The eighth moon is the Strawberry Moon and, yes, strawberries are bountiful this month — the first real fruit harvest. (I don’t count that rhubarb stuff… it’s chard, not fruit.) While planting and harvesting both happen all year long, this is the month when there is a shift from predominantly planting activities to mainly harvest activities. This is high summer and food is everywhere. Farmers’ markets are overflowing. The orchard has apricots, cherries, plums and early peaches. The first early tomatoes will be served with great ceremony one evening this month. And did I mention the strawberries!
The full Strawberry Moon falls on Midsummer’s Day this year.
The Midsummer celebration can be on the day of the solstice itself, but it is another solar festival that is traditionally marked several days after the solar event. Midsummer is usually celebrated on 24 June, St John’s Day, making 23 June Midsummer’s Eve and the night of fairy mischief (according to Shakespeare anyway). Herbs are at their peak this time of year, and there are usually herbs drying in fragrant bouquets in the conservatory. Garlic is also ready to be dug and cured in the sun; later it will be braided and hung in the attic. St John’s Wort is a common medicinal herb that opens its cheery yellow blooms to the Midsummer sun.
We still haven’t seen the St John’s Wort blooming here in Vermont. The weather has been too erratic. 90° Monday morning; 40° Tuesday night; back up to 90° on Wednesday. It’s also been very dry. There is no official drought called. Yet. But there are complaints all around — in the newspapers, at the farmers’ market, between strangers at bus-stops. I’ve had to water nearly every day for much of June, and most days by late afternoon the soil is already dry. I don’t have a drip system installed yet. I’m still trying to figure that one out. My veg beds are on the opposite side of the street from my house, meaning there is no water spigot. So any irrigation is going to come off rain barrels or a cistern, neither of which exist yet. On the other hand, the herb bed, perennial beds, asparagus and strawberries are all within easy reach of the hose. So it seems superfluous to irrigate when I can just flood it all as needed. So for now, that is what is happening… and I’m hauling watering buckets across the road. Good exercise, I suppose.
Despite the weather, the hügelkultur strawberry mound is coming along fantastically. The mound is already breaking down into soil, and the plants are filling in nicely with large healthy leaves and runners beginning to snake out. There are even a few plants with flowers. I’m not going to hope too much for berries this year. (Okay, I guess I am.) Merely to have all the plants come up and look as healthy as they do in just a few weeks is outstanding! If I was still somewhat on the fence before, I am a hügelkultur true believer now. There will be mounds everywhere in my gardening life from now on.
And on that…
I’ve taken a day job, managing a greenhouse. I figure I’ve owned a bookstore, been a professional musician, published my poetry, run a mass spectrometer and unraveled the geologic history of the San Gabriel Mountains — what is left but to work in a garden center? (Maybe a tea shop?) I sort of can’t believe they’re paying me to play with soil and plants. (Please, nobody tell them I’d do this for nothing.) Even better, the owner is from Mexico City and she has a Mexican restaurant attached to the farm stand, as well as a useful selection of Mexican groceries in our shop. I can buy masa again! In Vermont! With an employee discount! Can you believe my luck?
There’s a farm in Vermont that grows massive piles of perfect strawberries. (There is questionable magic afoot there, methinks.) We sell them in our shop. I’ve been selling quarts hand over fist since I started. Some few folks come in for whole flats (8 quarts). They inspired me to do the same. I’d already bought a few quart baskets for snacking (and ice cream!), but I bought a whole flat a couple days ago. Now I am bathing in berries, very appropriate to this particular week. I’ll be having strawberry oatmeal for breakfast every day. I will be making preserves tomorrow, likely something with ginger. But today, I made Strawberry-Thyme Corn Muffins. These turned out so yummy, I had to share.
Strawberry-Thyme Corn Muffins
2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, stemmed and sliced thickly 2-3 TBS sugar 2 tsp dried thyme, crumbled 2 cups flour 1 1/2 cups coarse corn meal 6 tsp maple sugar (or granulated) 5 tsp baking powder 1 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 cup butter, melted 2 TBS walnut oil (optional) 5 eggs 2 cups milk 1 tsp vanilla extract
Makes 24 muffins.
Place sliced berries in a small bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and thyme. Stir together thoroughly and set aside for at least 20 minutes. If you can let it go longer, you get a thicker syrup.
Grease muffin pans (2.5” cup-size) and preheat oven to 400°F. Move oven shelf-rack to the lower middle.
Melt the butter and add walnut oil if desired. (This gives the muffins a bit more flavor and texture.) Let this cool to a bit warmer than skin temperature.
In a large bowl mix together flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Use an egg beater to beat the eggs and milk until frothy. (Or until you get tired of playing with the egg beater… or is that just me?)
Add the melted butter and oil to the milk and egg, then add the vanilla extract. Beat until liquids are well combined.
Pour syrupy berries and thyme mixture into the liquids and gently stir together.
Add this liquid mixture to the flour mixture and combine. Don’t over-mix. The batter should be a bit liquid (batter, not dough) but still lumpy.
Spoon batter evenly into the muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 full.
Bake for 25 minutes at 400°F in the lower middle of your oven. The muffins will be golden-brown, and a toothpick inserted in the muffin should come out clean. (Test several.)
Let the tin cool until you can handle it.
Using a knife that won’t scratch your tin, loosen the muffins from the cup. Set on a wire rack to cool completely.
These muffins are great by themselves, better with a pat of butter. They also go very well with goat cheese.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021