Monday, November 1, 2010

The Demands of a Bountiful Harvest [Or Why I Don't Answer E-mails!]

Some of the windfall pears, gathered prior to the wind and rain of October 26th.
J. carried them into the basement where they exuded an increasingly fruity scent.
We tackled them as a team, with J. peeling and coring while I made two large kettles of  light sugar syrup, [frequently replenished] simmered the pears and ladeled them into jars ready for the water bath canner.
Whenever I had the canner filled and boiling away I turned to peeling pears.
The path between table, sink and stove became a sticky route.

J. took a ladder down, secured it somehow on the back of the truck and carefully hand-picked some of the largest pears to save for eating fresh.
I have absolutely no head for climbing and decided I didn't care to watch him clambering about in the branches.

We bottled 30 quarts this round.
Since this is my blog I'm allowed to whine a bit and tell you that my
feet hurt for hours after this marathon effort!
Mr. Rogers who lived here before us, told us that he made "pear honey" from the windfall pears.
His method was to put ripe pears through a sausage grinder, cook them down over low heat, adding water as needed to keep them from sticking.
He admitted to "a little sugar" as well.
I found several recipes on-line which, typically,
demanded the addition of more ingredients: vinegar or lemon juice,
powdered pectin, pineapple juice, ginger.
After reading several I decided to experiment.
I peeled and cored pears, put them through my hand-cranked food grinder and measured out 8 cups.
I added 1 cup of pineapple juice, since I felt this would help preserve a natural color.
Most recipes called for equal amounts of  chopped pears and sugar, which I was sure would create a too-sweet product.
I added roughly half that amount.
I let the mixture stew over very low heat for about two hours, occasionally stirring with a wooden spoon, then bottled it in pint jars.
I didn't take photos, although the filled and processed jars are still sitting on the counter.
I think the "honey" will be good on toasted home made bread or baking-powder biscuits or scones.

We cannot be in the vicinity of the pear tree without Pebbles begging for a pear or two.
I wish you could hear the crunching and smacking noises that accompany her enjoyment of her fruity treat.

J. M. Shelley [from whom we bought the place] came last weekend to claim a bucketful of pears--which didn't make a dent in the amount to be used.
He mentioned to J. that there are several black walnut trees on the place, waving a hand rather vaguely at the remains of the old hedgerow.
We walked the boundary line at the wooded back edge of the property and located one of the trees which yielded a 5 gallon pailful of nuts.

Next day I found the second tree not far from the road where J. is finishing the clearing that was started before we bought the place.
I filled these two containers and laboriously carried them across the field and home.
I suspect the nuts are difficult to crack and have been told that the hulls will leave a black stain on anything they touch.

Veggies brought in this morning to go with a small roast of beef.
I chunked the onions, potatoes and carrots around the beef in a glass pan, added thick slices of the sweet potatoes from the Mennonite produce auction and a few cloves of the pickled garlic which our DIL makes.
Olive oil drizzled on the vegs and a sprinkling of herbes de Provence.
A hearty complete meal to pull from the oven when we came in famished from outdoor work.

I am re-reading the "Autumn" entries in a favorite book of seasonal essays, "Hill Song; A Country Journal"
by the late Lee Pennock Huntington.
The Huntingtons restored an old farm house and created gardens on the Rochester side of Brandon Gap in Vermont, moving there in 1970.
These essays were published in 1985..
Here is one I can relate to.

"Every autumn there comes The Harvest Day.  It is unscheduled, arriving when the first serious warnings of "hard frost" persuade us to gather in. This year, as always, it came too early for us.  There was stinging cold rain with intervals of cranky sunlight.  We picked bushels of chard, baskets of beans, the last of the ears of corn. We probed beneath the still-rank leaves for hidden acorn squash.
We took baskets to the orchard, shoes squishing on windfalls, climbed ladders and thrust the long-poled apple-pickers to the high branches.  At dusk we brought it all under cover, some in the shed, some in the back corridor, some in pantry and kitchen.
It seems an overwhelming accumulation.
The squash in their homely shapes and colors from jade to topaz are the least demanding, requiring nothing more for the moment than ranging on benches and tables, but so much else cries out for processing, the sooner the better.
The kitchen is a fine confusion of produce piled on every surface.  All pots and vessels are in service, all stove burners working away as we stay up until midnight doing what can't be post-poned. The freezers are filling rapidly, we are running out of containers and jars.
Thank God the apples can wait."


  1. Oh, you lucky little devil. Your pears look just amazing.
    I am fixing brisket with veggies for tonight, with plenty of left-overs. I love brisket and sure can get a ton of mileage from one brisket.
    Enjoy your week, and please whine all you want about your feet, I'd whine too, from all the canning I did, only I didn't have any help! Just get some good cheese with the "whine".lol

    Warm Regards,

  2. What a lovely post. I felt I was with you as you were both busy in the kitchen (and wish that I had been!)

    What a lovely extract from the Hill Song book too. i must look to my laurels and do some slightly more interesting blog postings again . . .

  3. DF: I am indeed grateful for the help that J. has given me this season in the canning department---its a new [retirement?] activity for him. Times I've done the canning on my own it can turn into a very long day--and night!
    I love one-pot meals like your brisket and veggies--easy for the cook and the leftovers are so good.

    BB: You notice that my photos of the kitchen activities are well edited? There is scarecly a place to put anything down and I walk warily so as not to fall into a canning kettle or a basket of waiting produce.
    Your posts are ALWAYS of interest to me---you have a gift for making the daily rounds thought-provoking as well as writing up your outings in a way that make me want to go along.

  4. Goodness, this must be a very busy time for you. All those wonderful fruits and veggies. I noticed Pebbles has grown her woolly coat ready for winter.

  5. Beautiful post and excerpt. I want to look into the Huntington book. You live a wonderful life, and I love reading about it!

  6. all those pears! you have worked hard sharon, I know how tiring that is so well done you!!

    Leanne x

  7. Oh you put me to shame - all the windfall apples and pears lying on the ground in our old orchard, whilst I've been writing and not doing. Your post is as it should be and I don't doubt you were exhausted. All worth it come winter and we here will be bemoaning my lack of purpose.

  8. All of that canning is an awful lot of work...and makes so much mess...but in the cold dark days of winter, you'll be delighted to have those delicious, healthy pears. The pear "honey" sounds a lot like how we make apple butter...yum. I wonder if you could get those rubber tiles that they sell at Home Depot and such like places...they're a thick, slightly spongy material that makes it more comfortable to stand for hours at a time on concrete workshop or garage floors. The tiles interlock, so you can take them up and store them away when the canning's done.

    And yes, beware the walnuts! their shells and hulls make a very dark brown stain or dye, which is perfect if you're doing natural dyeing. My friends who had walnut trees used to crack and pick the nuts outdoors...and had black fingernails for days afterwards.