The End of Summer

The end of summer.

‘Twas yesterday eve that I felt the shift.  The night temperatures would fall much too cold for summer crops.  I gathered my long shawl- orange and reds to match the changing leaves- across my hair and over my shoulders to keep the encroaching dusk chill away and gathered my baskets.

Out into the gardens with falling light I felt for vegetables and fruits in the dirt, on vines, hidden in lush leaves, swiftly clipping and twisting them into my hands.  Watermelons, butternut squash, yellow squash, poblanos, chilies, jalapenos, green peppers, and dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes came tumbling in.

Into the warm house where the fire was lit and the candles dazzled the rainy night.  For rain it poured and torrents of it came, while lightening bid farewell to the summer night games.  An autumn chill has descended here and the nights will stay cool as the sun tends to fall asleep early and the gardening days of fall are almost done.

The oil lamps lit, and candles brighten pages of good books.  And the darkness descends us into a warming rest.  I took a sip of tea and watched him put another log on the fire.

Sunchokes (food security,beauty, and preservation tips)

We were back at my beautiful great aunt Donna’s house gathering sunchokes.  I wrote about these gems last fall.  Their other name is Jerusalem artichokes.  I write to you seasonally so the last thing that was available and the first thing that is available seems to be sunchokes!

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These lovely tubers are much like potatoes with a satisfying jicama crunch.  They can be nibbled on plain, sliced and put into salads, or roasted along with carrots and potatoes under a whole chicken in a Dutch oven, which is what I served on Mother’s Day.

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This beautiful flower/food promises food security as well.  During summer and fall their sunflower heads show protectively and regally over the garden beds.  In the spring and fall they provide delicious foods at their roots.  In aunt Donna’s words, “You will never get rid of them!”  Oh, I hope not.  They are such a delight.

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Last fall when I wrote you about these vegetables I placed a few in a sandwich bag.  Then forgot about them.  They went from David’s house to our apartment.  From one vegetable drawer to another.  Seven months later I pulled them out and they are just as fresh and crisp as they were when I harvested them.

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So, to preserve (though I think you can store them in a root cellar just as you would a potato) scrub clean, place dry in gallon freezer bags and store in the refrigerator.  Then you will always have some on hand for cooking, mashing, roasting, slicing, and for summer salads.  Most certainly a great food for any homestead.

Found Vegetables (dreams, hidden gardens)

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I dreamt it was there.  I dreamt that there were vegetables growing at our old house in Kiowa.  I woke up thinking that was preposterous because our weather hasn’t allowed anyone to have vegetables yet!  We decided to go have a look anyway yesterday while driving though.  The house wears a large foreclosure notice on it.  The landlords wanted us to buy the place or move so they could but that must not have worked out and so the old farm in town on two-thirds of an acre sits with three foot high grass and hidden treasures.  I figured the bank wouldn’t mind.  Being raised by a dad who was captain of the sheriff’s department makes one slightly paranoid about breaking the law.  But I planted this stuff, for crying out loud!

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At the end we left with four huge buckets of onions, beets, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs.  There were potatoes and many more things growing should someone move in before fall.  What a bounty and a surprise!

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I should listen to my dreams more often!

Harvesting From the Marsh (or one’s back yard)

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It was the first really warm day yesterday.  Beautiful.  The birds sang and the sun shone truly bright and comforting as I found my way through the foot high brush in the marsh.  Water snaked its way through patches as the large, old willow tree, in all its knowledge of history past hundred years or so, drank steadily and protected the greenery beneath.  Plantain has sprung up.  Used to heal wounds and also as food, it is a welcome sight.  Dandelions grow tall and bush-like, tantalizing me with its toothed leaves and delicious flavors highlighted by the sunny yellow flowers.  Dock rose up in long slender arms and invited me to have some.  It is a powerful blood cleanser, anti-cancer, and healing to the liver, but one wouldn’t know by its mild bite and delicious addition to meals.  Lamb’s Quarters showed shyly between wild grasses.

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Wild strawberry leaves sit between plantain leaves and take me to memories past.  A walk in the woods with my best friend some twenty-four years ago but really a day ago it seems.  We walked and dreamed.  Seventeen years old and filled with hope and certainty that our friendship would stand the tests of time.  We walked without shirts on, unbidden and wild and innocence, in dappled sunlight we walked in carefree youth and joy.  We agreed to meet ten years from the date with our families and walk this way again.  August 11, 2001 came and went as did 2011 and I only wish her great joy and blessings on her path in her own woods.  Strawberries will make a luxurious addition to our salads.

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We walked further, accidentally frightened frogs, and came across the pond.  Looking up into another ancient willow sat four birds.  Large owls sat in statue.  The husband, wife, and two infants, large and downy, flew one by one.  A gift for this fine day of free food and soulful walking.  How great is nature to provide vast amounts of food for us.  Free for the taking, ten times more nutritious than cultivated greens.  Cleansing, and filling, and healing.

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Try wild greens on mixed salad.  Or top pizza before baking.  Roast with potatoes and garlic.  Sauté with bacon and mushrooms.  Make into a smoothie.  Indulge.  Wild greens are actually milder than spinach.  There are many ways to prepare it.  In gratitude is the best way.

Dock has tasty greens.  Harvest the root in fall to make detoxifying extracts.

Dock has tasty greens. Harvest the root in fall to make detoxifying extracts.

