Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker

Bread & Butter Pickles

A man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. – Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

A few days ago, I happened to click a link on a friend’s Facebook page and it reminded me of something that’s been on my mind of late. The link led to a utopian sort of communal living arrangement whereby small families live on and work small parcels of their own land within a community while surrounded by a larger, natural environment.

That took me back a few years to a yahoo group I used to be a member of where we were discussing such a thing and if it would be a practical way to go about homesteading. The natural leader of the group posed us this question: If you lived in a communal homesteading society, what skills could you bring to the group?

Well, there were all kinds of answers -- we were not stupid sheeple after all! One person could teach yoga, another could teach French, someone else with a degree in accounting could keep our books, another knew all about computers. “All fine things to know,” he says “but who’s going to do the dirty work?” A few more spoke up they’d be WILLING to milk the cow or mow the lawn. Finally someone said “I would be EAGER to work the ground with hand tools and produce a garden from it.”

And this, my friends, is why utopian communal societies do not exist in a world where they aren’t strictly necessary. It is the difference between being merely WILLING to exercise hard physical labor and being EAGER to engage in it. Oh sure, if you found yourself in a post-apocalyptic world, you’d HAVE to do whatever it took to eat; but as long as there’s an option, you’re always going to have people in the group who are only willing, not eager. It’s that old saw about 20% of the people doing 80% of the work while 80% of the people do only 20%.

The simple fact is, most people have developed a personal distaste for physical labor. We have become an elitist society who believe that people who labor and sweat for their subsistence are doing untouchable jobs. We are obsessed with outer cleanliness and hygiene without realizing that sweat is the ultimate purgative for the body, and that without it, our bodies soon fall into a state of stagnation and illness.

In “The Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing, I’m reminded of the paragraph where Helen talks about Scott’s love of physical labor, especially for chopping wood: “Scott rolled up his sleeves, thanked his host for putting two newly filed saws and a sharp axe at his disposal and spent the morning happily fitting the wood to the fireplace. After days spent in airplanes and nights in hotel rooms, the relief to him of sawing wood for hours was truly wonderful.” Scott Nearing lived to be 100 and was of sound mind and body until the end.

I am also reminded of a certain scene in “Gandhi” (the movie). Gandhi started out as a lawyer in a society that was governed by the caste system. At the top of this system are the elite -- the spiritual leaders & educated people. At the bottom are the untouchables, those who work for them and do the jobs no one else will do. As he struggled to understand how his country could be so rich in people and resources, but so impoverished and enslaved by the British, he realized that it was only by abolishing the caste system that his people could be unified to realize a higher standard of living and be free of British rule. Knowing he must set the example himself, he and his wife decide to live communally and become as self-sufficient as possible. One morning he tells her that it is her job that day to “rake and clean the latrines.” Welllll….. she was used to being the wife of a lawyer, who in that society was part of the upper caste. “But, but…” she says, “THAT is a job for the… untouchables!” At which point he yells at her “You will do it with joy or not at all!” Of course she ends up conceding to raking and cleaning the latrines in the end, but the point is, SOMEONE has to do the untouchable jobs.

And then you also have to look at the definition of the word “skill.” Now personally, when Webster’s uses the word “skill” in the sentence: “Poker is a game of luck AND skill” I almost fall in the floor laughing. Unless you’re James Bond (or Lady Gaga!), poker is not a skill. Neither is yoga. When a bunch of sweaty, tired farmers walk in from turning an entire field with a broadfork or cutting a field of hay with a scythe and the yoga instructor says “Now it’s time for your yoga lesson!” guess how much enthusiasm that’s going to generate!

A while back I heard tell of a teacher who asked her young students to write and tell about a skill they might have. I forget which grade she teaches, but I know they are pre-teens. One boy said he’d like to write about dressing a deer. She told him that wasn’t an acceptable skill to write about. Now in all fairness, she teaches in the city and many of the other students didn’t realize that when he used the word “dressing” a deer, he meant “butchering” a deer. Several of the students took that to mean he’d be giving the deer a bath and putting clothes on it! And I’m not making that up. When she explained what he meant, most of them got really grossed out and I suppose she might have taken more flack from the parents of the other kids for allowing him to discuss such things in a room of elitist children than from the boy’s parents, if it came to that. Which is a sad statement about our society. In any case though, a pre-teen who can butcher a deer by himself probably has more ACTUAL skills than any kid in that room. I’d pick him to be on my team anytime.

In my own mind, a “skill” must be defined within the boundaries of how much it benefits society. A skilled craftsman who can build furniture, weld and forge metals, or make and repair tools is indispensable to a self-sufficient community. Taking a pail of fresh milk and turning it into butter, cheese and yogurt is a skill. Turning an orchard of fresh fruit into jams, jellies and pie filling is a skill.  It is when we lose touch with reality that we consider these jobs to be less important than punching buttons on a computer or moving papers from one side of the desk to another. And before you wrinkle your nose in distaste over another’s sweat….

What REAL skills do YOU have?


It has been a busy couple of months and I’ve been more engrossed in “doing” than writing about it. I recently visited my mom and stepdad in NE Oklahoma and ended up staying for longer than expected because I found so many wonderful homesteading activities to occupy me. Curtis was able to stay home and tend the animals so it was a nice “vacation.” And a VERY nice birthday!

Of course I fished a lot and brought home lots of fish for the freezer.

