We spent the spring and early summer waiting for these beauties to ripen. When they did–BANG–they needed to be used immediately.

The realities of summer for a backyard farmer: Pick it or lose it, babe.

Gardeners probably roll their eyes at that, in a “well, DUH, dummy!” kinda way, but it’s caused some significant changes in this citygal’s lifestyle.

In my pre-garden/pre-forager days, I’d peer nearsightedly at the unfamiliar sunlight, thinking, “Whoa! I could really go for a {recipe that showcases some kind of farm-fresh edible}.” An hour later, I’d be strolling through the farmers’ market stalls, choosing succulent cherries, fragrant mushrooms, or lipsmackingly delicate berries to create homemade treats.

Now that our backyard farming efforts have, er, borne fruit, we’re harvesting our own cherries, blackberries, currants, red and gold raspberries, asparagus, blueberries, and strawberries (well, whatever strawberries the bunnies don’t get to first, which is about…two). The fruit’s beautiful, peeking through curtains of greenery, about as deliciously sweet and fresh as it gets. It also changes the order of operations around here.

I WISH I could say these delicious Hood strawberries came from our backyard plants. Nope. These are from the farmers’ market; the wild bunnies are far more effective harvesters.

Instead of that leisurely “Hmmm, X would taste great, lemme go buy ingredients,” it’s more, “OMG THE CHERRIES ARE RIPE! STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND MAKE…CHERRY STUFF!!!!”

…which is why we’re eating a really incredible fresh cherry/raspberry cobbler right now.

I didn’t think we’d actually have enough cherries to make a pie (and we didn’t) but our two dwarf trees DID produce enough for a small cobbler. I pitted and halved the cherries, tossed in the early raspberries and one (ONE) blueberry, and added some lemon juice, vanilla bean paste, and sugar.

I macerated the whole thing with a few tablespoons of tapioca (tapioca is great as a thickener for fruit–it stays transparent and doesn’t add its own flavor the way flour or cornstarch does). Then I microwaved it for about five minutes at half power, stirring every minute or so. I gave it about 24 hours to fully dissolve the tapioca pearls (next time I’ll use tapioca flour).

There’s absolutely nothing as good as cherry cobbler made from your own cherry trees’ offering.

The result is 100, no 500, times tastier than canned cherry pie filling. You could literally eat this stuff with a spoon, forever.

I dumped it into a small baking dish, and headed for the pantry to assemble a cobbler topping. Ooops: No oatmeal. No cookies or graham crackers. Wanted more substance than streusel, no time to make a pie crust…uh-oh.

Then I saw a bag of sugar cookie mix. Hmmmm. I tossed it into a bowl with a half-cup of melted, unsalted butter, and forked it into a crumbly mess. Sprinkled the crumbles on top of the cherries, and baked it for about 45 minutes at 350F.

O. M. G.

I bless the day we planted those cherry trees, because that is literally the best cobbler I’ve ever eaten.

This year’s crop of (delicious) currants went into a series of strawberry-current sorbet and popsicles. YUM.

Not that backyard farming has stopped me from looking for a really good CSA, AKA “community-supported agriculture.” That’s where you buy a share of a farmer’s crop, helping him/her with the funds needed to make that crop, and in exchange you get a box of farm-fresh food every week.

I’m a huge fan of this kinda thing, but have had pretty dismal luck with them. Often, they deliver ginormous, family-sized boxes, far more than I (or even The Resident Carpenter and I) can consume, so part of the bounty simply rots.

Sometimes the quality, well, sucks. My friend Carol and I tried one CSA subscription a few years ago, after visiting their farm store. I viewed beautiful potatoes, carrots, melons, tomatoes, berries, eggs, all attractively arranged with beautiful bouquets of flowers, and signed us right up.

The stuff in the store was beauteous; the stuff reserved for CSA subscribers was…not. WE received pithy, oversized zucchini and summer squash (two of my three Veggies-from-Hell), moldy tomatoes, old marble-sized potatoes, wormy cherries, and anemic zinnias. We’d paid upfront so there were no refunds; halfway through the season I simply stopped picking up the boxes to save the trouble of tossing the whole mess into the trash.

Lesson learned: GOOD CSAs tend to be full, and sometimes you must wait for a subscriber to die, kinda like reasonably priced Manhattan rentals. Be wary of a CSA that still has openings during the growing season.

We tried FullCircle’s Sprout farm box. The produce was lovely, if a tad expensive.

I saw an ad for the “FullCircle” CSA, which sounded heavenly: You pay as you go, cancel anytime, they have a huge selection, and they deliver the boxes to your front porch in the early hours of your delivery day. Signed right up.

Your box (I have the “Sprout” box; presumably there are larger boxes for bigger families) comes weekly with a minimum of $35 worth of stuff that you pick, which translates to maybe six things. You can add more (at extra cost), but the online order form will stop you from choosing less.

You’ll get a notice each week about what the next box will contain, and there’s plenty of stuff to choose from if you don’t like, say, the godawful beets some thoughtless fool decided to include.

FullCircle peaches DID give us an incredibly delicious peach ice cream.

I opted for peaches as part of my first box, and used them to make what may be the most delicious homemade ice cream ever produced. I modified a fresh peach ice cream from the Cooks Illustrated website, a two-day recipe, and will definitely do that again.

We decided we need to add a peach tree to our backyard farm inventory; this stuff is just too delicious not to have it regularly. Next time, I’ll try a double-banger: One batch each of fresh peach and black walnut ice creams. A scoop of each on a home-made sugar cone would be sublime.

