Update from the ‘Stead

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Organic Diet on a Less Than Whole Foods Budget

I know, I know. There’s Town Hall Madness, high dudgeon political theater, a boycott of Whole Foods, and it’s hot in August. But there aren’t any Town Halls by my rep this year. He’s a blue dog who will vote however the caucus tells him to vote. They never intended to give us shit, the insurance companies just need a bailout and Obama can’t just run that by anybody like he did for Wall Street’s wealthiest and crookedest players. Just another tax hike around here when forced to buy junk insurance, less money we’ll have for actually going to a doctor if we need to. Oh, well.

And there’s no Whole Foods anywhere near me that I know of, so who cares how much of a jerk the CEO may be? Are his employees happy with their health care? Then let ’em keep it. From what I hear it’s purely a Yuppie-Haven, nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” Out here where organics are a regular way of life, I can say again, who cares? We’ve great farmer’s markets, tailgates, and plenty of small farms everywhere you look where you can pick your own, buy at a stand near the driveway, or off a pickup on the side of the road. Most garden/farm “naturally” even without organic certification. Apples are ripening fast, who the hell would grow a GMO apple anyway, for goodness’ sake!?

We’ve had a cool year. Sure, we get a few hot days, but usually not without a nice rain (we’re averaging an inch a week or more) and it’s never hot at night in these mountains. So the tomatoes have been pretty much a bust all around, only started getting ripe after they’d developed blight. Pumpkins are ripening early, but I think that’s because I planted them early. They’re quite tasty, can keep a long time in the field even after the greenery’s gone. My eggplant experiment doesn’t look promising but the potatoes are going great guns, the peppers are fruiting fine, and the herbs are thick this year.

My apples have been ripening for a couple of weeks. They either have to fall, or I get somebody to shake the tree and I play catch. Granny Smiths and Macintosh, I have used my self-constructed solar dryer – for which I sacrificed no digits to power tools – to dry as fast as they come in. Have jars and jars and several old coffee tins full, I figure a pie apiece if I can keep the boys out of ’em. They consume vast quantities right out of the jar for snacks.

Also ripe are the cinnamon pears. Small and hard, but seriously sweet and rich-tasting. They were here when we moved here, three trees. Two young-ish ones about 6 inches in diameter, one great-granny tree that is the biggest pear tree anybody’s ever seen. It’s 3 feet in diameter, about 70 feet tall, and the pears are hard as baseballs when they fall. There are thousands of ’em, and will definitely dent your car hood or head if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bears, deer and turkeys love them, keep them fairly cleaned up, though our driveway does smell a lot like overripe applesauce right now. I think they were used at one time to sweeten the corn mash for some high-dollar moonshine. I’d try my hand at that, but corn doesn’t do well here at all, and every time I’ve tried wine it’s turned to vinegar (but really good vinegar!). So I’ll forego the still.

What I’ve been doing is strolling out to gather a colander full of ripe and fairly unbruised ones (pears don’t really ripen until they’re a day or two off the tree). Wash them off, peel them with a potato peeler, quarter, clean and core. I’ve dried some, but they turn very dark and get sugar crystals all through them and on them. So now I’m making puree in the blender with a splash of cranberry grape juice, and drying leather. When the persimmons ripen I’ll dry them too. I hear they’re great that way, too mushy of a consistency for me to eat them fresh.

Oh, yeah. I’m making veggie chips out of the yellow squash and some of the pumpkin. Half dry them, then rehydrate in spices, then dry all the way. I’m storing in zip-locks, if they get a little limp I’ll just pop them into the oven on a cookie sheet when it comes time to eat some. They’ll crisp up just fine. Also drying the cutest little tomato-raisins you ever saw. The volunteer grape tomatoes that took over where the onions were are producing lots. I didn’t stake them, they’re fine on the ground, prolific and sweet. Cut ’em in half and dry until hard, you can’t peel or seed these puppies so I just dry as is. They’re quite tasty as a dried snack too, though I’m hoping since the big tomatoes died that I’ll get enough to powder. From that I can make tomato sauce at will, or add to soups and stews all winter. Mixed with my dried onions, bell peppers, celery and carrots. Have been drying kale and collard greens as well, they crumble into flakes and you can sprinkle them on anything or toss a handful into soups and beans. I’ll make some pumpkin/squash powder too, to use in an acorn/oatmeal gruel for hot breakfast with real maple syrup or honey. Have a neighbor who has bees and makes both maple and sorgum syrup, I buy however much I can when it’s fresh.

My mission with the dryer was to find a way NOT to have to can this year. Yes, I will have to can grapes (juice and jam), but that’s September/October, not August! So far so good, though now that things are coming in fast, I have put the oven to work on its lowest setting, with three racks full (two in the solar dryer). Looks like I’ll be salvaging much more of the crops than usual this year, since so much goes to waste when it’s just me doing the work.

I’m  drinking a smoothie now of pear sauce, banana, cran-grape juice and citrus sherbet. I pronounce it Yummy! Sort of ‘Home Health Maintenance’ on an income that wouldn’t allow us to shop at Whole Foods even if there were one somewhere nearby. Best thing we can do right now is stay healthy. Already gathered and dried all the ingredients for anti-viral tea (peppermint, lemon balm, raspberry, Japanese honeysuckle, new grape leaves, mountain mint), just need goldenrod – which will flower any day – and rose hips, which must wait until after the first freeze. And a dash of sassafras root bark, for flavor. Figure we’ll take cheap vitamin D supplements too and hope for the best.

So screw Whole Foods! Who needs ’em? What we need is health care when we need it that doesn’t kill us or make us bankrupt. Is that so much to ask? Pitcher’s full. Pour yourself a smoothie and pass it on…


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    • Joy B. on August 17, 2009 at 03:46

    May have to freeze a few quarts of this pear mush instead of drying. Just for smoothies…

    • RiaD on August 17, 2009 at 03:56

    tell me about your self constructed solar dryer.

    my plums made a batch of jam, blueberries went into the freezer, grapes are coming along & we have several apples & pears this year! they had been very overgrown & hacked back hard last year, we didn’t expect anything.

    out of 3 new cherry trees two survived.

    • Joy B. on August 17, 2009 at 04:15

    …I looked up designs on line, looked easy enough. We salvaged some old windows a few years ago, they were stored under the shed, so I got one out that had only two glass sections (most glass for the area). It was old and no doubt lead paint (white), so I scraped it and sanded it and removed the putty and replaced it with clear caulk. Painted it black matte (Rustoleum – so I only painted the outside, inside’s raw).

    Then built a box (no top or bottom) of 1×6 pine boards we got from our neighbor with the sawmill. Untreated, of course. Used a circular saw and not one but two power drills (one for drilling in, one for drilling out because I couldn’t get the switch to work), didn’t lose any fingers or cut myself or anything! Though it’s certainly not very pretty. Boards cut at strange angles and such. But I put it together with screws, stapled in some stainless steel screen I got from another friend as scrap, then installed a refrigerator rack inside that is a few inches above the screen and pivots up. Hinged the window to the top and installed a hook-and-eye to keep it tightly closed.

    Mounted this contraption on scrap pieces of wood so it’s tilted up toward the south a bit, whole thing sits on a table on the south deck over a black-painted piece of paneling with a road sign on top of that, metal side up to reflect and deflect heat. When the veggies and fruit are loaded on the screen and rack, I cover the box with a piece of black cotton cloth and then shut the window tight. It gets pretty hot – 130-140º – when the sun’s shining. I could have gotten fancy and made a bottom baffle out of aluminum roofing, but figured I really would injure myself if I tried cutting that, and it works fine without. If you live farther north you’d probably need it.

    I have spleen damage from when I was a sick kid, so I bleed profusely when I’m cut. I control it by eating a lot of collards and kale and spinach, as they supply ample vitamin K. But I’m also clumsy, so I am careful!

  1. You want to watch your sanitation when you do it, and use an aggressive yeast. Sanitize EVERYTHING that’s going to touch the must, and keep your fermentation lock full of water – or better yet, vodka, to keep acetobacter (the stuff that turns things to vinegar) out. You’ll need to store it for a year, and rack it off the lees quarterly.

    Also, try finding a new place to store your carboys – the place you might be storing them might have too much acetobacter floating around in the air.

    You might be able to make some seriously tasty cider and perry with the apples and pears. If you’re worried about losing a lot to making mistakes, do it in 1 gallon batches first.

    Some people use the natural yeast that resides on the apples and pears to make their cider, but I recommend getting a tried and true strain if you want to do it, especially if you have an acetobacter problem.

  2. which part of the country do you live in if it’s not to personal? I am in OR and doing a full blown urban vegetable and herb garden, on a 50 by 100 ft lot. I actually got peas this year as I started digging in March, which was a real body cruncher as our dirt is clay and wet and we had  newly built beds. The tomatoes after a slow start are doing great. I bought starts for them. I lost the tags and have found I bought quite the variety. My favorite, the earliest is a yellow tomato called Taxi. I seem to have three Roma bushes which are really prolific. Were having strange weather and I am trying to get a good few days to plant starts and seeds for winter greens.  

    You homemade dryer sounds great. I am not a canner. We usually don’t have the volume that we do this year. I think drying the tomato’s is a great idea. Could I put it on my porch roof? Our roof is tin so it gets really hot, and the porch overhang is low enough to put a small ladder below and spread have access to the dryer.

    My goal was is to grow as much of our own food as possible. I shop the farmers markets and we have a local chain New Seasons which is really a supermarket. It is upscale but these days they have made a conscientious effort to buy local which cuts back on their shipping costs and they are keeping their bulk organic staples, like brown rice, at what I used to buy on sale. This store is great to work for and it not publicly owned. They are being harassed by Whole Foods, who wants to eat all the local heath food stores.

    I actually am ashamed to say I shopped at Whole Paycheck last week. It is located in the ritsy Pearl district. My grandaughter was going to drama camp (like she needs to learn drama) nearby and as I was the taxi for two weeks I got lazy and stopped there. It was obnoxious no local produce and at least twice as expensive as the other health food stores. They also have no fair trade which I try to buy. they also don’t carry diary co-op products. The shoppers pretty much were the milliondollar condo owners from this yucky neighborhood that I have a big bitch with anyway as it used to be the arty cheap Portland Soho. Full of galleries and funky studios and fun cheap spots. So anyway just rambling here. Will not go back to WF again.


    • Joy B. on August 18, 2009 at 23:32

    …above this computer has been great fun today. I think maybe Papa bear has moved on (at last!), hasn’t raided the trash in a few days, perhaps disgusted that there’s no food in it. A couple of does moved in to salvage pears, and had been getting along just fine with the turkeys who think they own the place.

    That’s a big tom and three hens, a dozen young’uns who now have all their feathers and are scavaging the landscape for bugs and worms as well as downed pears from Grandmother Tree and her young’uns. Today a tom with two hens and only four younglings moved in, it’s been a regular free-for all out there! The new turkeys are busy chasing the deer around, then the hens of both tribes chase each other up the hill and back down the hill and around and around in circles. Pretty funny. The live-in flock has taken to dust-bathing in the driveway turn-around, then shaking the dust off when they’re chasing the other flock and flapping their ample wings. I’d try to bag one for Thanksgiving, but Starfish the scaredy-puppy has chewed all grandson’s arrows into splinters. Ah, well. They’re such fun to watch when they fly, because they aren’t very good at it.

    None of them are bothering with the garden, despite the far side fence being all the way down (including compost bin wall, it was constructed of loading pallets) from Junior bear. They’re all pretty comical to watch. Meanwhile I collected another colander of pears to puree for leather, and six fat apples now drying along with another pumpkin. Cut a sweet red rose for here next to the ‘pooter (smells heavenly), sole new blossom on the bush we fertilized when my son’s son was here in July with his father’s ashes. SkyPup must be pleased at finally being free to send out such a late, delicious bloom!

    Life is good. §;o)

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