Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting Ready for Winter... more lessons from "Little House" books

Preparing for winter was important in the "Little House" days... with the days of big supermarkets, truck deliveries every day, and greenhouse foods, we've moved away from the necessity of "putting up" for the winter... I think it's time we got back to those days... what a peaceful, comfortable, secure feeling it gives me when I know that if a winter storm or a hurricane hits, I've got plenty for us to eat without having to brave the elements to grab that last loaf of bread or gallon of milk everyone seems to rush out to get. I like to call it "food insurance!"

Mary and Laura play with their dolls among the pumpkins and other
food stored in the attic in the "Little House in the Big Woods"
From Little House in the Big Woods
One morning Pa went away before daylight with the horses and wagon, and that night he came home with a wagonload of fish. The big wagon box was piled full, and some of the fish were as big as Laura. Pa had gone to Lake Pepin and caught them all with a net.
Ma a cut large slices of flaky white fish, without one bone, for Laura and Mary. They all feasted on the good, fresh fish. All they did not eat fresh was salted down in barrels for the winter.
Pa owned a pig. It ran wild in the Big Woods, living on acorns and nuts and roots. Now he caught it and put it in a pen made of logs, to fatten. He would butcher it as soon as the weather was cold enough to keep the pork frozen.
Laura woke up and heard the pig squealing. Pa jumped out of bed, snatched his gun from the wall, and ran outdoors. Then Laura heard the gun go off, once, twice.
When Pa came back, he told what had happened. He had seen a big black bear standing beside the pigpen. The bear was reaching into the pen to grab the pig, and the pig was running and squealing. Pa saw this in the starlight and he fired quickly. But the light was dim and in his haste he missed the bear. The bear ran away into the woods, not hurt at all.
Laura was sorry Pa did not get the bear. She liked bear meat so much. Pa was sorry, too, but he said: "Anyway, I saved the bacon.”
The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack's tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.
Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.
Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic's corners.
The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves...
...The attic was a lovely place to play. The large, round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty spicy smell.
Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Learning from the Little House Books... Smoking Venison

I first met Laura Ingalls when I was in the third grade... I began devouring the "Little House" books one by one... I read them again when I was a bit older, then again aloud to my own children and again to my grandson.

My youngest daughter, Hannah, with memories of "Little House" still treasured in her heart, bought me a beautifully bound copy of Laura's first five novels for Christmas this year... I've begun reading them again, with new eyes... and the realization that they are so much more than a sweet children's story... or historical fiction... there is much to be learned about homemaking and food preservation and self reliance in those beloved pages...

 From chapter 1 of Little House in the Big Woods...

"The house was a comfortable house. Upstairs there was a large attic, pleasant to play in when the rain drummed on the roof. Downstairs was the small bedroom, and the big room. The bedroom had a window that closed with a wooden shutter. The big room had two windows with glass in the panes, and it had two doors, a front door and a back door.
"All around the house was a crooked rail fence, to keep the bears and the deer away.
"In the yard in front of the house were two beautiful big oak trees. Every morning as soon as she was awake Laura ran to look out of the windows, and one morning she saw in each of the big trees a dead deer hanging from a branch.
"Pa had shot the deer the day before and Laura had been asleep when he brought them home at night and hung them high in the trees so the wolves could not get the meat.
"That day Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary had fresh venison for dinner. It was so good that Laura wished they could eat it all. But most of the meat must be salted and smoked and packed away to be eaten in the winter.
"For winter was coming. The days were shorter, and frost crawled up the window panes at night. Soon the snow would come. Then the log house would be almost buried in snowdrifts, and the lake and streams would freeze. In the biter cold weather Pa could not be sure of finding any wild game to shoot for meat..."

