Saturday, August 15, 2020

Stocking Up! The Farm Report 08-16-2020

Stocking Up!
The Farm Report

The garden season culminates in the harvest, then begins again before it is over. "Next Year!" is what we say as we contemplate successes and mistakes; things we will re-do and not do 'next year.' I'm flying solo now, so things are different than when we were kids. But not. Back when Joyce and I were first married (1971 if you're counting) 'Putting Food By' and 'Stocking Up' were two books that were all the rage. Self-reliance and going 'back to the earth' were very popular themes for us 'nearly hippies'. (I could have been a really good Hippie back then. I was just too conservative to do it.  Now, according to some, I'm wayyyyy to liberal, and the odd thing is that my views have never changed. Go figure.) People were worried they might need to know how to survive back then - Vietnam was raging and leaving everybody anxious and disappointed in their government. War-time 'Victory Gardening' techniques were making a comeback and there was a real sense of the importance of the self-reliant lifestyle. Joyce and I fit that model like a hand in a glove. We weren't afraid of the Boogey Man getting us; it just felt good to have a pantry full of plenty of our own wholesome food to draw from all winter long. We grew it, we put it up, and we were stocked and ready - and it felt great. Now, half a century later, I still feel that way. Only now, it is a different game - but it isn't. The pandemic has left us with the clear message that sometimes things happen, and it is good to be ready. It can also taste great! So I have been stocking up, as I do every year.

Remember the Billboard Tarp Garden I started late last winter/early spring? Well, the tomatoes absolutely love it! I know it might look like a forest of foliage, but I've hauled out buckets and buckets of red ripe - VINE ripened - tomatoes.

THIS! is what you garden for; this is why you grow your own 'maters.

Well, Joyce always accused me of going into what she called 'Del Monte Mode' when it came to canning and putting up food. I just like to get on with it and not fool around with little batches. I only appear to be patient. As part of my work, and part of my work shop, we established what passes for a 'Summer Kitchen' in the shop. No color coordination, no fancy stuff anywhere - everything was obtained on the cheap. But it is sooooo handy and efficient for summer canning and processing. Here, you see 'Big Bertha' the boiler/canner. My grandmothers used ones just like this. No little pots for me! You can put up a whole bunch of jars at one time in these. I also use a modified old-school grocery cart to move things around. One difference between a real kitchen and my summer kitchen is best explained by the old joke about the difference between an auto mechanic and an aircraft pilot. The mechanic washes his hands before he goes to the bathroom.... We wash first, and again after.

This pic is mostly for the benefit of my sister: She wanted to know if I was putting up 'According to Hoyle.' Of course I am! By the book, by the bible - the bible of canning, that is. This is one - just one of many - of our official Ball Blue Books which has all the USDA requirements for safely putting up just about any food you can think of. This copy also has Mrs. Inman's handwritten notes in it. The USDA apparently didn't know everything, according to my resident Home Economics Teacher Pro.

'Mater Juice in the Makin'

After the appropriate, By-The-Book! processing (boiling) time, the juice comes out to cool and seal. When everything goes as planned, the lids dimple down and the juice is good stored on the shelf for months - and months. Making tomato juice is fast and easy. I like to just make up a whole bunch of juice when the fruits are ready - then I can use the juice later on when it is cooler to make up other things. Things like my own spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, homemade ketchup, you name it. Sometimes I even dry it down to make my own homemade tomato paste. I'll show you how I do that sometime. Score: 49 Quarts so far.

We're doing green beans again. This time it is for the winter, but I'm trying something different this year.

Nice quickly grown beans. They're delicious, too.

These are the ones I like to put up. This variety is 'Slenderette.' I also put up some 'Tenderette' beans. My favorite? Blue Lake Bush beans. I couldn't find anyplace to buy them this year. COVID-19 has sent everybody to the garden, it seems. There's always something good to come of a disastser.

Once I have the beans picked, cleaned and cut (Joyce preferred to snap them - one-at-a-time), then you have to do a little two-step dance called 'blanching' in order to preserve the goodness that lives inside the beans. Most people blanch by putting the beans in a pot of boiling water for the appropriate time (See Your Blue Book!) However, we have used this big vegetable steamer/juicer to do this for years. We think the steam leaves more flavor behind in the beans. We might just be full of beans, though. You do it however you like to do it.

