The Seed Catalogues Have Arrived!

Seed packets

Seed packets

A few months ago my aunt suggested that it was time to order free seed catalogues in order to prepare for the coming gardening season.

I scoffed and retorted that until I am a more seasoned gardener I won’t be growing much from seed. A few failed experiments last year were enough to (break my heart and*) reassure me that my gardening skill needs a helping hand in the form of pre-started plants.

However, I did take her advice for no other reason than ordering seed catalogues in winter has the same affect that the Sears Wish Book used to have in September: you flip through the pages slowly with pure wonder and joy imagining what great times lie ahead.

I also decided that the seed catalogues would be a great way to do research on different varieties of plants and to solidify what we can plant next year. This “planning” took the form of me cutting out pictures of all the things I’d like to consider growing (again, Sears Wish Book flashback). I roughly chopped out photos of crisp pickling cukes, luscious ripe strawberries adorned with tiny white flowers, handsome husked tomatillos and adorable orange cherry tomatoes while I flipped right by things like broccoli, cauliflower and page after page of squashes and gourds.

Now that I have all of these funny little cutouts I intend to paste them into a scrapbook or perhaps (if I get really organized) a to-scale plan of the garden so that I can see what this garden-to-be might look like. I admit this whole idea is a bit grade 3 arts-and-crafts but it’s giving me a visual representation of my dream garden. And it doesn’t hurt that looking at lush greenery helps take the mind of the many days of flurries and overcast skies that we must endure before getting to the time we’ll actually breaking ground on our garden.

*Ok, saying my heart was broken by my failed seed planting is admittedly a bit melodramatic, but somewhat well-founded. I took it in my head last spring that I wanted to replicate a lovely flower bed that my grandma had tended for years but which now sprouts only a few valiant tulips every spring. I was seduced by the colours on the seed packets and drawn in by the promise of bright, spiky dahlia, cheery shasta daisy and fragrant blue sage. And what did I get? Nada. Zero flowers even sprouted and the dream of gardening in my grandmother’s muddy footprints evaporated.

My other failed seed planting is a two-time lack of sunflowers. Sunflowers seem like a no-brainer: everyone has them. They grow like 8 feet high. And the two times I’ve planted them from seed I’ve gotten no where.

I love sunflowers. Their constant cheerfulness at their slightly absurd height is downright heartwarming. I want to grow them! But sunflowers remain my great white whale, though I vow to conquer them oooooone daaaayyyyy *stands on deck of ship shaking fist in air*

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Grandma’s Cooking in the Lodi Kitchen

Now that I’m concentrating more on cooking these days I am reminded of the great food that I grew up with. My mum is an excellent cook and I have always learned a lot from her about cooking and continue to do so. But the food that your grandma cooks is always a bit special–probably a bit more indulgent because she’s cooking for her grandchildren. I have so many memories of wonderful food that Grandma cooked in the Lodi Home Farm kitchen.

Now the kitchen in the Home Farm in Lodi leaves a bit to be desired by today’s standards. There is very little counter space and the storage space is cramped and fractured. Cooking or baking in the kitchen can be frustrating when you’re used to more modern kitchens–you don’t have enough room to spread out, things can’t be found easily and if there are more of two of you in there you will knock into each other so many times you want to throw everyone out of there so you can finish cooking.

One of the features of the kitchen is the huge old fashioned enamel double sink that greets you when you come in the back door. I think this sink is the same one as was installed when the house first got running water. It’s old, it’s rusty, it’s chipped but the water runs out of the tap and drains out the bottom so at least it’s doing its job.

Grandma was a great cook. I remember so many of her delicious meals, especially her scalloped potatoes that we would often have at the holidays. Grandma almost always served a side salad with all meals, and that would often be a lettuce leaf with a dollop of cottage cheese on it topped with canned fruit–heaven!

My dad was always a big fan of my Grandma’s cake and jello–a winning combo to be sure. The cake was often a single layer of cake baked in a rectangular pan and iced on top. The jello often contained delicious items within like canned fruit, raisins or shredded carrot. The art of really great jello-making I fear is lost on the current generation. Sigh.

