Saturday, August 31, 2013
Someday, I hope to can something without injury. Today, I canned ten half-pint quilted jelly jars of blueberry jam, and as usual, burned myself by dipping a finger into the boiling water. This time I also managed to cut myself rummaging around in the drawer for that can-lifter I bought after the LAST time I burned myself by dipping my finger in boiling water. That was when I was canning bread and butter pickles a few weeks ago. Of course, I didn't remember that I'd bought a jar-lifter until AFTER I burned myself again. Ten pints is a lot of jam, but we had a lot of blueberries.
Tonight, I am making an enormous blackberry crumble to bring to a family barbecue. I'm using my largest lasagna pan, a hulking old 10x18" Pyrex monster. Probably takes about two gallons of blackberries to fill it, but that doesn't matter, because we are SWIMMING in blackberries.
Just about every morning, I start the kids off with a strawberry, raspberry, or blackberry smoothie. Yogurt and fruit, seems like a breakfast of champions to me. And it uses up a lot of berries. The freezer is jam-packed (you should excuse the pun) with berries. Last count was four gallons of strawberries, two gallons of raspberries (my favorite, so they go fast), four gallons of blueberries, and TEN gallons of blackberries.
Why so much fruit this year? Well, I have twice the labor force. Homero's nieces, collectively known as the Tamagochis, are staying with us for the coming school year. Their parents - Homero's sister and her husband - were impressed with our decision to spend a year with our kids in Oaxaca, and saw how quickly the girls became fluent in Spanish. They decided it would be good for their girls to have the same experience in reverse. Taking a year off from their jobs as physicians, however, was not feasible, so they asked us if we would be willing to host the girls for a year.
They arrived last week, just in time for the tail end of blackberry season. Although my children would be quick to call me a slave-driving berry Nazi, based on their experience picking strawberries and raspberries with me earlier this season, I was not the one who put the Tamagochis to work in the blackberry fields. Their father, who is staying until school starts, must have been eager to show us how much help the girls will be to us. He made them each a berry-picking bucket by cutting up a plastic milk jug and tying on a rope so it can slip over their heads (very clever!) and those two girls are some berry-picking machines, let me tell you.
Everyone around here is actually a little sick of berries, if you can believe that. That's fine with me. We won't be sick of them in January, and we may actually still have some then!
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
My husband wants a cow. He's wanted a cow for years now. I do not want a cow, which is why we don't have one. Yet.
I don't see the point of a cow, for one thing - we have goats for milk, and when we are milking two or three goats (I say we, but I mean I) there is more than enough milk for drinking, for making yogurt and cheese, and even for the dog. There is no way we could possibly use the amount of milk a cow gives, even if I were to get rid of my goats altogether. Which is ridiculous: goats were my whole reason for moving here in the first place. Goats are the point of this operation, as far as I am concerned.
Also, goats have many advantages over cows which are entirely objective and have nothing to do with my personal preferences.
Goats are cute; cows are not. Goats eat blackberries and all sorts of weeds; cows do not. Goats are light on the land; an acre can support four or five of them. Cows are decidedly hard on the land; according to the county you need an acre of pasture for each cow. Goats poop neat little dry pellets that don't have any smell. Cows poop great runny piles of liquid stink that smears all over their backsides and udders. Cows carry tuberculosis; goats don't. Goat kids grow to butchering weight in about 5 months; cows take a year and a half. Or more. A goat goes through the whole winter on about six bales of hay - a cow eats six bales of hay a DAY.
Most of all, I know how to take care of goats. I know about their diseases, about how to help them have their babies, about their hooves and their parasites and their eating habits. I know which plants are poisonous to them and which plants are medicine. I son't know how to take care of cows. That's because I've never studied cows. I've never studied cows because I don't WANT a cow.
My husband says he will take care of the cow, that I won't have to. I ask him to please spend one full minute considering whether or not he will really get up at the crack of dawn every day and go out through the howling wind and sleet to hand milk a cow. Does he even know how long it takes to hand milk a cow? He says he will keep a calf on her so he doesn't have to do that. I say, oh great now we have TWO cows?
