Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nasturtiums

I planted my first packet of nasturtium seeds when I was about 12 years old.
I don't recall if I had selected the seeds and paid for them from my allowance, or if my father brought them home.
I planted the seeds in what had once been a play area on the north side of our small house, a spot that was also open to mid-morning sunshine.
The seeds germinated and soon the scarlet blooms appeared on long slender stems.
I planted nasturtiums there each year until I married and moved away.
Nasturtiums became a staple of my flower gardens.
I loved the variety 'Alaska' with its compact plants and white-splotched leaves.
'Empress of India' was a joy with smaller blue-green leaves, a trailing habit and small blooms of deepest red.

I had every expectation that nasturtiums would flourish in a porch planter in Kentucky.
I tucked in seeds of several varieties: 'Moonlight,' 'Whirlybird.' Dwarf Jewel--if they bothered to germinate they were pathetically feeble. 
I had hopes one summer that there might be a few blossoms, only to discover on a hot July morning that a visiting cabbage worm had destroyed the plants, leaf and bud.

This spring I bought a 4-pack of nasturtium starts, coddled them indoors on the pantry windowsill until warm weather moved in to stay.
I tucked them into a big pot, poked in sticks to discourage cultivation by cats, and more or less resigned myself to another failure.
The nasturtiums grew, producing long loops of green vine.  I wound them around a wicker support, watered, turned them toward the sun.
I was rewarded with a continuous parade of orange-red blooms.
By late August the plants had seen their best days, They were leggy, tired, but still producing flowers.
I snipped and propped, reluctant to let them go.
Discovering a two year old packet of seed, I tucked a few in amongst the weary stems.

By mid September I had vigorous plants, but wondered if frost would hold off long enough for blooms.

In this strange mild autumn there was no threat of frost until last week, and the first tiny buds swelled and opened.
On two chilly nights I swaddled the pot in an old tablecloth.

A week ago the forecast was for overnight temperatures of 29 F.
I lugged the pot through the house, into the sun room.

The best I can give it is a spot in one of the east windows.
Predictably, the lower leaves are turning yellow.
Still, for perhaps a week or two more I can enjoy a profusion of blooms, extending summer and having the joy of viewing my nasturtiums close by.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Slaving Over a Hot Stove


Morning was cool here, the sky a pearly grey.
Jim wanted French toast with a topping made from frozen blueberries--a fairly quick breakfast as we intended to get voting over with early and get on with our day.

I bought more apples yesterday from the Beachy Amish family up the ridge.
I dithered over my selection, knowing that Empires make lovely applesauce, but intrigued with several varieties which had been brought in from Pennsylvania since my last purchase.
I came home with a half bushel bag of Winesaps [a favorite] and a bag of York [aka York Imperial] an apple with which I was not familiar.
Jim immediately bit into a York and declared it not as crisp as the Winesaps.

From wikipeda: This cultivar has a tart yet sweet taste, and keeps extremely well, becoming sweeter and mellower-tasting over time. It sweetens in flavor for 5–6 months after it is picked. The York Imperial is excellent for baking, cooking, apple sauce, cider, preserves, jams, dried apple slices, and juice, as well as eating fresh. The 'York Imperial' is one of the few apple cultivars to have survived for 180 years. It is still commonly grown in orchards and backyards in the continental United States, especially Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. It was often exported to Europe before import restrictions were implemented.
In addition to its native region of south-central Pennsylvania, the 'York Imperial' is now also grown along the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  

A laundry load of sheets pegged onto the back porch lines, bed freshly made, jeans and shirts tumbling in the dryer and I decided to spend the rest of the day making applesauce to can.

Stewing the apples is a long, slow process, one that does well on the wood stove.
The day seemed cool enough that the wood fire might be pleasant rather than stifling.
I soon had three kettles of apples simmering,so turned my attention to cooking dinner on the wood stove as well.
The kitchen grew hotter. 
Kettles and pans needed to be twitched about so that the apples cooked without scorching.  Potatoes were nearly jumping in their covered saucepan and needed to be pulled to a cooler spot. Salmon patties sizzled in a buttered skillet.
The kitchen was overly warm!
I opened a window to let in cooler air.
I opened the door into the sunroom off the back hallway.
My face felt flushed and my shirt clung to my back.

I discovered that York Imperial apples take considerably longer to cook than others I have used.
I set the canner on the stove, poured in water and left it to begin heating while I put the hot stewed apples through the foley mill, stirred in sugar, ladled the sauce into quart jars.
I added more wood to the fire.
 Jim, on a meander through the kitchen, tweaked the dampers for maximum heat. 
Water bubbled and boiled around the jars in the canner.

