Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Let The Canning Begin!

My husband, Andrew, said he had to go get some onions today since we were out of them.  When I came home I found 6 large onions, but also 10 pounds of tomatoes and  a half a bushel of apples, pears, and peaches.  A nearby grocery store sells their nearly over-ripened fruits and vegetables at very low prices and my husband snatched them up.  Our kitchen smelled like my grandma's, as the cinnamon blended with the apples in the crock pot.  Later, Andrew began making ginger peach sauce and prepared the beets for canning.

 I was put in charge of preparing the jars.  Over the years we have been given over a hundred jars for canning, some of these jars are quite old.  I found blue glass jars in both pint and quart sizes and set them aside for display.  In other boxes I found the tall jars Gram had used for her grape juice, along with the box Grandpa had labeled for the the jar lids.  I sorted and sifted through the various boxes the jars were stored in and pulled out all 70 pint jars for washing.  It may seem like a large amount, but my husband tends to make a large amount of food whenever he cooks.

My dad's mom was terrific at canning.  She canned fruits, vegetables, juices, jellies and jams.  Whatever grew at the farm she found a way to put up the extra for later.  I have many dear memories of her grape juice that she made from the concord grapes they grew.   After she passed away I found her collection of canning jars. Among the jars were her cleaning brush and the glass funnel she used when filling the jars. The cleaning brush has bristles that are the size of a pint jar, just right for scrubbing the insides of the jar.  The top bristles are bound together to make a point that cleans the bottom of the jar.   The glass funnel looks like a glass tea cup that is missing the bottom.  My dad had immediate memories of these items when I showed them to him.  He shared how Gram used them when she canned pickled beets and her bread and butter pickles.  Today as my husband canned his beet relish with my grandma's funnel I had to smile.

By the end of today I had washed 100 jars, both pints and quarts, and we had put up:

14 pints of ginger peach sauce
5 pints of wild grape jelly
5 pints of dill pickle relish
4 pints of sweet pickle relish
2 pints of beet relish

We still have apple butter, pears, tomatoes, hot peppers, and a dozen peaches to put up.  My husband plans to make salsa with the tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers.  I wonder though, if he uses all of the onions will that mean he needs to make another trip to the store?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Barn

My hand grips the cold, dull metal handle on the large door and I begin to pull.  The door does not come easily at first so I dig into the ground with my heels.  As my heels put divots in the mud, the door gives way and clatters along the track.  I choke and begin to cough from the air inside.  The air is thick and heavy with the smell of sweet grasses and old dust; like dirt and the smell of of rain mixed together with a freshly cut lawn.
Dust particles fill the air, twinkling as they catch the sun's rays.  In front of me is a wagon, its hitch now rusty brown from being left where rain and snow could corrode the metal.  The wagon is stacked high from front to back with bales of dull green, dry hay.  A thick layer of loose hay on the floor muffles my footsteps as I walk further into the building.  The wall's grey wooden beams stand over me like the legs of an oversized daddy-long legs.  Spider webs full of dust and broken stalks of hay cover the beams.
The south end of the building holds bales of yellow, shining straw.  I think of Rumplestilskin and the gold he spun for the princess.  The straw looks warm and inviting, like it hold the rays of sunshine that helped it grow in the field.  If I were to sit on it, I would feel the broken ends poking and scratching my clothes.
Along the west wall, near the door is a storeroom for the corn that is waiting to be ground into feed.  The walls of the storeroom are made of a rough wood, that feels like the outside of a pineapple.  Red paint, long dried, has marked the walls like a Jackson Pollack painting.
I take one last look around and close my eyes to inhale the sweet hay smell again.  Stepping over to the door, I again dig in my heels to get the door moving on its track.  With a final dull thump the doors meet and I walk toward the house where supper is waiting to be served.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quilts, Quilts, Quilts

I must admit on the outset that I love quilts.  I don't know if that is a pre-requisite for farm life, but I do think it adds to the experience.
Quilts are story-tellers that keep you warm at night.  There is something about seeing a quilt, knowing that someone spent time creating the pattern, choosing the fabric, the necessary dimensions of the quilt, not to mention the time set aside to actually make the quilt.
I love the feeling of snuggling down under a quilt on a cold night, knowing that someone I love and loves me, gave me the ultimate gift when they made a quilt for me.  Sure, a blanket from Walmart, JCPenneys, or wherever can keep you warm, but the quilt seems to keep me warmer still.

