The Sunless Summer


Crop of the year

Is this beating rain we’ve had here every day all summer long happening in other places–or is the Albany area merely being punished for particular sins? 

It’s been nice for the perennials, but really problematic for the vegetables, therefore really problematic for the gardener.  I have yet to harvest a single ripe tomato.  No fresh-roasted tomatoes over pasta yet.  Not once.  Do I sound bitter?

The tropicals in pots are also depressed.  Not a single bloom yet from my huge canna.  None from the calla, either, or from my Key lime tree.  The fig tree has only three figs on it.

There’s been almost no swimming.

Still, there are compensations even for damp, cold, and sunless.  It’s been a banner year for the wild mushrooms.  My country neighbors Martha and Rick have been taking me and the kids on educational forages, and Martha, who knows everything there is to know about food, has talked me through making a very nice wild mushroom soup.

I’d do almost anything for wild mushroom soup.  At age 15, for example, I was too vain to wear my eyeglasses for anything but the super-important stuff: spotting boletes from a distance. 

This was during one of the spectacular summers I spent in Bavaria as a kid with my mother’s sister Rose and her family.  We’d get up at 4am on cold, rainy August mornings in order to clean out the forest of the super-tasty King Boletes and what they called "Brown Caps," a bolete with a yellow underbelly that bruised blue, before any of the competition arrived–worms, snails, squirrels, farmers and their wives.  The pine forest was ancient, dark, free of underbrush, too atmospheric to be believed. My Uncle Fritz, the handsomest man who ever lived plus a droll guy who always made us kids laugh, used to tease me about the mushroom spectacles.  The soup Rose made was not just delicious, but profound. 

Another good wet-summer crop

This rainy year has also proved to be a great year for drenched-to-the-bone and starving five-week old kittens.  My husband nearly ran one over on a heavily wooded country road on Monday morning.  All bets are, she’s part of the household now.  Mother Nature moves in mysterious ways and soggy gifts flung into country roads might be one of them. 


  1. It’s been incredibly soggy here in southern Ontario too. Recently we had four inches of rain one week, and then 3.5 the next week. No tomatoes, but the garden beds (perennials, grasses, etc.) look amazing, as does my lawn, which I’m mowing twice a week. Who ever heard of such a thing? Mowing in August? Usually the lawn is crisp and brown. Last year at this time we hadn’t had any rain in months. I’ll take this summer over last summer any day.

  2. Thank you for making me feel a touch better for resenting the cool and rain a few hours west of you. My conscience, shaped from lifetime in the Southwest, hardly allows me to feel this way, rain being so precious. But cold mornings and no tomatoes are killing me, too. I can’t spot edible mushrooms, but a kitten would sure help 🙂

  3. It’s been a very wet summer here in the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden too. However I do have ripe tomatoes but that is because I cheated and grew them in the greenhouse.

    Congrats on the new addition to your family; the kitten looks very pretty and hopefully she will bring you and your family lots of fun and joy.

    BTW it’s against the law here to pick mushrooms, edible or otherwise.

  4. I love those mushrooms! The wet weather has worked perfectly for me, because I don’t grow veggies. But I am guessing, from what I’ve heard, the southern and southwestern gardeners envy our rain.

  5. Here in the Mid-Atlantic the summer weather has been PERFECT this year. Enough sun, enough rain. The grass is green in mid-Aug? Never before in recent memory!

  6. Yolanda Elizabet–that’s interesting. Germany is SUCH a mushroom culture–but not the Netherlands.

    Why is it illegal to pick mushrooms? Because the government doesn’t trust people not to put deadly ones into their soups? Because the government wants to protect the mycelia?

  7. I am sorry you’ve had such a rainy and dark summer, but really envious of the wild mushrooms!

    Interesting that Susan, about 15 miles away from me as the crow flies, has enough rain. Here in Arlington we have been bypassed by every one of the thunderstorms since July 14 — we had an inch then, and nothing since. The tomatoes though are wonderful this year, but some other things are beginning to act resentful.

    But a Rescued Kitten! Lucky you’all!

  8. Rain ?
    What’s that ?
    Haven’t seen it over 4.5 to 5 months.

    Mushrooms are not my thing whether they are store bought or foraged out of the woods.
    To me they taste like musty old tennis shoes.
    The ones foraged from the wild give me the goose bumps.
    I’ve known two people, both extremely knowledgeable back country people who either lost a kidney or suffers long time effects from eating a wrongly identified mushroom.

    There are just way too many different varieties that grow in our area during the winter months that it can be difficult to tell the very subtle nuances between the toxic and non toxic ones.

    I’ll take a tomato instead.

  9. Michelle, you’re right. I’d shout a chanterelle out of my house, because it looks too much like something called Jack O’Lantern that is toxic.

    But boletes are so easily identified by their spongy bottoms, and there is nothing in that family that will do more than give you a stomach ache, so I feel safe with those.

    As for the taste–perfumey, earthy, and mysterious. In an ideal summer, there would be both tomatoes and mushrooms.

  10. The Boston area has been incredibly rainy, too. This morning I saw my very first, ever-so-slightly ripening tomato. Finally!

  11. Nope; you are being punished ;0

    Want a perfect summer for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant? Get that hoophouse. I pulled my first Brandywine out about a month ago.

  12. Oh, poor baby kitty! And a beautiful calico, too. How could anyone toss out such a lovely little thing? I hope she settles in well. We’ve got an abandoned kitty living with us now, too, but with six other cats in the house, we’ll have to find a good home for him.

    Can you send some of that rain out west? It’s been stinking HOT all week.

  13. Reading Dirt, my vet thinks she’s probably a barn cat who got lost while being moved by her mother. And we already have two cats, too, and were not particularly in the market for another. But I’m superstitious about strays. That Hans Christian Andersen story “The LIttle Match Girl” story really affected me as a kid.

  14. What beautiful mushrooms!

    Sorry about your lack of tomatoes, though, and clearly our (almost) total lack of normal rain in the SE went somewhere. Your area must have been one….

    Personally, I’d rather have wet than two exceptionally dry summers with heat, but that’s from the perspective of currently celebrating 2/10 of an inch, with many nice sunny days ahead of us the rest of the year. Enjoy those mushrooms…

  15. We had to put our cat down last weekend. We’re still getting over it. Like your stray, our cat chose us, not vice versa. Cats seem to know where they want to be.

  16. I am in Albany, too. I am lucky with three of my tomato plants; they’re growing in very sandy soil and I guess the drainage and sun have allowed them to ripen normally. The ones growing in other spots have not been so prolific. But we’ve been enjoying them on open-face sandwiches with cheese, and I made some amazing BLTs the other night…

    Happy to donate some if you get down to Albany proper one day…email me.

  17. Peg, you clearly are a much more generous person than me. I eat all mine. Even the ones I roast and freeze somehow wind up on a plate of pasta long before winter.

  18. That’s a lucky kitten to have found a safe home with kids to hug and comb her. Our first kitten was a calico who played hide and seek with the kids.

  19. Good kitty and lucky one too. We have a 14 year old cat that we found in the garden 2 months ago. No one claimed her so she is one of 4 in the male kitty household. Good things always come of the garden. We love her.

    Gardeners are the best….catmint for you next year???


  20. Northeast Oklahoma USA is 17-inches above normal. 17-inches above! I think we are at 44-inches of rain so far for the year.
    The cucs and tomatoes have done well but no peppers to speak of this year.
    And the peaches, nectarines, apples were bumper crops.
    You are verrrry lucky to have someone around who knows wild mushrooms and I am jealous beyond expression that you are getting to pick and eat those wonderful morsels.

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