I just wish my husband would carefully consider reality before he up and buys a cow. Right now, we have no space for a cow to live. The barn floor needs repair. It's good enough for dainty little goats, but a massive bovine would fall right through. That's one thing. Then there's hay. We've laid in our winter supply of hay - about forty-five bales. That's for two ponies and three goats. To feed a cow through the winter, we'd need to double that. Like I said, I haven't researched cows, but I'm pretty sure a pregnant cow (which is what he wants to buy) would go through forty bales of hay over a long winter. Then there's the issue of the pastures.
We have about three acres of fenced area, theoretically divided into three pastures. The big pasture, which has low boggy areas that need hoofed animals kept off of them in the winter; a smaller high pasture; and the sacrifice area, which is where the hoofed animals spend the winter so they don't ruin the big pasture. In actual fact, the fence between the big pasture and the smaller high pasture is mashed down and it's all one space. That means I can't practice pasture rotation.
Without pasture rotation, I need to keep the animal burden on my pastures very light, to avoid degrading my pastures over time. The county suggests one horse or cow per acre, and up to five goats. That's what I've got. Adding a cow without adding a pasture would be putting too much strain on the land. It's unsustainable.
So, if we get a cow we need to fence in a new pasture. That's in addition to fixing the barn floor and buying and storing forty bales of hay. And I don't have to do any of this work, right honey? You are going to do it all by yourself? By the way, where's the money for all this fencing and fixing coming from? And how much does a pregnant cow cost, anyway? Do you know how much money is in the bank account? No, because paying the bills is my job.
Our imaginary cow has already caused a first class marital spat. Cows are obviously evil.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Posted by Aimee at 9:55 PM
Friday, August 23, 2013
When I got home from the grocery store this afternoon, I found this box of Zucchini on the porch. There must be twenty zucchini in there, and they aren't puny, either. Whoever it was didn't leave a note; I guess they don't want me stealing over to their house and leaving zucchini bread on the doorstep.
Thank you, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous Squash Donor! I am making several permutations of zucchini bread - chocolate, with and without walnuts; raisin; and savory with cheese. Into the freezer they will go, and then I need fear no bake sale all year long!
The only problem.... so far, I've made six loaves, and only used up two and half zucchini.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
One of the fish was for eating fresh, and the other was for canning. I know that sounds like sacrilege, but ever since a friend of mine who lives in Alaska sent me some canned King salmon several years ago, I've wanted to try it. A King salmon is a big fish, it's hard to eat a whole one, and I like canned salmon better than frozen salmon. In fact, canned salmon is delicious.
I've never canned fish before - in fact I've never used a pressure canner and don't own one. Luckily, a wonderful couple I know from church offered to help me. The gentlemen half of this couple is none other than Duckman , an avid hunter and fisherman who has been very generous with us. The lady half is R., one of the most welcoming women at Zion and an old hand at canning the fish her husband brings home. I was very grateful to have their help. First, however, I had to deal with the fish I planned to cook for dinner last night.
Never having filleted a whole fish before (I know, I know, how does a woman who considers herself a serious cook and who loves salmon as much as I just said I do get to the age of 40 without ever filleting a fish? Buy small ones and bake them whole, or pay the fisherman) I was terrified I was going to massacre it. Because it was so fresh, only hours out of the water, the fish was covered with a thick layer of slime, and it was so slippery I could barely hold on to it.
Thank God for Youtube. It took ten seconds to find a short, no nonsense video of a chef with a thick European accent cutting up a whole salmon. Of course, he made it look easy, which it wasn't. Maybe his fish wasn't as slimy as mine. Certainly, his knives were sharper. Mine need professional help. However, I don't think I did too badly for my first ever attempt.
Here is the fish after I removed the filets, with the bellies alongside. I know I left a lot of usable meat on the bones, but don't worry. I chopped the fish into pieces, removed the gills, and put the whole carcass into gently simmering salted water with a little lemon juice. It only needs about five minutes poaching, then all the meat easily slips right off the bones (ok, you have to dig around a little in the head). I salvaged close to a pound of meat from that carcass, and froze it in a ziploc bag. Sometime in the future, it is plenty to make a salmon cake dinner. Also, I took the collars and bellies and marinated them for a few minutes in a mixture of sugar, soy cause, rice vinegar, and sriracha, and then broiled them skin side up under the broiler for 10 minutes or so. These bits we just gobbled up like candy, but it was plenty of meat that I could have made a separate meal out of it if I wanted to.
