This is the time of year when forces collide that really challenge the ilk of me (that would be the chronically and optimistically over-committed), and will keep me hopping like a crazed loon for a good couple of months.
I’ll lose weight. I’ll not get enough sleep. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, wondering if I shut the chickens in and put the cat out, or the other way around. I’ll have to remind myself to breathe. Wait. I’ll lose weight. It’s not all bad, after all.
We started seriously working on starting to think about school this week (note that I didn’t say that we actually started) and consequently decided that our farmer’s market business needed to end. This was to be our last week, for this year, as farmer’s market vendors. It made sense. I wrote it all out, in my journal, so I could see that it was a sensible and sane thing to do. Trading hours of market baking and picking and selling for hours of teaching and correcting and reading and conjugating Latin verbs and so forth was the only way I could see that I could add school back into my crazy schedule.
It’s so rare that I actually do something logical and sane that I surprised myself with my cool and methodical decision, and even more surprising was that Mom (our partner in farmer’s marketry) was on the same page. We were both ready. It has to end at some point, you see. This was the point.
Then, our last market day came. And wouldn’t you know it: we had our best sales and most enthusiastic support of the entire season at market. We heard things like this: “Oh my goodness, please don’t just disappear without giving us a couple weeks’ notice so we can stock up. . . ” and “I am so addicted to your stuff, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the winter without it . . . ” and so on. Song birds warbled. Beautiful rays from the setting sun made a gorgeous display above us. We were bewildered, but happy.
We were nearly sold out of all our baked goods and garden produce by a half an hour into it. So . . . consequently . . . we are staying, if only for a couple more weeks so I can clean out my wondrous supply of basil, kale, and the new bed of radishes that I planted a couple weeks ago, before frost, and so Mom can try “one more new idea” that she admitted she had.
I think Mom’s new idea has something to do with her angel food cake, which is quite nearly as famous at our little market as her raised and glazed donuts. After weeks of lackluster sales, we’re rock stars again? I don’t understand it, but I appreciate it and the extra income is, of course, a blessing.
Also because of all the earlier spring garden that we put in, at our place we’ve got loads and loads of garden produce to put up. The tomatoes are producing great guns and need to be put in jars for the winter’s supply of chili and soups; the carrots have gotten freakishly large and are begging to be pulled and canned; beets, ditto; and finally there are enough peppers to contemplate making our winter’s supply of salsa. I’m putting pesto in the freezer this year if I have to stay up all night to make it (I’ve got the basil this year for loads of it, so it may take more than one night); there are potatoes still waiting patiently in the ground for digging and for the root cellar (we don’t really have a root cellar, but our basement stays very cool), and there are a few cukes that have handled the weedy hastily-planted cucumber row and need to be pickled. Or picked and eaten, at the very least.
On top of all this, my heirloom variety of corn, “Bloody Butcher” is ready to be picked, roasted, and put into the freezer. It produced so well that we can’t eat it all fresh, and my family is already getting a bit corn-on-the-cob-at-every-meal-weary. A friend gave me a couple bags of sweet corn this week, which will (hopefully) go nicely with the not-as-sweet-but-beautiful reddish kernels in freezer bags.
On top of all this, we’ve got piles of firewood that we really need to cut and split while there are still a few weeks of hot weather to dry it out a bit. We burn a lot of wood during the winter months, and it keeps us warm and keeps our electric heating bill manageable. Also we’ve not harvested our honey yet, and our raw honey stores are getting sadly very low.
Is this making you tired yet? It is me. Also, the pantry needs a good cleaning out. And it’s time to start thinking about melodrama. So much!
Starting school + winding down market + garden plethora + getting ready for winter = a bit of an overwhelm for me.
So, this is what I do: I make my list, and then just concentrate on the most important task for each day, and pray for peace and strength. Getting just one extra thing done, when your life is very full already, is an accomplishment, after all, is it not? I love this life and this time of year, and I don’t want my unending to-do list to suck the joy out of cool evenings and cicadas singing and walking the nature trail with my good husband and my little Mack. My chickens will happily convert any garden veg that I don’t get to, to eggs, and if I’m not able to preserve everything I want to, I do have a grocery store very close.
Anyway. The first thing I’m gonna concentrate on today is canning some tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are probably the one canned staple in my pantry that I miss the most when we run out. That, and pickled green beans. Raw honey. Salsa. Tomato soup. That’s it. Pickled beets, too, I guess. Years ago when I started canning tomatoes every fall, I struggled mightily in my mind over how, exactly, to do it. There is, after all, some controversy in this area.
And I raise primarily low-acid heirloom tomatoes, which muddies the water even more. I called the county’s extension office, and the agent who answered the phone assured me that the only “official” answer that she could give me was to pressure-can all tomatoes, to avoid the risk of botulism developing in the perhaps-too-low-acid tomatoes of today’s gardens. I sensed the “officialness” of her answer, and pressed her: “but how do you can your tomatoes?”
“I water-bath mine,” she mumbled, “but I can’t tell you that officially.” Hoo boy. “You didn’t hear that from me, remember.” Intrigue in the county Extension Office! The Ball Blue Book of Canning said that if one water-bathed them (I don’t know if it’s still this way, but it was then) they needed to be boiled in the water bath for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I couldn’t imagine any nutrients left in my tomatoes after that treatment.
Finally I took my quandary to the great small town meeting place, the local grocery store, where I was selling the prettiest of my tomatoes at the time. Lucille, the older lady who was clerking that day, described to me her method of canning tomatoes. She used the currently-out-of-favor “open kettle” method (once very popular but now not so much, where the tomatoes are boiled for a certain amount of time, and then immediately popped into hot, sterilized jars and sealed, without the “water-bath” on top of it), but she assured me that a) she’d never poisoned anybody in fifty-some years of doing it this way, and b) she canned all types of tomatoes, including low-acid ones.
“Fifty years ago, heirloom tomatoes were all we had,” she pointed out. Lucille was a common-sense, hard-working Mennonite woman who had raised a large family, and I trusted her advice immediately. My therapist husband would just point out that her worldview just fit what my worldview wanted to believe, but to him I would retort: Whatever.
I’ve canned all my tomatoes this way ever since, and that was at least a decade ago, and I’ve never had a problem with the tomatoes not sealing, or going bad, or killing anybody with botulism spores.
Already I’ve gone a bit long, so I’ll continue with this tale next time, and I’ll share with you Lucille’s method of canning tomatoes. So tune in again, Gentle Reader, for the scoop on that!
Thanks again for stopping by!