Sunday, September 30, 2012

ELDERBERRY FEST 2012, SEPT. 27-30



A few years ago, our family established “Elderberry Fest,” an autumn celebration of the unsung elderberry. This year Elderberry Fest occurred this last weekend of September rather than in mid-October due to Hallie’s work schedule.

There were pros and cons to this earlier date. We seem to be having an extended summer this year and certainly not an early fall. In fact, back in town today I picked eight tomatoes – the most I’ve had this year – and my yellow crooked-neck squash is finally bearing. Somehow it just doesn’t feel like pumpkins yet. But we did enjoy the beautiful weather during our long weekend on the farm.

Elderberries are a little sparse this year due to the dry, hot summer, but we found enough. Nick had learned to stem the elderberries by simply beating the clusters rapidly against the bucket. That improvement revolutionized the process, replacing hours of sitting and raking through the clusters with a fork. Nick literally separated the berries from the twigs as he picked. I will concede, though, that he was a better at it than I.

From twelve cups of elderberry juice, Nick and Hallie processed 20 half-pint jars of jelly. This year Nick brought “Pomona Pectin” to replace the standard Sure-Jell. From what I observed, it seemed easier to use and provided more options. The Pomona leaflet reads: “Use our suggested recipes (feel free to double and triple them) but don’t be afraid to experiment and develop your own recipes.” Anyone who has read the Sure Jell leaflet knows that the directions are filled with “do nots.” Deviating from the prescribed method may result in failure, they say, though my dad did anyway if it suited his purposes, much to my mother’s consternation.

Besides elderberry jelly, Nick and Hallie have now expanded their interests to take in a variety of fruits. I think we’re all asking, “What other old-time fruits and berries are here? What can we do to further cultivate and encourage the fruit of the land?” So, we decided to experiment with the Italian prunes which grow wild in the ‘hood. We have a lovely stand of prune trees on Stove Creek, but we decided to pick from a tree on the canyon edge. The prunes were sweet and appeared to be falling, so I assumed they were ripe. However, in processing them, we found that many did not readily yield their pits. Hallie declared that this was already her least favorite fruit, but in the end they processed several batches of excellent prune preserves.

Friday afternoon we drove out to the rural village of Nezperce to take in events of the Lewis County Fair.  We checked out the exhibits – flowers and produce from country gardens, aprons and quilts, photography – well, you’ve probably been to a fair. We saw a neighbor’s name on a number of exhibits and then we saw the neighbor. She said that she and one or two others contribute quite a lot to the exhibits “or else there wouldn’t be a fair.” We’re thinking about the possibility of participating next year. We also watched as some of the 4-H kids showed their lambs.

Besides jelly-making and the trip to the fair, we enjoyed other activities as well. I pointed out that there were still some beautiful pears – perhaps the most beautiful – clinging to the tree. Nick climbed into it and tossed them down to Hallie. I tried to arrange cool storage for them – not sure I succeeded. We’ll see if the fruit ripens.  
 
Saturday morning Mike helped me pick apples from several country trees. I made sauce of the wonderful little red apples from the tree nestled under a pine tree on the lane. (If I were an artist, I would paint bright red apples nestled in pine boughs.)

 
Later that day, Nick and Hallie helped me pick more of these apples and then pruned the dead limbs from the tree. Here are before and after pictures of that project.

 
Oh – and Mike introduced Nick to shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun. Perhaps Nick is a budding bird hunter.

Of course, Elderberry Fest ended all too soon. We were sorry to say good-bye. It’s always good to end on a positive note, but I will miss them as I continue to work with the fruits of autumn. KW

Sunday, September 23, 2012

MAMA'S OLD POT



One of the things I acquired when we moved Mother from the old family home was her old aluminum pot. I wouldn’t be surprised if she started housekeeping with that pot. With its lift-out basket (probably some technical name for that), it was so handy for cooking corn on the cob. So, I brought it to my house where it didn’t get much respect for many years, finally ending up in the storage loft.

It’s just the kind of pot that we surreptitiously separate from the wares at the rummage sale. “We mustn’t sell that,” someone will whisper. “Cooking on that stuff will make someone sick.” So okay – I won’t take this pot to the rummage sale, nor will I use it for a stock pot.

But I was glad to think of it today when I needed to provide a hot water bath for some jars of pear preserves. My limited canning supplies are all on the farm where we have a gas range. This glass-topped stove is really not meant for canning and I knew it when we bought it. I wasn’t a canner then.

Friday I made a batch of “preserves” and stored the finished jars in the freezer since I had no way to seal them. Yesterday I cooked pear slices in sugar water and froze them. I also made a small pear crostata with lemon zest. (Note to self: Use old-fashioned pear pie recipe and leave the lemon zest to someone else.)

