Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Moving it indoors

Yesterday a small tornado, apparently, touched down on the street where we lived before moving here -- about eight miles away. That's a reminder that many things we think can't happen can. Today, we had a longish area-wide power outage -- just a bird in a substation, poor thing, but another reminder. Our winter storms have come, and I and many others get to hunker down, unlike our utility district's heroic line workers.

We have put up firewood, water, kerosene, gasoline and food, lucky us. But some of that ability to save ahead came from a simplified routine. We build our own fences and barns, combine trips, staycation, do without cable, entertain ourselves with reading and conversation and even contemplation, and don't have a smoking habit. I won't belabor you with et ceteras, except to say that, if you put your mind to it, you can generally fix a leaky toilet yourself and apply the savings to any outstanding debt.

Ask those still alive from the early forties how they got by. They will tell you things that are not impossible for most of us to emulate.

These simple practices, plus jobs that we managed to hold down, helped wipe out car and mortgage debt, just in time for the triage that's now going on. As we see it, we have helped others by preparing not to be a burden to them. That sounds like libertarianism, and maybe it is a little, but we also believe in paying our taxes to spread the safety net beneath our neighbors. After all, something could still happen to us at any time -- a tornado, say, or failure of the retirement system.

Meanwhile ... I'm home. For once, I got up the storm windows in good weather, swept the chimney, and did a lot of caulking. For the last three years I've been distracted by the need to be three thousand miles from here -- as an only whose parents were failing -- and, in the eternal balminess of Florida, often lost track of the northerly cycle.

Now I am remembering! Darkness early and late. Cold air seeping round the doors. Rain-soaked adventures letting out or putting up the poultry. This is our season for drawing in and sitting by the fire. I have rearranged some furniture accordingly:

This is the spot for November through March; and there is enough light from the double glazed dining room window for shelling beans, mending, reading, and -- ahem -- blogging. The stove is shown in its busy mode, making hot dish water, cooking beans and hissing up the kettle for tea.

Indoor projects also include making up the cider, wine, and beer. This is beer making -- Weizen, with porter notes, this year, using our own hops:

Canning was not a huge undertaking this year, but we did put away some blackberry preserves, apple sauce, apple butter, apple pickles, cucumber pickles, tomato puree, and salsa. There are still chutneys and pickled beets, etc., from last year.

A big success in this enterprise is the direct canning of apple and grape juice from the apple press. We discreetly add these juices to soups, breads, pancakes, meat dishes, and even quiche, along with our dehydrated veggie foliage flakes.

But we also take time to enjoy the traditional mulled cider. Especially when there's company.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Apple buttering

So the rains have come, and I'm feeling better about working indoors! One of the last things we did before the rain was get in apples from our apple trees, and we also foraged some along some of the neighborhood's farm fences, where birds have planted trees the Johnny Appleseed way. Multiple varieties add zing to one's homestead apple products.

There are plenty of apples in baskets in the mudroom. As they are organic, most years there are worms at the core and if I try to store them they will deteriorate fairly rapidly. This year is no exception, so if I want to capitalize on these I must cider, dehydrate, freeze, or can. I've been doing all these things and right now there's really only room for canning jars. What we don't have yet is apple butter and so that's what I'm doing today.

For this job I get out the Victorio apple peeler. It's a nice machine, as it does work. They warn you, though, that the clamp must never be set with a pair of pliers on the turnscrew, or it will void the warranty. Hand-tighten only. I have to say, I'm quite strong and hand-tightening does not get me a tool I can use here. They need a hole in the base at the other end so that one has the option to put a screw into the work surface if you're willing to do that otherwise, you might have to void the warranty as I've done by applying a pair of pliers (you can see mine at upper right). A paper towel folded and inserted under the base seems to help hold Mr. Victorio in place. For next year I will drill a hole and set a screw.

To use, hold out the spring-loaded handle on the right here, pull back the lathe (which is what it is) and chunk an apple onto the fork, stem end to the fork. Push forward, let go the lathe release handle, grab the lathe-turning handle, and the magic begins. Peeling comes off, often, in one piece, while the slicer and corer are doing their work, and when the apple has gone through the corer, open the lathe release and pull back on the lathe, and the apple and core fall off the fork (usually).

Separate the two parts of the peeled apple, examine the coiled apple meat for worm damage to cut out, then drop the core in with the peelings and cores in the bucket below (to take to the chickens, or to the compost, or to make cider or vinegar). Tear apart the coil and drop the resulting rings into a crock pot or stock pot. I usually put a half pint of grape juice (from our grapes) in the bottom of the pot to get things going without a burn.

Stock pots often burn apple butter, no matter how hard one tries to remember to stir enough, so we tend to use three crockpots for the initial cook down. Then we ladle the resulting chunky applesauce into the blender with cinnamon, ground cloves, and honey, then pour off the thin apple butter that results back into one crock pot. This will simmer, stirred, until thick, then goes into jars for a ten minute water bath to seal the lids. We like to use pint and half-pint jars for this, so that there is little wastage as there might be from opening and refrigerating a quart jar and letting it age in the refrigerator in the inevitable presence of mold spores.

If you have some left over that doesn't fill a jar, be baking some bread at the same time. Spread the one, fresh, upon the other, also fresh.

Bon app├ętit!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

"A society that has no public spirit is poor."

The following was authored by my father, Thomas Eugene Smith, at age 86. He had suffered a stroke and, not yet having recovered his speech, wished to say one last thing to his country. But he had more years of vitality in him yet. He passed away at age 95 on October 6, 2012. He was a veteran, having served on the U.S.C.G.-manned AKA-17 Centaurus, in the Pacific Theater, WWII. A retired railroad lineman, Mr. Smith  devoted 63 years of his life to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, and lived an honest and hardworking man all his life.

