Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pressure Canner Test Drive

....is commencing as I type.

Presto Canner. It was highly recommended that a first-timer do a test run to see how the mechanisms work, when they are working properly.

I followed all instructions, starting with the admonition to READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS THOROUGHLY BEFORE USE. check

(I confess this thing is more than slightly intimidating)

I took it apart, examined all elements, washed all parts, reinserted all appendages, placed it on the stovetop and went to wake up John to see if he'd talk me out of this foolishness.

Hey I grew up hearing horror stories about pressure cookers exploding and killing people and blowing holes in ceiling. I'd think "who'd use this?" and here I have one in my house about be fired up.

He's still sleeping. I didn't have the heart to start his day this way. So I made toast instead. This much technology i can handle like a PRO. Toast with cream cheese and that hot pepper jelly I made the other day, using that low-tech rechnique of a waterbath to preserve. It's delicious.

The jelly, I mean.

Not the waterbath.

Okay, so the boy is up and the jars are in the pot.

The lid is locked. Houston, we have countdown...

Is Everyone Bored with the Weather?

I know, I know. It's HOT. It's also Summer. They go together.

To add to the discomfort, 'round these parts, we haven't been having our normal rainfall, either. In SE Louisiana summers, we get these massive build-ups of storm clouds in the afternoon, which traditionally dump a nice amount of rain that cools things off for a short while and makes living tolerable. Yeah Yeah, the humidity is nauseating. There can be days were gills are required for breathing.

But all of this "tradition" seems to have eluded us lately. For 3 weeks we had not a drop from the sky. Clouds, sure. No precipitation. (fancy 5 syllable word for rain). I would check the 15-day forecast at Accuweather and see this endless stretch of misery and think, "If I can only make it to Sunday....." and then Sunday would come and go with nothing! I felt gypped!

Hey! I've been suffering and all and I WANT THAT RAIN YOU GUYS promised!!! I'm out here dragging hoses all over the place when I ought to be unpacking!

And then one day last week, on a day with no scheduled precipitation, out of the north came this wind blast followed by @ 15 minutes of a downpour that actually went sideways with the wind and left puddles on the caked earth. It was heavenly and so UNexpected. I think that was what made it special for me.. the fact that it snuck up on me while I wasn't watching and anticipating something.

And then, nothing. Again with the daily build-up of tremendous clouds all around us and pouring. Just not on top of us where it would do US some good. That is excruciating. Yea, I'm glad someone's getting relief.....but I could use alittle myself, OVER HERE!!!!

Til yesterday. Oh sweet sweet sweet..... it did that build-up thing ALL DAY. Thunder above and nothing coming down. Lightning in the distance and nothing coming down. Maddening, I tells ya. But by this point, I've pretty much given up all hope that we'll ever see rain til a hurricane in Sept moseys up our alley.

I was using my time wisely, setting up the sewing room now that we dragged the folding table over here from Kimberly and pottering around. At one point I look out the window and see something strange out in the Back 2. Only in the Back 2, too. It's drizzling out there. Not here by the house, but definitely over the acres. And it did this for about 15 minutes. Not enough to do much good but at this point, I ain't complaining. That stretch hasn't had hoses on it all this time. Only what God gives it in morning dew.

And just to underscore..... in SOUTH Texas, they haven't seen substantial rain in MONTHS so as much as this post sounds like I'm complaining, I'm really not.

HOT is Italy in 2003, July. NO air conditioning. It was unbelievable. I wish I knew what the temperature reached because I cannot recall in my life being that hot, except in the summer in the Middle East, as I dashed to the art gallery in unair-conditioned cabs. Dressed in Black, just to add to the misery.

Saturday, June 27, 2009



Not much better.

Two cats and not a predator among them. There they sit, watching a cricket IN MY HOUSE! What am I feeding them for if not to protect me from "invaders", hmmm?

On a lighter side... well in truth, all that weighed a lot. So much so, it took two trips from the Back 2 to haul it to the house.
I've left an ordinary table knife in the shot for proportion and scale.

Those are the last of the corn ears. We grilled a few last night and they were incredibly good.

Okay, confession time: As harried as I was yesterday, processing all that yield, I MAY have made a mistake.

I have read time and again how VERY URGENTLY IMPORTANT it is to can tomatoes carefully and with lemon to increase the acidic quality and boiling it for no less than 45 minutes and even at that, the USDA only recommends using a pressure canner (which I did buy but haven't used yet) and I take all of this to heart. I am a seriously concerned person when it comes to things that could KILL me and those I love, or at the very least, those I feed.

So, it surprised me when I wakened this morning with the wonderment: "Did I remember to add the lemon to those last two quarts of whole tomatoes?".........

