September 2011


MEN was really fun but it had its downside. I have a lot of work that needs to be done and a five-day hole hurts. A friend of mine went to the cape and brought back a pile of cranberries that need to be sauced. The squash should be harvested as does the end of the sweet corn. I still have 200 pounds of apples to get processed and then there’s the potatoes. It’s all doable but just before I went to PA, I had a run in with a cider press and yesterday went to the doctor to find I have a blood blister in my calf muscle and really should stay off my feet for a bit. Fat chance.

The other downside to being away is the food. Don’t get me wrong. The food was pretty good, excellent in some cases and goodness knows, there was a lot of it, but getting back to my own food was wonderful. It’s not just eating it, wonderful for sure, but I missed preparing it even more. Last night, achy leg or not, I just had to cook. I made some pork chops from our butchered piggies, baked in cider and onions. I cooked multi-colored carrots in cider, brown sugar, nutmeg and butter, mashed potatoes with butter and cream from the dairy up the road. Karen sliced up gorgeous tomatoes, as large as a saucer and sweet/tart fabulous. Add in some applesauce and dilly beans and you have a feast for the tongue. The sighs of contentment were grace enough for me.

I have a neighbor who wants to learn to can. I want to learn to knit so we’ve arranged a swap. I think I’m getting the better end of the deal as canning is pretty straight-forward and knitting is anything but, at least for the creatively and finger challenged. I fell in love with some gorgeous fiber rabbits at the fair and there is no way I can justify getting any unless I learn to do something with the fur.

I know a lot of you want to get details on the doomer/prepper show. I really don’t feel comfortable sharing them on a public site. The people were very nice and I suppose they’re happy enough with the results. We aren’t your bunker dwelling, gun- toting preppers. We believe that our current trajectory is unsustainable in terms of food and climate and the economy and that it’s wise to prepare for a great deal of dislocation should any of our systems fail. That said, the purpose of any show like this to entertain rather than educate. Are we sorry we did it? Yes, but we also hold only ourselves responsible. We should have had a much better picture of just what we were getting into. They did their job and you can’t fault them for it.

I ‘m back after a crazy busy few weeks. NatGeo is finished. What can I say about 2.5 days of cameras in one’s face? It was just a much fun as one might expect. Please remember what your mother used to tell you. Don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see. I learned much from the experience.

Mother Earth News. I had a blast!!!!! Wonderful people, wonderful trainings. I met Amy and MaryEllen, commenters here, although I missed another reader that I know was there. I didn’t sleep but other than that found it worth the time. I can home with some new books and new connections. What I most appreciated was the conversation with people doing the real work in all the areas that most interest me.

If you’re a farm animal girl, especially a chicken girl, Carol Ekarius is the go-to person. I attended her chicken workshop and came home determined to add some Jersey Giants to my flock next spring. Tammi Hartung is an herbalist. I got her Homegrown Herb book and can’t wait to get to my herb garden and get planting. I got to follow Jackson Landers (The Beginner’s Guide To Hunting Deer For Food) in a presentation. It’s probably not wise to follow a guy with a gun, a big knife and a side of bloody venison on the table when your big prop is a canning kettle. I got a copy of his book for my son. Ron and Jennifer Kujawski (Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook) are about the nicest people in the world. Ron is a Yankees fan but nobody’s perfect. Andrea Chessman is smart, funny and a genius with root vegetables. I have a couple of her books. Serving up the Harvest is one of my favorite cookbooks. She has about got me convinced that I need to plant Salsify. Jenna Woginrich is a riot. She wrote Made From Scratch and Chick Days and talks as funny as she writes. I can’t wait for Barnheart to come out in December.

I came home with sets for multiplier onions and garlic and I picked up a new apple peeler. Mine clamps to the counter and it kept sliding around. This one has a big suction cup and I think it will stay put. As I came home to another 300 pounds of apples to sauce, dry and press, I need all the help I can get. I also bought a lot of books (what a surprise!) and that was about it.

