Southern Maine, Season by Season

Saturday, August 1, 2015

High Summer


The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
A site concerned with Irish genealogy puts it very well: "The month of August earned its name from (the) Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lunasa." Lunasa was a feast that anticipated the harvest and welcomed the months of plenty with festivals of music, dancing and poetry.

It's true. The year has turned, the nights are lengthening, but the hungry time is over, and the gardens and markets are bursting with produce. Time for a celebration! I've just returned from a visit to the vegetable garden, where changes are afoot, appropriate to the season. The pea vines, which produced magnificently throughout June and July, have finally come out. Their space has been weeded and cultivated, and cool-weather greens (spinach, arugula, and mesclun) have been planted in their places.

The second large picking of haricots verts is also sitting in the kitchen, ready to be washed and turned into pickled green beans, and (with the just-picked cucumbers and first tomatoes) a Salade Nicoise - a summer classic! It's the essence of August: just steamed new potatoes and green beans, freshly chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, and the best canned tuna and cured olives. Maybe a sprinkling of fresh basil, too. And a homemade vinaigrette. With a slice of crusty baguette - who could ask for more?

And, even though it's quite late for them, my roses are just finishing their first true flush of bloom. I spent some time this morning deadheading and pruning them. Later, when it gets cool, I'll work some Epsom salts into the soil around their roots. I also planted one of several passalong plants happily acquired during our recent trip to Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts - an heirloom rose, the Rosa mundi:

Rosa mundi

More about the passalong plants, and the trip, in a moment! 

But first, back to Lunasa, and the notion of celebration in anticipation of the harvest. Lunasa is also the name of a band that plays Irish traditional music; they are actually one of the top traditional ensembles in the world. To celebrate the High Summer festival of Lunasa, what better than a sample of Lunasa's music?

A trip to Vermont

 Mid-July was the perfect time for a summer road trip. We decided to explore western Vermont and the Lake Champlain region, and settled on the lovely college town of Middlebury as our base. We took a leisurely route to Middlebury and visited a good friend in Loudon, New Hampshire for lunch. We also stopped at The Mill in Quechee, Vermont to goggle, amazed, as glassblowers at the Simon Pearce complex fashioned lovely crystal glasses with speed and precision. Here's a photo of the dam at The Mill, just down the hallway from the glass blowing area: 

The dam at Quechee, Vermont, as well as a portion of the reconstructed covered bridge over the Ottauquechee River

After Quechee, the drive was not that long to Middlebury. What a lovely town, set amidst gorgeous farmland. And, of course, another dam - this time at Otter Creek: 

The falls at Otter Creek, Middlebury, Vermont

 We spent one whole day of our time in Vermont visiting the reconstructed Fort Ticonderoga (or, to the French, Fort Carilllon) at the southern tip of Lake Champlain. The French reference is necessary, as the interpreters at the Fort were presenting the Year of the French. The costumes, firearms, and even the martial music hearkened back to the French construction and occupation of the Fort in the 1740's: 

Fife practice, in the main gate to the Fort

French fife and drum corps, circa 1740
 Outside the structure of the Fort lay a marvelous surprise: The King's Garden! It had begun as a vegetable and herb garden for the benefit of the troops stationed at the Fort, but has now grown into an absolutely stunning garden that includes a formal colonial garden, enclosed by a brick wall, as well as open gardens of flowers and fruit and a fenced vegetable plot. Here's a taste of the incredible riches of the Garden: 

Entrance to the formal garden

Pole bean plants trained up high poles! I must try it!

Ripening grapes in the fruit garden

Shasta daises, brilliant red monarda (bee balm) and purple liatris (gayflower)

A border in the Children's Garden contains ageratum, pink snapdragons, red and yellow zinnias, and salvia

Entrance to the formal garden. A colonial-era angel guards the portal.

Gorgeous Oriental lilies in the formal garden

Another group of Oriental lilies are a focal point in the formal gardens
 We also spent some time in Williamstown, Massachusetts - home of the Clark Museum of Art. I must confess I had never heard of the Clark before this, but it was a wonderful experience - the Winslow Homers, and special shows of Van Gogh and James McNeill Whistler's iconic "Arrangement in Grey and Black #1" (AKA Whistler's Mother) were unforgettable. 

