October 29, 2020

Potato soup base

Having embraced the idea of being intentional about building a prepper pantry, it's become obvious how much money it's going to save us in the long run. It's not that we're destitute - far from it. We live debt-free. Being intentional is a freeing way to live. 

I am determined to make good use of the recently purchased pressure canner. I discovered that a bag of potatoes in the cellar were beginning to sprout, and my first thought when that happens is always potato soup. I consulted the Ball canning book for the instructions on how to can potatoes, and then took to YouTube to see how all the canners do it. 

The information was consistent for canning potatoes and soup. I'd be able to process the potatoes with a splash of chicken broth, onion, celery, and salt. The milk, or half and half, plus a dollop of butter will need to be added when the jars are opened and the soup made. I had enough potatoes for four quarts with a cup of de-fatted homemade broth in each. I topped off the liquid with boiling water, added the lids and rings, and processed the jars according to my canner's instructions. 

One of the jars siphoned on me. That is to say some of the liquid siphoned out before the lid sealed. There is still a lot of liquid in the jar, and the seal is good, but I put that jar in the refrigerator and we'll have potato soup in the next day or so. All we need is for Himself to bake up some nice, soft dinner rolls and we'll have a meal. 

In time's past, we may have used some of the potatoes before they sprouted too far to be used. With the canner, none got tossed into the woods for the wild ones. Plus, I have four dinners, or lunches, ready to go with minimal effort. I call that a win. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

**5/9/21 update: We decided we prefer to process only the potatoes in jars and add everything else for soup when it's time to make soup. 

October 27, 2020

A bit of autumn bloom

Earlier this year I accomplished something I long wanted - a knee wall at a problematic bank. Many, many years ago, the bank was created when we leveled the ground to form a parking area. Over time, rocks got tossed there and it became a problem area. There was no way to mow so the area needed to be weed-whacked. It wasn't a fun chore.

I asked my first husband to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.

I asked the next live-in to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.

I asked the current spousal unit to build a dry-stacked stone wall. He didn't.
And so I finally built it myself. 

I've always been capable of doing it, but that's not the point. The point is, and what I'll never forget or forgive, is how much easier it would have been if one of those men had deigned to use their male strength to lift and stack the stones. 

What I'll never forget or forgive is how none of those men would give me something I asked for and wanted badly enough to actually ask them to do it for me. I'll never understand why they never said they wouldn't do it, they just never did. Lazy, perhaps? Controlling me? I think so. 

That resentment is something I need to let go of. I did it myself. Maybe it was the universe driving home the point I can't depend on any man. 

But the universe has rewarded me with some autumn flowers. After the wall was built, I hopped on the John Deere 1023 and backfilled with some good composted soil, and scattered the contents of a few cheap seed packets on the fresh dirt. The results were slow to develop, but here at the end of 2020, I have zinnias and cosmos blooming. It's a pleasing sight to come home to. 

Next spring, I'll scatter seeds again and see what happens. And woe to the man who makes any comment, even to say I was right and the flowers on top of the wall are nice to see. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 25, 2020

Bittersweet along the creek

Almost at the top of the mountain above the manor is a spring known locally as Joshua Spring. Twenty years ago, I could go to the spring and bring home a gallon of pure water. Then some idiot who likely still doesn't realize just how stupid they are dumped trash at the entrance to the spring. The State barricaded the lane to the spring and that was that for most folks who went there for pure water. 

We're luckier than some. Joshua Spring puts out enough water to form a creek that comes down the mountain to join with the creek running through the family property. I've occasionally stepped down into the Joshua Spring creek for a drink of that special water. I've also entertained ideas of creating a splashing spot for Deuce but that hasn't happened yet. Maybe soon. 

Bittersweet bushes and vines grow in abundance on the far side of the little creek. I don't know much about the plant except that the lovely red and orange berries are poisonous if eaten. Lots of autumn flower arrangements and wreaths contain bittersweet, but handling the dried berries is pretty harmless. 

On a recent walk, we noted the abundance of bittersweet berries this year. Our weather this summer was reminiscent of the summers when we were younger and we are aware of the sensitivity of plants to the weather. We think it's because the airplanes weren't flying as much due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I'm sure the experts would argue that, but there it is. I believe it, but then again, I dislike airplanes, especially the ones that fly over my corner of the world and drop pollution on my trees. 