Top the jars with sterilized lids and rings, and into the canner they went. R. and Duckman have a propane cooker set up in their shed; they don't like to can fish in the house because of the smell. I personally find the smell divine, but maybe it lingers.
I'm still a little sacred of the canner, to tell the truth. I just don't quite get exactly how it works. I mean, I can follow instructions, and I can tell when it's working correctly and when something is wrong, but I can't exactly visualize what the parts are all for, and what is happening inside. Anyway. We put the eight pints in the canner and added 2 quarts of water. We ran hot water over the inside of the lid and checked that the gasket fitted into the groove tightly all the way around. We closed it up and put the cooker on low. If you heat it up too fast, you run the risk of breaking all your jars.
When you can see steam venting continuously from the vent, you carefully place the regulator on. The little vent in the middle ought to pop up. If it doesn't, you just wait until it does. Then the pressure will start to rise, and you watch the gauge carefully. Salmon is canned at 10 pounds pressure for 100 minutes. Don't start the timer until the pressure rises to 10.
Then, settle down in your chair and read a book. We had to adjust the flame several times to keep the pressure right; it wanted to creep up. It's fine to let it go a little higher than ten, but you don't want it to go above 15. Once it's at pressure, it only takes the barest whisper of flame to keep it up.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
|the chariot races - this was the coolest thing I saw all day|
|the Yoyo, seen from underneath|
|my favorite quilt|
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Over the years, we've benefitted greatly from trading goods and services with our neighbors (and also with the random people who read the barter section of Craigslist). The trade network has had its up times and down times, but in general, I feel confident in asserting that trade is a big boon to us. Probably as much food has come our way via the trade network as we actually produce ourselves here on the farm.
For the most part, I trade my animal products (cheese, eggs, meat) for other people's vegetable products, since I am a pretty poor gardener. I also offer up my husband's services as a mechanic (sometimes without his prior knowledge; I gotta quit doing that) in exchange for other professional services. That's how we got our roof fixed last year. I've been lucky enough to find and maintain a few long term trading partners - Veggie/Oil man and the Kale Fairy come to mind - but I lost those contacts over the year we were in Mexico.
Luckily, the trade network shows signs of revival. We're off to a good start I think. Talking to a friend at church, I mentioned that I needed to find some chickens, as I had given all mine away when we left last year. This led to a conversation and ultimately to a trade with her son-in-law. He got a bunch of old beekeeping equipment that we were certainly not going to use again, and we got nine healthy laying hens.
Some neighbors of ours wanted a goat for butchering. We have two young, plump goats that are just about ready to eat, and I offered to sell them one for $75 and let them do the work here at our place, since they don't have a suitable space for butchering. They countered with an offer of four turkeys for one goat. I've never raised turkeys before, but that seemed like a heck of a deal, so now we have turkeys. And nasty, obnoxious creatures they are, too. They look like dinosaurs, and charge at me whenever I go out to feed them. It's a bit frightening, having a twelve pound bird hurtle toward you at the speed of a velociraptor. Thanksgiving will be at our house this year.
Just today I set up a new trade, albeit a short-term one. I was buying pickling cucumbers at a vegetable stand downtown. I bought a lot of them because I'm selling them at $5 a quart and there seem to be a fair number of people who want to buy them. The proprietor and I got to talking, and he said if I brought down a few jars of pickles, he'd trade me fresh produce for them. I see tomatoes in my future.
Do you trade ? What do you like to trade? Does trade have a significant impact on your household budget? Below, find several links to stories about some of the more interesting trades I've made over the past few years.
Trade Network 2012 (Craigslist Chronicles)
On Trading and Canning
Mushroom Mistake (Win Some, Lose Some)
State of the Trade Network 2010 (What's Your Perspective?)
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Sometimes I despair of the orchard. I really do. There are so many factors conspiring against trees here; some of them natural, others decidedly of my own making. We didn't site the orchard very well, to begin with. It's right up on the highest part of the property, where the prevailing winds hit the trees full on. The trees in the southernmost row are all hunched over, curled around their own trunks, almost in the fetal position.
The soil up there is poor and rocky; further down, it gets spongy and has poorish drainage. The highest trees struggle in the compact gravel while the lower ones have wet feet most of the year. Of the five trees we planted the first year, only one remains, the italian plum. The rest succumbed to a variety of maladies, known and unknown.
The orchard has been repeatedly attacked by goats. A herd of six or seven goats can really blow through a young orchard if you give them fifteen minutes unmolested. Then there are the times - yes, more than one - that I rode right over a first-year tree on the riding lawnmower. Sometimes I used to have a few beers before I decided the grass was getting a little long.
It's amazing, the sheer variety of of pests that have plagued my orchard. I didn't know there even WERE so many fruit tree pests. There are the ones that look like tiny little slugs sticking all over the cherry tree leaves, and that, as far as I can tell by googling, are called "bird-poop worms." There's fire blight on the pears. Caterpillars chew on the leaves and voles gnaw on the roots. Something makes certain leaves turn white; something else makes other leaves curl up. Yet something else shreds them like a hail of tiny meteors. There's white fly and mildew and scab, oh my.
It's really too bad, because I believe that the orchard is rightly the cornerstone of a successful homestead. Nothing gives such return on investment as does an apple tree. Twelve or fifteen healthy, highly productive fruit trees would supply a family with much of their family's needs - for fresh fruit, certainly, but also for winter preserves, for animal forage, for shade and beauty, even, perhaps, for some extra cash from a farm stand. A good milk goat is a valuable creature, but she doesn't begin to touch the worth of a good tree.
Much of my orchard's problems are due to simple neglect. I have taught myself a little about pruning, but I'm timid and afraid of doing damage. I hate to use sprays, and I haven't even used fertilizer. The orchard is far from the hose, and to water it in the long dry stretches of August, I have to carry a whole lot of five gallon buckets around, and I haven't done that as consistently as I should. Considering the potential worth of these trees, and the money already invested, it's probably worth it to get a real tree person out here to prune and give me suggestions. Certainly, the current state of affairs is intolerable.
Today I went out to check out the plums on the plum tree. I had been delighted to see that we actually had a decent number of plums this year, but then I began to get annoyed by the plums' mystifying refusal to ripen. Here it is, practically mid August, and the plums are still green as grass and hard as rocks. Hunting diligently through the ratty, tattered foliage, I managed to find two plums that were respectably purple, and even sort of soft. So I bit into one.
I haven't got the foggiest clue what is wrong with those plums, but they taste like satan's compost pile. They are filled with a brown, mushy gunk that seems to be fermented and rotten. Checking carefully all over the skins, I didn't see any holes, nor did I find any insects in the stinking brown mush. Maybe it's a fungus of some sort. Maybe it's a virus. Maybe it's monkeys, I don't know! But it makes me VERY UNHAPPY.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Harvest season is in full swing, and I got my kitchen put back together just in time. For the first time in over twenty years, I didn't put in a garden this year, because I was in Mexico. My daughter Rowan put in a pretty good one (more on that later) but of course, that is her garden, not mine. Therefore all my preserving this year is of produce that I bought at the farmer's market or that we picked at the U-picks or bought from a farm stand.
Considering that I've only been home for about three weeks, I've done pretty well so far. There are eight quarts of applesauce in the canning cupboard, some with blackberries and some without. There are six pints of bread and butter pickles, which I make every year for my mom. I'm not a fan of sweet pickles, myself.
I am a fan of dill pickles. Real, crock fermented dill pickles. It's getting harder and harder to find pickling cucumbers around anymore, but I lucked out and found a farm stand with some on display. I hassled the farmer to go out in the field and check for any more, saying I'd buy as many as he had. Turns out, that was a lot. I went home with nine pounds of prickly pickling cukes.
