Yesterday morning as I stood at the sink with a vegetable scrubber in one hand and a large, garden-fresh tomato in the other, the radio tuned to NPR and my son playing in the living room, I realized I was being tested. I was surrounded by counterfuls of 50 muddy tomatoes, a bag of dirty twisted carrots, a dozen dull red beets, a few bunches of concord grapes, a quart jar each of grape and black currant juice, and a few remaining canning jars, already depleted by my apple butter stint. All this produce equaled one thing: harvest time. Was I up to the task?
I have longed for and dreamed of having my own garden, my own land, my own piece of earth to work how I please. And a small bite of that reality was sitting on my counters. No, I don't have that piece of land to call my own and no, I didn't even have that big garden. But, through the graciousness of relatives and friends, I have been able to take part in the blessings of their harvest by turning their produce into food for my family with some extra to share with friends. It has been difficult to stay on top of the abundance. I am ashamed to say that there has been some waste. I guess I never realized how much planning it takes to use everything you have - to use the thrift factor too. If I had a very large garden, I think at this point in my life I would be completely overwhelmed.
I think we live in a culture that always has to have the new and to have it now. I find it so easy to be sucked into the consuming culture when all I really desperately want is to slow down and use the blessings and talents I've been given to create a simple, comfortable home for my family. And here was the reality on a very small scale. If I really do make that second batch of salsa, can the grape and black currant jellies, juice the carrots, and pickle the beets, will I have passed the test? I think so. Homesteading isn't necessarily being on that homestead at the end of the road, it's having little successes along the way. Little steps at a time that get me toward that goal, and steps that also help me enjoy myself along the way. When I do get to that dream spot of land, I'll have already honed the skills that will make my homesteading dream a success.
So, almost three weeks have passed since I canned the pickles. I know you're supposed to let them sit for like 2 months, but I figured I was safe testing the pickle chips. I took them over to a friend's house so we could share in my triumph (or failure!). Luckily, they tasted amazingly delicious! While they weren't crunchy, the flavor was great. Whew! That recipe is a keeper.
Yesterday I made apple butter with the three varieties of apples I collected. Making the apple butter brought back so many memories! The last time I made apple butter was when I was 16 or 17 and we lived in our dream house (rental)- a large ranch with green, red, and cream plaid carpet with matching couches (yeah, for real!), a full finished basement, a Hoosier in the kitchen, a wood burning stove, a town with amazingly delicious tap water, a huge backyard next to the baseball diamond and three apple trees. Man, I loved that house. The apple trees were a huge bonus. I made soooo much apple butter, but those jars didn't last very long. We polished off a jar a day, literally.
Over the years and with a very particular idea of what it should taste like, I became an apple butter snob. Apple butter just needs to be a certain way. It shouldn't be too thick, but not runny either - a happy medium. It needs a creamy texture, a beautiful deep golden brown color, and when it hits your tongue, your mouth is enveloped in a warmth of spices even if it's refrigerator cold.
My favorite way to eat apple butter is on peanut butter toast with just the right ratio of each type of butter. For those of you unfortunates that have never heard of or tasted apple butter you need to try it. Unlike the name suggests, it doesn't have butter in it at all - hooray for fat free! Apple butter is more like a condensed apple sauce with sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. It is so divine and I think it's the perfect way to preserve that apple harvest! Apple butter locks in those sweet, heady apple scents and when you taste it, it's like taking a bite out of autumn. I hope you take the opportunity to try it. Breathe in the scent... Aaaaah. This is where it's at, folks. The simple things that make life so delicious.
As my harvest has been sporradic and lacking I have been reaping the rewards of other people's harvests. We got free peaches and apples from my in-laws, a large bag of cheap apples from the farmer's market as well as a bag of apricots, and 3 huge zucchini from a neighbor. When it comes to the peaches and apricots, I can't bring myself to make jam. We just don't eat a lot of jam, so why have it sitting around for 5 years? So, I've been trying to come up with more creative ways to use this abundance of produce.
Since I couldn't think of what to do with the peaches and apricots before they went bad, I froze them. The zucchini I plan on drying. And after a week of the apples sitting on my counter and racking my brain, it suddenly hit me that I haven't made apple butter in years and I've been craving a good apple butter! If you've never tried apple butter, go to the store and at least buy a jar. (But don't buy Smuckers! They have no idea what apple butter is supposed to taste like.) It is so spicy and divine! Maybe it's a mid-west thing because anyone I've asked out here in the west has no idea what the heck apple butter is.
I might get creative and make some apricot butter too. Mmmm. That sounds really good. Here's to abundant harvests!
I successfully canned some salsa the day after the cucumbers. I would have prefered to rest. This pregnancy has been exhausting, but I muscled through and finished the salsa because I didn't want my tomatoes to go bad. I really liked how the salsa turned out, but I'm not sure about cumin in the recipe. It's a weird flavor to me for salsa, so I might leave it out next time to see how it tastes.
Drying laundry by clothes rack has been wonderful and not the pain I thought it might be. I finally got another one this month and having two means I can do, at the most, two loads of laundry in a day. We also have a good length of fence which works wonders for the bigger and heavier things. We have had to use the dryer only twice since getting the racks and one evening I realized I had left wet laundry in the washer. Since the sun had almost set I was afraid I would have to dry the clothes in the dryer, but then realized I could just let them dry on the racks in the living room. It worked great!
One unexpected side affect from using a clothes rack is that I have this delicious sense of peace when I put the clothes on the rack and glance out my window to see them drying in the sun. There's just something so silent and satisfying about it and I don't miss the dryer at all. I really was not expecting this feeling, but I think deep down, I have been craving the need to slow down and to appreciate the little things in life like the sun drying the clothes my family wears. It's something so simple but it's amazing the difference that it has made in my life.
I guess when I get an idea in my head, I don't think about whether I can actually do it or not or if it's feasible or if I have the time or resources. I'm just one determined person! Well, when I went to the farmer's market, one farmer was selling pickling cucumbers 10 for $1. How could I pass that up? I bought $1 worth, but realized that wasn't enough, so the next weekend I bought another $2 worth.
So, I had 30 cucumbers and I was determined to pickle them. Never mind that I had never made pickles in my life. Never mind that I was out of canning jars. Never mind that when I finally got everything I needed all together it was 7 o'clock at night! I got my toddler in bed, and despite my exhaustion from the day I made those darn pickles. In fact, I made mostly chips with only two jars of whole pickles. And don't they just look beautiful? There is something so amazingly satisfying about seeing the rows of freshly canned produce that we'll be able to enjoy weeks and months down the road. I sure hope they taste good!
My next project - salsa. (I just got 2 bags of tomatoes from a relative and we eat a lot of salsa around here.)