One of my absolute all-time Grandma faves were these special cookies that I just loved. They were chocolate cookies with white icing on top and though it’s a pretty straightforward recipe, the fact that these were cookies with ICING on them pretty much blew my little mind.

But the very best of all was that when we visited Grandma we would have cookies for breakfast. How great is that?! I’m not sure if this was a grandchildren special event or if she always had cookies for breakfast, but I’m inclined to think it was the former. Now these were definitely nutritious cookies–they had raisins and nuts in them, which makes them like muffins or something, right? I’m not sure many current nutritionists would endorse this, but I guess that’s what Grandmas are for.

Christmas in Lodi

The barn in winter

The barn in winter

When I was young my family used to travel from St. John’s, Newfoundland where we lived to Lodi, New York to celebrate Christmas with my Grandma. Thankfully we wouldn’t drive the 4 days to get there like we did in the summertime.

We had Christmas in Lodi in alternate years from celebrating Christmas in Toronto with my other set of grandparents. In Lodi we would celebrate with my Grandma and sometimes my uncle Floyd who would return to Lodi from his home in Boston.

Christmas in Lodi with Grandma and Floydie was lots of fun, of course, with the requisite fabulous meals, lots of presents and Grandma’s wonderful baking (with the aforementioned walnuts she would have dried over the fall).

As a kid I remember staring up at a seemingly gigantic overflowing pile of presents in the elegant front stairwell of the Lodi Home Farm where they would be stored in anticipation of being slid under the Christmas tree. It was a truly magical sight for a child.

Living in the country affords folks a more immediate connection with the Christmas tree than we have in the city. No stacks of trees in grocery store parking lots imported from Quebec or the Maritimes–no, sir. I remember the family trekking out into the woods on the Golding Farm property in Lodi with a rusty saw and a toboggan cut down a tree and haul back a “wild” Christmas tree. It was cold work that somehow seemed to get less festive with every passing moment that we were standing around arguing over the perfect tree.

The most exciting thing as a kid celebrating Christmas in Lodi was that Grandma’s rules applied for the Christmas tree. These rules included coloured lights (at our home white lights were the standard) lots of gold and silver swags of tinsel and individually applied strands of silver icicles.

Somehow the Lodi Christmas tree always seemed quintessentially “American” in contrast to our various trees at home in Canada: it celebrated excess, it was incredibly colourful and a bit brash. Our Canadian trees are always more reserved and understated in contrast. (I’m allowed to make these stereotypical tree decrees, being both Canadian and American myself).

Lodi is a great place for Christmas with the snow-covered trees, the crisp, winter country air and the years and years of great family memories built up in the Home Farm house over generations of Christmases celebrated there.

What I Know About my Grandpa

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

My Grandpa, painting by Floyd Covert

Sadly I never got a chance to meet my Grandpa Covert, my Dad’s father and owner of the Home Farm in Lodi that we still have in the family today. He died a long time ago, when my Dad was 18. From what I’ve been told, he was a real character and I would have really liked him.

Because I never met him we have some collected stories that we tell and re-tell, questions that we ask and re-ask and lots of photos that we look at again and again.

Here’s what I know about my Grandpa Covert:
-he was a farmer and had several hired men that worked the farm with him
-he was in the First World War
-he walked with a crutch because of the lingering effects of an illness he had suffered as a young man
-he was named Floyd Darwin Covert, Darwin being his father’s first name: Darwin Claudius Covert (what a great name, eh?)
-my uncle Floyd, his first-born son, was named after him
-he was from Ovid originally which makes us Ovid Coverts, not Lodi Coverts (which makes perfect sense, right?)
-he and my Grandma built the cottage that my brother and now own on Lodi Point which contains materials (like windows) from the military base in Sampson that was decommissioned in the 1950s
-though my Grandma was firm in her commitment to the Temperance movement, my Grandpa… ahem.. well… didn’t have such strict beliefs, shall we say?
-he had a great sense of humour and was a real practical joker. There’s a story I remember about wrapping up a Christmas dinner guest’s scarf that she’d come in with and giving it back to her as a gift later in the evening without her realizing it.

