I spent the whole day yesterday preserving food. I made 24 pints of bread and butter pickles, started some sauerkraut and froze what I think will be the end of the broccoli. I gave some jars of the things I have put up to friends; Heather and Tom got some applesauce, pickles and tomato sauce and so did Sheri and Barbara. I love swapping preservedfood. You never know when you are going to receive a treasure from someone that will turn into a family favorite. Sheri gave me some Bulgarian yogurt starter so I know what I am doing today. I want to make cheese too as I am anxious to try some lacto fermentation with the whey.

Today looks to be another winner weather wise and it is time to pull out more spuds and get the cured ones in the basement. This is time of the year we eat potatoes and onions every day. Our favorite way to cook them is together. I saute a lot of onion and some minced garlic in olive oil then add cut up potatoes. If the are taking a while to soften, something that often happens with new spuds, I may add a bit of water. My girls are big fans of caramelized onions. They can hardly believe it when they hear other kids say they don’t care for them. I will sometimes put a bunched of slivered onions in the crock pot with some butter and olive oil, start on high until it gets simmering, switch to low and leave it overnight. The onions are beautifully caramelized the next day and make the most remarkable onion soup, especially if you use three or four different varieties of onions. This is another good pantry meal as all of the ingredients are just sitting there. I use a beef consume base and pour the soup over slices of toasted French bread and top with whatever cheese I have around. Gruyere is our favorite. I have some leftover potatoes from dinner so breakfast is going to be potatoes and eggs.

I am hoping to get more corn picked today. One of the wonderful things about eating in season is that I get to feast on something until I am sick of it. You know fall is here when the idea of corn on the cob is no longer exciting. I am craving salad again just as the new plants for the green house are poking up. All of the green house starts look good. I am anxious to get them planted but I have one lone cantelope taking up space in there like the mean, rich uncle no one likes. You hate to kick him out because the rewards are so immense but one has to question weather it’s worth the bother.

I just got a new book (I’m generally frugal but books are my weak spot). Fresh Food From Small Spaces is so much fun! I have large spaces but there is so much information about indoor gardening that it is still useful.

My grandson is being baptised in Pennsylvania at the end of the month. We are thinking we should take the girls out of school for a few days and visit the Dutch country while we are there. These are the times I miss home schooling. I will need to ask permission to take my children out of school and it could be denied. It won’t be but I find it hard to believe that I could be fined for not sending my kids to school for a few days for a family trip that will be educational as well as fun. I occasionally make noises about home schooling again but I must confess that being home with no kids for the first time in 34 years is really fun. I can get an amazing amount accomplished and I do enjoy getting to be a grown up for these 6 hours a day. When my kids are home I always have an ear cocked and an eye peeled. My mind can never be fully engaged elsewhere.

For all who have asked about Phoebe Jean-she is much better. She had no fever last night and didn’t cough much. I am keeping her home today as I know there is a tummy bug going around too and I don’t want her exposed to anything else while still recovering. With the Monday holiday, she will have a change to recoup before going back to school. My Phoebe is a sleeper. She can go to bed at 8:00 and sleep until 9:00 the next morning. I am glad not to have to rouse her today. I just checked her and she looks like an angel. I sometimes sit next to her bed and watch her sleep. In the quiet of her room, the sight of her flushed cheeks and the steady rythym of her breath are like a meditation. I can sometimes not believe my luck, that I should have been given the opportunity to parent these particular children at just the time they needed families. I does make one question fate and what is meant to be. I know there are many who would question our decision to adopt a child with special needs, especially at this stage of our lives. I will never forget what Bruce said the first time he saw Phoebe. She was a funny looking little thing, not even able to hold up head at 7 months old. She was wheezing and smelly and clearly atypical but she smiled up at Bruce and he melted. “I do believe the God has dropped and angel on our doorstep”  We have cared for dozens of healthy, beautiful, bright babies over our years as foster parents but we were able to say goodby to most and feel good about what we had given them and where they were going but Phoebe was different. Phoebe was ours.

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I got up early yesterday, planted some seeds for the fall garden, then got busy pulling all my onions and preparing the bed for next year. Bruce and I took a look at the corn and it hit  us at the same time. We need to get the new freezer! Right now as in we should have done this weeks ago.

I don’t care for canning corn. It takes a really long time and the result are only acceptable. Without electricity, I would but I have electricity so I don’t. I dry some and it actually tastes a lot better that way but again, it takes a lot of time and space and the corn all seems to be ready at once. Well, three at onces. We plant three varieties and have it over a long season but we have a lot in each season. The pigs will be ready soon too. I got on line and did the research to find the model I want and made some calls to find out who had one and would deliver within the next day or two.

We settled on the 24 cubic foot Kenmore. It’s huge and expensive but it has some features I wanted. It’s Energy Star and actually uses less power than some of the smaller models, has a quick freeze option so I can freeze large amounts at once and has a pop out lock and lighted interior.

This will give me three freezers. The one on the top of the refrigerator, the small upright in the mud room and now the huge chest in the basement. Bruce and I rearranged the food storage and he built a small freezer room yesterday. He framed in three walls and a floor and painted them up. The walls and flooring are insulated now and they will protect the freezer from some of the basement moisture. Eventually, the whole basement will be sealed from moisture and insulated but we won’t get to that until winter.

This whole project, as tough as it was on back, served the very useful purpose of making me take stock of my inventory. I went through a lot of food last year! I need to do a big shop this week and fill in around the edges. I have very little left in the way of canned juices and nearly no pineapple, the only canned fruit I purchase other than mandarin oranges when the are on sale. I got rid of some canned food that we are not going to eat like outdated green beans. The reason they were outdated is because nobody here can stand canned green beans. The pigs got those.

The other thing I did since I was down there and cleaning anyway was to rearrange my canning supplies. I had way more rings than I will ever need as I remove them as soon as the jars cool. A lot were rusty too. I took a rubber band and a paper clip and made a kind of bungee cord that I slipped through canning rings in groups of seven (a full canner load). I did this for 6 sets of large and small rings. I put these and all of my canning equipment like jar lifters and funnels in one 6 gallon bucket with a gamma seal and twist off lid. Now I have everything I need in one place and none of it is cluttering up my kitchen drawers. It will stay clean in the bucket and I can stop searching for a good lid in a bag with hundreds of  lids. I love getting organized. Systems are our friends.

I will do a whole post on this later this week but Bruce questioned the number of jars I have. I see his point as there are many extra but here is my reasoning. I pick up jars at tag sales and occasionally when I get to the market. They don’t deteriorate, I have the space and they are one thing I would really need if the grid ever collapsed. I could set up an outdoor kitchen and can all of the meat and frozen vegetables. We would have to work round the clock and use both pressure canners and it would take days but we could do it. If I ended up with some of kids at home, we would have to enlarge the gardens and can a lot more produce as a matter of course. Jars are alos a great barter item. I keep a couple of new boxes on hand and donate one to the occasional raffle along with a copy of my book. I am also trying to rid myself of most of the plastic in my house. Now that I have the space, I will be freezing many vegetables and fruit in jars. I will be able to reuse the lids and extract the air with my my food saver. This will save the money I would have spent on plastic bags and keep those bags out of the landfill. Win, win.

The Wicked Witch of the West could not have been more evil than the forces that are out to get our gardens this year. I went to get some potatoes yesterday and a good many did not hold up to storage. Then Bruce went to check the Delcata Squash and found that some #%^@#*(%rodent, rabbit or woodchuck probably, had taken one bite of each. One bite! We think they will heal but today I have to go out and get some thigh high panty hose to protect the rest. Here’s the question. Does it make sense to spend more money on the hose than the squash is worth? Of course not. Am I still going to do it anyway? Naturally. I can keep the panty hose about indefinitely and I will learn whether or not an injured squash will recover.  Next year we will protect them as soon as they emerge. I had saved some tomatoes that looked okay and set them to ripen on the window sill. Every one developed blight and hit the garbage pail yesterday.