My book says to steam blanch for 3 minutes. Just enough to give the beans a hot foot and kill the spoiling enzymes, but not enough to actually cook the beans.

Pop! The hot beans get dumped into a pan of ice water to shock them and stop the cooking.

They stay in the ice bath until they are cold all the way through. I never time this. I just eat one every once in awhile and when they are cold, I know I can move on. Joyce used a timer.....

So here's what I'm doing differently this year. I'm vacuum sealing the beans in 'Enough for One Old Guy's Plate' sized servings. Then I'm freezing them. It is a lot easier, quicker, and some say more nutritious than pressure canning. I like to pressure can, but this would be great, too. I'll let you know what I think as the winter wears on. Never forget to label your work! No, you will NOT remember what you have in the bags. Label your work. Score: 31 vacuum packets @ 215g each.

We did Greek pepperoncini peppers last time. This time, I'm doing sliced Jalapeno peppers for the Super Bowl Game - if there is one. If there isn't, I'll find another excuse to make some nachos and cheese dip with jalapeno peppers added - from my own garden!

This is an old vacuum sealer we've used for decades. I'm pickling the jalapeno slices and vacuum sealing them. They have not been heat processed, so they need to be 'refrigerator pickles.' This is not a problem. My brine is half vinegar and half water, with some salt and sugar to help kill the heat. I like peppers, I don't like heat - from peppers or from August!

"And it's just that easy," as Uncle Red Green would say. I even saved a 'real' pickle jar for the occasion.

Here is another reason to do your own gardening. This broccoli is just ready to 'head out.' If you were growing these for a living, you would let the head go on and grow out some more. If you're not doing this for a living, like me, you pick this head right now when it is the sweetest ever.

I'm trying to keep my farm reports real. I'm not doing magazine photo shoots for this. This is the real deal, and this is what a greenhouse looks like at the middle of August. Everything is either tired or dead, and everything needs a good cleaning up. Annie agrees. "Tim, you've gotta do something about this mess. It's pretty terrible. I'm embarrassed by it." Well, me too. But this is reality. I can't keep the place cool enough for strawberries to survive, so we'll clean and re-start here pretty soon. In a couple more weeks, it will be time to take off the shade tarps and let the sunshine back in. I'm already starting seeds for the indoor fall/winter garden. It is a circle of life to be sure.

My neighbor, Ron's grandkids wanted to come see Annie the other night after supper. Annie had already gone to bed for the evening. We got her out and let her play with them though. She loves kids. Especially these two. What more fun can Iowa farm kids have than to pick ears of corn off the stalks and feed them to the dog on a summer evening? (Well, unless it would be putting on a helmet, your best cowboy boots, and protective vest and riding sheep in the Mutton Bustin' event at the Sidney rodeo - which BOTH of these kids did!) Annie likes corn, but she loves attention even more. Can you tell?

"Life is so good!" says Annie, and it is. In spite of all the swirl of disharmoney that we are living with - and the very real disasters and loss caused by disease and weather, life is good. We can't ignore reality, but we also don't have to let reality ruin the good parts for us either. Even an old notch eared tomcat can manage to find a soft spot on the seat of a wrecked Cadillac somewhere back in the junkyard. Peace! as we used to say in the Hippie Days. Peace. All is well at Oakdale Farm, and I hope all is well with you, too. Peace

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Cowboy Pinball: The Farm Report 08-02-2020

Cowboy Pinball
The Farm Report


OR: Tea cart over applesauce!
 It has been an eventful week out here at Oakdale Farm. I'm using pictures from the interweb to help me illustrate what happened.