It's been many years since a bittersweet wreath has graced my front door. My mother made the wreath I had, but time and sun damage eventually claimed it. Perhaps after the leaves have dropped I'll be brave and cross the creek, climb the rocky bank, and harvest just enough berries to make a new wreath. It will last for many, many years, and be a connection to my mother who got her berries from the banks of Joshua Creek. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 24, 2020

Bread baking and creative picture taking

For a reason known only to the gods of baking, my partner in life decided he was going to be the bread baker in the house. I didn't fight him for the title. 

He's actually gotten quite good at it. We've had fresh biscuits, English muffins, wheat bread, rye bread, and now we have baguettes. He purchased a special baking pan for the baguettes, and I approve. I also approve of his creativity and ingenuity of how and where to place the bread to get an unusual picture. Where else would you let the bread rest when you're clearing off and cleaning the island's granite top? 

Baking our own bread fits right in with our efforts to control food additives. The only drawback is, homemade bread doesn't last long without molding. Of course, most breads freeze very well, and we have a good-sized freezer. 

We're learning, here on the manor. We want a slower, more basic lifestyle. With cold weather almost upon us, I expect he'll expand his repertoire of bread and we'll have wonderful, buttery accompaniments to the homemade soups I'll be canning soon.

For a story about his first attempt at bread baking, visit my writing blog at https://kckendricks.blogspot.com/p/writing.html

Living simply doesn't mean we don't enjoy the little things in life because we do.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 19, 2020

Canning pumpkin for the first time

Every year it's the same hassle. I want plain canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, and I can't find it. And if by some miracle I do stumble across it in the fruit section of my local grocery, reading the label is disappointing. Yes, pumpkin is a squash, but I want only pumpkin squash to be in the can. Once you bake a pumpkin pie using pumpkin puree you made using only pumpkin, you'll never want to go back to the commercial product. 

What are the options? 1) Settle for a product that could have just about anything in it, or 2) process a real pumpkin you either grew in the garden or purchased at the local orchard. This year, I chose Number 2. 

In the past, I've cut up a small pumpkin and "roasted" it in the oven. This time, the pumpkin I got was larger and I was very glad my knife was sharp. Before yesterday, I'd never canned pumpkin or used a pressure canner. It was a steep learning curve and I think I made a lot of "newbie" mistakes. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, but there are a few things I need to remember for next time.

The first thing to do is save boiling water in a carafe to pour over the jarred pumpkin. Have that ready before anything else because there's not much room on the stove once the canner is sitting there. 

Second - Use a bucket and get all the pumpkin cut into one-inch pieces before starting the two-minutes pre-jarring. The process calls for the pumpkin chunks to be boiled and heated through BEFORE they go in the jars, and then to cover the jars with clean boiling water before putting the lids on. 

I tried to multi-task and get the pumpkin chunks boiling while still cutting up the pumpkin. Bad idea. Putting the chunks in a bucket of water that has a bit of citric acid in it to preserve the color is a good idea. Partly because my kitchen is on the small side, and partly so I can take a ten-minute break after cutting up the pumpkin.  The actual jarring is not a quick and easy process and once started, you have to keep going. 

We were a little nervous about the pressure canner. I bought a 23-quart Presto with a pressure gauge. It seemed to take forever to get to pressure, but it finally did. I was just about to turn off the stove and figure out if I'd done something wrong when the pressure lock button popped up. Things progressed quickly from there. 

One medium-sized pumpkin netted six quarts of pumpkin cubes. I don't yet know how that translates into the amount of puree for pies, breads, spreads, and cheesecakes. I suspect it's not enough. I'll probably stop by the orchard next Friday night and can another batch next weekend. 

The process yesterday seemed like a lot of work but only because I was doing it for the first time. It'll be a lot easier from here on. Real pumpkin pie is worth the effort. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 17, 2020

Apple Butter

The spouse requested apple butter, so I decided the best course of action was to make some. I have a copy of the Ball Book of Canning which contains a wealth of canning recipes that include two types of apple butter. I went with the traditional style. 

Making apple butter isn't difficult, and having a Kitchen Aid spiralizer really helps. That tool will peel and core an apple with the flip of a switch. It also spiralizes the apple and one quick cut down the center and you have apple slices. This will come in handy later today when I process the remainder of my apples in slices for pies and cobblers. 

I had a lot to do yesterday, so I cooked the apple butter in my large crockpot. That worked well, but I followed the recipe and therefore had too much water in the mix. I ended up with the crockpot on low overnight and processed the jars before dawn this morning. It took that long for the excess water to evaporate. But a longer cooking time did allow the apples to caramelize to a dark, rich color. 

