Dear Milk Streeter,
Turkey season is here! It started in early May. Tom went out and bagged a big Tom, over 25 pounds, the first day. He called it in, it started toward him, and then hesitated behind some trees about 70 yards out. Tom gave one last scratch on his turkey caller, the other Tom (the turkey!) moved right in and that was that.
Tom’s just-retired wife, Nancy, has the greenest thumb in town. She sold over $200 of plants at a local farmer’s market last Sunday—she started some of them back in February in her well-tended greenhouse. She gave me a couple of plants for my garden: one tomato and the other bell pepper. I never have much luck with tomatoes—either they never ripen fully by the first frost or they have little taste. Usually do better with smaller Sun Golds, but I will try Nancy’s full-size tomatoes this year. Local farmers are just getting around to planting corn—it’s been cold and wet so it will be a late season.
My youngest daughter, Emily, is working at a local zoo this summer taking care of birds including the giant Steller’s Sea Eagle (it could probably rip your arm off—huge bird), the Great Indian Hornbill, an African Pygmy Falcon (it would fit in your coat pocket) and Tawny Frogmouths. She has learned the art of throwing dead mice, and they catch them like frisbees. Some species are kept behind-the-scenes until it is warm enough to go outside. When she goes to clean their cage, they hop up and down and get excited, like young kids waiting for an ice cream truck. They love attention.
Have been spending time in the woods walking part of the property line. Have an old map with useless markers such as “Large White Birch” or “Big Oak.” There are supposed to be pins (metal pipes hammered into the ground) at certain intervals but they are hard to find. I use old stone walls as a guide, blazed trees and No Trespassing signs, but next time I’ll take my compass or, better yet, a GPS and approach the search more scientifically. Am still looking for the “Stone Monument” promised on the map. Maybe someone stole it!
I went out fishing on the Battenkill in New York state the day after they stocked the river with trout. I put on my waders, assembled the fly rod, pulled the line up through, tied on a promising dry fly and set out to the river. Just then, a truck shows up with a dad and two young kids. They had one spinning rod between them, the kind that I used to buy for my kids down at the country store. They clipped on a Rapala lure and, just as I was in full back cast, they reeled in a nice 10-inch trout. This process was repeated a half-dozen times; trout after trout was hooked and released. Meanwhile, my small dry fly was perfectly cast upstream, I mended the line as it went by, kept the line tight, and did not get one bite. Switched to a wet fly and went down with it—nothing. Finally, after the kids left, I hiked over the bridge to stand in their spot and got not one nibble. As the saying goes, that’s why they call it fishing, not catching. Well, at least I looked pretty good doing it.
A den of foxes showed up on our farm, which means that it’s going to be a tough year for chickens. They holed up in an embankment just below the main house but the mother moved her pups when we discovered her hiding place. Years ago, we had a similar problem with foxes in the henhouse, so I waited patiently in the woods for the culprit. A large red fox trotted (fox really do trot; they bounce on their feet) up a small path, heading right for the chickens. I scared it off with a shot across the bow (I like to give at least one warning before getting serious), and they ended up moving down the valley. Mike, one of our neighbors, was closing up our henhouse one evening, shut the door and started to talk away. He felt that something wasn’t right so he turned around, opened the door and took a second look. A huge raccoon was hiding up in the eaves, patiently waiting for his dinner. He didn’t make that mistake again.
The hunting cabin is open for the season—just have to clean out a thousand dead flies and mouse droppings. The meadows are coming in nicely with the rain and cool weather. Have seen a few deer—a large doe and a few yearlings—but not much sign in the woods yet. The sugaring season is over—we did 850 gallons. Now it has to be reheated and bottled. The taps have been pulled and air pumped through them to dry them out. Lots of work in the woods this summer to clean up fallen trees and replace old sap lines.
Haying season will start mid to late June. Our old preacher is coming back to the Methodist Church. Bingo and chicken dinners at the volunteer fire department will start up again. And it’s time to think about getting our back porch fixed up—it’s covered with half-inch plywood so you don’t fall through the holes! And now creepers are taking over like a scene from Sleeping Beauty. Just a reminder that we don’t live in Dorset where everything is perfect—this is the real Vermont.
Enjoy the late spring and the coming of summer
P.S. Kenji López-Alt recently did an evening cooking demonstration here at Milk Street, and he showed the different effects of oil and vinegar on salad greens. He dressed one batch of greens with oil and one with vinegar, put the greens in a strainer and set each of them over a glass bowl. The oil stayed on the greens; the vinegar slid right off. But the shocker was that the oil wilted the greens but not the vinegar. So, for better flavor and for greens that wilt more slowly, make an emulsion. The easiest way is to use a glass jar, add just a teaspoon of mustard, and shake hard for a few seconds. Jacques Pépin uses the same method.