Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer

Bringing in the Harvest

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Anyone want a pear? There’s still more on the tree!!!

It’s been a busy week at our house.  By the way, our house has 2 names- one fancy, one fanciful.  Our house is a converted stable (yes, we live in a barn) that was built for some very lucky horses in 1885 by John Burke as part of his estate “Woodlands.”  So- if you look at the tax maps for when the estate still existed, our house and grounds were known as “Woodlands Meadow” (after the big field in front of our house) or “Woodlands Stables” (the building) take your pick.  A few years into owning our house (it’s really the other way around as anyone with a big pile of bricks on a few acres can relate) we had the pleasure of hosting Mary and JB Babcock, the second owners of our house, for lunch.  Mary and JB were given the house when it was still a fairly run down barn as a wedding present by her grandmother, Mrs. Sheerer.  Mrs. Sheerer bought the land and buildings of the original estate, sans main house- that was torn down in the 1920’s, as an enclave to live in for her and her family.


View of archway from inside our courtyard looking out

Mary told us that as a child ponies, chickens and cows were kept in what is now our house and studios, and after receiving the stable, paddock and meadow from her grandmother, every time she and JB had a child “they sold a pony and made a bedroom.”  From what I understand they converted much of the building into living quarters single handedly.  I have pictures of Mary in a 2 piece bathing suit taking a pick ax to the cobble stones in the courtyard.  There was talk of them hand digging a small swimming pool no longer in existence where the shade garden now sits.  One of these days I will treat you to photos of the above described, after much hunting around and scanning takes place.  But for now you will have to take my word for these things.

Where was I?  Oh yes, the second name of the house.  Over lunch, Mary and JB regaled us with stories about their times in the house, including a party where a donkey snuck a drink of martini out of an unsuspecting guest’s glass.  But the capper was when they said the house had a name.  I was thrilled.  I had visions of creating a coat of arms to grace a flag to fly, stationary, china and clothing.  How Larchmont lockjaw!  Mary, with a gleam in her eye proudly proclaimed the official name of the house:  Manure Manor.  Bam zoom splat, back down to Earth I crashed.  Needless to say I have yet to develop the graphics to suitably depict that image for the coat of arms.


Welcome to Manure Manor!

Anyway, this time of year is always busy for the gardens.  Time to bring in the harvest.  There are apples and pears to pick from the trees remaining from what was the estate’s orchard between our house and the neighbor’s behind us, and from the apple tree in the shade garden.  Time to pick the last of the tomatoes no matter if they are still green.  Ditto with the peppers and eggplant.  Time to toss the zucchini plant that yielded 1 (that’s right 1) pathetic excuse for a zucchini this year, which is a 100% increase on last year’s yield.  (I am the only New Jerseyan who cannot grow a zucchini to save her life.)  And, it’s time to dole out the beach plums that I picked this summer that are squirreled away in the freezer, along with the my yearly installment of cranberries from the Cape Cod bog that my friend Mary Sexton, one of the Ryder Beach Gang in Truro sends me every year.  Yippie!


Red enough to make gravy and meatballs, hopefully tomorrow…


Ugly green tomatoes. Haven’t culled the herd yet, but some will make its way into something I feel like cooking…


Apples and pears for compote. My friend Anamarie calls them “ugly fruit”

This year alot of foraging and trading went on.  Dan Lipow, who transplanted himself from NYC to NJ around the same time we did, can always be counted on to come pick puff ball mushrooms that I pin point on my hacks in the woods on Buddy.  He can be counted on to relieve me of cranberries and probably beach plums.  Jeff Butler (who I refer to as “Jeff the chef”) who lives down the street is always up for any oddment I have that ordinarily will prompt Bill to lock me out of the house if I try to bring in the kitchen (like 2 lamb’s heads I put in the freezer given to me by neighbors Julie and Nick after their Easter feast.)  I can always count on him to swap.  He made the best lamb’s head tacos (while Bill was out of town) and I turned around and took what was left of the skulls and made an awesome stock with mint from the garden to give back as a thank you.

Last week Bill, thinking they would become fast friends, introduced Dan and Jeff at our house for dinner.  Jeff brought the meat and Dan brought the sides, all Bill had to do was make a salad.  You read here that Lisa had no hand in these gastronomic festivities.  Why?  I had a stomach virus! 😦 I couldn’t eat people food yet! 😦  I just sat there spooning up macaroni in chicken broth while the boys downed a fried rice made with foraged mushrooms and platters of grilled sausages and bologna made by Jeff.  Sigh!  I did manage to keep down some divine cibatta bread made by Jeff’s students that day, dipped in high grade olive oil.

When the cranberries arrived and the green tomatoes picked Jeff and Dan were notified.  As luck would have it, both pulled up in the driveway at the same time.  I tried to pawn a bunch of tomatoes, apples and pears on Dan, thinking I could spare myself some hours toiling away at the hot stove to process them.  Dan himself turned green and held up fingers in a cross as if I were a vampire.  “No! No more tomotoes!!!  Please no more apples and pears!”  He proceeded to open the back of his suv to reveal an enormous bag of apples, a hen o the woods fungus the size of a man’s head and 3 bowling ball sized puff ball mushrooms.


Cape Cod cranberries sent by friend Mary Sexton

Not to be outdone, Jeff whipped out a bag full of white sweet potatoes to trade and asked if I could come over for posole (!!!) later.


White sweet potatoes from friend Jeff the Chef

Both boys left with 3 pounds of cranberries each and my recipes for fried green tomatoes, green tomato jam and Cape Cod lightening.  Jeff, God bless him, took a bunch of green tomatoes off my hands.  I did tell him in an e mail that if he didn’t take them I’d break into his car and leave them on the front seat… I was so excited I forgot to give out the beach plums, but there’s always next week.  I may even throw in some crab apples (or stuff them in their glove compartments when they’re not looking…)  😉


So many crab apples so little time!!!




Author: Lisa G Westheimer

I am a ceramic and glass artist living and working in West Orange, NJ, USA. I have a masters degree in ceramics from Montclair State University and teach at the Montclair Art Museum, both in Montclair, NJ. Prior to this I was co-owner of "The Manhattan Expedition Inc" and was a NYC Building Code and Zoning Specialist in Manhattan, my main claim to fame as a Loft Conversion Specialist in Soho and Tribeca in the 1980's and 1990's, and a specialist in Landmarks Preservation and Special Places of Assembly, particularly the Fashion Shows in Bryant Park and any weird sort of thing happening in Manhattan worthy of getting thrown out of the Commissioner's office. But mostly I'm a Jersey Girl, born in Rutherford, schooled in a private school in Montclair, did a stint living in Greenwich Village then Soho before fleeing to Llewellyn Park in West Orange, NJ where I learned how to clean and restore stuffed bald eagles!!!! I can mostly be found in my studio or on the campus of The Montclair Art Museum (where I teach) or on the back of my horse Buddy, either in my backyard or at a farm in Sussex County.

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