the Surplus. It is one of the founding principles of Permaculture. And one of
the tasks is to discover these surpluses and where to pass them on, reaching
another Principle, which is “The problem is the solution.” Usually, at this time of year, I am in the
middle of one of my favorite Distributions, which is fresh figs from our tree.
But this year is a little different. We had a deep cold snap in the valley last
winter, and many fig trees died back to the ground and are coming back as
shrubs. That did not happen to mine; it was both ancient and protected, but it
suffered some serious damage. This summer, more energy has gone into leaf
production than figs, and many of the figs that are ripe are high in the
branches, up in the bird’s half of the tree. There will be enough for me to dry
for winter treats and the fresh ones are amazing, sun-warmed and sweet as
honey. But we do not have a surplus. A problem.
a block away, the prune plum tree in the back yard of our rental house is bent
over with fruit. The branches are almost breaking as the plums ripen. They lean
over the fences, which sag under their weight. Deep purple plums, dusty and
sweet, cling to the branches. I have hauled home baskets full—dried them, made
plum jam, pickled them, and baked two upside down plum cakes—and I’ve cleared
one branch. It’s a problem. Our tenants began the distribution pattern. One
took bags of the fruit to work. The next day, his co-workers were looking at
him expectantly. “More plums?” they asked. He obliged. While doing house
repairs, I brought bowls over to both of the neighbors. Then school started. I
work with at least sixty people. I brought a large basket of plums. They were
gone in twenty four hours. “Yes!” I thought, and gathered another basket.
Within a few
days, the counter of the staff room held a huge bowl of plums—and a bag of
apples. Then there were some zucchini. Tomatoes. Peppers. Flowers. Lemon
cucumbers. The attendance clerk bought a food dryer from Bi-Mart and asked for
a bag of fruit to dry. I obliged. Two other people wanted plums for drying.
More plums piled into baskets, brought into school. By now, I have left a trail
of dropped plums from my house to work; like Hanzel and Gretel, I can find my
way home again. Conversation in the
office revolved around drying time and fruit prep. It is easy, I assured them.
Cut the fruit in half, push it out a bit to expose more surface, and put it in
the dryer. I dry my fruit until it is almost crispy, because I don’t want to
worry about mold. Then, I pour it into quart canning jars (everything in our
house is stored in canning jars) and stash it on the basement shelves. No
dipping, no freezing, no fuss.
The overflow of
fruit is almost over for the year. My green beans and tomatoes are slowing
down, the zucchini plants all have powdery mildew, and the plums that remain
are almost over ripe. I will probably pick one more round for the school
counter Monday evening and call it good. But, this year, I have learned that
the surplus is not always where you believe it to be, and there is always a
home for fresh fruit.
Plum Upside down Cake-- from Moosewood Desserts
1/2 cup butter
3/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1.5 t BP
.5 t cinnamon
.5 t salt
2 t vanilla
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and buttermilk, then dry ingredients.
Before pouring batter into pan, line it with 6-8 plums, cut in half. Then pour 1/4 cup of melted butter and 1/4 cup of brown sugar over the plums.
Bake in 350 degree oven until done, flip and release while still warm. A spring form pan makes this easy.
full Harvest Moon rose on Tuesday night, and we were on the oak tree platform
out at Finely Wildlife Refuge to watch the show. Watching the full moon rise is one of our ways of easing into
was slated for 6:39 PM in Portland. When we arrived at six, the grasses were
turning golden, small critters were rustling in the blackberry brambles, and
the place was empty. We climbed the hill to the huge oak and settled in with
dinner—tabouli with sungold tomatoes and a cucumber, fresh whole wheat bread
and apple butter, grapes, grape juice, and apple crisp. Two owls argued over
turf in the distance. We discussed where the moon would rise. I was afraid it
would be behind the hill. Mark argued for a clump of trees, based on the sunset
shadows. We ate slowly, wrote in our notebooks, and watched for the moon.
watch is always a slow and peaceful process. Even after years, we are still
never quite sure where to look. At about ten of seven, right on schedule, Mark
ponders the projected time, which has passed with no moon. Do they take the
time zones into account? Because there’s an hour difference, you know, from one
side to the next. How accurate is that information on the internet? Should we
enter our longitude and latitude next year? Would it matter? Where would we
find that info? We pack up the dishes
while we can still see everything.
wait and watch. I break out The Sand County Almanac, which we are
reading aloud and read the essay of the passing of the passenger pigeons. The
chapter is an elegy for things past, destroyed by man without thinking. It is
beautiful. I consider global warming and how out of joint the summer’s weather
has been. Will someone being writing
our elegy soon? The owls have quieted,
but the geese are settling on a distant pond and we hear their night time
conversations as the grasses grow darker. No moon yet…am I right about the hill
blocking our view of the horizon on one side? The air cools as the sun sets
mosquito bites my leg and another buzzes around my head. Although the little
pond behind us is dry, the marsh is still holding water and must breed the
insects. One bat appears, looking for dinner. We smile. Another flits by.
Crickets call and the bush critters are still. The night grows darker—is there
no moon tonight? Is that possible? Although we know that it is not, that the
moon will rise, we are still worried. Sun and moon rise. In a complex and
rapidly changing world, we need to rely on these actions.
when we are afraid we will have to leave without the moonrise, Mark sighs. “I
see it,” he says. “Right in front of us, right where I thought it would be.”
And then, I see it, too. A tiny sliver of deep golden light, rising through the
tangled branches of the brush in front of us. Quickly, now, it emerges, deep
orange from the dust, haze, and smoke of the valley. The sky is deep purple
and moonshadow appears on the platform.
We watch, transfixed. The moon will rise; the earth keeps turning.
too soon, we have to leave. I pick up the dinner bag; Mark tucks his notebook
into his backpack. The trail heads down into the owl’s valley, where a vernal
stream runs. It is silent now. Under the trees, the night is dark, but we know
the way ahead. We have walked this way before, hundreds of times. Cross the
bridge, turn left, and head for the open parking lot, where the Ark is waiting.
The moon follows us home, lighting the way.
The topping is all in proportions:
1 part flour
1 part butter
1 part sugar
2 parts oats
Then add a pinch of salt and some spices, and mix together by hand. Spread over fruit and bake until bubbly.
In New England, Indian Summer is
the time after the first frost, when the sky is bright blue, apples hang on the
trees, and the days are warm and glorious. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the
signs are more subtle—we do not have a killing frost until late October, if
then—but the delicate shift is season, and the deep longing to hang onto the
last golden rays of the sun are the same. These are the signs.
·Powdery mildew on the zucchini.
·Smoky air from distant fires.
·Blankets at night.
·Too much fruit!
·Eggplant. Tomatoes. Corn. Green beans.
·Young chicken eggs.
·Kayli, the furry beast, NEVER comes in.
·The fennel in the front yard needs to be tied up, away
from the sidewalk.
·Flan for breakfast (this is related to the eggs…).
·Huge Harvest moon.
·Chai is tempting.
·Bees are very honey turfy.
·Our reading nook looks appealing.
·Hot in the middle of the day, cool in the evening.
Indian Summer Fritatta , perfect for a group dinner or full moon watching
3 cups of blue potatoes, cubed and boiled. Use the tiny ones!
2 cups of small tomatoes
Large handful of feta cheese
6 basil leaves, chopped
6-8 eggs, beaten with pepper and garlic
Layer tomatoes and potatoes in a baking pan, add cheese and basil, pour the ggs over all. Stir to settle and bake in 350 degree oven until the eggs are set, about 40 minutes. This can be eaten warm or room temperature but it is not good cold. The colors are lovely!