"So as much food as possible must be stored away in the little house before winter came.
"Pa skinned the deer carefully and salted and stretched the hides, for he would make soft leather of them. Then he cut up the meat, and sprinkled salt over the pieces as he laid them on a board.
"Standing on end in the yard was a tall length cut from the trunk of a big hollow tree. Pa had driven nails inside as far as he could reach from each end. Then he stood it up, put a little roof over the top, and cut a little door on one side near the bottom. One the piece that he cut out he fastened leather hinges; then he fitted it into place, and that was the little door, with the bark still on.
"After the deer meat had been salted several days, Pa cut a hole near the end of each piece and put a string through it. Laura watched him do this, and then she watched him hang the meat on the nails in the hollow log.
"He reached up through the little door and hung meat on the nails as far up as he could reach. Then he put a ladder against the log, climbed up to the top, moved the roof to one side, and reached down inside to hand meat on those nails.
"Then Pa put the roof back again, climbed down the ladder, and said to Laura:
'Run over to the chopping block and fetch me some of those green hickory chips -- new, clean, white ones.'
"So Laura ran to the block where Pa chopped wood, and filled her apron with the fresh, sweet-smelling chips.
"Just inside the little door in the hollow log Pa built a fire of tiny bits of bark and moss, and he laid some of the chips on it very carefully.
"Instead of burning quickly, the green chips smoldered and filled the hollow log with thick, choking smoke. Pa shut the door, and a little smoke squeezed through the crack around it and a little smoke came out through the roof, but most of it was shut in with the meat.
'There's nothing better than good hickory smoke,' Pa said. 'That will make good venison that will keep anywhere, in any weather.'
"Then he took his gun, and slinging his ax on his shoulder he went away to the clearing to cut down some more trees.
"Laura and Ma watched the fire for several days. When smoke stopped coming through the cracks, Laura would bring more hickory chips and Ma would put them on the fire under the meat. All the time there was a little smell of smoke in the yard, and when the door was opened a thick, smoky, meaty smell came out.
"At last Pa said the venison had smoked long enough. Then they let the fire go our, and Pa took all the strips and pieces of meat out of the hollow tree. Ma wrapped each piece neatly in paper and hung them in the attic where they would keep safe and dry."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Birthday Surprise

Sunrise over beautiful Smith Lake
It started with cryptic comments from my Mr. G... 33 days until March 15... wait, my birthday's the 12th, what's the 15th?... then, "how many weeks ahead of time do you need to ask off from work?" "Well, take Friday, March 15 off"... and "get your car cleaned out and washed before Friday."

Then a couple days before, I received this clue...

"Sojourn, visit a temporary stay (e.g., as a guest), Sojourner a temporary resident.

As sojourners we shall embark on a journey westward across glen and dale to a place where by moonlight the land shimmers and ripples. To a place of your Surname where with watchful eyes like those before us were ever vigilant and their beacon was a symbol of comfort...on a Friday two days from now."

We began our "sojourn" early that Friday morning, first taking Smokey to board at a local kennel (which NEVER happens!)... I had been told to pack a bag for a couple of nights but still had no idea of our destination.

(Secretly I had thought we would be heading to the coast, to visit a lighthouse, Mr. G knows my fascination with lighthouses)

We left the South Carolina Midlands where we live and headed northwest (What??? not EAST???) to the Upstate of SC... "across glen and dale!" We hit the backroads near Greenville... across the mountains and curvy roads of North Georgia... into far Western North Carolina... into East Tennessee and on to Chattanooga... then turned south back into North Georgia (by this time my confusion continued to grow! But it was a fun trip, we listened to music, laughed and talked, enjoyed the scenery and each other's company, pointing out places of interest along the way... I decided to just sit back and enjoy the trip, what else could I do?) Mr. G, at one point, said, "you'll be traveling through 5 states today." So upon entering Tennessee, I remarked, "what's next, Arkansas?" He laughed, but gave away no clue.

From Georgia, we entered the fifth state, Alabama... North Alabama (nowhere near the coast)... and began to meander along curvy country roads in "farm country"... cows, chickens, farms and fields... after several hours of travel, Mr. G said we were about 5 minutes from our destination and I was to use my scarf as a blindfold for the remainder of the trip... so, with my blindfold on, I felt the car at last come to a stop... and I heard the voices of a man and woman... laughing "she's blindfolded!"

Mr. G came around and got me out of the car, assisting the blindfolded me down a few steps and across some gravel...

A little back story is in order at this point... When I was a little girl, one thing we did for entertainment was my parents loading up the station wagon and taking my brothers and me to the drive-in movies on the weekends... the first time I ever saw the Disney movie "Pete's Dragon" I decided then and there that when I grew up I was going to live in a lighthouse like the family in the movie did... my love and fascination of all things lighthouse grew from there, the history, the romance, the beauty... as I grew up, I realized I would never actually LIVE in a lighthouse but I love to visit them and Mr. G and I had had a conversation a few months ago about our "bucket lists" (things we want to do before we die)... I mentioned my childhood dream... and said, "I want to live in a lighthouse... or at least spend the night in one... or at the very least visit a different one every year."

Mr. G said to me while I was still blindfolded and standing on a gravel path, "I know it has been your dream since you were a little girl to live in a lighthouse... take off your blindfold..."

This is what I saw as soon as I removed the scarf from my eyes...

Yep... I squealed and clapped my hands! I was 8 years old again!

I was then told I was going to be living in a lighthouse for 2 nights! I squealed again!

Our surprise birthday destination? AnchorLight Bed and Breakfast on Smith Lake (my maiden name is Smith, hence the cryptic clue "place of your Surname")

Maggie and Jon "Tug" Owens, owners and keepers of the lighthouse were the most wonderful hosts ever... we enjoyed breakfast each morning in the lighthouse lamp room prepared by Maggie...

And a delightful tour of the lake on "Tug's" tugboat "Maggie"...

All the special touches Maggie had provided in our lighthouse room made our stay so special...

Ceiling art in the lamp room

What an unbelievable weekend surprise from my precious Mr. G!!!!! A lifelong dream come true for this Granny!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ask Granny... What Made The Old Ball Jars Blue?

Q. What made the old Ball jars blue?

A. I've had several people ask this question and didn't really know myself so did some digging and research and found this great site that explained it nicely... and quite interestingly... We've all learned something...

Taken from...

"It’s all in the sand.
Most of us know glass is made from sand. You might not have known that glass color comes from the mineral content in the sand that’s used to make the glass. We wondered what was different about the sand that Ball used. How come no other company had sand that made their jars that particular shade? And why did Ball stop making jars in the signature color?
Turns out, the sand comes from an onetime Indiana landmark. According to the public library in Michigan City, Indiana:
“Once Indiana’s most famous landmark, Hoosier Slide was a huge sand dune bordering the west side of Trail Creek where it entered Lake Michigan. At one time it was nearly 200 feet tall, mantled with trees. Cow paths marked its slopes and people picnicked upon its crest. Climbing Hoosier Slide was very popular in the late 1800s with the excursionist crowds who arrived in town by boat and train from Chicago and other cities. The summit, where weddings were sometimes held, afforded an excellent view of the vast lumberyards which then covered the Washington Park area.
“With the development of Michigan City, the timber was cut for building construction and the sand began to blow, sometimes blanketing the main business district of the town on Front St., which nestled near its base.
“When it was discovered that the clean sands of Hoosier Slide were useful for glassmaking, the huge dune began to be mined away. Dock workers loaded the sand into railroad cars with shovel and wheelbarrow to be shipped to glassmakers [and other places].
“Over a period of 30 years, from about 1890 to 1920, 13 1/2 million tons of sand were shipped from Hoosier Slide until the great dune was leveled. By the 1920s, nothing remained of the giant dune.”
Here’s a telling excerpt from a memoir on (the man is writing about his father):
“For twenty-five years, six days a week, he pushed an iron-wheeled wheelbarrow, moving sand from Hoosier Slide onto gondola carts headed for the manufacturing of canning jars.”
I don’t know exactly what geologic event caused the Hoosier Slide’s sand to have just the right mineral mix to create the famous Ball Blue glass color, but it was apparently something special that didn’t turn up in any other fruit jar maker’s glass.
Once the Hoosier Slide sand was all used up, Ball had to get another source, and the glass formula was forever changed. No more pretty Ball Blue. There are many shades of aqua and blue in the fruit jar world, but only the one Ball Blue."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ask Granny... Upside Down Jars, Pounds in a Bushel, BBQ, Canning Old Recipes

Q. Is this a safe practice or not to turn jars upside down?

A. Turning jars upside down after putting the lids on was once an accepted method, especially for jams and jellies… the heat from the jelly supposedly heated the lid, ensuring a good seal. The current school of thought is that this is no longer a safe method for sealing jars as it can cause food to be trapped underneath the lid causing possible seal breakage… it’s now recommended to process in a boiling water bath instead.

Q. How many pounds of green beans are in a bushel?

A. 30 pounds

Q. I want to can pulled pork barbecue but I’m afraid of it burning inside the jar. What can I do?

A. Water down your barbecue sauce (half sauce, half water) and you will lessen the chances of it burning.

Q. I have some old recipe and canning books, can I still use the recipes for canning?

A. As long as all the ingredients in the recipe are cannable (some ingredients aren't!)…
Use the ingredient in a recipe (even in outdated books) that takes the longest processing time (according to recent standards) and follow those instructions.
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