"Surely I remembered! Of COURSE I remembered!"

"Really?" "Are you CERTAIN?" "How can you tell?" "Who's gonna be the guinea pig in four month's time?" "Can you SMELL botulism?"

I opened one of the cans. I figured what the worst that could happen? I open it and it tastes like salty lemony tomatoes or it tastes like tomatoes? Either way I use it up today and nothing goes to waste.

Salty lemony tomatoes. Good to go!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Green Acres Meets Grant Wood

My next-door neighbor painted this portrait as a moving away-moving in gift and I just love it. I laugh every time I pass thru the living room (it will be a game room) and see it sitting above the mantle.

What's really great about it as the obvious morphing that has taken place. Anyone who know us and her and her husband can see that she and I look like "me" in that painting and likewise John is a blend of her husband and himself. It's a wonderful painting and a thoughtful gift.

The painting is in sharp focus; the photo... not so much. I'll get a better shot of it soon.

Makin' Jars While the Sun Shines!

Man alive, I've been at it since well before sunrise and the fruits (HA!) of my labor are well evident in the pantry and freezer. I love this life!

The Inventory from Today:

3 Pints of Animal Vegetable Miracle Tomato Sauce
3 Quarts Whole Tomatoes
5 Pints Tomato-Zucchini
3 Pints Lady Bird Johnson Pickled Okra
5 assorted jars of Jalapeno Pepper Jelly (thank you so much, Gloria!!!!!)
2 quart baggies of corn kernels
2 quart baggies of breaded okra
3 snack baggies of "sun" dried cherry tomatoes

Here's a couple of shots of just a portion of the bounty.

I'm going to do an accurate accounting of everything we have canned or "put up" just to know the tally.

It's amazing to see all this when I'm in the middle of the processing part. In fact, what I think about is: How much money am I spending in natural gas, canning jars, lids, ingredients other than what I grow (sugar, pectin, lemon...okay that doesn't count because Kathy Q and I harvested lemons from her trees and a good kind friend's trees and froze them last winter, etc) and TIME rather than simply buying the same things from WalMart or the local grocery up here, Main's market? It isn't incalculable but the satisfaction of not letting all that goodness just go to seasonal eating seems to be more the motivator in this case.

I enjoy canning for the most part and the next thing I think about is how GRATEFUL I am to not be doing this without the pleasure of air-conditioning. I cannot imagine how they did it "back then" in the heat of the summer. In those clothes, as well. I'm in my Thai pants and a short shirt and still it's hot in here.

Since we got that rain a few days ago, the clouds have been reappearing every afternoon and I expect more. So far, no luck but I am ever hopeful.

Well that was short-lived

Now the corn came ready just 5 days ago and I have only a few ears left out there to harvest. Who knew that would pass so quickly? But I have lots of baggies in the freezer now and those ears out there will go on the grill tonight with a steak. How good is this? I will definitely whine my way into corn again next year. However, I think a better field would be 4 or 5 - 20' rows instead of 2- 50' rows. They didn't fertilize as well as possible and I have learned that the wind does the work more so than bees so planting them more packed than strung out would aid in this. 100' of corn is plenty to store and share so I don't want MORE than that in total. Just a better distribution of the stalks.

The okra is taking an hiatus as well so I will pickle our current store today along with canning more tomatoes and sauce. I bought a pressure canner/cooker yesterday at WallyWorld and hope I don't blow a hole in the ceiling. I'll have John nearby to keep me safe. This will cut down the time needed to process the jars.

Now I have to laugh because yesterday's Times Picayune had an article about a woman in DeRidder, LA with 12,000 tomato plants. You read that right: 12,000! HAHAhahahaha... I will look at my paltry 28 with jaded eyes from here on out. Ok, ok she sells hers at a couple of stands and I don't aspire to this. (maybe in the future! Not now) Our 28 have been producing some of the most delicious meaty tomatoes I have ever tasted and makes great sauces. I love cooking them down and watching the globes ripen (all over the kitchen) and opening the pantry to see the jars lined up. I have been giving them away as well and sharing the harvest and that is a very good feeling. Leslie has given us three new heat-tolerant plants that I will plant in the ground to hopefully continue the enjoyment through the summer months. The Cherry 100s back in Kimberly are still producing as well.

Time to get back to the kitchen before the sun comes up and I'm out in the fields again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21

Well, my worries about killing the corn with lack of water is unfounded. (I may in fact, be over-watering and that's due my stress over our general lack of rain for 3 weeks) However, no one told me about corn ear worms. Oh yes. Corn Ear Worms.

