Wednesday, October 18, 2017

ELDERBERRY FEST 2017 -- PART 2



Autumn at the farmhouse
We weren’t ready to make elderberry jelly until Sunday morning. As you’ll recall from the pre-event post, on Wednesday Mike and I picked elderberries from a very sincere bush, and I processed the juice. I also processed juice from country apples. Apple juice tames the flavor of elderberries.

Little Canyon
For several years, Hallie and Nick have used Pomona’s pectin rather than the more common grocery-store brands because it calls for less sugar, allows for adjustments, and is perhaps a softer set. With Pomona’s, you can make any amount of jelly you wish – from a small batch to larger ones, whereas other brands insist on a set recipe. So, I decided to give Pomona’s a try.

A northern view
Hallie and I started with a double batch in order to make quick work of this process. (If I’d been thinking, I would have suggested experimenting with a half batch.) I can’t recall the amount of juice, but we used the maximum amount of sugar suggested for elderberry jelly, which was only four cups. Hallie said we could taste and make adjustments before before ladling into jars. However, we forgot. I have one word for that batch – BLEAH! But Hallie thought Nick might like it. “There’s a point at which the sugar overwhelms the taste of the berries,” she pointed out. Yes, but we weren’t nearly there.

Long evening shadows
So, we had enough juice to make another batch. This time I added the recommended amount of sugar plus an extra cup. We remembered to taste and decided it was fine.

Sunday was a beautiful day, and in the afternoon, Hallie decided she really wanted to pick elderberries as part of the experience. And since Nick couldn’t come this year, she thought it would be a nice idea to take juice home with her. It was late in the day and I had misgivings. I could see that we / she would be working into the night, and these days I seldom work on my feet in the evening hours. But – Hallie was determined, and so at 4:00 p.m. we went off to pick elderberries. I took her to the sincere bush, and she was impressed that it was indeed loaded with clumps of plump little elderberries. It was just a matter of pulling them into reach – easier said than done – and then snapping the clump off the bush. And they were ready to snap, too. Mike also came and the three of us picked lots of berries.

Evening sun
And yes, Hallie was indeed working into the night while I sat with my feet up. But – she’s been my daughter all these years and knows about how far I go.

More evening sun

At breakfast Monday morning, we had toast and jelly with our scrambled eggs and agreed that the second (sweeter) batch of jelly does have a nice spreadable set. And before Hallie left to return to Seattle, we divided the jars of jelly and the jars of juice. I hope to make more elderberry jelly before the P.E.O. silent auction in November. Sisters are already requesting it,  and I'm thinking I might make a really sweet batch with the old-fashioned pectin. After all, my reputation is at stake. KW

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ELDERBERRY FEST 2017 - PART 1



The barn is even older than the house


I walked into our bedroom at 9:30 Friday night (Oct. 13) and was startled to see a bright red spot on the northern horizon, including flashes and flares. I called to daughter Hallie and we turned off lights and watched the display until it disappeared behind cloud cover five minutes later. I could only assume we were seeing Northern Lights.

The old-time family here spent many an evening watching the night sky, and they did enjoy Northern Lights. In times like this I feel a strong connection to them in this place. In fact, even in the valley in which I grew up (Orofino), my dad would occasionally go out to watch the night sky. Sometimes he could see Northern Lights, sometimes not. Brother Chuck related that in his youth he would lie out on the sidewalk of our Orofino home to view the northern sky and watch the play of lights.

Kathy with Hallie's fabric
Mike wasn’t there Friday night, but Saturday evening we saw the same phenomenon and it lasted longer. He was underwhelmed and questioned that we were actually seeing Northern Lights. But I found it convincing that the display was visible in the same place two nights in a row – and then three.

Hallie pins lining to fabric
We had a successful Elderberry Fest, but our first focus was to make two sets of cafĂ© curtains for Hallie’s newly remodeled bathroom in the little Tudor. This was perhaps as important as making the jelly, and because we enjoyed making the curtains, we were slow. She and Nick had both chosen fabric from the 1930’s reproduction designs at Jo-Ann. The bathroom is monochromatic in black and white tile, so Hallie’s two-tone pink flowers on white with black stems will add a splash of color. Nick’s choice was more subdued and relates well to the tile concept.

Hallie's cafe curtains
Nick's choice on left; Hallie's on right
Mike and Bess returned to town Friday for opening pheasant season on Saturday (the 14th) and also to take in the long-anticipated grand opening of Harbor Freight in Lewiston. He would never leave the farm while Hallie was visiting unless it was truly important, you know. And it worked out fine because Hallie and I were occupied with the curtains.

Ol’ Nell was left behind with Hallie and me. I thought she would love having Hallie all to herself, but in fact, I think she moped over being left behind. Following our afternoon walk, she stared out the dining room window for an hour. And as I attempted to let her out at bedtime, she balked. We stood there with the door open for a full minute and finally concluded she wasn’t going out. When I closed the door, she hurried back to her pillow on the living room floor.

