Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Between the Lines

Tonight I will slip into a bed smelling of sunshine and fresh air.

Nothing is better than freshly laundered sheets dried outdoors.

When we moved to this house, it did not truly feel like home until we had erected a clothesline. Until that time, each load of laundry filled me with a yearning for a clothesline... especially when I washed the bed sheets.

The fragrance of line-dried sheets is one I remember from childhood. While I did not quite appreciate the roughness of line-dried bath towels, I loved the smell of freshly washed, line dried sheets. Most of our clothes were dried on the clothesline for much of my younger years.

Perhaps that is why I have almost always made sure I had a clothesline wherever I lived, even if I had to string the line between two conveniently spaced trees. That and the fact that I hated spending money and time waiting for clothes dryers at the laundromat.

If my love for the clothesline and the sense of "home" it gives me comes from my childhood memories, then most of today's children won't know that special comfort of settling between freshly washed and line dried sheets. They won't know the simple pleasure of hanging clothes on the line.

Today, many homeowner's associations don't allow backyard clotheslines because they are not aesthetically pleasing. But I find nothing more aesthetically pleasing than clothes hanging on the line.

It is a simple pleasure. I love hanging clothes on the line, even on chilled days like today, when the breeze had a little bite to it. Nothing pleases me more than watching the sheets and towels flap in the breeze... feeling the coolness, or heat of the dried clothes as I take them off the line... bringing in a basketful of sun- and wind-dried things.

A simple pleasure. Like running and playing hide and seek among the trees. Climbing a stack of straw bales. Dress-up parades through the garden. Picking berries and eating snap peas fresh off the vine.

Simple pleasures are better than anything.

Pass it on.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sparrow Grass

Frost-covered asparagus on an autumn morning.

"Faster than cooking asparagus."
That phrased was coined about 2,000 years ago by Roman Emporer Augustus to describe quick action. Of course, originally it would have been in Latin.
In those days, asparagus was something on the wealthy could afford to serve, and they valued it highly. Those ancient Roman emporers retained entire fleets of ships simply to transport this delicacy.

These days, asparagus can be on anyone's table, although a pound of organically grown asparagus will set you back five or six bucks. If you have a little garden space that you can devote to a perennial crop, however, you can have your own asparagus for little effort.

Asparagus remains a highly favored delicacy, although it fits in almost anyone's budget. Asparagus season is a mere two months plus two weeks long, and the fresh stuff is highly superior in flavor to canned or frozen asparagus. In Europe, asparagus season is eagerly awaited and celebrated with asparagus festivals (called "spargelfests" in Germany). Some places in the U.S. also have such festivals.

My single asparagus bed, containing 20-plus plants, provides more than enough spears to satisfy any craving the two people in this household may have, plus some to give away. In spite of the much warmer than normal and dry spring, the asparagus patch produced probably as much as it did the previous year.

The asparagus in our garden is "Purple Passion," which produces rich red-purple spears. These spears frequently are about an inch in diameter, and sometimes look rather intimidating. When my sister asked how I got my asparagus so big, I would just shrug. All I do is give it compost or horse manure in the fall after I cut it down, then mulch.

Now I learn that purple varieties of asparagus naturally produce large spears. Which is kind of disappointing -- to learn that I don't actually have a magic touch with it. Purple varieties also tend to be sweeter and have less fiber than green varieties.

Often, those giant spears will curl and deform, creating rather monstrous looking things. The curling and bending is due to mechanical damage -- either you nicked it a bit when using a tool to weed, or some buggy critter chewed on one side a little. The curve goes toward the side where the damage is.

Some people complain that eating asparagus makes their urine smell bad. At one time, it was argued that people differed in the way their bodies processed asparagus, so that some had smelly urine, while others did not. Studies have shown that this is not the case. Pretty much everybody excretes those smelly compounds. It is simply that the large majority of us do not possess the gene that allows us to smell it.

Smell or no smell, asparagus is highly nutritious, and a good source of many vitamins and minerals, including folate, and was once considered a medicinal herb.

Asparagus has been around a long time. Ancient Egyptian friezes thousands of years old show people making offerings of asparagus.

However you like it, lightly steamed, roasted for a brief period, sauteed or in soups, asparagus is good for you, and an easy perennial vegetable.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Oh, Deer

Winter is closing in.

Today and Saturday will be quite lovely, late spring-like days. Tonight's low is set at 60.
Sunday's high is in the mid-50s. Monday will make it into the low 40s.

On Saturday I will pull the inner row cover over the lettuce and broccoli. On Sunday, I will add some extra protection by throwing old sheets over the low tunnels housing the lettuce. Lows will be in the mid-20s for several days this coming week. Now comes the time when keeping things not just alive, but in good condition requires awareness of the weather. I should probably give serious consideration to replacing the row cover on the low tunnels with plastic. Easier yet, just throw the plastic over the row cover.