The fire has died to embers, the canner is resting on the coolest part of the big black range. 
Kettles, ladles, wooden spoons, have been washed, my work area tidied.
The cats have sprawled near the stove.
A gentle mist of rain has fallen intermittently through the evening. 

As I've labored over the applesauce I've pondered the work of our fore-mothers during the many years before electric or gas cookstoves became commonplace.
Every meal was cooked over a blazing hearth, or on a 'range' fired by wood or coal.
I choose to make applesauce [among other things] on the woodstove during the cooler months from a sense of old-fashioned frugality. 
But--I have the option of using my electric cooktop and oven, the microwave, the crockpot in preparing a meal. 
I could buy the uniformly pale and rather insipid applesauce available in any supermarket.
I appreciate the sense of satisfaction, that feeling of carrying on a frugal tradition when I view the rows of filled jars on the basement pantry shelves. 
No doubt this pride of accomplishment was shared by my fore-mothers.
I'm guessing that, like me, they admitted to the weariness of  hours spent slicing, stirring, ladling, bottling, in a too warm kitchen.
I have more apples. 
I will not make applesauce tomorrow!
The apples will keep until a day when the warmth of the wood fire is more welcome.






Monday, October 24, 2016

Applesauce


Mornings have been cool during the past week.
I enjoy the ritual of making a fire in the big black woodstove as daylight seeps slowly over the ridge.
As you can see, the neighbors who rent our 'big' farmhouse at the foot of the lane, also built a fire to ward off the chill of the early hours.
Most days we let the fire burn itself out about mid-day, sometimes stirring the embers into fresh life if the evening is damp.


Last week I brought home a half bushel of Empire apples from the Beachy Amish produce farm located about a mile up the ridge road.
The Beachy family does not grow the apples, but had them trucked in from a Pennsylvania orchard.
We have in previous years been disappointed in apples grown locally.
Raised on the crisp sweet/tart varieties that flourish in our native New England we found 'southern' apples lacking in distinctive taste and texture.
The PA apples are everything that a good apple should be!

On Friday afternoon I was inspired to stew up a kettle-full of apples for applesauce.
It was a rather gloomy day and we kept the wood fire puttering along.
I cooked my apples on the electric cook-top--only realizing as I began to sieve the sauce through the Foley mill, that I could have simmered them on the wood stove!
[We do most of our stove-top cooking on the wood stove during the colder months, but apparently my brain hadn't made the transition!]
The applesauce was so good that I decided to make more and put it up in jars.



Canning applesauce is a tedious process--putting it up in freezer containers saves a step--but we have no  room in the freezer!
On Sunday evening a second batch of apples stewed gently and fragrantly on the wood range.
This morning I decanted it into glass jars, and with the fire at a subdued roar, set the water-bath canner on the stove.
Later, I collected my neighbor and drove with her back up the ridge where I purchased another bushel of apples--a bag of Empires and a bag of Winesaps.

Applesauce production took over the kitchen for the remainder of the day.
The sun warmed to higher temperatures than predicted and by early afternoon I had opened one of the kitchen windows.
When Jim came in for dinner he made his plate and immediately decamped with it to the living room--where he opened another window.
Evening found us with two windows open in the kitchen, an electric fan set up at the edge of the front hall--and in desperation--the A/C turned on!



For my labors I have 16 pint jars, 3 qt jars of applesauce, plus a bowlful delivered next door and some consumed at breakfast. 
I could, of course, have made applesauce using the electric cooktop.
I am wary of setting the heavy canner full of jars and boiling water on the glass top--such a modern appliance wasn't designed for such old-fashioned cookery.
I am pleased with the accomplishment of the day--but truly--it is a good deal of effort expended for the resulting product.
I am fall-over tired tonight! The fingers of my right hand have taken on the shape of my paring knife's handle. My shoulders are aching.
As with all such projects, I remind myself that it will be a delight to serve the applesauce over waffles on a January morning, or add it to a simple supper on a snowy evening.
I have more apples to process.
I daresay I will wait for a day when the constant heat of the woodstove  will be more appreciated.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Ketner's Mill Festival

Two mule-drawn wagons were available to take fair-goers on a jolting ride around the perimeter of the field.

Updated to add a working link to Ketner's Mill. The 'history' of the mill and photos of previous fairs give a better presentation than my few photos.

