. It's quite amazing that four purchased basil plants and two home-grown-from-seed plants could produce a half bushel basket of leaves! It is even more amazing that the same half bushel of leaves would only yield 2-1/2 quarts of basil pesto for the freezer. I always blanch the fresh basil leaves so that the pesto retains that beautiful deep green color after it's been frozen and defrosted. A delicious bonus is the 'basil tea' that is a by-product of the blanching process. I like to freeze pesto in 1-cup containers and use it throughout the year to make spreadable pesto goat cheese, a mixture of equal parts of pesto and soft goat cheese that we love on crackers or pita chips. We also often make a simple basil alfredo cream sauce for pasta and usually have that topped with sauteed scallops. Our favorite use for pesto is to smear it on the pizza dough before adding the sauce and other toppings, giving the pizza that wonderful fresh garlicky flavor.

So, with the pesto safely tucked away in the freezer for the year, I headed back out to the garden to see what else was ripe. I found perfect baby carrots, some beautiful beets that had been hiding under the potato plants, some late season cucumbers, more zucchini and Asian eggplants. I picked a veritable rainbow of veggies, as many as my basket could hold, and unloaded them all onto the table on the porch just outside the kitchen door that serves as my outdoor cooler in the summer. They looked so gorgeous that I just had to go inside for my camera to memorialize the bounty of this years' garden.

While I had been busy with the pesto and the veggie harvesting, Art had been down at the lake mowing the shoreline with our antique sickle bar mower. This mower is an old John Deere #1 sidebar mower, the first model John Deere ever made, and ours must be at least 70 years old. We bought it when we bought the farm in 1971 and had always run it with our 1948 International 'M' tractor, which has really seen better days. However, since we had recently purchased a newer 4WD John Deere 4720 diesel tractor, Art decided to try to run the mower with it instead of with old "Emmy Lou". After a few mounting bracket amendments fashioned with the use of our welder and the addition of a lengthened driveshaft, his mission was accomplished. The 4720 and the #1 sickle bar were off and mowing! Art did a brilliant job on the conversion and is so tickled to be using the old antique sidebar mower with the new tractor.

This brings me to the sad news of the past week......the late tomato blight has finally struck our garden. We had been watching for it and discovered it yesterday on a couple of our dozen plants. By this afternoon it was rapidly appearing on almost every plant. The weather finally turned to summer with a humid heat wave that rolled in last night, and today we had our first day over 80 degrees since summer began, but it was too late to save our tomatoes from the late blight. We've decided to dig our potatoes tomorrow so they don't fall victim to the blight as well. We will also begin to harvest our unaffected green tomatoes, wash them well and store them to ripen indoors away from airborne spores. We will have to dig out all the plants by the roots, bag them in black plastic bags and send them off the property to the landfill. After this is accomplished, we will need to rototill the soil and then sterilize all of our digging tools. I am encouraged by the news that the late blight does not survive the cold winter weather, and as long as we rotate our tomatoes to a different part of the garden next summer, we should be rid of this disease. I think I might also look for blight resistant tomato plants for next year's garden.

I'm not sure what I learned this week as far as my late, lamented tomatoes go. Maybe I have had reinforced the excellent and oft repeated advice of my husband, "Have no expectations and you will suffer no disappointments." I experienced sadness over the loss of the tomatoes, which epitomize summer to me. But I also shared in Art's exultation in giving new life to an old mower, reminding me that even old things, (people, too) can have renewed usefulness and purpose.......and that gives me hope for the future.

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