"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Fire and Not Pulling the Trigger

Time just keeps on flying by.  Here it is the end of November already, and finally today we had our first fire of the season.  I guess it's appropriate, we had our first sticking snow overnight, a nice dusting over the fields and on the tree branches.  Just got it started a few minutes ago, after cleaning out the remains of the chimney swift nest.
There's nothing like the smell and sound of a big ol' wood fire, and the warmth it gives.  I think a wood fire is the best warmth ever - better than forced air heat, better than a hot bath, better than an electric blanket.  It just feels.......better.  Maybe because it's more like sunshine.  I was lucky enough to make a good craigslist find on some firewood, nice seasoned maple that should last us into the first of the year.  Since I don't have my own patch of woods it's a bit of a scrounge and scramble to come up with firewood.  Someday I hope to get to a point where I can barter for firewood.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving with family and friends.  We got together for the usual turkey and fixings, and I took along the pies.  The best part of the day, however, was when my little nephew fell asleep in my lap.  The warm weight and soft breath of a small child, totally trusting and abandoned to sleep, is a wonderful thing.
My contribution to dinner:  apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat.
The third from the top is my green tomato mincemeat pie:
   * 3 quarts chopped green tomatoes
    * 1 1/2 quarts peeled, chopped tart apples
    * 2 cups raisins
    * 1 cup golden raisins
    * 1/2 cup diced candied citron, lemon or orange peel
    * 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

    * 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    * 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
    * 3 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
    * 3/4 cup Vinegar
    * 1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy pan. Let mixture simmer and cook slowly until it is tender and thick, for two hours or more. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. To can, pour boiling mixture into hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace; seal promptly. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Store in a cool dry place.
Makes about 5 to 6 quarts of green tomato mincemeat.

Finally had a chance to go deer hunting, but came home empty handed.  While I still see quite a few deer around, the numbers are down due to a nasty virus that has killed quite a few animals.  I sat in the blind for quite a while, watching low, blue-gray clouds playing tag with watery beams of sunshine and listening to turkeys calling off in the distance. 
 A cardinal and his missus came to visit for a while, their red plumage startling against the dull colors of the landscape.  Finally, just as dusk was settling in, a deer came bounding into the clearing.  I pulled up my shotgun and drew a sight on it, only to realize it was a youngster, probably born in the spring of this year.  It just didn't seem fair to shoot it, and there wouldn't have been much meat to it anyways.
Had a clean shot but didn't take it
So I didn't pull the trigger, but sat and watched as it played around, munching on a twig here, and chewing on a leaf there.  It kept looking back into the brush, so I held still, hoping a bigger one would come in, but as the light faded into a cold and cloudy night the little deer was still alone.  I made the trek back out of the woods and across the field in the gathering dark and headed home for some soup, and while I love venison, I wasn't too disappointed.  Just being out in the woods and enjoying God's creation makes for a good day.
From the hymnal:
"Give thanks, with a grateful heart,
Give thanks, to the Holy One,
Give thanks, because He's given Jesus Christ"

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kablooey Remedy....(or, how to replace a safety fuse on a Mirro Matic)

Some time ago I made a serious error while pressure canning some potatoes, heating the canner too hot and blowing the safety fuse.  Note how you can see daylight where the plug melted and gave way.  So thankful it did!  Could have drastically changed my kitchen layout if the canner had blown up.
I took the entire canner in to my local hardware store to try and get a replacement fuse.  There are hundreds of these old Mirro Matics out there, but they had so many different catalogs and stock numbers that we couldn't figure it out.  They tried to remove the safety fuse with a crescent wrench but couldn't get it to move.  So I did some internet searches, but it seems there isn't a simple "Mirro.com" site, just multiple sites that say they carry parts.  I finally located the correct safety fuse replacement at Amazon.com, and ordered two of them.
I ran hot water over the canner lid for a few minutes, and used a socket wrench.  The old plug came out quite easily.
I cleaned the threads and installed the new fuse.  (While I was at it I made sure the steam tube was clear, too.)
The new fuse fit perfectly at exactly the same level as the old one.  Both the old and new fuses are thicker than the lid itself, by 1/4 inch or so.  This allows enough room to get a wrench on it.  The center of the new fuse appears to be a red compound of some sort, instead of the metallic gray of the old one, but that doesn't seem to make a difference.

The whole operation only took a few minutes, and I'm happy to report it was a complete success.  I just finished canning up five quarts of chicken in my old canner with the new fuse and it's all good.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reflections and a Recipe

It was one of those soft and comfortable evenings as I drove home from work; not cold yet not warm, cool and dim with a diffuse light that rounded and blunted everything like a slightly out-of-focus photograph.  It reminded me of the ‘time between times’ spoken of in stories of Irish ghosts,  standing stones, and time travel adventures.

I dealt with my chores and hooked the trailer to the truck, ready to go for a load of firewood after work the next day while the dawg was happily running about, sticking her nose into everything and rummaging through the old straw in the garden, tail wagging non-stop. It felt good to be out working in the gloaming, wearing old leather gloves and wrassling with equipment while the sunset cast a feeble gold tint on the western sky; echoes of when I was young and strong and walking home in the dusk after my farm chores.

There were no stars, just a featureless sky of deep velvet lit only by the trucks and combine in the field as my neighbor harvested his corn.  I put some dinner on the grill, and sat in my patio swing with my dawg.  A moment of peace, reflection, and quietude.

I rocked gently as I let go of the hurry and noise of the day, slowly becoming aware of the little things around me.  The warm weight of my faithful old dawg  leaning against me, one massive paw on my knee.  The slight creak of the swing, that old familiar, peculiar whine of the combine in the field, the smell and sound of dinner (bratwurst!) sizzling on the grill, the cold beginning to nip at my ears and nose.

How I love living out in the country, in the quiet and peace!  I wouldn't trade it for the most lavish of city dwellings!  The cares and disappointments of the day are still there, but now I can put them into perspective, and spend some time in thought, in reflection, and in prayer for my family, and for my country.  It seems that there are just too many heedless, careless, and selfish people with voter’s cards these days.  Responsibility, morality, and wisdom were the losers this election, and I am gravely concerned about Daughter’s future as she prepares to graduate from high school and move on into the world.  Yet I can take comfort in knowing that God is always in control, no matter what.

Current events also make me even more dedicated to a life of simplicity and self-sufficiency, and to protecting my little homestead.  Am I going to run out next week and buy a thousand rounds of ammunition in fear of the zombie apocalypse?  No.  (Besides from what I hear you can’t stop zombies with bullets, but what do I know?)

But I am renewed in my determination to simplify and do more with less, while spending my money where it does the most good.  At this point in time I'm actually spending more, which I really don't like doing, but it's time to purchase a freezer and a half of a grass-fed beef.  High cost now, but it's an investment in high-quality, drug-hormone-GMO-corn-free meat for the next year.  Looked at over time, not only will I save money over supermarket prices, we'll also be eating much healthier food. The second freezer will allow me to buy in bulk when sales are good for seasonal harvests, and have a place to keep the food until I can get it canned or dehydrated.  As we use things up, I'll consolidate back down to one freezer and unplug the second to save on electricity.

It’s been a good year for stocking up food supplies, even though my garden wasn’t the best.  I've been getting to know people and making contacts, learning to barter and trade - which I think will be even more of an economic necessity these next four years.  I'm learning more about what we like to eat and to tailor our garden and food storage to match; for instance no squash this year, but lots of potatoes instead.  I’ve discovered that canning meat isn't so scary as I thought, and it's great for long-term storage without worrying about freezer burn or electric bills, and it's been fun to develop recipes using my stored foods.

Here's one that we've been using a lot, it's so quick and easy:

Chicken Salad
Pint jar of canned chicken
Most of a half-pint jar of canned green tomato relish
Mayo (home-made or store bought)
dehydrated onion, chopped fine
dehydrated carrot, chopped fine

dehydrated apple, chopped fine
dried parsley
ground mustard
ground tumeric

Drain chicken and relish but don't squeeze dry.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, using just enough mayo to hold it together, and allow to set for a few minutes to blend the flavors.  This recipe is really adaptable - I don't measure anything, but simply adjust for taste. This can be spread over home-made bread for a sandwich, or mixed with cooked pasta that has been chilled for a quick and easy salad.  

Until next time, may each of you know the "peace that passes all understanding".