As much as I'm enjoying stocking my pantry with homemade goods, it's a lot of work. I have a new appreciation of how hard my foremothers worked every year. I can go to a grocery store that, even in the year 2020, has food items on the shelf. I'm just not sure how long that will last so we're doing what we can to have food stores on hand. 

For my grandmother, who raised her children during the Great Depression of the 1930s, going to the store wasn't much of an option. She had to purchase flour and sugar, but fruits and veggies came from her own land. So did chicken, eggs, pork, dairy, and venison. Some years the cow would deliver a bull (steer) and they had beef. She canned all her meats in those days, or my grandfather smoked it. It was only ninety years ago but it was a different world.

So I'll think of her later today as I slice apples with a modern kitchen appliance. She did it all by hand with a paring knife. I live on a foundation she built with hard work and love. It's very humbling. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor


October 16, 2020

Homemade ice cream

We love ice cream. There's no reason to deny it. There's no reason to BUY it, either. 

Here on the manor, we like to eat and we eat a lot of different foods. We disagree about spinach (I like it but he doesn't) but we're in agreement on almost everything else. I've long looked forward to "retiring" and moving towards a more traditional country kitchen. 

Several years ago, we agreed we needed to be more aware of the additives in our food. We didn't toss out half our pantry, but we've gradually moved toward more whole foods and more homemade foods. At the top of our list was ice cream. 

Funny thing about ice cream. If you purchase it, you may be tempted to eat the entire carton to satisfy that craving for smooth texture and sweet taste. With homemade ice cream, we find a very small portion completely satisfies our craving for a dessert or a snack. That's a good thing because the recipe we finally found that we both love is not exactly diet-friendly.

Full disclosure - we found this recipe on YouTube from Laura in the Kitchen. It's so simple it's probably outlawed by the food channels. You need four cups of heavy cream, fourteen ounces of sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla extract to taste. That's it. Nothing fancy and no cooking. 

I whip some air and vanilla into the sweetened condensed milk and set it aside. Then the heavy cream and a bit more vanilla goes into the mixing bowl and I whip that until very stiff peaks form. I have a Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer and I use that for just about everything. 

Once I have the SCM and whipped cream ready, I mix strawberries, peaches, or whatever I want to add into the SCM. Then I slowly fold that into the whipped cream. Once everything is sufficiently blended, the mixture gets poured into a large plastic container, or maybe several small freezer containers, and it goes into the freezer for at least eight hours. Right now, we have Reese cup ice cream. I took five Reese cups and chopped them up in the food processor until no big pieces remained and added it to the ice cream. You can add cocoa powder for chocolate ice cream. Just add the cocoa to the sweetened condensed milk and whip it until thoroughly blended before folding the SCM into the whipped cream. 

Yes, that's a bit of sugar and fat, but ten bites and you feel like you've eaten an entire gallon of store-bought. It's that rich and delicious. Not only do we eat less of it, but we also don't want it every day even though we know it's in the freezer. And speaking of the freezer, you do need to set this out about ten minutes before you dish out portions. With this, frozen means it's frozen hard. 

So is it that the homemade has no additives to trick our brain into thinking we need more, or is it something else? We think it's the former, not the latter. He and I look at the no-fat craze the country went on and we know that was the beginning of the obesity epidemic. Now we have the Keto diet which is all about the fats and people are losing weight. Go figure.

We have a busy day planned and I need to get ready. The sun will be up soon and it will be time to walk away from the computer for a while. Today is once again about apples, and this time, it may include selecting a dwarf tree. We'll have to see. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 11, 2020

A touch of red this year



 From my office, I have a great view of one particular maple tree that always puts on an autumn display. The first picture was taken in 2004 when orange was the color of the year. The tree has grown a lot since then, but it never fails to draw the eye. This year, the color will be redder to red-brown, I think, but October is young yet. 

Sitting atop a little knoll on the edge of the treeline helps with visibility. I've often said it's the only tree I never want to cut down. 

Will it outlast me, here on the manor? I hope so, and I hope whoever comes here after me has an equal appreciation of the manor. Living in the woods isn't for just anyone. If you have any fear of the dark, the woods are not the place for you. 