My great-grandmother, Frieda, was a quilter.  She was born in 1884 in Germany, the fifth of what would be eleven children.  Great-Grandma could quilt, knit, crochet, and tat.  Frieda made braided rugs with four and five sections to braid, she was quite a force to be reckoned with so I am told.  My oldest quilt was made by her.  It is a Crazy Quilt, one made of the bits and pieces of fabric left over from other quilts.  This quilt has seven different finishing stitches that were used for the piece.  I loved this quilt from the first time I saw it.  When my grandmother died last year, I was allowed to take the quilt.  It wasn't just a memory of my grandmother, it was more.   It was a memory of all that side of the family represents.  The hard work, the tenacity to survive, the ability to do without and not whine about it, these are character traits I see in this quilt.  Sure it was made to keep someone warm, but it is still a piece of art.
Another quilt I have was probably made by Great- Grandma also, it is a summer quilt, lighter weight than others I have.  The pattern is Ohio Stars, made with flour sacks or seed sacks.  It is evident that the quilt was hand-stitched, the stitch work itself has slight length imperfections that would not be made by machine.

Item ThumbnailYears ago, when my grandmother was showing me the various quilts she had kept, I saw a green cross-stitched quilt, the pattern is of flower baskets and quite impressive.  After Gram died, my father opened a trunk and found this quilt with a note attached.  Gram had written "To be given to Gretchen.  Made by Grandma Olive."  I was blown away. I don't know if I had asked her if I could have it some day, I don't remember.  But Gram did.

When I was engaged my best friend, Dawn, asked me for a list of people who were important to me.  I quickly wrote down whomever came to mind and went about the various wedding tasks I needed to accomplish.  At my reception I was presented with an oversized present and told to open in front of everyone.  As the paper fell away I saw the most beautiful quilt.  Dawn had patterned it after the Friendship Quilts and had given squares to the people on my list.  Each square had been designed by someone so I would remember them after I moved away.  My dear grandparents, my cousins, close friends, my brother, parents, all of them had designed a square.  I was overwhelmed.

During Christmas of 2008 my mother-in-law called me into a bedroom and opened her mother's hope chest.  Inside was a quilt made with seed sacks, the pattern was a variation of the Split Nine Patch pattern.  The quilt had either been made by her mother or her grandmother.  My mother-in-law knew I loved "old stuff" and thought I might want to have it.  MIGHT want to have it???? I was deeply touched by her generosity.  I told her she didn't have to give me anything else for Christmas.  The quilt is presently on my bed.
My subscription to Woman's Day Magazine came today and one of the cover articles was "Decorating With Quilts."  I immediately opened the magazine to find creative ideas for displaying the quilts.  Now, in all honesty, I will not be using any of the quilts I mentioned for these ideas.  But the article ended with Quilt Care recommendations, I will be using them.
As the weather here continues to turn cold I will snuggle under my quilt and think of the women who wanted their loved ones to stay warm and say thank you to them.  I still feel their love.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farming Books I've Been Reading

My dear neighbor, Mrs. H., recommended going to the town's library to look for some books on farming.  I took her advice and found the best selection for a beginning farmer.  I thought I would recommend a few for you to peruse.  You might get inspiration for your own patch of Heaven.

1. Herb Gardening for the Midwest  by Debra Knapke and Laura Peters, from Lone Pine Publishing International.  I found a number of herbs that I would like to grow in my garden next year.  The page layout made it easy to know how the herbs could be used, how to harvest and process the herb, as well as other needed points.  I am putting this on my wish list.

2. 1,001 Old-Time Garden Tips   compiled by Roger Yepsen, Editor, from Rodale Press, Inc.  This book reminds me of the Foxfire book series, full of wisdom and information that will help a gardener understand the ins and outs of gardening and caring for the plants they grow.  The book brings together gardening wisdom from the 17th century through today,  I loved it!  It is from the publishers of Organic Gardening magazine.

3. Hobby Farm; Living your rural dream for pleasure and profit. by Carol Ekarius.  This book is from BOWTIE Press,  the publishers of Hobby Farm magazine.  The book addresses farming with honesty and truth.  Farming isn't just the simple life, it's also a hard life.  I enjoyed the balanced look of what life is really like on a farm.

4.Country Life; a Handbook for Realists and Dreamers. by Paul Heiney, from DK Publishers.   Country Life is an intensive look at how to select animals for raising, how to rotate crops to get the best yields, day to day maintenance on tractors, anything you could imagine.  I wasn't overwhelmed by the information due to a smart layout design--very helpful when you aren't sure what you are looking for or how to find it.

I am grateful for Mrs. H's suggestion.  I wish I owned the books, hopefully I will soon.  In the meantime they just may be the most checked out books at our town library.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Way Things Are

Today was "mowing the lawn day."  I started early, trying to get it done by lunch.  Our "yard" is more than an acre of grass, closer to one and 1/2  acres, maybe more.  Cutting the grass therefore means at least 3+ hours of pushing the mower.  My riding lawn mower needs to be repaired and my other push mower died a sudden death in July, so I just have one mower left.
While doing the side section against the hay field my neighbor, Mr. H., came along on his riding mower to introduce himself.  He has been gracious enough to mow the grass that edges the hay field-technically a section that I should be doing.  Since I am push mowing I am grateful for this help.

After formal introductions we settled in for a nice chat.  He asked how my boys were adjusting to their new school and how did we like living here now.  I found out that he and his extended family have been living and farming here for 60+ years at least.  Mr. H. knew the history of who lived on our farm before we did, when they moved out, etc.  It was a bit like listening to my grandfather share his stories.  I was grateful to learn about what Mr. H. knew, it filled in the gaps of the stories I had heard.
I learned that his wife, Mrs. H., is an avid gardener. That they have 20+ chickens and roosters, some of which will be soon be meeting their demise.  Mrs. H. cans what they harvest from the garden and she also likes to quilt.  I made a mental note to make a visit to see what I could learn from her about quilting.

Mr. H. said I will need to plant 3x as much as I intend to harvest due to the raccoon population around here, something I suspected and am already plotting against.  More importantly, I learned about the coyote situation here.  I have not been letting the dogs run free after dark, instead I take them out on their leashes when "nature calls."  My neighbor shared that years ago he and his family lost their black lab and they strongly suspect it was due to coyotes.  Coyotes have even taken down a couple of calves here in the past.  It was enough to prove my theory that daytime is not like dark out in the country.

Mr. and Mrs. H. came over later this afternoon to share some of their bounty from their garden.  Mr. H. brought green peppers, some tomatoes, a small watermelon, jalapenos, and "hot" peppers.  My husband was excited about the hot peppers, he loves spicy food.

I also learned something else that had me curious.  Out here there is an understanding that if there is a need the neighbors will be there, but otherwise, everyone goes about his or her own business.  It's a bit like the Robert Frost poem "Mending Wall."
I feel even better than before about living here.  I am surrounded by people who are experienced farmers and if I have a question all I need do is ask.  Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. H., I am glad we're neighbors.

