3rd BAKING BREAD
The bread we make is a sourdough bread from starter. Sourdough starters can be bought or made, cookbooks often have recipes for this, but the best way to get your starter is from a friend. Ours was given to us by a friend who in turn got it from a friend to whom it was handed down from her great grandmother in Tennessee. She claims it was one hundred and fifty years old when we got it five years ago, and it is still going strong.
Having bread starter is a little bit like having a pet. You need to "feed" it on a regular basis, store it properly, and protect it from freezing. Different starters require different food. Ours likes to be fed a cup of flour, a tablespoon of sugar and a cup of warm potato water once a week. We generally take our starter along when we go on long trips. Our starter has been to Texas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cape Cod, and even back to Tennessee. It has participated in many parties, pot-luck suppers and picnics, being the star attraction of at least one Thanksgiving dinner.
5th ANXIOUSLY AWAITING SPRING
This morning, however, is sunny and beautiful, so I tried skiing a bit around the woods in the new snow. It was very deep and tough going at first, but eventually I was able to make a track. Later, around noon, we dug out the garden bench, which is situated at the northern most corner of the garden facing south. We had our lunch out there, and then I sketched some of the beech tree saplings.
The beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) is a very common hardwood in this area. It is a tall forest tree with distinctively smooth, pale-grey bark, the one that young lovers most commonly carve their initials upon. The initials may persist for several decades, in some cases, long after the love has waned. Rebecca Rupp, in her book Red Oaks and Black Birches, notes that the custom dates back to Roman times, attested to by the surviving Latin proverb "Crescent illae; crescetis amores," meaning "As these letters grow, so may our love."
Beech wood is an excellent fuel, and the fruits, or beechnuts, are an important food for wildlife. They are tasty and nutritious enough for us to eat too, but because they grow so high above the ground, we must wait until they fall off the trees and try to beat the squirrels to the booty. The squirrels are a lot better at this than me, and I rarely find more than a handful or two, usually in late October after a frost.
On the younger trees, the leaves remain intact all winter long, making this tree stand out in the crowd. This is due to a chemical called auxin present in the abscission layer at the base of each leaf's stem where it is attached to the tree. In most species the auxin levels drop after the chlorophyll has broken down and the leaf no longer functions as a food supplier. This in turn weakens the abscission layer and the leaf blows away in the wind. In young beech trees, and to a lesser degree in young oaks, the auxin levels remain unchanged and so the leaf hangs on. The color of these leaves ranges from dark copper to peachy to a pale tan, with enough shades in between to fill a hosiery rack. The color fluctuates with the weather too, becoming brighter in damp warm weather, and lighter on cold dry days. Today they are pale, almost translucent, and tightly curled.
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