The building itself had undergone a recent transformation, and I was enthralled by the patterns made by slanting sunlight and sparkling water within the new structure: 

Reflections from a shallow pool. The Clark, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Slanting sunlight and patterned stone
 We also managed to do some searching in the many antique shops in the area. Here's my find, a vintage postcard of Short Sands Beach, in York, Maine. I know the area well! 

The title is "Fishing Boats, York, Maine". It's probably Short Sands Beach. 

 And then there was the Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts! One of my favorite places on earth, we've visited it several times over the past few years. We always find something new and wonderful in the plantings that line the Bridge - this year it was a beautiful little collared dahlia - named "Pooh"! Of course I had to order a couple of them for next year's planting. Here's a rendering of "Pooh", admired by one of his friends: 

And then there's the passalong plants. We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit a couple of Paul's old friends in Lanesboro, Massachusetts - antiquarian book experts who are also excellent bluegrass musicians. And terrific gardeners! We enjoyed the gardens, the music, and the delicious food, a passing thunderstorm, and went away enriched by a volunteer of Rosa mundi (see above) as well as a bit of a lovely coral daylily named  ... "Bill Monroe".  Well, it turns out the eponym is not for THAT Bill Monroe - but who cares? A daylily whose name recalls the Father of Bluegrass!! These plants, along with a hollyhock seedling I'd purchased at The King's Garden, made the trip an absolute bonanza for the garden. 

An arrangement of garden flowers

Late July and early August bring the native perennial gooseneck loosestrife into bloom. I first saw this plant at Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park, and have loved it ever since. We have a huge abundance of this plant, and it makes a wonderful cut flower - its sturdy stems and lush foliage make arrangement easy. Here is some loosestrife in a squat white pottery vase: 

Gooseneck loosestrife - a bit out of focus (sorry ...)


Chocolate Fudge Pops! 

One of my favorite kitchen purchases of this summer season has been my set of frozen pop molds (Zoku Classic molds - highly rated by Bon Appetit! Get 'em on Amazon ...). I've kept some kind of frozen concoction or other in them most of the summer for a sweet snack or chilly dessert.  But my favorite? This unbeatable, incredibly easy and decadent take on an old-fashioned Fudgesicle.  I am a latecomer to the wonders of a Fudgesicle, I'll admit. When I was a kid, chocolate ice cream (and by extension, Fudgesicles) just made my skin crawl. When we visited Bridgeman's in Duluth, on secret ice-cream missions with my grandfather, I'd always let my brothers have the chocolate ice cream from my banana split. Give me vanilla, strawberry, or butter pecan. But NO chocolate ice cream! 

My, how tastes change when we get older ... 

When I saw the article on fudge pops in the New York Times earlier this summer, I knew I just had to try them. I'm glad I did; they are sinfully good. I've made the recipe several times since then, and ... well, I think I just ate the last pop. I need to make more! 

Here's how: 

Take six ounces of good semisweet or bittersweet chocolate - I use Scharffen Berger bits, which you can now sometimes find in the baking aisle of a good supermarket.  If you don't use the bits, just break up six ounces of a good dark chocolate Lindt or Ghiardelli bar. Put the chocolate into a blender. In a heavy sauce pan, whisk together 2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons cocoa (I use King Arthur's Double Dutch), and heat the mixture until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat, and add 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I use my own brew) and a scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour hot mixture over the chocolate in the blender, and let sit for a minute to soften the chocolate. Blend until thoroughly combined (careful with the hot liquid!). Pour into molds, insert pop sticks, and freeze for 24 hours. I know; it's very hard to wait. 

This recipe makes twice as much as I need to fill my Zoku molds, so I just freeze the rest in a plastic container. You can either thaw it to make more pops once the first batch is gone (I think the second batch is even better than the first) or you can scoop it out and enjoy it as you would chocolate sorbet (which it is, sort of). 

August on a stick! Happy Lunasa.

The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at: