Thursday, August 24, 2006

Elderberry pie. Everyone I know remembers their mother or their grandmother making elderberry pie, but they don't eat it very often now. The taste is distinctive, a kind of musky, earthy, sweet purple taste that is unlike any other berry I've ever tasted. I think the taste and aroma of elderberries brings back memories of mothers. That must be why people who like it, like it so well.

I spent 2 hours cleaning elderberries tonight, yielding 10 cups of elderberries which I promptly put in freezer bags, labeled, and stuck in the freezer. I cannot imagine anyone cleaning elderberries for any reason other than love or the promise of a blue ribbon at the county fair!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Every garden book I have ever read says to "KEEP RECORDS". OK. Here is some information I don't want to forget for next year. The Burpee Checkered Choice Hybrid Corn is oh-so-sweet, but small ears. We've been eating it for a week. We ate the first ear of Burpee Illini Xtra Sweet today. E declared it was just the way sweet corn should be, large full ears and bright yellow. There are two or three ears of corn on most of the Illini Xtra Sweet stalks... It will be interesting to see if the 2nd or 3rd ears are as nice as the 1st.

Tomatoes: The Quali T 23 from Territorial has the most perfect (still green) tomatoes I've ever seen, and the vines are untouched by the wilt that decimated the Silvery Fir Tree tomato from Abundant Life Seeds. Territorial also supplied the Jolly Elf grape tomatoes - large harvest but if picked green have a bitter taste, taste great red, but don't keep long, and don't ripen if picked yellow - and the BeaverLodge Slicer - which had a good yield but also was subject to wilt. Bloody Butcher from Burpee had abundant yield, and no disease, and seemed to be untroubled by tomato hornworms. The Mortgage Lifter tomato, which I believe was from last year's Burpee seeds, had incredible flavor but the ugliest fruits I have ever seen.

The cucumber - Marketmore 97 from Territorial - got mosaic virus, I think. Eight plants yielded about 30 fruits. It is still trying but I think it is going to die.

I don't remember which zucchini seeds I planted. I don't see them on the packing slips that came with this year's seeds, so I guess I must have used old seed. That probably accounts for the poor germination.

On the other hand, the volunteer canteloupes seem to be doing great. I tossed some seeds from a supermarket canteloupe, along with some other kitchen waste, into a pile of leaves at the edge of the garden and they exploded! I've never grown canteloupes before and I'll have to look up some information on when to pick them! The netting is complete, but the background is still dark green, I think that means they are not ripe yet.
The Michigan Fiber Festival is over- whelming. There are so many vendors, so many beautiful animals, so many types of fibers, looms, spinning wheels, dyes, yarns, roving, books, jewelry, buttons....I even found coned yarn for my knitting machine. The weather alternated between rainy and muggy and quite overcast, but there was a nice breeze blowing so it wasn't too awful. There was definitely a rainbow or two- the hand-painted skeins of yarn were just wonderful. In spite of my resolution to look over everything before purchasing anything, on my way in I found a roving in just the shade of cornflower blue that I love - I snapped it up before someone else could get it. So much for resolutions!

I spied a purse that was just adorable on the wall at Zeilinger's booth. They very nicely allowed me to take a photo with my cell phone camera. It was marked $90. Of course my farmgirl instincts say "You can make that! It is just a pair of thrift store blue jeans cut off at the waist and then some old sweaters that have been felted and all sewn together!

But, the question is, will I actually make it? Or would this be another UFO? (Unfinished object) Between the shopping for the magnetic snap, cutting a lining, felting, sewing, making the twisted cord for the snap, there is quite a bit of labor involved in that little purse!

If I had had a rabbit cage with me I would have come home with some of the beautiful Angora rabbits there.

I really liked this booth. The hutch they used for display is a mustardy yellow - as were the booth signs. At the edges of the booth were a couple of rabbit grooming stands with a display of scented beeswax sheep. The pillows on the chair had cushions the same mustardy yellow color. The floor had cedar shavings spread, which wafted the aroma of cedar throughout the booth. Everything about that booth said, "Come in - spend some time looking over our merchandise!" I am sorry that the camera in my phone did not do a better job of capturing their display.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Steam is rolling out from under the lid of my new boiling water bath canner. I sold the old one many garage sales ago, and since then I have been using my pressure canner for both pressure canning and boiling water bath canning. So today, under the theory that you should have the right tool for the job, I got a new canner. I had to go to five different stores to find it! I noticed a new warning on the label - do not use on glass-topped stoves. Good thing E had an old propane burner we hooked up outside.