I stopped in the market yesterday to refill my canned pumpkin supplies. We eat a lot of canned pumpkin and, as we are not going to have any pumpkins this year (the kids are going to have to paint faces on old soccer balls for Halloween I guess) I thought I should have lots of Libbys on hand. Wrong. Seems like I am not the only one with a failed crop. There were six cans on the shelves and the grocery manager said he had heard they might not get any more for a while because of the crop failure. Yikes! I guess I will have to work on a recipe for carrot bread.

I did have some good news about my canner. I called Lehman’s and they are sending out a new one right away, along with a shipping label so I can return the damaged one. Their service is so good. There prices are a bit higher but you can count on the quality.

Have any of you found your state’s prepper network. You can google it. I am anxious to hook up with mine. I would really like to find a group that meets a couple of times a year for a day of skill building and connection. I am supposed to meet up with some folks from the Massachusetts Preppers Network soon. I am looking forward to it as long as I have the time to pull from garden work.

Now that I have a good idea about what to expect to put up from my garden (great, heaving sigh) I am working on my updated inventory and shopping list. I also put together a list for my un-prepped sister about how to begin a food storage program. I am getting the distinct impression that she did not read a certain book that one would have assumed she has sitting on her bookshelf.

We had another wild food pot luck last night. Very few people showed up which was disappointing but I understand it. This was not a good wild edibles week. We had some chicken of the woods mushrooms and a couple of dishes made with bishop’s weed but there isn’t a lot else out in proportions large enough to make a meal. I hope that is the only reason so few showed up and not that they have moved on to a new project.

We have a really good core group of folks who are smart and dedicated to living more lightly on the planet as well as being prepared for emergencies. But, as in all groups, there will be those who show up, act all enthusiastic, then drift away, never really contributing new ideas or real work. For them, sustainable living is another form of entertainment. They talk the talk but walking the walk is work and change and sacrifice and not always fun. Sustainability means buying organic when commercial is cheaper. It means eating beans when you prefer steak. It means making mindful decisions about how you allocate resources and some of those decisions will be painful. It means delaying gratification, not for hours or days or weeks but for years. The trees I planted this year will not bear fruit until I am an old lady. I spent a couple of hours this weekend weeding and mulching the raspberries. It was hot, back breaking work but if I want to eat raspberry jam on my toast next year, the weeds must go now.

Now that I have groused for a bit, let me end with some happy talk. For me, happy talk is generally about food. Is wine food? Let’ s call it food for now. My elderberry wine is gorgeous. It is ruby red and clearing up beautifully. It is still working but by next week I should be able to rack it for the first time. Basil is another happy topic. I can stick my nose into a bunch a basil and feel that all is right with the world. And finally asparagus. I make a lunch on many afternoons of asparagus and butter. I won’t tire of it until my first cherry tomatoes ripen.

I am overwhelmed by the wonderful posts I have been getting. I have plans to make my year’s supply of catsup after reading the post over at  the riverrockcottage blog today. Herbalpagan has me thinking about other uses for dried tomatoes. I got such a wonderful post about making soap. I have a birthday coming up and soap making supplies sound like the order of the day. Sharon Astyk took us for a walk around her property and I am totally inspired to add a ton of plants to my garden. The list goes on. What a fabulous  bunch we are! Wouldn’t you just love to go to a pot luck dinner with the whole lot of us? The food would be amazing and the conversation inspiring. But all you do makes motivates me to do more and there are only so many hours in the day so I have to pick and chose. Today I am going to rack knotweed wine with a group of my favorite woman friends. I may have time to make at least one batch of catsup too. I want to play with recipe before I commit to a whole canner load.

It is raining again today and the weeds are just as happy about it as the vegetables so weeding is on the to-do list. We don’t have enough mulching material just yet. In another few weeks we can stop weeding as grass cuttings and newspaper will take care of that problem. The only weed that will still require hand pulling is the knotweed.

I am also on spare spot patrol. I still have a bunch of seed potatoes left and seeds as well. I have been tucking them in wherever I see a patch of unplanted land. Bruce had composted a huge pile of leaves last fall and I put about a dozen potatoes in there. I interplanted lettuce sets in the garlic and poked some cabbage in the asparagus bed. I have basil everywhere. I can never have too much pesto. I had some extra tomatoes too and they are doing great in the composting manure pile. My healthiest tomatoes are the ones I planted in a cloth grocery sack. It was suppose to be a hanging grower that would work like the $20.00 topsy turvy I had seen advertised. I found the full sack was way to heavy to hang so I have it sitting outside the greenhouse. I looks so cute, full of cherry tomatoes and basil. I put a second pot on the other side of the greenhouse and put a salad grouping in that one. Mini peppers, lettuce sets and cherry tomatoes work well together.

Again, thank you for the posts. They give me hope for a brighter, greener life.

 We had our monthly sustainability meeting last night and, as always, I came away with a bunch of ideas and projects. The one I am most pleased about is a planned walking series. A bunch of us are going to be meeting each week at different homes and do a land walk to access what wild edibles and medicinal herbs exist in that spot. We have some experts in the group and a lot of people with good experience.I am no expert but I am enjoying the opportunity to learn. I am getting a lot better a picking out individual plants on my property. Not that many years ago, I only saw a sea of green; Now I can pick out the nettle, the plantain, the mullein, the Jerusalem artichoke, the raspberry leaf. It is like my husband and bird calls. I hear a cacophony of sound. He hears the individual call of the Jay and the Cardinal. He can tell you the day the Orioles return in the spring.

Another project that sounds terrific is a garden exchange. A group is setting up a farm stand at our local market. People will be encouraged to drop off excess produce and take some away with them. If you don’t have a garden and are in need of food, the hope is that you  will take what you need. The same group is working to get local farmer’s market and farm stands to accept food stamps for produce, seeds and seedlings. What a concept!

Finally, we talked about our local, small school. We are always at risk of losing it to a big, regional school as a cost cutting measure. Our children would be bussed about 40 minutes to the larger central school. Apparently, the people in charge are not worried about the the effects of peak oil and are not including the rising cost of gas in their calculations. A group is working on taking charge of our school. We are having a work bee on Saturday to paint, plant and otherwise spruce up our school. We refuse to let it go to inferior,centralized education with larger classes and rotating staff. Sustainability is about a lot more than food.

On another note: I drank the ginger ale yesterday. It was very fizzy and had a strong ginger taste. DH thought it was a bit too strong but I liked the flavor. It isn’t Canada Dry. It is a lot better. In the coming days, we will all have to get used to the idea of food that is less predictable. In mass production, what matters is uniformity and price. Our own food, locally sourced and made from scratch will be subject to the changes in weather and availability of ingredients, even our own moods may affect the outcome.

This is probably the only time I will sit down today, other than for  meals. I have started to preserve some food and once it takes off, it doesn’t look back. Yesterday I got a beautiful harvest of rhubarb and canned 7 pints. We love rhurbarb added to any crisp or cobbler. I was short just a bit so I stretched it with some knot weed but that’s just between us. I also dried a lot of asparagus overnight. I am turning that into soup mix. I gathered some nettle this morning. I will dry that today. I  love soup, especially easy soup made from mixes I put together in the heat of the summer. 

Until our piggies came I was feeling guilty about some of the canned vegetables that were not getting eaten. My kids hate canned green beans and who can blame them. I do a couple of batches so I will have some to show at the fair and some to pop into a quick soup or stew but a lot just sit there on the cellar shelf, mocking me. Now the pigs will eat them and everybody is happy, especially the oinkers.

This is the time of the year to think about cleaning out the freezer and pantries. We are having blueberry muffins for breakfast as I found 3 bags of frozen berries and need to use them up. You may think you will eat old food that is less than palatable in an emergency but why should you? In a crisis you need to be at your best and that means good nutrition and a good attitude. Shriveled vegetables and weevily flour aren’t going to be good for either. As I clean and organize, an ongoing project around here, I am getting all of my processing equipment “back to ready”. When I decide I want to can or dry something, I do not want to go searching for the big funnel or the jar lifter.

I am paying special attention to how I do things this year as I have been asked to do a food preservation workshop for NOFA this September during their annual conference. I am really excited. I love this organziation and I am delighted to pass on information that so many need.