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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

AWOL soon



Risa is getting ready for another journey related to the health of her parents, and so she's ... busy ... battening down the hatches and doing what she "can" for the harvest. In aid of which, here's a repost from a much colder September, 2009:




The fall rainstorm has arrived. We had been reading about it on the weather sites for a week, and knew from the way they posted a weather alert and warned travelers to dress warm and consider the possibility of snow above six thousand feet, that this one would arrive more or less on time. It poses a hazard to our tomatoes, blackberries, drying-on-the-vine beanpods, to our dehydrating schedule, and to anything left lying about outside which we'd be happier to have brought in.

So we got busy after work on Friday and harvested every red (or orange) tomato in sight, along with French beans, filberts, zucchini, eggplant, apples, and all the blackberries we could see in the gathering dusk.

The weather came in about 4:30 in the morning, and Beloved awoke to listen the big raindrops hammering on the roof and pouring onto the parched earth. I, the deaf one, slept through it all, as usual.

Today, Saturday, Beloved has to work all day and so I am the housewife du jour, baking bread, roasting a duck, canning applesauce, cracking filberts and freezing them in batches, and putting up dried apples in jars. Everything is labeled with what it is and the year -- '09. The first jars we ever labeled had the year '77. Thirty-two years of 'putting food by'!

Oh, my. And I still sometimes find a canning lid dated from the 70s and 80s; it's like archaeology.

We did a lot more of this sort of thing then, as we were real homesteaders and worked as either migrant labor or seasonally in the valley where we lived. We were proud of our shelf upon shelf and rows upon rows of canning jars, our five-gallon buckets of grains and beans, and the venison in our freezer. Having food ahead made a lot of sense to us, with our irregular income.

In the 90s, we grew and stored quite a bit less and shopped more, as we had 'careers' and were soccer moms as well. But as that part of our lives fades away, we're getting serious again. The garden has doubled and re-doubled in the last couple of years, and I'm trying to remember how to do things with the resulting harvest.

We have been blanching and freezing a lot of vegetables right along, because that seems simplest, though it isn't, necessarily, and there are reasons, good ones, to get away from using a freezer. Ours is an efficient chest freezer, medium sized, but it does constantly draw current and is vulnerable to a long power outage. Since there's seldom much meat in it any more, loss would not be much of a financial blow as it would to a steak-and-pork-chops family, but it would still hurt. So we think about diversifying our assets.

We do still have the five-gallon buckets, and have added galvanized trash cans mounted on casters for storing various flours and grains. These we don't grow ourselves, and we're aware how hard they might be to obtain during a long emergency -- but at least we have a two years' supply at any one time.

In our kitchen quite a bit of the space is taken up with gallon jars (we think we need even more of these) filled with beans and grains, which we top up from time to time from the 5-gallon lots; also there are jars of dried vegetables and herbs, apples, zukes, pears, and tomatoes, from the farm, as well as a zealously guarded jar of fair-trade Colombian coffee.

The dehydrating has gone well this summer, and I'm hoping for one more week of good sun after this storm, to put out some more apples and tomatoes before taking in the dry-box for the winter. I hope to spend the remainder of the long weekend firewooding and making a start on getting down the awnings in preparation for the winterizing.

Turning the radio to my favorite station, which will play blues, sixties classics, gospel, and old-time country (as in Jimmy Rogers old-time) throughout the day, I start the morning slicing apples, then cook them down while preparing seven Mason jars for the water-bath. We get away with leaving the peelings in the applesauce by dicing the slices up fairly small. I add some cinnamon and nutmeg to my batches, as the whim takes me.

While the applesauce cooks, I make up a batch of dough with 32 ounces of water, which comes out to four small loaves of bread to bake on a cookie sheet. Setting the dough aside to rise, I run back and forth between stirring the applesauce and cracking filberts. When the applesauce is turned off and the water bath is coming to a boil, I shape the loaves and put them in the oven to rise, then pour the applesauce into the funnel over the mason jars, wipe their lips for luck, lid and ring them, and pop them into the water bath. Then I work up the thawing duck with some sliced onions and leeks and a bay leaf in salt water and sherry in the roasting pan, and set it aside to bake after the bread.

The water bath is done, so I retrieve the jars and cool them, check the bread, turn on the oven, note the time, and go crack filberts. When I have a 12 oz. jar full, I write 'filberts' and '09' on a sandwich baggie, dump the jar into the baggie, seal it, and set it in the bulging freezer. If we hadn't taken out the duck I don't know where I would have put the filberts. And there are more of them out there in the rain, calling to me.

The bread comes out and is shoveled onto the drying rack, the duck goes into the oven, I un-ring the applesauce jars and pencil 'applesauce' and '09' onto the lids, then stack the jars in a row on the cold-room pantry shelves.

I pause, trying to visualize future labels. ''10'. ''11'. ''12'. With any luck, what will be my last one? ''22'? ''31'? In September of ''31' I would be eighty-two years old, my mother's present age. She's had two strokes, a myocardial infarction, dozens of cardiac arrests, throat cancer, has debilitating arthritis and rheumatism, and is legally blind. She doesn't can anymore and hasn't for many years.

Time to cut up some green beans, zucchini and tomatoes to go with the duck dinner tonight.

I'm well aware that my farming and preserving and cooking is not of the best quality, and not all that cost effective, and doesn't do as much as I might wish toward self-sufficiency and all that. If civilization collapsed, where would I get canning lids in two years?

But I enjoy it. Beats watching commercials.

Yesterday morning, a friend took me out for coffee.

"So, you're retiring in three weeks."

"Mm-hmm."

"That's said to be a big transition, dangerous to a lot of people."

"How so?"

"Well, they find they don't have anything to do."

My coffee almost went up my nose.

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