Some of those went into the aforementioned six pints of bread and butter pickles. But most of them went into a two gallon glass crock, along with salt, water, grape leaves, garlic, and dill. In this August heat, they ought to ferment quite quickly sitting out on the counter. In a week or so, I'll test them, and if they are sour enough, I'll pack them into half-gallon jars and refrigerate them. That won't completely stop the fermentation, but it slows it down enough that the pickles will remain more or less the same for as long as it takes us to eat them.
I've made kosher dills before, with fair success. One batch ended up with a funny, half-unpleasant fizziness, but the other two batches were good. My gold standard, of course, is the remembered taste of the kosher dills I begged my mother for in the Jewish delis she took us to whenever we visited my grandparents in New York. I'm not sure I've achieved it yet, but there's always next year.
Make a brine, using 2 to 3 tablespoons pickling salt to a quart of pure water. I read that in hotter weather, you use more salt, and in cooler weather, less. However, to be honest I've read all ratios of salt/water ranging from 1 tablespoon/quart all the way up to 5. My best pickles came from using 2 to 3.
Line a clean glass or ceramic container with fresh grape leaves, outer surface facing out. Grape leaves provide tannin, which keeps the pickles crisp. Without grape leaves (or another source of tannin - I've heard you can use oak leaves) your pickles will be soft and slimy.
Add peeled raw garlic (I don't know how big your crock is, or how garlicky you like your pickles, so I can't tell you how much garlic to add. I used a whole head), red pepper flakes, and whatever other pickling spices you like - bay, mustard seed, coriander, clove, allspice, etc. Put in clean, fresh cucumbers. Tuck in fresh crowns of dill wherever they fit.
Pour over the brine. Top with more grape leaves, outer surface out, so that no cucumbers are showing. Put some sort of weight on top so that everything is submerged. Cover, and let stand in a warm spot for a week. Test for doneness. I like mine fully sour, at about ten days to two weeks.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
My friend B. came to the rescue, and very generously cared for my ponies all year long. She wanted somebody to keep her mini company, and she missed having horses around. She has both horse and veterinary backgrounds, and is an amazingly competent person in general, and so I never suffered the slightest twinge of worry about my girls the whole time I was gone.
Having my ponies back makes me very happy. A couple weeks ago, I met the farrier out at B.'s place and, after a trim for each of them, we trailered them up and brought them back. Poppy had only ever been in a trailer once before, when we took her out to B.'s a year before. On that occasion, it took us a half hour to get her to go in the trailer, and I was expecting something similar this time around, but in fact, she watched her mom go in and then hopped right up.
"Aimee? Hi, um, your horse, she is in my garden."
Ten minutes of shambling slowly toward Poppy, getting closer and closer, only to have her suddenly tear by me and head off in an unexpected direction was enough to convince me that nobody was going to catch that pony until she calmed down and decided to go home on her own. I only hoped she remembered home well enough to get there when she felt like it. Rowan and I decided the best we could do was try to stay between Poppy and the road, and wave our arms threateningly if she looked like she was going to break for the state highway.
The neighbors came out of their houses and we all stood there in the evening gloom, watching Poppy canter back and forth along the fenceline, head and tail up, mane flying, lifting her feet high and occasionally stopping to test the wind. She sure is a beautiful mover.
Since then, she's been perfectly content. The girls have taken to climbing the gate and helping each other up onto her back. Poppy doesn't care one way or the other, she just goes on grazing whether there is one little girl on her back, or two, or none at all. It really is time to get her training underway. I bought a bridle with long reins, made for carting, and I need to get to work introducing her to the whole idea of a bit.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
|Ivory on the beach at Huatulco|
|Ivory sleeping it off after a barbecue|
She visited ruins with us, and loved running up and down pyramids. She was certainly the fastest of any of us. Of course, dogs are not allowed at the major ruins such as Monte Alban , but there are hundreds of archeological sites in Oaxaca that haven't yet been officially excavated, or that are deserted most of the time. There is a site about a mile from Mama's house which was a favorite place to go exploring. The mounds are all overgrown and secret-seeming. As Ivory would tear through the bushes looking for mice and snakes, the kids and I would crawl around looking for pottery shards.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Posted by Aimee at 3:36 PM