I'm on the second batch of jars - first I had seven quarts of tomatoes, and now I have 5 pints of blackberry jam.

I picked the blackberries just a few hours ago. I missed the heaviest part of the crop but there are a few left, I picked about 3 pints today. The tomatoes were picked yesterday morning in Ohio (I couldn't let them just rot in the garden) and transported here to Michigan.

I checked the elderberries here while I was picking the blackberries - they are still green. Amazing difference in climate here in Southwest Michigan versus North Central Ohio, where I picked lots of ripe elderberries on August 6!

My CSA lady sent an email - she is not going to the farmer's market this weekend because it has been so dry, she doesn't have enough to bring to sell. I am glad I am not the only one without a crop to sell. I've been canning my excess produce instead of trying to sell a pint of this and a quart of that. Next year, knowing better what to expect, I plan to start new lettuce plants every 10 days without fail in the spring, same with beets and radishes. Forget the peas - they are just too much work.

Is it too early to get this guy into the Future Farmers of America?

Tomorrow I am going to the Michigan Fiber Fest in Allegan, Michigan. Hope to capture some good photos to share.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Spent the last week canning relishes and pickles in the evenings. Such a long drawn out process! The pickle recipe called for the pickles to be soaked in brine for at least six hours, then a vinegar soak for 12 hours, then finally boiled in the pickling liquid. One jar didn't seal, so I got to taste them, they are wonderful -- but really, all that labor for four pints of pickles? Not to mention the mess on the stove!

I made some chow-chow (4 jars) and also some sweet cucumber relish (3 jars), followed up by 7 jars of tomato salsa. I used my antique jars with glass lids and rubber rings, and screw-on bands. I purchased boxes and boxes of them at an auction several years ago, nobody else seemed to want them. I had never seen the glass lids before, and was entranced by them. I was worried that they wouldn't seal but they seem to be just fine.

The tomatoes are coming on thick and fast in the garden now -- too bad, I can't make it to the farmer's market this weekend. I wonder if I can just rinse them off and pop them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer? Don't have time to can or process them.

My cucumber vines are not doing well at all, mostly the leaves are crispy, but I picked 7 cucumbers tonight. There are some green leaves still at the ends of the vines. Looking for something on the internet to tell me what caused this problem! The zucchini seem fairly healthy, the pumpkins look sad, and the canteloupes that volunteered seem VERY healthy!

Something is nibbling big bites out of my beets. I suspect a baby rabbit. I will look into the live humane traps and relocate it (them?) if I catch any.

Corn is ready, we have had corn for supper three nights in a row. Ummmm, good! A little butter, salt and pepper, it's almost a meal. Slice a tomato and grill a bratwurst, life is good.

I have planted some lettuce seedlings in the shade of the corn stalks. I am pulling out the corn (and any weeds) as I pick the ears and sending it directly to the compost pile, then tilling the row and planting the lettuce. Hopefully there is time to get the lettuce up and going before frost hits in mid-October.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Best in Show! Best in Class! Big blue rosettes!

Honey Pecan Pie

1 cup honey
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Watkins vanilla-nut extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie

In a saucepan or the microwave, bring the honey just to a boil. Quickly beat the eggs into the honey. Add butter, vanilla-nut flavoring, nuts, and nutmeg. Pour into the pie shell.
Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 25 minutes or until set.

The rhubarb and cherry pies each got a blue ribbon, the apple pie got a red. The black raspberry pie got nothing. I will have to look for judge's comments later this week to see if the filling was too seedy, or some other reason.

The apple-honey bread got a red ribbon, as did the knitted apron and the purse.

One day of judging down, one to go. The pie auction to raise money for the fairgrounds is on Wednesday.
Earlier today I put some oil in the pan on the stove, turned it on, put some potatoes in the microwave, checked on the lamb chops roasting in the oven, went to the garden to get a zucchini. Ha! That was not a good idea. I came back in to find the smoke alarm going off, black smoke on the wall and the cupboards and the vent. Luckily no fire, I didn't use a lot of oil, maybe a tablespoon, so when it burned up there wasn't anything left to burn. I swear I was only out there 5 minutes, well, maybe it was 10... E doesn't know yet as he is entertaining cousins at the farm in Michigan. Maybe I can wallpaper the kitchen before he gets home?

