Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Like A Chipmunk

I feel like my entire life right now is consumed with a sort of controlled panic to get stores put in for the winter. It's kind of funny, because I've never felt this way before, except with the horses and their hay. You can NEVER have too much hay to carry you through a winter. Never. Just when I think I can't possibly pickle anything else, I find myself staring at a peck of peppers or pickling cucumbers or that lovely watermelon, and looking around for spare jars and the giant jug of vinegar. I know. It's weird. The freezers are groaning, and I now live in fear of a power failure. My pantry looks completely different than it did last year at this time.

Gather, gather, gather, store store store! I can't imagine how people in the days before refrigeration must have scrambled as the summer days dwindled down. Canning and pickling and salting and curing and drying and digging...I feel guilty for buying that sushi rice at the Asian market. It came from Maryland. Arkansas is Rice Central, and I bought rice from Maryland. Don't complain to me, complain to Riceland. I needed some sushi rice. Sue me.

If you're quiet, you can hear and feel it from the growers at the farmer's markets. The ones that are still showing up "in town" with their produce are antsy, anxious to get back to work. You can see the distracted looks on their faces, as if they're thinking about how much daylight they're burning while you make up your mind whether to buy one eggplant or two. You definitely feel it if you visit the actual farm, and of course, there, you can see it.

Bella and I visited "our" little nearby farm recently, and it sort of looked like the plants had taken over. Squash were run amok, to the point that they were overripe and spoiling in the rows in places. Tomatoes were ripening so fast that we were hard-pressed to find a handful of green ones for relish. The sweet peppers we came for were exploding in vivid shades of red and orange, instead of confining themselves to the quiet yellow-green of the last batch we collected for pickling.

peck of peppers for pickling

Far from being put out and having to collect two five-gallon buckets full of peppers for us, the grower was thrilled that we were taking them, telling us that he had just about been ready to till those rows under. This is how my first year of following the harvest has been--I've always seemed on the tail-end of whatever season it is. The good news is that I've gotten some incredible deals, from growers with a supply of fully-ripe, highly perishable produce to unload before it becomes very expensive compost. But I've also missed out on getting in good supplies of some things, like blueberries. I got a few pints, but not as many as I'd have liked. And I'm hoping for one more green bean harvest this year, but have no idea yet whether or not that's just a pipe dream. I'll know in a couple of days.

waiting

I'm pretty tickled with how much Bella has seemed to absorb during this process. She already knows more about nutrition and the origins of her food than I did as a young adult, and she definitely has a more experienced palate. The kid is even eating pickled peppers--probably because she was part of the process as they went from being living fruit on the vine to making a colorful confetti in our kitchen.

pack pepper for pickling

She even went with me to Scott to pick up hay last week, and hardly complained at all, despite the fact that it was a thousand degrees out. OK, maybe not a thousand, but it was darn hot. See?

that's right, it's HOT

This hay we got, it's some magical stuff. I haven't seen one bit of it go wasted since we got it home. The horses are desperate for quality forage, and very much appreciate the Good Stuff when they see it. My problem with putting in hay is the same as it ever was: I don't have the room to store as much as I'll need over the winter. So I bring home as much as I can carry (actually, judging from the pictures, possibly a bit more than I can carry, or at least more than I know how to load and tie correctly), and hope for the best. There has been a spell of rain and lower-than-normal temperatures recently, so I'm kind of hoping that means an extra cutting of hay this summer. It could happen. (This is where you stop what you're doing and pray for hay.)

only 100

yeah, it felt precarious, too

objects closer than they appear

I never feel quite so happily secure and optimistic as on the day I come home with enough hay to fill the barn. Conversely, nothing sets me on edge and gives me general anxiety quite as much as being out of hay in January. Ack, I don't even like thinking about it. This is how I get a little insight into the trials of my forebears. All right, so my forebears probably didn't have access to a Purina mill for complete livestock feed. Or a Kroger down the road, for that matter. But humor me, for I have soaked cucumbers in a solution of lime and water for 24 hours and created from that a delicious pickle. I see both the future and the past.

Ahhhh.

12 comments:

  1. Good to hear from you again, lady!
    We here in Maryland thank you for buying sushi rice. I will make a concerted effort to buy SOMETHING, ANYTHING from Arkansas in the next week or two to balance your valiant efforts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey, my son LOVES kosher dill pickles. Teach me to make them (pickle them) and he will love you FOR LIFE.

    It sounds like a great project for him to learn, I think!

    Shash
    xoxo

    P.S. Miss you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. The rice thing was really weird, because this state is a rice capital of the U.S.! But I guess sushi rice is not in demand. Thank goodness for Marylanders! Now send me some crab-cakes.

    For Kosher dills, go to any decent grocery store or, heaven forbid, big box store, and go to the canning section. Pick up a bag of Mrs. Wage's Kosher Dill Pickle mix, and follow the instructions on the back! Pickling is SOOOOO easy! I'm not kidding. I used mixes for Kosher dills and bread & butter pickles, and they're great. I used recipes from scratch for pickled peppers, limed pickles, and watermelon pickles. The only real difference is that the mixes already include the spices. I like pickling because there's very little risk that I'm giving everyone botulism. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am having the same panicky feelings. What will we EAT this winter? How will we LIVE!?!? I think it's the hormones, for me.

    I picked 11 cups of wild cranberries the other day and made homemade gingered cranberry sauce with it. I am still a bit afraid that I'll kill someone with The Botulism, but since the jars sealed, I guess I'm going to stop worrying about it.

    Yay for preserving! Hooray for hay! Now, I'm very tired. Nap time has arrived.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I laughed at your chipmumk reference I am feeling the same way. I spend all day in the kitchen preserving. The garden is growing well and I refuse to waste anything but I am feeling overwhelmed at times but can't stop myself :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I must have had farmers in my past somewhere. I get that "fill the freezer!" feeling each fall. But I'm a teacher, so the setting aside of food for the winter has to happen in August. Right now, I'm frantically preparing for school to start.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You so rock with all your canning craziness. I just love it :)

    I would so be all over those peppers, btw. They wouldn't make it to winter LOL!

    ReplyDelete
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