The crowd was interesting. There were very few young people. I would say this was a middle-aged, middle-income bunch. A lot of people are getting edgy about the economy and a lot just think we have gotten off track. This country life calls to them, softly, insistently. It whispers in their ear when they are sitting in a cubicle or waiting in a traffic jam. They know there’s a better, calmer life out there. They want friends, not co-workers. The need neighbors, not to keep up with but to cooperate with. They want food they can trust and time to enjoy the gift of a sunrise. I was inspired by the passion and the creativity. I can’t wait to get to my day. The potatoes need to be pulled and the apples need saucing. First though, the sun is coming up and she needs an audience.

I went to bed last night fearing frost as I still have produce to harvest. Fortunately, we had a reprieve and I will spend a good deal of today getting in the rest of the tomatoes and peppers. I hope it stays cold enough to get the root cellar temperature low enough so that I can harvest the root crops next week. The pantry stocks are still woefully low. I have the meat to can and all the cider to press, as well as the lard to render. Then there is the rest of the apple crop. I need several weeks to get enough apples dried for the coming winter. We were out of dried apples in April and this year we’re feeding two more people. While I don’t usually have to purchase apples, I have gotten a great deal on 60 pound bushels. I put up the first box and now have about half the sauce I need. Bruce picked up another 300 pounds yesterday. They will become cider and juice. I have one more 300 pound order that will be dried and sauced. I have said it before but it bears repeating. People need a rather astounding amount of food to get through a year. My little orchard will never produce enough. Thank goodness I am surround by orchards.

I had a wonderful time with Herbalpagan last night. She has a very cool blog radio show. I know she has posted the link before but I’m betting she would do it again if we ask nicely.

With all of the classes I’m teaching, I have decided to take a class. I will be attending the servesafe program in Lenox next month. It isn’t a master canner program but it will cover the basics of food and kitchen safety.

The next few weeks will be a bit harried as I am doing the NatGeo doomers and preppers program on Sunday and Monday. Do the words, “What was I thinking”, sound familiar? This is directly followed by the Mother Earth News Sustainable Living Fair in Pennsylvania. Add in reading and reviewing Matthew Stein’s new preparedness book (it’s really good!), a couple of local preparedness talks, The Berkshire Botanical Garden Fall Festival and I’m not sure how much I will be posting. I am still trying to find the time to finish the work on the Preserving Abundance website and remember that I need to eat, sleep and spend some time with my husband and kids. I am actually looking forward to the down time a major blizzard would afford me.

Okay. So I just reread this post and if I don’t sound like a self-absorbed little whiner, I don’t know who does. It’s nowhere near as bad as I’m making it out to be. Nobody twisted my arm and I know how to politely decline. Most of it is actually pretty fun and it’s all interesting. My life is better than I deserve and I need to remember some gratitude.

I just watched the morning weather and now I know what I’m doing today. It looks like today is the final hot day of a hot summer. The temperatures will drop dramatically and frost is possible by the weekend. That means today is the day to get the rest of the stragglers, tomatoes beans and summer squash, out of the garden. I have some beautiful rotted hay to cover the ground with. I also need to get to the herb garden. I want to make some infused creams and oils and this is my opportunity.

The herb garden was a huge success. It produced well and looked gorgeous. The bees loved it and we all enjoyed water laced with mint or lemon grass nearly every day. The roof went on the summer kitchen yesterday and I got a good look at how things are oriented. Bruce doesn’t want to have to try to mow in the slip of land between the second greenhouse and the summer kitchen so I’m going to cover it with cardboard and compost and plan to enlarge the herb garden by 100%. I can’t wait to get my Richter’s catalog and plan for spring.

I had great squash this year. One big blue Hubbard had been hidden away and that thing is HUGE. It was hanging on the woodchuck fence. I don’t know if it was the hanging but I’ll bet there is enough flesh there to keep us in squash once a week for a couple of months. I messed us some seeds, thinking I was planting more cucumbers along the pea fence and found that I had, in fact, planted more butternuts. They too are gigantic and healthy looking. I will need to try to cover them if we get a frost as they are not quite ready for harvest. Have any of you had any luck with slightly underripe squash? I would hate to lose them but the vines are so long that I really don’t see how I would cover them all.

Once we get a dose of cold weather I will pull the beets and carrots. I like the yellow carrots and the purple are really pretty. The three colors in jars of pickles are a delight.

I have been going over some comments and I so embarrassed at how negligent I’ve been with responses. I have good intentions but I get short on time to spend on the computer. When I do sit down I have a lot of work to see to. I’m putting together the curriculum for a 10 hour food preservation class. It’s finicky work with a lot of emphasis on the biology and chemistry. I don’t want to bore anyone but I do want to give enough theory to ensure kitchen safety. I’ll try to do better but the road to hell as they say.

I’m done with sauce at least. I have 70 quarts sitting in the basement. I also have some 1/2 pints of pizza sauce. I like making sauce but I had some fun experimenting with some other options for all of excess produce. I made my first batch of bar-b-que sauce on Friday. I wish I could put out the recipe but I played with it so much I’m not sure where I would start. I found the basic recipe in the Ball Book and went on from there. I know I added a bit of blackstrap molasses and some chile peppers as well as a more paprika and mustard than was called for. Next up will be a final batch of catsup and then frost will wipe out any remaining tomatoes. I plan to pull the green ones later this week but to be honest, there isn’t much for me to rescue. That hail storm left most of the fruits damaged and you just can’t store them.

I have a sixty pound box of beautiful apples waiting for me to get canned today. For those of you without access to your own fruits and vegetables, don’t hesitate to ask your local produce manager if you can get a deal on large quantities. The manager at our little store knows I will take big boxes of less than perfect produce if the price is right. This week it was a box of apples. These are some slightly bruised fruit but it will make dandy sauce. I plan to use my steam juicer and then can some apple juice as well as the sauce. I need 70 quarts of sauce (minimum) to get through the year. 100 quarts would not be too much. We eat a jar a couple of times a week plus use it in baking. Juice is another thing I just can’t have too much of. When I cleaned out the basement last week, it looked as though I had plenty of jars. I might if I hadn’t just ordered 50 pounds of grass fed stew beef. It won’t be here until December. If I can swing it, I would love to add 50 pounds of hamburger to that order and can it all. That’s a lot of jars and now I think I need more. Our little store is looking at stocking Tattler lids. I hope so as I will need more of those as well.

These are big investments but worth it to me. The jars and lids will be here forever. The beef is coming from a young man who used to play with my son when they were preschoolers. He’s trying to make a living on his grandfather’s land and I want him to be successful. The good beef and the good neighbor will pay much bigger dividends than a blue chip stock. I am willing to continue to drive my old van and buy second-hand clothes if it means I can put my money where my heart is.

We manned the bee booth at the Franklin County Fair yesterday. I came away inspired to put in an exhibit in three new categories next year. I want to do a market basket, a family farm display and put in my first entry in the homemaker of the year category. It means starting now with the handiwork. I can pull off some quilting, counted cross stitch and some easy sewing projects. It sounds like fun but I have a problem of procrastination with that kind of thing. I am going to take knitting lessons this winter. I would love to have some mittens done too. I’m not good at crafty things but I do enjoy them. I like to keep my hands busy. and I love fall.
The mushrooms are out. I have some chantarals sitting my fridge and a few hedgehogs as well. They were a gift from a friend. I’m heading out to harvest the rest of the lion’s tooth today and maybe some turkey tail too. I love mushroom hunting!

If you have been wanting to talk with someone you love about family preparedness but put it off because you didn’t want to appear to be, well, nuts, now might be a good time.

Millions are without power in the southwest as something (heat probably) caused a disruption in service. The power company says that if you have an emergency plan, activate it.