Last Friday we traveled to Tennessee to spend the weekend at the lovely home of our niece and her husband.  She had planned an outing for us, along with our son and his wife, to the old time fair at  Ketner's Mill

It was a lovely blue sky day--warm, but not too hot for strolling around outdoors.
Our niece had been there before and noted that many people brought their dogs--on leads--so son Howard's beloved Katy and the newer addition to the family, Dixie [aka Melon-Head] were along for the day.


It was difficult to take photos with so many people moving about--although it was an orderly crowd.
Small children trailed along nicely with parents, there were no dog fights.
Howard's dogs submitted politely to attention and occasional pats--although Katy is a bit wary of strangers.
A bakery stall was set up near the old mill with delectable-looking loaves, rolls and other baked goods. Another nearby display featured 'grits' [a staple of southern breakfasts] and various types of cornmeal packaged in neat paper or cloth sacks.
Our niece's husband stepped up to a booth where lemonade was offered--the lemons squeezed on the spot for each order.  I was treated to a tall icy cupful--sweet, tangy--and rather pricey!

A southern fair isn't complete without kettle corn! 
From wikipedia: "Kettle corn was introduced to the United States in the 18th century.
It was a treat sold at fairs or consumed at other festive occasions. The corn, oil, sugar, and salt are cooked together in a cast iron kettle, or possibly a Dutch oven. This produces a noticeable sweet crust on the popcorn; however, this method requires constant stirring or the sugar will burn. Alternatively, a batch of plain popped corn can be sweetened with sugar or honey before adding salt. This combination was widely popular in the early 19th century but fell from wide usage during the 20th century. In the early 21st century, kettle corn made a comeback in America, especially at 19th-century living history events. It is cooked and sold at fairs and flea markets throughout the United States, especially art and craft shows. Although modern kettle corn is commonly cooked in stainless steel or copper kettles because of their lighter weight, cast iron cauldrons are still used to publicly cook the corn and mix the ingredients to retain the original flavor."

I'm not a fan of 'popcorn' in any guise, but I noted folks lugging around huge bags of the treat.
The smells from vendors'stalls offering onion rings, hot dogs, hamburgers--standard outdoor food-- competed to lure long lines of customers.

Dawn and I heard strains of fiddle music and followed the sound to where a white-bearded man in overalls was practicing jigs and reels with a lady whom he introduced to us as 'Granny."  She was seated on a convenient tree stump, with a guitar. 
We later saw them presenting a round of songs from an improvised 'stage' in the center of the field.


Jim and I were drawn to this shed where sorghum was being boiled down.
The process is similar to that of making maple syrup.
The finished product was arranged in gleaming jars on a table just outside the shed.
From the dresses and caps of the young women tending the stall this was a Mennonite family.

                               

Part of sorghum production is crushing the sorghum stalks to extract the raw 'juice.'
You can see that the mule is pulling a pole attached to the mill, while a young man feeds in the stalks of cane. 


Sorghum is little known or used in New England. 
[we had maple syrup!]
It was a familiar condiment in my late father-in-law's boyhood home in North Carolina.
He brought some with him one year when he and Jim's Mom made their annual summer pilgrimage to our place in Vermont. 
Sorghum has a heavier consistency than maple syrup--good to smear on hot biscuits or corn bread.


The crafts presented by the various vendors were of high quality. 
Wooden bowls; handsome cutting boards created checker-board fashion with a variety of woods; 
handmade soaps and candles, delectably scented; metal lawn ornaments, paintings; 
Dawn and I coveted the soft shawls and scarves on display at the spinner's booth--but $90 for a scarf was beyond our means!


I glanced surreptitiously at the price tag on one of these lovely reproduction Windsor chairs--$500.
Again--out of my range, but I hoped the craftsman sold a few--or at least took orders.
I did notice one woman flourishing a credit card and then proudly trudging off with a chair.



We misplaced Jim for a bit in a booth where a man was displaying his paintings of vintage tractors.
When he rejoined us we rounded up our gang and decided it was time to leave the fair.
On our way toward the parking field Howard drifted over to this modestly restored vintage truck.
Of course he fell into conversation with the 'old boy' owner.


For some reason, that gentleman felt I should pose by his truck and have my picture taken!
I assured him that I was happier behind the camera, but Howard was persuaded to oblige.