Lamb's quarters are found in many back yards proving that weeds can be delicious!

Lamb’s quarters are found in many back yards proving that weeds can be delicious!

Dandelion flowers can be made into jelly or fritters and the greens sautéed, roasted, or eaten fresh.  The roots can be used to make immunity boosting extracts.

Dandelion flowers can be made into jelly or fritters and the greens sautéed, roasted, or eaten fresh. The roots can be used to make immunity boosting extracts.

Cut herbs like plantain with a sharp knife and only take up to one third of what you find.  Be grateful.  It makes the food more nutritious and healing.

Cut herbs like plantain with a sharp knife and only take up to one third of what you find. Be grateful. It makes the food more nutritious and healing.

Owl in tree.

Owl in tree.

Watching owls take flight.

Watching owls take flight.

Rainstorm moving in.

Rainstorm moving in.

The Apple Harvest (and the sweetness of family)

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Aunt Donna invited us over to pick up firewood and to pick apples.  She could have invited a hundred people over for apples.  Her tree was so heavy laden with gloriously delicious apples that I rather fear a good many up high will go to waste.  After biting into the scrumptious orb I realized that the wonderful three boxes gifted to us from friends almost two months ago were not ripe.  I spent hours and hours in the kitchen prepping and canning and making apple sauce all to realize that they came out rather sour.  Healthy and still good, but I should have been patient.  Apples are to be picked in the latter part of September and into October.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma's sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

Emily, Maryjane, Grandma, Me, and Grandma’s sister, Donna last year at the grape harvest.

You have been to Aunt Donna’s with me before.  We went last year to join in the harvest of her bountiful grapes which we made jugs of delicious juice from. This year the vines hold little and the little apple tree that was average last year has outdone itself with bounty.  Next year we shouldn’t expect apples.  There is an ebb and flow to everything, I realize.  Droughts, rains, snows….heat, cool….last year the tomatoes were plentiful, this year the cold crops did exceptionally well.  It is a good representation of life.  Our lives are a constant ebb and flow of births, deaths, good times, sad times, memories, and moments.  Each day precious.  And what a glorious day to be at my beautiful aunt’s house, the one who helped inspire my farming and has answered questions over the years.

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Maryjane is an excellent harvester.  She at times surprises me with how intelligent she is.  She is so tiny but if you give her instructions she will follow them.  She is also the cutest forager I have ever seen!  Her mother is pretty cute too.

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Emily and I split a box of apples.  She was turning hers into caramel apples.  I may try to store mine.  We feel blessed to have access to fresh, nutritious food that didn’t cost us anything and for generations of fabulous men and women to teach and love us.  Such a sweet life.

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The Great Corn Experiment

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I have alternated playing American Indian and pioneer since I was a child.  I suppose I am still playing.  I have rows of the best corn I have ever grown.  Anyway, they look pretty.  We have had some issues with knowing what to do now.  Doug pulled a nice big ear off one of the stalks.  Now, mind you, you only get two ears on each stalk, so this stuff is precious commodity.

“Yuck, it’s not done.”

He went to throw it to the chickens.  I was horrified.

“Oh no, mister, you eat it.  You picked it, you eat it!”

He threw it to the chickens.

So, I asked my friend who has a very large farm how to know when the corn is ready for picking.  When the corn is full and the silks turn brown.

“Can I open it to peek?”

“Sure.”

A few days ago, my friend, Rich, pulled up to visit while I was watering outside.  He said that he had grown up on a farm and left when he was fourteen.  He hadn’t been in a corn field for many, many years.  My cute little corn field of three long rows suited him just fine though, standing there like a mesmerized eight year old.  I went to peek at an ear of corn.

“You never open the corn!”  He boomed.  “You’ll ruin it!  See,” he says, “It will start to bend off of the plant.  Then it is ready to pick.”

I merrily skipped through my corn field yesterday picking all the leaning ears.  Half were done.

smoke signals (This picture is from the seed catalogue.  They apparently know when to harvest.)

I planted three different varieties of heirloom corn.  Two of which are Indian corn.  Smoke signals is a lovely multi-colored stalk of rainbow colors.  I plan to see if I can dry it and make popcorn.  The other is called Black Aztec and is an exciting smoky color.  I plan to dry it and use as corn meal.  The third is an old variety of sweet corn.  Not as sweet as Peaches and Cream, that’s for darn sure, but tasty in its own way.  I have some ears that I am ready to dry.  I am going to place them in a wire basket in the basement “root cellar” and see if they will dry and not mold.  Am I doing this right?

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Doug and I visit old pioneer houses that have been made into museums everywhere we travel (we think of decorating ideas and what we need on our homestead while there!) and one of these places held corn on a rake-like contraption hung from the ceiling.  I suppose I could hang a regular rake from the ceiling, but I am rather tall, and likely will hit my head.  Down in the dungeon it goes in hopes of drying properly.  Then off the cobb, through my handy dandy grain grinder and into cornmeal.  Or into the pan for some sweet, old time popcorn!

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This is our practice farm, remember, so we are experimenting with different types of corn and how to be more self sufficient.  We both love corn, and corn meal, and popcorn, so we best know how to grow it (and when to harvest it!) and preserve it so that on our next homestead we will be sitting pretty with our bowls of popcorn, “real” corn field, and dried corn….maybe hanging from the ceiling.