Monday, September 26, 2011

The party's over.

The Horse and Colt Show rolls up a soggy carpet on Sunday after a three day, steady stream of cars, trucks, horse trailers and open semi-trailers pulling antique tractors, muscle cars and an old gypsy wagon. Apple-Fest in Gays Mills and orchards across the ridge on highway 71 ended up another successful weekend of pies, puppies and ghost figures on wooden stakes.  I went to Wal-Mart on Sunday to buy a new pair of Wrangler jeans with some of the proceeds of potato sales off  the highway.

Pooch, the cat, treads his feet Momma-style on crocheted blankets on an easy chair.  I tossed the blankets there after a short stint in Mandy's bed in the breezeway.  The dog curls up and buries her nose in the blankets to ward off 40 degree chilly temperatures.  Saturday morning I bring the blankets to Martha and Marion who are stationed at the entrance to our road under a canopy, selling pies, cake. cookies and bread.  It's cold sitting there watching cars speed down the hill gathering steam in the only straight stretch between two towns to the east and west.

The day before five of us-three Amish women, a visiting cousin and me-carefully walk the eight legged 20 foot long canopy down the road to the entrance of Kickapoo Center Lane. After setting up two banquet tables, putting out Bake Sale signs, decorating the booth with pumpkins and a brightly painted birdhouse gourd and piling a bushel basket high with potatoes, baskets fulls of yellow onions, a tub full of tomatillos, we're ready for the rush of customers.

I'm busy digging potatoes while the two Amish "girls" ( it's what they call themselves) read and write a letter.  The sun briefly peeks out from the cumulus clouds .  The girls wave at each passing car while I marvel at the fall colors in the woods above the cornfield across the road.  Mandy takes a turn sitting under the table and curling up on my lap. You couldn't ask for more country goodness.  The pecan pie, red and black raspberry pies, whole wheat bread, and fresh baked molasses cookies shout at me.  I want to buy them all.

Dawn joins Marion and Martha bringing her knitting along to pass the time.  I drive the lawn tractor out to the road to check on sales and find that Dawn sold 14 pounds of new Kennebec potatoes to some savvy customer.  I previously set my prices to be a bit higher than industrial, chemically produced spuds but lower than the expensive "co-op".  In the several weeks that pass, potato prices jump dramatically.  Now Wal-Mart Idaho potatoes are equal in price to my organically grown-you can eat the peel-taters.  The Amish Patriarch proclaims that seed potatoes will be in demand next year at a higher cost.  He's seldom wrong.  Martha and Lydia spend two hours digging potatoes the week before in a "shares" agreement.  They take home 69 pounds of Kennebecs for next year's seed potatoes plus a huge sack of Russets.  My back muscles thank them profusely.

So, on a rainy Monday morning, I stand at the kitchen window looking at the driving rain with a cat in my arms who is rumbling with warmth and joy after a cool Sunday night. He's made his rounds quickly, deciding that sitting under an overhang in the rain isn't much fun. Mandy retires to her chair after a quick run out in the yard.  The garage is full of drying beans.  Some lie in cardboard trays on a four by eight sheet of OSB. Others hang from a line stretched between hooks on the ceiling.  On wire racks in the summer kitchen racks of rattlesnake pole beans are drying for next year's seed and barbecue beans with baked chicken for a Sunday dinner.  Fresh sage hangs in bundles from an old extension cord over the chest freezer.  It's been a good year.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

If You Like,I Can Give Good Price

An early Saturday morning thunderstorm routs me from dreamland. The noise and light show and Psycho Kitty's kneading my bare chest with his paws tells me I won't sleep any more.  Licking my fingers and slightly gnawing a knuckle is Salvatore Pucci's way of letting me know it's morning in Catville.  I walk carefully into bedroom number two in case the dog's sleeping on the floor.  Mandy Mae's totally out, sleeping on one end of the futon.  She startles when I touch her head.

I walk downstairs with cat in the lead and dog to follow.  Turning on the light because it's five a.m. and still dark, we all discover it's drizzling.  Dumbly, we stand there gazing at the side yard, the rain and a dimly illuminated garage apron where I've parked my truck and Prism.It won't do to stand there naked in the energy saving light of the breezeway. For one, the light will attract sadistic bugs who can fly between raindrops.

I wipe my feet on entryway carpet and trudge upstairs for shorts and a t-shirt.  I take each step one-at-a-time because my meniscus addled left knee is swollen and gimpy. I slip on a rain slicker, open the side door to the garage and hit the up button on the garage door opener. When the door gets halfway up, I hit the button again, stopping it and keeping wind driven rain out of the garage workshop and sales barn for potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini.

In bare feet I walk out into the area between both cars. Mandy dislikes water of all kinds.  If she's drinking out of a bowl, she'll hold her right leg back like a baseball batter with a power stance to keep splash from her slurpy tongue off her leg. She ventures out just far enough to pee under the cover of the pine next to the garage apron.  I walk back into the garage and she heads for cover under the truck.  With a little coaxing, she figures it's drier on her camo bed in the breezeway and follows me.

Pooch the cat leaps at a few low flying insects and tries to eat a round worm wriggling on the sidewalk.  I discourage eating the worm, knowing full well that I'll be cleaning up cat barf off a carpet or floor. I prop the back door open hoping that flies are grounded by the FAA due to inclement weather.  Last night I put a stainless steel pan on the stove top to soak.  Jorge's gift of two shopping bags of wild apples leaves me with a black crust of burnt apple sauce on the bottom.  Boldly forging ahead at a higher than normal heat setting because wild, tart apples are lower in sugar content, I unknowingly scorch the pan because these wild apples are larger and higher in sugar than the last batch I converted to apple butter.

On the way back from Madison Jorge scores some Dwarf Siberian Kale seeds. I'll plant these along with spinach and marjoram which will go under a row cover as summer turns to late autumn. He meets with a social worker girlfriend there, exchanges custody of bark-crazy Sam the dog and loads organic vegetables from Black Crow farm into her trunk.  In the days to follow, she'll distribute the excess from our farm to her clients in the inner city.  I show Jorge the proceeds from an afternoon of cooking tart wild apples and baking over ten hours in the oven.  Two pint jars and three half pints of apple butter.  I know it was over ten hours in the oven because Dawn comes out on the deck late in the afternoon wildly waving her arms.  Thinking something has blown up, a circuit breaker went off or my cell phone on the kitchen table is buzzing and ringing, she tells me the stove shut itself off.  On the LED screen it says END.  I tell her I didn't set a timer.  Besides, the timer doesn't shut the damn stove off.  We consult the manual and find that after 10 hours and 59 minutes the stove will shut itself off.  Probably a safety feature for old farts like me.

Jorge and I are jostling for position in the kitchen to scrape apple butter scraps off the side of the Pyrex baking dish.  I have inadvertently created apple fruit leather when the apple sauce/butter bakes down.  I peel  a long strip that runs around the perimeter of the glass dish.

Jorge returns home after his routine cup o' coffee to pull weeds in the asparagus patch. I've lost control of my garden patches, saving a few crops before they are overgrown with foxglove and pigweed .  It's all I can do to kep up with the tomato harvest, picking tubs of orange furit every other day.  The current strategy is to leave the mature vegetables in the field for next year's seed.  This works for all but the tomatatoes which have to be fermented in plastic deli containers to remove a natural gelatinous coating on the seeds which keeps the seeds from sprouting inside the fruit.

Late yesterday afternoon I work until my knee forces me to quit, saving the celery I've so carefully mulched, wrapped and tied with white butcher paper and faithfully watered on dog-day August mornings that force the kids to lie in the shade of the truck or car and watch a dumb bunny slaving in the sun. The oregano and other herbs planted in bare soil in the early days of the summer are completely hidden by tall weeds. I pull some English thyme by mistake because I didn't leave them in their original plastic sour cream containers with the bottom cut out like the oregano.  The smell alerts me to my folly.  I  marvel at how dense I am, thinking of planting onions in a row between herbs and celery, then harvesting scallions, leaving a fantastic,organic fertile space for weeds of four varieties to flourish.

Complete gray overcast skies may give me a day off.  Five a.m. windows need to be closed before the heat of a Labor Day weekend sets in. The highway will be busy with tourists heading up to Wildcat Mountain, the Kickapoo Reserve, canoe trips along the  limestone lined banks of the river near Ontario or horseback rides on the dude ranch off County highway P.  I should put my signs up and sell some spuds, if the weather girl allows. The title you ask?  A double-entendre.

My buttermilk pancake breakfast this morning is interspersed with reading bursts from Waiting For An Ordinary Day by Farnaz Fassihi ( a Wall Street Journal reporter who covered Iraq from 2002 to 2006. She's an American born Iranian with a fascinating story of the unraveling of life in Iraq in the days preceding the invasion by American forces.I read about a woman who turns the family home into a cultural center that fosters folk art from villagers and local artists around Iraq.  Faced with imminent destruction in yet another invasion of foreign troops, she's tearful and defiant.  I think about a friend in Milwaukee who owns a gift shop called the Village Bazaar. Originally from Baghdad he tells me of his days in the city and his parents drying dates on rooftops.  When ever we can visit, we find unusual art and jewelry imported from the Middle East.  After we remodeled the breezeway entrance, I took down the hand hammered bells I purchased at the Village Bazaar which to my delight hummed and gently clanged in the wind. 

A good customer comes by yesterday to buy Kennebecs for french fries.  He buys the extra large variety which when cut with a julienne machine turn out long, slender fries. First he buys three pounds.  Then looking at the potatoes spread out on a 4X8 sheet of plywood in the garage, he says, "Aw, just give me them all."  I weigh the spuds.  Nine pounds.  The market value is $7.20 but I give him "good price".  Six bucks.  He hands me two fives. I dig in my wallet for change. I don't have four singles.  "I only got two singles,"  I tell him.  The customer looks at the bag of ten pounds of spuds next to his purchase.  He says, I'll just take a few more.  "Load up the bag," I say.  "They can hold up to 25 lbs."  He pops about four more in and I'm wondering who's gotten the better deal.  At market value, he should have gotten over 12 pounds for his ten dollars.  I don't care if he gets more since I have three fields of spuds waiting for harvest.