Friday, August 31, 2012

Flashback: '09

I'm in Florida, dealing with family matters. Here is a post from a few years ago, in which I'm doing the things I would ordinarily be doing this time of year.

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."


"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.


This week in Independence Days

Plant something: nope

Harvest something: Tomatoes, peppers, onions, green beans, cucumbers, zukes, butternuts, delicatas, pumpkins, eggplant, corn, rhubarb, blackberries, grapes, filberts, eggs, potatoes, kale, bok choi, beet greens, chard. The green beans and runner beans rested and then made another full crop! I have heard of this but never seen it happen.

Preserve something: dehydrated tomatoes and apples, canned tomato soup and lumpy applesauce, started a batch of apple vinegar, shelled and froze filberts, strung leather britches. Refrigerator pickles. Laid out squash and onions to cure.

Waste Not: Firewooded, began taking down awnings and closing windows. Had a big storm to break the drought; rested the well pump.

Want Not: collected more bubble pack

Eat the Food: roast duck, corn, tomatoes, zukes, beans, homemade bread, eggs, rhubarb, eggplant, potatoes, blackberries, apples, grapes, onions, peppers, kale, bok choi, beet greens, chard

Build Community Food Systems: sold eggs

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's a mood thing.

A five gallon carboy of cider needs about eight buckets of apples, seems like. Since they're going to be crushed, I don't have to be careful about bruises. Except maybe my own -- I did fall into the dry wash yesterday, which was lined with blackberry vines and stones. Never a dull moment.

I admit this little electric shredder is my crusher. In general, I would not advise imitating me on this or any other aspect of my apple doings. In my defense I can say a) it's dedicated to this, is not used for tree branches, leaves, poison oak, etc., b) I'm not making this stuff to sell, so it's not like there's going to be a health inspection and c) yes, everything's been washed.

I chop the apples in half and throw them in the hopper. Pour in some blackberries, too, for revenge. When the receiving bucket is full, I transfer the contents to the squeezing bucket, which goes into the press.

This (ahem) press consists of four blocks of six-by-eight strapped together with angle irons, a wheel, an automotive jack, a trimmed-down bucket lid, an inverted one gallon bucket between the jack and the bucket lid which is inside the six-gallon squeezing bucket. There are about thirty holes drilled in the squeezing bucket, all down one side. Maybe 3/8" diameter. Most of the juice that is separated from the pulp will go up past the lid, not down, and will pour out the top three or four holes or so. So, a haphazard press, but it squeezes, and didn't cost six to eight hundred bucks.

All this drains into a plastic tub placed strategically near the table. The cider will be dipped and strained into the carboy through a funnel. There is a lot of adjusting and fooling around going on here, I'm sweaty, and there are a LOT of yellow jackets to avoid putting my hand on. I pour myself a glass of fresh AJ and sit in the shade awhile.

Off to the potting shed with about 4.75 gal. of cider. I've added a bit of wine yeast and will cap the carboy with an airlock. If it makes cider, nice. If I've goofed and made vinegar, that's nice too. Lots of uses for the stuff.

There are four carboys on hand and some gallon jugs. It takes much of a day to do this alone on this scale, mostly because of the clean-up, so I plan on once a week during the picking season. We'll see what apple, apple/blackberry, apple/grape, apple/blackberry grape, blackberry/grape, grape, and blackberry concoctions we can come up with.

Not all of this will be wines, mind you. Sometimes I just can up a batch of juice in mason jars in the canner. It's a mood thing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Or made into pies

Apple season is upon us; though those in the trees are not quite sweet, there is a serious apple drop in progress. I'm adapting to this by gathering the drops (no way the poultry can keep up with them) before they bruise over, and processing for dehydration. Each apple is smacked with the corer-slicer ring and the core is discarded, then the fourteen slices briefly examined for quality. Those not accepted fall into the reject bucket with the cores, the rest are dipped in vinegar pr vitamin C water and salt solution, then transferred to the dehydrators.

