Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Homestead Style Canning

      
    There was a bit of grumbling at the Sunbow planting table this morning. Apparently, a woman had ordered seven pounds of pickling cucumbers. Harry packed them up, put them in a wooden box, and set them out for her. When she came, she dug through the box, turned down half of the fruits, and took the rest in the wooden box. It was not clear, to begin with, which was the more nervy action—the rejection of perfectly healthy food, that was not the exact shape she wanted, or taking the box. The question swirled around the table—why does it matter what the shape of the fruit is? Isn’t canning about putting food by for the winter, taking the surplus—whatever it is—and preserving it in a tasty fashion to liven up that month of cabbage and potatoes that seasonal eaters are staring down in mid-March? If the cucumbers are larger, then why not pickle them in another way?   The Joy of Pickling has all sorts of recipes. I know. Sunbow had a surplus of cucumbers last year and I made five different types of pickles, working with the fruits in all stages of development from delicate to tough.

            There are, we decided, two types of food preservers. There are the artisanal cooks, who choose recipes that look tasty then collect the ingredients needed to create that particular recipe. They use the pretty green glass jars and labels and their preserves are always tasty and tastfully done. And then there are the homesteading, farming types, who take whatever is bursting from the gardens, whatever is falling from the neighbor’s trees, whatever is left over at the end of the market, bring it home, pile it in the basement and think “Now what?” while rummaging through the old canning books.  They can be tempted by phrases like “it’s going to be thrown on the compost pile if you don’t take it,” and “I found that putting them up in simple syrup worked pretty well last year,” or “Have you tried roasting these yet?”

   
         This year, I’ve preserved plums, beets, cabbage, and cucumbers so far, as well as red currant juice—and the season has only just begun. Apples, blueberries, and tomatoes are all waiting in the larder. There are three things that have made this work much easier. The first is my steam canner that I purchased from Territorial Seeds five years ago. Now, rather than putting on the huge canning pot of water that took forever to heat and weighed a ton to dump out when I was finished, I bring out the steam canner, add a quart of water to the bottom, and off we go. I can put up a small batch of something in an hour or so. Canning is a daily occurrence, rather than a weekly production in August. Saves water, time, and energy—and works on everything that the boiling water bath canner does. Second is the huge collection of jars, gathered from friends (Bicentennial canning jars!), Goodwill, and the grocery store over the years. Supplies are in the basement all the time. Third are two books— The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Between the two, whatever I bring home is covered, and Linda Ziedrich’s  discussions of technique and theory are clear and detailed as well. 

            I rode home today loaded with twenty pounds of very ripe tomatoes—the box that no one would buy because they were so ripe and no one at the farm had time to process in the next twenty four hours. I resisted the tiny plums, but did my best to sell them to another woman who was picking up some peppers. Right now, the first round is steaming cheerfully in the canner, the second round is roasting in the oven, and the third round is de-stemmed and waiting to be sliced and arranged on trays. This winter, we will eat them is soups and on pizza and pasta, bringing back hot summer days. Now I just need to find something to do with the zucchini.

Roasting Tomatoes

Gather a bag of paste tomatoes. Slice each in half and lay on a cookie sheet face down. Cover the tray. Place in a 350 degree oven. Roast until wilted and perhaps a bit charred. Slide into half pint jars, cap, and process for twenty five minutes in the steam canner.

            

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cream Teas


“When you get over the Nine Standards, don’t forget to stop for a cream tea at the farmhouse,” our landlady reminded us as we left Kirby Stephens, happily full of kipper and eggs.
“Okay,” we nodded and slipped out the door. The day was growing cloudy and damp, the first sign of rain on the trip. After checking the map one more time (we had a rep for being unable to get out of town without getting lost), we headed up hill. Trundle, trundle, trundle—the fog came down quickly.
“I don’t think we should take the high trail,” Mark grumbled at the first turn off. “The book says not to go high if you cannot see the Nine Standards from here.”
“I think we’ll be fine,” I insisted, turning uphill into the clouds.
“The book says you may get lost,” he muttered.
“We’ll be fine,”  I sighed as a cairn emerged from the mist. “Do you see them?’
“Nope.” And we climbed, moving peacefully through the silent fog, up the washed out trail, until ten feet away, the Nine Standards formed, shrouded in heavy clouds. Nine huge rock cairns along the ridgeline, built originally no one knows when or why—a common phenomenon in the Yorkshire Dales—but rebuilt in 2004 by a local artist. You can tell the original constructions from the rebuilt, but they still loom, mysterious and wild, in the fog.. We settled into the lee of the largest while Mark worried the maps for the route down. An older man and his dog climbed up, smiled at us, settled into the next cairn, and opened his thermos of tea. The spot felt both homey and wild.
 When the next passel of hikers appeared, we headed down, over the hill into the Ravenseat Valley, a remote spot with one old farmhouse and some outbuildings, the reputed source of the cream teas. From above, we could see familiar figures seated on picnic benches, clearly eating…we picked up the pace just in time to observe a Volvo station wagon pull up to the gate and two middle aged plump ladies emerge, clutching books.
“Do you know where you are?” one asked me. It seemed an odd question, given our hiking gear and map.
“Yeah,” I replied, eying the book—clearly a memoir of some sort.
“They are closed,” she sighed, climbing back into the car with a sad sigh.
The trail headed downward, so we trundled on and fellow hikers confirmed the rumor—the cream teas were not happening today, but we could eat lunch at the table. When I asked about the significance of the spot, one of the British women nodded wisely.
“Yeah, Julia had tea here on her way through and it was on the BBC, so now there’s a book.”
“The one they were clutching?” Of course.
“It was an impressive looking scone,” she added.