Robert Frost. 1874–1963
 Mending Wall
SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. 
The work of hunters is another thing:         5
I have come after them and made repair 
Where they have left not one stone on stone, 
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, 
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, 
No one has seen them made or heard them made,  10
But at spring mending-time we find them there. 
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; 
And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again. 
We keep the wall between us as we go.  15
To each the boulders that have fallen to each. 
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls 
We have to use a spell to make them balance: 
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!" 
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.  20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, 
One on a side. It comes to little more: 
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.  25
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors." 
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder 
If I could put a notion in his head: 
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it 
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.  30
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 
What I was walling in or walling out, 
And to whom I was like to give offence. 
Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,  35
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather 
He said it for himself. I see him there, 
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed. 
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,  40
Not of woods only and the shade of trees. 
He will not go behind his father's saying, 
And he likes having thought of it so well 
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Things that are simple but amazing

So my most amazing husband and I finished making the jelly with our wild grapes.  We canned 5 pints of jelly. I am excited that it worked out so well because now I will be getting more grapes.  I went to the Goodwill store nearby and bought a basket that will be perfect for gathering eggs or more grapes or even bringing in vegetables from the future garden.  I love Goodwill, so many options at such small prices.  I was able to get a lampshade for only $2.00 and it fits the lamp perfectly.
Today must be that kind of a day.  I got a pair of overalls last spring, unfortunately they were a little snug.  Well after walking behind a push mower all summer and doing other work around the farm I tried them on and found that they fit perfectly!!!  YIPPEE for me.
For almost  a week now the wind has been blowing and bringing in the first tastes of fall.  I am love the fall, it isn't like spring or summer or even winter.  It has it's own colors, smells, flavors (think pumpkin pie and turkey with cranberries).  Fall marks the beginning of a new school year, the holidays are getting closer,  the opportunity to make fires in the fireplace for the first time,  all of these things make me excited.

The more I am here at the farm the more I want to live simply.  Hard work that shows you really did something--that's the kind of stuff I have always liked.  Must be all those weekends my parents (read father) had us working in the yard, scraping the garage before we painted it, building or rebuilding something, that rubbed off on me.
I would rather do work in the yard than most anything else...who would have thought it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Unexpected Blessings

Today is Labor Day.  The boys have been enjoying their "extra Saturday" by building forts in the pine trees, building zip lines, and rope swings.  I have cleared the asparagus plants that had gone to seed.  My most amazing husband made a wonderful fish and potato chowder for lunch, which was promptly eaten by the boys.
After lunch I went on a walk down the lane, it had been a while since I walked to the pond.  I soaked in the warm sun, enjoying the tickle of the wind as it tossed my hair about.  I knew that there were wild grapes that grew along the pasture fence and hoped I could find them again.  I discovered a vine only to see that there were hundreds of grapes growing along the fence.  Immediately I turned around to get a basket. The grapes growing on the fence had almost taken over every tree, low bush and fence post around them.
Excited at the prospect of canning something from the farm this fall I cut three + pounds of grape clusters and put them in my basket.  I continued to walk along the lane enjoying the early signs of fall.
Last year I found apple trees along the path to the pond and I hoped to find them again too.  I found two golden delicious trees and a red apple tree, unfortunately they had poor fruit yields.  I made a mental note to  come back and trim the trees when they were dormant.
My big surprise was finding a crab apple tree.  My grandparents had one in their yard and I remembered that my grandmother made candied apples with her crab apples.  Into my basket they went.
I took my bounty back home, cutting some goldenrod along the way.  Once in the kitchen, I prepared the goldenrod for a vase in the dining room and set to task reading about how to can the fruit.  My husband came into the kitchen and suggested we make a jelly out of it.  The grapes were the size of small blueberries, making it hard to remove them individually from the stem.  We took out a sieve that we could use to separate the fruit from the juice to make the jelly.  It was the same one my grandmother used on her farm, it seemed fitting.
After processing the grapes my husband said he wasn't sure they were really grapes.  He went on-line and found a picture of the "grapes" only to discover we may have black currants.  Whatever they are they taste wonderful, truly another unexpected blessing in an already blessed day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Arliss and Travis (Tom and Huck) part 2

Yesterday was another early fall, blustery day here in the Midwest.  I loved it because it was also laundry day.  My clothes flapped like a woman's handkerchief waving farewell at a train station.  It was glorious to have on a flannel shirt and jeans.
I looked over to see Arliss laying long, dead branches one on top of the other.  He had an old jump rope that he was using to tie them up into something.  I asked him what he was doing; his reply?  "Building a wall-ish sort of thing."  I hid my laughter and continued to hang laundry.
In the afternoon we went to our old house, about an hour away, to cut the grass and gather a few more things to bring to the farm.  The boys successfully cut down the huge swing rope using a step ladder and a dull pocket knife.  I appreciated the cooperation they had and went about my work.

Today before church, I looked outside to see Arliss and Travis climbing the pine trees, typical boy behavior.  The boys had taken the swing rope and tied it onto the pine trees fashioning a hammock style swing, a climbing rope to access higher parts of the tree, whatever they needed it to be at the time.
I had to smile.  My brother and I often created forts and such as children.  We had a jungle gym shaped like a rocket ship that stood over 6 ft. tall that became the focus of many adventures.  Our dad made us tree-houses in the backyard of every house we ever lived in.  The tree-houses had two floors, or a crows' nest, or some other special characteristic.
On a farm there are many old growth trees that just "beg" to be made into forts and the like.  I cannot wait to see what the boys create next.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dogs and Lilac Bushes

My son woke me up yesterday with this statement, "Mom, Rufus [our lab] made a mess in the kennel.  I cleaned it up but you'll have to wash the dog."  Hmmm.  Not the best way to start a day.

My husband helped me move the 6 ft. x 10 ft. kennel onto the sidewalk and I put the two dogs inside it.  I figure if you're going to wash one dog, it's just as easy to wash both.  For a lab, Rufus sure didn't seem to like the water, could be that it was because the well water was cold.  Anyway, after washing Rufus, I washed Rover, our Brittany.  Rover took it like a man, well, like a dog.  He loves water, although he didn't like the cold water on his belly.
After the dogs were cleaned I started clearing the lilac bush in the front yard.  I love lilac bushes, they are one of the classic plants/shrubs that "belong" on a farm.  However, this lilac bush blocked the view of the road as a person pulled out off the driveway.  It was also a rogue bush that was borderline feral, so it was time for the bush to go.
Since we have just recently moved from the suburbs to the farm, my tool supply hasn't adapted to farm life.  After searching in the shed, I found an old saw that belonged to my grandfather.  It wasn't as sharp as it could be, but it would have to do.  I had a shovel, some work gloves my dad had given me, and determination.  After six hours of sawing and pulling I had cleared the bush of all but a few stubborn roots.   I  took my trusty shovel and dug deep to loosen one of the root sections. SNAP!!  My shovel handle broke in two.  Must be time to quit for the day.   I didn't get rid of the shovel parts, I intend to repair or replace the handle.  The shovel still works, I  just need to use it more like an over grown hand shovel instead of its original purpose.
While tearing out the lilac bush I found two renegade berry bushes.  I think they are in the raspberry family, I hope they are at least.   The berry bushes were transplanted into an old strawberry patch.  If they survive the winter I will find out what they are in the spring.

After six hours of sawing, pulling, digging, and tearing my burn pile stood nearly 5 ft. x 5ft.   My arms had scratches all over, like I fought a mad cat and lost.  Now the view of the road is clear,  I have two mystery berry bushes, and a few transplanted shoots from the lilac bushes.  I have officially marked off one thing from my To-Do list.
Next on my list is to create my "dream garden" list of vegetables for the spring.  I have the area figured out in my head,  it's just a matter of figuring out what I want to plant.  Spring is just six months away you know.