Seeds and Sweets: Early Winter on the Farm


“I used to believe that life’s a road you’re travelling/A straightshot down until you reach the promised land./But now I see that life is a river ramblin./ Each day you wake and try to do the best you can.”  Jennifer Berezan

Early Winter is settling in at the farm. A year ago, our present life was little more than a series of imaginings. Although we did not meet our lofty expectations, we did accomplish what was most important: selective logging and improving our infrastructure, most notably increasing our fuel and water storage. This spring, we’ll begin a new battery of projects spawned by this winter’s pipe-dreams. Right now it is time to take a breath. Hopefully it will snow soon and the cover crop will be nestled under its white blanket, waiting to delight us late spring.

Here at the farm we are literally limping into winter.  Late last fall Mr. Lightcap had ankle surgery (and is recovering nicely), and my shoulders don’t seem happy with the new load they must carry–they keep baulking and going on strike. So, even though we are used to a quiet December, (see ‘Tis the Season:, these last few weeks have been especially still. Some days I look out over our three + acres and see all that I’ve left undone. At these moments, I feel like Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth–spoon in hand and facing the sand pile. As I struggle to remember our accomplishments–creating infrastructure off the grid is hard work–I also sift through my list of undone tasks, concentrating on which seem the most important. The December drought has been my friend in this, and despite the dry hurricane winds that whipped over the ridge top, there were still seeds to harvest.

Seed harvest: pole beans, Thai, Red Rubin, Genovese and Sweet Italian basils. echinacea and morning glory.

Many of the morning glory seeds had blown right out of their pods in the wind. I’m wondering where they will show up in the spring. I collected the grandmother seeds for these flowers from my friends in North Columbia; they have sentimental value.

Besides the seeds, this little corner of the farm house sports art from two friends of mine: Jerianne VanDiik, left, (Sacred Play) and Erin Noel (Stay Sane It Is Wild). Also in this precious corner is a handmade pottery bowl, made decades ago by friend and artist Jennifer Merrill.

How many bees can you count in the Genovese basil? (photo taken September, 2011)

Staring at my seed cache, I thought of course about why I had so many basil seeds, and yet seeds from greens and other vegetables were not as forthcoming or salvageable. Then I remembered how the bees begged me to let the basil go to seed. (See My Ad Hoc Garden ( for more captures of basil, and Welcome to Lightcap Farm  ( more information on the bees.)

Once the seeds were harvested I turned to my favorite baking project of the year: Hernshen.  My long-ago-mother-in-law gave me the recipe, so it is Helen Holden’s Hernshen to me. This year the baking is limited to treats for us, goodies for one petanque party, and gifts to our next door neighbors and brethren homesteaders. If it weren’t for this extended family–now four generations strong–and their many talents and generous hearts, we would feel much more remote and alone. They had already gifted us with delicious cookies and cheesecake when my shoulder eased up enough for me to pick up the rolling pin.

Hernshen: Phase Two complete!

Hernshen is made in three phases. First, I combine equal parts butter, cottage cheese and flour. That settles overnight in the fridge, and then I roll out the dough and dot the center with strawberry jam. Roll and bake each crescent for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool and frost with powdered-sugar icing. I use lemon or orange juice in my icing.

Ready to deliver! Happy Neighbors!

Sometimes, when I’m daunted by all I don’t have time or talent to do, it helps to zoom in on the few things that matter most. Today 2012 begins. As I do each year, I’ll invoke Helen Holden’s famous toast: “Here’s to us! There’s naybody like us!”  And our neighbors will finally get their Hernshen.

What’s done got  done. What didn’t get done won’t, or it will later.

I will spend much of the winter in town, able to focus more on writing until I begin sprouting seeds at Lightcap Farm South sometime in the spring. (I’ve found it much harder to be both a writer and a farmer than I thought I would. Wendell Berry makes it look so easy.) Hopefully I’ll make it down to Abbey Country this winter as well. Definitely I need lots of Chi Gong and yoga these coming months–my shoulders have a date with the fields outside come late spring.

It was a year ago I began this blog–with coverage of the 2011 Wild and Scenic Film Festival (  Thirty-three posts and thirty-three followers later, I’m eager to start another year of blogging. So much still  to do, yes.  But I’ve begun.  Thank you for sharing this last year with me here.


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Filed under Essays, Farming

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