I am going to buy one of those timers you can hang around your neck on a cord. Set it for 3 minutes when I go to the garden. Time passes so quickly there.
Hard and Fast Rules for Picking wild berries

1. Go in the morning. The birds are singing. The moquitos aren't awake yet. They wake up about 4 pm. Never pick berries in the evening.
2. Wear insect repellent. I use Watkins brand with DEET, I get a slight headache but not as bad as some others. I seem to have a reaction to DEET. Take it with you, it will wear off as you perspire. When you start hearing the buzzing near your ear, put some more on.
3. Wear Boots. Walk carefully. There can be groundhog holes or other lumpy places. If you are picking around old buildings there can be nails.
4. Wear sturdy jeans. You are going to see lots of juicy berries, just out of reach, that will require you to push further into the thicket. Thorns hurt. Leather chaps would be nice but I don't own any.
5. Wear a light-colored, long-sleeved shirt. You're trying to avoid insect bites, thorn scratches, and poison ivy. Work on your tan later. The sleeves will protect you from unattractive scratches. Dark colors absorb heat, light colors reflect it. It might be cool in the early morning but it will get hot as the sun climbs higher in the sky.
6. Wear a hat with a brim. I can't tell you how many times I have saved my eyes from being poked out because the hat brim caught the branch. The hat also protects your head from insect bites and the sun.
7. Take along a pruner or a leatherman tool to cut canes that might cause injury.
8. Take a water bottle. You can put it in the freezer the night before to keep it cold. Reuse the bottle, you don't need a new one every time!
9. I like plastic baskets for picking. I got the one in the photo for $1.50 at PamIda. You can put the basket right in the sink to rinse the berries. Less handling means less bruising. But take along some plastic bags or more containers. You never know when you will find something unexpected, like these elderberries that were ripe this morning!
10. Ask permission if you are not picking on your own property.
11. Let someone know where you are.
12. Take a first aid kit along.
13. Wash off your hands and any exposed skin as soon as you can, if you saw any poison ivy at all. Wash your clothes with Fels-Naptha soap before wearing them again.
14. Process the berries right away. If you're not going to use them the same day, freeze them. Or give them away. Hint - if you're picking on someone else's property, a small amount to them is advised!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Today was entry day for the county fair. I didn't have any elderberries in the freezer, even though I thought I did, so I had to scratch the elderberry pie entry.

Other than that I entered:

1 cherry pie, 1 apple pie, 1 rhubarb pie, 1 black raspberry pie - in the pie class.

1 honey-pecan pie, 1 honey-apple loaf of quick bread, 1 plate of honey-zucchini muffins - in the class "products of the hive".

1 display of six homemade soaps in the hobbies class. (the supertintendant mentioned I was the only entry, so it won't be much of a contest.)

1 apron - machine knit - in the Aprons- other handwork category.

1 purse - machine embroidered - in the purses category.

I also scratched the black raspberry preserves and the assortment of six relishes. If I am to do those next year I had better start now, because there is NO WAY I am going to do those between mid-July, when the entries are due, and the second week of August, when the fair starts.

Judging is tomorrow on the pies, and I think on the other items as well. Oh, the suspense!

Just look at the damage a tomato hornworm can do! At least I think that is what is eating my plants. I found two yesterday, the first was about an inch long and as big around as a bamboo skewer - the second was two and a half inches long and as big as a pencil. I wish I had taken their pictures before their demise. They are really strong - they seem to have suction cup feet and they really plant them on the stem of the plant.

These nasty little chompers not only eat the tomato fruits. By the way they are rude little things too, eating only half the fruit before moving on to the next one. They also defoliate the whole plant, seemingly overnight. The plant in the photo was lush and beautiful, like the one behind it, just yesterday. Now, it has two stems of leaves. Six of my tomato plants are showing some signs of damage. I know that there are more of the worms out there, because the damage continues, but I can't seem to find them. They are the same exact color of the stem of the plant. Dad claims they can get four or five inches long. I am afraid to meet up with one that size!

Friday, August 04, 2006

We got a little over 1/2 inch of rain, but it was enough to cool it off a little. What a relief!