This small pine is decked out for Christmas
And Hallie helped me accomplish something I’ve wanted to do for several years – stringing solar Christmas lights on a pine tree near the pond. Though I've had this planned, it just hasn’t worked out – too difficult, too cold, too much snow, etc. So, this year we have it done early. Hallie carried a step ladder to the tree and placed the lights while I unraveled the string. When nightfall arrived, the lights began to twinkle, and we stood and laughed at them. A nice memory! 




Next up: Making elderberry jelly. KW

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ELDERBERRY FEST (PRE-EVENT)


Mike and Bess

Hallie is coming this weekend for our annual Elderberry Fest, wherein we pick elderberries and make jelly. My dad used to make elderberry jelly from time to time, and Mike loved it at first taste. Elderberries have a strong flavor, though, and some people don’t care for the jelly. Some people say it’s not enough different from grape jelly to warrant the work. And the process is work.

Fall color
The elderberries begin to turn blue in August, and we’re tempted to think they’re ripe and we should pick them. This year I insisted we wait, even if we risked not having berries in October. I’m happy to report that luscious clumps of berries still hang from elderberry bushes everywhere. Not only that, but I don’t recall ever working with such juicy berries.

Do you see the deer?
I announced yesterday that I planned to pick elderberries today. Well, in the early morning hours, it commenced to rain quite steadily for several hours. Frankly, I would have given up the picking, but Mike doesn’t change plans well, and at 9:00 a.m. he said that if we were going to pick, we should do it, as it would likely rain again later. 

So, I got dressed and we put on our rubber boots and hiked west (behind the house). I selected a bush loaded with berries and he and I commenced to pick. Bess checked under the bushes, then speaking to no one, she apologetically crept off toward the house. I guess the pillow on the porch was calling her name.

Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about making the elderberry process easier. For instance, we used to drop the clumps of berries into the buckets, bring them back to the house, and someone would sit outside painstakingly removing stems and twigs from the berries -- a long and boring process. A few years ago, Mike said, “Enough of this,” and began to just slip the berries from the twigs right there in the field. So, as we picked we removed the berries from the twigs so that we came back to the house about an hour later with a gallon and a half of berries ready to be washed and cooked.

About 10 years ago, elderberries disappeared from the pectin recipe sheets, but this year I found them mentioned with the blackberries in the “cooked jelly” recipes of MCP pectin. To make the juice, I cooked about 12 cups of berries with ½ cup of water. (The recipe said one cup, but I cut back because the berries were juicy and also wet from washing.)


So that’s it! I now have three quarts of elderberry juice in the fridge waiting to become tasty jelly. KW 

[I didn’t take the camera with me when we picked the berries because 1) I had no way to care for it in the wet environs of the bushes and 2) I’m unsteady on my feet in uneven terrain. So, I’m posting a few pictures from October 1 which I overlooked.]

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

OPEN SEASON


Beautiful Autumn Morning -- to the north

We’re back at the farmhouse, and I for one am thrilled to be here. The place just seems to lend itself to the enchantment of fall. 

Now that Farmer Kyle has plowed and planted (last week while we were in town), the brown fields are a backdrop for the colors of autumn – deep reds, oranges, and yes, even greens. 

Maple tree turning yellow
The old maple tree in the front yard is just beginning to exchange her green leaves for yellow and then brown. She was not selected for her autumn beauty. I suspect she was a sapling my dad picked up someplace. Outside a chilly wind blows, but in here our fireplace insert blows wonderful warmth into the house.

Clint, Mike, and Bess
Son Clint came yesterday to observe opening deer season today (Oct. 10). While I fixed dinner last night, he stood at the dining room window watching the deer move under the apple trees in the lane and cavort in the neighbor’s field. He opined that he was seeing mule deer, and that’s certainly possible. The season is for white tail only. Naturally, when they went out this morning, they didn’t see a single deer of any variety. They were more successful with the quail hunting.

Deer Damage
The deer are quite brazen these days. For years, the presence of the dog(s) in the yard seemed to be enough to deter them, but especially this year, we notice that they don’t much care if Bess barks at them. They move through the yard in broad daylight, and she does not give chase. (That’s a good thing!) And while we were gone last week, they finished the pears and nibbled the pie pumpkin plant. Naturally, they frequent the apple trees, and it’s amazing how far into a fruit tree they can stretch.

Waiting for Hallie
Speaking of apples, I picked some yesterday – several varieties from trees in the lane and at the pond – and the pie I made was very good. I was able to pick only a few apples, being too short to reach them and wary of climbing into the tree, especially while alone. However, Hallie will be here later this week and she can probably reach them one way or another.

Pumpkin #1 picked today
We haven’t had a hard freeze yet, but undoubtedly it will happen soon since our lows are dipping into the 30s. “Are you going to cover your plants or just let the garden go,” asked brother Chuck the other day. At the time I said the zucchini weren’t ripening, so I just as well let it go, but today I noticed one of a nice size, so apparently they ARE still growing. But – just in case – today I picked Pie Pumpkin #1. KW