Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Playing With My Food

I'm at the Amish farm on Monday. They're out of the regular "farmer" eggs I need. I check on the progress of the strawberry harvest. I'm told that on a normal year they pick 200 quarts in a morning. Morning starts at 5 am. I ask, "What time should I come for strawberries tomorrow?" Titus quips "Oh, about five am, I guess." "Five am," I repeat in disbelief and then realize he's pulling my leg. "The cat doesn't even get up at five am," I tell him. His wife chimes in with, " 'Bout eight am would be fine." I forget to ask if that's slow or fast time. The harvest is slow this year. They're only getting 100 quarts at a time. I'm eager to start on freezing and canning.

At five am the Pooch trots into the bedroom. "Mew," he says. It means, "What time are you getting up?" The bedroom windows are open. The robins and blackbirds are singing. The Pooch climbs in the window to check the front yard for animal movement. After getting dressed, I walk to the barn to turn off the spotlight on the garden. I flip the switch on the radio that broadcasts classic rock. The Pooch follows me, hoping for a quick tour of the barn and the snap traps for mice. He doesn't make it to the barn because there's a side trip to pee in between the corn rows. I pick him up and stand on the driveway. There's a rabbit in the front field near the fence line. He's doesn't see it because he's too interested in the scolding blackbirds in the silver maples.

Dawn comes down after her shower. We confer on the amount of sugar and containers we'll need for the strawberry extravaganza. I stack breakfast dishes in the sink. Dawn drives off to work with a cup of fresh coffee. I turn down the highway and head to the Amish farm over the ridge.

Driving from state highway to county road and finally on unpaved township roads, I slow down to catch early morning animal traffic. Sure enough, a doe bounds out of the flats by the river twenty feet in front of my car. There's always a squirrel in the middle of the road and I spot a couple of groundhogs feeding along the edge of the gravel. They move slowly, so I give them extra time to get out of my way. The squirrel is unpredictable, therefore, I slow down anticipating a panicky run in front of me. At the Amish farm they've got a canopy set up over what looks like forty or fifty quarts of strawberries. Alongside the table are canning jars of jam, jelly and bread and butter, sweet pickles.

On the way home, I ask myself," Why didn't I buy the pickles?" I dump in the strawberries from cardboard flats into the first of three water baths. A week ago, Titus and I walk the strawberry patch behind the house. He offers me several samples. Their dog, Buddy, follows behind us occasionally stopping to water a strawberry plant. Titus says, "Remember to wash the berries when you get them home." I'd already eaten four large fruit.

In the barn I've stored flat box lids that the Amish could use for transferring quarts into boxes. In that way, they can save money and reuse the cardboard quart containers. I assemble seven lids and bring the three original boxes with me as I drive back to the farm. This time I'll buy the pickles. I've not had elderberry jelly. The rhubarb jam entices me. I put back the pint of blackberry jam when I realize I don't have enough money. The daughter manning the tent offers to extend me credit. "I'll be back tomorrow for more berries. I'll bring more box lids and money."

Dinner tonight, Dawn, if you're reading this is, in the smoker. With a paring knife I remove the green leaves and stem from the strawberries. They go into the second water bath. I dodge wood smoke as the wind changes direction. Perhaps, we'll get the predicted rain sooner than four pm.
By lunch time I have the berries ready for the final bath. After lunch I'll transfer them to plastic bowls, hoping there's enough room in the refrigerator. After I slice strawberries for freezing, Dawn and I will make 15 half pints of freezer jam. Then, it's on to jam.

Oh, by the way, the one at the top? It's the one I judged best . I ate it. It was fantastic. Stop by, I'll have more tomorrow.

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