Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Freezing Time

There's a double meaning to the title. The first, a time for freezing...vegetables. Secondly, to stop time. Both apply here. The photo shows our herb garden. Ignore the weeds in the foreground plot. It's a perennial garden for catnip. Dawn makes organic catnip mice. We dry the catnip for the Pooch. Although it was heavily mulched, a portion in the middle didn't survive. I planted sage on one side of the 4X20 catnip plot. Wannabe catnip weeds fool us into leaving them alone. Moving from the foreground to background, there is dill(almost flowering), cilantro, marjoram, oregano,thyme, more sage and at the very top are chives past flowering stage which we're letting go to seed.

Cilantro is a delicate, parsley-like herb. It's a great addition to Mexican dishes especially, salsa. We have another week before it begins to flower. Making the most of the fresh herb, I cook cilantro and scrambled eggs for breakfast. They end up a weird green color ( green eggs and ham anyone?) and the addition of Amish buttermilk adds to the color variation. I sprinkle the eggs with feta for the salty, unusual flavor. For dinner we have tacos Al Pastor, again with cilantro. The task is to savor the fresh vegetable while it's in season. Too bad it doesn't last.

The beet crop is rushing in like a summer storm. I thin the first of three varieties and take a bunch to the Amish. While I'm at the Amish farm getting supplies, I ask for a recipe for pickled beets. Double checking quantities and details, I find huge variations. Dawn borrows four books from the big library in town. In addition, we have the standard book of home preserving-the Ball Blue Book. Another thick, red hard-cover is called Stocking Up. The Amish recipe calls for one cup of sugar, a cup of vinegar and two and one half cups water. One book requires a cup of honey, another a quart of vinegar, some use less water and the last recipe I check says two- thirds cup of sugar. I go with the Amish version. Uncle Bob walks in the kitchen. More vinegar(add an additional 1/2 cup) less water(reduce that to 2 cups) a dash of nutmeg and a short piece of cinnamon stick. A little kosher salt on the top of the quarts full of cooked, peeled beets, boiling hot water-sugar-vinegar syrup and they're ready for the hot water bath.

In the afternoon, I return to the Amish for butter and buttermilk. I take an empty aluminum pie tin and hint that a full pie tin would be nice. I'm promised a full pie by the end of the week. I mention that three trips to the garden and a carryall full with beets yields only 3 quarts of finished product. Time involved is about two hours. I tell the Mrs. that several of the books call for 30 minutes in the canner. She scowls. "Thirty minutes is too long", she says. "Did you cook the beets in advance?" she asks. I reply that I did exactly as instructed. "You only need to can the jars for 10 minutes or so", she says. "You only need to put them in the hot water bath long enough to seal the lids."

The Stocking Up book has a chart for processing vegetables. It directs 30 minutes in the water bath and specifies cooking the beets first. In a recipe for pickled beets separate from the chart, I says to can them for 10 minutes in the water bath. One contradiction. The Blue Book also calls for 30 minutes in the canner. In a recipe called beet pickles, it specifies a 15 minute water bath in the canner. Another contradiciton. Had I NOT checked with the Amish, our entire crop of canned beets may have turned out mushy and overcooked. Just a minute while I pull up a wooden crate to stand on. Time to pontificate: English etymology-officiate as a Bishop.

In the foreword of a book on home preserving, the author's qualifications are thus: Mrs. Mugilicuddy ( not her real name) has been growing and preserving vegetables for years. How many times have I heard that statement. " I've been________ " insert your own variable here- "for thirty years." My grandmother, bless her deceased heart, died at age 99. In her career as a cook, she tortured and overcooked meat and vegetables. She was an astounding baker. Now, listen up. I've been speaking since I was eight months old. My creative writing experience began with a love letter to Mary T.... In it I told her that I love her "one million dollars worth" . The sum total of my fortune at the time were the nickles I got for returning pop bottles. The relatives all laughed at my sincere note written on lined school paper. I mailed it without help from the folks. Mary went on to marry some guy named Donnie. She was a bit toward the heavy side then. Probably has five kids now, weighs more than skinny Donnie and still plays the accordion. That makes me a gifted writer. I have also been walking since I was a year old. That makes me an expert on anything to do with feet, shoes, running, blisters, socks and shoelaces. Ask me. I'll tell you. One note, however, I am not a foot fetish. For the record, I look at people's feet only to judge their footwear. One boss I had in the retail world told me that people shoes told a story about them. What are your shoes saying? I'm barefoot, by the way.

Before I go outside for another day in the summer kitchen: clipping cilantro to freeze, hanging basil to dry, blanching sugar snap peas for the freezer and wondering how I can stop time to enjoy the cool weather, long days and fresh flavorful vegetables, I'll make one observation.

One of the biggest differences between myself and my Amish friends borders on the idea of humility. My garden is the biggest and the best around. Stealing a line from the Wizard of Oz, I once called it My Pretty. Then Mother Nature stepped in, dropped a 6 inch torrent of rain up stream and the river swallowed up my garden like a grass snake eating an insect. "That'll learn 'im" she says. Thirty years ago, I photographed a kitchen tabled piled with everything ripe from a 60X40 foot garden on a farm in the Sheboygan area. I was really proud of that garden. Bridge workers several years ago yell out, "nice garden" in a break from 8 hours of jack hammering the cement from the bridge over the Kickapoo next to our front field. I swelled up in pride. An elderly couple drives down our lane to admire the plots of vegetables. At night I stand at the second floor windows and gaze at the solar lights scattered around the most tempting crops. Ella and Del's flashing green and red globe lights give the scene a carnival quality. Plugging in the nighttime radio tuned to National Public Radio ( my vegetables are scholars) I stand for a moment on the gravel drive and watch fireflies dance over the potatoes. Yes, it's beautiful sight. I'm learning to accept "as is" and not travel beyond. I wouldn't want to trip over my pride, Lord knows, I'm clumsy as it is.


sAm said...

mmmmm....I know how I'm making my eggs in the morning! Well...no Amish buttermilk - but still - it'll be great! Nice update on your garden - I'm also learning to accept my garden for what it is and have quit comparing my garden to anybody else's (except maybe yours, now!).

Roger A. Gavrillo said...

Hey, I'm glad someone's reading this. Thanks for the comment and your interest in the blog.