August 27, 2022

Head first into the metaphorical wall

It's not been the best of weeks. I accomplished a few things, sure, but I definitely feel a bit melancholy as the end of summer approaches.  I'm sure part of the problem is those feelings of guilt when I leave the spousal unit home alone to go play in the woods with the dog. If you think our State parks are handicap friendly you'd be wrong. We live beside a state park and access to the trail system is blocked to power chairs and scooters by very large boulders and locked gates. But I digress....for now...

This morning I processed another ten pints of tomato sauce. I did go purchase enough tomatoes to add to my own to fill the canner with nine jars and have one left over to use in the next few days. I've enjoyed canning this summer and get giddy when I view my shelves in the basement. I've got a good variety and plan to add soups to it as the fall weather brings cooler evenings. 

Another thing weighing on my mind is something that seems to be an annual event in my greater community. Three young men, all in high school, were killed in an automobile accident a few days ago. The car driven by one of the young men attempted to merge onto the Interstate and struck a tractor-trailer. The local police determined the car was moving at a high rate of speed. What they don't say is lack of experience was certainly a factor. My heart goes out to the families, families that will never be the same. There were losses in my day as well and even though I am not family, I don't forget. 

I hope that when tomorrow dawns I wake with renewed energy. I don't like feeling "mopey" and having no ambition. The spousal unit, a very smart man, suggests that I've needed a bit of a break. He may be correct although I'll refrain from saying that to him. I think my funk has put him in a funk. He's hovering. 

So tomorrow, in the mood or not, I must rise early and go for a long walk. It will do me, and Deuce, a world of good. A break is a fine thing, but I have much to do as the days shorten. I'll have plenty of time for "breaks" when the mercury dips below 32F. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

**I learned after posting this that one of the young men killed last week is the nephew of an old school friend.**

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, country living, rural lifestyle, home food preservation, motivations, community mourns, walking the dog, state parks, canning, a writer's life, car accidents, seasons, autumn, end of summer

August 20, 2022

Is this it for 2022?

It may only be mid-August, but my canning season only has one more round to go. Yesterday I processed twenty-five pounds of pears, which equates to twenty-three pints on the shelf. In a few weeks, I want to make applesauce and then I'm finished with big projects for this summer. Anything else I decide to do will be a small batch and not for longer-term storage in the pantry such as soups to be consumed this winter. 

Twenty-three pints of pears is a lot of pears. We enjoy them but not every day. I think it will be three years until I need to process pears again. We could simply buy canned pears, but our home canned pears don't have any additives or preservatives with names we can't pronounce, and that's important to us. 

I learned another lesson yesterday, too. I need to break down a big job into two days. I started peeling at 9:00 AM or so, and didn't take the last batch out of the canner until almost 5:00 PM. That's a long day spent on one's feet, but very worth the effort. Needless to say, I have more modest plans for today. 

This session used the last of the regular mouth pint jars I have on hand. I'm not sure if I want to get more or not. I have a Presto 23-quart canner and can stack pints when pressure canning. I've found that the wide-mouth pints are just a hair shorter and stack better. I may be better off transitioning to those when buying pints. The availability of either type of jar will probably be the deciding factor, though.  

I will also note that all twenty-three jars sealed. I've heard/seen a lot of people on YouTube complaining about Ball lids this summer. So many of the home food preservationists have jumped on the Forjars bandwagon, and why not? Forjars is sponsoring a lot of those channels, which means they're getting some advertising money from them. Unlike some, I was able to create a nice stockpile of Ball lids at the end of the 2021 canning season, so those need to be used first. I'm willing to give Forjars a try as my stash dwindles, but it won't be with sponsorship. 

Also of note, putting the rings on the jars "finger tight" doesn't work with water bath canning. The rings need to be a bit snugger. Getting that worked out may be another reason my seals are good. Putting the rings on just finger tight with the water bath method can mean the lid isn't tight enough to keep water out and that ruins the headspace in the jar and creates seal failure. We live and we learn.