Last time, I told you about Annie wanting to go running all the time. I usually take her for a Ranger ride and a run morning and night. Sometimes we go at noon. She loves to run. She is a very muscular small dog (about 35 pounds) and she runs like a grey hound. She runs full out, hard chargin' and all in. She is committed to that run!
The other night, I had taken her on her 'last call' run and I was shutting the side shop door in preparation to bring her in for her supper - and my evening respite. She made the run up and back to the timber 4 times. That is about one mile altogether, full blast, hard out, all in. To say it another way, she was tired and exhausted. She wasn't paying attention, and neither was I. In fact, I didn't even know she was coming in behind me. She was. Since I was between the door and her food dish, and since that is a bad place to be, and since she was tired she was a little low on her finesse, and since she is a Texas Heeler at heart - and pushy!, she tried to sneak past me on the left side between my legs and the building. She missed. Since I didn't know she was even coming, I wasn't prepared. So...with all my weight on my left leg, and with Annie Oakley zoooooming past on my left side, the collision knocked me upside down and sideways like I had been hit by a freight train. Or to keep the analogy going, like I had been flipped by a rodeo bull! I felt like it must have been something like the Cowboy Pinball event in the picture above. 

In reality, it was probably more like this picture. But in my defense, I didn't have a lot of time to analyse the situation!

Let's just let it go by me assuring you that THIS is how I felt on the way down! And for those of you who are into old jokes, 'NO' I am not trying to show you what a Scotsman wears underneath his kilt, although apparently it isn't much. Am I having an 'underwear thing'? Bibs 'n Boxers from last time, and now this? Makes a guy wonder.

However, I do have evidence! This is where I hit the steel molding and siding on my shop building. Now, granted, I am a big old guy and the steel is just steel pole building metal, but wham! I hit hard.

'All's well that ends well,' as they say. I'm fine. In fact, for an old guy who just recently had another birthday, I felt pretty chuffed up by the whole event. It's probably a 'guy' thing, but hey! I can still take it. I can take a punch with no ill effects and keep going! I was pretty proud of myself. I was thinking about going out for football again this fall - or maybe trying my hand at rodeo. ' I can do this! ' But, after further review as they say, I have decided not to tempt fate and I'll just tell the story about what happened. It will get even better over time. Rest assured....

Out in the garden, things are producing like crazy. I planted some Greek Pepperoncini peppers. Those are the ones that are in the salad bars all the time. I love 'em. I could just go buy a jar, but what fun is there in that? So I'm trying my hand at putting up my own pickled pepperoncini peppers. Say this fast three times: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepperoncini peppers." Step one: wash 'em up.

Step two: Brine them and let them ferment at room temperature for a few days. This draws out quite a bit of the heat, which I don't really like, and starts the natural lactobacillus (good) bacteria doing their thing to improve the flavor. I make a slit through the bottom of each pepper to let the goodness in.

The brine I use is one I mentioned here in another blog a while back. It is something I make up and keep on hand all summer long. When I get cuke's or something I want to pickle, I bring them in to the shop kitchen and wash them up, snip off the blossom ends and then just pour the brine over them and wait. This is my 'Claussen' pickle knock-off brine. I spell it with a 'K' to add emphasis. Stay tuned, I'll let you know how they come out.

So about the morning after my big upset, I was just about awake; not quite, but almost. I sensed light, heard a big sizzzzzzzzzzle, and then FELT the bang! A bolt of lightning took out the electric transformer and all the stuff that goes along with it to make my house electrified. Living in the country on top of a hill means I get zapped all the time. This time was extra special though. Thanks to the Midamerican Energy guys, I now have a whole new pole, transformer and wiring rig. These guys know what they're doing, and I greatly appreciate how quickly they did it. THANKS GUYS!

This is a rare shot: That's Miss Kitty - the Official Shop Cat - and Annie's shop buddy there in the chair. (My apologies for the condition of the corner of this room. I'll do better on cleanup next time.) Miss Kitty and O.J. both have the same opinion of Annie. You can almost hear her saying, as O.J. does, "You stupid dog." Annie loves her though, and herds her all over the building when ever she has a chance. Miss Kitty only shows up when she wants to tease Annie. They have a thing that way. Most of the time, Miss Kitty is like the Phantom of the Opera: She lives up in the rafters overhead some place in the shop attic. 

Here's a little video for you to watch, if you're into watching cats n' dogs - or if you're in isolation and just don't have anything else worthwhile to do. I didn't have to stage this, they do it all the time. Annie shucks and jives, bobs and weaves, blocks and parries. Miss Kitty just stays centered.

So other than that, it has been a pretty eventful week out here, but I have survived and lived to tell about it - and can 't wait for the next thing coming. Take care.