And the peaches and plums were ripe in Zeke’s orchard. I canned a couple cases of pints of the wonderful plum jam.

You can buy sweet corn on the cob on the street corner for about $15 a bushel! Who knew? I can't grow sweet corn for that price. Never saw that in Texas. All of that was cut off the cob and went into the freezer.

On the homefront, I’ve been canning pickles all week. A 200’ row of cukes makes for a bumper crop.

And I butchered the goat last month. That was a new experience. Did it by myself except for getting it on the gambrel. (That was a BIG goat!)

I’ve kept the garden very small this year because I’m not convinced many things are going to survive the summer after the drought of last year. But there are fresh squash every day and there will be okra this week. There are chickens ripe for the plucking. The first crop of peaches has already ripened and I’ve got 2 more trees so heavy with them the branches are sagging.

Life is good. Life is abundant. And that’s all we simple SKILLED folk can hope for. J

Easy Refrigerator Pickles

These are more of a pre-marinated salad than a pickle. Because they aren’t processed, they stay nice and crisp. I like to keep a half-gallon jar of them in the fridge for a fast summer side dish. Some chopped or sliced sweet peppers can also be added to this salad. I opt to use Braggs Cider Vinegar in this rather than the cheap commercial stuff. They are ready to eat in about a day.

*Slice unpeeled cucumbers very thin, about 1/16”

*Chop an onion and mix with the cucumber slices.

*For each approximate quart of vegetables, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sea salt or pickling salt. Let stand 1 hour. Rinse and drain well. Place vegetables in a large jar or bowl.

*For each approximate quart of vegetables, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon each celery seeds and mustard seeds. A few whole cloves or a pinch of ground cloves is also nice.

*Mix dressing in the proportions of ¾ cup of sugar to ½ cup of cider vinegar. You can use as much or as little as you like of this dressing and will probably need several batches to cover a 1/2 gallon jar of vegetables. Pour it over the vegetables and stir well, or cover the jar and shake it thoroughly.

*Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

Friday, May 4, 2012

America: Land of Entitlement

Chicken Enchilada Casserole
I try to be nice on this blog. I really do. I do my best to keep political and religious opinions to myself here, because we all have those and it’s rare that any two  people agree wholeheartedly on such issues. But this is a homesteading blog and sometimes things need to be said about our rights and freedoms regarding this issue. And sometimes a little childish name-calling seems to be in order… ;-)

A friend sent me a link this morning from his local paper:
This link opens directly to the comments section, but if you scroll up, you’ll see the story. The article is about possibly allowing a city ordinance to go into effect that would allow urbanites to keep a few hens in their backyard. (This is in Maryland.)

Now, ten years ago, I would’ve probably gaped incredulously at such a thing and asked “You need PERMISSION to keep a few hens?” Course I live in the Great Repulic of Texas and we don’t ask permission for much of anything outside of the larger metroplex areas like DFW or Houston. A good many of us have lived on farms or in smaller towns and we don’t necessarily think it’s a mortal sin to grow some of our own food. We don’t even have to register our handguns (gasp!) and many of us have killed and eaten animals with nary a thought of their Disney doppelgangers.

I lived in the DFW area for about fifteen years, so I’m no stranger to the ways of city folk. And I’m sure a lot has changed in the last twelve years since we moved away. But more and more we’ve become a nation of the “Entitled Elite.” We expect others to do our dirty work and Bread Labor for us and we think that’s okay as long as we pay them with money. That belief, folks, is at the very heart of communism and it’s just another type of welfare – that is, someone else doing all the slave labor and “untouchable” jobs while we sit on our fat, lazy, entitled tushies.

But back to the article… Honestly, I can’t believe I share the planet with some of these ignorant yahoos. About halfway down in the comments section, there’s someone who truly hits the stupidity nail on the head. I won’t copy and paste that comment or user name for liability reasons, but you can see it for yourself. People like this are what is wrong with this country!

This person rages on about how a panel of so-called “experts” agree with him/her that it is downright unhealthy and even DANGEROUS to raise, keep or feed chickens! Even in rural areas! He/she cites reasons such as disease, smell and noise for this opinion. (Course obviously, this ignoramus didn’t consult any of the thousands of  “experts” that actually keep small flocks or a few hens in their backyard.)

There are other stupid comments, but that was the worst. There also seems to be various levels of concern over the inordinate amount of feces a few hens would generate. I hate to tell the Chicken Littles of the world, but a few hens in a backyard would barely generate enough manure to feed my roses and flowers with, let alone a larger garden! I know this because I’m raising about 200 chickens a year for meat and eggs and it’s still not enough to fertilize everything I grow. That stuff is more precious than gold if you have the good sense to know how to use it! Oh, and, it only stinks if there’s too much of it and it gets wet. That’s what a compost bin is for.

Disease? REALLY?! You’re more likely to catch a disease from your wild bird feeders than from a few chickens. Or from the raccoon that’s eating your pets’ food and sifting through your garbage. Or from the cat that left a turd in your three-year-old’s sandbox that she ate. Noisy? Well, they do like to announce the arrival of their eggs, but at least they’re doing something productive, unlike a backyard of yapping dogs or yowling cats. Of course no one should keep a rooster if they have neighbors within a quarter mile of them and special care should be taken keeping them around children. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Roosters are mean and aggressive, not to mention noisy. I keep two roosters for breeding and that’s one and a half too many, even in the country. (And if I could grow a couple of their testes on petri dishes, I’d be perfectly happy doing without the rest of them! So would the hens.)