An hour later, we walked into Keld, a tiny cluster of grey stone houses around a crooked road, a herd of sheep, two inns—the Butt House (ours) and Park Lodge—an old church, and a tiny museum, as well as a field for camping and a small swarm of older folks on tour. Small outbuildings are tucked into the patchwork of walled fields surround the village. After dropping our packs and walking sticks, we head downhill to explore.  In the center of it all, people are strolling into an attached house and emerging with mugs and trays. Mark looks at me and we head inside. The space is tiny—two shelves holding the usual weird assortment of stuff you find in any campground store, one wobbly table with two metal chairs, and a counter. When I step up, I spot a huge red and gold bag on the floor. “1,500 Yorkshire Tea Bags” it reads. The women in front of us order cream teas, no butter. “Have to watch my weight,” one chuckles. Five minutes later, we find a picnic table, clutching an old metal tea tray, balancing two floral mugs of Yorkshire tea, a huge scone, a pot of clotted cream, a jar of raspberry jam, a pitcher of milk, and some sugar cubes. Heaven.






Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fells Walking

The Lake District was carved by glaciers. The valleys are deep and steep sided, the peaks rocky and thin soiled. The botany was carved by sheep and shepherds; there are few tress, close-cropped grasses, and sheep poop everywhere. The “trails” were not, as one older woman with a backpack and a thirty year old map informed us, built, but follow in the footsteps of early settlers, who took the shortest way between two points, which usually meant up and over. Switchbacks are rare. “There’s a reason,” she told us proudly, “that the British make such excellent mountaineers.” She’s right—I have not encountered such walks since I left New England, another glaciated mountain range with trails laid down before the switchback. The Lake District feels like Mount Washington.

Because all of the fells radiate out from a central point, there is no easy way to move across the Lake District, or from one valley to the next. You have to climb up, over, and down. The trail meanders along a stream for a bit, then turns drastically upward, following the “gill” or ravine of water.  Trails climb 1000 feet in a mile. A maintained trail is often a series of steps made from local stone, swaying back and forth across the stream. Unmaintained, they deteriorate into a mass of scree and wet gravel. Slow and steady brings hikers to the peaks, where you can see the trails winding out along the range for miles. If you loose the trail for a moment squelching through a boggy area, climb the hill and study the landscape. The trail will appear, as will tarns and bogs, wild places and sheep.


Ridge walking is popular in Britain. Walking through woods is just—boring. Nothing to see but…well, trees. When you climb the fells, the whole civilized world spreads out under your feet. There’s Grasmere, where we are heading for a cream tea. There, around that other peak, is the final glimpse of the Irish Sea and the windmills. And there’s Stonethwaite, where we spent last night, nestled in the wooded valley. There is where the trail come in from St Sunday—the recommended route for people who want views but not scary drop-offs. And there, in front of us, is the base of Helvellyn, highest point of the trail. We climb, slowly, steadily up the granite constructed path, stare in amazement when three mountain bikers attempt to ride down (all three quickly dismount and walk their bikes), emerge on the moonlike surface of the ridge.

The biggest, best, more scary ridge of all is named “Striding Edge” and it drops off of Dark Helvellyn, as the Romantic poets called it. It was not dark, but bright, on the quiet late afternoon when we crossed the ridge, but we did not stride—we climbed and crept. The trail down began with some very slippery scree and gravel, shale falling beneath your feet. We moved slowly down, using hands and poles. A couple was climbing up at the same time and paused for us to pass; I remembered that up is always easier up than down on these surfaces. At the base of the scree slope (the worse part, by far), Mark tied up his poles and broke out his old rock climbing moves, moving, spider-like across the rock face. “It’s not bad,” he called back, grinning. I dropped my pole down and joined him. The rock was solid here, with perfect hand and footholds. Not bad, indeed. We moved downhill. At the base, the rock changed once again to square boulders  and we clambered up like climbing a play structure. An older man appeared and assured us that we were on the right track, just keep going. We stood to  walk along the ridge, open air on either side, steep drops down to a tarn on the right – we could hear the voices of people wading echoing up—and gravel and rock on the left. But we were solid on boulders, five foot wide path, world open all around.

Hiking the fells brings back muscle memories from the White Mountains. I remember the “run” downhill, when the trail is large boulders which shift underfoot. It is easier to loosen your hold on the earth, shift weight to the insides of your feet, and move lightly, channeling a mountain goat, down the hill, rather than carefully placing every step, watching up for unsteady rock. Touch it and be gone. Trust to balance. In wet areas, the game shifts slightly to “taking the high road” and leaping lightly from high rock to high rock, once again, not pausing to think about footing. Touch and Go. I try and explain the movement to Mark, but he is burdened by heavy boots, not sandals, and moves slowly downstream. He is also unwilling, the first day, to try the other method of moving down hill—the Butt Slide. When the trail drops off the edge of the world, and all you can see is steep slippery rock heading down—toss the walking stick over the edge, sit down, and slide. It’s not dignified but it is highly effective.


After a few days, I, too, am sold on the High Routes. It is clear that even the “low route” requires some serious climbing, so why not go a little higher and walk the ridge, rather than dropping back into the river valleys? Earn the cream scone? Come into town in the quiet light of late afternoon, head for dinner and a bath, and know that you have, once again, been to High Places? 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July Work List

July Work List


If June, after school is out, is the Friday afternoon of summer, full of anticipation, quick trips, and big plans, July is the Saturday, the time when the vacation feels endless, there is no pressure to finish anything, and  the world is free of stress and commitments. Like June, July is about maintaining existing patterns, not creating new ones.

·       Last mow and trim of the summer
·       Early Harvest of garlic and peas
·       Beets and plums are ready—pickle them for winter
·       Distribute surplus plums
·       Pick Blueberries for freezing and drying
·       Bake blueberry pies
·       Make gooseberry and red currant preserves
·       Read
·       Contemplate the growth of the pole beans
·       Find new zucchini recipes
·       Harvest honey
·       Integrate the chicken flock
·       Take long hikes to mountain lakes
·       Drink iced tea at Clear Lake
·       Water all of the gardens
·       Summer pruning of the suckering fruit trees


Summer Pizza:

Roll out half a batch of bread dough, arrange on the pizza pan, and allow to rest for half an hour.


Spread one jar of roasted tomatoes, sliced zucchini, shredded fresh basil, new garlic, and some walla walla onions over the base. Cover with mozzarella cheese and bake.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Great Weeding

We have been gone for three weeks, walking across England. Late June and early July is not a bad time to leave Corvallis or the garden. I missed the trash piles of students moving out, the last few grey rainy days, and the end of cherry and pea season. Other than that, the garden was all in and growing, but not producing anything I had to process for winter.  That being said, it did grow while I was gone and the innocent weedy plants, like nasturtiums and amaranth, which I often leave to keep the insects happy, took over several beds.
I have been hacking back for two days now. I have a system, developed over the years, for such occasions. I start in the back bed, weeding, transplanting, mulching, repairing the hoses, tying up the vines-- whatever needs to be done for that bed—and then I trim out the grass around it and move onto the next. It is very efficient. All of the tools are out at once, which reduces the wandering around factor. I can always tell where I left off, if I am called away for a meeting or phone call, because the bed is not trimmed out yet.  There’s immediate gratification that comes with seeing a neatly mulched and trimmed bed, even if it is only the first, that would not happen if I weeded all of them at once. And it reduces the number of blisters I get from too much aggressive trimming. When I have finished one side of the garden, I turn on the soaker hoses and move over to the other side, watching for leaks and sprays as I work. When the back gardens are done, I move to the front.
While I was working this morning, I was very aware of all of the other creatures that use my veg garden. The few old peas that were left on the vines had been nibbled out; someone had gnawed through the seams and eaten the peas. I found a small rodent nest behind the lovage, where someone else had dragged a few stalks of ceremonial wheat in for a snack. There was a small pile of possum poop in the back of the potato bed and a young pumpkin hidden in the grass between the beds, half eaten. As I trimmed, I encountered ants and spiders, pillbugs and the occasional slug. Honeybees and bumblebees where disturbed when I pulled out a huge borage plant. I could see where Bunzilla had chomped on a low hanging kale leaf and where the cats had been napping under the rhubarb. Fortunately, the chickens had been too interested in dropped cherries a few days ago when they were loose to wreck havoc on any plants, although there was signs of a dust bath up near the house. Life clearly goes on in the back yard when I am not around, perhaps even more so.
The back garden in now pretty much in order. The vines are tamed, the potatoes mulched, the beds trimmed for the summer. There will not be another spurt of rampant growth that will need to be reigned in again; the season is about to dry out, the grass is ready to go dormant for the summer, and I will be home to keep an eye on things. The leeks and parsnips are breathing a sigh of relief, but I don’t know about the other living creatures.

Summer Salad-- good for a warm day when you do not feel like cooking

Chop half a red onion and a couple of stalks of celery. Toss in the bowl. Add a can of garbanzo beans and a can of tuna. Toss with about a quarter of a cup of mayo, a gulp of red wine vinegar, some pepper and chopped basil (fresh is nice, but dried will do). Arrange on a bed of lettuce. You can get fancy and add hard-boiled eggs or sliced tomatoes around the edges.  Weirdly enough, french fries are a nice touch.