Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cherokee Heritage

Last spring when Pam gave us some seeds for Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, our garden was already fully planted. Dennis found room for them in unimproved soil along the garden fence, which is 13 feet tall.

As it turns out, that site was a lucky choice. These beans are climbers that grew all the way to the top wire. Their blooms were a lovely pink color that I failed to capture in a photo. The blooms turned into green pods, at which point they could have been harvested as green beans. We had plenty of green beans, so left these to mature.

Leaving the pods to mature was another lucky choice because the maturing pods are beautiful.

Inside each pod are rather large black beans.

I had mistakenly thought the beans’ name was just a tribute to the Cherokee people who made the long and devastating forced march from the Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma. A little research taught me that seeds for this bean variety actually made the trek with the Cherokee people and have been grown in Oklahoma through the generations. In 1977 Dr. John Wyche, a descendent of the marchers, donated some seeds to Seed Savers Exchange, which has been cultivating and distributing them for all these years.

It gives me pleasure to harvest and admire these beans. I hope we will grow some Cherokee Trail of Tears beans every summer in remembrance and honor of the Native Americans who have cherished them as a part of their heritage.

These beans also serve as a reminder of the cruel means Caucasians used to take over this country The hateful screaming faces of those who protest the arrival of Latin American refugee children at the U.S. southern border today perpetuate this evil heritage. White people seem to have compassion only for those whose skin is also pale, but not always for the pale faces who are poor and starving in a so-called Christian nation. What would Jesus have to say about this selfishness?

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Busy Summer Days

Mercy! Summer is so lovely, so fleeting, so busy it takes my breath away. We can’t keep up with the garden produce. Yesterday we preserved six quarts of green beans for winter meals and today Dennis brought in another basketful. Every day he gathers cherry tomatoes. Every day we eat them and give them away, but we can’t keep up.

Shallots and onions are curing on the picnic table. We won’t braid them until the stems have completely dried, but I check their progress every day.

The tiger’s eye beans are maturing now. The ones in this pod are still pale, but will darken after they have completely dried.

Tiger’s eye beans must be picked when their pods turn yellow but before the dried pods open and drop their beans on the ground. Dennis cut the first maturing ones today. We will leave them unshelled until they pop open.

Margaret, our red sex link hen, is busy, too, keeping the hosta bed free of insects.

No matter how busy we are, though, we take time to observe summer’s beauty. The second wave of tiger swallowtail butterflies is feeding on coneflowers and phlox. In this photo one is feeding while the one above it is en route to a different flower.

The phlox in its glory perfumes the air. Yesterday I saw the FedEx deliveryman standing by the flower bed taking deep whiffs of the phlox. We all need to take time to smell the flowers.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chicken Society

When we first kept chickens, we started with a dozen or so chicks that grew up together and knew each other well. As a mature flock they had an established pecking order and every bird knew her place. Every two years we would give away what remained of our flock after predators had invaded. Then we started a new group of chicks to replace the old ones. There was an established order in the chicken yard.

Now we have taken a different approach. We keep the old hens and buy enough replacement pullets to keep the flock at about 14 hens. This approach has taught us a lot about chicken society and its rules. Laurie brought five seven-week-old Americana pullets this spring, but they were too little to put with the big girls, so we set them up in a separate room of the chicken house. The first night a blacksnake smothered one of the babies by trying unsuccessfully to swallow it.

Laurie agreed to keep the young ones in her garage until they grew big enough to join the flock. Two of them turned out to be Rhode Island Reds instead of Americanas and one of the Americanas turned out to be a rooster, a fact Laurie discovered when she heard juvenile crowing.

The seller agreed to take the rooster back and give us a pullet instead. The problem was that the new pullet was only seven weeks old, and much too small to join the older ones. We moved the three older pullets into the chicken house with the old hens, but that left the new little pullet, Matilda, all by herself in Laurie’s garage. Meantime, the first new pullets were hanging out together in the chicken house and yard. The old hens sometimes chased them and would peck them if they got in the way, but at least the young pullets had each other for companionship.

The Big Three hang out while an old Rhode Island Red lays an egg.

Observing how the new pullets were faring in their chicken society, I strongly felt that Matilda would have a rough time growing up alone and that she needed companionship in order to have a friend when she was ready to join the old hens.

We intended to buy only one companion for Matilda, but when we visited the chicken farm we fell in love with a little bitty Lavender Orpington as well as a Rhode Island Red who was about the same size as Matilda. We brought both of the home, and after a few initial hubbubs, Matilda welcomed her two companions.

Laurie’s little cage soon was too crowded for the three newest pullets, so we moved Rhoda, the Rhode Island Red into the big house with the flock. Poor Rhoda spent all of her time alone. Even the older three pullets wanted nothing to do with her. We felt so sorry for Rhoda that we gambled on moving Matilda and Lila, the Lavender Orpington into the big house. Having the companions she was used to made Rhoda a happy girl.

The Little Three playing it safe on the roost.

The first three pullets, now known as The Big Three, still hang together and spend a lot of time inside the house. The second three, known at The Little Three, also stick together, spending most of the day perched on the roost, especially when old hens are inside the house. When they deem it safe, The Little Three hop down and get themselves something to eat and drink.

