Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chapter 42

The trip to the library was very productive.  I got a lot of really good recipes to try and in fact ran through all of the index cards that I had left from school.  Sawyer was so intrigued to see me almost lose my temper over something so silly as forgetting something as basic as pencil and paper on those endless lists we were making that we stopped by the store on the way home and he laughed as I loaded up on school and office supplies.

Laughing he said, "Well, I know what to get you now to sweeten you up when I get into trouble."

"Oh don't.  I feel silly enough as it is."

He reached over and stole a kiss and told me, "You look cute with your bottom lip all poked out like that."

"You really don't want any dinner do you?" I asked him feeling crabby.

He grinned and said, "Yes I do but I'll go one better.  How about we stop and get some BBQ from Big John's?"

Carefully I said, "Sawyer don't take this the wrong way but we've eaten out a lot in the last couple of weeks ... those burgers, that Chinese place at the mall, stopping and getting ice cream and drinks ... uh, that money ..."

Just as carefully Sawyer explained, "Pretty soon, even if there is money there won't be time Kay-Lee.  I just want us to have a few good memories before things get hard.  Summer is going to feel like ... well, there will be days you just about want to cuss the sun for rising you're so tired and sore.  Gramps is also starting to talk about some stuff that ... I won't pretend ... it scares the crap out of me.  Just about as bad as when they locked my cell door the first couple of times.  The kinda stuff that scares you deep in your bones but you know you can't let it show or someone will take it for a weakness and come after you."  He sighed so deep it was almost a groan and that sound touched me more than his words did.  "We ... well we didn't date.  This marriage just sort of happened for both of us and it was for a serious reason for both of us too.  But I think we've got it in us to make it work and face the crap coming.  That said, I don't want either one of us to look back and ... and wish we'd had some fun while we could ... while we were young and free to do it.  Does that make sense?  I don't ever want you to wonder if I thought you were worth the trouble or the money to have fun with."

I wanted so badly for him to understand.  "Sawyer I've never had this kind of fun in my whole life.  I'm not saying every day as a foster kid was miserable because it wasn't.  But this kind of fun?  I never even imagined that I would ever have it ... or maybe I should say have someone that would want to have this kind of fun with me.  And I believe you when you say you do.  I just ... well ... I don't want you to think that I have to always eat out or spend money to have fun and ... and you know ... have to have it to stick to our stipulations.  'Cause I don't.  'Cause I know what's real and what isn't; and what's important and what isn't; and that things aren't always fun and that sometimes they are so hard you don't know how you'll get through them.  I just want you to know that I know the stipulations are what makes us able to have fun, not the money or going places or any of that other stuff."

He smiled and reached over and adjusted my seatbelt.  "I know you understand Kay-Lee.  And that's what makes me want to at least give you a little taste of it even if I can't give you much."

"Humph, if I have too much more fun I'm not sure my feet would touch the ground."

He laughed and we did go get BBQ from Big John's but we didn't eat in.  We brought it home and I fixed corn, baked beans, and biscuits at the house that way we had some fun but we felt good about economizing a bit too.

But he was also right, time was getting tight to get done all the things that needed getting done in a day and that didn't include the things that Gramps and Aunt Pearl and all the others wanted us to help them get done.  Sometimes at night Sawyer had to help me climb in bed.  That was kinda fine because we turned it into a game that led to other things but it also bothered me knowing that I needed the help.

It was planned that all the wives - new and old - would stay at their own places as much as possible except for the one or two days a week they would all head to our place to can the produce out of the big family-shared fields.  From here on out, as a family, we were to try and rest on Sundays whether that meant attending church or not.  On the days that weren't for canning all of the Hartford men and boys were to work at each other’s places to get things set up for whatever was coming.  For now that meant helping get the trailers set up for those that were getting a place of their own.

So for the next few days I got up, fixed breakfast and then said good bye to Sawyer as he left to go help his uncles and cousins.  I stayed home and that first day he was gone I started to try my hand at canning peaches.  I panicked for a moment before remembering that I didn't need to pressure can but the one batch of peach salsa that I had planned.  I almost panicked again when I realized I would be solely responsible for lighting and getting that giant wood burning cook stove up and running.  Finally, after the first batch, I didn't panic anymore and even managed to streamline the work somewhat.  The more I did the less anxious, and faster, I became.

Over the next few days I was able to put the following on the inventory that Sawyer had created for the pantry:  peach preserves, spiced peach preserves, peach butter, peach salsa, strawberry-peach jam, pickled peaches, peach pie filling, spiced peaches, peach chutney, peach cardamom jam, peach orange marmalade, cinnamon peach jam, bourbon peaches, peach-rum preserves, peach and cherry jam, peach melba jelly, peach nectar, butterscotch peach jam.  I also froze a bunch and put them in the deep freeze - the finally clean deep freeze that had been absolutely disgusting that I finally got so frustrated trying to clean that I climbed over in it - so that I would have them for mixing with other fruit when it came in.  And I candied and dried a bunch as well as made a bunch of fruit roll ups like I'd learned to make from Linda's mother.  I put most of the fruit roll ups in the deep freeze as well since they didn’t last as long as regular dried fruit.

Cherries were even more work because I had to pit those suckers before I could do anything with them.  I'd sit there at the very end of the day and in the morning while Sawyer ate breakfast and drop cherries into that spring loaded cherry pitter as fast as I could go.  Added to the inventory under cherries heading:  Black Forest macaroon conserve, cherry pie filling, cherry salsa, cherry juice, cherry jam, cherry jelly, plain cherries, cherry ice cream topping, maraschino cherries, cherry chutney, cherry relish, cherry butter, cherry rum preserves.  I dried cherries until they looked like raisins, made cherry fruit roll ups, candied cherries, and frankly ate them until I was a little sick.  Fresh cherries were always too expensive at the store for me to have had them often.

After a few days I realized the problem wasn't what I expected it to be.  Aunt Pearl when she heard me telling Linda my problem laughed and said, "Honey, sometimes The Lord blesses us so much a body just about wants to run and hide from it.  Now tell me again how many trees you've got and I'll see if we can help."

"There's fifteen peach trees and according to the book I found at the library full grown peach trees should give anywhere between four and six bushels a tree only these haven't been taken care of and Sawyer said I'll probably get only three bushels off of each tree between now and the beginning of September when they are all give out.  There's twenty-five cherry trees but they aren't all the same type; some are sweet, some are sour, and some are this funny yellow color.  I figure I'll be getting about fifty to seventy quarts of fruit per cherry tree depending on the shape the tree is in.  And that is just the peaches and cherries.  I haven't even been able to count all of the apple trees because every time I think I've found them all I find more and Sawyer says that they look like they've been grouped by variety only he hasn't got a clue what variety they are or when I should expect them to ripen except to figure they'll start in July and not stop until November.  Then there are plum trees, pear trees, sticker bushes that Sawyer said make different kinds of berries, and a big grape arbor and I don't know what all else."

Aunt Pearl chuckled and patted my arm.  "Well I begin to see your problem.  My word, I guess at one time Jacob must have had an idea to go to the farmer's market with the largesse."

"I don't know ma'am.  He did leave some notes but to be honest not all of it makes sense and what makes sense has some great big holes in it where information should be.  All he said in his notes was that the orchard was out behind the barn and to keep it mowed or it would get away from us real fast and that he'd already had the netting put on."

"And lucky he did it too or the birds would have been horrible.  Well, while we get these greens canning how about we prep these peaches that you do have and those that want them can share and if there are any left we'll just put them in the freezer for next time in case someone needs some to mix into a recipe."

Aunt Pearl came loaded for bear every time the family had a canning day.  That first week, in addition to the greens, she brought the last of the rhubarb, the last of the strawberries, boysenberries, broccoli, potatoes, and nectarines.  By the end of the month the first of the apples had already started showing up ... what she called June apples.

Between batches she took me outside and into the yard and showed me a few more things that Sawyer had missed.  The biggie was something called a serviceberry.  "Honey, different people call them different things such as Juneberry, but around here we call 'em service or sarviceberries."

She showed me stuff that I hadn't ever imagined you could eat ... burdock, cattails, chickweed, dandelions, lamb's quarter, milkweed, stinging nettle, purslane, sumac (when the berries are ready only she called them drupes), autumn olive berries, lemon balm, sheep sorrel, elderberries, wild garlic, wild onions, clover, chicory, prickly pear, and so many other things I had a hard time keeping up.  Sawyer helped me to make a big map of the property using graph paper that we taped together.  We have it stuck to the wall in one of the upstairs bedrooms where we are trying to keep our notes all nice and neat.

Aunt Pearl laughed one time when I was nearly dancing around sticking note cards on things until Sawyer could help me measure the distances between things so we could put it on the map right.  She said, "Well if I can teach you about this I'll be thankful.  Not too many of the other girls seem all that interested.  Linda does when you can catch her attention but lately she's been so stressed out.  You got an idea what it is about?"

Looking around I carefully said, "Um ... she used to get like this around midterms and finals or anytime we had a big test.  Especially if a teacher seemed to be riding her for some reason."

"Ah, you're saying that Tommy's mother is making her nervous."

"Yes but please don't tell anyone I told you so.  Linda feels bad enough as it is.  She hasn't said anything exactly but I've seen her.  And she misses her mom.  I wish there was some way to help but there's nothing I can do about her dad being sick and getting sicker and it just isn't my place to get involved between her and Tommy's mom."

She nodded.  "You are right about that.  The only way all us wives learned to get along was by staying out of each other's business ... including how we raised our kids.  But I'll see if a little bit of interference can be run to try and redirect some energies."

I relaxed.  I hate carrying tales behind people's backs but for some reason when someone asks me I have the worst time not telling the truth.

We were about to head back to the house when Aunt Pearl stopped and got a nostalgic grin on her face.  "You know, when I was first married my mother taught me to make something special.  Lands ... I haven't thought of it in so long.  You see those yellow and white flowers over there?"

"The honeysuckle?"

"That's right.  Did you know that you can make a jelly from the flowers?"


"Why don't we go inside and get Linda and a few of the other girls if they are interested and I'll show you how."

Making the honeysuckle jelly was so much fun that Aunt Pearl and Aunt Suzanne encouraged Linda and I to try a few other things under their guidance.  First they showed us how to collect what they called “fiddleheads.”  Fiddleheads are the new heads where the Ostrich Fern is starting to uncurl.  You have to be careful to not over collect in any one area but in no time flat I had enough of them from the shady areas under the big trees where we hadn’t mowed that I was able to pressure can several pints of them. 

After we brought the fiddleheads to the kitchen however Linda shrugged and said, “Tommy’s mom expects me to help her.  Learn for both of us and then teach me later, like I used to in school.”  I was happy to be able to return the favor because she really had caught me up lots of times when I had to be out for a doctor's appointment or had been stuck in the hospital.

While I had collected the second basket of fiddleheads on my own the aunts also took the time to show me how to collect other greens such as stinging nettle (and I was warned to use gloves for sure for that), sheep sorrel (which tastes lemony), spring beauty greens, dandelions, and other things I had only ever thought of as weeds or wild flowers.  I also dug wild garlic and wild onion and learned to tell the difference between the two.  While both have thin, green, waxy leaves, those of wild garlic are round and hollow, while those of wild onion are flat and solid. Leaves of wild garlic are hollow and branch off the main stem. Leaves of wild onion are flat, not hollow, and emerge from the base of the plant. Wild garlic flowers may be green or purple; wild onion flowers are generally white or pink. 

After greens they moved on to teaching me about wild roots.  Parsnips and burdock roots were more challenging than the greens because they require digging but once you find them and then get them out of the ground you pretty much just treat them like you would any other root vegetable.  I knew about parsnips from culinary class but burdock was something I’d never had anything to do with so I put it on my list to research and hoped that I could find someone that had recipes that would make Sawyer forget that it was the root of what most people considered a stubborn weed.   

Aunt Nel, a quiet woman that seemed at a loss what to think about some of the goings on of the Hartford “boys”, taught me about thistle root.  We had bull thistles up and down the front fence row and I wondered how on earth that something that prickly and painful to try and eradicate could possibly be edible. 

“All parts of the plant is edible,” Aunt Nel said.  “You got to cut away the stickers but God fixed it so that even in the worst ground something edible can be grown.  My grandmother said during the Dust Bowl era that her family ate a fairly steady diet of thistle; usually mixed in with other things but that they were good for piecing out what little else would grow during the lean years.  Just start with the roots ‘cause they are easiest to learn on.  Scrub ‘em up, chop ‘em, and mix with a pan of root vegetables that you are roasting or using to make a broth.” 

Aunt Nel was also the one that taught me about wild leeks – only she called them “ramps” – and warned me of the noisome consequences if you ate too many.  She also showed me that the bushes I had thought were full of poisonous berries were actually mayhaws and that they made some of the best preserves and were in high demand in some places like Texas.   

She took a long look at the location we'd found them and said, “These grow in too straight a line for them to be anything but planted a purpose but they've put off enough little ‘uns to make me think whoever planted ‘em – and I can’t think it was Jacob because the man had no imagination – did it a good bit of time ago.  I know Jacob’s brother – died long before you were born – had some kids but they done all moved off too.  Jacob used to keep time with some woman – had a daughter by her but they never married – and maybe it was her.  Who knows and I’m too old to care to guess at this point.  But it is a gain for you that I wouldn’t waste.” 

I had fun even if some of the other new wives looked at me like I was playing instead of working.  I knew Linda wasn’t irritated at me wanting to learn something new.  I also didn’t like the obvious if not verbal thought that some of them had that I just wasn’t capable of doing “real work” but decided it wasn’t worth making a scene about.  I was still getting to know them and they were going to have to get to know me.  I just didn’t understand why some of them rolled their eyes at the idea of using new stuff for food.  I think it is cool.  Oh well, their loss, my gain.

1 comment:

  1. Kathy thanks for the new chapters, sorry to hear that you are not feeling well it is always a bummer to be sick but at this time of year when trying to get prepared for winter always seems the worst time. I pray that you recover soon.