I am picking cucumbers and tomatoes mostly. The tomatoes have a blush on one side or the other and I want to keep them picked so that they keep blossoming and making more tomatoes. Quite a difference between the Silvery Fir Tree and the Beaverlodge tomatoes. When they were six inches tall I couldn't tell them apart - now the Silvery Fir Tree plants look dead, although they have a few tomatoes, and the Beaverlodge have loads of tomatoes and green leaves. Healthiest plants of all are the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes - the plants are over six feet tall. I keep finding green worms on the branches of different plants - they eat all the leaves right down to the stems. I tried a Quality 23 Hybrid this year but somehow only ended up with one plant, the tomatoes look great but they are quite green yet. They will be my slicers. But my favorite of all has to be the Bloody Butcher. Small tomatoes, just right for salads.

I can't believe I am saying it, but I don't think I planted enough zuchini this year! Only two plants came up although I planted about six hills. I even replanted but I think I stepped on the baby seedlings. I will probably just have enough for my own use, probably not enough for the market. I keep thinking about planting more beets, radishes, and peas, but it is getting late in the year and I haven't done it yet.

I am a little discouraged. If I am to be serious about this farmer's market thing next year, I am going to need a bigger garden, and a lot fewer weeds. Maybe double the size and buy a lot of landscape fabric.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hot, hot, hot... too hot to work in the garden. Too hot to even walk to the garden. This is the third day in a row of over-100 degree heat index. They are promising thunderstorms after midnight.

In this weather, the mosquitos are bloodthirsty when the sun gets low in the sky and it starts cooling down, must remember to cover up with insect repellent before going out and checking. It is starting to get dark now, probably too late to do any work out there. I will water the potted tomato plants when I go out to feed the dog later.

We had a coworker's father's funeral this afternoon. The second one in two weeks. We went to visitation hours for the first one, this afternoon they had the interment first, at 3:00 in the afternoon. The sun was beating down. If it hadn't been so hot and humid it would have been a beautiful day as the sun was shining and there was a light breeze. After the interment, we adjourned to the church for the memorial service. It was a very nice service, he sounded like someone I would have liked to have known. Of course this isn't surprising as we like his son, our co-worker, very much, he is a very nice person. I was surprised to hear that the father was a beekeeper. It seems every time I turn around lately I run into a beekeeper.

I think this is a good thing. I don't see as many honeybees in my backyard now as I did when I was a child. I have seen some reports that they are declining with the increasing use of pesticides, the increase of the Varroa mite, and the decline of the backyard beekeeper. I've been toying with the idea of keeping a few hives, but right now I am afraid I wouldn't have enough time to devote to doing the necessary tasks.

After the service we came home and took a nap until dark. Too hot.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Farmgirls rock! I have been visiting MaryJane's farm web pages recently and "chatting" with the girls there. I have found a community of like-minded, but yet diverse, ladies there willing to share recipes, herbal remedies, solutions for garden weeds and bugs, and a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with.

When I think about farmgirls, I keep thinking back to one of my first employers back in the mid 1970's, a wonderful woman by the name of Helen Rieman. She was a farm woman, strong, determined, and smart. She managed a local restaurant in a department store at the mall. She was tall and sturdy and could be quite an imposing figure. The restaurant was famous locally for having a great salad bar with lots of homemade salads, and homemade pies. It was a favorite stop for the ladies who lunched, as well as the people who worked in the mall. I started as a waitress in the coffee shop and then later, during summer vacations, I worked either in the kitchen or as a waitress in the dining room.

I am sure I was hired because my father's farm was about two miles down the road from hers, as a lot of the other women in the restaurant were from the same general area. Helen always said she wanted farm girls working in her kitchen because they knew how to work.

She definitely put us to work, and she taught us a lot. We had an OLD cash register in the coffee shop - I had to hit a separate button for the dollars, a button for the tens of cents, and finally a number for the cents, then push the amount button. It had little flags that mechanically came up in the window for the amount. No electronics then! I particularly remember working on the grill and learning to puff up omelets in the oven. I still cook bacon, when I serve it, the same way she taught us - put a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet, lay out the bacon in strips, and bake it in the oven. It stays flat and crisps beautifully. (I now lay another sheet of parchment over top to keep my oven from being splattered with grease.)

There were a few older ladies in the kitchen and the dining room - I think they were mostly farmgirls too. But only Ruth was allowed to bake the pies. About the same time that Helen had some health problems and was forced into retirement, the restaurant was closed by the management off on the other side of the state. A lot of people miss that restaurant now. I miss Helen and the community of local farmgirls she helped create.

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