Wildfires in Texas continue with 1400 homes destroyed.

Flooding in the northeast continues and we have a couple more hurricanes on the move.

The is a specific and credible terror threat against Washington or New York City.

The stock market continues its wild swings and nobody really believes there is any way to save Greece.

Contagion is out (we are seeing it today) and the CDC says this is a “when”, not an “if”.

Wormroot hs developed a resistance to the common treatment and threatens our corn crop.

Wheat rust continues to threaten wheat.

I could go on but you get the picture. I spent yesterday puting up a load of grape juice. We got nine quarts from our few vines so I was very pleased. I also got some cauliflower and beans pickled. I have been doing a lot of pickling as my kids love one sour with a meal and we hate canned vegetables. I ordered some fabulous, grass fed beef for December pick-up and if I go to do the pick-up at the butcher I can get it unfrozen so I can can it. The pig will be here in late October and the greens are sprouting in the greenhouse. The basement looks very satifying with row after row of gorgeous jars filled with lovely, organic and homegrown food. My hourly wage for the work probably puts me solidly in the poverty range but I know you all realize that money is not the point. The point is that if I felt the need to shelter in place, I could do so for many months in perfect comfort. I have on last big buy and I will do that withing the next few days. I need a good water filter. I have a stream on my property and, while hauling from it would be a major pain, it would be possible. We have a good garden cart and lots of containers. I just need the filter and I don’t want to commit to building one.

I’m calling my sister today. I am really going to make the case for her to put some food by. She has a birthday comingup and I’m going to offer to get her started with a gift card and a shopping trip. In the past she has just laughed me off but I’m going to try again. Getting laughed at won’t hurt as much as knowing they will be cold and hungry if the lights go out.

The idea of an ark is looking pretty good.

We are supposed to be holding a fire party tonight but that’s clearly not going to happen. Our sustainability group was planning to do a night on making fire without matches. We have people coming to demonstrate fire bows and flint and steel as well as some alternative and home made-stoves. It looks like we need Plan B. The meeting was supposed to be at our fire pit but I guess we’ll meet at the church after all.

Bruce has been working like crazy to get our wood heat set up. I had purchased a terrific Vermont Castings stove for $200.00 a few months ago. We had the chimney rebuilt so we can now use it. The plan is to keep the big stove in the basement where it will heat Bruce’s shop and dry the basement out some. The second chimney is slated to be rebuilt in the spring and will vent the second wood stove. The basement stove will also keep the pipes from freezing. If the floors are warm, the house will be livable if not toasty. The stove also has the benefit of having a large cooking area. Each time I feel a bit overwhelmed by the task of taking my house as far from oil dependence as possible, I remember that it was lived in for decades with no grid at all.

Canning season is in full swing and I try to get at least one load in each day. I have a big meat order in and canning the stew beef is high on my to-do list. I have always done the meat as a hot pack but I’m going to do a raw pack for the stew beef. Apparently, one just jars the beef with no water and it makes its own broth. Does anyone have any experience with that?

The rain has kept me getting in the garden for a few days but I used the time to plot out next year. If I have my way (and I may not) I would plant only potatoes, tomatoes, onions, Haricot Verdes string beans, garlic, dry beans, carrots, beets, cabbage, cucumbers and winter and summer squash and maybe enough broccoli and cauliflower for fresh eating. I will always do the greens. I think that peas and corn are not worth the space or the trouble nor are turnips or brussel sprouts. I want more golden raspberries and I would like to expand the grapes. I keep looking at what grows well with the best output for the energy expended. I just ordered Top Keeper and Keepsake onion sets from Territorial Seeds. These are multiplier onions and behave lke garlic. You plant in the fall and harvest early. They both have excellent keeping qualities and produce bulbets that are replanted in the fall. Sounds like my kind of onion.

We are having a potato emergency around here. Something has attacked our spuds leaving 95% with chewed up exteriors and perfect interiors. I’m not talking a few potatoes here. We grow enough to last all year and we are serious potato eaters. I decided to peel and blanch a bunch and then can them. The results are mixed. It took a long while to bring the blanching water back to a boil and the potatoes were overcooked and fell apart during the canning. I blanched the next batch for a shorter time and they held up better. Three of the jars lost a great deal of fluid and the contents are well below the water line. I think I will steam blanch the next batch and see how that works. I also plan to dry some today. I have always been satisfied with my dried potatoes but I have never done so many. I have a good friend with a dehydrator and if I borrow his it will save some time.

Even with all this work, I am going to have to buy potatoes for storage. I can well imagine how Irish mothers felt, watching their family’s food security disappear almost overnight. I am so grateful that I can still feed my kids, with or without the potatoes. This for me, is the reason for preparedness planning. Food storage is my insurance policy. Knowing alternatives for food storage is a big part of my resilience. Having multiple sources makes me much more secure. Having the money set aside for this kind of emergency puts be a much better position to make decisions.

It’s wine making season. I juiced some grapes and elderberries with a friend yesterday and we got that in a primary fermenter. It’s pears today. We found a beautiful pear tree just loaded with ripe fruit. I hope there will be plenty for wine and for canned pears too. My grapes are just about ready. Those will be plain juice. I hope to can a lot more juice this year. I have the jars and the fruit. Now I just need to carve out the time. There is soda to make and still more beans to dill. The carrots need to be pulled and so the beets. I could use a kitchen woofer. I wonder if such a thing exists.

I forgot to post yesterday. I planned to but a trip to the basement put everything else out of my mind. Our house was built at the start of the Civil War. The basement is just what one would expect. The floor is partially concrete but mostly dirt. The walls are stone. the ceiling is low and the heating ducts make walking a challenge. There is one duct in particular that seems bent on our eventual decapitation. On the plus side, it’s drier than most (we don’t get standing water), it’s spacious and it has a good root cellar.

I went to basement in search of wide mouth pint jars. I knew they were there but I couldn’t find them. I detest hunting for what I need. My first thought was that I would just organize the jars by size. How long could it take? All dang day, that’s how long. I first had to remove all the jars from one cabinet, clean the shelves with a bleach/water solution to hit the mildew I found, then replace jars, shelf by shelf, then move on to the next cabinet. I have a lot of jars, more that I actually use but part of my preparedness strategy is to have enough jars to can up the meat from the freezer should we ever lose power for a long time. I am more worried about that since reading One Second After. I have the propane and the stove. I have the wood and the second (and third) wood stove. I have the Tattler lids. I have the jars. I’m good but it’s an awful lot of jars.

As I plowed through the jars I had to address my orphan jars, the ones that I picked up for free or had given to me. I had boxes of them, many with the lids rusted to the jar. Fortunately, none had old food in them but it was still a lot of work to remove each lid and inspect the jar for nicks or cracks. It would have been a lot easier if I had done it when I got the jars but I put it off.

Now in my, “Give A Mouse A Cookie” mode, as long as I was getting the jars all organized I thought I might as well do a good look over of the storage food. I found a few cans that had to go and even a jar of tomato sauce that was might interesting. Of course, there’s no point in doing all this if you don’t go ahead and wipe down all the can tops and shelving too.

While cleaning up and tossing out I found the case of bottles I save for soda making. Hmmm. I haven’t made soda in a while. Up come the bottles to soak while I finish up. I gave the freezer a good clean (outside only) and found myself with a neat basement and a sore back.

I was looking at all these jars and getting inspired. I heard on NPR yesterday that the Texas drought has caused farmers to slaughter a lot of older stock so hamburger is very cheap. I will see a dramatic increase in the next few years but I think I will go to our little market and see if I can get a deal on quality stew beef and ground chuck. I would love to see maybe fifty jars of canned beef just waiting for the next storm or the next day I spend 8 hours down below and really don’t feel like cooking dinner.

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