Though I’ve never met him his presence is felt everywhere in our property in Lodi: in the house, the barns, the fields, the garage, the ancient Model A Ford in the back corner of the barn–everywhere. I wish I’d had a chance to meet him but in a way I feel like I do know him.

Farming in the Family

Grandpa Covert

Painting of my Grandpa Covert by my uncle Floyd Covert

Right now I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan which is an examination of our eating habits and the industrial food chain. The book looks these issues from many different angles and looks at people who are creating food sources off the grid of the major global food chain.

Thinking about food production on family farms like some of those described in this book makes me think about my own family and history with farming. My grandfather was a farmer on the Home Farm property in Lodi that we still own. My father farmed that land when he was young as well. The land is still being farmed today by a local farmer who rents the land. As far as I can tell it is mostly crops of corn and soy–two of the industrialized monoculture crops that come under a lot of fire in this book for a number of reasons.

After our gardening experience this past summer I’m much more concerned about my place and my role in the food chain. I’ve been trying to eat locally sourced meat and vegetables when possible and have been eating a lot less meat in general.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other similar books decry the loss of the diversified farm and that makes me think more about what kind of farming my family would have done over the years. I remember when there were sheep on the farm, though I was really little at the time, and my dad talks about growing different kinds of crops like wheat and barley.

It’s kind of amazing to imagine that in my own family over the course of 3 generations the food chain has been radically altered such that the skills that my grandparents subsisted on are all but foreign to me and my brother and most people of my generation. I hope that over the coming months and years we can re-learn some of these life-on-the-farm skills and tactics to continue our local food mission.

I wonder if I would have made a good farmer… I dunno, I’m *really* not a morning person and I understand that comes with the, ahem, territory.

A Local Thanksgiving and Garden News

Turkey

Turkey

Two weeks ago my family celebrated an early U.S. Thanksgiving during a long weekend in Lodi. We indulged in the usual Thanksgiving activities (eating too much and shopping too much) and we also made some significant progress on next year’s garden plans.

Of course turkey and Thanksgiving are a perfect pairing but this year we were determined to go local with our Thanksgiving dinner. Our summer garden triumphs put local food at the forefront of our eating habits and Thanksgiving was no reason to stray from this philosophy.

[Ok in fairness I have to admit that it was mainly my brother Andrew leading the local turkey charge. I thought it might be a bit of an expensive wild goose chase, if you’ll pardon the pun.]

We grudgingly headed off to the Green Star Co-op in Ithaca– I say grudgingly because I was certain that we would be dropping a princely sum for this local turkey. Come to find out that Green Star was selling their supply of local turkeys at the wholesale price. We assumed that this was a good faith gesture intended to promote local farmers and the philosophy of eating locally produced food, especially meats. We were thrilled and acquired a 12-lb bird from a farm in nearby Interlaken, NY called Oink and Gobble Farms.

The local turkey tasted… great! Was is significantly different than an industrial farming food chain turkey? I hate to admit that I couldn’t taste a huge difference. But it was moist, delicious, reasonably priced and grew up just about 15 minutes down the road from the dinner table at which we were enjoying it!

The Garden News is very big, very exciting and hopefully very sunny. One of the (ahem, many) problems with the garden plots we chose last year for our first ever garden was the shadiness of the spot. It looked great in the late winter when the trees surrounding it had no leaves, but we quickly learned that it was awfully shady.

So our new spots include a couple of different areas right at the end of the property where it abuts the farmed acreage. We figure that it must be good soil being that close to the farmland and it is in a much (hopefully!) sunnier area. Of course the trees have no leaves now either, but with our skillful plotting of the sun’s trajectory we think we’ve avoided the major shade issues.