The Little Three grab a bite to eat while an old Barred Rock lays an egg.

Eventually all six new pullets will be well-integrated into the flock, but it will take time. People are a lot like chickens in this way. Racial integration takes a long time, but we have made great progress over the past 50 years. I bet it won’t take the chickens that long. They may be smarter than we are.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Livin' Isn't Easy

It’s summer time but the livin’ isn’t easy. It can be quite demanding, but rewarding. Today, for example, Dennis and I made jelly from a bucketful of crabapples. Even though I cheated by not removing the stems and blossom ends of the apples, two batches of jelly took several hours. I'll admit that a good part of that time I devoted to reading a book while crabapple juice slowly dripped through the jelly bag. That’s a step in jelly making that shouldn’t be rushed by squeezing the bag unless one doesn’t care about a beautiful, clear jelly. Jars of bright jelly lined up on the kitchen worktable are our reward. I got an extra reward because Dennis did the clean up.

Dennis was more productive than I while the juice was dripping. He dug the remainder of our potato crop and stashed it in baskets in the basement. The red ones are Norland and the yellow ones are Yukon Gold. We will eat he red ones first because they tend to sprout before the yellows.

I could move on to prepare green beans for freezing, or braid the onions and shallots, but one major task a day is enough for this septuagenarian. I’m going back to my book.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Cooling Taste of Mint

Among gardeners mint has a bad reputation for taking over the yard, but not at my house. I’ve planted mint three times and three times it has struggled to live and finally given up the ghost. Luckily for me, Laurie has an abundance of mint that she frequently shares with me.

A couple of days ago she brought me a generous bunch. Goody! I could make another batch of mint syrup to add to iced tea.

I cut the mint up with scissors, including the tender stems, but discarded woody stems and damaged leaves. It made two cups.

Then I put two cups of water and two cups of sugar in a saucepan and brought that to a boil for one minute, stirring until all the sugar was dissolved. Next, I poured the hot syrup over the mint leaves to steep in a one-quart measuring cup and set a plate on top.

When the mint syrup had cooled completely, I poured it through a strainer into a bowl with a spout.

It made almost a quart of lovely pale green syrup.

Everyone who tastes iced tea with mint syrup loves it. I think it would make a mighty fine mojito, too, with lime juice, rum, sparkling water, and a decorative sprig of mint.

If you want to make mint syrup just remember the formula: equal parts water, sugar, and mint.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pooped Out

Dennis and I have been making applesauce today and I’m pooped out. I’m not a spring chicken any more and rheumatoid arthritis has disabled me in many ways, but I can’t resist making applesauce from Lodi apples. Lodi apples produce a crop only every other year and two years ago the blossoms all froze, so we haven’t replenished our applesauce supply since 2010. Usually the apples are ready when Nancy and Cleo are here to participate, but this year the apples are late maturing and our helpers went home last week

Today Dennis did most of the work. Our wonderful old Squeezo strainer makes the job bearable. It separates the apple peels from the pulp, spitting the peels out and straining the sauce. In this photo we have already removed the big hopper that holds the cooked apples.

Today we made three or four gallons of applesauce, cooking cored apples in big pots with a little water to keep them from sticking. Then the Squeezo took over with Dennis turning the crank handle. My job was to add the right amount of cinnamon and sugar.  Lodi apples are very sour, but I used only four cups of sugar for all the applesauce we made, but almost 4 tablespoons of cinnamon.

We used all of our large containers – all recycled from  cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and other containers from grocery store purchases – eighteen in all. You can see the Squeezo hopper in the background.

To be honest, I’m glad we won’t make applesauce again until 2016. At the moment I can’t think about the green beans waiting to be preserved for winter or the crabapple jelly waiting to be made. I just want to sink into my new recliner, read a book, and forget about food preservation.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cycles of Summer

The last days of June passed in a whirlwind of family visits. One family came from Maine. Another one came from Colorado. Two families live here, so everyone except our three oldest grandsons was on hand. Children, of course, create a lively atmosphere, although they have quiet moments, too.

Cousins create new hair dos for each other.

Three generations pitched in to shell peas and stem gooseberries. I was delighted that my granddaughters got to experience the great conversations that occur while everyone’s hands are occupied with the same task. We ate creamed peas and new potatoes, and froze the peas we didn’t eat. Our first cherry tomatoes were picked and eaten with relish.

In the meantime, the gardening season proceeded in its inevitable cycle. Dennis and Carol picked the last peas and pulled up the pea vines for the chickens to enjoy. Then Dennis moved the pea fences to the Tiger’s Eye beans, which were looking for something to climb.

In the peas' place Dennis planted more sweet potato and yam slips. They love hot, dry weather, which will be coming soon.

Today, after all the visitors had returned to their homes, I remembered seeing blooms on the Blue Lake green beans before our visitors arrived. I asked Dennis if he had been keeping an eye on them. He had not, but when he checked, there are perfect beans ready to pick later this afternoon.

This is the great thing about gardens. Just as you’re sick of shelling peas, they are finished and replaced by something different – in this case, green beans.

There’s no getting sick of family, though. We miss them and already look forward to next June when the peas are ready and our girls come home.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer