Well, the year is winding down, and I’ve been working full time while everything else suffers. I suppose that I can’t complain because with two incomes, we’ve actually been able to have some fun and make some much needed improvements around the house. Our flooded basement problem which had been ongoing for about a year and a half has been resolved by a nice, actual plumber who came and blew out all the drains in the basement with a high pressure hose. A large pile of dire, junk and wood chips popped down in the swamp, and the basement is not only well-drained, it isn’t even damp any more!
When the basement was so easily resolved, we got really bold and got a new roof on the house, too. Both of these have been great decisions, as we were starting to get concerned about the number of shingles we were finding the yard after every wind storm, and it does get windy up here. In each case, we had people who gave us estimates for the work that were very drastic. People wanted to jackhammer the basement. We dug a six foot deep hole in the yard. A Lowes contractor gave us an estimate for doing the roof that was about $1700 more than we actually had it done for. I advise going local, working with a bank for loans, using family and friends as a contact for finding people to do work around the house. Our roofing team was made up of one of my aunt’s nephews from her side of the family, a grandson of a guy my mom graduated high school with and one of their friends. They were actual contractors, but it seemed like people we didn’t know were more expensive and less reliable.
With the basement nice and dry, I could get some work done on the wood stove which had been mightily abused since it’s been wet down there. I tipped it on its side and sanded off all the rust and mud and splashes of hydraulic cement and caulk from my failed attempts to patch the floor. I repainted with Rustoleum high temperature paint. I don’t recommend it. There are other stove black paints that seem to stick to the metal better, but when I refired the store after using the Rustoleum, there were a lot fewer fumes than with other paint brands, so it wasn’t all bad. So I have a nice, clear freshly painted stove and lots of hickory wood to burn in it, too!
This year was just a terrible year for the garden, but there were some nice things. I have actually planted fall peas, and they are actually doing better than the ones from the spring. Even though you can’t save the seeds (even from supposedly non-hybrid seeds!) I recommend Burpee’s snowbird snow peas because you don’t have to stake them, and you get edible peas very soon. If I had been thinking, I would have also put in more lettuces so we could have a late fall salad of greens and peas. Carrots were good, but I have decided that Nelson-type carrots have a strong, soapy taste that I don’t care for. Luckily, they grew really well. It was also a great year for all kinds of berries even though I believe that my blackberry patch may be on the way out. The Caroline Raspberries that my sister got me as a present my first birthday here are still producing, and the berries are as big as blackberries and taste like koolaide they are so sweet! Not enough for jam, though, and it seems like every time I have a day off it’s either Sunday or raining, so I have not been to pick raspberries this year.
I also have a little patch of groundcherries that are still producing. Now, these are little tomatoes which grow in husks and look like little yellow tomatillos or those orange Chinese lantern plants. They are all related, part of the nightshade family, actually. Groundcherries have this lovely golden color and tiny seeds and a taste that is part citrus and part butterscotch (I think.) they will produce up to the frost, and the book that I read a while ago called “Little Heathens” about this family growing up during the Great Depression has a lot about them, actually. Apparently, they used to pick a lot of them still unripe to save them from the frost. Then, they would lay them out even just on the floor of the upstairs rooms that were buttoned up and closed for the winter. They would keep and also ripen slowly and could be used for pies and snacks until they were gone.
I don’t have a lot of places to lay things out like that in this house. (Though I grew up in a house that was large enough that we did close up one bedroom and one living room every winter so we did not have to heat them.) And every single recipe that I have for ground cherry jam takes about six cups of them. That is a lot of space in the garden to get that much fruit, and usually goatastrophe strikes at least a couple of times a year, reducing the amount of groundcherries I have on hand. (Goats love them!)
I did find out good recipe that used ground cherries that I tried this year, though. It’s from the Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook, and despite the warnings of the nice Home Extension ladies that taught a canning course I attended this year to never use canning recipes from before 1994, I tried it, and I’m going to share it.
Autumn Cherry Conserve:
3/4 cup ripe ground cherries
1 13.5 oz can crushed pineapple (1 2/3 cup)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Grated peel and Juice of one orange
5 medium apples, finely diced
1 cup cranberries
1 pack powdered fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar
Hull, wash and prick ground cherries. Combine with Pineapple, lemon juice, grated orange rind and juice and apples, add cranberries.
Bring to a boil, add pectin and stir while bringing to a boil.
Add sugar, stirring constantly. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, boil hard one minute, stirring constantly.
Removed from heat. Skim and stir alternately for 5 minutes.
Pour into hot jars, seal. Makes 5-6 half pints.
Okay, when I made this one, I got closer to 7 jelly jars and one little ittybitty. I also put all the juices into the pan and then chopped at added the apples so they didn’t get brown.
I also followed with 5 minutes in a boiling water bath and used the “modern” method of just getting the jars hot instead of sterilizing them ahead of time. You’ll want the apples very fine, because with just a little boil at the beginning and a minute long boil at the ned, I didn’t feel they got smooshy enough. Also, pop the cranberries as soon as they get juicy and hot because they will not burst on their own, and a whole cranberry on toast is a bit tart. Substitute 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for the juice of a half lemon.
This recipe smells like Christmas in a jar, and it was a good one, too, because it uses just odds and ends. My mom goes to the next town over to do med checks for people and usually hands out fruit as a “thank you for coming to your appointment” present. I only had to buy cranberries and a can of pineapple special since I could use up all her leftovers from her patients for the rest of the fruit in the recipe.
One last thing:
You heard it here first. OK, this is the official weather prediction for the year. Remember last year when all the bees and hornets were building their nests up in the high branches of the trees, and didn’t we get going on 250 inches of snow, including our first 18 inches about a year ago this week? This year, we had our neighbor brushog the little acre field at the back of the lot, and he had to stop to get out two nests of ground bees. This is just unheard of in a year that is this wet, because ground bees will get downed out with all the heavy rain. And then, we also had remove a nest from right inside the basement. The easiest winder we ever had up here, there were little nests in the scrub hawthorns and one under the lowest branches of the spruce tree were use for our Christmas tree every year. This year I haven’t seen any up high nests and the bees are actually nesting the the ground. I have a good feeling about this, except for the whole thing where we had a giant fricking yellowjacket nest in the basement next to the washing machine!