It's time to get the pear jars washed, labeled, and on the shelf. I do enjoy looking at the part of my pantry that is all filled Mason jars, but being able to make a meal from what I've preserved is even better. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, canned pears, home food preservation, pantry prep, preservative-free, a writer's life, country living, rural lifestyle, modern homestead, retirement, 

August 17, 2022

"Chicken of the Woods"

Deuce and I went for a walk this morning and I spotted something I've not seen in years - Chicken of the Woods. 

Chicken of the Woods is the common name for the edible mushroom Laetiporus sulphureus. How did it get the name Chicken of the Woods? I can only guess it tastes like chicken.

Don't look for me to test that out. 

Wikipedia says eating the mushroom can cause mild reactions in some people, such as swollen lips or vomiting. Really? Its bright orange color wasn't a tell-tale sign of possible toxicity? 

One of the earliest woodland lessons from my grandfather was to treat brightly colored mushrooms or fungus as suspect. It could be his mother didn't like mushrooms all that much and wouldn't eat them. I'll never know for sure, but eating this woodland produce isn't part of my family tradition. 

All that aside, it's a beautiful thing, a bright spot of orange in the green and brown woods. I don't know where it's been for these many years (lying dormant of course), but I'm glad it has reappeared to remind me of my grandfather and his wisdom. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

 Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, woodland walks, country living, rural lifestyle, life lessons, wild mushrooms, wild fungus, simple country pleasures, a writer's life

August 15, 2022

Future tense

Future tense: a tense expressing an action that has not yet happened or a state that does not yet exist

I must confess that, so far, retirement has not been entirely as anticipated. We've been busy, both doing and planning. I thought I'd spend a lot more time on the patio with my laptop, but that's not been the case. Catching up on home & garden projects is satisfying, as is getting our ducks in a row to be able to do a few fun things. Tomorrow we're having new front tires put on the van which is the last step before we take off on a day trip.

This should have already been done, but the heat wave slowed us down. The last three weeks or so have been brutal and working outside needed to be done in small increments. After an early morning tending to the garden and/or cleaning up after the tree trimmer, it was too much like work to get the van to town for tires. The heat has passed and the time is tomorrow. 

It's actually been raining most of today - a blessing of soft, gentle rain that soaks into the ground. I spent most of my day writing which was a welcome change of pace. I need to get that story finished and out the door. It's taken far too long as it is. 

I have more canning projects on the horizon. The last of my own tomatoes went into nine jars as tomato sauce. What few tomatoes are still on the vine will go to the table. The heat wave affected the plants and they withered and stopped setting flowers, so no more fruit. When I go to the local orchards to get pears, I may price tomatoes and decide if I want to get a bushel to finish out the amounts I planned to can this season. 

Even if I don't make my canning goals, it has been a good season. Any amount of food without additives is a win. 

Now we've turned our focus to autumn chores. I've called the chimney sweep and am waiting for him to return my call. There's firewood to split and stack, and the lane needs a top dressing of gravel. Once the leaves fall, a few low-hanging branches need to be pruned. 

I'm enjoying being home even though I'm working a lot harder than I did at the day job. 

Am I bored? Nope. To a country girl, this is all play. May it continue to be so.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, home canning, country lifestyle, rural living, splitting firewood, gardening, tomato sauce, autumn, pruning trees, tires, day trips, a writer's life

August 8, 2022

This was a lot of work - pizza sauce

Earlier in the season I secretly despaired about the Roma tomatoes. The first tomatoes on each plant developed blossom end rot. The cure is to add calcium to the soil, but honestly, I'd not had great success with that. This year, I ignored the recommended amounts and added a generous handful of garden lime pellets to each bucket and watered it in. This time, it worked. I've had a good harvest of Roma tomatoes. 

The plan was to can them as diced, or crushed, tomatoes to add to recipes. I did that. The plants are still producing and I decided to make a batch of pizza sauce according to the recipe in the Ball Book.  

The recipe calls for thirteen cups of tomato puree and states it will yield about seven pints. A pint is too much for a single pizza for two people and a dog, so I canned the sauce in half-pints. 

The project went well, but it was very labor intensive. I had to core and slice the tomatoes, then cook them down to a liquid state. Then I ran everything through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. After that, the result needed to simmer until it thickened and that took hours. 

The actual processing required two canner runs. Water bath canning was called for, so no stacking in the canner. Each batch had to process for thirty-five minutes. I'm delighted with the end result. Every jar sealed so there was no pizza tonight, I'm sorry to say. 

It's a good feeling to have home-grown truly organic food on the pantry shelf. The tomato plants are still bearing so I need to go through the Ball Book and decide on what to make next. If I can't decide, I'll simply process plain sauce. It won't go to waste, that's for sure. 

I'm feeling really good about my little garden this year. Yes, it's a bit of work, but it's work that will benefit us for months to come. To our way of thinking, that's a good thing.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, home processed food, gardening, rural lifestyle, country living, tomatoes, pizza sauce, simple country pleasures, blossom end rot

August 7, 2022

Strawberry jam

Show me a good sale on frozen foods and it's a pretty good bet I'm going to grab a few bags. A couple of weeks ago, the local grocery had a buy two get one free offer on sliced strawberries - and they were at a sale price to boot! So I got some and tossed them into my already crowded freezer with the intention of making jam as soon as I had time. 

It's time to make time for some of those projects. I've been freezing Roma tomatoes, too, and space in the freezer is now at a premium. This morning I decided to make the strawberry jam. 

I remember as a small child "helping" my maternal great-grandmother make jams and jellies. I'd sit in her kitchen and watch as she turned hot mashed fruit into jelly. When it was time to harvest elderberries, I held the basket for her as she snipped off clusters of ripe berries. Grandma used a jelly bag made from feed sacks to strain the juice from the pulp, and then I got to "help" give the pulp to the chickens. I have so many rose-colored memories of Grandma, and now being older, I realize how hard her life really was compared to our lives today. So much less complicated, too. 

While Grandma had to pick her own strawberries, the process, for me, is easier. I open the bags and empty the contents into a saucepan. My preferred method to make jams and jellies is to follow the Sure Jell pectin recipes. Sure Jell has never let me down and it came through again this morning. Five cups of mashed strawberries, one envelope of Sure Jell, and seven cups of white sugar. Yes, seven cups. It seems like a lot but jams and jellies are consumed in small amounts so I don't angst over it. 

I ended up with nine half-pints of jam, which will probably last two years. We might border the Southland, but we don't serve biscuits at every meal. We go weeks at a stretch without using jam or jelly, but when it's time for some, homemade is the very best! 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, a writer's life, strawberry jam, Sure Jell pectin, home food preservation, home canning, simple country pleasures, rural lifestyle, country living, live simply, family heritage, pantry building

August 5, 2022

Tree trimming - maple tree down

It's rare we need to harvest an entire healthy tree, but over the course of the last few years, it became obvious we had a maple that had to go. It developed a bit of a lean that posed a danger to the house should the tree fall on its own. Because of the size and location of the tree, we called a professional for help.  

We had to wait a while before the trimmer got to us since he's not exactly local. He waited until he had a couple of jobs in our area - price of gasoline and all that - and we were okay with this happening as best fit his schedule. 

It was fascinating to watch him work. It takes a lot of guts, and strength, to shimmy up a tree and start cutting off branches. He cut off the heavy branches that pulled the tree into a lean and set a pull rope, the other end of which was secured to a different tree with a "come along" to ratchet pressure in the direction he wanted the tree to fall. Then he came back to the ground and cut the tree. It fell exactly where we wanted it to fall. 

We discovered our tree held a wonderful secret - ambrosia wood. Ambrosia maple is highly sought after by woodworkers for the unique patterns created by a beetle-borne fungus. We worked a deal with the tree trimmer for him to take sections of the trunk to his sawmill. I'm pleased some of the wood will be used for more than firewood. 

And as for firewood, there was plenty left for us and for my cousin, who helped greatly with the cleanup. 

The tree trimmer will be back this fall to harvest the huge poplar outside the sunroom windows. It too has gotten too tall to be so close to the house. I'll hate to see that tree go. It's been a companion of sorts, giving me the first harbingers of changing seasons. Even as I look out the window, right on time, a few yellow poplar leaves have come to earth. 

We do what we must. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor (The Hideaway)

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tree trimming, ambrosia maple, country living, rural lifestyle, a writer's life, harvest, firewood