Sunday, February 27, 2011

She's really runnin' now!

It's probably no surprise that my all-time favorite books are the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite, but the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, is a good candidate.  I love the "Sugar Snow" chapter--it talks all about the family making maple syrup in the Big Woods of Wisconsin.  If you want a good overview of the old-fashioned way of gathering and making maple syrup, it is something I highly recommend that you read.  As much fun as it sounds gathering sap in a oxen-drawn sled and cooking it down in a big kettle over an open fire, our operation is a little more modern.  In the book, they have a big square dance at the end of the maple syrup season--this is right up my alley!  Is it any wonder we have a big square dance in the fall after we make apple butter?!

Today was a record sap collecting day!  I think it must be in honor of my birthday. :-) We collected 271 gallons of sap!  48 of those gallons came from the seven trees we have tapped at our house.  Last night I went to a concert in Columbus and when I got home at 12:30 am four of my trees were overflowing their five gallon jugs.  I changed them then and by 4:00 pm today when we changed the jugs they were almost full again!  We had so much sap that we had to fire up the fourth stove so we can get it all cooked down.  It is in the shed next to the sugar shack and is the original stove Harold and Dale used to start their operation until they outgrew it.  With all four stoves going Dale figured we could cook down about 140 gallons of sap in twenty-four hours.  As you can see we have a lot of cooking ahead of us!  (And, of course, we still have to keep collecting sap each day.)

Today was a beautiful day.  The rain held off until after dark and my dad and sister came down to check out the sap operation and lend a hand.  It was so nice to spend the day outside with them.  Sarah took some pictures for me on her phone because I forgot my camera.

Overflowing five gallon jug of sap.

Carrying sap jugs.

Dumping sap out of the jugs into the big tank on the buggy.  Harold is in the maroon sweatshirt and dad is in the white tee shirt.

 Re-attaching the jug to the tree.

Harold has that chain saw out again! (BTW--I was wrong, he's 80, not 77!!)

Pumping sap out of the tank into the fourth stove pan.

 Three stoves going in the sugar shack.

Sugar Shak!

Full pan of sap just put on to boil.  This pan holds about 33 gallons.

Our "finishing pan."  After we cook the sap down in the big pans we condense them into this shallow pan and finish boiling it into syrup.

 The "crew"--Dale, Steve, and Harold.  Watching the pans boil is our favorite past time.

Finished product! 

To finish off a lovely day, we had a birthday dinner at Grandma's.  Have I mentioned yet that I have a wonderful family?!

Yes, of course, that's a spice cake with caramel icing!!  Mom made mine heart shaped.  And, yes, that's a LOT of candles!

Blowing out the candles with a little help from my goddaughter!

Eating our cake.  We couldn't get Cecilia to smile but she did love it!

Birthday gifts from Grandma Jean--hand knit wool socks and crocheted pot holders.  I love that lady!!!

Dad, Sarah, Me, and Mom

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tree Tapping!

Well, this warmer weather means it's time to tap the maple trees!  For those of you who don't know, I have some friends who make maple syrup and last year they recruited me as a helper.  I consider myself an apprentice.  This is no small operation, mind you.  These guys know how to do things right--you will be amazed!  We have been tapping trees for the last three days (alas, I forgot to count the number of taps--I'll have to get back to you on that one) and will start collecting the sap tomorrow.  Watch for more posts and updates on our progress.  This post just shows some of the tapping.
We use plastic spiles and tubing--it is so convenient!  We run the tubes into gallon, two and half gallon, or five gallon jugs depending on how many taps are running into each jug.  This tree is up the hill a ways, so it is nice to be able to run a long tube down the hill to the path.

The guys get really into their "gear."  Last year they bought these two "go buggies", as they call them, to run the sap.  They will put large tanks on the back that we pour the sap from the jugs into to take back to the "sugar shack."  I probably should mention that two of the guys are in their seventies.  It is so funny to be around them; I need to start writing down their expressions to share with you.  Mostly we manage to keep the buggies on the path, but not always.  Imagine bush wacking through the woods in one of these (up steep hills, I might add) with a 77 year old at the wheel.  Pretty exciting! And, never fear, after getting snarled in some hanging grape vines he says, "We'll get through here; I've got a chainsaw in the back!" 

We use a cordless drill to do the taps.  Not as quaint as those old-fashioned drills, but much more efficient and when you are doing that many it makes a big difference!

Tapping in a spile.

View of Duncan Falls from the top of the hill.

Looking up the Muskingum River Valley.  (I wish these were clearer pictures--will have to try again later.)

Check back for more Maple Syrup making posts!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bean Soup or Soup Beans?

    I thought a good meal for Super Bowl Sunday would be to cook up a large pot of Bean Soup. . .or is it Soup Beans?  Which do you say?  I find myself saying both, but perhaps the latter is a just a southeastern Ohio-ism.  Of course, I had to cook up some corn bread to go along with it. 

    Remember the old rhyme, "Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old."  Well, in the old days some small beans were reffered to as "pease" (i.e. the navy pea), so "pease porridge" is like soup beans.  So, there is truth to the ryhme.  It goes on: "Some like it, some like it cold, some like it in the pot nine days old."  I'm not sure I really like it cold, but I do agree that it gets better the longer it cooks.  For the next couple of days the leftovers just get better.  Although, nine days is a bit of stretch--as much as I love it, I usually get sick of it after a couple of days.  If I fix a pot of soup and we're not having a party there is always a lot leftover, so I either freeze it, or as I did this time, I package it up to share with Grandma (who LOVES bean soup) and my cousins. 

    I really love growing beans in my garden.  I grow over 25 varieties of heirloom beans.  They are all so pretty and interesting--the little booklet I give with a jar of beans describes all of the varieties, as well as my soup recipe, which is the one my Granny used to  make.  And not too mention the taste!  I may be biased, but I really think all of the different types of beans give my soup a unique flavor.  February was supposed to the month when I shell all of the beans I harvested this fall.  Oops--the month is almost half over already and I haven't really started.  I better get crackin'--I mean shellin'!

Heirloom Bean Mix

Be sure to soak your beans overnight, so for this meal you kind of have to plan ahead.
This is the ham bone leftover from our Thanksgiving ham.  It has been in the freezer since then.  I used it to flavor the beans and there is actually enough meat left on that bone for the whole pot.  If you don't have a hambone in the freezer you can put ham chunks in the soup, but I would add a hamhock as well.  That will give it the good flavor.
Drained Beans
Cornbread cooked in an iron cornbread skillet.  This was baked in the oven not fried; I just set it on the burner so you can see it better.
Final product.  So yummy!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Family Birthday Favorite

My brother and his wife and baby were home over the weekend for his and my dad's birthdays.  So, I made them our family favorite birthday cake.  It is a double layer spice cake with caramel icing.  The icing is "to die for!"  I'm going to share the icing recipe with you at the bottom.  I hope your family loves it as much as we do.  Also, this is an icing that hardens as it cools, so it takes a little practice.  Work quickly, and if it doesn't turn out great the first time, try again--it's worth it! 

Really, our favorite part is eating the leftover icing out of the saucepan with a spoon!

Mom gets a LARGE spoonful!

Dad just takes the whole pan!

Cole gets his first taste of caramel icing.

He didn't like the icing--he'll stick with the cookies!!
 (Carol Butler made the boys to-die-for Butterscotch Oatmeal cookies.  As soon as I get that recipe I'll have to share that one too.)

Birthday Boys! Nate 33, Dad 64
(Dad is wearing BOTH of the hats my sister made him for his birthday at the same time.)

Caramel Icing:

In saucepan combine the following ingredients:
1 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup + 1 Tblsp shortening
3 Tblsp butter/margarine
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
Heat to boiling over med-high heat;stir frequently.  Reduce heat and simmer 3 min.  Remove from heat, let cool 5 min.  Combine cooled mixture with 3 cups confectioner's sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  Beat on high speed until thick enough to spread.  Work quickly to ice your layer cake--this icing hardens as it cools.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting organized!

So, my New Year's resolution was to "Get Organized!"  So far, very little has happened to make this a reality (the freezer was only done out of necessity!)  Kelley, my cousin's wife and very good friend, had the same resolution.  So, last Friday we determined to help each other stay on task and get things done.  Our goal for the weekend was to come up with a list to start on this week.  Trust me, my list is LONG!  I kind of started with the things that were the easiest and most interesting, saving the really bad stuff for last (like sorting paperwork).  Hey, I've got to ease myself into this, right?!

First on the "to do" list was to organize my seeds.  I was really good and got all my seeds ordered by the first week in January and they have been arriving ever since.  I order from several companies so now that they are all here I need to sort them into types of vegetables so I will know exactly what I've got.  Here are all my seeds scattered about the dining room table.  It looks like a big mess but I've actually got them in piles according to type of vegetable.

I decided that while I'm at it, I need to update my vegetable seed spreadsheet that I created in 2008 and haven't updated since!  So I went through each seed packet and listed important info like variety name, seed quantity, which company I ordered it from, and price.  This will be very helpful when I go to order seeds again next year.

For some things I use these wooden stakes to mark the different varieties out in the field.  I thought I would be ahead of the game to get some of these labeled now. 

I have a slight obsession with growing lots of varieties of things.  Most farmers pick a couple of varieties and stick with them.  It is certainly more cost effective to do this and less confusing when planting.  I, however, tend to make things harder than necessary!  Just kidding, I really just love seeing all the different kinds of flowers and vegetables.  For example, after inventorying my seed, I discovered that I bought 22 kinds of Zinnia seed for a total of $138.39!  Most people plant one kind. :-)  I'm okay with that though; I know that I will more than break even on them and even if I didn't I love zinnias so much that I don't care.  Some women spend more than that on a pair of shoes.  Whatever makes us happy, right?!  In some cases, it works to my advantage though, I think.  For example, I have 26 varieties of cherry tomatoes.  Every color and shape you can imagine.  When I pick these I mix them all together in a "rainbow" basket.  People love these and come back to my booth every week at Farmers' Market just to get them.  They are definitely one of my best sellers!  Here's a picture of the first zinnia bouquets and cherry tomatoes from last summer.  I can tell it's early in the season--look at all those zucchini!! (I only grow two kinds of zucchini--that's enough for anyone!)
This is the finished product.  Much more orderly and everything has a lable.  Unfortunately, I don't have a great place to store my seeds.  A lot of big farmers have special rooms for their seeds that are dry and have the perfect temperature, etc.  Some keep them in the freezer--you've seen my freezer, we don't have room for that.  So, for now I'm going to keep them on the bench in the hallway.  It's 50 degrees in there and that's not too bad. 

The next organizational task is to get the cellar in order.  I have stuff piled everywhere!  The beef and jelly I did last week are still sitting on the kitchen counter because I have no where to put them.

Who can get to the canned goods under all the boxes and bags?

A pile of squash--I KNOW there are rotten ones in there that need to be pitched.

Jars everywhere!  I have good canning jars mixed up with jars that I use for flower arrangements in the summer, plus canners and other pots, scattered all over the floor.

I don't think I'm going to run out of egg cartons anytime soon!  I need to get them stored better; they get very dirty in our basement then they are no good.

Well, wish me luck.  I hope to report back soon with pictures of a lovely, well organized cellar!!