If you’ve been keeping up with the “Urban Homesteading” brew-haha from last year, you’re not a stranger to this whole issue. And then there was the woman who grew vegetable plants in her city yard. Can’t remember if she got arrested or merely fined, but it sure did cause a stink. The thing that just kills me is all the people who run around screeching about sustainability and “Going Green” and animal rights and so on. I have to wonder how many of those people constantly seek out organic, locally-grown foods while they support legislation and lawmakers that prevent them or their neighbors from keeping a few hens or growing a small garden in their backyard?

I hate to tell you this folks, but we are WAAAAYYY past the possibility of sustainability on this planet. The only reason we are not already starving (in THIS entitled country anyway!) is because we are still mining the planet’s resources for fertilizer and fossil fuels. THIS PLANET CANNOT SUSTAIN SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE FOR MUCH LONGER! (And it doesn’t help when idiots like the Dueggars crank out nineteen children. Just because we can reproduce like cockroaches, doesn’t mean we should. Wake up and smell the birth control!)

If you live in the city or suburbia, WHERE exactly do you think your food is going to come from as our resources dwindle and our economy goes deeper in the hole so that food becomes even more expensive? For those of you who seek out food from organic sources, most of those products are still produced using fossil fuels – farm machinery and transportation are gasoline powered. The grains and feed grown to feed our livestock are only possible because we have extensive grain belts over much of the country and fossil fuels to feed the machines that produce them. Even components of our so-called “organic” fertilizers are often produced using non-organic fertilizers to grow them. Other countries don’t feed their livestock the way we do! Food and feed is expensive elsewhere. So expensive, in fact, that it’s cheaper to import meat & grains  from America than raise it themselves.

Seriously folks, if YOU don’t start raising a little of your own food on that postage stamp of a yard you dump chemicals and precious water on, where do you think it’s going to come from in the future? It isn’t your RIGHT to own a few chickens and keep a small garden in your backyard, it’s your RESPONSIBILITY!

I can’t think of a better place to start than raising a few hens in your backyard. They will consume every last scrap of food waste from your household that would otherwise go into the disposal or landfill. They will provide at least a little fertilizer for a small garden or flower beds. You can even save the eggshells to use on the garden and flowers. Nothing need go to waste when you have chickens. And the first time you crack open one of those eggs with the beautiful orange yolks,  you’ll know you did the right thing….

So moving on now….
Bunion the Goat

We have a goat! About three weeks ago, my next-door neighbor called and explained that her daughter’s goats had been attacked by a stray dog. The dog killed the pregnant female doe and injured the buck’s back leg so badly she thought he would always be lame. She said they knew I’d probably butcher him, but they couldn’t do it and didn’t want to just shoot him….

(I’m leaving out lots of parts to this story – my neighbors are of the poor “Entitled Elite” – they live on more than enough land to support their own table, but they eat not so much as a bean pod from their own property. Meanwhile, they live on welfare and keep lots of animals they can’t afford to feed. And the “stray” dog was one of the many mongrels they constantly take in. I’m not trying to rat out my neighbors here, it’s just simple truth. And they aren’t the worst neighbors we’ve ever had – her parents were far worse!)

Anyway, the poor little goat was easily twenty-five pounds underweight from malnourishment. The guys at the feed store recommended Sweet Feed to pack some muscle and fat on him. That seemed an affordable solution ($10 a bag) and it seems to be working so far. I also bought him a salt block. That was fun – I’ve never bought one of those before! Fifty pounds of salt for $5.95 – I should be putting those back for pickling and brining! J

I’ve actually become quite fond of the little goatnik, which Curtis named “Bunion.” (Bunion and Parsnip were the kobolds from “The Magical Kingdom of Landover” series.) But we can’t keep him. He is indeed lame, though his injuries have healed nicely. Someone really botched his de-budding too. He has one scur that’s easily 2” thick. We removed that last weekend and I don’t EVER want to go through that again! And he isn’t castrated. Nor am I keen on putting a rubber band around THOSE big cojones! He is also very poor breeding stock, so really, it’s best just to butcher him after he fattens up a bit. But I don’t have to like doing it.

I am, however, sold on goats. As a dairy and meat animal for a small family, they make more sense to me than a dairy cow. I’m looking forward to going in search of a couple dairy does after we get suitable housing and a yard built for them.

We are keeping the garden quite small this summer. Texas was invaded by army worms a couple weeks ago and I’m thankful I didn’t have much planted. They decimated a 4’ x 80’ bed of onions in only a couple days. I caught them just as they trooped into the garlic. THAT would have been devastating – and expensive!
Army Worms

So I’m just now getting the summer garden up and running. Okra, cukes, melons, summer and winter squash, a few tomatoes and quite a few peppers. The corn and green beans won’t do well during our nasty summers so those will have to wait until the fall. I’ve got a lot of herbs growing in containers and I’m hoping to use this summer to get some things done around the homestead. We desperately need to do some fencing and some work on our house, along with building a toolshed and another outbuilding. Sometimes you have to prioritize over the garden, though I really hate it.

We are on our third hatch of chick-lets and those are all doing well.  We’re going through chicken from the freezer pretty fast, so I’m glad we’ll have more soon.

As we make the transition from the heavier foods of winter to the lighter foods of summer, we always eat a lot of Mexican food this time of year. What we don’t raise ourselves can be had at a good price right now. I just bought some excellent avocados and mangoes this week.