His statement, laboriously penciled in block letters on note paper, reads as follows:
The following items are all on public record and can be verified in your local library.
President Roosevelt with a democratic congress were the beginning of the following legislation. Each and every one of these acts were voted against by the majority of the Republican members of Congress at the time of their presentation. Had they have been in the majority at the time, none of those acts would have been placed into law.
Some of the acts are:
Social Security and unemployment comp
Fair Employment Bureau
Medical Disaster Relief
AAA – Aging Adm. Act
Agriculture Adj. Adm.
RFC – Child labor laws
Civil Works Adm.
Economic Stabilization Act
Fair labor standards
F.T.C. Commission
Federal Emergency Relief Act
F.A.A. - Securities – Banking Laws
Federal Housing Act
Food & Drug act
Health Education and Welfare
Soil Conservation
Works Project Adm
Civil Conservation Corps
(CCC) (Needed now)
About as many omitted as listed here
The following are some of the things built by the WPA & CCC that helped the country as it gave people wages to keep from starving and to save their dignity and to build needed projects for the country. Most paid for themselves and made a profit above cost.
Ohio Valley flood control system
Roads and bridges to Key West, FL
Seaport for Brownsville, TX
Lincoln Tunnel NY to NJ
Triborough Bridge NY to Long Island
Electrified Penn RR
City of Denver Water Supply System
Built the DC Mall
Built DC Zoo
Federal Trade Comm Building
Built Calif Camarillo Mental Health Bldg
Built Fort Knox Gold Depository Bldg
San Francisco Fairgrounds
Dallas, TX Dealy Plaza
St. Louis Conservatory
Bonneville Dam
Tenn. Valley Authority dams
(Multiplied avg. income in valley and gave this section their first electricity)
Planted over 200 million trees
Completed Colorado Boulder Dam
(Started by Pres. Hoover and taken over by Democrats to finished. 200 WPA workers died here)
WPA and CCC in 1930s did all this AND MORE
Built Waterworks for many towns
Built many post offices
Built and repaired Bridges everywhere
Built Jails – Airports – Sewers – Culverts – Sidewalks – Public Swimming Pools – Athletic fields – Play Grounds – Civic Buildings – R. R. Stations – Repaired National parks – Many, many dams – 4H campgrounds – School houses – new roads – new hospitals – city halls.
Put unemployed teachers back to work.
All of the above listed acts were passed for all our conservative and liberal citizens alike.
Truman, Johnson, and Clinton guided like legislation.
Pres. Theo. Roosevelt was the only Pres. on the Rep. Side who ever did legislation of a like kind.
True, Pres. Eisenhower was the architect of our Hwy. System. He saw the potential from observing Hitler's system in Germany. He financed the project with a gas tax. Pres. Eisenhower in his last days issued to our country in somber language to beware of the military-industrial complex.
Republicans mindset is: If I have the intelligence, drive and talent to overcome obstacles to become a success then to hell with those who can't, let them do as I have done. Well, some folks need cooperation to make it sometimes, thank God Roosevelt knew this. A society that has no public spirit is poor no matter how rich it thinks it is.

Monday, October 01, 2012

October surprise

So here it is October first, and the garden is like it would be on September first, most years. For a change, we are getting time to do things when the crops want them done, instead of rushing out in a driving rain to salvage immature stuff. We revel in it, but in the back of our minds we suspect that this is the leading edge of the westward expansion of the Great American Drought. It's very dry out, a fact brought home to us daily by the lingering smoke from the Pole Creek Fire, now over 25,000 acres in size. We have been watering the perennials and fruit trees, and much of the water is simply running away across the hard surface to flush itself down the nearest gopher hole.

In the above photo, taken this morning (yes, I climb onto the roof to take these) we have picked the corn and beans and pumpkins and taken down the trellises and the corn patch. Yesterday I started lifting potatoes. The kale is pretty but tough and bitter still, and some has aphids, which goes over the fence to the chickens at lower right.

We've taken down the sunflowers, though they could use a little more maturation, having been planted late. I've laid the heads on the veg-washing table in hopes of curing them for a winter treat for the poultry. Most years, they'd be moldy by now if left out like this.

Some tomato vines are giving up due to sheer old age, and I'm hanging them over the fence to get a few more of them to turn red before gathering. It took them forever to bring on a crop and I'd love to get one more batch for the canner, though I know the flavor has peaked. The Cherokee Black heirlooms turned out exceptionally well for us, better than Brandywine does here. They don't seem to need such warm nights, which we don't get here even during heat waves.

It is supposed to reach 81F today. It has surpassed that a number of times in the past week, often more than five degrees hotter than predicted, and I have continued to seek shade while working, just as I did in August.

These apples will go to juice, syrup, cider, and vinegar. In hotter weather I dried them, along with tomatoes, but there is not really enough energy left in the sunlight for that, in spite of the warm days. the pumpkins are being cured and will go somewhere in the house, to be cooked up one by one over the winter, some for us but mostly for the poultry.

It's still warm and bright enough out to dry some things. Here, we are adding kale to our stash of "veggie crumble" -- like Italian seasoning, but with the nutrients from kale, collards, broccoli leaves, spinach, bok choi and turnip greens added.

The dehydrator, when full, will be closed and tipped up to face the sun. The glass will start steaming in under five minutes.

What's in the one over on the right, behind the cherry tree?

Sunflower stems. Fastest way to dry them for kindling.

According to the weather people, there will be at least one more week of this. Time to ring the gratitude bell again.