Dehydrated apples keep a good while and represent useful nutrients and carbs. Home dehydrated slices are not as appealing as the sulfured product from the grocery store, but reconstitute well and can be added to hot cereal, breads, soups and other dishes or made into pies.The reject bucket also represents a resource; its contents can be crushed and pressed to make juice, cider or vinegar, and the "squeezings" given to the chickens or used as compost.

While thinking about all this, be sure to wash all your equipment before calling it a day, and pick a peck of particularly pretty "pommes" for the kitchen fruit basket, and/or to share as the evening turns to night.

[Munching fresh apple] "What star is that?"

"That one? Antares." [Munch]

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's here to stay

Nineteen years ago today, our family occupied this site. I'm not absolutely certain what "ownership" means; my own tribe has behaved badly, in my own opinion, and I can only plead that that was before my time. And so here we are. I can quibble that our whole species is invasive on this continent, for what that's worth. I do know we Bears gave up what was, to us, a lot of money for fifteen years in order to be able to say the place is "ours," and I know that we have to give a certain sum to the local jurisdiction -- something called a "county" -- every year, or we could be put off the place.

One of the things that was here before we got here -- was here nineteen years ago, all along the southern stretch of the seasonal creek running diagonally through the place -- among many other invasive, non-native species -- is knotweed. Our county purely hates knotweed, perhaps mostly because it can't really be kept in check and so can ruin a landscape planner's day. It seeds readily into the water and sprouts somewhere downstream; perhaps that's how it got to this spot. Once established, it spreads underground, storing food in enormous rhizomes that will resprout if the foliage is cut down. It will resprout through a brick floor with ease, by the way.

We're told the county can tell us to get rid of it -- well and good; shall we dig it up? We're in our sixties. Pigs will eat it and no doubt upend the roots, too, but they are problematical along the creek bank. Shall we spray it with herbicides? We're organic. The county can choose to declare eminent domain and spray it and bill us, I suppose. But in our two decades here we've yet to hear from them. For entirely unrelated reasons we actually kind of appreciate that.

It's, so far as we know, here to stay. How do we make a good neighbor of it? It's said, in young-shoots form, to be edible. In China and Japan there are those who are well versed in foraging for it and preparing it for dinner. All I can say to that really, is that some folks seem to me not very choosy.

Sheep and goats eat it. Seen 'em do it, right here. That's a plus. Hens, I'm told. No way our birds are gonna keep up with it, though they may nibble from time to time.

Well, the stuff is tall -- eight to ten feet. it's flimsy, but not too bad, at least for the first year. Bean poles?

So mushy when green, you can manage it with a bread knife.

Yes, some of the bigger stems do in fact make acceptable non-weight-bearing  polewood. They are bendy but if tied in bundles they will straighten over the winter. The stripped leaves can be composted. The trick with this is get it done before the flowering bits go to seed.

We were nervous about the stems possibly sprouting
for the first few years and so installed the
beanpoles upside down. Apparently not necessary.
 There are lots of stems too small or bent or bashed to take part in the beanpole project. What to do with these?
Snip off each stick at the desired length by measuring against the container.
Quite by accident, we found that "sticks" cut from knotweed and dried a deep brown or red make good fire starter or kindling. Not so well as cardboard with cedar, but not bad, though with their bamboo-like structure they sure pop a lot.
About half the winter's supply. Green sticks will turn brown before then.

So every year before the flowering stage we slash the entire patch down, thus saving folks downstream some trouble, and dry it and process it into three piles: beanpoles, kindling and compost. Sometimes the dried leaves and bits are thrown over the southeast "hillside pasture" and mowed. Sometimes they are run through a shredder and spread on the gardens.

It's nice when everybody -- and every thing -- pitches in.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pick and eat fresh

Take a small cloth shopping bag, cut each handle at one end, sew the loose ends together with some dental floss, go picking. Risa has a basket in the bottom of the bag, also not shown, gloves and a garden knife.