Following are a few of our favorite warm-weather recipes. The pork and chicken marinades make for excellent fajita meat or just grilled and served with stir-fried veggies. I’ve been buying boneless pork sirloin roasts from the grocery and slicing them about ¾” thick for the cutlets. Of course, the chicken breasts and all the other parts are always from our farm.
Chicken Fajitas

Chicken Breast Marinade
(for 4-6 chicken breasts)

* ½ cup white wine
* ¼ cup lime juice
* ¼ cup olive oil
* 1 tablespoon chili powder or lemon pepper seasoning
* 1 teaspoon salt
* fresh garlic to taste, minced
* a little wine vinegar

Pork Cutlet Marinade
(for 4-6 pork chops/cutlets)
Curtis claims these are so good you don’t need any kind of sauce with them. I let them marinate for at least 48 hours.

* ½ cup sherry
* ½ cup apple cider or juice
* ¼ cup olive oil
* 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
* 1 tablespoon coarse brown or honey mustard
* 1 tablespoon brisket rub or steak seasoning
* fresh garlic to taste, minced

Diane’s Famous Chicken Enchiladas

These have gone thru a lot of revisions over the years, but they have always gotten rave reviews. They tend to be one of those “filler” meals – you know, for days when nothing sounds good, I’m out of menu ideas & I already have a stewing chicken thawed to use in SOME capacity. ( I kill or thaw one every week knowing it will get used.) There’s always Salsa Verde in my pantry & we grow tons of peppers, so even if there aren’t fresh peppers, there will be dehydrated or canned. (You can use any kind of pepper, it doesn’t have to be poblanos.) I also tend to have some wheat allergies & even though I eat wheat products some, a gluten-free meal is always welcome. I’ve found corn tortillas keep forever in the fridge, so those are always handy if I don’t have time to make fresh ones.  You just can’t go wrong with these!

*1 small chicken, cooked, deboned & chopped
*1 large onion, chopped
*3-4 cloves garlic (or more, to taste)
*2 large poblano peppers, blistered, skinned, seeded & chopped (about 1 cup)
*1 heaping tablespoon chili powder blend
*1 heaping tablespoon powdered ancho peppers
*1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

*1 pint (16 oz) salsa verde
*8 ounces sour cream
*½ pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated

*10-12 white corn tortillas
(or flour tortillas, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 400.

Saute the onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil or lard until soft but not browned. Add the chicken and peppers and heat through. Add the seasonings, mix well and cook for a few minutes to meld flavors, adding a few tablespoons of chicken broth if the mixture is too dry.

Into a medium casserole, pour about half the salsa verde and spread over the bottom with a spoon. Mix the remaining salsa verde with the sour cream in a small bowl.

Wrap the corn tortillas in a towel and microwave them for about a minute to steam them so they don’t tear. Fill each with about ½ cup of the chicken filling, roll them up and lay them side by side in the casserole. Spread the salsa verde/sour cream mixture over the top, then sprinkle on the grated cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly & brown. Sprinkle chopped fresh cilantro over the top as soon as it comes out of the oven.
The new fish spitter on our front porch

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Bubba Gump Egg Factory

Sweet Curried Eggs (left) Tangy Horseradish Dill Eggs (right)
"Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.” -  Bubba Blue, Forrest Gump

Earlier today I happened to catch a bit of an old “Three Stooges” show on TV. As usual, they were looking for a free meal when they happened upon a farm with a barnyard full of chickens. One of them (and I can’t ever remember which is which!) began dancing and clucking like a hen proclaiming they’d found their dinner and they were about to have “hen fruit.” Eggs, that is. I’ve never heard them called that, but as usual this time of year, we have “hen fruits” running out our ears! We sold off about half our laying hens a month ago, but we still need to keep about twenty in order to fill the incubator once a month, so as usual, I’m looking for ways to enjoy the eggs while they’re so abundant. But sometimes I feel like we’re running the “Bubba Gump Egg Factory!” How many ways can you think of to use eggs?!

Lots of other stuff going on here too and I’ve just been too busy to blog lately. Curtis was off work the first week in March so we ran up to Mom and Zeke’s in Sallisaw, OK to visit and do a little fishing. We came home with some nice catfish fillets and some of the biggest bluegills we’ve caught in a LONG time. (Private ponds are nice that way!)

My sister was there as well (she was away in Phoenix last time we visited) and it was Hans’ birthday so we threw him a little party. And we finally had time to see Hans’ and Cathie’s permaculture gardens. That was really neat – so many little beds, trees and plots of things, along with various tubs and small ponds of koi.