So now that the corn is ready to harvest, we pull back the husks and silks and find to our dismay that several of them have tenants, chewing away on the kernels. I have not been dragging hoses all over the plot to feed and water a bunch of worms.

Luckily, they aren't all over every ear or I would just toss them all away and be done with it now. As it is, I will begin processing the good ones tomorrow morning. The freezer is filling rapidly with things green and yummy.

And the pantry has more cans of tomato sauces and stewed tomatoes, pickled okra and cucumbers. I am having a blast and yes, it is very tiring but the good side is I sleep awfully well at night, not past 5:00 but that's ok.

It's 5:32am and there's a whole lot of shucking going on in the kitchen.

I've got the BIG pot on the boil and am going to parboil or blanch (haven't decided which is which and am too tired to look it up) the cobs and cut the kernels off and freeze them. 12 little beauties waiting to go into the boil.

The cobs are bi-colored. I don't know if that's the variety or if the soil quality makes them look mardi gras.

Additionally, this is what I got from the Kimberly Garden:

originally written on June 14

Since we moved in a week ago, my day progresses thusly:
Up before dawn. Nothing new there, true, but as soon as the coffee hits the system and my eyes begin to function, I am out the door in the cool of the morning. The sun has not scraped past the treeline in the east and the dew is on the Bahia as I trod out to the Back 2 with a bucket and snips in one hand and the coffee cup in the other. The first few days were spent picking overgrown beans til I thought I was gonna die and decided they won that war. I glanced over at the okra rows and realized the battle had just begun with them and I turned my attention to harvesting the devils.

Okra 101: This vegetable, which is AWESOME, never stops growing. And it grows so rapidly that I must pick the rows twice a day. They could be cows! Except that it’s quicker to pick them than to milk a row of cows. The flower appears under these massive leaves and in two days time, there’s an okra pod and one day they are small in stature and the next they are too long and woody to eat. So, you must keep a vigilant eye on the rascals or you lose too many to count. And I am NOT here to waste veg. (Okay, I wasted a lot of beans but I’ll get back to that.
After I have accumulated a herd of okra, what to do, what to do? I love love love me some okra in stews and gumbo but I have bagged/frozen now lots of that so I decided that fried okra is a must, even though we don’t eat much fried food. I have NEVER made fried okra before and since I live in the “Deep South” I have come across the frozen uncooked variety in 1lb bags in the frozen food section of Winn Dixie so I thought, “hey, I can do THAT!” And so I did.

And still the okra grows and I’ll be out there shortly to snag another bucketful of the darlings. I have foisted pounds of the stuff on friends and daughter’s friend at LSU I hope they like it as much as I do. I’ll keep processing it til the plants themselves give out.

After I have picked, or unless I can strategically place the sprayers so I don’t get totally soaked prior to picking, I turn on the hoses to get the water in the ground before the sun rises above the Oak. It has been hitting 93° each day and I avoid being out in the midday sun whenever possible. 30 minutes on each side usually suffices. Then I take the morning’s bounty to the kitchen and drink a tank of water myself.

OH my, the beans. Steve planted a 50’ row of beans, string of course, and that is way too much for a family of four and their friends and neighbors, the postman and assorted strangers to eat. And WAY more than I can keep up with it. Again, they grow so fast and so long that they are inedible and tough. So many have been processed and frozen and so many more have gone to waste because I cannot pick them all. And this just kills me! What's a girl to do?

Without ruth, I hacked them down to size yesterday and tossed the carcasses over the fence in to the fields behind us. The bushes look dreadful but I hope this will give me a second chance for new growth that I can see and pick before they get out of hand again.

Steve planted tomatoes with great gusto three months or so ago and now in June we have 28 plants that are weighed down with huge fruits.

But sadly the few that have ripened have blossom-end rot which I have been informed by Our Leslie is the result of a lack of calcium in the plant. On Friday I took one of the fruits to Spencer’s Feed and Seed to confirm the diagnosis with actual evidence and bought a heavy-duty sprayer and calcium, liquid and sprayed the heck out of the plants.

Hopefully I have caught the problem in time so we don’t have a tomato disaster on our hands. There are so many on the vines, I can finally (sort of) understand the Italians having that festival where they throw millions of them at each other during harvest. In the past, when I would see this covered in the news, I would pass awful judgment on them for being so stupidly wasteful with that desirable globe but now stand in front of the 28 green soldiers, about to pelt ME with their babies, and a slight sense of panic is setting in on me. Will I be able to stay ahead of the production while I turn much of them tomatoes into everything from complicated to simple sauces, to just parboiling and freezing them whole? Time will tell. But I really would like to ask Steve how he came up with the 28 all at once, instead of staggering the planting into something more manageable, like twelve the first month, then another twelve 6 or 7 weeks later…. How was he planning on preserving all these glories?