But today, as I struggled to finish the remainder of the pears, I thought about that old aluminum pot and wondered if maybe I might be able to use it as a canning kettle. I climbed up into the loft to get it. I knew right where it was – except that it wasn’t there. I had already brought it down and put it on a shelf where I could find it. At least it was there and ready to serve.

Two wonderful things about this pot – it’s large enough and deep enough to provide a water bath for five jelly jars and it has this inner basket that lifts out – so handy. And I was successful with it, too. I sealed eight jars of spicy pear preserves. Can you hear that beautiful sound? “Thunk!” I’m really thinking I’m going to take this pot to the farm with me to use during Elderberry Fest. So much more manageable for small jars than the big canning kettle.

We’re having Elderberry Fest early this year because of Hallie and Nick’s work schedules. They’ll be here Thursday. KW

Saturday, September 22, 2012

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES




Mike and I packed up and left the town house for the farm about 8:15 Friday morning. Driving up the Clearwater corridor we noticed the smoky haze but didn’t think much about it. It’s been hazy for days.

That is, we didn’t think much about it until we came to the Gilbert Grade where those wonderful vistas of Orofino and the Clearwater Mountains were supposed to be. They weren’t visible due to smoke. As we reached the top of the grade, smoke obscured the distant view and hung in the air. Sometimes it appeared to move as fog, creeping along the low places and resting on the hills. As we descended Plank’s Pitch into the homestead, we were greeted by a house shrouded in smoke. “I wonder if we ought to stay here,” said Mike.

So we unloaded the Dakota and then pursued our chores. I put away the things we brought, watered the vegetation, and did a little housework. Mike tossed the one trapped mouse, wound the clock, and completed a leatherwork task.
 
Mike had intended to meet cycling friends in Kamiah today (Saturday) for a ride to Grangeville and Mt. Idaho (rural communities of the area), and it occurred to him that he should check his email for confirmation of the ride. Sure enough – the ride was postponed due to the smoke and air advisory. And then Mike rode out on the 4-wheeler to renew the orange paint on our “no hunting” stakes. “I think we should leave after lunch,” he announced upon return. “I could hardly take a deep breath.” He noted that the smoke smells like wood fire -- burning trees.
 
I was momentarily unconvinced of the need to leave. After all, the neighbors are permanent residents of the area. They probably aren’t leaving. But Mike pointed out that we don’t know their circumstances. And since the bike ride was cancelled and outdoor activities were out of the question, Mike needed a new plan of action.

But wait! The big box of pears on the porch still had to be dealt with. I had planned to dry any that were ripe.  So, after a hasty lunch, I selected the best of them to take back to town for some sort of processing. I guess leaving them in the big box on the porch wasn’t such a bad idea because they did ripen. Our daily temperature spread is 40 degrees now, so maybe we tricked them into thinking they were ripening on the ground.
So, we loaded up and headed out. Mike stopped at a viewpoint near the top of the grade so that I could take a picture of the obscurity. 

We stopped again on Orofino’s Riverside to pick up a geocache where I took the picture below. Mike and I agreed that the smoke was much worse than earlier in the day. Visibility was somewhat limited and traffic crept rather needlessly.
Back at the town house by 3:00, we once again dealt with our packing boxes and then I started to work on the pears. Eight cups of chopped pears went into the big pot to simmer with four cups of sugar, one teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves. Mmmmm – the spicy autumn aroma permeated this little house. Once it had thickened, I packed it into three pint jars.  I can hardly wait for Nick to taste it!

The smoke here in town is worse this morning. Sports activities have been cancelled or moved indoors. I maintain that the air quality can’t be all that much better inside, can it? Maybe the “particulates” in the exterior air don’t affect us inside.

Today? – more pear processing and maybe more work on the quilt. Mike says the smoky conditions are getting him down. Unless things clear a bit, outdoor exercise is out of the question, so he’ll probably work in his shop. KW

[The pictures: 1 & 2) The farmhouse. 3) To the north from the field behind the house. 4) To the south. The view of Little Canyon is totally obscured by the smoke. 5 & 6) From Gilbert Grade. 7) On Riverside. 8) From the town house.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

THE LESSON OF THE BUTTON


The other day Mike complained that he had lost a button off the cuff of an old faded flannel shirt. “Can we throw it away now,” I asked under my breath. But no, he wanted a button on that cuff.

Even though I never thought the shirt in question was anything extra, its buttons were a cut above the standard. “I’ll never be able to match it,” I whined. “I’ll have to change all the buttons.”

