Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Reluctant Orchardist

Misleading Green Hides Dry Ground
Cherry-less Cherry Tree
All That's Left Are the Pits
Profusion of Pears!
Apples, More Than Three!
What's This?
Blossoms of Mystery Shrub (May)
Quince or Deadly Fuzzy Pears?
Grass crunches beneath the soles of my borrowed shoes. It's easier to slip on Todd's tennies, and if it weren't so dry, I'd dare to go about in bare-footies. The green is deceptive--if you look close the grass is long but spare and dusty soil shows like a balding pate. The roots are brown and crisp.

It's not a drought; just dry. Yet tree branches give life to  leaves and fruit.

My garden is buried beneath weeds and random patches of tarragon and parsnip shoots. Who knew the late harvest that had frozen in the ground days before Thanksgiving would grow two-foot tall flowering stems? Not only am I now a neglectful gardener, I find that I'm a reluctant orchardist.

I cannot ignore the fruit surrounding me.

Raspberries I know. They have returned although the blackberries seem dormant or dead. An elderberry bush is loaded with blooms. It wasn't last summer. In fact, two more fruit bearing surprises are loaded--a small pear tree and a mystery fuzzy-fruit shrub.

The cherry tree was full of near-ripe Raniers before I left for Boise. Upon returning the only remains of cherries were pits in the driveway. Something feathered mobbed my tree.

The old apple tree which the mares like to seek shade under has more than the three apples it produced last year. Maybe it felt inspired after my excitement over those three apples. Another small tree is bearing apples, too. But the two crab-apples are void of fruit.

I have no idea what I'm doing. Though I have ancestors who were celebrated early California orchardists, I know nothing of fruit trees. I feel like an expectant parent shuffling through drawers in search of a baby manual. These trees are alive and I don't want to kill them.

And I don't want to eat something toxic, either, getting back to the mystery fruit. This spring it had the most delightful pink-striped, pointed blossoms that unfurled. The shrub is in the horse pasture and it neither flowered nor fruited last year. When I spotted fruit Todd said it was a berry.

That, coming from a man who needs readers. Upon closer inspection, I discovered what looks like fuzzy pears. Searching the internet for answers to my clues, I think it's a quince bush.
Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'll worry over my new charges until I get some solid orchardist info from the county extension. Vintners say the best wines come from grapes that suffer. Maybe the dry summer will produce sweet fruit.

If I do have quince, I'm excited to try this hard, sour fall fruit. I search for ideas online and I'll scour my old cookbooks for recipes.

What to Do With Quince:
  1. Loaded with pectin, quince is the perfect jelly-making fruit. The French make a hard gelled block and slice it with cheese. Ummm, I like cheese..
  2. Several recipes suggest pairing it with lemons or oranges to make a tart marmalade.
  3. Quince jelly is pale and perfect for a scone.
  4. Add one quince to an apple pie for a sultry new flavor.
  5. Some recipes add quince to sweet potatoes and maple syrup. A new Thanksgiving recipe perhaps?

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