We have looked at twenty-to-forty-dollar garden knives in the catalogs but there's no need for them. We pick up dull stainless-steel butcher knives for a buck apiece from St. Vinnies, shorten and sharpen them on the bench grinder, paint the grips red for findability, and leave them in the garden "mailbox" to be picked up when needed as we pass by. They are a little brittle for digging up dandelion roots, but we figure that's what our "Korean plows" are for. We splurged on those but you can make them from steel-necked trowels, just put in the bench vise and bend to a ninety degree angle.

The tomatoes are Cherokee Black heirloom, they came in earlier than even the Sungolds and have good flavor.

Monday, August 13, 2012

We know how to eat

It is blackberry season hereabouts, not all at once, but in mysterious patches -- lots ripe in one spot, all green twenty feet away.  Last Son has been here and put in a shift to clear away the dreaded knotweed all along the creek (we will use it for beanpoles and kindling), so the sun (and our fingers) can get to the berries. 

Early in the season we like to pick directly into up-cycled 32 oz. yogurt tubs, but these can be awkward to carry. Risa has made a couple of picker's bags using small linen shopping bags with the handles cut from the bag at two ends, then sewn together with a bit of dental floss to make a shoulder strap. The tub of the day rests snugly therein, along with a pair of gloves and pruning shears. As soon as there is only two inches of headroom, she'll pop the tub into the freezer. This much room is prudent because the water in the berries will expand eleven per cent when frozen. 

There are already eight tubs full. It might be necessary to start canning or even wine making. Risa might have to head for Florida at any time, given her dad's health (she's an only), so she may not do any wine making this year. A call in the middle of complex activity could leave Beloved with quite a mess on her hands.

Apples are falling from the Transparent tree at a pretty good rate, but a taste test says these are not yet ready to crush, ditto all the other trees, the crops of which tend to mature in September or even October, along with the grapes. One strategy is to juice blackberries and can them, so as to add them to any mixed-fruit canning or wine-making later. One can only use up so many jars of blackberry jam, and we have lots from last year or even the year before.

Our favorite use for the berries, though, is as is, frozen. The 32 ounce batches are moved from the freezer to refrigeration one every two weeks or so, and parceled out for use with yogurt or in oatmeal or the like. Risa also uses them in breads, pancakes, and waffles. Bring on the winter! We know how to eat.

Ringing the gratitude bell.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cleaning out the pea vines

Risa picks the last peas and drops them in a chilled bowl of vinegar water.
Then she unties the beanpoles and tee posts and stacks them for next year.
If too fragile the beanpoles become kindling.Every year she cuts a few more poles
from the coppice or from the knotweed patch.
The pea vines are separated from the kale and such that had been growing beneath them.
They are thrown over the fence to the chickens. When the chickens are done with
them, they're retrieved and used as mulch around the place.
She winds up the baling twine that held together the trellis to store away
from sunlight. She mulches and waters the greens that have been newly
exposed to the sun. Steps into the shade, rings the gratitude bell, and
eats the freshly "pickled" peas.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer squash for winter

Blimps -- we won't use these at the dinner table.
We can soften them on the stove a bit, slice them up and feed to the poultry.

Or slice thin to dehydrate for soups, stews, egg dishes, and breads.
The pulp and half-formed seeds add a surprising amount of protein.

It's a winter staple, says Carol Deppe.
I like to dip the slices in vinegar and salt --
this about half vinegar, half water here.

Yes, this is a solar dryer. It's composed of found materials and it works.
Simply build your box  to the size of your window and ventilate at each end.
 Egg cartons will do for your trays if nothing better is at hand.

Arrange your slices so they get lots of sun and air...

... tip your dryer toward the sun and let stand for a few days.
In hot, dry weather two days may be enough.

The vinegar can be used afterward to clean glass.

Any left over can provide a nice tang to salad or stir fry ingredients.
 Or use to kill a few weeds...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Approaching mid-August, 2012

It's a jungle out there! Left: corn and pumpkins. Right: Runner beans and potatoes
Cukes and kale
The beans are coming in