Oh, and the other news? More walnuts. Yup, being a glutton for punishment, I said yes when Dad offered to collect more walnuts on his clean-up of the roof and the grounds. We sat and removed the mostly rotten husks (an extraordinarily gross job) and then laid them out on a board in the basement in the manner we believe that Grandma would have done. We’ll see in the spring how this method compares to the oven-roasting method.

The Lodi Historical Society

Lodi Historical Society

Lodi Historical Society

The Lodi Historical Society is one of the main cultural organizations in Lodi, and does more than just the name suggests. The Lodi Historical Society aims to preserve the history of our town, but also organizes events, concerts and is the social glue of the community to a certain extent.

When I was young we would always participate in Lodi Historical Society events with my grandma, as she was heavily involved in the organization. Some of my fondest Lodi memories are of the “Dish-to-Pass” suppers in the Lodi Historical building where people would come together with their signature potluck dishes and the food and conversation would flow. My grandma would often bring a large slab cake and jello with fruit and/or vegetables in it: nectar of the gods!

The Lodi Historical Society events are a large part of their year-round activities in Lodi. Concerts by the Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble occur a few times a year, and the annual art show and artisan show are very popular as well.

The Lodi Historical Society building is a gorgeous former church with a raised stage, seating for hundreds and a fully restored Hook Tracker Organ, as well as reception areas for more casual meetings. It’s a great venue for weddings in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country and frankly a steal at $400!

In the interest of full disclosure I should explain that my dad is the co-president of the Lodi Historical Society but I can assure you my opinions stated here are completely unbiased. And let me tell you, the perks of being the daughter of the co-president of the Lodi Historical Society are numerous… to numerous to go into here, really…

The Lodi Historical Society is a great example of a volunteer-run organization that has been around for many, many years that keeps the life of our little town going with recurring activities that are both for Lodinians as well as being a way to attract new visitors to Lodi.

To become a member of the Lodi Historical Society, visit their website to learn more.

The Great Walnut Experiment

The 150- year-old property that our home farm sits on is shaded by many lovely old trees that keep the house nice and cool and provide a gorgeous setting. One of the most prevalent trees on the property is the Black Walnut–there are several including one very big prominent one.

Raw black walnuts

Raw black walnuts

In the Fall the black walnut drops its seed pods in an attempt to proliferate. This strategy has clearly worked well for the walnut over the years, but it doesn’t work as well for the humans that co-habitate with these stately trees. The seed pods are large tennis-ball like things that drop from the sky at quite a velocity and pose a threat both from above and below: watch out you don’t get beaned by one of these things and watch you don’t turn over your ankle stepping on one of these things.

In the midst of trying to manage our safety around these dangerous things I had a thought: but wait! These are actual walnuts! Why don’t we try to harvest them and eat them? This is a potential goldmine!

So, I set about collecting as many decent looking and not-too-rotten walnuts as I could gather. Stoop labour: not super fun, but then as I was soon to discover, just about everything in this Great Walnut Experiment was hard labour.

I collected intelligence from folks in Lodi about what the heck to do with walnuts and one theme consistently emerged: drive over them. Yup. These suckers are so hard that you can DRIVE OVER THEM. And that’s just to get the outer skin off.

And a caveat: as every source I consulted confirmed, handling the nuts in any way will stain your hands for weeks. I can attest to the veracity of this statement and would add for posterity: even through gloves.

So while our friend Linda kindly obliged by backing over my crop of walnuts a few times I tried to determine the next steps. According to my dad, my grandma used to dry the nuts in the basement on an old screen door all winter. The ancient copy of the Rodale Organic Gardening handbook that I picked up at the Ithaca Book Sale said to dry them for a week and then roast them in a low over for one day. Given my lack of attention span, I chose this method and set about drying the nuts on every possible flat surface in my apartment once back in Ottawa.

Black Walnut

Black Walnut

After several hours in the oven I decided it was time for a taste test. Several violent hammer strikes later and with some diligent digging I was able to pry enough of the nut meat to consider this whole back-breaking experiment a success.

The all-important question of the flavour? It’s a strong and hearty nuttiness with none of the bitterness I was worried about. And the taste instantly transports me to my childhood and the raisin cookies my grandma used to make which she must have flavoured with these nuts that she harvested every year.