Corn: we have two rows of them. THANK GOD they are not near time for harvesting. But they are so cool to look at, waving in the breeze. The tassels are all turning red and the lower leaves going yellow. If I hadn’t lost my internet connection at 8:00pm Friday evening I could go online and see if this is natural or a sign of like of watering. I wouldn’t think the later because I water every day, sometimes twice a day. I would like to think this is the way of corn in the South. I can’t WAIT to taste the first ears! I hope they will be ready by the Fourth of July. I hope I haven’t killed them.

I have already written about the jalapeno pain. That has subsided but still the peppers grow and there are also 4 green pepper bushes out there belching out the peppers. The 4 squash plants keep surprising me with baseball bat-sized zucchinis. I’m not kidding when I say I look at them one day and they are not quite ready and then the next day, it takes one of us to carry them alone back to the house. It’s ridiculous. Eggplants have a few babies on them but nothing else to report there. It would be cool if all the veg would ripen at the same time to make ratatouille.
And so the garden grows. Lagnaippe to all this is the surprise addition of some species of melon now creeping in amongst the rows and climbing up the bean poles and corn stalks. I have found two babies in the tangle

and I think they’re watermelons. Too soon tell at the time and no Steve to ask.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hey Kids, Don't

WASHINGTON – Hey, kids, don't try this at home. Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk on Friday took a brief ride at the White House as part of a Father's Day celebration.

Hawk, 41, skated in the grand foyer and the nearby Old Executive Office Building, with the permission of White House officials.

The skateboarding icon, also known for his popular brand of skateboarding video games, posted photos to his Web site and Twitter page.

Who in their right mind would grant permission to allow SKATEBOARDING, of all things, in the halls of the White House? I don't CARE who Tony Hawk is. I really don't give a flip how cool or rad he or anyone thinks they are! Would you allow anyone to skateboard in YOUR house?
How about this photo?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Going nuts in little pieces

It doesn't seem that long ago I blogged a post about the state of the sewing room. Well, you should see it NOW.

We moved last week to that little slice of Heaven in Folsom, LA and the last room to get settled and set up WILL be the sewing room.

I took 2 weeks off from working at the Shop do the actual "moving" part of moving and now that I'm back in the swing of things at Bright Hopes, I am reminded of the joy of sewing new quilts and quilting old friends that have been hanging around in the closet. All that stuff is there, waiting for me to get my act in gear and all but first things first.

The priority is clearly the garden and veg. That cannot wait and must be attended to daily. After that, the boxes of things and paintings that are leaning against walls, just begging a cat to scrape behind and send sliding. How is that I have so much stuff? IT CAN"T BE ALL MINE!!!! I am not a slave to possessions, surely!!

There are boxes of the girls' things and Christmas. If any of that goes up to the attic, it'll NEVER come down again, I just know this to be true. So I have to cull.

Any tips?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jalapenos Are Dreadful!!!

No, not really but my hands are burning something awful at the moment and even typing this post is painful but I must, simply MUST reveal to the reader how stupid I can be and so easily.

We moved alright! We bought the farm, have been moving in for the past 10 days and the garden is rapidly out-pacing my daily attempts to harvest and process all the veg. We have totally dug up every red potato and picked green beans endlessly. I have depleted my friends' pantries as a source of distribution. I am blanching and freezing baggies of the beans and still they keep growing. I am coming close to yanking the devils out just to get a little downtime before the tomatoes ripen and it all starts over again.

I pick okra every morning. They, too, get processed and frozen because I really haven't had time to actually COOK them. I will no doubt be making gumbo in a few days because No.2 is coming home to acclimate her cat, Polo, to the new joint.

This morning in the cool of the dawn I tied up 28 tomato plants. Clearly, no one told the previous owners that staggering crops is a good idea. 28 plants and you just know they're all going to ripen, on cue, at precisely the same time! Each plants has at LEAST 8 tomatoes hanging off at this time. And more coming.

Then there's the jalapenos, green peppers and eggplants. Oh yes and 4 squash plants, 2 zuccs and two crook necks and I do NOT exaggerate when I write that the first 6 or 7 zuccs that we picked were the the size of my lower leg and arm. THEY WERE HUGE!!!!! THe crooks were no good at that size but the zuccs tasted great and made good bread.

2 Rows of sweet corn round out the garden. They have tasselled now and are 7.5' tall. Can't WAIT for fresh corn. Whoo-hoo!!

HOnestly, my fingers are burning so badly and the heat from the keys are adding to the pain. Note to Self: Use Rubber Gloves. Check.