We took our little Mini Australian Shepherd “Anakin” along. He’s not a very brave little dog and Hans’ and Cathie’s Great Pyrenees “Bella” almost gave him heart failure. He wasn’t sure if that was a hellhound or a horse chasing him through the woods, and he didn’t want to stop running to find out! But Bella is good-natured and Anakin finally realized he was going to live. Mom LOVES dogs and Anakin had at least ten square meals a day (plus snacks!) while we were there, so all in all, I don’t think he was too terribly traumatized. J
Brave Little Anakin

Since we’ve been back, we’ve mainly just been trying to keep up with getting fruit trees planted and staying ahead of the mowing from all the rain. Curtis has mowed the yard the last three weekends in a row. We haven’t been able to get our spring/summer gardens tilled yet because it’s been too wet, but I’m hoping we’ll have dried out a little this week. Course I don’t ever get in a huge hurry to get stuff planted in the spring – it’s not likely to happen this year, but we’ve had snow in April before and we’ve still plenty of things to eat that overwintered or that we planted earlier this year. But I’m sure looking forward to all those wonderfully fresh foods of summer – ripe tomatoes, juicy melons and cukes, tender little green beans and summer squash.
The Little Turnip That Could

We’ve already had our first hatch of baby chicks and we ended up with twenty-two. They spent the first three days under a heat lamp, then a few days in a 6’x8’ “chick tractor” in the yard. They’re just over two weeks old now, running free all over the yard getting into anything and everything! At night they all pile into their little wooden box and we set the wire pen over them until the next morning. They are SO entertaining at this age, as they are constantly finding little bits and pieces of this or that and then the pursuit is on! They chase each other around all day long trying to take away whatever treasure one of them finds. It's more entertaining than an aquarium full of baby pirahnas! The incubator is loaded for the next hatch.
Baby Raptors

Our fruit trees have all leafed out and the peach trees are LOADED with fruit! The newly-planted cherry trees are getting their first little leaves and I added another new tree to the yard. It’s a “Red Flowering Quince.” It caught my eye at All-Wise Garden Center and after I saw a picture of a full-grown shrub and read about the fruit, I just wasn’t going to be happy until I had one! The shrubs burst into a profusion of red blooms in the late winter/early spring. The small fruit are very high in pectin and vitamin C, making them an excellent addition to preserves and marmalades. I’m just hoping it survives the baby chicks bouncing around on it!


And now, a few egg recipes…

Have you ever noticed how whenever people sign up for a potluck or bring along food to a social gathering, the deviled eggs are usually prepared by someone who’s either too busy or too lazy to make them into something even remotely edible, let alone the wonderful treat they are capable of being? I think we just take for granted that eggs are a cheap and convenient food source without realizing that it’s only because of modern agriculture and hundreds of years of selective breeding that we’re able to have eggs year-round rather than seasonally, which is the case with all other domesticated fowl.

I like to keep deviled eggs (or even just hard-boiled eggs) prepared all the time because I tend towards blood-sugar swings and they are a fast high-protein/low-carb snack to help keep that regulated. Eggs from free-range chickens are a also decent source of Omega 3’s due to the many bugs chickens consume. Nowadays, the USDA, FDA and AMA have us so terrified of cholesterol that we’re scared to eat eggs, but many years ago, eggs were considered a “protective” food precisely because of that cholesterol and the fact that they’re such a nutrient-dense food. In old cookbooks and nutritional guidelines, it was recommended that every man, woman and child have at least one egg a day. I’m all for a return to the old ways!

Curried Deviled Eggs
These are sweet and the curry powder is just a wonderful complement to the natural flavor of eggs. (Make sure you use SWEET curry powder, as there are many different kinds available – you’ll know which it is when you smell it!) On rare occasions, I succumb to using Miracle Glop in my deviled eggs, but I abhor the nasty stuff and REAL homemade mayo is SO much better! Here’s the general recipe for stuffing a dozen eggs. After stuffing, dust with a little of the curry powder.

*12 hard-boiled egg yolks
*5 tablespoons homemade sweet mayonnaise
*1 tablespoon coarse-ground mustard or honey-mustard
*a pinch of salt
*1 teaspoon sweet curry powder
*1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish (or chopped sweet pickles plus a little juice from the jar)
*a pinch of sugar, or a little more, to taste

Tangy Horseradish Dill Eggs
Curtis doesn’t like sweet deviled eggs, so I concocted this recipe for him. I’ve gotten to the point where I like them just as much as the sweet ones, it just depends on what I’m in the mood for. This recipe also stuffs a dozen eggs. For a little extra zing, add a squirt of wasabi paste or horseradish powder! After stuffing, dust with dill, cayenne or paprika.

*12 hard-boiled egg yolks
*4-5 tablespoons sour cream
*2 tablespoons horseradish mustard
*1 teaspoon (or more!) Tabasco
*1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
*1/2 teaspoon dill weed
*1 tablespoon dill pickle relish (optional)

Homemade Sweet Mayo
You can make this in the blender or food processor or with just a hand mixer. The hand mixer is easiest to clean so that’s what I use. If you don’t have your own eggs or a reliable source for them, I’d make sure the store-bought egg is pasteurized.

*1 small very-fresh egg
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*1 teaspoon coarse-ground mustard
*a pinch of salt
*1 tablespoon sugar
*about ½ cup (or a little more) of a neutral-flavored oil, like canola or light-tasting olive oil (do NOT use extra-virgin olive oil!)
-Add all of the ingredients except for the oil and blend thoroughly. Add the oil, a little at a time or in a slow drizzle until smooth and creamy.

How To Boil Eggs
This may seem overkill, but sure enough, if I don’t include it…! First of all, eggs that are a few days old are better for hard-boiling than very-fresh, just-laid eggs. They are much easier to peel afterwards due to the fact that the shell is porous and will separate slightly from the membrane after a few days. For a dozen eggs, choose a heavy pan that will hold 13-14 eggs. Place the eggs in the pan and cover them completely with cold water. Cover the pan and bring it to a boil. STIR THE EGGS GENTLY OCCASIONALLY SO THE YOLK BECOMES CENTERED WITHIN THE WHITE, otherwise the yolk will be all the way to the top or side of the egg when you slice them. When the water is JUST coming to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave the eggs sitting in the water for 20-25 minutes. Gently drain off the water and add cold water a couple of times until the eggs are cool enough to handle. Crack gently and peel.