Perhaps my love of the poet Robert Frost has influenced my choice to live apart. His poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," written almost one hundred years ago, speak to me of a magical moment in time. Does it matter where he's been or where he's going? I think not. But in that moment of complete albeit cold solitude, the language of the woods speak to the poet. The woods are lovely dark and deep, this I know at my very core. 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (1923)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy winds and downy flake.

The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 6, 2020

New sources

Years ago we discovered the [joys?] of online shopping. Love it or hate it, Amazon has been a godsend for my partner. With his limited mobility, shopping is an arduous chore. We truly hope curb-side pick up lives on long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 
The pandemic of 2020 has disrupted everything in the supply chain. Amazon, which could be counted on in order to obtain just about anything, has had a disappointing showing. Why do I say this? I wanted a very simple Presto pressure canner. It was continually out of stock, so I went looking and found one at Overstock.com. I ordered it from Overstock and it arrived in five days. Not quite Prime fast, but certainly fast enough. 

Another difficult item to find in 2020 is any size of Ball canning jar. Oh, imitations can be found, but I'll only trust Ball jars and lids. Canners in the know only trust Ball and Tattler (more on that product later). As I write this entry, the price gougers are out in full force on Amazon and the reviews tell of a multitude of problems with orders, so that's a no-go for me. Shipping anything glass isn't a good idea.

Earlier this year, I got Ball jars at Walmart. That source has dried up for now. I'm checking in the stores every time I go for groceries. As soon as possible, I'll be stocking up on jars and lids.

One of the things I'm excited about is that Ball/Jarden is bringing back, in limited quantities, the colored glass of yesteryear. I have several aqua jars that my grandmother used and I plan to get some new ones. As far as preserving goes, they're no better, but I simply like them.

Finding new sources during a pandemic isn't easy, but one must persevere. Here on the manor, it's the only choice we have because giving up or giving in is not an option. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 4, 2020


Whereas my grandmother canned everything from the garden and orchard, two of the few things my mother canned were applesauce and apple butter. Both were really good, but too sweet for my tastebuds, even as a teenager. I've always liked fruit to taste like fruit. These days, I want fruit products with no chemical additives. The best way to achieve this is to process my own.

Having obtained a very small amount of apples, I cored and sliced them, cooked them in the roaster, then ran them through a food mill to remove the peels. Once the apples were milled, I added the juice of one lemon so the applesauce would retain its color and one cup of sugar to add a hint of sweetness. I'm sure when the spousal unit eats his serving, he'll add more. Adding extra sugar and salt is something he's learned to deal with over the years. 
I think next time, if I have a larger amount of apples to process, I'll use the Kitchen Aid to peel the apples and toss them in the Ninja blended after they've cooked. Using the food mill on a large batch would be tiresome.

Applesauce is something that can be processed using a water bath. It's rather straightforward. To follow in my foremother's footsteps, one would core and peel a bushel of apples, boil them down to a mush, drain off the excess liquid, add copious amounts of sugar, and water bath for twenty minutes. 

I had about nine pounds of apples which yielded nine half-pint jars of applesauce. If I'm gifted with more apples, I'll make some apple butter. 

Eating food we've preserved is going to become a bigger part of our eating here on the manor. We both want to cut down on food additives, and for us, this is the best way to do that. Buying organic applesauce would be fine, but having learned a lot of the "old ways" from my grandmother, those are the ways I want to practice. 

For me, it's coming full circle and coming home. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

October 3, 2020

The ferns in fall

Walking through the woods is a constant joy for me. Even though I stick to the same trails, as a general rule, there is always something new to see mixed in with the familiar. This year, there has been a big stand of ferns growing on a bank. I've marveled at how green they were all summer.

Fall has arrived, and the ferns have turned a pale yellowish-brown. It's the way of the season. Will they return next year? In all likelihood. This type of fern grows wild everywhere around here, even on the manor. Part of their growth success is that the deer don't seem to like them. 

I wish the deer would eat the ones growing along the upper stone fence. I've tried and tried to eradicate the ferns in that area, but so far they've bested me. 

I won't give up. I've got a tip on a woven ground cover that might do the trick. Do I feel remorse at the thought of killing off some ferns? No, I do not. There are plenty more to be found on the manor. I simply want what was a flower bed to be returned to its original function. I want to see the daffodils in the spring. I want the foxgloves and columbines to grow back. 

As I ease into being home on the manor full-time, this is just one of the many things I want to accomplish. And I'll still enjoy seeing the ferns along the woodland trails. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor