Work in progress

In October we had the invasion of crab apples (and fruit flies) in the studio, wind storms with power outages, and revelations about drapery and the role of drawing in painting thanks to a dear friend lending me her copy of Modern Prints and Drawings by Paul Sachs. 

Now it has turned November and we have quince in progress, 24 x 18, oil on panel.

quince crystal linen

New work: Study for “Mrs. M. and a Cherry Tree”

I very much wanted to title this piece “Mrs. M. and the Cherry Tree That Desperately Needs Pruning” but that sounded too much like the next Harry Potter novel.

Figure in a garden, cherry tree

This is a study for a larger painting, but we have to get our model time in when we can (especially during blackfly season).

Ivory Black on panel, 24 x 24

New work

We have so much snow on the ground that the thought of painting it makes me shiver. I’m making drawings of the dark spruce trees bending under heaps of pristine white, but as an antidote I’m finishing images from this summer. The crab apples are from the community garden and orchard at College of the Atlantic.

Crab Apples and Teapot

Crab Apples and Teapot, 24 x 18, oil on panel

New work – Apples on a Yellow Cloth

I’ve been slowly working up to larger paintings since we moved into the new studio last winter. The larger space is helpful but there are  other factors as well, such as brush size, paint consistency, and composition. Fortunately all those very disparate things seem to be growing together. This new painting is the next standard size up: 24″ x 36″ and seemed like a whole new country after working on 18″ x 24″ panels for years. Now that I’m working on a few pieces this size I can hardly wait to move up to 48 x 72!

Apples and Zinnias


Apples on a Yellow Cloth, 24 x 36, oil on panel

Grape day!

The grapes are ripe! The weather is hot and dry and it’s time to make juice before they disappear under an onslaught by wasps, cedar waxwings, deer, and fox. Ripe grapes are appealing to lots of the local wildlife. We grow northern vine varieties Beta (a purple sport of Concord) and Somerset (seedless white) that are hardy and ripen reliably in Maine’s short growing season. These vines have been in place for five years, and are growing in poor but well drained soil on the side of the driveway.

Beta and Somerset grape vines

I’m not sure if the “birdscare balloon” actually drives off birds or not – the vines are so loaded with fruit that it’s hard to gauge depredation. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves for protection against slippery fruit on the ground, stinging insects, and prickly brambles grown up into the vines. . .if you’re picking into a metal container try to keep it shaded so you don’t injure the fruit.

steamer basket full of grapes

I use the stainless steel basket from my steam juicer to pick into so I know when I have enough for a batch. I used to pick when the grapes were dead ripe and a uniform black-purple, but I’ve recently discovered that the juice has more flavor if picked slightly before that stage – with red, dark maroon, and even a few green grapes in each batch.

grapes in steam juicer

The stainless steel basket in the previous photo becomes the top third of the steamer shown here when assembled. The grapes cook quickly and in about 20 minutes the clear tube to the middle portion will show purple and I’ll be able to drain off the juice into the large pot on the right. Use caution – right out of the tube the liquid is still close to the boiling point! I add about 1 cup of sugar for every 2 of juice, decant immediately into canning jars and process in a steam canner for 20 minutes.

Beta grape harvest

This batch of juice is about half and half white Somerset and blue Beta but you would never know from the color of the final product. Because it cooks without adding water, the steam juicer produces a concentrate that we cut at least 50 per cent with water or seltzer to drink. It also makes the best popsicles in the world and next year I’m planning to experiment with a batch of garbage can wine. . .


Once upon a time. . .

. . .it was summer in the garden. Not today, because we’re having a raw, wet March day with snow still on the ground, but summer will be back around soon. I was going through my photo files to find a particular study of quince and wild apples and found a few images that reminded me of what the weather will bring in the coming months once March with its snowy mornings is out of the way.