Howard and Dawn have chosen a house in the rural valley town a few miles from Ketner's Mill.
We were delighted that we could view the house inside and out.
I had seen the realtor's photos online and chose not to take photos of the empty rooms.
There is a fenced back yard--for the dogs--and great potential for an appealing home--with Howard's considerable renovating skills and Dawn's good sense of style and colors.  The back deck and front steps appear to be originals to the 1998 construction.  As soon as the closing takes place [next week, we hope] Jim will go back down to assist in the replacement of the decks.

A scrumptious dinner in honor of our niece's husband's birthday finished our long and happy day.
Perhaps not surprisingly, we all--including the dogs--crashed rather early in the evening!

I'm already thinking that Ketner's Mill Festival may become an annual outing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Morning Faces of Autumn


After a long hot summer it has seemed as though the transition to fall weather has been abrupt.
A few days past the equinox there were storms, a brief return to hot days, then a sudden plunge to chilly mornings and evenings.
We have had a fire several mornings and have rummaged out long-sleeved shirts. I wake under a pile of cats who have made themselves comfortable sometime during the night.
Although it is still nearly dark at 6 a.m. the cats are agitating for me to be up.
They rumble down the stairs and congregate at the front door, anxious for the first whiff of fresh air, the first exploration of dew-soaked grass at the edge of the front porch.


The sky brightens slowly, pale apricot streaks against milky blue.




It was quiet when I walked to the pond along the road, the milk goats, the kids and their guard dogs still in the barn.  The dry goats were beginning to stir by the pasture gate, hopeful that I might have a tidbit to share.
A fish leaped in the water as I walked along the edge;  the ripples of its sudden movement flattened leaving the surface of the pond calm and glassy, reflecting the trees along the farther bank.


I picked my way along the fence, its sagging wire burdened with the weight of tangled morning glory vines, leaning goldenrod, towering stalks of gone-to-seed ironweed.


A riff of wind stirs the ironweed which is taller than I am, sculpting the seed heads against a background of blue sky.


One richly flowering plant crouches low in the tangle of wet grass around my feet.
I have worn my leather work boots, and kept to the roughly mowed verge of the field, but the toes of my shoes are darkly damp as are the frayed hems of my jeans.





Before leaving the field I pause in the side doorway of the weathered tobacco barn. 
The mist of morning still hangs over the field that borders the creek.


By the time I reach the lane, the day has settled into one of brilliant autumn perfection.


I miss the crimson of autumn maples in my native New England, and recall the shimmer of Wyoming aspens flaunting their gold even as the first snows whitened the mountain slopes.
Here in Kentucky the tulip poplars released a shower of yellowed leaves early in September. 
Now we watch as tints of russet and bronze appear on the hillside oaks.


A few stray cosmos and pale frost asters huddle against the fence below the shabby 
and depleted garden.


I have only one Double Red Knock-Out Rose--uprooted and moved twice from former gardens.
It is recovered from the summer ravages of humidity and Japanese beetles, lifting a fresh crop of blooms. Perhaps I would do well to abandon the perennials which have languished and settle for a hedge of these stalwart survivors!

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Few Autumn Scenes


We have been hosting company for several days during the week now ending and the previous week.
I loaded these photos several days ago but didn't have opportunity to write.
There has been a little needed rain, cooler nights, misty mornings that slowly burn into days with temps in the low 80's F.


A few morning glories are still blooming in the field near the tobacco barn.
The vines are slowly turning brown, the small round seed pods are ripening.


Fall roses, when the scourge of the hateful Japanese beetles has passed, are the most welcome.
The two pale pink roses are Hawkeye Belle--the variegated bud is from the unknown rose which was languishing in a corner by the porch wall.  Moved to the edge of the struggling perennial strip it has flourished.
I enjoyed this tiny windowsill bouquet for several days before a cat on the prowl knocked the little pitcher into the sink, breaking off the handle and chipping the spout.
Cats!



In early May I bought 4 seedling nasturtiums. They vined, blossomed, wore themselves out.
I tucked some old seeds into the pot in mid-summer, and although I clipped most of the spent blooms, some seed pods ripened and fell into the soil.
I don't know which seeds have provided these fresh new plants.
I doubt they can reach flowering maturity before frost.
I may drag the planter inside in the hope of a few blooms.


Many of the wildflowers which brightened September have faded.
The tiny frost asters clambering along the fences and flourishing in ditches provide soft color.


I finally dead-headed and pruned the plants in the perennial strips which survived the long bout of heat and humidity.
It has been a disheartening year garden-wise.
Every clump of the grey-leaved achillea has apparently succumbed to the smothering damp.
Some dianthus have been lost and perhaps the Russian sage. 
Phlox, belatedly cut back, has managed a few defiant blooms.