Ok, so, anyone want some? Seriously. I’m too exhausted to keep hacking at these suckers.

Yes, we CAN!

yes we CAN

yes we CAN

As we speak a giant pot full of a simmering mixture of fruits and spices is on the stove reducing to a sweet, sour, pulpy, hot delicious concoction. Today, for the first time ever, mum and I are canning. Yup, real time, old skool canning. Preserving. Putting up food for the winter.

It was a perfect activity for a Thanksgiving Monday replete with gorgeous fall colours and a pronounced nip in the air. A perfect activity for mother and daughter. A perfect activity to top off the season of our first-ever garden.

I remember thinking earlier in the season that it would be a bit of a stretch to envision myself actually canning, for a number of different reasons. First off I wondered if we would actually be successful enough with our garden to have enough produce to put up (sshh… don’t tell). I also severely doubted my own ability to tackle a project that I see as something that women of past generations inherently have the magical talents to produce, talents that weren’t passed down to my generation.

Turns out that the internet comes in pretty handy and there’s very little talent involved at all. Follow a recipe. Make a few phone calls to your canning expert and you’re golden.

In the interests of full disclosure you should know that none of the produce we’re canning today came from either Lodi or our garden. But the tomatoes for our chutney did come from the front yard of my apartment building in Ottawa and they were looking so forlorn hanging in their unripened state week after week that I can only imagine that they are happier serving a higher purpose in our chutney.

Canning

Canning

Now the most important ingredient in our successful canning experience was of course our canning expert, our friend and Lodi resident Carolyn who helped us get started and then answered some important mid-canning questions. Apart from the important basics she let us know that it doesn’t have to be perfect and that chutneys are very forgiving, which I think is an important quality for our first canning experience!

My grandmother was a great canner and I hope that with one chutney under my belt I can become half as good as her at some point in my life. I’m thinking raspberry jam next summer… ooh, and maybe apple sauce… oh, and of course pickles!

Oh, and by the way, everyone’s getting chutney for Christmas.

The Infamous Eagle Hotel




Eagle Hotel

Originally uploaded by j-co

Lodi is a small town with a population under 400 year-round. If you’re travelling on Route 414 in the North-South direction you don’t even have to stop at any point as you travel through Lodi. Many people don’t even slow down much.

There isn’t much commerce on Main St. in Lodi. There’s a Post Office, an ice cream stand, a printing shop and a den of ill repute: the infamous Eagle Hotel.

The Eagle Hotel is a building with an incredible amount of history–it’s been around as long as Lodi itself. The Eagle is a bar with a dining room that’s open on Fridays and Saturdays but those two areas are worlds apart, as far as I can tell.

I have been to the dining room a few times for the Friday Night Fish Fry which was great. The ambiance is set with a woman playing old-timey music on the piano as you enter the building. The rest of the experience is just about as old-timey; the food is good and the service friendly.

I have never–and proabably will never–set foot in the bar portion of the Eagle Hotel. This is the kind of place that has regulars, a horseshoe pit out back and neon signs blinking incessantly. There is no really good reason that I couldn’t go in there, except for the fact that I’m not sure it’s really my kind of place. It’s just that I can’t imagine what my grandmother would say if she knew I’d done such a thing (she passed away 15 years ago).

My grandma was Temperance Union and abhorred alcohol in her house (sorry Grandma, that rule’s been broken!). The Eagle Hotel represented a repository of all that was unacceptable in my grandmother’s eyes–or at least that’s how I remember it from when I was little. You could often, and still can, hear the Eagle’s loud, pulsating music from our house a block away and hear the revellers getting into all sorts of mischief. It all just seemed like a *bad* thing when I was little.

Often when my friends come to visit they really want to go to the Eagle to get some local flavour and enjoy a cheap beer. My brother’s had the same experience. But if they are able to get up the nerve to go we refuse to go with them. I just can’t! I can’t bear to think of Grandma’s reaction, looking down from wherever she might be!

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