Here are a few pictures of some of the techniques I use when making deviled eggs.
First of all,  I never cut the egg in half! I slice off a little from the top, then gently squeeze the yolks out. (I always boil a few extra eggs just in case I tear the white.)

Secondly, yes you can use your food processor, but this method is so much easier to clean up afterwards! That’s a pastry blender. You can also use a potato/bean masher.

And lastly, after thoroughly blending your stuffing mix with a fork, spoon it into a small snack or sandwich bag and cut the corner out of the bag just like with frosting. You will do a much better job of stuffing them this way than just trying to spoon the stuffing into the hole! And they’ll be much prettier. Okay, at least go to the trouble when company’s coming…. J
Baby Scoo Scoo
And speaking of stuffed, devilish things, go ahead, rub his belly. He wants you to. You didn't need that hand anyway... :o)))

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fruit Tree Selection for the Backyard & Home Orchard in North Texas

Wild Mexican Plums
Well, ready or not, the 2012 gardening season is upon us! We set out 30 bunches of onions and 88 broccoli and cabbage plants several weeks ago. Now it’s time to plant potatoes, strawberries, asparagus crowns and fruit trees. With the mild winter we’ve had, many fruit trees in this part of Texas are already in bloom. The twelve trees in our own small orchard look as if they’re about to burst into a profusion of buds and blooms. And we are SO thankful for all the rain we’ve gotten so far!

If you live in the Bridgeport area, we’re fortunate to have a growing number of businesses catering to the home gardener. The new “All Wise Garden Center” has become one of my favorite haunts. In fact, I just brought home twelve more fruit trees Friday and I have four more on order. They also have asparagus crowns, onion slips and seed potatoes. The fruit tree selection is still kind of small, but they’ll be bringing more in as the weather settles.  Their prices are very reasonable. Strawberries will also be available soon and they already have most garden seeds available in bulk. They are located just past the 380/101 traffic light going towards Chico and their number is 940-683-1061.

Seed orders have been placed with a few companies. This year, what few seeds we need will come from Baker’s Creek, Tomato Grower’s Supply, Totally Tomatoes and of course, our local Willhite. I perused the seed racks at Wal-mart last week and was sorely disappointed with the selection. It used to be you could grow a fairly decent garden with their selections, but not this  year.

And we’re already looking to the spring garden. I pre-ordered 17 flats of peppers and strawberries from Bridgeport Feed. I’ll be picking them up this week and transplanting the peppers into larger pots for setting out next month. We have several hoophouses to keep the plants under until all danger of frost is past. Bridgeport Feed had a really good selection of peppers and tomatoes last year at very good prices. They still have onion slips and seed potatoes. It’s possible they will also have strawberries but I haven’t confirmed that yet.


Our Tree-Watering System

When we first set out to start an orchard, we really didn’t know what we were doing. In fact, I’m surprised that most of the trees are still alive, getting bigger and starting to bear fruit! I’m hoping to simplify what I’ve learned over the last few years so you can choose varieties of trees that will give you fruit and pleasure for many years to come. Keep in mind that volumes have been written about this subject and these few guidelines are just a starting point.

To begin with, if you are only buying a few trees, I strongly recommend that you do NOT buy them from the mega-garden centers like Walmart or Lowe’s. Yes they have beautiful trees every year (and most of my trees came from those places), but you take your chances that the variety you think you are buying is not really what you are getting. For instance, I planted a nectarine a few years ago that is bearing fuzzy fruit. It was labeled as a nectarine, but it’s actually just a peach. And I have no idea what variety of peach! It’s not a big deal on my place as I have plenty of room to plant more, but if I had a small backyard and had to make my selections carefully, I would not be happy at the mix-up. (I’ve also had this problem with bulbs and plants purchased from them.)

In the case of stone fruits (apricots, plums, peaches) which are usually (but not always) self-fruitful (meaning they don’t need a pollinator), you probably won’t mess up too badly, but when it comes to apples, pears and pecans, you need to be absolutely sure of what you’re buying.

Also, just because a variety is offered in this area, doesn’t mean it will grow well here or produce fruit. Or that it’s disease-resistant. One example is the Bartlett pear. Every garden center offers it, but it’s not recommended for our area due to its intolerance to fire blight. That being said, I have a Bartlett pear tree that’s still doing fine after 3 years. Every summer, all of the leaves blacken and fall off, but they come back a few weeks later with no apparent harm done. But the tree has not attempted to bear fruit yet. I wouldn’t have purchased the tree at all if I had only a small space to grow it.

Luckily, no matter where you buy them, most trees are now labeled with important information such as the number of chill hours and whether or not they are self fruitful. It is also helpful to know if they bloom (pollinate) early, mid-season or late, and at what time of year the fruit is ready to harvest. A good garden center will be able to tell you all of this information. But I believe it’s better to be prepared before you walk through their door. I keep a notebook full of information I’ve printed out from various county extension sites and on-line nurseries so I know what I’m looking for when I get there. And of course, if you have a net-surfing phone, you can easily look up any information you need while you’re shopping.