The lavender in the gravel-mulched area by the side porch steps has fared better than the plants tucked into the border. 
I did some judicious pruning early in the week, cutting back to newer growth. 
One plant, overly shaded by the sprawling rugosa is of questionable vitality, but I have left it to have its chance at revival.


Faithful Willis keeps me company in my gardening labors. 
Here he inspects an untidy cockscomb laden with seeds for another year's crop.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Morning Walk


Mornings have crept in quietly since the rain of Saturday evening, sounds and colors subdued by the grey fog that rolls through the valley.
The cats are awake early--by 5--and are less than subtle in urging me to arise and acknowledge them.
The layout of the hallway and master bedroom [altered during our renovation] is ideal for cat games with its circular route down one side of the double hallway, through the bathroom, into the bedroom and back into the hall.  There is always opportunity to reverse the direction of the chase, skidding on scatter rugs, charging across the bed.
When the digital clock shows a bright red 6:00 A.M. I creak out of bed, feeling about for my slippers.  My progress down the 14 stairs is accompanied by thumps and bumps as furry bodies plummet down to mill about in the dimness of the kitchen.


It is still misty when I go out at 7. Sounds are muffled. The first tentative rays of the sun are striking the lower farmhouse while up the lane we are still shrouded in the remnants of night.


I pull on boots, a sweatshirt and vest, sling the strap of my camera case over my shoulder.
I have a 'snack pack' in my pocket to see me through to our usual late breakfast.
"I'm walking to the tobacco barn," I tell Jim as he heads out to his workshop.



I crunch along the lane, nibbling the almonds, dried cranberries and squares of cheddar from the snack pack.  
The dry goats are lying close together under the willows, the milking goats and the kids are still in the stable. The barn cats are not in sight.
On the road I meet our Amish neighbor and his son carrying an assortment of tools.
We exchange 'good morning' and I learn that they are headed to a neighbor's to finish construction of a hen house.


Morning glories have seeded along a portion of the fence that separates the tobacco barn from the big pond. These are not the wild convolvulus, with small white flowers, which tangles along ditches and hedgerows.  I suspect that one of my neighbors planted the originals years ago and the ripened seeds were carried to a new location--perhaps by birds, or even caught in the hay fed to the team of Halflingers who were at one time lodged in the barn.
Whatever their source, I find delight in viewing the clear pink blooms mounded on a fence post and trailing through the rough grass.


The night's dew was heavy, still beaded on grass and hedgerow plants.

Goldenrod leans over the fence.

Sunlight, strengthening by 8 o'clock, creates a fragile prism of color over the field of soybeans.


I said only that I was walking to the old barn. I find it nearly impossible to limit my walks to a designated route. 


Jim used the bush hog last week to mow a swath around the field and the path, sun-spackled, 
beckons me.


In the tree-shade which borders the creek tiny mushrooms are growing, encouraged by the damp.
Shaggy heads of Joe Pye weed lean into the path, the vibrant purple of ironweed is a shout of color in the green dimness. 



Water in the creek is still shallow, making for an easy crossing into the back field. The morning's sun has not yet touched the rows of soybeans planted close to the tree line. Green leaves and small brown pods are furred with dew.


A clump of blue flowers huddles against the outer row of soybeans. I ponder the identification: skullcap hyssop--or spike lobelia. 


Rounding the far corner of the soybean planting I note a feather lying in the rough grass.
It is so heavily saturated with dew as to resemble a grey leaf. In the next few steps I find several more, pinching them into a tiny wet bouquet to carry home. 
I am walking now into the sun, feeling its rising heat beat through my layered clothing.
A small pricker has worked itself past the folds of my jeans where they are tucked into my boots, and has lodged, irritatingly in my sock. 
I don't wear a watch, but guess that I've been gone for more than an hour. 
Jim will be wondering if I have keeled over with an unexpected heart attack [after a certain age anything can happen!] or if, more likely, I might have tripped on a fallen branch in my clumsy boots. causing me to limp slowly homeward.
Reluctantly I unzip my now too warm vest, stow my camera in its case, slog along the edge of the field till I reach the lower ford over the creek. I consider taking the track that leads up to the road, but turn to walk parallel to the creek, shaded by the overhanging maple and sycamore. 
The morning glories are still bright on the fence post, but I give them a passing nod and continue, past the barn, out onto the road and the turn into the lane.
The heat of the day is coming on strong, the grass has lost its silver sheen of dew.
Breakfast beckons.