It’s qvitten time at Stonegate, not only because an early October frost took out the last of the leafy greens and brought a quick end to the season, but because the Quince (or Quitten in German) have ripened to a phosphorescent yellow in the orchard and begun to blette, turning their bitter starch to sugar and rendering themselves finally, and sweetly, edible.
Quince: Lumpy, astringent, unforgettable.
Bletting is a form a decay, really; the same transformation that turns sour and bone-hard medlars sweet and wine grapes into Sauternes. The French have a poetic word for this metamorphosis, of course: pourriture noble, or noble rot. Maybe something similar happens to the lucky few of us as we age – we sweeten!
Quince fruit begins as a pale, pleated blossom in early spring and evolves into an oblong sphere of hard, unforgiving firmness; its fleecy rind, its strange knobs and bumps, its astringent flesh don’t hold much promise until late in the season when they transform themselves.
Or those that haven’t been plundered do. I have a handful of quince that survived the season, but many were plucked early from their boughs by the orchard’s arch enemy: The squirrel. For a few days in early October, winter-provisioning squirrels sacked and plundered the last of the orchard fruit, but they left me a few quince. Maybe it’s just too firm and heavy and oddly lumpy for their tastes, or their larder was already full of contraband fruit, so why bother?
I watched helpless as they scampered down from tree-top burrows and leapt in furry, frenetic arcs across lawn and fencerow to the orchard, where they grabbed any fruit they could, giddy and snickering to be sure, and buried it somewhere as a cache for a January pear gelato or sub-zero cobbler.
The apples were the first to go. Small and firm and full of Fall promise, most of them were pilfered by mid-August. So my CSA (Compulsively Sacked Apples) fruit never made it into the weekly shares, and the reliable ebb and flow of dearth and plenty at the farm goes on.
After a plunder by squirrels, only the evocative names remained. Here, Sucré de Montlucon, an historic pear variety, is nothing but a plant tag and limbs.
The few quince I have I will covet and try to transform into an aromatic jam, jelly, or paste, something that’s been done for centuries. In fact, quince culture long predates that of apples or pears, other pome fruit in the same family (rosaceae), but somewhere along the way lost favor and are now a rare find.
All the more reason to grow them here at Stonegate Farm, where the obscure will always have a home, where quirky botanical history is relevant, and where the squirrels eat like kings. –Mb
Supper in the garden, umbrellas on stand-by.
I flew in to New York shaking off the usual thunderstorms, and returned before dawn just as the sky began to slowly unfold, blue over black, and the night-lustered scent ofnicotiana was releasing itself into the still air over the farm.
Wakefulness at this hour is magical. From years of shooting gardens for books and magazines, I’m familiar with the secret, transitory beauty of twilight. The world seems to hold its breath, insect legs stop their determined rasping, and birdsongs have yet to be summoned by any indication of morning.
Then the day comes, and there is the usual damage assessment after a storm: The tight purse of the soil again pummeled into a swill by rain, the folds and clefts made by hoes and thoughtful hands all leveled, the tomatoes in a sad, rain-spilt tangle, the small-by-nature varieties of pepper and eggplant – confused by the inconstant weather – reduced to props for my daughter’s American Girl doll.
And despite all that, a smile. The Buddhists tell you that only by leaving your home can you know it for the first time. Knowing this place, with all of its quirks and provocations, is a gift.
Heidi reminds me of that. She reminds me not to become a grumpy farmer, grousing on about apocalyptic weather and the latest Book-of-Revelations pest that’s decided to stop by, and to find the good light (use a photography metaphor and he’ll understand…)
That night, we tossed a big harvest salad ofmesclun greens and loose-leaf lettuce, sweetened with sun-warmed greenhouse grapes, and made fresh pesto with skewer grilled eggplant and pepper. We ate in the garden as the little hens wandered aimlessly about our feet, and – with little effort – found the good light, filtering through the apple trees. - mb
Stonegate was restored and designed with the camera in mind, with framable views and an attention to the pattern language of gardens and buildings that create opportunities for image making. It’s been a long process, more than ten years on now, of creating a visual dialogue with this place, and just when I think there can’t possibly be another pixel’s worth, more images get made. Apparently, if you don’t photograph it, it never existed. Spooky.
Bo-Bear pretends to sleep, then slips me a contract and model release form.
You Blight up My Life
It’s here. We’re doing our best to control it, but may lose the battle. I’m putting out the best anti-fungal Karma I can.