Sunday, August 18, 2013

what to do with the harvest (when you're semi-incompetent)

This year has been amazing for produce. Like cucumbers/peppers/beans/tomatoes-coming-out-the-ears kind of amazing. For once my gardens, the hay, and all the wild fruits & flowers have all done well in the same year.
But the questions arises, usually after an overly-enthusiastic raid on the kitchen boxes, what the devil to do with all the produce? And until this year, I have had no answer. Which looks a lot like growing things just to pick the fruits later and watch it rot so you can have a hay-day catapulting squishy veg and giant squash over the cliff. Not exactly ideal if your goal is to learn the basics of self-sufficiency.
 My family gamely endeavours to eat the harvests fresh, but inevitably, when you're hauling in a basket of bounty every other day, they're going to dig their heels in and cry 'uncle!' over a pea pod. We're not really a family of ruffage-eaters, anyway.  
So this year I'm attempting to be more eating-the-garden savvy. And this it what I've done so far....

Peas! I planted one pack of new and two packs of old peas this spring because I thought the majority of the old ones would not grow. I was wrong. oh so wrong. So how am I coping with pea-overload? *wat.
(Let's try that again...)
So what am I to do with results of my miscalculation? Freeze them! The freezer is a marvelous and mysterious thing, allowing us to store our wonderful bounty for months on end and sparing us from the dismal frozen foods section at the grocery store, where culinary aspirations go to die.
Preparing Peas for Freezing
- de-pod all peas and rinse.
- bring saucepan of water to a rolling boil
- pour in peas & blanch for 90 seconds to kill bacteria
- drain and rinse with cold water
 allow to air dry before freezing to prevent frost.

Next the peppers & jalapeños. This time of year I never know why we bought so many pepper plants in the spring. Probably with some vague and hopeful thought of homemade salsa, but I think we must reexamine this annual impulse and perhaps expel it. I have yet to find a salsa recipe that doesn't taste sweet. I hate sweet salsa.
I brought in a large haul of peppers and jalapeños and was determined to dispatch them immediately while they were still crisp.
It took but a moment to think of the family favorite recipe for Cheddar Pepper Cream Cheese. With the garden peppers it was A LOT hotter than usual, and the texture was more chunky, but on the whole it went down very well on a freshly toasted bagel. I think I had it for lunch for three consecutive days (then the bagels ran out). 
Cheddar Pepper Cream Cheese
2 bricks of cream cheese
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
about 6 medium sized jalapeños 
- allow cream cheese to soften at room temperature; dice jalapeños.
- in medium bowl, blend all ingredients together with an electric mixer.  
Voila, mon ami! Bon, non? Oui!
(aaand that is nearly the extent of my French)

Forget 'a hill of beans' - I have a mountain. Nothing for it but to give them the same treatment as the peas! Except this time they must boil for a good 3 - 5 minutes, depending on the size of your batch, because beans are bigger than peas and have many more hidey-holes for bacteria & such.

My cucumber vines have gone mad. They're acting more like zucchini with the amount of bats they're churning out. 
I was brave and told Momma I'd like to attempt making pickles. A brave thing indeed for the last batch we made many, many years ago yielded such badly tasting results that the memory was still burned into our consciouses even as I begged for a way to get rid of the million cucumbers in the sink.
She said yes and even helped me with the scary pressure cooker/canner (which ended up burning my wrist like you wouldn't believe). But I chickened out of trying a recipe for homemade brine and bought a Dill Pickles for Idiots packet at the store.
In the end, I think I made a good call going store-bought. For though fairly strong and assertively dill in taste, they are quite edible. I wish I had bought several more packets, because below is one batch, and I have enough cucumbers for about eight!

 The end of July through mid-August is chokecherry season. These bush/tree/things grow wild in patches all over our farm. When I was little chokecherry picking felt akin to being sent out in the desert with a bucket & spade to build a sandcastle. It's hot and there's just so much and you've been abandoned in the wilderness.
Nowadays I kinda like going berry picking. It's a chance to be outdoors in the morning (and baby nephew get's to spend some quality time with Grammy back at the house).
Speaking of Grammy/my Momma, she makes the best chokecherry jellies & syrup in the county, no lie.
Nothing quite says toast-for-breakfast like this stuff.

So that's the stats so far in my preserving & gardening experience. I must say adieu! now, 'cause I've got a horse who's waiting for me at the hitching post. Life is still good.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

a farmer's life for me

I love country life, and all it has to offer. I love feeling accomplished at the end of a long day of working outdoors. Whether gardening, or mowing; riding skittish mares or teaching ornery ponies new tricks - living with the land is the life I will always want. This is where I belong.
While our farm isn't as 'working' a farm as perhaps I would like (our only crop is hay & we never sell any of the critters we say we will :), there is always plenty work to be done to keep things running smoothly.
And climbing on top the haystack is the best for watching sunsets (or brooding, as Little Brother was in this photo). Yes, it's a grand view up there, unless an angry yellowjacket lands on your leg - then it's every man for himself.
I should let it be known that bees and wasps are my phobias. I nearly jumped off, but reason still had some control (however impaired) and I ended up sliding down the side to the ground. Not a good day to wear shorts.
A fox got most of our chickens last month, and now we only have five laying hens. I saved two from the mouth of the mangy beast, running through the pasture barefoot in my Sunday dress. I think this is one of the survivors ^.
These are our little pullets that we got back in May, growing nicely. We hope they'll start laying as soon  as September, and maybe then we can get back in the egg business. 
I think this is the first photo I've posted of this girl since she lost her eye last Christmas. She's getting on well without it, and you can hardly tell, though she sometimes runs into things on her left side (me, for instance). She's a very brave and steadfast little pony and will be an wonderful kid pony for Nephew, when he can reach the stirrups.
Double Stuff on the other hand, still needs some work. He's a silly, slightly devious little man, emphasis on "little". He's had an on-again-off-again education under the saddle, the primary reason being that we (three of us now) out grow him so fast. Though I can't hardly make contact anymore when it comes to kicking, I still ride him occasionally, and LB has been working on him.
Stuffy is a free-spirit, whose intelligence is almost scary, and who believes with every fiber of his being that he is the Stallion of the Cimarron. 
I love hanging out with these guys. All the other horses are in the big pasture, more interested in seeing how much weight they can put on between rides than talking to me. But the ponies are a captive audience, kept in a pen so that we can control their diet. They have a tendency to become massively obese. 

I have no idea where I'll be this time next year. I'm 18, half graduated, nannying full time, attempting to run the farm, and trying to keep projects important to me - like my horses and my stories - afloat.
My family is at a crossroad, and I don't know what things will be like after. But God, I pray & I plead, let us always have the farm.