Lots of tender lettuce has yet to be harvested. This past week, we've eaten some very fine broccoli, fresh from the garden. I hope the plants will produce side shoots. The cabbages, etc. seem a bit slow this year. And I am wondering if I will get cabbage or cauliflower at all. The brussels sprouts are very close.

Next year, I might start some of the cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower a couple of weeks earlier, to ensure that they head out before it gets too cold. Sept. 1 plantings worked just fine for a couple of years. This year, I'm beginning to wonder.

Oh yes, here are some rather blurry photos of some of the deer who tramp through our woods and munch on things in my garden. The photos are blurry because the camera wanted to focus on the trees in front of the deer and I was in too much of a hurry to think about setting it on manual focus. They rarely show themselves when I can quickly get the camera, or when there is enough light to get a good shot. Not that these are good shots, but they are something.

Even though the deer munch my strawberry leaves, chew down the cover crops and rend the elderberry shrubs down below, they are beautiful creatures and I enjoy their presence.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hello Again!

The sumac has lost its leaves since this photo, but I had to post it anyway.
The Wheel keeps turning.

I just checked the seven-day forecast. After a couple of days with highs in the 70s (and one night with a low of 60!) the weekend calls for a good chance of rain and (get this) snow.

Yeah. Snow.

It is November.

The other day I said that I wouldn't complain at all about snow this winter.
Because we need the moisture.

I am not sure that I am quite ready for snow yet, though.

Can't stop it, though.

One of the things I have enjoyed doing on some of these chilly mornings is making jam.

Two or three weeks ago I finally released the bell peppers to go where all good little plants go, eventually. The compost heap. After I picked all of the peppers, that is.

That meant I had peppers for making hot pepper jelly, which is mostly bell peppers, with just a few hot ones thrown in according to the heat level that you'd like. Last year's batch (which we still have several jars of) came out super hot. This year's batch, not so hot. So we'll just open one of each and mix them. Poifect!

I've also pulled jars of elderberries out of the freezer for elderberry jam. When it is all done, I will have more than I made last year, but not as much more as I thought I might have.

Anyway, here are my very own recipes. I use Pomona's pectin because it is an all natural pectin and I can adjust it for any size batch that I want. While most packaged pectins say not to make double batches (I've tried, they frequently don't gel properly) I have had no trouble with double batches using Pomona's. While a box of Pomona's is more expensive than the others, you don't use the whole package for a single batch. I can get three or so batches out of one package, depending on what I am making, as some types of jellies and jams use different amounts of pectin.

Naked trees in the golden light of sunset.
You also can make your own pectin by boiling down green apples... That's all I know about that, and I know that much only because one of my neighbors told me that she did it.

Ok. On to the recipes.

Pepper Jelly
3 ½ cups pepper puree (bells and hot peppers)*
2 cups cider vinegar
½ cup lemon juice
1 ½ to 2 cups honey (or 2 ¾ cups sugar)
5 teaspoons calcium water
4 teaspoons pectin powder

Mix pepper puree, vinegar, lemon juice and calcium water in a large saucepan. Bring to boil. Blend pectin in with honey or sugar. When liquid is boiling, add honey (sugar)/pectin mix and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin. Bring to boil, then remove from heat. Fill hot, sterile jars and cap tightly. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (half pints) or 15 minutes (pints). Makes 3 pints or 7 half pints.
*From 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds of whole bell peppers, green or colored. I used two jalapenos with seeds removed, but did not remove pith or ribs, but that was not hot enough. I will try 3 or more jalapenos next time. Other hot peppers can be used, according to availability and your taste.

Elderberry Jam
4 cups processed elderberries*
1/3 cup cider vinegar or ¼ cup lemon juice
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of clove
4 teaspoons calcium water
1 cup honey
3 teaspoons pectin powder
Mix elderberries (measured after processing out seeds), vinegar or lemon juice, seasonings and calcium water in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Blend pectin with honey. Once liquid is boiling, add honey/pectin blend and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin. Bring to boil and remove from heat. Fill hot, sterile jars and process in boiling water bath, 10 minutes for half pints, 15 minutes for pints. Makes 5 half pints.
*I have found that processing out the seeds, with a hand cranked food mill, is easiest when you freeze the berries, then thaw and process. I use to cook the berries, cool and then process, but that takes more time. And I think that the double cooking (since you need to heat the juice again before canning) destroys some of the flavor and nutrients. Both cooking and freezing break down the berries and makes them easier to process.