Below, a steam canner full of Beta and Somerset grapes ready to put the lid on, turn up the burner, and make juice. The vines look thin and sad in the garden right now because the posts are crooked and some of the wires are down, but I’ll be able to set things right in April. I made almost 5 gallons of grape juice concentrate last year and it was wonderful – rich and sweet. More on the way for 2014 as the vines mature!

steam canner full of grapes

My pallet after painting peaches and geranium blossoms in the hoop house under the summer evening sun – light enough to work until 9 pm.


Setting up to make tomato sauce on the Hoosier cabinet. We put up 5 gallons (in pint jars) in 2012, none in 2011 due to virus, we’ll have to see what 2014 will bring.


Elder-Flower Fritters

elder blossomsThe Western Mountains Alliance is working on a project called the Maurer Meals Fruit Cookbook. They have had a great response for the usual suspects like apples and berries, but are looking for recipes for under-represented fruits that are also available in Maine such as chokecherry, elderberry, nanny-berry, kiwi, and many others.

I’m contributing my grandmother’s recipe for elderberry blossom fritters. We have 4 productive elderberry bushes around the yard and make juice, cordial (by adding brandy to the concentrated juice)  and dry the sweet purple berries to use as “raisins”. The flowers are also very tasty but most of the recipes I’ve seen include too much of the stem and woody growth, which is slightly poisonous and can make sensitive people nauseous.

The elderberry bushes in my yard bloom in early May. Pick in the morning when the flowers are fresh, and choose large, platter-like blossom clusters when they are fully in bloom. Use an open bowl or cloth bag because they will immediately start to wilt lose fragrance in plastic. Keep them in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to make the fritters, then strip the blossoms off the stems as thoroughly as possible (a few small stems won’t hurt anything).

Elder-flower cordial, or water, is available in specialty cooking or liquor stores. It has a fragrant, faintly citrusy aroma and flavor that really adds a lot to the fritters. I’ve never tried to make it – maybe next year! I’ve successfully substituted orange-flower water in this recipe, and I think rose-water would work as well. I’ve also tried using the juice concentrate with disappointing results – the fritters taste good but they turn a dark purple color that is less than appetizing!

  • 2 beaten eggs (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sparking wine or seltzer water
  • 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
  • 1 cup elderflowers
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Pour enough oil into a deep fryer (I have a “Fry-Baby” that takes 4.5 C and works well for this recipe) or a large, heavy pot to come up to a depth of 4 inches or so. Turn on the fryer or turn your burner to medium-high and bring the oil to 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating mix all the other ingredients into a large bowl. I use a flat whisk to minimize lumps. The consistency should be thicker than pancake batter, but not so thick that it will completely hold its shape if scooped. If it is too thin, add flour, too thick, more champagne or seltzer.

Drop about a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil for each fritter. It is important not to crowd them, so you’ll have to cook the fritters in batches. I can fit 4 into the Fry-Baby. After about 30 seconds or so, if the fritters have not floated to the surface of the hot oil use a chopstick to dislodge them from the bottom of the fryer or pot. Fry until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels as you cook the rest of the fritters. When slightly cooled, I like to put 4 at a time into a small paper bag with confectioner’s sugar and a few extra blossoms and shake gently to coat.

The same bush loaded with fruit in early September,

Elderberry, Sambucus

Fedco tree order 2013

Snow is falling fast and thick outside my windows and the garden is at rest, a good time to plan for next year’s layout and inventory. Listed below is my 2013 order from the Fedco tree catalog. Per requests in previous years I have included prices and an occasion description from the catalog. Fedco’s shipping rates are very reasonable, but it’s more fun to make a daytrip with friends to the warehouse in Clinton next April. The only down side to visiting in person is that I can’t resist buying more from the floor stock once I get there.