“It’s just an old shirt,” Mike said. “Just sew a button on the cuff. Any button will do.”

He simply doesn’t understand. I wasn’t raised that way. There were rules about buttons, and my mother enforced them.

I grew up in the world of buttons. No jeans and t-shirts for me. My blouses, jackets, coats, and sweaters all had buttons. My little-girl dresses buttoned up the back. Shirt-waist dresses buttoned up the front. My mother taught the importance of preserving the integrity of the garment, and button-checking was part of that.

Rule #1: Check your clothes for loose or missing buttons.

Rule #2: A loose button, even if it appears to be affixed, must be repaired immediately lest you lose the button.

Rule #3: A found button should be saved in a safe place (the kitchen window) and all clothing checked immediately in order to locate its rightful home. (It’s amazing that in the world of buttons, buttons will turn up inexplicably and their home never found.)

Rule #4: Don’t wear clothes with missing buttons.

Rule #5: A lost button requires a search -- first for the button and, if not found, then for a match, hence the button box of saved buttons, which is mostly useless. (We could throw away the button box and never miss it or its contents.)

Rule #6: Mismatching buttons is unacceptable. If the lost button is not found, all buttons on the garment in question must be replaced -- a waste of time, effort, and (possibly) money.

Losing a button was unforgivable to my mother’s way of thinking. A school-age child was capable of checking buttons and reporting “loosages.”

There was some evidence that teachers also knew the button rules. If a button was spied on the floor, lessons stopped while a general announcement was made: “Students, has anyone lost a button? Check your clothes now.” It was a little embarrassing if you had to claim the button, because of course, you were admitting to a classroom of peers that you had failed Rule #1. Even worse, if my mother found a button missing when I came home from school, I was required to ask the teacher the next day if anyone had found it. How embarrassing!

And that’s the way it was in the ‘50s. Mothers and teachers were “on the same page” about seemingly insignificant things, a carry-over from a by-gone era that would be gone in the ‘60s. And yet, there was structure in that and comfort in the structure. It wasn’t so much the rule that was important. It was the obedience to that rule, that standard. We were practicing with simple, understandable rules so that we might apply those lessons to bigger issues, things that really mattered.  

Meanwhile, I searched to no avail for a match to that shirt button, and you know what that meant. No, I didn’t replace all the buttons as I might have if Mike wore that shirt to the office. Instead, I cut the button from the neck and sewed it on the cuff, leaving the neck without a button. This is an infraction of Rule #4 instead of Rule #6, but when you’ve broken Rule #1, you have to be innovative. And all of this somehow shows laxity in my character. KW

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"IN MY ROOM"

 Greetings from the Lewis-Clark Valley, where smoke from regional forest fires has seriously impacted the quality of our air. It's been bad enough that my eyes and throat burn mildly. I headed out for shopping this afternoon anyway.

Mike and Nellie are off on a three-day hunting trip, so I’m having a lovely vacation here at home. Nellie is a member of our family, and though I love her, I get a little tired of playing to her whims and opinions. Whims and opinions she has. A few days off from my usual duties is a good thing, and I have plenty of things to keep me busy.

Much of my recent town time has been devoted to my “studio,” and I’ve had a great time decorating it with a ‘50s influence. When I saw the red sofa with its straight lines and multi-colored pillows, I knew it was just right for the look I wanted. Unfortunately, the storage cabinets and the sofa take up a lot of floor space in this small room. With the addition of the sewing table and chair and the ironing board, it’s really quite cramped, but it still constitutes space dedicated to my interests, and I love it. 

Of course, I have a large bulletin board for inspiration and display. The hand-crafted necklace was a birthday gift from Mike. 

Things left over from my childhood room – familiar things that just haven’t had a place in my home for years – provide welcome accents. These charming little angels were a gift from a dear friend of my dad’s, “Mom” Fairchild, in the ‘50s. On their backs they say, “Yona Original Japan.” Apparently they aren’t rare. Sets can be found online, and someone dated them at 1956. That’s about when I received these.

The shadow boxes beside the bookcase were also mine in childhood and my parents enjoyed collecting bone china and blown glass miniatures for it. Many of those things survived my childhood but were broken in the course of time.The three-legged end table, left over from a by-gone era, was struggling to find a purposeful life at the farmhouse but serves well beside the sofa.

One thing leads to another, especially in the small house, and the room could be made somewhat more efficient if the closet were also cleaned out and organized. I’ve made a start by pulling out the pillows you see on the floor, which were hooked by my dad and finished by my mother.

Now that the room is functional, I’ve made a start on quilting my Christmas quilt. The Halloween quilt kit I bought is in the cabinet calling to me, but I must finish the Christmas quilt first. KW