There’s an impressively huge selection of choices at FullCircle, ranging from baked goods to jams and jellies, meat, eggs, and even beauty products…as well as the expected produce. In fact, there’s so much to choose from that the website takes on the aspects of a grocery store, not a farm market.

Nehalem river in September 2019, lapping over the road and washing out the little bridge at the bottom of the mountain.

And that turned out to be a bit of an issue: I assumed that this was a farmer network, trading produce and other foodstuffs to present a more complete offering to customers. Several of the items for sale, however, were packaged exactly as I’d find them in any grocery store…but at a premium price.

I’m figuring you pay for to-your-door delivery convenience but, even then, some of the prices were kinda outrageous. My most recent order will include a box of blueberries, bunch of broccoli, an avocado, head of Romaine lettuce, bunch of shallots, pound of heirloom tomatoes, an English cucumber, red onion, and a box of strawberries, all organic.

FullCircle charged $45.38; buying the same produce at New Seasons, a local organic grocery store that’s not exactly known for frugality, I’d pay $30.57, or about two-thirds the cost. I’d pay even less at the local farmer’s market, without the minimum order requirements.

Same river we saw in September 2019, only in the summer it’s about knee-deep, warmish, and great for wading out to find crawdads and agates.

I’m cancelling; I kinda like the whole early Saturday at the market ethos.

Besides, with The Resident Carpenter around I’m learning more and more about foraging, AKA “finding stuff to eat in the wilderness.”

Last Sunday we headed west to see if we could add to our stash of umami-rich dried mushrooms; Nathan had heard that they were finding good chanterelles in the coastal mountains.

We bundled Grizz into the car–and stopped off at a popular beach to let him play in the sea–then headed inland along the Nehalem River, looking for remote logging roads.

We found no mushrooms. To be honest, we weren’t looking all THAT hard–it was too beautiful. Nathan piloted the Suburban along a windy gravel road, seeking an accessible route to the river.

Did you know crawdads come in forest green? I didn’t. (And I’m amazed that this underwater shot turned out)

The Leg has improved dramatically, but I’m still not what you’d call an agile mountain climber, so “accessible” can be elusive. The river was low–a LOT lower than when we’d been down the same road in 2019.

A big orange daddy crawdad. Some of them reached about 8 inches. Table fodder.

Back then, fall rains had the river overflowing its banks. I watched it lap hungrily at the road as we drove and seriously wished I’d brought a lifejacket. The river washed out the little bridge at the bottom of the mountain with raging, muddy torrents, so we’d had to turn back and find another way to finish our journey.

Last Sunday saw the Nehalem at its summer low, though, made worse by drought and excessive heat in the Pacific Northwest. The river was now 20 feet or more below the roadbed and barely knee-deep in many spots.

Nathan found a wide spot in the road with a likely looking access point; he and Grizz scouted ahead to make sure it was safe for my awkward clambering. The drop was steep, and covered with slippery gravel. “Stay on the grass to the side,” he ordered, “It’ll give you more traction.”

I use trekking poles–which have literally saved The Leg on several occasions during our hikes–and they were absolutely necessary here. Nathan (and Grizz) stayed close, to catch me if I fell…but I made it all the way down, across the riverbottom rocks, and to the water.

Grizz did his damnedest to save his silly humans from drowning in the river. Back at home, he dove into a hole (he’d chewed) in his wet-dog-dry-off towel and played SUPERGRIZZ! to commemorate his rescue efforts.

The water was surprisingly warm for a mountain river, with a mild current and fluffy algal bloom that spoke of the recent heatwave. I didn’t hesitate; I waded straight in, reveling in the wet. My boots and britches were quickly soaked, but I didn’t care.

I’d never really thought I’d be wading in a river again, however quiescent; the feel of the water against my skin was sheer bliss.

“Cynthia, look at THIS!” called Nathan, grabbing something from the water. He waded over, clutching a crawdad.

I think they’re more properly called “crayfish” around here, but we learned “crawdad” from my southern mamma when we were kids.

These came in a range of sizes and colors, from tiny, dark brown critters resembling scorpions to an 8-inch bright orange fellow who could quite easily have been labeled “petite lobster” on a restaurant menu. They seemed to be segregated: Orange ones here, brown ones closer into shore, forest green clustered around a particularly sheltering boulder.

They waved angry pincers at our fingers, and probably would have made a painful impression, if allowed. I briefly considered collecting enough for dinner–we were there to forage, after all–but wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. (Or if taking them was strictly legal, by Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department standards)

So we returned them to their teeming companions, and watched, amused, as they skittered away from our wading feet. “You’d never starve on this river,” Nathan mused. We saw salamanders on the river bottom, patiently waiting for prey to swim by, watched skaterbugs and tracked tiny minnows as they eluded predators.

There were agates in abundance, not the boldly patterned lace and rainbow varieties, but the more sophisticated Portland types: Quiet bands of translucent cream with subtle lines and shadings. I filled my pockets with pounds of rocks. Good thing the river was so shallow or I would definitely have sunk to the bottom.

That’s what Grizz feared, apparently; he kept an anxious eye on me as I wandered, and became even more alarmed as Nathan ventured into near-waist-deep waters, seeking ever-bigger agates.

Grizz should have been a waterdog; aside from Nathan–and food–water is his main passion. He plunged in and swam, but always came back to herd us to shore.

Later, he wearily jumped up on a flat rock beside us and napped in the sun, drying off, his silly human rescues done. We drove home, the car full of inedible agates and damp bodies, but wonderful memories.

We came back to peach ice cream on warm cherry cobbler and a lot of satisfied smiles.

Sometimes, I guess, you forage for more than just food.