Another consideration you should keep in mind is knowing exactly what you plan on doing with the fruit that you’ll be harvesting from your trees. Will you be canning it, drying it, eating it fresh, making cider or juice, jams and jellies? Do you want tart fruit or sweet? This is when it really pays to do a little research before you head out to buy the trees.

In some cases, you may also want to know at what time of year the trees bear fruit. Perhaps your job keeps you away from home more at certain times of the year or you are busier during certain months/seasons than others. In the case of apples, those that ripen early are suitable only for eating fresh or canning/drying/preserving quickly as they only keep for a few weeks, even in cold storage (or so I’m told). So make sure you’re going to have time to deal with the fruit when it’s ready to harvest.

So let’s start with the issue of pollination. A tree that is “self-fruitful” requires no other varieties of trees nearby in order to produce fruit, although the yields may be greater when a pollinator is present. If a tree is not self-fruitful, it requires a pollinator, that is, another tree of a different variety planted nearby. Simple enough, right?

Where it gets complicated is when trying to match pollinators that shed their pollen at the same time and that have overlapping bloom periods. Just because a certain variety of tree is listed as a “good pollinator” doesn’t mean it will shed its pollen at the same time as the tree you’re trying to pollinate. So you must know if the tree blooms early, mid-season or late. Luckily, apples and pecans are the only area where this can get complicated and there are a number of charts available on the net to help in the selection of a pollinator. I suggest you print them out and take them with you to the garden center so you’re well-armed, or at least have the sites bookmarked so you can pull them up quickly on your phone.

Chill Hours
From Wikipedia: “Stone fruit trees and certain other plants of temperate climate develop next year's buds in the summer. In the autumn the buds go dormant, and the switch to proper, healthy dormancy is triggered by a certain minimum exposure to chilling temperatures. Lack of such exposure results in delayed and substandard foliation, flowering and fruiting.”

What this means is that some trees need exposure to a certain number of hours of very cold temperatures in order to set fruit. Bridgeport has approximately 800-900 chill hours. It is recommended that we select varieties within this range or as much as 20% less, which would be in the 640-720 range. Generally, the number of chill hours for a variety can be located on the plant’s nursery tag when it’s relevant.

Keep in mind that these hours are not set in stone. We’ve had such a mild winter, I’d be surprised if we’ve had our average number of chill hours this year. And while it’s better to err on the side of selecting varieties with lower chill hours than the part of the state they’re being planted in, if you select a variety with too few chill hours, there’s a good chance the tree will bloom too early and get nipped by frost. This is especially true with cherries. Sadly, there are few varieties of cherries we can plant here because most varieties are outside our chill range – some too low, some too high.

That’s the important stuff. Now I’ll give a brief listing of possible varieties to select for this area and links for pollination charts and other helpful information. Keep in mind that not all trees will produce fruit every year and none of this is written in stone. And don’t be afraid to try other varieties not listed here or by County Extension. State agricultural/mechanical colleges tend to focus on all the latest, greatest, most disease-resistant, highest-yielding varieties while letting the older heirloom varieties fall out of favor. If a variety meets the chill hours and pollination requirements and you have plenty of space to experiment, there's no reason not to try it. There are thousands of varieties of fruit trees and no one can possibly have grown all of them!

Yes, we can grow apples here! I’ve seen them in this area with my own eyes. Unfortunately, we are limited to only a few varieties, but that makes the selection process easier. The County Extension site has some good information, but I’d limit my selections to trees that bear fruit very late in the year, at least October or November.

Many commercial orchards use European Crabapples as pollinators. (Don’t confuse them with the green warty things we call “crabapples” in Texas!) Golden Delicious is a good pollinator for many varieties. Here is a pollination chart for apples.

Recommended Varieties:
Arkansas Black, Braeburn, Caville Blanc, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Fuji, Winesap, Jersey Mac, Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Ozark Gold. (Some are self-fruitful – check the tag.) My personal favorites are Braeburn, Granny Smith, Fuji and Winesap. Here is an excellent list of the self-fruitfulness and uses of some of the more common apples (note that they may not all be self-fruitful in Texas just because they are in California):

There are tons of apricot varieties available and we can grow a lot of them here. Decide in advance how you’ll be using the fruit and when you want to harvest them. Some varieties are best dried or canned, some are best eaten fresh and many are multi-purpose. Apricots are usually self-fruitful, but check the tag or Google it to make sure. I prefer the old heirloom varieties to the newer ones.

Recommended Varieties:
Moorpark, Bryan, Hungarian, Goldcot, Harcot, Tilton, Montrose., Blenheim, Puget Gold. There are many others.

As I mentioned before, there are few varieties that do well here and even those may not produce fruit most years. But just tell me something can’t be done and I’ll set out to do it! I know for a fact that my husband’s grandmother from Roanoke had a cherry tree in her yard that produced fruit. And my mother had a gallon jar of cherries in her pantry for several years that she obtained from a local source in the Texas Panhandle.

All Wise Garden Center has the “Montmorency” variety available this year. It requires 900-1000 chill hours and is self-fruitful, so I’m hopeful I’ll manage a crop occasionally. If not, at least I’ll get to enjoy the blooms. Another variety I’ve heard might do well here is the Golden/Gold Sweet. Kansas Sweet is widely grown throught the midwest and might also do well here. If anyone in the North Texas area has been successful with cherries, I’d love to hear from you.

Jujube Dates
I’m including Jujubes because they are so easy to grow here they have become naturalized in much of North Texas. The fresh fruit resembles and tastes similar to a small pear or apple (with a stone pit instead of seeds) and can be used in much the same way. My neighbor found a stand of them on her property and made a wonderful marmalade with them a few years back. They can be eaten fresh and of course, they are delicious dried. If you are fortunate enough to find them growing somewhere, you can remove suckers from the base of the tree and root them, but grafted varieties are supposedly of superior quality.

We have some forty varieties of jujubes available in the U.S., but the three most common are Lang, Li and Shanx Li. Most jujubes are self-pollinating, though they may produce higher yields if two or more varieties are planted.

There are lots of figs available, but unfortunately, our winters can be a little hard on them. I would stick with the tried-and-true varieties for this area, which are Brown Turkey/Texas Everbearing (sometimes these are listed as the same variety), Celeste/Malta, Alma and White Kadota (the official “Fig Newton” tree). I have both the Texas Everbearing and the White Kadota and both have done fine through the last 3 winters.

You can go nuts with nectarines. We can grow lots of them and most are self-fruitful. Decide in advance if you care whether you get a clingstone or freestone variety (that is, whether the seed comes loose from the flesh easily – sometimes a big deal if you’re canning or drying several bushels at once!).

Go nuts! Just go nuts! Texas is the largest producer of peaches in the U.S. Most of the ones available in garden centers are self-fruitful, but check the tag or look them up just to be sure. Mind the chill hours and you should be fine. As with nectarines, decide whether you care if they are clingstone or freestone and pay attention to their uses (best for drying, canning, eating fresh, etc.).

Pears come in two types: the European type and the Asian type. Many European types are horribly prone to a disease called fireblight and they are “iffy” in this part of Texas. Some of the more fireblight-resistant varieties are: Warren, Magness, Garber/Monterrey, LeConte and Orient. Moonglow and Keiffer are good pollinators. I have not yet located a good pollination chart for the varieties we can grow in Texas.

Asian pears are really becoming popular though I’ve only been able to find a few varieties. To avoid confusion, the variety called “Twentieth Century” is actually known as “Nijisseiki” on most information sites. It is available at All Wise Garden Center. Here is an Asian pear pollination chart.

If anyone out there has a “Seckel/Sugar Pear” tree, I would love to have a few fruits after they ripen. The Seckel is an old heirloom that is self-fruitful and semi-dwarf from seed. The fruits are small and used for pickling and canning. The Seckel is highly resistant to fire-blight.

Pecan trees are expensive this year, but worth the cost. Pecans need a pollinator and you’ll find them divided into two types – those that shed pollen early and those that shed pollen late. You’ll need to select two varieties from the same list to get good yields. Pecan trees are so common in Texas many people get good crops of pecans from only one tree because their neighbors may have one or there are pollinators that have grown wild nearby.

With pecans, you may want to decide ahead of time if you want large nuts or if you’ll be satisfied with the smaller ones. Many of the selections with larger nuts are more difficult to grow and the quality of the kernels isn’t as good in spite of the size.

Early Pollen-Shedding Types for this area:
Desirable, Caddo, Cheyenne (there are others)

Late Pollen-Shedding Types for this area:
Sioux, Wichita, Choctaw, Kiowa, Forkert, Mohawk and Shoshoni

Persimmons are widely adapted across the South and most of them should do well in Texas. Some years they are very expensive because the demand is so high. The most popular varieties are Eureka, Hachiya and Tamopan. Saijo is reputed to be the best-flavored though I’ve not found any information about growing them in North Texas. I have two Eureka trees on order through All Wise Garden Center. Eureka is self-fruitful.

Like pears, plums come in both European and Asian varieties. Many are self-fruitful, but check the tag to make sure. Most of the varieties available locally are Asian types. Many plums tend to have very low chill hours, making them somewhat susceptical to early bloom getting nipped by a late frost. Recommended Asian types for this area are Bruce, Methley, Morris and Ozark. Rosa types (of which there are several) may also do well here.

European plums are rarely available at garden centers here, though there’s no reason one shouldn’t try to obtain them if you have the space to experiment. The worst that can happen is you won’t get a fruit crop every single year. I have two Blue Damson trees on order through All Wise Garden Center. Blue Damson is a tart heirloom plum used for making jams and jellies. Green Gage is another old heirloom. The drying/prune type plums are European plums.

Wild Plums
Don’t overlook our native wild plums as candidates for the orchard. We have several varieties growing wild here and they are easy to start from seed.  The two most common are the little sand plums that grow on short shrubs, usually on slopes and along roadways and fences. There are numerous vineyards in the U.S. now that are making wine from these little plums. When properly cultivated and pruned they produce larger fruit. Harvest is in June. I harvested about 70 pounds of these little guys a couple years ago from a very small stand. Another variety growing wild on our property is the Mexican plum. It grows on a very large, tall tree and harvest is mid-September. Wild plums make the very best jams and jellies.

Canning Wild Sand Plums


Our County Extension site has a great deal of information on fruit production. Be sure to check them out for info regarding fertilization and pruning, plus further info regarding varieties for your region:

Other good sources of information are nurseries that sell trees on-line. Some of my favorites are Grandpa’s Orchard, Trees of Antiquity, Willis Orchard and Adams County Nursery. There are many, many others.
Here's some other stuff going on at our place:
The Garlic Beds Planted in November
Onion Beds Planted in January