August 2012


The best thing about mid-August in New England is corn season. It comes quicker down in the valley but up here in the hills, we have to wait for our pleasures. We sometimes eat corn and tomatoes every night for a week but eventually we have to admit that we are never going to eat all that corn fresh and it’s time to start putting it up. I could can it and I may still do at least one load that way but I do love to have corn in the freezer too. We have a pretty simple method for going about it.

Bruce put his engineering mind to work and built me a corn holder. The holder consists of a screw and a block of wood, 8 inches by two inches. The block sits on a baking pan. I picked the corn while Bruce built the holder and we all worked to get the corn shucked. We shuck the husks right into Phoebe’s wagon. I use my water bath canner in my canning kitchen for blanching the corn. The ears fit very nicely in the canning basket. Four minutes in the boiling water then I dump the corn into a bucket of cold water and add another load to the canner. As the corn cools, I set an ear at a time on the screw and slice the kernels off. They stay right in the pan. When the pan gets full I pour the corn into a big wash pan. And so it goes. It is more than a one person operation but it goes pretty quickly. The cobs go into the wagon and as it gets full, Phoebe brings it down and throws the mess into the pig pen. I freeze the corn in my Food Saver bags. There is a lot of laughter and with a morning of pleasant labor a lot of food gets put up. Phoebe was happy, the pigs were happy and I am very happy anticipating corn chowder and corn fritters.

Preservation is in full swing around here. The tomatoes are looking great and the summer squashes are crazy. I shredded two today and made zucchini bread with some and froze the rest. I am terrible disappointed in cauliflower. I looked good a week ago and today I found it had all bolted. Peppers are prolific. I need to make some stuffed peppers soon. I have gallons of frozen peppers and really, how many can I use? Still, they keep coming. I may just let Phoebe set up a pepper stand on the front lawn just to find a home for them.

I planted buckwheat today, hoping to get a cover crop in the bed my garlic goes in. I brought out the extra blankets today too. Last night we were awaken by the strangest sound. It took a minute to realize that the furnace had started! Is it my age that makes each day pass so quickly? I remember when the time between the last day of school in June and the beginning of school in September seemed like eternity. Now, the summer season is gone in one heavy breath of air. Perhaps it just seems that way because we had such oppressive heat and now I need a sweater to go fetch the morning eggs. We missed anything in between.

If you do, you might just miss summer’s end. I harvested elderberries tonight. The tomatoes are ripening and the string beans are just about done. I think the broccoli has another week and the then the cauliflower will be ready. IT has been a fairly good year for the garden. Not great; the drought certainly had an effect, but very good. I will have bumper crops of potatoes and onions and those are two crops that matter around here.

So what to do with all the produce? I have a preservation schedule (sort of) and I think it will provide us with the foundations for many excellent meals.

Tomato sauce: You just can’t have too much. The few jars I have leftover from last year are going to go into bar-b-que sauce and ketchup. I need a lot of sauce for pizza and pasta as well as juice for soups. I make a kind of V-8 juice with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, celery, parsley, cucumbers and carrots. It all gets simmered together and then run through the Squeezo. Add some fried hamburger and corn and it makes a tasty winter soup.
Potatoes: Most will land in the root cellar but a good number will be canned. We loved the canned potatoes for quick meals. They are excellent fried with onions. I want to dehydrate some too, mostly for the fun of showing off how wonderful they are when they look so awful before sitting in simmering water for 30 minutes.
Onions: Again, most are stored in the kitchen but this year I plan to can a bunch of carmelized onions. I melt a stick of butter in my crock pot, add the sliced onions and then add more butter when they begin to cook down. It takes a good 10 hours to get them just right, then I can pressure can them in half-pint jars.
Peaches: I already canned a bunch. I even canned the juice and the leftover syrup I canned them in. Enough ginger and even peach water tastes pretty good. I got my first bushel of saucing apples today and that’s the most labor intensive fruit for us. I dry slices, make sauce and juice and then I make fruit leather with the apple sauce and whatever fruit I have handy. Raspberry is our favorite. The it’s time for jardinier with the bits and pieces of the garden. We are quite fond of cauliflower and carrot.
The beets are already pickled but I have a second crop just about ready. It’s time to pull the last of the radishes and check to see who has decent squash. I have good spaghetti squash but that’s it. The rest of my keeping squash is a complete bust.

I saw a nifty thing on-line and I plan to steal the idea. I’m keeping a preservation log so I’ll know how much I start with and how much I used. It will help with garden planning next year. Record keeping is not my strong suit but it does pay to do it right.

In the embarrassment department: I presented a preservation workshop at the NOFA conference this past weekend. It was looking like rain and I did take my umbrella with me but as I park in the parking garage and don’t go outside except for a quick trip to the registration tent I didn’t bother with anything else. I got unloaded and went to register and it started to rain. I don’t mean delicate little drops. I mean torrential rain and gusty winds. My umbrella was of no use at all. I was soaked by the time I got to the tent. On the trip back to the Campus Center the warning sirens were sounded with instructions to seek shelter immediately. Bruce and I high-tailed it to the building. I spent 10 minutes trying to dry off a bit by standing under the hand-drier in the ladies’ room but it was a lost cause. Even my underwear was dripping wet. I gave up on my shoes and just presented looking like a drowned rat and shivering with the cold from the air conditioners. I think it still went pretty well, all thing considered. When I got home I had to remove the money that had been in my wallet in my bag. Even that was wet enough to wring out. Did I have extra clothes? How about a raincoat? Of course not. I had taken everything out of my car to make room for the equipment. So much for being prepared.

The rain has come down in buckets around here and the garden has responded. Everything exploded and now I have to put on my canning hat. Add in that I was offered two bushels of peaches and two of tomatoes and I will be canning day and night for the next several days. Thank goodness for the canning kitchen as it keeps the heat and humidity out of the house.

While we got rain here in Western Mass, much of the rest of the country is still suffering from a sustained drought and the heat continues to break records. Corn needs water but it also needs temperatures to stay in a range. If it gets too hot the kernels won’t pollinate, even if you irrigate. I think we can assume that increased food prices will strain family finances this winter at the same time reduced ethanol production may increase costs for gasoline. Now is the time to think ahead about food. I want to be sure to have enough to feed my family and some extra to put aside for charity. Food pantries were already hurting and need is up.

I want to give some updates on what’s been going on around here. First. I’m not going to Mother Earth News this year. I’m a bit sad about it as it’s so much fun but new authors need to be given an opportunity to attend. Next is that I’m working on a new book. I want to write something on Plan B-How regular, non-gun toting, non-bunker dwelling, non-OMG-this is the apocalypse families are handling our descent into an energy constrained future. I hate to disappoint the people who look forward to Mad Max scenarios but I don’t think the mutant zombie bikers are coming any time soon. I think it far more likely, albeit less dramatic, that we are going to see a continued slide into more poverty for many. I think there is a wealth of knowledge out there about how to make do when times get tough. I am thinking of a kind of poverty primer, even if you aren’t poor now. And poor is a relative term. I spent yesterday with my family. My brothers and sister and their respective spouses came for the day as did all my local kids. It was a great day with music and food and laughter and story sharing. I could have spent a lot of money and taken everybody to Six Flags but we would have had less fun and only generic memories. The children will always remember this day spent with their cousins, running in the rain and enjoying Uncle Rob’s chicken wings. Anyway, I’ll be asking for help on this project. If you are willing to be interviewed about how you get by I would love to here from you. Like all things worthwhile, a community is necessary.

One great piece of news is that I have been asked to blog for Lehman’s Non-Electric catalog. I’ll be blogging twice aweek about life on a small holding. There is a lot of good information on there web site so stop on over and say hello.

For the more local folks, I’m hoping to do some canning classes at my house starting in September. The canning kitchen will be in full operation by then and I’m thinking of offering the use of my equipment and experience, not to mention an extra pair of hands, for a donation to offset the cost of propane for running the stove.

The sun is shining and the air feels like velvet. I’m going to try to get in a load of peaches before the children call.

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