209A – Black Ice Plum ( 1 ) 1 x $25.00 = $25.00

Black Ice Plums

Photo courtesy of egardeners

Black Ice Plum Midsummer. Prunus Lydecker [Prunus besseyi x (Prunus salicina Oka x Prunus salicina Z’s Blue Giant)] U of Wisc, River Falls, 2006. Large 2″ round early-ripening high-quality hardy blue-black dessert plum. Very sweet juicy reddish-purple semi-freestone flesh. Precocious and productive tree with a naturally compact growth habit. Bred by Brian Smith who I visited a few years ago on a fruit exploration trip in the Upper Midwest. He graciously showed us all through his amazing nursery in River Falls. He was growing many of his plums in huge tubs, manipulating bloom time using greenhouses and coolers. This enabled him to cross species or varieties that would never normally flower together. Though we’re not fans of plant patenting, we have been eager to offer his first major introduction. PVP 16621. The literature recommends Toka or La Crescent as a pollinator. Now on trial at our farm. Z3.

230A – Bluejay Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
236A – Meader Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
238A – Patriot Highbush Blueberry ( 1 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00
271A – Aesculus parviflora Bottlebrush Buckeye ( 1 ) 1 x $16.25 = $16.25
289A – Caragana arborescens Siberian Peashrub ( 1 ) 1 x $10.50 = $10.50
300A – Corylus Experimental Hybrid Hazel ( 1 ) 2 x $15.00 = $30.00

Corylus Experimental Hybrid Hazel Badgersett Research Farm, Canton, MN. Seedling shrubs produced from crosses of three hazelnut species: American hazelnut, Corylus americana; beaked hazelnut, Corylus cornuta; European hazelnut, Corylus avellana. The nuts from these trees will likely be larger than those from the N.H. seedlings, as they are crossed with the larger europeans. Highly resistant or immune to filbert blight. Currently we have them in a long-term trial in central Maine. So far, so good.

304A – Cydonia oblonga Pineapple Quince ( 1 ) 1 x $24.00 = $24.00

Pineapple Quince

Photo courtesy New So Wales Dept of Agriculture

338A – Mespilus germanica Breda Giant Medlar ( 1 ) 1 x $25.00 = $25.00


Photograph © Andrew Dunn

Mespilus germanica ‘Breda Giant’ Medlar 2-20′ Introduced in the Netherlands. Cinnamon-flavored spicy pear-like fruit shaped like a large rose hip, just under 2″ in diameter. Good for fresh eating when ripe, thin-skinned with applesauce-like texture. A culinary delight in Europe. One source recommends roasting in butter with citrus slices. Also makes good jelly, paste, chutney and “cheese.” Fruit is hard when harvested after the first hard frost and must be bletted—allowed to ripen for several weeks in a cool place. Tastes best just before it turns mushy. 1–2″ white flowers blushed with pink bloom May to June. Shiny green waxy leaves, a nice addition to the landscape. Begins bearing fruit 2–3 years after planting. One tree could bear 20 pounds of fruit once established. Fruit cultivated in Europe and England since the Middle Ages or earlier. Plant in well-drained fertile soil, 9–10′ from other trees. Full sun. Pest and disease-free. Native to southeast Europe and Iran. Self-fertile. Z4/5

363A – Rosa Therese Bugnet Rose ( 1 ) 1 x $12.50 = $12.50


Photo courtesy of Cindy’s Flowers.

L515B – Large-Flowering Gladiolus Mix ( 20 ) 1 x $7.50 = $7.50
L518B – Aconitum napellus English Monkshood or Friars Cap ( 3 ) 1 x $8.00 = $8.00
L588B – Veronicastrum virginicum Culvers Root ( 2 ) 1 x $12.00 = $12.00

Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s Root Makes a beautiful addition to the back of the perennial border and is a requirement in any well-built rain garden. Elegant towering native dons huge 9″ flower spikes with densely clustered tiny white blossoms that open from the top down in early summer. Lance-shaped leaves form whorls on rugged upright stems. Bees love this flower. Plant 2′ apart in full sun, in wet, well drained soil. Grows 4-6′ tall yet rarely needs staking. Our grower Lauren Cormier says, “Culver’s Root is so beautiful it belongs in every herb garden!” Z3