Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Wrap-up

As we head into the new year, I'm archiving my 2008 Pantry List. My goal for 2009 is to double the amount of food I preserve.

applesauce: 18 pts
bell peppers, frozen: 1 gallon plus 1 pt
blackberry jelly: 3 cups
blackberry syrup: 2 cups
blueberries, frozen: 2 gallons (some for winemaking)
blueberry jam: 14 cups (plus 6 cups w/ friends)
blueberry syrup: 4 cups
caramel apple jam: 5 1/2 cups
grape jelly: 6 half-pints (from Tx grapes)
jalapeno pepper rings, pickled - 2 pints
jalapeno peppers, frozen: 6 1/2 pts
pepper jelly (green): 3 cups plus 5 half-cups
pepper jelly (red): 3 cups plus 5 half-cups
pepper relish, 7 pts
praline syrup: 3 cups plus 3 pts
raspberry jam: 7 cups

Another Year Older...

Yesterday was my birthday. As Love headed off to work, he admonished me to not work all day, to take some time for myself. So I did. I dug a trench and set out the asparagus plants I hauled home from Bro's home near Ft. Worth this weekend. The soil is awesome! All that work Love put into the raised beds this fall really shows. I hope the plants do OK moving them in December. Bro didn't think it would be a problem, and he's usually right. Sister called while I was setting them out to wish me a happy b-day. She asked me if it was true that you can control grass and weeds in asparagus by using salt water. I told her that Bro says you can, and I've never asked him anything about growing anything that he didn't know. We both agreed that he is pretty amazing, but then, he DOES have a degree in agriculture!

If all goes well, we should harvest asparagus in the spring of 2011. The books I consulted yesterday say that I should be able to judiciously harvest a few stalks as early as this spring, but I think I'll practice patience and let the plants build vigor before I start harvesting. That's what Bro recommends.

I got some great presents for my birthday: books, jewelry, kitchen stuff. I have a feeling that the item I will get the most use out of will be a book from Love (which I put on my wish list after borrowing it from our public library): Seed-Starting Primer and Almanac, edited by Vicki Mattern. I plant to start vegetables indoor for the first time this year, and I think this will be a great guide. I can hardly wait to get started!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Snow" Day

Skye and I are home today, as school is cancelled for our first "snow" day of the season. I got up this morning, made coffee, put veg soup in the crock pot, poured myself a cup and sat down to read my morning blogroll, poured Love a cup and took it to him, snuggled in beside him for a moment to watch the weather forecast. Imagine my surprise that school was cancelled! It is cold (17F this morning, and that is COLD for us!), and there are ice pellets on the ground, but I was still surprised that we had no school. But I must say, I am always thankful when the buses stay home and the teenagers aren't out driving on iffy roads. And I could certainly use a catch-up day this close to Christmas. But in the back of my mind, a little voice says, "Yes, you get to stay home today, but next June, you'll be one day later getting those longed-for gardening days. It's pay now, or pay later." But, today, it feels like a gift.

So, what have we been up to?
1. Made a batch of jelly from frozen grape juice my sister-in-love brought me all the way from Texas. Two summers ago, Bro, Skye, and I picked the wild grapes on a roadside near their home near Ft. Worth. We brought grapes home and made jelly, which Skye declared the best jelly for PB&J ever! I told Bro, who went back and picked every grape he could reach -- it was late in the season and they were just going to waste. G juiced them -- which is always the hardest part of jelly-making -- and froze them for us.
2. Tried homemade blueberry muffin recipe #2. This one featured brown sugar, sour cream, and oatmeal, but it's not that elusive perfect blueberry muffin recipe, either.
3. Cracked a bowl of pecans with the rocket cracker for picking out later. I did this on the back porch after Skye ran me out of the kitchen with a top secret project on her mind.
4. Made a batch of Buck's Pralined Pecans. They are wonderful and fill the "sweet" spot for the three toasted pecan recipes I set out to find this winter: salty, sweet, and spicy hot.
5. Made another batch of praline syrup: dark Karo, water, brown sugar, pecans, & vanilla. Verrry disappointing. Uses too much Karo for what it makes, so it's expensive. And it's a lot of work for what you get out of it. I made a single batch yesterday and got 3 half-pint jars. I was going to quadruple the recipe today, but a large bottle of Karo makes only 2 batches, so that is all I made. I got 3 pints, and I'm worried that the headspace is too deep. I will probably keep the pints, so I can monitor the quality, and give the half-pints as gifts.

1. Wrestled with the printer to print her short story that is now due tomorrow morning. I keep thinking she will learn not to wait until the morning to print her assignments, but it hasn't sunk in yet. -- Skye tells me that she printed her story last night. She tried to print gift labels this morning.
2. Packaged jellies and jams from this summer's canning as teacher gifts. Dropped them into jar-sized tins we bought at the Lobby two years ago after Christmas for 90% off, then attached hand-made tags.
3. Made a top-secret gift for her mom.
4. Set up the snow village in our living room.

Still to come:
1. Me: Bookkeeping. (boo! hiss!)
2. Skye: Piano & clarinet practice.
3. Both: Top-secret gift-making.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pecan Bonanza

Across the back of our property are two rows of pecan trees, 18 trees in all planted by Jasper & Pearl, our next-door-neighbors who once owned this property. Some years the harvest is better than others, but this year we are having a pecan bonanza. What a year for me to vow to let no pecans go to waste! I've been considering standing at the four-way-stop down the road and handing bags to motorists. This weekend alone, I picked up 45 pounds of pecans.

The blow we got off Hurricane Ike earlier this year left countless pecans on the ground. I can't imagine the crop if those pecans had matured as well. However, my brother suggested that perhaps the pecans are larger because they were thinned somewhat. Perhaps he's right. Pearl, my 87-year-old neighbor, says her daddy always said that if it rained on June 29th, there would be no pecans. When I asked her if that was true, she said yes, because rain at that time of year knocks off the blooms that develop into the pecans.

My mother always let the pecans "dry" in shallow pans before storing them. I set out to find out if that was indeed necessary. According to a website from the Agriculture Department at LSU, pecans should be air-dried in shallow containers for two weeks before storing them, unshelled, in bags. Love will be so glad that I actually explain why we have endless flats of pecans sitting around, instead of just saying, "Well, that's what Mother always did...."

And just what are we doing with all these pecans? I've invited friends to come pick up pecans. I've given pecans to friends and neighbors. We hauled pecans south at Thanksgiving. We've been toasting them and taking them in our school & work lunches as snacks. Today I made praline syrup. I was a bit disappointed that I got only 3 8-oz jars from the batch, but I plan to make more. I also made caramel popcorn with pecans. We plan to work on perfecting a "millionaire" candy, and, of course, we'll make pralines. My brother in Texas has requested I save some in the shells for him; he says the pecan crop there is short this year. I'm picking up pecans in my dreams these days....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fall's My Favorite, But Winter's Here!

Two days ago, I finally admitted that winter is here. It's time to stop scurrying like a squirrel in autumn and settle down for winter. So, here I am, typing with one hand because of the cat on my lap, getting back to the blog. Watch for more to come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

December Ozark Gardening Calendar

Kitchen garden
Begin planning seed orders.
Clean up empty parts of vegetable garden.

Cold Frame
Watch Christmas sales for 7-watt Christmas lights for heating cold frames.
Harvest late crops from cold frame. Ventilate cold frame on warm days.

Cottage garden
Mulch perennials as ground begins to freeze.

Continue harvesting pecans. Dry in shallow boxes for two weeks before storing in shells for up to six months. Freeze shelled pecans.